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Community Dispatch - An InfoFax of the Halton Social Planning Council & Volunteer Centre

December 2000

On behalf of the Halton Social Planning Council and Volunteer Centre, I would like to extend our Seasons Greetings to all and our best wishes for a New Year that brings peace and justice to all.

This Community Dispatch continues our tradition of sharing the highlights of the keynote address presented at the Council’s Annual General meeting. The address at our June 2000 meeting entitled, A Moral Crisis: False Gods of the Market Place, was presented by Rev. Bill Phipps, Moderator of the United Church of Canada from 1998 to 2000. He examines the myth of powerlessness in the free-market economy and challenges us all – faith and secular groups – to join together and take back community.

The Halton Social Planning Council and Volunteer Centre hopes that the thoughts and insights of our speaker will encourage us to pause and reflect on the future of our community and of civic society on the eve of the year 2001.

Joey Edwardh, Executive Director

The Moral Crisis

In Canada and indeed globally, we are experiencing a Moral and a Spiritual Crisis of the first order…

The overwhelming context is globalization and the market. Globalization as we all know, has become a code word for undemocratic, unaccountable, transnational corporations and financial institutions that seek profit at the expense of ecological integrity, low wages and local community well being. The rhetoric and the practice of those swayed to the market as idol goes far beyond healthy competition. The healthy competition that both of my grandfathers engaged in as small business people in Toronto many years ago is something far, far different from that.

I was on an airplane coming back from Guatemala in March and I picked up a Fortune magazine, normally it is not part of my digestive reading, but I flipped through. There were two advertisements that I want to tell you about. Both of them were for software.

The first one went like this: “Don’t just compete, conquer. Begin your conquest now.” That is something different than having some friendly competition, that is saying that the goal is to beat the daylights out of your competitor and if he does not get up off the ground, good.

The other ad was worse. Those of you who know something about the New Testament may know something about the Beatitudes, the meek shall inherit the earth, blessed are the peacemakers, the Sermon on the Mount. But listen to this ad: “Our apologies to the meek who shall not inherit the earth.” It was accompanied with a picture of a man with his head on the pavement, crushed, a boot print was on his head, his glasses were broken on the pavement, in other words he had his head smashed in on the pavement. The text on the bottom was: “In the market you either kick or get kicked.”…

We have to pay attention; we are in deep trouble if that’s the context in which we are encouraged not only to do business, but to live in community with each other. “Begin your conquest now.” “You either kick or get kicked.” It is the winner takes all attitude that divides communities, it increases the gaps and isolation of people, it maligns the common good. To pollute the earth devoted to the market as god is soul destroying and presents us with this moral and spiritual crisis…

The ideology of the so-called free market is obliterating all other criteria for development of human society. David Courtland in his book, When Corporations Ruled the World, writes: “In the quest for economic growth, the free market ideology has been embraced around the world with the fervour of a fundamentalist religious faith. Money is its sole measure of value and its practices, advance policies that are deepening social and environmental disintegration everywhere. The economic profession serves as its priesthood, it champions values that demean the human spirit. It assumes an imaginary world divorced from reality and it is restructuring our institutions of governance in ways that make our most fundamental problems more difficult to resolve yet to question its doctrine has become virtual heresy.”

An excellent book, Unequal Freedoms: The Global Market as an Ethical System by John McMurtry, states: “We find that government and their leadership now assume that the value system of the global market is to be the proper order to social organization and that societies must be made to adapt to this order as the needs and demands of the market requires. The market is not now seen as a structure to serve society rather society is seen as an aggregate of resources to serve the global market.” He continues, “No traditional religion had declared more absolutely the universality and necessity of its laws and commandments than the proponents of the global market doctrine.” … Do you not get a little tired about Prime Ministers saying that globalization and all its benefits are inevitable? I do, and a lot of other people do to. But a whole bunch of people have bought this. McMurtry goes on to show how the market system is a value system and is not neutral. Actually, he has ten regulating principles of true belief that parallel fundamentalism to name just a few.

Here are some of the fundamentalist principles that underlie the market ideology, the market as god:

  1. Pride in property is good in all things without the right to limit its legal acquisitions.
  2. The money-right system optimally distributes all goods and services
  3. Protection of domestic production of any kind is bad, government intervention in the market is bad unless it promotes profitable market activity.

Consequences to Society

What are some of the marks of this ideology? They are:

The growing gap between the rich and the poor. The obscenity of the growing gap between rich and poor in this land is larger now than ever before in our history and that is true globally as well.

The growth in the number of poor children. In 1989, the [Federal] government pledged to eliminate child poverty but it has increased 59%; two parent families living in poverty has increased 48% …

The other thing that we’re doing, and this is underlined in those advertisements in Fortune magazine mentioned earlier, is the creation of a society of winners and losers and we are blaming the losers for their condition…

It’s not an accident! Do not let anybody tell you that. What we are doing is intentional, the consequences are known, and they are proven. It is not just an accident it is a very deliberate thing…

Conclusions: Organizing for Jubilee & Hope

I would like to make some comments about the Canadian Ecumenical Initiative – Jubilee. Jubilee was undertaken by all of the major churches in Canada and, indeed, around the world. Jubilee is a major campaign to try to address some of the social inequities in our world as well as here at home…

The Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative, is an example of the major churches and a whole lot of other organizations around a three year campaign:

  • 1st year was to cancel the debt of poor countries around the world
  • 2nd year was redistribution of income, to try and close the gap between rich and poor
  • 3rd year, which we are now entering, has to do with the environment.

As we enter the third year of environmental integrity, in terms of Jubilee, the issues and, for example, the deaths in Walkerton, become even more poignant for us. Walkerton is complex and the issues multifaceted. The government reduction of funding in the Department of the Environment by 40% and the privatization of government labs, in order to lessen government’s role, is a contributing factor. However horrific and terrible Walkerton is, it may be a wake up call for us. You cannot just leave the common good to the care of private enterprise. It is our common good, it is what we hold in common as citizens of a democratic land…

I believe that what we are going through right now is un-Canadian, not the way we have traditionally done things. I believe that for the last 150 years, Canadians have built a complex web that we call a civil society. During these 150 years, we tried to build a compassionate society where the goal was inclusive of people, rather than celebrating the creation of winners and losers. Whether it was the Tory or the Liberal or the NDP party, all of those parties, we believe in the essential role of government. The government was essential in providing quality education, health care, social services, environmental protection, public broadcasting, artistic expression, pension, adequate housing and so forth. It took decades for us to weave this together and bring together this collective thing that we call Canada…

Jim Wallace, an evangelic preacher in the USA, was the founder of Sojourners magazine on social justice. It is the combination of evangelical fervour and a strong commitment of social justice. In it he defined hope: “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and then watching the evidence change. Therefore, it is yours and my calling to change the evidence, our job is to change the evidence, bring forward the evidence of hope.”…

Just imagine, all the faith based organizations, all the congregations, all the mosques, all the synagogues, the temples, the churches – all faiths and no faiths – gathered as a community. If all those people rose up together in outrage and confronted those principalities and powers that seem intent on tearing asunder the social fabric, change could occur. There is no question in my mind.

We have to wake up. There are still thousands of faith-based organizations, congregations that meet every week across this land. If every one of those congregations had their people on the steps of their local MLA or MPPs or MPs offices they would take some notice. Why are we not enraged? Think of that Fortune Magazine advertisement; the operating principle by which we are being governed…

Well, I believe that things like the Jubilee Initiative can inspire us to pray courageously and act boldly with the power of people who are committed to changing the evidence. We can contribute to transforming the current politics of blame, punishment and division into a politics of respect, of compassion and Jubilee Justice. Tommy Douglas once said “Courage my friends, it is not too late to make a better world.” Well, I believe that is our challenge and that is our calling and I believe that everybody in this room and our friends and neighbours across the land, if we chose to do so, could create that better plan; could change the evidence so that hope can be reborn, community to community across this country of ours. If we pull together in this fashion then this marvellous poem by Judy Chicago, that I call a prayer, will be realized. Listen to this prayer and think of our own society:

Then all that has divided us will merge
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both men and women will be gentle
And then both women and men will be strong
And then no person will be subject to another’s will
And then all will be rich and free and varied
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many
And then all will share equally in the earth’s abundance
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old
And then all will nourish the young
And then all will cherish life’s creatures
And then all will live in harmony with each other and with the earth
And everywhere will be called Eden, once again.

Thank you


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