Thursday, 31 July 2008

Commodification of Causes

Today I spotted on the wrist of a colleague a band of the type usually associated with a fund-raising effort for a cause. Here's an example.By itself, this serves as yet another way to raise money for a cause (in this case, breast cancer research). It is only a token effort, based around the idea that if we each give $2 (oh mighty bank-breaking amount that it is) we can eventually raise enough money and awareness of the issue (to generate more research money).

One criticism of such efforts is that it is precisely a token effort. It doesn't require any commitment other than the approval of peers that you are wearing a worthy wristband. Your $2 went to a noble cause. And then, for an indefinite period, you wear the seal of Social Conscience on your wrist. Does it imply an ongoing commitment to raising funds for breast cancer research? No. Would you wear the wristband to a cocktail party? What if the colour clashes with your dress or your tie? Does the wristband remind you each day to give money or to ask other people for money to be passed on to the nominated research centres? Such a wristband, according to this criticism, is a temporary penance to alleviate the conscience and allow the individual to continue to live how they like.

The wristband I observed, however, had nothing to do with a noble cause or charity. It was a Batman - Dark Knight wristband. Should we be offended at this? No. Rather, we should see it as the revelation it is. It reveals to us the cheap, tawdry nature of the penance. If we are offended then it is because our consciences are only placated by the trivial amounts of money we contribute to worthy causes, in comparison to the flippant expenditure devoted to other capricious whims.

I don't write this to suggest that if you have $2 to spend you should spend it on the Dark Knight over Breast Cancer research. Conversely, I don't suggest that you should buy just the Breast Cancer research wristband. Rather, I write this to point out that if you are actually going to make a difference, then you should make a real difference. Commit to one cause over another ("Breast Cancer research is more important than the One Campaign!") Give more than $2. Give more often than today. Write letters to influential politicians and community leaders. Phone them. Berate them in public forums for not allocating enough money to the cause that has seized you. But do not absent-mindedly drop $2 for a wristband which represents a passing interest in a cause.

Monday, 28 July 2008

The Grandeur of Reason

This is little more than a bit of promotion for a friend of mine, Scott Stephens. If you're going to be anywhere near Rome in early September then get along to The Grandeur of Reason. Milbank, Zizek, Hauerwas... Stephens. My head explodes just thinking about it.

And despite my hectic travel schedule, I won't be anywhere near the place. Dang.

Friday, 25 July 2008

They're Made Out Of Meat

I found a story the other day, written by Terry Bisson and entitled, They're Made Out Of Meat. It's thoroughly worth reading, even for the comic value alone.

But I quite like the implied philosophy at work here too. We human beings are, after all is considered, totally biological. We are meat and bones, who each have a sense of individual identity. We are walking and talking, thinking and feeling, structures of meat. There is nothing about us that exists on another dimension - just the meat and bones you see in the mirror and on the table of the mortician.

This is a truly compelling view of human existence. It provokes a sense of absurdity, of finitude and of urgency. We live in a universe that has no obvious purpose, and we are going to die one day, so if we are going to do anything of value we need to hurry up and do it today.

It certainly sounds better than, "Thou shalt not X, or else I will put you in my furnace!"

Monday, 21 July 2008

Papal Apology for Sex Abuse

I've read only excerpts from the Papal apology concerning sexual abuse by holders of Catholic offices, and I both support and question it. That he has made an official apology is a very good thing. That he has said he takes pastoral responsibility and feels empathy is a very good thing. Neither should be ovverlooked or downplayed. For all the crimes which have been inflicted by Catholic priests (teachers, monks, nuns, etc.) there must be an acknowledgement of responsibility and of compassion. If there had been no apology at all, the situation would continue to be fester. Someone had to take a stand on the issue so that reconciliation can begin.

My only question is with regard to timing. I would have liked this move earlier than WYD2008. These crimes have been happening for too long, and I feel that this apology should have been given years earlier. One needs only read through a page or two of Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom to know that these vile practices occurred long before WYD2008. Nevertheless, an apology has been made and it is time to move forward.

I also question the immediate need for financial compensation for victims - but I ask this question without looking into matters of lost income as a result of mental trauma. Rather than appealing for compensation first and foremost, I think that a reconciliation is a more appropriate first step. Passing money from the Catholic Church to the victims does little to heal the hurts or mend the wounds felt by these victims. Truth and reconciliation must come first. Counselling should be provided to the victims and their families long before cash is calculated. Someone who is emotionally hurt will remain so whether rich or poor.

Don't doubt my position on this issue. The acts are vile and should never have happened. The apology is late but it has happened. It is time to move forward in reconciliation.

Thursday, 17 July 2008


I heard a story last night, and it enraged me. I felt sorry for the folks who were hurt by the stupidity and I remembered what it was like to feel the same hurt (as it turns out, it was inflicted by the same people who last left scars on my soul). I wished that I could change it all.

About an hour later, I was asked by someone else to think of a time when I experienced God's love. I had two choices of moments with which I could reply. The one I didn't choose was this moment of injustice. But I will write about it here instead.

How is it that feeling outraged can be an experience of God's love? It is because divine love cares for people who are persecuted and oppressed. It is because God's love is best felt when it is felt about someone else. God's love is outward, not inward. God's love is not self-indulgent or narcissistic. As Bonhoeffer wrote, "The church is only the church when it is for others." Experiencing God's love is an experience of loving someone else, of giving to another, of acting compassionately in the face of injustice.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008


In recent years the general feeling in Australia has been one to support efforts which protect the environment. Businesses are now including assessments of carbon footprints in their annual reports, because it makes for “green investment” appeal. The push for individuals to use compact flourescent lightbulbs grows stronger.

And yet, the burden of this green sentiment is always thought to be the responsibility of someone else. Someone should make cars use less fuel. Someone should find a way to use alternative energy. Someone should sign the Kyoto protocol and establish carbon trading. Everyone wants a large scale effort to make a change, but it has to begin with someone else.

Furthermore, it must not impact upon individuals. Someone should make cars use less fuel that I can use lots of fuel without guilt. Someone should find a way to use alternative energy that I can use lots of it. Someone should establish carbon trading that I can continue to use up all the carbon I want.

This became evident when, last week, two different nightly news programmes announced that with a carbon trading scheme, the price of petrol could rise to as much as $8 per litre within a few years. Oh the moral panic! Eight dollars! Yes, eight dollars. The general populace wants change, as long as it doesn't cost a lot. And if it does cost a lot, someone else has to pay for it. Humanity is, by and large, a greedy predator that wants what it can get with the least amount of effort, struggle or sacrifice.

Such an approach to life is great if all we want is to be complex and technologically advanced animals. If that's the case, our lives should be about nothing more than sex and food. On the other hand, our lives could be so much more – but it will take more motivation than mere cash.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008


After an informative discussion with my academic supervisor, the problem of what to do next has been resolved. I'm going to pursue studies in metaethics. Sounds like fun. In preparation for my thesis in this very question, I will look at some key works by Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Levinas and follow the line through the history of philosophy to Badiou.

Do you have any favourite writings by these thinkers? How do you read them?