Skip to main content

Why are the billionaires always laughing?

Because they know the corporate media will never call bullshit on their bullshit.

Why are the billionaires laughing?

It’s easy to laugh when the corporate press treats you as a glorious success instead of the epitome of a broken social order. Billionaires laugh because they know the corporate media prefers to fawn over them rather than hold them to account.

Today, we ask you to support our nonprofit, independent journalism because we are not impressed by billionaires flying into space, their corporations despoiling our health and planet, or their vast fortunes safely concealed in tax havens across the globe. We are not laughing.

We are hard at work producing journalism for the common good. With our Fall Campaign underway, please support this mission today. We cannot do it without you.

Support Our Work -- Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Every donation—large or small—helps us bring you the news that matters.

Daniel Berrigan, Thich Nhat Hanh and a World Where Everyone Matters

Ken Butigan

 by Waging Nonviolence

Thirty-three years ago this summer I was stopped in my tracks by the clarity and power of Daniel Berrigan’s words — and nothing has been the same since.

Today, as Berrigan turns 93, the memory of that encounter comes back with all its vivid force. At the time, I was researching the impacts of nuclear arms for a book project, and as part of this work I visited many East Coast think tanks purportedly envisioning alternatives to the then-spiraling arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Each discussion I had with the researchers at these institutes left me more and more depressed. No one I spoke with could envision a world free of nuclear weapons. At best, they thought we might be able to stabilize the nuclear regime, or perhaps reduce it a bit if we increased conventional weapons. It was after four or five discussions like this that I contacted Berrigan and asked if I could see him. I knew his long-time history as an antiwar activist and I instinctively felt he might provide some way to balance out what I’d been hearing. He didn’t know me, but he graciously welcomed me to his place in Manhattan.

For a couple of hours, he shared with me his vision, which essentially boiled down to this: “We live in a culture of death — and it is up to us to resist it.”

There was a lifetime of experience behind these words and I felt both the simplicity and weight of them. Here was the prophet I’d heard and read about. And like other prophets, he didn’t let me off the hook.

“Find some people you can pray with and march with,” he told me before I left.

That mantra floated through my head for the next few months and kept boring its way into my soul. Eventually, following orders, I did just that — and my life took an unexpected detour onto a road of nonviolent transformation that I am still, in fits and starts, traveling.

In time for Berrigan’s birthday is a new book that reminds us that, even as peacemakers age, their visions and guidance remain as necessary and as urgent as ever. In this volume, the author, Charles R. Strain, pairs Berrigan with the iconic Vietnamese Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh in an attempt to see what their wisdom might bring to a social ethics geared to transforming our contemporary world and its growing crises of war, poverty and climate change.

In The Prophet and the Bodhisattva: Daniel Berrigan, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Ethics of Peace and Justice, Strain sets out to illuminate the heart of the matter for both of these spiritually-grounded practitioners of nonviolent change — and then explores how what they have bet their lives on can help us move from a world in chaos to a world where everyone matters, including by creating what he frames as a “Global Civil Society.”

It is clear that Strain has been deeply influenced by both of these figures, and he gives them their due in a lavish presentation of their fundamental orientations, illuminating in profuse detail how Berrigan’s life of nonviolent resistance embodies the prophetic vision that undergirds much of the Judeo-Christian tradition, while Thich Nhat Hanh, now in his mid-80s, has lived a life of engaged practice rooted in compassion that, like the traditional bodhisattva of the Buddhist tradition, resolves to save all others.

But Strain is not content simply to present detailed portraits of these agents of change, or even only to compare them — which he does, for example, by contrasting in a sustained and illuminating analysis the “no” of the fiery Christian prophet with the “yes” of Buddhist mindfulness that, seeing the interconnectedness of all things, can dampen one’s proclivity to moral superiority. Rather, his larger project is to see how what Berrigan and Nhat Hanh have learned can complement or even reframe other approaches to building a just world.

This question is personal for Strain who, though an activist himself, has spent 40 years as a professor and administrator at a university. While his own experience tells him that academia and other sectors — religious, political and non-governmental organizations — can easily and uncritically affirm and be co-opted by society’s unjust structures and policies, he holds out hope that they may become what he terms “countervailing institutions.” They can be part of a mobilized network of agencies creating a more just and sustainable reality and, by implication, can even integrate something of the prophetic and the mindful into its approaches.

In scholarly detail, Strain lays out new strategic frameworks for building this new world that are emerging from the academic discipline of peace studies and from growing transnational networks, including “just peacemaking” and “strategic peacebuilding.” There is much to recommend in these models, as Strain shows, but in the end he holds that if both the vision and mindfulness of the prophet and the bodhisattva are missing from these rationalized systems, they will be severely hampered.

Why? Because what we are dealing with, as we plunge on into the 21st century, is not simply retooling a world a bit out of kilter but a planet facing, on the one hand, the oppressive consequences of empire and, on the other, climate chaos. Not only are these feeding one another, they are grounded in what Strain calls an overarching matrix. Anything short of a movement that is both prophetic and deeply mindful will not foster the thoroughgoing transformation and healing that is needed.

While this book’s academic precision and detail are perhaps mostly geared to fellow social ethicists, there is much in this book which all of us can benefit from.

First, Strain provides a comprehensive up-to-date overview of critical and explanatory work being done on Imperial America. This goes, as well, for its treatment of the climate crisis. In fact, if nothing else, this book is worth reading for these sections alone.

But there is much more to this book than these important chapters. Charles Strain’s text helps us grasp in engrossing detail two paths toward the well-being of all still being trod by Daniel Berrigan and Thich Nhat Hanh. Even more, it helps us see how all of us are called to deepen this journey of inner and outer change.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Ken Butigan

Ken Butigan is director of Pace e Bene, a nonprofit organization fostering nonviolent change through education, community and action. He also teaches peace studies at DePaul University and Loyola University in Chicago.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Profits Before People: 'The Facebook Papers' Expose Tech Giant Greed

"This industry is rotten at its core," said one critic, "and the clearest proof of that is what it's doing to our children."

Jon Queally ·

New York Taxi Workers Stage Hunger Strike to Demand Medallion Debt Relief

"They are an essential industry here in New York City," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, "and we need to make sure we're doing right by them."

Julia Conley ·

'It's Not Coming Out': Bernie Sanders Stands Firm on Medicare Expansion

"It's what the American people want and, after waiting over 50 years, what they are going to get."

Julia Conley ·

'When We Organize, We Win': Ocasio-Cortez Joins India Walton at Rally in Buffalo

The two progressives joined striking hospital workers on the picket line at Mercy Hospital after the early voting rally.

Julia Conley ·

Fatal Film Set Shooting Followed Outcry by Union Crew Members Over Safety Protocols

"When union members walk off a set about safety concerns, maybe 'hiring scabs' isn’t the solution you think it is."

Julia Conley ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo