What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it. Foundation dollars should be the best “risk capital” out there.
There are people working hard at showing examples of other ways to live in a functioning society that truly creates greater prosperity for all (and I don’t mean more people getting to have more stuff).
Money should be spent trying out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market. Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. It’s when no 13-year-old girl on the planet gets sold for sex. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.
It’s an old story; we really need a new one.
This quote from an article last week by Peter Buffet (yes that Buffet) entitled "The Charitable Industrial Complex" expands on one of the themes of my previous post, regarding how belief shapes what's possible. The mindset that creates a particular problem, that in this case requires high levels inequity as a structural necessity, cannot possibly solve the problem of inequity. It just seeks to put a smiley face on it, which is the mission of Philanthropic Colonialism that typifies the Gates and Walton foundations, and the ethos of Social Entrepreneurship in general. We get Teach for America and Charter Schools rather than a concerted effort to look at wealth distribution in this country, and to change the rules of the game. But that would require having a mindset that can see the problem from a stance outside the one that thinks the market is the solution to everything. It's refreshing to see that a guy like Buffet seems to be able to do that.
I was going to do a post over the weekend about the Reza Aslan interview on FOX, but it's become old news by now. I did want to say that it was one of those moments where you get an insight into how unself-consciously primitive is the tribal mentality of the cultural right. The interviewer seemed sincerely convinced that Aslan, a Muslim, could write a book about Jesus only for tribal motivations. As a Muslim, he must of necessity take a negative view of Jesus--what other reason could he possibly have for putting all that effort into writing a book about him? And the interviewer was hell bent to prove it. It struck me while watching the interview that so many on the cultural right cannot imagine anyone having motivations for anything that are different from their own. Aslan as a Muslim must look at Jesus and Christianity as Fox Christians look at Mohammed and Islam.
I thought that the Fox interviewer might have attacked Aslan for depicting Jesus as a political insurrectionist, which is really the main argument of the book as I understand it. Aslan is concerned only to understand the Jesus of history, and paints a picture of him that has been airbrushed away since Constantine. Aslan is careful to refrain from saying anything about the Christ of faith, but I will say that neither the Jesus of history nor the Christ of faith is particularly at home in the halls of imperial power. There's no real disconnect there.
That Jesus Christ could ever have been Shanghaied for the purposes of justifying imperial power is one of the most egregious distortions of his life and mission imaginable. The gospels are not a flag to rally 'round, but that's not something Fox Christians seem to understand, as they are equally incapable of understanding why the Jesus of history is such a compelling figure on his own terms for non-Christians to want to study and understand.
I'm probably not going to bother to read Mark Leibovich's This Town, the story of the root causes of Beltway dysfunction. From reviews of the book and interviews with Leibovich that I've watched, I haven't learned anything I didn't already know. But I suppose it's good to have someone work it into what appears to be a very well-written if disheartening chronicle. From Christopher Buckley's NYTBR review:
Anyone who’s lived in Washington for any length of time, listening to the latest candidate for the nation’s highest office thump the lectern and proclaim he is going to change the way we do business in Washington . . . will yawn. We heard rather a lot about all that in 2008. So, has Washington changed? Or as Sarah Palin would put it, “How’s that hopey-changey thing workin’ out for ya?”
The answer, according to Leibovich, the chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, is: yes, actually, it has, but not in ways that benefit the Republic that the founders bequeathed us and that we squander so promiscuously.
He adduces four serious — I’m trying to avoid saying “tectonic” — shifts that have taken place over the last 40 years. Combined, they make “This Town” read like the endgame chapters of Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” In addition to his reporting talents, Leibovich is a writer of excellent zest. At times, this book is laugh-out-loud (as well as weep-out-loud). He is an exuberant writer, even as his reporting leaves one reaching for the Xanax. As for those four big changes:
The big changes are the exponentially increased roles played in Washington by lobbyists, big money, consultants, and cable media. That part is not news, but he names names and provides details, but it doesn't matter who is implicated in this self-serving orgy. It's not the individuals who matter, but the corrupt system and its stolid resiliency. It's about the culture or the mindset that constructs a reality with its own rules and norms that, though distastefully foul for anyone who stands outside of it, works very well for those inside of it, and it's hard to imagine what might be powerful enough to dismantle it and replace it with something less shameful. There is no motivation for insiders to change it. Indeed there are too many disincentives that make any attempt to reform from within impossible. Some shock has to be delivered from outside.