Monday, 31 January 2011

Invoking the Devil

This is almost a whinge. Almost.

Astute readers of this blog will have figured out that I have a kind of leftist leaning in politics. Simply, I think that if we form ourselves into towns, states and nations, then we have things in common like roads, parks and water. Things in common should be funded by shared money, and traditionally we've collected this money through the form of taxation. Sure, no one especially enjoys paying tax, but for me I think that it's fine as long as it's spent on things that benefit the community being taxed. If everything's going well, we ought to see the benefits in the lives of the most vulnerable in society: the sick, the lame, the orphan, the widow, and so on.

Often, when I write on political things, someone will suggest that my views were applied by Stalin or Mao, implying that views like mine will result in the deaths of millions under an oppressive regime.

Ouch.

I'm no Stalinist - that man presided over a horror, no question about it - but I'm not so sure that invoking Stalin is even a good argument, even an argument-by-similarity. If I look hard enough, I'm sure I'll even find that I have something in common with Jeff Buckley, but that's not enough to make me an avant-garde musician.

I suppose I could just deny that Stalin or Mao were ever "true socialists" or "true communists" and that (somehow) I know the One True Way which will lead us to a proper utopia. Maybe I should denounce them to themselves?

Perhaps I should find a capitalist devil to invoke. It's not hard to find them. Take Mobutu of Zaire. He was a staunch anti-communist and ruled over a land with astonishing mineral resources, and yet the population suffered under low living conditions. Is he representative of all capitalism? He was certainly similar enough to the American position for them to back him during his reign. Bush called him, "our most valued friend in Africa." This guy would make a great Capitalist Devil.

The hard thing to do in the face of diabolical invocations is to take them seriously without the baggage. In other words, to ask whether the policy can be turned into an evil. Can a pro-freemarket position about industrial relations lead to another Mobutu? Can a pro-regulation position about the finance industry create another Stalin? In most cases, the answer would be no, but it's worth a moment of self-reflection.

The other hard thing to do is to resist invoking the devil at all. One sin does not turn a person in to the lord of darkness, and it's absurd to even take a discussion in that direction. As easy as it is to bring Mobutu out to fight Stalin, it's little more than schoolyard name-calling.

So it's not quite a whinge. I just don't see the need to bring the devil to the debate.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Supply and Demand After Disaster

The economic model of supply and demand is often applied as justification for changes in price. In the years immediately prior to the 2010 financial crisis this was evident in the price of commodities like aluminium and copper as against the global stocks of those materials. It's no surprise to anyone that as the global stocks diminished, market prices rose.

After the floods in Queensland (and now Victoria) the prices of goods produced in destroyed agricultural areas has already begun to rise. Fruit and vegetables are being sold at higher prices, and I expect that if they're left to market forces they will remain high for about a year, or at least until the farms are rehabilitated and able to produce crops again. That was the experience of banana prices after a cyclone destroyed banana crops in north Queensland earlier in the decade.

Diabolically, we could apply this to other goods and services. Demand for food is the same and supply has dropped. Demand has climbed for other things like electricians, builders and housing. In a pure supply and demand economy, these service providers would be well within their rights to raise prices. Imagine for a moment that we apply the same increases in food to these services as well. Rent doubled or trebled? It sounds ludicrous, and yet the local papers are already reporting trades scams and exorbitant prices.

This is one risk of an unregulated freemarket economy. Our society needs strict economic regulation to take into account the additional demand from society: a demand for human dignity. This is an opportunity to look for cracks in the regulations, and to ensure that our society is built around the needs of the people rather than the exclusive needs of the economy.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Simultaneous πíστiς

With the first essay of The Faithfulness of Jesus Christ under my belt, I can start to bring the threads together in my mind. I think this passage covers the main thrust of the essay.
"Because the faithfulness of Christ implies that people can have faith in him and because an injunction to have faith in him assumes that he is faithful, both the faithfulness of Christ and faith in Christ are ideas that fit the context of each passage that uses πíστiς Xρiστoȗ. This is the primary cause for difficulty in making a strong case for one view against the other." - Debbie Hunn, Debating the Faithfulness of Jesus Christ in Twentieth-Century Scholarship, p30
This is an attractive notion, that πíστiς Xρiστoȗ somehow has a double meaning that was understood by the original readers, and which is lost in translation. It's not uncommon for this to occur in Biblical studies, and gives Biblical scholars plenty of years of work to unravel.

But I can't help feel that it's too conciliatory, that by trying to endorse both views it doesn't say anything at all. That feeling might just be an unrealistic desire for certainty on my part, because deep down I want the debate to definitively resolve the question. It's too early to make up my mind, though. At this stage, it's grist for the mill.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Influenced by Crossan

I've just finished listening to an interview with John Dominic Crossan and although I've not read much of his work, I've reached some similar conclusions. I imagine that I've probably been influenced by him indirectly through others. Maybe the most important commonality is the assertion that Jesus is the defining point of what it means to be Christian, and not the Bible. That's not an easy relationship to live with, but it does take into account the fallibility of human texts without losing the significance of Jesus as the revelation of God, and as teacher, as lord and so on. I might have to add one of his books to my reading list when I've finished the current exercise.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Pistis Christou

I've taken a break from reading ever since I trawled my way through The Monstrosity of Christ. Zizek and Milbank aren't authors to read quickly. Next on my list is this little gem: The Faith of Jesus Christ.

It's a collection of essays on the New Testament phrase pistis christou which is translated either as "faith in Christ" or "the faithfulness of Christ" or similar. As you can imagine, this has some nice theological consequences because the phrase is typically used in relation to salvation, as in "you are saved by faith in Christ" in contrast with "you are saved by the faithfulness of Christ."

I hope to be post a little about it as I go, with my own reflections about what the various authors have written.