Sides and Circles

Hello, again.

In the current climate of both religion and politics, I cannot refrain from reaffirming my loyalty to historic Universalism, as opposed to historic Unitarianism. Looking back to the late 18th and 19th century, these are the elements that clarify my call.

Pre- and post-Civil War America were very similar to the era in which we live now. Generations of European Americans had worked the stolen land and settled into a non-immigrant, non-capitalist lifestyle. In other words, high ambition no longer fired their souls. Instead they wanted quiet, stability, safety, and security, for themselves and their descendants. They were local folk, artisans and farmers, whose highest passion often resided in their local Bible-based faith. When it came to keeping local order, most of them relied more on a fear of hell than a confidence in law.

Sound familiar?

Unitarians of the same years were forming the earliest industrial class, and educated management, such as they could devise, was big with them. In greater Boston, they owned textile mills and relied on the daughters of these settlers for cheap, well-behaved, unambitious labor. Others were pure capitalists (author’s note: this part references my own forebears) whose business relied either directly or indirectly on the kidnapping, selling, and bonding of Africans, or the slaughter of ocean-going mammals. In any case, they wanted to get ahead, stay ahead, and position their offspring ahead. Education was a major weapon in both their definition of character and their toolbox for oppression. This led them to dismiss what we would now call the working class and small farmers as “uneducated.” What began as denigrating slurs in the 19th century (with the occasional anti-immigrant violence) had by the 20th century become a lethal combination of eugenic science and anti-evangelical liberal Christianity.

Universalists approached the challenge of settler comfort completely differently. Overwhelmingly, Universalists bubbled up within this very milieu, and what motivated them was concern for the peace of mind of their family and friends. Far from disrespecting the Bible’s call for strong Christian faith (Unitarians preferred Biblical passages extolling the doing of good works), Universalists found in faith their own key to calm and character. In Boston, at least, Unitarians would have no more to do with Universalists than with any other evangelicals.

But Universalists did not show their conversion by turning away from traditional evangelicals. When you find something this wonderful, you want to share it with those you love the most. Those with whom you identify. So Universalists declined to denigrate evangelical preachers, for either their intelligence or their faith. Instead, Universalists would ride from town to town asking evangelicals to name their most distinguished preacher. Offering no insult to this cleric or his (always) followers, nor ridicule of the foundations of their religion, the Universalists would invite this person to share a public platform for public debate on whether the Bible did or did not call for eternal damnation for sinners.

In most cases, having achieved at least a few conversions, the Universalist would eventually set up a riding circuit, supporting adherents with worship and pastoral presence to sustain them in an often-hostile home turf. As early as 1837, Unitarians were smart enough to realize that in areas such as these, liberal religion would fare better through an alliance with local Universalists than attempting to plant a socially elitist brand of religion. From alliances such as these (called “fishing agreements”) arose a distinction between historically Unitarian and historic Universalist congregations.

The assumptions behind these debates and their congregations are the ones to which I now feel called to shape this blog. My family has plenty of dirt under recent nails, and grease on recent hands. I work these days in the most traditional woman’s role, which is caring for a disabled family member full time. I’m on the left of the political spectrum, but identify with many well-meaning Trump voters.

Yes, I believe there are such people.

Yes, I believe their stories, their circumstances, their ideas have merit in many cases.

Yes, I believe that the only successful change issues will be specific, limited, consistent, and self-interested in ways we all share in public areas.

I do not believe all Trump voters are good people, but many of them are. So like those old-time Universalist preachers, I will ride these electronic waves wherever they reach, to see if I can help us find some common ground on which to rebuild our nation.

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Not Just a European Union Responsibility

Way back in what seems like another lifetime,the end of the French-US wars in Indochina sent thousands,if not millions, of desperate Vietnamese, Cambodians, Loatians fleeing the victors by any means available. Shabby boats, bleeding feet, hands and knees calloused from crawling through open stretches: the world watched in horror as they suffered, died, or triumphed in such poor physical condition that it seemed impossible they would ever recover. Numerous nations banded together to rescue and support these fugitives, both with rescues and with resettlement. Among the thousand tiny points of light, late in the game, you could then find this writer, helping interview and document those who arrived in Indonesia.

Now the same nightmare has reincarnated itself, on the Mediterranean Sea, Judging from the stunning lack of interest on the part of US news media (what’s left of it), I gather we Americans have decided, with both glee and relief, that this time, it’s not our fault.

Well, yesterday’s New York Times front page calls on us to reconsider. It isn’t that surprising but it’s good to see the numbers laid out so fully. How could arms profiteers NOT have been our best guess at why this has gotten so bloody so fast? The Times also notes that these new sales stem from a fundamental change in US foreign policy, which has up till now been careful to allow Israel a clear and present superiority. Now that we’ve crashed all the former governments –horrible as they were –with our shock and awe adventurism, we’ve opened our government wallet to let all the flotsam and jetsam buy in.

Because the news channel of choice at my house is Al Jazeera, my wife and I are well aware that this open sea disaster has now gotten worse over four years. That’s about the same interval that Boat People struggled across the South China Sea before Politywonk first landed in Southeast Asia. This leads me to skip over the tears-and-guilt issues and leap straight to the issues of Compassion Fatigue (“why do we have to always help out these strangers?”) and Foreign Aid Disgust (“This is nothing but international welfare that we can’t afford”). We need to look at new ways to fund these operations, with stronger targeting on those who caused the problems in the first place. Yes, this is more Pottery Barn Foreign Policy (Colin Powell’s assertion that “if you break it, you pay for it) — but this time, it’s not us taxpayers who need to dig into our wallets.

1) First up, let’s check the role of the Export-Import Bank in this debacle. It’s a little bit like slavery was in the pre-Civil War South: the majority of slaveholders had fewer than ten slaves, but the large hostage holders had such huge operations that more than 80% of the enslaved lived in their vast enclaves. Ex-Im assists a large number of small businesses in vital ways, but the vast majority of its money goes to Boeing and a few other titans. According to its own website, their initatives include support for arms sales. Yes, I’m a Vermont leftie and I hate having to encourage Paul Ryan and Rand Paul, but in this case, the Tea Party is doing good work and deserves our support.

2) Second, let’s impose a Humanitarian Excise Tax on the profits arms and other industries have gotten from their Middle East sales and labor contracts. These are the funds for those refugees and other humanitarian assistances. In particular, I would tax the salaries and capital gains of their primary executives and shareholders (yes, Dick Cheney, this means you).

3) Let’s call on our media to pay attention to the details of these outrages as they get worse. In Indochina, the Boat People and Trekkers got robbed and raped by an expanding population of pirates and highway robbers. I note that over the last few days, Al Jazeera has added reports of robbing and sectarian high-seas murder to the other miseries reported by those who can manage to land or get rescued in the current holocaust. You can expect a steady increase in these occurrences. Hopefully, if there is any last antidote to Compassion Fatigue, these tails (many of which I heard personally) will do the trick.

When a person spent their young years dealing with something as awful as the South China Sea Boat People and Cambodian Trekkers/Crawlers, their one consolation is that they’ll never have to see anything so awful again. Again and again, all over the world, that hope has been misplaced. It’s time for us to honestly, fully, take action on everything we can do to turn off the bloody spigot. (And yes, I know there are other arms dealers anxious to fill our void: it will be up to us to penalize them in every way we can manage, including cutting them out from renewals of preferential trade deals as those arise.)

The World Turned Upside Down

At first, the Boston Marathon bombings seemed small to me. Compared to 9-11, to deaths in wars we don’t even bother to look at on television anymore, even to industrial murders resulting from deliberately unsafe management decisions — compared to all this, a lot of people went home in one piece. Had homes to go home to.

That night I went to hear Medea Benjamin speaking on the outrage of US drone policy. As a former political-military analyst of Pakistani affairs, back in another time and place, I actively despise the drones as bad policy. They are another Vietnam — which is to say, a bombing of innocent people who didn’t really care about us but wake up the next day full of hatred. On such occasions, my mind wanders idly to the question of whether our stated policy on use for drones would be different if another country — say, Russia — used the same words to justify attacks launched into US neighborhoods, in search of their own terrorists, say, Chechnyans separatists.

History teaches that the Russians have plenty of reason to use something as lethal as drones against Chechnyan separatistseven as the Chechnyan separatists have legitimate grievances against the Russians. It’s a civil war, fought out by other means, and sometimes in other places.

So, as I say, the Russians would have as much reason to launch a drone into Watertown or any other US neighborhood with a strong eastern European presence as we have to launch our drones into some of the Pakistani and Yemeni neighborhoods we attack. Signature attacks, after all, depend on nothing more than a belief that this is the kind of neighborhood where terrorism finds a foothold. Takes root. Organizes and then exports the means to attack innocents abroad.  At this moment, I trust, there are legal scholars in the Pentagon and CIA poring over every word Obama has uttered on this subject, frantically seeking the ones that might be launched back into our own faces.

But drones are not only something to fear, they are also something to understand. The reason we use drones against suspected terrorists is because those malefactors inhabit places we mock as “failed states.”  In explaining the appellation, experts do not deny that good people live there. States do not fail because they have no rich people. they do not lack for healthy religious communities, most of which are the single healthy social institution protecting their members. Failed states have arts and literature, museums and ways for people to trade and travel.

What failed states don’t have is a government with the power, the will, and the resources to control people who do not wish to live by the laws.  Patriots Day was an ironic moment for God to show the full dimensions of how much that applies to us. Worried about personal violence: the US Senate voted to let gun owners be gun owners — no matter why they want those guns — and to have all the bullets and gunpowder they want.  nervous about your jobsite and missing OSHA? An industrial chemical plant exploded next to two schools and a nursing home, all snuggled close to each other in a jurisdiction that has no safety standards nor routine surprise inspections.  Or maybe you dread the ecological apocalypse? In that case, you’re agitated that flooding has shut down a major metropolitan area and raised fears that its failed sewage exclusion system has allowed an imported predator species of fish to enter the huge, interlocked Great Lakes water system.

And in Boston, on Patriots Day, two brothers and unknown others took the step that lead to official designation as a failed state: they planned, supplied, and launched an act of violence against a public event.  It probably took someone from someplace like Chechnya to hold up the final mirror. Fugitives from failed states know immediately when they’ve landed in another one.  Maybe now, when the Pakistanis, the Yemenis, the Afghans wail that the drones kill good people with the bad, the people of Watertown, Cambridge, and Arlington — many of whom are my personal dear friends — will lead American voices insisting we take them more seriously.

Wisdom is for another day. Right now, I’m still reeling from the numerous naked emperors running wild on my cable television: a town blown off the map in Texas, my own friends locked in their home, losing income and serenity in Greater Boston, and Asian jumping carp chomping their way into Lake Michigan from the DesPlaines and Chicago Rivers.

God has called our bluff. Pride goes before a fall.  Monday night, I mused with disinterest how useful it would be for the Russians to launch a drone against the US, using our own legal language to justify a simply decision to protect their own people against terrorism.  Today — Friday — I just pray they don’t.