Belief and Dogma in These Times

An small anecdote. An eminent conservative traditionalist scholar of Islam from a certain country tweeted about their country’s mosques re: the coronavirus pandemic. In it, he stated that those coming to prayer must have gloves, a rug of their own, must not shake hands, and that it is not necessary to line up shoulder-to-shoulder. I glanced down and saw a reply:

May Allah reward you well…would you kindly provide evidence that “the worshipers do not have to line up and do not converge” in this case?

In this new era, where everyone will have to adapt in order to protect each other, someone is asking for evidence. Is there a precedent, I imagine a hadith, that is attributed to the Prophet Muhammad that confirms this change in the prayer in extraordinary circumstances?

Here is an example, one but not unique, of the line of thinking that leads to dogmatic (and perhaps fatalistic) religious worldviews that secular people rightly cannot understand. I’m sure this person was being sincere, so maybe I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill. And I do not mean to paint with such a broad brush, but it is a sample of the conversations and experiences I’ve also experience in Muslim communities. I see this and worry a bit. Do we need evidence to keep our distance in practicing our faith without the worry or threat of contagion, endangering not just the men standing next to you but their families and anyone they come into contact with as well?

Belief doesn’t need to rely on looking back to old world thinking or an over-reliance on others. For me (because I always only speak for myself) it is an opening up to possibilities beyond the material and should aid in our progress towards an appropriate mission, caring for the material and spiritual needs of all creation. It brings confirmation that the human journey is much longer and deeper than what we experience it, not as some deviation from a more pious past.

Another anecdote. A different scholar, American, but no less traditionalist, tweeted regarding mosque closures in other countries. This is in response to someone sharing a link about why UK mosques have remained open:

In other times, it’s an amusement at best or a nuisance at worst to see ill-trained students from madrasahs try to flex their literalist muscles against critical thinking and common sense. Right now, this attitude will inevitably cause deaths and cannot be tolerated. Avoid socializing!

More rational, yet quite a few pushed back on and felt scholars and their institutions were being attacked.

This is why I haven’t chosen to ‘self-quarantine’ myself away from the orthodoxy. This is why I have to look more closely and critically into the history, the power relations, the primary and spurious secondary sources of my adopted belief system much more than following personalities, also swayed by their education, yes, but by their own histories, reactions, and opinions to the times.

And this is what belief brings me. It brings me some sense of serenity (some, I say) to prepare for the oncoming of what the troika of crises (coronavirus, climate, capitalism) will bring about. It is spiritually lonely, I admit. But it squares with my reality much more than arguing about mosque closures. Talk to some Muslim women who have been boxed out of the mosque explicitly or otherwise for their entire lives and pray at home.

The Qur’an, the starting point and end point of Islam, is dynamic, filled with signs and admonitions to reflect upon. But it will only remain so in the hearts of dynamic, open-minded individuals who choose to prioritize it over the whims and opinions, however educated, of other humans. The times are strange and filled with uncertainty and disinformation.

Playing Against A Stacked Deck

“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” — D.H. Lawrence from his Studies in Classic American Literature

A thing I’ve noticed on Twitter, besides the obvious Bernie Bro myth and especially after the Super and Mini Tuesdays, is the disgust by some liberals when those on the socialist left say they will withhold their vote for Biden in the future. I’d like to unpack this a bit. To be very clear, I don’t know what I will do if Joe Biden is the democratic nominee. I’m not saying yes to voting, and I’m not saying no. What I want to do is try to explain why some on the left need to withhold their vote come November.

For the last few months, from afar in my corner of Galicia, I’ve watched with resignation as the American media and the DNC elites have manipulated public opinion against Bernie Sanders, while scaring everyday voters into believing Joe Biden is the one to take on Donald Trump.

I will call out my own biases before I get into everything. The nation, now more than ever with the omnipresent coronavirus and its lethality, needs:

  • Universal healthcare in the form of Medicare for All, guaranteeing free-at-the-point-of-service to anyone and everyone residing in the United States. This is even more obvious with the pandemic. There is nothing radical about universal healthcare and would only align us with most major industrialized countries.
  • Climate action in the form of A Green New Deal. This is a no-brainer. Anyone who squawks about how we will pay for it is either engaging in a bad-faith argument, does not understand the consequences are already being seen and experienced around the world and even in poorer communities than their own, or does not value human life and a thriving biosphere for future generations. Or they’re billionaires who will blast off to Mars or somewhere else before it gets really dire.
  • The further democratization and progression of American social, civic, and political life. Here is my catch-all for making the country more equitable to all, in the form of stronger unions, better wages, more police accountability, tuition-free college, cancelling student debt, dismantling the carceral state, abolishing ICE, etc.

Many people believe Trump is an existential threat to the world. Words like fascist, white supremacist, or nationalist are used. I use them. In a sense, I believe all are valid and true. Closing the border to vulnerable immigrants, whose own countries were destabilized by our own government (some from the Obama administration) is odious. Given the impending climate catastrophe, there will be even more refugees and the world needs to move beyond the conventional paradigm of the nation state to accommodate these issues.

But I will call out bullshit when I see it. Joe Biden will not return us to normal. If he even wins the nomination at all (the political and nepotistic baggage of Hunter Biden and his post at a Ukrainian firm has more implications than Hilary Clinton’s emails), his obvious cognitive decline in the last four years is a huge liability. His continued contempt for the working class and millennials is antagonistic. Plus, back to normal is actually pretty terrible for many people. Largely, white democratic moderates were thrilled during the eight years of the Obama regime. I was one of them for many years. I voted for him twice. But politics was de-emphasized for many who saw him as a decent man. Let’s remember Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, the bombing of a handful of Muslim countries,

If you’re reading this, you might have found this through Micro.blog or Twitter. There is a large concentration of white moderate technologists on those sites. Perhaps you consider yourself on the left. Perhaps you think we’re out of our minds. Well, maybe. But here it is: there is no normal anymore. We are facing a choice that has global ramifications for better or worse. We cannot go back to centrism or rely on elites to dictate what is politically possible. The future is unwritten and remains in our hands.

This is not a post villifying the electorate for turning on Bernie Sanders. I get we’re all shell-shocked from four years of Trump. But I have seen, again from afar and from interactions with friends and family back home, how utterly manufactured this democratic primary process has been. Matrix fans might call it the red pill. But reading Marx, understanding our historical antecedents, and marinating in independent left media gives more perspective than the neutral horse-race mentality of the bought, billionaire-funded mainstream media.

So if you’re still reading, thank you. If you’re asking us in good faith why some would ever abstain and not “Vote Blue no matter who”, hopefully I can add another voice to that. Let me walk you through why the socialist left feels so dispossessed of any real power, and why a possible demonstration of our collective leverage might be to withhold our vote in strategic situations. Again, I am not trying to advocate this particular thought. I don’t know what I will do. Harm reduction voting might need to take place as well. There’s still a lot of primary to go, and everything is very much on unstable ground in these times.

Democratic Elite Consolidation before and after South Carolina

With the Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada primaries, there was already something strange going on. They scrapped the last major poll of the Des Moines Register before the caucus, apparently due to a complaint from the Buttigieg campaign. Some reporters who had seen results said Bernie was in first with his largest lead. That is not insignificant.

Then there is the night of the Iowa caucus. Pete Buttigieg declared himself the winner without any of votes being counted. Some, not me, will explain this away by saying the Buttigieg campaign had favorable internal data. Okay, but if it was so good, why not wait? Regimes in other countries have been toppled for less. Bolivia comes to mind. And it was wrong anyways. Bernie Sanders, in both the first caucus vote and the re-alignment, received more of the popular vote than Pete.

So why did he do this? Media narrative, I assume. Iowa is not a delegate-rich state nor is it representative of the democratic demographics of the country at-large, so the narrative driven by the media is super important going forward into the New Hampshire primary. For people paying attention, earned media is huge for momentum in these early states. In a crowded primary race, it was important.

How about the Iowa app, created to facilitate precinct captains and the Iowa Democrats to count votes and do strange (I’d argue unnecessary) delegate math? It was created by the mysterious tech startup Shadow and their think thank ACRONYM. I won’t get into the details about this. More ink has been spilled elsewhere and I’ll link to some at the bottom of each section. Regardless, ACRONYM’s founder Tara McGowan’s husband worked for the Buttigieg campaign in Iowa. Conflict of interest? Yes. Also, linked to the app/think tank are the Pod Save America crew. Google it. They waved it off with some phony outrage on the episode after Iowa. But my question, since the beginning, is this: Will anyone be truly held accountable? America basically caught the Iowa Democrats fixing or manufacturing results.

Despite the numerous irregularities of all that went down, Troy Price, the former head of the Iowa Democrats said the party would not re-evaluate the false delegate math. As of today, Sanders has over 2,000 more votes, 1 less state delegate equivalents, and oddly, 2 actual delegates less than Buttigieg. That’s a head scratcher.

You can say all these things are unfortunate circumstances or you can it for what is is; an attempt to rig the Iowa caucus in favor of someone who toes the Democratic Party line more than Bernie Sanders. It’s not a tinfoil hat scenario. It’s Occam’s Razor.

The democratic endorsements pushed Joe Biden into the spotlight.

  • Pete Buttigieg came in 2nd in both Iowa and New Hampshire and 3rd in Nevada. But after South Carolina, he drops out and the next day throws his support behind Biden. This is the guy who said Joe Biden was not right for the times and that a new generation needed to take up the mantle.
  • Beto O’Rourke called Joe Biden a return to the past. Suddenly, at exactly the necessary time (you know, when Bernie Sanders was looking to run away with the contest), Beto endorses Biden. Hmm.
  • Amy Klobuchar endorses Joe Biden.
  • Kamala Harris, who called Joe Biden out in an earlier debate on his racist, segregationist opposition to school busing, endorses him as well.

Biden was practically written off before the South Carolina primary. Conventional wisdom was that Biden just loses primaries. He has for all the previous presidential primaries. Obama picked him to assuage white voters for his own run in 2008. It was strategic.

And here’s a thing that annoys me to no end. Like Hilary, Biden is a manufactured avatar of a ‘good politician’. Collectively, we whitewash the horrible shit they have done as politicians. You know who hasn’t engaged in support of toppling the Honduran government or opposed busing or wrote the crime bill that has left countless black boys and men behind bars so much so that our prison population exceeds China’s? Bernie Sanders. Enough said.

Joe Biden has baggage. His brother, his son, himself. These are all liabilities that will absolutely be weaponized by Trump. Indeed, he’s already started. Can we just side-step this whole mess and vote for the policies who most of the democratic electorate agree with (minus the DNC)?

I decided to cut this short and not bother with links. You can find all of this easily. I might take this down at some point. But here it is. I would love to hear any comments or criticisms in the comments.

The White Moderate: ‘The Greatest Threat to Freedom’

I‘m writing something about what’s at stake all of us this year in US electoral politics, but these words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 16 April 1963 in a Birmingham jail cell feel very apt, considering that the Democratic National Committee seems hellbent on preserving its elite hegemony.

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”

Prescient? No, Dr. King was diagnosing the white moderate in his own time, it just so happens the white moderate has not evolved one iota since then.

And if that offends you, maybe take a step back; read a history book, see what’s happening in the country. Leave your middle-class bubble, or your ideological comfort zone, and recognize there is injustice and urgency everywhere.

The Nevada caucus is tonight and the collective party leaders of DNC, some of the moderate candidates, the NV Democratic Party, and other superdelegate have thus far:

  1. Signaled they prefer a brokered convention in Milwaukee to stop the current democratic front-runner Bernie Sanders
  2. Required caucus volunteers to sign NDAs to silence them post-caucus, just as Elizabeth Warren went after Michael Bloomberg for his myriad NDAs protecting himself from sexual harassment claims (accused by more women than Trump, by the way)
  3. The Washington Post releasing an article the day before the Nevada caucus alleging Vladimir Putin is helping Bernie Sanders’ campaign
  4. Democratic apparatchiks comfortable with a former republican Bloomberg’s bid to buy the nomination.

We’re at a crossroads and I’m not sure the white moderate sees it very clearly. They are comfortable in their material conditions, handcuffed to believing what is politically possible are limited to empty gestures which Nancy Pelosi deploys in front of Trump or the cameras, ignoring the complicity of establishment democrats in Trump’s massive military spending, among other things. Let’s learn a little about the world and understand that the democratic majority of this country is hurting. Let’s learn from Europe, South America, and everywhere else and get into the streets to demand what we need to thrive.

Dr. King’s socialism is often erased by moderates, but he saw our impediments to racial and economic justice back then, just as Bernie Sanders and his movement see it clearly today. Of course, income equality is even starker today than in the 1960s.

Let’s see what happens in Nevada. But white moderates should educate themselves on what’s really happening behind the curtain of their incrementalist dreams. White moderates should listen to the scientists, that tell us incrementalism is not feasible for planetary survival. Not anymore, not ever.

Trump is odious, but the enemies to a democratic, multiracial, ecological society don’t end with him.

I’ll finish with another MLK quote.

If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life, she, too, will go to hell.

Bernie Sanders and the movement are demanding un-radical things, but the white moderate has blocked all attempts for the last fifty years.

  • A living biosphere
  • Political power for the working class
  • Universal healthcare
  • The rich to pay their fair share in taxes
  • Student debt cancellation

Let’s see if they try to stop us in Nevada.Thanks for reading, seriously.

Spain’s First Communist Minister Since 1939 On Communism

Alberto Garzón on 1 May 2018, Source: WikiCommons

Some of my favorite pieces written in English on contemporary Spanish politics come from Eoghan Gilmartin and Tommy Greene and this interview in Jacobin Magazine with Alberto Garzón is no exception. Previously unpublished as part of a broader interview for the Tribune done back in April, the general coordinator of United Left and Spain’s first communist minister (of consumer affairs) since the Second Spanish Republic shared his views on communism:

“My communism isn’t a folkloric, symbolic, or aesthetic communism that simply lives through nostalgia. It’s a way of confronting the social and environmental problems we have, in the face of an economic system which is leading us to disaster. It works off the etymology of what “radical” means — that is, to get to the roots of problems. So, my idea of communism is very open. Perhaps in other countries it is understood in another way, but in Spain the communists are those who helped bring about democracy in the 1970s and who defended the Second Republic in the 1930s. Communism doesn’t have the same connotations that it may have in Eastern Europe, or in places where anticommunist propaganda has been extremely effective. And this vision of communism needs to understand the need to reckon with the problems that face us today. Historically socialism hasn’t taken on board questions like feminism and environmentalism, but these need to be incorporated. This isn’t new — it has been the case since as far back as the 1980s. But Spain is one of the countries in the world where feminism is currently strongest, and we’re one of the European countries that is going to be most heavily impacted by climate change and ecological collapse. We need to build a space that I would call “eco-socialist” or “eco-communist” — although at the end of the day, labels don’t interest me that much. I’m a lot more concerned with people understanding what it is we want to do — to construct an alternative to a society dominated by the accumulation of private profit.”

North Americans are still getting used to the idea of democratic socialism with Bernie Sanders as an alternative vision to the inequality of New Gilded Age. There, communism still has much more baggage. But here in Spain, the communists helped bring about the transition to democracy after the death of Franco. And these communist parties in Western Europe were quite different than the Bolshevik variety, though the PCE has recently returned to its original endorsement of Marxism–Leninism. I’m interested to see how the reactionary right responds to Spain’s new coalition government in the new year.

The Republic We Want: Spanish Republicanism and the Crown

2012 Demonstration against Labour Reform
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Source: WikiCommons)

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.” — Ursula K. Le Guin

King Felipe VI of Spain is here in Galicia. I normally don’t keep up with his movements, I only saw he was in the area when Xuventude Comunista, the Galician youth wing of the Communist Party of Spain tweeted some photos of their protest against him speaking at the University of A Coruña. Patricia’s grandmother also told me that he will stop in O Grove for the Atlantic Forum and to make an appearance at the Festa do Marisco. I’ve only read about it around the edges, but it sounds like a Davos forum for Spanish business and political élites.

To have a king in the 21st century. I assume some hardly think about it. But others, regionalists, younger generations, leftists, imbue the situation with deserved thought, criticism, and nuance. These people are repúblicanos, and advocate for a Third Spanish Republic. Not a party (like in the United States), much less a coherent voting block, Spanish republicans see an unfinished project in la transición, the transition from a fascist one-party state to a constitutional monarchy, and must deal with the consequences of political instability in the historically two-party system and growing fascism on the right with Vox.

While there still exists an aristocracy in America, like most countries with similar situations of income inequality, our history of tolerating monarchism ended with the loyalist refugees fleeing to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick after the Revolutionary War.

Spain’s trajectory with monarchism is different, of course. Today, the Crown enjoys support from around half the country, depending on poll numbers. Many older Spaniards I’ve talked with tell me Juan Carlos I did what he could with what he had at the time.

In 2007, only 22% favored a republic and in 2008 just 16% (7% claimed they were Juancarlistas, supporters of the king without a preference on the fate of the monarchy after him) But since the 2008 financial crisis, the string of royal scandals (including the Felipe VI’s brother-in-law, African hunting photos, infidelity, etc.), repúblicanismo is rising in Spain. And many are dreaming of a Third Spanish Republic.

El Confidencial had a recent poll in June of this year regarding preferences for a republic or monarchy. 46.1% of Spaniards now prefer a republic (with 50.8% for a continued monarchy, and 3.1% undecided).

I chose some of El Confidencial’s datapoints, both strongest preference per system including one in the middle, and added them here:

Republic Monarchy
Age
18-24 70.4% 26.1%
25-34 54.8% 44.6%
34-44 52.3% 44.5%
55-64 35.7% 61.4%
Voted Party (April)
Partido Popular 7.8% 90.7%
PSOE 51.6% 44.5%
Unidas Podemos 86.0% 9.3%
Community
Andalusia 23.5% 75.1%
Galicia 51.6% 45.6%
Catalonia 74.0% 21.6%

A majority of those polled who were born after 1975, the year Franco finally died (I’m not sorry, good riddance) prefer a republic, but stronger amongst the youth. It’s not surprising when broken down by party. The troika of right-wing parties, Partido Popular, Ciudadanos, and Vox all favor a monarchy by at least 82%. What’s interesting to me is the historical nationalities of Galicians, Catalans, and Basques being more inclined for a republican system, arguably giving more decentralized power to the autonomous communities, while the rest of Spain, specifically Andalusians interested in retaining the monarchy.

My question really is this; will we see a Third Spanish Republic in the next twenty or thirty years? And when it happens, can it endure? We can dream.