Come out of the desert

Michael Harrington, socialist leader, died on July 31, 1989. His book The Other America, influenced the War on Poverty of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

His democratic socialism had roots in his Catholic upbringing and education, as well as his connections with the Catholic Worker. He once said, “I am a pious apostate, an atheist shocked by the faithlessness of the believers, a fellow traveler of moderate Catholicism who has been out of the church for 20 years.” A person of hope he wrote about the call to leave the desert and make the earth a home for all, especially the poor.

In his book Socialism he wrote:

“In desert societies — including the American Southwest — water is so precious that it is money. People connive and fight and die over it; governments covet it; marriages are even made and broken because of it. If one were to talk to a person who has known only that desert and tell him that in the city there are public water fountains and that children are even sometimes allowed to turn on the fire hydrants in the summer and to frolic in the water, he would be sure one were crazy. For he knows, with an existential certitude, that it is human nature to fight over water.

“Mankind has lived for several millennia in the desert. Our minds and emotions are conditioned by that bitter experience; we do not dare think things could be otherwise. Yet there are signs that we are, without really having planned it that way, marching out of the desert. There are some who are loathe to leave behind the consolation of familiar brutalities; there are others who in one way or another would like to impose the law of the desert upon the Promised Land. It may even be possible that mankind cannot bear too much happiness.

“It is also possible that we will seize this opportunity and make of the earth a homeland rather than an exile. That is the social project. It does not promise, or even seek, to abolish the human condition, for that is impossible. It does propose to end that invidious competition and venality which, because scarcity allowed no other alternatives, we have come to think are inseparable from our humanity.”


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