In her recent blog post “Connecting the Dots”, Tara Thieke asks us to engage in dialogue together to examine the roots of social problems, including all types of violence from abortion to school shootings to foreign policies and trade policies that cause immense suffering. The most obvious rejoinder is that when we stop and think too long as we sift through all of the ideological noise for holistic approaches, we fail to take the incremental actions necessary to promote justice. From her past work, I know Thieke understands this struggle between reflection and action well. The ethos she has sought to cultivate in the Dorothy Day Caucus is to engage all perspectives, but not to let that engagement paralyze action.
Our society is struggling with vast ecological, economic and cultural crises. Every move that a government makes will be opposed by one powerful interest or another, and those who seek to thoughtfully engage all interests may be left thinking that almost any action will lead to massive unintended consequences. The ecological instability of our civilization was brought home to me with the recent fires that destroyed hundreds of homes in my area, and the mudslides that came with the next rains, which claimed the life of an acquaintance.
If, as many claim, these disasters are part of a pattern of global climate change, what should be done, when many of the proposed solutions are likely to cause economic disruption without necessarily addressing the problem?
Our economy, in addition to suffering from the effects of our ecological crisis, fails to provide an adequate income even for those who are working as hard as possible, largely because of a combination of greed and inefficiency in both the private and public sectors. What can be done? We could fund more government programs, but that would require tax increases that could hurt small businesses and the working class too. Tax the rich too much more and they will threaten to take their business out of the country. And all of that without addressing the ecological and cultural crises. On the other hand, cutting government services will not incentivize innovation as many conservatives claim, but will instead lead to chaos and suffering. Sarah Field captured these issues well in her recent post for the Kitchen Table.
Everyone agrees that our cultural crisis makes ecological and economic inefficiency much worse, but what can be done? The balance between individual liberty, family, community solidarity and global responsibility is nearly impossible to maintain well. People are either overworked or underworked; they are given great opportunities through increasing technology but become far too dependent on it; they either have nowhere to belong, or they are so loyal to their interest group that they fail to recognize the legitimate needs of other interests. Those who are proud of their conservative upbringings are now linking up with converts to religious traditionalism from the secular left (myself included), who believe we need to critique the sexual revolution.
Even as our culture changes, religious communities need to be given all possible room to make those critiques and live as good examples within the framework of their doctrines. If not, one of the more horrifying consequences is that many of those who feel left out of the current cultural direction, if they continue to engage in politics at all, will be targets for recruitment by the bitterest and most destructive elements of the alt-right. Meanwhile, lawmakers in some states will pursue policies that are harmful to the dignity of human life and the family, such as a bill in Washington state legalizing for-profit surrogacy and redefining parenthood. Those who grew up on the secular left are now linking up with people who grew up in a largely conservative environment who critique the failure of religious communities to live up to their high doctrinal standards. Many of them believe that intersectionality, a model that has gained mainstream interest after decades in academic social science and some left-wing spaces, can best build a framework to welcome those in marginalized spaces. But the focus on intersectionality leads to ideologically motivated attacks on some socially conservative women and racial minorities, who are treated as if they are brainwashed tokens rather than thoughtful individuals with their own experiences and ideas.
Thoughtful social conservatives do not want to see anyone in pain, but concerns about the unintended consequences of amending long-standing religious doctrines remain. Thus, it’s hard to build trust between sides of the culture war, which does, despite the declarations of some, continue.
Some of us have sought to find political alternatives. The “California Four” members of the American Solidarity Party who are running for governor, Congress or city council, seek to bridge the economic and cultural divides with dialogue rooted in love, but with firm policy priorities that would, all things considered, make people’s lives better if adopted.
There’s Desmond Silveira: https://ca.solidarity-party.org/desmond-silveira-governor/
Brian T. Carroll: https://sites.google.com/view/carroll4congressca22/
Ed Rushman: http://www.rushman.org
and Kevin Egger: http://www.kevinlegger.com
Along with the 2016 Maturen-Munoz campaign:
As well as last years campaigns by American Solidarity Party candidate Monica Sohler for New Jersey legislature:
And Chanda Crutcher, a last-minute independent write-in campaign for US Senate from Alabama whom the Dorothy Day Caucus endorsed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5pqe19YMMg&t=4s
Finally, there is the recent campaign by ASP member Mariane Bovee for Thiensville, Wisconsin village board. They all deserve our attention and praise, no matter their outcome. They will, through prayer, courage and a little luck, be the beginning of a new renaissance of candidates who run for office with the goal of pursuing solidarity. They, and those of us who support them through Imago Dei Politics, will take the best from religious frameworks like Catholic social teaching and Reformed social thought, ideological frameworks like Christian democracy, distributism and the Consistent Life Ethic, the multi-partisan American tradition of fighters for the working man through our elections and institutions such as William Jennings Bryan and Robert La Follette, the New Deal liberals and those conservatives who mounted reasoned critiques against growing federal bureaucracy while still insisting on the need for solidarity; and religiously inspired social movements like the Catholic Worker movement, the African-American civil rights movement, and labor unions from the Knights of Labor to Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers. We take what is good in these traditions, learn from their mistakes, and adapt them to our modern, even postmodern challenges. The new organization some of us who met through the American Solidarity Party are founding, Imago Dei Politics, will assist these efforts by examining elective and legislative politics through the religious framework that many are looking for; the belief that, though politics in itself cannot be in the image of God, we must continue the fight to keep the ethos that all are made in the image of God within the public discourse.
As it is now, though, no wonder, with all the confusion and political paralysis discussed above, that many fail to prioritize the most important places where action is needed, as captured well by some examples in the beginning of this recent First Things essay, “Goodbye Heraclitus,” in which the author wonders why there aren’t as many protests about the addiction crisis and student loan crisis as over the antics of the Trump administration and its Democratic opponents.
Meanwhile most largely give up on political action and hold on to whatever normalcy is left, and say, like the women of Canterbury in T. S. Elliot’s Murder in the Cathedral faced with “king’s rule or baron’s rule”: “We do not wish anything to happen… For us the poor, there is no action; only to wait and to witness.”