Greg 00:00 [Intro] As Toni Morrison has put it, “the destiny of the 21st century will be shaped by the possibility or collapse of a shareable world.” Welcome to our podcast where we explore the history, theory and practice of democratic socialism with our guide big Mike. What can we learn from the past to help us create a better, more shareable world in the future?
Greg 00:31 All right, welcome back everybody; and hello, big Mike. Here we are again. And I think we are picking up on what will now be the second in a little miniseries on utopia. So laSt time we talked—
Mike 00:46 No, I’ve, I’ve been thinking about what we’re talking about and I have for a long time had the idea that the weakness of the left today—I’ve mentioned this before, but I want to keep reiterating it. The weakness of the left today is that to a certain extent it has ignored particular areas, concepts, which are extremely important if we’re to both figure out why the left has been in decline of late and what we need to do to get back, back on the correct path. One of those areas is what I call culture. And by that I mean to some extent what the anthropologist means by culture. And now I know that the term culture is in a tremendous amount of discussion. The anthropologists don’t agree on what the word culture means, but it’s very obvious that we are dealing—when we look at countries that are democratic socialist, the Scandinavian countries and so forth, that they are very different in substance from those countries that are not.
Mike 02:08 And that’s led me to think about a lot of things that are—and we’ll come and talk to them, we’ll talk about them as time goes on. Uh, there is this theory for example, which I’ve been thinking a lot about, that says the Scandinavian socialism, democratic socialism is a form of congealed secular Lutheranism. In other words, the secular societies—and the Scandinavian societies are among the more secular in the world to say the least, certainly compared with the US; I think I read recently that about 4% of Danes, for example, but uh, and I would suspect the less than that, believe in God. I mean, one goes to church for other than belief reasons, right? Uh, but they, they, they incarnate, in their secular existence, cultural values, which used to be lodged elsewhere, but now are lodged in democratic socialist society, what I would call a democratic socialist culture.
Mike 03:11 And with people being raised in those cultures have a certain predisposition to certain social attitudes and certain intellectual attitudes and so forth that are not the same as people being raised in capitalist cultures. I think that the, that—we use the word capitalist to refer almost solely to economic systems. Uh, but I think that we have to begin thinking about them in terms of culture as well. We, we, we mentioned that before with regards to the question of greed. In fact, capitalist culture, uh, encourages people to develop greed as a natural human characteristic. There are cultures which do not encourage greed. So what’s the difference between those cultures? And I would say it lies in the idea of culture itself and how we need to rethink the question of culture in concert with the institutions that make up the economy. And the society and so forth.
Mike 04:13 So as I was thinking about that, I was led more and more to a tradition in writing of the history of the left, which I have previously tended to disparage, but now I’m beginning to realize may be important, and I was quite blinded by not understanding it. And that is to go back to the sources of Western morality, maybe Western ethical thinking, certainly Western morality, and uh, and see how the values of what I would now call socialist culture are embedded in books and classics that we read from a somewhat different point of view. The Bible. It used to be quite customary—and as I say, I, I’ve disparaged that in courses I used to give on socialism, I never would discuss this because I thought it was a bit far-fetched and now I’m beginning to think I was quite wrong. You go back and you read particularly the prophets for example, in the Old Testament and a, there’s no question that they represented a kind of thinking, a kind of protest.
Mike 05:24 And that’s the point I want to make at the beginning. A kind of protest which rested upon a perception of class society, of a conflict between those who owned and those who didn’t own, of a concept between power and poverty, a conflict between power and poverty. Um, and we tend to read those texts more in moral terms, but they really are socioeconomic texts. So I thought it would be useful to start there, and see how we build up in the next couple of conversations, this, um, the origins of the idea of utopia that lie really, really at the heart of the opening at the, at the, in the earliest beginnings of our Western culture. Okay. So if you go to the Bible and you look at the prophets, one of the most important of the prophets is Amos, Amos who lives in the eighth century.
Mike 06:26 And if you read certain passages—and maybe you’ll read a couple of these passages—these passages really express class consciousness as we would understand it today. And we look at the prophets today and we think of them much more as people talking about divinity, about God, about the relationship… In the case of the Old Testament between Israel and God. But when you then reread them for the point of view of somebody who in the imagination, let’s say is planted in socialist culture, then you can see that the texts are about something else. Or we can read the same passages and they are about something else. So I asked you a couple of passages from Amos—
Greg 07:10 Where do we start? So you want me to start with 6: 4-6?
Mike 07:16 Yeah, they’re very telling.
Greg 07:19 So [Book of Amos] Chapter 6, Verses 4-6: “They lie on ivory beds, lolling on their couches, feasting on lambs from the flock and on calves from the stalls. They hum snatches of song to the tune of the lute. They account themselves musicians like David, they drink straight from the wine bowls and anoint themselves with the choicest oils, but they’re not concerned about the ruin of Joseph. Assuredly, right soon they shall head the column of exiles. They shall loll no more at festive meals. My Lord God swears by himself, I loathe the pride of Jacob.”
Mike 08:00 So here is this fantastic visualization. I mean, he’s not, he’s not Karl Marx. He’s not telling us about the, the ruling class in terms of this relationship with the means of production. He’s giving us a terrifically powerful visual image of what these, what the ruling class was all about, what the landlords were all about, what the Royal family was all about, et cetera. There’s more—
Greg 08:26 Yeah. So I’ll go to [chapter] 8. Yeah. Um, this is now [chapter] 8, [verses] 4-6. “Listen to this. You who devour the needy, annihilating the poor of the land saying, ‘if only the new moon were over so that we could sell grain.’”
Mike 08:44 So yeah, he’s obviously, he’s saying, look, the relationship is an economic relationship and the rich devour the poor. I mean, you know, it, it’s powerful language. It may not be our contemporary social and economic language, but it’s the same thing.
Greg 09:01 Yup. [continues reading] “…the Sabbath, so that we could offer wheat for sale, using an ephah that is too small and a shekel that is too big. Tilting a dishonest scale and selling grain refuse as grain.”
Mike 09:18 Right—so profit! How do you make profit? The making of profit in, in some respects is seen by—almost as being dishonest There’s something wrong with it.
Greg 09:32 [continues reading] “We will buy the poor for silver, the needy for a pair of sandals. The Lord swears by the pride of Jacob. I will never forget any of their doings.”
Mike 09:40 I think that’s, that’s, that’s really quite an incredible couple of passages that suggeSt exactly what we’re talking about. So Amos is, is, is perhaps the earliest—he’s from the eighth century BC and he’s perhaps the earliest of these, um, these prophets who are obviously very socially conscious and understood that society was made up of classes and one society dominated another and existed at the labor of the other. And that’s, that’s what he’s saying, right? That the, that the upper-class exists on the backs of the poorer class. And, and yeah, I think the eighth century BC, there are—a very good friend of mine, keeps pointing in my direction and I confess, I haven’t looked closely enough at it, um, in the direction of some ancient Egyptian texts, which, which represent the, the condition of the poor and of the, of the working class as opposed to the pharaohs and the nobility, etc.
Mike 10:42 So there is this tradition—and that’s what I want to want to get at, at the beginning of today—is that there’s this tradition of recognition that there’s they, there’s them or whatever you want to say, whatever the grammatical expression would be, above us. And there’s we who are poor and, we are in conflict [with them]. The idea of class conflict doesn’t start with Karl Marx. It starts in the Old Testament and some of the earliest writings in the Old Testament. So now let’s go to Isaiah. So Isaiah comes from the upper classes and so he’s looking at the world, almost… We’re not sure about his class origins, but Isaiah comes from the upper classes and he condemns the ruling classes for the way they live. And for the conditions of the masses. Um, he draws attention to the difference between, for example, people, well—not people.
Mike 11:42 He draws the difference between people who perform rituals, for whom religion is the performance of rituals, and those who believe that religion is serving the people, helping the people. So—which is a very interesting distinction to make. Of course it’s going to be made very powerfully by Jesus, in the line of these social prophets Right? But, but in Isaiah making that distinction already suggests a questioning of ideology, a questioning of the difference between theory and practice. It’s fine for the upper classes to perform the rituals, but if they don’t serve the people and so forth and so on… and he has a vision, why don’t we read some of what I—
Greg 12:31 Yeah. So first [chapter] 3, [verses] 14 and 15: “the Lord will bring this charge against the elders and officers of his people. It is you who have ravaged the vineyard that which was robbed from the poor is in your houses. How dare you crush my people and grind the faces of the poor.”
Mike 12:52 But that’s again, it’s in the same tradition as Amos, right? As Amos.
Greg 12:57 And then we have 5:8. “Those who add house to house and join field to field ‘til there is room for none but you to dwell in the land.”
Mike 13:08 Now that’s very important to keep in mind. We’re going to come back to that idea, maybe today or the next time, when we come to talk about the enclosure of the commons and at the end of the medieval period in England. That my estates, and of course this is a big issue, right? The landlord increases his estates and increases the control and expels the peasants. He only needs so much labor and the peasant is expelled. So that’s being referred to.
Greg 13:37 And then the last section we had is 10:2: “To subvert the cause of the poor, to rob of their rights, the needy of my people, that widows may be their spoil and fatherless children, their booty.”
Mike 13:52 So again, the, the way in which the upper-class feeds upon the lower-class and exploits the lower class. Now, one of the things that makes Isaiah incredibly interesting and very moving is that he has a vision of the world, of what should be—Isaiah really is a utopian, and there’s, you know, this, this idea about the nation. [Isaiah 2:4] “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. A nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war anymore.” Which is a dream of a utopian world, right? A world—think about the way the Middle East was, was, was just constant warfare. One tribe against another one kingdom against another, one empire against another in, in those days. Uh, and he, but he has this utopian vision of a world which would be at peace. And quite obviously it doesn’t take too much of the reader’s imagination to make the connection that in order to have a world of peace, you have to do away with the kind of exploitation that, that Isaiah is talking about.
Mike 14:59 Uh, he says at a certain point, uh, I think I forgot to ask you to look it up. [Isaiah 35:1] “The desert shall rejoice in bloom like a rose. The parched land shall become a pool. And the thirsty land springs with water.” I mean, again, he has a visual image of what that could be. Now, one could argue, if you wanted to argue from a very narrow religious point of view, that that’s a vision of heaven. Uh, and a not unnatural vision of heaven considering the rather desertified conditions in which the children of Israel lived in those days. Uh, but I would like to argue that it’s an, is a utopian vision of what the physical world might look like if we dealt justly with fellow human beings and with our resources and so forth and so on. Yeah. So there are other prophets of course who also, who also are in the same tradition.
Mike 15:55 Jeremiah, of course, Jeremiah is the prophet of the exile. Um, Ezekiel… you just read through the, the Old Testament and it’s full of this kind of writing, uh, of what I think is social writing. And, uh, something that’s very important for us to keep in mind. There was a tradition—Ezekiel is, is a, is a good example of this—tradition of what has been called the apocalyptic writers. And we again think about apocalyptic writing as a writing that describes the end of the earth, the end of the world. Uh, one thinks of Revelations in the new Testament as a, as a piece of apocalyptic writing describing a rather tumultuous but also incredibly wonderful, uh, visualization of the end of the universe. But a lot of the apocalyptic writing I think can also be understood in terms of the collapse of society under the burdens of the conflict that the prophets are talking about and the need to rebuild that. One of my favorite examples of this would be the, um, very end of the, of the Bible, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. So I gave a lecture recently, as you may remember, arguing that in fact the whole Bible is actually can be understood. It can be conceived of as a kind of political discourse that sets up two kinds of potential regimes for the governance of, of human beings.
Mike 17:48 One is what I called anarchy. And I use the word anarchy in a very classical sense of the term, uh, meaning by that, that people were ruled by their culture. And I include in that this idea of institutions, uh, so that, uh, as indeed was part of the anarchist vision in the 19th century, that you, um, you were ruled by the laws that were, that existed regardless… The function of God in such a setup was that God legitimated the laws, but you live by the laws. They were primary. And if you live by the laws, you wouldn’t need government. Yeah. Government comes in and this, this is pretty evident if you look at the books of the Bible and how they kind of go back and forth, especially the stories about Samuel and Saul and King David and so forth, uh, and you look at these books and they go back and forth between saying that we want to be like other people.
Mike 18:50 We want a king. But, but then Samuel comes along and says, you have a king. You won’t any longer be able to live according to the just laws, right? You’re going to be exploited. And that’s a very powerful political statement. He makes the children of Israel warning them against the king, but then they keep demanding. And so the God whispers in his ear, okay, let them have it. And so, so Samuel says, okay, you all go home and I’ll get you a King. And of course it’s downhill ever after that. But at the end of the Bible, when you have the Old Testament, when you get to Ezra and Nehemiah, government in the sense that we understand it—government, which is the government… and here modern theory helps us to understand the government, which is the government of the exploiter over the exploited. That’s what the prophets are, are talking about, that the government of the exploiter over the exploited has collapsed and its place has been taken by the Babylonian Empire, right?
Mike 19:51 So how do you exist as a people and however you want to describe it, people, right, it can be a tribe or can be a nation. Whatever words we want to use. How do you exist as a people in a situation of exploitation? And that’s what the prophets are warning about. And they use the religious language. God will smite you. He’ll destroy the government, he’ll destroy the state. And indeed in the end of course, the empire has come in and destroyed the state. And in Ezra and Nehemiah, which are wonderful books at the end, they restore the idea of the law. Because that’s where they institute the idea of reading the law, reading the Torah, the five books of Moses, to the people, regularly in the public square. And, and that’s a warning within the content, within the confines of that culture, uh, about the nature of government as exploiter.
Mike 20:51 So this tension between no government and government, between living according to the law or living according to the state is a very serious one that the left needs to think about because it’s been there from the beginning and we still confront it. You know, it’s, it’s very interesting to note today because I think all of this works together. And that’s why I want to keep moving back and forth. It’s wonderful to note today how there are people on the left who will argue that the government is too big. We got to—we got to localize things. We’ve got to bring things down to a participatory democracy. And there are people like myself who believe without the state we’re not going to survive the coming environmental cataclysm. God will smite us for the way we treated his creation, right? That tension exists today just as it exists in the Bible.
Mike 21:45 So there’s something built into the way we govern ourselves regardless of what period of history, that we have to begin to deal with. So a lot of the literature, as I said before, from around 200 BC to 1300 or so, AD, beginning of the Renaissance, whatever you want to say, beginning of the waning of the Middle Ages, there was a lot of apocalyptic literature which saw the world as coming to an end. And what I’m arguing is that I think to no small extent, that was the language in which people also saw the state as coming to an end because of its internal weaknesses. Uh, it was figured in, in, in ecclesiastical language, but it was often a secondary issue. So one may think for example, of Rome, I mean here is Rome which, which declined internally until the barbarians took it over. A perfect example in the classical period of the, of the end of the state.
Mike 22:44 One can also think, for example of St. Augustine, right in the middle of all of this, uh, is writing a book called the City of God. And there’s, there’s the, the earthly city in the heavenly city. So this conflict is even there in St. Augustine, and St. Augustine. And by the way, we’ll come back to St. Augustine in a moment. Jesus, before we get to St Augustine, we should talk a minute about Jesus. Who in my view of things in this, in this kind of discourse is after all, um, the latest of the prophets, right? And he has a message, you only need to look at the Sermon on the Mount as well as his attitude towards the, uh, the classes of society of this, uh, that he lived in. Uh, he was highly critical of the, of the exploitation that was going on.
Mike 23:39 He was a social prophet—and we have converted him. And it’s quite interesting to note that one could argue that that Justinian I indeed converted Christianity into the state religion of the Roman Empire, but he also made it the religion of the ruling class. And an instrument of the way in which the ruling class could control those under them, right. So one can even read the, read Justinian in this very interesting way in, in the context of this. So St. Augustine, I think we should mention St. Augustine. Uh, he wrote the City of God. He lives from 354 to 430. Right. As, as, as Rome is declining, um, the barbarians had come in, uh, he lives at a time of, of universal religious and political upheaval. And this upheaval in this conflict is, is I think, as I said, figured in this idea of the city on earth as opposed to the city in heaven and in the city in heaven people will be at peace with their creator.
Mike 24:46 Again, using religious language to express the alternative to what really exists on earth. And we could really—can we create? And that becomes a, a common trope, right, that we can create heaven on earth. And by creating heaven on earth, we mean creating a utopia under the greeting of better society on earth. It doesn’t have to be up there in heaven. It can be right down here on earth. Um, and I think Saint Augustine was very aware of the problem of institutionalization. He understood that the City of God, if you will, this is maybe the way I would read it, um, would be institutionalized in the church itself. That the church itself represented the just institution. And that’s not a very far-fetched idea. Uh, that, that’s an idea, which even today, we can find people who very honestly, and I find it a very attractive idea that a church that was really, uh, adhering to the teachings of Jesus would indeed be the institutionalization of the city of God as a utopia.
Mike 25:54 Uh, I think it’s that vision which for example, uh, energizes Saint, energizes Pope Francis because he is, he thinks the church as the institutional embodiment of the teachings of Jesus. And, and if you, if you look at his, uh, his moves as Pope, uh, he’s been trying very hard to, in a sense, again, again, prefigure the idea of what a utopian, what a just society would look like, as a theme. And now I want to jump a little bit further ahead just to show how this tradition, uh, persisted. So when you get to the Renaissance, um, probably the most outstanding figure—and we’re still in this biblical Christian, Hebrew Christian tradition—was Savonarola, who often gets a very bad press because he was very, uh—
Greg 26:55 He did burn a lot of things.
Mike 26:57 He burned—[chuckles] He burned a lot. They hung him before they burned him, so he got it both ways. Uh, but Savonarola was very interesting from the point of view of trying to reform society. And I’ll come back to it. That’s what we’re, we’re talking about that he wanted to impose a kind of theocratic government, uh, which meant in his eyes, as I think it meant in Saint Augustine’s eyes, a kind of ideal state on the city of Florence and an ideal society. Um, I mean, Florence was pretty corrupt. We look at Florence and we see the beautiful arts and the great, the great architects, the great paintings, forgetting that all of that rested on a terrific cesspool of corruption and exploitation. And that’s what Savonarola was, was fighting against. He had a vision and that vision was the church to replant, to replace secular society. Uh, and he captured the enthusiasm. One of the interesting things, you read reports of what went on where, um, where women gave up their jewelry and their fine clothes and merchants…
Mike 28:12 Somebody remarked, I can’t remember where I read. Merchants began to behave morally as if this was unusual and unexpected. Um, churches became popular. They became centers of philanthropy. And of course he aroused the tremendous opposition of the establishment, meaning namely the Pope and the reactionary politicians in Florence and elsewhere. And although he has a bad press, partly because he burns so much, he has a bad press. Um, he displayed what I’m going to call now—out of time, I’m going to use this word incorrectly from the point of view of the times—a kind of revolutionary zeal for change, which we find in the 20th century, in many quarters. Even today, I mean, if you just… what Savonarola was doing in, uh, in 15th century Florence was nothing more, nothing less than rioters in Chile today. Or the Parisians rising up against their, uh, the government’s plan to, to change the pension schemes in France. Savonarola led popular opposition to exploitation and was suppressed. So I think that there’s that, that long tradition and that tradition I would call something like the religious tradition in social criticism, that is very, very much at the roots of Western culture. Then there’s the second tradition, no less important, many ways more important, which is the philosophical and more secular tradition. And quite obviously the first major example is Plato. Yeah. And, and Plato’s Republic. And again, we read Plato I think very much in and of himself. Very rarely do we ask what are the conditions that caused Plato to try to write this what he wrote, right? I mean, Plato was very critical of the society in which he lived. And that’s why he writes the Republic and the Republic is an ideal society and we need to talk about it because he’s probably unlike the Christian—the Jewish or Christian prophets, Plato sets out a tremendous detailed sociological vision in the Republic for… and we say, ‘Oh, it’s a, it’s a, a metaphor for a moral system.’ Maybe it’s also really a vision of a social system that he thought would be more just.
Greg 31:13 Yeah. So let me ask you a question. I have, I have follow-up questions on the religious material…
Mike 31:18 Let’s finish with those first then.
Greg 31:21 Yeah, cause then I think we might want to save the philosophical tradition for an, maybe a separate show. Um, yeah. So the, these, these are—
Mike 31:28 I don’t think of this as a show, it’s a discussion.
Greg 31:34 [chuckles] Okay. For the next discussion. Um, what—I mean, this is just, these are just random thoughts. They’re not well-connected. Uh, but one is this sense that prophets are—if you have a prophet, it’s kind of already too late. I mean, I’m looking at this Isaiah 10 and we read 10:2 and then right after where I stopped. So let me start with 10:2 again. “To subvert the cause of the poor, to rob of their rights, the needy of my people that widows may be their spoil and fatherless children their booty.” And then here’s the new part. “What will you do on the day of punishments when the calamity comes from afar, to whom will you flee for help and how will you save your carcasses from collapsing under fellow prisoners from falling beneath this lane?” So there’s doom, there’s, there’s a need to point to doom nearby, as a way to get people to change.
Mike 32:37 I’m going to argue just for the sake of the argument though, I have a suspicion that, I have a suspicion that I like this idea. Um, doom doesn’t mean, I mean we—you may read doom to mean doom. The end of time.
Greg 32:58 Well I don’t even necessarily mean that. It’s a threat. It’s a threat.
Mike 33:01 Well, of course it’s a threat. I mean look, no social change takes place ever—and I will, I mean there, excuse me, there are social processes which change things in the nature of the way life is. But usually conscious social changes take place under threat. That threat may be the threat of a violent revolution, of riots in the street, of labor strikes, of environmental collapse, environmental collapse. Those are all threats. And the idea that you can have social change, productive social change without threat is in my sense, very puerile.
Mike 33:46 Congress will not pass a bill changing the speed of an automobile unless people put pressure. And what is pressure, meaning, ‘I won’t vote for you if you don’t vote for’—yes. Threat. Yes. So what you just read is a threat in that sense. So, but it’s, but it’s also something else, which is very important and that is that it’s a recognition of history itself. So in order to posit a future doom and ‘what will you do when that day comes,’ I also have to posit the passage of time in between to say to you, in other words, that’s what going to happen. That’s going to happen if you don’t do something. But in the meanwhile let’s get busy and throw the bastards out and create a better society. Nothing is given, in other words. And I think that’s very important because when I think about capitalist culture and I’m going to, and as we go on, I want to develop this idea more and more in future discussions.
Mike 34:45 Um, there is a way in which capitalist culture seems to be somewhat out of time. It’s out of time anyways. It’s dying. But when I say out of time we see the—we talk about the business cycle, we talk about this cycle of depression or, or, or whatever in recovery and, but there is a kind of an assumption that this is and always has been and ever will be. And that’s really the way our economists want us to think. The natural way of life, which will never come to an end. So it’s out of time. Time is not a crucial element in the social thinking of capitalism, but for socialists, time is absolutely at the center of their thinking. Time is what makes socialism possible, and it is the absence of time that makes it possible for capitalism to imagine itself as existing forever. Yup.
Greg 35:51 Okay, good. Well, so then that kind of dynamic of, of the need for change and how change happens in critical situations is one thing we’re keeping our, our eye on in general. Especially more thinking about problems of the left, but then you’re also talking at the same time about, I think, problems of acculturation. How do people become a certain kind of person, which is a much slower, a much slower kind of change.
Mike 36:25 Well, yes, absolutely. And in fact it’s not only—well, yeah, it is definitely slower. There is—Marx recognized and we all, we all recognize whether we talk about it this way or not, that there are many kinds of times. There’s a wonderful book on China at the time of the Chinese Revolution, the late ‘40s, called Two Kinds of Time. Um, there are many times. There is the time of our body which, uh, runs from whenever you begin life, but let’s say nine months, assuming that you’re not, anyway, you know what I’m getting at. I’m up to around 80 or 90 or whatever, and then it comes to that and that’s it. It proceeds pretty steadily year after year, day after day. Uh, but then there’s the, the time of, of economic cycles in our, the capitalist society, which is much shorter than the time of our time. And much faster. So there are many different kinds of times. Yeah. And I have no doubt—but that what I’m talking about in terms of the, the cultural time, the time needed for the production of a new mentality by a culture is going to be much slower and longer of duration than the time that would take to throw out a government, say. You can throw out the government in 48 hours, but it’s going to take a century… So one of the questions we have to understand and accept is that that indeed we need to figure out what are the necessary prerequisites. What do we have to do first in order to achieve second, this is an argument, which in my mind was very strong in the, to bring it as I like to do, bring these ancient arguments up to the present.
Mike 38:26 Uh, you know, between 1950 and 1960 or whatever, there was a, we used to see the world in terms of two great blocks. There was the Western bloc and then there was the Sino-Soviet bloc in 1960 or so. The Russians and the Chinese began to fall out and now it looks like they’re reforming a new relationship. But one of the arguments was, which comes first, do you need to produce the new society in order to produce the new human being? Or do you need to produce a new human being in order to produce the new society? And that’s a very, very fundamental difference. The, the, the Russians, the Soviets lean to a large extent, um, on the idea that you had to produce a new society.
Mike 39:15 And so Stalin goes around … it’s hard to talk about Stalin, uh, in any objective way these days in social terms. But, but Stalin goes around trying to create for a while the institutions of the new society, which will then lead to the new human, whereas the Chinese always put a very strong emphasis on education. That is, you had to produce the new human being who would then be able to live the new society. I think that’s a very valid dichotomy. Uh, it’s, it’s a conflict of perspectives which we ourselves have to live in. But that doesn’t mean we choose one or the other. Uh, obviously I should try to live my personal life—and I think this comes down there; you’ve heard me say often that if socialism has any meaning, it’s because it has meaning in my personal life. That’s really crucial, right? So I’ve got to begin to live a socialist life. We should discuss that someday. I have to begin to live a socialist life if I want to produce or be a citizen of a democratic socialist society. And how do I do that? That we have to talk about. But I think those two things go in tandem, although the time of them is different. The time scale, the time scale and the rapidity. As time passes.
Greg 40:34 Well, and so then since that, since we’ve had so much to say about religion on this, in this discussion, the, when it comes to acculturation of becoming a kind of person… is there, this particularly Western story might suggest that the idea of God played a role in creating those kinds of people.
Mike 41:01 Absolutely. I have no doubt that that’s the case.
Greg 41:03 And what do we make of that for—?
Mike 41:08 Well, I’m not sure. There are days when I think that the idea of God is extraordinarily useful and important for us. How do you like that? That in fact, the Theses on Feuerbach [from Marx’s 1846 manuscripts, The German Ideology] comes immediately to mind where, where the thesis goes, something like, or whoever said it, wherever it is—that man created God in his own image and then forgot that God was his own creation and begins to worship and become the slave of his own image. I could also argue, I think, and we should talk about this at some point, I think very good argument can be made for it. That we create God in the image of the society that we want to create. And that’s a very valid, valuable way for us to have a star by which to steer our ship by. Yeah. I think that’s a perfectly valid way that—that’s in Western society. One can imagine the societies where they have other, other means. Uh, but I, I’m perfectly prepared to, to think that the idea of a just God is really important for the achievement of a just society. That doesn’t mean—God forbid I should ever say this—that doesn’t mean that a just society depends upon the ‘real existence’ of any God and much less a just God. I’m more inclined in my daily experience the thing that God is not just, but…
Greg 42:42 Well so to come back to something you said at the start then, and I know this isn’t a problem you’ve solved yet, but you referred to the Scandinavian countries as kind of congealed Lutheranism where there is, they can be understood as a kind of legacy of this thing we’ve been describing and yet the attendance at church is so low that there’s—so there’s somehow both the result of this process but also don’t need the religious institution.
Mike 43:15 Yeah, I think, you know, that’s something that we need to talk about, but I think it is true. It’s a, it’s, it’s a valid statement to say that in many countries, um, religion is no longer necessary in the sense that it is in other countries. You know, why in America religion is necessary, whereas it isn’t in Scandinavia. I really don’t know. I can’t answer that. Um, America is a very deeply religious country and my, my friends who study America maybe could explain sometime why, I don’t know why America is that. But it’s interesting to note that even in American religion, if you will, the same conflicts that we’re talking about are also present so that American religion is also to be seen not in purely theological or religious terms, but it can be seen in terms of the kinds of social conflict that we’re talking about, say in the Old Testament, uh, or that Jesus represents. Um, for example, you had in the 1930s, the whole social gospel movement, which was very much on the left. It almost doesn’t exist any longer because the right wing has become so powerful. Uh, you have in the Mormon church this tremendously progressive period at the beginning, of cooperativism, very powerful. Whereas today, the Mormon church has become somewhat more conservative. So there is a history of this kind of thing in the history of religion in America as well. Yeah. Religion is not a separate subject. Right. We ought to be teaching religion as part of all of our, all our curriculum.
Greg 45:00 Yup. Well that, so actually brings me to my last point, um, which is just a comment about, uh, you know Elaine Pagels—studies early Christianity, Princeton, everybody should check her out. Um, but she talks about the Thomas Gospel, which is apocryphal, and there’s this, this, um, great line from the Thomas Gospel that I’ll, I’m about to quote, but she, I, she strikes me as somebody who wishes, I think she’s even said this explicitly, that Christianity had more of the temper of the Thomas Gospel and her analysis of the Thomas Gospel in a nutshell is that the word Thomas means twin. And so the heresy of the Thomas community was that Jesus was saying that we’re all like him. He in fact is not different in kind. And the quotation from the gospel is, “the kingdom of God is here and we don’t see it.” Right. Um, so there’s this profession of heaven on earth, utopia here.
Mike 46:06 Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. Not only utopia here, utopia now. Yeah. You know, if you will, it, it will be so, and that kind of idea. Absolutely that’s the question. And um, there’s a, you know, when you start looking for it, you’ll find even today a huge amount of utopian thinking going on. Uh, in a curious kind of way, Silicon Valley is utopian. Uh, the way Silicon Valley imagines itself is a utopian community. And we’ll talk about these—’cause science fiction, for example. And I think that if you will, Silicon Valley is congealed science fiction—that science fiction is a terrifically powerful utopian as well as dystopian form of expression. Yeah. And we will talk about that at some point because some science fiction writers like Ursula Le Guin have been very powerful writers, very much on the left, very utopian in the positive terms, right.
Greg 47:16 Okay. Enough for today. Signing off. See you all next time. Thanks for listening to another episode of A Shareable World. To find out more about this podcast, visit us at ashareableworld.com.