Crepuscular Dawn Review/Presentation

The following is the text for a presentation that I gave recently in Jason Adam’s class Virtual Virilio which is taking place through The New Centre For Research and Practice (which is a fantastic institution that you should definitely check out!). It is a review or presentation of Virilio’s interview with Lotringer entitled Crepuscular Dawn. Because this is a presentation for a class, it might not be as clear as a well formulated essay, and does pre-suppose some knowledge or awareness of Virilio and other texts that have been covered in the class. I hope to eventually distill the themes that I bring to light here (specifically that of the oblique function) into a more thorough essay.

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This text contains a number of interviews between Sylvère Lotringer and Paul Virilio relating to Virilio’s oeuvre. In the introduction to the text, Lotringer suggests that the “oxymoron of the title” indicates “something deeply ambivalent about Virilio’s work” (8). The Crepuscular, signifying an animal relating to twilight, meets with the Dawn, relating the introduction of the sun. Together, the Crepuscular Dawn signifies the coming or introduction of the night—a night that is no longer distinct from day; an end of human light; a “black hole”.

The text is composed of four major sections which relate to four area’s of Virilio’s thought—architecture (archeology), speed (dromology), eugenics, and the accident (of science)—to more general themes of escape velocity and grey ecology. Rumbling beneath the surface of the text is an encounter with the positive negation of the death of God, the striation of the tower, and the death of this world—the end of humankind. These themes, I argue, underlie Virilio’s thought more generally. Furthermore, I believe that Crepuscular Dawn provides a key to understanding Virilio’s work as a whole—through the oblique function. By examining the oblique function in relation to the tower of 90 degree angle, we can interpret how Virilio responds to other striating technologies and designs—not through a Luddie-esque Stoppage, but rather as a call for struggle (or a brake) rather than a full forward acceleration by stomping down on the pedal (as is common in scholarly engagement with technology).

The Oblique Function and the Bunker Church

The book’s first section explores a discussion between Virilio an Lotringer on architecture. There are two major concepts or themes which are explored: the oblique function and the bunker. Even though it comes second in the conversation, I believe it is important to deal with the oblique function first–as it informs the design of Virilio and Parent’s Church Sainte-Bernadette du Banlay in Nevers.

An drawing of the oblique function. (Source)

Virilio describes the architecture of the oblique function, which he devised with Claude Parent. The Oblique function is an architecture of the slanted form. It follows nature—there are no 90 degree angles or flat spaces in nature. In this way, the inclined plane is ergonomic—it is built for humans, not for machines or gods. The oblique function attempts to think architecture through the ground rather than the wall. It does this by working on an incline. Two biblical events shape the coming of the oblique function—the flood and the tower of Babel. In both of these events, the tower—in one case a literal tower, in the other the tower of human achievement more generally—is deterritorialized by the power of God, leading back to the ergonomic reality of inclined planes. The tower and the city are not built to ergonomic, human proportions. The tower attempts to build up to the level of gods. The idea of overcoming humanity and becoming gods, is central to Virilio’s critique of technology, speed and eugenics. I tend to read this through the earlier texts by Deleuze and Guattari (Nietzsche and Philosophy, A Thousand Plateaus), which focus on a control of speeds by starting in the middle. Virilio’s work isn’t interested in the perpetuation of the tower—absolute speed—but he isn’t vying for a flat space—or absolute stoppage—either. He’s interested in a struggle with speed in order to come up with something different, perhaps in the middle. Something on an incline which remains ergonomic and livable for humans.

Virilio1
A cross-section of The Church Sainte-Bernadette-du-Banlay in Nevers by Claude Parent and Paul Virilio (Source)

Continuing with architecture, we can take a look at the bunker church, which in some ways engages with the oblique function. If we look specifically at a cross section of the church, (see above) we can see that the church is never flat, but always on an incline. As a result, the church appears to be collapsing in on itself. This is not the inversion of the way that things are, but a struggle. This idea of struggle is also biblical. Near the end of the text, Virilio discusses the character of Jacob wrestling with an angel. Virilio suggests that “I am simply saying that we have to fight like Jacob. Each person must wrestle with the angel. It is an awesome fight” (170). In a sense, the bunker church could be read as a struggle with angles, rather than angels.

Virilio2
The Church Sainte-Bernadette-du-Banlay in Nevers by Claude Parent and Paul Virilio (Source)

This is interesting in light of the relationship that the church has with Brutalism. Both the bunker and brutalist architecture use concrete and simplicity to their end, but Virilio suggests that where brutalism is all about progress, the  bunker has no progress. Instead, it is a “kind of symbol of this century  of concentration and elimination” (24). Where brualism is an acceleration of progress, the bunker is the production that struggles against progress. The bunker is the result of bombs—it was designed without straight edges, so bombs would not detonate. It doesn’t exist as progress, but the realization of destruction, of war. It is a place of horrors—and this is why Virlio considers it the perfect place for a church: He suggests: “I decided that the grotto at Lourdes was today’s bomb shelter. It is the place of horrors, the place of great fear, the end of the world.” He suggests that this makes it a perfect place for a church, relating it to the question of Judeo-Christianity:

‘I admit that I am a total bastard, mea culpa.’ What I admit, what you admit. You don’t say: ‘I’m wonderful, I’m pure.’ Then, on the other hand, as soon as you realize that you’re a bastard, at that moment, we can love one another. This is the whole question of Judeo-Christianity. Anyway, this was my interpretation. And, of course, the chapel is an absolute monstrosity. It scares everyone. (28).

For Virilio, while progress attempts to overcome God, the bunker understands the need to struggle with God, and the importance of God as a brake on progress.

Dromology

Bishop Abercius Marcellus - Origins of Christianity
Pharaoh with whip and hook (Source)

Virilio begins to talk about speed by looking at May 1968. This quickly moves into a conversation about Lefebvre and the rhythms of society. This eventually leads us towards an understanding of grey ecology and the contraction of distances. I’ll begin the discussion on speed with a longer excerpt from the text that deals with contemporary vs. Ancient speed. Virilio discusses a piece of art that he put at the start of an exhibit on speed:

The Pharaoh. Why? Deleuze and I discussed it quite a bit. What is the Pharaoh? The two hands crossed on his chest are holding, on the one side, a hook, and, on the other, a whip. According to Egyptologists, the whip is a fly-chaser. I said: You’ve got to be joking. Think of a chariot: there is a hook to pull the reins, and a whip to accelerate. What the Pharaoh possesses is the power of the Pontif, the one who directs energies. The hook is wisdom, it’s the brake. It is also the Pope’s hook or the Bishop’s cross. Then, on the other side, you have the fly-chaser? I’m sorry, things like that drive me crazy. The whip no one discusses anymore is Ceausescu, the conductor. Except today we don’t have a whip anymore, we have a pedal. (65)

The Pharaoh controls speeds with the ability to accelerate or put on the brake. There are interesting resonances with the religious aspect of this, as in Egypt the Pharaoh served the dual role of being both man and God (an interesting parallel to Christianity). Additionally, the image of the Pharaoh portrays the struggle between the different powers—the military power and religious power—that are key to understanding the role of the struggle in this text.

The contemporary world has not just a green ecology, but also a grey one. The grey ecology is the pollution of distances. In Egypt the Pharaoh had the power of the brake, in the medieval period the church had this same power, in other periods this power was held by the philosopher. But today (as Virilio explains in depth in the section on the accident) there is nothing to hold back the speed. Thus, we are continuously contracting distances; distance is being polluted; and we are producing a grey ecology. If we think, again, about the idea of ergonomics—of spaces created for human survival—we can think about the problem of the grey ecology in relation to the green ecology. The pollution of the green ecology produces a world that is unlivable for humans. Virilio suggests that the pollution of distance does the same thing. The world becomes small and contracted: through tele-politics, tele-war, and tele-sexuality, the computer allows for teleportation. We have come to a point where we can go everywhere without leaving the couch (through these tele-technologies), or remain at home, despite traveling anywhere (through the use of cell-phone and mobile technologies, as well as Standardization and synchronization—i.e. I can eat at a McDonald’s everywhere).

The grey ecology produces a world that is unlivable for humans. It closes in the world through surveillance. It produces a claustrophobia, an inability to breathe. This leads to something that is not quite human, since the human can no longer live, ergonomically, within the world. These speeds produce an omni-presence. Like the tower of Babel, this omni-presence is an escape from the human and the becoming of a god—and this occurs without a struggle. But this ‘god’ doesn’t understand the accidents that are created through the creation of this omni-presence—problems that are explored more thoroughly under the two sections on “The Genetic Bomb”– Eugenics and the Accident of Science.

Eugenics

File:‘Eternal Singularity’ by Mark Lloyd.jpeg
Eternal Singularity by Mark Loyd (Source)

Virilio begins the section on Eugenics by outlining two ways that the body is being attacked: 1. Through bionics/prosthetics/cyborg technologies; 2. Through information technology—the mapping of the human genome. Together, these produce an endo-colonization of the body. They body itself becomes the sphere for study and experiment. Virilio suggests that in order to struggle with these aspects we must see them as they are—Eugenics. These practices lead to an artificial selection, and, ultimately, to a new form of racism between the cyborg super-humans and the sub-human (who exist in this way due to their relation with the super-human). Virilio that “Racism posits that there are ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ races within the singleness of the human species. The biggest racist in the world recognizes that.” (107) The production of the super human creates the same sort of distinction—just a different kind of racism than we typically think about (a Super Racism).

So how do we reach this point of racism? We know that both the Nazi’s and American’s experimented on people before and during WWII. Virilio suggests that the bifurcation of the production of bionics and the mapping of the human genome, creates an art or creation of bodies. Science has become an act of creation. Here, again, we see a relation to the tower of Babel. In the tower of Babel the people wanted to become God; in Eugenics, we seek a similar end. It is a war on humanity, much like speed and science, which attempts to wipe out the human in favour of God. The death of God allows for this ascension. Through these eugenic movements, Virilio argues that “Science has become art. There is an art of science which is the end of science, and maybe the end of art” (117), and in this art, science creates monsters.

Virilio turns to art to examine this as well. He discusses a number of artistic projects in which the body becomes a canvas for new technologies. This leads to art polluting itself. As genetics and cloning are adopted as techniques for artists, Virilio sees the potential for accidents and problems, and ultimately, again, the death of the human. Science has taken art to the extreme, and in some ways has itself become a myth. With the death of God the religious myths were absconded, but today “Science is becoming myth again. Instead of enhancing reason, it is welcoming unreason, and magic, a factory for anything at all” (126). Science, then exists without limits. In the Nazi camps, the scientists lost their ability to see the affect in their victims; they became apathetic to human suffering, and this allowed them to be cruel. The Nazi’s erased the victimhood of their victims—they were no longer humans, but simply flesh to be experimented on. Virilio suggests that the same thing is occurring in the development of the superhuman. We begin to think of ourselves as Gods, as creators, and there is nothing to hold back. There is simply a pure affirmation of this speed without hope of struggle. God is dead, so humans do whatever they want, not thinking about the accidents of science.

The Accident of Science

Throughout this text and presentation, we can begin to see that Science has run amok. Virilio suggests that there is no brake or limit on science. The Pharaoh no longer has a hook, but again, only a pedal. Virilio suggests that historically, religion and philosophy have acted as brakes on scientific acceleration. He says that following of Galileo’s trail: “What is so bad in Galileo’s trial is condemning Galileo. Having brought him to trial is not” (143). For Virilio, then, the act of religion keeping science in track is not a negative thing, but something that is of utmost importance to stop science from accelerating out of control. Today, Virilio suggests, science has no limit. To some degree it even wants to be automated. This is the end of science, insofar as humanity is speeding towards an escape or exit velocity—towards a black hole—where the human is ended. There is no longer a religion or philosophy that is up to stopping this acceleration, as science itself has become the guiding myth. God no longer exists to stop the tower of Babel from hitting the sun.

The World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. (Source)

This black hole, or escape velocity, is tied to the Total Accident. War is an accident, the atomic bomb was an accident that started the death of humanity, and the information and genetic bomb will finish the job. In the conclusion, Virilio suggests that the great accident is on its way, a total accident that will profoundly lead to the death of this world. In the conclusion, he looks specifically at the nuclear accident in Chernobyl and the Terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. In each of these cases, many people died, but many more could have died. Virilio estimates that if the towers had fallen at an expected 15 minutes—rather than the hour it took—an estimated 30,000 more people would have died. In Chernobyl, had the nuclear reactor not been covered by cement in time, Virilio estimates that half of Europe would have been wiped out. These accidents could have been so much worse than they were, and Virilio suggests that such an absolute accident is coming—an accident that will lead to the end of humanity, the end of a world. We are, then, on a runaway train, there is no struggle against this train because philosophy and religion no longer have the power to stop science.

Photo of the Chernobyl Plant from April 1986. (Source)

Furthermore, Virilio explores the nature of the double-bind. This concept is important for understanding the accident. It is to suggest that the best things are simultaneously the worst things. Progress is simultaneously catastrophe. So, a technology like planes—which allow us to travel around the world at unprecedented speeds—also produce the ability to kill thousands. Nuclear energy plants—which provide cheap energy, which (I believe) is cleaner than many alternatives—provide the accident of wiping out half the people on a continent. Any progress is a double-bind, a double edged sword. Technology is not good or bad. Technology is both good and bad. The problem is that there is no struggle, no longer a brake. Simply an affirmation. A Yes, Yes, Yes, to everything.

Returning to the Oblique Function

Virilio is not a Luddite. Despite his critique and negative understanding of technology, he does not want to start over. The goal for Virilio is a brake, not a stoppage. Like, Deleuze and Guattari, he doesn’t want to start over—his text is not a call for anarcho-primitivism or anti-civilization. Instead, he desires a struggle; he wants us to be like Jacob, and wrestle with an angle. This is what his texts appear to do—they wrestle with technology. They look at the negative aspects of technology, not in an attempt to create a flat surface, but an inclined one—one that starts from the middle.

Throughout this text, we see how humans are constantly returning to the tower—humans want to overcome humanity and become a god. In doing so, they produce an exit or escape velocity which propels them towards a black hole—a darkness where humanity is ended; a crepuscular dawn. Yet, Virilio adamantly suggests that nothing is per-ordained. His work is a struggle, an attempt to produce an oblique function against the 90 degree angle of science. It isn’t clear that he wants a return of a dominant religion, but he merely wants the creation of a brake. The pedal leads towards a suicidal State, towards a black hole, towards the end of humanity. Contemporary thought that deals with technology tends to simply affirm that speed. Virilio doesn’t want to blindly affirm, but he doesn’t want to get rid of the pedal either. He wants both the pedal and the brake, struggling against one another, controlling the speeds along the inclined plane.

 

What is violence?

... that Dr. King's legacy commitment to non-violence presents to us

While studying for my undergraduate degree, I identified myself as a pacifist. A burgeoning radical thinker, I detested the idea that violence could be used for good. Why would one use violence as a solution when many of those who we hold up as ideal — Ghandi, MLK, one could argue Jesus — were committed to radical stances of non-violence and pacifism in response to the violence that they faced.

My pacifist ideals were shattered when reading a book by Terry Eagleton. In the book (Why Marx was Right) Eagleton presents a scenario in which a gunman has taken a group of school children hostage. In the scenario you have the opportunity to either take him out through violent means (such as shooting him with a gun) or he will kill the children. Given such a scenario, it seems like violence is not only the right thing to do, but the only thing to do.

Today, I still detest violence, but I’m not sure that I can call myself a pacifist. This is not because I view pacifism, or striving for pacifism as wrong, but , at least in part, I am not convinced that pacifism is a possibility. Like the scenario proposed by Eagleton, there are some scenario’s where violence in the only response to a violent situation. This is a thread I wish to explore in this week and next week’s blog posts.

Before I begin, I wish to recognize that I do not agree with the often straw manned understanding of pacifism as a sort of “passive-ism” wherein individuals refrain from any action whatsoever. I recognize that non-violent protest is an active, affirmative action that attempts to dismantle violence through its antithesis.

Now, there are a couple of aspects of non-violence that I would like to consider. This week, I hope to provide a brief interrogation into the question “What is violence?” I believe that an examination of what constitutes violence can help us determine the possibility of non-violence. Next week, I hope to explore the dichotomous nature of violence and non-violence by suggesting that this view of the world is too rigid in its structure.

The question “what is violence?” is, without a doubt, a difficult one to answer. Often when we talk about violence we talk about violence of a physical nature. Violence of this variety can be seen in a battle during warfare, or in a physical assault. Violence of this sort could be interpreted as physical violence against the body of some other being (whether they be human, animal or Gaia). But how far does this extend? We would likely agree that if someone punches you in the face, that the punch is a violent act. However, what if we look at a disciplinary system such as a school? Schools manipulate the bodies of the youth who attend them through regimented habits. Students bodies are forced into regimented systems regarded when they can sit or stand, when they are allowed to talk or stay silent, when they are allowed to get up and walk around, go to the bathroom, etc. One could interpret these actions as violence that affects the bodies of students to conform to certain societal standards. But would we usually think about this as violence? Is it physical violence, or violence of another variety?

E-flux recently published an article entitled “To Our Enemies” by Maurizio Lazzarato and Éric Alliez. The article offers the insight that within our contemporary systems of capitalism, we are always already within a flux of violence — or, as they deem it, civil war. Their second thesis reads as follows:

“Capitalism and neoliberalism carry wars within them like clouds carry storms. While the financialization of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries led to total war and the Russian Revolution, the 1929 crash and European civil wars, contemporary financialization is at the helm of global civil war and controls all its polarizations.”

Violence is always swirling around us. Lazzarato and Alliez argue that we are surrounded by civil wars that are constantly being fought. A prime example is the increasing violence against women in the United States. Populism and neo-facism are increasingly destroying the rights of women in terms of their autonomy — their control over their bodies. This is a violence which isn’t physical but directly attacks a woman’s freedom of choice through the legal system. If we understand these events as systemic acts of violence, we must extend our definition of violence beyond the physical to the structural as well. These structural forms of violence occur everywhere. Within the United States alone we see attacks on people of colour through mass incarceration and police violence; we see attacks on women in the aforementioned loss of autonomy in regards to personal anatomy; we see attacks on transgender and non-binary people with the loss of the ability to go to the bathroom; we see attacks on disabled people through our design processes which ignore the abilities of those who cannot walk, cannot see, or cannot hear; in these ways, and so many others, there are active attacks on peoples within the United States which rage not on a physical level, but a systemic, structural level.

To extend our look at structural violence, I wish to argue that escaping violence is an impossibility. Within western nations, by law, everyone must wear clothing. Walking around naked will result in some sort of criminal fine – whether it be monetary or jail time, I’m not sure. In any case, the system makes us wear clothes. In order to wear clothes, we need to either purchase or produce our own clothes. For the sake of argument, we’ll look at an individual who needs to purchase clothes. Now, the systems which exist make it impossible to really purchase clothes that escape societies of violence. Unless one has a substantial degree of wealth, one is likely forced into buying clothing that was made in hostile conditions for below a living wage (likely in a foreign country, but not necessarily). Furthermore, the item likely had to be shipped from wherever it was made. In this example, we can see that, by purchasing a shirt, I’e already participated in a system that is inherently violent. Violence is produced against the worker who is working for next to nothing to produce this clothing. It is also produced against the ecological system through the shipping of the material to where I purchase it. One might try to counter this argument by looking towards a local-vore type movement, but even then there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. Furthermore, the reality is that being a local-vore requires a substantial amount of wealth, which is nearly impossible to ascertain without some form of violence.

Despite what we’ve explored above, we still do not have a substantial understanding of what constitutes violence. What we do have are examples of violence – with the suggestion that violence is more than simply physical. So what is violence? For a working definition, that I’m not quite content with, I’d like to posit that violence is an attack on a person, animal or the planet which harms or limits that body in some way. This definition attempts to encompass both physical and structural violence, and it also includes violence that isn’t physical or structural (such as the violence that took place during the cold war).

To close, I provide a brief excursus: Often, the liberal call to “non-violence” is merely an attempt to make passive groups that are being physically violent. An example in recent years has been the imperative of nonviolence given by white moderates to people of colour in response to rioting over the violence against black individuals by the police force. The call of the media is often that these protests ought to be non-violent, rather than violent. The reality of the situation is that the majority of these protests are already nonviolent in the traditional sense (i.e. they are not producing physical attacks against other people). These calls for nonviolence, then, call to end these protests through a making passive of the protestors. To some degree, these calls for nonviolence signal a particular kind of act that could be considered violence: property damage. But, if we take our definition of violence as an attack on the person, animal or planet (depending on how far we wish to extend violence), property damage does not properly fit into these criteria.

On Positive and Negative Liberties

While reading through Foucault’s The Archaeology of Knowledge I began to ponder on the role that systems of rules play within our discourses on liberty. Foucault’s text sets out to define Archaeology, and comes to the conclusion that “Archaeology defines the rules of formation of a group of statements” (167). For Foucault, there are certain rules that make any discourse possible – and it is archaeology will attempts to show what these rules are. A common example that he uses within the text is the discourse of medicine. Medicine comes about because of a series of rules that allow medical discourse to take place.These rules prescribe what subjects are discussed within the discourse, what methods are utilized, etc. Within any discourse there are rules of this sort that limit what can be talked about. What struck me while reading is that these rules can have implications for both positive and negative liberty. They perform the action of making a discourse possible as well as confining it to a certain number of topics.

Initially, this made me think about grammar. To the annoyed 5th grader, grammar is a nuisance which infringes upon one’s liberty to perform whatever writing function they wish. Rather than simply using words, grammar forces them to learn a set of rules that disciplines their writing and speaking styles. While this 5th grader might see grammar as an imposition on their liberty, they might eventually begin to see the positive aspects of grammar. It is grammar, of course, that makes any communication possible. Without grammar the structure of our sentences would disappear, making any sort of conversation impossible. In this way the confines of grammar constitute a positive liberty. Rather than promoting freedom from something, they advance the freedom to do something. In the case of grammar the rules allow us the freedom to speak and communicate with one another.

Contemporary western political discourse is inundated with negative conceptions of liberty. Negative liberty is the freedom from something. A basic example of negative liberty is that I have the freedom from infringement on my personal speech (i.e. I have freedom of speech). When we speak of freedom in this way we are speaking of freedom from some constraint (taxes, immigrants, courts, etc). Negative liberty is an important component of our culture. It is a key concern of many of the freedoms that we hold dear — freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to vote for whomever you wish, freedom of speech, etc. — but with all of the focus on negative conceptions of liberty, positive conceptions are often left to the wayside.

Plato on the Fall of Ancient and Modern Greece - The Imaginative ...
Plato

in the tenth book of The Republic Plato argues against democracy for the reason that it promotes negative liberty to the detriment of society. In 558 b-c Plato writes, “We said that no one who had not exceptional gifts could grow into a good man [sic] unless he were brought up from childhood in a good environment and trained in good habits. Democracy with a grandiose gesture sweeps all this away and doesn’t mind what habits and background of its politicians are; provided they profess themselves the people’s friends, they are duly honoured” (p. 294). Throughout much of The Republic Plato makes the case for an educational program that would produce the ideal leader — a philosopher king. The ideal leader can only come about through a series of harsh educational regiments. These educational regiments take place as constraints on the individual who is attempting to become a philosopher king. From one perspective these restraints can be seen as attacks on an individuals liberty (and education can for sure be used as a means of discipline and control, c.f. Foucault’s Discipline and Punish), but within the context of becoming a leader, they allow for the individual to attain certain practices that would be impossible without constraint.

Part of what Plato is attempting to show in The Republic is that too much negative liberty is detrimental to an individual. Too much negative freedom leads to chaos. If we return, for a moment, to the discussion on grammar we might try to imagine a text that exists without the constraints of grammar. When imaging such a document one might be reminded of a random texts from Borges’ The Library of Babel where the texts, void of any semblance of grammar, appears to us as pure gibberish. The grammatical rules that are in place allow us to communicate with one another. These rules can provide us with the ability (at least to some degree) to flourish or perhaps — in Aristotelean terms — to reach our telos.

From a religious perspective this shouldn’t appear to be anything new. Within the religious sphere — even more so than in the political sphere — we are quite obsessive about positive liberties. In You Must Change Your Life Peter Sloterdijk writes about the ways that religion uses liturgy and ritual to shape the habits of believers. Religion creates social hierarchies that can only be climbed if one performs the rituals (or Anthropotechnics) which shape ones desires and habits to the degree that one’s body is affected in such a way that these habits become second nature. For many religious peoples the goal is to not simply refrain from our sinful desires, but to shape our bodies in such ways that those desires no longer even occur to us. In this way, religion uses educational constraints that allow for flourishing. Through the restraints imposed by religious practice one is granted the freedom to flourish within the religious sphere.

similar results jacob s ladder jacob s ladder circa 1925 european ...
Depiction of “Jacob’s Ladder”

These systems of rules that exist within the political and religious spheres hold implications for liberty in both the positive and negative senses. In these religious practices, for instance, we can see clear examples of times where these rules move from positive liberty to infringing on negative liberty. One can look to the barbaric practice of conversion therapy as an example of this. It seems to be the case that when we stop understanding these systems of rules as helpful tools that allow us to flourish and transform them into universalizing truths that must be followed, they stop providing us with positive liberty, and begin to infringe upon our negative liberties. We must remember that the rules which give the ability for positive liberty are not universal rules. They are confines which exist in order to allow us to do things, to fulfill things. When these rules lose any flexibility and become written into law, they fail to participate in any notion of liberty, and instead fall into the realm of discipline and control.

in this way, we can see that the distinction between a positive liberty and an infringement on negative liberty is not so clear cut. To make things more difficult, one might see a positive liberty as a clear infringement on a negative liberty (and vice versa). Where we draw the line is likely up to our political or religious ideology. So far as it is possible, however, we must attempt to examine how we are using the rules that we have established. So long as our rules are allowing us to flourish and grow into the people that we want to be, we can see these rules as positive influences. It is when our rules start to become inflexible and oppressive that we ought to take the time to re-examine, change, and, perhaps, abolish them.

 

Works Cited:

Foucault, M. (1982). The Archaeology of Knowledge: And the Discourse on Language. New York: Vintage.
Plato. (2007). The Republic. (D. Lee, Trans.) (New edition). London: Penguin Classics.

Musings on Advent Traditions

Christmas Simpsons -- Christmas

I tend to think that what a person (or anything really) does is a better indication of who that person is than what one believes. The actions that a person – or an object, or an animal –engages in are more evident of their character than what they might believe. For instance, a person might profess to hate a type of candy, but if they continuously go back to the bowl for more candy it might show that they really desire it.

Furthermore, while it is often posited that beliefs shape action, I’m of the opinion that this relationship is more cyclical. Our actions are just as likely to shape our beliefs as our beliefs are to shape our actions. For example, reading can lead to a desire for reading, which might shape ones believe to think that reading is good. My belief in this is partially because I assume a voluntarist understanding of action. Voluntarism prioritizes the will over the intellect in terms of decision making. Actions do not develop through conscious belief, but through the power of the will. Voluntarism, on a theological level, can be traced back to Duns Scotus (a medieval theologian of univocity), and in philosophy, flows through the disparate philosophical tradition of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Freud.

Because of this, I believe that the habits that one engages in are fundamental in shaping how one behaves and lives. Habits are actions that become ingrained into one to the degree that they become second nature. The traditions that we partake in have the ability to become habitual. The ways that one might worship in church, for instance, have the ability to become a part of a person on a level deeper than intellectual belief. The liturgical elements have the potential to become a part of a person, resulting in unconscious action. Thus, when engaging in the liturgy, the actions can take place without conscious effort; the actions simply happen.

Using this as a background, I find myself in an interesting stage of my life. It is the first year that my partner and I are truly “on our own” after getting married this summer. Both of us have come from families and communities where the season of Advent is filled with tradition and habit. Thus, this season presents us with the opportunity to begin to shape and form our own traditions and habits relating to the season. This is a daunting task. While our traditions and habits will shift and shape over the years due to numerous factors, it is both exhilarating and terrifying that the habits and traditions that we begin today have the potential to shape not only what we do in the future, but who we are as people and a couple. The traditions and habits that we begin this advent season have the potential to play a huge role in our future.

So far, many of our traditions have been borrowed from our familial traditions. This seems like a likely avenue for adopting tradition. The habits from our past have already been ingrained into us, so we continue to follow those traditions which are already unconscious in our being. I think that it would be interesting to go and analyze the traditions which we have adopted, and which are neglected. Why do some traditions become ingrained into us, while others fall to the wayside? These will be questions that my partner and I will grapple with when trying to form habits around our own traditions both this year, and in the future. How can we develop habits and traditions that allow us to become the people we wish to become?

Why did the Christians desire Trump?

Just a note before I begin. I thought that I would just mention that this piece is pretty rough. I wrote it to work through my thoughts on the most recent election. It is by no means polished, but I wanted to post it as my blog post this week. My opinion is just one of many think pieces and responses, and it doesn’t really bring forward any opinion or insight but my own struggle to grapple with the results of the recent election. Please feel free to offer feedback or advice on this as I continue to struggle with the political and theological. Because this is more of a personal reflection I haven’t cited strongly. If desired I can look to find citations for facts and evidence that I’ve presented offhand. The purpose of this is not a rigorous investigation into the theories I’ve provided, but a personal grappling which may someday turn into such a rigorous investigation.

Image result for God bless America

Introduction

On the evening of November 8th I felt anxiety and shock. This wasn’t necessarily anxiety for myself (Despite being an immigrant to the United States, I was thrown into this world with a whole heap of privilege), but rather, an anxiety for all of those who don’t have the privilege of being a white, straight, cisgender, male identifying person. My anxiety goes out for the people of the future, and the horror of the world that they might be able to live with. My anxiety goes out to our non-human friends, and to the earth. Who knows what the current administration might hold for these groups?

In the wake of this anxiety, I’ve been trying to make sense of why people voted for Trump – especially the estimated 80% of white evangelical voters who voted for him. I do recognize that a good number of Christians likely voted for Trump in order to gain a conservative Supreme Court. I get that, but at the same time I still find it horrifying that so many Christians took to the voting booths and voted for a xenophobic bigot. Christianity, as I understand it, holds to the central tenants that we must love one another unconditionally, that we must help the oppressed, and serve those who persecute us. Xenophobic nationalism does the exact opposite of these things. Those evangelicals who voted for Trump did not vote in favour of the oppressed or the persecuted – they voted for the oppressor and the persecutor. This is what I’ve been struggling with.

What I’ve been trying to situate is this: why did the Christians desire Trump? What caused evangelical Christians – en mass – to go out and vote for a candidate and party that seems paradoxical to the teaching of Christianity? This post will show my rough conclusions on the topic. I begin by looking at the death of God in the 19th and 20th century to show the need to develop and create new gods. From there I explore the transformation of Christianity into the American religion, a chimera of Christianity and capitalism. Under this framework, I examine the principal claim of the Trump campaign: “Make America Great Again” by suggesting that this assertion is synonymously a call to “Make God Great Again”, “Make Capitalism Great Again” and “Make Whiteness Great Again.”

This post seems especially pertinent given recent events which include increases in violent attacks  against minority groups in the United States and the release of a horrifying video showing “alt-right” Nazi propaganda with a focus on white power. This latter group has ties to Breitbart media and Stephen Bannon who is a “alt-right” proponent (read: Nazi) and was recently announced as President elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist and Senior Counselor.

The Death of God

“‘Whither is God’ He cried, ‘I will tell you. We have killed him – you an I’”

Nietzsche’s cry of the death of God is often misunderstood by people who don’t read Nietzsche. People like to throw out (or criticize) the claim that “God is dead” without actually unpacking what that means. The Death of God is the loss of ground. This loss of ground might be the loss of empirical ground, moral ground, immunological ground, etc. For instance, Peter Sloterdijk writes that, throughout Christendom, God functioned as an sphere or ground that provided immunological protection against the external or outside. Developments in modernity led to the shattering of this sphere. With the ability and desire to transverse the globe through scientific and technological advancement, humans no longer needed God to account for many of the mysteries of the world. Enlightenment thought’s emphasis on rationalism and science provided explanation for the mysterious. God was no longer necessary to provide a grounding principle for experienced phenomena.  With an increase in global travel, the outside was no longer as terrifying making the protection that God provided meaningless.

In Nietzsche’s writing, God’s death is the demise of a moral grounding. Unlike the empirical and rational spheres, the moral retains an element of mystery. Questions of morality cannot be answered through empirical or rational means in the same way that questions relating subjects like biology or physics can. Nietzsche is writing during the 19th century when the church is still a central agency within the European public sphere. Yet, Nietzsche sees that the actions of those around him are not grounded in a morality based on Christian principles. Nietzsche fears that the God whom the people profess has, in essence, died, because no one is following Her. What Nietzsche fears in the Gay Science is a loss of the moral ground and a fall into nihilism – a groundlessness. The Gay Science the madman cries out in vain over the loss of God. It would be a mistake to call Nietzsche a proponent of nihilism: Nietzsche initially mourns the loss of the moral grounding, fearing that the people are governed by nothing (Nietzsche comes to affirm the groundlessness, but that is for another post).

The American Religion

“What, after all, are these churches now if they are not the tombs an sepulchres of God?”

What, then, comes after the death of God? One way of responding to the death of God is to replace God with another God or gods. This requires retaining the religious qualities of the Christian deity, while attributing those characteristics to Her replacement. In leftist and neoliberal circles, N/nature has taken on the attributes of the divine. Jeremy Butman states that “as the Christian God retreated after Descartes, the attributes traditionally ascribed to Him — goodness, perfection and permanence — were in different ways transposed onto the body of nature.” Christianity’s notion of the divine provides a foundation or ground for the contemporary liberal movement of environmental sustainability. God, as traditionally understood, is ignored or considered insignificant, while the attributes of God are retained.

Conservative circles did not, in the same way, retreat from Christianity. God, the church, and the religious fervour remained accepted truths within these groups. For many, the belief in God still remains a central precept to one’s life. This is especially the case in America, where Christianity is still upheld as a stronghold. Yet, even from the earliest conceptions of America, we see that ‘God’ is not identical to the God of Christianity. The classic quote of Benjamin Franklin that “God helps those who help themselves” shows the merging of the American mythos with that of the Christian mythos. Within America, particularly in protestant America, the role of capitalism and Christianity begin to merge.  Weber’s protestant work ethic communicates a blending of capitalist and protestant forces. The difference between capitalism and Christianity become opaque. Many would attribute the prosperity of America’s free market on the centrality of Christianity within the nation. Within this mythology, American exceptionalism bled into American Christianity.

Walter Benjamin writes that capitalism adopts religious structure and tendencies to become, itself, a religion. In America it becomes difficult to toe the line between the  religion of capitalism and the religion of Christianity. Together these forces would become what I’ll term “the American religion.” The Bible suggests that one cannot serve two master, one cannot serve both God and money. In order to solve this problem – so that  this religion could retain both the God of capital and the God of Christianity – it was necessary for the American religion to merge the two deities. As Benjamin writes in Capitalism as Religion “God’s transcendence has fallen, but he is not dead. He is drawn into the fate of man” (p 260). God doesn’t die for the American religion. God is retained within capitalism. Benjamin writes at length on the merging of capitalism and Christianity into the American religion:

“Capitalism is a purely cultic religion, without dogma. Capitalism itself developed parasitically on Christianity in the West–not in Calvinism alone, but also, as must be shown, in the remaining orthodox Christian movements – in such a way that, in the end, its history is essentially the history of its parasites of capitalism. Compare the holy iconography of various religions on the one hand with the banknotes of various countries on the other: The spirit that speaks from the ornamentation of banknotes….Christianity in the time of the Reformation did not encourage the emergence of capitalism, but rather changed itself into capitalism. Methodologically [it] would be [productive] to first examine what associations money has adopted with myth in the course of history – until it could draw from Christainity enough mythical elements in order to constitute its own myth.” (p. 263-264)

The American religious myth might be the most strong example of Benjamin’s claims. A country where Christianity and capitalism merge into the central mythology and religion in order to become the true American religion.

Making America Great Again

What does it mean to “Make America great again”? At the time of Trump’s campaign the economy was doing decently, unemployment was quite low, and America, by generally used metrics, was doing pretty well. What is failing – in the eyes of some, at least – is the great American religion. Despite unemployment being low, wages for many white workers have stagnated since the 1970s while the cost of living has continued to rise. This is a major issue, and one that both the left and right should be critical of. Elsewhere, many see the atheism of academics and elites as a certain godlessness that goes against not only Christianity but America. “Progressive values” of free choice abortion and same sex marriage are seen as direct attacks on Christianity, but this is a Christianity imbued with social and class antagonism which see the move towards egalitarian institutions as a direct attack on the American religion. This Christianity is spearheaded by the patriarchy and social antagonisms of capitalism. The American religion places an emphasis on individualism (c.f. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps). Thus, when proponents of the American religion see themselves falling, they see their religion under seige. A need was created to “Make America great again” which functioned as a rallying call to “Make the American religion great again” while simultaneously working towards “Making Christianity/Capitalism/Us (White, evangelicals) great again”.

The use of “again” signals the fact that this call is inherently reactionary. The American religion must have been great at some point for it to be returned to. Given the rhetoric of the Trump campaign it doesn’t seem far fetched that this (imaginary) past existed some time when there was stricter separation between the races, a time when White communities were allowed to deny access to Black people; the time of Jim Crow. This is emphasized in the campaign rhetoric surrounding Islamic refugees and Mexican immigrants. American greatness can only be realized through the eradication of the Other. A return to greatness is conditional on building a wall on the Mexican border and insinuating the dismissal of Islamic refugees from the country. Xenophobic and nationalist rhetoric is necessarily tied to the promotion of the great American religion. Keeping people who aren’t white out of America functions as the innermost ethic of making America great. (This isn’t even to mention the promotion of ‘stop and frisk’ as a means of controlling the Black community.) In order to make America great,  America must first be cleansed of all its undesirables – it must be cleansed of those who aren’t white so that it can be made great for those who are.

Desiring Greatness

“No, the masses were not innocent dupes; at a certain point, under a certain set of conditions, they wanted fascism”

Much like the crowd who desired Barabbas, and the masses who desired Hitler, evangelical Christians desired and elected Trump. This was caused, at least in part, through the polymerization of Christianity, capitalism, whiteness and patriotism under the guise of the American religion. The Christians desired greatness. They desired the return to the greatness of the American religion. What American evangelicals believed was that their God – their great religion – was under threat (whether this religion was ever great, and whether it ever ceased to be great is another conversation). In the minds of many individuals this great religion needed to be saved.

Will Trump be able to make their religion great again? We cannot let that happen. Because making the American religion great requires the elimination of the Other. It means oppression for many who are seen as minor within the American landscape. We see this already in the propaganda of right wing Nazi groups in the United States – groups that are no longer afraid of professing white supremacy – and we see it in the attacks on individuals who do not fit the privileged norm. This is not something that I, nor any person who professes that love should conquer hate, should hope for. We must fight against the desire for hate with an affirmation of love, affirming differences rather than attempting to homogenize them. The God of America may have won the election, but we cannot allow it to win the day.

 

Citations and Mentions

Benjamin, W. (2005). Capitalism as Religion. In E. Mendieta (Ed.), C. Kautzer (Trans.), The Frankfurt School on Religion: Key Writings by the Major Thinkers (pp. 259–262). New York ; London: Routledge.

Butman, J. (2016, August 8). Against “Sustainability.” The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/08/opinion/against-sustainability.html

Gilles, D., & Guattari, F. (1994). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University Of Minnesota Press.

Nietzsche, F. (1974). The Gay Science: With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs. (W. Kaufmann, Trans.) (1 edition). New York: Vintage. Thesis 125.

Sloterdijk, P. (2014). Globes: Spheres Volume II: Macrospherology. (W. Hoban, Trans.). Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext.

Anthropocene: The Pope and the Posthuman

In late August 2016, a group of experts recommended the declaration of a new geological epoch to the International Geological Congress.1 This new epoch, the anthropocene, presents a gestalt shift in the way that human being live and interact with the world. Whereas humanity was before a being in the world of the holocene, the anthropocene presents what Timothy Morton describes as “disturbing moment at which human history intersects decisively with geological time.”2 Despite its widespread use in the humanities and earth sciences since the 1980s, the potential declaration of a new geological epoch by a major geological organization has the potential to shift the way that humans exist in the world. Philosopher Rosi Braidotti has suggested that the anthropocene brings about a “time of deep epistemological, epistemological, ethical and political crises of values in human societies.”3

As many already know, climate change is intimately connected with racism and sexism.4 Climate change is caused by the richest countries at the expense of poorer counties and disproportionately impacts marginalized populations. As German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk points out, the anthropocene leads humans to “Humans create their own climate”5 through their technological prowess. The ability to create ones own climate leads humanity to be regarded as the designers of their own climate The purpose of this paper is to explore the impact that the anthropocene’s “crisis of values” has on religious values and practice. Specifically, how should Christians6 handle and grasp humanity’s responsibility as designers of the world?

Pope Francis’s anthropocentric stewardship
Any attempt at interrogating the relationship between Christianity and the anthropocene must engage with Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato si’. In this controversial encyclical–written for all of humanity–, the Pope calls “for a radical transformation of politics, economics and individual lifestyles to confront environmental degradation and climate change, blending a biting critique of consumerism and irresponsible development with a plea for swift and unified global action.”7 Pope Francis suggests that capitalism and individualism are at the heart of the climate crisis. Climate change contains “environmental, social, economic, [and] political”8 implications, and it impacts are most likely to impact and shape the lives of those in areas of poverty. This happens in at least two ways. First, Capitalism allows rich countries control over poor countries through debt which leads to a global situation in which “developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future.”9 Second, Climate Change is most likely to affect poorer countries who remain “largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry.”10 Pope Francis suggests that the rise in temperature produces disproportional “repercussions on the poorest area of the world […] where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming.”11

Peter Sloterdijk has argued that the anthropocene “paves the way for a fundamental change in attitude whereby human beings lose their status as would-be ‘lords and masters’ of nature and become atmosphere designers and climate guardians.” 12 The Pope gives a similar message stating that ““our “dominion” over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship.”13 With the anthropocene, the ability to design the world has been placed in human hands. The climate crisis is not only an ecological event, but also a socio-political crisis which means that human design pervades into this realm as well. Creation care cannot be separated from issues of economic or social oppression. Thus, when designing a response to the climate crisis one must consider the social, economic and political in addition to the ecological.

Pope Francis’s call for stewardship incorporates the intersectional nature of climate change. The stewardship of Francis’s design is inseparable from communion with all of creation. This is “the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world”14 which is expressed in a communitarian embrace of love. Paragraph 231 describes the solution to capitalism and individualism as a “civilization of love” in which “social love moves us to devise larger strategies to halt environmental degradation and to encourage a “culture of care” which permeates all of society.”15 A community where love takes precedence over greed and individualism, and where domination is not seen as ownership, but as care. Rather than a disconnected ownership with all creatures of the earth, Francis suggests that “It also entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion.”16 One might go so far as to suggest that Francis is advocating a design in which Dasein is being in loving community with all of being.

Yet, despite Francis’s advocacy for communion with all of creation, his writing retains an anthropocentric or human centric assumption. Francis argues that part of God’s design for the earth contains a provision that “Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.”17 Thus, while Pope Francis argues against dominion and ownership over the earth, his message of stewardship is still centred in a preservation of the earth for future humanity. Futhermore, despite his talk of stewardship and communion, the text retains at least some notion of dominion: “We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us.”18 The move away from damaging authoritarianism to a communitarian society retains a hierarchical notion of humanity as guardian or steward above those which they are guardian or steward of. Francis’s community retains the human at its centre and stewardship is presented as sustainability and preservation of the earth for humans.

Against Sustainability
The retention of the human centre is problematic because it retains a notion that earth and the creatures upon earth belong to humanity. Thus, when we talk about sustainability, it is centred on how to design the world so that it is beneficial to humans. In his recent New York Times opinion piece, “Against ‘Sustainability’” Jeremy Butman argues for an adaptable design rather than a conservational design. In order to do this Butman begins by discussing the lineage of the environmental movement. Traditionally, environmentalism is seen as coming out of 18th century romanticism, and Butman does not disagree. The traditional narrative suggests that Descartes, in his reduction of “nature” to mathematics, opens the door for a scientific, technological worldview which “cleared the way for the domination of nature by industry and prepared philosophy for Nietzsche’s dramatic declaration of the death of God.”19

What is left out of the dominant narrative is the idea that the central attributes of God “were in different ways transposed onto the body of nature” 20 in various discourses such as German and English Romanticism and American transcendentalism. What is problematic in this transposition is that nature is given the attribute of perfection – if perfection changes it becomes imperfect. Thus, the Aristotelean notion of nature as physis or change is discarded and nature becomes a Garden of Eden with the Death of God. Thus, when humans talk about sustainability our hope is to sustain nature for humans. Humans wish to retain their understanding of a perfect nature. Butman suggests that “we preserve the resources needed for human consumption, whether that means energy consumption or aesthetic consumption. In one sense, we preserve nature for industry.”21 Thus, Pope Francis suggestion that humanity ought to preserve for human consumption in ensuring the earth’s fruitfulness for future generations doesn’t undermine industrial consumption, but affirms it.

The problem with preservation is that it is based upon the idea that changes to the earth are destroying humanities perfect Garden of Eden. As Butman states, extinction is “only tragic if nature is viewed as something perfect that we are destroying rather than as a state of flux in which we are participating.”22 The idea of participation is powerful. It leads to a new conception of humanities communion with the earth, animals and inanimate beings. Rather than being “rulers over” the other, or even “guardians” of the other, Butman situates humanity as “participants” with the other. Participation with the other means saying “yes” to the anthropocene. Saying “yes” means that instead of the oppositional position of sustainability, humans should speak of adaptability. Butman envisions a worldview which sees the earth not as something other from humanity, but “…as a bustling world of colleagues, both human and nonhuman, animate and inanimate, over whom we have influence, but also influence us.”23

The Posthuman
In proposing humanity as participants within a greater community of adaption, Butman begins to move beyond the humanistic sustainability of Pope Francis and other environmentalists in order to envision a posthuman communion. Rosi Braidotti’s work in the Posthuman will allow us to explore what this interdependence community of participants might do. In order to examine the community, it is important to first understand the lineage of humanism to posthumanism which Braidotti outlines in the first chapter of The Posthuman. It is only after one is grounded in an understanding of this posthuman that one can begin to explore what a posthuman community might become.

Braidotti defines humanism as a tradition which, going back to Protagoras, centres man as the subject of universal rationality (i.e. man as the measure of all things). Against this universal “man” stand the sexualized, radicalized, and naturalized Other. The Other, through their otherness, is capable of calling out the power and imperialism of the universal. It is in the Other’s response to humanism that anti-humanism emerges. Anti-humanism is a dialectical move which positions itself in opposition to humanism. It was prevalent throughout the 1960’s in both American opposition to the war in Vietnam and the1968 student protests in Europe. Anti-humanism “appealed directly to the subversive potential of the texts of Marx, so as to recover their anti-institutional roots”24 – a subversive potential which reaches its climax in Foucault’s “Death of Man”. It is out of this human/anti-human dichotomy that posthumanism is able to emerge. While anti-humanism rejects humanism it still retains universalizing qualities in the human/antihuman binary. The binary itself functions as a universal either/or. In anti-humanism one is either a human or not a human – and these details are strictly black and white. Posthumanism is an attempt to escape this binary and dichotomous thinking.

Braidotti presents to the audience 3 types of humanism: 1. Reactive posthumanism which is a reactionary movement against anti-humanism and attempts a return to universal humanism; 2. Scientific or analytic posthumanism which alters the understanding of human and technology by proposing a merging interconnectivity between the two (while in a sense retaining an understanding of human – just a different one then before); and 3. Critical posthumanism which is the humanism Braidotti adopts. This is a posthumanism which can be traced back to the “post-structuralism, anti-universalism of feminism, anti-colonial phenomenology of Frantz Fanon and of his teacher Aimé Césaire.”25 Within posthumanism the human centre of humanism is decentred and the critical posthumanist moves beyond liberal universalism to embrace complexity and subjectivity while at the same time resting on a Deleuzian ethic of becoming. A critical posthumanism “raises issues of power and entitlement in the age of globalization and calls for self-reflexivity on the part of the subjects who occupy the former humanist centre, but also those who dwell in on of the many scattered centres of power of advanced post-modernity.”26 This critical posthumanism is a decentred network of subjectivities which is not reducible to humans. It is “vitalist, embodied and embedded, firmly located somewhere, according to the feminist ‘politics of location’.”It is a becoming which usurps the dominant centre. In rupturing the centrality of the human subject, the new subjectivity comes to include a flux of being – including, but not limited to, humans, machines, the earth, and animals.

Thus far, we’ve looked at Braidotti’s posthuman in an attempt to expand upon the decentring of the human subjectivity. Now we’ll interrogate how a inter-relational community being might become. Braidotti adopts a Spinozist monism – a unity or univocity of being. Using the Deleuzian method of becoming27, Bradotti argues for a Zoe-centric egalitarianism through which interdependence with multiple other can take place. Zoe is the structure of life that brings vitality, and it is a zoe-centric egalitarianism which the posthuman strives for. Braidotti’s monism “implies the open-ended, interrelational, multi-sexed and trans-species flows of becoming through interaction with multiple others. A posthuman subject thus constituted exceeds the boundaries of both anthropocentrism and of compensatory humanism, to acquire a planetary dimension.”28 Within the taxonomy of being a radical decentreing of humanity takes place. Animals, machines, humans and earth are no longer considered strict categories of being. They are constantly and consistently beings together bound within a monistic framework of relationality. Through this relationality in which these animals, humans, machines and earth no longer function as seperate concepts, but participants wrapped up together through interdependence, a community based praxis is able to emerge. This is a community bounded by an “interdependence with multiple others”29 which includes animals, humans, earth, technology.

Within such a community a zoe-egalitarianism is possible where Zoe is “the ‘generative power that flows across all species.”30 Like the community Butman envisions, this community is not one that strives but preservation or sustainability, but instead affirms adaptability and creative designs. With the posthuman is the potential for a community of interdependence in which the division between human and non-human dissolves into a community of interdependence where individualism – not just for individual actors, but anthropocentrism as a whole – is replaced with a community fully engaged in zoe-centric and communal care. In order for this to happen, humans must develop new positive relationships with animals, the earth, and technology through processes of becoming which allow for an ending of hierarchical measure. The interdependence of zoe-centric communities allows for the creation of new ways of looking at the anthropocene and embracing it as designers of new, post-anthropocentric worlds in new post-human rhythms and flows.

Creativity
Both Pope Francis, Jeremy Butman, and Rosi Braidotti stress the important of a communality within their articulation of how to respond to the anthropocene. The difference between their responses is that Pope Francis favours the negation of change while Butman and Braidotti strive for the affirmation of it. Both recognize the ability of humans to design and shape the world, but while Francis centres his design on humanism where humans act upon the world, Butman and Braidotti goes beyond to a community of posthuman actors acting upon one another. In striving for community, all three thinkers stress the important of being with in community. In a sense, the community is able to work together in what Sloteridjk might label a co-immunizing force.31 For Pope Francis, this results in a communitarian movement of return. For Rosi Braidotti, it results in a zoe-centric egalitarianism which affirms the anthropocene and attempts to adapt the world to new rhythms and flows. In either case, there is a need for the creation of design strategies for interaction within the community. For Pope Francis this creativity requires “an ecological conversion can inspire us to greater creativity and enthusiasm in resolving the world’s problems,”32 for Butman it requires new adaptability, and for Braidotti it means the creation of new rhythms and flows which repeat throughout being. In all of these there is a desire for creation.

Since my sympathies lie with Braidotti, my conclusions will as well, but I don’t think that they are so far divorced from the humanism of Pope Francis that a bridge cannot be seen at some point in the distance. How is it that we, Christians or otherwise, should respond to the anthropocene? Through affirmation! By affirming that we play – within a community of interrelated multiple others – a role in the design process of new worlds, we must affirm and encourage creation and adaption of new designs that push forward an zoe-egalitarianism which has at its focus a love of being. This means developing new creative ways of circumnavigating capitalism in order to benefit the earth and those on it. This might also mean moving away from certain practices that do not fit within the new affirmative rhythms.

Going forward I’m not sure exactly what this goes, or where these pathways lead. Andrew Culp’s thesis that “We need to stop saving the world in order to find new ones”33 is one that works against sustainability and towards the new becoming, outside of ‘the world’. For Culp, the “[d]iscourse of domination is winning…we need to explore new discourses of the anthropocene”34. Yet, it still doesn’t unlock or give a simple answer to what these discourses look like. Creating and affirming new ways to explore and work within the anthropocene is the next step. This involves the affirmation of technologies that are used in ways that benefit zoe, rather than harm. Rather than Francis’ return to a simpler time, we must contemplate technologies that move outside of capitalism and consumption. Affirming new technologies that strive towards zoe-egalitrianism. Now it is up to us to create these affirmative intensities.

footnotes
[1]Carrington, “The Anthropocene Epoch.”

[2]Morton, “This Is Not My Beautiful Biosphere,” p. 229

[3]Braidotti, The Posthuman, p. 79

[4]c.f. Klein, This Changes Everything

[5]Sloterdijk, Globes, p. 985. It should be noted that Sloterdijk is talking about climate in two senses – the sociological climate and the physical climate. In pre-enlightenment era, humans created immunological climates which functioned to protect against the exterior. After the enlightenment we see a shift to what Sloterdijk calls “atmotechnics” which lead to humanities “air conditioning” of the world (c.f. Sloterdijk, Globes, p. 961-967).

[6]I admit that when one talks about “Christianity” one is always already talking about a multiplicity of diverse members and groups. Christianity, as a concept, contains a plurality of different denominations, sects, religious texts, interpretations, etc., and talking about these groups as a cohesive unit can at times appear disingenuous. I recognize this problem, and move forward cautiously, understanding that the message is aimed at an ecumenical church.

[7] Yardley and Goodstein, “Pope Francis, in Sweeping Encyclical, Calls for Swift Action on Climate Change.”

[8]Pope Francis, Encyclical on Capitalism and Inequality, Paragraph 25. While Pope Francis focuses here on socio-political phenomena at the state level, it would be a mistake to think that climate change doesn’t impact poorer people domestically. Elderly people who cannot afford air conditioning are at increased risk of heat stroke due to a rise in temperature (c.f. NIA: Hyperthermia: Too Hot for Your Health). Drought also raises food prices which leads to higher costs of living which is particularly harmful for people below the poverty threshold.

[9]Pope Francis, Encyclical on Capitalism and Inequality, Paragraph 52.

[10] ibid., Paragraph 25.

[11] ibid., Paragraph 51

[12] Sloterdijk, Terror from the Air, p. 89

[13]Pope Francis, Encyclical on Capitalism and Inequality, Paragraph 116.

[14] ibid., Paragraph 229

[15] ibid., Paragraph 231

[16] ibid., Paragraph 220

[17] ibid., Paragraph 67

[18] ibid

[19] Butman, “Against ‘Sustainability.’”

[20] ibid

[21] ibid

[22] ibid

[23] ibid

[24] Braidotti, The Posthuman, p. 22

[25] ibid., p. 47

[26] ibid., p. 51

[27] I do not have enough space here to fully explain how becoming works in Deleuze’s ontology. For an introduction I recommend the sections on Becoming, Becoming + Music, and Becoming + Performance Art in Parr’s, The Deleuze Dictionary, p. 25-31

[28] Braidotti, The Posthuman, p. 89

[29] ibid., p. 101

[30] ibid., p. 103

[31] Sloterdijk, You Must Change Your Life, p. 450 “All social organization in history, from the primal hordes to the world empires, can, from a systemic perspective, be explained as structures of co-immunity”.

[32] Pope Francis, Encyclical on Capitalism and Inequality, Paragraph 220

[33] Culp, “The ‘Anthropocene’: A Problematic Term for Problematic Times.”

[34] Culp, “Aliens, Monsters, and Revolution in the Dark Deleuze.”

Works Cited
Braidotti, Rosi. The Posthuman. 1st ed. Oxford: Wiley, 2013.

Butman, Jeremy. “Against ‘Sustainability.’” The New York Times, August 8, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/08/opinion/against-sustainability.html.

Carrington, Damian. “The Anthropocene Epoch: Scientists Declare Dawn of Human-Influenced Age.” The Guardian, August 29, 2016, sec. Science. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/29/declare-anthropocene-epoch-experts-urge-geological-congress-human-impact-earth.

Culp, Andrew. “The ‘Anthropocene’: A Problematic Term for Problematic Times.” presented at the 2016 Anthropocene Consortium Series, Evergreen State College, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6Hvz3VVu6Y.

Culp, Andrew. “Aliens, Monsters, and Revolution in the Dark Deleuze.” Anarchist Without Content, August 26, 2016. https://anarchistwithoutcontent.wordpress.com/2016/08/26/aliens-monsters-and-revolution-in-the-dark-deleuze/.

Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. Reprint edition. Simon & Schuster, 2015.

Morton, Timothy. “This Is Not My Beautiful Biosphere.” In A Cultural History of Climate Change, edited by Tom Bristow and Thomas Ford, 229–39. Routledge, 2016. http://www.tandfebooks.com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/isbn/9781315734590.

Parr, Adrian. The Deleuze Dictionary. 2nd Edition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010.

Pope Francis. Encyclical on Capitalism and Inequality: On Care for Our Common Home. Edited by Same Lavigne. Verso, 2015.

Sloterdijk, Peter. Globes: Spheres Volume II: Macrospherology. Translated by Wieland Hoban. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext, 2014.

Sloterdijk, Peter. Terror from the Air. Translated by Amy Patton and Steve Corcoran. Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents Series. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009.

Sloterdijk, Peter. You Must Change Your Life. 1 edition. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2014.

Yardley, Jim, and Laurie Goodstein. “Pope Francis, in Sweeping Encyclical, Calls for Swift Action on Climate Change.” The New York Times, June 18, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/world/europe/pope-francis-in-sweeping-encyclical-calls-for-swift-action-on-climate-change.html.

The Death of God and Narnia

Image result for narnia

I have recently been reading through the Chronicles of Narnia in order to relive a part of my childhood. As much as I disagree with Lewis’s theology, and the fact that I find his allegory quite on the nose throughout the books, I have been enjoying reading through them for the most part. Today, while reading The Silver Chair a particular passage spoke to me. Leading up to the passage we find the three main characters, humans Jill and Eustace and the Marsh-wiggle Puddleglum,having just rescued the lost Prince of Narnia, King Caspian’s son Rilian from the clutches of the Queen of the Underworld (a reincarnated White Witch). Having found her prized possession freed from her spells, the Witch attempts to lull these four characters into believing that everything they thought they knew (Narnia, the Overworld, Aslan) was really a dream. While the three humans are quite susceptible to the Witch’s charm, the Marsh-wiggle Puddleglum is able to fight back against the charm. In protesting the Witch, Puddleglum steps into her magical fire and gives the following speech in response to the Witch:

“Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.” (p. 190-191; emphasis mine)

While I don’t believe that Lewis intended this passage to relate to any sort of radical theology, I see some real ties to the Death of God Theology of people like Thomas Altizer, or the Pyro-theology of Peter Rollins. For our characters the death of god is temporary – God, Aslan and Narnia are still real – though they are not aware that this is the case. Despite the fact that there is a reality behind their beliefs (which is precisely what Lewis would proclaim) the message that Puddleglum will “live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia” and will remain “on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan” is really the core of the radical theological position. It is living the Christian life even if there is no God to guide it. The radical Christian understands that you can’t really live a true Christian life unless God is Dead. For only with a dead God can one truly live the tenants of Christian love. Without a promise of the life that is to come, one can truly live out faith. True faith that isn’t focused on belief, but rather on practice.

God’s image typically allows us to treat God as an object – we treat God as a means to an end. Typically belief in God boils down to belief in the image of God so that one might attain salvation. The entire religious experience can boil down to a costs/benefits analysis. While Puddleglum retains the image of God, he does so with a dead God. For Rollins the challenge of Christianity is this costs/benefits analysis of salvation. The only way to escape this costs/benefits Christianity is through the death of God. One must embrace the dead God in order to enter life before death – a truly Christian life. This is what Puddleglum strives to do: retain a Narnian life despite the death of Narnia; live life according to Aslan’s principles of love despite there being no Aslan. A full loving embrace of the world so that one can truly enter life before death as a disciple of God – no matter God’s ontological state.

 

Update: Check out the rendition of the speech from the BBC’s rendition. Delivered by Tom Baker as Puddleglum:

 

Joyful Liberation

wokemon

The gospel reading and sermon this morning awakened new movements within me. The focus of the teaching this morning was on Luke 15 with the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin. It is the latter of these that I wish to focus on in particular. Luke 15: 8-10 goes as follows:

8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

There are a number of things that interest me about this passage. For instance, the priest pointed out the radical implication of this verse in the fact that Christ presents to us the divine in the form of a woman. That God is presented here as a woman contained radical implications for the patriarchal culture of 1st century Judea, and continues to present implications against patriarchal culture today. Examples of this today include the fact that many churches retain a male pronoun, He or Him, when referring to the divine. Furthermore, Christ’s maleness can be taken to be seen as a part of his perfection – many would gawk at the possibility of Christ being woman or non-binary. Yet, this passage undermines the notion that the divine is male. God is neither male nor female, but presents and is presented as both and neither in different parts of scripture.

While I find the radical implications surrounding the divine as female fascinating and invigorating it is not what gripped me this morning. What excited me was the final verse, Luke 15:10, where it states that “…there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” This is a reminder that the kingdom of God is one of celebration and joy. God’s kingdom is built upon the joy that comes through liberation. Where once we were oppressed, we are now liberated. Freedom – whether through the Death of God, through Christ’s atonement, or through some other means – is given to mean that the chains are broken, and one is set free.

Yet, we know that there is still oppression. There is still oppression against women, there is oppression against poor people, there is oppression against people of colour, there is oppression against queer people, there is oppression against disabled people, and there are any number of other oppressions. We continue to live in different states of intersectional oppression. Liberation is a constant ongoing struggle. For each form of oppression that torn down, a new one comes about. These oppressions often build off of the oppressions of the past, becoming more structural and less visible. There is a need in our world of structural oppression for constant revolution – constant liberation.

The need for constant liberation appears to be a difficult one. Christians often wonder why God doesn’t bring Her kingdom today. Living within a state of oppression, and constantly striving towards liberation through revolutionary acts is difficult. Yet, I think that the key to change – to liberation – is joy. Deleuze writes that revolution “belongs to humour and irony” (Difference and Repetition, p. 5). Revolution is tied to the affective role of joy. Joy awakens one to freedom. As the quote attributed to Emma Goldman states “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” Dancing is an affective use of joy. It opens the body to new forms of joy. Joy is what allows revolution to occur, and it is joy which is drives the Kingdom of God. Just as there is joy in heaven for each who is set free, let there be joy on earth. Joy for liberation, and joy which leads to liberation.

 

Image from Wokemon.

Becoming Kingdom

Part of the inspiration for this post is the idea of brokenness. Brokenness would seem to assume a fall from something unbroken or perfect. This fits with common rhetoric in many schools of Christianity with regards to the Fall. The story is often presented as a fall from the perfection in the garden. Adam and Eve allow sin to enter into the garden, and then they are removed. In this act sin (or brokenness) enters into the world. Thus, for many, the aim of Christianity is to enter into God’s kingdom so that we may return to this perfection.

I don’t think that the story which scripture tells subscribes to such a return to perfection. There is no return to the garden in Christianity. What Christianity promises is the Kingdom of God – not a return to the garden – but a journey to something much different. This is interesting because without the fall the potential of the Kingdom wouldn’t be there. It is the fall which allows for the constant becoming of the kingdom. Instead of suggesting that the fall is a bad thing, what if we were to consider the fall a necessary move.

If we look at it in this way, and are able to remove the normative claims of the fall, we can think about the fall not as a move from good to bad, but rather as one broken world to another. Not a negative brokenness – but rather that brokenness which makes us interesting. I think that part of the key here lies in our understanding of sin – not as a moral category, but as an ontological one. We do sin, but that is not what makes us sinful, rather we sin because we are already, ontologically sinful. It is not what we do that makes us sinful, we just are. From this we are broken. But rather than experiencing this as something negative, why not celebrate the fact that it is our brokenness that makes us interesting, different and unique. It is also our brokenness that allows us to change, to move towards new things.

If we get rid of the moral claims surrounding the fall, we can think about the fall as something different than a fall from perfection to imperfection or from unbroken to broken. Rather, we could suggest that it is a move from brokenness to brokenness. I’ve been thinking about the Kingdom of God within the Deleuzian ideas of deterritorialization. That the Kingdom of God is a series of deterriorializations and reterritorializations. That the perfection in the garden was itself broken. That this perfection needed to be deterritorialized, so that a new territory could be built. The garden was stagnant. Without there being something broken, there was no way for the potential of the Kingdom. It was only in the move towards brokenness that the potential of the Kingdom could be realized. The move towards the Kingdom of God exists in scripture because of the first deterritorialization (the ‘fall’), rather than in spite of it.

Furthermore, this notion can help us function against the thought that we are moving towards a perfect world. Rather, we are moving towards a new territorialization, which will again need to be deterritorialized. Power and stagnation move hand in hand. By assuming a notion of perfection and universality to become our ideal, we allow power to fester, and stagnation to occur. We are constantly becoming kingdom, but this requires constant movement. The Kingdom of God is constantly becoming! Instead of thinking about Christianity as moving towards a stagnant kingdom, on might understand Christianity as something that is both itself constantly being deterritorialized and reterritorialized, while at the same time, the kingdom is constantly being deterritorialized and reterritorialized. If we think of the Kingdom as against Empire, against power, and on the side of the oppressed, we can understand the Kingdom as the constant deterritorialization of power. New powers may rise up, but the Kingdom, through its embrace of the radical love of the other, constantly moves to tear that power down. [1]

What we are moving towards is not perfection, but new brokenness, which again will need to be deterritorialized. Never remaining stagnant. The Kingdom alive in the constant movements towards love. Love in the brokenness, love of the brokenness.

[1] One problem of this, of course, is that the Church has been used, historically, as a tool for Empire, for stagnation, and for power. Christianity has been used to oppress and to seize power.
This is something that we need to struggle with, and fight back against, but I haven’t dealt with it directly in this post.

A prayer

We come together in community as a collection of broken bodies – neither reducible to the one or the many. We come as people of this world working together, moving towards the constant becomings of the Kingdom. We pray that together, in Christ, we may continue to work towards the ending of oppression and the liberation of the poor. That we, as the church of Christ, may embrace a profound and radical love. A love which allows us to truly embrace the Other. A love which allows us to see that what we do unto the least of our neighbors, we truly do unto Christ. May we pour out this love unto the world, through our thoughts and through our actions. May we live out this love in our interactions with our friends, our family, our neighbour, our strangers and our world. Let us share this love with all of creation!

We understand that the words of scripture have power. The words of scripture have power that affects human bodies. May the words of scripture – in the way language is arranged – affect us. May the scripture move us towards resistance so that we might resist that power which closes and universalizes. May scripture aid us so that our love resist the powers that oppress, maim, and make rigid.

Together we acknowledge the profound beauty and creativity of God in the world. May we rejoice in the power of divine creativity! Let us create beautiful things with our hands. Let us create beautiful things with our mouths. Let us create beautiful things with our love! We are surrounded by chaos in which we are granted the ability to create with our love. May we use our gifts to create beautiful things in the Kingdom. Help us to not dwell on the negative, but rather to affirm new creative movement. Help us light the creative flame for a revolution in love. We might not see tomorrow, but only in our love, as a community of broken bodies, will we ever see the dawn. For at the chairs on the table of the kingdom we will sing forever in a fellowship of love.