The last time I wrote, I spoke about the importance of learning how to think. Thinking isn't a frill. It's essential to a democracy. I thought of that on Sunday evening when I was hypnotized by a movie though I had seen it many times before. I used it for the film club when I taught high school.
Now, I have nothing against sensationalist films like the star wars series. It's exciting to watch. But it's pure fantasy, so there's nothing to think about in it. And it's a series that tells us nothing. In that sense, it's in a class with magazines like “Hello, Canada!” (That one gushes endless slush about how cute the royal babies are.) “Alice in Wonderland” gives us more to think about because it's closer to the real world than the Star wars series is.
The film that held me spellbound two nights ago was “How Green was My Valley”. It's the story of a young boy and the adult world around him in a Welsh coal-mining village of just over a century ago. It's about families, values, religion, the brutal and dangerous work of coal-mining. It's about social class and the arrogance and cruelty of the rich. It's a film people can discuss, not just gush over.
It's a captivating experience to see it. And it encourages thinking as the Irving press and TV and computer games and listening to bad recordings of “O Canada” at school don't. It's the kind of thinking experience people need in a democracy. I checked yearbook for the last year I taught high school. There were thirty-two such clubs, almost all with large memberships. And all of them had an impact on the ability to think.
Bizarre things are happening in the unthinking U.S. Yesterday, CBC had the story of Liberty University, the biggest 'Christian' university in the world. The students, all hot for Jesus, have been given permission to wear guns to class, and to keep them in the rooms. Well, it's the only Christian thing to do.
The name 'Liberty University' is not an accident. In the U.S., especially in evangelical circles, liberty is seen as a distinctively Christian concept. In fact, it is not. Jesus never mentioned it.
Liberty is also seen as an American concept. It's not. But America and Liberty and Christianity are routinely linked in concepts of the U.S. and its place in the world. Here's good moment to underline the importance of thinking.
The U.S. has been at war in almost every year since it was founded. It destroyed its native peoples to steal their land and resources. It has invaded almost every country in the Americas. And in almost every case, it installed dictators to impoverish and brutalize the people so the American wealthy could plunder their lands and resources. Think of the dreadful misery and suffering they imposed on Haiti, Guatemala, Chile...and on Cuba until it got rid of American power. Think of the millions of men, women and children murdered just over the last 40 years or so for the benefit of American capitalists. Think of a film that makes a hero out of a mass killer. (It's called American Sniper). Then think of a country that speaks of liberty even as it routinely destroys democracies and imposes dictators – as in Egypt. And liberty?...in nation that has spies to watch everyone, a nation whose president can legally imprison people and can murder them without charge or trial….a nation in which one cannot run for the presidency unless one is a billionaire or has been bought by billionaires….a nation that has 25% of all the prisoners in the whole world locked up in its penitentiaries, the nation that locks up people for telling the truth about its mass torture, but honours its biggest torturers and murderers and thieves.
American liberty, democracy and Christianity? No thinking person could possibly put those four words in the same sentence.
Yet they are routinely put in the same sentence. ISIS is evil. Jihadists are extremists. But Americans, without question, kill them in the name of their nation which is uniquely under God, and in the name of His Son and liberty and freedom, will kill them all just as they killed millions of Vietnamese, and Latin Americans and Africans and Iraqis and Syrians…. God bless America, the land of the free and the home of the brave.
That is what NOT thinking creates. And it's in our news media every day. Let's start with the race for Republican leadership. The republican candidates have shown no interest in the problems that are destroying the U.S. The towering issue they speak on is ISIS, and the dreadful threat it poses to American liberty, democracy and Christianity. They have nothing to say about the rising rate of poverty, of hopelessness, of the concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few. They have close to nothing to say about climate change. Or a privatized medical system which is crushingly expensive. Nothing to say about the return of racism. Nothing to say about the very high rate of violence – though that is a strong sign of a society breaking down. They have nothing to say about an education system which has been seriously damaged by privatization, and which reaches few of the poor.
It's all about power and war and conquest. This is ideal for Trump. He is not a politician. He's not a thinker. He has no idea of what social policy even means. But he knows what people like, and people like a show in which he says, “You're fired.” All he is doing now is playing his old TV character. Like Star wars, Trump is sensationalism – but nothing else.
The other candidates share his narrowness of thought. They just don't have a popular TV character to play.
For the Democrats, only Sanders has a sense of social policy. But he will never be president and, if he were, a congress hired by billionaires would block whatever he tried to do. Hilary Clinton, on the other hand, is private property of the arms industry – and that's a guarantee of war.
But, among other things, this world cannot afford another war. We have a massive problem in dealing with climate change. Already, the huge cost of a military is making it impossible for the U.S. to deal even with the social problems that are destroying it.
Is there a way to change this? Probably not – certainly not peacefully because the wealthy would never allow a peaceful change that would affect their wealth and power. Remember New Brunswick. Remember what happened when native peoples tried to protect their land from fracking. Remember the
the men in camouflage suits with combat rifles. Changes are not permitted by the people who have real power. In fact, the violence in the U.S. has already begun.
That's why the crime rate is so high. That's why there have been almost 350 mass murders in the U.S. this year – and only one related to ISIS. That's why there are so many police killings. That's why U.S. prisons hold 25% of all the prisoners in the world.
The U.S. and the whole world face massive challenges. But the wealthy don't even want to look at them. They just want to sell weapons and pump oil. I don't advocate violence. But the wealthy do – in the form of armies or of police in camouflage suits with combat rifles.
The Irving press hasn't noticed it yet, but Trudeau is under pressure to undertake a combat role for Canada in Syria. It would be illegal under international law, of course. But the U.S. has been ignoring international law for a very long time.
Why is the mighty U.S. with the biggest military budget in the world drumming up some 50 or so countries to help it defeat ISIS? Because it wants to make it a war of its own private gang, NATO. It's an attempt to force Russia and China to accept American dominance.
I have lots more material. But this one is already long. And I do want to get back to a more conventional blog for tomorrow. So I'll leave you for today with this Christmas message by Pope Francis. I feel guilty quoting a Catholic. I was a kid raised in the United Church of Canada, and thoroughly roasted in the oven of an uncompromising Calvinism. But the Pope is the only Christian leader who has anything intelligent or Christian to say.