The Confusing New World
Written by:
Joe Morris Doss

The vote by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union has caused all of us to sit up and pay attention to new realities. No one is confident of predicting where that decision may lead, but we all know that important things are going to be different. The fact is, this crisis is due in large measure, perhaps decisively, to the way everything is already changing from what we know and assumed to be relatively permanent.

Even though we know better, we still tend to see history as leading up to now, and somehow feel that this is fundamentally the way it will be – adding in the improvements and rough bumps in the road – world without end. Most of us picture Western history roughly in terms of a movement from the primitive life of tribal hunting and gathering, to agriculturally based ethnic communities that began to settle in defined territories, to a civilization of empires, to some dark ages, that in turn gave rise to rule by feudal lords, and then built to the establishment of princedoms and finally monarchical nations having ethnically homogeneous populations, to culminate in nation-states, increasingly governed as liberal parliamentary democracies, finally forming an international community of nations that hold a rather broadly based common vision of international law and human rights. From here it should be onward and upward with that!

But of course history is always on the move and suddenly we are starting to feel like we are on a runaway horse without a good grip on the reins or a saddle with stirrups. We are in the beginning stages of a technological revolution, which for the time being we might term “the digital age.” But we are also in the crisis of going from a world order grounded in nation-states to, well, whatever globalization is going to become. Already we have gone beyond the straightforward and exclusive governance by governments, and the populations within national territories are less and less defined by a homogeneous ethnic identify.

Governance now occurs, not only through governments that are accountable to the people of a state, but through decisions made and actions taken by market agents (such as multinational corporations, social entrepreneurs, and micro-financiers), inter-governmental organizations (IGOs), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Some facts to ponder:

  • As of 2010, there were about 200 nations that have relations with one another;
  • 130 of the countries were unable to feed the population, and had to rely on the generosity of outside resources, many if not most provided through NGO and IGO operations.
  • There were close to 100,000 multinational corporations that constantly negotiate with governments and one another;
  • There were at least 50,000 transnational NGO’s (Non-governmental Organizations) that consulted on international laws and treaties and intervene in conflict zones to provide assistance to regimes and peoples in need (There was only one as of 1970: Common Cause, a watch-dog organization in the US made famous for the Watergate Reforms)
  • Of the 100 largest economic entities in the world, half were companies. At the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, corporations had their own pavilions alongside countries;
  • HSBC had 20,000 offices in 83 countries, 300,000 employees, and 150 million customers.
  • More than 100 countries have external voting rights for citizens of other countries in diaspora and 11 reserve seats in parliament for them.
  • In 2006, people of the US (not the government) sent $192 billion to the developing world – most of it in foreign investment, portfolio capital, foundation grants, and philanthropic giving.

A random list providing some sense of NGOs:

Americans for Informed Democracy, World Economic Forum, CARE, Save the Children, Mercy Corps, US Committee to Expand NATO, Clinton Global Initiative, Peace Corps, U.S. Overseas Private Investment Company, Global Business Council for HIV/AIDS, International Campaign for Tibet, Lighting a Billion Lives, Open Society Institute, The Soros Foundation, International Crisis Group, International Rescue Committee, National Solidarity Program, Business for Diplomatic Action, The Business and Human Rights Resource Center, Human Rights Watch, Transparency International, AccountAbility, LeapFrog Investments, The Self-Employed Women’s Association, Kiva, World Wide Water, Clinical Directors Network, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, Institute for OneWorld Health, Habitat for Humanity, International Union for the Conservation of Nature

Only governments, and international organizations founded by governmental accords and agreements have the traditional sort of direct accountability to a population that provides legitimacy of power.

Businesses are directly accountable only to shareholders.

NGOs are accountable to standards set by donors, charities, customers, and their own competition. The legitimacy they are granted depends on their authority of expertise, impartiality, representativeness, and transparency of operations.

The ability of NGOs, as well as businesses, to leverage technology and capital enables them at times to bypass governments altogether.

It is a confusing, churning international picture, within a hot house of rapid change and newly arising realities: new powers, failed states, multinational corporations, organized crime, cyber crime, drug cartels, terrorism, powerful families, increased percentage of wealth in the hands of a decreasing percentage of individuals, vast amounts of inherited wealth, religious radicals, humanitarian philanthropists, powerful and independent organizations, and on and on.

Technology and money, not sovereignty, seems increasingly determinative of who has authority and calls the shots.

No wonder we feel that little ol’ us lacks agency. “Grab a ‘hold and ride,” seems more like the order of the day.

But, stand by, more coming.


Who’s in Charge?

Written by: Joe Morris Doss

Democracy is supposed to maximize the agency of the individual citizen, to give everyone, to the extent possible, the opportunity to control her or his own destiny together with fellow citizens. Today, few of us in the United States who are ordinary citizens feel that we have much of a say. We share a profound sense of being out of the loop, in some else’s control, helpless. This is leading to rather scary possibilities. I make no secret of my most immediate fear that could come of this: election of a pseudo-strong-man hyper-nationalist who will “take charge” by running over whole categories of population that he opposes and seek fatuously simplistic solutions that will not come close to working, but instead can be devastatingly counterproductive. Whatever may come in the fall, the fact is that our collective sense of being out of a political ballgame that feels rigged begs some analysis and evaluation.

It will not surprise anyone that people of faith are unsettled by the institutional decline of the church and by the overwhelming secularization of western culture. A society that has no faith in religion, and takes so little interest in transcendent reality, will become faithful only to matters that cannot ground us and are bound to fail us. If being out of touch with reality is the definition of insanity, then it is hardly surprising that human society seems increasingly crazy, for it is more and more out of touch with the fullness of reality. It is especially dismaying to a Christian to grasp how misunderstood the gospel of Jesus Christ is within this society – despite the assumption that it knows all about it. In fact, the Christianity that is popularized in American society comes closer to the first century pagan religious understandings of God and humanity than to the vision of the man from Nazareth. But let’s come back to this after some consideration of facts “on the ground.”

We will need to think about this in a series of offerings. This will be more productive if you contribute to our thinking about why we feel that we lack the personal agency that we once enjoyed. Nothing would be more helpful than a conversation. I would be happy to post whatever you have to say.

I have to begin with an admission that I don’t understand the world as clearly as I used to think I did.

I wrote a book (The Songs of the Mothers) in which I asserted that the world is changing so much and so rapidly that the church, as an incarnational faith, was going to have to change in order to adapt to it, and serve it as the body of Christ. Thus did I predict the coming ecumenical reformation and issued a plea that we begin reforming now – even if full and ecumenical reformation is not so immediately at hand.

I based this assertion regarding the church’s reformation on the premise that there have been only three watershed reformations (The Constantinian Settlement of the Fourth Century, the Gregorian Reformation that established the Medieval Church, and the Protestant and Catholic Counter Reformations of the Sixteenth Century) and they came about because of two simultaneous forces. First, there was, in each instance, so much pain being experience by the faithful within the church that the internal call for reform was insistent. But at the same time, the world was changing so profoundly that the church too had to adjust just as radically, by way of reform.

That brings us to the question of what is forcing change in the world today. Historically it takes a turning point crisis or a technological revolution to bring about the magnitude of change the world is in the process of going through. Today we have both. We will begin our discussion there.


The Power of Guns and the Power of Symbols In the Making of a Violent Society

Written by: Joe Morris Doss

Guns are powerful. Symbols are powerful. There is a connection here that must be recognized and appreciated. How they are used together is crucial.

There was a time, as early as the 19th century, when western people regarded symbols as mere signs of something else; a sign that wasn’t the real thing but represented something that was. This was before the discoveries of modern science, such as neurology, and the advances in certain scholarly disciplines such as those of anthropology, psychology, literature, and religion. Now we realize how experience of the symbolical is among the most powerful ways for human beings to be in touch with, and form our sense of, reality. The impact of something genuinely symbolical is to inform us of what really is, and to experience it even when what we are experiencing seems abstract, or extra-sensory, or perhaps “other worldly.”

A gun is a powerful symbol. It is a sign of something very powerful indeed and through the way we experience guns we find ourselves defining and shaping reality to suit what it stands for, in terms of and responsive to what it represents.

Every dramatist knows a certain rule: “if a gun appears on stage it has to be used.” That rule must not be broken, because a gun is such a powerful symbol. It represents something that becomes expected upon sight and that something is so absolute, prodigious, and profound that it overwhelms all other expectations and must be fulfilled. The audience letdown if the play does not fulfill the expectation of what it’s mere presence represents will overwhelm whatever does happen on the stage and cause disheartening disappointment.

The Christian Church that uses sacraments understands symbols. A sacrament is a symbol of the transcendent. We say that the church is the body of Christ. We say of the Eucharistic sacrament that it is the real presence of the body and blood of the risen Lord. We say that the use of water and oil in baptism employs elements of the earth to reveal, and effect, a reality that includes but is also transcendent of the physical universe. We say that that marriage is a symbol of the love of God for people and all of creation.

The Church understands the symbolic power of a gun.

To cut to the chase, let us say that we understand how allowing everyone to have guns without controls over who has them and what they are used for is shaping our society into one that is more and more violent. In the time in which gun control has become a pressing issue of debate the amount and use of violence has increased dramatically, together with the anger, depression, prejudice, frustration, and mental instability that are the underpinnings of violence. Studies, we understand, show this quantitatively and qualitatively. But the ordinary person living in the United States does not need a scientific study; we experience it. We can see, hear, touch, taste, and feel in our gut that increasing level of violence on the roads, in the markets, in entertainment and the news, within our groups, and pervading our communities.

Perhaps it is worth noting that those churches that do not oppose the proliferation of guns, that do not take a strong position in favor of gun control, are churches that do not have sacraments and perhaps do not recognize the power of symbol as clearly or with as much experience.

It helps to comprehend how guns-out-of-control forms a symbol of violence-out-of-control. But even if some Christians lack full appreciation of the symbolical power of guns, surely it would be difficult to imagine that the man from Nazareth would have stood with the gun lobby.

The Christian Church must rise together and demand gun control.


Where Is the Leadership of The Military and Law Enforcement in Protecting Us Against Guns in the Wrong Hands?
Written by: Joe Morris Doss

Shame on you, Officials of Law Enforcement!

Shame on you, Leaders of the Military!

Trained officers who use guns professionally, and lead men and women who use guns professionally, know what these killing instruments are for and what they are not for.

Why are you not standing up and demanding that society rid itself of the wrongful use of guns through controls you know very well how to set up and employ?

Why are you not leading the rest of us in the establishment of laws that limit the use of guns to what you as professionals understand to be intentions that are suitable and right?

We take note that you do not allow anyone to go onto military posts with a gun – including soldiers – with the singular exception of military police. Yet, you say nothing as criminals, drug dealers, gangs, and kids walk the streets of American cities, towns, and villages with guns in their pockets – as innocent citizens are killed in our land each and every day.

The truth is that you have the standing, authority, and respect to succeed in providing the leadership needed for gun control. Why do you fail us?

You talk about providing leadership, but you fail to provide it at the most fundamental level of your professional aims. You claim that the very purpose for your existence is to protect citizens, but you fail to do the single most obvious thing you can to actually protect us – prevention of violence. Prosecutors and judges, people throughout the system of criminal justice, claim that they are working for our protection – including putting away human beings who use guns wrongfully – and yet do nothing about having the guns themselves put away.

Enough!

You are guilty. You are in neglect of your duty.

You are called upon to turn about and act in accord with your purposes as law enforcement and military leaders. You are called upon to demand laws that effectively protect the innocent people of the United States from the foolish proliferation of weapons of war and crime!