Abstraction, Production, and the Possibility of Cosmopolitanism

 

diogenes-statue-sinop-enhanced

Last week I wrote a post entitled “Nature, Nihilism, Nationalism, Morality, and the Existence of Superiority.” I’ve continued to ponder those same musings.

I’ve wondered to myself “What is the actual value of ‘nationalism’?”

This is at once both a genuine and a rhetorical question. (Here my thinking is both scattered an nonlinear, please bear with me).

Humanity has persisted primariy because of its capacity as a Tool Being. For example, our survival has been predicated upon the following ‘tools’:

  1. abstraction – the ability to create meaning-laden ‘symbols’ and ideas (language, mathematical notation, etc.)
  2. cooperation – the complex creation of ‘social’ life throug the establishment of norms and values (also abstractions).
  3. production – that is, the ability to create ‘tools'(/technology) – both material and non-material (symbols, ideas, norms, values, ect.)

In this regard, perhaps above all, the key to our survival is our neural plasticity. That is, our ability to not oly cognize but, to ‘re’-cognize, examine, observe, evaluate, and change/adapt ourselves, our ‘tools’ and ‘tool’ methodologies, i.e. our symbols, ideas, norms, and values.

A nation-state, for example, is but an abstraction, a non-material tool, its underpinnings being only symbolic. It is a ‘Production’ of ‘Abstraction’ and ‘Cooperation’. The nation-state is a combinative outcome (production) of ‘social’ (cooperative) Institutions (abstraction); the combination of the ‘state’ (Political Institution) and the ‘nation’ (Cultural Institution). Even its borders are non-material and are an arbitrary creation. No doubt like any other symbolic product of tool creation, it was an attempt to serve a purpose but, at what prce? At what cost? Has the ‘end’ justified the means? It has certainly not been without its faults. It has been and continues to be historically rife with tension, terror, and turmoil. Perhaps, it is a tool/technology that has out lived its usefulness, especially given the immense economic and ‘ecological’ disasters we are facing at present.

Rather than attempt to continue to ‘cement’ and ‘concretize’ a non-material notion, perhaps we should begin to ‘plasticize’ such cognitions, re-evaluate their performance, and make the necessary adaptations. Perhaps, a return (of sorts) is in order, a return and re-invention of the thought of Diogenes, a reinvigoration of a kind of cosmopolitanism, in which one’s primary identification is neither the nation-state nor the city-state but, to the polis of the cosmos, citizens of the world.

However, I don’t mean this in some idealistic or utopia way. In proposing a kind of cosmopolitanism I’m not advocating cultural relativism (multiculturalism/’tolerance’) – whch suggests that all cultures and all cultural practices have equal vaue.This is an ideological tool for hegemonic utilization which seeks to establish something of an implicitly or explicitly homgoneous mono-culture. In many cases, the multiculturalist endeavor actually avoids ‘difference’ and fails to honestly or authentically acknowledge the Otherness of the other and the corresponding inequalities. In this way multiculturalism actually serves as a means to maintain the status-qou. Multiculturalism functions as a kind of invisible imperialism and a cloaked colonialism supporting dominant culture (cosumeristic globalization, perhaps?).

By saying that I question the supremacy/superiority of some cultures or doubting that there are superior cultures I am not proposing that they are all of equal vaue.

On one hand, I’m attempting to avoid ethnocentrism, which attempts to judge another cuture by the standards of one’s own. This impairs sociological analysis, and what is needed is the furthered development of a sociological uderstading of culture.

On the other hand, I’m acknowledging that the atrocities denounced by the ‘tolerance’ of multiculturalism is, in fact, implicitly persistent within the muticuturalist’s culture. For instance, one may openly protest the malevolent sexism within the barbarous act of female genital mutilation but, will probably have nothing to say about the litanty of mutilations known as Plastic Surgery performed and undergone for no other reason than as an attempt to conform one’s body to the Western notions of sexiness, masquerading as a free-choice.

“The thing to do,”as Zizek explains, “is to change the entire field, introducing a totally different Universal, that of an antagonistic struggle which does not take place between particular communities, but splits from within each community, so that the ‘trans-cultural’ link between communities is that of a shared struggle”.

The point, then, of this re-invented cosmopolitanism is not  cultures of ‘equal value’ but, equal struggle. It is the universality of struggle and power relations. The universal unification of struggle betwen more and less advantaged groups. Universal Citizens of universal struggle universally united by the emancipatory struggle towards universal liberation.

 

 

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…

The Pathology of Boundaries…

I recently completed a course in Environmental Ethics. It was incredibly helpful and insightful as I have become increasingly concerned with ecology in both my thought and practice, especially since transitioning to Veganism almost nine months ago. The move to become vegan, itself, was motivated and brought on by a deep and thoughtful engagement with Aldo Leopold‘s Land Ethic from his work A Sand County Almanac, as well as Peter Singer‘s Animal LiberationBoth texts were required reading for a class I was taking at the time, Contemporary Issues in Philosophy. I also happened to be reading Daniel Quinn‘s novel Ishmael during this period. It, too, was quite influential in guiding my decision to become more environmentally focused and thus, to take up the vegan lifestyle. As such, the impetus of my current research and work is centered upon exploring the wider implications and intersections of ecology, philosophy, the humanities, and culture/society. This transition, itself, is something I hope to write about further in future posts.

Below you’ll find a short essay I wrote for the Environmental Ethics course previously mentioned. In this assignment I was asked to briefly reflect upon and respond to Leopold’s Land Ethic from the aspect of Reason, Emotion, or Physical Activity. I hope you enjoy it! Please feel free to comment and respond! I would would excitedly welcome your feedback!

In his editorial introduction to Hegel’s 1827 Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Peter C. Hodgson writes that the impetus or the “main theme” of “Western consciousness” is “the individuality of all things” and that this is especially and most accurately true of “human beings” (45). Individuation, separation, categorization, dissection, and fragmentation, these are but a few of the main ideals that form the basis for Western philosophy and Western psychology. From Social Contract Theory to Self-help and beyond everything is hinged upon the idea of the isolated, independent, and absolutely autonomous ‘subject’. Western consciousness has created a pathological sense or conception of ‘self’, i.e. the subjective I, the Cartesian cogito. Here, even the ‘self’ fails to be a unity but is divided into dichotomous dualisms and false binaries, mind/body, body/soul, or, as illustrated within the forum prompt itself, the clear-cut distinctions between Reason/Emotion/Physical Action.

This also leads to a pathological sense of species/nature which forms the backdrop for not only the way in which humans relate to themselves and to each other, but also to the world and the planet as a whole, i.e. humanity as separate and distinct from each other and humanity as above, opposed to, and/or ultimately separate from the biosphere. This is precisely what Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethics seeks to cure and correct. Leopold writes that “a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it” (171). As such, the land ethic, first and foremost, is developmentally psychological in orientation and methodology. It is at once, as Charles Starkey demonstrates, “a psychological theory of moral development and ecological rationality that advocates a shift in the way that environmental problems are conceptualized and approached” (149) and “a developmental change in cultural psychology… that expands the domain of the moral beyond that of human beings, so that nonhumans are afforded moral consideration” (159). Leopold reinvigorates the the fact that “All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts” (171). With this comes the realization that “all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity” (Berry, 16). As such, the ‘self’ too must be envisioned as an integral whole both internally and externally, an undivided self unmistakably part of the land, responding with Reason, Emotion, and especially, with Physical action. Of what avail are Reason and Emotion if they do not spur one to action? As Marx famously concludes “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it” (574).
Sallie McFague makes clear “We do not have bodies…We are bodies” (16). We are not containers compartmentalized into separate isolated areas of Reason, Emotion, and Physical activity, each one caged off and uncontaminated by the other. We are none other than our material reality, that is, mind, reason, emotion, as a culmination “evolved from” and “continuous with our bodies” (McFague, 16). So, too, should we approach the biotic community, recognizing that we are “evolved from” and “continuous with” the Land.
Hodgson, Peter C. Editorial Introduction. Lectures of the Philosophy of Religion, One-Volume Edition: The Lectures of 1827. By G. W. F. Hegel. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 1-71. Print.
Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac: With Essays on Conservation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Print.
Marx, Karl. The German Ideology, Including Theses on Feuerbach. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1998. Print.
McFague, Sallie. The Body of God: An Ecological Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993. Print.
Starkey, Charles. “The Land Ethic, Moral Development, and Ecological Rationality.” Southern Journal of Philosophy 45.1 (2007): 149-175. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Nov. 2013

Experiential Alterity…

 

In the forward to his book, As a Man Thinketh, James Allen writes that the objective of the text is to “stimulate men and women to the discovery and perception of the truth that – ‘They themselves are the makers of themselves’ by virtue of the thoughts which they choose and encourage” (5). Allen goes on to say that ” A man literally is what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts” (5).  These passages are quoted not to promote the traditional dichotomy of Cartesian mind/body dualism in which the material reality of one’s outer-world is pitted against one’s psychic inner-world. Instead, they are intended to indicate the “intra-active process” of “a material-semiotic matrix” (Tuana, 57). There is a reflexivity at work in which mind/body, thought/reality, attitude/life, are “performed-and-embodied” (Tuana, 60). In this regard, ‘life’ is “always already” ‘attitude’ and attitude/thought is “always already” reality/material. Nancy Tuana makes clear that “Reality is not composed of things-in-themselves or things-behind-phenomena, but things-in-phenomena” (61). Here, “Entities are not fixed, but emergent” (Tuana, 61).
Life is, as James explains, “present and alive…On freight-trains, on the decks of vessels, in cattleyards and mines, on lumber-rafts, among the firemen and the policemen…There, every day of the year somewhere, is human nature in extremis” (James). James demonstrates that “Divinity lies all about us,…the deepest human life is everywhere,” integrally intertwined with every shift of ‘perspective’, every change of ‘attitude’, and every alteration of thought and thinking (James). Here, every single ‘experience’, no matter how profound or mundane is ‘life-altering’. Every experience is a material-semiotic matrix, in which every ‘material’ experience is a psychological experience and vice versa, there-by altering ‘life’. Whether a breeze, a book, a sunrise, falling in love, or the birth of a child, each contains within it the unimaginable capacity and potentiality for the alteration of one’s attitudes, and correspondingly one’s life. After the death of my grandfather my life was marked by a melancholy, a loneliness, and a sadness which has never left me. The first time I saw a Pollock painting I knew I would never be the same, ‘altering’ what creativity means. With the experience of each reading of Hegel I am awakened, invigorated, and forever altered and changed. Everyday with my wife brings with it the joyous rupture of love’s sting, the vulnerability of what it means to ‘need’ someone, altering what it means to be alive. Every moment with my son is the greatest moment of my life and every experience of my daughter’s affections is rapturous. Every experience of the mundane is at once the experience of the utmost profundity. Every experience of the finite is an experience of the infinite. The absolute fullness of immanence is the excess of transcendence.
Allen, James. As a Man Thinketh and Other Writings. Stilwell: Digireads.com, 2005. Print.
James, William. “What Makes a Life Significant?” Introduction to Ethical Studies: An Open Source Reader. Ed. Lee Archie and John G. Archie. Philosophy.Lander.Edu, 2003. Web. 14 Oct. 2013
Tuana, Nancy. “Fleshing Gender, Sexing the Body: Refiguring the Sex/Gender Distinction.” The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. XXXV (1996): 53-71. PDF file.

A Prayer of Perhaps ( To the God I Don’t Believe In)

I pray to you…but, who is the “you” to whom I pray?

Who are “you”?
Perhaps I pray to no one
that isn’t so hard to believe.
Infinite pages could be filled by the desperate cries and the wounded words shouted to an empty sky.
Perhaps I pray to myself,
as I’m sure Feuerbach would agree.
Perhaps I pray to the best of me, alienated and disenfranchised from myself,
fallaciously separated from my own flesh and set up beneath a transcendent crown upon an immaterial thrown of the heavenly lie I’d like to believe.
Perhaps…I pray to God?…
If you are God…I don’t believe in you.
You do not exist.
You are dead.
You have died.
I witnessed your last breathe escaping, never to return.
Your blood is still dripping from my hands,
my fingers still tight and clinging to the hilt of the blade.
But…
If “you” are God…
although I cannot set aside the atheist for which I rightly pass for
I will speak and, perhaps, even listen to “you” if you will listen and, perhaps, even speak to me

Rob Bell After Magic

 

I’ve been reading Kester Brewin‘s latest book entitled After Magic: Moves Beyond Super-Nature, From Batman to Shakespeare. Brewin summarizes the trajectory of the book well, saying that “I am convinced that in our love of power and influence we have ignored the subtle move that many stories take in renouncing magic at their conclusions.” From this vantage Brewin traces this move ‘Beyond Magic’ within some of our most renowned works of literature and film. As the subtitle suggests this is a journey which begins in Shakespearian plays and continues all the way to films such as The Prestige, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, and pushes further still. The impetus of the journey, as Brewin makes clear, is to “explore what they have unearthed in our humanity” in order to “uncover a faithful re-reading of Christianity that follows their moves ‘beyond super-nature’ to something far, far greater.” “The hope,” then, as Brewin goes on to say, “is that by immersing ourselves in these stories, and accepting this radical re-reading of the Christian narrative as a model of life ‘after magic,’ our humanity will be restored and our addiction to power and violence broken.”

In this regard, Brewin’s work does much to incite and ignite the imagination. Upon reading his text one begins to see luminous examples of this renouncement of ‘magic’ and ‘super-nature’ well beyond the borders set forth within the book’s pages. One such an example occurred to me recently.
Rob Bell, former teaching pastor of the Michigan mega-church, Mars Hill, has been noted as a profound and prolifically creative speaker and author yet, has always remained as something of an ambiguous and enigmatic figure. His work has, more often than not, hinged upon raising big questions of some of religion’s biggest themes, subjects, positions, and doctrines. Interestingly enough, however, he has done so while alluding the pronouncement of his own position or view. In much of both his writing and speaking he has become a master of evading the offer of a clear and concise answer to many if not all of the very questions in which he raises. As such, Bell has certainly been no stranger to controversy, especially in regards to such works as the now infamous Love Wins, which if many would have actually taken the time to read would have seen that there was very little in the way of controversial content. I am sympathetic to Bell’s method of allowing big and haunting questions to remain lingering without answer. It is not necessarily a bad thing that he has often resisted ‘taking a side’ per se. I do think that in many ways our question are more important than our answers. I have to admit that I count Bell’s book, Velvet Elvis, to be one of those paradigm shifting books for me personally. I read it at a time when I needed ‘questions’ such as those must. It lead further into inquiry, examination, and critique but, ultimately this journey lead also to taking a position, while not  a staunch or necessarily rigid position in all cases, in certain areas I have had to make a decision and take a side. As such, that has often been my critique of Bell and his work. Elusivity does lead to investigation and while Bell’s balancing act is admirable, I know that at some point there will be a fork in the road. One will come to a crossroads and there will come a time when one simply must ‘take a side,’ so to speak.
Though I may, perhaps, be over generalizing but, it seems that for Rob Bell that time has arrived. In recent headlines, ‘Rob Bell Comes Out for Marriage Equality.’ While on a speaking tour promoting his latest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, Bell was asked for his position on same-sex marriage. In response Bell said, “”I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs — I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.”
Now, what I find most interesting about this is not simply that Rob Bell took a side, though that is to be applauded, nor am I intrigued by the position he took, it is one I myself adamantly hold. What is most interesting to me about Bell’s seemingly sudden ‘positional’ clarity is its timing. The former pastor has so rarely been that candid with controversial issues, it begs the question what has changed? Could this be another indication of what Brewin describes as that which comes ‘after magic’?
Brewin writes that “In anthropological terms there is total continuity between magic and religion.” Thus, there is also a continuity between the magician and the priest. Brewin continues stating that,
In the person of the priest we have someone dressed in robes who is, for the purposes of the illusion, suppressing their identity. Under the surface of both the ‘transported man’ and the ‘transubstantiated God’ tricks are extremely violent murders from which the audience remain protected.

Here, “part of the priest or shaman’s role is thus to convince their audience that they need to keep coming back: it is in their interest to bring to the fore the infinite demand that a god’s existence makes.” “The Priest,” Brewin goes on to say, “preaches a message of commitment and regular worship because they need to sustain the demand.” As a result, “Great institutions [like the church/religion] can do brilliant work, but the inescapable problem with our projection onto them of super-natural ability is the large, dehumanising demands that they create.”

It seems that now, less than three years, after Bell’s resignation from Mars Hill, after laying down the ‘magic’ of the pulpit, the ‘priesthood’, and the cloth, moving beyond the disguise and elusivity that the trick demands be maintained, Bell is taking decidedly clear stances that are more deeply affirmative of the actuality of where our humanity is. Perhaps this is precisely what it means to live After Magic.