On Gentrification

... : Historic Second Ave. undergoes transformation in Cass Corridor
A photo within Cass Corridor

In terms of gentrification, I sometimes feel that my life and belief stand in contradiction. Ideologically, I stand opposed to gentrification, yet, with my current living situation, I could be seen as an agent of gentrification. The neighbourhood within Detroit that I live in is signified with two titles: Cass Corridor and Midtown. Cass Corridor has been known “as a poor downtrodden area” by locals to Detroit, and a history of the corridor can be read here. Recent movements, (spearheaded by wealthy elites such as Dan Gilbert) have led to increasing rebranding efforts in key neighbourhoods near and within the downtown core. The Cass Corridor has faced similar rebranding efforts. The neighbourhood has been renamed “Midtown” in an attempt to make it appear more friendly to outsiders than the old Cass Corridor. This rebranding is partially responsible for the influx of wealth into the Corridor which has displaced populations who have historically lived here  including the homeless the artists, the musicians, the workers, the elderly, and the mentally ill.

I currently live in this area of Detroit, in one of the older buildings that has not yet been renovated. Yet, I could still be classified as a wealthy young professional (though the wealthy part might not be the best designation at the moment, I still have the spending power and relative safety net that most people do not). Because of this designation, I have sometimes pondered whether or not I am morally complicit in the gentrification efforts of this community. I am an outsider who moved into this community, and without a doubt I’ve taken up a space that could have been filled with someone else who has lived here for a lot longer than I have. I have wondered about my place in this community and this city, and I think that it is important for me to analyze the way that gentrification works in order to understanding my role in the gentrifying efforts of Detroit. Do I have responsibility in this or not?

I think that an examination of how gentrification works can be useful in attempting to determine who has moral responsibility within the system. This exercise will, of course, be simplistic and not touch on the more nuanced and complex realities that exist within systems of gentrification, but it can allow us to determine how gentrification generally works. Cities are composed of a variety of neighbourhoods, each with varying cultures, peoples and costs. People tend to live near people who are similar to them. This takes place because of sorting efforts which take place as a result of various socio-economic phenomena. I want to suggest that there are both “organic” and “planned” sorting efforts. For instance, we can see that people of a certain culture or racial identity tend to live together. On the one hand, a more organic sorting takes place in that people who move to a new country tend to want to live near people who share their culture and language. As a result of this, we see places like “China Town” and “Little Italy” pop up within urban spaces. Yet at the same time there are “planned” sorting efforts which result in similar circumstances. Historically, we see many neighbourhoods implement rules that restrict the neighbourhood of only people who are white. In both of these cases people are sorted based on conditions that they don’t really have that much control over. In terms of “organic” cultural sorting efforts, one could move to a neighbourhood with no relation to their culture, but given the language barrier this seems close to being impossible. The conditions of culture are impossible to ignore as a strong factor in this sorting effort. In terms of a planned sorting efforts, these flows are impossible to ignore. One cannot move into a neighbourhood that one is barred from by law. Thus, it is material conditions, rather than intellectual actions, which lead these sorting efforts to occur. On top of cultural sorting efforts, we also see class based sorting efforts. It would be a mistake to suggest that the cultural and the economic sorting efforts to not intersect – they do – but given the simplistic nature of this exercise, I will not go into detail about this here. Economic sorting efforts would seem to be more organic than planned. Typically, people will move into an area that they can afford. Thus, people of similar economic wealth tend to congregate in similar areas. The material flows of wealth tend to  determine where someone will live. A city is composed of a multiplicity of little neighbourhoods which come about through a variety of sorting mechanisms. These neighbourhoods are divided in terms of wealth and culture (and probably other factors as well). Gentrification begins to occurs when a poorer area’s culture begins to be transformed by more wealthy interests. This tends to occur in a number of stages. First, poorer, creative types (often white), tend to move into a lower income (often non-white) neighbourhoods. These creative types may be motivated by a number of things (living authentically, the thrill of a different world, or even a fictional “blank slate”) but often the most prominent factor is cheap rent. Poorer artist types, looking for cheap rent go and buy or rent property within a poorer area of town (which, because racism has led people of colour to, generally, receive less payment for their labour, tend to be predominated by people of colour). These poorer white artists move into the community and begin to transform the space by transforming the art and culture. This creative class transforms the area into a more trendy, bohemian space. Others white people see the area not as it was, but now as a trendy area that they can move into. Wealthy land owners see this, and use it as an opportunity to buy property and transform the space by creating new housing and business that wealthier white professionals can purchase and frequent. Often (as is the case in with Cass Corridor/Midtown, as well as the transformation of Core City to West Corktown) these wealthy business people will attempt to rebrand a space in order to make it more appealing to young, wealthy professionals. This removes negative connotation from the neighbourhood. All of this results in land and rent prices rising in the area, which also raises property task. These rises in cost lead to a forcing out of community members who have been living in the area for decades. The history of the community and neighbourhood is effectively erased and replaced by a  trendy white faux utopia. An act of artisanal imperialism.

Given all of this, who is at fault in this equation? Who should be held morally responsible. Most of the individuals within this system of gentrification are not attempting to actively gentrify an area and drive those who have lived there out. Instead, people are driven by the material flows which force them to take certain economic actions. Outside of the efforts of capital to capitalize on a gentrifying and rebranding effort, it is difficult to place blame on individuals within gentrification efforts. Rather, when considering gentrification we must consider that it – like racism, sexism, transphobia, and other instances of oppression – is the result of the systems of oppression that exist within our societal spheres. People are reacting to material flows, and these flows exist within systems and machines of oppression which result in unintended results of gentrification. Thus, while it seems easy to blame individuals for gentrification, it would be better to focus on the primary cause of its creation: flows of capitalism. Once we see these issues as systemic we can stop blaming each other and start looking at the root of the problem.


Returning to Horseshoe Theory

A couple of weeks ago, I made a Facebook post complaining about someone using horseshoe theory in an argument regarding fascism. For those who aren’t familiar with the theory. Horseshoe theory believes that the political spectrum looks like a horseshoe with the “far right” and the “far left” actually being quite close together.

File:Political spectrum horseshoe model.svg - Wikimedia Commons
A diagram of horseshoe theory.

Ultimately, it is a theory used by centrists to attempt to persuade others (and themselves) that centrism is a superior political theory to politics both on the left and the right. Proponents of the theory will often turn to the authoritarian regimes of fascist Germany and communist USSR to suggest that, at their ridges, communism and fascism are essentially the same. Yet, this betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of communism and fascism, those two historical examples, and the political left and right. Fascism retains ultranationalism, xenophobia, patriarchy, protectionist trade, strict hierarchical enforcement (i.e. race and class hierarchies), and a mixed/privatized economy. This was the case in fascist Germany where Hitler promised the bourgeois that he would outlaw labour unions in his rise to power.

“Hitler kept his promise to capital. After being declared Chancellor in January 1933 he outlawed both workers’ parties and the trade unions within a few months. Thousands of Social Democrats, Communists and trade unionists were arrested and murdered.”(Source)

Nazi Germany did not attempt to socialize the economy as proponents of horseshoe theory might have you believe. They were proponents of privatized industry – something far away from the socialist approaches in the USSR. Even though I don’t believe that the USSR represents an actual example of communism (particularly with and after Stalin it functioned as state capitalism), it didn’t hold ultranationalism, xenophobia, patriarchy, protectionist trade, strict hierarchical enforcement and a mixed/privatized economy as central tenants of its ideology (though it may have practiced some of those things). The only real similarity between the two regimes was that they were authoritarian. Proponents of Horseshoe theory might use this to suggest that authoritarianism is intrinsic to both the far right and the far left in an attempt to prop up their theory, but this is absurd. It reveals a complete ignorance of multiple political ideologies on both the right and the left: most notably anarchist or autonomous ideologies on the far left which completely shun any institutional political authority.

Thinking about the horseshoe theory, I’ve come to think that this discussion comes about because of a larger error which is taking place. I’ve come to see the idea of a “political spectrum” in general as one that is, itself, problematic. The political spectrum is not a fixed entity, and political theory or ideology do not need to condition themselves to fit into its structure. Horseshoe theory attempts to fit all of the political into a neat little classical liberal box which believes that all political ideology flows out of liberal/conservative dichotomy. Horseshoe theory reduces all of political ideology to notions of liberty (both social and economic, to varying degrees), but political ideologies tend to not fit into these structures. Both “leftist” and “rightist” politics should not be forced into the categories of “more liberty” or “less liberty”, but rather should be understood under the nuanced positions of each theory or ideology.

Attempts to map the political spectrum can get pretty messy…

Political ideologies do not need to neatly fit within a spectrum of the political for the spectrum itself is no more than a mere taxonomy, a device for organizing knowledge of various ideologies. To suggest that it is otherwise – thus granting the political spectrum ontological priority over political ideologies – would be to render the political spectrum a transcendental property. This is absurd. There is a multiplicity of political ideologies that are disparate from one another in a multiplicity of ways. These cannot be nicely mapped onto a structure that attempts to rule them. The ideologies exist prior to the structure, and the structure simply seeks to understand them.

Is this not true of most taxonomic classification? That they are useful as organizing devices, but fall flat on their faces when taken as universals?

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


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.

On Affect: Doctor Strange and A Man Escaped

Note: This post contains spoilers for both Doctor Strange and A Man Escaped.

Last week, I wrote a post which examined how the concept of affect, as given in Deleuze and Guattari’s work, pertains to art. Deleuze and Guattari suggest that the purpose of art is to create sensations and build monuments which perpetuate a struggle. Today, I want to compare and contrast two films – A Man Escaped (1956) and Doctor Strange (2016) – by writing about my experience of watching these films. In this way I hope to try and explore the ways that these films might have affected my body. I understand that this exercise is, from the beginning, doomed to failure. Affect is pre-subjective, so attempting to look at the results of affect through subjective experience. Thus, this would be an ill-fated project from the start. With that acknowledged, I’d like to begin on this project, exploring where it might bring us.

These two films have nothing to do with one another. Doctor Strange was released this year, with a budget of approximately $165 million, is a superhero film starring Hollywood regulars Bennedict Cumberbatch as the titular character, Tilda Swinton as his mentor “The Ancient One” and Mads Mikkelson (who is undoubtedly never going to match up to his role as Hannibal) as his foe Kaecilius. In the film, Doctor Strange – a pretentious neurosurgeon turned time and material bending sorcerer – who must tap into his mythical abilities in order to save the world. It was released, to much fanfare, in IMAX and 3D. The film features state of the art surrealistic computer generated effects which allow it to create mythical and futuristic realities full of mind blowing images of radiant and bright colours. A Man Escaped, on the other had, is a 1956 war drama starring François Leterrier as the main character Le Lietenant Fontaine, a french soldier in a Nazi war camp after being captured for blowing up a bridge. It was filmed in black and white, and the majority of the film takes place on two or three sets: Fontaine’s room, the stairwell and hallway outside of his room, and the place where the prisoners wash themselves. The film centres around Fontaine’s planning and attempt to break out of prison.

Doctor Strange Costumes On Display At Marvel’s Comic-Con Stage

Doctor Strange is a film full of movements and speeds. The opening sequence is a prime example of this. This scene, which ranks among the films finest, features tightly choreographed combat combined with the mystical and surrealistic bending of reality. In this scene the Ancient One and Kaecillus fight over an object stolen from the Ancient One’s library. The fusion of elements lead to the characters battling on the streets of a city, while bending the rules of reality. It leads to a spectacular scene, full of stunning imagery. The whole thing is aided on by a pretty stereotypical blockbuster hollywood soundtrack, featuring epic music and combat sound.

Another scene of spectacular nature occurs when Strange first arrives in Nepal. After a car accident leaves his hands incapable of performing surgery, Strange spends all of his money attempting to fix his hands. Desperate and without much hope, Strange spends his last dollars travelling to Nepal to seek healing. When he arrives, the ancient one shows him the power of her magic, hurdling Strange through a visual tour de force of other dimensions and worlds of a multiplicity of colour and hallucinatory-esque design.Doctor Strange featured spectacular elements, effects, and sounds. In addition to the visuals the film contains witty dialogue, plot, and an exceptional soundtrack. The film blasts the audience through its story, until we reach the end, which relies on a clever maneuver of temporal manipulation. All of this I found quite entertaining, and yet, upon the closure of the film, I didn’t have a desire for more. I had enjoyed the film. I thought that it was one of the better Marvel films that I have seen. Yet, I didn’t feel that same draw, that same energy, that I had felt in A Man Escaped.

While Doctor Strange is a film of movements and speeds, A Man Escaped is a film of a stationary nature. A Man Escaped begins with Lt. Fontaine in a car beside a handcuffed man. As the car drives, Fontaine continuously glances at the door handle, hoping to escape. Eventually, at a stop, he opens the door and runs, but is tracked down by the Nazi officers. After this initial sequence, most of the film takes place at the Nazi prison where Fontaine is detained. Much of the plot focuses on Fontaine’s plan to escape, which is intensified when he learns that he will soon be put to death for blowing up a bridge. This plotting and planning all takes place in his cell and once-a-day cleaning break with other prisoners. While the film doesn’t present stunning visuals, action or movement, the suspense was able to draw me into the film. I felt myself actually frightened for Fontaine, and worrying that he was going to be caught. I honestly wasn’t sure whether the escape would be successful or not – whether he would be seen and have to run, whether his plans would be thwarted by and officer seeing his chiseling away at the door – and I found myself thoroughly drawn into the narrative.

Man Escaped | I | Film Review | Slant Magazine

When the film was over, I found myself desiring more. The film ends with Fontaine and his young partner, Jost, scaling the walls of the prison and escaping into the French countryside. What I desired was more. I wanted to know what happened next. Would the Germans capture the two escapees, would they go their own ways, would they find safe passage? The film didn’t end on a cliff hanger – the two men were able to safely get away from the prison – and yet, I desired more of the film. This desire did not come about on a conscious level, I can only think that the film – through the score, acting, script, or what have you – must have interacted with my body in ways that shaped my desire for more. Despite the stationary nature of the film – even large parts of their escape consist of playing a waiting game on the roof of the prison – it was able to affect my desire.

I think that a large part of this was the soundtrack of the film, which heavily features the Kyrie of Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor. This music draws one into its rhythms in order to help portray the overall feel of the film. If you have some time, I recommend giving it a listen. Close your eyes and let the music seep into you. Let the melancholic rhythms and voices touch and affect you.

As the song flows over one feels a slight melancholic hopefulness which burrows and affects us, allowing the song to shift us from being to becoming. This enables us to be drawn into the experience of Fontaine. Shaping our becomings and our desires at pre-intellectual levels. This song, along with the pace, acting, and overall arch of the film allow one to be drawn into the setting, film and era. They produce a desire for struggle – a struggle akin to the one that Fontaine performs while scaling and traversing the walls of the prison.

There are a couple of reasons I can see for the difference in feeling that were produced in me while watching the two films. A Man Escaped is a classic which is heavily aided by the aforementioned masterpiece of Mozart’s Great Mass in C-minor. This music, combined with the tension of Fontaine’s escape builds beautifully towards its end. A Man Escaped does an exceptional job of bringing the audience towards the climax of the film. It completely emerges the audience within a single act, with a single purpose. The entire film works towards Fontaine’s attempt at escape. The music, acting, story, setting and everything else strive towards this climax, this end. The film is teleological in the sense that it is always moving towards some end – though the audience is never sure if that end is tragic or hopeful for Fontaine.

Doctor Strange, because of its role in a larger universe, has the responsibility of creating a full origin story for the character, which leaves the film a bit more disjointed in its overall arch. It needed to establish multiple characters within a grander narrative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which extends far beyond the individual film. Furthermore, the purpose of this film is simply to entertain. Storytelling, at points, almost comes secondary to the effects and grand gestures. The purpose isn’t to draw one into the universe, but to show one the universe as a spectacle. In A Man Escaped, the audience is already fully immersed in the universe of the film – it is our universe, our reality. Doctor Strange must first establish its universe before attempting to immerse its audience.

This isn’t to say that Doctor Strange is a poor film. I quite enjoyed it. It is simply to say that A Man Escaped was a more successful film at bringing me into the world of the character and establishing desire within me.

On Affect

Note: This post contains spoilers for the film Inglorious Basterds

Asger Jorn 1961 'The Suicide of Mr. H', Institute of Arts, Detroit ...
Asger Jorn ‘The Suicide of Mr. H’ – at the Detroit Institute of Art

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.

Time Travel

Humanity is constantly in search of a new horizon. Capitalism has brought about a world in which newness, innovation, and transformation are considered the highest virtues. The contemporary marketplace moves at blistering speeds in search of the next horizon. This movement is reflected in our media. Through film, television, and writing, artists are able to depict phenomena which, while impossible in our contemporary settings, allow one to dream of a new horizon. Through narrative one is able to travel not only to the deepest depths of earth an space, but also to the present and the future through the magic of time travel.

One of the gifts of humanity is that we have the ability to dream. Time travel allows us to dream about things that seem an impossibility. Through our narrative media we enable each other to experience these dreams come to life through the text or the screen. Sometimes these dreams seem more understandable than others.

As I see it there are two types of time travel in fiction. There is linear time travel and nonlinear time travel. As far as I know these seem to correspond with a linear and nonlinear view of time. I don’t wish this post to become a rigorous undertaking of different philosophies of time (though I do think that this would be a fun exercise – particularly comparing each with a ancient and modern view of temporality), rather I hope to explore how time travel functions within fictional narratives.

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour… you’re gonna see some serious shit.” -Doc Brown, Back to the Future


The First time of understanding of time that we reach is a linear understanding. What I mean a “linear” understanding of time is that events happen within a linear space (such that A causes B causes C) within a linear line of time.

A perfect example of this is Back to the Future. When an event occurs in the past, its effect changes the future. In Back to the Future, Marty McFly uses a time machine, created by his friend Doc, in order to travel from the year 1985 to 1955. In going to the past, Marty’s actions have impact events as he knows him. Marty and the viewers connection to 1985 is given through a photograph that Marty has of him and his siblings. The seminal movement in the film occurs when Marty saves his father from being hit by his mother’s car. It is this moment which changes everything in the future. Marty’s father is never hit by his mother, thus she never takes him up to her room. Now Marty is the one whom his mother falls in love with. Ignoring the Oedipal implications of the entire film, Marty becomes the figure that his father was supposed to take.

If we posit that Marty’s father being hit by Marty’s mother constitutes point A in their relationship as husband and wife, every event that occurred after this event is, hence force, changed as the result of A never having taken place. When Marty pushes he father out of the way of his mother’s car, Marty changes the future. This is shown in the film through the photograph. As Marty navigates the world of his father and mother, he sees that his siblings begin to fade from the photograph. This ultimately culminates as Marty, himself, begins to fade. In order to restore the future that he had changed, Marty works throughout the film to reunite his father and mother, thus setting off a new series which culminates in the birth of him and his siblings.

The film positions everything as strictly linear. Event A causes event B causes event C. By changing event A, everything that comes afterwards is also changed. This is sometimes known as the butterfly effect – an event where one small action can change everything going forward. So Marty’s actions in the past have an unreserved impact on the future. A paradox occurs from this, however. If Marty never existed, how would he come back to change the past? If Marty changed the past so that he never existed, then it would be impossible for him to change the past.


One narrative that attempts to circumnavigate this paradox is the world of Dragon Ball. In Dragon Ball Z, the character Trunks travels from the future to warn the other characters of a series of events that will lead to much destruction on the earth. One aspect of this is that the character Goku will die of a heart virus without a cure in the present. Trunks, being from the future, is able to provide a antidote that allows Goku to survive the heart virus. In doing this, Trunks effectively changes an event in time (the death of Goku) which changes the reality of the future. Again, this appears paradoxical. If Trunks comes from the future and saves Goku, the current Trunks will no longer have any reason to come back to the past. The circumstances that lead Trunks to come to the past no longer exist.

Rather than simply allowing the paradox to fester, Dragon Ball presents the present and future as alternative timelines. When Trunks returns to his present, the reality has not changed as a result of his actions in the past. So while the actions in each of the timelines occur as A>B>C the actions in the present timeline does not seem to impact the future one.

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.”
-the Doctor (Blink)


Doctor Who presents an example of a nonlinear timeline. Under a nonlinear view events still happen within a linear space (A causes B causes C), but these events do not take place upon a linear line. Using the language of the Doctor, time is “wibbly wobbly”. What the Doctor gets wrong in the given quote is that such a view of time still remains linear (if linear is taken to mean that A causes B causes C) because, as we see from the events of Doctor Who events still take place within the realm of cause and effect. In the diagram below I give and example of what this time might look like:

While the Doctor often warns against creating paradoxes, and often warns against breaking the rules of time, there are many instances in the show where the audience is given evidence of the “time-y wimey” nature of time. One example of this is in the episode entitled “The Fires of Pompeii”.  In the episode, the Doctor and Donna travel to Pompeii just before the volcano is set to explode. Throughout the episode the Doctor is convinced of the rules of time, and, despite Donna’s best efforts, refuses to stop the ruin of Pompeii from occurring. According to the Doctor, to stop this from occurring would be to break the rules of time. Near the culmination of the episode, the Doctor discovers that an alien race is using the volcano to conquer the human race. In order to stop the destruction of humanity, the Doctor must destroy the converter which is holding the volcano at bay, thus causing the destruction of Pompeii. In order to save humanity, the Doctor must sacrifice the city of Pompeii.

In this action, we realize that time is cyclical. The actions of the Doctor were always already taking place. The destruction of Pompeii is a point within the overarching tim-y-wimey, wibbly wobbly reality of time in this universe. If we look at the Fire in Pompeii as point A that caused B (the Doctor knowing about the destruction of Pompeii) it would seem that B would follow from A. Given the strange “wibbly wobbly” nature that is presented in this nonlinear or cyclical view of time, B is able to actually proceed A creating time as more of a flux, rather than a straight path.

Time and time travel are really interesting conundrums. The ways that we’ve theorized time travel in our fictional narratives makes use of our creative energies in ways that provide new pathways through fiction. Our ability to dream is awakened in these energies and pathways.

Short Reflection on the Behemoth

“People have so manipulated the concept of freedom that it finally boils down to the right of the stronger and richer to take from the weaker and poorer whatever they have. Attempts to change this are seen as shameful intrusions into the realm of the very individuality that by the logic of that freedom has dissolved into an administered void.” -Adorno

Freedom under finance capitalism means freedom for corporations. Corporate interests are given legal precedence over water, land, animals, and people. In the pursuit of liberty, liberty transformed into a behemoth.

A repetitive monster that reproduces itself asexually. Like a cellular organism it thrives via exponential growth. Each generation doubling the size of its predecessor. Feeding upon everything. Shaped through its desire to feast upon the bodies of plants, animals, people. Devouring all of Being until the Being and Behemoth become tautological. Nowhere left to turn it doubles back, cannibalizing itself.

This is the freedom that we have been given. A beast that forces us to participate in order to survive. To participate in our own destruction; to participate in the destruction of Others.

And we all know this. I don’t think of myself as overly creative. What I’ve written is nothing but a repetition. It isn’t subtle. Nothing is new. Sameness repeats ad infinitum. Aren’t we all aware of the snarl that accompanies us? Not that we have any choice. There is never a choice. A choice between a fascist and a fascist isn’t a choice.

Quote from: Adorno, T. (1994). Messages in a Bottle. In S. Zizek (Ed.), E. Jephcott (Trans.), Mapping Ideology. London : New York: Verso. p. 36

Who deserves to be heard?

In a strange little interview between Alain Badiou and Slajov Zizek, published under the title Philosophy in the Present, Zizek suggests that much of the history of philosophy has come about because philosophy fails to be a proper dialogue. He argues that most disagreements within philosophy are based in misunderstandings between the two parties. Zizek insists that much of the partisanship within philosophy comes about through philosophers talking over one another, rather than really listening and understanding what their perceived opponent has to say. To some degree, the same can be said about the political. While I don’t intend to suggest that opposing political factions can ultimately be reconciled through proper conversation and discourse, I do believe that the political sphere could be positively impacted by a return to civil political discourse.

The concept of “democracy” is one that I think of a lot when it comes to Western political practice – especially in the US. To some degree, I would argue that there is a profound absence of democracy within the American Democratic process. Sure — ignoring voter restriction laws — everyone is granted the right to vote for whoever they wish. The act of voting for leaders who represent one within congress or the presidency is a democratic process. Voting is a democratic act. However, the United States fails to have a democratic system insofar as its citizens are highly apolitical. What is lacking in these democratic systems is the ability for the public to truly engage with the political process. Today, the political process is dominated by political and economic elites. In order to play a role in contemporary politics there is a need for a certain level of education and economic status. It is nearly impossible to actively engage in the political sphere outside of these positions. Furthermore, the media, which used to function as a public check on the political sphere, is now controlled by the same elite interests as those engaged within the political.

This is not a lack that has always existed. One need only look at Habermas’ dissertation on the Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere to understand the history of public opinion on the democratic process in early democratic european systems. The Public Sphere was a space where voices were able to come together and discuss public interests in order to shape public opinion. It is out of these spaces that the news media began to form as a way that the public could challenge those in power. Habermas argues that by coming together and debating things in a rational manner, a public of private citizens was able to come together to form a justified rational consensus that shaped public opinion. While, for reasons outlined in the work of Chantal Mouffe, I reject the possibility of a justified rational consensus, I do believe that a space of Public Discourse along the lines of the Public Sphere could open up a space for genuine democratic participation within the political sphere. Like Mouffe, I believe that a public sphere which embraces antagonistic positions would play a valuable role in shaping political discourse outside of the contemporary oligarchy of elites.

Why is a sphere like this important? It goes back to the idea that in contemporary partisan politics, most of us fail to hear each other. Take an hugely partisan example like Black Lives Matter. In a discussion on BLM with those who are sympathetic towards the movement and one will likely hear about how BLM fights against racial injustice such as police violence against the Black people in the United States. A proponent of BLM might argue that this systematic injustice which treats Black people as second class citizens needs to be stopped. That Black communities deserve the same respect as anyone else. For the proponent of BLM, the movement is one that fights for equality, reconciliation and justice. If, however, you talk to an opponent of the movement, they will likely suggest that Black Lives Matter is antithetical to All Lives Matter, and to a degree antithetical to equality, reconciliation and justice. They might suggest that BLM is a separatist organization which wishes to discriminate against White people. This is not to say that these constitute the only positions in regard to the BLM movement, but it does seem that there is some genuine miscommunication going on. These two depictions seem to present a wholly different movements.

One of the problems with contemporary political discourse is that opposing sides tend to use their rhetoric politically. Thus, in the end, opposing factions may appear to be discussing the same topic because they are using the same word – but the reality is that each side uses a particular term in a particular way. For instance, about a week ago I read a blog post on Hillary Clinton and religious freedom by my undergraduate advisor Kevin den Dulk. What struck me about the discussion was that while Secretary Clinton has suggested that she is in favour of religious freedom, many critics argue that her policy is staunchly opposed to it. One critic, Desanctis, argues that Clinton’s support of the federal Equality Act or pro-choice position go against the interests of religious freedom because these acts go against some religious teachings or force certain religious people to engage in activities that they are not ok with (such as a Catholic writing a marriage license for a same sex couple). Now, while it may be easy to just shrug Clinton’s statement off as politicians saying what their constituents want to hear, lets assume for a moment that she was being genuine. Clinton might argue that her support of LGBTQ+ civil rights and a person’s right to choose do not impede anyone’s ability to freely practice their religion. One might even go so far as to say that the former of these policies could even enhance the religious liberty of an LGBTQ+ individual. No matter what, we ought to realize that “religious freedom” could mean different things to different audiences. In order to properly engage in a discourse that doesn’t lead to the two sides talking over each other it is important to commit to common terms of rhetoric.1

One problem that occurs is that rather than listening to those we perceive as our opposition, we often become preoccupied with arguing our own view point and defending why we are right. I wonder if we had real, honest conversations about political issues whether the strong partisanship would continue. I wonder if listening to those we perceive as our opposition would change our perspective of them. This is not to say that we would necessarily change our political positions. Our political positions and ideologies would likely stay the same, but by truly listening to those we see as other we might be able to better sympathize and empathize with why they believe things in the ways that they do.

Perhaps we need to spend a second thinking about beliefs. We often assume that we rationally come to our beliefs though reasoning through all of the options available to us, but this is rarely the case. We need to understand that everyone – the racist, the capitalist, the fascist, the communist, the Marxist, the Anarchist, whatever – comes to their political beliefs through their experience and contexts. Many people’s political leanings come about through their parenting, or their education, or their neighbourhood, or their friends, or their musical tastes. There are a multiplicity of reasons that someone believes what they do – but there are reasons that have led each of us to believe certain things about the world. It is important to understand that this is the case. Because we each have reasons for believing what we do, it is important to listen to those whose opinions differ from our own so that we can see where they are coming from and attempt to understand why their beliefs are different from our own. What we ultimately need then, is some sort of forum that opens up avenues for individuals to speak from their perspective. Furthermore, it necessitates that we truly listen to those that we disagree with. We must not erase the voices of marginalized perspectives. We need to listen to the voices of those that we disagree with because then we can understand where they are coming from.

There are, of course problems with this. My politics tell me that there are certain discourses that shouldn’t be allowed within a political civil discourse. Discourses which seek to control the bodies of others through measures of discipline via racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. are not ones that should feel welcome within a political sphere. I say this for fear of sounding like a hypocrite. On one hand I’ve suggested that we open upon spaces of civil discourse between opposing parties, but on the other hand I don’t want to open the door to all discourses. But, increasingly I’m siding with the idea that there might be a way to allow those with hateful rhetoric to speak, while not condoning what they say. I fear that this is a dangerous path to travel, but its something that I’ve been struggling lately. On the one hand, I think that we need to listen to everyone – even the racist/fascist/xenophobe. We need to listen because it is important to understand what contexts and factors led them to believe what they do. What spectacular images affected their being in such a way that they desire racism/fascism/xenophobia? If we don’t understand why people desire these things, it would seem to be impossible to destroy those images or territories which led them to believe these things. What events or what rhetoric led to someone hating immigrants, or people of a different ethnicity or race? What things led someone to hate people of different genders? There are contexts that shaped individuals to believe these things – and without listening to these people, we face the risk of further alienation.

What I do not want is compromise. What I want is to create a space where we can actually attempt to hear someone who disagrees with us without rushing to conclusions about why and what they believe. In order to have a functioning civil discourse we need to be able to understand one another. This is not to say that we will agree or even compromise. What we need is the ability to express ourselves in ways that will be heard – and this is not something that contemporary political democracy grants us.

[1]Of course this in itself is controversial. Even if religious freedom were to be given a solid definition within a given discourse, the term “religious freedom” will always already be full of political power. Thus, no politician would even come out against “religious freedom”, particularly in the United States. I’m not exactly sure how this could be solved.

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.

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.

[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.