politics and paradise
Posted by Simon Parke, 21 April 2017, 4.34pm
I’d like to get to the present election campaigns being undertaken in the UK.
But to get to the topical 21st century, let us start in the equally topical 14th century…and the Peasant’s Revolt.
John Ball was a leading figure in this movement and on 13th July, 1381, he said this in a sermon on Blackheath:
‘Things cannot go well in England, nor ever shall, till all be held common; till there be not bond and free but we are all of one condition.’
Inequality of wealth did not exist in paradise, he said, and are we not the children of Adam and Eve?
‘When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?’
‘We share the Eucharist but we share nothing else! It is an abomination!’
Such clear and rooted socialist thinking would not appear again until the 17th century in the heated Putney debates, attended by Oliver Cromwell and other members of the army leadership.
Thomas Rainsborough, who represented the Levellers, said:
‘I think that the poorest he that is in England, hath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear, that every man that is to live under a government, ought first, by his own consent, to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not bound, in a strict sense, to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under.’
Equality of being was not just a pretty idea but had direct political implications.
Everyone must have the right to vote!
Well, four centuries on, everyone does have the right to vote, (it took awhile) so progress on that front.
But on the wage equality suggested by John Ball?
We have the opposite of progress there.
In the twenty five years between 1986 – 2011, the top 1% of earners saw a rise of 117% in their income, averaging £135,000 a year.
Meanwhile the lowest paid 10% saw their wages rise by just 47% to an average of £15,565 a year.
To those who have more, more will apparently be given…
So where is the equality in this?
Meritocracy has replaced aristocracy, but looks very similar to the previous model, and is no more just.
Any government worth its salt, any government in touch with paradise, must surely be working to address these pay differentials?
At this point, you may or may not be wondering, ‘What would Jesus do?’
In my experience, Jesus usually does whatever the person asking that question wants him to.
But let us at least try to allow him an independent existence.
Jesus was political to the extent that he upset the fragile balance of power between the religious and political authorities.
When he violently threw over the tables on the money changers in the Temple, he threatened the religious establishment.
What did they do?
They went straight to the political authorities for help; they were sort of hand in glove with each other, each propping up the other, a conspiracy against the
dispossessed and those outside the circles of power.
But ultimately, Jesus was not political, in the sense that he believed in a life beyond money, believed that economics were not the last word…or even the first one.
In short, ‘It isn’t the economy, stupid.’
From his recorded statements, he was much more interested in beautiful attitudes and the coming of the kingdom of God within; in teaching about trust and prayer.
He understood the power of money to corrupt…see his advice to the rich young ruler, ‘Sell everything you have’.
And his Temple violence was aimed at commercial exploitation in a supposedly holy place.
But he also said: ‘The poor you will always have with you,’ which has proved true, because power has always liked itself more than the poor.
(In their household arrangements, the Communist powerful have always looked very similar to their fascist counterparts.)
This all asks very difficult questions of careless capitalism, of course.
Like ‘Whose side are you on?’ for instance.
But it poses equally awkward questions for a socialism that, like its capitalist counterpart, starts and ends with money; which forgets its roots in the equality, connectedness and sheer joy of our origins.
In short, socialism becomes stupid when it adopts a shallow materialism, when it has no life other than pay demands.
In the TV series Boardwalk Empire, Nucky Thompson looks back on a life which took him from dirt poor boy to wealthy crime Lord in Atlantic City.
‘When I earned my first nickel,’ he said, ‘I thought I was the luckiest man on earth, until I earned my first dime. And then it was a dollar…’
And from there, an endless and brutal search for more…and then more, the joy of that first nickel quite lost…
Materialism appears charming at first, who doesn’t want to earn more? I do.
But it is, in the end, a charmless friend whose company offers less and less human happiness.
Socialism needs more than this, it needs the joy of Eden for its energy, if it is not to become as dry as careless capitalism, its materialistic sibling.
All materialism, in the end, goes mad.
The rich, in their fear and their greed, demonise the poor and talk their drivel and nonsense about having ‘worked hard’ for what they have.
(No, really, the woman who walks thirteen miles a day to collect water, she works much harder than you, and with less security.)
And the poor, in their jealousy and rage, demonise the rich, as if they have somehow ceased to be human, as if they are inevitably bad.
Cue Madame Guillotine!
She will demonise, she will separate, she will make all things right!
But no, this doesn’t work, not on any level, because we are equal, whatever our bank account, neither better nor worse but equal in glory.
Indeed, we are not just equal, we are one.
The universe, from God to the goat, from the war to the dinner party, from murderer to majesty, is one connected fabric.
As has been said, not two tapestries but one; and one cotton holds and links them all.
The problem with a label, religious or political, is that it separates, it removes the link… when all is connected.
This is the fundamental absurdity of the politics played out before us at election time.
The parties badly want us to separate off…or they don’t exist.
As long as they can get 52% to hate the 48%, they’re home and dry.
Divide and rule.
But hate is not a beautiful attitude, there’s no joy there, no connectedness…
So who to vote for?
You will make up your own mind, there isn’t a right answer, just the present unfolding.
Perhaps you will vote on policies that best suit you.
Perhaps you will vote on policies that best suit the poor and the defenceless.
Perhaps you will vote for an individual, on the integrity of a local candidate, regardless of their label.
I find the both May’s Conservative vision and Corbyn’s Labour vision rather indoctrinated space, defined mainly by the monsters and ghouls they need to create in order to feel they exist.
‘They’re bad, we’re good.’
And like fish, organisations rot from the head downwards…
May is a better leader than Corbyn who can’t even run his own party; that may or may not bother you.
Perhaps chaotic leadership appeals…but it won’t to many.
But let’s say something obvious as we near the end: capitalism is best when caring; and socialism superb when joyful.
I presently don’t see either.
So to return to where we started, as all things must, when Adam delved and Eve span, who then was the gentleman?
There was no gentleman of course.
But neither were there any ‘saboteurs’, monsters or rich fiends earning over £70,000 a year.
Just one world…