I wrote a piece on Deleuze, Desire and Liturgy for this burgeoning publication Christianity Now. Check it out here: http://christianity-now.com/immanent-liturgies/
To some degree, I’ve known Canadians to feel a sense of superiority of the United States in terms of the political sphere. Canadians are proud of their single payer health care system, and view themselves as more progressive and open than their neighbours to the South. This sense of superiority was illuminated in the recent election of Donald Trump in the US. I’m not sure that I’ve met or talked to a Canadian who can’t believe that what has happened in the US did happen. Every Canadian I’ve talked to has been highly critical of the new American President. There is an apparent sense that “something like that couldn’t happen here”. This strikes me as ironic, given the fact that, during my political science education in the United States there were similar feelings about how a person like Silvio Berlusconi – the Italian oligarch who can be seen as a good reference for what a powerful businessman might look like as a head of state (his time in office was rifled with scandal) – could never get elected in the US.
With the ascendency of Trump, the Canadian sense of superiority (which may have dimished during the co-current leadership of Obama and Harper) seems to have, anecdotally at least, returned to many Canadians. And yet, many of these same Canadians, have turned towards conservative business mogul Kevin O’Leary as the future face of the conservative party of Canada. Mr. O’Leary is, in many ways, not all that different from the newly elected POTUS. He has had controversial views on poverty and climate change, refusing to believe the latter and suggesting that 3.5 billion people in poverty is “fantastic news”:
But, the real similarity is not in terms of personality. O’Leary is not President Trump. He’s even said so himself. He provides a more Canadian right wing alternative to the populist and outright xenophobic, anti-globalization movements that have occurred across the Western world (seen in the advent of Brexit in the UK, President Trump in the US, Geert Wilders’ The Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, etc.). Now, I don’t think that O’Leary is xenophobic or anti-globalization, but he is a wealthy businessman in the breed of Berlusconi and Trump, and his popularity in Canada signals a similar shift in the Canadian political process.
The populist movements in various countries have each been unique to their individual country. One wouldn’t expect Le Pen’s rhetoric to be the same as Trump’s. Yet, each of these movements have tapped into the populist rage surrounding failing economies, reduction in wages, and work shortages. Again, unlike his opponent Kellie Leitch, I do not see evidence that Mr. O’Leary has tapped into the xenophobic elements of this movement, (a fact that I am thankful for), but he, like Trump and Berlusconi, appears to be in a position to financially benefit from the political changes that he proposes. Despite this, many of the same people who hold a sense of superiority over the Americans voting for Trump will likely be enticed by someone like O’Leary. In the rest of this piece I intend to explore why, though he is different than President. Trump, Mr. O’Leary is and equally problematic political figure for Canada.
Why Comparisons to Trump Don’t Work
A number of articles have gone through the effort of showing why Mr. O’Leary is not the Canadian Donald Trump. I have seen articles by both CNN and Forbes (that latter of which is posted on Mr. O’Leary’s website)both of which suggest that the two men are not the same. Mr. O’Leary felt the need to establish a gap between him and the POTUS in one of his first videos as a candidate.As far as I can tell, these articles are quite accurate in their separation of the two individuals. They articulate the various personal and preferential differences between the two individuals. During his campaign, Trump established himself as an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim candidate. The same cannot be said of O’Leary who is the child of immigrant parents. Furthermore, I haven’t seen any evidence that suggests that O’Leary takes the same demeaning and threatening attitude towards women that has been shown over and over about President Trump.
The Forbes article for instance, contrasts O’Leary and Kellie Leitche. Leitche’s candidacy was based much more closely on the model presented by Trump (anti-immigration was at the forefront). As the article mentions, this is likely due to the savvy nature of Mr. O’Leary. Canada prides itself on a certain level of openness, and as Leitche’s message showed, a rhetoric akin to the message of Donald Trump is not as likely to work in the Canadian political environment. It is clear that, in terms of message and rhetoric, Mr. O’Leary and President Trump are not the same. I’d even argue that, when it comes to the basis of “social issues” (women’s rights, immigrant issues, indigenous rights, LGBTQ+ rights, etc.) Mr. O’Leary is far and away different from Mr. Trump.
However, positioning politics into two categories of “economic” and “social” is a reductionistic move which doesn’t account for the intersectional nature of their policies. While Mr. O’Leary might not be openly anti-indigenous, or anti-immigrant, or anti-women, these articles fail to account for the impact that O’Leary’s economic proposals of austerity (which we’ll get to below) will have on these populations. One does not need to be openly misogynistic in order to propose policy that is detrimental to women (for instance). Furthermore, these articles fail to account for one of the area’s in which O’Leary and Trump are on the same page: The environment. This final area of politics has, without doubt an impact on all other areas of government. Environmental policy is the most important legislation to be made by current and future governments. It impacts not only today, but the future of human and non-human life on earth.
In any case, I think that its important to examine what sorts of policies O’Leary might be likely to engage in. As a tool for this exercise, I thought that it would be useful to look at the actions which President Trump has enacted in his first 3 days in office as of Tuesday. (Thanks to me friend Dean for this list):
- Lied about the size of his inauguration crowd through his press secretary under the guise of “alternative facts”
- Pushed through the passage of legislation that disparages indigenous peoples. Including, but not limited to a pipeline that Trump is invested in
- Defunding of the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities (which, to be honest, looks like a move towards a faux austerity, rather than populism)
- Threatened relationships with the USA’s closest allies (Canada and Mexico) by threatening the status of the North American Free Trade Agreement
- Cutting government funding to healthcare (repealing the APA)
Of these actions, which again, took place during the first 3 days of Trump’s presidency, which might Canadians expect if O’Leary was Prime Minister? There is nothing to suggest that O’Leary would like about inauguration numbers, so we can eliminate number one. Furthermore, given the status of Canada on the world stage, number 4 seems unlikely as well. Third, despite cuts to government being on the agenda, Canadians see our health care system with a sense of pride, so an outright appeal not only seems like political suicide, but an impossibility (though cuts in that area do seem possible under an O’Leary government).
With those three options out of the way, we might look at the two options which can be seen as examples of things that an O’Leary government would likely enact. Thus far in his campaign, O’Leary has focused on cutting government through austerity measures and reducing taxation. His ideology seems to be that of a trickle down economic theory which has been popular in right wing circles since Ronal Reagan (and has been repeatedly shown to help the wealthy, rather than the working or middle class). Thus, it seems like that, given the opportunity, Mr. O’Leary would defund arts and humanities research. Now, if you don’t think that the arts and humanities are worth funding, I’m not going to try and convince you otherwise in this blog post. I’ll just say that art and the humanities allows for the development in culture that brings about positive political and social change. Cutting funding to these areas of study would ultimately harm the future of Canada in politico-social ways.
The issue that may be more concerning is the pushing through of the Dakota Access Pipeline. In his video “I’m not Donald Trump” O’Leary suggests that he would curb regulation, cut taxes (likely refering to Trudeau’s governments increase on those making >$200,000/year), and cut the recent carbon tax. It seems likely that O’Leary’s pro-business demeanour would be in favour of something a kin to the Dakota Access Pipeline. It should be noted that this wouldn’t really be a change from the current Canadian government (who also deserve a heap of criticism) who recently passed Pipeline expansion. O’Leary might not be openly xenophobic or sexist, but if we look at the policy he is likely to enact, he likely thinks that economic policy is more important than the lives of the indigenous people’s that are harmed by pipelines. When electing a leader we need to ask ourselves the following question: When push comes to shove, do we want a leader who will fight for the rights of oppressed populations or do we want a leader who will continue the oppression of these people’s in order to obtain economic prosperity? In the case of Kevin O’Leary (and, unfortunately, Trudeau as well) it seems that economics will win over human rights
In this way, O’Leary has a striking resemblance to not only Trump, but other right wing movements. His goals seem focused on building up the workforce through trickle down economic measures by lowering regulation on business while simultaneously cutting taxes and public funding.
O’Leary’s Stated Goal: The Destruction of Trudeau’s Legacy
Again, in his video “I’m not Donald Trump”, O’Leary states that he “was amazed when Trudeau didn’t pivot after the Trump election in the US. He kept on taxing, kept on with carbon, kept on with regulations and as a result there are no more jobs in this country. It’s a very uncompetitive place now, and I’m going to go to Ottawa and fix it in 2019.” It is interesting that O’Leary suggests that taxation and regulation have led to the decrease of jobs in the country. It is unlikely that Trudeau’s policies have anything to do with unemployment, which has remained fairly stead since 2014 (after the highest rate in the last 15 years in 2010). We do see a dip in GDP over the last two years, but this is likely the result of the drop in the cost of oil, rather than any of the policies that Trudeau has put into place (See also: 1, 2). One might recall that the failing economy which led to the ousting of Stephen Harper (who O’Leary resembles as well) were the result of these same failing oil prices.
O’Leary has been cited as saying of Trudeau “I’m going to unwind everything [Trudeau] did when I get in there,” O’Leary promised. “Canadians won’t remember his name after I’m there for 100 days.” This seems fairly reminiscent of the current republican platform which – rather than positing their own political agenda – is completely centred on repealing everything that Obama has done over the last 8 years (i.e. Getting rid of environmental protections, gutting funding to the arts and humanities, dismantling the affordable care act, to name a few). What does a similar move look like in Canada? What would O’Leary undermine or overturn that Trudeau has done?
Well, what things has Trudeau done during his time in office? He’s implemented a new tax thresh hold for households making over $200,000/year (all income over $200,000 is taxed at 33%) while instituting a tax cut on the 2nd tax bracket or “middle class” (those making between $44,701 and $89,401 pay at a 20.5% rate on that income, down from a previous 22%).It is unclear whether O’Leary would reverse the 2nd tax bracket back to 22%, but it seems likely, given his rhetoric, that he would do away with the 5th tax bracket and 33% rate. In terms of corporate tax rates (currently at a federal rate 26.5 percent – which admittedly doesn’t include provincial rates which add 11-16%), these taxes have gone up since the Harper government, but are still much lower than any point between 1987 and 2009. It is unclear if O’Leary would reduce corporate tax rates further, and it is unclear how a reduction in these tax rates would benefit anyone other than large business and business owners. The argument might be made that more business would move to Canada in the event of a cut in corporate tax, but the tax would likely need to be an amount that would cripple the federal government.
In terms of environmental issues, Trudeau has a mixed resume. On the one hand he has introduced a carbon tax, but at the same time has approved two oil pipelines in BC. Given his pro-business, anti-regulation stance, it seems likely that O’Leary would do away with the Carbon tax, while allowing the pipelines to continue. Under an O’Leary government, Canada would likely return to Harper era draconian environmental policies. In doing so, O’Leary, along with Trump, signals our future doom through the disposal of environmental protection. Mr O’Leary doesn’t seem to believe in climate change, and his stance toward environmental protections reflect that. With 2016 being the hottest year on record (for the third year in a row), along with the fact that we will likely blow past the 2 degree thresh hold sooner rather than later, it seems that we’ll likely begin to see the impacts of climate change in our lifetime. In fact, many have argued that aspects of the Syrian Refugee Crisis can be tied to climate change.ith the world heating up, we will likely experience more droughts leading to further humanitarian crises and concerns. We need leadership that takes climate change seriously. Even if our neighbours to the South do not believe that we need to live ecologically, Canada needs to stand up for our values of care for creation. An O’Leary government will lead to an increase in destruction of the earth, not a curbing of our already problematic policies.
Furthermore, if we stay with actions surrounding the refugee crises, Canada was one of the Western leaders in bringing in refugees. Under the #WelcomeRefugees initiative, Canada has accepted almost 40,000 refugees.While this includes a mix of private and publicly funded support, does it not seem likely that a government and Prime Minister promoting austerity would cut funding from any refugee program? This isn’t to suggest that O’Leary will turn to the xenophobic rhetoric of Trump and others, but it does suggest that there will be cuts to public support of refugees.
In any case, if we care about concerns over ecological, social, or humanitarian concerns, we need to be wary of someone like Kevin O’Leary who promotes economic prosperity over everything else. We must not succumb to the ideology that everything can be reduced to its economic potential and efficiency. If Canadians care about these issues at all, they should not entertain the possibility of a person like Mr. O’Leary as Prime Minister of Canada. Many are frustrated with the Trudeau government – for legitimate and illegitimate reasons – but moving towards a politics that further prioritizes the economy over everything else is not a solution, its simply adding to the problem.
Last week, I attempted to present an understanding of what constitutes violence. I’m still not sure that I did a good job of this, but for now, we’ll work with the definition that I gave near the end of last week’s post: That violence goes beyond physical violence and is working in the civil wars of structural violence. These forms of violence can, together, be understood as any attack which harms a person, an animal or the planet. Throughout the rest of this piece, I plan to use the term “Zoe” (adopted from Rosi Braidotti’s The Posthuman) as a word for these three categories (persons, animals, planet) in its uniting of life. This week I hope to explore the possibility of nonviolence. It should be noted, that this is not a discussion of whether or not we should be non-violent, but rather whether we can actually be nonviolent.
In conversation, pacifism is often presented in a violence/non-violence dichotomy. I wish to suggest that this sort of view is reductionist, and doesn’t take a full account of the actual phenomena of violence in the world. I wish to return to the example from last week that is given by Terry Eagleton in Why Marx was Right. Unlike last week, this week I’ll actually provide the full example. Eagleton makes the following claim about pacifism:
“The only pacifist worth arguing with is one who rejects violence absolutely. And that means rejecting not just wars or [violent] revolutions, but refusing to tap an escaped murderer smartly over the skull, enough to stun but not kill him, when he is about to turn his machine gun on a classroom of small children. Anyone who was in a situation to do this and failed to do so would have a lot of explaining to do at the next meeting of the PTA” (Eagleton, Chapter 8, Why Marx was Right)
While I’m not sure that I completely agree with Eagleton’s dismissal of pacifism outright, I do think that this is an example that is worth exploring. It is worth exploring precisely because of Slavoj’s Zizek’s sentiment that “Sometimes doing nothing is the most violent thing to do” (a sentiment humorously portrayed in this video). In the scenario granted by Eagleton, each of us is presented with an either/or. We can either use violence to stop the murderer, or we can do nothing and allow him to kill the children. Neither of these examples strikes me as inherently “non-violent”. In fact, attacking the murdered strikes me as much less violent than not acting. In this way, Zizek is right, performing a violent act is much less violent than not acting.
This is, of course, an extreme example. It is an example that we will most likely never find ourselves in, and its presentation as an either/or suggests that its scope is extremely limited. But, I think that we can expand the example to see how we face similar decisions within modern capitalist society. Last week we explored the structural violence that takes place in the world, and I used Lazzarato and Alliez’s article “To Our Enemies” to suggest that we are always already acting within a multiplicity of civil wars. This structural violence places us in the midst of a conflict where all of our actions are already imbued with violence. We can, of course, attempt to take measures that lead to the least amount of violence, but even then we are still performing violent actions.
I think that our goal should be to reduce violence against Zoe, but the unfortunate reality of a world with imbued violence is that any action we make already is violent against zoe. Timothy Morton gives the example in a number of his lectures where he says something along the lines of if we’re being ecologically kind to bunny rabbits, we’re not being so kind to bunny rabbit parasites (I’ll update if I find the actual quote). The act of being kind to one aspect of zoe, can be violent against another. A classic example of this would be the use of pesticides. By helping plants thrive, we perform violence against bugs that would typically eat those plants. This isn’t to say whether pesticides are good or bad, but only to recognize that in performing actions that intend to help, we are often violent in other ways.
So this leads me to the question about the possibility of non-violence. If the idea is to not perform violent action in any way, then non-violence strikes me as an impossibility. No matter the action performed, some violence will occur. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to be non-violent. I think that our ultimate goal should be to live in ways that are as ecologically peaceful as possible. This is to say that we should attempt to reduce violence against Zoe to the extent that we are capable.
Eagleton, Terry. Why Marx was Right. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2011.
Note: This post contains spoilers for the film Inglorious Basterds
Since reading Deleuze and Guattari’s “What is Philosophy” earlier this year, my engagement with art has been profoundly impacted Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of the subject in that book. D/G think about art in a way that is different from most engagements with the subject that I have seen. For many, a piece of art is imbued with meaning from a variety of factors such as the artist, the cultural environment, the contemporary zeitgeist, or what have you. For Deleuze and Guattari, art does not contain meaning, rather art serves as a means of preservation. For Deleuze and Guattari, art preserves “a bloc of sensations, that is to say, a compound of percepts and affects” (WTP 164). The key to art, for Deleuze and Guattari, is its ability to produce sensations in bodies. They key element of this production are the affective capabilities of a piece of art.
The concept of “affect” is one that Deleuze and Guattari borrow from Spinoza. Spinoza defines affect as “affections of the body by which the body’s power of acting is increased or diminished, aided or restrained, and at the same time the ideas of these affections” (The Ethics, 11/139). According to Spinoza, “the human body can be affected in many ways in which its power of acting is increased or diminished, and also in others which render its power of acting neither greater nor less” (11/140). This means that various affects, such as love, hate, anger, hunger, etc., impact our bodies in certain ways that shape the desire or will of the body. The body then responds to these affects. Spinoza gives a number of examples:
“the infant believes he freely wants the milk; the angry child that he wants vengeance; and the timid, flight. So the drunk believes it is from a free decision of the mind that he speaks the things he later, when sober, wishes he had not said. So the madman, the chatterbox, the child, and a great many people of this kind believe they speak from a free decision of the mind, when really they cannot contain their impulse to speak” (11/143).
In each of these examples the actor believes that they are acting freely, but really they are acting as a result of affects which are acting upon their bodies. The infant is affected by hunger, the drunk is affected by alcohol, etc. People are conscious of their actions, so they believe themselves free, but there are other actions which are acting upon their bodies in ways that shape their desire, and ultimately their action.
Deleuze and Guattari expand on the idea of the affect. Affects are central to their notion of becomings. Becomings take place as the affects affecting bodies. They describe affect in their “Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal…” Plateau “For the affect is not a personal feeling, nor is it a characteristic; it is the effectuation of a power of the pack that throws the self into upheaval and makes it reel” (ATP 240). This might not be the most clear description, but the affect is an action or power upon a body. The power of the pack (a multiplicity) which throws itself into a body to cause some action to take place. Affects take place between bodies. One body affects another in shifting its desire or will. The result of the affect is a becoming: “Affects are precisely these non-human becomings of man. just as precepts – including the town – are nonhuman landscapes of nature. Not a ‘minute of the world passes’ says Cézanne that we will preserve if we do not ‘become that minute’” (WiP 169). What this means, roughly, is that a body is infected by another body at a minor level, which shifts the being. This intermingling of bodies is the affect affecting the body, creating a new sensation.
Before we continue, it is important to realize that these sensations are not conscious. Affect, here, is different from the use of affect as an emotional state. If we look a moment at Anti-Oedipus, a text that doesn’t actually touch on affects directly, we can see an example of how the affect works at a level below the intellect. A central question for AO is Reich’s question of “Why did the masses desire fascism?” (AO 345). D/G deny Reich’s answer, which relied on the ideological, subjective, irrational and negative criteria. The cause of this desire took place at a lower level: “There is an unconscious libidinal investment of desire that does not necessarily coincide with the preconscious investment of interest and that explains how the latter can be perturbed and perverted in ‘the most somber organization,’ below ideology” (AO 345). The shift in desire takes place at a pre-ideological level – on the level of affect. It is the rhythms of the Fascists, the rhetoric and the speeches which acted directly upon the bodies of the masses. These rhythms affected the bodies in such a way that their desire was predisposed towards fascism.
At face value this concept – that it was the sounds and rhythms acting upon the bodies of the people which shaped their will to desire fascism – seems absurd. However, if we look at an example in film it might begin to make a bit more sense. In the film Inglorious Basterds by Quinten Tarantino, there is a scene that takes place right after the Basterds (a group of American Jewish militants sent to Europe with the task of “Killin’ Nazi’s”) have defeated a group of Nazi soldiers. Three Nazi’s remain from the conflict, and the Basterds have taken them prisoner. Lt. Aldo Raine, played by Brad Pitt, interrogates the commanding officer of the Nazi. The commander refuses to answer Raine’s questions, so Raine threatens him with the “Bear Jew” – a member of the Basterds who “Bashes [Nazi] brains in with a baseball bat.” After the commander continues to refuse, the music begins to swell up, and the “Bear Jew” – Sgt. Donny Donowitz, played by Eli Roth – comes into the scene and, at climax of the music, begins to beat the Nazi commander with a baseball bat. As he strikes the Nazi officer with the bat, the music stops, and Donowitz beats the Nazi soldier to death to the cheers of his comrades.
The horrifying aspect of this scene is that, as it is taking place, you begin to cheer for the man who is about to beat another human being to death with a baseball bat. The music wells up inside of you, affecting you in such a way that you want it to happen, you desire this horrifying event to occur. There are multiple things acting upon you in that moment: The music, the events of the film leading up to this occurrence, the smugness of the Nazi officer, one’s prior knowledge of the horrors committed by the Nazi’s upon the Jewish people, etc. All of these things culminate in our desire to watch a man beaten to death with a baseball bat. Finally, it happens; the music stops; the viewer comes back to reality. We watch a man beaten to death on the screen, to the cheers of others. We hear ourselves cheering and are disgusted that we could cheer for a man to be beaten by a bat. Those things – the music, the events leading up to the killing – are things that have affected us. These affects have shaped our desire. They are affective powers which intermingle with our bodies and render us to act in a certain way. Tarantino’s films are particularly proficient at doing this – moving the audience to desire things that are contrary to the ways that they usually feel.
Returning to art, Deleuze and Guattari argue in Anti-Oedipus that “art, as soon as it attains its own grandeur, its own genius, creates chains of decoding and deterritorailization that serve as the foundation for desiring machines, and make them function.” (p. 368). Art opens up new lines of flight and escape; it is able to tear down – deterritorialize – the structures or territories that are built upon a body. Art, then, is able to create sensations that work upon the body, affecting it in various ways, in order to shape desire. This is brought forward even more in Deleuze and Guattari’s final text where, as mentioned near the beginning, they posit that the purpose of art is to preserve and create sensations. For D/G “Abstract art and conceptual art are two recent attempts to bring art and philosophy together, but they do not substitute the concept for the sensation; rather they create sensations and not concepts” (WiP 198). Through these sensations art is able to build monuments, but these monuments are different than we might initially thing. According to these authors “A monument does not commemorate or celebrate something that happened but confides to the ear of the future the persistent sensations that embody the event: the constantly renewed suffering of men and women, their re-created protestations, their constantly resumed struggle” (WiP 176-177). The purpose of art, then, is to create sensations and build monuments which perpetuate a struggle. Art’s purpose is to affect bodies in ways that shape desire. Art affects bodies – and effective art is art that more strongly affects our bodies.
As an exercise I’ve decided to think through the connections of two texts I’ve recently read: Adam Kotsko’s Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide to Late Capitalist Television and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty.
Kotsko’s book goes through a number of different types of ‘sociopaths’ – the schemer, the climber, and the enforcer – each with their own role in different areas of the television landscape. The sociopath, in television fiction (even pervading the world of ‘reality tv’) undermines social norms or mores through their lack of social consciousness. Kotsko argues that “our social orders are long-term strategies for dealing with each other, tools that are useful in a given time and place with no guarantee that they will last,”* and that the sociopath goes without following these social order for their own (or their families) advantage. The schemer – shown through characters like Homer Simpson of the Simpsons and Eric Cartman of South Park – attempt to go around social norms in order to attain some short sighted goal; the climber – for example Don Draper of Mad Men – attempt to use the system as a means to climb within the system; while the enforcer – Jack Bauer of 24 – circumnavigate the system in order to save their “family” (in Jack’s case the United States as a stand in for family). In any case, these men (and, as Kotsko points out, they are all men) don’t function within the normal social mores in order to accomplish their goal.
As Kotsko suggests in his introduction, people living with sociopathy in real life are nothing like these characters. What is given in the sociopath of television is an idealized sociopath. It is interesting that in each of the cases Kotsko presents, the idealized sociopath abuses their lack of social consciousness in order to obtain some aim. It is their very lack of social consciousness which allows them to succeed. Kotsko suggests that sociopathy can be seen in opposition to awkwardness. That “the sociopath, then, whose lack of social connection makes him or her a master manipulator of social norms” (p. 14). I agree with the first part of the sentence – that the sociopath lacks social connection – but not the second – that this allows them to manipulate social norms.
This brings me to the character of Howard Belsey (On Beauty), a 57 year old art history professor at a university called Wellington in Massachusetts. Howard would seem to be the embodiment of one who lacks social connection, but without the ability to manipulate social norms. Howard is a character who one comes to both hate and sympathize with throughout the novel. By cheating on, and subsequently lying to his wife, Howard is a character deserving of contempt. Yet, one is repeatedly shown that Howard is a character who lacks the world outside himself. He lacks the ability to communicate with his family and friends in a way outside of his academic jargon. As one character tells Howard near the end of the book “…you just need to deal with the fact that you’re not the only person in this world” (p. 390). This lack of understanding is a motif repeated throughout the book, and one begins to sympathize with Howard’s inability to truly communicate with anyone through his lack of social connection.
It is precisely this lack of social connection which leads Howard to failure. He is unable to truly apologize to his wife without some sort of theoretical backing – which always seems to lead to more animosity. Furthermore, his self-centredness lead him to cheat on his wife a second time which results in his wife leaving him near the end of the book. Yet despite all that he has done, Howard insists to his children that this is no more than a temporary separation (p. 434) Despite the pain that he has cost his wife, Howard is unable to truly sympathize with her or her situation which ultimately lead to his failure in his marriage.
We see further evidence of this lack of social connection impeding on Howard in his academic career. At 57 and with 10 years on the job, Howard is stuck in a position of limbo within his university. Despite his age and time as a professor, Howard has failed to attain tenure (p. 438). This failure to attain tenure can, at least to some degree, be based on the way Howard is alienated from many of his colleagues through the lack of social connection and social norms. Even his friends, such as Claire Malcolm, acknowledge the lack of the social in Howard: “It was her old joke that Howard was only human in a theoretical sense.” (p. 225).
But is Howard a sociopath? He does live in what seems to be a perpetual state of awkwardness which Kotsko suggests in in contrast with the sociopath. Howard’s scornful reaction to the Glee club (p. 348), as well as the awkwardness he displays with Victoria(318, 390), suggest a man who is self-centred, yet not unaware of how his actions will impact others before he acts. It is as if Howard wishes to be a part of the normal social discourse, but is incapable of doing so. To make things worse, his self-centredness exacerbates his problems.
The book juxtaposes this strange, awkward sociopath with the more traditional sociopathic model of Monty Kipps, Howard’s academic rival. Kipps is a climber who uses the system to his own advantage, undermining Howard’s liberal movements and arguments with his own conservative agenda. Throughout the book Kipps is shown to have success, while Howard fails. Yet, it is revealed throughout that Kipps, for all his pandering to Christian ethics of family, is just as self-motivated as Howard (if not more so). It is suggested throughout the book that Kipps cares little for his wife, and near the end of the book it is revealed that Kipps, like Howard, is cheating on his wife with a student (p. 418). Yet, despite his sociopath tendencies, Kipps is able to go abuse the social norms in order to get ahead while Howard is left behind. Kipps, in the same way as a character like Don Draper, is able to game the system in order to get ahead within it.
It’s interesting to think about a character like Howard in light of Kotsko’s analysis. Where does Howard fit in? Is he awkward, is he a sociopath, is he somewhere in between? In contrast to Monty Kipps, Howard Belsey does not fit the model of schemer, climber, or enforcer. Yet, he retains the lack of social consciousness which is a component of the sociopathic mold. In some sense, this leaves him as a character in limbo – like the sociopath in his inability to follow and conform to social norms, but also awkward in that inability. It may be the case the Howard functions more like an actual person struggling with being a sociopath, rather than the idealized version, while Howard remains in the role of idealized sociopath.
Quotes from the following sources:
Kotsko, Adam. Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide To Late Capitalist Television. Reprint edition. John Hunt Publishing, 2012.
Smith, Zadie. On Beauty: A Novel. First Printing edition. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.
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:
I’ve recently been reading some work by Paul Virilio, as his work deals with the field of information in some really interesting ways. Over the past couple of days I was able to read a conversation between Virilio and Sylvere Lotringer which has been published under the title The Accident of Art. In the text, Virilio touches on why his theory appears negative, which is something that I had been concerned about in his The Information Bomb. According to Virilio being negative is necessary because it allows us to actually seriously deal with the negative aspects of the world. Virilio actually posits that without the negative there is no positive – that an accident, or negative move must occur before change can take place. For this text in particular, the discussion centre’s around what the speakers see as the static nature of contemporary art. Virilio suggests that art lacks an anchor which can allow it to move towards new forms of knowledge. That art cannot move towards new knowledge and new art without some anchor which is grounded in negation.
Interestingly (though perhaps not, considering who is reading the text), this discussion made me think of the church. These thoughts really began with a longer quote from the text itself. When discussing brokenness, Virilio states:
“I can’t be myself part time, by half measures. I just can’t. It’s not easy to say is, but I love bodies, and bodies are always painful. They tell me the body is pleasure, and I say: you must be joking! Get old and you’ll see. Bodies are pain, and pain is love. You can’t separate them. I can’t hide the fact that I converted to Christianity, so something in me is attracted to the sinner. For me, a person only exists through his [sic] flaws. I have always been fascinated by assassins, prostitutes, etc. I feel like I’m one of them, because if you get rid of original sin, there’s nothing left. You have no more humanity. My Christianity is connected to that. It’s Jeremiah, not Isaiah” 
Humanity arrives in the brokenness, not perfection. One might expand this to say that, without imperfection, there is nothing to love. One does not love perfection, but rather imperfection. I might go so far as to say that we love someone because they are broken, not in spite of it. It is in the pain of living that love is experienced in its rawest, purest form. Love exists in between broken individuals.
This idea of love in the brokenness relates to a couple of conversations I had over the weekend regarding the church. These conversations asked how the church I am a part of – a mainline protestant congregation, with an aging population, and almost no one younger than me – can survive. My answer to that question might be that the church needs to go further in embracing the brokenness. My understanding of the church – both before these conversations, as well as impacted by them – is that it is a community of broken believers in love. Through the brokenness that occurs in our lives we love. To invert the passages from 1st Corinthians, it is not faith, but rather love that has the potential to move mountains. Together as a community of believers – who embrace each other in the love of our brokenness rather than in spite of it – we have the ability to change the world, and to change the church. This broken collection of people who comprise the church is beautiful. And yet, it is still dying.
I think that part of the reason the church is dying is because the perception is that the church does not embrace the negative. People do not see a church that embrace the brokenness, rather they see an institution which strives towards some alienating form of perfection, while at the same time shunning those who do not fit into that model. The example that comes to my mind most clearly is the outright denial of certain groups, particularly those in the LGBTQ+ community, but by no means reducible to those communities . Many, instead of embracing brokenness, have instead embraced a notion of perfection, and if you do not fit into that image of perfection (White, heteronormative, cisgendered, etc) you do not belong. Now, while it is the case that not all church have been explicit with this move away from brokenness and towards perfection, I would argue that all churches have are implicit in this move. Churches are implicitly responsible when they do not condemn the actions of those who embrace perfection.
But the story does not end here. Rather, if we follow Virilio, the negative here can be used as an anchor to move towards something new. The negative can allow us to move towards the positive. Like the humans who comprise the church, the church itself is broken. There is room for growth. There is room for the church to condemn its idle silence. There is room for the church to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, to own up to its explicit and implicit oppression. I believe that this is necessary for the church in order to move forward. By accepting that the church itself, and the people comprising it are broken, and that they are broken together. That, out of this brokenness can flow a love so strong and so beautiful that it can change not only the church, but the world. We’re human because of the brokenness, not in spite of it. Let us embrace that humanness and that brokenness in a loving embrace.
Finally, why the church? Why not let the church die? Why do I wish to embrace the church? I think that these are relevant questions. And, to be honest, I don’t think that the church is right for everyone. But, I do think that the church does have the history and the potential to move towards love in a profound way. It might not always be done right, but the wrongness can allow for new movement to take place towards something better. The negative allows the affirmation of something beautiful to occur. Perhaps it is just the conservative in me, but I think that the church does have a potential for beautiful and radical love, and, at least to me, that is worth holding onto.
 Lotringer, S., & Virilio, P. (2005). The accident of art. New York, N.Y : Cambridge, Mass: Semiotext(e) ; Distributed by MIT Press. p. 46.
[2 I in no way, shape or form mean to imply that these communities, or the individuals comprising them are broken because of their sexuality or gender, or lack thereof. Sexuality and gender have nothing to do with sin, and no one is sinful because of what they identify as. That said, everyone is broken, everyone sins, and everyone needs love. This is because we are all human.