Writing is an Itch. This is a place to scratch.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Dead Still Speak. But Are We Listening?

By Ruben Rivera© 6 Nov 2010

The Greek philosopher Socrates (5th c. BC) famously said "The unexamined life is not worth living."

But Socrates did more than examine his own life -- testing the reliability of what his senses told him, even questioning the cultural assumptions, intellectual knowledge and religious beliefs upon which society's institutions and behavior were built. He spent much of his time questioning the people of ancient Athens about everything they thought they knew. They did not like it. So they had a democratic vote and told Socrates something like this: "You are one sick, sick anthropos. But if you swallow this drink made from a delightful little herb -- Ahhemlock! -- it will all be better."

"Death of Socrates," Daniel Chodowiecki, 17th C.

The Socrates affair has crisscrossed the globe through the ages in many different forms, but with the same caution to the wise, the summation of which only the king's English will do.

Never expose unto the people that they knowest not what they thinketh they know. Neither reveal unto them the gaps between their vaunted ideals and who they are in truth. For thou shalt surely suffer for it, and that right smartly.

Perhaps this maxim is easier to remember: The truth shalt get thee in a pickle. Pray, therefore, to love pickles.

I have written elsewhere on the need for education as soulcraft. I am saying here that foundational to soulcraft is the examined life. I am saying here that examining self and society may be an important step in the salvation of both.

One thing that desperately needs examination today is the difference between what we think we know is going on, and what is going on. Another thing that needs examining are the gaps between our ideals and who we really are. Take, for example, our much vaunted ideals of liberty.

Excerpt: Declaration of Independence.

Some inconvenient truth here. When Jefferson said that "all men are created equal" and endowed by their creator with rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," he did not mean black people, whom he himself owned as slaves; he did not mean women, who did not get the universal right to vote in the U.S. until 1920; he did not mean Indians, whom he called "savages" in the Declaration. Jefferson, and the other founding fathers who signed the Declaration, did not mean a lot of people.

However, the Declaration, despite its obvious shortcomings, was actually a more radical document than the U.S. Constitution that was constructed for the new nation. For the Declaration stated the Enlightenment basis for a revolution for liberty. The Constitution promptly codified inequality and denied liberty to many.

For example, the Constitutional Convention of the new United States not only refused to abolish the very antithesis of liberty -- slavery -- but to add insult to injury, the Constitution defined black slaves as 3/5th persons for the express purpose of legally denying them democracy while simultaneously giving the white southern elite strong democratic representation in congress (U.S. Constitution, 1789, Article 1, Section 2).

"The elite," the great Latin American liberator Simón Bolívar once lamented, "want liberty, but only for themselves." That sentiment has never changed.

The 20th century was characterized by three developments of great importance, said Alex Carey:
"the growth of political democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy."
Alex Carey, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy (1995)
In 2005, the international financial conglomerate Citigroup sent an equity investment memo recommending a strategy of luxury investment in the era of emerging "Plutonomies" which are, especially, the U.S., UK, and Canada. (See the whole document here.)

"Income inequality", said Citigroup, is at "the heart of plutonomy". For example, in the U.S. 1% of richest households have some 40% of the nation's wealth, "more than the bottom 95%...put together".

Citigroup was careful to disclaim that it was not arguing whether Plutonomies were good or not. It was just stating the fact of their existence. The question for investors: "How do we make money on this theme?" But it seems that pesky democracy can ruin the whole investment opportunity. No, wait. Good news. The growing gap between the few haves and the many have-nots will likely never be challenged, as long as "enough of the electorate believe they have a chance of becoming a Pluto-participant...the embodiment of the American dream". Translation? Plutonomies, their illustrious 1%, and you as a prospective investor in what the 1% luxuriate in, have little to fear that actual democracy by the other 99% will ruin your day.

Does anyone see anything wrong with this thinking? Is this a civilization that values anything higher than money -- when push comes to shove, in the final analysis? Are political parties of the right and left manipulated into demonizing and fighting each other for scraps from the tables of the Plutocrats while plutonomies may be the biggest threat to democracy in generations? What about this year's Supreme Court decision to lift the ban on corporate political spending? Do we really still believe there is one-person-one vote democracy in this country? Think again.
"We are now in a situation where a lobbyist can walk into my office...and say, 'I've got five million dollars to spend and I can spend it for you or against you."
Alan Grayson, Dem-Rep, Florida (defeated in recent election)
Why isn't government working for everyday Americans, asks Bill Moyers?
"Because it's been bought off. It's as simple as that. And until we get clean money we're not going to get clean elections, and until we get clean elections, you can kiss goodbye government of, by, and for the people. Welcome to the plutocracy."
The victorious rise of plutocracy is just one issue in a sea of troubling issues that face all people. I am challenged to my core to examine my religious beliefs and my life. To ask myself: is mine a faith that is heavenly minded and earthly good?

I think the reader can see that engaging in the examined life, let alone trying to get others to do so, is not a work for the faint of heart. One needs the strength of Hercules, the patience of a monument, and the conviction of a martyr.

The Hebrew prophets of old tried to convey to the world somet
hing of the realities of eternity. The world conveyed its appreciation by sending them there.

Jesus of Nazareth once said that "a prophet has honor except in his own country." His message, that right belief means little without right action, crossed a line. He ended up crossed.

But what of the claim of the resurrection? It is true that Jesus' resurrection for life in the hereafter has long been popular with Christians. It is Jesus' teaching about life in the here and now that historically has not been so popular. Following Jesus into heaven is one thing. Following him on earth is another.

And therein lies the paradox. Oh how people love and admire these prophets and teachers of rational ideals, religious verities and social conscience -- but from a safe historical distance, when there is often little at stake in loving and admiring them. This allows us to believe one thing and live another.

But where would we be without these gadflies of the world who examine self and society? What would the world have been like if people listened to them while they were alive? But there is still hope. For, if I may borrow a phrase from the Christian New Testament, "though they are dead, yet do they speak". What may the world still become if we would but listen to them now?


Edie Marie's Attic said...

What an incredible post Ruben! We were just having these discussions with our son, Russ, the other day when he stopped by. Russ talked about how Jesus lived here to teach us what God was all about and was willing to let his flesh be torn from his body and be nailed on the cross of death for what he committed himself to and for. Would we be willing to walk in that kind of path on this earth... would we be willing to do what he did for ANY cause??? What a question to think about. Russ talked with such passion and tears streaming down his face talking about Jesus and his path. Yes we are perfectly willing to follow Jesus in heavenly walks but it's quite different when trying to follow him here on earth. I've been thinking about this subject so much of late and it resonates in my soul. How do we take on such an arduous task? It's one thing to read about it but oh so different when we think about doing it. I for one have got to do more "doing"!

As for our government... it has turned into a corrupt horse & pony show. The original ideals of those founding our government were good, well except for those peoples you mentioned that were silently omitted, but it doesn't resemble anything close. We live in a sort of freedom until those in the actual power decide otherwise. God help us!

To say I enjoyed this post is quite an understatement!!

Hugs, Sherry

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Your ideas and writing if far too polished and important to be limited to this small space. However, this is important practice for you to write and to know that YOUR THOUGHTS are important, true and in much need to be heard! GREAT REVISION!!! Moi

The Dutchess said...

I agree with Anita..Great post..

Tish Jett said...

Dear, dear Ruben,

Once again, humbled by your writing and your brilliance in conveying clearly such profound truths. That is the great gift of a great writer.

Anita is absolutely correct, and you know I've said this before in other words, this space is too small for your deeply intelligent, moving and in this case terrifying truths.

Somehow it doesn't seem "right and fair" (has that become a joke along with all the rest?) that you cannot spread the word. But, as you so rightly pointed out, it is difficult, nay impossible, to be a prophet in one's own land.

Still, there were always the few who listened and learned. (Are you thinking, "Yes at their own peril?")

Your students are blessed to have you.

Warmest regards toujours,

Debbie said...

if "enough of the electorate believe they have a chance of becoming a Pluto-participant...the embodiment of the American dream".

This is the 'lie' they have sold to the 'have-nots'. As always, your writing is profound and thought provoking. it is a painful process to examine oneself and very challenging to change the way you think/behave. But that is the POINT! I once had a conversation witih a friend's husband and was talking about how much I loved bill moyers ... he out and out called him a communist. he was serious. and i thought to myself, my God, if Christ himself were to come back to earth you'd probably be one of those who would be shouting to free Barabas and crucify Christ. Sheesh. i DON'T UNDERSTAND that kind of thinking. Try, as i might. it baffles me. And it's not to suggest that i think i am 'right' ... it's just that i can't understand how someone can be so impenetrable. That is a person who does not examine self. i think.

love this post ruben. as always, i learn something. wish you guys lived closer!!!! Give my love to Anita.


Jacqueline said...

Dearest friend,

I like you. I would have loved to have you teach me as a child, but now I claim you as a teacher/friend/fellow Nowhere pal.

I'm not that educated but my heart is like a child and that is open to learn. I vote for Jesus...so does Gretta by the way. We are so far from being "Christ like" but we keep trying everyday. To us, it's the simple joy of giving our love away. We are willing to go this deep in thought with you however...and listen to you and listen to the still small voice of our Savior in our ear.

You stir the pot, and that is good. It's hot and nourishing food for the soul and mind. God Bless you, our friend.

Jacqueline said...

Oh...I have more to say. I was just thinking how some could be intimidated by your knowledge...but no, not me, said the little hedgehog...I like the fact I'm the student and don't know diddly squat and you are in my life to teach me and I don't have to pay a college education to know you!
I hope you take this with a niblet of cheese and know, you are awesome dear Professor.

Ruben Rivera said...

Thanks to all the commentators. Jackie your statement that some might be intimidated by my knowledge is important. I'm glad that you don't feel that way and it is most definitely my intention. But I do understand how some might feel that way. I guess it's a hazard of being in an academic profession where you are constantly have to think three or four moves ahead, like in a chess game, or you'll get eaten alive.

But I realize that maybe Rattus Scribus isn't the best place for these kinds of posts. So I just made another blog called "Heavenly Minded & Earthly Good" where as a Christian I can ask faith questions on these hot button issues.

Anyone interested can find my new blog here:

The first post is the same as the one here.

God bless you, all my dear friends.


Nezzy said...

What a deep, pondering and well written post. Yes, as a society of livin' breathin' beings we certainly need to examine our priorities 'cause if we don't ...heaven help the next generation!

Ya'll have the most beautifully blessed weekend man! :o)

Ann Nichols said...

Oh my... I'm on my way out the door so I don't have time to read this post right now and give it the attention it needs... I will come back later and read it all (Looks very interesting!)!
I just wanted to wish you and Anita a very happy anniversary! Your dear wife is such an inspiration and one of the best parts about my blogland experience!