the Prophetic voice

October 19, 2012

I hear the objections to extreme language (eg. ‘parasites’) that Vinoth uses.

While not acquainted personally with Vinoth, those I know who are assure me of his respectfulness, graciousness and humility. This is not to enter into a debate about Vinoth’s character (so completely inappropriate as that would be), but rather to help highlight that I think a post like ‘Not the economy, Stupid’ exercises a particular ‘voice’ which some of the commentators here seem to have missed.

Vinoth’s post, more than a self-indulgent venting of personal opinion (to which we are all entitled), stands firmly in the prophetic tradition. Here are a set of conventions of communication. Restrained, detatched clinicality, is rightly set aside in favour of the impassioned, extreme advocacy for the poor and vehement criticism of the rich, according to the rhythms and rhetorics of the prophets, with quite a bit of name calling; Amos who called rich women ‘cows’ and Jeremiah who called the people of God ‘dung’ – though here in Australia, we’d parse that with a bit more frankness. In my view, by Hebrew Bible prophetic standards, ‘Not the economy, stupid’ is only in third gear – it could be more extreme.

The idea of eschewing ‘bias’ in political discussion seems to have eluded the prophets. An out and out bias for the poor, in unbalanced, almost unbearably emotionally honest, searing expressions from the Biblical Prophets makes the standard ‘leftist’ talking points seem middle of the road and respectable. And this is not what is required.

The invocation of the prophetic voice is not to abandon reason, but to express truth which is stronger than mechanical rationalism or polite intellectualisma. ‘Constructive Dialogue’ is important, but debate that is perceived as ‘even’ can actually be contrived, or even worse, neutered. Life is far from ‘fair’ for most of the world, so the notion of a ‘fair exchange’, in terms of removing bias, is somewhat ill-fitting for such a topic.

This is no to say Vinoth’s post doesn’t make sense, or engage us intellectually – there is no shortage of strong argument here – but it is not tempered with hedged emotion, or disinterest.

I have minimal interest in the roadshow of American politics, but I have a great interest in the ways we speak about humans. Classic ‘red vs blue’ or Oxford style debates which pretend a ‘level playing field’ and proceed ostensibly in pitting reason against reason, perpetuate the myth that appeals to rationality are more reliable than righteousness, that justice is subject to individual judgement, and detached argumentation is morally superior to impassioned objection.

The God of the Hebrew Prophets knew no such restraint. Appropriately in this forum – a public blog – Ramachandra also relinquishes the faux voice of restrained niceties, in favour of the full- throttled hyperbole of prophetic calling names and calling to account.

The voice of reason is one of the ‘Gods that fail’.

Vinoth Ramachandra

“It’s the Economy, Stupid” was Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaign slogan in 1992.

Economics began as the science of political economy, but now most conventional economists regard the economy as a quasi-autonomous area of human interactions, shaped by trade and technology far more than politics. How refreshing, then, to discover two recent books by Nobel Prize-winning economists- Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz- who emphasize the role that politics has played in bringing the American economy to where it is today. (In the interests of transparency, let me say that I have not read either book, only browsed them in bookstores and read some reviews.)

We all know that the biggest transformation in the American economy since the 1980s has been the stagnation of the middle classes and the dramatic rise of the “1%”- the “super-rich” to which men like Mitt Romney belong. In the five years to 2007, the top…

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