Pope Francis

Is hands-down the best Pope in my short life.  He is extraordinarily close to exactly what I would hope the leader of the largest Christian denomination in the world to be.  I read his Evangelii Gaudium and was blown away.  After Pope Benedict XVI, I was not hopeful that the Catholic church would choose someone who seems so in touch with the central messages of Jesus Christ.  He does not protect the rich from critique, as Benedict with his gaudy, gold-laden apparel was wont to do.  He consistently puts his focus on the poor and needy, and now, with his Laudato Si, he has included Earth in that category.

I am very impressed and happy.  I have admired many Catholic figures throughout history, but as with so much of modernity, it has long seemed to me that the Catholic heyday has long since passed.

But I really love Pope Francis.  He is doing very important work.  If you enjoy religious literature, I highly recommend his exhortation and encyclical listed above.  They are excellent.  Below, I’d like to point out some particularly good passages from the recent encyclical:

The continued acceleration of changes affecting humanity and the planet is coupled today with a more intensified pace of life and work which might be called “rapidification”. Although change is part of the working of complex systems, the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. Moreover, the goals of this rapid and constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good or to integral and sustainable human development. Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity.

I have often thought about this, and I think Francis has written here excellently.  At one time, I was a hardcore anarcho-primitivist, thinking the disease of machinery had overcome us and only its utter dissolution would suffice as a solution.  I have since abandoned such thought on the basis of its obvious irrationality which was permitted escape by my youthful desire for radical change.  For at what point does mankind’s creation in machinery suffice as disease?  Do even simple machines suffice?

The idea that our problems may be resolved by returning to a hunter-gatherer society is untenable.  But, it points to something real enough to compel my attention, and here I think Francis might do a very good job of identifying it in a way quite compatible with the purpose of this blog.  For I am seeking to establish machinery which may allow one to effectively manage one’s own life (including its associated machinery) so that we might get on top of this rapidly intensifying pace of life and work.  As my “About the Author” section says, modern life increasingly inhibits spiritual contemplation, and this issue has been perhaps the foremost in my life for many years now.

Other indicators of the present situation have to do with the depletion of natural resources. We all know that it is not possible to sustain the present level of consumption in developed countries and wealthier sectors of society, where the habit of wasting and discarding has reached unprecedented levels. The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and we still have not solved the problem of poverty.

To me, this is one of the most troubling aspects of our modern society.  As I have pointed out in previous posts (and far more frequently to my friends and family who are likely sick of hearing about it), our abilities have increased incredibly in the past hundred years.  Our technological advancement has afforded unprecedented power to common people, and yet, rather than reaping the benefits of prosperous ease which ought to accompany such progress, common people remain under the heel of the economy.  Though the common laborer easily accomplishes more today than individuals accomplished through strenuous effort in the past, the American middle class is yet poorer and smaller than it was 50 years ago.

It stands to reason, given our exploitation of the world and the technological power with which we conduct said exploitation, we should have all we want.  We should be working perhaps 25-30 hours a week, spending the rest of that time developing in ourselves the human excellence necessary for the sustenance of righteousness.  If we truly desire effective democracies in the world, we must afford ourselves the time required to become the participants demanded by such democracies.  We cannot continue to press our people into the ground for the sake of economic “progress”, continually eating away at the leisure for whose sake all work purportedly takes place.

But it seems we are placated with iPhones and hi-def TVs.  We celebrate together our grotesque gluttony daily on Facebook and Twitter.  Our office cages offer comfortable chairs in which to daily degrade the quality of our bodies, and our computer monitors offer ever brighter pictures for our deadened eyes.  This has long sickened me, and as I wrote above, I work on this blog to develop templates for myself and others interested in halting this precarious progression, but I am of little effect.  It gladdens me immensely to see the Pope taking on this issue by my side.

Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity.

To see the Pope continuously remind us that the free market is made for man, man is not made for the free market brings joy to my heart.  Again, he drives home the point that we must not perpetuate what he calls (aptly) “the throwaway culture” purely for the sake of the market.  Our politicians constantly speak of jobs, our news media constantly speaks of jobs, and everywhere it appears our leaders believe this to be the fundamental link between their positions and ours.  The moral value of our economic system, however, is seldom, if ever, mentioned.

We cannot solve all problems with business models, nor ought we to develop a world in which business is the intellectual framework by which we seek to understand everything.  We have moral obligations which precede and ought, in many senses, to determine our economic activities.  It is for this reason that I consider myself something of an ethical socialist.  While the unfettered free market can be a fine model for the distribution of luxury items, it is a brutal, inhumane model for the distribution of healthcare and critical resources such as water, food, and shelter.  And it is particularly harsh in a world where adult human beings are often compelled to work slavishly for entirely inadequate pittance.

Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.

I have long struggled internally with the notion of bringing more people into wild areas for fear of what they might do to them, but I have become convinced that the best way to learn the value of something is to have it for oneself.  And so I began this blog.  If we can become healthy, strong, intelligent, wonderful human beings who excel in those areas of life which call us forth, I hope we will find that we share, among many sentiments, wonder and love for the planet.

The greatest danger to our planet is perhaps the downtrodden, unhappy mass of humanity which we are becoming.  Where there is no exuberance, no vitality or vigor of life, there will likely be little concern for its acquisition or preservation which elicits in us and makes necessary for us communion with the Earth.

There is so much more of value in this text, but I will stop here for now.

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