Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Politics of Satan

Like some other Jesus-folk I know, I've not really been able to bring myself to watch the ongoing GOP convention.  Nor, quite frankly, will I be spending time on the Democratic convention.   Oh, I'll vote, come election season.  I always have.  It's a fundamental duty of every citizen.

But neither party really works for me lately.  For someone who does actually care about both politics and the well-being of the United States of America, this is a difficult reality, but it is reality.

In part, it's the toxicity of the polarized political conversation, but that's always been the case, ever since America's been America.   In part, it's that vision and/or honesty seem significantly absent from the conversation.  In part, it's because we seem to be drifting apathetically towards oligarchy, or some peculiar aristo-capitalism, in which the Lord of the Manor is no longer the guy on the hill who permits us to live on his land for a wee percentage, but a disembodied Corporate Principality that permits us to use the concepts it owns.  

This morning, as my dog snuffled and dithered about on our walk, I found myself wondering if perhaps my malaise has some deeper root.  Ad fons, we reformed types like to say, meaning that to understand something, you need to go to the most basic conceptual source of that thing.  Over the past couple of years, I've had the opportunity to study the two thinkers whose socio-political perspectives have most shaped the current direction of our binary political system.  Here, I'm not talking about Obama or Romney. I'd happily share a beer/root beer float with either of them.

Those two are Ayn Rand and Saul Alinsky, whose writings provide the underpinnings of the Tea Party and the current administration's centrist realpolitik, respectively.   This is a problem for disciples of Jesus of Nazareth who want to be engaged with our political system.  Why?

Ayn Rand's influence over the intellectual heart of the Republican party is well documented, as is the rather fundamental impossibility of reconciling her fevered Nietzsche-lite materialism with the life and morality of Jesus.   The adolescent glazed-eye social darwinism of Atlas Shrugged is intentionally and diametrically opposed to the heart of Christ's teachings.  The rule for objectivists is that maximizing individual power is everything.

Problem is, the approach to community power taught by Saul Alinsky is equally Jesus-incompatible.  And no, it's not just because Alinsky dedicated his seminal "Rules for Radicals" to Lucifer.  Alinsky's bare-knuckles approach to organizing collective power is intentionally and vigorously adversarial.   Articulating compassion for opponents is explicitly forbidden.  Deception and deceit in pursuit of a particular goal is encouraged.  The rule for radicals is that maximizing collective power is everything.

And so we find ourselves asked to choose between an objectivist Scylla and a collectivist Charybdis.  Or, rather, we find that for all of their howling at one another, both sides in our binary political system seem to rest on the same foundation.  

Power being power, that is perhaps no surprise.