It is coming to this:
Since the 2008 economic crash, security agencies have increasingly spied on political activists, especially environmental groups, on behalf of corporate interests. This activity is linked to the last decade of US defence planning, which has been increasingly concerned by the risk of civil unrest at home triggered by catastrophic events linked to climate change, energy shocks or economic crisis - or all three....Every now and then I open one of my favorite books and randomly select a passage to read and contemplate. Today it was Thomas Merton's Reflections of a Guilty Bystander, and the passage I landed on relates directly to the above story. Merton wrote:
The Pentagon knows that environmental, economic and other crises could provoke widespread public anger toward government and corporations in coming years. The revelations on the NSA's global surveillance programmes are just the latest indication that as business as usual creates instability at home and abroad, and as disillusionment with the status quo escalates, Western publics are being increasingly viewed as potential enemies that must be policed by the state.
Not realizing itself to be on trial, assuming its own infallibility and perfection, Western democracy has resented every attempt to question these things. The mere idea that it might come under judgment has seemed absurd, unjust, diabolical. Our democracy is now being judged, not by man but by God. It is not simply being judged by the enemies of the West and of "democracy." When anyone is judged by God, he receives, in the very hour of judgment, a gift from God. The gift that is offered him, in his judgment, is truth. He can receive the truth or reject it; but in any case truth is being offered silently, mercifully, in the very crisis by which democracy is put to the test....How long will we still be allowed to say it, without incurring the wrath of those desperately clinging to power?
When one is on trial in this life, he is at the same time receiving mercy: the merciful opportunity to anticipate God's decision by receiving the light of truth, judging himself, changing his life. Democracy has been on trial in Berlin, in Alabama, in Hiroshima. In World War II. In World War I. In the Boer War. In the American Civil War. In the Opium War. What have we learned about ourselves? What have we seen? What have we admitted? What is the truth about us? Perhaps we still have time, still have a little light to see by. But the judgment is getting very dark....The truth is too enormous, too ominous, to be seen in comfort. Yet it is a great mercy of God that so many of us can recognize this fact, and that we are still allowed to say it.
Nearly half a century ago, Merton wrote that Western democracy is stricken to its very core by a "void", which I described last summer as "the void that contradicts everything our leaders say even before their words leave their mouths, the void that turns our pursuit of entertainment and sensation into a hollow pleasure, the void that nobody wants to name, much less face." He called this void "The Unspeakable."
Democracy is on trial from the Amazonian basin to the Arctic Circle. Democracy is on trial from the Caribbean to the South Pacific. Democracy is on trial in poverty-stricken areas all over the world. Democracy is on trial in every place where profit and power are placed ahead of people and planet.
From Morning Prayer on Monday, Psalm 50:
God says to the wicked:Judgment comes in the form of a gift, says Merton, the gift of truth. Are we willing to face difficult truths about our lifestyles and about our economic and political systems, or will we continue to be so eager to reconcile ourselves to the expectations of others that we choose to make our home in the nest of The Unspeakable?
"But how can you recite my commandments
and take my covenant on your lips,
you who despise my law
and throw my words to the winds....
You do this, and should I keep silence?
Do you think that I am like you?"