Dear Family and Friends,
First, ICYMI: This essay on my website, InspiringFutures4All, from 2016 describes the extraordinary work of Robert Coles who is now in his 90s and I believe still emeritus professor at Yale. His interviews with children all across the world reflect an understanding, insight, vision and most importantly a reciprocal mutually-enriching dialogue with “Children of Crisis” that is life-affirming of a certain enduring wisdom that is the immediacy and spontaneity of sheer goodness. In his life’s work and alive in these children are “the substance of all things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen” of every kind of faith born in the beatifying innocence of orphans who make the despairing experienced into saints. My allusion here is to Mother Theresa and her own crisis of faith of no longer hearing God’s voice in prayer and yet then in those orphans in Calcutta whom she loved with all her heart and who loved her in turn, she say the face of God in their eyes, their smiles, their generosity of spirit. I take heart that I can always turn to Coles and these children of crisis are replenish and bring to greater fruitfulness my own testimony of hope, which is for me a theological virtue, not a psychological phenomenon of optimism.
Please read this essay again for this forever first beatitude to warm and fill your heart with a kind of deep resonating joy and yet haunting sense of too much of beauty, innocence and generosity vanishing in our world today. But then also know here you will find evidence of my worldwide community of fierce advocacy and passionate engagement who refuse this vanishing: these are my triune spiritual radicals who realize utopias as mystic prophets who awaken the people they love by startling, sometimes obliterating their complacency, romantic poets who inspire with new first spoken words of “We Are” to go along with the old ones of “I Am” and then twofold democratic and world citizens who like these children of crisis, as well as adults crucibles in vicarious traumas with them usher in better futures like those promised and emerging of “new heavens and a good earth.”
Now second, this original essay about Coles and my reflections here also provide more insight into how I weave together an understanding of the humane and social potential, development and flourishing of each and every child, radical Jeffersonian democracy as “something new under the sun” and education as exemplifying, enriching, living and loving the ongoing traditions, values and dreams that are the kind of people we are and more wondrously, the kind of people we are becoming when we embrace and invest in all children and their teachers as if their inspiring futures are our very own. And they are and by this I mean also our present quality of work life as meaningful, humane and supportive of a good life, society and people who are renaissance makers, helpers and friends of work, life and relationships “as beautiful as possible.” This clause was actually written in the contracts of that period not only of those of high “Sistine Chapel ceiling” creativity and soaring ecstasies of achievement but also those of low “intimate, face to face and grounded” everyday creativity and constant artistry of good works.
In this way, all those high and low are in and of the ascending hierarchies and extending fellowships—challenging, enriching, questioning, fulfilling and surpassing one another—are a “dialogo democracy” of all individuals, families and communities as something new under one sun of the peace that is the essence of privilege and also at the same time under another of the justice that is the germinal of trauma i.e. both children and adults of crisis. This is the dual nature underlying all that I write, mentor and support, and the central thesis of my unified public theology of liberation and utopia for everlasting expansive flourishing, and corresponding revolutionary democracy of two long revolutions of individual sovereignty of liberality and triumphal social worlds of egalite.
See this intimate portrait of Coles, “Mystery and Manners, A Conversation with Robert Coles, which is a well-written, insightful interview that begins with this quote:
We all survive and prevail through a mastery of certain details, or fail by letting them slip through our fingers. Robert Coles
This is his distinctive eloquence of simple truths that for me are the same as all who have a kindred spirit of “passionate engagement” in justice (see my blog on Abraham Heschel, author of The Prophets, who is exemplary mystic of my own testimony of hope and philosophy of life), fierce advocacy and gentle humane way of bringing out the mysteries, feelings, insight, artistry and gifts of others, especially children.
As Tom Fricke writes in this piece:
He (Robert or “Bob” Coles) was later inspired by such mentors as Perry Miller, William Carlos Williams, Dorothy Day, Erik Erikson, Anna Freud, and, tellingly, by the young African American, Ruby Bridges, who he witnessed as a lone, composed little girl surrounded by an angry white crowd in the early desegregation struggles of the American South. This last experience led to Bob’s first documentary work in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Children of Crisis books, five volumes which are themselves documents central to our understanding of poverty and class, the Civil Rights struggle, and the conditions for hope in twentieth-century America.
I once asked Bob why he didn’t write his autobiography. “But I have,” he said, “All those books are my autobiography.” And indeed, they are, over seventy-five of them, ranging from Children of Crisis through considerations of children’s spiritual and moral lives, studies of Dorothy Day, Simone Weil, Erik Erikson, conversations with the fugitive Daniel Berrigan, collections of essays, poetry, and more. The public recognition of his importance is as broad and deep, including, to name only a few awards, the Pulitzer, a MacArthur award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a National Humanities Medal. He taught at Harvard as the James Agee Professor of Social Ethics and as a professor of psychiatry and medical humanities. He founded DoubleTake Magazine, that iconic journal of documentary without boundaries, with Alex Harris. He has been an adviser to presidents and politicians.
And now let me continue in my own language and different elemental style, a kind of oceanic creativity of ancient rhythms, sudden typhonic ferocities of energy and then translucent blue and clear Caribbean Cole’s own methodology are remarkable enchanting interviews of empathy, wisdom and life-affirming courage flowing both ways with children all across the world: this is a poetry worthy of scripture and all romantics who fill hearts with pleasure to overflowing, a testimony of hope, faith, love and thus abiding, nourishing and germinal peace. For me, this is the approach of all extraordinary teachers and children that I celebrate as the Finnish Model in my work, research and celebrating in public education. He has the Quaker friends honoring of children as “tender plants” and all people’s in our life together as extraordinary peers of inner lights: each and every one of us of differing luminous colors on a richly differing and open broad light spectrum. And thus, each of us has a certain flaw, an insight and burden of the whole mystery, miracle and paradox of our life, loves, social relationships and our works and other pursuits of happiness that is the unique source of clarity, beauty and originality as similarly true in diamonds.
To me this is the mystic twofold individual and social humane being as born of a certain liminal “touch of life” as painted by Michelangelo in the agony and ecstasy that is the real tragic-triumphal fact of our God (i.e. sheer energizing goodness that is the “creatio ex nihilo” those inspired by faith embrace as eternal God of amazing grace and others as illimitable humanity of endless love: it is simply the astonishing fact that we are of a living, interwoven flourishing yet often terrifying reality, present, story and cosmos that is at once ours to make more creative, civilizing and reconciling and yet this is the very horror of our arrogance to make the world in our image and to proclaim ourselves fountainheads at the center of the universe who can master our own destiny and that of all those swept into this vortex of self-annihilating will to power.
Quite to the contrary of this historical pessimism, I find Coles’ life time work of deep self- and humanity-understanding, insight, kindness and vision, and most importantly he crafts as if his own touch of life or rather in his relationships with children they are the artists crafting, revealing and sharing their full individuality and originality. Thus, all “Children of Crisis” are the “substance of all things hoped for and evidence of things unseen” of my own testimony of hope, which is for me a theological virtue not a psychological phenomenon of optimism. Please read again for more insight into how I weave together an understanding of the promise of every child, democracy, education and the quality of work life as both a unified public theology and radical revolutionary utopian democracy.
My efforts at grand narrative and systematic theology and unifying ideology of democratic solidarity writ large has its place and purpose, but it is scarcely sufficient of what I desire to write, evoke and share of my own “twofold mystic” passionate engagement with and of children of crisis and all those of a kind of eternal and immediate solidarity of being among the oppressed by the oppressed and the rarest of the rare. By this I mean those who have an intuitive insider/outsider critical distance as if little historians or anthropologists who are participant observers and partners in not one but two inspired ways, lives and truths of humane and social being, as well as particular and universal consciousness and oceanic feelings of being in the ultimate joy and deep shalom that is what I define as the embrace of eternal God and illimitable humanity. For more on this, please see my key idea and image, Double Grace, which features my sister, Claudia Castellon, own double grace of love and artistry.
My systematic efforts at public theology is at the same time, and most importantly, a personal and communal whole way of life that is of the joy, intimacy, spontaneity and astonishing epic grandeur of humanity in all its infinite differing fruitfulness that is the life, light, love and grace in each and every one of us. All is here and more to come when we are, can and prefer to be, share and bring to ever greater fruition and in ways of mutual-fulfilling and surpassing of one another, this kind of living faith as a democratic people with a deep commitment to a pure and simple yet eternal, challenging and self-evident proclaiming proof: we are in the course of human events an independent politically, social banded people who are at once self-determining of our own individual, private or sacred capacities, gifts and visions and of an international spirit of a world humanity that is called and inspired to usher in “new heavens, visions and practices of justice, beauty, peace and egalite and thereby a “beloved good and flourishing common home” (see Pope Francis, Laudato Si, which is his encyclical on climate change which I read in my twofold interpretive way as a corresponding causal analysis of “humanity change” by the same abstract alienating, exploiting, commodifying and accumulating forces that are depersonalizing, exclusionary and vanishing of us as a people of unique singularity who have the extraordinary reality and infinite mystery of a world of such amazing fruitfulness and arrays of infinite possibilities.
For me when I talk about Jeffersonian democracy as “something new under the sun” I mean as found in the work and people of those like Coles: they are in the living legacy, for example, of the self-creating democratic societies of the revolutionary centuries of the 1600s and 1700s which expansively includes peoples of all complex, rich and various native lands, histories, traditions and cultures. This is the stuff the dreams, promise and life are made of and the realizing of the “hot presence” of utopias that are the epic grandeur and whole world come alive of individual and social potential, development and flourishing of humanity, democracy, education and quality of work life, as I embrace it in my own vision, insight and work. What is yours? Please share!
Coles famously featured Ruby Briggs, a seminal heroic and enduring figure in the desegregation of schools in the 1950s and 1960s as the central inspiration for his series, Children of Crisis, and indeed his life work. Ruby was the first African American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis on November 14, 1960. She is the subject of a 1964 painting, The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell, and has dedicated her entire life to democratic movements of civil, human and labor rights, as well as social justice, peace, egalite and so on.
The image above brings to life this brief account as chronicled in Wikipedia:
That first day, Bridges and her mother spent the entire day in the principal’s office; the chaos of the school prevented their moving to the classroom until the second day. On the second day, however, a white student broke the boycott and entered the school when a 34-year-old Methodist minister, Lloyd Anderson Foreman, walked his five-year-old daughter Pam through the angry mob, saying, “I simply want the privilege of taking my child to school …” A few days later, other white parents began bringing their children, and the protests began to subside. Yet, still, Bridges remained the only child in her class, as she would until the following year. Every morning, as Bridges walked to school, one woman would threaten to poison her, while another held up a black baby doll in a coffin; because of this, the U.S. Marshals dispatched by President Eisenhower, who were overseeing her safety, allowed Bridges to eat only the food that she brought from home.
Child psychiatrist Robert Coles volunteered to provide counseling to Bridges during her first year at Frantz. He met with her weekly in the Bridges home, later writing a children’s book, The Story of Ruby Bridges, to acquaint other children with Bridges’ story. Coles donated the royalties from the sale of that book to the Ruby Bridges Foundation, to provide money for school supplies or other educational needs for impoverished New Orleans school children.
And returning to my own history:
Briefly, Briggs and Coles are this democratic expansively social inclusive tradition, and triumphal realizing of social utopias: utopias in all my work and as represented by multitudes across theological, ideological, spiritual and humane spectrums are rightly understood as the “not heres” or “not nows” or “no wheres” like integrated schools as “full service learning communities with wrap around services or meaningful work cultures that exemplify a certain quality of life that I describe as a renaissance ethos to be, see and make work, others, themselves and the world “as beautiful as possible.” But these real “flesh and blood” utopias are crowded out of the present, history and the future by deeply embedded norms and established moral anti-democratic hegemonies of political, cultural, economic, social and linguistic institutional powers, laws and life that implicitly and oppressively say these utopian peoples, struggles and visions are “naive, unrealistic, irrational and dangerous.”
They are in fact presumptively stigmatized as evoking “great fears” of chaos, anarchy, class leveling or dehumanizing tyrannies: thus, good peoples who simply desire lives of hope, faith, love and peace are themselves the one who sound the “fire bells in the night” and surveil one another at first watch of these “beast-like” utopians as sound as they emerge. In the past, we might say they are like the small town Puritan moral censors in 1600s New England who ensure the entry and conditions of membership only of those of a certain kind of faith, rationality, morality and life-affirming “presence” that makes all members feel the same electric current of energy running through their bodies and holding them together in a shared optimal ethos of integral mental and physiological well-being. Read historian Edmund Morgan who conveys this ancient to 1600s New England to contemporary, post-modern, post-colonial centering in the same paradoxical generative power and unifying ideology born of this entanglement of opposites like liberation and oppression: this is the theme of his book, “The Puritan Dilemma” which is “to be in but not of the world.” But this theme proves quite universal and runs through all of Morgan’s work e.g. American Slavery, American Freedom, which is a classic study of the development of the planter caste society in 1600s to 1700s colonial Virginia as this paradoxical barbaric and ruinous blend of slavery, racism and populism that is again my thesis of civilizing by depersonalizing, dehumanizing and enslaving humane beings by the “privileged few” who think themselves “booted and spurred to ride them legitimately by the grace of God,” as Jefferson once said it.
Those who sound these alarms, or are similarly terrified by these threats , are good, moral and righteous citizens who accept the underlying character of every “good liberal republic” (e.g. Martin Luther King Jr’s second favorite book was Plato’s Republic, the first being in Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited). The original character according to a large, diverse body of scholarships was “conformist, compact, coherent and closed is defined by scholars as following the pattern of a classical Greek “polis” or city-state.
No!! The vital, germinal and enduring generosity of spirit that is democracy is one of principles of charity, hope and the imagining and realizing of the “utopias” of all living generations–past, present and future and across all “personhoods” and “beloved peoples.” The spirit of utopia begins in our hearts, our radical spirituality or profane illimitable humanity (whatever resonates as true for you) where we not just “see” children, education, work and society but “are” in, of, for and within and without them and they in turn within and without us in this way:
Pure and simple, Coles rightly sees Ruby and all children of crisis and then is with in what is called a dialogical relationship of equal giving and receiving, speaking and listening in Ruby and all corresponding children of a certain “crucible of trauma” that affirms, evokes and sets their hearts, minds and souls on fire a fruitfulness of their and our humanity: inner spiritual life, moral imagination, empathy, peace, justice, creativity, courage, curiosity, solidarity and other various goods, sacred mysteries, truths and virtues.
This grand narrative and systematic theology and unifying ideology of democratic solidarity writ large is at the same time, and most importantly, a personal and communal whole way of life that is of the joy, intimacy, spontaneity and astonishing epic grandeur of humanity in all its infinite differing fruitfulness that is the life, light, love and grace in each and every one of us. All is here and more to come when we are, can and prefer to be, share and bring to ever greater fruition and in ways of mutual-fulfilling and surpassing of one another, this kind of living faith as a democratic people with a deep commitment to a pure and simple yet eternal, challenging and self-evident proclaiming proof: we are in the course of human events an independent politically, social banded people who are at once self-determining of our own individual, private or sacred capacities, gifts and visions and of an international spirit of a world humanity that is called and inspired to usher in “new heavens, visions and practices of justice, beauty, peace and egalite and thereby a “beloved good and flourishing common home” (see Pope Francis, Laudato Si, which is his encyclical on climate change which I read in my twofold interpretive way as a corresponding causal analysis of “humanity change” by the same abstract alienating, exploiting, commodifying and accumulating forces that are depersonalizing, exclusionary and vanishing of us as a people of unique singularity who have the extraordinary reality and infinite mystery of a world of such amazing fruitfulness and arrays of infinite possibilities.
By the way, Pope Francis rightly corrected Vatican watcher and prominent journalist who remarked in a kind of wonderment in a now famous first interview with this Pope that he sounds very “optimistic” and Pope smiled gently and said his hope was this theological virtue and thus grounded in a sense of the eternal, insight, justice and the radical impossible but palpable presence and mystic amazement in God as relational and known in the event of the finite taste of this infinite transcendent sheer goodness flooding all through us when we are in the whole world come alive in this epic grandeur of what it is to be humane beings (I always use and prefer a more native American and indigenous language for naming modern homo sapiens humans as “humane beings” who are implicitly understood to be in the vital creativity and interwoven flourishing with all that is within and without them of the same “Great Spirit” breathed into and inspiring all cosmos, creation and humanity.
In the Judeo-Christian Genesis story of creation, this is the corresponding great “I Am” as Yahweh thundered, whispered into Moses when asked who he was. Significantly, there was no present tense in the original language of the Hebrew Bible: I believe Aramaic, but I would have to check my citation for this insight from the Rabbinic scholar, Jeffrey Sachs. Thus, this means that Moses and the Hebrew people are in a dynamic revelatory relationship with all that is of this transcendent yet immanent and kairos (eternal) God as realized in all to come in the future which is simultaneously all that was in the past.
And thus, all of my systematic, overarching use of grand narrative, theology and ideology as macrocosmic, please understand is in the spirit of those like cultural anthropologist, Clifford Geertz, where ideology is knitting together of a vital, living tradition, a “web of life” that shapes the political, cultural, social, economic, linguistic and intellectual life of a people. For me I seek the unique “promising solution” of this kind of ideology for corresponding with our contemporary “ultimate concern” of an intensifying complex of converging “Anthropocene” crises of democracy, justice, freedom and peace: these are the accelerating disparities, inequalities and injustices that are the living death of poverty and insignificance that liberation theology rightly says must be addressed as abomination and barbarism e.g. Harriet Tubman, Dorothy Day, Ella Baker, James Cone and Gustavo Gutiérrez.
And let me pause here to affirm this liberation theology as of the same spirit of my faith tradition coming alive in the Judeo-Christian Biblical grand narrative and enduring, real and immediate poetry that is Scripture as breathed into the world of the Hebrew people and those of a new Christian way, each a vineyard of the same living waters branching out and moving forward side by side one another. Reconstructionist Rabbi Rebecca Alpert (Reform Judaism, Winter 1991) comments:
The experience of praying with Siddur Nashim [the first Jewish prayer book to refer to God using female pronouns and imagery, published by Margaret Wenig and Naomi Janowitz in 1976… transformed my relationship with God. For the first time, I understood what it meant to be made in God’s image. To think of God as a woman like myself, to see Her as both powerful and nurturing, to see Her imaged with a woman’s body, with womb, with breasts – this was an experience of ultimate significance. Was this the relationship that men have had with God for all these millennia? How wonderful to gain access to those feelings and perceptions.
This kind of liberation and overcoming of poverty is especially the clarion call and urgent though unwanted burden by those most comfortable in liberal democratic nations; it is also the same of all world civilizations of such legacies across history and enormities of privilege, power, wealth and the advancing of sciences, humanities and arts. And yet still the four-fifths of our world, if not more, are like the great Louis Ambedkar and Dalits (hideously called “untouchables” in the West) in India’s caste system born with brooms around their waists and their destiny in life and everyday reality is to sweep away every evidence of their ever having been born and living on earth, every footprint and “trail of tears” and for the pleasure of ensuring all are kept in the sacred allure of “just hierarchy.”
Note, I use India deliberatively as not epitome of the world’s injustice for those impoverished almost without hope but rather the very inspiration of Ambedkar and millions of Dalits who repudiated this Hindi world of ancient wisdom following Indian Independence. They became en mass “engaged Buddhists” in the seminal tradition of those like Thich Nhat Hahn and all “children of crisis” as I describe transfigured in a certain crucible of trauma and lead, serve and love their peoples as prophets, poets and citizens: they bring the whole world alive of social expansive flourishing here and now, regardless of the tragic resignations and self-justifying expectations of the privileged who would ride them by the grace of God or other ultimate forms of perfecting authority.
This is a remarkable example of the twofold paradoxical presence of humane beings who live in a seeming “essentialist despair” as seen by our “totalizing modern world” of norms and values of individuality, sovereignty, possessive faiths and aesthetics of hierarchy. I believe this is due to an underlying archetypal pattern of ascendant vertical “great chains of being” like that of the Elizabethan Era in building political and economic extended empires and corresponding Shakespearean global theaters of cultural worldviews, both religious and secular, that are based on tragic conception of human nature and our confinement in constant warfare, political realism and an inevitable ethos of resilience and perseverance as the “best of all possible worlds.”
I believe the insidious injustice of this deeply embedded world view of an eternal social hierarchy where “woman” is below “Man” speaks of its own “moral” barbarism. And then below these categories and just above animals are the “ignorant masses of animal appetites” which is the “civilizing by excluding” that I hold to be the fountainhead of all modern disorders based on invidious distinctions that rationalize elitist, eugenic, genocidal and racist ideologies.
No to this “I Am” world that privileges a hierarchical kind of self-determining sovereignty that I write about in my seminary paper on Ambedkar and Gandhi as an exploration of Gandhi as exemplary of a still dominant East-West synthesis of this same high civilization and “just so” imperial “great chain of being. In this paper, I define it as a sacred allure of “just hierarchy” and aesthetic of excellence that is a fatal delusion of social distancing. Gandhi’s construct as “great-souled mahatma” that is the vision of him by the great Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore is to represent him and the Indian nation as ultimate union and unitive consciousness as “one with God” or cosmic mind or absolute truth. Ambedkar is a leading member of my pantheon of those who realize utopias with fierce justice and gentle empathy.
Ambedkar directly confronts Gandhi’s leadership as elusive and cunning fraudulence and his solidarity with the Dalits is a complex rivalry and friendship that ultimately Ambedkar condemns as betrayal of the hopes and dreams of the Dalits: Gandhi enshrines their absence of legal status as equal citizens by leaving them out of the Indian Constitution that Ambedkar as great liberal constitutional scholar leads as a primary author and he finds the establishment of Independence as a cruel missed opportunity for his own people. Ambedkar argues Gandhi’s great “I Am” justice of satyagraha and swaraj (soulforce or nonviolent resistance and self-governing, respectively) is his own Hindi and British imperial “mirror in nature” and keeping the caste system intact though presumably chastened by Gandhi’s systematic philosophy now centered on the premodern work culture and village life of Dalits as intimately interwoven in a kind of idyllic new beginning.
I use “mirror in nature” to critique Gandhi and his particular/universal and penultimate/ultimate world view because it refers to the work of American neopragmatist and deconstructive philosopher of the linguistic turn, Richard Rorty: he counsels that all philosophies, ideologies and theologies might be better off, and certainly the world, in his opinion, and more promising of the blessings, purpose and ends they seek to achieve by simply being self-reliant languages with no underlying or ultimate realist or idealist logos or moral foundation to the universe. His ethics, however, are of a thin, unsatisfying nature where various peoples have final vocabularies in and of their own internal logic, values and methods, and the guide for a good life or good society is the evolving possibilities in the “marks and noises” that distinguish our species of modern homo sapiens beings for describing suffering to evoke deeper empathy and correspondingly joys for greater human solidarity. ) and millions of Dalits, as well as billions of similar witnesses to this kind of seductive, yet devouring Beast, are and the . worlds. and yet are the beginning and the end, and everything in between, of those beatified in innocence and sent out in the righteous justice of realizing all utopias with the rarest of rare qualities like empathy and imagination as the very life, mission, ministry and concrete example of the historical Jesus who is with and of all kindred humanity for liberation from all exclusionary evils and sins like poverty, elitism and nativism.
By the way, these various “oceanic feelings of being one with God” are all of the same Hegelian or transcendental idealist mind-centered presuppositions of the early 1800s. These I modestly propose are now a ubiquitous “presence” in today’s mindfulness movements stripped clean to the bone of the living flesh and spirit of engaged Buddhism and praxes of social justice, universal peace and egalite. This is also true of many other once authentic “power of ones” like that of the true mysticism of Meister Eckhart in 1300’s Germany. But now these powerful overflows of oceanic feelings of one flood in from all directions not of radical spirituality of mystic communion but of market best-sellers in the self-improvement industry and increasingly popular and profitable in America.
Why is this I wonder and perhaps you too?
It seems reminiscent of Erich Fromm’s books quite influential after World War II, Escape from Freedom and Sane Society, and pertain to a kind of soulless anomie and deep disquiet that is unbearable and must be avoided. And the easiest way to escape the burden of freedom is to be swept up into powerful gravitational forces and surrender to a vortex made by high-performing stormers and normers of a certain self-actualizing, transcending or “emptying” optimizing ethos of neoliberalism, although this has origins far more distant than the 1970s or even in the Progressive Era as most concepts of neoliberalism hold for framing the narrow ideological centrism of our political, cultural and economic life. Wherever one is placed on this ideological totalizing modern spectrum of conservative/liberal, traditional/progressive or classical/romantic putative oppositions of significance, it is, however, the same old time religion of the “vital center” of the pragmatic and paradoxical liberal perennial tradition that became ascendant in the early 1800s and came to anti-democratic thoroughly saturating hegemony beginning in the 1900s. This is signaled by President McKinley’s famous night spent on his knees in prayer before awakening the next day with our imperial decisive act to engage in the war in the Philippines outside are Western Hemisphere: thus is just the last two centuries of state, capital and cultural integrated formation of monopoly powers that gain unprecedented ascendancy at mid-century as best characterized by Immanuel Wallerstein’s idea of world systems theory whereby we engulf the world in a kind of living corporate statist Leviathan that is now engulfing us.
At the height of our global power as Pax Americana at the center of This American Century, our mastery of manifest destiny is carrying the torch of the Cold War on behalf of all free peoples of the world. And to complete the irony and tragedy of this, I see this the embodiment of John Quincy Adams famous speech in Congress decrying the deafening drumbeats that resulted in the Mexican-American war in the 1840s:
“Should America become a dictatress to the world she will soon lose mastery of her own spirit of liberty.”
Of course, while I do identify this Adams as anti-imperialist crusader, the other sign of his Whiggish modernizing coin is that he drafted the Monroe Doctrine and his own expansionist views were for the same Puritan “Errand into the Wilderness” of his deeply rooted attachments to the New England of its own eugenic and imperial vital center and “growth mindset.” The colonies of Connecticut and Massachusetts led the way in justifying the same mission to “civilize by exclusion” that is the very Beast of our world still and of ancient origins going back at least 40 thousand years that I and a large body of scholarship across disciplines, as well as multitudes of native genius, argue is tentacled in the birth of “behavioral modernity” in Africa and in all the migratory patterns North and then East and West: much more to come on this in my writing as this understanding of evolutionary dynamic origins of this second anthropological modern homo sapiens species is a central thesis in my twofold interpretive framework. It is the critical point of departure in my grand narrative of the epic grandeur of two spirits inspiring creation and humanity, the unified twofold public theology of liberation and utopia, and corresponding political ideology of renaissance high-low dialogo democracy.
I find myself quite alone in my paradoxical twofold way as all others follow “single ontological theses” and histories. The underlying the main currents of ideology and theology are similarly based on a singular universal structure and philosophic underpinning, whether this relationship between finite humanity and the infinite that is transcendently without as greater whole and immanently within our innermost parts is “unitive, binary or linguistic.” But in all of these three main ways of understanding the impossible mystery and palpable reality of limited humans and illimitable humanity (for science-based peoples) or of deep-souled creatures and humane beings, great and small, and eternal creativity that is the vital life force and sheer goodness of God (for faith-based peoples), each has the same dangerous tendency to confuse and then claim to own the ultimate “unknowable” authority of God as “being in and of itself” with the penultimate realm as made and governed by historically situated “body publics” of a specific political, social and cultural nature.
I can show and will do this later by their typical reliance upon dialectical laws of historical development (and also dialogical relationships of a certain individual-based kind) that actually privilege their own deep rooted nativist sovereignty and possessive naming, claiming and owning of this supposedly “unknowable” and ultimate authority governing all creation. I deliberatively use my own construct of two dialectical and dialogical independent realities or worlds to avoid this dangerous conflating of mind-centered reality with the very infinite mystery of the cosmos of which we are but a part. With Michel Foucault and many others, I see this joining of the “will to power” characteristic of the Western Civilization tradition, but really all tribal to contemporary world civilizations with the moral authority and ultimate sovereignty of truth, justice and purpose the very essence of original sin. I call this the hideous strength of the fountainhead of moral growth imperatives based on “civilizing by exclusionary violence” along a loopifying continuum of enormities of this barbarous condescension to the far more often worse systems of dehumanizing imperceptible ones.
And thus I am afraid is the paradoxical crusading voice of John Quincy Adams who was decrying the “civilizing by exclusionary violence” of the South as competitive threat and hegemonic first mover into the same mastery of manifest destiny that was determining and influential in both North and South established liberal regimes of hubris, privilege, hierarchy and oppression. Adams is rightly and wrongly seen as anti-imperialist archetypal figure for his was the just war, political realism and legal warfare by other means for the removal of Indigenous peoples largely for their failure to take advantage of the “commodious mart” that was their native lands. In the raptured vision of colonists moving westward from Europe and the rising British empire and rapidly industrializing and liberating North, this was the sacred work of a certain righteous ideology and not the agrarian and decadent South, to expand across the entire continent. And then by the same truth it was then perhaps to extend this civilizing moral imperative all the way through the Americas “below” as we actually did by all means, strategies and markets necessary shortly after the Civil War. It was certainly a war about the monstrous barbarism of slavery, and yet simultaneously a necessary tragic-triumphal event for freeing our nation from the competing, reactionary and conflicting but same expansionist tendencies of the planter regimes in the South that were actually just as interwoven in the same industrializing world economy as the North.
And so are the great arches of modern state formation and market systems of capital accumulation that stretch back to the 1000s in the economic quickening, possessive individualism and privatizing of public worlds seen in such phenomenon as the enclosure movements where Thomas More later in his book, Utopia, would lament as the upside down world where the “sheep are eating the men.” This is the through line to our America where all are overworked, under supported and impossibly stressed by inhumanely under constant work disciplines, surveillance systems and pressures of “time on task.” This is the world we made by our collective deference and deferral of dreams of American Democracy as “something new under the sun.” And I find this entangled with the self-annihilating trends of a razor’s edge of unprecedented, unmoored brinkmanship of mutually assured near infinite arrogance and powers of creation and destruction: the double bind that is humanity and climate change by the same forces of abstraction by abstracting from abstracting all living processes, humane beings and creatures into things of market and state value until they are not of any value at all.
Therefore, I try to craft a public ideology in the spirit of Clifford Geertz and others as not “deceiving the unreflective or exciting the uninformed but unifying people in a commitment to act.” I create in the tradition of dual theology a double “ontology,” reality or way of humane being as two opposing worlds that are independent and entangled together at the same time, each with its own distinctive truths, beauty, experiences, vision and sufferings, tragedy and redemptive promise and missio dei or righteous momentum of perfecting justice, peace and complete communion. By ontology, I mean as understood in philosophy as actual reality in and of itself and thus I depart from the liberal worldview and theology based on epistemology or ways of seeing or knowing that is to accept the Kantian revolution in the early 1800s of a mind-centered reality or cosmos in which all individuals and peoples have a certain lens or frame that limits and yet affirms their insider/outsider critical distance and capacity to participate in the corresponding unifying and reconciling work of dialectical progress across history.
In the spirit of utopia that is the seminal book by the same title by Ernst Bloch and published in 1919, I will end where he begins:
I Am! We Are! That’s Enough! Now Let’s Begin Again!