Catholic Workers

–In economics, private and state capitalism bring about an unjust distribution of wealth, for the profit motive guides decisions. Those in power live off the sweat of others’ brows, while those without power are robbed of a just return for their work. Usury (the charging of interest above administrative costs) is a major contributor to the wrongdoing intrinsic to this system. We note, especially, how the world debt crisis leads poor countries into greater deprivation and a dependency from which there is no foreseeable escape. Here at home, the number of hungry and homeless and unemployed people rises in the midst of increasing affluence.

–In labor, human need is no longer the reason for human work. Instead, the unbridled expansion of technology, necessary to capitalism and viewed as “progress,” holds sway. Jobs are concentrated in productivity and administration for a “high-tech,” war-related, consumer society of disposable goods, so that laborers are trapped in work that does not contribute to human welfare. Furthermore, as jobs become more specialized, many people are excluded from meaningful work or are alienated from the products of their labor. Even in farming, agribusiness has replaced agriculture, and, in all areas, moral restraints are run over roughshod, and a disregard for the laws of nature now threatens the very planet.

Reprinted from The Catholic Worker newspaper, May 2008

I am always arguing with my large Catholic extended family because they are so conservative, almost without exception. They have a particularly hard time, for some reason, accepting any program other than charity that might ameliorate poverty; labor unions are anathema; most are profoundly suspicious of government as such.

I have some sense of the social origins of these ideas. We are from the south, where there are few labor unions; without exception we are only a generation or two away from a profound poverty in Mississippi and Louisiana in the 1920s and 30s. My Dad, whose family was destroyed by diseases rooted in poverty, believed the poor could only help themselves.

All of these fears have been very purposefully manipulated by the U.S. right wing for more than forty years, particularly since the Reagan administration. What I find most amazing is that these ideas seem to be in direct contradiction to both the general message of the Christian New Testament, and to the Catholic church’s modern teachings on the dignity of labor.

I am not sure that many of them will be willing to read through encyclicals– who would?– but I think it’s still an important point to make as the Obama program begins to gain steam and the level of paranoia inevitably rises. I keep wondering, though, what will be more frightening, the right’s dystopian rants and visions or the real suffering of the next year or more.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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