“Think what a better world it would be if we all-the whole world-had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess. And it is still true, no matter how old you are-when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.” Robert Fulghum
It seems like some issues in American politics never go away, they just change their context. One such issue is the question of Immigration Policy.
This election year we hear the Republican candidate spewing racial stereotypes and absurd solutions to the problem of illegal immigration. While members of his own party have condemned his statements, the truth is that for the last eight years their own stand on illegal immigrants has not been that much different than his. Before the Great Recession of 2008, moreover, they positively welcomed “undocumented” immigrants because, they said, “we can’t get Americans to do hard work” and similar excuses for allowing cheap unskilled labor to undercut the American worker.
Conversely, the Democratic Party has embraced illegal immigrants–supposedly–even as President Obama has deported more illegal immigrants than his predecessors combined. To be sure, some humane immigration policies have been temporarily put in place by the present POTUS, but this is like putting a topical anesthetic on the skin to cure an internal tumor.
The truth is, many American blue collar workers have seen their good paying jobs disappear over the years, only to be replaced by low wage, no benefit jobs. Americans are not lazy, nor they unwilling to do hard work; they simply want to be paid a decent wage, something the multinational corporations who run our government and who are writing the international “Free” Trade deals that continue to ship whole factories overseas don’t want. What most working class Americans don’t understand is that each wave of illegal immigrants flooding into our country are the byproducts of these phony trade deals, which are neither free, nor even much about trade. NAFTA spurred a flood of illegal Mexican workers, displaced by the deal, who came north seeking work; CAFTA did the same thing to Central Americans, also desperate for work at any price. Nothing spurs ethnic animosity like the perception that these new arrivals are here to take your already substandard paying job.
The moral philosopher and humorist, Robert Fulghum, once observed that “All I Really Need to Know, I learned in Kindergarten.” Consider, if you will, the game of Musical Chairs; every time the music stops, everyone scrambles for a chair and someone ALWAYS LOSES. Then another chair is taken away and the music starts again; again and again, the music stops and another chair is taken away, until only one person wins. Do you all remember how many fights and arguments broke out over that game? I do. Our “rigged” economy is very much like that game of Musical Chairs. So, yes, a lot of working class Americans are bigoted against immigrants, legal or illegal, because they blame them for the loss of their once prosperous and affluent lifestyle, without ever stopping to think who it is that is really manipulating the music and the chairs.
What has all this got to do with Ambrose Bierce? Actually, precious little; but in the late nineteenth century many “real Americans” were also concerned about immigration and worried that the furriners were going to ruin our country. Having delved into Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce’s life and works for over six years as I worked on my current book, whenever I see a current political issue heatedly debated, it naturally reminds me of something Bierce said or did. For you edification, therefore, I present Bierce’s take on immigration:
“America has issued a general invitation. Whether that may have been judicious or not is not for them to say who have accepted it. If we keep open house, we do not need, neither will we tolerate, an intimation from a guest that the company is not sufficiently select.” In other words, only Native Americans have a right to complain about more recent immigrants.” AGB
Things have changed greatly from the day Bierce uttered his observation, but I would aver that his words still contain much wisdom.
In our discussion of Pilgrim and Puritan Socialism in our previous essay, we of course simplified what are sometimes nuanced issues, and in this medium we rarely footnote all the sources which relate to a subject. However, if one looks at various pop articles and secondary sources relating to the subject of early New England socialism, you will find a distinct bias to those articles. Largely penned by Conservative Christian apologists, they strain to emphasize what a failure these early efforts at communal economic organization were and interpret it as the triumph of Capitalism over Socialism.
First off, modern Conservative Christians stand in relation to Christianity in the way National Socialists stand in relation to Socialism—while they may sound the same, in the main it’s in name only.
Another thing to consider is that Capitalism did not exist in the seventeenth century; Capitalism was a by-product of the growth of industrialization, which did not really begin until the late eighteenth century and came to the fore in the nineteenth. Mercantilism was the dominant economic system of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and even at the beginning seventeenth century England still retained many vestiges of Medieval Manorial economics, such as the open field system. So, to a certain degree, discussing “Capitalism” versus Puritan socialism is irrelevant and anachronous. Apparently, some modern Conservative dogmatists feel threatened by the fact that their forefathers were not as ideologically pure as they.
That being said, there were other factors at work, especially in the Plymouth Bay Colony, that I did not go into in part 1. Not all the colonists on the Mayflower were coming to the New World for religious liberty or enamored of Biblical economic justice; seventeenth century sources refer to “adventurers and planters” and clearly the Congregationalists were not among the “adventurers” in the group.
So, the more secular settlers were of course unhappy about the austere communal (or “communistic”) system initially set up, where all their resources (mostly food) were stored in one communal warehouse and everybody shared work duties according to their ability and resources were shared equally. To a large extent this austere form of socialistic practice was out of necessity. The colonists did not land until November of 1620, far too late to plant any crops; many were already suffering from diseases such as scurvy due to the long sea journey and were too sick to pull their own weight as far as work was concerned. As it was, the settlers had to steal parched corn from the nearby Indians due to lack of food. Half of the colonists died that first winter; more, maybe all, would have died had they not pooled their resources and instead practiced “rugged individualism.”
Even after the first winter, the colonists tried to plant crops unsuited to the harsh New England climate and it wasn’t until the Native Americans (who most definitely were practicing a form of tribal communism) taught the immigrants how to plant native crops and cultivate them, that the food shortages truly disappeared.
It should be noted that Jamestown, which did not practice communism or socialistic economics at all, had an even worse time of it at the start because everybody did try to do their own thing (mainly looking for gold and trying to enslave the local tribesmen) and they were so short of food at one point that they started digging up corpses from the ground and engaged in cannibalism. That is what “Capitalism” (sic) resulted in. So, from a comparative viewpoint, the Pilgrims early form of communistic austerity was relatively successful. However, as their governor, William Bradford, noted, many were far from happy with such a strict economic regimen and after the initial hard times, in 1623 loosened discipline to where land was parceled out to individual families, although ownership was still held in common by the colony as a whole.
So, was Pilgrim socialism successful? The modern ideologues would have you believe it was a failure; but bear in mind the colony had been set up as a proprietary charter from the start and owed money to the financial backers of the colony in England, who expected their investment back within a certain time. The colony was set up as a communal endeavor from the beginning, with the profits from the colony earmarked to pay back the investors, after which there would be a division of the assets among the colonists. In fact, despite all the hardships and delays, the Plymouth colonists did pay back the investors, after which there was an equitable division of the assets of the colony among the surviving colonists. So, while the “socialist experiment” did not continue on, neither was it a failure.
The situation could best be likened to the Lutherans of the Amana Colony of Iowa; they too set up a religious commune, which included both agriculture and manufacturing; eventually they sold the manufacturing rights to a corporation—which is why you can still buy Amana refrigerators to this day. The Amana commune did not continue, true; but I would hardly call it a failure. Much the same could be said of the Plymouth Colony and, with somewhat different circumstances, the Puritan’s economic experiment. Today, about 35 million Americans claim ancestry from the Pilgrims; despite the challenges and hardships, I would say that is something of a success story.
AS CRUCIAL AS NEW YORK IS FOR SLICK HILLARY, WE ALL KNEW HER MEDIA HACKS WOULD GO ALL OUT TO DISCREDIT BERNIE SANDERS. WELL ITS BEGUN.
The New York Daily News (aka The Daily Planet–you know with the tabloid with the big globe in its lobby) had an interview with candidate Bernie Sanders. Actually, hatchet job would be a better description. The tack they took was a classic from the Republican playbook; they “Swiftboated” him.
In case you are too young to remember, back in 2004, nearly half the country was already soured on George W. Bush, the Vietnam Era playboy who had his Daddy pull strings to get himself into the Air National Guard to avoid going to Viet Fucking Nam. Running against draft dodge George was Senator John Kerry, a war hero who was awarded the Purple Heart five times–FIVE TIMES==but who was painted as a liar and a coward by GOP shills. Well, enough of the public bought that lie that King George II won re-election. So, the evil genius GOP hacks and their media lackeys took Kerry’s strong point and by repetitive lying and misrepresentation, turned that strong point into his weak point. That is, in essence, what the Hillary hacks at the NY Daily News have tried to do in their interview.
If anything, Bernie Sanders has gone into too much detail about what he will do when elected President. His critique of the Washington establishment is as deep as it is broad and by his avoiding large donors and super PAC money, he has walked the walk as well as talking the talk. He also has made no secret that he intends to rein in Wall Street at the earliest opportunity. This we all know.
So what does Hillary’s shill at the Daily Planet do? Why attack Bernie as being shallow and having no plan as to what he’s going to do, of course! In regard to how Bernie would break up the big banks, they badgered him to cite chapter and verse as to EXACTLY he would go about doing that, on the surface of it a perfectly moronic question.
As President, the POTUS does not give specifics as to how his policies are carried out: that’s what his cabinet and their departments are supposed to do. How do you go about going after the banksters who committed massive fraud and nearly destroyed the world economy? How do I prosecute thee? Let me count the ways.
There are dozens, possibly hundreds of ways to go about reining in the Banksters and their mega banks; but first you have to get elected. Then appoint Elizabeth Warren to your cabinet and I GUARANTEE she will find a way or three; or four, or more.
Another so called “Gotcha” by the Hillary shill was on Sanders notable lack of enthusiasm for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Neo-Fascist policies. Because Bernie, a NEW YORK JEW doesn’t go along with rubber stamping the failed policies of the extreme right wing parties in Israel and tacitly approves of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian problem (which EVERY previous US president has at least given lip service too) this is supposed to be a negative. Bernie Sanders grew up seeing the adults in his neighborhood with the concentration camp tattoos; he is pro-Israel, he is A JEW; but he does not support the failed policies of extreme right wing Israeli governments who have chosen to intervene in the internal politics of the United States big time.
That being said, it is true that foreign policy is not Bernie Sanders strong point. We must contrast that with Hillary Clinton’s VAST experience in foreign policy: such as approving a trade agreement with Panama to enable her billionaire friends to dodge taxes and launder money; voting for the Iraq War; pushing President Obama to intervene in Libya (Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi); and, of course, the sterling success of our intervention in Syria. And let us not forget the looming TPP deal, which will lose us millions more in trade deficits and jobs, but enrich her billionaire multi-national corporatist friends. So yes, Hillary is a foreign policy “expert” and Bernie is not. He just believes in fairness, justice and peace.
Well, mark my word. The New York Daily Planet hatchet job is just the opening salvo in the Hillary Media campaign to keep New York voters from finding out the truth about Brooklyn born Bernie and their carpet-bag former senator.
“Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold”
It still remains to be seen whether the presidential candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders in 2016 was just an outlier or the beginning of a major sea-change in American politics. Regardless, it would be good at this juncture to reflect on Socialism and its role in American history.
While the history of American Socialism is not exactly a deep secret, most Americans, even academics, have a very poor understanding of what it is and was. Whatever one may think of it as a political and economic movement, the chances are you are wrong in your assumptions, good or bad. At best, most know that Bernie Sanders is far from being the first socialist to appear on the American scene; but how far back does Socialist, much less Communist, economic behavior go?
—–Think it was members of the American Communist Party in the 1930’s? They were outspoken, militant and slavishly devoted to Joe Stalin, and most people during the Cold War associated them with disloyalty and treason; but no, they were hardly the first or only ones to advocate some kind of socialist solution.
—–How About the Socialists active during Gilded Age and the early 1900’s? Well, there were a bunch of folks active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century; they were instrumental in the early labor movement and as mayors of cities and congressmen they had a spotless reputation for honesty and good government; but no they were not the first. But when Woodrow Wilson, pseudo-Progressive and friend of the second Klu Klux Klan lied us into World War, the Socialist opposed him and their political rights were brutally and unconstitutionally suppressed, Guess again.
—–How About the Civil War Era, were they the first? You’re getting warmer. There were a whole bunch of people who espoused some kind of Socialism and were active in Abolitionism as well. To a man they volunteered to fight for the Union and helped rescue our nation from disunion, disloyalty and slavery; but no, they weren’t the first, not by a longshot.
—–How About the Early decades of the Nineteenth Century, were there Socialists around during the Early Republic? Yes, there were and in addition to those espousing political ideas, many organized communes were established as bold social and intellectual experiments, reminiscent of the Hippie communes of the 1960’s. But no, sorry no brass ring; they weren’t the first.
OK. If you’re still with me, let me clue you in: not only is Socialism as American as apple pie and Thanksgiving Turkey, its origins in America go back to the very English first settlements–assuming, of course, we don’t include Native Americans, who lived successfully lived in communities without private property going back to the Mesolithic Era here. It was, in fact, the early settlers of New England who first practiced Socialism, folk whom you may know as the Pilgrims.
Actually, there were two groups of early settlers in New England, the ones we call Pilgrims (although they didn’t use that name) and the Puritans; the Plymouth Bay Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony respectively. According to my family’s genealogists we claim ancestors in both groups, although the lineage is a bit convoluted. Regardless, these early settlers are usually held up as models of the Protestant Work Ethic and cited as positive role models for the Capitalist Way, which is a popular lie you no doubt were told in grammar school.
Protestants they were, and pretty austere ones at that, but they also did something modern Bible thumpers rarely seem to do; they read all the passages of the Bible, not just the ones that were convenient or suited some media evangelist’s get rich quick gospel. If you get deeply into both the Old and New Testaments, you will find quite a bit there that does not jibe too well with modern notions of Capitalism and big business. The Bible has things like, oh, a progressive income tax (OT), or, say, passages where it tells you to give all your possessions to the poor and follow Jesus (NT); stuff like that.
Eventually, of course, Mammon won out over Jehovah with the Puritans and they became prosperous smugglers, merchants, manufacturers, whalers, transporters of slaves and assorted other activities that made one filthy rich but are not particularly good for the soul.
If you travel through New England, you will still find at least one vestige of the region’s socialist roots. Just about every little town or village has a “commons” and, of course, the Boston Commons is well known to residents of Beantown. Originally, every community’s land was held in “common” and distributed according to the town Elders’ dictates.
Across the state line in New York, the center of town is usually called the village “green” (as in “Tavern on the Green”) which is short for Bowling Green. Of course, the Dutch in New Amsterdam were fond of their bowling and would play Nine-Pins in the town square whenever weather allowed while quaffing the product of a nearby inn or tavern. In Puritan New England, such merriment was strictly forbidden; hard work and prayer substituted for singing, dancing and gaming, although alcohol was still allowed in moderation.
When the Pilgrims first arrived in 1620, they did not have an easy time of it. They did not arrive off the New England until November of that year, far too late for growing any crops and that first winter nearly half of the 102 colonists died. Of more interest for our concern was the fact that, at first, everything that the colony produced was pooled together and held in the “common storehouse” at one end of the Plymouth settlement. This system was in force for the first couple of years, partly out of necessity: the colony was facing starvation for first few seasons, and more indigent immigrants arrived by boat from England, but the extra mouths to feed were not accompanied by enough supplies to provide for them. The Plymouth colonists at one point were reduced to stealing parched corn from a local Indian tribe to avoid starving.
This communal system did not sit well with some of the more able bodied males in the colony, many of whom had migrated in hopes of making their fortune in the New World and not for religious reasons (they were called “the Strangers” by the more religious) and had no desire to provide for other men’s wives and children. Governor Bradford and the English backers of the enterprise abolished the system of the common storehouse in 1623 and land was divided among settlers to farm individually. However, the colony still retained communal title to the land even though it was farmed separately, and all the tools were still held in collectively and doled out as needed. Moreover, meadowlands for the grazing of livestock were still managed in common, plus fishing, hunting and fowling rights were held in common as well, so the concept of private property and ownership still remained a weak one for some years.
The story of the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, (begun by the Puritans, a different religious sect than the Congregationalist Pilgrims), was not dissimilar to that of the Plymouth colony, save that they were even more austere and, well, more puritanical. Moreover, the Puritan colony was planned from the start as a theocracy; in theory, not man, but God, ruled the Puritan communities. This Utopian society was intended to be an example to the world–as Governor Winthrop put it, “as a city upon a hill”–and it was to be organized along socialist–albeit Biblical socialist–lines. While initially centrally planned and organized by the Puritan leaders in England, as the colony grew, each new unit was set up as an individual community, semi-autonomous, and socialistic in its economic organization.
Each new township established by the Puritan elders had about six to ten square miles of land, effectively some 30 to 40 thousand acres, and each resident of a township had access to the community’s common pasturage. There was no particular ideology at work here, however, it was just the best way to organize a Godly community and, in many cases, they were simply continuing the traditional open field system they’d known in the Old Country, itself was a holdover from the middle ages. The main difference was that they were working the fields in common for their own benefit, not for some oppressive lord or noble.
As time went on, and austere virtue began giving way to unelightened self-interest and greed, regulating the fair and proper use of the common lands of the New England communities became more and more bothersome for beleaguered town elders having to discipline those who took more than their fair share.
In the end, the fact that most of the land in New England was ill suited to intensive farming probably had more influence in the breakdown of Puritan agrarian socialism than the economic superiority of “Capitalism” (which didn’t yet exist) or any other economic theory.
Many frugal Yankees found that building ships and transporting goods across the open seas was far more rewarding than the backbreaking work of being a Jabez Stone style farmer in a rock filled field. Moreover, it became a firm tenet of Puritan belief that material wealth was Jehovah’s way of rewarding the virtuous–and by the end of the seventeenth century, Yankee merchants had become very virtuous indeed.
But while greed ultimately triumphed over virtue in the Puritan heart, it should never be forgotten that the edifice of their later prosperity was firmly rooted in the solid foundations which Puritan Socialism laid. Indeed, the “City on a Hill” that is America owes farmore to early American Socialism in all its forms than most historians and popular pundits are still willing to concede.
Since the Reagan Era, the Democratic Party, despite having once been the standard bearer of the basic values of the New Deal, has continually failed to live up to anything remotely resembling its responsibility to the American public. The reasons for this have been obvious for some time, yet the party establishment continues to turn a blind eye to its own fundamental flaws.
The fundamental changes began in the late sixties, in particular with the 1968 Democratic Convention. That event was a disaster for the New Deal Democrats in a number of ways. First off, the convention marked the last gasp of the Democratic Party Dixiecrats.
Ever since FDR there had been an uneasy coalition of Southern Democrats, who espoused white supremacy but remained with the party for the benefits that the New Deal conferred on the South: rural electrification, the TVA, Federal road programs and other perks of being part of party which promoted national recovery; all this outweighed its increasingly progressive stands regarding its tilt towards civil rights for Southern Democrats. Also, the Democratic Party wasn’t the hated party of Lincoln—in essence they continued to vote Democratic because they were legacy voters. But when the party began seating integrated delegations for certain Southern states, the Segregationist wing finally walked out of the Democratic Party—and walked straight into the Republican Party. Since that time GOP has continued to use “dog whistle” politics to rally racists to their party, without overtly espousing racism.
Once upon a time, the Republicans had also benefited from their own legacy voting block—African Americans. For generations, the GOP was still the party of Lincoln to African Americans, even though the party had sold them out in 1876 to Southern whites, promising to end Reconstruction in order to retain the presidency. Then, in 1927, a massive flood of the Mississippi River inundated large parts of the deep South: 27,000 square miles of land was inundated up to a depth of 30 feet. 200,000 Blacks were flooded out of their homes and lived in relief camps for long stretches of time. While Whites and Blacks alike were affected, Blacks were neglected by the white leadership of the South. The Republicans made promises to African Americans to help them recover from the widespread destruction of their homes and livelihood, but many of the promises made by President Herbert Hoover to Blacks were broken. This caused widespread disillusion among a core constituency of legacy voters of the GOP and Hoover lost to FDR in 1932. From 1932 onward, Blacks began voting Democratic—not initially because the Democrats were all that much better, but because the Republicans had abandoned them. As time went on, however, the Democratic Party sided more and more with African Americans needs and wants.
Today we see a Democratic Party which, like the GOP of the 1920’s, has neglected and abandoned not one, but several of its core constituencies. In the 1980’s blue collar workers began voting Republican—the so-called Reagan Democrats—not because the Republicans were doing all that much more for them, but because the Democrats had taken them for granted and were doing nothing to secure their loyalty with positive programs. Worse still, many Democrats, seeing the perceived ideological success of the Reagan presidency, decided to abandon the ideals of the New Deal and started cozying up to the big money of Wall Street and started promoting anti-labor, job killing programs such as NAFTA (thanks for nothing Bill Clinton). These so-called Neo Liberals retained the superficial trappings of the party: nominal support of civil rights, paying lip service to women’s rights, and the preservation of Social Security and Medicare, if half-heartedly. But more and more, Neo-Liberals have been anything but liberal and more and more the docile lap-dogs of Wall Street banks. In effect, they have turned the Democratic Party into what has been dubbed “Republican Light” and as more than one political pundit has observed, why should voters turn out for a watered down Republican agenda, when they can simply vote for the real thing?
Americans of African Descent turned out for Obama in 2008 and 2012 in record numbers, largely based on his race, but also for his promises of real economic change. In 2008 Obama promised all Americans a fundamental change in the way politics would be done in DC; the Republicans vowed to block him at every turn. Sadly, the Republicans have largely succeeded, while most of Obama’s promises have been broken.
Even when he had a majority in Congress, President Obama did next to nothing to pursue the Progressive promises he had made to the American people. His political opponents labeled him a “radical leftist” and socialist, but in truth, Obama proved to be yet another Neo-Liberal, yet another Wall Street Democrat. To be sure, he passed some healthcare reforms; but it was the program first proposed by the Conservative Heritage Foundation—basically Romney care writ large.
On other fronts, Obama proved himself even less progressive and less reformist: his appointee for Attorney General was a Wall Street lawyer who refused to prosecute any of the criminal actions of the banksters and corporate thieves who nearly brought about world fiscal collapse. His Secretary of Education, it also turns out, was a big promoter of privatization of public schools—something which enriches private corporations at public expense and leaves public education worse off than if nothing had been done.
With Obama no longer around to turn out the Black vote, unless the Dems can offer solid economic and political reasons for them to go to the polls, it is likely African Americans will sit out the 2016 elections. Hillary Clinton has the endorsement of many Black leaders, true; but her Neo-Liberal policies will do nothing to help African Americans and may well prove very harmful to them economically.
Democrats of this Neo-Liberal stink tank school put great faith in demographics; they look at the growing numbers of Hispanics and other minorities and assume that these ethnic groups will automatically vote Democratic in coming election cycles. This is a delusion; if you do not give them a reason to support your party they will not go out and vote. The Neo Liberals want to have their corporate cake and get to eat it as well. They are so very, very, wrong.
Just as Blacks deserted the Republicans because the party had abandoned them, the majority of middle class Americans, as well as all those minority demographic groups Neo Liberals assume will vote their way, are at the very least likely to stay home and allow the reactionaries of the newer, uglier GOP to continue to rule. Sadly, many adherents to the Tea Party who call themselves Conservative don’t understand that the party they serve is out to savage their own Social Security, Medicare and VA benefits; by the time they wake to their mistake, it may well prove too late to undo. So it is very important for some alternative to the reactionary right to be presented to voters, and so far the Democratic Party has failed dismally at that task. If all the Dems can offer is the same old Neo-Liberal lies such as Goldwater Girl Hillary offers, the party has only a marginal chance of winning the White House and no chance of taking back Congress to actually get things done.
The future of the Democratic Party—if there is one—lies with listening to the voices of insurgents such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. People of all backgrounds, races and age groups are flocking to Bernie Sanders’ banner, not because he is particularly charismatic or charming—he is not—but because of the policies and issues he espouses. Bernie Sanders policies are not radically new, far from it; they are a basic reaffirmation of the New Deal agenda and its Progressive predecessors, adapted for the modern day. This is what voters are responding too and will turn out in record numbers for; not the failed policies that have transferred the wealth of the middle class to the 1% who seek to turn our nation into an oligarchy.
So long as the Dems remain wedded to Wall Street and economic abominations such as the TPP, the party will fail. Eventually, if both parties continue to kowtow to the Wall Street oligarchs, the banksters, and the neo-fascist Koch suckers, new parties will arise to replace them. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.
The foundation of Dr. Ben Carson’s political following rests on his credentials as a Conservative Christian ideologue; any of the pathological lies he utters about his personal past are ignored as the “Secular Humanist” Media, or alternately the imaginary “Liberal Media” distorting what their Good Christian Crusader may say, no matter how absurd or inconsistent it seems to all those not brainwashed into Religious Right dogma. So the fact that Doctor Ben has used fetal stem cells in past research is ignored, so long as he states he is against the use of fetal stem cell research. Likewise, when in the debates he states he is opposed to raising the minimum wage, even when last April he was for it, well, that’s just more of the Liberal Media trying to confuse us with facts. It is therefore irrelevant to his supporters that Doctor Ben is a pathological liar: he is a Good Christian (so he says) and that’s all they know and need to know.
Trying to cite facts to the true believers of the Religious Right is akin to how trying to argue with traditional Leninist/Stalinist true believers used to be: they have their dialectic and everything that does not fit into it is willfully ignored. So, when the Religious Right starts citing chapter and verse to justify trickle down economics and social Darwinism and all the other long disproved Republican propaganda masquerading as economics, it is useless to try to argue modern realities with them; their biblical dialectic won’t allow it. However, like many Bible thumpers who claim to take the Good Book literally and are fond of using it for their economic and political beliefs, Ben Carson and the Religious Right are notoriously selective when it comes to citing examples from the Bible. It goes back to the old adage: the Devil can quote the Bible to suit his purposes. It is therefore quite legitimate to call Doctor Ben out when he justifies his wrong-headed ideas by basing them on the Bible, when in fact the Old and New Testaments do not support or justify those ideas.
Let’s start with Doctor Ben’s latest honker about the pyramids being ancient granaries and then move on to his more dangerous theories. Now I make no claims to being a Biblical scholar, nor a theologian for that matter; but I did spend a few years of my mis-spent youth studying Ancient Near Eastern History and Archaeology, including both Egyptology and the history of Eretz Israel. I was taught by eminent Egyptologists such as Dr. Helene Kantor and Professor Klaus Baer, as well as other stellar luminaries of the Biblical history and Assyriology, and while I cannot claim to aspire to their expertise in the subject, I did manage to stay awake in their lectures to understand that what Doctor Ben and his followers believe is utter garbage. Firstly, the Story of Joseph, as recorded in the Old Testament, was written to about the eighth century BC, although it refers to events preceding the Exodus, which most scholars place towards the end of the New Kingdom, sometime towards the end of the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age (anywhere between the 14th and 12th centuries BC give or take). Now admittedly, since academics still debate about the date of Exodus, there is a bit of wiggle room here—but not a lot. The Pyramid Age—when the pyramids were constructed—was the Old Kingdom (ca. 2700-2100 BC), nowhere near in time to either the Story of Joseph or Exodus. The other fact is that the pyramids were primarily the tombs of the ancient kings of Egypt and while their also held the king’s treasure trove, they were never, ever used as granaries, either in the Old Kingdom or later: FACT NOT THEORY.
While Doctor Ben’s whacko theories about the pyramids may seem amusing, it points to a mind that is not only profoundly ignorant, but also refuses to learn differently. His pyramid theory was not just an off the cuff remark; the other night Steven Colbert’s researchers dug up an old clip of Carson as a young man also proclaiming the same theory. Apparently this man holds onto mistaken beliefs like a bulldog gnawing an old bone: facts that get in the way of his contrived theories are ignored. This man is dangerously ignorant.
If one were to use the Story of Joseph for something other than its moral teaching value (its original intent) there is, however, a lesson in economics to be learned from the Bible tale. Pharaoh, as you may recall, had a strange dream where seven lean cows devoured seven fat cows; Joseph was summoned to interpret the odd dream and divined that Egypt would have seven years of plenty followed by seven lean years of famine. So, according to the story, on Joseph’s advice, the Pharaoh did indeed build granaries to house the surplus—not give it away to corporations and billionaires—and when the lean years came, (as they always do) the food was distributed to the population. The Story of Joseph, therefore, is a classic example of the virtue of deficit spending during an economic downturn. The Greeks told a lot of false tales about the ancient kings of Egypt that we still hear, but whatever you may think of them, at least the ancient kings of Egypt looked after their people and made sure the poor did not starve—and if you want to look to the Bible for economic policy, the Story of Joseph is as good a starting place as any.
Doctor Ben has also cited the Bible as his authority for instituting a flat tax when he becomes King—I mean President. Here again, he has done a bit of selective reading when it comes to the OT. Yes indeed, the ancient Israelites did have a Tithe—a flat ten percent tax—on agricultural products; but they also had a Temple Tax, plus a non-agricultural Tithe—whereby you gave ten percent of your income to the poor! The Temple Tax was a small fixed amount regardless of income limited to adult males over 20; whereas the tithes were based on your income; that is, AN INCOME TAX. Now the tithes were actually proportional, which is to say PROGRESSIVE INCOME TAXES, since those who were poor were either relieved of paying the tithe or allowed to pay a lesser percentage than 10; conversely, those who were wealthy were obligated to pay 20% of their income instead of the standard rate. There were a number of other duties and customs as well: for example, there was the custom of gleaning, whereby the poor were allowed to go through the fields after harvest and collect the grains which had fallen to the ground and to take away whatever they could carry on their person. Unlike modern America, where law and politics are totally divorced from morality, despite the hypocritical utterings of the Religious Right, to the ancient Israelites the Law was fundamentally moral in nature and social justice was engrained into every aspect of it—kind of what we would call Socialism today.
Now, if we go to the New Testament, what we find is not Socialism, but outright Communism in early Christianity. Do phrases like “give up all your worldly goods to the poor and follow me” or “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to inherit the Kingdom of God” ring a bell? In fact there is a passage in the New Testament where it explicitly states that the early Christian communities held their property in common. This is where the old communistic tradition in Christianity comes from: be they the Benedictines (who ran my old alma mater) or the Protestant Amana Colony of Iowa, or splinter sects like the Shakers (good music, but the celibacy was a little rough on the early American pioneers so they kind of petered out). By comparison, Marxism is just a recent fad compared to the Socialism/Communism of the Old and New Testament.
Now I am not telling anyone to go thou and do likewise: the Bible is a collection of texts intended for spiritual instruction and moral guidance; it is not an economics textbook, still less is it a biology or climatology textbook. Evolution and Global Climate Change are scientific facts, not opinions; if your theology conflicts with scientific fact, the problem is not with the Bible, OT or NT, but with your interpretation of those ancient sources of wisdom. Don’t put that one on God; and don’t use God and the Bible to justify a hypocritical belief system which puts billionaires’ privileges ahead of the common good. You don’t have to use the Bible as your guide to economics, but then again, there are worse guides to go by for economic guidance—just don’t cherry pick what suits you.