On the Analytic-Continental Divide: Foundationalism as a Red Herring

A common indictment against twentieth-century analytic philosophy is that it is “too foundationalist.” But what does this mean? In general terms, at least, foundationalism names a fundamental, guiding metaphor for an epistemological system: namely, the metaphor of stacking one thing upon another. The story goes something like this…

Philosophy begins from first principles—something we can mostly agree on/seems right intuitively, etc. These beliefs, which themselves are not justified via others (so as to avoid an infinite regress or ciricularity), serve as foundations for the other beliefs. Therefore, the way in which non-foundational beliefs are related to foundational beliefs is analogous to way in which one brick is laid upon another—while the bottom can stand without the top, the top cannot stand without the bottom.

Now there is at least one real value in critiquing such a story: namely, that the metaphors employed in epistemology (among other sub-disciplines in philosophy) are brought to consciousness rather than accepted as the “bottom line” or “just the way it is.” This kind of exposing seems very much like the task of the philosopher—at least in part.

However, if the motivation behind the critique is that foundationalism as an epistemological methodology does not provide adequate explanatory power for certain aspects of what counts as justified belief, then I believe that the critique at issue becomes less and less interesting. Of course our guiding metaphors for the knowledge process are going to miss something here or there—that is part of what a metaphor does by its very nature. This doesn’t mean that it’s a waste of time to draw out the implications of other guiding metaphors (like, say, coherence)—indeed, this is important. But to parrot the various clichés about foundationalism (it’s enlightenment/modernity/it hates the ‘other’, etc.) is usually to assume that our guiding metaphors have to be perfect in order to function well. I mean, is my epistemology really implicated in the worst of enlightenment universality if I believe that there’s really a book on the table because I believe that my eyes don’t deceive me (and not vice versa)? As far as it goes, it seems like this kind of common sense reasoning needs to be taken seriously—not as exhaustive, but seriously nonetheless. This is part of the brilliance of the [actual] Cartesian project.

To me, there is a much more interesting development within analytic philosophy that could prove to be a real aporia: namely, the painfully obvious implications of a reductive materialism and the fleeting persuasiveness of common sense as a source of foundational (or “properly basic”) beliefs. Roughly speaking, analytic philosophy has drawn on two deep wells for its livelihood: namely, the blinding speed of scientific progress, and the common sense elegance of symbolic logic as developed by Frege, Russell and others. If this is true, then, the potential aporia is as follows:

If the human mind is implicated in the so-called “universal acid” of reductive materialism, it is not at all obvious how we can be sure that any of our beliefs actually have anything to do with what is actually the case “in reality.” We are surviving beings, after all—not truth-seeking beings. But if this is indeed the case, then it seems like the other side of analytic philosophy—say, the logical atomism of Bertrand Russell—seems more and more like a remarkable exercise in human convention than a system that actually tracks reality in any sort of interesting way. After all, the great power of modern symbolic logic is its profound appeal to common sense. I mean, try denying modus ponens as a mere byproduct of survival instincts!

It seems like we need a way to understand something like modus ponens as really the way things are, while yet taking the genetic claims of evolution, etc. seriously. These kinds of questions, I believe, are the ones continental philosophy is more prepared to handle—due precisely to its natural suspicion of the empirical sciences and common sense as basically “go-to”, “bottom-line” categories. I don’t claim to have all the answers here, but I do think that these kinds of inquiry are far more interesting than the typical critiques of enlightenment rationality we’re all familiar with.

In conclusion, foundationalism is not always bad, and it’s precisely because it’s not always bad that we should critique analytic philosophy in different ways.

A Modest Plea Against Theological Inclusiveness

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This week, as has become customary every couple of years or so, I re-read Marcella Althaus-Reid’s contribution to the book Another Possible World, a 2005 compilation of conference papers evaluating the state of then-contemporary theologies of liberation. In her essay she accuses, not only the usual targets, (mainstream, “European” theologies) but liberationist thought itself of being incapable of thinking rigorously about the intersection of poverty, class, and queer bodies. Althaus-Reid ties this inability to a number of factors: for instance, liberationist thinking is militarist and identitarian in a way that predisposes it to concessions of efficacy and expedience. Thus, the poor is most prominently poor, straight, males, and once those problems are addressed, [for the liberationist] we can move on to include women, queer folk, etc. It’s important not to read her point reductively: it’s not that liberationists are secret queer-phobes, or that they would claim to be doing this prioritizing, but instead these priorities play out at the level of material relations. A radical sermon from the likes of James Cone, she notes, seems easier for militant churches to receive than the actual concrete relations implied by the collision of cultural and sexual difference in their midst. Also important to note is the way that the target of Reid’s ire is not merely exclusive, but in fact inclusive rhetoric. She doesn’t spend a lot of time on this particular point, but I want to draw attention here. Because of the formal properties (the closure) of inclusionary process, inclusionary self-identity can’t receive difference as such uncolonially, no matter how transgressive the identity is upon which inclusion is based.

Queer is, it seems to me, for a number of reasons, the one predicative identity that gets closest to the ability to do some theological work. Its etymology and history are both really nicely suggestive, and thus tempting to take up in a certain way (for me, even more tempting, etymologically, than, say, “poor” or “oppressed”). The word, in its earliest use, carries connotations of “de-centered,” “oblique.” It’s not hard to see why, especially working from an apocalyptic framework, the word is ecclesiologically attractive. The trouble, though, is that there’s a certain sedentary nature to (even that!) naming that makes a home in a world where there really are “straights” to hate and name “queers.” I really do believe that we are to live and work and gather in a way that can only be called “queer” by a “straight” world, and that’s part of what makes it tempting to embrace such a name for oneself. The word “queer” comes to “queer” folk as violence from the beginning, however, and to proclaim a shared “queerness” with those to whom that name has come not by choice is to forget that violence. If we are to be called queer, it can only be insofar as a straight world recognizes us as something that does not fit, and as already-queer folks recognize us as folks who are cast out alongside them. All that requires living, and working, and gathering in a certain way, and it requires gathering in a way that isn’t so much about inviting already-called-queer people into something (perhaps a place where the name Christian might come to them) but instead to a kind of intermingling to the point that we might become indistinguishable.

This, to me, as many things do, points back to that discursive aporia of Christian theology Lucas gestures towards in his first post. Christian attempts to think the significance of queer bodies theologically have historically had very little to say that can register meaningfully as “good news” to queer folk. In light of a long history of Christian violence, it seems rather hard to imagine “well, now you can join too” as news anybody’s going to really appreciate. This isn’t to denigrate open and affirming congregations; if anything, I’m saying that’s the least a little local church could do. Perhaps what I’m saying is that any attempt to move beyond the discursive aporia is going to have to be reckoned by its ability to think beyond the given categories for sexual discourse in the contemporary West, and is going to have to be radically unconcerned with its own self-identity. It’s going to have to be a way of thinking, say, the significance of the person Jesus, that neither insists on a sort of originary harmony in denial of the violence that underwrites the contemporary order nor leaves the maimed and silenced and killed with no place to stand and no word to say.

Forgive Us Our Debts

Strike Debt! is one of the latest movements of Occupy Wall St.  Strike Debt! is a push for a dialogue as well as action concerning debt culture in the United States.  Perhaps this movement has gained so much traction because debt is such a familiar topic for Americans.  Daily life in our society has become anxious and precarious.  Some of us live paycheck to paycheck; others live nervously anticipating movements of the market.  How long can we continue?  Will we get sick and not be able to work?  Will we experience another devastating market crash?  How long can we keep up on our monthly payments?  Strike Debt! strives to create networks of support and withdrawal from debt culture.  Certainly, these are activities that are important for a large portion of the social body, but what about Christians?  Can Christians Strike Debt?

The Christian church we hear about in acts is one that shared things in common.  This is a radical network of support that Christianity has lost.  The church has lost its radical community to family life centers, zumba classes and Christian bookstores.  Detractors of anarchism and communism often cite that the early Christian church lived in such a way because they were waiting for the end of the world and the return of Christ.  Though, is this much different from the way we live, don’t we live expecting some apocalyptic event?  Every Sunday we pray for the coming kingdom; we anticipate the end of the world.  Michael Hardt and Toni Negri explain this apocalyptic tone in contemporary politics saying,

“…the predominance of violence to resolve national and international conflicts not merely as last but as first resort; the widespread use of torture and even its legitimation; the indiscriminate killing of civilians combat…This vision of the world resembles those medieval European renditions of hell: people burning in a river of fire, others being torn limb from limb, and in the center a great devil engorging their bodies whole.”(Negri and Hardt, Commonwealth, Pg. 3)

How can the Christian community prepare for the end of the world?  Can Christians strike debt?  Can they take revolutionary action?  Perhaps, instead of striking against debt and other types of refusal, the Christian approach to the precariousness of everyday life is to forgive debts.  The forgiveness of debts is not simply the refusal of participating in debt culture, but the extinguishing of destructive and violent energies.  To forgive is to unbind one’s love upon another, blotting out one’s sins.

There is a strong precedent in the Christian church to spiritualize the Lord’s Prayer; perhaps one of the most oft said prayers in the Christian church.  Though, it is in this prayer we ask:

“ Your kingdom come
 Give us each day our daily bread
  And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.” (Luke 11:4 NRSV)

As God forgives our sins, we are to forgive “everyone indebted to us.”  If our belief and actions are to be anchored by the Christian faith then the debt culture and the violence of financial capitalism must be wiped away.  Forgiving debt is a much more radical move than simply withdrawing or striking.  The Forgiveness of debts imagines new relationships between individuals and capital.  If we are to be subjects of Christ, as Joel said in his previous post, it requires an erasure of our capitalist subjectivities.

Perhaps, to parse this transformation out in a more radical way we can use the language of Deleuze and Guattari.  In the essay Capitalism: A Very Special Delirium, Deleuze and Guattari explain, “There is no ideology, there are only organizations of power.”  This is to say that Capitalism is a certain organization of power and to counter this power new organizations must be implemented.  In using this logic we find the means of the erasure of our capitalist modes of desire and production.  Changing the organizations of power changes the way one desires.  We must re-purpose our social organs toward a new becoming, becoming-Christ.  To forgive debts is to transgress against the capitalist organism.

Parenthetically, a temptation here might be to call for conformity toward what Paul in First Corinthians calls the body of Christ.  Paul’s vision of the Body of Christ is one body with many members, assemblages of members performing the duty of organs. Thinking hierarchically, the church certainly is a dominating organization of power, but hierarchy and rigid organizations of power must be exorcised from the church.  Can we imagine the church as a radical community of support and care?  There is merit to Paul’s words, but the image of the body of Christ, that is the hierarchy of the church, is far too stratified and fixed.  Paul’s body allows only for a narrow outpouring of the multifaceted desires of the Christian body.

Becoming-Christ is a repurposing of our machines of accumulation into machines of forgiveness and hospitality, our machines of hierarchy and stratification into machines of support, mutual aid, and democracy: the organs of Christ and the church must be organized into machines of kenosis, which is to say machines of self-emptying.  Instead of acquiring wealth and extracting labor we must construct they machines of love and forgiveness.  Private property has no place in the kingdom, for there is enough to go around.  What is a debt anyways?  Debt is a semiotic agreement, but Christ frees us from our debts and in turn we must free each other from debt.  Not a year of jubilee, but a world turned on its head.

A rigid grid ought not be fixed to the kingdom of God simply because love is not rigid.  Forgiveness is hard; especially when we are required to forgive that which capitalism makes us cling to.  Christian love is often transgressive against capitalist machines of accumulation.  Property, exchange and capital hold no bearing under the logic of Christ who instructs us to forgive and love wastefully.  In the face of precarity and capital let us freely love and freely forgive.

Barth and God-talk

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“This alone –– note, God’s Word alone –– is the answer that possesses genuine transcendence and thus has the power to solve the riddle of immanence…We must give this answer, but this very answer we cannot give.”[1]

In his essay “The Word of God as the Task of Theology,” Karl Barth attempts to put forth the task of the theologian. The task that is both the theologians plight and promise.[2] This task, the theologians plight and promise, is both the necessary and impossible task of speaking of God––the question of God. [3] For Barth, the question of God arises from human existence. This question comes to be from the human realization that her entire life stands in the shadow of death. Thus, this question that gives rise to the theologians task, the question of God, is the negativity of human existence.[4] “For [she herself], the human, is the question. Therefore the answer must be the question.”[5] It is out of this negativity of human existence that, for Barth, both the question and answer of the task of theology surfaces.[6] However, this task is an impossibility, according to Barth. The answer to this question, to the “human riddle”, is the Word of God; it is the event of God doing something new. It is the event that cannot be comprehended; it can only be revealed as the impossible becomes possible, as God becomes human.[7] Nevertheless, this question, which rises up in the need of the human, moves one to “ought” to speak of God. However, this ought does not imply can.[8] For Barth, “to speak of God would mean to speak that word which can only come from God [herself]: the Word, God becomes [human].”[9] It is only as God reveals Godself that the Word may be spoken. Where God enters into the negativity of our existence with Her fullness, it is only there that speaking of God may occur.[10] We humans cannot speak of God, but because God has become human, we may speak of God. However, we are to do so in a way where the answer is never dissolved into the question, nor vice versa; rather we are to speak “along this narrow ridge”[11] of answer and question, of ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Thus we are to speak of the Word of God, “the living truth”, in awareness of the “unavoidable absence of this living truth”[12] in all our sayings. The task of the theologian is to say that which cannot be said, to speak of God. And in faith, the “plight is also the promise”. For in faith, “it might be possible that the Word –– the Word of God that we will never speak –– has taken our weakness and perversion, so that our word becomes capable of the Word of God precisely in its weakness and perversion.”[13] The question is the answer because we have faith that in the negativity of our existence, God, in God’s fullness, will speak the Word of God.


[1]  Barth, Karl. Word of God and Theology: “The Word of God as the Task of Theology, 1922,” 185-186.

[2] “Our plight is also our promise.” Ibid., 196

[3] Ibid., 195.

[4] Ibid., 177-8.

[5] Ibid., 179.

[6] For Barth, this question comes out of humanity’s cry for salvation. “The human does not cry for solutions, but for salvation; not for something human again, but for God as the Savior of his humanity.” Ibid., 179.

[7] Ibid., 184.

[8] “…even in the precise moment of the divine calling and equipping, we still cannot speak of God.” Ibid., 185.

[9] Ibid., 185.

[10] Ibid., 190.

[11] Ibid., 191.

[12] Ibid., 194.

[13] Ibid., 197.

Whirring Machines: Capitalism, Christianity, and Subjectivity

“A sum of money is the leading character in this tale about people, just as a sum of honey might properly be a leading character in a tale about bees.”

This is how Kurt Vonnegut’s fifth novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, begins. In much of his work, Vonnegut draws the reader’s attention to the painful observation that humans are not much different than machines in the way they interact with the world of the late 20th century. His characters seem to have little control over what happens to them, the victims of immovable forces, as he likes to say. These forces, however, are not simply “forces of nature” as they are for the American nihilists of the late 19th century (Stephen Crane, for example.) Elsewhere in his work, Vonnegut writes of humans as having little motors whirring inside of them as they mindlessly bend to another force inside of them: the drive to wealth at any cost. Capitalism.

Capitalism is “natural” in the sense that it is the mode of production currently employed at this time in history. This understanding is, of course, what Marx means by historical materialism. Put simply, historical materialism is the claim that history is guided by the human need to produce in order to survive–which is the truly natural piece of capitalism (of any mode of production.) This is coupled with the fact that human beings have the ingenuity to adapt to their situation in order to accomplish this goal; thus the mode of production in use will always be adapted to changing circumstances until a point where it collapses in on itself, giving rise to a new mode. We can see at once that, unlike a hurricane or earthquake, capitalism at least feels like it’s in our control to some degree and probably more so than any other mode of production in the past. We make ourselves. Our success is dependent upon how hard one works, and if one has failed to procure a comfortable lifestyle, one has simply not worked hard enough. What we earn belongs only to us.

But think about what we give up in order to accomplish the goals capitalism sets forth. We become part of the labor force for a capitalist (a CEO or a small business owner–doesn’t matter) and have our subjectivity erased, or we try to control some of the means of production and thus participate in that erasure. Certainly there are more nuanced modes of subsistence (non-profit work, for example), but for the purposes of this illustration, let’s stick with the most common forms of participation in our economy.

When one is hired to work for a corporation at any level, one surrenders one’s subjectivity to that corporation. Let’s say you’re a barista at Starbucks. You probably make an average of 10 beverages an hour during a shift that sell for $3-$5. You see maybe $8 of what is made, a small amount goes back into the corporation to procure more means of production, and the vast majority goes to the people who own the corporation–who own the means of production. Some Starbucks baristas are incredible: they’re creative, friendly, they make your drink quickly and very well. Others are awful (as a recent SNL sketch illustrated.) Both will be paid the same. The amount each is paid is determined by how much wealth the owners of the means of production can amass while ensuring that the corporation will continue to produce as efficiently as possible. That baristas at Starbucks are given health benefits is not a sign of the company doing something “extra” for their employees. It’s a sign that the labor force requires more from the owners of the means of production in order to continue producing at the necessary rate. It’s a way for Starbucks to remain competitive by keeping employees happy (maybe happier than employees elsewhere) and improving its public image.

If you’re an employee and you have a bad day, make a mistake, do something that costs the company money, you’ll most likely be fired. An employee’s personal situation is of absolutely no consequence. The only thing that matters is the accumulation of as much wealth as possible. And if you’re a small business owner with all of your assets on the line, it’s even more important that employees mean nothing to you. How could you fire your own brother? We know that this is how capitalism works–those who accept it unreflectively will readily admit that one has a right to make as much money as he or she possibly can through whatever legal means necessary. This is justified because of the false belief that one of those baristas, if she just works hard enough, can eventually become the CEO. That is the fundamental lie upon which capitalism continues to operate. This is how we see that money cuts two ways in capitalism, which is why the bee metaphor is especially apt. On the one hand, the vast majority of people under the capitalist system are drones, making up a labor force to create wealth to be used by very few. On the other, they are drawn to the wealth they are creating, and those who are more successful than others will do anything to acquire more. In other words, the promise of money (and more money–an infinite potential) traps people in this system under the pretense of a false hope.

Employees are not people. They are whirring machines. They are worker bees. Their story and circumstances do not matter to the people who need what they contribute to the labor force as a whole. And in the process of grabbing more for themselves they perpetuate the erasure of subjectivity. Christianity also erases subjectivity, but in a radically different way. Christ’s call to lay down our lives, to give up all that we have, is a call to forsake our own personal identities and take up a new one as a follower of Christ. That isn’t a new insight–I think Pete Rollins has made the same point. But the Christian relationship to subjectivity doesn’t end there. As we forsake our own subjectivity, we do so in order to help others who have been robbed of theirs through injustices perpetrated against them reclaim it.

It is in this way that we can see a radical break from capitalism in Christian practice. (Matt has described a different way here.) Christianity requires knowing–not in a “God knows me, and I’m special” way–but in a way that calls on us to know people. This is what discipleship is. The Great Commission is a call to make disciples, to draw people close into your circle, which has no borders. This discipleship-making is not first and foremost a task of conversion (a terribly destructive misreading of that passage.) Rather it is a calling of people into our midst–people who have been marginalized, treated as objects, as machines, as filth or garbage, so that their subjectivity may be restored and their lives transformed. Again, this isn’t conversion. A conversion (as a confession of Christ and a commitment to taking seriously what it is to follow him) is a forsaking of subjectivity. In other words, we are making disciples when we help people reclaim their subjectivity so that they can come to realize they should forsake it in order to help others reclaim their subjectivity and thus rehearse the coming of God’s kingdom to earth. That is the gospel message.

Badiou Post 1: Particularity, Violence and Theology

“the fundamental ontological characteristic of an event is to inscribe, to name, the situated void of that for which it is an event”[1]

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In his book Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, Alain Badiou offers a critical analysis of that nebulous, and oft abused philosophical subset, ‘ethics’. Badiou proceeds to offer his own constructive concept of an ‘Ethics of Truth’. Both this critical analysis and succeeding construction are, in addition to being a militant challenge to the bourgeois ‘ethics’ of liberal-democratic societies, immanently relevant, critically, to current discussions regarding theological language, method, metaphysics, lack thereof etc. (insert any other vogue approach specific only to theology). I will now (very) briefly exegete a few points Badiou makes in this book before proceeding to the main point of this post; theology’s recourse to its own particularity as the most insidious form of violent oppression.

Badiou first offers the reader a critical description of what he labels the ‘ethical ideology’.  In short, this ideology is that pious brand of thinking endemic to the western world in which we conceive of humanity as essentially powerless before an evil presupposed a priori to exist. This presupposition of the state of humanity neutralizes all attempts for constructive good, leading us to even denounce all such attempts as evil in themselves. Thus, humanity is forced into a static place of simple subsistence; the status quo of the state is preserved in the never-ending process of defense rather than liberation.[2] Badiou correctly notes, “This is sophistry at its most devastating. For if our only agenda is an ethical engagement against an Evil we recognize a priori, how are we to envisage any transformation of the way things are?”[3] There are other negative consequences associated with this particular ideological instantiation, however, for the purposes of this post we will table those until next week.

Simultaneous to this poor state of the human, each person and society has as its ethical directive a responsibility for the care, respect and upholding of the untouchable, impossible to understand and, ironically and most contradictory, self-mimetic ‘other’. [4] Again tabling for now some of the more poignant aspects of Badiou’s analysis here, i.e. highlighting the inherently religious character of conceiving of ‘ethics’ in the principled sense[5], the important point to note is that this false construction of the ‘other’ leaves all discourse regarding ethics in a stagnant place. Differences are ontologically basic. Sameness is where the real work of truth lies, according to Badiou. Yet, constructive acts of good, defined outside the parameter of maintenance and defense of the current ‘state’, are affectively neutralized now in a two-fold sense of the powerless human faced with the ever present evil and with the ever evasive ‘other’ keeping the person constantly in place.

Badiou aims to construct his own way forward via a reformation of the question of ethics into one, which corresponds to his theory of ‘truth process’. In short, truth processes contain three major elements:

  • the event, which brings to pass ‘something other’ than the situation, opinions, instituted knowledges; the event is a hazardous [hasardeux], unpredictable supplement
  • the fidelity, which is the name of the process: it amounts to a sustained investigation of the situation, under the imperative of the event itself; it is an immanent and continuing break
  • the truth as such, that is, the multiple, internal to the situation, that the fidelity constructs, bit by bit, it is what the fidelity gathers together and produces[6]

The event is both a situated event, reliant upon the current ‘state’ or status quo context, and a radical breaking with such a situation. The text cited at the top of this post names that particular relationship of the event to the state. The event names that void within the current situation, that visceral lacking thereof that can only be experienced in a revelatory moment to which the subject of truth wills her fidelity after this experience has passed.

This brief analysis of how Badiou situates the contemporary situation of the ethical ideology, in addition to his subsequent proposal for its upheaval, is I think important for theological discourse for at least one reason. It adequately describes how much of contemporary theology functions. The current ‘state’ of theology is one premised upon a similar recourse to ‘otherness’. Here this discourse insidiously traps its human agents within a triumphalism of the in-breaking and rupturing act of the supreme ‘other’. This move, I wish to maintain, is similar to the aforementioned concern for the allusive other in the realm of ethics. Concern for humility, acknowledgment of human limitation and fetishizing of difference serve not a liberative function but to bind and control both the human side of discourse and the divine. Radical difference defines the boundaries of discourse. Transgressing this boundary with talk of constructive metaphysics[7] or anything else becomes a violent act.

In this sense, the state of theological discourse is once again a violent maintenance of the status quo, deceptively masquerading as true emancipation and dynamic breaking. Theology champions its particularity while those outside the fold struggle for something of concrete emancipatory value. What sort of event might emerge from within this ‘state’? I think that is an important question, especially since the event that may require fidelity in this case is the leaving behind of that particularity and the embrace of something more universally real.


[1] Badiou, Alain. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil.  London; New York: Verso, 2001. 69.

[2] Badiou. Ethics. 13. “if the ethical ‘consensus’ is founded on the recognition of Evil, it follows that every effort to unite people around a positive idea of the Good, let alone to identify Man with projects of this kind, becomes in fact the real source of evil itself. Such is the accusation so often repeated over the last fifteen years: every revolutionary project stigmatized as ‘utopian’ turns, we are told, into totalitarian nightmare. Every will to inscribe an idea of justice of equality turns bad. Every collective will to the Good creates Evil (bold print mine).

[3] Badiou. Ethics. 14.

[4] Badiou. Ethics. 24. The mimetic nature of this permeated concept of the other, an essential characteristic of the ‘ethical ideology’, manifests in what Badiou is able to illustrate as the very controlled and co-opted ‘other’; culturally/ideologically relative sameness bearing down upon the practical application of such a concern for the, now insidiously mythical, ‘other’. “Our suspicions are first aroused when we see that the self-declared apostles of ethics and of the ‘right to difference’ are clearly horrified by any vigorously sustained difference…(here Badiou references Muslims and other non-western peoples whom are unacceptable as the ‘other’)… “Respect for differences, of course! But on the condition that the different be parliamentary-democratic, pro free-market economics, in favour of freedom of opinion, feminism, the environment…”

[5] Badiou. Ethics. 23. Interestingly Badiou actually points to the irreligious appropriation of this ideology of the other, taking off of but somewhat distinct from Levinas’ own concept, as the that which he is attacking in this particular instance. “We are left with a pious discourse without piety, a spiritual supplement for incompetent governments, and a cultural sociology preached, in line with the new-style sermons, in lieu of the late class struggle.” It is not difficult here to see the connection between the aforementioned stagnation of emancipatory theory/action rooted in the weak human/a priori evil and this conception of the ‘other’.  This is not however, to say that the religious roots of such a notion of the ‘other’ really give this anymore authorities validity.

[6] Badiou. Ethics. 67-68.

[7] This is not to say that there are not also issues associated with this approach.

Honest Reflections on Exodus 2

Having read the bible through an androcentric lens for the majority of my life, my recent transition to Feminist and Postcolonial criticism of biblical texts has been refreshing, to say the least. Through connecting subversive readings of biblical texts with the extensive physical and verbal abuse I endured as a child, I find hope in stories where liminal groups attempt to confront the systematic power, torture, and injustice of the elite.

The story of the Hebrew midwives in Exodus renders me hopeful:

As the Hebrew’s continue to overpopulate Egypt, Pharaoh issues a decree of infanticide for the male, Hebrew children. This story is particularly ironic: in a traditional reading, we see Moses as the one who, ultimately, liberates the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage; in another reading we see the midwives as tricksters, playing Pharaoh for a fool. “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live” (Ex. 2:16). Pharaoh’s lack of concern for the women in this story is picked up by the narrator and exposed as the irony within the exodus story: it is because of these women that Moses even lived! In Pharaoh’s attempt to kill all the Hebrew boys, the women rise up and take matters into their own hands, right under Pharaoh’s nose.

“But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live… So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?’ The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’ So god dealt well with the midwives” (Ex. 2:18-20a). The narrator of the story applauds the trickery of the women. It is because of their subversive actions that Moses is even allowed to live; God has used these woman to bring about the salvation of Israel.

As a Christian, I continue to be uplifted by subaltern ethics due to their questioning of Christian, narrative theology. Viewing the entirety of scripture as a meta-narrative does violence to the “text within the text.” Even reading scripture through a Postliberal lens, while recognizing that there can be no meta-ethic, still presumes that the actions of individuals within the group will correspond to the virtues of the community. This begs me to ask: Did the Hebrew midwives act in accordance with their particular ethics? Were their actions considered virtuous, even though the writers of scripture applaud them for their subterfuge? The women may have acted in accordance with their ethical context; they may not have, even though the authors celebrate their actions. Stories, like this one, make me question the place of narrative theology within Christianity. The narrative theology that I have read, at least the theology that tries to construct a meta-narrative of the entire canon, tends to leave these “text within the text” out of their normative ethical categories.

Reading these stories also evokes disheartenment within me. Seeing histories of subjugated peoples, sensing that I am called to listen to these groups rather than advance racist systems of Western, white, male thought, and knowing that I am continuing to perpetuate white, male thought is the tension in which I live. Having only experienced such injustice on a personal scale, I cannot imagine the despair that one must feel when confronted with systematic oppression. I pray that God might render us hospitable as we seek to live lives open to others who have been coerced into living a history that they cannot control.

The Rhythm of Church

Life is rhythmic.  Think about your daily routine, what signals the beginning and endings of the movements of your day?  Perhaps, your day begins with the signal of your alarm clock or the buzz of your cell phone.  What is your day oriented around?  What time do you have to be at work? When do you go home?  Our everyday lives have a certain rhythm to them; the rhythm we most often live to is that of capitalism.  However, our lives are not mono-rhythmic; varieties of different logics and rhythm’s vie for our attention and energies.  For the Christian, the rhythm of life is the church and liturgy.  In this discourse on time and rhythm I’m presenting two ideas: 1.) the rhythm of the church and capitalism are incongruous 2.) the body and rhythm of the church have an intrinsic potential for a movement against capitalism.

In the political left and in Marxist theory capitalism can become a scare tactic or used in an intensely abstract and unhelpful for way.  Due to this, let it be clear what is intended by capitalism here.  Capitalism is an entity, which holds a certain logic at its core and carries out this internal logic through external apparatuses.  There is a dual logic to the entity of capitalism.  The guiding logics of the capitalist body is accumulation and speed.

Marx’s conception of value and production in the capitalist political economy are the basis for the core of the capitalist entity.  Marx says,

“Some people might think that if the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labour spent on it; the more idle and unskillful the labourer, the more valuable his commodity be, because more time would be required in its production.  The labour, however, that forms the substance of value, is homogenous human labour, expenditure of one uniform labour-power.  The total labour-power of society, which is embodied in the sum total of the values of all commodities produced by that society counts there here as one homogeneous mass of human labour-power, composed though it be of innumerable individual units.” (Capital, 442)

What is to be gleaned from Marx’s words is that the labor that produces value is a labor that has been abstracted en masse without differentiating between workers.  Clearly this is different from past modes of labor in which artisans produce a commodity.  Industrial capitalism extracts labor as “one uniform labour power” from workers.  This separates labor power and commodities from workers.

In light of the way industrial capitalism extracts labor, it can be said that the successful capitalist finds ways to extract the most labor from their workers. Industrialized modes of production works toward extracting the greatest amount of labor power in the shortest amount of time.

Though we no longer labor under industrial modes of production in the west, technological revolutions have been made to continue the abstraction and extraction of our labor.  The computer and the Internet are the new means of labor extraction in the United States.  One is no longer signaled to the workday by the whistle of the factory; rather the ding of email or buzz of the cell phone activates the cognitive laborer.  In the 21st century labor has become increasingly cognitive and because of the advancements in technology one can get work orders or assignments from their boss anywhere.  The eight-hour workday has been lost.  One receives work in and out of the physical work place.  Consider the Information Technology technician who is always on call.  Regardless of the time of day, if a crucial system goes down the technician must perform their work duty.

In Paul Virilio’s text Speed and Politics, Virilio explains the effects of speed on territory.  Virilio tells us, “Territory has lost its significance in favor of the projectile…With the supersonic vector (airplane, rocket, airwaves), penetration and destruction become one.” (Speed and Politics, 149.)  However, labor is not shackled even to the supersonic vector, labor is extracted at the speed of light through fiber optic cables.

The essential question of struggles against work is always “what is to be done?”  There are a great many people who do not like their daily work.  To be clear, work is the activity that one sells one’s labor power for with regularity.  This is not true across the board, some love what they do for a living.  However, even if one likes one’s job one has to recognize their precarity.  One could quickly lose one’s job either to the capitalist system or to illness or injury.  How can we take control of our labor?  The classical Marxist answer is solidarity, unions and strikes.  I find a great sympathy in these means of refusal, but Christians have a means of refusal already at their disposal.  Simply, living in a different rhythm of life.

The Christian church has inherited a certain rhythm of life from the two thousand-year tradition that precedes the present day church.  Christians are called to a kind of living that is not governed by accumulation and work, but instead joy, love and community.  These Christian virtues are shown in the liturgy of the church.  Coming together with one’s community in daily prayer is in itself a subversive act.  The liturgy of the church calls to us to a slow start of the day.  Consider a Morning Prayer service, fifteen to twenty of minutes of sitting, standing and prostration.  Why go to work when you can be with those who you love?

Most importantly the Christian liturgy invites a slow pace into our lives.  Church gives us a space of non-work that is slow and intentional.  The logic of living together in community is slow.  Capitalism pushes us into faster modes of life, don’t read, don’t think, just work.  In church we read together, at a slow gait that lets everyone participate.  Simply put, capitalism doesn’t have time for church.  Work wants us to be connected, plugged in and waiting to respond.  The church community wants us to be slow, intentional, joyful and full of love.

Communal prayer and liturgy is a type of refusal to work.  Rather than answering the call of one’s cell phone and going to work, answer the call to prayer.  Listen to the bells of the church ring and take a nice detour.  The Benedictine slogan Ora et Labora can be used to diabolical ends.  If you have to work, work for something you love.  The rhythm of daily prayer and living out the liturgy can open up to a new way of being; a community built on love and joy.  The Christian community ought embrace building a community built out of common love and support.

An Introduction

Working within the interstices of philosophy, theology and political theory FluxofThought is an honest dialogue that is engaged in a discourse of multifarious expressions of faith and politics. The aim of this discourse is critical thought on the religious life and community. FluxofThought holds no unifying doctrine or dogma, contributors speak from varying disciplines with varying agendas and goals. The differences between contributors is embraced toward the fulfillment of our goal. Despite differing theoretical positions, FluxofThought is anchored by camaraderie, civility and humility.

Cheers,

FoT