Progressive Revival

Rabbis of antiquity interpreted the attempt by humanity to build a
Tower of Babel that would allow people to storm heaven as a symbol of
human hubris and technological power gone crazy. It was globalization
for the sake of power, not for the sake of kindness or goodness, so, 
according to the Bible, God ensured that the whole thing would
collapse. Scrambling languages and created a multi-cultural reality
provided a way for humans to develop their own less imperialistic
goals, diffusing power and challenging the notion that the path to
salvation lies with material conquests and technological prowess.

Our contemporary capitalist system and its globalization of selfishness
has evolved into a similarly grotesque distortion as people are
increasingly socialized into the goals of the system: accumulate as
much money and power as possible, and refuse to allow any other ethical
goals into the public sphere (we are allowed to pursue them in our own
“private lives” but not together in social space). The human suffering
that results is not only for the poor. As people internalize the ethos
of the marketplace and its “looking out for number one” and its seeing
others primarily in instrumental terms (“what can you do for me to
further my goals or satisfy my needs?”), families feel increasingly
unstable, education becomes training to “make it in a global
competition,” and politics increasingly focuses on how to best assist
the most powerful in their aims to secure or increase their wealth, or
to protect American corporate interests as they increasingly seek to
dominate world markets.

The pursuit of money and power is a huge ethical distortion for human
life and destructive for a society. Whether manifested in the failed
wars in Vietnam or the continuing bloody conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan
and soon Pakistan and Iran, or in the collapse of our banking,
insurance, and stock market systems, the ethos of selfishness and
materialism are not sustainable in the 21st century.

So the careful and skillful manipulating us into a mass hysteria that
this all be worked out immediately and before Congress goes on recess
to run for reelection, with dire predictions that nobody knows to be
true, to rush to use our monies (currently proposing a trillion
dollars, but there will be trillions more to come, because we will be
nurturing a “culture of dependence” by the rich and their corporate
holdings) to bolster this way of life. Democrats have bought in. Yet it
is a huge error-it’s like trying to put bandages on the Tower of Babel.
Of course, the wealthy all think that this is an immediate
emergency-they suspect that a Democratic President and Congress might
be more willing to demand a better deal for ordinary citizens in return
for using their tax dollars this way. And they think that our tax
monies (of which they contribute very little, should be used to
“provide confidence to the markets”-meaning themselves). Many of them
don’t care that the resulting inflation is likely to make most working
people’s savings, retirement accounts, and social security considerably
less valuable in real purchasing power terms. But they are wrong to
fear the Obama election-the Democrats, including Obama, are as much
committed to propping up the current system as the rich, in order to
prove (to the pundits and inside-the-Beltway crowd and their wealthy
funders who together constitute their primary reference group) that
they are “responsible.” So their demands for “accountability,”
re-regulation, and “limits on executive incomes” throws the merest
little restraint while the hundreds of billions that will be spent will
resuscitate the system of selfishness, keep the majority of corporate
executives benefiting from the excesses they current enjoy,  and not
even touch on reshaping the fundamentals.

This is an extraordinary moment, a crisis like this is a precious thing
and should not be wasted. If we had any ethically or spiritually
visionary leadership, they would reject any immediate bailout, and
instead, talk of ethical and spiritual reconstruction of the society in
accord with a New Bottom Line: that every institution should be judged
efficient, rational and productive not only to the extent that they
maximize money and power, but also to the extent that they maximize
love and caring for others, generosity and kindness, ethical and
ecological sensitivity, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of the

To start that process, we should demand that any corporation receiving
help from our government give a corresponding level of ownership and
control of their venture to the people of this country. Moreover, any
such corporation should be required to meet the terms of the Network of
Spiritual Progressives’ proposed Social Responsibility Amendment to the
Constitution: that any corporation with an income of more than $50
million a year must get a new corporate charter once every ten years,
to be granted only if it can prove a satisfactory history of social
responsibility as measured by an Ethical Impact Report and as decided
by a jury of ordinary people whose task is to represent the interests
of the common good.

Meanwhile, the rest of us should be protected as the Tower of Babel
collapses. So the hundreds of billions of dollars being thrown
recklessly by our Congress into the hands of the very people and
corporations that fostered the current meltdown, should instead be used
to create a national bank that would provide mortgage assistance at
affordable rates, buy up and restart in the hands of the people who
work within them any at-risk corporations providing socially useful
functions at a price not dictated by the need to ensure that the
wealthy prosper, recreate ( for those who’ve lost them)  and sustain
(for those who still have them) pension funds  for families with
incomes under $300,000/yr., create a single-payer universal health care
system of the sort now being used by Members of Congress, and provide
strong incentives for alternative energy-oriented investment and a
minimum wage that rises with inflation to ensure adequate compensation
for working people.

Yet these are only baby-steps, and the moment is now to insist that the
elections themselves be dedicated to exploring more visionary
approaches to reconstructing our economy on the basis of caring for
each other and rejecting the materialism and selfishness that has
perverted our media and threatens to continue to destroy our economy in
the years to come. Just say “no” to the demands for an immediate
“bailout” of the wealthy with your tax monies-and take the time to use
this amazing historical moment to put ethical and spiritual values back
into our economic life!

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine (, chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives (
,  rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in San Francisco, and author of
eleven books, most recently: The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our
Country from the Religious Right (HarperCollins, 2006).

If you agree with this perspective, please please please JOIN the Network of Spiritual Progressives at
to help us support the work necessary to develop and publicize this
approach to contemporary issues (and with membership you get a year’s
free subscription to TIKKUN magazine). You can also respond to Rabbi Lerner:

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