Saturday, October 31, 2009

Why a Quaker would vote for Michael R. Bloomberg

Dear Friend,

The incumbent New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg convinced enough City Council members to overturn term limits and allow our emerging everyman King, to run for a third term. And His Honor is ahead by almost 20 percent in the polls. Michael Bloomberg has now spent more of his own money (over $100 million in the current election, and almost $250 million for all three mayoral campaigns) than any other individual in United States history in the pursuit of public office.

And, if I weren’t a Quaker, I’d definitely vote – for Mike.

I live in New York City. A vote for Mike would be easier. I would know what life to expect with him in office. We’d most probably continue making the same progress that has been made in the last 8 years. And we would allow him to dole out just enough taxpayer money to quell the law-and-order interests that hold the most leverage, and hear him vanquish all the other special interests vying to take us back to the bad old days with his ubiquitous, confident, plain speaking.

And I’d vote for Mike, because he is simply the antithesis of a paid minister. His mayoral salary is one dollar per year. And he’s got his own money, thank you very much. And he loves New York City. I would imagine when Mike said that “I love this city” in one of his many ads that he paid for out of his own pocket running on TV and the radio that he didn’t mean the agape love that Jesus showed us, but most probably he meant a king-like love. This benevolent kingly vision condescends to those of mortal means and vision, to rule and regulate those same mortals with fallible desires, who if elected themselves, would appropriate other people’s money to themselves and their friends and those who paid to put them in office.

Yes, Quakers are not supposed to vote, because it enables the majority to force its will over the minority creating an environment which nurtures sore losers, later to possibly use violence or force back on the majority. ‘Force’ is the Quaker ‘F’ word.

The Quaker orthodoxy goes like this: all people contain ‘that of God’ or ‘the Seed of God’ or the ‘Light of Christ’ which is good and which grows if the right external conditions nurture this growing of the ‘good’ to continue. We all have the internal choice to do right or wrong or to open ourselves to The Light and come closer to God or use exercise our own will and force, and close ourselves off to The Light and go the other way.

Voting can make one feel mildly empowered yet make one feel dirty at the same time. Politics are dirty. One goes in a little booth behind a curtain and comes out a participant in politics flexing his own little muscles, glowing with endorphins from flipping those little levers and wrist-wrestling that large arm which records the votes, clears the slate and opens the curtain at the end of it all.

Quakers are not supposed to vote (in their religious affairs) or participate in this ‘force’ over the minority, and should feel a clean conscience that they have not forced anyone to do anything. Feeling dirty is because politics is about some winning and others losing - about humans’ base need to dominate others and appropriate resources to themselves and their friends, and those who helped put them in office. In Spanish a derivative of Latin, Vencer means to conquer, Con-vencer means to Convince, or conquer with their permission. Quakers convince, most others conquer.

The definition of politics above comes from our imperfect campaign financing statutes, which enables professional paid politicians (ministers). These ‘public servants’ don’t come to politics unwillingly, to serve for a limited time, and then go back to their lives they had before civil politics or Church hierarchy. Consider General Secretaries of Yearly Meetings who can’t do anything else, who are not in a progression of job opportunity within an organization, and which leads nowhere else outside of that organization, and hence try to hold on to their jobs at all costs, even to the detriment of a Yearly Meeting, like would anyone else who needs a job. Politicians come to politics of their own self-serving desires to line their own and their friend’s pockets with other people’s money while in and after office - if sadly they are ever voted out or removed by some exposed corruption. New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (NYYM) does very much the same thing: where a small group of paid insiders insinuates itself into power by the appropriation of money to itself and its faraway central activities. NYYM, a 1500 member association trying to be a centralized government as it loses even more members at local levels, contains all the trappings of civil politics and big business. NYYM keeps silent about some truths while it churns other truths that will maintain the select few in power. It’s the same spin that happens in civil government by political press officers and in business by corporate communications departments.

One Long Island New York Friend I served with on a committee once called the NYYM insiders ‘the Politburo’ or the ‘Supreme Soviet’ I can’t remember which, but the intent of this central committee comes forth - with succinct reference to those on the farm who are of course – more equal, who’s tyranny reside at the mother of all high-priced dachas of Annual Meetings, held at a summer resort at Lake George in the Adirondack mountains.

In the decentralized model of Quaker Yearly Meetings, all effectively compete and collaborate with each other on the best ways to run a Yearly Meeting. Strangely though, some Yearly Meetings are sadly following the paid minister, big-budget, high-cost, centralized control model of New York Yearly Meeting. NYYM leads other Meetings like a Quaker flagship of dying membership, sailing out into a vast sea of absurdity and irrelevance, and flushing time, talent and money into the bilge head somewhere vaguely out there. This instead of other Yearly Meetings showing the example of a lower-cost, limited government, but full participation, volunteer service, bringing-emphasis-back-to-local-Monthly-Meeting-concerns example - and helping to reform the misled New York (and north New Jersey) Quakers.

It’s not like I agree with everything Mike has tried to do for New York City – the 2012 Olympics, thank God (who overruled Mike on that one), will be held somewhere else, I forget where, and I don’t really care. I prefer we not be a target more than we already are.

Thankfully also, now that I no longer attend Quaker Meeting here, I don’t have to listen to the incessant background psychologically depressed leftist hum of how ‘we deserved 9/11’ in group psychotherapy in or at any social gathering after a New York City Quaker Meeting for Worship. I remember coming to New York City in 1980 and a Dean who helped me get a scholarship at NYU telling me Washington Square Park, on which I lived at that time, the bohemian hub of the past century (still within 5 minutes walk from my apartment) was targeted by the Soviets as Ground Zero for their first-strike atom bomb. I always thought that was strange, how all the leftist and anarchists pontificating on soap boxes and strumming their guitars would be evaporated first by our former nemesis, the former communist Soviet Union.

I sometimes think about George Fox railing against the paid ministers and professors, and I then think about how Quakerism is now rife with the same ‘professional politicians’ and ‘professors’ which plague our civil governments. I think about how George Fox called Oliver Cromwell, maybe like an historical Michael Bloomberg, his “Lord Protector”. I remember also how royalty freed 700 Quakers who were in prison after Cromwell’s death, when Fox declared (in The Peace Testimony) that the Friends had no reason nor desire to participate in outward wars or strife (like politics and protest marching, etc)

And Mike protects us assuredly from corruption – he himself can’t be bought, and he’s so king-rich, he is not beholden to self-serving minority special interests who are lurking in the shadows, warming their hot little hands to go back into our pockets if Mike’s major challenger (a Democrat) is elected. Mike has a lot to do with trimming size of government if he feels that is what should be done. Period. There is always the whining and crying within serfdom of 9 million people, but that’s all it amounts to, and life goes on according to Mike’s supreme vision.

However, surprisingly, I’m still positively impressed mostly with those I’ve met and spoken to in the Evangelical Friends International who pay ministers in what are known as Friends Churches. It appears mostly EFI Friends don’t tax their membership too heavily to pay their ministers and ministers get paid in amounts that indicate the ministers are truly serving their flocks – not building large budget businesses around themselves and their careers.

Large budget Quaker businesses include such as New York Yearly Meeting, but the real big bucks budgets are maintained by Friends organizations. The top of the list is the now-evolved nakedly politically partisan American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and Friends General Conference (FGC). The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) is third on this list, being a legally incorporated partisan political organization which somehow commands respect as 'leaders' of Friends or our 'paid ministers' in the modern Quaker Faith.

But, possibly the most chagrining examples of big Quaker businesses are the (large) Eastern U.S. and British urban elite Friends schools. Some of the most reviling Quakers fancy themselves important Friends School literati, collecting their salaries from the rich patrons of Friends Schools, rich parents who send their children there, and large trust funds set up by formerly alive Quakers. Plain and simple – these are the elite Friends – our modern day ministers paid by the wealthy to interpret the Faith for how the rich would like it and for the rest of us – the declining group of mere mortals who can’t govern ourselves without their expertise and esoteric insight.

One who has read my writings and known me might ask, how then Glenn, can you openly criticize those Quakers who have done the same thing as Mike, by changing the rules when the rules (NYYM has revised its Handbook recently) don’t suit themselves, and continue power for themselves.

Plain and simple is that Mike has his own money, and he’d rather be managing his philanthropic life after politics than continuing in the fray. He does care for the city, he doesn’t need my money or those lesser rich folks’ money who would try to influence him to what they need to make almost as much money as Mike has. NYYM has declined and the top down force of NYYM (where the General Secretary makes 80,000 times what Mike Bloomberg makes, plus a wealth of expense reimbursements) on its constituent Monthly Meetings continues that decline.

But NYC has progressed, become cleaner, better educated, more orderly, possibly in the near future to be funded by taxes generated mostly by tourists only after Wall Street dissipates into an electronic trading cloud in the sky. (Because none of the candidates talks about how to bring back NYC as actually making anything that the rest of the world would buy.) In both cases, NYYM and NYC may be past being able to govern themselves primarily at local levels and then upward – it is just very hard work that people would rather not do. People are happier to be told what to think, believe and do from somewhere on high because it is easier than doing the hard work of organic, bottom up, grass roots government.

Some have our own lives to improve. As much as NYYM and NYC and possibly the U.S. are Rome repeating itself, individuals, hopefully including myself, are doing what we do to address closer priorities and our personal relationship with God, without preoccupation with New York Yearly Meeting, New York City, United States or world politics.

In Friendship,

Glenn R.

* New York and New Jersey politics are more prone to corruption than other states due to the transient nature of voters who come to the commercial center to make money and then leave. This voter apathy allows special interest groups to get something in return for money paid to politicians. Combine that with way too many towns, school districts, authorities and commissions, and with lax laws on holding more than one public job, and you have made-for-corruption states.