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Friends’ Meeting The B sides
Cataclysm and Hope
Good evening Friends. I wish to share something which is rather difficult for me to say.
I was moved last week by one of our Friends who really put themselves out there and spoke from their heart on a matter arising from business. At first quite a few of us disagreed with this person at an intellectual or logistical level, but then one of us did acknowledge and validate their passionate plea for sharing and economic justice.
I wanted to speak with this conscientious Friend privately after the "threshing session" had ended to let them know that I had similar feelings, but they were already occupied in some further debate with someone else. Before leaving the Meeting house this dear Friend asked me if there was something I wanted to say because they had noticed me waiting for an opportunity.
I replied that there was indeed something which I wanted to share but I needed more time for a better formulation of my ideas and I would share with them later as opportunity allowed.
Now I wish to share something about Cataclysm [in the context of Quaker Earth Care Witness] and what appears to be a Quaker response from Faith and Practice of New England Yearly Meeting.
Please bear with me as I wish to share more than just a few inconvenient truths. I am not sure where everyone comes from on all of this. I have tried to listen carefully for about six months to try to get to know you. And please rest assured that I will close with some positive answer from Faith and Practice.
So who or what exactly are we up against as we ponder environmental concerns?
Earlier today someone shared in forum about how environmental issues are connected with social justice, peace, and economic issues. These many challenges are all intertwined.
I will start with one example: The Highway Lobby* (*references and links at the bottom of this page). I recall a few times while growing up, talking about our society with my parents and family, much as we do here, and the topic of public transportation would arise. We wondered why is it that we Americans do not have clean, safe, efficient public transportation like other industrialised countries. My brother would tell us how in Germany you could set your watch by which train was pulling into the station. But for some unknown reason we don’t have that in America. And then we’d go on to the next topic.
Well, as I understand it, there are quite a few reasons why we don’t have safe clean efficient transportation for the public - because private corporations who profit from private transport have defeated public transport at every turn for over 70 years! This is the Highway Lobby.
I have read articles where this is all spelled out: at some point some auto manufacturers bought up street trolleys and tore up the tracks. Another time some other corporation [which profits from automobiles more than buses] bought a bus line and mismanaged it into the ground deliberately. Now sometimes these corporations were caught and tried in court for violation of anti-trust laws.
But when I think it through and try to connect some dots I have to wonder: by the time you catch an offender committing a crime how often have they already done that? And then again how many times would an offender have to be caught before there was the political will to try them in court? What’s the relationship between these corporations and the politicians who have power over whether or not they will be tried?
Now as I bring these things up I am afraid that I might be seen as a conspiracy theorist. But what I am trying to do here is institutional analysis.
If I recall correctly from Economics 101, all economists make just a few assumptions about human beings, and one of the most basic assumptions is that most people make most of their decisions based on… sharing and peace and love and rainbows and unicorns…
It’s greed! Self-interest - period.
And that’s every-body.
Now corporations do in fact organize themselves to keep secrets. I had to sign a CDA, a confidential disclosure agreement, to work at the one I do now. We try very hard to conceal the most sensitive strategic parts of our business plan, it’s called IP – Intellectual Property. And we’re doing this to take something from the public domain, make it private and then exploit it. Sure sounds like a conspiracy to me!
So I'd like to think that I am no more a conspiracy theorist than any economist who analyses institutions.
Now I look outward from my immediate surroundings through alternative independent media and try to get a big picture of the world out there.
My concern turns quite a bit darker now because I’m talking about CEOs who are willing to work with murderers.
In Coca-Cola inc. in Columbia*, corporate officers have been witnessed by employees discussing matters with say, some colonel in the Columbian Army who is known to be a leader of a paramilitary group, a goon squad.
For the past few years, about 100 labor union activists are murdered in Columbia every year!
These Coca-cola execs are doing business with the goon squads and the murders are timed to coincide with important votes and union business, it’s clearly connected. There was enough evidence for this to be brought by – I think it was the AFL-CIO – into a federal court in Florida, so they’ve documented this stuff.
And this Columbian colonel is probably a graduate of the School of the Americas* at Fort Benning Georgia.
Apparently they offer a number of different schools and classes at Fort Benning because that’s where my brother attended his IOBC – Infantry Officers Basic Course.
In other words, I am not just making this stuff up!
And it’s not abstract out there, it’s personal. It involves me!
There are very important reasons why labor remains cheap in these low-wage investor’s paradises. In many third world countries they don’t have effective labor unions because the leaders are murdered, the members terrorized.
This brings me to a rather large theory, or rather a paradigm, which I first read in graffiti:
“[There is] No war but the class war.”
This explanation just clicked: It’s the richest 1% against everyone else!
If you're inclined to dismiss this class war paradigm as communist ideology, well for one, you might try reading the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 2 and 4 to examine the economics of the first Christians. Perhaps more compellingly you might examine Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the U.S. Just this past year I finally read Zinn's milestone and it was absolutley heartbreaking for me, because I love America, or at least I love many of the people in it, and some of the ideals, such as the bill of rights. But the stories were devastating, the patterns of conquest, exploitation and control were obvious and the scholarship is unassailable.
Why else is $1.6 trillion - or whatever it is - spent on war to control the oil and not on researching and implementing renewable energy?
Because Exxon Mobil will not make money sooner rather than later on it, and they won’t have CONTROL over it!
It’s all about Power – political power based on violence, threats and fear mongering.
I suspect that anyone who does not acknowledge this is living in denial at some level.
Denial is spelled d-e-n-I-a-l: “don’t even notice I am lying”.
This is accomplished through committees and layers of organized society designed or evolved to diffuse responsibility.
Why does murder for capitalism happen in Columbia? Because that used to happen in the U.S.! Ever heard of the Ludlow Massacre in Colorado*?
I’m talking about the US Army killing American citizens on American soil! Apparently the political climate changed enough such that this had to get moved out of sight to another country. But the conflict never went away, it’s just hidden – “off-shored”.
Kent State – apparently American Soldiers are not done killing American citizens. Ok, but did you hear about Jackson State*? That’s the one where the black college students were killed. Maybe that’s why I never heard about that one until recently.
Ok, so now that I’ve ranted about the Cataclysm, Let me share one answer which gives me some hope.
Faith and Practice, page 177. This is Dorothy Hutchinson talking about the Characteristics of a Quaker Concern:
A second characteristic - The concerned individual makes direct contact with the evil which needs attention. That is why Elizabeth Fry had so much more practical insight than other prison reformers of her day…
#3 The ability to establish empathy with the objects of his concern, e.g. to achieve imaginative identifications with prisoners as Elizabeth Fry did…
#4 Willingness to work for any minor, unspectacular, partial solution of a big problem, which seems at the moment, achievable…
#5 It does not rest until it has penetrated through the superficial evil to its root causes.
#6 The person who is sensitive to one social concern becomes inevitably more sensitive to all social evils…
This is one of the pieces that brought tears to my eyes this past summer when I read F&P cover to cover.
When I look at the environmental problems or the War, etc., I just get overwhelmed. I’m paralyzed and devastated.
I think I know where it all comes from and I am not interested in putting a band-aid on cancer.
If I know it comes from Exxon Mobil on down, it permeates society. It’s what society was designed for or has evolved to. It's systemic.
The Viet Nam war was a success, and the Iraq war will be a success in this respect: at the beginning of the War, the richest white men were in control of everything, and at the end of the war they still are.
The plutocracy, the kleptocracy is a self-replicating system. The military industrial complex has achieved homeostasis.
I want to take some kind of shot at the big picture.
But I can’t. I know I can’t.
Alone I can't but together we can.
So I hope that #4 works – Willingness to work for any minor, unspectacular, partial solution of a big problem, which seems at the moment, achievable…
Get started at one corner of the puzzle and who knows what’s going to happen next – right?
I mean - imagine naïve, silly John Woolman starting his concern against slavery: What the heck do you think your gonna do against an entire economic system? Who do you think you are anyway? You’re just some country preacher!** A hayseed!
And he died long before what he toiled for came to the fruition which we now know it to be!
So I try to see the Hope beyond the cataclysm.
And You are it! Baby - you’re it!
If anyone knows how to handle confrontation peacefully, it’s you guys.
If anyone knows how to sit for a long time with some mighty uncomfortable feelings and wait, I heard that you do!
If anyone is willing to make some sacrifices and take some risks, be unpopular and go to prison if need be, I read somewhere that this is how y’all got started!
You got a history behind you which I just don’t see too many other places.
One other place I can see this happening is not exactly local, although just this morning I heard about some connection with Quakers there too [Gaviotas].
The film The Mission has long been a favorite of mine. It makes oblique reference to some Liberation Theology in Latin America, and that film, the soundtrack, still hits me. It reminds me of some idealism I used to have. All right, but I’m not in Latin America, and I’m certainly I’m grateful that my life is not in danger because of my religious and political beliefs.
The living, practiced liberation theology – the church communities where they live this solution – they do this stuff because their backs are against the wall and they’ve got nothin’ left to lose. Perhaps they get to see God work more miracles than we do.
But I’m not down there, I’m up here in America looking for a home, a place near my neighborhood where people can actually see what’s what and try to do something about it together.
That’s why I keep coming back here.
**Country preachers have a special place in my heart actually. Recently I was touched to see a photo of some of my relatives on my mother’s side – I think this was one of her uncles – they posed for the photo with a trombone, Bibles, and one guy was holding a saw, a carpenter’s saw. I thought – no way, don’t tell me! And yes, my mom tells me that he played the saw during the offertory. You don’t get any more country preacher than that!
Note – I have plenty more references for all these corporate crimes if you need convincement. I have linked up a few for starters.
School of Assasins:
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