Abstraction, Production, and the Possibility of Cosmopolitanism



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.



The Horror of Philosophical Language

In a recent blog post entitled “Philosophical Language“, philosopher Levi Paul Bryant highlights the way in which certain fields and areas of study, especially and specifically philosophy, seem to participate in a kind of subversion of language, that is, the distortion of normalcy in everyday speech. Bryant describes this endeavor as “an athleticism of language,” explaining this to be “an inventiveness that challenges and disrupts  what the analytics call ‘ordinary language'”. To which I respond with an excitedly affirmative “precisely!” This can be witnessed in nearly every philosophical work of merited weight, importance, and vigor. Commonplace words, terms, phrases, and even ideas are packed and loaded with a plethora of seemingly extraneous ‘meaning’, significance, nuance, and subtlety, making language that was commonly and ordinarily understood anything but. Here, as Bryant explains, “Philosophy breaks language from its moorings, sending it flying in new trajectories…and unheard of directions.” We may think we know but, we have no idea.

In one regard, I think this is not so much the insidious desires of the philosopher alone but, may actually be the evolutionary nature of language itself. Here, it would seem that the subversiveness of language with its disruptive un-mooring and inventive new trajectories is indicative of its emergent properties as a ‘complex adaptive system’, that is, a dynamic and fluid system in which behavioral mutations and adaptations evolve, and continue to evolve, individually and communally in conjunction with alteration eliciting events in agency interactions. In other words, language, adapts itself to the necessities, requirements, and demands of changing events within the progressive interactions of agents. Language reflexively twists itself into new permutations aiding agency in its ability to adapt to changes within the environment.
Lacan’s theory of the symbolic order proves useful here when he explains that “language is not man’s creation and instrument, it is man who ‘dwells’ in language.” Said another way, Laurie Anderson supposed that “Language is a virus”. It continually replicates itself, spreading infectiously, and the more we try immunize ourselves with its understanding the more it mutates into ever more resistant forms. It would appear that we may be in a kind of parasitic relationship with language, language is a parasite and we are the host. If this is the case language was never ‘ordinary’, never safe but, always already twisted, disturbing, and disruptive.
This, in a way, seems to be in keeping with what Bryant is suggesting when he proposes that Philosophy’s ability to disturb the commonplace usage of ordinary language is “always a bit grotesque and shares a resemblance to science fiction; even before science or fiction existed.” In his book, In the Dust of this Planet, Eugene Thacker attempts to outline and explicate Philosophy’s ‘sci-fi’ underpinnings and methodology, which also seems to go a long way in uncovering and explaining philosophy’s ‘monstrous’ use of language. He does this through horror…
Thacker writes that “one of the greatest challenges that philosophy faces today lies in comprehending the world in which we live as both a human and a non-human world – and of comprehending this politically.” Thacker expounds,
On the one hand, we are increasingly more and more aware of the world in which we live as a non-human world, a world outside, one that is manifest is the effects of global climate change, natural disasters, the energy crisis, and the progressive extinction of species world-wide. On the other hand, all these effects are linked, directly and indirectly, to our living in and living as a part of this non-human world.

Zizek writes that “speech does not only register or express a traumatic psychic life; the entry into speech is in itself a traumatic fact.” Zizek continues saying that “speech tries to cope with the traumatic impact of speech itself.” However, Zizek goes on to state that this reciprocity should also be reversed, stating that, “speech does not simply express/articulate psychic turmoils; at a certain point, psychic turmoils themselves are a reaction to the trauma of dwelling in the ‘torture-house of language’.”  Thacker suggests that this seems to be illustrated by the ‘fear’ induced by horror, or, more specifically, the horror genre. Here, Thacker proposes that “horror be understood not as dealing with human fear in a human world (the world-for-us), but that horror be understood as being about the limits of the human as it confronts a world that is not just a World, and not just the Earth, but also a Planet (the world-without-us).” Horror is indicative of the unknowable, the ineffable, “the paradoxical realization of the world’s hiddenness as an absolute hidenness” (Thacker, 171). This is the experience of the confrontation with an ecological totality that is ultimately and primarily ‘non-human’. Thus, Thacker proposes that this is “the paradoxical thought of the unthinkable” and “In so far as it deals with this limit of thought, encapsulated in the phrase of the world-without-us, horror is ‘philosophical’.” As such, horror is nothing short of an “attempt to think about the world-without-us philosophically.” Here, philosophy is horror, and horror is philosophy, in so far as it bears an air of mysticism, becoming a kind of ‘secularized/atheistic’, negative or apophatic theology.

If this is the case, as Thacker suggests and Byant alludes, then how else could such a realm be explored or thought about but by the contagion of an infectious linguistic viral fluxing, the grotesque mutations of philosophical speech, the twisted and tumultuous inexpressibility of traumatic trajectories, and the whole new, ‘wholly other’ disturbing directions of a mysterium tremendum. Language, in symbiosis with philosophers, becomes like elves transformed to Orcs, once serene, beautiful, majestic, and regal creatures “taken by the dark [daemonic or daimonic] powers, tortured and mutilated” evolving into a brand new species aimed at ending the reign of man, that is, revealing the ecological essence of the world. As Thacker elucidates, this is not “the world-for-us” of the ‘World’, nor is it the “world-in-itself” of the Earth, but a nebulous in-between, “impersonal and horrific,” it is the “world-without-us” of the Planet.
Zizek suggests that “Language, by itself, is lying.” “[H]ow” then, “does one rethink the world as unthinkable? – that is, in the absence of the human-centric point of view, and without an over-reliance on the metaphysics of being,” as Thacker asks? Here, Zizek expanding upon Elfriede Jelinek answers, saying “‘Language should be tortured to tell the truth.’ It should be twisted, denaturalized, extended, condensed, cut, and reunited, made to work against itself.” In between gods and monsters may we summon challenge and disruption, invention and subversion, with the horror of philosophical language.

The Sustainable Mapping of Ideology

In her article, “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” Gillen Wood demonstrates that “It is the character of modern consumer society to promote the idea that nothing is connected” (Wood). The orientation of such a societal structure is entirely individualistic and atomistic. However, Wood writes that “Sustainability, by contrast, teaches that everything is connected,” as such, “sustainability is truly the science of everything, from technical strategies for repowering our homes and cars, to the ecological study of biodiversity in forests and oceans, to how we think and act as human beings” (Wood). In this regard, Wood does well to note that “Sustainability is a human and social issue as much as it is ‘environmental'” (Wood). Thus, as Wood describes, the primary and most predominant obstacles  to realizing, actualizing, and achieving global sustainability are psychological, social, and ultimately ideological.

George I. Garcia and Carlos Gmo. Aguilar Sanchez explain that ideology is “the generating matrix that regulates the relation between the visible and the invisible, the imaginable and the non-imaginable, as well as the changes/shifts in these relations” (2). Garcia and Aguilar Sanchez propose that ideology is comprised of “three basic moments: ideology in itself, as a series of ideas; ideology for itself, in its materiality (ideological State apparatuses); and ideology in and for itself, when it enters into operation in social practices” (3). Indeed, the ‘psychologically’ “inherited mental frameworks that reward us for the normalization and simplification of complex realities” and the socially constructed “economic and institutional arrangements designed to protect us from material wants,…risk, shock, disorder and violent change” are the very building blocks of ideology ‘in and for itself’ (Wood). Here, the fragmentary self-ishness of modern Western consumer consciousness is nothing short of being ideologically hegemonic. The work of ideology is to provide “an idealised vision of a ‘society’ that cannot really exist” (5). This is expressed and articulated most clearly in the operative practices of consumptive civilization, implicitly promoting the idea that we can continue our current way of life and go on consuming at our increasing rate without experiencing or causing any disastrous or catastrophic effects, suggesting that there is simply no direct correlation between our societal practices and ecological crisis.
Sustainability and Deep Ecology function as radically subversive social critiques of ‘ideology’. Both sustainability and deep ecology emphasize the fact that “we live in a world characterized by connectivity” and that we must adapt our thinking to a complex, connected model of the world and our place in it,” expanding the boundaries of the self, initiating the ‘complete’ integration of personality and consciousness, and adopting a relational ‘total-field’ image of the world (Brennan and Lo). In this way, each and every one of the efforts of sustainability and deep ecology seek to actively engage in “the long and difficult process of de-normalizing” and disrupting the ideological underpinnings of consumeristic society (Wood), awaking us to the “traumatic limit” and the “true horror of the Real” which urges us to activity (Garcia and Aguilar Sanchez, 5-6).
Brennan, Andrew and Yeuk-Sze Lo. “Environmental Ethics.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Edward N. Zalta. Stanford University, 2011. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.
Garcia, George I. and Carlos Gmo. Aguilar Sanchez. “Psychoanalysis and Politics: The Theory of Ideology in Slavoj Zizek.” International Journal of Zizek Studies 2.3 (2008). Web. 18 Nov. 2013.
Wood, Gillen. “Sustainability: Ethics, Culture, and History.” Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation. Eds. Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin. cnx.org. Connexions, 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Over nine months ago I was laid off from my employer of nearly ten years. In the period that has followed life has been marked by a tumultuous cavalcade of loss and psychological and emotional trauma. Our family home was but one of the many things we were forced to bid farewell to and since, in the wake of the absence, we have been left broken, hurt, at times fearful and frail, sifting through the ruins of what remains in the aftermath of a life violently disrupted, hoping to piece together some sense of normalcy. I have now returned to work but, to a far more menial and labor intensive form of work then the position once held, which has also included a radical change of hours, not to mention a dramatic reduction in wages. Now working a night shift position, physically exhausted and somewhat sleep-deprived, I have begun to contemplate the importance of sleep, not only physically but, also psychologically, philosophically, and politically. Unfortunately, however, I have not been able to devote the time and rigorous contemplation necessary to really delve into the depths of sleep’s psychologically linked relationship to the socio-political sphere. But, this in some sense is precisely my point in writing this. Consider the following passages taken from Freud’s A General Introduction to psychoanalysis in which he discusses the psychic necessitation of sleep and dreaming:

Our relation to the world into which we came so unwillingly, seems to include the fact that we cannot endure it without interruption. For this reason we revert from time to time to the pre-natal existence, that is, to the intra-uterine existence. At least we create for ourselves conditions quite similar to those obtaining at that time—warmth, darkness and the absence of stimuli. Some of us even roll ourselves into tight packages and assume in sleep a posture very similar to the intra-uterine posture. It seems as if the world did not wholly possess us adults, it has only two-thirds of our life, we are still one-third unborn. Each awakening in the morning is then like a new birth.

Freud goes on to say that
The psychic processes of sleep, for example, have a very different character from those of waking. One experiences many things in the dream, and believes in them, while one really has experienced nothing but perhaps the one disturbing stimulus. One experiences them predominantly in visual images; feelings may also be interspersed in the dream as well as thoughts; the other senses may also have experiences, but after all the dream experiences are predominantly pictures.

Sleep creates the parameters for being born-again, for being birthed a new. This is to say that that there are parts of ourselves that are always still to come, portions that are ‘not-yet’ and the sleeping dream is what beckons them forth into a messianic-like arrival.

We constantly speak of the need to be awakened from an apathetic slumber, “we need to wake up and smell the coffee.” But, one can’t help but notice that we are in the throes of a culturally induced insomnia. We live in an ‘always-on’ society of social media, smart phones, 24-hour pharmacies, drive thrus, and 7-11’s, bars, clubs, raves, we are hyper-stimulated, overwhelmed by a never-ending, relentless supply of distracting stimuli. Every city has now been transformed into “the city that never sleeps.” This is, then, also, true of our own homes and even our psyche. Slavoj Zizek notes that “In our ‘society of the spectacle’, in which what we experience as everyday reality more and more takes the form of the lie made real.”  Yet, Sleep and dreams have the capacity to  ‘awaken’ us to the traumatic Real of who we are, what we are, and the way things really are. Peter Rollins writes the following,
Here obsessive late night partying, drinking, drug taking and socialising are not to be thought of as attempts to make mundane reality more interesting and exciting (a common misunderstanding). Rather they can often be futile attempts to ward off the real that awaits [us] in [our] dreams…

Rollins goes on to say that “‘reality’, however dissatisfied with it we are, can act as a screen which protects us from a direct encounter with the horrific Real. In short, reality is structured as a fantasy.” Zizek concurs stating that, “our ordinary reality enables us to evade an encounter with true trauma.” In other words we use the fiction of our waking ‘reality’ as a means and mechanism for escaping the Real of our dreams.

“[T]he Truth,” as Zizek explains, ” has the structure of a fiction: what appears in the guise of dreaming, or even daydreaming, is sometimes the truth on whose repression social reality itself is founded.” We need the space to dream new dreams, no matter how traumatic or disturbing, no matter how jarring. We need to proclaim that “I have a dream…” It is not the  phantasmal or fantasmic ‘reality’ of the waking world that we need to infiltrate our dreams but, rather what we need most is the anguish and upheaval of the dreaming Real to overtake the fictional lie of rousing ‘reality’. 
When we deny ourselves access to sleep and dreams we are denying their revolutionary potentiality to radically alter the everyday ‘life-world’ and we are inadvertently accepted conceding to the status quo of the way things are. It is not the dream that we must awaken from but, the sleepless slumber of repression and mediocrity that we have accepted as being ‘real’.

The Problem of Pentecost: A Festival of Perversion in Two Parts

Part I

For those who follow or are familiar with the liturgical church calender, this past Sunday was Pentecost Sunday. While I wasn’t planning to write a post on this event but, after reading two great posts by Bo Sanders from Homebrewed Christianity, which you can read here and here, and after watching a short Vlog by my friend and Pastor of Riviera UCC Scott Elliot (watch here), I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It certainly wasn’t what was said that bothered me, it was what wasn’t being said. Amidst  all these interesting discussions there was much that I felt was not being addressed or spoken of.

There dramatic differences between what Pentecost is and what it is now. Pentecost, in the Christian faith is an annual celebration of the events depicted in Acts 2, in which the “Holy Spirit” descends upon Jesus’ remaining disciples and those gathered with them in a cramped upper room during the Jewish celebration of Pentecost. The story’s placement within the New Testament canon is representative of a remarkable turning of events for these early Christ followers. It is a landmark moment in their formation.
Occurring not long after the events of Easter, in which Jesus is seen screaming “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” from a merciless Roman cross, Pentecost finds those who once followed the charismatic leader confused and in turmoil in the wake of their leader’s loss. So they gather together in wait, but of what? Here, is what is truly unique  about the text, the pronounced appearance of this “Holy Spirit”, referred to as the Paraclete in Greek, which play a predominating role. Though only briefly mentioned directly, the “Holy Ghost/Paraclete” is rich with symbolism, impact, and implication.
Jacques Lacan, here defines that “The Holy Spirit is the entry of the signifier into the world.” Carl Jung, too, proposes that “It is the task of the Paraclete…to dwell and work in individual human beings, so as to remind them of Christ’s teachings and lead them into the light.” Jung goes on to say that “The future indwelling of the Holy Ghost in man amounts to a continuing incarnation of God.” This represents the democratization of divinity, or what Jung describes as the “Christification of many.”
Slavoj Zizek writes (here) that in the very death of Jesus “with this ‘Father,why did you forsake me?’ it is the God-the-Father who effectively dies, revealing his utter impotence, and thereupon rises from the dead in the guise of the Holy Ghost.” Thus, Zizek states elsewhere that “The ‘Holy Spirit’ is the community deprived of its support in the big Other.” Zizek, unpacking Lacan explains that “the Holy Spirit stands for the symbolic order as that which cancels (or, rather, suspends) the entire domain of ‘life.'” This is a community of loss and in mourning, a group ripped from their ideological grounding, and now haunted by God’s Holy apparition, which seems to be equal parts Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, combined. It is freighteningly empowering, displaying what has been and what can never be again, the trauma of where we are now, and the weight of responsibility we must shoulder to be who we must now become.
Kester Brewin writes evocatively (here) that an experience such as this “is not about experiencing the sacred in the remains of religious beauty, but about experiencing the abandonment and desolation, the responsibility to the rest of humanity, when we realize the sacred is not found in the stain glass, but in the slum outside the church.” Directly following Peter’s sermon after the in-filling of the Holy Spirit, the text states that “they devoted themselves to…fellowship,” “were together and had everything in common,” “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need,” and “They broke bread in heir homes and ate together,” “enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2: 42-47). Pentecost then, is ultimately a mobilizing movement that calls the community to their feet, into the streets, and into a deeper fellowship with all of humanity. It is the formation of an egalitarian space that is fluid and non-hierarchical. It is the collective given birth to by the death of God, exploring what it means “to take up the challenges of that absence” (Brewin).
But, is this actually what is now being celebrated when Pentecost is being observed? It doesn’t seem to be.
To be continued…

The Insomniac’s Reading List

I was recently asked by the Moderator of Riviera UCC for a few book recommendations that could be studied and discussed in their weekly adult seminar. As I compiled a short list of a few of the books that have often kept me awake at night, whose words and contents hung with me long after their covers were closed, I thought some of you might be interested, so here you go! Enjoy!


A History of God” – Karen Armstrong. Armstrong presents what may possibly be one of the most detailed socio-historical analyses of the conceptions of divinity, specifically as it pertains to the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. She traces the development of the idea of “God,” the traditions that surround the notion and the various reformations and reorientations that have occurred in all three faiths. Armstrong begins with Near Eastern myth and follows through all the way to modern skepticism. There is plenty to chew on and discover and is written in such a way that one need not be a scholar to grasp the text.

Likewise, “The Evolution of God,” by Robert Wright, similarly constructs a thorough anthropological investigation into the cultural constructs of god/gods, their place within the grounding of a civilization, and their societal usages. He goes from the hunter-gatherer societies of the Stone Age and moves systematically through to the Information Age. The work is challenging conceptually but is not a challenge to comprehend. He also introduces aspects of Game Theory to his appraisal I.e. showing how some religious conceptions are zero-sum while others are non-zero sum, knowledge of this theory is not necessary to read as Wright does a good job of explaining and applying it lucidly.

Liberating the Gospels” – John Shelby Spong. I recommend anything by Spong, though he is not counted among the renowned Jesus scholars I find him to be just as insightful and inspiring. In this particular book Spong in some ways seeks to continue the work of New Testament scholar Michael Goulder, in the presentation and treatment of the Gosepl chorpus as a classic example of Midrash, that is a Jewish homiletic methodology of biblical exegesis. Here the writer of Midrash is not seeking to convey history nor the simple conveyance of facts or teachings but, is rather deeply interpretive. Thus, Spong’s suggestion is that the Gospel writers were not attempting to document the facts or history of the life and teachings of Jesus, but, were rather participating in the long Jewish tradition of Midrash. Spong goes through each of the gospels in immense detail, leaving nearly no gospel text un-turned, highlighting the  imagery and instances that point to the midrashic genre. One does not need to be familiar with either Goulder’s work or Midrash to garner Spong’s thesis, as his target audience is specifically the laity.

God: A Biography” by Jack Miles, this is an intriguing book I’m currently reading that examines “God” as a literary character as presented in the Hebrew Bible.  I’m not done with it yet but it has been captivating as Miles explores many of the subtleties and nuances of the story as well as those aspects of the narrative that often are glossed over or explained away. As you can imagine the image that emerges is one that dramatically challenges and often opposes the description of the “God” character that many suppose the text supports revealing a literature that often views the deity in an unfavorable light.

Joseph’s Bones” by Jerome Segal. This is another book I’m currently reading. Segal approach is very similar to that of Jack Miles’ book listed above. He seeks to deeply engage with the Hexateuch i.e. Genesis-Joshua, via literary criticism. He treats these first six books of the Hebrew Bible as though they were a single, unified, book of literature, that is as if these six books were one book in and of themselves, a “novel” if you will. It’s not that Segal is seeking to dissuade the use historical criticism or source criticism, he certainly references these but he is attempting to momentarily suspend our knowledge of these, phenomenologically bracketing out everything we know of the text and anything we may have previously attached to prior readings, be they religious or otherwise. Here, he asks the reader to approach the text experientially as if it were a book fresh from shelves and being read for the first time blocking out all religious and historical influences upon it and simply straightforwardly reading it. I haven’t finished this one either but, overall Segal’s style and method are captivating and insightful.

Last but certainly not least, “Insurrection” by Peter Rollins. I’ve been a long time fan and long time follower of Peter Rollins. Rollins may be the one of the  most progressive and possibly one of the most radical theological voices speaking to religion, and specifically Christianity, today. Rollins, a self-proclaimed Christian Atheist (see why I like him!), has his PhD.  in Post-Structural Analysis and thus is steeped in post-modern thought. In this bold work, Rollins pulls equally from theology (Dietrich Bonhoeffer), the mystics (Meister Eckhart), psychoanalysis (Freud and Jacques Lacan), and even social criticism (Marx and Slavoj Zizek) to offer an incendiary and critical look into the contemporary Church that he poignantly calls “pyro-theology.” The reader is not required to know anything about any of the fields or thinkers that Rollins conjures. His writing is readily accessible yet deeply challenging sometimes to the point of discomfort. Rollins would say that that is precisely the point, to have more questions than answers and to embrace doubt above belief. The book is simply a must read.

The Economy of Justice…

In his book, T.A.Z., Hakim Bey describes the functionality of the strategic socio-political creation of temporary zones or spaces which defy all formalized and authoritative structuring. Bey calls these spaces, “Temporary Autonomous Zones,” or T.A.Z. for short. Here he suggests that the most effective way to create social relationships free from the influence of hierarchal systems is to concentrate on both the present moment and the relinquishment of one’s mind from the impositions of mechanized control.

I think this is precisely what we see in the Occupy Wall Street protest, and there may be no better place to create such a space. The critics of this protest have critiqued the event based upon the protestor’s lack of focus i.e. there is no set of standardized, unified, or identifiable demands being presented by those protesting. Yet, in many ways that is exactly the point and is the principle of its power. Its lack of definition is possibly its greatest strength in that it is the opposition of the facelessness of a systemic and systematic rigidity. The protestors are united by desire rather than demand. Peter Rollins said that “the point is not that you know what to do, the point is that you should do something.” This is what is being played out. It is the enactment of creative potentiality that is truly empowering.

In the same manner, Cornel West spoke of the Occupy Wall Street protest, “It’s impossible to translate the issue of the greed of Wall Street into one demand, or two demands. We’re talking about a democratic awakening.” I think he’s absolutely right. This is not only the democratization of the philanthropic but also, in some ways, the democratization of the prophetic tradition. Not ‘prophetic’ in the Pentecostalist capacity but, in the Judeo lineage of social criticism i.e. the Hebrew prophets who were unafraid to speak against priest and king. This is the tradition that Jesus himself was firmly rooted within. In this present form it is being transformed into a communal event. The sound resonating from the side walk is a harmonious ensemble desiring mercy and not sacrifice, longing for sentient sensitivity over systemization. The purpose is to create tension rather than resolution, to present questions rather than answers, to give criticism and critique rather than offer arbitrary solutions, and to call for return.

Aristotle asserted that human species is, in essence, homo politicus, that essentially a political being. Marx made a similar summation, suggesting that mankind is homo econmicus, an economic being. Wall Street is certainly a monument to both these proposed facets of human identity. Yet, what is being performed in the face of the brick and mortar edifice of the political/economic institution is far more organic, agrarian, and egalitarian. Perhaps, we should realize that first, foremost, and primarily homo ecologicus, that is, ultimately, an ecological being, created from the dust of the earth. There is a median in the center of the road at the traffic light where Robert J. Conlan meets US1. I pass it every morning on my way to work and I am enamored by it. It demonstrates the persistence and perseverance of nature finding a way when there seems to be no way, even when the way is blocked because there we find grass and wild flowers growing through the cracks and crannies of the pavement, breaching the barriers, protruding defiantly, reaching for daylight, and taking over the surface of the curb, ever surviving. This is what we see happening in the Occupy Wall Street protest, man rising; pushing through every crevice of Wall Street’s concretizations, refusing to be inhibited, claustrophobic from the steel girders of an unforgiving frame. The message is then the reiteration, “man shall not live by bread alone.” Humankind cannot ultimately be sustained by the unholy union of natural provisions and mechanized production, scorched by the fires of industry. Instead we shall live by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” that is the divine logos, the numinous lurking throughout every aspect of the created order that has been since the beginning, the logos that was with God and the logos that was God, the divine energy of the universe. This is the word that spoke life and creation into being, the word that created in the image of the numinous, and the word that breathed into the nostrils of mankind, filling both lungs and imagination.

Perhaps this is what it looks like and what it sounds like when the rocks cry out, when the mountains tremble, when the hills break into song, and when the trees clap their hands. Mark Twain wrote that “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it. I think this relates quite well to what is taking place upon the streets of the protest. This is not the sign of vengeance or retribution, but nor is it passivity. These are the lilies and violets of the field tread upon, broken under the weight of our own structures, perfuming the cold sterility of an arid landscape with the call for justice.

In her poem, “KitchenetteBuilding,” Gwendolyn Brooks asks to poignant and pertinent questions. “Could a dream rise up through onion fumes and yesterday’s garbage ripening in the halls?” And more importantly, “would we let it in?”