Yearning for a World of Love and Justice: An introduction to the Ideas of Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP)
by Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun Magazine and chair of the NSP email@example.com November, 2016
We live in a world filled with loving and caring people.
We all crave a world filled with love and care. Yet most of us doubt that we can experience a loving and caring world beyond our own private lives and homes.
Why? Because the ethos of the capitalist marketplace, which places greatest value on money and power, has infiltrated our personal lives, shaping our unconscious and conscious beliefs about “human nature.”
In the economic marketplace we are taught to look out for ourselves, maximize our profits, and do what we need to do to get ahead, even at the cost of people we care about. Most people spend most of their waking hours at work. The way we come to experience “reality” is massively shaped by our experiences in the world of work. We learn that the work world is no place for vulnerability, caring, and love. Rather, it is the place governed by the injunction to maximize the “bottom line” of money and power. And this, we come to believe is “the real world.”
So we often hide our yearnings for deep connection, care, and love, and instead build walls around us to protect ourselves from being vulnerable to others because when we have done so in the past we have been disappointed or hurt. We learn to see others through a narrow utilitarian framework, assessing whether they can be “of use” to us in achieving our goals in the economic marketplace. Not surprisingly, those of us who have been taught to think this way about others at work tend to bring this way of thinking into our personal lives. The result: we often feel surrounded by people who see us in terms of what we can do for them. The powerful drive within all of us to be loving and caring seems so “unrealistic” in this situation that many of us have learned to dismiss it, repress it, or simply not believe that others too share that desire to be in a world of love and caring.
We have been so conditioned to believe that the world we want is impossible that we start to repeat a foolish and self-destructive message that apart from our own small group of friends and loved ones (and perhaps our own religious or spiritual community), everyone else is only concerned with power and money. Popular culture promotes this view and it is this cynicism about others that makes it seem realistic. The more we believe people will try to manipulate us to get their needs met, the more we engage in the same behavior to protect ourselves. This cycle of manipulation ends up creating a reality that is contrary to our deepest yearnings and needs. When we are stuck in this cycle, we increasingly come to believe that the only “rational” way to live is to “look out for number one.”
As a result, many of us feel lonely, alienated, and scared, even in the midst of friendships and marriages. We see ourselves surrounded by people who only seem to care about us to the extent that we can “deliver something.”
In short, people have absorbed the old bottom line of the capitalist marketplace, and have come to believe that this is just reality.
A New Bottom Line
Spiritual progressives, unlike their liberal counterparts, understand that political rights and economic entitlements while important are not what people are actually craving. To successfully transform our society from its current obsession with acquiring material goods, we need to help connect people with their deepest yearnings for a world of meaning and purpose. Simultaneously, we need to provide a framework for concrete political proposals that are grounded in spiritual principles as a counter to the one-dimensionality of many liberal proposals.
We call this a New Bottom Line—one that counters the emphasis on money and power and instead judges the rationality, efficiency, and productivity of our institutions, corporations, legislation, social practices, health care system, schools, legal system, and social policies by how much love, compassion, kindness, generosity, and ethical and ecological sensitivity they inculcate within is. The New Bottom Line places priority on the extent to which institutions and policies nurture our capacity to respond to other human beings as embodiments of the sacred and to respond to the grandeur of the universe with gratitude, awe, and wonder. If we embrace this New Bottom Line as we interact with others, then instead of seeing others as a means to our own ends, we will create a world in which we see and value one another’s humanity. To the extent that our economic, political and social arrangements are in fact governed by this New Bottom Line, we will begin to rebuild trust in each other’s goodness and start to believe that compassion and kindness can flourish not only in our homes but in our communities and our workplaces as well.
Seeking a world which embodies this New Bottom Line is the central message of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. Rejecting the “common sense” of capitalist society that human beings are primarily motivated by their narrow material self-interest (or as a prominent Democratic Party strategist put it, “it’s the economy stupid”) we call for liberals and progressives to affirm the psychological, ethical and spiritual dimensions of humanity which have been stymied and unfulfilled in self-described capitalist and socialist societies, and largely ignored by liberal and conservative public policies in most Western countries. Our Spiritual Covenant is way of reclaiming this New Bottom Line, which crosses traditional left/right dichotomies and enables us to envision a new kind of political movement that could actually win majority support for a program of healing and transforming our world.
Spiritual progressives know that progressive economic and political demands will never be fully embraced by the American majority until we address the feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness felt by so many people. To do so, we must become sensitive to the deep (though sometimes unconscious) hunger that people have for a loving world in which our lives have some higher meaning beyond the accumulation of money or power. Spiritual progressives seek to build a world that nurtures these fundamental yearnings. We recognize that doing so requires both internal transformation and a fundamental reshaping of our economic system, political system, and societal practices.
We affirm the deep desire and yearning of human beings to live in a world in which we are deeply appreciated, loved, cared for, respected and treated as embodiments of the sacred. But we recognize that human beings are complex and at times have competing and contradictory desires. We are sadly aware of the cruelty, hurtfulness, selfishness and pain that gets communicated from generation to generation, not only in the inheritance we have from parents who themselves felt under-recognized and without the love that they deserved and needed, but also from the institutions and social practices that often powerfully reproduce that cruelty and hurtfulness. We know that the changes we wish to see in the world require multiple levels of tikkun (the healing and transformation of our world) – psychological, spiritual, intellectual, economic and political. We are not Pollyannaish about how easy it will be to achieve these transformations.
But we have no choice but to try. Here’s why.
The current economic and political system has created an unprecedented environmental crisis that is wreaking havoc on peoples’ lives and has the potential to destroy the life support system of the planet. As the crisis intensifies, the powerful, rather than transforming the system that is destroying the planet may instead rally support for their system by further undermining democratic and human rights and imposing authoritarian or even fascistic forms of rule. In the face of this reality, the struggle for a New Bottom Line becomes the most rational way to transform societal and global consciousness so we can build an effective movement to transform political, economic and social structures.
A Shared Vision of the World We Want
There are thousands of wonderful organizations seeking to resist some aspects of what is unjust or environmentally destructive in our world today. All too often, however, social change groups know what they are against but struggle to articulate a vision of the world they are for. As a result, hundreds of millions of people get mobilized for one struggle or another but fail to recognize all the others as their allies.
These movements try to avoid anything that sounds “too ideological” out of fear of splintering the group. They believe they will be more successful if they focus on the specific struggle without trying to educate people about how the global system works or introduce activists to a larger movement that connects the disparate parts. So even if they win one particular struggle after years of to do so, they will nonetheless discover that global corporations have made dozens of new assaults on the environment while finding ever more clever ways to present themselves as socially or environmentally responsible. This leads to exhaustion, burnout, and cynicism about the possibility of transformation.
Our New Bottom Line and the vision we put forward in our Spiritual Covenant provides the vision that is badly needed in all of these struggles. In this way, the Network of Spiritual Progressives helps people from all different struggles see their common interests and the need to work together and build a shared strategy and vision. Without this, we have little chance of heading off the disasters that face humanity in the coming decades.
The good news is this: most people quickly embrace the vision articulated in our Spiritual Covenant once they overcome their initial “certainty” that it is impossible to achieve. Every time another one of us publicly affirms our support for a New Bottom Line and a Spiritual Covenant, we increase the likelihood that others will also overcome their certainty that change is impossible. It will take decades of commitment until we reach a tipping point, but at that point millions of people will suddenly realize that they would not be alone in acting on their yearning for a world based on love. At that point, a nonviolent transformation of our world becomes possible.
It is our contention that every human being has the need to actualize their capacities to be loving, generous, free, intellectually and artistically creative, playful, joyous, empathic, compassionate, forgiving and caring to others, connected in awe and wonder to the grandeur of the universe and the mystery of all being, living in harmony with Earth, and recognized, seen and understood by many others in their lives. These capacities are systematically thwarted in a society in which people are encouraged by the dominant culture to focus primarily on their own needs without simultaneously putting equal energy into developing a world which supports the actualization of everyone else’s needs. We can’t be who we need to be without everyone else being able to actualize his or her fullest human capacities. It is the frustration of these needs, as much as the denial of material well-being and political rights that underlies the suffering of much of humanity today.
The following version of our Spiritual Covenant emerged from discussions with tens of thousands of Americans over the course of many years, and it is still evolving. We welcome your feedback and comments (please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org). While we will take them seriously we do not have the capacity to respond to each communication individually.
Cautionary note: there are many elements of this Spiritual Covenant where you might stop and ask yourself: “Why don’t they tell us how we are ever going to achieve all this?” Part of the answer is that to really delve more deeply into these points requires more than one book, and though we have some of them already written, and we publish articles on many of these points in Tikkun Magazine (tikkun.org), we don’t pretend to have the full step-by-step strategy and tactics all worked out. That is partly the task of chapters of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. But our main point is this: it’s enough of a contribution at this point to help unify the various strands and organizations of a social change movement around the vision, help people see that each segment of this movement shares a common vision of the world we seek to build, and then help that movement popularize this vision to the people in our world who have never even heard these kinds of ideas being taken seriously in the public sphere. If the Spiritual Covenant can become the focus of that kind of public discussion, and NSP—Network of Spiritual Progressives members introduce this discussion into the public sphere (in any loving, empathic, and open-hearted way that you can), the NSP will be making a significant contribution. We hope that you will take upon yourself to form a local chapter of our Network of Spiritual Progressives with friends, colleagues, co-workers, people in your political or spiritual community, and direct that group to work with you toward popularizing the ideas you read in this article. But if you can’t do that after reading this article, at least join as a member yourself AND bring these ideas into whatever social justice, peace, environmental, human rights or other social change organization that you support and get others to read this perspective as well as to read our analysis of the psychopathology in US politics that presents a foundation for the first steps in a strategy to overcome the appeal of right-wing ideas (check it out at: http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/psychopathology-in-the-2016-election-3 AFTER you’ve read through this document below).
If this vision speaks to you and you want to help spread this vision, please join the NSP at www.spiritualprogressives.org.
A Spiritual Covenant
As you read this document, you might notice some skepticism and doubt arise in you, a voice telling you “this is not possible”. As you visualize these changes, do not allow in “the reality police” – namely, all those voices in your mind or in the minds or voices of others which say some “they” won’t let these changes happen so you have to be “more realistic” by scaling down your vision to what the current political circumstances seem to make possible. Rather, allow yourself to imagine these changes being possible and notice how you feel when you envision them happening. If you feel inspired or excited, please join us in helping to build this kind of world. Join thousands of others as a member of the NSP– Network of Spiritual Progressives at www.spiritualprogressives.org. If you want to contact Cat Zavis, our executive director of the NSP, email her: email@example.com .
A Path to a Loving and Just World
(the platform of the NSP—Tikkun magazine’s interfaith and secular-humanist-and-atheist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives).
1. Support Families and Building A Caring Economy
We will create a society that promotes rather than undermines loving and caring relationships and families.
Every institution, economic or social practice that encourages us to see others as instruments for our own advancement rather than as embodiments of the sacred must be reshaped so that instead, they maximize our capacities to be loving, generous, and caring.
We will resist the neo-liberal assault on the economic well-being of middle income working people and its transfer of wealth to the wealthiest 1% of wealth holders, its defunding of the public sphere, its ruthless pursuit of privatization of education, health care, social services, and the dismantling of the social support network–defunding government so that it cannot offer the protections it once sought to provide as a limit on the selfishness and indifference to the well-being of the majority of humanity by most of the corporate dominated economy and most of the super-rich. We fully support all the movements seeking economic justice and protection from the irrationalities of the global capitalist system. But we will not follow the path of many on the Left who believe that economic fairness and economic well-being are the only dimensions of society that we as a people can address together. Instead, we insist that building a world that supports rather than undermines our capacities to be loving and caring and generous towards each other and toward the planet Earth are equally important goals for our lives together as citizens and as participants in the world’s potential community of sentient beings.
Though we know that many on the Left are motivated by these concerns—yet when they get into the public sphere, they feel reluctant to talk about love, caring and generosity, worried that this will seem “too soft” or “too flaky” or in some other way subject them to ridicule. So if we consider the 2016 campaign of Bernie Sanders, for instance, you’ll see that although as a person he had many soft spots, when it came to talking about the changes that were needed, they often boiled down to economic entitlements and political rights. These are extremely important, but they are not enough, do not speak deeply enough to the heart, and seem impersonal to too many. As wonderful as his program was, Sanders did not even manage to get the votes of a majority of the Democratic Party primary voters, and that might have been very different had he added this dimension into his public discourse and the way he shaped his proposed programs. What is needed is a radical economics mixed with a radical commitment to a world of love, kindness, generosity: the Caring Society—Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth. And caring is the key to sustaining loving relationships.
Our economic system is not only unfair to the majority of people who are impacted by its operations. It also promotes values and ways of seeing the world that are destructive to families and to our human capacities to build and sustain loving friendships, marriages, and families, and to care for the earth.
We will challenge cynical attempts to reduce life to self-interest and power over others. And we will oppose the cheapening of sexuality that regularly occurs in advertising and mass media and reduces love to a mere extension of narcissistic self-gratification. We seek to build a society that helps supports rather than undermines families, friendships and loving relationships. Though part of doing so requires economic transformations, part of the task is to encourage a different set of values than those emanate from the competitive marketplace.
Because we value adequate time for family, joy, reflection, engagement in community, and contribution to the well being of all on this planet, we will insist on a reduced workweek of thirty hours per week.
We will create a public banking system that seeks to benefit those least able to provide adequate financial support for themselves and to provide financing for socially and environmentally valuable projects. Public banking frees the credit potential of public revenues and then harnesses this public wealth to create sustainable, abundant and affordable credit. This credit — our credit — supports our economy and citizens if it is then used to build economic capacity (think renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, etc. — things that private banks do not fund). And we will replace the Federal Reserve with a system governing the production and distribution of money that serves the public interest rather than the richest individuals and corporations.
We will replace the economic ethos of “growth” with an ethos of sustainability and inner (emotional, intellectual, and spiritual) growth.
We would like to see income taxes at close to confiscatory rates on the portion of anyone’s annual income above $2 million (and indexed to future inflation), as well as a wealth tax on wealth in excess of $12 million per person or $20 million per family unit. Correspondingly, we want a guaranteed annual income for everyone in the society at a level sufficient to support their families so that their basic necessities are ensured (food, clothing, shelter, health care, child care, elder care, education, and basic home energy supplies). Monies from these taxes will help offset a massive program to build environmentally sustainable energy supplies and transportation systems, and to reshape cities to enable people to live and play close to where they work.
To develop the capacity to let go of consumerism, and the capitalist addiction to endless growth of the economy, we seek to foster a spiritual life, encouraging our communities to follow any religious or non-religious path that increases our ability to be satisfied with fewer material goods.
Some of this involves encouraging (not mandating) practices like meditation, prayer, artistic creativity, dance, playing musical instruments, community singing, walks or camping in beautiful settings in nature, and a weekly Sabbath day of rest and removal of attention from the world of “getting and spending” or otherwise exercising domination over nature.
Another contribution to developing this consciousness will be the introduction of a yearlong sabbatical every seventh year, which we will discuss more fully in the section on the environment.
We seek to build a society in which people are able to find meaningful work that contributes to the public good or connects to some higher purpose than the accumulation of money or power. Even meaningful work is not always fun or intellectually stimulating 100 percent of the time. But even difficult work can be filled with a sense of meaning when we know that it serves the common interests of humanity rather than the interests of a few corporate profiteers.
Every workplace should have a process in place in which those who work there should be able to assess whether the institution in which they work is actually contributing to the larger well-being of society, and to make suggestions for what could be changed to make it more of an ally to the common good of the human race and the environmental survival of the planet. Those suggestions should go both to the top management and to the committee that will be assessing whether in fact this workplace is serving the well being of the society as a whole (see our Enviornmental and Social Responsibiltiy Amendment to the U.S. Constitution www.tikkun.org/esra ). This addresses the need for work that is meaningful.
In addition, workplaces should be mandated to grant some time each week for working people to develop their own intellectual, spiritual and political interests, as well as time to exercise and care for their physical well-being. In such a world, where work feels meaningful and working people are given time to pursue non-work meaningful activities during their time of paid labor, and workers (and retirees) of every type are recognized for making a valuable contribution to the common good, most people will feel respected in ways that they do not in the current capitalist society.
One reason we believe it is possible immediately to dramatically reduce the work week from forty to thirty hours a week is that much of the labor expended today is dedicated to the production and delivery of goods and services that would not be deemed necessary if the advertising industry and the media had not produced in us a desire for them. And in our current society, the top 20% richest in the society own 85% of the wealth and the 80% less rich own 15% of the wealth. The top 1% of the wealthiest in the US population own 40% of the wealth.
When justifying the production of goods that are wasting the resources of the planet, defenders of the extreme form of market society in the U.S. will often say, “hey, we are just producing what people want—the market is just a democratic way to make decisions about what we want to do with our time on earth and with the earth itself.” This argument falls flat once one realizes that is the market doesn’t work on the basis of one person one vote (the democratic approach) but based on the principle of $1 one vote. So, when it comes to the decision of what should be produced and consumed, some family living on $70,000 a year may find that they barely have enough to pay for rent or mortgage plus food and basic clothing, and transportation needed to get to work, and basic energy needs, and maybe only $3,000 a year for non essential purposes. Whereas someone making $250,000 a year might spend more on food, clothing, housing, and some of these other basics, but still have $60,000 left to pay for items of choice like expensive vacations, luxury items, yearly purchases of the newest electronic gadgets—that is, 20 times the amount of dollars (which are votes about what should be produced and consumed).
Given the huge disparity in wealth, the smaller but vastly richer part of the population has vastly more votes than the rest of us, and can waste the resources of our planet by consuming luxury items that are often more about status symbols than about fulfilling basic needs.
This also results in a reality in which many jobs are unnecessary from the standpoint of the sustainability of the planet and human well-being. Once we eliminate unnecessary work and the production of unnecessary goods and services, it will become possible to cut our work hours and create a sabbatical year for everyone (that is, a year every seven in which people do not have to work and yet still have enough food, clothing, transportation, health care, etc.).
But these economic benefits are only one aspect of supporting loving relationships. We must also resist those forces within our society that foster the qualities that make love more difficult to sustain: cynicism, harshness, individualism, self-centeredness, fear, and disconnection from life’s meaning and the possibility of transformation. As a first step, we will provide free education for people at every stage in their lives focused on teaching empathic communication, conflict resolution skills, restorative justice skills for divorced couples, family dynamics and building loving and lasting relationships.
As part of the process to build a society based on love, caring, environmental sanity, nonviolence, generosity, and social and economic justice, we urge people in every corporation, workplace, governmental institution, and school to develop a concrete plan for how they would run that institution if they had the power to recreate it in accord with these values. While the visioning we suggest will help people get in touch with the kind of world they want to live and work in and hence make them more effective in struggling for those changes, the actual changes we seek on a societal level cannot adequately be achieved one institution at a time because of the interdependence of the global marketplace. Yet this visioning can help the ESRA mandated juries to stipulate what changes might be needed for the corporation to be judged worthy of retaining a corporate charter (more on this at www.tikkun.org/esra )
Imagine, for example, a work place that chooses its leadership not only on their ability to build a financially successful business, but also on their ability to treat their employees with care, kindness, and respect. Imagine a work place in which employees cooperate with each other, show respect and care for their actual and potential customers, come up with ideas that enhance the capacity of that enterprise to serve the common good and repair the environment, and actively promotes participation in democratic decision making about all aspects of how that enterprise operates in the world.
Imagine also such a workplace giving a few hours each week to each employee to dedicate to his or her own inner emotional, spiritual and/or intellectual development without imposing any particular path but allowing each worker to make these decisions.
Imagine an economy that promotes and helps build cooperatives, social ventures, and local sustainable economies while simultaneously democratizing the national and international economic arrangements including banks and investment companies, and builds legal arrangements that make it easier for people to cooperate rather than compete with each other, and facilitates the sharing of the world’s resources and the consumer goods that are already widely available.
Imagine a political system in which decisions in Congress or in other parts of government are based in part on which policies would foster the greatest amount of nonviolence, replace domination relationships with cooperative relationships, promote the well-being of everyone on the planet equally (not just the well-being of one’s own country), and you get some sense of how different political life could be. Imagine a political system which used the internet and future technological developments to allow for voting at home on the major issues now decided by legislative bodies—but only for people who had first listened to an hour presentation on each side of the issues being considered—while reducing the task of the legislatures and Congress on major issues to simply framing those issues in ways that would highlight the major philosophical and ideological differences represented by the alternatives being considered, and presenting also minority views not yet found among those who hold elected office.
When people are spending all day in work worlds that promote caring values, they will bring those values home into family life and personal relationships, [TM1] replacing the values of individualism, selfishness, dog-eat-dog competition and ruthless advancement of self without regard for others that tends to be what many people bring home daily in our society from the work worlds shaped by the ethos of the competitive marketplace—ways of thinking and acting that are guaranteed to weaken or even destroy families, caring friendships and loving relationships.
We spiritual progressives are a “pro-families” movement (including the whole range of family forms that have evolved in the past decades, including communities that act as families, yet respectful of those who have chosen not to be part of any family grouping). Family is in our understanding any relationship between two or more people who are committed to always accepting and cherishing each family member regardless of how they are doing in the competitive marketplace or the larger world, regardless of family members’ “success,” “power,” “fame,” or any other external accomplishments, and committed to being there for each family member when they are sick, when they are weak or needy or growing unable to fully take care of themselves. So in our definition of family, there is no requirement of a biological tie, but only a caring commitment that extends throughout the lives of the family members. Our goal is to help create a world which supports rather than undermines loving relationships and unconditionally loving families, while supporting those who leave families that do not and are unwilling to change to provide such love and support.
Families are stronger when they are not isolated from each other, but connected to some community or communities that promote a connection to some higher meaning and purpose for life. That community could be religious or secular, political or cultural, as long as it counters the ethos of individualism and selfishness of the capitalist marketplace. But it must also avoid the trap that has limited the value of communities of meaning in the past—their tendency to assert that their approach is the only legitimate approach and to either explicitly or implicitly blame the weakness of families and loving relationships on some (usually societally demeaned) Other—most recently in North America by blaming African Americans, Meicans or South Americans, gays and lesbians, feminists, refugees, undocumented workers, Muslims, liberals, Jews, and the list continues to grow. Communities of meaning are healthy and contributing to a world of love to the extent that they affirm the value of every human being on the planet, not just the members of their own particular community[TM2] .
To promote lasting loving relationships, people will benefit greatly by living in an economy world that promotes caring for others and an educational system that teaches people the techniques of caring and empathy. To achieve that, we need a fundamental transformation of our economic and political lives. We believe that will only happen when a mass movement emerges that is not only clear in its commitment to a world based on love and generosity, environmental sanity, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe but that also embodies those values within the activities of that movement itself.
This is not a program for replacing capitalism with what has been labeled socialism or communism in the past, but rather for creating what we call The Caring Society—Caring For Each Other and Caring For The Earth. We are not calling for a socialist society, though the system we are describing incorporates many elements that are commonly called “socialist,” but also goes way beyond socialism as practiced in social democratic countries in Europe. Like them, we still see some value in a marketplace, as long as its operations are subject to the ESRA — Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (www.tikkun.org/esra ). But socialism is understood primarily as an economic system, and we are calling for a transformation of the economy in ways that include serious democratic control of the economy and the workplace (something that has not yet been achieved by most societies that describe themselves as socialist) and also includes an ethical, psychological and spiritual framework that can best be described as “The Caring Society–Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth” and governed by the New Bottom Line we articulate in this article. We don’t care if you call this shmocialism or shmapitalism or any other name you call it, but it is a fundamental transformation of (and some will say complete repudiation of) the ethos and much of the workings of the capitalist system (but not all of its workings, because there is a place for market mechanisms carefully democratically controlled by everyone in the society.
The first step in that direction is to promote a New Bottom Line so that every institution, corporation, government policy, our economic system, our legal system, our educational system, and even our own personal lives are seen as efficient, rational and productive to the extent that they maximize our capacities to be loving, caring, kind, generous, environmentally responsible, engaged in activities to promote social, economic and environmental justice, seeing other human beings as fundamentally deserving of our caring and respect, and responding the the Earth and the larger universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement. This New Bottom Line, then will help us promote The Caring Society—Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth.
Instead of seeing other human beings primarily in instrumental or utilitarian terms (“how will they provide for my personal needs, or how can they advance my personal interests in the world”) we will see them as fundamentally deserving of respect and caring as ends in themselves rather than s means to our own ends (or what religious people call seeing them as sacred beings). Rather than seeing the Earth and the universe solely as “resources” to satisfy human needs, we will also see them as amazing living realities of which we ourselves are a part, deserving of care and eliciting both joy and thanksgiving.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA — Family support is always posed in terms that emphasize economic entitlements, but since everyone knows that family breakdown is not confined to those lacking economic supports, the liberal platform is seen as just using the family issue for its pre-existing agenda rather than addressing the fear that many feel about the breakdown of loving commitments and the resulting feelings of loneliness, isolation, and fear of being alone and abandoned by others. We agree with the economic supports proposed by most liberals: we see them as necessary but not sufficient.
Liberal programs rarely challenge the fundamental inequalities that have increased over the course of the past fifty years, though they publicly bemoan inequalities. They seek to restore the economic safety network so that no one falls “too low,” but they do not embrace radical redistribution efforts like those ordained by the Bible’s injunction to redistribute the wealth every fifty years in the Jubilee. We’d like to see the Jubilee become part of life in the advanced industrial societies around the world. This concept, articulated in the Torah (the five books of Moses which are the first books of the Bible) is one reason why ruling elites have often found the Torah to be scary and radical unless it gets reinterpreted in ways more congenial to the ruling elites of any given society.
Liberal policies focus on measures to enhance the fairness of the competitive marketplace so that racism, sexism, homophobia, disabilities, and injuries do not impair anyone’s ability to compete effectively.
In contrast, while supporting an end in every sphere of life to the racism, sexism, homophobia and discrimination against people with physical or emotional disabilities, spiritual progressives do not believe that competition for scarce resources is the right model for building a loving society. We want a society and economy that produces solidarity and caring rather than competitiveness and domination. We seek to establish an understanding, reflected in both income and wealth, that everyone who does socially necessary work (from physicians, to teachers, to computer technicians, to scientists, to child care workers, to garbage collectors, to agricultural workers) all deserve the same societal support and financial rewards for the same amount of time expended at work (though the years spent in developing various societally-needed professional expertise must be fully publicly financed so that these professionals have no loans to pay off and have not disadvantaged themselves financially by spending years in training).
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA —Within conservative ideology, family support often means restricting the rights of gays and lesbians to marry (as though that had anything to do with why families break up), teaching women to be subordinate to men in family life, and opposing abortion (but giving little support to the child when it is born). They also promote the idea that families should be embedded in religious communities. Progressives could recuperate the positive potential of this last idea by creating “communities of meaning” (be they secular, religious, or spiritual) that are free of right-wing ideology.
Conservatives oppose programs that seek to foster the benevolence of human beings, either because they think that the capitalist market is already fostering the qualities human beings need or because they fear that the government will use excessive power to serve its own interests.
We believe that the goals we articulate can only be achieved through a collective, global, communitarian decision to build a world of love, generosity, and environmental sanity or else face the possibility of an end to human life on this planet. Building support for this goal is a major focus of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.
2. Personal Responsibility
We will take personal responsibility for ethical behavior.
Taking personal responsibility for ethical behavior requires us to shape a purpose-driven life connected to our highest values, devote energy to caring for each other, affirm pleasure and joy, revive the sacred element in sexuality, and a spiritually grounded life.
Government and caring-oriented social arrangements cannot take the place of our own personal responsibility for making ethical choices.
Each of us can encourage ourselves, our friends, our family members, and people with whom we work or engage in sports, social life, spiritual or religious activities, and civic activities to make a daily commitment to living according to our own highest values.
We will encourage each other and ourselves to be empathic, compassionate, generous, and genuinely caring toward each other, and forgiving (recognizing that each of us is unlikely to be the fullest embodiment of our own highest ideals). And we will take responsibility for our own personal and communal missteps along the way, wherever possible making amends and learning how to repair unintended hurts we may caused in others. We will adopt practices for reflection, gentle self-criticism, repentance, and atonement.
While we will challenge and hold accountable those who are engaged in destructive practices, we will avoid demeaning them, always recognizing that they too are embodiments of the sacred. We approach the building of a compassionate and loving society with humility recognizing our capacity to make serious mistakes. This is one of many reasons why we insist on a spirit of generosity in dealing with each other and empathy towards those with whom we have political differences, and even with ourselves. Too often, we are own worst critics, and that self-punishing part of ourselves can in some people become the springboard to being harsh with others as well).
We commit to giving ongoing attention to “working on ourselves” even as we work to change the larger society. For some, a spiritual or prayer or meditation practice may facilitate a healing of parts of ourselves that are self-punishing or hurtful to others, for others, learning skills of empathic communication will be helpful, and for still others, the guidance of a spiritual coach, a counselor, or a psychotherapist could serve us best.
Movements for social transformation should regularly encourage its members to engage in some form of working on oneself, even while challenging people to not fall into the narcissistic fascination with self that undermines their ability to fully commit to the adventure and struggle of healing and transforming our society.
In the highly individualistic society in which we live, it is all too easy to fall into thinking that we are changing the world if we just nurture ourselves and our own intimate and family relationships. The challenges we face in a world of environmental crisis, the wild inequality in economic and political power, the suffering of the poor, the homeless and the refugees, and the anger and loneliness that so many people face when living in a society in which they rarely get the recognition and support they so badly need cannot be solved by inner healing and inner psychological or spiritual growth by itself. Yet those of us who have been involved in social change movements know how disruptive and discouraging people who are deeply psychologically wounded or badly in need of recognition and ego gratification can be to those movements. So personal and societal transformation must go hand-in-hand, never discounting the importance of either part of this necessary partnership if we are to succeed in changing and healing our world. For that reason, it is important for us to develop approaches to psychotherapy, religion, spirituality and counseling which validate both personal, familial, and societal aspects of the healing and transformation (tikkun) that is needed, and challenge any spiritual or religious or psychotherapeutic movement or technique which does not help advance growth in both spheres simultaneously.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA — Liberal politicians rarely articulate any sense of personal responsibility because they claim that these issues are “personal” and have no role in the public sphere. We agree with them in opposing legislation on these issues but do not agree that they have no appropriate place in the public arena. A movement can foster an “ethos” as well as legislation, and that is exactly what we did when we fostered the ethos of respect for women, LGBT people, and minority groups. Taking personal responsibility is not just a personal issue. It involves creating a community that encourages, supports, and nurtures people in taking responsibility for their actions and caring about others. Liberal discourse often neglects the importance of this sort of community building and ethos-shaping. Given the extreme individualism and narcissism fostered by the corporate owned television, movies, publishing industry and many other consciousness shaping institutions that people face in daily life, we must foster communities that support people to overcome these subtle but pervasive forms of indoctrination so that we can live more fully in a caring society.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA — Conservatives propose increased “personal responsibility” as an alternative to badly needed social programs such as health care, welfare, education, and shelter for the homeless. They claim to be concerned about poverty, but then slash the social programs that ameliorate it, saying that individuals should take responsibility for eliminating poverty by getting jobs. They fail to acknowledge and address that unemployment is a structural issue and that many jobs do not yield adequate incomes to support a family, particularly given the inadequacy of our childcare systems.
In contrast, when spiritual progressives talk about taking personal responsibility, we do so not to replace government and societal programs, but rather to address areas in our own personal lives where we could have a huge impact.
3. ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY
SAVE the Life Support System of Planet EARTH!
Earth being the natural and sacred home of all its peoples, we are committed to developing personal behavior, societal practices, and corporate and governmental policies aimed at enhancing environmental sustainability of human communities and the planet Earth, and transforming and repairing behaviors that have had an adverse impact on the planet’s long-term environmental welfare. Among other goals, we seek to alleviate global warming, reduce pollution, restore the ecological balance of the oceans and assure the well-being of all forests, agricultural land, the air, and animal life.
We need to repair the earth from the impact of several hundred years of environmentally irresponsible forms of industrialization by both capitalist and self-described socialist societies, and from an economic system that requires constant expansion to stay viable, a vast ponzi scheme with the earth as its primary victim, using up the earth’s resources to produce greater profits, inducing in people desires for consumption that produce huge amounts of garbage and pollutes our water, air and land. This will require developing a new consciousness in all of the earth’s peoples, so that getting more things becomes subordinated to protecting the earth and taking care of all its inhabitants.
First we need to take emergency steps to reverse climate warming which has been produced by a global dependence on fossil fuels. Carbon and methane now represent the deadliest enemy of all time, the first force fully capable of harrying, scattering, and impoverishing our entire civilization.
Oil, gas, coal and other fossil fuels need to be left in the ground and not used to provide us with energy. The transition to other sources of energy must become a major focus for all Americans, all branches of government, all corporations, and all educational institutions in the next twenty years.
America could generate 80 to 85 percent of its power from sun, wind, and water by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050. If we move quickly enough to meet the goal of 80 percent clean power by 2030, then the world’s carbon dioxide levels would fall below the relative safety of 350 parts per million by the end of the century. The planet would stop heating up, or at least the pace of that heating would slow substantially.
To do this we need an immediate ban on fracking, a carbon tax, a prohibition against drilling or mining fossil fuels on public lands, a climate litmus test for new developments, an end to World Bank financing of fossil fuel plants and a full mobilization of societal resources to build sun and wind energy equipment that can provide adequate alternative sources of energy.
To achieve all this will require some significant political victories and changes in the way that the super-wealthy and their corporations shape the decisions we make as a society. For that we will need ESRA–The Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The ESRA is a comprehensive plan to restore democracy in our politics and economy. It bans all money from state and federal elections (money from corporations, individuals and political parties or any other source) except money granted equally to all major candidates by state legislatures for statewide elections and the U.S. Congress for all elections for the House, the Senate, and the presidency.
The second clause of the ESRA requires any corporation with incomes of $50 million or more per year and operating or selling its products or services within the U.S. (even if based abroad) or to citizens of the U.S. to get a new U.S. federal corporate charter once every five years. Such a charter would only be granted to those corporations that could prove to an Environmental and Social Responsibility Panel that it had a satisfactory history of social responsibility. These ESRA Panels will be composed of ordinary citizens chosen at random like other federal juries, but they will be given guidance by a panel of environmental experts chosen by the scientific community. They will hear testimony from employees of the corporation, people in the communities where that corporation resides, communities where that corporation has its offices, factories, and factories and offices of other corporations of its subsidiaries, and communities around the world where its products, services, advertising, disposal of waste and other environmental and/or social impacts are being experienced by the local or global populations.
The ESRA Panels will be able to renew the corporate charter, or put the corporation on probation for three years time to rectify problems that the ESRA Panel identifies as required for the continuation of that corporation’s charter, or it can deny the corporation a new charter and then consider other groups, including unions or groups of workers of that corporation, that may submit to the ESRA Panel plans to run that same corporation in a way that will be more environmentally and socially responsible—and replace the current board of directors and top management of that corporation in favor of another group of directors and top managers that it believes will do the best job of keeping the corporation running while dramatically improving its environmental and social responsibility.
The ESRA also mandates corporations seeking to move outside the US to pay reparations for the economic damage caused by that move to communities and employees who had depended on that corporation for their tax base and for their employment security. It also abrogates any treaties or trade arrangements and any laws or parts of the U.S. Constitution that violate or undermine the enforcement of the ESRA.
We see the ESRA (a more complete version of which is published online at tikkun.org/ESRA) as one powerful and concrete step toward our larger goal of transforming the bottom line in our economy, government, and social institutions.
It may be necessary for the sake of getting this second part of ESRA enacted to separate and seek support for public funding first in a separate amendment. The danger in so doing is this: corporations and the super-rich will be able to limit the environmental and social responsibility impact of public funding of elections in ways that they already do now: by threatening to move their operations outside of the U.S. if environmental or social responsibility restrictions are passed into law by a more environmentally and social responsible Congress or state legislatures. Fearing the negative impact on employment, even the best Congress or State Legislature might understandably capitulate to that pressure, as they frequently do now…and the citizenry that had fought for years for public funding could easily revert into despair at democratic procedures which would be seen as continuing to be subordinate to the power of the top 1% of wealth holders. Or, if those legislatures and Congress did not submit to this threat, they might soon face an electorate in despair and angry at them for having allowed their employment to be shipped abroad. So it would be far better to keep both of these parts of the ESRA together and build consciousness of the need for both parts to be passed. The second part of the ESRA requires all corporations operating within the US or offering its services or products for sale here,which hafe incomes above $50 million a year, must prove a satisfactory history of environmental and social responsibility once every five years to a jury of ordinary citizens. So unless they want to give up on the US market altogether, they will face the restrictions that they have should they be located in the U.S.—so moving for the sake of avoiding the environmental and social responsibilities that might be imposed by state legislatures or by the US Congress would not longer be a viable path. Moreover, the ESRA mandates massive reparations to the communities those companies may have damaged while operating here or the damage that will be caused to the community that they are abandoning.
The ESRA also requires schools (at all grade levels, including graduate and professional) to provide environmental education that includes skills in how to live in cooperation with each other and the Earth.
Most local governments enter into contract agreements with corporations to fulfill city needs that they city doesn’t want to pay for by hiring the skilled workers to do them. Too often, the corporations they deal with then sub-contract to employers which pay little attention to the well-being of their own workers or the well-being of the planet. So, wother fancy new consumer hile seeking support and endorsement for the ESRA we will encourage public officials on the city, state, and national levels of government to include a social responsibility clause in every contract-awarding process for contracts of over $1million. That process would require corporations that are competing for public funds to present a detailed social responsibility report, and private citizens and local community groups and unions could challenge the accuracy of that report to the governmental body deciding on awards of city, state, and federal contracts. The contract would then go to the corporation that both can competently fulfill the terms of the contract and at a reasonable cost and has the best record of environmental and social responsibility.
All of this is a good start toward saving the life support system of Earth, but it is not enough. There remains a much larger and more complex environmental challenge: how to wean people away from the global market system with its capacity to shape people’s wants so that they feel the need to consume more and to accumulate things, gadgets, and endless new electronic products and consumer items.. These wants, often generated by advertising and more subtle forms of marketing through the media, create a market demand that can only be filled by using up more and more of the Earth’s resources. Getting and spending, we lay waste to the Earth
To achieve this, we will champion voluntary simplicity and ethical consumption, humane ways to reduce population growth, and an end to global poverty and economic insecurity so that people do not find themselves confronted with a dilemma of having to choose between the economic well-being of their families on the one hand and environmentally sustainable behaviors on the other. We are committed to healing the psychological and spiritual dysfunctions that make people believe that a good life comes through the accumulation of material goods. We also will develop strategies to provide a guaranteed annual income sufficient to provide for the material necessities of everyone on the planet. This can be achieved in part through practices of sharing resources such as, housing, energy, and consumer goods and in part through challenging the belief that we can “own” part of the earth and have a right to more of its resources than others.
Spiritual practices and wisdom can give us the inner strength to lessen our addiction to endless consumption and challenge the belief (reinforced by the media) that the price and number of things we own are the measure of our worth. And through the ESRA, as we will ensure that corporations are required to transform how and what they produce, what services they provide, and how they advertise and communicate their products and services in ways that demonstrably serve environmental sustainability and the goal of healing and repairing the past damage done to the planet by global environmental irresponsibility, selfishness, and a massive failure to care for the wellbeing of future generations.
We emphasize the strong connection between environmental well-being and environmental justice, and challenge practices that effectively dump our environmental problems, garbage, waste, and destructiveness on those with less political power or money to resist these practices.
Part of a spiritual approach to the environment involves learning how to see nature and the universe not just as a “resource” but also as fundamentally valuable. Learning to respond to the world with awe, wonder, and radial amazement will help us be successful in our efforts to transform our relationship with the environment. In this respect, we will encourage people to celebrate a sabbatical day each week dedicated to celebrating the universe, though we will NOT impose a particular form of celebrating a weekly Sabbath or a particular day for its celebration. What we will encourage is that for one day a week each person gets a day in which they do not work, not at a workplace and not at home, do not use money, do not shop, do not consume, but instead dedicate their time and energy to pleasure, fun, building of communities of meaning and higher purpose, engaging in activities to care for the planet, and celebrating with joyous energy the amazing reality of being alive on this wonderful planet earth.
This one day of slowing down and disconnecting to the ferocious pace of work and accumulation of money and things is a first step in detaching from the internalized rhythm of the capitalist marketplace.
The second step is to institute a Sabbatical Year once every seven years, and geared to creating a year of rest from work for at least 85% of the population the same year each seventh year. This practice, first outlined in the Bible but not requiring adherence to any belief in God or any attachment to a particular religion or spiritual community, is aimed at detaching most people from the rhythm of the capitalist market for an entire year. There are some essential services that cannot be suspended for a year—e.g. medical services and hospitals, provision of energy and mass transportation, and you may be able to think of a few other such occupations. For these people, representing approximately 15% of those employed, the loss of being able to participate fully in the Sabbatical Year but would compensating for by being given a year and a half of sabbatical each seven years, but these not all in the same year but rotated so that part of those employees would have their sabbatical in one segment of the remaining six years, and others in other segments, so as to not cripple the absolutely necessary societal functions.
To connect students in grammar and high school to the earth, part of their Sabbatical Year would be assigned to working on the land, planting, caring for, and harvesting the food supplies of the population, under appropriate guidance from skilled farmers, allowing farm workers to have a year off. The other part of the sabbatical year for these pre-college grammar and high school students would be spent learning the important skills of child care and elder care, again under the supervision of experts in these important fields.
For the rest of the population, the sabbatical year would offer opportunities to participate in democratically choosing societal priorities for the next six years, learning new skills in case they wish to change their occupations after the Sabbatical Year, playing, celebration, relaxation, reading the books, learning to play musical instruments or movie making, or artistic activities, or sports, or developing skills or talents that they always wanted to have time to do.
In the Sabbatical Year, all normal money transactions would be banned. Instead, every person would be given an equal amount of a Sabbatical Year currency, and goods and services necessary could only be purchased using this currency. In the six years leading up to the Sabbatical year, food would be purchased by the government so as to supplement the food supply available on the seventh year, purchasable only thorugh Sabbatical Year currency. Thus, people would have the experience of living in a society where whatever was available for purchase was equally available to everyone. But most consumer goods would not be available because apart from food stores, all other stores would be closed for the year. So people would experience a year in which consumption of items was severely curtailed and instead people focused on other ways of finding meaning and satisfaction.
The cut into production and consumption gives the earth a year of rest one year out of every seven. Our whole attitude about the earth starts to change as we begin to experience the possibility of living a life of voluntary simplicity. At the same time, those who have not had enough food or energy supplies will receive them at the same rate as everyone else, in many cases significantly improving their material well being and giving them new incentive to struggle to get that equality made permanent in the other six years.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA — Liberals fight for partial reforms that rarely take into account the systemic and global nature of the problem and rarely note that for every reform they win, there are ten new areas in which environmental damage is intensifying. They have no global plan or willingness to imagine how to recast the global economy so as to make our planet environmentally sustainable. And they avoid any serious discussion, much less fostering, of an ethos of voluntary simplicity.
Liberals continually seek to legislate minor restrictions on corporate avarice and social irresponsibility, and usually fail to get such laws adopted because of the tremendous power of corporations and the super-wealthy to influence candidates and elected officials who must find ways to get the huge amounts of money necessary to buy advertising and otherwise finance their electoral campaigns. This is a defacto publicly sanctioned system of bribery. But beyond the crass bribery, it works in a more sophisticated way, because to raise this money elected officials have to spend an inordinate amount of time courting not just the top 1% of wealth holders, but through cocktail parties and fundraisers they reach to the top 20% of wealth holders or income earners. In spending this time with the wealthiest 20% of the population, they get the impression that they know what their constituents are thinking, yet what they are actually learning is what the wealthiest are thinking, and then tend to shape their own policies and voting records to appeal to that section of their constituency.
Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court continually eviscerates any meaningful efforts to impose corporate environmental or social responsibility or to limit the power of individuals or corporations to shape the outcome of elections. This is part of the reason we seek one comprehensive reform that would end the need for countless smaller reforms. While the ESRA may take several decades to pass, the struggle for it will concentrate attention on the systemic nature of the problem we face and will generate a new societal consciousness about what needs to be changed in order to restore our democracy and protect the environment.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA — Conservatives typically oppose any attempt to constrain corporate social irresponsibility. They argue that the best good for all will be achieved if each corporation pursues its own self-interest unrestrained, suggesting that the profits amassed by the corporation will “trickle down” to the rest of the population. Conservatives spearhead policies that reduce the amount of land protected from corporate abuse. They put the interests of corporate profit above their responsibility to be stewards of the planet, and they often deny the urgency of global warming and other environmental disasters.
4. A Love and Justice Oriented Education System
We will reshape our education system so that it teaches values of love, caring, generosity, intellectual curiosity, tolerance, social and economic justice, nonviolence, gratitude, wonder, democratic participation, and environmental responsibility.
We believe our schools can teach these values without abandoning necessary reading and writing skills.
We will resist the corporate control of childhood as manifested in child-oriented media, branding, advertising, publishing, and school curricula. And we will insist that schools foster and support our children’s capacities to be playful, spontaneous, joyous, loving, excited by ideas, emotionally and spiritually intelligent, creative, and compassionate.
For pre-teens and teens: We will resist the media generated social pressures on young girls to increasingly sexualize their bodies as a way of achieving social recognition in their peer groups and the sexist consciousness that transmits the message that their fundamental worth is based on their attractiveness and sexual availability to boys.
The influence of money and power is increasingly a factor in distorting what is taught both in junior high and high schools, and also in higher education. Faced with a public seeking to reduce their own tax burdens by cutting funding for education, universities seek to prove their usefulness to government and the public by becoming service stations to society, reducing emphasis on their historic function to introduce students to the richness of Western or global culture, philosophy, history, and social theory and instead replacing it with a focus on developing the narrow set of skills needed by corporations with whom their graduates might receive employment. Corporations and neo-liberals increasingly accept the notion that schools should be service stations to the corporations, teaching those skills that are most likely to be rewarded in a corporate dominated economy. We understand why parents, worried that their children might not be able to succeed in a competitive marketplace, increasingly provide support for such a transformation in education. But we seek a different approach—alongside of providing reading, writing, and computer skills, we want an education system that helps students develop the skills needed to effectively participate in transforming our society to one based on caring and generosity, an education that helps them become the kind of human beings that can make a caring society actually work. A new bottom line in education challenges the cheapening of our high schools and universities and the intellectual life that had once flourished there, and seeks to strengthen students’ capacities to think for themselves, feel connected to fellow students rather than in competition with them, and empowers them to be responsible and informed citizens of a democratic society.
A new bottom line in education would foster students’ ethical, spiritual, and environmental consciousness while carefully avoiding the imposition of any particular religious tradition. It would teach students empathy, compassion, psychological self-understanding, awareness of the world and the ways it needs healing and transformation, the importance of social and economic justice, freedom from tyranny, preservation of democracy and human rights, and skills in caring for others. For example, through assigning students from fourth grade on up someone in first grade to mentor through the process of their first three grades of schooling and the social dynamics of school playgrounds and getting along with fellow classmates, a mentoring process itself supervised by skilled teachers of empathy and generosity, a process that would continue at each grade level through high school (though with different mentors and mentees), students would develop a deep understanding of how to provide caring and guidance for others.
A New Bottom Line in schools would also help students develop a sense of awe and wonder at the miraculous earth we live on, so that science classes no longer focused solely on understanding the technicalities of physics, chemistry and biology, but also fostered an ability to appreciate and celebrate this incredible planet and universe. Part of this would require for school to give more attention to bringing students into natural settings and encouraging them to develop appreciation for the beauty and grandeur of the universe. Free play time in the earlier grades can also help foster creativity and support students to feel more positive about education, as can teaching students to play a musical instrument or how to listen and understand both classical and contemporary music, art instruction and study of the great artists of the past, drama classes, and instruction on writing and telling stories.
In high schools, students would also be encouraged to take on mentoring of younger students, and to engage in some specific social change or social healing activity outside the high school.
College entrance would be dependent in part on evidence presented of a student’s ability to have lived already a life of caring for each other and caring for the planet, caring about social and economic justice, and/or caring about the well-being of those who are normally left behind in the competitive marketplace. At the same time, these schools would try to combat the arrogance that sometimes develops among people who have seen the need for societal transformation—which often manifests in contempt for those who do not yet share their own level of understanding. Instead, these schools would teach empathy for those with whom we disagree, and the importance of showing respect to those people and engaging in conversations that manifest a deep caring and respect without giving up one’s own perspective on how best to solve societal problems.
Teachers and mentors could play an important role in conveying to college admissions officials the extent and depth of any given applicant’s involvement in living the values (not just talking about them) that a New Bottom Line shaped educational system seeks to impart. When students realize that it is these skills that are judged equally important to their future success as some more easily measurable technical skills, the culture of schooling will change dramatically.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA — Liberals focus on getting better pay for teachers and more money for building schools with lower teacher-student ratios without challenging the competitive nature of education and its implicit reinforcement of the meritocratic fantasy that those who are smartest and work the hardest will receive the greatest rewards in adulthood.
Liberals would be more effective in getting larger amounts of financial support for schools if the general public came to believe that those schools were successfully producing students who genuinely cared about the rest of the people in this society besides themselves, respectful and appreciative of what people are doing with their lives and their contributions to making a society that functions, and were attentive to the ways they themselves could contribute to the healing and transformation of our society. If students came out of high schools and colleges or universities with this respectful and appreciative attitude toward others and toward the planet, teachers would be far more effective in getting support for their important demands for better salaries and more educationally conducive school buildings, computers, and more.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA — Conservatives correctly criticize the values that are being taught in our schools (materialism and competitiveness) but fail to note that these values reflect the values of the marketplace that conservatives champion. They propose false solutions whose underlying intent is to dismantle the public school system or at least wildly underfund it and thereby “prove” that everything “public” must be a failure and that the only good thing is the private sector.
5. Health Care
We will seek a transformation of our entire health care system not only providing free universal health care (Medicare for Everyone) in our own country and around the world, but also creating a system that addresses the spiritual, psychological, and physical dimensions of human beings and the impact of social and environmental influences on their well-being. Health care is about caring for each person, not simply mechanistically treating a body seen as a machine disconnected from its own inner life.
We support “Medicare for All”: a single-payer system that ensures we all receive the health care we need. Physicians for a National Health Plan has published a detailed plan for how this would work (pnhp.org).
We believe that we should fund the construction of many more training schools in nursing, medicine, psychology, and other health modalities so that many more people can be trained in these fields. Health care professionals (including doctors, nurses, dentists, mental health professionals, chiropractors, and other alternative health practitioners) should be able to receive free tuition and fully subsidized training and internships, including all necessary living expenses, in exchange for their commitment to charge dramatically reduced fees for their services and serve where they are most needed. Without the burden of paying back loans to subsidize their years of education, training, internships, etc. the practice of the healing arts can go back to being dominated by people who are motivated by a desire to serve others rather than by those who have become cynical about service and most interested in making more money than others. No medical or health care professionals should be making more than three times the median average income in the society. While such restrictions may discourage those whose primary interest in health care is the potentially high renumeration they may receive, many more young people will be attracted who would have gone to medical school, nursing school, or other forms of trianing had they the money or willingness to take huge loans that would burden them for several decades after completing their training. With physicians no longer seduced by the additional funds they get by ordering unnecessary procedures, the cost of providing comprehensive medical care will decrease.
Pharmaceutical companies must provide medications at costs that are affordable and if they are not able to do so, then the government shall fund a production of affordable drugs and replace the pharmaceutical industry entirely. Research on pharmaceuticals, preventive care, and treatment strategies should be funded by the government and separated from any profit motive.
Yet our approach goes beyond the issues of access to health care. As spiritual progressives, we recognize that physical health cannot be divorced from environmental, social, spiritual, and psychological realities. The entire medical system has to be reshaped in light of that understanding to focus on prevention and fund alternative forms of health care practice along with traditional Western forms.
We believe health care should reflect the reality that human health cannot be reduced simply to our physical mechanics. Human beings are fully integrated into a mind/body/psychological/spiritual/communal totality. To become truly holistic, health care must address the patient’s full being, their experience at work and in family life, their emotional lives and their spiritual lives, their play and their exercise, their loves and their fears. It will seek to understand, diagnose, and intervene on all levels of our being at the same time. People will be seen by practitioners who have multiple levels of knowledge, and by teams of health care workers who together bring a broad interdisciplinary approach to the process of diagnosis and treatment. To successfully integrate health care in this way, we need to transform our medical training so that practitioners see their patients in all their beautiful complexity.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA — Liberals seek the gradual addition of benefits for different sectors of the population but leave the whole system in the hands of the profiteers, thus guaranteeing that their proposed changes will be undermined by the insurance companies and drug companies who raise their costs to make huge profits and thus make these health care reforms unreasonably costly. The provision of free universal health care will decrease, not increase, the total amount spent on health care by the United States.
Furthermore, liberals often fight for health care using narrow economic arguments. Spiritual progressives seek to return the conversation to what it’s really about, namely, caring for everyone on the planet, not only because that is the ethical thing to do, but because that caring gives us all an opportunity to actualize our deep yearning to care and to be cared for.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA — Conservatives continually place private profit over public need when it comes to health care. They think of health care as something that needs to be earned rather than as a manifestation of the sacred obligation we have to care for each other. They see health care as a privilege of those who can afford it. The irony is that our current health care system ends up costing us billions more than a universal health care system would.
.Global Peace and Homeland Security Through Generosity
We will address our desire for global peace and “homeland security” through a strategy of nonviolence, generosity, genuine caring, and respect for the well-being of others.
The most effective path to world peace is for the major economic, political and military countries to practice generosity, respect, nonviolence, and caring for the well-being of everyone on the planet.
There may always be some deranged people who engage in acts of terrorism or violence. They can be dealt with by effective international policing. But their ability to recruit will be dramatically undercut as more and more people in the world begin to perceive the U.S. and other Western countries as truly caring about their well-being, and truly respecting them.
The path to homeland security is not through wars, demonstrations of military might nor though drones and targeted assassinations, but rather through showing so much caring and respect to the peoples of the world that these deranged individuals find themselves isolated and thus cannot garner the support of the very people whose interests they thought their violence was serving.
We in the advanced industrial capitalist societies, by exporting capitalist culture and values, and allowing our corporations to engage in environmentally destructive and economically exploitative behaviors, and by funding and cheering on military interventions in developing countries to support local elites willing to give our multinational corporations free reign to benefit themselves at the expense of local populations, have acted disrespectfully and hurtfully to several billion people around the world. Our movies, television shows, and much of what is transmitted through the Internet, teach the values of individualism, selfishness, and looking out for number one, thereby undermining the traditional cultures that lead many people to embrace various religions that counter these values. So one place to start creating a path to homeland security is to publicly acknowledge, repent and seek forgiveness for the damage the West has done to the peoples of the world, without denying the good that we have also done by popularizing ideas of democracy and human rights.
A second step is to begin to rectify the damage we’ve already done through the implementation of a Global Marshall Plan as outlined at tikkun.org/GMP.
We will be more successful in obtaining public support for this effort when people in the advanced industrial capitalist societies recognize that the well-being of people in each and every country depends on the well-being of every other person on the planet and of the planet itself. If we want safety, we must manifest generosity.
The Global Marshall Plan would devote 1-2 percent of the GDP of all the advanced industrial countries each year for the next twenty years to end (not just ameliorate) domestic and global poverty, hunger, homelessness, and inadequate education and health care.
It is not the material deprivation of money alone, nor the economic exploitation and military domination that have driven resentment and violence against the advanced industrial societies of the world. In our arrogance, Western powers have conveyed the notion that those who are economically less developed are less deserving of real respect. Yet in some important respects the countries of the global south and East are culturally, ethically and spiritually far more developed than many of us in the West. Similarly, inside the advanced industrial countries, many of those living in economically challenged communities have developed paths to mutual aid that make them ethically more advanced than many (not all) super rich people who are supposedly “more successful” but are too often bereft of the most important human values of caring for others, caring for the future of the earth and the future wellbeing of the human race, and often lack a spirit of generosity beyond their own family and friends.
We will challenge the globalization of selfishness promoted by national and transnational corporations and promote the spiritual values of solidarity, caring for others, and love as the most effective way to build a sustainable society and achieve “homeland security.”
The Network of Spiritual Progressives’ version of the Global Marshall Plan (www.spiritualprogressives.org/gmp) is not only about providing funding but also about revising the trade agreements imposed on the impoverished by the powerful Western imperial countries. Trade agreements and treaties that are directed toward creating the material and spiritual well-being of everyone on the planet must replace our current agreements. As an important step in this direction, the NSP calls for immediate cancellation of all debt owed by the underdeveloped countries of the world to Western banks and the IMF.
We advocate for the GMP not only for the narrow self-interested reason that a Global Marshall Plan would likely reduce the resentment and resulting anger that our policies, corporate practices, and the values of global capitalism have generated but also because we genuinely recognize every person on this planet as an embodiment of the sacred.
We support the creation of an international nonviolent peacekeeping force to prevent conflicts from escalating. We do so in the context of a coherent global policy that immediately implements the Global Marshall Plan in cooperation with nongovernmental organizations committed to human rights, democracy, environmental sustainability, and respect for the range of their cultures and traditions.
We seek full rights for all immigrants who have made it to our shores, including a path to full citizenship for anyone living in the U.S. for more than ten years.
Implementing the GMP will solve the immigration issue in the only possible way: by making the countries from which immigrants are fleeing much more economically successful. Instead of imagining new methods for repressing the desire that so many immigrants have for a life free from extreme poverty and political oppression, a Global Marshall Plan to ensure that the world’s wealth flows to all people and not just to economic elites, and will support governments that take human rights seriously, thereby dramatically reducing the economic and political incentives that currently lead many people to risk their lives to find a way to live in Western societies.
We seek a world in which open borders (or no borders) are the norm. This can be achieved once people no longer have to cross borders to receive adequate material well-being, safety from arbitrary or authoritarian rule, and genuine respect for their contribution to the well being of others. Stating this as a goal will itself have a valuable impact on the consciousness of people around the world.
While we value the integrity, creativity, and dynamism of multicultural societies and want to provide support and validation for the continued development of those societies, we want to separate those rich traditions from forms of nationalism and chauvinism in which they sometimes find expression.
We hope to see by the middle or end of the 21st century the replacement of nation states by environmental districts that can address the major problem facing humanity in the twenty-first century: the environmental crises. And we hope to see mechanisms created for a global democratic procedure that can make decisions about what investments of time, energy, and money will best serve the well-being of humans, animals, and the earth.
Overcoming the reckless and destructive struggles among the nations of the world is a pressing necessity for humanity. Currently, decisions that impact billions of people are made by wealthy and powerful elites, and there is no mechanism to hold them accountable for the impact of their unjust or destructive decisions. A first step to transform this imbalance of power is to strengthen democratic procedures in all nations so that decisions that impact billions of people are made in consultation with the very people those decisions impact.
Moreover, we will come to realize that we have shared interests that stretch across all previous boundaries and that those boundaries need to be made much more permeable. We strive to move toward global cooperation and decision-making without the legacy of nationalist and cultural chauvinist traditions distorting that decision-making, and with a genuine respect and love for all the peoples of our planet.
Militaristic approaches, often glorified in our media, legitimate the quick resort to violence to solve frustrating world problems. This domination approach increasingly permeates the consciousness and popular culture of our entire country so that many citizens come to believe that using power over others and violence are plausible strategies to solve problems or get their way. Instead, the NSP seeks to foster an ethos of open-hearted generosity and caring towards others and empathic communication as a more effective approach to solving problems whether they are individual, societal or global. We wish to teach empathy and nonviolence in our schools and in our media.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA — Still stuck in the militarist assumptions of the past, liberal politicians compete with conservatives to project American power and domination around the world.
They are more eager to prove that they are “tough” than to address the issues that drive people into wars and terrorism. They are terrified that acknowledgment of the sins of Western societies, including our own, will leave them vulnerable to charges of being unpatriotic, and they are unwilling to challenge the notion that we can be secure in a world that is filled with avoidable suffering.
Most of all, liberals are unable to transcend their own economistic views of human nature to see that it is not only economic deprivation, but a deprivation of respect and caring, that generates intense anger at us from countries that have been mistreated by the West.
Religious fundamentalist communities have at times provided people with a sense of solidarity and caring that is increasingly absent to the extent that the capitalist mantras of “look out for number one,” “others will seek to dominate you unless you dominate them first,” and “the global capitalist system is a meritocracy, so if you or your whole society has not achieved economic sufficiency, you have no body to blame but yourself or your society.” As individuals, many people in developing countries believe these mantras and then feel terrible about themselves. Ultra-nationalist or ultra-religious movements relieve this self-blaming by instead helping people direct their anger outside themselves and toward some “other” that is to be blamed. Often these are people in another religion, race, or ethnicity within one’s own society, or even people in your own religion who are not “living up” to the way they “ought” to be practicing their religion. But recently, some religious extremists have directed this anger at the West as a whole, and advocated various forms of terrorist attack on Westerners or on Western cities.
Without this kind of perspective, liberals are caught in a bind. They know that they don’t support wars as a solution, but they are unable to see that it is the encroachment of capitalist values on traditional communities that is at the heart of the growth of anti-West terrorism and extremism. Because liberals are unprepared to challenge the operations of the global capitalist order as they impact on the poverty-stricken, the powerless, and those who feel disrespected by the West. They are ill prepared to counter the terrorists except to join with right-wing militarists in seeking to use force and violence (usually unsuccessfully) to bring temporary protection from anti-Western extremists.
Similarly, liberals’ correct desire to avoid repression of immigrants is not accompanied by a coherent answer to skeptics’ concerns about what can be done to prevent future millions from risking their lives to get across our borders.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA — Though quick to demand proof of the effectiveness of liberal programs, conservatives have failed to prove that their strategy of providing security through wars and domination of other countries is in fact an effective strategy for homeland security.
Distorted by their own “arrogance of power,” they cannot acknowledge that 5,000 years of war-making has not worked to bring peace and security to the world, but only endless conflicts. Conservatives fail to see that their wars have actually undermined the internal life of Americans and increased our propensity to rely on violence in personal lives and in reaction to oppressive bosses at work as a solution to otherwise frustrating problems.
The rightwingers call for more repression of immigrants and of countries that do not follow our rules, but seem unable to acknowledge that such programs have not worked.
7. Separation of church, state, and science.
We will protect our society from fundamentalist attempts to impose a particular religion on everyone, but will not fall into a First Amendment fundamentalism that attempts to keep all spiritual values out of the public sphere. For example, treating every human being as fundamentally valuable and equally valuable to every other human being is a value that some believe derives from the traditions of the Abrahamic religions. Yet many atheists and secular humanists share this value too. That it derives from a religious tradition doesn’t disqualify it from being advocated for in the public arena. But the arguments on its behalf cannot be made on the basis that one must accept it because several religions advocate it and people ought to be adherents to one of those religions. That this or other ideals derive from religious or spiritual communities or traditions neither disqualifies them nor is reason to adopt them as public policy.
We will protect science from pressure by the state and religious and corporate priorities. Science is under attack from the religious right and needs strong defenders to insulate it from pressures to reach conclusions contrary to what scientific evidence provides. The inordinate influence and concerns of the funders of scientific research (whether corporations, universities or government) impose other more subtle pressures on the focus of scientific research. To ensure that scientific research focuses on the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom and on potential contribution to people’s health, environmental sustainability, and cooperation and mutual caring, we will promote independent scientific institutes with adequate public funding and independence from corporate, university or government pressures.
We will also promote the exploration of approaches to the physical, biological and social sciences that may be contrary to the contemporary dominant paradigms in each field whatever they might be.
While enthusiastic supporters of science, we challenge “scientism,” a pop culture religion that claims that everything capable of being known or seen to be intellectually “objective” and credible can be subject to empirical verification or falsification or can be measured. Anything that cannot meet this criterion cannot be considered objective knowledge and hence, according to scientism, ought not to play any role in shaping the economic, political, or educational decisions we make as a society, nor can they be used as a foundation for making ethical claims or guiding rational decision making. Scientism thus takes what works as a methodology inside science and illegitimately proclaims it as the guide to all aspects of reality.
We call scientism a religion, because its claim that “everything that can be known or is objective and credible must be empirically verifiable, falsifiable or measurable” is a claim which itself cannot be empirically verified, falsified or measured, so by its own criterion it cannot be known and is not intellectually objective or credible.
Unaware of the absence of a verifiable foundation for their own claims, people in the scientism religion dismiss ethics, religion, spirituality, aesthetics, love, and so many other important aspects of life as “merely” subjective and having no place in public life.
Just as vigorously as we support scientific research do we oppose this misuse of science to legitimate a worldview that has no scientific foundation and which seems to bolster the worldview of capitalism with its glorification of money – the ultimately most empirically verifiable and measurable aspect of the contemporary world. Many working scientists agree with this critique of scientism.
Spiritual progressives believe that public life should seek to support behavior which embodies caring for others, generosity, love, kindness, compassion, empathy, non-violence, and many other values that spring from the religious and spiritual traditions of humanity in the past ten thousand years, but which today are also embraced by many atheists and secular humanists. Our Network of Spiritual Progressives is composed of these kinds of atheists and secular humanists as well as people from every religious tradition who seek to make these values the New Bottom Line for reshaping our communal lives and our economic and political arrangements.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA — Liberals confuse the separation of church and state with the separation of spiritual values from any state funded institution including education, the judicial system, the health and welfare system, foreign policy, and economic life. They claim to defend the neutrality of public space but fail to realize that there already is a religion operating in the public space: the religion scientism and the secular worship of the dollar. Thus, liberal defenses of the First Amendment are based on the false assumption that we actually have a neutral public space and that it must be protected from all values.
We, to the contrary, want to introduce the values articulated in our New Bottom Line to challenge the values that already dominate in the economy and public life and manage to present themselves as “value neutral” because they are values like competition, looking out for number one, getting ahead at all costs, seeking power over others, and maximizing one’s own wealth. These values have become so dominant in Western societies that they appear to be “common sense” rather than what they really are (namely, a specific set of values backed-up by the power of ruling elites and the educational and media institutions that those elites own or control).
So, for example, we think that education at all levels, programs to deal with alcohol and drug abuse, or programs to support childcare, elder care, and physical and emotional healing will be more effective to the extent that they address human beings in all their rich complexity, including their emotional and spiritual needs as well as physical or material needs. These programs get impoverished when the providers of these services worry that introducing the values we champion in the New Bottom Line would put them on the path of a slippery slope toward religion. They are mistaken.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA — Conservatives often seek to privilege Christian values in the public sphere. They get support from parents who want to resist the corrupt values that cause their children to come home obsessed with “making it” in the larger society (either through good grades to get the best career or through their ability to dominate others physically) and “making it in their peer group.” Or they want to protect their children from the cheapening of sexuality that pervades the media and is increasingly prevalent in middle schools or even earlier.
Conservatives mistakenly attribute these evils to “public education” and hence advocate for private schools freer to teach conservative values, often unaware that it is the ethos of the capitalist marketplace, not the public nature of public schools that is decisive in distorting values. Yet conservative critiques of government and the public sphere will continue to resonate as long as liberals fight to keep all values out of the public sphere and the shaping of public education and government-supported programs. Spiritual progressives want the values of the New Bottom Line to shape public education and the operation of public institutions. If they do not, those institutions will be shaped by the pervasive values of the capitalist marketplace, as they are today.
8. A Cooperative and Caring Legal System
We seek to protect individuals from coercive powers of the government and the marketplace, while affirming our interdependence.
We seek to reform our legal system so that it promotes peacemaking, understanding and respectful problem-solving with the overarching goal of restoring people’s dignity, respect and connection with community. In the criminal justice system, we will give priority to restorative justice aimed at a. repairing the social damage to trust and a sense of security for people in which the offense took place, b. repairing personal damage done by individual criminals and corporate criminals, c. fostering reconciliation and forgiveness, and d. seeking rehabilitation and transformation of those in prison rather than to prioritize punishment. Whenever possible, we should seek to avoid sending people to prison, and when we do so, the prison itself should reflect in both its physical arrangements, its food, its opportunities for learning and genuine repentance, the values that we seek to establish in the rest of a caring society. At the same time, we should protect the rest of society from people convicted of crimes of violence who we have reason to believe would revert to violence if not sent to prison. But our goal at every step should be to treat the accused or convicted with respect for their humanity and a deep desire to assist them in getting back to their own highest possibilities as a human being.
We shall seek a transformation of the penal system, including the training of guards to be compassionate. Management of prisons should be supervised by panels of compassionate psychologists and clergy who are empowered to hire and fire all prison personnel according to their capacity to demonstrate this compassion in a daily way in the prisons. Prisons must train inmates with skills capable of getting them employment, and connect them with halfway houses that provide financial and emotional support for newly released prisoners in the first year after their sentence has been served, connect them with employment and financial resources sufficient to feed and house them, and therapeutic and spiritual supports to make their reentry gentle enough so that they can pursue a different path than the path that might lead to their being sent back to prison.
In the domestic arena, both family courts and child protective services, we shall seek compassionate resolution of family disputes and challenges so that families experience an environment where their needs for connection with family members, care for the well-being of all members and promotion of healthy parent-child relationships are promoted and encouraged and where parents and others receive adequate support and guidance as to how to improve their parenting capacities with empathy and compassion rather than with coercion.
In the area of tort law, we shall seek repair for the damage done and appropriately structured re-workings of any corporate, medical, government or other institutional systems so that future harm is minimized as much as possible. We shall create a public fund so that anyone injured in any tragic accident has his/her needs for adequate support and long-term care met.
We seek to ban all forms of spying by governments and corporations on anyone not reasonably believed to be a spy of an enemy country or a terrorist operative. Prior to any such spying, a panel of civil libertarian activists shall determine if the suspected spy fits one of those two categories.
We oppose any invasion of our privacy as human beings, and recognizing how this information can be used to manipulate or control us, we oppose the accumulation of detailed information about our political, economic, social, and consumer behaviors by governments or corporations. We will reward rather than punish the whistleblowers–anyone in government or private sector who becomes a truth revealer sharing the secrets of government or corporations in regard to behavior that is illegal or in direct contradiction to what government and corporate leaders tell the public about their activities, policies, products, and/or behaviors (excluding personal behavior that has no direct impact on the public).
We seek to decriminalize personal behavior that does not hurt other human beings. For example, 2nd hand smoke does hurt other human beings, so it is legitimate to make illegal smoking inside public places or in homes where the smoke could impact family members or others who live there. But it should not be ok to prevent someone suffering from incurable disease to take their own life or get assistance in doing so (though as caring spiritual progressives, we might under some circumstances try to dissuade that person, but not through the exercise of law or state power). It might, however, be reasonable for the community to set up a legal barrier for assisting in such ending of someone’s life, for example by requiring that the person seeking to end their life and the assistors meet with a committee of spiritual and ethical guides who would try to ensure that the reason for ending life was not connected to economic needs (for example, not wanting to be a financial burden on one’s family in a case where the financial supports called for by our Covenant have not yet been implemented in ways sufficient to provide support for the families of those suffering from a disease or condition that makes them a significant financial drain on their resources). These are the kinds of issues that require careful ethical consideration, and one can be a spiritual progressive and disagree with the process being suggested here. What is key to us is that these decisions not be influenced by the financial needs of people living in a class dominated society where great inequalities shape how people see their options.
Aware that many people currently in prison would not have been there had they grown up in a society that was shaped by economic and social justice, an end to class oppression and the demeaning of those with less economic success, the absence of racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia, we will encourage everyone in our society to see these offenders as casualties of a screwed up society, though we will also take whatever measures are necessary to protect each other from the distorted behaviors of these casualties until they have been healed and transformed in the variety of ways that should be made available to them in the course of judicial proceedings and/or in the course of their subsequent incarceration.
Justice, then, must always be delivered in ways that embody our own highest values of love, caring for each other, and also caring for and protecting both those who have hurt or damaged others and those who might become subsequent victims of these offenders.
In the courtrooms, we want to replace an adversarial system with a system in which lawyers have an obligation not only to their clients but also to the larger society and hence a duty to find the truth of what has been done by one’s client, what healing that client needs, and what protections the rest of the society deserves. These are often complex psychological and ethical questions, and so lawyers should be trained in ethical thinking, compassionate and empathic ways of understanding human behavior, and psychological sophistication as prerequisites to being legally admitted to the practice of law. Similarly, district attorneys and their assistants should be required to demonstrate that their handling of each case embodied a true commitment to healing the society rather than simply getting a high “conviction rate” in her or his cases. When judge, lawyers and prosecutors all see themselves as agents of a caring society, and having a commitment to promote more love and caring not only in the outcome of a trial but in the process of the trial, there is a greater chance that the wisdom of restorative justice can prevail.
9. Challenging Racism
As an organization that welcomes and includes people of all races, religions and ethnic groups, we will challenge and undo ongoing institutional racism that permeates our society at all levels.
Our anti-racist program includes creating an educational system and transforming media and the legal system so that undermining racist ideas and practices becomes one of their central goals. We will provide material support and champion those institutions and social practices that are most successful at fostering respect and caring for previous targets of racism. And we will foster education and public policies that help people understand why racism is counter to their interests and why solidarity with Black and Brown peoples and other groups that have been systematically excluded, marginalized, and targets of violence actually serves their interests and values.
If we want a loving and caring society that truly values the lives of Black and Brown peoples, we need to recognize and come to terms with how our country was founded and the impact of the past policies on the present. We also need to acknowledge and transform present day policies and practices that are discriminatory. The issues addressed in the previous 10 points of our Platform for a Loving and Just World are all relevant to the issues of institutional and individual racism in our society. Without a fundamental challenge to the economic and political practices of capitalist society there will always be some groups left out or left far behind, and those people will be encouraged to find a scapegoat in some “other,” so it is unlikely that racism can be eliminated without this larger transformation. But, on their own, the policies we’ve suggested in the first ten parts of our program and even the emergence of a powerful transformative movement aimed at the goals of the New Bottom Line are inadequate to address the harm and trauma with which Black and Brown peoples live.
We are witnessing at this time in history a continuation of the pervasive fear of black bodies and a denial that black lives matter. This is coupled with a rise of white terrorist and hate groups that no political party challenges and the impotence of the news media and police to unveil the existence of underground hate groups that are becoming more visible and vocal. Today, blatant racism and violence, particularly against African Americans, Native Americans and Latinx Americans, are manifesting in the form of extrajudicial police violence and killings, a school-to-prison pipeline that has resulted in more African American people in jails than were enslaved in the past in our country, the dumping of toxic waste and chemicals in communities where Black, Brown. and low-income and poor people live, unequal educational opportunities beginning before children even start kindergarten, and so much more.
Manifest destiny and American exceptionalism justified the genocide of Native Americans and deadens protest against present racist policies that keep Native Americans on reservations. These principles still inform and drive domestic and foreign U.S. policy resulting in oppression and violence at home and abroad. America’s ruling elite continues to use war to expand territory, to gain access to resources, and to increase its power. The military industrial complex leads to profits for private industry at the expense of the safety and welfare of Black and Brown communities at home and abroad.
Racism, however, is not only a structural problem built into the economic, political, and cultural heritage of our societal institutions, but also a psychological issue. It becomes particularly prominent when large numbers of people are alienated and in pain because they feel “dissed” by the society in which they live. They experience this pain because they buy into the ideology of the competitive marketplace with its insistence that we live in a meritocracy in which we “create our own reality” and hence we have no one to blame for the pain in our lives but ourselves. The resulting painful self-blaming is often dealt with through alcoholism, drug abuse, or other forms of addiction, but the pain remains.
In response to that pain, reactionary movements or leaders come forward and tell people that the reason for their pain is because of some “Other” (primarily African Americans or Latino/a, but also refugees of every sort, Muslims, LGBTQ people, Jews, or even all liberals or progressives). As Tikkun editor-at-large Peter Gabel puts it, racism and other forms of “othering” allow people to develop a “false self” in which they imagine themselves as worthy and powerful through seeing themselves as members of an idealized “white race” that provides them with a substitute sense of worth and value covering over their inner emptiness and sense of valuelessness. Yet because this sense of collective value is what Gabel calls “false” or imaginary, many people feel constantly under attack from an imaginary demonized “other” which in the historic context of the U.S. is African-American people, Latinx, Muslims, or other refugees who they imagine are “taking over” and trying to recreate their experience of humiliation. To undo this dynamic will take fundamental transformations in the way we organize our society so that people no longer feel humiliated. To move in this direction, we will need millions of people to be trained in empathic communication so they can help others dismantle their inner self-blaming, recognize that their alienation is caused by the values and daily operations of the competitive marketplace, and mobilize people to change that economic system.
Institutional racism is maintained also by the largely unconscious assumption of white supremacy that is internalized by white people in a white dominant society. Overcoming the racism embedded in U.S. educational, legal and other systems requires white people to actively commit to becoming aware of the white supremacy that permeates their lives, exposing it, understanding how it diminishes the humanity of white people, and seeking to undo it. At the same time, we do not wish to participate in a general demeaning of white people in this society or to ignore the ways in which their lives have been negatively impacted by living in a society that uses racism to pit groups against one another. We refuse to perpetuate divisions based on race, class, gender, or ethnicity while recognizing that unity amongst all peoples cannot be fully achieved without dismantling racism. The vision we put forth in our full Platform for a Loving and Just World is one that would lift up all peoples. That requires not only a change in consciousness, but also a fundamental transformation of our economic and political systems.
Yet the transformation needed cannot be achieved by attempting to recreate socialist forms that speak to economic equality but miss the deeper transformations in how we relate to each other, to the Earth, and to our own inner development as loving and caring human beings. To address these systemic problems, we believe we need a New Bottom Line as discussed above so that all our institutions are determined “successful” based on whether they prioritize the well-being and needs of the people who live in our country and the world and the planet itself, rather than whether they maximize money and power. And, in addition, we need to engage in specific activities and adopt particular policies that address the problems that constitute or unconsciously perpetuate racism.
Among the steps a loving and caring society will take:
- Reparations for slavery and the past destruction of Native American populations.
- A guaranteed income for every adult in this society sufficient to pay for healthy food, housing in healthy living conditions, clothing, energy bills and transportation, and a “living wage” (http://livingwage.mit.edu/) for all working people.
- A Global and Domestic Marshall Plan that re-directs monies from our Gross Domestic Product to communities that have suffered from unfair distribution of resources and wages, including white, black and brown working class people in the U.S. and around the world, and also “undocumented” workers and all migrant laborers who work in our fields, hotels, etc. who have then been deported to their native lands, separating and devastating families.
- Equal funding for all public and private childcare centers, preschools and schools no matter where they are located in the U.S. or the income level of the families that are served by those schools. If wealthier parents are allowed to provide better schooling, better paid teachers, more options for study and for individualized attention at the schools which their children attend, their children will inevitably have greater resources than those who have gone to less funded schools. If parents know that the schools serving the poorest communities set the standards for what their own children will be offered in public and private schools, they will have a stronger incentive to make sure that all schools have these same benefits that are now primarily available to school districts with higher incomes and private schools partially financed by wealthy parents.
- Higher level salaries for teachers who teach in communities with lower average incomes than the wealthier communities to ensure that all schools have highly qualified teachers.
- Required courses at every level from 4th grade through college that explain to students the legacy of slavery, discrimination, classism, sexism and homophobia and their ongoing impact on the lives of all of us today. Such courses will teach techniques to address racism, empathic communication, and insights that help in overcoming racism.
- Media must dedicate at least one quarter of their prime time viewing to shows that aim to creatively challenging racist practices, prejudice and biases.
- Create a truth and reconciliation commission to generate a highly visible public tribunal to put our country on a path toward truly facing and healing the legacy of slavery and the treatment and slaughter of Native Americans, and the ongoing discrimination we see today.
- To help ensure that schools become learning environments for all children rather than school-to-prison pipelines for some, we support the adoption of restorative justice as a primary form of response to wrongdoing in schools and in the criminal justice system as a whole.
- Funding for jobs, education, and housing for people being released from prison.
- In recognition that many police departments have unequal policing that results in the loss of liberty and life for black and brown peoples all over this country, every community that has a police force which has faced significant numbers of complaints about systematic abuse or profiling of African Americans or other minority groups must establish a publicly-elected police review commission that has the power to fire both individual police and replace the leadership of that police force, and the ability to impose heavy civil fines or criminally indict police and police leadership for violating the civil rights of people within their jurisdiction.
- Mandatory training for police officers in anti-racism, bias and prejudice and comprehensive screening and vetting of applicants to help ensure that police officers are not racist. Mandatory training in de-escalation and nonviolent responses when conducting stops and arrests.
- Any surveillance equipment that police departments request must be reviewed by a civilian board that includes members of the communities that are and will be impacted. If body cameras are used, any tapes from those cameras must be made available to family and community members when an officer’s actions are in question.
- A wholesale rethinking of policing including demilitarizing of police forces, reducing and eventually eliminating higher levels of surveillance, and creating more transparency, accountability and transformative and restorative policing and justice models.
- Full access, guarantees and protections of the right to vote for all peoples through universal voting registration, automatic voting registration, pre-registration for 16-year-olds, same-day voter registration, voting day holidays, enfranchisement of formerly and currently incarcerated people, local and state resident voting for all undocumented people, and a ban on any disenfranchisement laws.
In recognition that poor and disempowered communities often bear the brunt of environmental devastation and destruction, we promote the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that will provide ways for people to challenge these policies when large corporations are seeking renewal of their corporate charters.
CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA: Liberal politicians rarely speak about institutionalized and systemic racism. Instead, liberals tend to blame racism on individual bad apples, failing to acknowledge the legacy of slavery and discrimination that still pervades our schools, housing opportunities, political system, police force, criminal justice system and the like. Or they promise to provide equal opportunity in the capitalist marketplace without acknowledging how the psychic wounds of the past, and the fundamental wealth and income inequalities of the past and present shape what financial base there is to start new businesses, make investments, qualify for loans at low interest rates, provide quality education for their children, or feel safe from arbitrary arrest or even murder from police. To add insult to injury, when liberals reluctantly pay lip service to anti-discriminatory policies and actions, they simultaneously speak about the need for African Americans (and other people of color) to address their shortcomings and faults, blaming them for the struggles they face that are in fact largely a product of the foundation on which our country was founded as well as the ongoing policies and behavior of our police, educators, politicians, media, etc.
CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA: Conservatives blame the struggles that Black and Brown peoples face as their own shortcomings and completely fail to acknowledge any institutionalized racism in our society. In addition, they actively promote policies that do and would undermine and directly overturn efforts made and laws passed during the Civil Rights era that began to address systemic racism. They also insist that all legacies of the past will magically be healed if the society expands its production and consumption of goods, which they believe will happen by reducing taxes on the wealthy who will then feel impelled to expand their investments in companies that will hire the previously unemployed (ignoring all the times that this approach has failed to significantly change the situation of Black and Brown peoples, but rather has only further enriched the wealthy and deepened the gap between the one percent (1%) of highest income and wealth people and the rest of the population in the US, UK, Israel, and wherever else these policies have been tried).
10. Balancing Particularity with Universalism
In our struggle to bring about the sweeping social transformations we seek, we must be careful not to empower a new totalitarian force of the Right or the Left, or to create social movements that impose “political correctness”, stifles free expression, individual creativity or idiosyncrasies. We don’t want any form of Stalinism or coercive group think, whether that is perpetrated through social media, government-administered loyalty tests, corporate manipulations, or warped social change movements.
Kimberle’ Crenshaw, an African American woman law professor at Columbia U, developed this term to highlight the way that African American women get oppressed both as women and as Black, but it has subsequently developed to point to the wide variety of identities that any given person can have and the complex ways those identities intersect and interact both inside each person and in the way that we are treated by others.
Spiritual progressives want to highlight these complexities, and recognize that oppression, domination and discrimination are not the sole ethical property of one particular race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, sexual or gender identity. The vulgarization of “identity politics” happens when one group insists that its suffering is worse than that of another, often missing the complexities of intersecitonality and multiple forms of oppression. This vulgarization can lead to a perfect outcome for ruling elites—the setting of one oppressed group against another, each putting down another and claiming that their suffering is worse than anyone else’s suffering, with the predictable outcome that they rarely are able to unite to change the larger systems of oppression.
In our view, all forms of oppression should be taken seriously and can provide a basis for a deeper identification and comradery, empathy and compassion. The transformation of society from domination to love and generosity will be facilitated when people have developed a heightened awareness of the way their own particular forms of oppression and suffering provide a link for them to understand the oppression and suffering of others, and an invitation to develop that intersectional awareness. So part of developing a transformative consciousness is to learn to be in touch with one’s own forms of oppression and suffering, and then to learn to see similarities and respond with empathy and compassion for the suffering of others, without any need to believe that we fully understand or can experience the uniqueness of others’ suffering. As this experience deepens, we become more fully aware that our own liberation is dependent upon and intrinsically linked to the liberation of all others on the planet earth.
We seek a balance between identity politics (particularity) and globally oriented renewal. We are aware of the way that some movements in the past have used the claim that all particular identities and the issues that face those identity groups must be subordinated to the larger need for societal transformation as a whole. Dealing with racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or other forms of oppression are then put off indefinitely till the larger transformation happens. This is a mistake for two reasons: a. people facing forms of oppression of their particular community find it difficult to avert their attention to the larger struggle when their own oppression is being ignored. b. very often the particular oppression is so intense and so debilitating that those who suffer under its yoke have little energy to join the larger struggle, and then the larger struggle fails because it hasn’t been able to draw on the energy of these particularistic communities. On the other hand, it is almost always the case that a full end to each of the named oppressions will not be completely eliminated until the larger transformation also takes place. True, there can be token advances. A Black man can become president of the U.S., but the actual condition of most African Americans not only doesn’t change, but in some respects gets worse. Or some women get to be placed in the highest realms of government, as President, senators, members of the Supreme Court, but the plight of women facing poverty or women in communities of color, or the pay gap between men and women, or the degree to which women face objectification and sexual harassment remains the same.
The way to overcome this seemingly difficult tension is to insist that particularist movements include a continual reminding of its participants of the vision of the larger world they seek to create, while movements that seek larger social transformation continually remind their members that the changes they want to see will never be realized if simultaneously we are not involved in supporting the array of oppressed particularist communities. Spiritual progressives have the task of making sure that both of these things happen in any movement of which we participate.
Empathy for Those Who Reject our Approach
Spiritual progressives strive to respond compassionately and empathically to those who disagree with our spiritual progressive worldview articulated here. That same empathy and compassion should be shown to all activists in the movement, including those who insult, criticize or put others down, use power over others or use high ideals in manipulative ways, because we recognize that our social change movements will attract many wounded people who need healing. Yet at the same time we will remain firm in refusing to allow those who are hurtful or manipulative to shape the inner culture of our social change movements or divert our movement from its focus on the New Bottom Line. We must be particularly wary of anyone who talks about, advocates for or actually engages in violence against others, including violence against police or suspected agents of the state. Violence is antithetical to everything we stand for, and even talk of violence can often be sufficient to disrupt or destroy a spiritual progressive movement. So people who engage in that kind of talk need help which we should be prepared to give ourselves, and when that does not work, we will seek psychological treatment for anyone in our movement who engages in or advocates for violence as a path to achieve our ends.
We approach this whole enterprise of tikkun (healing and transformation of the world) with a spirit of humility, even as we simultaneously embrace the excitement of living at a moment in which the forces of love in the universe are beginning to assert themselves and demand that the world be changed so that love can flourish. On the one hand, we absolutely know certain things—that all life is to be cherished, that every human being is infinitely precious, that the path to transformation must be as holy as the end goals we seek, and that every human being is somewhat wounded by growing up in this social order which privileges aggression, power over others, material possessions, and selfishness. So we know that it is appropriate to have compassion for everyone including ourselves, and yet that compassion must not disempower us from struggling nonviolently but passionately to change the systems of oppression and to protect those who are suffering. Yet there is also a wisdom in “not knowing”—that is, in recognizing that we don’t fully know how to find the right balance in every situation, that we are likely to make mistakes, and that even the purest of our intentions can sometimes be subverted by our own inner confusions and conflicts, or by not fully understanding the complexities of another human being and hence responding at times to others in ways that are unintentionally hurtful or have unanticipated negative consequences. So the path we seek is humility about our strategies and a recognition of the limits of our ability to fully know the consequences of our actions, combined with a fierce determination to promote as much caring, generosity, social and economic fairness and justice, care of the earth, and love for each other as possible—plus an absolute commitment to never reconcile ourselves with a world that is causing severe suffering to others and to the earth. Couple that with a passionate and joyous celebration of the planet earth, of the universe, and of the gift of life and consciousness that we have been granted and you get a deep sense of the path of the spiritual progressive.
In every aspect of life, we will give priority to enhancing our capacity to respond to other human beings as embodiments of the sacred, recognizing that our well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet and on the well-being of the planet itself. We are all, everyone on this planet, flawed beings who make many mistakes in the way we treat others, so we approach this task with a commitment to humility about ourselves and empathy and compassion for everyone else. In this way we hope to make our lives congruent with the world we seek to bring into being and the unfolding of the spiritual reality of the universe around us and through us.
And just as we constantly remind each other to not be “realistic” in our goals, but instead to constantly retell each other the stories of the victories of past and present social change movements, creating gatherings to celebrate the victories, so too we remind each other that a balanced life as an agent of social change must include time for being alone and outside the movements, time inside and outside the movement to celebrate and rejoice at the grandeur and mystery of the universe, time inside and outside the movement for play and love-making, and time to introduce playfulness, art, music, dance, ritual, altered states of consciousness, and humor into our social change movements. Let our movement for transformation toward a world of love and justice become known for how much joy and fun it is to be part of it, and the world we seek will be more quickly achieved.
Authored by Rabbi Michael Lerner, November 2016