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Our Generation’s Neoliberal Apocalypse: The Thessaloniki Programme, The Golden Dawn, and Paul the Apostle, Pt. 6

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Authorial Note: Pt. 1 can be found here,  Pt. 2 here,  Pt. 3 here,  Pt. 4 here and Pt. 5 here

     At the beginning of the first letter to the Thessalonians Paul praises his community for their ‘work produced by faith, your labor promoted by love, and you endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1:3). We have mentioned that these letters were produced in the light of the question ‘now that everything is about to end we can work toward something else, so what kind of society do we want?‘ and in our mutual task we should also remind ourselves that any work in answering this question is produced by faith– we ultimately have to trust that despite the overwhelming appearance of the permanent world order we can build something else. CB_VuOnUEAES-rwThe labor that we have whether in teaching or in food production is promoted by love for all the people and environments in our lives that apocalypses always threaten. Finally, for this community their endurance to continue their task was not built upon new legislation or a new political leader but was produced by the hope that this community had in light of their resurrected Lord. The resurrected Lord is too, our guarantee, not that we can prevent the apocalypse, or that we can postpone it, or even that we will physically survive through it. Jesus Christ is the guarantee that the society that we are working towards will out last us, and that we too will out last our own destruction. Paul then  finally defines his community as chosen by God (1:4) because it is moved by the Holy spirit- or we may say, a whole-other force or air- and is evidenced in power, or in full effect, which, as we will see, is not only changed beliefs but an entire new social structure founded on this new anthropology modelled by Jesus in particular, which is founded on theology. We have up until now merely traced three alternative socio-economic and political practices to accompany this new vision but now we need to continue this task. Traces, is what is proposed here, for so much more in terms of alternative praxis can be discovered by our brothers and sisters globally who have had already lived through various apocalyptic moments then we can possibly outline here. How might then Paul’s letters be further read to address and help us through these other seven socio-economic and political issues and fears?

   The fourth resultant of our socio-economic and political apocalypse is the destruction of the family with the accompanying fear of the break-up of social cohesion. The destruction of the family is not merely the reduction of the model of nuclear family for more alternative family structures, it is quite literally and more forthrightly the lack of families themselves– the loss of communities that have a sense of unconditional obligation to one another. The phrases “you’re family” or “do this for the family” appear more and more in popular culture to be phrases associated with a  mafia mentality- that the only reason one could possibly have obligations or a ‘code’ between one another is for criminal activity! Chris Rock, the black American comedian, in one particular stand-up special, commented the following on the black American family and the acute crisis of the lack of fathers, in describing his comical view of the difference between black people and ‘n*ggas’

“N*ggas always want credit for some sh*t they supposed to do…”I take care of my kids.” You’re supposed to…”I ain’t never been to jail!” What do you want, a cookie?! You’re not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectation-having motherf*cker!”

Low-expectations is not only prevalent throughout much of the black community in the United States but throughout much of the world as neoliberalism’s vision of the commodification of life has entrapped us into making obligations solely dependent on our whims. The fascist-esque ‘right’ sees phenomenon like abortion, divorce, and especially infidelity or divorce precipitated by alternative sexualities and gender identities, as symptoms of a culture that has abandoned the notion of unconditional obligations, resulting in the lack of families. While they may decry the loss of the nuclear family or the embrace of alternative sexualities as the cause of it, it is important to note that the destruction of the family or the lack of communities with unconditional obligations toward each other is discerned by the radical ‘left’ as well in other phenomenon such as  the lack of consent in the rise of sexual assault and rape, the bystander effect, and in the treatment of 9/11 first responders or veterans. What then would the alternative vision offered in Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians have to say to this lack? For Paul’s community, the assembly at Thessalonica became a surrogate family, for this is why Paul constantly refers to them as ‘brothers’, employs a trans-gender metaphor about being a mother (1 Thess. 2:7), and even that Paul and his companions became ‘orphans’ when they were separated from this community (1 Thess. 2:17). So close was this surrogate family that Paul instructed this community to greet each other with a  holy kiss (1 Thess. 5:26). Your obligations are no longer centred around biological familial lines but around those who sacrifice and labor for you, and who you share common mission with. Neoliberalism decimates the notion of family because one cannot have unconditional obligations, whereas for Paul and his community, the community of work becomes the surrogate family to whom are owed obligations out of mutual sacrifice.

     As for our fifth consequence of neoliberalism-the secularization of spiritual realities like nature and ethnicity, and its accompanying fear of the disenchantment of life- one would think that Paul’s answer to it would be fairly simple given its theological outlook- but let’s not haste. The mere association between anything and it being ‘spiritual’ in no way implies that it would become any more ecologically or ethnically rich and honouring than other more secular endeavours- religions too can make a bore of life. Given also what we have outlined about asceticism it may be difficult to see how Paul’s letters would re-enchant life or provide what G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy called “the pleasure of paganism.”34dca20fb4b14ac0a45a35b177b454f6.306x407x1 What the fascist-esque ‘right’ fears is nihilistic hedonism or as the prophet Isaiah put it millennia ago, “Let us eat and drink,” you say,  “for tomorrow we die!”(Isaiah 22:13). One example from popular culture of this nihilistic hedonism is Joe Budden’s song “Last Day” from his album No Love Lost (2013), the entire premise of which is

“Now when they call me to them gates and they ask me how I live
I feel I ain’t have a choice like my stomach’s to my ribs
N*ggas wanted me dead, I kept hammers in the crib
But nah, I don’t regret a f*ckin’ thing I ever did
So I spend like it’s my last day”

Jubilant hedonism in constant awareness of death, which seems to draw all the pleasure out of pleasure itself. Nihilistic hedonism is a perennial human predicament but neoliberalism makes it particularly acute because it is secular– redemption, resurrection, or conversion are impossible features of a materialistic and deterministic universe of secularism. In opposition to this pleasure pursuit in the shadow of death, Paul’s letters, while also speaking of the inevitability of suffering (1 Thess. 3:1-4) couple this experience of suffering with joy (1 Thess. 1:7, 5:16). Neoliberalism leads us to envision suffering as something that is to be avoided at all costs- is this not the real underlying message of advocacy for euthanasia? – as humanity is meant to consume the whole world and himself for pleasure. For Paul and his community however, pleasure is not found in its pursuit before the closure of never being able to pursue it again- death- rather joy is to be found in the realization that everything you are suffering and working toward leads to “a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12). Furthermore, this is why understanding the resurrection of Jesus and of his followers is so important. Readings of 1 Thess. 4:16-18 that read it as Christians running away from the earth do not understand the passage. The ‘rapture‘ is a religious attempt to make this life a bore, resurrection however is the guarantee that despite the suffering, and even beyond death, this life will be a joy. One does not ‘live in the moment’ as in neoliberalism nihilistic hedonism, rather one lives for the future.

    The economic exploitation of neoliberalism in free trade deals and its accompanying fear of privileged secretive conspiracies- the sixth consequence in our list- is much like sexual exploitation, for like grown men that watch pornography in darkness, so too are trade deals like the Trans-Pacfic Partnership made in secret. Free trade associations are made with the promise to bring equal opportunity to all in the name of partnership, but in practice ineffectively create unequal power relationships. The radical ‘left’ often discusses privilege and micro-aggression, while these concepts are much debated in identity politics, they are remarkably helpful in understanding what free trade deals do to world economies. When ‘privilege’ is discussed in social relationships it is meant to highlight that often certain ethnic or gender identities have implicit advantage over differing ones given the social structure- so too in world economies. When NAFTA was first composed its promotional campaign was filled with promised about cultural enrichment, alleviation of poverty, and general equality of opportunity. In smaller picture terms- a flea market decides to loosen up the regulations for having a booth so that everyone has a greater opportunity to sell things. Some of the loosened regulations include no longer having to be for the community, not paying extra fees to have a booth, and no longer having to employ people from the flea market roster. As a result, the flea market comes over run with larger retail companies that no longer have to employ the more expensive employees from the flea market roster, they no longer have to care about the community’s health interest in their products, and, to maximize the most amount of money- no longer having to pay membership fees. What looked like an opportunity to make things more fair, equal, and open, in reality made it only easier for the bigger dogs to get an even bigger share of the pie. What might the letters to the community at Thessalonica respond to this equality of opportunity for unequal relationships in resource distribution?

    The first five phenomenon of our neoliberal apocalypse have specifically to do with politics, and thus we have read Thessalonians, but now that we have come to the next five we are in the realm of socio-economics, which is why the scholarship on 1 Thessalonians concerning it being a professional voluntary association is so important. What we have in Paul’s letters, in addition to providing us traces about a alternative body politic, is an alternative socio-economic arrangement. Paul instructs his community “…to aspire to live quietly [φιλοτιμεῖσθαι ἡσυχάζειν], to mind your own affairs…so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:11-12). Die_protestantische_Ethik_und_der_'Geist'_des_Kapitalismus_original_coverWhat Paul here does with the term φιλοτιμεῖσθαι is profound, for normally in other professional voluntary association this term is used to encourage competition- a neoliberal virtue is there ever was one- but Paul instead employs the term to encourage meekness. What prima facie appears to be the  ultimate proclamation of the  Protestant work ethic is actually the devaluation of the ideal of competition. What Paul would say to NAFTA may look something like protectionism but not in the self-interested orientation of wanting to protect communal resources. Rather, in our other-oriented anthropology, we do not impose our standards, cultures, and wealth upon others so as to not harm them or become a burden on them. Self-sufficiency and  meek/humble economies are not selfish in this sense but are precisely compassionate because they do not create even the possibility of unequal power relationships- you are solely dependent on  anyone, and no one is solely dependent on you. We must understand, this is not to deny the relational ontology we outlined earlier or to say that we are not interdependent- Paul just a few verses earlier promotes love in the surrogate family (1 Thess. 4:9-10)!!!- but rather that part of being interdependent is not making someone solely dependent on you, or making yourself solely dependent on others. Is this not exactly what free trade deals to do smaller economies, a neo-colonialism of sorts?

    If an other-oriented protectionism is a trace of a response to the decimation by free trade, the deregulation of financial markets, and the accompanying fear of fraud and deceit are the next phenomenon to be addressed- after all, in these secret deals, someone is obviously not being told the truth. When we discuss the deregulation of financial markets we could be speaking about any variety of phenomenon, whether the use of fiat money instead of commodity or representative money, the repeal of Glass-Steagall Act, the financialization of economies, or even the credit theory of money which holds that all money is really debt. However, of more importance than monetary theories even is the increasing anxiety and differential gap between ordinary working class people’s view of the economy and the proclamations about economic recovery. How is it, as Derek Thompson at the Atlantic rightly points out, that we can have these two narratives “…produce a dissonant, but not contradictory, summary of America…”, that  “…on average, everything is getting better, but for many people, nothing is going well”? Many working class people in western countries feel lied to, tricked, and feel within their gut level that the economy has not improved- but technically it has, once you understand that there are two different definitions of our economy- one from those who live in reality, and the other from those who live in a world of financial and numerical fantasy. In financial theory terms, as John Maynard Keynes popularized, this is called the money illusion, which originally referred to lay people’s lack of awareness between wealth and the nominal stated value of their money- there is an enormous difference, especially in fiat money based economies. What however has happened to economies globally, including Greece, is that entire governments have come under this very illusion. Whether its small consumer credit debt, or large governmental public spending debt- it is not real because it is all based on a fides or a trust that we no longer believe in. Our outward display of wealth and opulence is ultimately fraud and deceit, for in reality the actual wealth, while growing is concentrated, and as long as the rich’s illusory financial wealth is accepted as their credit for their lifestyles and as part of the rest of the population’s wealth- we are held under the restraint of this illusion that we too can come into such illusory wealth.

    Paul’s second letter to his community at Thessalonica give us a sobering view of the power of such illusions over our imaginations and our economy. In reference most likely to a Roman Emperor during the Jewish war, Paul writes of the ‘lawless one’ that

“The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned.” (2 Thess. 2:9-12)

Has not neoliberalism too, like this ‘lawless one’ for Paul’s community, brought us so many ‘signs’ and ‘lying wonders’?  Have we not heard over and over again of economic ‘miracles’ such as in China or India? Paul’s testimony here about God’s actions is actually quite observable in social interaction, its called confirmation bias. We like this lie we have constructed and 41LMUsSTaNL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_because we refused to accept a more reality based alternative we will be told by all our advisers what we want to hear from them- that everything is okay. What then would Paul say to this rampant mythology and delusion of neoliberalism and imaginary wealth that has taken hold of our imaginations? Paul seemingly here offers almost nothing original of what we may expect as he writes, “Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:20-21)- a passage which can even be quoted verbatim from Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion in his alternative ten commandments asTest all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them” (pg. 299). Is Paul just offering skepticism as the remedy to our delusion? Paul further writes, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound” (1 Thess. 5:23). Paul’s alternative to neoliberalism’s illusion, fraud, and deceit of imaginary wealth facilitated by financial deregulation is not only skepticism toward all mythologies or words of prophets, but a skepticism coupled with a faith in a God who will protect you.

    Our myths and ideologies like neoliberalism are things we cling to because we have a personal investment in them and believe that our very survival is dependent upon them. Faith in a God that will protect you- Paul’s encouragement and alternative to the belief of our need to be protected by myths- will actually and counter-intuitively free us to be the most skeptical towards ideologies and beliefs that claim to be permanent and set themselves “above every so-called god or object of worship” (2 Thess. 2:4), because our survival is not dependent on clinging to them. We can test neoliberalism’s claims with full skepticism, with the assurance that even if we reveal the empty idol that our survival does not depend on propping up this myth. Having come now only partially through our list, what might Paul’s letters continue to reveal for our last three phenomenon of fiscal austerity, privatization, and our public governments divestment of any ability to assert control, even for the public good, even democratically over financial institutions?

Our Generation’s Neoliberal Apocalypse: The Thessaloniki Programme, The Golden Dawn, and Paul the Apostle, Pt. 5

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Authorial Note: Pt. 1 can be found here,  Pt. 2 here,  Pt. 3 here, and Pt. 4 here

     Deep theological and political reflection will be the norm for most of our generation in the upcoming decades as the socio-economic and political apocalypse of the demise of neoliberalism unfolds, and, particularly for committed Christians young adults for whom 9/11 was the central event of their lives, the questions of praxis that result from this realization and embrace of the coming apocalypse are profound and detailed. What began as a vague question about the connections between the economic and political crisis in Greece and the questions raises by St. Paul the Apostle in his letters to the church in Thessalonica 300px-PaulThas become an exercise in something that Fyodor Dostoevsky undertook while envisioning the apocalypse coming upon 19th and 20th century Russia. Simply, this series has been an exercise in providing ‘spiritual’ answers to ‘political’ problems, or better yet, re-envisioning the faith of the New Testament not as a private religious belief, but as a socio-economic and political alternative to the ideologies that are bringing about a apocalypse in the world order. What we are not engaging in here is an exercise in Christian apologetics- defending a faith that is increasingly been abandoned or trying to revert to something- rather we are asking another question- what would it mean to be a Christian now? What would it mean to conceive of the vision of the Kingdom of God as an alternative society, in light of our current apocalypse? What is amazingly hopeful for writers, preachers, or really any believer right now should be is that the socio-economic questions and political questions that are being raised in our climate are eschatological questions. The questions are no longer about reacting to problems, or reforming broken systems, or legislating new laws, but precisely now that everything is about to end we can work toward something else, so what kind of society do we want?

     Listing the symptoms and the corresponding fears of the neoliberal socio-economic crisis and political apocalypse as we have perceived them from listening to the alternative visions being proposed, we would list them as follows:

  1. Internationalism and the loss of sovereignty  (Loss of Identity and Control)
  2. Mass illegal immigration (Invasion of an uncontrollable external force)
  3. The shaming of national pride by international law (Shame and humiliation)
  4. The destruction of the family (The break-up of social cohesion)
  5. Secularization of spiritual realities like nature and ethnicity (The disenchantment of life)
  6. Free trade (Privileged Secretive Conspiracies)
  7. Deregulation of financial markets (Fraud and deceit)
  8. Fiscal austerity (Loss of Material Security)
  9. Privatization (Theft)
  10. Public governments divested of any ability to assert control, even for the public good, even democratically over financial institutions (Overt Violent Domination)

Any alternative positive vision for society must address these fears and offer at least partial responses and alternative social practices to accompany them. But more then this, as we have seen, any alternative positive vision for society must offer a different anthropology then the antagonistic permanent binaries offered by either (1) self interested particular secular individualism (me versus everyone that stands in the way of my desires/ neoliberalism), (2) us-interested general egalitarian secular collectivism (humanity versus anyone we deem inhuman/ the radical ‘left’), or (3) us-interested particular ethnic glorified collectivism (us versus them/ the fascist ‘right’). What is suggested here is an extended thesis from a quote attributed to Thomas Merton that

“We are not at peace with others [socio-economics and politics] because we are not at peace with ourselves [anthropology], and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God [theology]”

     What however makes St. Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians a suitable candidate for a spiritual resource to draw upon to offer an alternative positive vision for society?* The community Paul is addressing in his letter is a professional voluntary association in the ancient world- a rough contemporary equivalent are worker’s unions. The professional voluntary association is made of up of mostly non-Judean manual working men, perhaps in the leather trade of which Paul was a part of and of whom Paul is endeavouring to identify himself with in his appeal to this community- he too is part of the ‘working class’ if you will.  Voluntary associations are usually either religious groups or associations of a shared  trade, but more often than not these two functions went together- they were both a workers union and a religious group. Voluntary associations such as the Thessaloniki community often had rotating leadership cycles, and home grown leadership from those among their rank and trade, rather than imposed from the outside. Finally such groups often encompassed a general ethos of competition, orderliness, and contribution for funds relating to funerals, banquets, weddings, and such. If there was one ‘church’ from whom we could discern what a socio-economic and political alternative vision would look life, a ‘church’ whose central concerns were about what proper leadership and organization was and the distribution of resources, and was also asking these enormous important questions of praxis in the light of their current world order coming to an end (1 Thess. 5:1-3 in particular)- it was Paul’s voluntary association at Thessalonica.

     Let us begin then to read 1 & 2 Thessalonians** with this focus in mind and work our imaginations into seeing if and how the socio-economic and political alternative may be birthed from drawing upon this spiritual resource. What is the alternative anthropology is outlined in Paul’s letters? It is not based self interested particular secular individualism (me versus everyone that stands in the way of my desires) because it is acknowledged that human beings are communal creatures, defined by who they are related to, not what they are as isolated subjects. Paul introduced himself by mentioning his companions, he grounds his community based in their geography, he bases their movement in their resurrected leader, and that all of their action is formed by imitation of one another. The Thessalonian community is not defined in anyway abstractly as ‘sentient beings with rights’ or what not, but precisely by their relationship to everything else. Nor is the anthropology here a us-interested general egalitarian secular collectivism (humanity versus anyone we deem inhuman), because, as we will see, this community is defined separately from other groups of people not because they are human and their opposition are monsters or demons, but based precisely on their reception to the new movement of this particular community. Finally, it is not us-interested particular ethnic glorified collectivism (us versus them) because their identity is not rooted in their ethnicity, and they actually have international and ethnically diverse solidarity in Judea and elsewhere (2:14).

dilbert_misinterpretation

Apologies for the obscure terminology here

  The anthropology that Paul offers is none of these options but precisely a other-interested particular egalitarian glorified collectivism. The Thessalonian’s anthropology is rooted in its sole interest being for those outside its domain, it is particularity in its relationships, its glorification in being identified with the model divine human Jesus Christ, and its collectivist orientation is witnessed in its communal social structure and practice. Primarily then, having an other-orientation does not require you to erase your own identity, as in the radical ‘left’s’ vision- its not important to remember just how ‘human’ you are and have that shared humanity as your connection with others or boundary mark by which you exclude others. You and your community are particular subjects, not subsumed or erased by a general collective- you are allowed to be defined differently from others. Furthermore, being other-oriented and particular leads to egalitarianism because the “other/neighbour” that your are orientated to is an “other” precisely because they are unlike you, and thus your community must be ready to be unlike yourselves for you to even be included in who you are! Or as Paul says in another letter, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Cor. 9:22-23)- Paul cannot himself share in this community unless his own identity is radically egalitarian. It is this anthropology alone then that can address the first fear of our list of ten, of a loss of identity and control, a resultant of internationalism and loss of sovereignty. It offers an internationalist solidarity dependant upon no other particular secular authority that can take away your inclusion in the community- you have your particular identity, and your sovereignty cannot be revoked, while at the same time being internationalist in a shared transcendent authority of a common struggle. As Slavoj Žižek writes in Against the Double Blackmail in his rejection of liberal multi-culturalism, “Don’t just respect others: offer them a common struggle, since our problems today are common; propose and fight for a positive universal project shared by all participants” (100). The Thessalonians do not have to be uniform in anyway to the Judean Christians, nor do they have to be instructed and controlled by them, but they share international solidarity in their shared struggle (1 Thess. 2:13-16).

     The other-orientated particular egalitarian community then is glorified and not secular, because only if it is glorified can it even be other-orientated.  The other anthropologies offered by neoliberalism, the radical ‘left’, and the fascist-esque ‘right’, are all secular anthropologies precisely because in their definition of humanity, humanity is all on its own to protect or glorify itself- no grace or guidance in this universe, we must look out for ourselves or for our group. Only if then, like the Thessalonian community, you believe that grace is available and needed, that peace is on offer to you, can you begin to give up self-interest or your own community’s interests for others. The grace of God is the theology that can give birth to this other-oriented anthropology, nothing else. If peace with God leads to peace with ourselves, theology giving birth to anthropology, then what do these together birth in terms of a socio-economic and political organization of our relationships to each other and the planet. Or, what makes it collectivist? If the radical ‘left’ and the fascist ‘right’ offered proposals, what may we say some of the ethical proposals here are? Furthermore, how does the orientation of this community in Paul’s letter guide us as to how we should address the other nine fears associated with these large socio-economic and political forces at work?

     One of the central purposes of Paul’s first letter is to outline his own behaviour as a exemplary model, which he characterizes as sincere, gentle, and sacrificial. The first of many proposals then we might say from these letters is to actually sacrifice one’s own rights- the intentional relinquishment of judicial/human/earned rights. Paul says that he acted in this way ‘though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.’ (1 Thess. 2:7). Paul is speaking of relationships between individuals within a group, but what might this look like as a wider socio-political practice? Let us discuss honestly the issue of illegal immigration as the resultant socio-economic and political upheaval of the second of our ten fears- that of an uncontrollable external force that drains resource. Two ‘rights’ constantly referred to in the debate throughout much of Europe and North America about the current refugee crisis- a resultant, we might add of the demise of neoliberalism- are the human rights of the refugees to live free from persecution, and the rights of a nation to a secure boarder and to privilege its own citizens in its distribution of resources. When Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany responded to a Palestinian girl begging for asylum, she answered quite honestly, “… if we were to say you can all come … we just can’t manage it.” Let’s be frank, if everyone in Germany wanted to live with the same standards they have always had, there would not be enough. What if however we were to sacrifice our rights? Paul’s first proposal to us, of sacrificing our own rights for the sake of another, might lead a community founded upon this socio-economic and political alternative to embrace open boarders- sacrificing their right as a community to be protected from an outsider, and furthermore, the refugees would be encouraged to sacrifice all their rights of accommodation, recognizing that they too are to live self-sacrifically.

     Continuing from our first two conclusions thus far of (i) embracing internationalism on a transcendent common struggle and not uniformity of identity and (ii) embracing open boarders in a self-sacrifical ethic; another proposal we may glean from Paul’s letters is self-control when it comes to addressing our third phenomenon and its accompanying fear. We have international law in order to publicly shame nations that do not conform to some other international authority’s idea of the common good- we do not trust that they will hold themselves accountable to a moral standard, that self-control is an unreasonable expectation because neoliberalism has endowed us with the vision of pursuing desires without restraint as a good. 31ee61a06b428d2ce3b930b083576f36Paul speaks of self-control in sexual matters, making a passing pun to a male’s genitalia as a tool, not because sex is dirty or that the ‘flesh’ is evil, but precisely, ‘that no one wrong or exploit a brother in this matter’ (1 Thess. 4:6). Far from traditional religious prudishness, Paul and this community understand, alongside of Frank Underwood in HBO’s show House of Cardsthat “…everything is about sex. Except sex. Sex is about power.” We may say then that what Paul makes insight into here is that relationships of exploitation begin in matters pertaining to sexuality, where human beings are most naturally inclined to exploit each other for desire. We should not be surprised then that when its comes to shaming and humiliation of nations by bankers that there will be a sexual eroticized element to it for these bankers, a sado-maschism prevalent in all behaviour. What self-control as a socio-political practice may look like then is a communal asceticism such as celibate sexualities, non-consumption of pornography, the criminalization of procurers, and zero tolerance for sexual assault and rape- beginning with sexuality moving onto other areas of exploitation. Self-control can no longer be viewed as an unreasonable expectation as in neoliberalism, and thus external legal standards on which to humiliate and debase people can also no longer stand. Self-control is to embrace a restraint on desires because they are exploitative, and as a result of this internalization we can recognize that the desire to shame and humiliate others by external legal standards is in itself a sado-maschistic expression of desire.

     Thus three traces of alternative socio-economic and political practices to be enacted that we can discern are

  1. Internationalism and the loss of sovereignty  (Loss of Identity and Control)
    • Embracing internationalism on a transcendent common struggle and not uniformity of identity. Identity and struggle remain particular but internationalism is embraced on the commonality of struggle.
  2. Mass illegal immigration (Invasion of an uncontrollable external force)
    • Embracing open boarders in a self-sacrifical ethic. External forces and peoples use of resources are no longer things we must be afraid of for our own protection but rather opportunities for us to practice self-sacrifice in our other-interested orientation.
  3. The shaming of national pride by international law (Shame and humiliation)
    • Embracing self-control and communal asceticism, especially rooted and beginning with human interactions of sexuality. An internalized conscience addresses the fear of being ashamed and humiliated because you already examine yourself critically, and, furthermore, only diminishes the need for an external force law that people use against one another as an expression of a sado-maschist desire itself.

Traces, that is what we have so far. How might these letters be further read to address these other seven socio-economic and political issues and fears?

__________________________

*Most of the following is drawn from:  Ascough, Richard S. “The Thessalonian Christian Community as a Professional Voluntary Association.” Journal of Biblical Literature 119, no. 2 (July 1, 2000): 311–28. doi:10.2307/3268489.

** Readers are encouraged to read both letters, for instance here, before continuing if there is no imitate knowledge of the content of these letters already.

Our Generation’s Neoliberal Apocalypse: The Thessaloniki Programme, The Golden Dawn, and Paul the Apostle, Pt. 4

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Authorial Note: Pt. 1 can be found here,  Pt. 2 here, and Pt. 3 here

         Can the past ever be the future? What is so remarkable about the resurgence of the fascist-esque ‘right’ across the globe is hardly its fears, its rhetoric, its devotees, or its objects of devotion, but simply just how much they reflect a past we long thought deadGolden_Dawn_members_at_rally_in_Athens_2015-1.jpgThe imitation of many of these movements, such as the party of the Golden Dawn in Greece to Nazi Germany or other 20th century fascist movements is remarkable. Whether it is the similarities between their adoration of Adolf Hitler or their iconography- you could be forgiven for mistaking the Golden Dawn Party’s meander symbol against a red background for the Nazi flag . What many average or ‘leftist’ people would have regarded as long dead and so obviously objectionable as to be the prime association for the word ‘evil’ in civil discourse, is for these fascist-esque ‘right’ movements a source of inspiration. The political apocalypse of neoliberalism has left us with a legacy of internationalism and the loss of sovereignty, mass illegal immigration, the shaming of national pride by international law, the destruction of the family, and the secularization of spiritual realities like nature and ethnicity. What will be argued next will be controversial given our climate but must be considered just as important to reflect upon as the neoliberal economic crisis and everything it consists of. What the fascist-esque ‘right’ are pointing to as symptoms of a political apocalypse are real symptoms. The racism, homophobia, and much else of this fascist-esque ‘right’ are reprehensible, but their fears are just as human. While the ‘left’s’ realized fears in the neoliberal economic crisis are privileged secretive arrangements, fraud and deceit, loss of material security, theft, and overt violent domination, the realized fears of the ‘right’s’ political apocalypse are loss of control, invasion of an uncontrollable external force, being ashamed and humiliated, the break-up of social cohesion, and the disenchantment of life itself. To not recognize these deep fears of the radical ‘left’ and the radical ‘right’ is to miss the only possible way of understanding why these movements are reacting the way they are.

      We have explored the ‘left’s’ proposals of the legal notion of odious debt, debt forgiveness, and occupation of public and private space, but now, with human fears in mind we can see how these proposals address those fears. If the ‘left’s’ realized fears are such as fraud and deceit in financial deregulation, we can see how the concept of odious debt is an attempt to bring responsible accountability and honesty back into the financial realm- ‘everyone pays for their own debts, not anyone elses’. With this in mind then we will explore three proposals of the radical ‘right’: (i) the use of coercive force to enforce boarders and nationalist law, (ii) reassertion of the patriarchal figure of the father of the household against the foreign oligarchy that threatens to rape the daughters of the nation, and (iii) the reassertion of religious institutions as a preventive measure against the secularizing tendency of the pleasure driven market economy- as attempts to provide an alternative political vision that will address their fears. Up until now the words ‘right’ and ‘left’ when referring to positions of the political spectrums have been used with quotations marks precisely to remember the lines of ideological delineation between the ‘left’ and ‘right’ are more permeable, because they are more human, then most are inclined to perceive. The radical ‘left’ and the radical ‘right’ may overlap in many respects because the hopes and fears of all the years lie within the hearts of humans who now wander the global as refugees of a neoliberal palace on the verge of collapse.

      When Yanis Varoufakis made the observation that the neoliberal order came for Greece this time with the banks instead of the tanks, he failed to mentioned that the tanks are still not far off. Correlated with the demise of the neoliberal political order and the mass impoverishment of entire populations as a result is the rise of militarized police, martial law, surveillance, and private security forces- as use of tear gas and the infliction of severe head injuries against protestors throughout the past few years in Greece will attest to. The radical ‘right’ fears the rise of this coercive violence of the state as much as any oppressed minority fears for his life at the barrel of a gun. In response to this state and international use of coercive force to quell rebellion by the impoverished, the radical ‘right’ has resorted to its own desire to adopt the use of coercive force to protect itself against the forces it sees itself as coming under such as illegal immigrants. As one english news outlet for the Golden Dawn Party expressed about its own civilian militias,

“The Militia Guard exists to safeguard the Greeks. Patrolling poor neighborhoods neglected by the Police, being the only protection in protests against the brutal officers of the Riot Control Unit, and helping the citizens face the dangerous daily life of Athens, the Militia Guard is the always there to help the Greeks that have been weakened by the austerity measures.”

All vigilante violence of radical fascist-esque movements however is implicitly endorsed by state institutions for primarily two reasons, one is that it justifies their own use of force with the military and the police, but the second is that the vigilante violence is done with the aim of the protection of the state institutions themselves. Vigilante violence is done not with the aim of rebelling against the state but of purifying it, and thus the centres of power including mainline political parties, always will be found to have an unease but not well-disguised relationship of tacit endorsement of these violent movements whether its the KKK and the Republic party of the United States, or the New Democratic party with the Golden Dawn Party of Greece. The Golden Dawn party of Greece has recently been investigated and tried for criminal charges related to gang violence and thuggery, much like Donald Trump supports in the United States, but what has been so surprisingly to many unfamiliar with the nature of violence is that the Golden Dawn has been secretively endorsed by large percentages the police, often with their very participation in aggressions.  What the radical ‘right’ proposes with options like beating up protestors, killing immigrants, building walls, and much more is an impotent attempt to reclaim the use of coercive violence for their own ends. The use of coercive force to enforce national boarders and laws is the first proposal of the ‘right’ and, like the ‘left’s’ first proposal of odious debt, it too does nothing to challenge neoliberalism vision for society, for it too uses coercive force, it only says ‘we shall appropriate that method for ourselves’.

    Fascist-esque movements of the ‘right’ often refer to their nation state in an almost off-handedly unimportant way as a motherland- such as in the Golden Dawn’s outreach for membership which says “You can contribute and fight the social and cultural degeneration of our motherland Greece.” The lexicon of ‘motherland’ however is mythology in which the earth and its inhabits are female, specifically awaiting to be fertilized and taken care of by the male owners of the land. Given that Nazism and many other fascist movements throughout history have been explicitly rooted in occultic paganism, we should not be surprised that for the rise of these new fascist-esque movements, all of reality is sexed– that is, divided into male and female. What is most remarkable about these new fascist-esque movements is precisely that they embrace a version of environmentalism, which is traditionally thought to be a ‘progressive’ notion. The Golden Dawn, instance, has a Green Wing which takes care of fires, and animal protection.  tumblr_mocok3nigD1rp30dro5_500Derek wall at the Red Pepper, sees such a connection between fascism and ecology as essentially an aberration because “What better way, after all, of destroying a radical movement than by connecting surrogate body to suggest that infiltration by the far right has occurred and that names/addresses should be handed over for prudent disinfection?” Apologetics at its finest. Alongside of this environmentalism is also a quasi-feminist emphasis on women’s rights and the protection of their bodies. For instance, in the Munk Debate on the Global Refugee Crisis, Nigel Farage the former leader of UKIP, and Mark Steyn, both considered to be leaders of political conservative movements, were mocked by Louise Arbour, a former Canada supreme court judge, with having become feminists because they were continually raising concerns about rape cases across Europe as a result of the refugee crisis- an acute concern particularly in Greece. What cannot be fathomed by both Wall and Arbour however is that leaders of the fascist-esque movements could be genuinely concerned about environmental destruction and protection of their women’s bodies. ‘Their women’s bodies‘, the fascist-esque movements appeals to their own versions environmentalism and feminism are based precisely in their mythology of male ownership of the female bodies of the earth and the female population of their country. The thesis proposed is that these movements do recognize that the neoliberal order has precipitated some sort of environmental crisis and that the proliferation rape as a weapon whether by refugees or oligarchs has precipitated a crisis of the destruction of family. Does this reassertion of the father figure protecting the female body challenge however the neoliberal vision of the cosmos as a marketplace? Much like the left’s proposal of loan forgiveness, while the reassertion of male authority figures over agriculture and family life would undoubtedly provide some measure of safety and security, in the end, it does not challenge the neoliberal order because it does not challenge the idea of ownership, it only challenges the idea of who the owners should be. While loan forgiveness did not challenge the idea of debt, reassertion of the patriarchy does not challenge the idea of ownership. As a result, both the environmental crisis and the crisis of family precipitated by the neoliberal order of the world as a market place, whether natural resources or women’s bodies, would not be challenged by the reassertion of patriarchy because the ownership of the market would inevitably reassert itself in familial and agricultural relationships.

    Fatherhood and the giving of bread, familial and agricultural relationships, are at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, and in the midst of the political apocalypse of neoliberalism, religion, spirituality, and institutions like the Greek Orthodox church in the case of Greece for instance, are bulwarks seized upon by the ‘right’ against the rising tide of secularism brought upon by neoliberalism’s commodification of all values and resources. It seems clear that, as Dr. Konstantinos Papastathis in his research pointed out that, “While it  [The Golden Dawn] articulated an openly anti-Christian political discourse (1980s), there was a reorientation of the party’s strategy to exploit church’s social influence and the alignment of religious officials to an ultra-nationalist agenda from the 1990s onwards…allegedly protecting religion has not been the aim, but the means to an end” the end of political power. For the Golden Dawn, their relationship with the Greek Orthodox church, as has been pointed out by Demetrios Bathrellos a priest in Athens, has been both of being coddled and challenged. The challenge for these movements is to gain the endorsement or the housing of the most centralized and powerful religious institutions of their country, whether the Catholic Church or the Orthodox church (though sometimes the Protestant churches as is the case of the appeal to Evangelicals by Donald Trump) while at the same time not being remotely representative of the values or doctrinal beliefs of those institutions. Catholic or Orthodox churches, because they are often nationalist and traditional tend to fall on the ‘right’ side of the political spectrum, however, as Bathrellos makes clear, this in no way necessarily makes them fascist sympathizers because these same institutions are also part of international bodies and promote the values of weakness and humility. For fascist-esque movements that seek to restrict their socialism to their own nation in protest to the internationalism of neoliberalism they assert their strength with both coercive physical violence and patriarchy, but in order to appear powerful they must have the blessing of the influential religious institutions where power lies, but which do not appeal to the means of power that these fascist-esque movements do. As the radical ‘left’ tries to occupy public and political space in order to, even symbolically, protest against the universal ownership of the market over all aspects of life in neoliberalism, the radical ‘right’ attempts to occupy spaces of religious and spiritual significance and proclaims them to be sovereign over all aspects of life. Likewise, this particular proposal does challenge neoliberalism even though it comes with its own challenges about its success given the Orthodox and Catholic Church’s complicity in particular with the ethnocentrism and authoritarianism of these fascist-esque movements.

    If the alternative vision of the radical ‘left’ is the democratization of the economy, the alternative vision of the fascist-esque right is quite simply not only to conserve but to revert to national socialism. If the neoliberal order wants to organize society around chrimata, and the ‘left’ wants to reorganize it around some sort of demos, then the fascist-esque ‘right’ wants to reorganize it around ethnosgreekWhat may be surprising and difficult to acknowledge is that both of these alternative visions are quite similar and draw inspiration from each other. If one reads the platforms of the Syriza party and the Golden Dawn party one would find a great deal of similarity- much like the similarity between both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders calling for the repeal or reform of NAFTA- two opposing figures, same goal. The differential factor then between the visions of these two movements is not along fearful vs. courageous, open vs. closed, ethnocentric vs. cosmopolitan, but, first and foremost, whether neoliberalism is a economic crisis of an integrated market or whether neoliberalism is a political apocalypse of an international political power. What is not noted in any clear systematic sense, though it has been attempted here minimally is that both the economic crisis and the political apocalypse are intertwined with each other. Even the proposals of the radical ‘left’ and ‘right’ are mirrors of each other, as could be seen in the following manner,

  • Odious debt does not challenge debt generally only that they are responsible for their debt- the bankers should be responsible for their debt, but we should not be responsible for their debt  VS.  Coercive violence does not challenge violence generally only that they are responsible for their violence- the immigrants and the international order should be responsible for their violence, but we should not be responsible for their violence
  • Loan forgiveness does not challenge the patronage/credit system generally only that every so often the game should be reset  VS.  the reassertion of the patriarchy does not challenge the hierarchical power relationships of ownership generally only that they should be realigned and reset properly
  • The occupation of public and political spaces does challenge the vision of neoliberalism in the symbolic manner of reclaiming the idea of the common demos over the market  VS.  the occupation of spiritual and religious spaces does challenge the vision of neoliberalism in the symbolic manner of reclaiming the idea of a spiritual community of the ethnos over the market

Both these visions reject the assertion of the neoliberal vision of the society as the cosmos as a marketplace but neither one of them challenge its fundamental structures of power should as debt, coercive violence, patronage/credit, and hierarchy of ownership. Both these visions reject the anthropology of neoliberalism of homo economicus– that we are primarily concerned with ourselves and our desires. The ‘left’ proposes a general spiritual humanity that can transcend selfish desires of the rich oligarchs by recognizing our commonness, and the ‘right’ proposes a particular ethnic humanity that prides itself in its uniqueness over against other nations. Democratization of the economy, the alternative vision of the ‘left’ however is precisely the belief that the citizens should have priority and control over their economy. National socialism, the alternative vision of the ‘right’ is precisely the belief that the citizens should have priority and control over their economy. Once manners, cartoons, and rhetoric are put aside both visions cast their collective humanity against the monsters, whether bankers or immigrants as the socio-economic and political apocalypse. “International bankers ‘choke’, ‘rape’, ‘blood-let’, and ‘enslave’ citizens of countries” vs. “Immigrants ‘choke’, ‘rape’, ‘blood-let’, and ‘enslave’ our women and the earth.” The anthropology is an antagonistic permanent binary that yearns for the the reversal of roles of the socio-economic and political order, not its demolishment.

    We asked in our first instalment what do these alternative visions reveal about the nature of our crisis, not merely its causes and effects- but firstly and foremost, what is it rooted in? What is our socio-economic and political apocalypse of the demise of the vision of neoliberalism rooted in, and whose courtroom is it? It is these questions, and most especially the second half of Papastathis’ research question, the question of “…why the Church has accepted GD’s [Golden dawn’s] endeavour to exploit its symbolic capital?” that will occupy us like New York protestors in Zuccotti park, forever holding up a sign of the beatitudes to those who should know them best. Is there a public and spiritual resource to be found in between the Thessaloniki program of the left and the Thessaloniki marches of the right in Thessalonica itself?  Is there an anthropology that can inform our daily ethics beyond self interested individualism, groundless general egalitarian collective humanity, and particular defied ethnic glorification? Is there another courtroom by which we can evaluate our current socio-economic and political apocalypse? What can those who believed the end of their order was coming teach us about how to prepare for our world’s ending? If the Christian faith is to propose its positive vision for society is must go back to its roots, to its earliest document by current scholarly estimations, St. Paul the Apostle’s first letter to the Thessalonians.

Our Generation’s Neoliberal Apocalypse: The Thessaloniki Programme, The Golden Dawn, and Paul the Apostle, Pt. 3

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Authorial Note: Pt. 1 can be found here, and Pt. 2 here  

      Visions are possessions of the heart and mind found in the dark streets of where refugees roam. In the hopes and fears of all the years visions are brought forth like a breath of creation upon the murky chaos of the world. The neoliberal vision for society believes in homo economicus– humanity as primarily concerned with attempting “…to maximize their utility for both monetary and non-monetary gains”, and thus that society as a whole, not merely the market, should be structured around human desire in the pursuit of profit- a neo-feudal order. We have seen that this vision for the world is resulting in an apocalypse of the enslavement of entire countries, like Greece. An alternative vision brought forth by the ‘left’wasserman-7-7 in our midst believes in a homo spiritualis of some sort- humanity, and thus corporations, should subordinate our desires for gains to the goal of the improvement of society as a whole according to our ethical responsibilities to each other and the earth- the democratization of the economy. Both of these visions however are primarily economic visions, but what is clear from the Greek debt crisis is that, as we have already said, this is not only a socio-economic crisis but a political apocalypse. We have thus far been viewing neoliberalism as a economic theory that consists of promoting free trade, deregulation of financial markets, fiscal austerity,  privatization, and the supremacy of the market over human society. However, for much of the European hard ‘right’, like The Golden Dawn, neoliberalism is not primarily an economic theory but a political theory. In order to understand this second half of neoliberalism let us again anthropomorphize Greece in a different analogy to elaborate on the political aspects of neoliberalism.

      Greece grows a wonderful garden every year that consists of primarily one plant- olive trees. The olive trees are firm, delicious, and wonderful- Greece has perfected the method of growing them, practically inventing gardening himself even. Greece finds himself in awe of the plants he grows, even having elaborate wine rituals like communion to celebrate the olive trees. Eventually a group of out of town businessmen convince Greece to sell his olives and olive oil around the world to bring out this treasure for everyone’s enjoyment. Not one to withhold blessings from those who clearly recognize it, Greece agrees- loving being a part of a wider community. The out of town businessmen who are reputed by all those they supported (one suspects that they reputed them because they were supported by them, but that’s another matter). However as Greece’s business begins to grow some peculiar problems arise that he did not anticipate, for starters because he has so many people coming in and out of his garden he has difficultly tending to the plants! The crowds for this olive oil are enormous but as a result the soil is trampled on and its no longer good to grow anything there- its like all people want are guided tours of his garden! All these crowds had forgotten that Greece invented gardening in the first place, they should be gardening themselves instead of looking at his old relics! Furthermore, the trees are beginning to look a little differently, because, as Greece found out, these out of town businessmen were secretly cross pollinating their crop seeds with his, thus resulting in a mixed crop of plant. Greece at first could not understand why these out of town business men were ruining his perfect plants, as it would result in the impurity of the crop leading to the downfall of his garden. What Greece did not understand at the time was was that if these out of town businessmen’s crops were cross pollinated with Greece’s crop that legally meant that they were part owners- for instance as in the case of his neighbours Russia and Ukraine…enough said. While the out of town business men really did have a vested interest in Greece’s crops, they were also intent on owning his garden to conform it to the larger project of the town’s farmer’s market.

      The farmer’s market of the town consisted of a great variety of different plants from different gardens all over the neighbourhood- diversity was key as they wanted to appeal to all the neighbours and have them delight in something new! The glory of the farmer’s market was precisely in its ability to encompass all the diversity in its unity! It saw itself primarily as a community building exercise for before they were formed different neighbours held different grudges against one another- even flooding each others lawns! But some of the wealthier neighbours decided to get together to put an end to the feuding and bring everyone in on a common project- to have everyone subordinate a little bit of their own personal desires for a greater good, and naturally they wanted to Greece to join in on this as well. Soon however the farmer’s market realized that in order to be a market they had to hold competitions so that different plants would be evaluated differently and the gardeners who did not do as great a job would be shamed into improving. It was a little harsh but the motive was for everyone to improve (though the main winners of the contest were always those who judged the competitions, but that’s another story). Naturally, this lead to some neighbours feeling, instead of pride in their plants, shame that they weren’t as tender or as ripe or as well loved as someone else’s- it didn’t matter that it was a different plant, all that mattered was that it wasn’t good enough and every year they had to be reminded that what they should be proud of was being a part of the universal project, not their own particular garden.

      For the most part, Greece and others did not mind this too much as long as they were still able to maintain their gardens and support themselves economically through it- but as soon as they weren’t able to any longer, then the protests were provoked. Greece did not understand why he had to help out so many others and yet ignore tending to his own garden. Greece did not understand why, no matter how much he produced, others seemed to reap the reward. Furthermore, because all these out of town businessmen were charging him for shipping, marketing, and packaging, their was so little left that Greece could hardly afford to feed his own family, let alone have a nutritional balance! As the cross pollination and much else continued, Greece gradually lost the ability to govern as to how is own garden would be grown. It was his garden in the first place! Outrageous! It seemed deeply perverted that he had almost no ability of his own to govern what happened in his own garden anymore. He got so caught up in the wider dream of the farmer’s market that he gradually lost sight of the fact that all his needs and abilities got narrower and narrower. If this was the price of having to join a farmer’s market, and having his food enjoined more broadly, forget the farmer’s market- Greece and his family need to eat, forget the pleasures of the wider market.

      Furthermore even still, these out of town businessmen advocated and imposed all these bizarre gardening practices, like sticking the head of the plant in the ground and having the root exposed, or using a nutrient rich water solution to water the plants. All these bizarre practices were changing what Greece thought plants should ideally be and how they should be organized to produce the best and most sustainable garden- anything else would bring utter organic disaster. The farmer’s market enforced production at any cost to keep demand going, thus resulting in Greece having to invest in heavy earth destroying machinery that would mechanically extract plants at a rapid rate according to time schedules and supply demand. Just to keep up interest in his plants however Greece was inundated by the advice and phone messages of his neighbours as to how he should be keeping his garden. More and more these letters, text messages, emails, and even video messages for Christ sakes were having a greater influence over his employees than he had!  He would advise them to prepare the soil one way but the employees, insisting that they were adopting the newest progressive advice, decided to prepare the soil in another way. How dare Greece be so backward and stick with the native soil techniques? Didn’t Greece know that the farmer’s market was all about moving forward to make a better garden for the competitions? Didn’t Greece know that, if he still wanted to have any stake in his own garden, that he was going to have to compete with his neighbours like Britain or America in these competitions (who seemed to keep winning and winning by the way, probably because they set the rules, but that’s another story)?

      What Greece however missed most of all was how his entire new economic form of gardening seemed to have left Greece empty and void, where all the spiritual peace and comfort was once in his Jesus-vinegardening rituals. He missed his hands in soil, the sun in his face, the prayers recited as nursery rhymes, children playing on the grass, the feeling of cooking with food he had grown, drinking wine as a remembrance instead of as an attempt to forget, and, most of all, witnessing the forces of nature like rain and wind contribute to his garden without fail it seemed. The feeling that something entirely out of his control was blessing him and contributing to his project. Even though Greece himself was Orthodox, he still appreciated and even celebrated some of his more kooky country-side neighbours that had weird naked dancing rituals in their back yard- for while he didn’t exactly embrace all their weirdness, at least they too felt the void that the farmer’s market was creating. Everything in Greece’s life now seemed to belong to someone else that did not give a damn about his or his family’s well being. Whatever the taxonomy of his plants, they were his plants- or at least he thought they should be, and these out of town businessmen, by making it all about the market, had lost sight as to how to govern a garden.

      What we have described in this new anthropomorphized analogy of Greece is the view of the ‘right’ through much of the world which is renewing itself across Europe and in the United States. For this ‘right’, neoliberalism is a political project that consists of internationalism and the loss of sovereignty (think of Greece’s out of town businessmen inviting him to sell in the wider farmer’s market and him losing all the ability to govern his own garden), mass illegal immigration (think of Greece’s plants being fertilized by the out of town businessmen’s seeds and his land being only used for tourism), the shaming of national pride by international law (think of the farmer’s market competitions), the destruction of the family (think of the bizarre and mechanical gardening practices advocated by the out of town businessmen), and the secularization of spiritual realities like nature and ethnicity (think of Greece’s nostalgia for his old private gardening practices and love for country-side people). While there have been many other internationalist like projects throughout the history of every empire from Alexander the Great to the United Nations, the specific feature of the internationalist project of neoliberalism is its push to make the globe not in the image of some other culture, or to have it suppressed under the weight and taxation of some other centralized power base elsewhere in the world- its project is quite literally to reimagine the entire cosmos as a market place. What ever else may be tempting by calls for internationalism, when one remembers that it is supreme internationalist banker David Rockefeller who wrote the following about his family in his Memoirs that should regard calls for unity and internationalism as by no means neutral or benign claims,

 “Some even believe we are part of a secret cabal working against the best interests of the United States, characterizing my family and me as ‘internationalists’ and of conspiring with others around the world to build a more integrated global political and economic structure — one world, if you will. If that is the charge, I stand guilty, and I am proud of it.” (pg. 406)

       With the dawn of this political apocalypse however we are also given a vision by the radical ‘right’, who like the radical ‘left’, offer ‘new’ solutions or visions around which we should regather and build once again a society from the ruin of an empire crumbling. Out of this political form of slavery of Greece as an entire nation state, the radical ‘right’ as embodied in the Golden Dawn party in particular, have made three proposals: (i) the use of coercive force to enforce boarders and nationalist law, (ii) reassert the monarchial figure of the father of the household against the foreign oligarchy that threatens to rape the daughters of the nation, and (iii) the reassertion of religious institutions as a preventive measure against the secularizing tendency of the pleasure driven market economy. We have previous looked upon the psalmist who wrote “everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure” (Psalm 39:5) as a source of wisdom to reflect on the reality that even our current neoliberal order will not be eternal and that we should prepare ourselves for its demise. However, unlike the radical ‘left’, the radical ‘right’ believes that old things such patriarchy and religion like the ring of power itself in The Lord of The Rings “…that should not have been forgotten were lost” by the neoliberal order and should ensnare “…a new bearer.” It is for this reason that many on the radical ‘right’ may appear to be like Gollum with a ring that has lasted thousands of years and to whom it has given “…unnatural long life.”

Our Generation’s Neoliberal Apocalypse: The Thessaloniki Programme, The Golden Dawn, and Paul the Apostle, Pt. 2

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Authorial Note: Pt. 1 available here

       Our socio-economic and political apocalypse will entail the downfall of entire countries, dramatic loss of employment, the entire decimation of public infrastructure, the loss of any sense of democracy, the loss of public and private property, the loss of public controls on medicine or food, the loss of public education, the increase in military spending- in short, a form of neo-feudal economic slavery, consisting of a global oligarchy of bankers, the state apparatus emptied of public investment in the service of the oligarchy, and the rest of the world’s population. rich-poor-inequality-neoliberalislmWhat Greece has become as a result of a simple inability to pay debt and making their population pay the debt of others with their lives is what is in the future for all of us who are unable to pay debts- whether those are our countries like the United States or Canada, or individuals such as students with student loans they will never be able to repay. We had asked the question “Why is the Greek debt crisis, and not the impoverishment of third world countries in much worse conditions, become in particular the obscenity for us in North America and Europe?” Our answer to this inquiry can only be that Greece’s debt crisis has become the real obscenity because only now is our generation waking up to the reality that what has been the state of the world for formally colonized countries will soon be shared by us– its obscene precisely because our colonial and neo-colonial projects are, like the chickens of Malcolm X’s prophecy, coming home to roost.

       What however, precisely, is the neo-feudal vision of the world whose prime exemplar to us is Greece? Economic theories while often too opaque for their own good sometimes are useful to understand if only to understand the moral vision of societies that are based in them. It is widely agreed upon that since the 1970s primarily much of the world, most especially North America and Europe have been moving toward neoliberal economics. Neoliberal economics, while the natural outgrowth of capitalism to be sure, has nevertheless gone beyond capitalism, for while capitalism proclaimed the supremacy of pursuing profit for the social good, in its most articulate and succinct definitions never dreamed of making the profit motive the centre of all political organization, only economic organization. Neoliberal economics consist of free trade (think of our character Greece’s union with his friends to make trading resources easier), deregulation of financial markets (think of Greece being able to print money and borrow excessively), fiscal austerity (think of Greece’s families having to pay for his financial mistakes by deprivation),  privatization (think  Greece having to sell his most precious resources like water access), and most especially have public governments divested of any ability to assert control, even for the public good, even democratically over financial institutions (lastly think of Greece having no way out). It is this last aspect where we come straight ahead to the oligarchy at the top of our neo-feudal order. ‘Not only is the selfish profit motive the key to a good economy, it is the key to a good world order’ argues neoliberalism. We are witnessing the apocalypse of a world run on this presumption.

     In the midst of this upcoming apocalypse however we have the voices of the radical ‘left’ and the radical ‘right’ offering ‘new’ solutions or visions around which we should regather and build once again a society from the ruin of an empire crumbling. The political ‘left’ in, around, and in support of Greece have proposed three methods in particular as ways out of Greece’s debt slavery: (i) proclaiming the debt illegal and odious, (ii) calling for a form of loan/debt forgiveness, and (iii) the occupation of public and political space.

     Zoe Konstantopoulou, a Greek lawyer who served as a speaker of the Hellenistic Parliament in 2015 is one of the foremost proponents of the first proposal  when she launched the Truth Committee on Public Debt and its preliminary findings conclusions were

“All the evidence we present in this report shows that Greece not only does not have the ability to pay this debt, but also should not pay this debt first and foremost because the debt emerging from the Troika’s arrangements is a direct infringement on the fundamental human rights of the residents of Greece. Hence, we came to the conclusion that Greece should not pay this debt because it is illegal, illegitimate, and odious.”

What is not always fully understood in these discussions is the precise legal meaning of ‘odious debt.’ Odious debt refers to debt incurred by a previous political regime that is deemed illegitimate. Therefore, declaring that debt ‘odious’ releases the new political state from not having to pay a debt that not only did they not incur but was actually against their interests. However, many are skeptical of declaring Greece’s debt odious because while much of it was incurred by an alliance with an unelected body like the European Union, it can hardly be said, as Alex Hern points out, that there’s some sort of comparison between it and the regime of Saddam Hussein, which is another more recent case of the concept of ‘odious debt’ being applied legally. Quite a lot can be said for the legal notion of ‘odious debt’ the problem however lies in what regimes qualify as ‘illegitimate’ and just how far this notion could be pressed. But there is a much deeper lying problem. Even if the debt were to be declared ‘odious’ what would this mean in terms of an economic vision? It leaves the entire neo-feudal economic vision completely intact. It does not challenge the primacy of capital, it does not challenge the supposed innocence of major creditors, it does not challenge the obsceneness of the primacy of debt as a political weapon of oppression- all the legal doctrine of ‘odious debt’ would appeal to is simply the impulse to say “That does not apply to us.” While for many countries the legal theory of ‘odious debt’ could be an incredible relief from their oppression, which we should never doubt, for others it can be used to avoid responsibility- especially if they had a hand in creating that odious debt- in either case, Greece proposing this would not challenge one aspect of the neoliberal economic vision for human life.

     The second major proposal of the ‘left’ is loan forgiveness, something which Nick Dearden rightfully points out, Germany herself received in the London Agreement of 1953 in the aftermath of World War two, receiving generous help with very light conditions from Greece even! The Syriza party of Greece in its Thessaloniki program in 2014 actually cited German’s example of loan forgiveness in 1953 in proposing its own program of debt forgiveness.  Loan/debt forgiveness has been a major proposal of economists and human rights activists in many different contexts for many decades now, seeing the devastating impact of old colonial debt upon many parts of the third world for instance. One should be marginally skeptical however of loan forgiveness, for while, much like the legal concept of odious debt, loan forgiveness can be of immense relief and in no doubt can have enormous economic benefits to anyone- now finally not having to invest all of your earning to pay-off debt (!!!)- it too can be circumnavigated and ultimately ineffective. 112913coletoonFor Christians in particular, who have done much in the way of the promotion of the Jubilee debt campaign for instance, this can be something very difficult to acknowledge. The concept of loan forgiveness however actually has very ancient roots and is itself founded on a particular notion of what the purpose of forgiveness is. Two examples of debt relief in the ancient world are the prescription for debt forgiveness in the Hebrew Bible’s Jubilee laws of Leviticus 25, and in the institution of Seisachtheia by the Athenian lawmaker Solon in the 6th century B.C.E. In both of these examples, the relief of debt and the ending of its accompanying slavery were temporary for the relief was imposed by coercive law, leaving the creditors extremely dismayed. As a result, creditors in Israelite society and Athenian society both found ways of circumventing these laws, and eventually making them null and void. Furthermore is it clear that the notion of forgiveness in these examples of debt relief, which contemporary campaigns from the ‘left’ draw from, is of a ‘restart’, a ‘clean start’, a ‘do over’, or a ‘mulligan’, as opposed to a notion of forgiveness that calls for a revaluation of the entire previous economic arrangement. The form of debt relief proposed while in the short term would do much to help the Greek people, it would only enrage the creditors to create new forms of economic slavery, for the forgiveness was done of expediency and guilt, not out of love and repentance. Germany, which was forgiven of much of its debt less than a 100 years prior became an example of Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant who choked his servant demanding for repayment, being unaware of that their own forgiveness was to be extended ‘from [their] heart’. Forgiveness is suppose to be the occasion for rethinking and repenting of an entire system of debt slavery, not the occasion for its continuing by permissiveness.

     The third proposal is summed up well by Tariq Ali  in his roundtable with Slavoj Žižek at the Subversive Festival, considering “When the Greek business began, I said, will they take a city?  The demonstrators, will they be strong enough to take Thessaloniki?…to show the rest of Greece, this is how we run a city.” Occupation of public and private space. What is most remarkable about this proposal is that it has emerged again but this time in response to an economic crisis rather than a military crisis. Yanis Varoufakis, the ex-finance minister of Greece, made this exact parallel, writing in reference to the military coup of Greece by the military dictatorship in 1967 and the Euro Summit of 2015,

“In 1967 it was the tanks that foreign powers used to end Greek democracy…in 2015 another coup was staged by foreign powers using, instead of tanks, Greece’s banks. Perhaps the main economic difference is that, whereas in 1967 Greece’s public property was not targeted, in 2015 the powers behind the coup demanded the handing over of all remaining public assets, so that they would be put into the servicing of our un-payble, unsustainable debt.

The economic crisis brought on by creditors, foreign banks, international bodies, and European institutions, felt to Varoufakis, with no exaggeration, like a military takeover, the invasion of a foreign power. In a neoliberal world, where the markets are the only ones who are unrestricted by law, those markets that hold debts, control currency, and control finances have the entirety of the power- in the case of Greece, it no longer has any sovereignty in any significant sense of the term, all its public and state property are effectively controlled by the economic policies set forth in their never-ending series of bailout packages imposed by their creditors. Occupying public and political space then in this context while at first strange given the lack of a foreign military presence, is quite clearly a rational response in so far as it is an attempt to regain physical control. Does this proposal challenge the neoliberal vision for society however? Unlike the legal concept of odious debt, and loan forgiveness as loan permissiveness, occupying public and political space does, at least symbolically, challenge the rule and reign of financial markets over all aspects of life- it does assert that some things belong to the citizens of a country, not the banks. Some skeptics may point out the futility of such a proposal against the military and police who would no doubt be enlisted to end such an occupation of public space, such as was the case with Occupy Wall Street in New York. But the measure of success for a proposal should be is its faithfulness to an alternative vision, not its success or failure according to the current vision of neoliberalism.

     What then, with these three proposals of the concept of odious debt, debt forgiveness, and occupation of public and political space is the alternative vision for society proposed by the ‘left’? The inability of debt to be inherited, perhaps the scheduled forgiveness of debt, and the reclamation of the idea of the ‘commons’ boil down essentially to the democratization of the economy where individuals are not subordinated to other people’s debts, their own debts, and all by virtue of being citizens have fundamental rights and property that cannot be taken by those who have economic power. It is challenging the neoliberal economy by arguing that the moral vision that society should follow should be one centred around the notion of the demos rather than the chrimata, around the notion of collective humanity rather than money. Under lying this vision is a deep, and frankly justified, mistrust of bankers and economists- arguing that their neoliberal vision of the rule of finance not only corrupts society but even the functioning of an economy itself. Should the economy be handed over to the people, in this case simply not the bankers, we would not enter into the frightful neo-feudal vision we are currently rushing toward. We as the people may need to draw upon, in the words of Canadian activist Andrew Gavin Marshall, “…indeed even a ‘global philosophical revolution’ of sorts…” but that we will emerge with a new vision. Is this vision however what will restore us and bring us through this apocalypse? Even more frightening however, will this vision be able to withstand the potent power of the vision of the Golden Dawn, and their ‘collective humanity’?

Our Generation’s Neoliberal Apocalypse: The Thessaloniki Programme, The Golden Dawn, and Paul the Apostle, Pt. 1

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     Kto-ne-rabotaetWork, drudgery, imposition of impossible weights and standards, working with one’s own hands, lawlessness, austerity, the apocalypse, temptations to be relieve from suffering, opposition, and sayings like “If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat” which end up in the Soviet Constitution of 1936all of these themes have forced themselves upon us in discussions concerning Greece, international economics, and the global debt crisis. But these themes already presented themselves in Thessaloniki at least 1900 and some years before our crisis in the writings of St. Paul the Apostle to the city and the church there. The debate around the debt crisis in Greece over the past ten years or more has mainly been about whether its Germany’s fault or France’s fault or the fault of the European Union or the fault of private banks or the fault of Goldman Sachs…and add to that list the racist insinuation that its the Greeks fault because they are lazy. But our generation is not concerned about the fault anymore, we are beginning to question whose courtroom it is.

     It seems to many of our generation, the generation for whom 9/11 was the central event, that the current socio-economic and political order of our world is bursting at the seams, and that everyone shares in the fault, though may be the ‘1%’ more than most. Perhaps, like many generations before us, we are far to self centred in the belief that the end of the world will be in our life time, and that we should just merely consider history to know that life is ever permeable. Nations may rise, nations may fall, climates may warm, climates may cool, but the ‘end is not yet.’ The Greek debt crisis is but one of the many evidences however that urge us and throw us head-long into the belief that we really are at a pivotal stage in history. St. Paul also wrote to a generation that believed the end was coming soon, and while the rest of the world yelled ‘Peace and Security’, their generation, like our generation, knew that the cataclysm was nigh. What is so amazingly energetic about our situation now however is that for the first time secular people, people who would consider themselves ‘non-religious’ are having to ask questions about the apocalypse that up and till now were left to the faith communities of various traditions. What any faithful Christian at this moment should do is propose the Christian Gospel as the positive vision for society in the midst of the apocalypse.

     In looking at the Greek debt crisis as the exception that will not much longer be exceptional we need a confessional acknowledgement of two theses based on faith- that the situation really is as dire as we believe it to be globally, and two, that we are in need of a new vision for our socio-economic and political order. We could try to tell ourselves that things in the past have been worse, and perhaps they have been. But what cannot be denied is that, as Noam Chomsky rightly argues, “For the first time in the history of the human species, we have clearly developed the capacity to destroy ourselves.” We could also tell ourselves that the vision we are living in our current moment is permanent and eternal.  But in the tradition of the Buddhist and of the Psalms, we must accept that everything and “everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” (Psalm 39:5) Greece will be explored as a microcosm of the macrocosm of our fleeting wind of a socio-economic and political order. Furthermore, that our ‘radicals’ whether ‘left’ or ‘right’ are scrambling for new words and visions to utter should be seen as the cry of a desperate people for a God they no longer believe in. Lastly, St. Paul the Apostle, it will be shown, already breathed out the new vision that we need to embrace now more than ever should we wish to even ‘stand firm until the end‘ let alone survive.

     How has Greece, arguably the foundation of Western Civilization in birthing science, philosophy, and democracy, now become increasingly marginalized and subjugated in the world it helped create? What is the debt crisis in Greece? How did it come about? Why is the poverty that has resulted become such an extreme obscenity? Why is the Greek debt crisis, and not the impoverishment of third world countries in much worse conditions, become in particular the obscenity for us in North America and Europe? In assessing any economic situation we should always be reminded that if we are lost in the jargon of economics, so are most of the specialists too because this highly specialized lexicon is designed so that it, as Chris Hedges points out, “…thwarts universal understanding. It keeps the uninitiated from asking unpleasant questions.” (Empire of Illusion90) What is most interesting is that the debt crisis in Greece is actually not difficult to understand once you use terms that most of us would use in our regular economic day-to-day activities such as credit, debt, theft, and lying, rather than credit default swaps, haircut, troika, and much else. What is happening in Greece goes as follows if we were to imagine Greece as a person rather than a nation.*

     Greece is someone who believes profoundly in the social welfare of his friends. He doesn’t just ‘wish them well’ he believes that if he has the means he should take care of those who can’t work, those who are retired, and those who aren’t able to find work. He doesn’t believe that capital is something you should have to earn by yourself to survive but rather that capital should be spread in some minimal way as an act of grace, and that this is what creates a good and loving community- a social safety net.  The problem for Greece though is that he doesn’t earn enough money anymore to take care of his family but is confident that he will, so like many of us he applies for a credit card to cover some expenses that he can’t pay for right now- what Greece ignores however is that many of his expenses are made by much more wealthy and military minded family members, but that is another story. But, unlike some of his other wealthier and more prominent friends in other parts of the world, he does not earn enough money, and the credit card companies know this but lend to him anyway, perhaps to their irresponsible detriment. To cover some of his losses Greece begins, like many of his friends do, to supplement his income with some extra questionable ‘funds’ just to cover his deficit in the short term.

     Soon, some of Greece’s more prominent and wealthier friends formed a union of sorts, where they shared expenses, made things easier for each other in terms of sharing resources for parties or for their families or for their work. Eventually things in this union got a little out of hand with crazy rules about the sizes of pillow they could buy, but things were looking good generally and Greece wanted to be a part of his friends union. But, this union was a little stricter with their regulations about how expenses and funds were to be spent and how budgets were to be done- a little stricter than Greece had been use to up and until that point. Nevertheless, Greece wanted in because the dreams of this union seemed really promising, and Greece thought that if he tried hard enough, he too could be as prominent as his friends. So Greece had to lie to them about the state of his finances. Stuff like covering up some of his debts and making his business opportunities sounding a bit more promising than they really were- with the help of his friend Goldman- but Greece was convinced that in a short time, this wouldn’t matter. It was a convenient lie for a greater promise.

     But Greece was irresponsibly generous continuing to rack up his debts for his family’s social welfare (and their other more illicit expenses)- good hearted but living on an imaginary wealth, taken advantage of by the credit card companies. So Greece just got more and more credit cards to pay for his last debts from the previous credit cards, so on and so on. Well, Greece’s economic opportunities were even worse than he could imagine because some family members of one of his friends, America- with Goldman- messed up with their finances thus affecting everyone. They had tried the same stuff Greece did earlier and it hit reality hard. The credit card companies that were lending to some of Greece’s friends in his union were getting burned when those friends couldn’t make their payments to them, as a result these companies cut Greece off who they already knew was in a much worse situation, and suddenly Greece had no hope of paying off his huge amount of debt that he had racked up. The rest of his friends in his union were not pleased but they still liked the guy, plus some of them were tight with the ones who irresponsibly lent him money in the first place that they were reasonably sure of that he couldn’t pay, thus Greece’s failure would have put pressure on Greece’s friends to cover his losses- something they were not prepared to do given that they had to take a bunch of money from their own families to pay off their own credit card debts due to America’s failure-main-qimg-aea55569ee48fecdfc04299ea5f66faa were they suppose to take care of Greece too?! So they brought in another union that they knew of, but Greece’s friend Germany, who was really in charge of the union, wasn’t please. All of them lent Greece more money but on the strict conditions that he had to tighten up his spending for his family’s welfare and use those funds to pay off his creditors (who probably should have never lent it in the first place- but perhaps those creditors knew that?)…Greece didn’t because his family considered disowning him if he did, it didn’t seem fair to them that suddenly they had their lives pulled out from under them because Greece was so irresponsible and that these credit card companies took advantage of him. They had no idea, Greece had lied to them just like everyone else, and the credit card companies were perfectly fine being lied to, saying that things were better than they were.

     Greece now is caught in a cycle that seems impossible to get out of with no good outcome. See, if Greece defaults on his debit then his family will be left in ruin and Greece’s friends will have to pay off his debts to the credit card companies- something their families will not be happy to be asked to do again, since some of them are not as well off as they would like to be. Furthermore, if they have to pay Greece’s debts it would put the legitimacy of their union in question- something they can’t afford right now given everyone else’s doubts about it. If Greece does not default then he’ll be forced to cut his family off from paying for their rent, helping them with their medical expenses, providing them with food, or helping them get jobs. Greece’s family would be in dire straits, and who knows what they would do next to get their livelihood back! Greece would more than likely be paying off his debt forever as well, given that at this point his debt is almost double what he makes. It would be a terrible state of affairs for Greece’s friends as well because if Greece’s family is left to such conditions they might seek help from Russia, an old classmate that they are all still very afraid of, and Greece will have to sell off more and more of the most valuable things that he has just to pay a debt he cannot sustain. Again, there are no good options, and things for Greece continue to get worse and worse. If things continue for Greece this way, what will be the case for some of Greece’s other friends like Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Italy, who are in similar positions, but have yet to be asked to pay up?

     We can see from our brief anthropomorphized analysis that it is difficult to assign full responsibility and ‘blame’ to any one particular entity- though some may share more than others depending on the narrative. Is it the fault of Greece’s family in wanting such social welfare? Is it the fault of Greece for not being more responsible even though the credit card companies assured him everything would be fine? Was it the fault of his friend’s union for not putting more pressure on him early on? Was it Germany’s fault for insisting on the repayment of the debt, though he himself was forgiven of massive debts in his own history? Was it Goldman’s fault for assisting Greece in hiding the true extent of his debt in order to help him get in the union? Was it America’s fault for being so irresponsible with his own credit finances and thus upsetting Greece’s chances of ever becoming prosperous? Was it the fault of the credit card companies for knowingly loaning out so much credit that they must have known Greece could never repay? An entire country is collapsing before us, and was it most frightening is that all the elements that made up this crisis are prevalent in all of our economic lives- thus, this is no random occurrence but more than likely the model for our coming socio-economic and political apocalypse which we need to prepare ourselves for. Our ‘radicals’ whether ‘left’ or ‘right’ are scrambling for new words and visions to utter in the awake of this coming collapse, what are the visions being offered? What do they bespeak of? Furthermore, what do they reveal about the nature of our crisis, not merely its causes and effects- but firstly and foremost, what is it rooted in?

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*For the following analysis, and metaphor usage I am in particular highly indebted to: The New School. Austerity and Neoliberalism in Greece with Richard Wolff and Barry Herman. YouTube Video. Room A404, Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WhZXhRS3F4.; Colvin, Evan. “In layman’s terms, what is the Greek debt crisis?” Answer Search. Quora, August 23, 2015. https://www.quora.com/In-laymans-terms-what-is-the-Greek-debt-crisis.

 

A Personal Note on O.C.D. and Eminem

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      Quite recently much to my surprise but also much to my comfort, Eminem A.K.A. Marshall Mathers himself annotated lyrics to his song “Monster (Feat. Rihanna)”, which were

My OCD is conking me in the head, keep knocking
Nobody’s home, I’m sleepwalking
I’m just relaying what the voice in my head is saying
Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just friends with the…”

He writes, “I really do have O.C.D, it’s not funny b*tch.” Whether an official diagnoses (which I truly suspect it is for reasons that will follow) or not this was of extreme comfort to me, because I have always lived with a central contradiction- I’m a devout Christian, and yet…I love Eminem.944193_575152922527799_64881636_n Ever since I heard “The Real Slim Shady” on a radio in Goodwill, I’ve been hooked.  Eminem was my  to the rest of Hip-Hop to be sure, but for a fat white kid in a  predominately non-white school growing up, it was amazing to have THE rapper of our time be a white guy. Slim Shady was no gangster, and yet, no one could deny that he was THE best emcee at that precious moment of the turn of the millennia. I couldn’t connect with many other rappers of the time, whether 50 Cent, or Jay-Z because well…I wasn’t black, I was a moralistic Christian, and I most certainly wasn’t some gangster (nor could I pretend to be, I mean just look at me as a kid). But Slim shady, this white kid who was into cartoons, was a clown, was picked on and teased, continuously got his heart broken, had violet fantasies (that everyone knew he wouldn’t do), and liked fart jokes–here was someone I could relate to. Despite our differences in faith and morality, particularly as it comes to his use of abusive language, we shared ethnicity, musical interest, and childhood experiences of bullying.

      Until he revealed that he has been diagnosed with O.C.D. (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) however, this was all I thought my affinity to him amounted to. Sure, I know a lot of Hip-Hop heads, have problems with Eminem, and sure, I know a lot of Christians have problems with Eminem and as members of both groups, so do I… but as Immortal Technique raps in “Crimes of the Heart”

“I can’t give into hatred or pass judgment
Even towards every illusion I’ve been in love with
Cause the heart that betrays itself willingly
Is like a nation that trades freedom for stability
It’s so seductive to be cold and corrupted
And isolated and try to be an independent republic”

Indeed. I can’t pretend like Eminem wasn’t a childhood music obsession of mine, and a rapper whose skills I’m still in awe to this very day. I can’t pretend like he wasn’t the reason I felt like I could rap, I can’t pretend that he didn’t introduced me to Hip-Hop, I can’t deny that I’m an Eminem “Stan“. But when he revealed that he was diagnosed with O.C.D., I realized that my affinity with him reached deeper than ethnicity and childhood experience–it actually came down to our type of intelligence and the way our brains work, for I too suffer from O.C.D.

      Now for those who are unfamiliar, and especially for those who think they are familiar allow me to explain in the best terms I can what O.C.D. is, how it manifests itself, what some of its benefits are,* and most boldly, propose it as the key to explaining Eminem’s entire approach to writing lyrics. Let’s begin with what O.C.D. is effectively not. Even the revered Stephen Fry has misjudged what O.C.D. is according to popular misunderstandings prevalent throughout all of our media. As David Adam rightly says, “It’s not an exaggerated love of order and hygiene. It’s a disorder of thought…” It is also extremely important that O.C.D. like other mental illnesses are understood properly for as Adam points out, “It takes real courage to confront mental distress and seek help. Yet when people with OCD do so, they often find bafflement and hostility…If OCD is simply someone who washes their hands then why is this patient telling me of unwanted thoughts to hurt their children?…Parents with OCD are separated from their families. Workers are suspended from their jobs, but not because they pose any threat…” but because their O.C.D. symptoms are not recognized as such.

      For someone to have O.C.D., it does not mean necessarily that they are a super clean, tidy, or organized person- though it can include those things- rather it means that someone suffers from constant obsessions. Obsessions are not things that we desire and want, which is what the term has come to mean in popular usage, rather obsessions are quite literally those things that our brains cannot stop thinking about. Nor it is that the obsessions are about various subject matter that we are in interested in, no, the obsessions come in a variety of forms, most commonly known are germ related, but could range all the way to violent and sexual anxieties/fears that our brains cannot stop thinking about. The obsessions, far from being desires are anxiety inducing precisely because they are unwanted, and the obsessions are intrusive upon our normal day-to-day thought process, they come out of no-where and suddenly they are all our brains are able to think about. First then, the ‘O’ refers not to interests but to anxieties and fears that our brains obsess about and literally cannot stop thinking about.

      Second then is the ‘C’. Most people think of the ‘C’ as referring to constant hand washing or door checking, and while these are often some sufferers compulsions other compulsions can be wearing socks to bed, washing one’s feet, constantly flossing, organizing all emails (for those who wish you had this compulsion- no you don’t), or even calorie counting. Compulsions don’t necessarily have any correspondence to the obsessions, and often they could even be just mental compulsions (as opposed to physical activities like hand-washing) the only necessary connection between the obsessions and the compulsions is that the compulsions provide some sort of short-term relief from the over-whelming anxiety that the obsessions cause. The key words here are ‘short-term’, because ultimately compulsions, like scratching a mosquito bite, only exasperate the problem in the long term by making the obsessions even stronger- thus a cycle of obsession and compulsion is established, out of which there appears to be no escape. So thus, finally the ‘D’ does not merely refer to that someone who may exhibit extra attention to cleanliness that’s out of portion, the disorder quite literally refers to this cycle of obsession then compulsion taking over your life and severely debilitating one’s quality of life. For myself in my journey, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat, I couldn’t concentrate enough to read (for those who know me that was just as troubling as not eating), and I couldn’t take care of myself in any meaningful way. It sends our lives completely out of order.

      Now that we got those clarifications and simple definitions out of the way, let’s move to the neurology of O.C.D. for it is here that we can trace even within Eminem’s own lyrics, the neuro-biological root of his O.C.D. O.C.D. by professionals is sometimes called “basal ganglia disease” because the research on the biochemical level is near conclusive that O.C.D. is rooted in this part of the brain. Now the basal ganglia is responsible for involuntary movements like walking, but also for an awareness of our thoughts, which is where the abnormality of O.C.D.  stems from. The basal ganglia is responsible essentially for sorting out all the thobrain3ughts in one’s brain into those that are not needed and those of special concern for survival. People who do not suffer from O.C.D. sort out these thoughts just fine- information that conforms to previous experiences of fears and wishes is dismissed, and those that do not are retained for further consideration. People with O.C.D’s basal ganglia often keep the absurd random thoughts that everyone has every day- like ‘why don’t I just stab that cat?’- that people (in line with their expectations of the world) would normally dismiss, longer and thus those random thoughts stick, and brew a tremendous amount of anxiety as an obsession. The anxiety is obvious, we know that these obsessions are absurd and couldn’t possibly come about, but our brains retain them and send warnings to our brain about our need to further consider such possibilities as genuine fears- rooted in survival. It over retains absurd information, warns of you of as a genuine fear to which you must respond to for your survival, and you create compulsions, which themselves only reenforce your basal ganglia to think of these fears as genuine and in need of attention.

      Damage to the basal ganglia in any form, whether stroke or head injury, can be a root neuro-biological cause of O.C.D. Many O.C.D. sufferers often have such head injuries as a child. When I was about nine or ten years old, my parents and I went to a camp resort. While playing with one of the other kids there, he kept throwing large rocks behind him, and one of them flew and knocked me right in the head and I was out cold- I got stitches and everything. Some worried about me going to sleep because if I did, I might not wake-up- not knowing the extent of the brain damage. Thankfully after a week everything was fine, but, as I now suspect it damaged by basal ganglia leaving me vulnerable to O.C.D. Now those who know Eminem’s catalogue well know that in one of his more master story-telling tracks, Marshall narrates, in his cartoonish way, the brain damage he suffered as a child. Eminem’s writes,

“Way before my baby daughter Hailie
I was harassed daily by this fat kid named D’Angelo Bailey
An eighth grader who acted obnoxious, ‘cause his father boxes, so every day he’d shove me in the lockers
One day he came in the bathroom while I was pissin’
And had me in the position to beat me into submission
He banged my head against the urinal till he broke my nose
Soaked my clothes in blood
Grabbed me and choked my throat
I tried to plead and tell him we shouldn’t beef
But he just wouldn’t leave
He kept choking me and I couldn’t breathe”

While the song is not literal, it is actually based on such a real life encounter that Marshall had as a child. The man D’Angelo Bailey said in an interview that, “There was a bunch of us that used to mess with him. You know, bully-type things…We flipped him right on his head at recess. When we didn’t see him moving, we took off running. We lied and said he slipped on the ice.” Quite traumatic, and when Marshall himself woke up, he recalls, he said “I can spell elephant.” It was there it would seem that his new love of language grew. Traumatic head injuries like this can provoke the basal ganglia resulting in O.C.D.- this was certainly so in Marshall’s case.

      Resulting from O.C.D., and working alongside of it, is a high level of intelligence- as one of my psychiatrist said to me ‘No one who is stupid gets O.C.D.’ Naturally this makes sense given that people with O.C.D. have a higher number of functioning brain cells than the average person, but also that O.C.D. is quite literally a disorder resulting from overthinking. Memory retention and conceptual association are usually off the charts in their exceptionalism for people who suffer from O.C.D. They think more thoroughly than the average person about almost any and everything. Now that we have covered what O.C.D. is, and how it manifests itself, we can move on to its benefits, chief of which are exceptional intelligence, creative thinking, and often, because certain behaviours take on a compulsive nature, an extremely productive work ethic, especially when it comes to writing.

      Certain behaviours that come with O.C.D. like extreme cleanliness and orderliness can seem like things that everybody wishes they had- wouldn’t you like to know where everything is at all times? Or wouldn’t you like to have your email completed sorted and taken care of? But O.C.D. can actually have a variety of benefits, once the activity of your brain is channeled properly into work and not into compulsions. Simply, O.C.D., once its under control and not a disorder that is life debilitating, can lead to some incredible benefits because your brain is running on a completely different and more powerful engine than the average person. As Dr. Ian Osbourne writes, “…there is, quite possibly, a powerfully creative aspect to their [O.C.D. sufferers] cognitive tendencies that we neglect, a creativity fuelled by the unusually vivid real-life quality of certain of their thoughts.” (154) How does this relate to Eminem, a confessed grade 9 dropout? In Anderson Cooper’s famous interview with Eminem there is a beautiful moment when Marshall is showing Anderson his lyric pages kept in a box and Anderson remarks

 “I’ve gotten letters from crazy people and they kind of look like this. Sometimes all in capital letters or scrawled on the page like this.”

“Yeah? Well that’s probably because I’m crazy,” Eminem replied with a smirk.

___

___

      The writing habits of people with O.C.D. may look like compulsively written scribbles, and that’s because…they are. af7b2111d1a5f77e0f02f00ce0df055aBut, no matter how random they appear they are well thought over, and the creativity bursts forth constantly. Whatever Marshall’s obsessions are, which may be difficult for anyone who doesn’t know him personally to discern, it is clear that his compulsion, writing, has become his craft. Eminem, studied the dictionary in order to remember words for any scheme. Eminem’s obsessional-like attention to the technicalities of rhymes and rhyme schemes is so profound that when I teach my Element One classes at Yonge Street Mission I use the first verse of “Lose Yourself” to teach at least 13 different kinds of rhyme. Simply put, Marshall may not have been a scholastic genius, but he has quickly became a modern day literary one.

      But more than vocabulary the creativity of O.C.D. sufferers comes from precisely the thing that creates their anxious obsessions, their ability to retain information and have it associated with the most unlikely of improbabilities. Talib Kweli, another master emcee in an interview with Vlad TV said that the most important thing in understanding how Eminem became so successful was not primarily his skills but

“What he had more than other emcees was vision…so even the Slim Shady EP before he linked up with Dre, the idea that there’s Eminem and there’s Slim Shady, the was genius. The idea that all his songs like ‘Just the two of us’…all his songs were super conceptual, super visual…its was him being a visionary and an artist to take chances.”

Kweli is absolutely on point with these observations because Eminem’s success, while due in part to his white privilege and his skill, was primarily propelled by his creativity of associations- that he wasn’t the gangster that so many other rappers were when I was a kid.

      To conclude as to why this personal affinity to Eminem that I have (O.C.D. sufferer to O.C.D. sufferer) is so important for my personal understanding is because it is important to note that though we share this in common- our differences are so vast that it should be clear that no one is defined by their afflictions. O.C.D. does not define me or Marshall. But more importantly what I want to impart to others is that mental illness, while debilitating at times, can also be an opportunity to recognize your kinship with other people who are totally unlike you but who suffer from the same, and for you to discover your own gifts, like Eminem did with his love of language. It may be best to leave with some of Marshall’s own lyrics from his song “Legacy”, which is worthy to listen to in full as a story of Marshall coming to terms with the inner workings of his own brain and is itself a testament to his own writing genius as he maintain a singular pair of syllables rhyming throughout the entire song, a lyrical acrobatic feat.

“I used to be the type of kid that would always think the sky is fallin’
Why am I so differently wired in my noggin?
Cause sporadic as my thoughts come, it’s mind-bogglin’
Cause I obsess on everything in my mind
Small sh*t…

“I used to be the type of kid that would always think the sky is fallin’
Now I think the fact that I’m differently wired’s awesome
Cause if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to work words like this
And connect lines like crosswords…

The most high exalting and I ain’t haltin’
’til I die of exhaustion, inhale my exhaust fumes
The best part about me is I am not you
I’m me, I’m the Fire Marshall and this is my Legacy”

______________

*All information regarding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is from the following work that helped me immensely through my own journey: Osborn, Ian Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? A Psychiatrist Explores the Role of Faith in Treatment (Bravos Press: 2008). 

 

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