Fundamentalism, Corporations & Globalization
Or Individual Vs. Collective Rights & Responsibilities
By John M. Kelley
The argument that Democrats must frame their perspectives in some form of religious valuesӔ is a huge mistake in that it plays into the hands of the right by assuming that within Judeo-Christianity there are agreed upon objective moral values. The real issue is an ongoing argument within religion and society as to the source and nature of moral values. Agreement on these values is based on a persons ability to abstract, their personal experiences and their cultural framework. Above all it is being influenced by an immoral value, the exception for unbridled greed.
I would posit that there is a huge societal disagreement about the difference between Judeo-Christian philosophy which represents collective rights and responsibilities and Judeo-Christian mythology, superstition and dogma which represent individual rights and responsibilities. This conflict is further aggravated by scientific reason which tends to support the Christian philosophical view of collective rights and responsibilities vs. the economic interests which supports the Christian dogmatic view of individual rights responsibilities.
While this conflict is long standing it had maintained some equilibrium with albeit slow (and at times arguably absent) progress towards a more humane world until recent events primarily the technological advances of telecommunications and the fall of the Iron Curtain created unrestricted mobility of capital. Finding in common their promotion of individual rights and rejection of science that challenged either dogma or profits, the multinationals and fundamentalist Christians have found common cause in an argument to support both their moral superiority and their pocketbooks.
The sources of morality that have fed this conflict through the years are strongly related to a personsҒ ability to function as a processor of abstract information and their perception of the role of spiritual beliefs in their lives. Their determination of the source of moral judgment decides the expectations of the state in the expression of individual and collective rights and responsibilities through both law and policy.
The Overseer God View
The first I call the Overseer God View, the idea that there is an all powerful, all seeing God who unilaterally determines right and wrong. That God punishes some and blesses others in accordance with their compliance with specific rules. Acts are clearly right or wrong, black or white even though religious texts may have conflicting information.
This has strong appeal to the person who is primarily a concrete thinker. They have difficulty understanding abstract collective rights and responsibilities, applying rules to exceptions and tend to be fearful in their approach to their spiritual beliefs. They are big on original and literal interpretations. Unable to understand abstraction they are bound to the symbols, analogies and metaphors as literal and consequently, they are guided by superstition and mythology. Moral rule is determined by an outside force and punishment and reward is imposed in an afterlife if not in this one.
This means they prefer the Ten Commandments to the Sermon on the Mount because they were written in stone, both figuratively and literally. They tend to believe in conformity itself as a value and mistakenly think that it can somehow eliminate fear. They view right livingӔ as complying with this external code and tend to view those who disagree with them as being evil. They want religious law imposed as civil law. They view societys obligation as the imposition of their law on others without any other obligation other than the offering of salvation.
This approach represents an exclusionary ғus and them mentality which dehumanizes nonbelievers. The belief is that an individual has only the freedom and obligation to conform to the law or suffer retribution, consequently punishment in any form is seen as an expression of GodԒs will. The value of life is sacred because it is given by a God and absolute except for sinners which are expendable.
The Intermittent God View
This group tends to also represent people who operate on a mix of concrete and abstract thinking. They believe in a higher power and that it has the ability to intercede, but also believe in free will. They tend to believe that God is willing to help when doing the right thing and to allow you to pay the penalty when you are not. Somewhat like the assistive nurturing parent, a sort of June and Ward Cleaver type.
They tend to be moderate in their views and can change their minds about what is right or wrong depending on how it affects them personally, the further away the relationship, the more dogmatic, the closer the familial or personal relationship with the sinner the more accepting. Their feelings about life being sacred have more to do with their empathy for victims rather than any spiritual beliefs. They believe in charity and think social engineering might work but tend to be easily swayed into thinking of the law as a form of retribution or deterrent.
They do believe in science but also god, not sure where the two intercede. They feel that supernatural forces might be possible and may intercede but doubt it, they believe mostly that their lives are up to them but do ask for spiritual help as a kind of insurance, just in case you can get help and there is a hell. They tend to be unclear about the where religious law and civil law ought to interact. They participate in organized religion because it gives them a sense of community and it is the right thing to doӔ or for their childrenӔ even if they are not sure why.
The Metaphysical View
This group of people would tend to agree with the view that the universe is God and it is evolving as a process of expressed reality. They like the concept that that energy is the source of their consciousness and physical being therefore the universe being made of energy must have a consciousness as well. This view is very abstract and is held by many who are primarily abstract in their approach to what they prefer to call spiritual beliefs.
When they participate in religionӔ it is primarily to gain communal feelings of belonging and reassurance of personal values. This energy is seen as positive and evolving, like the Buddhist view of a non-theistic spiritual energy which is the universe of which the individual is a transitory part and are guided by situational philosophies as opposed to rigid dogma. They see mans basic nature as good.
They tend to think reincarnation may be true and if there is another life, it may be determined by their conduct in this life, karma and the golden rule predominate their thinking in moral values. They believe the source of moral values is individual and a product of free will. They tend to judge themselves by their actions and seek to avoid judging others in concrete forms such as law unless these offenses reach the level of being condemned across cultural and societal lines. They view law in the larger context of social policy and seek a balance between punishment and prevention, with an eye toward the later.
They view the individual as having a soul which transcends space and time or reuniting with all souls in the God figure. Many believe in supernatural forces but are less inclined to identify them specifically, although many believe in spirits. The value of life is situational depending on the needs of the individual and the circumstances, as life is eternal, hard and fast rules are not necessarily sought. Most support a clear line of demarcation between church dogma and state law but believe that their philosophy should be reflected in a public policy of prevention, intervention and rehabilitation. They tend to participate in the community in secular causes based in their personal interests.
The Biological Mechanistic View
They believe in a completely physical view of the universe and that God is doubtful, non-existent or at the very least, ironic. They believe that life is a combination of statistical chance and free will. They tend to be non religious and if they do participate, do so for reasons of community more then moral guidance. Laws are seen as being based on social compacts between people in order to get along with one another, which in fact was the reason for the original Ten Commandments.
Norms tend to change with time or culture and circumstance with the majority of decisions being seen as personal and out of the realm of state regulation. They tend to lean towards social engineering models of achieving changes in the level of criminality. They tend to agree with the metaphysical group in the application of philosophy to social engineering but in the name of cost effectiveness and humane treatment rather than spiritual principle. Moral judgments are seen as the evolution of cultural and societal norms which means that life is dependent on time, circumstances and varies with the needs of the individual vs society. Life is viewed not as sacred but conditional.
Lack of Religious Homogeneity Produces Inherent Conflicts
The nature of a society that has divergent views of the source of morality results in serious conflicts. The conflict between the different groupҒs above views of the source of morality is a source of friction and divisiveness. The fact that most of the founders were deists was not the only reason for establishing a government based on equality and justice as opposed to divine rights, they also recognized that the diverse and dogmatic beliefs in American religions would soon wreck the new nation if they were allowed to dominate decisions on law. Consequently separation of church and state was seen as essential to the fledgling countrys survival.
These conflicts persist today. While most people think murder is wrong, most disagree as to a universal cause, response or even what murder is. Is self defense murder, what is self defense, and is it someone attacking you or just coming in your house? Obviously the answers soon become schizophrenic with no universal one right answer, setting off individual and cultural conflicts.
While all agree that murder must receive some societal sanction most agree there should be some discretion for its definition, individual circumstances or rehabilitation. Laws and punishment vary widely from state to state. In some states the criteria for sanity are situational in their application while in others like Texas insanity is almost impossible to prove, because it is so narrowly defined.
Punishment is similarly disputed. While there is a group of Christian Reconstructionists who believe that the death penalty should be widened to include the stoning of adulterous women, others believe that there should be no death penalty at all, clearly a conflict between concrete dogma and abstract situationalism. In Texas the death penalty is considered sacrosanct even though there is no payoff for society in either cost or deterrent value and innocent individuals have been known to have been executed.
Views on abortion also reflect this conflict. Most Americans view abortion in the first trimester as acceptable, and after that acceptable only if it endangers the health of the women, but not for sex selection or reasons of preference. Is abortion murder when implantation in the uterus is prevented, such as with the morning after pill, is it murder in the eighth month when a child is found to be horribly deformed or without a forebrain?
If as a society we want abortions prevented, than do we have a responsibility to provide the information and means to prevent unwanted pregnancies? Those who are against abortion seem to argue that while the mother and father should be responsible for the unwanted child, society bears no responsibility for their education of preventative means. This is not the general rule that American society has followed that has served us well. This allows rigid moralists to avoid the very societal obligation that they would impose on others.
The civil argument historically has come down on the line of when does the societal interest trump the personal interest and then it supposes some societal responsibility for prevention, intervention and rehabilitation as mitigation. Society decided not only was slavery wrong, but it must be against the law in all of its forms, and passed laws to make restitution and take corrective action.
The reality is that society imposes these definitions by consensus, it decides on what is a crime and whether crimes are strictly the responsibility of those who commit them or whether society bears a role in the creation of the circumstances led to its commission and how much, how much responsibility any one person bears and if they can be rehabilitated. The resolution of that argument in this country has been a compromise between those who believe in a mixture of social engineering to prevent crime and attempted rehabilitation vs. those who believe in total personal responsibility, compliance and punishment as the only answer. The extremes would be a culture of dependence and license or completely the other way where there is a culture that abandons any societal obligation and forms a prison state.
The Common Denominator, Collective Rights and Responsibility
Because there is not universal acceptance of the determination of morals in our diverse society what has evolved is a balance between individual rights and responsibility and collective rights and responsibility. What had previously been accepted and is currently threatened is that collective rights and responsibilities were necessary for the protection of individual rights and responsibilities.
Men evolved not in a world of private property but of common property. The group was in ownership of most land and as a group created the rules and customs by which they lived. Their fate was collective even where there emerged individual leaders. Individual rights and responsibilities were available only based on the protection of the group and within the collective rights and responsibilities. You may own your own hut but you shared pasture and communal responsibilities. You may have individual rights but they are only enforceable against a bigger individual if your neighbors are willing to help you insure them.
The introduction of the concept of private property and currency fractured the old social contract, absolving individuals from collective responsibilities because it severed wealth from physical property. The need for wage workers and the erosion of local economies replaced the old collective contract with a new economic one.
While private property and a cash economy freed to some extent the rich from the poor, the restrictions of economic and geographic locality of the nation state kept their fate tied together and under the rule of a civil authority still giving those on the bottom some power to rein in the power of capital. The simultaneous evolution of representative government or the threat of revolt (economic or civil) in modern economies kept some accountability in the system to maintain some reasonable bottom and a middle class to support civil stability and wealth production.
Because the individualҒs fate had been severed from the collective fate, a compromise evolved that if a behavior is criminalized, than we have as a society an obligation to try and prevent that behavior, rather than just punish it. Consequently charity, social reforms, economic reforms, prevention and rehabilitation programs were accepted as the responsibility of the nation state as the balance to criminal sanctions. This allowed business to avoid their collective responsibility and give it to nation-states but compensate for at least part of the cost through the payment of taxes and the acceptance of reins on its power in the form of regulation.
That view, combined concrete and abstract thinking and reflected the pragmatic evolution of morality that advanced, no matter how haltingly at times, toward a more humane and just society and maintained some consensus across religious and cultural lines. In its simplicity it has established that there must be a balance between individual and collective rights and responsibilities in light of the new social contract.
Economic Influences, the Finger on the Scale
The economic forces have always bridled at their responsibility in this social contract, always seeking to further sever personal profit from collective responsibility and consequence. Collective responsibility and rights represent a challenge to corporations on an equal playing field, while individual rights do not. In a case of individual right vs. individual right, the outcome almost always favors the individual with the most resources. The elevation of corporations to individual entities having the same rights as humans, while denying humans the right to collective rights, is like shooting one fish in a barrel at a time.
As business is amoral, it has taken different directions at different times in history but always aligns itself with any moral value which it views as producing the most profit. The civil war when viewed from the viewpoint of conflicting economic systems was actually a contest to free capital from collective responsibility. The north had transformed into an industrialized capital production system free from both land and labor. The South represented a collective production of capital tied to both the land and the slave, a clash with the individualized system of industrialized wage slavery in the north that limited the entry of northern capital into the southern power structure.
While the ownership of other human beings as immoral is not disputed, northern industrialists claimed less collective responsibility for its workers than did slave owners in the south. In addition to profiting from war contracts northern capitalists were able to break the social contract inherent in the southern economy and spread the individualism that allowed them to gain control of southern resources, develop southern industrial power and rob poor whites and newly freed blacks alike.
While the north gained control of southern industry and resources, blacks stayed in non slave bondage, until society under pressure from the demand for collective rights, sought to correct the fault with the civil rights movement one hundred years later. Similar conditions in industry brought about the union movement and collective bargaining. The right has fought affirmative action and other programs meant to mitigate the severing of the social contract for collective responsibility through the advancement of an argument for individual and property rights. Business joined amoral greed with moral authority to accomplish its goals.
Another way that business avoids collective responsibility is to quantify the value of human life individually, avoiding that individuals value to the collective welfare. Value of life is relatively assigned by its ability to produce private wealth for business and is bereft of any moral value. For example, the family of a CEO who is wrongfully killed is due millions while if their child who has no education or income is killed, they have no reimbursable value.
We have even codified it in civil law concerning wrongful death. Poor people are valued less then rich, foreigners less then residents, white more then colored, working age rather than young or old, low-paid less then high-paid. Rural and poor boys are considered worth less then urban and wealthy when recruited for the military and women even less. While in the advance of corporate gain, death of a perceived enemy is actually considered a sign of heroism and honor regardless of whether they pose any threat to the collective good. In this system, Martin Luther King would have been valued by his ministerҒs pay rather than his contribution to society and Jesus, by all accounts an itinerant beggar, nothing.
The ebb and flow of individual and collective rights and responsibilities has reflected the process of merging the social needs of the state for order and collective security, individual needs for freedom, religious beliefs and economic forces. Most often economic not moral forces have been the determining factor. Currently the economic forces have lined up with those religious/moral philosophies that support a view of excessive individual responsibility and repressive societal interventions. Business now seeks to discharge itself of the rest of the social contract. Both tax contributions and regulations that limit or demand mitigation are being discarded in the name of personal responsibility and individual corporate rights.
Unholy Alliance: Globalization and the Religious Right
Business supports private property rights not because it wants to protect you but because without collective rights the person with the most capital always wins in a battle of individual/property rights. Business hates the Environmental Protection Agency, the United Nations and other organizations that represent collective rights. Collective rights protect the individuals under their protection against large predatory economic interests.
The hate for collective bargaining, social security, health care insurance by business is based in the power of collective rights to prevent the exploitation of common resources and individual effort for private profit while making public the inevitable social, health, environmental or other financial costs.
The destruction of the Native American Nations were based on first demonizing them, appropriating their property and confining them to a reservation, then awarding plots of land to individuals who could be bought, bullied, or swindled. The process used currently by the religious right, business and government elements as their tool seek to do the same thing to those who oppose the final destruction of collective rights and responsibilities. In this country that means liberals, trade unionists and free thinkers. Hugo Chavez and various indigenous groups represent this threat in South America as does anyone that rejects trade agreements because of their destruction of collective rights and responsibilities. Islamofascism is just one extreme reaction to this pressure.
Globalization as pointed out by Zygmunt Bauman in his book Globalization: The Human Cost, seeks to elevate private rights to the supreme value. Corporations, while touted as collective efforts, are legally individual entities and treated as such under the law. Having achieved the same rights as humans they have now become superhuman. In addition to being immortal, they have limited (and rapidly disappearing) civil and no criminal liability (you cant put a corporation in jail), modern telecommunications has removed them from the confines of time and space (capital can be moved instantly anywhere in the world) and therefore they are not only superhuman but are supernational.
All around the world, every day a political entity is held hostage or wrecked by the transfer of capital to a more willing or corrupt region of the globe. Free trade treaties now supplant local laws with individual citizens, NGOs and government entities being sued for interference with corporate profits for insisting on the previous balance between collective responsibility and personal rights be enforced and maintained. No longer needing the laws of the localized nation state to defend them from the anger of the local populace rebelling against uncontrolled exploitation, they are free to rape and pillage moving instantly somewhere else in the world once they are done.
The view of the Overseer God, that individual responsibility is the only moral value, ignores both the collective right and responsibility leaving the fate of the individual to himself and not the responsibility of the group. Business which has long loved and supported the Protestant ethic that each manҒs fate is his own and he who doesnt get his reward in this life will get it in the next, finds the overseer God a perfect companion for the unbridled acquisition of property at the expense of individuals through the crushing of the collective rights of the community whether expressed by a union, an ethnic or religious group, or a country.
Corporations, and their owners whom have already shed themselves of personal responsibility, have now shed themselves of collective responsibility through the mobility of capital and the moral authority of the right wing Christian movement to justify their behavior. In trade they have given financial and media support to a group of superstitious and mythology believing concrete thinkers who are more than willing to impose moral sanctions under the power of the state on others in the name of personal responsibility.
The result is a new form of theocratic fascism (the merger of business, church & state) where the only laws that will apply are those that control individual behavior and corporations are freed of all collective responsibility including taxation and regulation. Social programs are discharged as irresponsible reduction of personal responsibility or unsupportable in an era of reduced taxation. Nation states and other government entities become simply enforcers for the church of inquisition era moral law and as armies for corporations against cultures and nation states who resist the loss of collective rights and responsibilities.
John M. Kelley is a teacher, philosopher, writer, artist, political activist, singer of ballads, rebellious Irishman and agent for change who worries daily about the world he is leaving for his grandchildren. His blog is at http://www.mytown.ca/johnkelley