In case you who missed it, here’s Rabbi Lerner’s talk at Muhammed Ali’s funeral.His vision is all the more relevant given the horrific killings in Orlando and the way it is being used to promote fear, hatred and Islamophobia. It has gone viral on social media and inspired over a million people already. If it inspires you as well, please read below for how to be an ally with Rabbi Lerner to help build the world he describes.
Wondering why Rabbi Lerner got invited and how to respond to the handful of naysayers who have been upset by Lerner’s powerful message? Please read below.
Muhammad Ali had known Rabbi Lerner as a friend and ally in the 1960s and early 1970s when both were indicted by the U.S. government for their roles in opposing the war in Vietnam. He then wrote Rabbi Lerner to praise his book with Cornel WestJews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin.Approximately seven years ago, he decided to invite Rabbi Lerner to represent the American Jewish community at his memorial service. Rabbi Lerner only received a phone call invitation from the Ali family four days before he got on an airplane to Louisville.
In our post-modern (or post-post-modern?) age, we are supposedly transcending the material certainties of the past. The virtual world of the Internet is replacing the “real,” material world, as theory asks us to question the very notion of reality. Yet that virtual world turns out to rely heavily on some distinctly old systems and realities, including the physical labor of those who produce, care for, and provide the goods and services for the post-industrial information economy.
As it happens, this increasingly invisible, underground economy of muscles and sweat, blood and effort intersects in the most intimate ways with those who enjoy the benefits of the virtual world. Of course, our connection to that virtual world comes through physical devices, and each of them follows a commodity chain that begins with the mining of rare earth elements and ends at a toxic disposal or recycling site, usually somewhere in the Third World.
Closer to home, too, the incontrovertible realities of our physical lives depend on labor — often that of undocumented immigrants — invisible but far from virtual, that makes apparently endless mundane daily routines possible.
In my last post I spoke about the immense challenges inherent in experimenting with a gift economy within the current economic structure. In this post, I look at how experimenting with the full gift economy can only take place from a position of privilege, and what, ultimately, we can do to begin and continue these experiments in a sustainable way.
This post started in response to a colleague who, like me, is aching to bring about a gift economy in the world and is willing to take heat and failure along the way without ever giving up on continuing to experiment. Although she is ecstatic to make it possible for people to take her classes, she is frustrated at how hard it is proving to receive enough for her own livelihood. She wondered why it is so hard.
About twenty years of experimenting came tumbling out of me with the most clarity I’ve ever experienced about this topic: what it means to do a gift economy in relation to our work and livelihood; how the absence of systemic support makes it so hard for any of us to succeed; how our internalized messages interfere with uncoupling giving from receiving; and, finally, in part II, how experiments in gift economy intersect with privilege.
We at Tikkun’s Network of Spiritual Progressives are part of the Citizens Trade Campaign coalition of forces that have challenged the Clinton Administration and now the Obama Administration in their proclivity to create trade policies that are destructive to the environment and to the well being of working people here and around the world. The latest such is the Trans-Pacific Partnership which, while having some positive aspects, would restrict countries from passing important environmental and health care related legislation that might interfere with corporate profits. This latest effort to give multinational corporations powers that supersede the powers of national governments is one more reason we need the ESRA–Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ESRA would, among many other important measures, overturn any such international agreement that has been approved by the U.S. government or will be approved in the future–please help us get it endorsed after you read it at www.tikkun.org/esra.
Rabbi Michael Lerner issued the following response about the newly released full version of the TPP:
The TPP agreement violates a basic command of the Bible: that human beings must protect and act as stewards for the earth. Instead, it provides a path for corporations to overturn the most moderate environmental restraints on corporate avarice, much less the far more stringent actions that environmentalists tell us are needed to even begin to reverse climate change and preserve the earth for future generations. This is selfishness and materialism taken to a new height, and every religious communityu should stand up against it.
–Rabbi Michael Lerner Editor, Tikkun Magazine (winner of the mainstream media Religion Newswriters Association “Best Magazine of the Year” Award in 2014 and again in 2015)
Here’s the message we received from the Citizens Trade Campaign which is coordinating this effort:
The older I get, the more I interrogate my own critique of the new-new thing. Even the quickest retrospective glance reveals cultural history as a kind of ping-pong: the oldsters are appalled by the youngers, and when the youngers grow old, they are briefly surprised at finding their parents’ words emerging from their own mouths. Then they get used to it, and the generations roll on.
So take this with a pinch of trepidation, or at least a grain of salt, but I’m feeling more and more fed up with what seems to me to be a wildly misguided and rapidly emergent impulse in art and commerce, which is to hold nothing sacred, to mount an imitation of realness in which both art and authenticity are left lying on the studio floor.
Take the case of the canned parrots of Telegraph Hill. In San Francisco, that rocky North Beach neighborhood is famous for its wild parrots, tended for many years by musician Mark Bittner. He was profiled in Judy Irving’s lovely 2003 film, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and in Bittner’s own book of the same name.
Recently, some young entrepreneurs opening the kind of trendily unspecific shop which seems more and more ubiquitous as San Francisco becomes increasingly unaffordable decided to intrigue passers-by with a display of cans labelled “Boiled Parrot in Gravy.” The display alludes to Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans, of course, and the contents were carefully chosen to reflect the shop’s aspirational brand as described by the filmmaker/graphic designer who created the installation: “a curated modern general store for the neighborhood, with a creative, craft and art focus … it’ll be sort of a neighborhood clubhouse, with a retail angle.”
Editor’s Note: This article appeared first in the wonderful daily website Truth Out and can be read there also.
Perhaps the most drastic element of the war on youth in the U.S. is the willingness of the powerful to continue to squander the resources of the planet earth and destroy the life-support system of the planet. Having abandoned hope in any real transformation of the world, the powerful are willing to continue to amass wealth and power and to ignore all the scientific data that shows that if we continue in the path that we’ve been on for the past several hundred years, the youth of today will be suffering an environmental catastrophe brought on by the selfishness, materialism, chauvinistic nationalism that together are the consequences of global capitalism. Yet the war on youth today has the consequence of making many of them less willing to embrace the kind of seemingly utopian transformations of our society without which the logic of the capitalist order will continue and may yet yield a fascistic outcome to protect the powerful from the righteous indignation of those who will be suffering through the decline of the earth in the next fifty years. That’s why the ESRA–Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment is at once so important (read it please at www.tikkun.org/esra) and so frequently dismissed as “too visionary to be realistic.” Yet it is actually the most modest first step in the transition from a capitalist society to The Caring Society–Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth.
Youth in an Authoritarian Age: Challenging the politics of disposability:
Following the insight of Hannah Arendt, a leading political theorist of mid-20th century totalitarianism, a dark cloud of political and ethical ignorance has descended upon the United States.(1) Thoughtlessness, a primary condition of authoritarian rule, now occupies a privileged, if not celebrated, place in the political landscape and the mainstream cultural apparatuses. A new kind of infantilism now shapes daily life as adults gleefully take on the role of unthinking children, while children are pushed to be adults, stripped of their innocence and subject to a range of disciplinary pressures that saddle them with debt and cripple their ability to be imaginative.(2)
Under such circumstances, agency devolves into a mind-numbing anti-intellectualism evident in the banalities produced by Fox News infotainment and celebrity culture, and in the blinding rage produced by populist politicians who support creationism, argue against climate change and rail against immigration, the rights of women, public service workers, gay people and countless others. There is more at work here than a lethal form of intellectual, political and emotional infantilism. There is also a catastrophe of indifference and inattentiveness that breeds flirtations with irrationality, fuels the spectacle of violence, creates an embodied incapacity and promotes the withering of public life.
I have gone to Burning Man 15 years in a row. When I went the first time, back in 2000, I was a journalist on assignment for Rolling Stone. That was an amazing introduction to the event, as I was able to go “back stage” and meet the organizers, artists, and geniuses behind the sculptures, lasers, and camps. I was immediately hooked. I couldn’t believe such a place existed – that tens of thousands of people shared the same ideals, and worked together to realize their visions.
I wrote this piece about my experiences. I also wrote a feature about the festival for ArtForum. By proposing that Burning Man had validity as an artistic expression – I discussed Joseph Beuys’ idea of “social sculpture” – I got banned from ArtForum after they published my piece. I also wrote about the festival, personally and philosophically, in Breaking Open the Head, my first book, and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, my second. Burning Man has had a profound experience on my life, in many ways.
This year, I am skipping it. There are a few reasons for this, but the main one is that I feel Burning Man – an institution in its own process of ongoing change and evolution – has lost its way. Hopefully, this is temporary. I know and love many of the people who create and run the festival, and believe in their intentions and their vision.
Burning Man has accomplished amazing things, opening up whole new realms of individual freedom and culture expression. At the same time the festival has become a bit of a victim of its own success. It has become a massive entertainment complex, a bit like Disney World for a contingent made up mostly of the wealthy elite. It always had this vibe, to some extent, but it seems more pronounced in recent years. It feels like there is more and more of less and less. The potential for some kind of authentic liberation or awakening seems increasingly obscure and remote.
Herbert Hoover, like many politicians in the Bay Area today, believed that the market and private philanthropy could solve all ills even while shantytowns (similar to San Jose’s Jungle) cropped up around every major city: the direct result of mass unemployment, mass eviction, and bankruptcy.
Then as now, people constructed homes of cardboard, lumber, tin, and canvas. They dug holes in the ground. And they situated themselves near waterways. One of the largest Depression-era “jungle” was located outside St. Louis by the Mississippi River, a settlement of 5,000 people with a “mayor” and four churches! Another major Hooverville sprang up in Seattle. Then as now, local governments tried to evict them only to have them return. In Seattle, they reached an agreement on co-existence and self-government that lasted through the bad times.
Recently, San Jose’s mayor Liccardo spoke at the Vatican about moving forward with motel conversions, micro housing, and finding jobs for the homeless. The mayor mentioned a site where 150 micro-houses will be installed, but no one in the housing activist community seems to know where that site is. Some say private philanthropy has been slow to materialize. Maybe San Jose’s wealthy need to have “thrift parties” as they did in the 1930′s where socialites paid a lot to wear old clothes and eat hot dogs, and the proceeds went to shantytowns.
It’s true that some formerly homeless, perhaps several hundred, are now housed. That’s important. Others have gone through rigorous austerity-education programs only to discover that, rationally, they cannot afford to live in San Jose at all.
Last weekend, about one hundred U.S. Veterans for Peace gathered in Red Wing, Minnesota, for a statewide annual meeting. In my experience, Veterans for Peace chapters hold “no-nonsense” events. Whether coming together for local, statewide, regional or national work, the Veterans project a strong sense of purpose. They want to dismantle war economies and work to end all wars. The Minnesotans, many of them old friends, convened in the spacious loft of a rural barn. After organizers extended friendly welcomes, participants settled in to tackle this year’s theme: “The War on Our Climate.”
They invited Dr. James Hansen, an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute,
to speak via Skype about minimizing the impacts of climate change. Sometimes called the
“father of global warming”, Dr. Hansen has sounded alarms for several decades with accurate
predictions about the effects of fossil fuel emissions. He now campaigns for an economically
efficient phase out of fossil fuel emissions by imposing carbon fees on emission sources with
dividends equitably returned to the public.