Tuesday, 23 June 2009

A Reformer

Let us not forget that nowadays a martyr, a reformer, is a man who smells of perfume, a man who sits with a wreath on his head and gorges at banquets, a man who is comfortably well-off, a man who actually ventures nothing at all and yet acquires everything, even the title of reformer.
- Kierkegaard, The Book on Adler

This is yet another of Kierkegaard's brutal assessments of how it is impossible to be a reformer from inside the system.  It's his critique of all of us who enjoy the benefits of the current system, and from this position of establishment, claim to be working against the system.

Exemplar Exploitation

Here's a little story that serves as an example of Marxian exploitation. It identifies how those who own the means of production (shareholders) gain wealth from the surplus labour of those who operate the means of production (workers). British Airways has asked its staff to consider working without pay for a little while.

I know of a company which, on the other hand, has maintained the pay increases for the factory workers and cancelled the pay increases for the office workers. This, although a better step, is still exploiting the employees for the benefit of the shareholders.

In either case, the employee is asked to shoulder the burden of reduced profits, rather than the shareholders accepting a lower profit while still buying labour at the same rate. I can see why Marx was outraged.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Hermeneutics and Biblical Reading

As seen on other blogs, here are five scholarly books which influenced my reading of the Bible. This is probably in chronological order, rather than order of influence.

Tribes of Yahweh, by Norman K. Gottwald
Back when I did my Old Testament introduction, this book was the revolution for me. I'd never seen someone so methodically interrogate the social situation of the Israelites and so candidly admit that between beginning and ending this enormous volume, his opinion probably changed and that to reconcile it all would be a task as large as writing the book in the first place. Gottwald was also responsible for a great little article on Isaiah (Social Class and Ideology in Isaiah 40-55) that affected my readings more than any other. The invisible hand of man in the visible texts of God suddenly became visible and enlarged.

The Foundation of Universalism, by Alain Badiou
Part of the 20th Century fascination with Paul by secular philosophers, this little book packs a big punch. Read it slowly, then act enthusiastically.

Outline of a Theory of Practice, by Pierre Bourdieu
I include this, if only for a single concept, doxa; that which "goes without saying, because it comes without saying." It explains nicely how it is that we incorporate general cultural ideas into our theology, without even noticing it, and then explain the combination as Christian. Separating what is genuinely Christian from what is widely accepted as Christian is difficult and takes a specific effort.

Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus, by William Klassen
This volume went hand-in-hand with The Last Temptation of Christ. In both, Judas is the only disciple who is willing to sacrifice everything to support Jesus' mission. It's one thing to become a martyr and receive praise through history from the faithful, but it's another thing to also do something that will be scorned by the faithless and the faithful alike. By viewing Judas this way we see the editorial comments in the gospels. See my earlier comments on this.

Fear and Trembling, by Soren Kierkegaard
The retelling of the story of Abraham reminded me how often we read the Bible stories, already knowing the punchline. Kierkegaard labours the point that Abraham had to walk for three days to get to the top of Mount Moriah, all the while not knowing that a ram would be substituted at the last minute. How often do we read Biblical stories too fast, skipping over the details because it all works out in the end?

How about you? Which five scholarly books changed the way you read the Bible?

Monday, 15 June 2009

Masculinity and Humanity

Connell argues that all forms of masculinities that fail to meet the conventions of the dominant form of masculinity as well as all forms of femininities are marginalised.
Merete Schmidt
Masculinity, Sport and Alcohol

Schmidt's key point in the article is that people who don't drink alcohol and who don't play (or follow) football are not part of the mainstream definition of masculinity, and will suffer isolation as a consequence. Her conclusion is based on observations in a rural Australian town and on wider social observations.

From my experience, I suggest that she's correct. I don't drink and I don't follow the dominant football code in Australia. Although my reasons for this are my own, the mere fact that I'm not playing along with drinking and rugby league (or most sports, for that matter) has isolated me in professional and social situations, with colleagues and close friends.

From a secular perspective this is a problem for society, but I imagine it has its roots in how societies form hierarchies. The societal norms are required in order to rank people, in order for the males to compete to be alpha male. Competition arises in the amount of alcohol that can be consumed, the proficiency at sport, the discussions of sport. Failure to display one's plumage in any of these arenas is tantamount to emasculation.

The solution, however, is indifference. Indifference to the differences determined by the hierarchy is necessary in order to escape the problem. This is not a call for a new kind of masculinity, but rather a stand that says the categories of male and female, sporty and non-sporty belong to the animal kingdom, whereas human existence can be played out without paying attention to those classifications. The solution is not a new masculinity, but a new humanity.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Non-existence through indifference

The practical consequences of Galloway and Thacker's formulation of nonexistence are clear: It's not a question of hiding, or living off the grid, but of living on the grid, in potentially full informatic view, but in a way that makes one's technical specification or classification impossible.
- Seb Franklin, On Game Art, Circuit Bending and Speedrunning as Counter-Practice: 'Hard' and 'Soft' Nonexistence

Franklin's remark, looking at Galloway and Thacker, explores the notion of non-existence from totalisation-by-database. Databases serve to record information for sorting, and sorting requires a schema. Large scale sorting requires groupings, and so forth. To exist, in this sense, is to be recorded, stored and classified. Non-existence is the dumbfounded expression that accompanies, "But you're not in our system." To be a little reductionist, it's also the teenager who screams, "Don't put me in a box!" This kind of non-existence is not simply rejecting the taxonomy of the system, it is actively working to be missed by the system because if the system finds you, it will classify you and make you part of the system.

There is something of Badiou in this idea, however. His truth-procedure model insists that the created subject is outside of the system, resisting totalisation. But for Badiou, this is not merely a case of avoiding detection. Badiou's subject exhibits more power than this, demonstrating power through indifference. The structures of the human-animal or the human-evil are ignored by the subject and this is the power of the truth: the capacity of the subject to be defined by the truth rather than by the situation.

For the subject who is siezed by a truth, the protest is not, "Don't put me in a box!" Rather the response is a non-response. Box or not, the subject will live by the truth and the box superimposed by others will be powerless. Herein lies the challenge for anyone who wants to be faithful to the truth: hiding from the system is weakness, indifference to the system is power.