Is Violence Insurmountable?

Several weeks ago Pope Francis admitted the need to do something about the growing destabilization of the Middle East, going as far as to urge governmental powers to step into the mix (admitting the need for violence to counter violence?). Displacement of people groups, militarized violence against religious minorities, and the destruction of peaceful religious/cultural structures in recent months has brought feelings of devastation and physical torment to thousands of people.

The Pope, yo.

Something has to be done. But what?

 

It seems that violence may be the only action, or systematized group of actions, that can have any relevant effect upon the tsunami of violence that has already engulfed large regions of the Middle East. But, is this really so? What do we admit when we react with violence against violence? Does violence, then, act as a sort of enveloping power, a punishment that causes those who are doing evil to come to terms with the evil that they have done? Or does violence beget violence?

Are there political theories of (non)violence that can point the way toward a sort of salve for such a situation (I am looking at you, Walter Benjamin, Simon Critchley, and Judith Butler)? Despite the many and varied theories about the origin of ISIS (such as the hypothesis that the US’s role in Iraq in the past 30+ years was the catalyst for such violence and extremism), the fact remains that cruel and unusual circumstances abound in the Middle East. Do we take the stance of a Zizek and passively wait? Do we take the conventional American approach and storm the gates of injustice (I mean, as long as there is oil to get as well….)? Or is there a Jesus option of nonviolent resistance (or an anarchic “nonviolence”, or, as Crtichley points to a “violent nonviolent” approach)?

 

I just want to hear YOUR answers with justifications given. Or are you too busy surfing the net to think about the cruelties going on abroad?

Theology of Money

What follows is a sort of review I did of a incredibly dense and thought-provoking book called Theology of Money, authored by Philip Goodchild of the University of Nottingham. I did this in conjunction with my friend Johnny Walker, whose blog you can check out by following this link! He’s a great guy and writes in a wonderful and thoughtful manner.

Philip Goodchild’s Theology of Money may be one of the more important works in contemporary scholarship on issues of economy, politics, divinization, and the importance of valuation. Because of this, the title may seem a bit deceptive, as the emphasis is not on the usual issues associated with theology, such a systematic analysis of what is meant by the signifier “God”, or the praxis of a community built upon ideals usually associated with the moniker “religious”.

Philip Goodchild. Looks like a rather jolly fellow. (http://www.wlv.ac.uk/files/SAD/RIP/philip_goodchild.jpg)

However, at the same time the title is wonderfully appropriate. Part of Goodchild’s analysis rests on the crucial point that money occupies in society the same space that God normally does in traditional religion. Money is religious precisely because “God and wealth are set in competition” in several key areas: for time, in terms of “storing up treasure”; for attention, in terms of the health of the eye; and, for devotion in terms of service”(6). Because all religions “direct and distribute time, attention, and devotion” money seems to occupy a religious space.  In Goodchild’s estimation the contemporary theology of money, however, directs such time, attention, and devotion in such a way as to evoke a social order that is essentially short-sighted and ultimately self-destructive. The aim, then, of the book is to “understand the conditions of existence within our contemporary age” and ultimately show that the life of humanity is based on local practices of monetary “contracting, accounting, and evaluating.” These practices, however, are to be exposed in all of their “contingency, irrationality, arbitrariness, and violence” because they ultimately enable “chaos, instability, and possessive[ness].” (xvi).

In order to accomplish this weighty task Goodchild divides the book into three major sections. The first section, “Of Politics”, is mainly introductory and serves to locate money theoretically in relation to political life. Goodchild identifies modernity mythically, both because a theory of money bases the political life on the valuation of money primarily, but also because the essential utopian ideals of modernity are short-circuited by money’s place in political life, and are necessarily contradictory. The mythic nature of the ideals of modernity can be summed up as one of mastery of the natural world through means of science, technology, and economics; nonetheless, such mastery is façade, as seen through ecological disasters and realizations that economics is less determined by “humane values and substantive rationality” and more so “autonomous processes driven by debt, profit, and the control of consumer desire.” (31,32). Such inability to control and master serve to undermine economics because ecology, specifically, cannot handle the consumptive practices of modern economics, and this speaks to the meta-human powers that both science and technology (despite the promises of modernity) cannot control (43-49). In the conceptual realm there is instability because utopian ideals of universal freedom, and a wealth that promises freedom, has caused a grasping that “has had the effect of subordinating humanity to the impersonal and abstract force of money” (67). Such opens up the realization that much determination in democratic institutions is due to propagandizing and political advertising, which short-circuits truth within open discourse (51-53). In all, it seems that value, broadly, then, results in a frenzied maintenance of monetary value through consumptive practices, ecological destruction, predatory production, and an appropriating and colonizing capitalism.

The middle section, A Treatise on Money, is divided into three chapters dealing with the Ecology, Politics, and Theology of money. Goodchild identifies this main section as having a two-fold purpose: to expose the main threats of humanity found in “illusion and error” and to “illuminate the principles necessary for reforming money as a social institution” (22). In the chapter on ecology Goodchild develops further the earlier thesis regarding the instability of natural ecology in an economic environment that does not take into account natural environmental concerns. But, he goes deeper, showing the conceptual problems that cause this disregard, namely regarding money itself. Money functions as value that promises value. It is fundamentally tautological as “money is a means of payment because it is a store of value, yet money is a store of value because it is a means of payment” (93).  Perhaps most important in this chapter, however, is the delineation of the economic issues of promise and desire. Money and economy enter the religious schema here because of the notion of faith in the promise of these abstractions. Money provides “the freedom to select and refuse within the marketplace . . . to disassemble current relations of mutual dependence to replace them with future, more desirable relations of mutual dependence” (103). Because money promises these freedoms, there is a generation of demand for it. However, Goodchild’s analysis ends with the conclusion that despite the promises, “money is fundamentally false and deceptive”, at least in part because of the relation of debt to society, but also because one’s evaluations are always of little weight and ultimately up to subjective fashions; or, “the consumer has no basis for giving value to value, apart from the value of money” (120-21).
In the next chapter, on the “Politics of Money”, Goodchild moves on to similar criticisms, though this time in relation to markets specifically. Here he levels charges against the market, calling it “a despotic social institution founded on violence” (128) because it allows for no contradictory claims and because of the mutual parasitism of market and state, a state that justifies “inflicting unlimited violence on their enemies in the name of freedom, democracy, and  progress that they may be establish in place of existing social formations” (128). Goodchild goes on to make the connection between money, contract, and value. Namely, that money is an implicit contract, and “contracts underwrite social cooperation” (132).

In the last chapter in this section Goodchild focuses on a theology of money. Here, by theology, Goodchild enters into an examination of the value of money, but also the concept ofevaluating value. His discussion begins with a critique of accounting practices, and specifically what accounting practices say about the nature of what is considered valuable in the first place. A portion of his critique is the metaphysical basis of accounting itself. It represents the shared fiction of money, yes, but it also motions to the immateriality and spirituality of money as an incorporeal reality that promises and powers desires. Accounting becomes the material basis of money, however, in the place of coinage and banks take over as the basis of credit (171). Yet, a more important portion of his critique reminds that “knowledge produced by accounting is highly selective and very limited” (172). This is the reminder that accounting is far from being distinct from the ethical or the evaluative; “determinate moral effects” result from the practice, as analyzed earlier in Goodchild’s discussion of the ecological, economic, and political intersections with the economic (172).

Theology of Money. This is the cover of a book. (https://www.dukeupress.edu/Assets/Books/978-0-8223-4450-6_pr.jpg)

It is in this section that Goodchild begins to engage more with construction. He does not intend to leave the reader with a largely critical account that does not lead to hints about what a more positive and concrete theology of money would entail. While this will be dealt with more depth in the final section, Goodchild reveals that for a “revaluation of all values” to take place practices of accounting must be reoriented. He claims that “if money is an expression of a practice of recording value, then new kinds of money can emerge from new methods of accounting” (180). Likewise, because accounting is primarily concerned with how much money can be given for a given product, it follows that accounting is not concerned with the evaluation of the actual product or process of production (188). Here is part of the moral problem, but also a hint at the proper trajectory to take in order to reorient the idea of money and value within society. He ends the chapter by mentioning that only the “creation, critique, and crediting of evaluation” can stand in as the theological activity that can lead “the economic order” (198).

Goodchild begins his last section with a properly metaphysical discussion, noting the opposition between God and money (here drawing on the words of Jesus). The metaphysical parallel is deep, noting the commonality between God, truth, and money as representing absolutes that help solve problems of “being and thought” (208, 212). However, the specific metaphysics that money evokes in action is one that counts all things as “passive objects of exchange”, names all people as “sovereign subjects capable of entering into contracts at will”, and considers all knowledge “science”. Use of money evokes, likewise, a politics, ethics, and theology. These require subordination to spirals of debt, the necessity of spending and acquiring money, and the obligation to state systems that “preserve the stability of a fragile financial system”; and, according to Goodchild emancipation can only come through “some reorganization of the institution of money”, hopefully away from the sort of organization of money as created through debt as began in the founding of the Bank of England (214).

Once again, the crux of the issue comes down to distinguishing what is truly the value of values. And, further, how do we evaluate value? This is perhaps the area where God and money are most robustly in competition. It is here that he branches off and engages in a reorganization proposal, stating as follows: “there needs to be a secondary tier of economy concerned solely with the production and distribution of effective evaluations” (243). Evaluation of products and productions would be the force of credit and investment. Because evaluation would take precedence investment and credit would flow to those things that are truly of value, not to those things that merely promise further gains in capital. Here, there would be attention paid to particulars and the wider scope of what allows the economy to exist (such as environmental sustainability) rather than an abstraction and isolation from concrete life.

Of course, Goodchild recognizes the tentativeness and work that needs to be done with the proposal. What is to be commended is the imagination and strength of the work behind the critique that leads to a proposal such as his. Bolstering the importance and far-sightedness of the work as a whole is its seeming “prophetic” nature, as the exact problems Goodchild points out could be seen clearly in the economic crisis in 2008 (original printing was in 2007). Of course, with or without such contemporary insight, the book as a whole, while incredibly dense, provides a deep analysis of money in the contemporary landscape and confronts the cracks and fissures in the modern theology and metaphysic of money with a strong tentative, future-oriented economic proposal.

Humans: Are we Forgetful and Distracted by Default?

Trying to figure out why exactly people behave in the ways that they normally do is a tall order, for sure. It seems that, especially in the humanities, there are devotions to the subject of human behavior within most disciplines. Psychology, of course, but also sociology seeks to answer questions regarding human behavior, as does certain philosophical disciplines, and of course theology. Some of the explanations appear more magical, to me, than really substantive or explanatory. For instance, there have been, certainly, a relative amount of interest in evolutionary psychology; but, I don’t find much explanation found here to be helpful, nor very interesting. Once again, it is an example of a queer determinism at the very least.

Fumbling around on the internet I came across an article dealing with the phenomenon of forgetfulness and inattention to dire circumstances given a relatively quick passing of time. To put it a bit simpler: often after a tragic event much concern is shown throughout various media machines, especially social media, but despite the horrifying nature of the events soon the ongoing problem is forgotten. Even if it is an ongoing circumstance. The example given was of the kidnapping of dozens of young girls in Nigeria. Afterward there was a parade of sympathy, but now, just a few months later, really, all is silent.

The article makes clear, and yes it is true, that there is only limited space on the web to talk of these things; likewise, if there is nothing to report, then you can’t very well write an article up, can you? This is all true, of course, but often it seems as if the tragedy has completely left the minds of all who were once sounding the drum. Surely, as with all social justice campaigns, there is work to be done by the common people, even if there is nothing new to report, even if that means trying to find out what exactly is actively being done for the victims. But, you don’t really hear any of that going on.

Why do we forget so easily? Several reasons are given, some of which are plausible, but one that stuck out to me that seems, at the least, to be a bit anachronistic, was the assertion that as a “species” we are “forgetful and easily bored.” Is such a deeply anthropological statement really justified?  Or do we occupy a certain space in history wherein we have broken away from the longsuffering and tenacity of our ancestors? Have we always been so forgetful?

I don’t want to press the quotation used in the article too far. It isn’t a deeply academic account, nor is it confronting what I want to confront. There are multiple angles to the question of forgetfulness, inattention, and boredom.

What I mostly work on are the interstices of theology and economy. But, and I think it should be relatively obvious, both of these areas (separate or together) touch on social and cultural attitudes.  When dealing with cultural ebbs and flows it does seem quite obvious that the main mediums of entertainment have changed quite suddenly in the last few hundred years, with metamorphoses occurring quicker as technology continues to accelerate.

Before the printing press the majority of humans didn’t spend too much time reading, especially as an exercise in leisure. Heck, even afterward reading wasn’t much of a leisure activity for several reasons, with perhaps one of the most important being that most people were not afforded the luxury of time.

Us Westerners are used to luxury and the conundrum of what to do with our time. We are spoiled in comparison, and part of that spoil is the gluttony of entertainment. Reading as a medium of entertainment gave way to radio, then television and movies, then video games, and next the internet (with the near infinite means of wasting time, or being productive). Of course, we shouldn’t press a strictly linear progression, as there is definite overlap. But, even the way that television is presented as an artform has changed, especially to cater to a public that craves, desires, drools over excitement. Just count the seconds between shifting shots in most television programs. There is no stillness because it causes unrest. We need movement. We cannot sit still enough hardly to  read a novel, unless it is a young adult novel which caters to the excitement factor necessarily.

 

These are all musings. But, I do think it is a tall order to prove that we are, as a species, forgetful and easily bored. We have to remember that our ancestors, those illiterate, savage, uncouth humans in our lineage, were often largely an oral and based their social and civil lives on narrative structures. Identity was formed around common stories, some of which were quite complicated and intense. One could look at the biblical stories, for instance, and remember that these were known by the “common” people as oral tales.

Furthermore, when reading the New Testament letters of Paul one is struck by the amount of intertextual engagement going on, the echoes Paul include that reach back to the Old Testament stories. These weren’t obscure allusions, but were integral to images Paul constructs at some points. Paul provides no footnotes and, in fact, we would do well to remember that these letters would probably be read aloud to the church community they were written to.

 

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/08/01/attention_deficit_disorder_economy_nigeria_gaza_caring?utm_content=bufferd27c4&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Empty Sets?

Are empty sets sensible? Mathematics, I suppose, doesn’t have to make sense as a sort of ontic category as far as I can tell. But I still wonder if empty sets are not a silly idea… is it not like a club that has never had any members and never will? This excludes the originator of the club.

What do my math oriented acquaintances think?

Being Enslaved to “Freedom”

As some may know Alyssa and I just moved to the UK. To Canterbury, specifically, which is where The Church of England’s Archbishop of Canterbury resides. Practically every corner turned in the city confronts the individual with the long history of England either by way of simply walking the cobblestone paths, or bucking up next to the rather overwhelming Canterbury Cathedral. The spires can be seen from nearly any part of the city and certainly makes for great scenery. I could go on, but I will leave the posts concerning Alyssa’s and my adventure to her. Her articulation of those subjects are much more defined than mine would be!

Instead, I wanted to draw out, to delineate really, some thoughts that have been brewing for a few days. The thoughts were brought about through reading Philip Goodchild’s recent book Theology of Money. A further catalyst would be the strange housing situation we have found ourselves in. I won’t bother you with the aesthetic details (though, here we encountered problems). The real difficulty has been our downstairs neighbor, a young, loud, and promiscuous female of quite salty character (from what I can gather). Alyssa and I have generally had great, quiet, and orderly neighbors. This is a first for us, being in such strange territory.

Last night I settled in next to the window to read some of Goodchild’s book. Around 1 in the morning I was interrupted with the loud howling of several inebriated people. Several incidents proceeded after this one, but the actions that occurred last night (which I will not detail for reasons of decency) really brought to the forefront some of the implicit issues Goodchild hammers home.

I find myself often thinking about issues of common good, ultimate concern, and supposed universal appeals to foundational issues in justice and the “good”. Despite what chatty television-hosts and witty, rhetorical bloggers may write there really isn’t an easy answer to the question of where one can pin-point the proper foundation to these issues. Perhaps the most appeal is put toward “freedom” or “individuality,” as if these terms, these oscillating and nebulous signifiers, really have a stable or definite meaning. Democracy is the safe-guard of freedom, and the credit that guarantees the political significance of the individual (as long as said individual is within the common boundary of a majority that discerns what is “good” for all). Of course, there is the easy criticism that truth is not what a majority makes! Or would we want to unearth a pre-Socratic notion that “might makes right” (though we would not be the first to resurrect the idea…)?

More can be said about democracy and it’s failure, its absurdity as an actualizable political ideal (questions of will come up, and questions of autonomy of will and thought; the public will of the people is dictatorship. Moreover, in the clash of opinions found in liberal democracy the ground upon which decision is made is not through the articulation of truth as truth, but through the articulation of truth through competition and advertisement; only that which is appealing will win, and that which has universalizable appeal comes down to wealth-building) , but those will have to be dissected later, even though they run right up against my main point.

What I find most pointed and interesting in this moment is the conception of freedom that our culture (Western culture) has become so enamored with. “Freedom” doesn’t usually mean too much, though it’s appeal is rather ubiquitous. As Goodchild suggests it usually refers to freedom from (negative freedom, as opposed to a Thomistic account) “public representations of divine command or sacred good”; “to determine one’s will through entering into contracts in the marketplace”; and “to master a portion of nature or dispose of one’s property as one pleases.”

This is all well and good, but as Goodchild goes on to point out, “Lacking public representations or manifestations of a common good, free and open debate must necessarily settle on such individual freedom as its lowest common denominator.” This can open up all sorts of manipulation, allowing the tool of governance to appeal to such common good for the use of force or defense in emergency.

When a person appeals to freedom they usually don’t think of freedom in quite the same way, or rather they wouldn’t word it in such a fashion. But, basically, there is a “universal appeal to the immediate interests” of property and negative and some positive freedoms. Such desires are utopian, ultimately, because as Goodchild points out a public representation of truth and justice are only found through manipulation and persuasion. Then, “freedom of expression is dependent on the constraint on others to be persuaded.” There can’t be ultimate or universal freedom because someone is always constrained in some way; ultimate, universalizable freedom is an illusion, an “impossible ideal born of representation and abstraction, projections of an idealized condition in which humanity cannot survive or flourish.”

Going much further, this utopianism is certainly theological because it deals with emancipation in such a universalizable way. And this secular theology aspires “for a condition of atheism where one is finally unconditioned by God or nature.”

Because of this, I wonder if there isn’t some latent theology, a sort of idol, of the self that can be seen through the night-life of teenagers and 20 somethings. This isn’t just a United Kingdom problem. It is just as pervasive in the US; ours is secretive, though, and our progeny hide their promiscuity through the make-up of Sunday morning services. Freedom is the autonomy of the self, it is the ability to “dispose of one’s property” as he or she pleases. In a culture that finds commodification a way of life it comes naturally to view the subject as property. Freedom serves wealth, as wealth is the obvious universalizable. Wealth opens up possibility; and when our theology is defined as aspiring to be “unconditioned by God or nature” the possibilities serve the gods of pleasure.

I feel sad when I hear the promiscuous tales my neighbor regales her friends with. Not sad for myself because I need sleep, but sad for her because she serves representation, and representation (what the mind desires and articulates but is always decontextualized and therefore illusion) is a cruel mistress. Freedom only comes through direction, and direction through truth and justice, ideas that cannot be attained through freedom as understood by the majority.

God Does Not Exist.

Broaching the question of God’s existence is a large task, and one that many have done previously, and will continue to do for a long time to come. Too often it is peppered with ad hominems, straw men, and other fallacies; also too often there is an ungraciousness characterized by the usual Youtube comment section.

But, I must confess, this blog post has little to do with questions of whether theism or atheism sketch a proper view of reality (or whether certain theisms or atheisms come closer than others). Really, I want to provocatively state that God does not exist  following then with an importance nuance to the statement, showing that our use of terms and our conceptions can often be rather reductionist, and thereby lead to fruitless discussions or improper conceptions of God.

 

So, the statement: God does not exist. There, I said it.

But what does that really mean? In fact, what does it mean to say a thing exists or does not exist? And, can we create a close analogy between a mere thing, which we say “exists” and God, which can be described variously as the “fullness of existence” or “pure actuality” or some other philosophically/theologically rich  turn of phrase?

To quote from David Bentley Hart,

“the most pervasive error one encounters in contemporary arguments about the belief in God– especially, but not exclusively, on the atheist side– is the habit of conceiving of God simply as some very large object or agency within the universe, or perhaps alongside the universe, a being among beings, who differs from all others beings in magnitude, power, and duration, but not ontologically, and who is related to the world more or less as a craftsman is related to an artifact.” (The Experience of God, pp. 32-33)

In too much contemporary discourse people speak of God as if there is no conceptual difference between  ontological distinctives, between the metaphysical description of God (something that is shared between Christians, Jews, Muslims, certain Hinduisms, and certain Buddhisms) and a description of the category of gods, demi-gods, and the like. What is that famous phrase?

“I believe in neither God nor in the fairies at the bottom of my garden.”

But, here we have a brushing away of a serious topic, and the rather crude and incoherent parallel of fairies and God. Maybe fairies and Zeus, but God as an ontologically distinct being, the grounding of existence, is another thing altogether. This is precisely why arguments by some like Dawkins and Krauss and others just fail; there is an error at the outset because they are arguing against some sort of demiurgic being, not God.

But, the problem is also that many defenders of God, reduce God to some being that merely exists in the universe along with all other contingent realities. He is the Intelligent Designer, and this moniker is the premier description of who God is. But, here too often the theist fails by primarily noting God through description as merely the demiurge who has fashioned reality, not as the distinct grounding of being.

The sharp point is that many on any side of the religious divisions (whether theist, atheist, or apatheist) do not realize that God occupies a different ontological realm than all other beings, he is distinct in modality. When we speak of the existence, then, of God, we need to realize that existence carries with it certain baggage and we must to step beyond the simple use of the term and realize that there are different modalities of existence. Some things are contingent, and some things are absolute (though, that isn’t to say that some think these categories are mistaken; I disagree, obviously).

So, through semantical wrangling, it is certainly true that God does not exist, well, God does not exist in the same way that contingent realities exist. On the other hand God is the grounding of existence, or fullness of existence as well, that which upholds contingent realities upon the vertical plane of reality.

 

(Yeah, I know. The post name was a sort of bait and switch. Did you really think I was coming out of the closet as an atheist??)

 

What is the Global Center for Advanced Studies?

taylormweaver:

Could this be a way forward in a educational climate that is becoming increasingly distasteful? I hope so. Wonderful faculty, and goals that go beyond the commodification and numbering of human persons.

Originally posted on Objet petit a:

CFASbannerww Just five months ago my friends and I began organizing a new school, which took on the name,  The Global Center for Advanced Studies , (now directed by Jason Adams and me).   But why a new graduate and undergraduate school?  When something new happens it is a response to the present situation, a situation which gives birth to needs that are not available.  When you look at the culture of colleges and universities today you will immediately notice several very disturbing trends.

1- Skyrocketing tuition costs: rising 1,120% since 1978, while real income has declined.

2- Skyrocketing student loan debt: now over $1,000,000,000.

3- Skyrocketing postgraduate unemployment: 53.6% are now unemployed or underemployed.

4- Skyrocketing use of adjuncts: 75% of faculty are now low-paid and temporary.

5- Skyrocketing use of administrators: administrators now outnumber professors by 125,000.5 6- Skyrocketing pay of administrators: most are now paid between $300,000-3,000,000/yr.6.

When…

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