Sunday, June 7, 2015

Ghastly Hauntings

I'd like to respond to a little pushback to my "Haunted by the Holy Ghost," pushback that noted a certain vagueness to my appropriation of 'repetition,' as Caputo means it. I warn the reader that what follows is far more political than I intended or perhaps needs to be, but that's nonetheless how the challenge struck me, and how I've chosen to respond. If politics disturbs the reader, or if the reader doesn't want to risk being disappointed in me, I suggest ignoring this post.

I should have gone a bit further about what else is being repeated in our American culture lately---this is not really about religion per se, but it touches upon the salve of progress, that which enables the usurpation of religion by secularist-capitalist interests. Either side of the American political spectrum now speaks of income inequality. The right is just now entering the conversation and is giving voice to its newly found populism, while the left can't quite leave Robin Hood in the story books. Both sides are too modern, all too modern.

Either way, I should have added to my little litany of correspondences the new opiate of the people. While I am way too mainstream and centrist in my politics to be silly enough to embrace the values of any ideology, I would still say that while once religion played the opiate, now the illusion of participation in the grand capitalist narrative plays that role: move over God, and make room for Mammon----the IRA, the 401K, the 403B---the masquerade that regular people are really participating in global market forces.

I wonder if the deep secret of capitalism is its tacit acknowledgement that it has limits when it comes to generating wealth, limits as to how much it can produce, limits when it comes to a place at the table, limits to who can garner that wealth---that whatever does trickle down never reaches the poorest among us (despite a recent, mind-boggling suggestion that America's poor are the richest poor in the world). Perhaps the existence of the poor reassures the producers, the wealth generators, that capitalism is humming along, that the poor will always be with us and always require some version of a welfare safety net, so that neo-liberals and just plain liberals can sleep well in their do-gooding.

I am trying to avoid an overreach here, but is it un-American or un-Christian to ask if the middle class has been bamboozled into thinking that its supplying money to the real players (the poor cannot get into the game) in the market is a winning strategy for securing their own wealth for the future? Remarkably, even after the Great Recession---where the middle class donated its wealth to bailing out the greedy---the illusion dies hard. By now, most have recovered their devastating losses and are even showing a little growth; that's the brain-deadening wool over the mind's eye.

We all should be haunted by moral hazard but the secret of Mammon keeps telling people that it was the wind that knocked over that lamp. For all the talk lately of the redistribution of wealth, what forces have done more to shift wealth than those whose access to the market have provided opportunity for shaping economic tendencies and sentiment? These are the high priests of the new secular church, not those leaders whose well-intentioned but misdirected and impotent calls for 'fairness' vilify them in the face of a convincing illusion that retirement is secure---now that mega-capitalists have convinced us capitalist-wannabees to invest in the new faith. Part of the reason the markets pale when even a hint of rising interest rates (the price of money, which right now is dirt cheap) raises its ugly head is because the mega-capitalists don't like putting their own skin in the game, and would much rather play with others' money. They feed on the slumber-inducing illusion that everyone can get rich if only they invest in the system. Of course they have no problem leaving those investors (read: those saving for retirement) out to dry when things heat up. Their wealth is far more secure than any wealth in the opiates of the regular guy's stock portfolio.

Who will tell the middle class, the spinal column of America, when the mega-capitalists will make a move, when the wealth is about to flow out of the drugged slumber of the pack of wishes (some call it investment risk and market uncertainty) called a portfolio? Whose planned retirements will survive a 30-50% (or worse) reduction of personal capital when the mega's feel the need to declare that 'greed is good' and make a risky move (well not that risky---for them---we will resupply them with money)? How many hits to the spine can America take before its back is finally broken? 

Capitalism, it seems, is the very best shape for an economy adopt, and liberal democracy is its best buttress. Yet the capitalist dream is no viable repetition of religion. It does not know of a future of hope, only a short-term foreseeable time of wishes and gains. Capitalism's time is a strike-while -the-iron's-hot kairos---a season to be greedy. The Church has critiqued an unfettered capitalism's amorality if not its malicious tooth-and-claw competition for wealth; the Church, in turn, has been criticized for creating a straw-man capitalism---that such an unfettered capitalism does not exist. Unfettered or not, our capitalism will do just fine in ignoring the poor, hoarding the wealth, while crushing the back of the American worker---whether she is flipping burgers, assembling a car, teaching in the classroom, or asking someone to say "ahhh" and "cough".

There is no obvious solution to the incestuous relationship between establishment capitalists and the political structures that assure them of a nice safe sandbox. I remain committed to the Catholic Church's principles of social justice---solidarity and subsidiarity. These principles, of a certain wisdom and grace for which I hope and pray, can guide the size of a democratic government and harness the appetite of a capitalist economy. The balance between them is a work in progress and a source of hope in a future where we await the capitalism to come, a democracy to come, in the balancing act of a justice to come. 

Perhaps then those ghastly hauntings that go bump in the night of a good conscience will start a march into the light, and we all can get a little righteous sleep.

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