Notes on Democracy?

What we are currently witnessing is not democracy…

It is the illusion of choice, the coercion of choice – a false choice forced from a false dilemma habitually patterned by the extremes of bifurcated partisan politicization…

It is nothing short of outright deception and manipulation.

We are now nothing more than marrionettes operating under the guise of free will in choosing a puppetmaster…

We are prisoners protesting the color of the bars enclosing our cells…

Advertisements

Nature, Nihilism, Nationalism, Morality,and the Existence of Superiority….

sorrieu


Most of the time I find social media, especially Facebook, insufferable and I grow increasingly impatient with the incessant stream of inconsequential fodder posted under the pretenses of ‘content’. Yet, as many times as I’ve wanted to pull the plug, and as close as I’ve come to hitting that deactivate button the one thing that keeps me clinging to my account begrudgingly is the rare opportunity to actually engage in intelligent discussion. Below is a snippet of one such conversation. My sparing partner, a Facebook friend with whom I differ in opinion greatly, is someone I respect and consider to be a very intelligent and learned individual. We were participating in lively yet very respectful debate/dialogue regarding nationalism, the supremacy or superiority of some cultures to others, nihilism, morality, and the recognition of good and evil. The gist of my friend’s proposal was that history reveals that there are indeed superior cultures, that superiority finds its basis in nature, and that, amongst many other topics lol, nihilism does not supply a push towards betterment in the same way that morality does. Below is a summation of my response, I’d love to know what you think.
As crass as this may seem one must begin by asking what is ‘superiority’? What does it mean for something to be superior, especially in relation to an alternative? What is the methodological criteria by which to judge superiority? Who is it precisiely that decides/judges and by what authority have they been deputized to do so?Is the means by which to do so objectiviably verifiable and tangible? What is it’s legitimating determination?
Or, is it simply a question of the majority or the greatest number? Here, even utilitarians such as John Stuart Mill, with their ethical calculations, are suspicious, seeing the totalitaran ability of the ‘many’ to encroach upon the liberty of the ‘few’ as unavoidably authoritarian and un-ethical.
Also, I’m not sure its conducive to propose the presence of ‘superiority’ in nature, the categorization being an entirely anthropocentric notion/description. In nature it is more accurate to speak of genetic ‘fitness’ and environmental ‘adaptability’. Even if we do, for the sake of argument, accept the terminological idea to have ‘natural’ (for lack of a better term, *I must note that the division between nature and society is a false dichotomy) implications we can see that while there are certainly creatures that are superior in the ‘particular’ they are not superior universally, i.e. there may be superior swimmers, superior, climbers, superior runners, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that a species is superior  in every way or superior to all other species. (This kind of notion of superiority and supremacy seems to waft of a kind of implicit fascism and despotism, is it not this same kind of thinking that was used to justify slavery and the oppressive subjugation of indigenous peoples, seeing them not as ‘people’ but as an inferior species and less than human?). It would also seem less than ‘natural’ to then conclude that because one species is ‘superior’ to another it should then be the only allowable species in an environment, this would certainly produce a definite and potentially catastrophic  “imbalance.” The idea of human-supremacy has lead to our current ecological state of disaster.
I can personally attest (at least from my own experience) that nihilism and ethicality are not mutually exclusive and are perfectly compatible. As perhaps something of a nihilist/cosmic pessimist myself (perhaps in the Schopenhauerian sense, here I’m also a bit of a misanthrope), I think that existence/life is both arbitrary and meaningless. But, it is precisely this void that has created for me an ethical urgency and a moral imperative. If existence is ‘meaning-less’ than we are faced with the absolute responsibility for ‘meaning-creation’. In this regard, to say that something is ‘meaning-less’ is not the same as to say that there is ‘no-meaning’ or there can be no meaning, there is simply no definitively intrinsic or inherent meaning .
“Meaning”, like morality, values, etc. is simply a technology/tool utilized in our survival – the capacity for symbolic abstraction (neural plasticity). In this regard, can we accurately say that morality “exists”? ‘Exists’ on what plane? On what level? To what degree? To what extent? In what way? Is its status of existence objective? Here, then, ‘good and evil’ are also not found in nature but, are of human invention, “good and evil” has no reality beyond human construction (symbolic abstraction – meaning value creation) and more often than not created as a means to ostracize and demonize the Other (Nietzsche’s example of Slave Morality may be helpful here). It’s interesting that in the realm of religion there are many religions that operate without a god but, almost  none without a devil. It seems that we necessitate a ‘villain’ far more. But, as Michael Shermer explains “[E]vil is not a fixed entity or essence. It is not a thing. Evil is a descriptive term for a range of environmental events and human behaviors that we describe and interpret as bad, wrong, awful, undesirable, or whatever appropriately descriptive or synonym for evil is chosen”. “Morality” is, at best, only ‘provisional’, applying “to most people in most cultures in most circumstances most of the time” (Shermer). (*quotes are from the book “The Science of Good and Evil”)
I’ve spent the entirety of my academic career and the entirety of my personal research studying and examining religion, culture, society, ect. and I cannot come to the conclusion that there are cultures as a whole that are objectively superior, especially not absolutely superior in every conceivable way. Like the nature example above, we could reasonable say that some aspects of cultures are superior (infrastructure, economy, judicial systems, etc.) and it is not to say that one, ‘in hind-sight’, may not find one culture preferable to another. Rome had a superior military to Greece but, the ‘thought’ of Greece was far superior to that of Rome (never mind the gluttonous corruption of the Empire, lol) Roman society could be considered superior to that of the Goths but, this did not stop the overthrow of Rome by the ‘Barbarian Horde’. In the same way, European society, as the arbiters of civility and civilization considered themselves superior to the native peoples but, who seems to have had the more harmonious civilization? History is not devoid of the influence of power relations, after all history has been written by the winners, lol (here I recommend the work of Michel Foucault).
It seems then that I’ve simply come full circle arriving back to the very questions of superiority  with which I began, lol. That is, objectively defining the grounds, parameters, and legitimacy of supremacy in a tangibly verifiable capacity.
I should say that these are not necessarily questions of outright disagreement but, questions of ultimacy and validity.
As Socrates once said “I know one thing: that I know nothing.”

What’s the Difference Between God, the Devil, and a President?

PicMonkey Collage

In two words….Absolutely Nothing!

All are fictious offices/positions of illusory and ineffectual power, each perpetuated to create a false sense of cosmic/social stability and order.

In the event that something goes right, we have someone to thank, praise, and worship.

In times of crisis, cautastrophe, distress, trauma, and turmoil, we have someone to blame and villainize or vilify.

In each case we are blindly reinquishing the responsibility of our collective ‘destinies’ to a symbolic marionette being puppeted by far more nefariously malevolent forces…

Occupy Rome: Politics, Ecology, and the New Testament Critique of Empire Part IV

This is the fourth in a series of exerts from a paper I wrote which attempts to offer a reading of several New Testament texts as an eco-political critique of the Roman Empire. You can find the first here, the second here, and the third here.

If Jesus is responsible for founding the social movement that would eventually become Christianity then, Paul is responsible for its systematization. Whereas Jesus could be likened to being a revolutionary activist, Paul could be said to be more of a political philosopher. Theodore Jennings suggests that “Paul may be read as developing a messianic politics that stands in contrast to the political order of Rome (1). Jennings bases this proposal upon the fact that “Paul is concerned with the most basic issues of political thinking” (3). As a result, Paul’s language is emphatically and explicitly political, especially in reference to Jesus. Rather than down-play the execution of Jesus by crucifixion, Paul emphasizes it, making it his mission to “preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). Crucifixion was a dramatically threatening and intimidating means of coercively establishing social and political control, preserving and maintaining Roman hierarchical aristocracy and elitist dominance (Carter, 135 & 139). To be crucified was a fate bespoke to brigands and set aside for “rebels…and others that threatened the Roman order” (Carter, 135).  Crucifixion, then, was a publically performative event that perfectly enacted and encapsulated the politics of Empire. Thus, as Carter proposes, “To proclaim ‘Christ crucified’ as Paul did was to announce a politically threatening message” (135). Yet, if this were not enough Paul pushes the political negation of imperial sovereignty further. Paul constantly refers to Jesus with titles such as Lord, Savior, and Son of God. These titles are not religious in nature but, extremely political. Even in the political usage, Lord, Savior, and Son of God were not used or applied ‘generally’ but, had very specific imperial applications. John Dominic Crossan explains that titles and descriptions such as Divine, Lord, Son of God, Savior, and Redeemer were not “ordinary titles applied to all sorts of people at that time, or even extraordinary titles applied to special people in the East,” these phrases belonged specifically to Caesar (28). In other words, Crossan continues, Paul and the early Christ followers “were taking the identity of the Roman emperor and giving it to a Jewish peasant,” which was nothing short of “what the Romans called majestas and we call high treason” (28). Crossan elaborates elsewhere stating that “to proclaim Jesus as Son of God was deliberately denying Caesar his highest title and that to announce Jesus as Lord and Savior was calculated treason” (11). By applying the authoritative titles of the Empire to one crucified by the Roman state, Paul systematically subverts the very institutional hierarchy of Roman order, denigrating the structures of Rome’s power, dominance, authority, and control.

In all of the Roman political terms Paul uses he subversively reappropriates their meaning, applying them not to Rome or to Caesar but, to the bottom-up eco-political eschatology enacted in the person of Jesus, and Parousia, the word Paul uses to refer to the presence and arrival of Christ(1 Cor. 15:23, 1 Cor. 16:17, 1 Thes. 2:19, 1 Thes. 3:13, 1 Thes. 4:15, 1 Thes. 5:23, 2 Thes. 2:1),  is particularly eschatological in the Pauline appropriation and meaning. Parousia bears with it an air of offciality. As Crossan makes clear, Parousia refers to “the arrival…of a conquering general, an important official, an imperial emissary, or, above all, the emperor himself” (167). Yet, the Parousia, to which Paul refers, is the coming arrival and presence of the messianic age, that is, the initiation of the ‘new creation’ (Gal. 6:15 & 2 Cor. 5:17). The new creation is “a this-earthly or a this-worldly” (Crossan, 134) eschatological transformation of the socio-political and socio-ecological order “in which violence and injustice are transformed into purity and holiness” (170). Paul too, like the Markan writer, stresses the all-encompassing totality of the new creation through further connotations of Genesis, paralleling Adam and Jesus. For Paul, what is witnessed in Jesus is representative of a kind of second Adam (Rom. 5:12-21). The Pauline Adamic reference and comparison is extremely significant eschatologically and ecologically, because of its political universality. Theodore Jennings explains that “In Hebrew adam speaks of the earth, the earthling made of earth, of the solidarity of earth and earthling” (131). Here, adam is the full cooperative coexistence and interdependent cohesion of ecology itself. The redemptive and transformative social restructuring of the ‘second’ adam and the consequent new creation is “a redemption of the whole earth,” for all of creation, “and thus to all creatures” (Jennings, 131). The new creation is a universality that is at once an ecological totality.

However, while Jesus focused upon the rural village communities of the countryside, Paul placed his attention upon the capitals cities within the major provinces of the Roman Empire (Crossan, 146). Paul enacted his anti-imperial campaign in the very face of Rome. Thus, Paul was also a first-hand witness to the devastating effects of Roman urbanization. “After military conquest,” writes John Dominic Crossan, “the imperial program was Romanization by urbanization for commercialization” (13). The urbanization process, as carried out by Rome, sought to further the supremacy and dominance of the Empire through the establishment of a globalized “monoculture” (Crossan, 185). In the effort to urbanize, globalize, and commercialize, Rome sought “to subdue topography and dominate nature” (187). As a result, urban provincials and other exploited city-dwellers of lower class and status were subjected to the wiles of Rome’s urbanizing globalization. Warren Carter concurs stating that “Urban life for nonelites” was racked by “floods, fires, food shortages, contaminated water, infectious diseases, human and animal waste, ethnic tensions, and irregular work” (11). The urban environment was harsh and unforgiving. Paul could see “environmental inequalities as products or at least reflections of social power relations” (Holifield, 641). The commercialized consumption that fueled the Roman Empire’s campaign for global urbanization produced a tyrannical subjugation, politically, economically, and ecologically. “Paul’s essential challenge,” then, Crossan concludes, “is how to embody that radical vision of new creation,” especially within an urban context (xi). Paul’s question was how to be in the world but, not of it, how to not “conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed” (Rom. 12:2), how to collectively enact a political eschatology that is simultaneously an Urban Political Ecology? Paul’s answer was the ekklesia (ecclesia or ekklsia).

Occupy Rome: Politics, Ecology, and the New Testament Critique of Empire Part II

This is the second in a series of exerts from a paper I wrote which attempts to offer a reading of several New Testament texts as an eco-political critique of the Roman Empire. You can find the first here.

The Roman Empire was aristocratic and hierarchical (Carter, 3). A population as miniscule as a mere 2-3 percent held all authority, leaving the other 97-98 percent of the inhabitants to be severely oppressed and exploited with no hope of social or economic mobility (Carter, 3). Renowned sociologist Michael Mann accurately concludes that “the Roman landholding elite was about as ‘classlike’ as any group in any known society, past or present” (270). Thus, what may be most important to note concerning the scope of understanding the New Testament as an eco-political critique of the Roman Empire is the fact that Rome was an “agrarian empire” (Carter, 3). Warren Carter explains that Rome’s “wealth and power were based in land,” that is, Roman political-economic life was primarily founded upon land ownership, and specifically the profiting from the “production, distribution, and consumption” of agricultural goods and/or commodities (Carter, 3). The primary means of doing so was through Rome’s collection of taxes, tributes and rents, which were also routinely paid in agricultural goods (Carter, 3). In other words, the Roman aristocracy roughly consumed about 65 percent of agricultural production, meaning that the agrarian peasantry of fishermen and farmers were forced to surrender “20 to 40 percent of [their] catch, crop, or herd” to Roman elites, a heavy burden on both the people and the land (Carter, 3).

Richard A. Horsley explains that the agricultural communities whose land and labor were exploited by the Roman Empire were comprised of “many families” who “lived and worked in hundreds of self-governing village communities scattered across the countryside” (28). Reigning directly over these villages and communities was the local and regional representatives of Rome, that is, client kings or client rulers, and the priestly aristocracy of the Jerusalem temple-state, who imposed further taxes, tributes, and tithes upon the villagers (Horsley, 28).  These village communities where deeply and generationally tied to each other and to the land, however, due to the severity of the taxes and tributes imposed upon them by Rome, and Roman installed client kings and temple-state authorities, many villagers were unable to survive on the crops that remained after such steep tributary payments and such burdensome taxation (Horsley, 28). As Horsley points out, “indebtedness thus became another source of revenues for the elite,” as villagers were forced to take out high-interest loans from “officers of the state” in order to maintain subsistence (28). In many cases the loan-borrowers could not repay the loans and were forced to turn over their ancestral lands to the temple-state and became little more than either tenant farmers or day-laborers. Within such desperate communities and a midst such impoverished villagers is where Jesus’ ministry and work took place, and it was in this social context in which the New Testament author’s wrote.

Occupy Rome: Politics, Ecology, and the New Testament Critique of Empire Part I

I apologize for such an elongated lapse of time since I have last posted. I must admit that I have found myself exceptionally frustrated and despondent with blogging due to the predominating lack of response to my contributions to this site. Often, posting feels like an exercise in futility. However, there remains something personally cathartic in the mere act of releasing something I have thought about, researched, and written about into the ‘world’ even if it is not read or interacted with by others. With that being said, below you will find the introduction from a paper written for one of my previous Graduate courses. The paper itself is a rather large document so I will be posting portions of it over the next several days to make it more easily digestible. Enjoy.

In the present social context of modernity, culture is, quite possibly, at its most Cartesian. The sociological realm continues to grow increasing dualistic. Cultural concepts are looked at dichotomously and thought through vacuously. Perhaps, nowhere is this seen more clearly then in religion and politics. Yet, when considering the New Testament and especially the environment in which it emerged, such a division between religion and politics within the world of the New Testament authors and their audience is an anachronistic separation. Religion and politics, within this first-century era, were inseparably enmeshed and intertwined. One of the many ways Rome promoted and solidified its ideological rule was through the ritualized proclamations of the imperial cult. Through the social inundation of civic religion Rome propagated its political agenda, offering a kind of political-theology. Even the Jerusalem temple and its priestly officials and authorities functioned as sanctioned upholders of Roman socio-economic polity, especially in the collection of rents, debts, and taxes. Rome was an invariably ever-present reality within the culture and context of the Near East and the Mediterranean. Therefore, every aspect of daily life held political and economic implications, as did every interaction and engagement with Rome. As such, the presentation of the New Testament as a depoliticized or apolitical text disengaged from the socio-politico-economic structures of the Roman Empire is erroneously parachronic. Thus, through the use of exegetical New Testament scholarship, socio-historical surveys, anthropological investigations, sociological analyses, and even ecological examinations, this paper intends to subvert anachronistic depoliticized and apolitical interpretations of the New Testament, and instead initiate a radical re-reading of the text. The goal of this ‘re-reading,’ however, is not to demonstrate how the New Testament can be read in a political way but, to show that the New Testament at its very core is always-already political, and is also always-already  ecological. Given the social realities of the New Testament context, (i.e. hierarchical Roman aristocracy, vast power and wealth disparities, and the unsustainable consumption of Rome) the New Testament is best understood as a first-century socio-political critique of the oppressive economic excesses and the exploitative ecological practices of the Roman Empire.

The political nature of the New Testament cannot be over-stated or over-emphasized. The New Testament’s political underpinnings often seem to be expressed in a subtle or implicit manner but, this is largely due to an unclear understanding of the social and cultural context in which it was written. Richard A. Horsley concedes that “religion was inseparable from political-economic life in Roman Palestine” (3). Horsley goes on to say that “Religion as a separate sphere is simply not attested in our sources for the time of Jesus, nor is such a separation evident in the Gospel sources for Jesus” (3). Similarly, Warren Carter states that “in the first-century world, no one pretended religion and politics were separate” (2). In the setting of the New Testament time period, and especially in the case of the Roman Empire, John Dominic Crossan highlights that both religion and politics “are ways of systemically constructing power” (349). Thus, the trajectory of this project is the examination of New Testament political and ecological contextuality. However, due to the limitations and constraints placed upon the space of the project, the analysis is far from exhaustive. While the project does aim to be thorough, the examination is more thematic than holistic, focusing upon key themes, ideas, figures and events within and surrounding the New Testament, rather than the entirety of the text. The intention, then, is to explore thematic strands within the Gospels, the authentic writings of Paul, and the book of Revelation in order to uncover a political and ecological activism deeply embedded within the New Testament.

For instance, the event that could be said to be the thematic impetus of the New Testament and Christianity, itself, is also one of the most politically charged events of the New Testament writings; the crucifixion of Jesus. Indeed, theologically speaking, the crucifixion of the historical Jesus was not only the catalyzing moment for the first-century Christ followers; it also remains the most operatively significant theme of modern-day Christianity. Yet, when studied sociologically and anthropologically, the event of crucifixion is unavoidably and undeniably political. Richard A. Horsley makes clear that “Insofar as crucifixion was the form of execution that the Romans used for political agitators in the provinces, Jesus must have been executed because he was at least thought to be a rebel against the Roman Imperial order” (1). Likewise, Warren Carter affirms that “People got crucified not because they were spiritual, but because they posed a threat to the Roman system” (x). It is, then, inarguable that Jesus was executed as both a “political actor” (Horsley, 1) and a political dissident. It seems that just as there has been a long tradition of depoliticizing the Bible, so too has the figure of Jesus been depoliticized and presented as an apolitical spiritual/religious leader. Yet, Horlsey plainly states, “a Jesus who was only religious cannot have been historical” (3). Thus, the vision of Jesus as an itinerant ‘preacher’ disengaged from the politics and economics of his context is problematic and inaccurate. To situate the figure of Jesus accurately he must be recast as the leader, or founder, of a politically orientated social movement depicted in the New Testament writings.

Yet, what is to be said of the ecological? If the political orientations of the New Testament often go unnoticed then, that which is most ecological within the text goes unconsidered all the more. With such an oversight in mind, and with the goal of producing the most efficient and effective analysis possible within the brief space allotted to the project, this paper will seek to explore those thematic aspects of the Gospels, Jesus’ ministry, Paul’s letters, and Revelation that reflect both a political critique and an ecological concern.