Something WickedSomething Wicked This Way Comes

By Orren P. Whiddon

Every year I write up a report to our membership on the state  of affairs here at Four Quarters. Sometimes there is a great deal to report in the way of current construction projects, new events, areas of growth, and sometimes of retreat from ideas that in retrospect where not so good. This year Kailin Miller, the intrepid editor of this “Wheel of the Year,”   again poked me in the ribs, and I began to ruminate in the wee hours of the morning; of where we are, where I have been... and what the future may hold for us all. As I look back, and in polishing my rather obscure crystal ball try to look forward, I find cannot speak to the current affairs of Four Quarters without speaking, and reminiscing, about where I find myself in my own life; and about the larger society of which Four Quarters is a part. So I ask your patience and indulgence for a few pages as I ruminate here on the front porch of the Farmhouse,  watching the trees grow, and speak from the heart.

“  Something wicked this way comes! 
~ Macbeth

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity...”

                    ~ Charles Dickens

This December of 2016 I turned 60 years of age, and like many newly minted sixty-year-olds found myself amazed at... just how did I get here! It was only yesterday, the fall of 1994 in fact, that I first set foot on the properties that were to become Four Quarters. Can I possibly have been an only thirty-seven-year-old engineer when I began to consider taking such a wild jump from the safety of a well-paid corporate life? I was, and I did. It was the early Clinton years, the economy was in rebound and the alternative spirituality world was alive and vibrant. My memory is that it was a time of hope. We were going to need it, because by the late nineties, Four Quarters was financially on the very margins of bankruptcy... for us old-timers those early years were dark years full of unremitting hard physical work.

By the early 2000s we were beginning to make ends meet, but it was also clear that Four Quarters would never grow if we retained the narrow focus of our founding; so we began evolving as an InterFaith Center of Earth Religion, a broadening of purpose that in hindsight has been key to our survival, growth, and continued social relevance. In those same early years of the new millennium, we made two other policy adaptations that have proven essential to our survival.

One, we identified the onset of the peaking of global petroleum production as a harbinger for future global economic stagnation, and with that realization began a crash program to purchase the core properties that constitute Four Quarters. And two, we Members of The Community of Service at Four Quarters made strategic decisions to diversify the stream of income through which we work to support Four Quarters. We doubled down on the Meadery business, and today it produces the equivalent of a city professional salary into the church's spendable cash flow. In the beginning of this decade I made a three year commitment to return to engineering consulting work in the big city, and all of that salary was placed towards purchasing The Land. We began a small machine shop operation that produces revenue equal to the Meadery. And we expanded the use of The Land to include music festivals. By 2013,
these combined efforts allowed us to retire the mortgages on all of the Land that is Four Quarters, mak
ing us much more resilient in the face of the vagaries of economics, and allowing us to approach our spiritual events, services and memberships with much greater financial flexibility.

Our financial stability allowed the organization to achieve these very important goals, and has also allowed me, after 23 years in the harness, to exhale a bit, and believe that this wonderful experiment in idealism will survive into a distant future. This fall I resigned as Executive Officer and unburdened myself from the day-to-day responsibilities of Four Quarters operations. I am free now to pursue a bit more of my own personal “   likes,”   and with the time to consider what Four Quarters should grow into over the coming decades, and the challenges that we face. I would like to share with you where my thoughts have led me.

“The tragedy of Democracy is that the people get the government they deserve...
                  ~Winston Churchill

In retrospect, the early nineties were probably the peak years for alternative spiritualities in our society, and by the end of that decade we began to see the failure of magazines, events and organizations that had been in the scene”  for many years. It may very well have been the peak of socially progressive values as well, what with the follow-on rise of global neo-liberalism,that catchphrase for corporate business interests, taking precedence over social values. The onset of the Great Recession saw Middle America severely pinched, if not shattered; we here at Four Quarters saw our memberships drop by 40% over two years. But our policies of economic resiliency carried us through, and renewed our commitment to living a communal life here on the edge of the Allegheny Plateau. This resiliency has been much needed in the face of rapidly changing American and global economics. As I have mentioned, in the early part of the last decade we here at Four Quarters began a crash program to purchase the core properties of Four Quarters. We were one of the many who foresaw that the combination of debt based economic stimulation, gangster finance, and the onset of global peak petroleum production, not to mention the new hyper aggressive foreign policy of America’ s war party, would spell economic disaster on the near term horizon.

By 2008 the debt bubble imploded, world conventional petroleum production hit its peak, and America descended into its Great Recession, from which much of Middle America has yet to emerge. In policies shared by both American political parties, we have seen an acceleration of the process of economic globalization that has gutted the manufacturing capacity of the western democracies, while promoting a winner-take-all economic system that since 2008 has seen the top 1% of Americans receiving 90% of income growth. Predatory financial institutions and their accomplices of monopoly corporatism have gone unchecked and unpunished, pillaging the public commons with impunity. Corporations like Halliburton, Google and Apple, supposed examples of a vibrant free market, instead off-shore their profits, returning little if any tax revenue to their host countries. The corporate/military/industrial complex, as we were warned by Dwight Eisenhower, controls our foreign policy and our military spending, now equal to the combined spending of the rest of the world. The once diverse arena of public discourse is controlled and profitized by just five media companies, themselves the subsidiaries of global corporations. Our country, and our society, seem to have become little more than a profit opportunity for whichever power faction controls the government of the day.

Middle America is confused, hurt, angry. The social compact upon which they relied is in tatters, their voices unheard. Conservative populism and nationalism are resurgent across the western democracies as more and more people fight for a share of an ever-decreasing slice of the economic pie. Is it any wonder that they plead for relief from the status quo, from the mercenary instincts of the economic and political elites? And we brought it upon ourselves. Ignorant, entertained; fat, dumb and happy, we children of empire complacent in our privileges have sold our heritage for a bowl of pottage. The times, they are astrangin.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak..."
            ~ Pastor Martin Niem

I was raised in a military family, a family rooted in the South. I can remember KKK posters and overt racism. The stark fear in an elderly Black man's eyes when I, a small white boy of eight, politely opened the door for him at Worsham's general store... and I was ashamed. At the age of sixteen I was tear-gassed in an anti-war demonstration at the same time my father, a career Army officer, was in active combat bringing peace to a little county called Vietnam. I remember a generation of young people who “  
tuned in, turned on and dropped out,”   unable to countenance the moral quandary of those times, and began their idealistic trek “   back to the land. And I remember the red glow on the horizon as Kansas City burned, the night they murdered Martin Luther King. The lesson I learned from living through those tumultuous times is that people can, and do, make a difference. And that we should encourage the robust give and take of our political process, licking our wounds when we lose and celebrating when we win; it is, after all, a process... designed to produce winners and losers... as long as the magic merry-go-round of democracy is honored and preserved.

But there was another, deeper and far more important lesson: That there are times when the actions of the power elites go beyond political give and take, and enter into what is immoral and evil. We have seen such times before in our history. The Abolition Movement, the Gilded Age of the Robber Barons, the rise of the Unions, the New Deal of the Great Depression. For me, Civil Rights and the Anti-War Movement. Such movements for justice begin with a spark and are resisted by the organs of government with violence and economic power. But as the moral corruption of the power elites becomes more obvious, a line is drawn where even some of those born of privilege will join in witnessing with those who were not. And out of that storm is born change. In such times it comes to pass that every individual must make a choice, and depending upon that choice, must take action and resist the evil that they see. Or turn a blind eye... and be remembered as being in the wrong through the long view of history

I am not yet certain that we are in such times, but I am concerned that we are entering them. As the culmination of thirty-five years of bankrupt neoliberal economic policy, we now see the rise in this country of an unapologetic demagoguery, a congenital disregard for fact on the part of both politicians and their receptive audiences... our national life reduced to the entertainment value of a reality television star.

“Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.
                ~ Anonymous

I find myself appalled that I must discuss with my seventeen-year-old daughter the words of a national figure who publicly ridicules women, their physical appearance, and their bodily functions. A government that would openly admit to muzzling scientists on critical issues like climate change, when that government’ s same foreign policy is shaped by the former head of the worlds largest oil corporation, a corporation that funded twenty-five years of outright falsehood on that very same climate science. A treasury department led by the CFO of one of the most predatory mega-bank lenders of the same fraudulent mortgages that catalyzed the Great Recession. The Environmental Protection Agency now led by a man who vowed to abolish it. A head of state who would denigrate immigrants, but whose mother and wife are both immigrants. Talk at the highest levels of re-institutionalizing black sites, extraordinary rendition and torture as a matter of national policy. An Executive Branch Chief Advisor who is openly racist, and an internet race baiter. Efforts to prohibit travel to this country based on religion, and efforts to track United States residents based on religion and ethnicity, with many of these banned persons fleeing from the very countries that our foreign policy has destroyed.

The list is longer, and the moral guilt is shared by both major political parties, and shared with us, the American Citizens of Empire who tolerate those parties. As time passes, and the list of moral failures and institutional evil grows, we are forced to ask the same question of ourselves as has been asked in countless times and places before us, the question that the witnesses of evil must ask of themselves. As they see the lynched abolitionists of Boston, the machine-gunned coal miners of West Virginia, and the German corporations that set Hitler on his road to power; those who witnessed the broken glass and broken lives of Krystalnacht... and turned aside. Who saw the burned-out buses of the Freedom Riders and turned their eyes away from the beaten bus boycotters of Birmingham. Is now our time to witness?

‘All of Life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”  
             ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Four Quarters InterFaith is a church. A very progressive and very liberal sort of church, made up of caring people. And for 23 years we have resisted taking part in the politics of the day, because we believe we must maintain our end of the separation of church and state, the grand bargain that guarantees religious freedom in this country. By the same token, we are not afraid of a fight. My own children experienced such religious prejudice that all three chose to leave our local school system. And the discrimination our church was shown on the county level reached such a point that we entered into a seven-year court case to recognize our church and our land, a fight we won at the state level and thereby set new case law.

But it is a fact that in challenging times, times when politics gives way to a clear and present moral evil, there is a different role for a church. Not as a partisan of electoral politics; but as a resource and refuge providing succor to the oppressed and calling out the oppressor. Such was the history of the civil rights movement in this country, spearheaded as it was by the moral rectitude of Black Southern churches in the face of Jim Crow. And as the excesses of the power elites of those times became impossible to ignore, they were joined and supported by white, liberal churches of many faiths, whose members found they could no longer turn their backs on the social injustice they witnessed.

I do not know if now is such a time, but I fear such a time is growing nearer. And even if that time is now, I do not know what is the proper role for Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary. I know that personally, I wish our church had stood by the young people of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter with food, money, our equipment and our experience. I wish our church had formally supported the 500,000 people who recently marched for women's rights; as did many of our members who made that personal choice. I hope that we will find the courage and means to stand with our Muslim friends and our Central American friends who now pursue the same dream that brought our own ancestors to these shores, along with the dispossessed and foreclosed upon, with the out-of-work and out-of-hope; with any person from anywhere and anytime who flees from the face of power, and say to them... You are welcome in this place.

These are not choices I can make for our church. But you can make them. So I invite you to join me at Beltaine and again at other times through the coming year, to make a conversation on the issues of the day. And answer the question: Is now a time to stand in witness, and cry out loud and strong,
" Something wicked this way comes!

MatrixBig Data Psychometrics

A stunning new development of the past two years is the rise of what is being called Big Data Psychometrics”  in the American electoral process.

        From Wikipedia:
"Cambridge Analytica (CA) is a privately held company that combines data mining and data analysis with strategic communication for the American electoral process. It was created in 2013 as an offshoot of its British parent company SCL Group to participate in American politics. The company is heavily funded by the family of Robert Mercer, a conservative American hedge-fund billionaire. In 2015 it became known as the data analysis company working initially for Ted Cruzs presidential campaign. In 2016, after Cruzs campaign had faltered, Cambridge Analytica started to work for Donald Trumps presidential campaign. The Trump organization paid 15 million dollars for this psychometric profiling... "

Cambridge Analytica (SCL Group) serves exclusively far right clients, is generally credited with the success of the Brexit campaign in Britain and is heavily involved in the resurgent nationalist politics of France. Their stunning success in delivering the American presidential campaign of 2016 is a harbinger of the future. What do they do?

       From Wikipedia:
"SCL Group calls itself a global election management agency”  known for involvement in military disinformation campaigns, to social media branding and voter targeting.”  SCLs involvement in the political world has been used by the military and politicians to study and manipulate public opinion and political will. SCL claims to have been successful to help foment coups... CA collects data on voters using sources such as demographics, consumer behavior, internet activity and search history; and especially Facebook-likes and smartphone data. According to The Guardian, CA is using psychological data derived from millions of Facebook users, largely without users permission or knowledge... Information is analyzed using data enhancement and audience segmentation techniques providing psychographic analysis”  for a deeper knowledge of the target audience. Using what it calls behavioral microtargeting,”  the company indicates that it can predict emotional needs of subjects and how these needs may change over time. Services then can be individually targeted for the benefit of its clients from the political arena, providing a better and more actionable view of their key audiences.

“ Today in the United States we have somewhere close to four or five thousand data points on every individual. ... So we model the personality of every adult across the United States, some 230 million people.”
         — Alexander Nix (Chief Executive, Cambridge Analytica)

With this personality modeling CA is then able to target specific emotional advertisements to specific internet users, based not on their membership in a demographic, but rather on the personality profile that CA has created for that specific target individual, and CAs rating of the targets emotional susceptibility. CA can manipulate search engine results and other non-political advertising the target user sees, as well as injecting subtle dis-information into the internet feeds of members of opposing political views, all based upon the target subjects personality profile, thus enveloping the target subject of any political leaning with the internet experience desired by CAs political client.

In this dystopian real-time Matrix, beyond anything imagined by George Orwell; remember that when you fire up your Facebook App to like a post on your Apple iPhone, and then make a purchase through Amazon after a Google search... you have just become a target.