By Michael James
The People, May-June 2005
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On March 29 the Associated Press carried a story citing a recent poll that found obscene language on the rise in our society. Seventy-four percent of the 1,001 adults surveyed in the AP poll said that they encounter obscene language or profanity in public “frequently or occasionally.”

Yes, profanity is vulgar, rule and distasteful. It suggests a lack of refinement, lack of vocabulary, lack of control or lack of respect for others. It is an antisocial act, without sensitivity or thought regarding the rights or needs of others. It even suggests a breakdown of community. But there is a context to this verbal obscenity.

It is hard to imagine a greater obscenity than American capitalism. It is hard for the imagination to even construct a greater affront to genuine human community, to civility, to humanity, to decency than capitalism. For example, U.S. military spending is a gross obscenity. Health care denied to millions of Americans is a huge obscenity. The percentage of our population in prison is a tragic obscenity. The war in Iraq is a criminal obscenity. The gap between rich and poor is obscene. The very foundations of capitalism itself are obscene: the profit motive, one class exploiting another, permanent war and the tyranny of allowing one class to control all social wealth.

The point is that capitalism abounds with structural or systemic obscenity. And it is interesting and empowering to see how certain apologists for capitalism, certain mystifiers and bewilderers who serve the bourgeoisie, use words and language to conceal capitalist crimes or obscenities. Consider a recent Newsweek interview with the Rev. Billy Graham. He has long served capitalism by befriending U.S. war criminal presidents and guiding them spiritually while they commit mass murder against peasants in places like Vietnam, Graham spoke to Newsweek about Hurricane Katrina and said that “God has allowed it, and there is a purpose that we won’t know maybe for years to come.” He went on pretty much to condemn the human race: “I don’t see much improvement in man’s heart. The whole thing is in man’s heart: his desire, his greed, his lust, his pride, and his ego. All of these things meshed together bring about sometimes a world war and sometimes a small war, but wars are going on everywhere…”

Graham’s words are obscene! The suffering, destruction and death caused by Hurricane Katrina, according to Graham, have nothing to do with America’s abandonment of the poor, neglect of levees and other infrastructure, or draining of money away from human beings and into the bloody coffers of the pentagon. God allowed Katrina and we are not meant to know why! And he cynically dismisses the human race as sinners, pretty much doomed by our inner shortcomings. He breathtakingly fails to see that capitalism is an antisocial and violent economic system that aggressively promotes and encourages the very traits he criticizes people for: greed, lust, pride and ego. Likewise, he blames us flawed humans, with our evil hearts, for war. But anybody with eyes and mind even half open can see that it is the criminal, capitalist ruling class that wages war for its own corporate gain. War is simply a method of conducting business, a ruthless, calculated expression of what Marx called “the furies of private interest.” Capitalism and the capitalist class are off the proverbial hook in the eyes and mind of the Rev. Graham. He obscenely puts the blame squarely on God and the human race.

And so we are daily surrounded by capitalist obscenities such as poverty, war, injustice and inequality. Insult is added to injury when bourgeois spokespersons such as Billy Graham blame God and human beings. It is enough to make a person swear.