Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Quick Post from Florida

I am at a UU ministers' continuing education conference here in sunny Florida.  I love this sort of thing because I really love my colleagues and because I have a pathological strain of extroversion in my personality.

But on the way down here on the plane, I jotted down four kinds of issues where our present understanding of public ministries make it hard for us to "go there."  The core of the problem for us in all of these is the way that the partisan alignments in the US have become so closely matched to the class systems.

1.  The social unionism movement:  On Black Friday last, Walmart workers around the country were joined by community groups in picketing Walmart and other demonstrating for union rights.  Recently, fast food workers in New York City conducted a similar one-day campaign drawing attention to the poor working conditions for fast food workers.

2. The Occupy movements.

3. In Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, the GOP dominated state-legislature passed laws restricting the powers of organized labor.  To some degree, these moves are partisan warfare, designed to cripple powerful institutions that back the Democratic party.  Educational reform and "Tort Reform" are also public policy initiatives that have a partisan purpose.

4. The GOP continues down a path of institutionalizing anti-democratic practices in key chokepoints of governance:  gerrymandering (redistricting whenever they get the power to do it.), the filibuster, the Hastert rule, racialmandering, and now their scheme to create a path to winning the Presidency even while losing the popular vote by a significant margin.

What is going on in the United States politics is a dramatically politicized class conflict. The GOP is the party of the economically powerful and they want to use the government to protect and advance their interests.  Insurgent forces find themselves fighting back in the workplaces, in the streets, in the state legislatures and county boards, and at the ballot box.

For most Unitarian Universalist ministers, the obstacles are two.  One is that our churches and congregations are not sure which side they are on, in struggles like this.  That's OK, most middle class people have not yet made the discernment that this 1% vs 99% thing is real, and how small 1% really is.  Our individual and collective class position is one the ways that we are all interconnected and UU theology is more clear that we are connected to the ocean, stars and whales than we are to the fast food workers and the firefighters in our communities.

But we could get a lot more clear on those connections, but the class and partisan alignment makes it really hard to talk concretely about class issues in a "non-partisan" or "B-partisan" way.

By the way, the same constraints exist around climate change issues.  To talk about the real decisions made today about climate change (the Keystone pipeline etc.) is enter into discussions that have a partisan character.  Even to talk about the premise of climate change is sending a partisan signal.

3 comments:

fausto said...

I think it is dangerously misleading and simplistic to frame "what is going on [politically] in the United States" as "class warfare" and to try to derive from that an imperative and categorical moral or religious response. There may be an element of class conflict occurring, but what is really going on is much more subtle and complicated. It it might be summarized as a conflict between two American core values -- collectivism and individualism -- against a backdrop of the nation's gradual and inexorable decline as a political and economic world hegemon as foreign peoples rise out of their ignorance and poverty. Rigid advocates of either collectivism or individualism as a moral imperative blind themselves to the merits of the opposite position and the flaws in their own. For example, advocates of individualism (such as the recent Tea Party phenomenon) are often members of the middle class or underclass who fear for their own personal freedoms, not for the privileges of plutocrats, but they overlook the function of a social safety net in maintaining overall societal well-being. Collectivists likewise fear for the well-being of the underprivileged or oppressed, but they overlook the failure of most socialist (including democratic-socialist) regimes in practice to maintain the innovation and productivity gains necessary for long-term prosperity.

It is particularly ironic that so many UUs today take a collectivist position on politico-economic issues, often couched in near-apocalyptic moral terms, given our past history as leading advocates for personal freedom, and given our continuing preference for individualism over collectivism in matters of faith and doctrine. It may even be the case that our conflicted and clouded discernment in such matters is one of the chief impediments to resuming our past role of moral leadership in the national conversation. To lead effectively, we must teach ourselves again to speak from a commonly accepted frame of reference, rather than from our present idiosyncratic, conflicted and intellectually flawed one. "Spirit of Life" and "Blue Boat Home" may be soothing and self-affirming, but they do not have anything like the moral force of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" or "Once to Every Man and Nation".

Clyde Grubbs said...

Fausto, there is nothing 'simplistic' about class conflict,
class conflict is involves social movements, religious ideas, political positioning, and is very much impacted by "core values" such as collectivism versus individualism.

The financial sector of capital has concentrated power over manufacturing, agriculture and food processing, health care, retail, real estate presenting us with a situation where democracy depends on struggle against the 1%. So allmost all struggle converge and become relations and allies of "class struggle."

Elz C said...

Methinks you're both right. Human beings are far from uniform, and therefore, some of us are motivated simplistically and some of us jump in the presence of subtleties. Ultimately, though, I have to say that the question of core "values" displeases me because most people no longer have the means to bring their/our visions/ideas into reality just by marshaling our intentions and talents. This is no surprise to those of us who like the distinction, in Genesis, between Creator -- with the ability to say it and make it -- and the rest of us, for whom words are nothing without opportunities, resources, support systems and, yes, a few good words from The One whose Words makes good things happen.