The Hobbesian Anthropos

In some ways I feel as if I barely understand Hobbes. Perhaps that has something to do with the divergent iterations that spring from varied corners of academia.

Hobbes represents everything, and nothing. He is one of those not-too-distant scholars in history whose varied existences go toward proving that figuring out exactly what a thinker is doing, why, and how is a little harder than your entry-level college textbook is willing to admit (and, who blames them? We can’t wade into the shit head first; instead, we take slow subtle steps). So, yes, we can talk, definitively, about the years of his exile in France, his bachelorhood, his travels across Europe with those he is tutoring; but, the tricky business is determining his place in the history of political thought, the importance of his specific take on the social contract (and not talking anachronistically of a full-blown political liberalism), and, perhaps, what exactly the hell is going on with his particular model of the human.

Hobbes and Chill

 

I can’t solve all the problems. This isn’t really my area of specialty, but what I think I can speak to his the particular form of the Hobbesian state of nature. What bothers me most is the way it is carelessly and crudely employed. Even in scholarly writing there are the quick, throw-away references to Hobbes and his anthropology. Usually the charge of psychological egoism, an overwhelming self-interest or greed; or simply the quick line pointing to the ‘wolf man’.

What isn’t paid enough attention to, I think, is the deeply physiological nature of the Hobbesian human. It is perhaps one of the more careless omissions that in the only (that I can find) translation of De  Homine (Bernard Gert’s work) the first 9 chapters are missing! Why? Well, the footnote in the 1991 reprint merely says “they are irrelevant to Hobbes’s moral and political philosophy” (35). Well, gee, thanks for deciding that for me. Maybe I wanted to read them??

The reason that they are irrelevant? Well, the first chapter deals with ‘out-of-date’ biology and chapters 2 through 9 are concerned with optics. But, why does Hobbes devote the first 9 chapters to things wholly extraneous to the rest of his work dedicated to de homine? Well, perhaps he had a reason?

It seems quite obvious to me that there are physiological reasons, that the foundation of Hobbes’ thought regarding the human, and going beyond to his moral and political philosophy is grounded in the materiality of the human, in the physiological workings of man. This needs to be appreciated to understand anything about the necessity and inevitability of violence in the state of nature. Fear, not simply greed, leads to violence. But, fear is based on the inability of the subject to determine (a hermeneutical problem) what the other subject will do. And, when one thinks that they may suffer violence, they are led by their natural right to do what they can to defend their self from the ultimate evil (as Hobbes doesn’t allow for a teleology, only an evil, which is immobility and death).

It seems quite obvious, then, why both optics and biology are important for the foundation of Hobbes’ material concerns when discussing man. It sucks it was left out of this particular translation of De Homine….

The dogs bark and the caravan goes by: Orwell and Žižek

Harnessing Chaos


In contemporary analyses of neoliberalism, there is a standard argument that neoliberalism absorbs or tolerates critque as just another aspect of a series of endless and ultimately non-threatening identities. Žižek, for instance, argued that the privileged leftist academic will make demands about immigration or welfare that they really know will never be met and would damage the privileged position of the leftist academic if they were. This way the ‘radical’ academic can (hypocritically) maintain their radical posture while capitalism continues effectively untroubled. Variants on this argument are common in Žižek’s publications. Put another way, the dogs bark and the caravan goes by (a straightforward saying that the British press pretend, for reasons of clickbait, is cryptic or bizarre).

Whether this is a fair argument is for another day (is it outdated in light of post-2008 developments?). But decades before neoliberalism, and just before the emergence of the post-war settlement…

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Murdering God

While more posts, after a long hiatus, will be developed soon, I thought I would share some of one of my favorite writer’s (Philip Goodchild’s) work, a spectacular moment of vulnerability which occurs in the preface of his magisterial volume, Capitalism and Religion: The Price of Piety.

This book emerged from the tension between four powerful insights – insights bringing problems, no solutions. The last insight to arrive was the contemporary truth of suffering: a growing awareness that current trends in globalization, trade and the spread of technology are not only leading towards a condition where the human habitat is unsustainable, but the urgency and responsibility announced by this preventable catastrophe mean that little else is worth thinking about. . . As a whole, however, my work is grounded in an ‘idea’ – or perhaps I should say ‘experience’ – of what I will call ‘God’. This ‘idea’ was so overwhelming and so distinct from our customary ways of thinking that, while intelligible in itself, it remains incommunicable until it has called into question and reformulated all existing categories of philosophy and theology. Finally, the work of the revaluation of values which may lead to the cessation of suffering was developed in the form of the ‘murder of God’ –  the actual work of calling into question the fundamental concepts and values of the European tradition. (xiii-xiv)

The provocative ‘murdering of God’ is a necessity, especially when it comes to overturning those ways of being, ways of relating to others, that are dominant but which bring forth suffering. Here, Goodchild is insistent on the immense importance of finding new ways to value. Or, perhaps, hearkening back to older traditions of value, lost ways of determining worth. Our dominant systems (of discourse, trade, sociality), while often gesturing toward ideas like ‘human rights’, ‘justice’, ‘the good’, ‘God’, are only superficially intertwined with various ways of thinking about them. Instead, what Goodchild realizes and explicates in his broader corpus, is the way that money is what determines the way in which those prior signifiers are thought. To the point that the dominant religion simply is money. Money is God now.

But, here, we see that this isn’t just a cold ‘just the facts’ sort of discourse. In fact, doing so would be mirroring the sort of mirage of the ‘fact/value’ distinction that many modern economists assert.

Goodchild continues, though:

Each of these insights  fractured my self-consciousness, exposing an abyss beneath my thoughts and relations to myself, to others and to the world. I became a stranger to those closest to me as well as to myself.  Each issue imposed itself as a dynamic force on thought, a problem of unlimited importance that I feel barely equipped to begin to address. Moreover, these are not personal but universal and global problems, imposing the responsibility on each person to find an appropriate way of addressing them. In the case of each problem, however, there is only a minority who feel the impact of its force. . . The public consensus is engaged in a vast enterprise of evasion, sheltering in a wicked and lethal complacency. . . Thinking is nearly as dangerous as complacency. (xiv)

Engaging in the problems of contemporary economy, then, is of the most immense importance, such that even thinking seriously about it causes immense pain and ignites crisis. As Goodchild mentions, while there is an importance, for him, in the issues of ‘liberal norms’ such as toleration, rights, and also post-structural notions of difference, alterity, and locality, these take a seat to the overwhelming insight of suffering, but not just any suffering. Here, we are talking about universal suffering found in the univocal policies which are bringing about ecological crises which may eliminate the human race in under two centuries.

Maybe it is only though investing ourselves in these problems, problems which hurt to think about, that we can turn back the tides of collapse.

And, this will undoubtedly call for murdering God, because the global God isn’t the God of natural theology, nor Christianity, nor Islam; effectively, in the practicality of every day life, our God is something else. And, it is killing us.

 

Badiou, Encounter, and Narrative

I have long been fascinated with Alain Badiou.

If you have paid much attention to this blog I interviewed a close friend, mentor, and teacher of mine, Jeph Holloway, early last year. Jeph is not only a keen reader of Paul, philosophy, ethics, and everything else in the world, but he is a nice fellow and has a knack for realizing what the important trends are in scholarship and pointing his students toward those.

So, knowing my naive, undergraduate fascination with Derrida and how deconstruction and theology interact he quickly encouraged me to look into Badiou and his book on Paul. This was at the very beginning of my Master’s work. I still remember him asking me to meet him in his office and telling me about the revolution going on in Paul’s use in political philosophy. Since then, I have tried to pay attention to Badiou, transcending just his engagement with Paul (however fruitful that may be, which depends on who you’re reading, really).

I am no Badiouian. But, I recognize the significance of what he has done with set theory in connection with ontology, and most importantly the insistence on Event and how Events are defined and characterized.

Badiou and a rather beautiful cat.

Recently I came across his interview centering around ‘encounter’ published on Verso Books blog page. And, here I realized that accepting encounters are not for the timid. Encounters are unlikely, break from the usual, and upends one’s life. And, encounters are ‘contingent’, a moment of pure chance. Perhaps here we can speak of a clinamen, an Epicurean swerve of the atoms that is unpredictable and non-reductive (and, in the irreducibility of the clinamen, Lucretius sees the justification for freedom of the will).

For the encounter to be distinguished from mere experience the encounter has to ‘disturb the rhythm of existence’, and it then assumes a moment of newness or beginning. The beginning, then, has to be either refused or accepted.

In order to make sense of one’s life, Paul Ricoeur insists on a sort of hermeneutic anthropology (Edit: How the heck do word processors not have ‘hermeneutic’ in thier dictionary??). For time to make sense for the human actor there has to be a narrative element present to represent and bring together otherwise discordant elements. But, sometimes one has an encounter. And, the encounter, while acting as an interruption, brings about new. The new is painful, it is disturbing in the fullest sense of the word because it breaks apart and irritates what was once seemingly coherent, and it is destruktion in the positive Heideggerian sense of the word, in that perhaps it will disturb those previous calcified, traditional elements within our seemingly coherent, static story.

 

But, stories shift. And can be told in new ways. Perhaps instead of the origin, the present is what gives form to the past of the narrative. And, with this in mind, the encounter, though a present reality (because it echoes throughout the constancy of the now), forms a new hermeneutic lens through which to understand the self.

What should we call Christian Anarchism?

Josh Porter, mastermind behind one of the greatest bands ever, Showbread, shares his thoughts on politics and Christianity.

Joshua S. Porter

The_Deserter

Often, I have favored the term “Christian Anarchy” when describing what I perceive to be the theological perspective that best describes the relationship between disciple of Jesus and the State (or, the government). The reasons I have favored this term are threefold: Firstly, it is used by many of the authors and thinkers who have informed my own opinion on the subject. Second, the term has etymological significance. The final advantage to the term “Christian Anarchy,” is, I think, the attention it garners, which almost inevitably leads to conversation. People tend to laugh, recoil, or furrow their brow in confusion, and questions typically follow.

But is Christian Anarchism the best way to describe the way a Jesus-follower relates to government and politics? Is the position a one-size-fits-all, or is there room for diversity within so specific a view?

And what the heck is Christian Anarchy, anyway?

Depends on who you ask. The term…

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The Mysteries, Myths, and Legal Texts of the ANE. Oh, and a Grenade Launcher.

This is not a post about philosophy, theology, economics, or a critique of culture. I probably have too much built up in my system and need to write a post about something a little more theory oriented; however, I took some great pictures while at the British Museum and have to share them. Because this blog loosely circulates issues with religion, it is still on topic, though.

Some of you may be interested in archaeology, textual traditions, and the ancient near east. If so, these pictures will certainly be a treat for you. While my training isn’t near expert level, I did take several classes in which we read ancient near eastern creation myths, flood myths, and legal texts. Seeing some of these in person was a great experience.

Plus, while the British Museum is famously crowded because it is free and full of amazing artifacts, almost no one seemed to care about the sections these were housed in. While that’s a bit saddening, it did make for a much more relaxing time in the museum!

A minor god from Nineveh.

A minor god from Nineveh.

Contains sixty lines from the Babylonian Story of the Flood.

Contains sixty lines from the Babylonian Story of the Flood.

A section of the Code of Hammurabi!

A section of the Code of Hammurabi!

Several disconnected tablets. Some building inscriptions, temple accounts, and other stuff.

Several disconnected tablets. Some building inscriptions, temple accounts, and other stuff.

Other various tablets.

Other various tablets.

Babylonian plans, drawings and measurings of a ziggurat dedicated to Ashur, and an incantation tablet.

Babylonian plans, drawings and measurings of a ziggurat dedicated to Ashur, and an incantation tablet.

A section of the Gilgamesh Epic!

A section of the Gilgamesh Epic!

Furthest to the left is a section detailing Marduk's appointment after defeating Tiamat. Far right is a section detailing Ishtar's descent into the underworld.

Furthest to the left is a section detailing Marduk’s appointment after defeating Tiamat.
Far right is a section detailing Ishtar’s descent into the underworld.

This a fragment depicting Teshub, the sotrm god.

This a fragment depicting Teshub, the sotrm god.

The Standard of Ur, depicting various animals  being brought by laborers to a banquet.

The Standard of Ur, depicting various animals being brought by laborers to a banquet.

Hopefully you enjoyed these pics despite the cellphone quality!

P.S. I also saw a 15th century grenade launcher:)

Yeah, this is a fifteenth century grenade launcher. Yes, you did read that correctly. Grenade Launcher.

Yeah, this is a fifteenth century grenade launcher. Yes, you did read that correctly. Grenade Launcher.

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?