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The Catholic Worker on Economics

(Please scroll down for "Heterosexism as a Metaphor for Capitalism and Other Sins")

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From Karen House Catholic Worker:

-  Building a New Society: Spring 2008 RoundTable

- The Global Economy: Fall 2001 RoundTable


From the Los Angeles Catholic Worker:

- Free Market Capitalism: Robbing the Poor  - Jeff Deitrich

- The Bailout: Socialism For Wall Street - Interview with Mark Engler


From the Houston Catholic Worker:

- Faith and the Financial Crisis  - Jim Consedine

- It's All About Usury - John Médaille


From the Des Moines Catholic Worker:

- Trying to Serve God and Money is a Losing Bet - Frank Cordaro

- Heterosexism as a Metaphor for Capitalism and Other Sins - Mona Shaw








Karen House:

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St. Louis, MO  63106



From the Catholic Worker Founders:

- On Economics: Easy Essays- Peter Maurin

- On Interest and Money Lending- Dorothy Day







More on Distributism (economic system promoted by the Catholic Worker):

- JustPeace.org

- "Roots of the Catholic Worker Movement: Distributism: Ownershipof the Means of Production and Alternative to the Brutal Global Market" - Mark and Louise Zwick






Heterosexism as a Metaphor for Capitalism and Other Sins

- Mona Shaw


Please visit the Des Moines Catholic Worker website to download their newsletter Via Pacis, and this article.

“In America everybody is of

the opinion that he has no

social superiors, since all men

are equal, but he does not

admit that he has no social

inferiors, for, from the time of

Jefferson onward, the doctrine

that all men are equal applies

only upwards, not downwards.”

Bertrand Russell


It is never just one thing, is

it? You decide to clean a

room, and you need to empty

the vacuum. The vacuum filter

is broken, and you leave to

buy another, but the car is low

on gas. Because the car is

low on gas, you have to find

your new debit card, and the

PIN doesn't work, so you have

to phone the bank, which

means you have to dig

through a cluttered drawer for

the secret answer to your security

question that you now

can't remember.

When you

finally return to the room with

the new filter, someone has

borrowed the vacuum. By the

time you find the vacuum,

there is no longer time that day

to clean the room. However,

while you were at the store,

the clerk tells you a neat little

trick about vacuuming pet hair

that makes the job go much

faster when you are able to

tackle it. And, the cluttered

drawer search has unearthed

a document you thought you'd



It's a lot like that to struggle

for peace and justice. No task

within this effort ever involves

just one thing. Even our interruptions

are interrupted, only

to be interrupted by yet more

interruptions. And, because of

this, it becomes not concentrated

effort toward our goals

or objectives, but interruption

that comprises the bulk of our

quotidian lives.


This uncontrollable and

unavoidable phenomenon flies

in the face of the cultural paradigm

that tells us that the accomplishment

of goals requires

singular focus. This is

not true. Accomplishing goals

requires us to widen our lens

and include more in our vision.

A goal is not abandoned because

we have been able to

incorporate the interruptions

and employed them toward a

fuller result.


When I first learned that

Pope Benedict had compared

same-sex relationships unfavorably

with killing the rainforests,

it was a draining interruption,

but I was inclined to brush

it aside. Not because I didn't

find the comment painfully

ignorant and cruel. I did. Nor,

was I reluctant because I was

afraid of some possible disapproval

or fallout from even

members of my own movement

if I publicly challenged it.

I wasn't. Homophobia and

heterosexism have already

taken from me lives far more

precious than such a confrontation

had the potential to levy.


While I may be wrong, I

assumed the Pope wasn't

much interested in my opinion

of his opinion. I wanted to

focus on something else, I was

in the crux of trying to hone a

metaphor, obvious and accessible

enough, that it might persuade

more people to consider,

if not agree, that capitalism

(the admiration of wealth)

hurts us. I have become convinced

that our collective unwillingness

to deeply explore

this consideration is the root of

all war and human suffering,

and that human suffering will

not only persist but worsen

until we do.


It was implicit or inferred

permission, too facilely given,

for ignoring this that led me to

reconsider. Remarks that

were intended to support and

comfort were instead demoralizing

and discomfiting.


"This isn't a 'peace' topic."

"The issue is too divisive."

"People aren't ready to hear

this yet."'

"This could derail the good

we're trying to do."

"We don't have time for this

right now."

The "least of these" is not

usually identified by conscious

selection but are a revelation

by default. The "least of

these" are the oppressed

among us we are least inclined

to help. The "least of

these" are the lepers, the

"unclean" we will not touch.


They are those we ask to hide

themselves. They are those of

whom we will not even speak.

Or, if we speak of them, we do

so in hushed tones and whispers,

looking around to see

who might be listening. When

we make excuses for not unabashedly

prioritizing a stand

against the discrimination and

persecution of LGBT people,

the Catholic Worker Movement—

if not the entirety of

Christendom—positions lesbian,

gay, bisexual, and transgender

people as the least of



Unfortunately, the pain

wrought by persecution is not

ameliorated because the persecutor

didn't know any better.

The statement "I wasn't raised

that way," or "We all used

think that way," may be explanations,

but they aren't exoneration.

It's one thing to disagree

with Wittgenstein's assertion

that the avatar

(teacher) must come from the

affected class. It is another to

pretend we value the wisdom

and witness of the oppressed

more (or at least as much) as

those with status and privilege

when we're not willing to act as

if we do.


This pattern of reluctance to

reconsider our evaluation of

human life worth cherishing (or

the relative importance of people

in our lives) draws a template

of humanity's rejection of

itself. By noticing this, I discovered

that heterosexism was a

neat metaphor outlining the

functional or dysfunctional

operatives of capitalism.


Like the Sword of Damocles,

the only conclusion greed

can reach swings wider and

lower toward our necks, but,

we risk it rather than walk

away from the chance at

wealth beneath the blade.

Any human construction

(such as capitalism and heterosexism)

that requires us to

sacrifice our children to it

rather than encourage our

children to struggle against it is

an agent of homicide that has

tricked us into fearing the loss

of property, public favor, and

status more than we fear losing

those we love.


The same way parents will

turn away from a gay son or a

lesbian daughter, we will

watch sons and daughters

sent to wars based on lies and

greed and do little to stop it.

The same way we dismissed

the nearly 100,000 deaths in

the 1980s caused in this nation

by homophobia (AIDS,

gay-bashings, and executions), we allow 20,000 each

year to die from lack of health

care. The same way we give

money to the United Way, the

Red Cross, the Boy Scouts,

churches, and other entities

that have blatantly homophobic

policies, we keep cutting

checks to a Health Insurance

Industry that thrives in proportion

to how much healthcare it

denies not how much it provides.


We want to end senseless

death and suffering, but we're

willing to pay more to perpetuate

it than we're willing to pay

to stop it. Some, but very few,

are brave enough to pull a few

branches off this evil tree;

even fewer are willing to go

after its roots. This apportionment

of our resources not only

exposes our accepted national

routine of serving mammon

more than good, it begs a



Why are we faithful to those

constructions that lead us to

do less good rather more?

Why do we continue to cooperate

with systems that compel

us reject one another

rather than love one another?

Why won't we pull the roots?

When Jesus said, "The love

of money is the root of all evil,"

he may have meant that the

love of money is the root of all

evil. It is pathological denial to

think we can compromise our

morality for the acquisition of

money without loving money.


Heterosexism is primarily

driven by fear of being associated

with a lower social caste.

Capitalism, on the other hand,

is even less kind. It not only

encourages the love of money

(or caste superiority), it requires

it. By these prerequisites

capitalism isn’t merely

vulnerable to evil, but is the

root (cause) of all contemporary

evil. A less hubristic, Bill

Clinton might have said, "It's

not the economy; it's the economic

system, stupid."


It is an insidious evil that

has convinced us that we are

dependent on it for survival,

when it is the thing that threatens

human survival. It is a

sadistic stimulus that will sentence

a poor woman who has

cheated the system out of

$100 in food stamps to more

years in prison than a rich man

who has stolen billions and

has a $100,000 toilet. It is

insanity that prizes the risk of

the coal mine owner who only

risks money, more than the

risk of coal mine worker who

risks his life in that mine.


The domination of heterosexism

and capitalism requires

we accept (or least cooperate

with) three compelling lies.

Property is more important

than people.

It is blasphemy of the human

spirit or the potential for

anything sacred to propagandize

that people are more inclined

to work for property than

for the good of others. History

has proven we do our best

work when we are motivated

by love and the satisfaction of

accomplishment rather than

material gain. Jonas Salk

didn't invent the Polio vaccine

for the cash. Martin Luther

King, Jr., didn't spend a night

in the Birmingham jail because

he was auditioning for the

million dollar Nobel Prize.


When it's only for money, we

do only enough to get the

money. When we’re motivated

by love, we give as

much as we can give.

We know who or what we

love by how we calculate the

return on our investment.

Love is measured by how

much we’re willing to give regardless

of what we get in

return. Contempt is propagated by wanting as much as

we can get for giving as little

as possible.


It is epidemic social insanity

when one will not risk one’s

job or social status to save a

life, but will take one’s own life

after losing a job and its

status. Human suffering will

not end by learning ways for

ourselves and others to acquire

more, but by striving

together to teach each other

how to be content with less.

Some people are more worthy

than others.


Heterosexism, like all, human

oppression, sprouts in the

roots of human greed and

grows into a clinging vine of

superiority. Both heterosexism

and capitalism are constructed

to rationalize why

some things in life should be

denied to others.

Sacrificing human beings

to protect property is exercised

not so much by witting acts,

but by blind acceptance of a

scale of human worthiness.

Every construction that justifies

one human being having a

better quality of life than another

is an indirect, if not direct,

act of violence.


The American Dream is a

human nightmare. This

“dream” of success determined

by material gain is the

most powerful provocateur of

human isolation. The fact that

few routinely socialize with

those outside their economic

class proves we view our

monetary income as the best

informant of whether we have

“things in common” with each



Capitalism and heterosexism

disparage mutual human

regard simply on the basis of

being human because they

need cultural hierarchy and

the admiration of wealth and

exceptional favor in order to

grow wealth for wealth’s sake.

Oppression controls the privileged

with the threat of the

same treatment given to the

underclass unless the privileged

do not shun them from

their intimate or private lives.

(E.g. “If you don’t mistreat

them, we’ll mistreat YOU.”)


We size each other and

ourselves according to a silly

nightmare of meaningless

criteria—the clothes we wear,

the cars we drive, and the

china we set on our tables—

whether we fall in love with

someone of the same or the

opposite sex. We awaken

from the nightmare by daring

to reconsider, by daring to

question our paradigms of

human worthiness. (E.g.

“How can Italian china make

me feel more sophisticated?”)

Silence will protect us.

This delusion emerges as

the most dangerous to the

human condition and our survival.

Silence is the best guarantor

of maintaining the status

quo. The idea that if we “keep

our heads down” and everything

will be okay can never

come true because it is not

based on anything true.


The lies and corruption

recently revealed in the financial

crisis have shown us this.

When we spin, as shrewd or

talented, the ability to lie convincingly,

we exaggerate fear

and mistrust and ultimately

collapse into the complete

disintegration of human character.

Why do we teach children

that it’s impolite to talk about

sex, politics, and religion,

when sex, politics, and religion

frame every reality? If being

polite is an act of mutual consideration,

why isn’t it impolite

to not discuss these things?


Heterosexism clearly demands

silence and often

shames LGBT people for

openly identifying themselves—”

Why do they have to

talk about it?”

Tragically the damage done

by this worsens as acceptance

of LGBT people improves.


Twenty years ago to expect

silence was to be normative in

an environment of silence.

Today it is a proactive choice

that requires a lot more malice

and cruelty. Yet those influences

remain not only powerful,

but dominant.


To disclose or discuss

one’s economic class if one is

working class or poor in

“mixed company” is met with

no less social derision. Common

accusations of “victimhood”

for such disclosure are

most ironic, because it is, in

fact, a capitulation to “victimhood”

to keep quiet about it.


While we all may be “equal”

in the eyes of God, the realities

of the privileged and the oppressed

are very different.

Silence or pretending things

are the same—may make the

privileged feel more comfortable—

but it does not and will

not make them the same.

Our lives together are superficial

and phony until we

talk openly about these differences

and decide together

what to do about them.


It is also wrong-headed to

think that the affluent or those

who enjoy any form of societal

privilege necessarily have less

character than those with less

privilege. They do not. Greed/

generosity, honesty/duplicity,

kindness/cruelty are truly

equal-opportunity phenomena

and present among us all.


Still, the time has come for

us to sit together at the human

table and talk about how

privilege affects us individually

and collectively. Now more

than ever, we particularly need

to talk about capital or

money—what we think about

it, what we do about it, and

what it does to us. To study

war-no-more is to intentionally

study humanomics, a system

that puts people before profits.


Our species and our planet

will not survive if we don’t.