At long last, the video from our event at Union Theological Seminary with Clayton Crockett and Jeff Robbins in dialogue with Cornel West and Mark L. Taylor has been uploaded. The event was a lot of fun to host, and I’d especially like to thank Professor Taylor for his time and preparation coming all the way out to Union from Princeton and preparing such an eloquent constructive response. It’s these kinds of dialogues that need to be staged more than ever, “Radical” theologians talking to liberals and liberationists like West, and figures like Taylor who already are synthesizing some of the best of Continental thought with Liberation Theology. No longer can there be silos of thought on the Left, each more or less disinterested with what the rest have to say. James Cone was in the audience for this event, and while we had hoped that he would ask a question, he was at least interested enough to admit that he would have to read some of the material he heard about because it seemed important. West himself remarked that what Crockett and Robbins are doing might be a new kind of liberation theology, and while that may seem like a stretch in the early stages of “the New Materialism,” I hope that at the very least it represents the beginnings of the formations of certain crosscurrents that are novel and useful in the face of the biggest threats both civilization and the planet has ever seen. Crockett and Robbins’ book is truly a manifesto, and I hope that this event was an embodiment of the spirit of the book, which is a call to engagement across borders and activism rather than just a new theory (though that’s in there, too!). Enjoy, and don’t miss the questions that were asked at the end from brilliant minds like Karen Bray, John Thatmanil, and Jan Rehmann! (And btw, f you haven’t had a chance to get the book yet because of cost or it’s not at your local library, the paperback is due out in October for a much more reasonable price).
As Subverting the Norm II approaches, for anyone interested I thought I’d share the abstract for my talk and share some of the resources I’m working with. Though I’m sure my session won’t be nearly as exciting as talks from the likes of John Caputo, Clayton Crockett, Jeff Robbins, Peter Rollins, Katherine Moody, Kester Brewin, Barry Taylor, Namsoon Kang, Tripp Fuller (the list goes on), I am honored to share my session with the great Jeremy Fackenthal. Jermey’s (I should say Dr. Fackenthal’s) paper will be called “Repoliticizing the Church: Finding Postsecular Engagement in Adorno and Benjamin.” We go on at 3:15 on Saturday in room 3 (Breakout session IV). A complete schedule can be found here.
My paper: The Resonating Church: Overcoming Liberalism to Save the World
In Cinema II, Gilles Deleuze describes how films, unlike written word, have the power of image, music, rhythm, plot, and background sounds which mimic the ways in which our orientation towards the world is formed via lived experience. The Church now has the chance to cultivate renewed belief in this world via tangible, communal, aesthetic experiences that form “resonances” in a pluralist framework that transpose private religious affection into a resonance that is efficacious publically and politically. Such resonances are vital in order to resist what William Connolly names the “evangelical-capitalist resonance machine.” Connolly argues partners in this “resonance machine” are drawn across creedal differences by virtue of similarities in their shared existential ethos that seeks to undermine workers, or the “99%.” The intensity of this resonance machine, wherein special entitlement, privilege, and “cowboy capitalism” “resonate” to create a powerful feedback loop, remains unrivaled on the Left, where liberal ideals of tolerance and individuality work against potential resonance. The key for a postmodern church must not be to just conform to the epistemological and hermeneutical boundaries of its theory, but to follow Deleuze in asking how to best integrate and cultivate positive attachments to the world in our communities and hence overcoming restrictive, tribal, non-resonating liberalism. Against the evangelical-capitalist resonance machine, the Church must become the site of orienting us anew towards an embrace of the world. It must cultivate transformative experience, as Deleuze describes film, for personal and political revitalization.
Hope to see some of you this weekend in Missouri, especially those of you I have engaged with via social media and not met in person!
PS The session Jeremy and I are in is at the same time as the Process session featuring Tripp Fuller and Bo Sanders… You can hear them ANY time on the podcast and I’m sure you’ve all heard the Process gospel by now, so not need to go to their session instead of ours ; )
I got to chat with Kevin about his big idea, philosophy, how science has been compromised by capitalism in some respects, and what it might take to test his theory, among other things. If anyone has further questions and is interested in discussing what is presented here, I know Kevin loves to answer questions, so please comment.
Me: So this is obviously pretty informal, my goal is just to ask questions that I have that clarify your theory in a way that I can explain it for friends who aren’t into science, although I have to say after going through the chapter a few times it gets clearer with each subsequent read.
KM: Excellent. That is the one thing most important to me. Fire away.
Me: Well just on a personal note of curiosity, how did you get into this work? Someone told me you don’t do this for a living?
KM: No. My training is architecture and I worked on projects around the globe. I’ve always maintained an intense interest in science and math. Einstein is a passion for me.
Me: Pretty incredible. And you have training in religion?
KM: Yes, I have studied at PSR GTU Berkeley with Bishop John Shelby Spong, who goes by Jack.
Me: So how did you get to know Clayton and Jeff and get linked up with the project?
KM: I moved to Conway to provide long-term care for my Mom. She had a medical incident in 2005 that threatened her live. So serendipity brought me back to AR. Clayton had just moved the year before to UCA. He and my Mom bonded over the Kerry campaign 2004.
I was searching for a project to occupy myself with I saw Roscoe Bartlett’s presentation on Hubbert and peak oil in 2006. I talked to Clayton about it and it turned out he was studying it too. Clayton heard a presentation on Spong and the Easter Moment where I used Heidegger in an intriguing way. We hit it off.
Me: was there a moment where you realized that traditional approaches were never going to work? Was there a catalyst of sorts that launched you out the box in order to think in such a novel way?
Me: Could you say a little bit about what philosophy has to offer the “hard” sciences? One thing about the chapter in the book is the linking of a continental philosopher with physics. Analytic philosophy seems to be the handmaiden of “science,” but rarely to you see someone like Deleuze talked about in the same breath as physics.
KM: That is the primary problem. Deleuze’s synthesis is not appreciated generally. Analytics presents a problem. It becomes a circular vortex of confirmation/disconfirmation bias shutting off new innovative thinking. I liken it to my experience at CommArts Boulder. First a good idea must be visualized then the execution must follow. Most people just jump to execution and cut off critical thinking.
Me: So the kind of creativity that comes with Deleuze’s view of philosophy, i.e. the creation of “concepts” that he talks about in “What is Philosophy” might be missing in other disciplines? A more positivistic view does seem to shut off innovation…
KM: Right, it’s self-reinforcing leading one further astray.
Philosophers are reading him analytically and missing him completely. Mathematicians and physicists can’t read his philosophy. With the exception of Manuel DeLanda who is an architect too, not coincidentally, I think.
Me: Could you say more about what they are missing?
KM: What they’re missing is what Dick Feynman said of Einstein. He did his greatest work when he was visualizing the problem first then working the math.
ME: Ok. So now to the theory. The chapter says that 19th century thermodynamics was only concerned with a specialized circumstance of equilibrium thermodynamics that lead to a steady state of heat. Could you clarify for those of us who were in remedial physics what equilibrium thermodynamics are?
KM: Deleuze visualizes the limitations of Platonic/Aristotlean dogma and proposed new ideas. Then those ideas could have an effect of influencing math and physics if they would listen. That’s a big problem. In the laboratory mechanical engineers were interested in making better steam engines. So early physicists were universalizing that work in inappropriate ways that led to the false conclusions of ‘disorder’ and heat death. Earth systems and the universe are diverse processes of energy flow far from equilibrium or steady state or death.
Me: So scientists were lead astray it seems via capitalism, more efficient engines for transportation and commerce and that lead the entire discipline away from seeing earth systems in an appropriate way?
KM: Exactly so, Bo. The key insight is that all systems tend from a gradient to reduce it by the most efficient means. This is what the Principle of Least Action is all about. Spontaneous structure formation to most efficiently degrade gradients. Self-organization and Nature Abhors a Gradient.
Me: Can we get back to Deleuze? What do you mean that he figured this out in 1968? You mean when in D&R he talked about the world as an “egg”?
KM: Sort of. The chapter #5 Asymmetrical Synthesis of the Sensible is not understood or appreciated to the degree it should be. He did all the non-equilibrium thermodynamics above in the chapter but well before the nomenclature and work existed.
Me; So about the two major problems you attempt to solve in this chapter. Essentially, ferromagnetic materials need a magnetic driver to be paramagnetized, or made magnetic, above the curie temperature?
KM: Well, yes, but with caveats of course. There are serious caveats because the fields or material physics, condensed matter physics and quantum state physics, are evolving as we speak.
Ferromagnetism is the property of an element to become conventionally magnetized and retain that magnetism. I just want to be careful here because it sounds like science fiction and could be dismissed as such.
Me: Why is the earth’s core and mantle paramagnetized and ordered, not jumbled and what is the natural process that does this?
KM: This is where the storm in a bottle experiment is helpful. This is my favorite one because it communicates across disciplines and generations.
Me: And I see how the “nature abhors a gradient” / principle of least action plays here.
KM: The interior of the earth is not static like an experiment in the lab. Just like equilibrium thermodynamics in the lab isn’t what’s happening in the world.
Me: So the mantle/core materials are in motion just dozens of storms in a bottle?
KM: Right. Huge siphon structures organizing the magnetic moments.
and entropy is much different at that scale than in a lab. The nuclear element decay chains are heating the materials and paramagnetizing them too. First, during planet formation in the solar nebular phase there’s a transition from heat/collision agglomeration into gravity well formation and accretion.
Me: What causes the transition?
KM: For the inner rocky, or ‘geo,’ planets, the first one to get to the gravity accretion phase sucks up the lion’s-share of heavy elements in the solar nebular disc
Accumulation of materials related to volume of that accumulation.
Our contention is that Earth reached that transition first and gobbled up the majority share of fertile/fissile materials in the so-called terrestrial zone. We talk about this in the book.
During formation most of the heat is generated by collision and gravity well compression. Lots of heat but very little from the nuclear decay chains. That happens later.
Earth was spinning much faster and closer to sun during this phase. When a crust began forming 500 million years later that blanket began insulating the heat inside trapping it. It’s at this time the siphons begin forming, the decay chains start interacting and internal heating transfers from majority compression to minority compression — majority nuclear decay chain interactions.
Today compression/insulation accounts for 48% of heating. Nuclear decay chain interactions 52%, the rotation of Earth keeps the siphons spinning
Me: Ah like the bottle experiment…
KM: Just like the boy rotating the bottles a bit at right angle to the vertical axis of rotation of the syphon, yes!
Me: ok, we have lots of these huge siphons creating about half the heat?
KM: While all this is happening the materials are also paramagnetized by the same interactions — side and VERY important benefit.
Me: paramagnetized by the siphons, not the compression/insulation?
KM: The siphons don’t create the heat. They are resultant from the heat/density gradients.
The siphons self-organize the paramagnetism into a coherent global dipole effect that evolves over time. Vast time.
Me: Ok, so compression/insulation creates all the incredible heat, but incredibly powerful siphons are formed to correct the gradients that such compression causes? And if the siphons are organizing the paramagnetism, what is it again that is responsible for its
creation in the first place?
KM: Perfect. You now have the exact chicken-&-egg scenario. Hard to distinguish what happened first. Coincident happenings. Interrelated and interdependent
Me: ok. so curie temperature means the core is way too hot for magnetism, but somehow, the material was paramagnetized around the time of these siphons form…
KM: Ferromagnetism, yes.
Me: which are a product of the heat and the abhorrence of gradients created by all of that heat and pressure
KM: Yeah. That’s right. But they have been evolving. Remember the pole reversals?
KM: I have an animated pole reversal in the ppx to illustrate. And images of computer modeled siphons too.
It might be possible to engineer my generator to take advantage of the pole reversal as an alternating current format.
Me: Ok but this brings us to radioelectromagnetism which doesn’t behave like electromagnetism and produces the paramagnetism?
KM: Yes. Exactly right.
Me: Ok, so that would be the second problem, the natural process that electrifies the magnetohydrodynamic materials. Without the siphons the paramagnetism would cancel out — not global magnetic dipole
Me: So the mistake is thinking all of this in terms of electricity and not the magnetism given off by certain nuclear events?
KM: Yes. Fissile/Fissionable/Fission elements are spontaneously unstable, only U235 and Pu239.Fertile materials are almost but not quite unstable. All other nuclear elements and isotopes. There can be no electricity in the interior of the earth because of the heat. And iron is very poor piezoelectric material. Piezoelectricity is the property of an element to carry an electric current.
KM: Meaning another process is at work that doesn’t behave like electromagnetism. That’s what Feynman & Gell-Mann’s Theory of the Fermi Interaction is all about. Substitute electromagnetism for radioelectromagnetism. Clayton wouldn’t let me get that technical in the book! Every nuclear interaction produces a pack of ‘strange’ magnetism > paramagnetism, by nuclear decay means.
Me: And scientists missed that before because of theories of electromagnetism and not radioelectromagnetism? The connection between nuclear decay and magnetism was overlooked?
KM: Radioelectromagnetism is mine if things go well. I give full credit to Feynman/Gell-Mann! Exactly right. Overlooked. For 55 years.
Me: so these nuclear decays are always happening in the materials of the earth’s mantle and core? Because they’re so hot? Or does it have to do with the gradient
KM: They decay chains are making the heat and density gradient.
Me: Gotcha. So what kind of resources would be necessary to create the kind of model you talk about at the end of the chapter? What are the practical ways forward?
KM: A few labs with robotic manipulation for crafting radio armatures. A couple of year to prototype test the idea. Need to get buy-in from a couple of universities and entrepreneurs, push both directions. Strangely enough, the very thermal nuclear powerplants we’ve been building for more than 60 years, now approaching decommissioning would make excellent candidates for testing and eventually manufacturing these very generators. Don’t forget. When the fertile elements are converted the unit needs to be refurbished to put the new fissile elements into new fertile-converting generators. One can easily see the benefits of pursuing this technology. We can clean up the previous technology’s mess as we introduce an improved way to generate electricity going forward.
In chapter 7 of “Religion, Politics and the Earth,” Clayton Crockett and Jeff Robbins consult the work of Kevin Mequet, an architect from Arkansas with a deep and passionate love of physics who has developed his own radical proposal for nuclear energy. After showing in the previous chapter (ch. 6) the utter unsustainability of not only carbon and hydrocarbon sources of energy, but also traditional thermal nuclear alternative that have not yielded nearly the efficiency people expected, the authors here show us a sketch of what we might turn to moving forward. I highly recommend Tad Delay’s post on this problem before proceeding. The basic concept for this proposal is “physics beyond heat.” The language in the book is a bit technical sometimes so I was able to talk to Kevin myself to ask him a few clarifying questions and to hear about the project more from his perspective. First I’ll outline some basic concepts of the theory, frame the conversation, and in my next post will contain the interview.
If we remember from high school science class, the second law of thermodynamics, or entropy, is the movement of a system from order to disorder. In this process, more energy is lost in heat conversion than used for actual work. Today, because we burning so much inefficient fuel, heat is “literally burning up the planet” as nation states and corporations fail to make significant changes in energy policy (102). To begin to think otherwise, the authors claim that we need to begin to take Einstein very seriously, specifically the concept of “physics beyond heat.”
As Ilya Prigogine recognized in the 19th century, thermodynamics was only concerned with a specialized circumstance of equilibrium thermodynamics that lead to a steady state of heat. (103) The obvious problem is that we don’t live in that equilibrium most of the time. In other words, the study of thermodynamics was concerned with rare circumstances, not a common one. 21st century thermodynamics, then, are about non-equilibrium rather than equilibrium states. For this, the authors turn to the earth’s magnetic field- which by all standard physical accounts should not exist- as the key for understanding energy in the future.
In short, the reason our magnetic field should not exist by most accounts is that within the earth, iron and other metals in the mantle and core are too hot for electricity to be conducted. “Magnetohydrodynamics” is the term that describes the interaction between electricity and magnetism that we’ll be looking at.
One problem is that “ferromagnetic” materials (such as iron) need a magnetic driver to be paramagnetized above the Curie temperature, so what is that driver? Normally according to standard models “all the tiny magnetic moments would cancel each other out rendering a global dipole magnetic effect implausible” (104). In other words, if material in the mantle and core is paramagnetized, how is it not jumbled but rather sustained and consistent? The second problem is what naturally occurring process could make produce a magnetic field to begin with?
The mistaken assumption is that the question of the earth’s magnetic field has to do with heat. According to Mequet, it is not crucial that metals are hot in this process; we need to look beyond heat, first to salt tectonic studies.
The key claim here is that heat and density can be thought of interchangeably (105). Density gradients among dissimilar materials produce similar results to thermal gradients (though physics has only been thinking in thermal terms). Quoting Eric Schneider and Dorion Sagan, the authors cite the oft cited but perhaps not adequately investigated claim that “Nature abhors a gradient” (105). It can be said that naturally occurring organized structures emerge to abolish gradients.
This, then, is how magnetohydrodynamic materials produce a global magnetic dipole field where molecules self organize (principle of least action efficiently degrades the gradient). Every dipole degrades itself and reverses, and we know this has happened to the earth- our magnetic field has weakened 20% in last 40 years alone.
So we have motion, a magnetic driver, answer to first question, but not yet a theory of the magnetic field generation itself. For this problem, the authors turn to the theory of Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann. “Every time a fissile nuclear atom fissions, it sends out one or two neutrons, a few subatomic particles including one antineutrino, two halves of the nucleus… and on spontaneous magnetic moment.” This explains driver of the magnetic field… “ Magnetohydrodynamic fluids are being continually paramagnetized by fissile nuclear decay chain interactions. Fertile and ffissile nuclear elements are thoroughly entrained in the iron/silicate mantle/core matrix materials like yeast leavening flour in bread dough.” Fertile elements are converted fissile ones. We’ll come back to that later in our conversation with Kevin.
Lastly, a connection is made between this athermal theory of nuclear energy and the work of philosopher Gilles Deleuze, who “provides
the philosophical methodology for inspiring a creative leap.” In particular, Deleuze’s radical claim in Difference and Repetition that “the world is an egg” (107). The authors here do not take Deleuze to be speaking metaphorically- rather, the earth’s core is made up of different hemispheres, which, due to their specific arrangement, and spun clockwise and counterclockwise to each other, creating a nuclear generator that ultimately produces the earth’s magnetic field. The “bubble” of magnetism produced by the generation of an electro-magnetic field is the condition of life on this planet that protects us all – like the shell of an egg. In this way, Deleuze provides the concept that allows us to conceptualize the earth itself in a new way, unlocking new energy potentials. For Deleuze, this is what philosophy is, as he and Guattari argue in What is Philosophy? It is the creation of concepts for the purpose of solving problems that we face in the present. If Crockett, Robbins, and Mequet are on to something with their energy proposal, this is exactly how philosophy and concept creation can be used to open new creative doors even in the hard sciences. Even if this theory doesn’t pan out, as the authors admit it very well could not, we desperately need outside voices like that of Deleuze and geniuses like Kevin to synthesize different forms of thought into coherent and new proposals.
With their new book, Clayton Crockett and Jeff Robbins have written a novel manifesto wedding together sometimes disparate philosophical theories and even distinct disciplines. In Religion, Politics, and the Earth: The New Materialism, the authors demonstrate exactly why I think theology is the most important academic discipline today. Not because I think that theology should be the “queen of the sciences” once again like medieval and Radical Orthodox folks thought, but rather theology has come to the point of self-emptying in ways which lead it to be able to think trans-disciplinarily unlike many other disciplines. The kind of “secular theology” that Crockett and Robbins engage in is not confessional or dogmatic, it is not concerned with theology qua theology per se, but approximately Tillichian in the sense of thinking “ultimate concern,” which for us now has mostly to do with global warming, the energy crisis, and the financial crisis.
In respect to these three broad but immanent concerns, the book is split into topical chapters- digital culture, religion, politics, art, ethics, energy and a radical proposal for a new energy source, “becoming a brain,” logic, and “the event.” Each of these chapters alone is a topic that elicits endless scholarship, but The New Materialism is laudable for taking scholarship regarding these topics in new directions. The kind of holistic and robust thinking on display is certainly more than a case of a couple of theologians overstepping their professional bounds, it is rather the birthing of a new way of thinking through which these diverse topics may be processed. Now we turn to the central and novel claim of this short book.
Underlying and supporting the analysis of this book is a claim about Being. Rather than “being” as a kind of substance (Spinoza), as narratives “about being” (Lyotard), as language (structuralists), as mental states, as time (Heidegger), or even as mathematics (Badiou), “New” in “New Materialism” signifies a kind of nondualism that seeks to exceed Materialist critiques and overcome transcendent idealism. Being, the most foundational currency of the universe, the authors argue, is simply “energy.” Specifically, the universe is all about energy transformation. This kind of materialism sets out to be truly materialist, but also non-atomistic, as well as resonate with the concepts of “life” and “spirit.” We should remember that matter is simply a kind of stored energy, but how is energy also able to be described as life?
This is where the concept of “Being a brain” comes into play. While our brains are physical, organic, material organs, they are “created by energetic becoming and in turn serve as a basis for further comlexification” (119). Here, “self-emergent complexety” allows us to blur the boundaries between the organic and the inorganic. “Brain” then comes to symbolize not simply the organic brains that we all have, but that which stands in for complex, energetic, emerging systems. Simply put, “brains” are “being” insofar as being is understood not as a static thing, but as energy, which is always becoming. Brains are adaptive, complex, and emergent systems of neurons. High level intelligence and consciousness, as emergent properties, demonstrate the uniqueness of being as becoming/energy. The authors also invoke the work of Catherine Malabou to show that our brains are plastic, which is the brain’s ability to be the “creator or receiver of form, but also an ability to exceed or annihilate forms” (119). The theory of neural plasticity that Malabou argues for, invoking the latest in neuroscience research, shows that the brain is not simply an object of history, but it makes it — it possesses a form of freedom. The basic idea then is that by showing that being is energy, not only can we overcome the dualism of matter and spirit (Hegelian or otherwise) but the earth can be understood an entirely new way –as becoming a brain. In a dialectical process, “thought returns to itself” as thought emerges from the complex emergent systems and energy forces (not least of which in the human brain) and then, lo and behold, thought is actually returning to itself (the earth) in immanent fashion as thought is realized as energy (being) and what remains is energy transformation. The authors point out that energy is also electromagnetic, and the consequences of this have been largely ignored by thermodynamic-centered physics, which I will talk about at length in my next post which will be with Kevin Mequet who has a radical proposal for a new energy source based on these insights.
If this technicality can be held in mind, one might see how “new materialist” readings of things like “religion” and “politics” might be highly relevant. One begins to see energy as the interlacing principle of reality. If energy is what there is, it is not surprising that global wars are fought over energy sources
(thermodynamic and weak sources, nonetheless) and that there is a direct tie between global economic capitalistic growth and energy (oil) supply. If we are coming up against our current energy limits, that is to say economic limits, we begin to see how closely energy is tied to money, which (naturally) brings one to religion, which the authors conclude at one point is “about money.” This is to say that “religion remains resonant as the contemporary form of life” (32). The “spiritual” (read: energy?) power of money leads us toward certain ethical and political obligations (which have their own chapters) and that the role of money in religion is certainly not unique to religion. Money has a funny way of contributing to ideological apparatuses, which is to say that unlike the classic materialist critique of religion as “false consciousness,” the New Materialism, following Žižek, sees false consciousness everywhere which makes religion, or at least Žižek’s Christianity, still a false consciousness, and yet one that has the potential to help us disavow our illusions and false assurances –theological or neoliberal.
As energy is a kind of “undecideable,” neither spirit nor matter yet both, we begin to see the New Materialist critique let concepts shine as both/and entities with the virtual capacity for radical change. For example, religion is false consciousness and potential revealer of dangerous ideology, art has become largely a capitalist commodity but also harbors revolutionary potential, and digital culture, the subject of chapter one, demonstrates that Facebook and Twitter are a way of corportizing people’s lives. Facebook and Twitter in a sense represent the “Roman road” scenario- they can be used to conquer or spread knowledge and opportunity; they might provide a conduit for an uncontrollable flow of information that empowers people such as in Iran in the spring of 2009. We have fallen prey to thinking of “being” either as simply atomistic matter or as spiritual/ideal, but it is energy that synthesizes the two in order to truly harness its power and understand its potential. So too with the concepts in The New Materialism, it is in understanding the nature of energy and its foundation in everything that we can see new ways forward.
I have not touched on some important aspects of the book; the chapters on art, ethics, logic, and the event. Nonetheless, as I’m sure some ambiguities and even misunderstandings in my reading of the book make clear, connecting all of the dots is not always easy. While I reiterate my commendation of Crockett and Robbins for thinking in this manner through a plethora of topics, one can only feel that if the project were acutely focused, a more precise vision of “The New Materialism” might emerge. What one might hope for in a more narrow version of New Materialism is also more easily derived practical applicability. What is one to do with these concepts? This is not such an easy question to answer. Nonetheless, I believe the value here is experimenting with a new, vital way of thinking, and undoing our mistaken patterns of thinking. My hope is that this project is only the tip of the iceberg for New Materialist thought, that we see both this method and some of its concrete proposals fleshed out in the coming years, as well as an expansion of the conversation outside of radical theological circles (Which is also to say outside of Christian theological circles. I agree with Anthony Paul Smith’s review insofar is there is some worry of an overemphasis of Christianity in this work, as there is in Žižek).
In a couple days, I’ll be posting an interview with Kevin Mequet, whose ideas inspired the chapters in the book on energy. He has a radical proposal for rethinking nuclear energy for anyone interested in further demonstration of the implications of many of the ideas discussed here.
According to John Mullarkey and Anthony Paul Smith, Francois Laruelle is not to be mistaken for the “next big thing in French Philosophy.” Risking the chagrin of Mullarkey and Smith, it could be the case that Laruelle’s “Non-Philosophical” approach to thinking “The Real” or “The One” could have the potential to be the next big thing, especially, in my mind, in the world of theology. The reason Mullarkey and Smith warn against appropriating Laruelle as the newest preeminent figure in certain philosophical circles is due to the fact that his project is concerned precisely with not being associated with those circles, “breaking from philosophy itself,” and a project that is wholly distinct not only from phenomenology, deconstruction, postructuralism, metaontology, psychoanalysis etc. but from the whole of philosophy itself.
Francois Laruelle still remains a somewhat unknown, obscure figure in the world of “philosophy,” though he has long been respected in academic circles over his long and vast career extending from the late 1960’s to today. By and large, his work has yet to be translated from French into English, with only two of his works being published in America by Continuum in the last two years, along with a collection of essays, and one more forthcoming next year. To make Laruelle even more difficult and inaccessible, his thought it divided into four “periods:” Philosophy I (1971–1981), Philosophy II (1981–1995), Philosophy III (1995–2002), and Philosophy IV (2002–Present). One of his two books published in English, “Future Christ: A Lesson in Heresy,” (in which one of Laruelle’s claims derived from a radical thesis on immanence is that the “Future Christ” is any one of us) is undoubtedly provocative (and esoteric), but it is from his “Philosophy IV” period, and a reader may pick it up, noting that it is a very recent publication, without realizing where it fits in relation to his other “periods” (this is a problem I myself have and cannot begin to contextualize properly). Ray Brassier states that “Any presentation of Laruelle’s thought is bound to involve a certain amount of distortion and caricature” for this reason. Here is my best attempt to sketch what Laruelle is up to, derived graciously mostly from secondary literature (I’m a fraud!)
Though I have noted that Laruelle sees himself outside of the philosophical tradition, his work is at least reminiscent of the “immanence turn” in continental philosophy, exemplified by thinkers like Gilles Deleuze. Accordingly, the aim of many thinkers in recent decades has been to develop phenomenologies and ontologies that all but abolish the “transcendent” in favor of the immanent. In this line, Laruelle seeks to point out a central fallacy of all philosophical thinking in the name of such immanence, which he terms “the real.” With no further adieu, Laruelle’s position is that all philosophy seeks to be representational, any philosophical system is not the representation is understands itself to be, but rather is a material part of reality, or “the real.” So, as Mullarkey and Smith note, non-philosophy is an experiment regarding the implications of seeing philosophy this way (through the lens of “non-philosophy”).
Laruelle posits a simple challenge from which all of his implications seem to be derived: He says, “Think this- Thought is a thing.” So, therefore, any thought, not just philosophical ones, is the material that reality is composed of, not simply a description of it. Reality itself, or “The One,” can be said to be “Not a unification of that which was previously divided (transcendence/immanence) but rather an immanence that is ‘always already’, absolutely and of itself, indivisible…Immanence is lived prior to all representation.” Hence, Laruelle characterizes (or caricatures?) all of philosophy as a unified front that misunderstands itself as describing the One (or The Real) when in actuality, it is not so much describing reality as it is being given rise to by the Real itself. Here, Laruelle can be distinguished from even the most orthodox (or radical) Kantians. It is not simply that Laruelle posits that metaphysics itself cannot access the ding an sich, but that Kantian thought still thinks that “reality can be thought, or inferred, through its own philosophical method.” In other words, somehow Kantians simply “know” that the thing in itself cannot be known, but it can be inferred via our experiences and ways of knowing the world. It tells us that our perceptions are representations, and it does so through a representational (philosophical) metaphysical system. Laruelle wishes to exactly reverse this impulse, and posit instead that philosophy missteps when it seeks to represent the whole while not realizing that it itself is a part.
This leads Laruelle to say that philosophy is always constituted by and shares in common “decision.” “To decide is to cut oneself off from the Real, to represent it- decaedere (de – ‘off’ + caedere ‘cut’). To represent, to cut-off, to de-cide.” A part, then, by virtue of being incomplete and a component of a larger whole, cannot, by definition, represent the whole, even if such a representation was hypothetically possible. There is no escaping, for Laruelle, the “part-ness” of attempts to represent, hence “the Real is indifferent to its parts…Non-Philosophy performs its part, comes out of [The Real].” Thus we return to the argument that thought itself is “auto-affective,” it is “a kind of thing, and not a representation…the thought implicates itself – thus the auto- but it sidesteps…from philosophers (that is merely ‘more philosophy) by seeing itself as a performative thought and not a representational one… non-philosphy is an action.” Thus, it might be said, as Mullarkey and Smith suggest, that this is not a theoretical matter at all, but a very practical one. Non-philosophy is not something that unfolds itself within a system or text like deconstruction, it is a performative that arises within the Real before it can give thought or representation to itself. Non-philosophy, on the other hand, takes philosophy as its raw materia
The “performance” of non-philosophy is also termed “science” by Laruelle. As Ian James explains:
Laruelle’s ‘science’ and the non-philosophical practice which flows from it does not require any foundation of the kind that philosophy always seeks or, rather, seeks to confer upon itself…Lauruellian science has no need of a foundation because it has a cause: The One, the real-as-identity: not only an immanent cause, but a cause by immanence, the causality of radical immanence itself… Laruelle is able to affirm that all thought is (always already)’in’ and ‘of’ the Real (that is, caused by it in the last instance) but also, crucially, that everything we can know or think is ultimately not grounded in a subject. Or, at least being caused by the One, it is not in any way dependent upon a subject of knowledge such as philosophy may have conceived it from Descartes onwards…’this real, rather than Being that sciences, all sciences, postulate (Laruelle 1991:25).
There is a lot going on in this passage along that cannot be sufficiently unpacked in this space. Suffice it to say, however, that perhaps now we can understand the radical inversion being instituted by Laruellian “science.” Whereas philosophy conforms the world to knowledge and concepts that mix transcendence and immanence (even Deleuzian thought with its categories such as “actual” and “virtual” can be said to be transcendent by virtue of them being categorical to begin with), non-philosophy, strictly speaking, is “conditioned by the real since it is ultimately caused by it,” what Laruelle calls “determination-in-the-last-instance.”
If this “system” is becoming clear at all thus far, one may ask what justificatory work such a theory can itself do (let alone whether or not it is self-justificatory, circular, gnostic, or arbitrary. Questions and charges I am not prepared to answer at this point). For Laruelle, his theory is not only practical, but it is democratic, and radically so. One might argue that it is itself a justification for democratic practice, and perhaps a robust explanation of pluralism. This is because it follows from the premise of the One which causes thought, and all thought is part of the One (or “real-one”), that “no single philosophy and no specific form of the philosophical decision can have any greater purchase on the real than any other (since ultimately they have none at all).” I would wager that this has the potential to be a more robust defense of what Jean-Francois Lyotard calls a differend. While Lyotard agrees that reality cannot be unilaterally represented, and thus consists of singular events, he does so in the line of Descartes and Heidegger. A differend occurs when two parties have a dispute, and each party, broadly, has equally justifiable reasons for its position. There is no agreement about what criteria can be used to litigate or judge which position is superior. Each case of reasoning accords to its own internal standards. There is no external “third” that can come in to mediate and justify one over the other. The victim is constituted by “damage accompanied by the loss of the means to prove the damage,” a victim’s wrong cannot even be presented. Lyotard analyzes “events,” derived from experience, signs, and language in developing his poststructural ontology. Laruelle, however, may be able to tell us why there is no such thing as true litigation, rather than simply that it is impossible. It is because, according to Laruelle, no part can be confused for a whole. This means, radically, that mutually exclusive propositions are no worry for the One, because they are caused by it. Every philosophical system, every experience, every thought is real in that it is a thing.
The one generates divergence rather than our systems of representation converging upon it. No system can simply reduce one thing to another; there is a “democratic exchange” between competing theories. In the same way that an orange and an apple can both sit on the same counter top presenting no problem. It is only when an apple, so to speak, tries to explain away why the orange is not an apple and sees it as it’s rival. Philosophical systems, to carry the analogy, try to describe reality as essentially “apple-like” or “orange-like” while ignoring the ground that gave rise to both of them. Therefore, “philosophies in relation to the real would explain the fact that philosophy itself has historically been produced in so many different, mutually exclusive, but on their own terms perfectly coherent, forms.” Philosophy itself is transcendence (a point Derrida also makes), and Laruelle claims the only immanentist position (in his view). It is only non-philosophy that can speak without the transcendence of categories, representations, and dualisms. John Mullarkey postulates that perhaps only Laruelle can help us out of the epistemological “trilemma’ posed by Jacob Fries: philosophical positions can only be justified by another statement (regression), a forceful axiomatic assersion (dogmatism) or be an appeal to some percept (pyschologism). Perhaps, if we think “non-philophically,” we do not have to choose any of the fallacious three.
To wrap this up (no one is still reading), hierarchy is removed from competing systems, providing a justification for an ontologically democratic view. Reality itself is contingent and non-hierarchical. Non-philosophy extracts, or performs, all philosophies so that they are neutered of their transcendence and placed back into a framework of radical immanence. This “determination-in-the-last-instance,” or what Laruelle also calls “cloning” of philosophy or “force (of) thought” wherein any philosophy is seen as part of the real apart from posturing transcendent representation. Hegel and Kant are performers, not authentic, competing “representers” when viewed non-philosophically. Whether or not two representations (philosophies) are compatible or not is not a question for non-philosophy; a priori, neither could stand in competition to begin with. If everything is a part, Laruelle argues, then naturally it seems that these parts are given rise by the One. In fact, for Laruelle, non-philosophy is a kind of revitalizing “common sense” in this respect, and yet it makes no truth claims of its own whatsoever. Rather, again, it “seeks to think alongside the Real, not about the Real.” The burden of proof is strangely not on the non-philosophy “scientist,” but on those claiming to somehow transcendently represent the whole. Because “the real is already acquired prior to all cognitive or intuitive acquisition… already-undivided…already-manifest…and that by which we are already-gripped,” thinking theology religious pluralism within this paradigm may offer an inversion of the methods usually invoked to describe the “real” and our hope to converge upon it. If Laruelle is correct, the mistake has always been to think from the bottom up, rather than the top (or surface) down. In other words, the world phenomenally appears to us as a series of contradictions, events, even differends, and we assume that we must “reason up” to some “one” wherein such exclusions and contradictions are shown to be mere “fingers pointing to the (one) moon.” We think that we aren’t getting something right if such difference is present. But, if we think from the surface down to Laruelle’s one, we see that we have been thinking in exactly the wrong direction with exactly the wrong presupposition. I’m interested to wait and see if Laruelle picks up a fraction of the interest of Foucault, Derrida, or even Deleuze within the theological academy to see what happens. Or maybe I’m just looking for the “next big thing” like the next pretentious theology student. Nonetheless, if anyone is interested, I can’t recommend the essays of Anthony Paul Smith enough, in the volumes After the Post-Secular and the Post-Modern and Laruelle and Non-Philosophy.
 Mullarkey, John, and Anthony Paul Smith. Laruelle and Non-philosophy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2012. 1.
 James, Ian. The New French Philosophy. Cambridge: Polity, 2012. 158.
 Brassier, Ray. Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 120.
 Mullarkey, Smith 9
 James 162
 Mullarkey, Smith 4
 ibid 7
 ibid 9
 James 171
 ibid 172
 Mullarkey, John. Post-continental Philosophy: An Outline. London: Continuum, 2006. 129.
 Mullarkey 133. Mullarkey takes as examples of these three epistemological foundations as corresponding to Deleuze, Badiou, and Michel Henry, respectively by way of example.
 Mullarkey 134
 Mullarkey 136
 Brassier 128
In the last post I tried to utilize a bit of psychoanalysis and Foucault in order to bring to the surface the true logic of the Pro-Life platform by way of exposing its inherent contradictions. With those ideological contradictions in mind, now I want to turn to Giorgio Agamben’s theory of the homo sacer and his distinction between two kinds of life to shed more light on what it means to be pro-life in America.
In his book Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life Agamben begins by differentiating two kinds of life under the state. Agamben begins his book by stating “The Greeks had no single term to express what we mean by the term ‘life.’” The two terms Agamben points to that served such a function are “semantically and morphologically distinct” and they are zoe (ζωή) and bios (bίος). Zoe is life “common to all living beings… animals, men, or gods,” or “bare life” while bios is the “form or way of living proper to an individual or group” (1). Kinds of life contemplated by philosophy, especially in the ancients, were all of the bios variety, the political life, the “good” life, the life of pleasure, etc. These are the important and valuable kinds of lives, or the possibility for them. On the other hand, zoe, life itself, is relegated by Aristotle to the oikos, the home. Agamben stresses the great care Aristotle took to differentiate “the oikonomos (the head of an estate) and the despotes (the head of the family), both of whom are concerned with the reproduction and subsistence of life.” The difference we are told is not of quantity but kind. In other words it is not a matter of the household concerning a few lives and the state or estate concerning many. Rather, Agamben quotes Aristotle explaining “born with regard to life, but existing essentially with regard to the good life.”
Summarizing Foucault, Agamben succinctly writes “a society’s ‘threshold for biological modernity’ is situated at the point at which the species and the individual as a simple living body what is at stake in a societies’ political strategies” (3). With the advent of modernity, for the first time in history, there were new massive techniques to either protect bare life or authorize genocides and holocausts, and in many ways the state controlled such methods, and “zoe entered the polis” like never before. “Politics today,” Agamben observes “seems to be in a lasting eclipse because it has failed to reckon with this foundational event of modernity.” Here is the key, I argue, to understanding the deadlock of the debate over abortion, the missing insight is the distinction between bare life (zoe) and political, subjugated life (bios). Which one is the debate about in contemporary society?
If Agamben is right that the production of a bio-political body is the “original activity of sovereign power,” we might rightly see that while on the surface the debate seems to be about the zoe of the fetus, what is really at stake is the bios of the person the fetus will become. The differentiation of kinds of life explains yet another antimony of the pro-life platform, that of fervent care for the fetus and relative apathy for the child that becomes of it after it is born. As we have seen of course, it is the pro-lifers that couple their “pro-life” position with reducing social programs, cutting education, supreme support for sending kids to war, ignore the suffering of children within global
poverty, etc. Hence, it is Agamben’s distinction that sheds light on the situation. Progressives must not stop at mocking conservatives for their inherently unstable positions, but work to understand the problem in order to properly combat it. For that we need the right concepts. Again, what the Right is attempting to do (even if they “do not know they are doing it,” as is certainly the case for the average protestor) is sure up the power of a sovereign power (or more like a would-be sovereign I would compare the Right’s power right now to that of Hobbit-era Necromancer aka Sauron). The state therefore is what uncovers this secret tie between power and bare life by it’s ability to include and exclude from the public square or polis. Politics is thus constituted by the exclusion (which Agamben rightly points out is simultaneously an inclusion) of bare life. It is this function of exclusion that is at stake in the abortion debate, i.e. as we have seen, the guaranteeing of unwanted life in the hands of people in no position to care for it. There is no room for zoe / bare life within the modern state, and this is precisely why zoe (life itself) is the center of a debate that actually is about bios. Bare life serves as the stand in for political life, it hides both the true nature of the pro-life platform (buttressing the power of the state/status quo) completely concealing bios, often with graphic depictions of zoe, aborted fetuses, etc. The Right is horrified by zoe, they do not support it, which explains their endless desire to regulate the individual’s sex life, family life, political life, even physical appearance via engrained social norms.
It is here that Agamben’s “protagonist” comes onto the scene, the homo sacer, the sacred man. Controversially I posit the unborn fetus as a primary homo sacer in this setting. In Roman times,the “sacred man” was he:
…Who may be killed and yet not sacrificed, and whose essential function in modern politics we attend to assert. An obscure figure in Roman law, in which human life is included in the juridicial order solely in the form of exclusion (that is, of its capacity to be killed), has thus offered the key by which not only the sacred texts of sovereignty but also the vey codes of political power will unveil their mysteries. At the same time, however, this ancient meaning of the term sacer presents us with the enigma of a figure of the sacred that, before or beyond the religious constitutes the first paradigm of the political realm in the West.
While obviously I may be stretching Agamben here (or taking for granted his argument about the homo sacer, as scholars have already debated) I think the fetus is a perfect stand in for the “sacred man” in American politics. It works because abortion is a ritual “sacrifice” from the perspective of the right to the gods of the secular. From this perspective, abortion is clearly prohibited. However, once the fetus comes to term and is born, its very ability to be “sacrificed” (to the secular/liberal gods) dissipates, and as a child (no longer able to be sacrificed because its life has transformed from zoe to bios) is eligible to be killed by anyone (embodied by the Right’s absolute disregard for children after they are born in the form of education, healthcare, and welfare cuts and a willingness to send children to war). Hence, the fetus/child is constituted ”in the juridicial order solely in the form of exclusion” in that while in fetus form, it is under the qusi-mystical protection of the religio-politico aura of the pro-life debate, wherein any abortion is automatically a political act (read, sacrifice). Once born, this child is the homo sacer (sic) because it literally cannot be sacrificed. It has been assimilated into the policial order of bios and as such can only be killed, it’s sacred value is gone.
This is the “love affair with the fetus” of the Right. My wager is that is has much more to do with the creation of a bio-political body and sovereign power. What is missing from our collective consciousness and the debate itself is a robust understanding of how we are conflating and using kinds of life itself.
By now we all know about Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana (or hopefully we’ve forgotten about them in their unconditional and consistent defeat), and now failed congressional candidate John Kloster coming out and romanticizing rape as “something God intended to happen” in Mourdock’s case and Akin’s belief that “women can shut that whole thing down.” Thus, implicitly, if a pregnancy occurs in either case, either God (in Mourdock’s case) or the woman and God (in Akin’s case) wills it. This seems absurd to all of us thinking people, but there is a lot more to analyze in these cases in relation to the general Pro-Life platform, Obamacare, and birth control. What is going on here? When something absurd like this surfaces, perhaps by looking at all the contradictions we can learn something about conservative ideology in general that synthesizes all the crazy into one basic principle. Throughout, keep in mind Marx’s famous and succinct definition of ideology: “They are doing it but they do not know they are doing it.” What are Republicans really doing?
The first contradiction of the Pro-Life platform (that they would even acknowledge) is this: unwanted pregnancies are wanted. What does this tell us? The premise here is that any mother-to-be who does not want the child is mistaken, and does not realize the true value of “life,” which is supposedly God-ordained. A calvinist worldview implies that everything that happens is God’s will, so a fertalized egg was ordained by God. The underside of this belief is that, according to Mourdock’s logic (and Calvin’s), an abortion would too then be caused by God. So invoking the logic of God’s sovereighnty to defend unwanted pregnancies (let alone rape) and then to act as if an abortion interrupts this is not only prima facie absurd, but perhaps confronts the believer that God is not all powerful and that all it takes is a doctor to intervene and disrupt the will of God. But I digress.
Back to wanted unwanted pregnancies. Presumably, the logic here is not simply that every sperm is sacred. So the principle is not more life for the sake of life at all times in all circumstances. No, the principle not that we should want more wanted pregnancies, but that unwanted pregnancies are particularly important. Surely others have pointed this out, but what the real issue seems to be is what Foucault famously called “Biopolitics,” which is the “explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations” by the state or ruling power. What is proffered as a defense of the unborn sacred life is more like a kind of control over life itself. At first blush, this might seem to be an inversion, i.e. that the pro-choice position is more of an assertion of “control” over life, as it seeks to place in the hands of human beings the “choice” to choose life or non-life for a potential life. But the control, or biopower, goes much deeper, revealing how the biopower of pro-life proponents seeks a much more powerful and sinister goal.
It is in fact a red herring to posit that the pro-life people are the advocates of fighting against biopower by virtue of their stance against the “artifical” ending of potential life. We can see this by analyzing the contradiction present in the platform that abortions should be illegal, and that government ensured birth control, either through the government itself or a mandate to private employers, is antithetical to Christian values. So the line of reasoning is thus:
1. No pregnancy should be terminated
2. Guaranteed access to birth control is not a right
3. Therefore, actually what is desired are unwanted pregnancies themselves
Here is the key, that blocking birth control access combined with the fetish of carrying pregnancies to term results in the strange conclusion that what is truly desire by pro-life advocates are unwanted pregnancies. Why is this the case? Why don’t they take the more consistent position, given that they do not think “every sperm is sacred,” i.e. we should just have more and more people, that to reduce abortions, we should widely distribute contraceptives? Why not do everything to increase the rate of wanted pregnancies rather than taking up a position that obviously generates unwanted ones? In line with Zizek, we might say that the best way to expose ideology is taking it more seriously than it takes itself. Here psychoanalysis helps us to see the root.
Pro-lifers are neurotic in that they are obsessed with controlling the bodies women, but not just any women. While abortion overall is down over 8%, it has dramatically increased amongst poor women, 18% in the last few years. So what is really at stake is guaranteeing the unwanted pregnancies of poor women. Most pro-life advocates do not have to worry about unwanted pregnancies in as serious of a way, because they are of a higher income bracket that can afford to procreate. We must ask why is it so essential for people who cannot afford to have children have them? Is it merely a coincidence that pro-life individuals tend to be conservatives, and conservatives have the least sympathy for the poor and are in favor of cutting social programs and funding? It seems as though they are two sides of the same coin, part of the same exact ideology. This is where we turn back to biopower of the state.
We live in a political and economic state that depends on things not getting better. As Tad Delay points out in a recent blog post, “Your political leaders want you to think an economic crisis is the exception, not the rule. They would rather you not realize that since the Great Depression capitalism has experienced a downturn every 18 months on average. That is the power of ignoring the exception that constitutes the rule.” As Tad quotes Zizek, we see the claim that the real goal of reactionary politics is ““to change things so that, at their most fundamental, they can remain the same.” In a world where Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan expressed a desire to end medicare/medicaid as we know them, get rid of social security, and cut social funding for all kinds of things from food stamps to public housing, this principle is in play. Our system is predicated on a very few controlling the wealth, and it is actually to their benefit to see the lower and middle classes pummeled by social inequality.
One tactic to ensure things remain the same, if not get worse, is to take away the right of a women who cannot afford to be pregnant or have a child to choose what to do with her body.Remember, this is an issue that does not really affect affluent people. It is affluent people telling poor folks how to (not) control their own bodies. This is biopower. Conditions are set in place to ensure more unwanted pregnancies, more unwanted children that cannot be supported, and thus the circle of poverty is ensured to continue more so than it would be otherwise. Foucault explains the concept further:
A set of processes such as the ratio of births to deaths, the rate of reproduction, the fertility of a population, and so on – related with a whole series of political and economic problems…in the 18th century… we see the beginnings of a natalist policy, plans to intervene in all phenomena related to birth rate…Biopolitics last domain is, finally…control over relations of the human race, or human beings insofar as they are a species, insofar as they are living beings, in their enviroment, the milieu in which they live… And also the problem that the environment is not a natural environment that it has been created by the population and therefor has effects on the population.This, essentially, is the urban problem.
With biopolitics, pro-life advocates ensure a particular kind of “environment” that controls the relations between social groups and strata. The double insistance upon fertilized eggs being taken to birth and the concerted effort to restrict birth control are a high form of biopolitics, control over life itself as it functions. This contradiction is the site where the ideology becomes apparent. Our economic system is grounded on exploitation, and the proliferation of the poor plays into the direct interest of the wealthiest among us. As Marx says, the capitalistic class depends on structural and organization exploitation of labor to grow and thrive. The bottom line is that the abortion debate is fought primarily on a ground where the issue is not very relevant- amongst the middle and upper class wherein having a child is a normal part of life, sustainable, and even a joyous occasion. What the fight is about is what to do with unwanted pregnancies amongst those who cannot afford to have children and who’s lives would be consumed by doing so (those who cannot afford day care, nannies, basic care, etc.). The only logical conclusion in regard to these facts is that this is, absolutely, an ideological social-economic issue, not one of morality or even about the “life” of a fetus, at least in a certain sense.
What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. . . . For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end. . . . -Nietzsche
According to Alan Pratt, by far the most commonly used understanding is “existential nihilism,” which is ”The notion that life has no intrinsic meaning or value.” This is to be contrasted with “ethical nihilism” that sees no possibility or ground for absolute values, and “epistemic nihilism” that denies that there is such a thing as knowledge or truth. So, when I use the term “nihilistic” in this post, I mean the ultimate denial of the intrinsic value of human life. Among the three types of nihilism, this is by far the most relevant and efficacious operator as “life” is certainly more immanent than abstractions such as “truth” and “value” (though both can certainly be instrumental in our handling and attitude toward life).
Paul Ryan seems to be the apotheosis of the Tea Party fetish which concerns itself with the neoliberal dream of free markets, balanced budgets, and American exceptionalism. Ryan seeks to dismantle Obamacare while maximizing the role of private insurance companies in the confidence that competition will make the cost of care go down while quality of care goes up. Of course, Ryan also proposes raising the minimum age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67, and we can all imagine how quickly insurance companies would move to cover a 67 year old (vouchers or not). Furthermore, Ryan favors cutting Medicaid significantly, giving
states predetermined “block grants,” estimates commissioned by the Kaiser Foundation and made by researchers at the Urban Institute, the end result would that between 14 and 27 million low-income Americans lose health insurance. And, as Richard Wolff reminds us, Medicaid is not composed primarily of “free loaders” and the single, irresponsible mothers of conservative ire, but it is nearly half children, and 4/5 of Medicaid beneficiaries are either children, disabled, or elderly.
Furthermore, while the Romney campaign laments how taxes are too high for business in America, Wolff points out that Capital gains are currently at a rate of 15%. Romney and Ryan think this is much too high. In 1918, it was 80%, in 1937 it was 40%, and in 1978, it was also 40%. How could you possibly listen to a person who tells you that these rates are too high, or unreasonable, or out of control? The tax on business profits is currently at 35%, but with so many loopholes most businesses pay much less. Is this a “horrible high?” No. In 50s and 60s it was over 50%. Individual income taxes are currently 35% for the richest amongst us. In 1945 it was 94%, in the 50s and 60s it was 91%. The claim that rich individuals are suffering because they pay 35% (Romney paid 14%) is unbelievable.
So, what is valued here? Life? That would be a stretch. Here, it seems clear that continued wealth accumulation is the the ultimate concern (you know, religion) of Paul Ryan and his plans. The justification for this is often “our grandchildren” or “future generations.” The budget must be balanced for them, they say. This is why I call this “inconsistent nihilism” charitably, because in reality it is probably just disingenuous, actual existential nihilism parading as patriotism and care. “Inconsistent” because the justification for a radical agenda that redistributes wealth from the relatively poor to the rich to balance the budget is done in the name of “future generations,” i.e. the value of life is deferred to those who have no been born. Another instance of this same inconsistent nihilism is the Pro-Life movement in America, which, while postering and protesting for the rights of the unborn, in the next breath have often given their endorsement of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Again, the sacrifice of life in the present is seen as nihil while future life is of paramount importance. This is not a simple case of sacrifice, where something is given up for the direct benefit of something in the future. For example, the sacrifice of troops lives is not directly connected to overturning Roe v. Wade. Yes, their “sacrifice” may lead to a better life for future generations (in theory, of course) but the issue they are fighting for (the protection of American and capitalist interests abroad) is not connected to outlawing abortions. Therefore, there is simply a fundamental inconstancy in play about the value of human life. Inconsistent nihilism.
Of course this term I have been applying is really just a tongue in cheek way of pointing out the ideological monstrosity operating just beneath the surface of many forms of conservative ideology, exemplified perfectly by Mr. Ryan (and often Pro-Lifers who undergird policies of neoliberalism and war mongering). The idea that everything should be commodified which leads to better health insurance, a balanced budget, wealth and prosperity for all, etc. is done in the name of future life but only can come by the destruction and desecration of life in the present. This fundamental contradiction points to the fact that actually, “future” does not mean “life in future time x” but indefinitely deferred. There will never be a time, within the system Ryan and Romney dream of, that human life is not stripped of inherent worth and dignity and not commodified. Calling them “inconsistent” nihilists is much too kind. For them, life does not have value, their own bank accounts do, and the accounts of those life them. By taking them literally, and calling them “inconsistent” in their valuation of life is simply a way of exposing the fact that they do not value life at all- at least outside the country club.
Here seems to be the consensus regarding the Conservative attitude toward the recent calls for boycots of Chick-fil-A:
“So now we have a calling for a nationwide boycott of the chain. A-list actors have vowed never to eatthere again, and Boston’s mayor has said he’ll do all he can to keep Chick-fil-A franchises from opening in his city. And the Jim Henson Company, which was working on a promotional campaign with Chick-fil-A, ended the partnership last week, with CEO Lisa Henson ordering Chick-fil-A’s payment to be donated to a gay-activist organization instead.This is just plain stupid! The owner never said anyone who was gay could not eat there. He says he respects those who disagree. The bottom line is these people love freedom of speech expect when you disagree with them. In other words, get out of our way if you disagree with us!”
I am just tickled by this because the irony of this positon in regard to who holds it is delightful. To risk sounding overly pretentious and condescending, it astounds me how ideology, in this case, literally shields the eyes of some, like a protective mother, so that essentially something so ridiculous and inaccurate can pass as truth. I want to call special attention to “The bottom line is these people love freedom of speech expect when you disagree with them.” In this person’s mind (and it seems like this is a consistant position) what is at stake here is liberty, i.e. freedom of speech in this case. Liberals are being sensitive and angry and victimizing this poor principled company that happens to hold a different opinion than theirs. Therefore, liberals, who are supposed to pride themselves on tolerance, acceptance, diversity, etc. are made to be fools and hypocrites because they can’t stand it when someone actually disagrees with them. And to be clear, to the conservative, this is just a petty “disagreement,” as this amateur pundit put it.
What is so fascinating here is that the our friends on the Right cannot fathom that the culture is shifting, they are on the wrong side of history, and most importantly, this fact is actually hinting at messing with American capitalism. Now to be clear, the second thing to remember is that this person is wrong about is they think that this is somehow not a nice capitalistic boycott. What conservatives herald, the free market, is working against their social cause. No one, contrary to conservative fantasies, is trying to censor or arrest Chick-fil-A executives. Also contrary to fantasy, no one is dancing on the grave of their recently passed vice president. Rather, free people are using public discourse to say “hey, this is not a petty matter of opinion. A basic human right to happiness is in the balance right now, and therefore we urge those who recognize this as an important issue to join us in forgoing chicken sandwiches with pickles on a soggy bun.” Lo, as was noted, several promenant public figures, companies, and even cities have taken heed and decided to disassociate with this chain of restaurants. Every dollar is a vote (for better or worse, usually worse) and while that usually means that Conservatives win (it is well established who has the wealth in this country), this one time the “free market” is impinging upon how conservatives think the world should work. Furthermore, though in the grand scheme of things this Chick-fil-A thing may not be significant in itself, what it represents is truly dangerous, and I think conservatives realize, even if not consciously: this marks a major, visible instance of consumers developing a collective conscience and making ethics a serious consideration in where they spend their money.
This is the dark scary truth that ideology is shielding from the mind of the conservative causing them en masse to totally equivocate and act like this is an act of fascist censorship rather than a democratic boycott. Even greater, if I may fantasize myself for a moment, this represents the great truth that democracy may not be be complicit with unethical forms of capitalism (if not capitalism itself). That is, if people are given the facts, and begin to care about how people are actually treated, and begin to care about equality of our citizens, business as usual cannot go on. There is reason from everyone from Starbucks, WalMart, and Apple to be terrified of this. The ethical, conscious consumer who violates the direct command of simply “Consume!” is not what our economy is based on. We are conditioned not to ask questions about our food or how a new TV at Best Buy is so damn cheap.
Jacques Lacan theorized that our superego gives us the injunction:
“Enjoy!”, i.e. give way to your dirty imagination. To put it in yet another way, what we encounter here is the clear example of the fetishistic split, of the disavowal-structure of “je sais bien, mais quand meme…” (I know very well, but…”): the very awareness that they did not do it gives free rain to your dirty imagination. You can indulge in it, because you are absolved from the guilt by the fact that, for the big Other, they definitely did not do it.” (Zizek, How to Read Lacan)
We know very well that this hamburger pollutes the environnent, violates human and animal rights in its production, but we must enjoy nonetheless. Just go to Times Square and look at what the colors are screaming at you. Or turn on the television. Sabrina Dawkins puts it like this “Consumerism has replaced or become the internalized father in Freudian psychology. It is the new superego that encourages, insists, demands that one “Enjoy!” Abundance is offered and one should continuously enjoy.”Zizek continues ”to enjoy is not a matter of following one’s spontaneous tendencies; it is rather something we do as a kind of weird and twisted ethical duty.”
Here, we have a case of total delusion (or fantasy) on behalf of those who support Chick-fil-A, unable to face what we can only hope is a turn against our “ethical duty” to consume, to “enjoy!” the abundance put in front of us. Perhaps we are learning to ask questions. To make ethics a primary concern in our consumption. If we are in a democratic capitalistic system, to make the most of it by “voting” for who deserve our votes, limited as they may be for 99% of us. Why are we told by conservatives not to boycott? Because of the sheer perversity of using capitalism and democracy, what has been so good to them, against them, even if it is in a minor way. They apparently can’t recognize this, so this entire situation is played off as some kind of Marxist coup to censor free speech.
One other person, who the first person I quoted agreed with, said “Anyone can boycott anything they want. For myself, I don’t care if they give money to homophobic organizations or give to “Clubbing Seals for Hitler”. So long as they serve everyone regardless of sex, race, sexual orientation or religion (etc.), and their food is tasty, I’ll buy it. I think this whole reaction to Chick Fil A is completely idiotic.”
So, here we have it. On one hand, spend your money how you like, on the other, it’s idiotic to not spend your money at Chick-fil-A over a petty “matter of opinion.” Don’t need Lacan for this. Draw your own conclusions.
It’s all very interesting.