Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Slime at the top of the swamp indifferent to the "roadkill of modern capitalism" (Francis)

The Pope has garnered some minor headlines lately with his ringing renunciation of the deifying of money and the run-away capitalism that supports it, leading to an ever widening gap between rich and poor. He even refers to the "other" (the poor) as "roadkill of modern capitalism." One does not have to be Roman Catholic both to agree and to endorse the pontiff's critique.
He writes, a "globalization of indifference" has developed.
And it is not only in the economic and fiscal numbers that the story is to be told.
Just this week, I encountered another situation in which friendliness and compassion were found to be merely driven by a different motive than for their own sake. And when that happens, we all know that each of us has become a means to another's ends, something Kant warned us not to become.
A family member even just this week found herself rushed through a medical appointment, because the physician was only interested in a formulaic and abbreviated "history" of the presenting illness(es) and a series of prescriptions, in the formulaic "under five minutes" as another insidious part of the message of the importance of money. Of course, the physician would argue that she is being reimbursed for the number of patients she sees in one hour, and not for the outcomes of her encounters, nor for the confidence and the empathy she demonstrates to patients whose medical history is much more complicated and painful than most.
And when the medical fraternity is demonstrating such compulsion to the dollar, for a patient who has never and would never abuse the system, it is not only the health care system that is problematic.
It is a culture that not only permits but encourages her indifference, something she would undoubtedly call detachment, objectivity and pragmatism.
What is still stuck in my "craw" is the degree to which the international press includes the pope's diatribe in their headlines....almost nothing!
The scribes in the press, including the electronic media, are paid by the corporate suits who are themselves caught in the trap of supporting everything capitalistic, profit-centred, and the human beings in their employ are their serfs in carrying out that ideology. And while the pope's words are dramatic, even ethical and cogent, especially at a time when both rampant profiteering and minimal protection for the environment, and for those whose lives depend on the clean air, water and food that only a clean environment can and will deliver, ethics, and cogency and common causes and interests pale in the onslaught of Dow Jones records and the price of a barrel of crude.
So long as the people at the top of the swamp, (is it not the slime that always rises to the top of the swamp?) are happy, and given their clippings from their investments how could they not be happy, then what's to worry about?
And our time sees more and more slime rising to the top of the swamp, indifferent, even disdainful of the creatures and the culture that sustain that swamp and we are all enmeshed in our own demise...
and the pope to his credit has shone a spotlight on ourselves, as only someone in his position can and must, and the case cannot be made sufficiently often or loud enough to garner the attention of those at the top of the swamp.

Welcome back Jesus
By Robert Scheer, December 3, 2013
Forget, for the moment, that he is the pope, and that Holy Father Francis’ apostolic exhortation last week was addressed “to the bishops, clergy, consecrated persons and the lay faithful.” Even if, like me, you don’t fall into one of those categories and also take issue with the Catholic Church’s teachings on a number of contested social issues, it is difficult to deny the inherent wisdom and clarity of the pontiff’s critique of the modern capitalist economy. No one else has put it as powerfully and succinctly. 
It is an appraisal based not on “just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope,” as Rush Limbaugh sneered, but rather the words of Jesus telling the tale of the Good Samaritan found in Luke, not in “Das Kapital.” As opposed to Karl Marx’s emphasis on the growing misery of a much needed but exploited working class, Francis condemns today’s economy of “exclusion” leaving the “other” as the roadkill of modern capitalism: “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
It is a message that applies to disrupted worldwide markets in which massive unemployment is now common, as well as to the underemployed and working poor who are the new “normal” even in still wealthy America. They make up the bulk of those ejected from a once largely unionized industrial workforce, who are now left to compete for low paying Wal-Mart style jobs that require government handouts to avoid the extremes of poverty. They are the victims of what the pope refers to as “trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.” It doesn’t, and instead “a globalization of indifference has developed.”
That is an obvious truth, whether divinely inspired or not. So too is Francis’ excoriation of “the new idolatry of money,” although here one can find evidence in Scripture that this idolatry is not so new given the description in Matthew 21:12 when Jesus “overthrew the tables of the moneychangers” in the temple. But the pope is clearly right when he links our recent economic crisis to the modern worship of the gods of finance capitalism:
“One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. ... The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings. ...”
This is a pope who in his native Argentina bothered to witness and tend to the needs of those who suffered most, and he comes to us now as a singular voice to remind us of the Occupy movement, which mostly secular liberal mayors in U.S. cities brutally silenced to suit the convenience of the superrich who own our politics. The pontiff writes: 
“While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies, which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. ... A new tyranny is thus born. ... The thirst for power and possessions know no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”
The deification of the market rests on denying that ethical considerations trump the goal of profit maximization. The market itself becomes the higher power no matter the consequence for the exploited, the poor and the defenseless. “Behind this attitude,” Francis writes, “lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God.” That is because ethics inevitably represents a judgment that “makes money and power relative.”
Finally there is a stern warning by this leader of a church with many followers in economically desperate areas that a status quo based on the extremes of exploitation contains the seeds of its own destruction. “No to the inequality that spawns violence,” the pope writes with words that apply to the poverty ghettos of the most affluent nations, words that echo those used by the Rev. Martin Luther King in organizing anti-poverty marches at the time of his assassination.
“The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence,” Francis warns, “yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society—whether local, national, or global—is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programs or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility.” Amen.

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