Murmurs and Antagonisms

Orthodoxy via Heresy

Category: Musings

Various Thoughts on Radicalism

It’s fair to say that most of my radicalization has happened through music, specifically folk punk, and I think it’s equally fair to say that my politics are fairly well expressed in a song not written for my context. When Pat the Bunny wrote From Here to Utopia he probably wasn’t thinking of a liberal arts college kid studying philosophy with about as much midwestern privilege as the next person. That said, there’s something in the lyrics that gets at a simple reality: namely that learning to think and make unthought worlds means hating the world, denying it, and still hoping for a world where “I don’t wanna have to hate everything anymore.” It’s a hope that the song gets at, that the world as we know it is problematic and young kids attempting to be radicals aren’t new at declaring the problem of the world. That this shit can’t go on, yet it does. Pat gets at this reality, the simultaneous failure of radicalism and its necessity when he says that our enemies “will teach our corpses to dance.”

Radicalism in the modern age requires a sense of nihilism. Nihilism that is guided by a reality that we live in a new geological age and the planet is beyond saving. Install solar panels on your house, recycle, do the best to care for this planet but realize you’re only slowing the inevitable. Nihilism guided by a reality of living in a world made by, and defined by, white supremacy, queerphobia, nationalism and a myriad of other evils is beyond recognition in any humane, gracious way. Course, saying that radicalism needs nihilism seems odd since nihilism is given the bad rap of being a suicidal way of seeing the world. Well, the world’s already killed itself (or at least we aided in the suicide).

The world isn’t good. It’s beyond saving in a lot of ways. At least under current models of being. But I think that’s where nihilism shuts us down and gets us outside of ourselves. But it’s not enough.

Nihilism isn’t enough. Nihilism is just facing the reality of the world but still trying to explain away suffering. What comes next is sitting within suffering, working from within it, naming it, naming the unthought, and realizing that half this shit is unthinkable, at least to our white, heteronormative, Eurocentric modes of thought.

So, am I radical? I don’t know. Radicals are basically folks who claim the title but sit on their ass and aren’t willing to do anything. I’m one of those. I’m a failure at most everything I say or claim as a belief or guiding principle. But I try and move baby steps forward. And realize that pragmatism (note: pragmatism isn’t equivalent to getting one’s hands dirty) is a luxury afforded me. A luxury not afford other folks. Face the world, name it, damn it, and move on.

“Who killed the world?”

Notes on Being Radical

We all want to be radical and many people my age (college aged millennials) claim the label. Something seems odd, though. It seems so oddly difficult to claim to be radical since no one really is. Not truly. We’re all inconsistent failures. Ironically, the most consistently radical are those conservative, right wingers who follow out their horrid beliefs to the logical end. Or the anarchists in Greece who bomb far right group meeting places and start fist fights. We all want to be radical. I want to be radical.

Somewhere along the line it seems we lost any sense of what it means to be radical. We say we’re radical but then when pressed we back down. Somehow being radical means holding fully formed and fleshed out beliefs about the world and the problem with the world we’ve been given. And I guess I’m not sure how to be radical. What follows are some brief thoughts on how to be radical, to do violence to the system and world we’ve been given, to imagine new ways in the break.

Maybe radical means standing in solidarity with black persons. Maybe it means shutting up and turning off the desire for “all of the facts” and actually trying to be there. Being radical in this case doesn’t seem too radical at all. But maybe that’s the point. Go to a protest. Protests the murders of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott. Stand against Darren Wilson, Mike Slager and the murderers. As a white person I’m starting to think maybe I need to shut the hell up and just be there. I need to relearn and unlearn my history and my past and the current climate. I need to make the last first and be silent and listen and mourn with those who mourn. Maybe demonstrate that black lives do matter in a tangible way by centering those lives.

Maybe being radical is suffering with queer kids. Maybe it’s shutting your damn bible and listening to stories. Learn to step into the shoes of others.

Maybe being radical is actually going to protests, writing, expressing, and educating oneself about the issues that are important to do today.

I don’t know. These are just thoughts. I’m really struggling with these things lately, trying to know how to proceed and being too pragmatic for my own good.

 

Comments welcomed.

On Becoming Vegetarian

I’ve grown up in suburbia and trees. Grown up surrounded by a family who hunt and/or fish. On my dad’s side hunting seems to be the most common, on my mom’s side fishing. I’ve done both. I’ve caught fish and failed miserably at hunting. In either case I’ve always been repulsed by the idea of gutting an animal. Something seems off putting about it to me, but serious injuries on a human body fascinate me. Despite my repulsion I’ve enjoyed the results of successful hunting and fishing. I enjoy venison, I enjoy freshly cooked fish, I’ve enjoyed meat. And still do, if I’m honest. There’s meals my mom makes, that come from my heritage (German-America), that I really appreciate and cherish. But I’m not sure I can eat meat any more. This isn’t some sudden appearance of an idea I don’t think. It’s been in my mind for a while.

I first really became disturbed by the videos I’d seen in high school. These videos that depict immense cruelty to animals, mistreatment, and disturbing methods of development and meat production (Glass Walls [graphic, disturbing imagery] stands out as one of the main ones in my memory). I was aware of the cruelty, of the pain. But I figured that it’s okay, my family hunts, we use a fair amount of the meat. And, more bluntly, I just didn’t care. I’d been taught by churches and particular interpretations of the bible that animals were just animals, that somehow I was better than them. This teaching was backed by passages in Genesis describing how humanity has dominion over nature. I had no reason to really consider ethical eating of any sort. Till a year ago.

I revisited Glass Walls (leaving aside the problematic nature of PETA and their campaign rhetoric). After revisiting the video I just had this sudden overwhelming intuition that eating the flesh of another being is, if not wrong, weird and uncomfortable. But I still ate meat. I had an intuition and I tried to follow it but not seriously. Then I came to college. And my college has good food (or not horrible food) in my opinion. The best options tend to be vegan/vegetarian, to my estimation, so I ate that most times. During the course of last semester I ended up in an intro to philosophy course with my advisor (an ardent animal rights activist and thinker). Within the course my advisor has us consider speciesism. We didn’t dwell on speciesism for too long but the brief time we spent on it made clear to me that the language I use (and have been given) brutalizes animals just as much as a visceral practice of slaughter. Or, at the very least, it allows for mistreatment. Mix that with eating mostly vegetarian options and things became interesting.

All that to say, I’m pretty much committed to at least a form of vegetarianism for now. The health benefits seem to outweigh whatever benefits I could get from meat and I feel better physically (though that may not be linked directly to meat). I’m still working through the process of why I am. But it seems clear to me that factory farming is in itself problematic. Since more than half the meat we eat comes from factory farms (estimates range, depending on the animal, from 78-99%) I can’t really justify continuing to eat meat under the notion that I killed it, or it was ethically harvested. This isn’t to say that the possibility for ethically sourced meat doesn’t exist, just to say that I don’t have affordable access to that meat, much less a means of cooking and presenting it.

I guess for me it comes down to selfish reasons but also to the fact that, as Mylan Engel has so beautifully argued, if I claim to desire a world with less harm and suffering then my participation in the meat producing industry contributes to that and I am complicit in a systemic harm. My moral complex, however pathetic it might be, doesn’t allow for unneeded suffering. None of this is to condemn meat eaters or folks who enjoy a good steak (I have and maybe will some time down the road, though unlikely) but it is to say that for me, in my Western, developed country context, I have no justification for eating meat that doesn’t come down to: I like it. And liking something isn’t an argument for allowing harm.

 

On Following Jesus

I’ve taken to saying that I still identify as a Christian. At its most basic this simply means I’m attempting to follow Jesus. But what is “following Jesus”? What does that mean? Sure, the typical answer is doing – or acting – in accordance with the way of Jesus. And that’s not wrong. But I wonder if there’s anything unique about following Jesus, at least in a world of options. I think not. But I still follow Jesus and I still think of Jesus as having some salvific power. But I think I’m beginning to realize that I am incapable of having a personal relationship with Jesus. More: I don’t think it’s possible. It’s definitely not possible in any traditional understanding of a personal relationship. I can’t call Jesus, or text him, or tweet at him, or hug him. I can pray, though the benefits are questionable to me. As a friend once said (paraphrased and worded to the best of my memory), “An immanent god isn’t one too interested in answering prayers, I don’t think.” This has stuck with me. And I’m not sure I could explain how it’s affected me, just that it has. The point is that my belief in an immanent deity instead of a transcendent one makes it unlikely that I can pray with reasonable expectation of my prayers being answered. So, not sure I can have a personal relationship with Jesus.

What then? How do I define my relationship to this man who claimed to be God?

To get at this I need to detour into a discussion of idolatry. I think Marion offers the most helpful clarification regarding idolatry. Marion argues that idolatry finds its problem in its limits. As he states, “Only the genuineness of the idol, as a limited and hence real (real because limited) way of taking the divine into view…” (God Without Being, 28). This makes clear to me why discussions of a personal relationship with a no longer existing person seems odd. I’d actually contend it’s idolatry. Which, finally, takes me back to the ideas of a personal relationship.

Most Christians would, I think, argue that because Jesus exists in a heavenly realm now (he ascended after all) he is still existing and therefore a personal relationship is possible. But that doesn’t seem to make sense without assuming – or doing – the prior work of redefining what “personal relationship” means. Thus, if Jesus is in heaven the way we advance our relationship is to read the bible and pray. Which, also seems odd. Sure, prayer might be just like talking to a friend but Christians can’t even agree on what prayer is really. And reading the bible as a way to form a “personal relationship” seems mildly disturbing. Treating the bible like a diary (which it’s not) of God makes it seem like it’s okay to read the diaries of friends and parents etc. My point is that I don’t think one can have a personal relationship with the God-Man personally on practical grounds. But, more, I think these discussions presume an experience of the divine which verges on idolatrous.

The problem is that folks don’t realize the idolatry of claiming to know a man who died and disappeared. With Jesus we only have a three year snapshot of his life and ministry. Thus, any attempt to demonstrate the historicity of Jesus will be limited by our human capacities. As such, I’m not sure we really will ever know the flesh and blood Jesus. We rely on testimony. We build a construction of Jesus and then associate it somehow with God (insert a protracted discussion of the sensus divinitatis as an example of this). The idolatry comes from a valid experience of the divine but then limiting it to that.

So, what does it mean for me to follow Jesus? It means I follow a construction. I follow an icon of the invisible, questionably existent God. I risk idolatry because I construct an image of what Jesus desires of me. Ergo, I can deconstruct the way of Jesus and try to bette grasp on to this.

 

(Note: writing this I realized I’ve hit the problem of conversion…which will probably lead me to another post. Nor do I think idolatry is inherently a problem.)

Notes on the Self and Art

You are not your self. I am not my self.

We’re not vacuum forming selves. And we’re not original. We write, make, create art and things that masquerade as art in the hopes of reaching an audience. We create and recreate and vomit on the pages and screens boring and increasingly inane “art”. This isn’t some punt to a transcendent deity to explain why we aren’t autonomous self-creating selves (well, white people probably aren’t at least). We are formed by what we throw up and what is thrown up on us. The people that are thrown into (onto?) our lives shape and make us. Because that’s all writing is, a rereading of previously reread ideas spat on pages and screens…

I’m not sure what the point of this post is, if there is one. It’s more just an endless ramble, notes on a subject that’s been bugging me – namely, me. It might also be my attempt to get free from the b.s. that is significance and meaningfulness. I don’t write because I think I want something new to say, or that I’m good at it, I write because I have an urge to, an urge that makes me sick and angry and somewhat content all at once. I write what I’ve read, in the hopes of dredging up something from the muck of the many things I’ve gorged myself on. No. That’s wrong. The many things that’ve allowed me to become an I by gorging on them. We’re all parasites. We form by being formed by taking in as much as we can. Taking as much as one can without ceasing. Selfish? Maybe but is there really a way to be charitable in consumption? Isn’t consumption inherently uncharitable?

So, I don’t know why I write and I don’t know if I ever will. I don’t know that I am an I. In all likelihood I am a they, and so are you. Individuality seems excessively off putting. I’ll just let Nietzsche say what I think “I” might be getting at:

“The fundamental false observation is that I believe it is who do something, suffer something, ‘have’ something, ‘have’ a quality.”

Against Apologetics (Sort Of)

I got involved in philosophy through apologetics. And now I’ve got a deep aversion to apologetics. As Craig defines it in Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics apologetics is giving an answer, a two-pronged answer. One side is offensive, a positive case, and the other is a negative, a reactionary defense. Ignoring for a moment the issue with this weird two pronged approach I think I’ve realized some of my problems with apologetics.

I get this weird sense that it functions poorly, if it functions at all. It seems distant, separate. In fact, I think it requires a separation from existence, from language. It uses language to separate from language. Apologetics gives a language which is absent from the experiences of day to day life, of liturgical practices, of the moment. Which, oddly, seems to cause a self-refutation of sorts. Apologetics has this notion of not “checking your brain at the door of the church” or in your Christian life but it seems to do just that by using language and arguments that are separate any functional purpose beyond arguing and masturbatory praise regarding our evidences.

None of this is to say that apologetics is bad. These are just thoughts on the topic.

 

On the Inability to Kill God

Humanity sucks at killing God.

If Nietzsche is right then why the hell does God keep getting reborn?

And I don’t know if this is push back or bouncing off of my friend Matt’s intriguing post about the birthing of God, but it sure is piggybacking, at the very least (so, my apologies to him in advance). He queries, quite fairly I think, “We know that finite and infinite supernatural and supranatural agents are neither relevant or logically possible, so why do we maintain the façade that talking about them is anything but pernicious; that maintaining this discourse is flatly disingenuous, and immensely problematic?” But I wonder if Marion’s discussion of the idol in relation to the dying of God makes sense of the continual desire to “reactivate” the “vocabulary and discourse surrounding God.”

Marion discusses the idea of “the death of God” that Nietzsche puts forth (in God Without Being) and states that this death is limited to whatever “God” entails. Thus, the only way that Nietzsche’s death of God “is [only] valid as far as the idol that renders it thinkable aims…” (pg. 31). Which, for Marion, means there is always a new dawn to “God” as concept, as an idol. (To be fair, Marion has more to say that I still need to read and I may write more later.) Now, how does this relate to McCracken’s analysis/critique/confusion with “birth of God” theologians? Or, how do these thoughts function in relation to his post? I’m not sure. It seems to at least put forth the question of whether God is being reborn or if it’s just another experience of an idol being set forth? And if it’s just another idol can we not kill that also? So, maybe the birth of God theologians aren’t birthing God so much as “God”?

Which I guess means that people will keep validly experiencing the divine (Vattimo’s understanding of the death of God works here) and making out idols based on those experiences (loosest possible use of this term here) and we’ll keep killing them. But we’ll never kill God, whatever that word refers to.

Just some thoughts. If incoherent please tell me.

Criticism as Immanence

Criticism, deconstruction, breaking down are never in their own right truly right. There’s always a need (a demand) for a rebuilding. It’s well and good to complain or critique but what positive change is the dissident effecting? There exists a demand to fix, to rebuild. Even the French Revolution centered on fixing problems by instituting a new social order (being). Same goes for the Reformation, the American Revolution, etc. It’s always deconstruction to an end. This impulse/desire for the new, for the better, for the alternative to what is seems problematic to me. It’s fundamentally a negation of what is by raising high a brand new transcendent narrative. This is why the Reformation wasn’t really a shift, at least not beyond the surface level of existence. All it was was a replacement of one form of transcendence with another. It’s the “common installation of a transcendent plane” instead of an “immanent affirmation of the world” (Barber, On Diaspora).

Fundamentally, then, the criticism of criticism centers on the lack, the lack of a positive alternative, a plan of action. The criticism leveled at criticism is one of transcendence and the always already present desire for a new plane of transcendence. What the critique fails to appreciate is that deconstruction/criticism/whatever one calls the action of breaking down is the purest affirmation of experience, of living now. Criticism centers on the fact that whatever transcendent claim is being advanced fails to meet the needs now of persons, of the world. So, to replace it with a positive better way of being would be to counteract the purpose of criticism.

Remarks on Jesus’ Blood

Blood is weird.

Anidjar thinks blood exists everywhere and he’s not wrong. Blood functions within Christianity rather oddly. This function is summarized nicely by the line, “Oh, how precious is the flow/that makes me white as snow/no other fount I know/nothing but the blood of Jesus.” I’ve been thinking about this line, about the ironic ability of red blood to make white (or is it white blood making white?). Even that phrase, “makes me white as snow,” seems odd. Making white, odd. In American history blood and sin tie together in intimate ways that reflect a strange back and forth between blackness as privation and salvation as life in whiteness.

I think my hesitance with this hymn stems from the fact that it bears a similar line of argument to that of Samuel Cartwright’s abhorrent argument regarding the blood of African Americans. His argument goes as so:

It is the red, vital blood, sent to the brain, that liberates their [African Americans] mind when under the white man’s control; and it is the want of a sufficiency of red, vital blood that chains their mind to ignorance and barbarism, when in freedom.

Earlier Cartwright states that the blood of a person of color is darker than that of a white person. And if Anidjar is correct in states that “Blood must become a category of historical analysis,”(44 of Blood) then the logic of Cartwright and the hymn go hand in hand and a brief look at the function of blood seems apt.

Without the white washing blood of Jesus one is unable to be “saved” which really only means, in American Christianity, being more white. “Christian master, enter the dark cabin of thy servant [read: slave], and with the lamp of truth in thy hand, light up his yet darker soul with the knowledge of him, whom to know is life eternal…” (A.T. Holmes, “The Duties of Christian Masters”). The gospel no longer stands as an end, but a means to extract labor, to civilize. The ultimate goal of the message of Jesus seems to be: blackness is the privation of the saving blood of Jesus that makes white as snow the “still darker soul” through enslavement’s catalyzing effect on blood flow.

My friend Melanie has written much more beautifully, and holistically, along a similar vein of thought here.

To White People: Protests

This is not the end of the conversation. It is not even the beginning. This is not me laying down truth but trying to understand American history. The accusation and condemnation of riots/protests in the wake of Ferguson speak to an ignorance of our nation’s history. These condemnations speak also to a misunderstanding of the current age, of the function of protests. However, I can’t explain protests, I don’t have anywhere near the definitive grasp on the subject. But I do wonder if (a mild rereading of?) Nietzsche might offer some helpful explanations of the function of protest, in any form (race related, wage related, etc.)

…the underprivileged have no comfort left; that they destroy in order to be destroyed; that without morality they no longer have any reason to “resign themselves” – that they place themselves on the plain of the opposite principal and also want power by compelling the powerful to become their hangmen. This is the European form of Buddhism — doing No after all existence has lost its “meaning.”

This “doing No” presents itself as a subversion of purpose and meaning. Nietzsche casts aside the notion that meaning/purpose are mind independent metaphysical truths or facts. Instead, meaning, like most anything else, is a construct, an invention. And for the underprivileged resistance functions as an active negation of meaning. So too with morality. What has been said of meaning can be said about morality.  Meaning and morality are made by those in power.

Example: Mike Brown’s murder served as a catalyst for protest. But it’s not an isolated incident. Reactions were not so much shocked, it seemed, but angered. And rightfully so. But in the case of Eric Garner it seemed inevitable that an indictment of some sort would be leveled. There was video evidence showing what appeared to be a choke hold, showing police using excessive force, but once more: no indictment. The protests that erupted seem to stem from the fact that the morality handed to persons of color by white supremacy failed. Because of this resignation can no longer be the answer. Instead, forcing the oppressor into a damned if you do or damned if you don’t situation becomes inescapable.

But I’d like to make clear: persons of color have known of this oppression for the entirety of American history. They have been on the receiving end of the violence of whiteness. This post is a white person attempting to make sense of riots and their meaning for other white persons. I’m trying to argue that any riots at any time are a reaction at the failure of morality given by the One (whether that be the State, Company, or Police).

Riots and protests are the cry of a positive nihilism of sorts. I think, for me, this is why discrediting the protestors seems inane. Criticizing the protestors misses the question of Du Bois, asked in their actions: “Would America have been America without her Negro people?” That question is being asked still today, Is America really America without its’ minority populations? David Walker was right in his “Appeal” in saying that African Americans were the only ones who truly appreciate the notion of liberty.