13 October 2021

Critical race theory: brought to you by the killers of Eric Garner

So-called ‘critical race theory’ is merely a tool in a ruling-class toolbox meant to divide working-class people from each other. If you have doubts about this, consider that it is being promoted (avidly, as seen here, here, here and here) by Bloomberg.

That’s right: the news outlet owned and run by Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York. Avid proponent of stop-and-frisk, who not only supported but expanded the practice. If there was any one person whose policies may be held responsible for the death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD, it’s Michael Bloomberg. And yet he is the one whose news outlet is most active out there in promoting and defending this theory against its Republican attackers, and preaching to Americans about the evils of racial injustice.

But let’s go back and take a look at the context for a clearer picture here. Bloomberg only ever started apologising for ‘Stop and Frisk’ in 2020, just as he was starting his campaign for president. Bloomberg’s run for the presidency was aimed at one thing and one thing only: denying Bernie Sanders the nomination. What’s more: he knew he couldn’t do that without rebranding himself as an anti-racist, and appearing to outflank Bernie Sanders from the left on race issues by pointing to the supposed ‘Bernie Bro’ phenomenon. Michael Bloomberg only began burnishing his non-existent or barely-existent credentials as an anti-racist, only when the Bernie Sanders phenomenon became a threat to be repulsed. That is to say: he began embracing a capitalist mode of ‘anti-racism’ in the form of critical race theory, in order to undermine a movement based on class solidarity.

This should stick in people’s crenshaws, so to speak (although Crenshaw herself did not support Michael Bloomberg, but rather Elizabeth Warren). The fact that a vulgar form of ‘critical race theory’ was already, in the public forum being weaponised against Bernie Sanders, who was protesting for black people’s civil rights back in the 1960s, by the man whose racist policies killed Eric Garner, really takes the biscuit. As it is, ‘if this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction!

But this is precisely the problem. Critical race theory subsists solely within the superstructure. It is a language developed by academics, for academics – not for the vast majority of non-white folks! – precisely to serve the material interests of academics (guarding tenured positions, carving out intellectual niches, preserving credentialed authority to speak on certain issues, et cetera). The standpoint-epistemology and post-structuralist focus on narrative emphasised by the critical race theorists, in particular, point to a material interest in maintaining small specialised fiefs within academia. This works out nicely for them, clearly.

But when critical race theory is translated to realms outside academia, usually in a vulgarised form, it is quickly leapt on by capitalists as a marketing and public relations strategy to appeal to particular demographics and ward off close scrutiny of corporate practices. Michael Bloomberg has clearly found it useful as a ready weapon to hand against any movement for real œconomic justice that has any broad-based appeal across race, sex and language lines. In addition, it allows grifters and corporate consultants like Robin DiAngelo and Howard Ross to make tidy profits out of selling white guilt to hapless low-level employees of corporations like Raytheon. Raytheon, in turn, makes tidy profits bombing Palestinian children in Gaza, innocent civilians in Syria and busses full of Yemeni schoolchildren on the other side of the globe.

But even if critical race theory stayed inside academia, even if it wasn’t used to railroad candidates genuinely interested in issues of œconomic justice, even if the vulgarised forms of it were not used to whitewash odious corporate actors like Raytheon with a veneer of ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’, even if it wasn’t used by the likes of Michael Bloomberg (the man responsible for Erik Garner’s death) to save face – it would still be a terrible organising principle for any movement or community. Why? Because it undermines the basic epistemological premises needed for any such movement or communicate to undertake a common action. The idea of ‘standpoint epistemology’ – that is to say, the idea that one aspect of your oppression gives you a particular gnōsis unavailable to and incomprehensible by those who do not share the experience of that aspect of your oppression – is a non-starter when it comes to building any sort of common good. A true politics of the common good will invariably include people from multiple ‘standpoints’, not all of whom share the same experiences of oppression.

The primary critics of standpoint theory in its modern form were the original critical theorists. The Marxists of the Frankfurt School – Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse – correctly saw this idea as relativistic and atomising, and a turn back to the idealism of the Young Hegelians whom Marx criticised in ‘The German Ideology’. Yet, in a rather bleakly ironic twist, many of the Republican lawmakers and talking-heads who are opposing the teaching of critical race theory – actually vulgarised ideas selected from critical race theory – in schools, insist that critical race theory is a form of Marxism derived from the Frankfurters. Oy vey.

In short, then: don’t be suckered. The fact that Mr Stop-and-Frisk, Michael Bloomberg himself, can use vulgarised concepts from critical race theory to bash ‘Bernie bros’ and railroad a campaign that would genuinely help everybody – including women and people of colour – should give its supporters pause. It should also be a warning sign that the critical race theorists tend to be Jean Jaurès ‘radicals’, who are more concerned with protecting their academic fiefs and maintaining their relevance and marketability within particular niches of academic output and corporate consulting, than they are with matters of substantive justice. It’s a ‘theory’ that appears radical, but it is in fact deeply alienating, and when put into practice its results tend to be deeply regressive.

06 October 2021

A Closer look at Dave Chappelle’s recent work

Is it possible that a gay person can be racist?’ asks Dave Chappelle.

This is perhaps the driving central question that Dave Chappelle is struggling through, meditating on and trying to iron out with his final instalment of Netflix stand-up specials, The Closer. For even asking this question, for posing it – and for trying to work out in his usual button-pushing, boundary-smashing, politically-incorrect way some of its necessary ramifications – the woke Tumblr-liberal Twitter outrage machine for which Dave Chappelle can do no right since Sticks and Stones, along with its establishment legacy-media accoutrements from NPR to the Daily Beast, are dragging him behind the truck. Even GLAAD put out a statement condemning his routine.

Personal note here: I was a huge Chappelle’s Show fan when it first aired in my college years. Those sketches – Tyrone Biggins, Clayton Bigsby, his impressions of Prince and Lil Jon – are all still ridiculously funny. I’m Wayne Brady, bitch! is never not going to be funny. It’s true, though, that in some ways he is treading on old ground, thematically speaking. At its best, Chappelle’s Show explored the really uncomfortable areas where racial violence, injustices, power imbalances and stereotypes interact with sexual expression and insecurities. People who were outraged about Chappelle making jokes about Leaving Neverland, or who say things like ‘too bad Dave died in ‘05’ as though 2005 Chappelle and 2021 Chappelle are irrevocably discontinuous, need to remember that he was making fun of the OJ Simpson trial, the R Kelly trial and the accusations about Michael Jackson, fifteen years before that. Moreover, he explains fairly clearly in the Chappelle’s Show sketch why he has such a sceptical attitude toward public treatment of black celebrities: he believes black men are held to an unjust racial standard, both socially and legally, based on racialised fears of black male physical prowess and sexuality. And here again we see this in his treatment of the recent ‘cancelling’ of rapper DaBaby over his alleged homophobia, while, Chappelle notes, his career suffered no such scrutiny when he shot and killed another black man in a Walmart.

That same theme, unsurprisingly, pops up repeatedly in The Closer. He recounts his various run-ins with fans and haters of his stand-up – one with an older white woman in a parking lot, one with a mother and transgender daughter in his hometown, one with a lesbian and her partner in a nightclub, and one with a gay man recording him on his phone while his friend tried to pester him who then called the police on him. True to form, his anecdotes are liberally sprinkled with ‘bitch’ and ‘nigga’, and they often depend on him exaggerating the antagonism that each of these fans or critics showed him at first. Occasionally they descend into deliberate self-mockery. But they do have a serious point to them. The point that Chappelle makes – directly and circuitously – is that human suffering is universal. Certain ‘tribes’ are not specially chosen by their suffering – not even black people. Chappelle remarks with a tinge of sadness the scenes of anti-Asian violence that he saw, much of it coming from black people, that he felt couldn’t be papered over. ‘Empathy is not gay. Empathy is not black. Empathy is bisexual – it must go both ways,’ Chappelle quips.

Here’s the thing. I suspect – I don’t know it to be the case, but I suspect – that I was the cause of Dave Chappelle’s long departure from comedy. That’s right, me.

Not me alone, of course. I wasn’t the only immature, thoughtless white kid in 2005 laughing along at Dave Chappelle doing impressions of famous black people, or portraying black stereotypes if only to make fun of those who hold them. But how much of a difference is there, really, if a white person laughs at a black person making fun of black people, and if a white person laughs at a white person making fun of black people? I genuinely believe Dave felt really bad about that: the fact that his blackness shielded him from criticism that he would otherwise get from his own ‘tribe’, when his jokes went too far against them. He wasn’t being a diva at all. You listen to him talk about how random white guys would come up to him on the street with his son and say: ‘I’m Rick James, bitch!’; or the heckling white kids screaming ‘White Power!’ at him when he performed in Hartford in 2013, and there’s genuine sadness there when he talks about it. Here’s the thing: I think those experiences, in his extended leave from comedy, informed and enriched his perspective. So when he appeared on SNL after Biden’s electoral victory last year, he was able to say this:
All these white people out there that feel that anguish, that pain, they’re mad ‘cause they think nobody cares—and maybe they don’t—let me tell you something. I know how that feels. I promise you, I know how that feels… Everyone knows how that feels. But here’s the difference between me and you: you guys hate each other for that. And I don’t hate anybody, I just hate that feeling. That’s what I fight through; that’s what I suggest you fight through. You’ve got to find a way to live your life; find a way to forgive each other.
So, no. He’s not being a bigot. He’s not trying to ‘punch down’ on gay people or trans people. Even when he’s defending Jo Rowling or DaBaby or Kevin Hart, or putting himself on ‘Team TERF’, he’s not ‘punching down’. He’s not trying to play a ‘zero-sum game’ with his humour. He’s still trying to get through to the people who go around wearing their pain and anguish like a chip on their shoulder, and ask them to use a bit of real empathy. This was the point of his lengthy bit about the sadly-passed trans comedian Daphne Dorman at the end of his set. If you listen carefully, he wasn’t using her memory as a human shield to deflect criticism – he doesn’t need to do that because he knows he’s gonna get criticised no matter what. He was trying to demonstrate what real empathy can and should look like.

My take on The Closer is that it aligns with, and is of a piece with, what Chappelle has been trying to do all along. Dave clearly believes that there is a purpose in his art, a purpose that he himself acknowledges openly that he doesn’t always succeed in attaining. He’s using his deliberately button-pushing humour, getting into those uncomfortable places where race and sexuality butt heads, and to a certain extent he is doing it to provoke. But the purpose of that provocation is to try and get black men to empathise with how Asians suffer. To try and get gays, lesbians and heterosexual women to empathise with how black men have historically suffered and continue to suffer. To try and get trans folks to empathise with how cis women suffered and suffer. And to remind people that, however much ‘failure’ hurts, even ‘success’ doesn’t make you happy or fulfilled. In a way, Chappelle has intuitively understood the ‘woke’, seen through the poststructuralist Tumblr charade of ‘intersectionality’… and is trying to show us the difference between ‘allyship’ (which brooks no laughter or criticism) and real solidarity.

27 September 2021

Leg dich nicht mit dem Bären an

A major victory for renters in Berlin today:
Berliners have backed one of Europe’s most radical responses to gentrification: seizing property from so-called mega landlords. In a referendum timed to coincide with Germany’s general election on Sunday, locals supported expropriation by 56% to 39%.

“It’s nearly impossible to describe this feeling,” Kalle Kunkel, an activist for Berlin’s Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen campaign, told Euronews. “For many of us, it feels like the end of a four-year marathon. Or at the very least, we’ve reached a major high point.”

The campaign is named after Deutsche Wohnen, a private landlord that held more than 110,000 apartments in Berlin.

Kunkel sees the referendum victory as the culmination of years of campaigning against skyrocketing housing and rental prices. The vote could see private landlords that hold more than 3,000 units having them expropriated and folded into the city’s affordable housing stock. This would socialise more than 240,000 apartments.

“It was an incredibly clear victory,” Kunkel added. “A majority of Berliners in all but two (of 12) districts supported the initiative. Which means the whole city said: ‘We don’t want speculators to have a say in our housing’. And that’s a decision that political leaders simply can’t ignore.”
Unfortunately, it looks like Berliners’ just and democratic demands may be quashed by a constitutional court. But the fact that this referendum passed, primarily with the support of The Left party and a coalition of mostly younger renters in Berlin, shows that voters are increasingly convinced that deep-reaching systemic change is necessary to correct course. It is a big step toward a more just order.

Based and redpilled: China’s war on decadence

The Communist Party of China has been busy lately, to judge from the headlines of late.

Late last year, they not only firmly rapped the knuckles of Alibaba multibillionaire Jack Ma over his complaints about regulatory oversight, they broke up Ant Group and forced its holdings and consumer credit operations to incorporate separately.

This broadened into a more comprehensive crackdown on big megacorporate malfeasance, particularly online businesses and social media groups. Alibaba was fined $2.8 billion by the Chinese government, and thirty-four ecommerce and social media corporations were called to the carpet and slapped with heavy fines for violating Chinese antitrust law: including big names like Tencent, Baidu and Meituan. Private equity firms, online insurance companies and stock traders have also not escaped the wrath of regulators either.

While here in the United States renters are still struggling with things like evictions, expropriation and sexual abuse at the hands of their landlords for failing to meet rent during the coronavirus, China has been busy heavily curbing the power of landlords and preventing such abuses from taking place. Beijing instituted a law recently forbidding landlords from demanding or retaining excessive deposits, and forcing online property vendors in Beijing to comply with the same guidelines as traditional landlords.

Workers’ rights and wage rises have been a major focus of China’s policy recently as well. Xi Jinping promised earlier this year that the state would step up its defence of ‘key groups including college graduates and migrant workers, and the protection of the legitimate interests of truck drivers, couriers and food delivery riders’. He seems to have delivered on this promise, at least partially: express delivery companies have instituted a fee change at the government’s behest, specifically to benefit their couriers. China has also instituted several strong regulations on the ‘gig economy’ in order to prevent predatory collusion, ensure data security, control prices and prevent abuse of providers. The most recent move by the Chinese government on the economic front has been to institute a systemic ban on cryptocurrency trading and mining, which distort markets in actual currency, cause systemic risks to the economy and degrade the environment.

In the interest of getting the rich to comply with tax laws, China has also blacklisted several high-profile celebrities and models who were either implicated in the Kris Wu statutory rape scandal, using their privileged positions to evade taxes (like Fan Bingbing, Zhao Wei and Zheng Shuang), or who promote far-right political positions (like Zhang Zhehan and Lin Xinru).

There has been an increasing effort, as well, to promote the welfare of children and the desirability of having families. This has taken several forms. Firstly, China has been instituting structural reforms to its educational sector. In order to curb unhealthy trends in housing speculation and cutthroat competition for placement in high-end state schools, the Chinese government is attempting to delink school placement from place-of-residence. It has also introduced stringent regulations on private tutoring programmes, forcing them to register as not-for-profit companies by the end of the year, causing some of them to go out of business.

The government is also trying to promote children’s vision and emotional health. One official newspaper referred to online gaming as a form of ‘spiritual opium’ – a rather dire charge for some rather obvious historical reasons. Shortly afterward, the government instituted some fairly reasonable limits on the amount of time and money that minors can spend on online games: 90 minutes a day on weekdays; 3 hours a day on weekends and holidays; none after 10 PM; and no more than $57 a month per user on digital content, DLCs and paid add-ons. Chinese parents are, on the whole, delighted. Additionally, China is promoting additional physical education for young boys in order to get them outside and promote bodily health. On Twitter, these initiatives are called the ‘Touch Grass Campaign’.

China has also been cracking down hard on celebrity worship and idol-based fan culture. After videos surfaced of idol fans dumping massive amounts of milk in order to meet promotional goals for their preferred candidates on a reality show on iQIYI, government pressure forced iQIYI to cancel the show and issue an apology. The government has also shut down several websites and fan groups on social media, including several related to K-pop idols, and put the kibosh on online popularity rankings.

Under particular fire are xiao xianrou (slender and pale young male models catering to a female gaze) and niangpao (male idols who use lipstick and eyeliner, wear earrings and sexually-suggestive clothing, and use effeminate language and mannerisms). Three years ago, Xinhua published a jeremiad against such ‘sissies’, for degrading the culture by promoting ‘vulgar taste’ and a ‘deformed æsthetic’. The government followed up earlier this month by publishing an eight-point guideline for broadcast media that curtail such performances and promote a healthier masculinity and healthier cultural output in general:
  1. Boycott illegal or immoral personnel. When selecting entertainers and guests, radio, television and internet platforms should not employ people who have an incorrect political stance, break laws and regulations, or speak or behave against public order and morals.
  2. Boycott “traffic only” standards. Idol selection shows cannot be shown, as well as shows starring the children of celebrities. Shows should strictly control voting, cannot induce and encourage fans to shop or buy membership in order to vote for their idols.
  3. Boycott an overly entertaining trend, promote traditional culture, establish a correct beauty standard, boycott “sissy idols”, boycotting daunting wealth, gossip or vulgar internet celebrities.
  4. Boycott high pay in the entertainment industry. Strictly regulate payment for guests, encourage celebrities to participate in charity shows, punish fake contracts and tax evasion.
  5. Regulate showbiz staff. Enforce licensing television hosts, provide professional and moral training. Entertainers should not use their profession and fame to gain profit.
  6. Promote professional commentary in the entertainment industry, insist on correct political direction and values, criticise the fake, ugly and evil values.
  7. Entertainment associations should provide more training and establish mechanisms for industry regulation, as well as criticise bad examples.
  8. Regulators need to be more accountable, listen to the people and respond to their concerns, fill public space with positive and mainstream shows.
Perhaps the most promising development of the lot, though, is that China’s leadership is finally wising up to the threat of transhumanism and the gradual instrumental technologisation of ‘human capital’. Recent guidelines on data use are aimed at combatting the use of algorithms in tracking consumer data, protecting privacy, protecting minors and protecting workers from excessive oversight managed by computers. If they are serious about tackling this in a systemic way, then this is something absolutely to be welcomed, particularly since China had previously been in the forefront of exploring the uses of AI in surveillance. Here’s hoping that China is willing to subordinate the Algorithm to the merely-human across the board, not merely in the private sector.

So what does this all amount to?

My understanding of it so far, is that these economically leftist measures on behalf of workers and families, combined with the more conservative cultural measures meant to bolster traditional masculinity, stave off the transhumanist ‘alchemy’ and promote positive cultural output, are both part-and-parcel of a broader war against decadence in China. These outward-facing, public initiatives appear to follow naturally from the earlier work of Xi Jinping’s government to combat corruption and waste within the government specifically. They also seem to be part-and-parcel with Xi’s fondness for the Classics, and make a certain degree of intuitive sense given his own family’s harrowing experiences and suffering during the Cultural Revolution. Speaking personally, I have my doubts about how some of this broad volley of initiatives can succeed, but the aims seem to be correct and laudable ones.

16 July 2021

Why the TYT vs. Jimmy Dore fight isn’t just Twitter drama

If you follow Left Twitter at all (and I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t; it’s as much a mess as the rest of Twitter), you wouldn’t have really been able to miss the ongoing feud between The Young Turks – Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian – on one side, and Jimmy Dore on the other. Basically, what it amounts to is this: Ana Kasparian baselessly, gratuitously and vulgarly called The Nation reporter and author Aaron Maté a Russian agent on the TYT show, Maté demanded an apology, and Jimmy Dore leapt to Maté’s defence when Kasparian doubled down. Now TYT has been smearing Jimmy Dore as a sexual predator, and lining up to attack anyone who defends Aaron Maté, including Glenn Greenwald and Rania Khalek.

Now, some folks on the highly-online left (namely Kyle Kulinski and Krystal Ball), have basically dismissed this spat as meaningless ego-driven Twitter drama. And, to be fair to them, there probably is some element to this that is personality-driven. But it would be a mistake to mischaracterise the fundamental dynamics of this online spat, which really hit at one of the fundamental flaws – or, I should say, fundamental contradictions – at the heart of Anglophone liberal and leftist politics.

Basically, on one side, you have people who are intimately familiar with venues outside the United States, who understand that non-Americans are people with legitimate aspirations, life goals and a need for basic dignity. And these people have lived in these venues long enough and inquired deeply enough, that they have come to understand that American military and economic power projection is an existential threat to these people and these communities. In short, they are anti-imperialists. Now, I’m not sure about Jimmy Dore. He’s a comedian, not a journalist, and in some cases it shows. But note that people like Stephen Kinzer, Glenn Greenwald, Aaron Maté, Rania Khalek, Abby Martin, Max Blumenthal, Ajit Singh and of course late lamented figures like Robert Parry and the great Robert Fisk – have all spent significant amounts of time outside the Anglosphere, doing on-the-ground reporting and talking to ordinary people in conflict zones.

On the other side, you have people who, if they don’t outright support it, then at least don’t strongly object to the use of American military and financial dominance to achieve political and economic goals, regardless of who gets trampled on in the process: Cubans, Venezuelans, Bolivians, Hondurans, Russian-speakers of the Donetsk Basin, Eastern European Jews, Romani, Syrians, Palestinians, Yazidis, Armenians, Libyans, Yemenis, Iraqis or Afghans. This side is automatically better-disposed to American intelligence and military power blocs, and will predictably characterise even mild critics of American intelligence and military power blocs as ‘authoritarians’, ‘tankies’, ‘Marxist-Leninists’, ‘apologists for dictators’, ‘Russian assets’ or ‘Chinese assets’, while themselves posing as advocates for democracy and human rights. Indeed: this is precisely what Ana Kasparian did to Aaron Maté.

And here’s the thing: this divide goes back all the way to the beginnings of the organised Left. Anti-imperialism as an organised force in the West started, arguably, with William Morris… who was intimately familiar with the brutal mass killings, tortures and rapes carried out by the original Young Turks (the same genocidaires that Cenk Uygur named his YouTube channel after) against the Bulgarian peasantry, and who understood the British Empire’s willing and knowing complicity in the Ottoman government’s heinous barbarism. Morris’s opponent on the left was a man named Henry Hyndman, an early disciple of Marx in England who supported British imperial projects in Ireland and in Eastern Europe. Indeed, the disputes between Morris and Hyndman over this matter led to Morris’s leaving the SDF in 1885.

In short: yes, Twitter is toxic. Yes, Twitter is personality-driven. Yes, there’s definitely a personal element to these online fisticuffs. But let’s not be naïve about what is actually going on. This is a bad-faith attempt to ostracise and silence Maté and others like him who are well-informed critics of empire. There is a shadow-movement on the left which still maintains a faith in the fundamental goodness and moral righteousness of American power projection. And then there is the part of the left which has a more realistic understanding of the nature of power, and which is willing to both oppose the abuses of American power and expose and demystify the propagandistic supports for it. Jimmy Dore and Aaron Maté are on the principled side here: the side which William Morris took back in 1885. The Young Turks are - at best - Hyndmanites and apologists for Anglo imperialism. That is, of course, presuming that they aren’t something considerably more sinister, like nostalgists for genocidal Ottoman tyranny in the Middle East. There is a clear choice to be made here, and it is also clear which choice is the correct one.

28 June 2021

Two simple statements

At this point, I am fairly comfortable making two statements with a fairly high degree of factual confidence, that will nonetheless alienate me from broad swathes of the American electorate. The first is that Russiagate was, is and remains a hoax. There is no evidence that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election in any way that even approaches criminality, let alone one that would have had any statistically-significant impact on the outcome. Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 is – pardon my French – her own damn fault. Further, Democrats can expect to continue losing to Trump-like demagogues as long as they continue flying pride flags and spouting wokety-woke nonsense slogans instead of focussing on bread and butter issues that affect all Americans. Blaming Russian meddling for their own dismal failure to convince Americans that they are competent at governing is not only factually wrong, but psychologically pathetic.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I view Trumpian coping strategies and scapegoating of foreign agents for their own political failures as equally obnoxious and pathetic. There is no new evidence that the novel coronavirus that put the whole world on lockdown in 2020 is manmade or that it was leaked from a biological weapons research lab in Wuhan. Despite the eagerness with which the American intelligence apparatus leapt on the possibility that the Chinese government might be to blame for the virus, thus in some measure exculpating the American government from blame for its own dismal performance in combating it, they simply haven’t found anything substantive that might support that conjecture. The people who leapt on Lableakgate as fact did so, not because that conjecture was better-substantiated than other hypotheses that better conform to the data we have on the virus, but because it provided them with a just-so story about why Daddy lost the election.

One reason that American politics is so grotesque right now, is that we keep feeding ourselves these accounts of reality that are not grounded in the way things actually are, but in wishful thinking about the way things should be. And then when reality fails to indulge our fantasies, we turn ugly and begin abusing one scapegoat or another. One reason why I was attracted to conservatism in the first place was observing that liberals are not very good at understanding conservative thought-processes, and actually lack the empathy they claim to embody. But I soon came to discover that conservatives are not only not that much better at understanding others, but they also simply aren’t interested in understanding. The entire political noise machine here, including even the ‘populist’ pundits that are now cropping up on places like The Week, is driven not by a search for truth, but for the angle of biggest impact for gain.

22 June 2021

Holy Mother Agafia the Wonderworker of Cușelăuca

Saint Agafia of Cușelăuca

Gentle readers of my blogs, I apologise. I have been struggling with some fairly severe health problems as of late, including a stay in the hospital, and I haven’t been able to put up much of anything by way of content for the past month or so, absent one or two hagiographical pieces. I hope that I am well enough now that I can get back to blogging on a regular basis.

Yesterday was the new calendar feast day of Blessed Agafia of Cușelăuca, a wonderworking monastic saint of Moldova. She spent most of her years in one of the poorest monasteries in one of the poorest parts of Europe. Although she spent most of her life in a state of pain and bodily infirmity, she continued to be sweet, kind and patient to all who met her, and healed many who came to her with their own pains and disabilities.

Agafia Maranciuc [Ru. Агафия Маранчук] was born in the year 1819, in the village of Păsățel. This Moldovan village is situated between the Bug and the Dneister, very close to the city of Odessa. Her parents, Ioan and Eudochia, were highly observant Orthodox Christians who strove to live a life of humility and service to God. They would on occasion visit holy sites nearby. On one occasion, when Agafia was only a little girl, her parents decided to take a pilgrimage to the Kiev Caves Lavra. Little Agafia begged her parents, with tears in her eyes, to be allowed to go with them. However, this was in a day and age when most pilgrimages were made on foot, and small children were at particular danger on the roads. Out of concern for her, Ioan and Eudochia decided to leave Agafia in the care of some family friends when they left for the Kiev Caves Lavra.

Agafia was not content with this. Aflame with the desire to visit the holy relics of the Russian saints in the Lavra, a few days after her parents left, she escaped her guardians’ care on her own and tried to catch up with her parents. However, as the little girl travelled by night and tried to make her way in the darkness, she fell into a deep abandoned well, mangling both of her legs. For three years, nothing was heard of her. Her guardians and parents were distraught when they learned of her disappearance, and they mourned for her, thinking she was dead. But little Agafia survived at the bottom of that well for those three years, miraculously sustained by the grace of God. Some testimonies assert that she was visited by the angels, and fed by manna from heaven during her imprisonment in the well.

She was eventually found by a local shepherd named Dimitriu Baciu. The grass was thick in the field around the well, and Dimitriu led his sheep there to graze. Once there, he began to sing Psalms to himself as he watched over his flock. As if in answer, he heard unearthly sweet angelic voices emanating from the well. Examining the well, he was shocked to find the young girl inside, alive, and having been there evidently for a long time. He managed to lift her out, and contacted her parents, who came to her. Her parents were astonished at this wonder of God, and when they asked the young sufferer how she survived those years, Agafia told them that a pair of pigeons had come to her, bringing her food and warming her to keep her alive. Being unable to walk, her parents placed Agafia in a cart and wheeled her back to their home.

Even though she was returned to her loved ones, who cared for her and looked after her with the greatest solicitude and affection, a change had come over Agafia. Formerly a curious and talkative child, Agafia had grown taciturn, and she spent several years in a state of silent prayer. The injury to her legs was severe, and she would never physically recover from it. In her childhood years, she suffered a great deal of pain and illness on account of this injury. Yet she did not become bitter because of it. Even though she was quiet, she continued to be kind and considerate to everyone, and she also was given by God the gift of healing others through her prayers. Word of this went out, and many came from the surrounding countryside to visit her, and she healed their afflictions and gave them helpful advice. Some years afterward, two monks from Athos visited Agafia at her parents’ house. They were astonished at the young woman’s patience and kindness even in her suffering, and after several discussions with her, they gave her a copy of the Holy Gospels printed on Athos, which was her constant companion for the rest of her life.

Agafia retired to Cușelăuca Monastery. As mentioned before, this was at the time the poorest monastery in Bessarabia, and consequently one of the poorest in all of Europe. Being completely bedridden, she still kept as much of the nuns’ rule as she was able in her infirmity, and did not vary it in the slightest using her disability as an excuse. She was given for her patience not only the gift of healing by God but also the gift of prophecy. She foresaw both the flourishing of her monastery, and later its persecution under the Soviets. In her final months she kept counsel with the abbess and with her monastic sisters, and urged everyone to carry their crosses in a spirit of peace and penitence. She had harsh rebukes for some of them, but she assured them of her love and prayed for them.

On the ninth of June – or rather the twenty-second of June on the new calendar – Blessed Agafia received the Gifts for the last time in this earthly life. Some witnesses report that after she took the elements, her face began to glow with an otherworldly light. She reposed in the Lord, at peace with her sisters and her family, that same day. Saint Agafia was formally glorified on the fifteenth of July, 2016, by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, at the request of Metropolitan Vladimir and the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Moldova. Her feast day is kept on the same day as her repose. Holy Mother Agafia, patient sufferer and kindly healer, pray unto Christ our God for us sinners!

Cușelăuca Monastery, Moldova