Saturday, October 21, 2017

Being Positively Disruptive

As many readers may have noticed, I haven't spent much time in writing essays for this blog over the last three or four months.  You might also have guessed from this that I've been very, very busy.  While many people I know have been glued to their TV's, computers, and smartphones, addicted to the torrent of toxic drama, crazy-making and bad news being generated by a certain doofus with orange hair who now claims to be the President of the United States, I've been occupied with making some good news of my own.  Let me fill you in on the details.

First, the tutoring initiative in which I am involved, which I mentioned in this post and this one, is now expanding from one location to three. Our roster of teachers has both changed and grown.  I believe there are now thirteen of us, and more may be joining in the next few months.  While two of our groups are continuing to focus on basic mathematics, one group is developing a science curriculum aimed at teaching appropriate technology and self-sufficiency/sustainability in the context of developing alternative institutions.  That group is being led by a woman from an African-American/Asian background and a Native American woman, and they are writing a series of science experiments and activity packets aimed at youth from 10 to 20 years of age.  

And we have a fourth group composed of writers, who are developing and editing a math curriculum to be used by all of our groups, complete with workbooks and worksheets.  (As soon as I am done with this post, I will be working on addition and subtraction worksheets.  If idleness is the devil's workshop, I won't have to worry about getting into trouble for a long time!)

On another front, a group of us at work are planning to launch a campaign to collect donations for the Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Irma.  I am thinking we will present the campaign as an opportunity to spend money for a good cause instead of spending money on holiday shopping.  We will also promote news sources that are providing accurate coverage of the situation in Puerto Rico, as opposed to many American news sources and the White House.  My goal is to provide a positive disruption in three ways:
  • By providing concrete relief to people whom our current regime would like to starve,
  • By shunting money away from the usual recipients in our consumer economy during this holiday season,
  • And by providing ongoing evidence that our current regime and its President are illegitimate.
There are a lot of people where I work.  Let's see where this takes us...

Lastly, it looks like I may have a few opportunities over the next couple of months to talk about resistance and related topics in front of a few audiences.  It looks like my part in the resistance being mounted by oppressed people is likely to get quite a bit larger.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Puerto Rico - A Humanitarian Disaster

The Federal response to the hurricane which recently devastated Puerto Rico is not unexpected.  Indeed, it is symptomatic of the disease of a large swath of American society - a swath who are full of empathy toward those victims of Hurricane Harvey who happened to be wealthy and white - yet full of sleepy neglect or overt hostility toward everyone else.  Now that sleepy neglect has hypnotized many Americans (but not a majority, thank God!), lost as they are in their individualism and addicted to their consumerism, while the overt hostility issues forth sporadically from the current President like projectile emesis from an infant who has been burped too vigorously.  Note, though, that the hostility is provoked only when someone manages to break through the President's own sleepy indifference and his perverted preoccupation with himself.  Then, if you are that someone, watch yourself, lest you get yourself spewed on.

Meanwhile, a lot of people in Puerto Rico are about to die.  This is not because there are no Federal resources available to help them, but because the Federal government is now run by a bunch of rich and incompetent pigs.  Decent people who have the means to find out the actual situation on the island (and not the sanitized FEMA version) should be appalled.  Those evangelicals who supported (and continue to support) the President should take a look at the last half of Luke 16 before they go to bed tonight.

But let's not stop with just being appalled.  Let us do what we can ourselves to contribute to disaster relief in Puerto Rico.   The President, like an alcoholic absentee father, has made himself unavailable to provide for the common good.  Here is a link to a page listing organizations to which you can make a donation for the relief of the suffering of the people of Puerto Rico.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Catch-Up - September 2017

Here's a quick update on things.  I still have a few posts I need to write to finish my series on "The Revanchism of the Third Rome," but other things have lately been keeping me too busy to write.  Here's what is occupying my time:
  • Tutoring and teaching math and language arts to families from marginalized populations.  Our group of tutors has expanded greatly within the last two months, and we are planning to go to at least two, and possibly three apartment complexes this fall.  We may even get to teach in people's homes, which would give a nice retro, counter-cultural feel to what we are doing - rather like this.
  • Nonviolent resistance.  There are now well over fifty people with whom I have been in frequent contact over the last two or three weeks, and we are discussing the start of a boycott of holiday shopping (both for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hanukkah/whatever else), along with a general push for frugality among those now targeted by the current regime.  We want to serve up a steaming, heaping helping of economic non-cooperation this holiday season.  Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Home Repairs, Part 2

This week, I must again bow out of writing a long post.  Yesterday I hauled several hundred pounds of scrap wood out of my backyard, and today I have a huge list of projects to finish (aside from going to church, where I will be in a couple of hours).  If idleness is the devil's workshop, then I won't have to worry about being in trouble for a very long time.

I should be able to continue my series on the revanchism of the Third Rome next weekend. I will also hopefully begin to show the role played by Russia in the rise of the global fascist far right.  (Although, if anyone wants to do his or her own research, there are plenty of smoking guns lying around where one could start.)  Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Home Repairs - August 2017

I have spent the last week fixing things in my house that badly needed fixing, as they were falling apart.  My backyard now contains a big pile of used lumber that I will be hauling to the dump sometime soon.  I'm afraid I'll have to wait until next weekend to have a post on my continuing series.  Until then, my prayer is that God's mercy and justice would shine on you all - especially on those who are among the oppressed.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Revanchism Of The Third Rome, Part 4: Caesar's 21st Century

At the end of my last post, I promised to discuss how the concept of the Third Rome and Russian Orthodoxy have influenced and guided Russian policy since the fall of the Soviet Union.  I also promised to discuss the bearing these concepts have had on the presidency of Vladimir Putin.  In my discussion, I will be relying heavily on "Russia's 'Special Path' In the Relation Between State and Nation" (Geir Flikke, Russia and the Nordic Countries: State, Religion and Society, Fondet for Dansk-Norsk Samarbeid, 2016) as well as other sources.

At the outset, let me say that the essay by Flikke makes a distinction between the concept of a state and that of a nation, with the state being the creation of the power-holders at the pinnacle of a society, and the nation (polity - as in a people united by collective identity, or народ) being a grassroots creation by a people from the bottom up.  Accordingly, the French concept of a nation is "the political authority emanating from the people..."  In this conception of nationhood, the people of the nation have a major say in how they want their national identity to be defined.  The state as an expression of the government of that nation depends for its legitimacy on the political authority emanating from the people.

The Russian experience has, historically been diametrically opposite to this process.  Starting from the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the Russian state has been an entity imposed by the most powerful on those without power.  "As Vera Tolz stated...'Russia became an Empire before ever contemplating becoming a nation'" (Flikke, ibid.)  The characteristic of such a state is that it is usually an autocracy and not a democracy.  This is to be expected, given the way that Ivan the Terrible achieved victory over his military rivals - namely by being more expert at the use of violence than his rivals - and given the way that the successful use of violence concentrates power in the hands of the wielder of successful violence.  The result in the Russian case was the creation of an extremely long-lasting system of despotism.  The majority of people who made the transition from non-Russian to Russian status over the last five or so centuries did not therefore do so willingly, but under compulsion, as newly-incorporated subjects of an empire.  (Chenoweth and Stephan would not characterize this as a "democratic transition"!)

Fast forward to the 1990's and the time of great difficulty for Russia as it struggled under societal disarray and widespread corruption under Yeltsin.  One of the analysts of that time, a man named Yegor Gaydar (Егор Гайдар), wrote a pamphlet titled, "State and Evolution" ("Государство И Эволюция"), in which he made some very interesting points, as noted by Fikke:
"...Gaydar...saw the greed of nomenklatura capitalism in his own country as inevitably linked to a specific “Russian” entity and cultural context – that of the state. If state and property have never been divided, historically, and in present times, Gaydar held, '(...) even the most powerful state would, in reality, be weak and degenerate (trukhlyavy). The state servicemen, the bureaucracy (chinovniki) will eat the state completely, and they will not halt the hunt for property. Everyday corruption will soon become the real state of affairs. The servicemen will intuitively try to stabilize the situation, by converting power into property.' (Gaydar, 1994)."
And this also:
“Gaydar clearly linked this to the paradox of the liberation from the Tatar Yoke, asserting that the dissolution of the Horde put Russia on a firm path towards despotic Asian rule, firmly expressed by Ivan Grozny. [This], he suggested started the thriving expansion of Russia, ending only in 1945. And, this is important, the steady expansion left Russia void of important processes of nation-building and it also tapped state resources; Russia became a '.... Civilization' (dogonyayushchaya tsivilizatsiya), dedicating most of its resources to “catch up” with its constituent other --- the West: 'Russia was captured, colonized by itself, ending up as a hostage of the militaristic-imperial system, which profiled itself in front of the kneeling people as its eternal benefactor and savior from external threats, as the guarantor of the existence of the nation.' (Gaydar, 1994, p. 46).”
Gaydar's thoughts here can best be summarized by saying that the historical despotism of the Russian state never allowed the Russian people to build the local and regional independent institutions that constitute a healthy nation.  This is why the 1990's (after the collapse of the Soviet Union) were such a time of government corruption and social instability.  The Russian national response to this time was not to look inward to become the sort of people who could manage themselves on local and regional levels, not to begin to develop the capacity for what Mohandas Gandhi called swaraj, but rather to look for another strongman.  In Vladimir Putin they found him.  (But when one strongman "rescues" a nation from being eaten by other strongmen, what guarantee is there that the rescuing strongman won't also be a cannibal?)

Now, what is needed to sell the idea of a strongman and his imposition of a strong unitary state on an unresisting people?  The political and cultural leadership have answered that question in a number of ways.  But one of the ways has been the transformation of the Russian Orthodox Church into a blatantly political instrument to support the regime of Vladimir Putin (Per-Arne Bodin, "The 'Symphony' in Contemporary Russia"; Kristian Gerner, "Clericalization, Militarization and Acquiescence," Russia and the Nordic Countries, 2016)  There is indeed an organic link between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian military: "...a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church took part in the meeting of the Marshal Staff of the armed forces," (Gerner); "...Russian fighter planes were consecrated and sprinkled with holy water by an Orthodox priest..." (Gerner); the State and the Church collaborate openly in the strengthening of a "civil religion" which is primarily cultural in nature, although its symbols are religious (Kahla, "Third Rome Today or State Church Collaboration in Contemporary Russia", 2016); and the Russian Orthodox Church has been involved over the last several years in a massive project of canonizing many military heroes as saints (Kahla, ibid.)

And as for the concept of Russia as the Third Rome, this idea has been elevated even further.  Russian propagandists now refer to Russia as the "Katechon," a concept arrogated by Russia from the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians from the New Testament.  The Katechon is defined as that restraining force or agent which keeps the Antichrist at bay and preserves the world order against lawless chaos.  (Now, to me, that's funny!  Have you seen some of the numerous YouTube videos of Russian road rage incidents?  And these propagandists claim that Russia stands alone to defend the world from lawlessness!  Must...stop...giggling...)

To shoulder such a burden for the preservation of the world most "obviously" requires a strongman.  And of the activities of this "strongman" and his minions I have much more to say - especially as they apply to those of us who are not Russian.  But tonight I am out of time.  To be continued...

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Revanchism of the Third Rome: Symphony's Chords

(Some readers may be wondering why my last two posts (as well as the next two or three) are taking a trip down the path of Russian and Byzantine history, especially the history of the Byzantine (Orthodox) church.  You may be asking, "What does that have to do with things happening in the world today?"  Hang in there; I'll try to have a satisfying answer for you at the end.)

Last week's post sketched out the role of the Russian Orthodox church in promoting the myth of Russia as the "Third Rome," the heir to the spiritual and political mantle of the Byzantine Empire.  To see the deeper significance of the "Rome" in the Byzantine empire, it is helpful to see how Church and State were related to each other in Byzantium, and how State and Church rang some changes in that relationship in Russia after the fall of Byzantium.  Let's begin by defining the word "symphony."  And here I will rely not only on Wikipedia definitions, but I will be drawing extensively on Russia and the Nordic Countries: State, Religion, and Society, published by Fondet for Dansk-Norsk Samarbeid in 2016.

In the Byzantine empire, symphony referred to the formal arrangement between Church and State, which was explicitly stated by the emperor Justinian in 535 A.D.  In this symphony, both Church and State were to be collaborators in the project of the "protection and spread of the Christian Church..."  This concept was refined by patriarch (supreme bishop) Photius in the ninth century A.D.  He explicitly stated that emperor and Church patriarch were not merely collaborators, but equal partners in a project which was fundamentally religious in nature.  Therefore, the State was not supposed to dominate the Church, nor vice versa - in other words, the patriarch was not to be head of state, nor the emperor head of the Church.  There is a further significance to the concept of symphony, namely, that under this arrangement, it was not possible "...that the emperor might profess any other religion than Orthodox Christianity...The idea expressed already by Christ Himself that there should be a distinction between what belongs to the emperor and what  belongs to God...seems quite difficult to realize in a construction like the Byzantine theocracy."  In other words, secularization was utterly incompatible with Byzantine symphony.  (Quotes taken from "The History and Theology of Russian Orthodoxy," Gottlieb, Russia and the Nordic Countries: State, Religion, and Society, 2016.)

It is important to note that the establishment of a State church in the original Roman empire did not follow the principle of symphony. According to some sources, when the first State church emerged under the emperor Constantine, he established himself as "Head of the Church," thus establishing himself as a caesaropapist. (Now there's a new word for ya!) It is also important to note that not all Byzantine emperors submitted to the doctrine of symphony; therefore, there were not a few caesaropapists in their number as well. The practice of caesaropapism was a convenient way for a Roman or Byzantine emperor to consolidate and amplify his power, especially when seeking to expand his territory through imperial conquest or to eliminate internal threats to his power.

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Russia (especially Muscovy Russia) sought to lay claim on the title of "Third Rome" in two ways.  First, the Russian clergy established the Russian Orthodox church as autocephalous.  In other words, a Russian cleric became the head (the patriarch) of the Russian Church, independent from Orthodox patriarchs in Constantinople or Greece. This project began in 1448 according to Gottlieb, took over a century to complete, and wasn't formally fulfilled until 1589, according to Laats. (Laats, "The Concept of the Third Rome and Its Political Implications," retrieved on 30 July 2017.) And the Russian rulers first adopted the title of "Tsar" (Царь, literally, "Caesar,") in 1547 with the coronation of Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible), thus establishing a Russian head of state as a continuation of the line of the Caesars of the first and second Rome.

How did symphony play out in Russia after 1453?  Well, first of all, we must note that it didn't always play out.  According to Laats, Tsar Ivan IV used the concept of theocracy to promote himself as defender of the Orthodox faith.  "His wars were against 'Muslim unbelievers' and 'the Catholic enemy of Christianity'.  The mission of the Russian church was directly grounded in [Ivan's] military victories...The state or the monarch was the real head of the church.  Ivan the Terrible 'sees the tsardom as a divine commission and himself as head of the church and representative of God on earth...'"

To be sure, the Russian Orthodox Church pushed back against the power of the tsars, with the Patriarch Nikon seeking in 1652 to establish the "preeminence of the patriarch over the tsar..." (Gottlieb).  However, Nikon lost that particular battle, and the attempts by the Russian Orthodox Church to continue the fight resulted in the breaking of Church power by Tsar Peter the Great in the 18th century.  Peter made the Church definitely subservient to the State and made it the "official state church of the Russian Empire."  This arrangement continued under Catherine the Great, and lasted, with some variations to this form, until the revolutions of 1917.

And as for the role of the concept of the Third Rome in Russian internal and foreign policy, Laats says that "The universality of Rome was connected to pax romana.  The goal of Rome was to establish a universal empire, which would supersede the disorderly competition between nations and establish world peace.  The monk Filofei, one of the masterminds of the doctrine of the Third Rome wrote that 'all Christian realms will comne to an end and will unite into the one single realm of our sovereign.'"  Moscow came also to possess an eschatological cultural dimension - not only as special and closer to God than any other city, but as the center of the last Rome, the fulfillment of all history.  The tsar therefore becomes an eschatological ruler, head of both Church and State.  And Russia itself became "holy", "elected by God and having a special task in the divine story within the world."  This is why the ability of the Russian tsardom to use Russian Orthodoxy as a tool for expansion of secular power is so significant.

According to Laats, this concept of Russia as the Third Rome was officially renounced by the Russian Church in 1667, and has not been explicitly stated by Church or State since then.  Yet it has remained the undercurrent and foundation of Russian state policy and identity from that time onward, under Tsar Nicholas I and Tsar Alexander III (and, as some would argue, under Russian communism).

How have Russian Orthodoxy and the concept of  the Third Rome influenced Russian leadership and policy since the fall of Soviet communism?  What bearing do these have on the regime of Vladimir Putin?  I hope to start answering those questions in my next post.  Stay tuned...