Monday, April 27, 2009

A Personal Note on Praxis and Spirituality

Praxis involves reciprocal and mutually informing interaction between theory and practice for the purpose of transforming the social world toward greater equality and personal liberty. My approach to praxis also holds that we humans are born with an innate need for positive recognition and connection to our fellow humans that is every bit as fundamental to human life as the need for food and water. In fact, as psychologists who study early childhood teach us, we will not become fully human unless this need is met. We are born needing to care and be cared for.

I further believe that this innate need for recognition and connection to others has an intrinsic spiritual wellspring; and that this need is systematically frustrated and retarded by our capitalist market society that encourages individualistic competition and self interest at the expense of all else.

Growing economic fears in the midst of market society's failure certainly are central to the insecurity and pain people feel. But this hardship is also connected to the widely shared belief that we cannot count on each other to stand up to corporate and governmental power or to provide adequate caring to those of us who will be hurt when corporations downsize and outsource our jobs to the Third World.

We are taught that we live in a meritocracy where people wind up in whatever positions we hold in society either through our own talents (if positive) or our own fault (if negative). Many of us learn to become highly cynical and to watch out for number one because we cannot trust anybody to be there for us if we fall.

Such cynicism is rooted in a deep belief that nothing about our social world can be fundamentally transformed. Many of us are caught in a thick web of pessimism and cynicism that leads us to question any higher purpose in life beyond materialistic self interest, and centrally involves using other people from the standpoint of what we can get from them. We are rewarded for the degree to which we are willing and able to put our own interests above those of our friends and neighbors.

But human beings hunger to be recognized by others and cherished for our own sakes, not valued only for our achievements and possessions. We yearn for communities of meaning that transcend competitive individualism. The economic crisis and the crisis of meaning are two sides of the same crisis. Most of all, we want an ethical and spiritual framework that gives our lives higher purpose.

The Bible has some 3,000 verses on the poor and on the obligation to fight poverty and to stand with the least among us. There are no verses that tell us to serve those who already have the most with policies ensuring that they get ever more. Nowhere does the Bible tell us to value wealth over work, the rich over the poor--or that war is the first and not the last resort.

Jesus would say to the rich, as in the 25th chapter of Matthew: "I was hungry. I was thirsty. I was naked. I was sick. I was a stranger. I was in prison. And you didn't come to see me. You didn't minister to me. As you've done to the least of these, you've done to me."

I am not a Christian, but I understand the core ethic of Christianity and all the other great world religions as teaching us that our deepest moral commitment is to each other--that we are all in this together. And this ethic is of course also central to all varieties of secular liberal philosophies.

My approach to praxis endeavors to address our need for meaning and higher purpose in the context of class-based oppression with its roots in the injustice of our economic system. But this oppression cannot be overcome only by providing adequate economic resources and health, education, and welfare services--as crucially important as these material resources are to human well being.

Rather, we must strive to frame every social issue in terms of the infinite preciousness of every human being as inherently deserving of compassionate care and respect; and encourage middle income and poor people to become allies who understand that we are all in this life together as the miraculous embodiment of spiritual energy. It is most important to understand social policies in terms of the fundamental unity and oneness of all life in the universe, and to work to build a society of greater equity and personal liberty on this basis.

Politics is not at bottom about the struggle for power, but rather calls for a social and world-wide movement whose goal is to nurture our souls. Politics is above all else a manifestation of the spiritual and ethical consciousness of humanity.

Every major reform movement in America--from the abolition of slavery, womens suffrage, child labor reform to civil rights--has been motivated by this core understanding as informed by a deep spiritual faith and a moral compass that insists on human equity and individual liberty.

And so I call on all people of good will--people of faith and the secular-minded alike--to challenge the rich and the powerful to change their ways and policies to include all of humanity in sharing the bounty of the creativity and productivity of all the world's peoples. I embrace Dr. Martin Luther King's wonderful vision of America and the world as "The Beloved Community" where everybody has a place at the table--especially those who were left out and left behind. These get a front-row seat.

Finally, I call on all of us to stand together to serve the common good--to do the best we can on behalf of the least of us, which, in accord with all the world's faiths, turns out to be on behalf of all of us. There are no divisions.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Voices of Redemption

Following is the forward to a book, Voices of Redemption: Our Road Toward Effective Change, edited by prisoners with whom I have worked in the past.

This pamphlet, produced by Siddiq A. Najee and Ronald Funderburk Day on behalf of the men at Fishkill Correctional Facility in New York, is a moving testament to the living power of redemption against the odds of the punitive incarceration visited upon populations throughout America--where cold winds have blown violently to the political right over the past quarter century. Yes, I say "violently," because the social policies that have disenfranchised more than two million men, overwhelmingly poor and of color, and have slaughtered poor people of color everywhere in the world for the greater glory of the American Empire, are incalculably more destructive--and therefore, far more "criminal"--than all the crimes committed by the inmates of prisons throughout the land.

I want to make the charge that these men are victims of toxic social circumstances that early on drained the hopeful spirit from their childhood lives and inexorably led them to their current situation. The sociology is compelling: Certain unforgiving places in inner cities all over America form a relentless and grim machinery that regularly feeds men into the nation's prisons. I am sure that many of us more favorably shined upon by dint of our social class (middle), place (secure and comfortable), and race (white), if similarly thrown into this maelstrom early in our lives, would find ourselves today in the same beleaguered position. The ultimate answer here is the elevation of all parts of the human family to a relative equality of condition--to the dignity of place and opportunity that ought finally to realize the American ideal thwarted for so long for so many: "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." A second American revolution is in order.

Which is not to suggest that any of the men who so poignantly bare their souls in these pages construe their plight as being solely the result of victimization by terrible circumstances. None take that escape route. Rather, each man writing here takes full personal responsibility for his past aggressive acts. Each has internalized the ennobling message of existentialist philosophy: I make no excuses. But each man also has learned to see through and to rescind the fool's bargain he once accepted in withering his soul's birthright by becoming the stereotypical criminal of the public's fear-mongered imagination. Instead, each has reconceived, reconfigured, and is now living his life for the good. Each is redeemed.

Bruce Luske,
February 14th 2007

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bury My Heart in Kingston

After a lengthy illness over the past six years, my hope for America's future died yesterday. It succumbed during an electrifying meeting in Kingston, New York, between local citizens committed to the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney for their many documented crimes against the American and the world's people, and their erstwhile exemplary progressive Congressman, Maurice Hinchey (D Hurley). After listening to a number of ethically and logically unassailable and eloquent arguments for impeachment put forth by his constituents, Congressman Hinchey responded first, by expressing his total agreement with the substance of these claims. Then he launched into what I experienced as a tortuously technical and legalistic explanation as to why he could not and would not support the growing popular movement for impeachment--which the latest Zogby poll shows 53% of the people support-- regardless of the passionate urging of his constituents to do so.

The lynchpin of Hinchey's argument is his no doubt sincere tactical judgment that, since impeachment is impossible to achieve as a practical matter, he therefore would not "waste his energy" pursuing it as a moral obligation--this despite his sworn statement central to his position in the Congress to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Asked why he would not at least sign on in support of Dennis Kucinich's bill calling for the impeachment of Vice President Cheney (HR 333), he claimed that the Kucinich bill was itself unconstitutional because it circumvented the House Judiciary Committee whose job it is to initiate articles of impeachment. While perhaps technically accurate, Hinchey's logic here is like comparing the "offense" of a high school student who slaps his dozing classmate awake to that of another kid who brings an AK-47 to school and slaughters the senior class. We are in the midst of just such a grave national emergency!

Still, I fear that Hinchey's main strategic point will prove to be essentially correct. In fact it is at the root of my despair for America's future. He told us that in his judgment no more than 100 Representatives in the House would ever support any bill for impeachment, and since a simple majority of 218 votes is required to impeach, it could never happen. Many of us argued that this view was far too static and as such overly pessimistic, and therefore, likely to create a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. The groundswell of popular support indicated by recent polls suggests that the nation is on the cusp of a sea change whereby--especially given more publicly outspoken leadership in Congress by such as Hinchey--upwards of 75% of the people would support impeachment. And this great popular pressure could bring us to the 218 votes required. But alas, our vehement entreaty fell on deaf ears. Hinchey would not be moved.

It must be granted that Hinchey's gloomy prediction that the 218 votes required for impeachment is an impossible hill to climb may well prove to be correct. And this realization, not Hinchey's tactical intransigence, is the more profound core of my despair. The truth is that the American people have been betrayed by the People's House. As the Bush administration continues to take a wrecking ball to the institutional and legal structure of American democracy, and with 17 months to go (if indeed the 2008 election is not cancelled), the vast majority of the people's representatives who apparently will not vote to impeach have violated their sacred legal obligation to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. The people's only remaining recourse, which Founders like Jefferson and Madison themselves would certainly advocate under these circumstances, is to take to the streets in all manner of civil disobedience in a last-ditch effort to avert the final destruction of American democracy.

Otherwise, Here Lies America: R.I.P.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Life on This Earth

The following passage was written by Georges E. Sioui, Huron tribal leader and President of the Institute of Indigenous Government in Vancouver, Canada. He perfectly expresses my view of the human condition.

For human beings there is really only one way of looking at life on this earth, and that is from a sacred circle of relationships among all beings, whatever their form, and among all species. The great danger we face is that of reaching a point where we no longer see life as a vast system of kinship. Strictly speaking, there are no peoples, races, or civilizations: there is only the human species, one among many species of beings. Indeed, this species is particularly weak and dependent on other species and their constituent families--animal, vegetable, and mineral; material and immaterial. Furthermore, there is only one civilization appropriate to human existence: the civilization of the Circle, the Sacred Circle of Life. Human societies are of just two kinds: those that recognize and live in kinship witihn the Circle, and those that have forgotten the Circle.

Monday, August 13, 2007

On Academic Freedom

What follows is an adaptation from a number of source pieces going back to mid-September 2001, and relies especially closely on a missive I received from Z-net at the time. I used this material to construct an Op-Ed piece for my Marist College radio show with Igor Volsky sometime in 2005. I think the issues addressed here are daily becoming ever more urgently relevant in this outrageously lawless period of the imperial Bush Presidency.

Freedom can be definied (in part) as follows: The absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice of action. Academic freedom participates in this definition by means of the protection of free speech in the U.S. Bill of Rights. This issue is by no means only theoretical or academic. It centrally relates to the everyday struggle to practice democracy in America. The people have a duty to insist that our leaders foster freedom, liberty, and democracy.

The idea that self-government is predicated on free speech is a brilliant and powerful one. The protection of free speech is the most noteworthy and exalted contribution to this American experiment in democracy--an experiment that is now gravely threatened by the far right, thus spurring a burgeoning movement to impeach Attorney General Gonzales, President Bush, and Vice President Cheney.

The day the principle of free speech is officially and permanently revoked is the day the experiment in self-government is officially over.

I understand that free speech is never absolute, even in the university with regard to the issue of academic freedom. For example, in the broader society no doctor has the freedom to prescribe the wrong medicine on purpose or to give patients deadly verbal advice. Nobody has the right to threaten someone with bodily harm or to commit fraud. Or teach that six million Jews committed suicide in Europe in the 1940s.

In the university context of academic freedom, to take two admittedly extreme examples, no biology professor can teach that the moon is alive, nor can a psychology professor argue that adult sex with small children is acceptable. Such speech is clearly irresponsible.

In American Republican Democracy free speech was institutionalized not to protect all speech, but important speech--the speech most likely to be suppressed by authoritarian elites precisely because it informed the people and offered a perspective unpopular to these elites. The most important point to keep in mind in this conection is that speech always takes place in a context of power relations.

Let's take the notorious Ward Churchill case. Churchill is the University of Colorado Professor of Anthropology and Ethnic Studies who lost his position as Chairman of the Ethnic Studies Department, and who was recently fired outright through the collusive action of the Colorado Legislature and Governor, because of the controversy connected with his post-9/11 essay, "The Chickens Come Home to Roost."

This is Churchill's thesis: The long history of U.S. policies and actions in the world has been aimed at domination and exploitation--including genocidal campaigns against indigenous people at this country's founding all the way to post-World War Two assaults on people of the Third World. These policies have resulted in the killing and injuring of millions of people and have bred a passion for revenge that was bound to blow back on U.S. society. And this is what happened on 9/11. Churchill is saying, above all else, that we must admit and study our violent imperialistic history and these connections if we want to stop further crimes committed either by the U.S. or against the U.S.

In my opinion Ward Churchill may have been guilty of excessive inflammatory rhetoric in his piece, but not of false statements of fact. And we all know that most politicians are guilty of both (particularly endemic to the Bush White House). I think Churchill is in fact correct on the central issue of his much maligned piece.

But whether one agrees with Churchill's particular argument or not, in my opinion the chief function of scholars in the Liberal Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences in the university is to remind the social order of its broken promises, and to insist that they be kept. And the biggest broken promise in U.S. history is the betrayal of fully democratic processes in America and the world, and the failure so far in our history to realize the promise of individual liberty in the context of relative equality of existence for all.

Free speech in all its forms is essential for the struggle of the vast majority against unaccountable elite power at all institutional levels of society; and for those who advocate for this majority to develop our ideas and strategies effectively so as to build solidarity between the professorial enclave in the university and the great mass of the population.

In fact the university is virtually the last remaining social space whre people have the right--indeed, the obligation--to speak freely. Everywhere else in society there is the growing chilling effect of an etiquette that says it is rude or even dangerous to speak of politics and religion. There is a dramatic narrowing of domains for public conversation and debate. So I am committed as a matter of ethical principle to opposing any attempts to weaken academic speech on American campuses.

I am a tenured professor. Tenured academics are a very rare and privileged group. Untenured social critics among the professoriat often shut up or never make it to tenure. I am realistic and know that for untenured faculty, their jobs are always potentially in jeopardy, and sadly, they therefore are obliged to mind what they say until their job security is assured. The issue of course, as always, is power.

By the time many professors earn tenure they too often have become cowed celebrants of the academic status quo, so used to being silent in order to survive that their ability to speak up, even in self-protection, has often left them. Still, we must resist any attempts to severely limit or eliminate tenure, because tenure is meant to guarantee that the professoriat can freely engage in controversial but responsible speech. Of course tenure never guarantees lifetime employment, but only the ability to be secure from capricious termination for one's views (allegedly, but don't ask Ward Churchill).

But beyond the issue of tenure, every constituent of the university, whether faculty, staff, or students, ought to have their right to free speech affirmed and legitimated as a fundamental right of citizenship. We should be prepared to fight, if necessary, to maintain our right to speak freely.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


When the Constitution elites breach,
We the people must impeach.
This is our sacred obligation as American citizens.

In The Beginning...

Hi people,

Today I begin this blog in response to the request for same by my beloved long-time colleague at Marist College, Dr. Mar Peter-Raoul, because she believed my commentaries can make important contributions to public citizenship, in particular issues involving matters of spiritual and political ethics. Well, Mar, here goes...