Playing Catch-Up: The 95 Theses or Why Markets Matter

So, long story short, I’m gonna join this project I saw being conducted by some people I follow on Twitter. I do so alongside them.

The project, if I have my bearings right, is to elaborate on, consider and blog through these 95 theses

You should check them out. Here’s One. And here’s another. Anyways, today, I’ll be playing catch up, so in all likelihood, this post will be tl;dr.

Anyways, it is what it is. I’m not gonna labor on the first three, since I want you to read these other two posts here and here.

Thesis 1: Markets are conversations


This is a biggie. It’s the fundamental opening salvo in a radical redefinition of market structures outside the Left-Right Binary. Instead of setting out to focus on the economics, politics, or other aspects of markets, this thesis places markets where they happen: in culture.

In college I had this big suspicion of capitalism, and I still do and I’m not alone. I doubt that the culture it creates is the way to a better world, a more just world, or even a world where the most people have the most access to the most goods. But my fundamental disagreements with capitalism came from the place where I dealt with them the most: Culture. I opposed the culture of capitalism, and I still do. Capitalism, when it becomes the culture we find ourselves in, is a culture of death.

Blessed Pope John Paul II put it this way:

In fact, while the climate of widespread moral uncertainty can in some way be explained by the multiplicity and gravity of today’s social problems, and these can sometimes mitigate the subjective responsibility of individuals, it is no less true that we are confronted by an even larger reality, which can be described as a veritable structure of sin. This reality is characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable “culture of death”. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency. Looking at the situation from this point of view, it is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another. A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favoured tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated.

Put quite simply, I disagree with Capitalism because I am a Christian. I’m not going to defend that position explicitly, shoudl anyone choose to comment on it. Because what I hope unfold through my readings of these theses, is a project that conveys what a personal hero of mine would call, ‘a better hope.’

To put it simply, my reading of the first thesis counters both Marx on the one hand, and Locke on the other.

Markets are Conversations

Put quite simply, I think this thesis takes McLuhan’s now obscured albeit famous maxim: The Medium is the Message and applies it wholeheartedly to economic frameworks.

To state that a market is a conversation is to collapse all the means of production and their effects into what’s really going on: people having conversations. It’s to ground Marxist theory in a medium that makes it available to the 21st century, and the medium is culture.

In the 21st century, the market is the medium, but as such it is also the message. It is why our right wing tends to hail democracy as equivalent with consumer choice. It is why liberty constitutes  not acts in civics, but acts in purchase, or the lack thereof. Driving to work the other day, I was reminiscing about how black Friday has eclipsed so many other things and come to symbolize the new American civics. On Black Friday, Americans exercise their central politics in their favorite sphere: consumption.

In the digital age, capitalism, as it exists, cannot help but be a culture. The medium, the market, is the message. In Egypt, it’s turned out to be a depressing sight for many Americans. The age of digital technology has brought us to a place where the ways in which we do things are communications about why we do that, and to what ends.

When we consider American imperialism, and its effects upon the rest of the world, what we see is the American market at talk. Lockheed Martin and Halliburton talk to Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and leverage that conversation to their own ends. In other words, we arrive at yet another famous maxim, “Few are guilty, all are responsible“. The market isn’t autonomous, but rather what emerges from its participants. Markets consist of human beings, which is why we can’t plead agnostic when it comes to their ethics. Which brings us to thesis two: Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.

Markets are indeed conversations, which is why what they say matters. Because a market isn’t an abstract all powerful entity existing in some platonic otherness like the flying spaghetti monster, but an actual grounded system of interactions between differing agents. Which is I agree with market regulation, as does the Pope. Because a market without regulation is simply a culture willing to abstain from conscience, as is often the case even now.

I could go on at length about how if markets are conversations, the people controlling what markets say…the voice of the commons…hegemony, patriarchy and so on and so on, but I think I’ll just leave that there. There’s plenty more theses and I’ll always revisit these topics, maybe.

 

Editor’s Note: In my haste, I forgot to mention thesis two, I updated to reflect the change. Thanks for reading.

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He Ceases to Love- Wisdom from The Brothers

The Brothers Karamazov has been one of the most influential books to ever grace my life. I thought I’d kick off 2013 by going back through some of the most memorable quotes and digging up others, new ones, along the way.

Dostoyevsky is so brilliant, so exacting, his novel reels one into a giant act of contrition, to be spellbound by his pages is no less than an act of confession in itself. His stances were and continue to be formative of my own life, and his characters challenge me daily to rise to new occasions.

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” – The Elder Zosima, Book II Chapter II, The Brothers Karamazov.

 

I find myself in awe at Dostoyevsky, even now. What he says here is so poignant, so timeless. For Dostoyevsky, love is based in Truth. Respect is an act of love for self and others, and one cannot have that without Truth. Later in the novel, one of the major themes becomes redemption through honest self reflection.

Self honesty has become an increasingly important part of my daily life. I just wanted to share that, and encourage you to read The Brothers Karamazov, since it is an essentially honest book. As we find ourselves in a world stacked with lies, it is important to find little inspirations, little prophets who shout Truth from their pages.

Timshel

“…And I feel that I am a man. And I feel that a man is a very important thing—maybe more important than a star. This is not theology. I have no bent toward gods. But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed— because ‘Thou mayest.’” -Lee in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden

My First Love Story

The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,
they’re in each other all along.

 

by Coleman Barks

 

There’s just something so fantastic about someone whose heart and pen both touch the soul of the world.

Who am I?

This morning,  I found myself channeling the question: What sort of man shall I be?

This is the sort of clusterfuck of a question that can easily throw me for a loop, make me question reality and land me in an abyss of powerlessness, and stifling reflection. But not today.

I often wrestle with questions like this because they come naturally to me. These questions just spring up on me and demand my immediate attention, and I cannot leave them unattended. I sometimes think of it as a journey from one wrestling match to another.

Today, I sat there, and I thought only a moment before a whirlwind of answers enveloped me and asked me to become the wind. To listen to the very essence of this multitude of answers, to take it in all at once.

I’ve been on quite a few different journeys recently, some very enjoyable, others dark and foreboding, alienating  harsh, or depressing. I’ve gained experiences, and lost loved ones, and it’s been a very good year, despite the difficulties throughout.

I’ve had many nights beneath the stars, caught in the rain, surviving in tents and otherwise questing for Justice this year. I’ve had so many adventures, half of which I don’t deserve, but nonetheless, here we are. I’m grateful for all of them, and all of you. On the cusp (It’s a few months away still,) of my 25th birthday, I am glad that my mind felt it necessary to ask this question.

“What sort of man shall I be?”

 
I don’t often think about manhood, or manliness, I just assume I am trying to be myself, so this was very different for me. I usually just try to be Eli, whatever that’s supposed to mean, or look like. But here I found myself asking what manner of man I shall be. I found myself questing for what sort of story this life shall tell.
The answer rushed at me all at once.

I desire to be a loving, kind and generous man. I wish myself to be a thoughtful man, someone who gives more than he takes, someone who blesses as often as he can.

I wish to be a man whose scars are worn, not with pride, but with quiet solidarity. I wish to be most truly myself, the man I know I can be.

When the clarity of those desires once again reach into the depths of my soul, I know that I am nearer to the Truth. The levity and joy of this season has found my heart open, and I am glad to be a host of such difficult questions, especially in a season that can prove so difficult for so many. May you find some measure of peace, and the courage to answer your own big questions.

Merry Christmas.

Yes We Can

Yes we can.

Yes we can continue the same foreign policy agenda that has made the world less safe, and put everyone in massive economic depression.

Yes we can continue to ignore the Bushisms that many people vocally hated but now ignore.

Yes we can continue to support our President while ignoring the war-crimes committed by our administration.

Yes we can ignore that “cybersecurity” is double speak for “knowing everything about everyone at all times. Even, forget all about the troubles of an increasingly expanding surveillance and intelligence market for spying on citizens in their own homes.

Yes we can mutter under our breaths while recognizing that “speech crimes” on the internet have become the pretense for any state-based aggression for not liking what someone writes or says.

Yes we can hope, we can hope that there’s less blood on our hands than our conscience, our deep underlying humanity, tells us there is, as we give thanks for an empire built in blood.

Yes we can change anything we want, so long as it’s superficial, arbitrary, and dictated to us.

Yes we can, even ignore and refuse to acknowledge that “freedom” is just another buzzword in these here United Dictates.

Yes. We Can.

War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.

The Wisdom of Thanks

Aside

What would man, being given all the pleasures and bounties on this great earth, do with himself should he recognize the folly of his own ignorance? Should he finally see the cruelty in his lack of thanks?

Were he to recognize the great and terrible lack of gratitude that seeps into his core from time to time, should he then be bereft of joy? Might he cast himself into great silence?

Perhaps there is a time for that, but that is not the better.

Nay, the better is to emerge from such folly with newly opened eyes, with a heart full and ready to love again. Against such, they cannot legislate or deride. Against the fires of gratitude, even the greatest of frigid challenges, yea even those as mighty as the mountains pales to the great strength that is to be found in the hearts of men. Yes, gratitude is the sure-fire forge of determination.

In the souls of the grateful is that strange little flame that lights the way in great darkness.

-Eli

Superman

“…I feel like I live in a world made of cardboard, always taking constant care not to break something, to break someone. Never allowing myself to lose control even for a moment, or someone could die….”

— Superman in “Destroyer,” Justice League Unlimited by Dwayne McDuffie

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Part One:

SPOILER ALERT: THERE MIGHT BE SPOILERS. (I did my best to avoid giving away anything that would ruin the experience for people watching the films for the first time.)

So. I just finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy of films. I decided to watch the extended edition films in Swedish, and I’m thoroughly impressed, captivated even. I haven’t seen drama done this well in a long time, and I’m glad I decided to watch them.  I want to do a review of each film, and then an overall analysis of the films as a narrative whole.

Author’s note: I have not read the books, I likely will, but this is an exercise in film and philosophy. So there’s that.I’ll tackle each two-part film as a narrative whole, but the reviews will be pretty dense, and also full of spoilers, since I want to deal with the material in the films and their discourse. I  would like to state plainly that I believe these novels/films are in fact a critique of modern society, liberalism, and capitalism, with special emphases on how those three play out in relation to women, violence and Truth.

The Society with the Museum Tattoo

“In the US alone, millions of women are victims of violent abuse every year…[d]omestic Violence cuts across all lines of class, race, family background, religion, and sexuality.” – Kathleen B. Jones, in Jodi Dean, ed., Feminism and the New Democracy: Resiting the Political (London: Sage, 1997), 13. [1]

Enter Sweden. Mid 2000’s. We’re introduced to Mikael Blomkvist (played by Michael Nyquist). Disgraced for publishing a story that’s thrown out as libel by the Swedish courts, Blomkvist is convicted and will be doing time in prison. Shaken by the conviction that threatens his life and magazine, Blomkvist decides to take a job off the radar.

Henrik Vanger is the fading patriarch of an affluent and secretive family who has hired Blomkvist for two purposes, solving the disappearance/murder of his niece Harriet in 1966 and writing a chronicle of the Vanger family. The offer comes as a surprise given that Blomkvist is a persona non-grata in the journalism world and has had to distance himself from Millennium, his magazine.

After a while of watching Blomkvist pore over documents while looking look cold and lonely, Blomkvist meets Lisbeth Salander. Lisbeth deserves special mention because she overcomes many of the tropes of the modern female protagonist. She’s strong, independent and brilliant, filled with a cold detached pragmatism that holds the audience at arms length.

Lisbeth refuses to give us an inch, and we’re fascinated by her. She constantly defers the audience’s ability to label her, but without appearing fickle. She’s consistent, but without revealing too much. She’s ambiguous, but without being flirtatious or parading her mystery as is typical of the genre. Cunning, cold, and yet strangely human, Lisbeth Salander defies traditional roles of heroine, and yet courts the audience all the same. Lisbeth is ultimately a character who gives less than two fucks about anyone or anything, including the audience.

Voyeurism and Exhibition: The Politics of Memory

Among the rituals of late capitalism now codified into the social structure of the cultures it inhabits is the museum. The museum is a sort of scrubbing of the historical artifact. It is a colonization of the object, and a re-narration of the artifact used to support the overarching cultural narrative. The museum dictates to us the frame of reference, overcoming anachronism through narrative, conquering context through prescription. The way in which the exhibit functions does not so much reveal the truth of the subject as it tells us the acceptable truth about a subject.

The museum is in fact a perverse institution in and of itself.

The reason I bring this up is to illustrate the gift Henrik Vanger receives every year in time for his birthday. This is a clever use of framing for the mystery, but speaks deeper to Larsson’s critique of modern society. In the films, these framed flowers are a reminder to Vanger of his niece’s disappearance, they are haunting to him and represent the disappearance of his joy. At the end of the film, there’s a revelation of who the flowers are from.

In Museum Without Walls, art historian and novelist Andre Malraux describes the “museum effect”. This effect is that the very placement of the object within the museum creates its importance and validity.  Larsson uses this museum not only to tell a good story, but to highlight how the framing of information actually changes not only the tone but the actual content of the information. So too these flowers, having been carefully placed in an exhibit become a haunting reminder of the nature, politics and presentation of information. [2] So too, this museum effect, the politics of display and exhibition will become a recurring theme in the films.

That Vanger makes a museum of these macabre gifts is no accident. In Foucauldian terms the museum is an institute of indoctrination.

 “An awareness of how relations among human beings are shaped by built space can help all of us to comprehend more fully the experiences of our daily lives and the cultural assumptions in which they are immersed.” [3] Leslie Kanes Weisman, Discrimination by Design: A Feminist Critique of the Man-Made Environment (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992).

The Museum appropriates a response from the viewer by shaping their behavior. The audience is told what to think about these framed flowers, not just through narration, but through their deliberate placement in the narrative as a museum. The beholder is given a limited frame of reference with which to shape and understand the value and context of the information presented. Larsson is asking us to behold the exhibit, and to watch as information shapes the rest of the story.

The museum is that place in which values are authorized, and then once appropriately shaped, encouraged. The museum inherently tells us not only what to see, but also how to see it.. [4] Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage Books, 1979). I believe Larsson takes the opportunity to poke fun at his own narrative, and also to highlight the way in which re-narration/narration, prescription and violence clash intersect and pull at each other in the narrative. In grasping this fundamental little hint, one begins to see the entire larger frame of Larsson’s work.

The museum of Henrik Vanger isn’t just about some of the clues I’ve pointed out, it goes deeper than that. That such a framing and use of the museum is later undone by revelations in the story is not accidental, but actually a critique of the way in which information is shaped and presented to us. This will happen time and again as Lisbeth provides the context for a critique of power/knowledge and the ways in which society accepts various framings of information and uses them against the subject for their own gain.

What the museum has to do with voyeurism will become quite clear.

The entire origin of the film is based on investigative journalism, it’s built on a type of looking into the life of another. Here Wennerstrom, the subject who wins the libel case, provides the backdrop for the voyeuristic context. He’s the villain, who establishes Blomkvist’s research, and also the subject of investigation by Salander who then accesses the computer of and spies on Blomkvist and assists him in digging into the Vanger family’s past.

Archaeology and Rupture

Stieg Larsson builds the next leg of his narrative using archaeology and rupture. The digging into the past for evidence is a classic staple of the mystery novel, but it also stands in this context for a deeper sort of digging. A digging at the foundations of modernism, violence and the eruptions the past makes into the present. Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander present a challenge to a world that has forgotten. They ask us to remember. This is crucial for understanding Larsson as a critic of modern culture. It is not just that our protagonists are asking us to remember Harriet, but that they are asking Swedish society to remember that Nazi sympathy is a very real thing, and that violence happens on all levels of society.

Larsson makes a definitive statement as tensions heat up on the island, that memory, even the private memory of Vanger who I take to represent a sort of allegorical stand-in for Sweden, is political. James Carrol once said “Forgetfulness is the handmaiden of tyranny,” and how right he was. The island is a land of the illusion of forgetfulness, it is not unknowing so much as not-recognizing. We confront in the Vanger family the Genealogy of Silence. But we should not be surprised, and Larsson isn’t. To quote a favorite Zizekian phrase: “the real secret is that there is no secret.”

Conclusion:

So what does it mean to remember?

This is among the biggest questions we should ask ourselves in dealing with the Vanger Group, their narrative and its place in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Stieg Larsson is using this in his narrative structure to talk about post-war Sweden and how society has moved on with too many skeletons in the closet, with far too many ignored memories. What it means to remember in Sweden, and across the novels is something at once dangerous, and liberating. In fact, Larsson is pointing to the liberal modern world with museums dedicated to a particular understanding of the world after World War II, and reminding us that not all is as it seems. It’s not just about writing a good murder-mystery. He brings a mirror to Swedish society in particular, and liberalism in general and telling it to behold itself.

He’s asking the modern world in all its liberalism to pay attention, to remember, and to recognize the scathing silences that make “civility” possible. But Larsson doesn’t want to stop short, as Commissioner Gordon does in The Dark Knight Rises, Larsson asserts and rightly so that Justice is determined by the Truth, and not by those who author the silence.

Stieg Larsson also makes a definitive statement about the cost of Truth and how the Truth and establishment intersect and clash.To alter the way we see the museum presented to us, the codified history as brought to our reception isn’t just a happy accident, it is in fact, arduous work. Recontextualizing our entire frame of reference is sure to cause violence, and to require courage. As a statement on investigative journalism, Larsson celebrates . Stieg Larsson knows exactly what he means to  say: that such an unmasking creates a circle of violence by those wishing to escape, by those who control the silence. He’s also saying that such unmasking is not necessarily easy, but can have positive consequences.

Afterword:

As someone who lived in Oklahoma, I’d just like to take a moment to conclude this part of my review with a remembrance of Woody Guthrie, who has tragically been awarded a museum in downtown Tulsa. Having scrubbed him of social relevance, of his socialist activism, and of his story, he is now re-presented as a tepid, mild mannered popular musician, Oklahoma’s all-American establishment activist.

This tragedy is only symptomatic of a larger trend to re-appropriate all of history under the American narrative of capitalism. The unreality and untruth we tolerate as a society continues to escalate. We establish fictions about friend and foe in order to perpetuate the myths necessary to make America work.

I personally will not visit this museum, now and possibly ever. It strikes me as a tragedy, not a history.

In honor of Woody Guthrie, the socialist. May we only build memorials insofar as we can speak truthfully about their contents.

References:

[1] Kathleen B. Jones, in Jodi Dean, ed., Feminism and the New Democracy: Resiting the Political (London: Sage, 1997), 13.

[2] Andre Malraux, Museum Without Walls (Garden City: Doubleday, 1967).

[3] Leslie Kanes Weisman, Discrimination by Design: A Feminist Critique of the Man-Made Environment (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992)

[4] Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage Books, 1979)

“There Goes America”

People will probably die of exposure this weekend as a Noreaster dumps a foot of snow on New York and New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. People are still without heat and have been dumped out into the streets, or mercy of family/friends and homeless shelters. And I have to ask myself, are we really willing to turn so blind an eye to the plight of an entire region so quickly?

In less than two weeks, it seems that the passing mentions of real Sandy problems have failed to mobilize a response across the country.  Americans are a battered and weary people, I get that. We’re used to having things easy, we’re now reaping the returns on generations of lavish spending and quick fixes. We’ve under-invested in infrastructure, and over-invested in getting things cheap and easy.

I’d like to get into the ethics of storytelling and media, but I’m not going to, because that’s a long and complicated article I still haven’t untangled in my mind yet. SUffice it to say I feel this: While marketing and advertising have taken to narrative and storytelling as cultural artifacts to increase sales and enculturate purchases into experience, media has moved the opposite way, removing storytelling from practice, parsing information into soundbytes and news clippings. Regardless, I’ll just tell some stories and ask some questions.

This article tells some of the story:

Forecasts for colder temperatures only added to the tension, since many in New Jersey and elsewhere have been using fuel-powered generators to run lights and heaters while waiting for utilities to repair downed power lines.

 

At a Hess Station on late Thursday night in Fairfield, New Jersey, people waited more than three hours to fill-up their cars and gas cans. Four police officers directed traffic.

 

“This is a pretty apocalyptic situation. How far do we have to go to get gas – Tennessee?” said Ricardo Meehleib, 30, as he waited in line.

 

While power was expected to be returned throughout Manhattan by Saturday, it could be another week or more in suburbs and more distant towns along the coast. About 4.5 million homes and businesses in 15 U.S. states remain without power.

 

While fucktards like Donald Trump writhe in anger and tweet about the death of America, I’m looking at him going “yep, there goes America.” We’re so caught up in an election we can’t even apply the brake to give a shit about people who could possibly freeze to death.

These are not the systematically homeless who have been under attack and reviled by all sorts of city and state governments in the past year, and these are not freeloaders, but the displaced, who by no fault of their own have lost homes, jobs, savings, workplaces, cars, food, gas, and heat.

In my opinion, the crown jewel of this country is NYC. I grew up in Los Angeles, but I’ve always been fascinated with New York. As election tensions rise and the GOP tries to find a new identity, I can’t help but wonder why the fuck no one cares about the real problem in this country. It’s not the elephant in DC, it’s the elephant in everyone’s living room, the callousness with which Americans go about their daily lives unimpeded by inconvenience, carrying on, unhindered. It’s the way we ignore the personal dimension, and the highschool made morgue in a hurricane demolished Staten Island. Media & cultural negligence runs rampant in a world trying to sell commercials.

While we throw confetti at the shit show that is Washington, what we should be doing is asking about the soul of America. Where did our collective compassion go? Where did the America that had the guts to care about integrity go? I believe we have to ask whether it ever really existed, but what we can do to move towards that as a society. Occupy Sandy is outperforming all the major organizations and doing it with a nimble, fast-paced model of mutual aid that’s more effective than traditional charity, yet is ignored because of the political stance Occupy Wall Street has taken. The death toll is severely underplayed while reports indicate that the morgue at the local university was filled to capacity.

These and other stories continue to haunt me. That these stories remain untold cements in my mind the age of doublespeak as reality. Adam Gopnik wrote about Obama’s Political Intelligence, when I think we should all ask ourselves if this same stoicism and unreality on a mass scale is not only dubious but in fact an indication of the broken, hollowed out core of our society. Can we really handle cultural stoicism? I think it’s not stoicism at all, but the begrudging and jaw clenching insecurity we face as a culture. The unreality of Obama is only symptomatic of the constructed fictions we now inhabit as an entire society. From myths about a war hungry America hating planet, to the myths of our own impenetrable greatness, to myths about our economy, our culture and how we rule the world, or lead it in freedom, we live in a perpetually expanding unreality.

Perhaps we have grown thin skinned as a society, unwilling to face the facts of a world where we’re no longer on top. Perhaps we’ve grown too callous to recognize maybe the way we do things isn’t the best. Really, the reasons don’t matter, as long as we do soemthing to change it. As Jeff Daniels said in HBO’s the Newsroom, “the first step to fixing any problem is recognizing that there is one.”

I think we have a long hard journey ahead of us, and while some people are bitching about the impending civil war over Obama’s re-election, the stock market dive and all manner of bullshit…I feel like I’m on the other side asking that bigger question, the real elephant in the room, “Where the hell is our cultural soul?”

Just some Thoughts

I’m alive. I barely blog anymore. I’ve been really busy working on some things I think are helping me develop as a person, and I’m glad about those. I’ve been building a business and coming up with some interesting innovations in my back pocket.

I’m working with a partner and an investor to bring a startup accelerator to my local area, and I’m excited about the prospects. I’m honestly depressed about the elections. No, I’m not a Romney supporter, I just think our country is in dire straits and no one is acknowledging the serious deficit we have in culture, unity and excellence. I’m worried about the state of perpetual warfare we find ourselves in, and I’m sad that many people I know still think of the world in terms of America= the only moral good. I’ve been watching clips of HBO’s The Newsroom and wishing more politicians had the courage to say these things, but also that more people had the courage to hear these things.

I understand the conservative frustration with America’s narrative falling short in terms of the power to unite all Americans, but militarism isn’t the answer. Militarism is the delusion of grandeur. Innovation and education in my humble opinion form the actual basis for greatness, and it strikes me as a stark tragedy that we’re the most information accessible society to ever exist and yes, by and large we’re nothing to shake a stick at, but imagine the potential.

I see a serious need for change in the way we do almost everything, from politics to education to technology to cultural interaction. On this side of last year’s Occupy Wall Street movement, and all the work I put into it, I’m proud. Occupy Sandy has made me proud too. That this was and is a force attempting to carve out a commons from a culture that is obsessed with and fetishizes individualism gladdens me. I am also glad to see tactical populism, people banding together to independently form solutions to life’s problems. I think that things like Occupy Sandy are the way of the future, and that the internet is helping us build entirely new models of organization, communication, finance and more. It’s noteworthy.

All in all, I think I’d like to say, thank you for all who have read this blog over the years, I’m sorry I’ve been so remiss. I have plans to talk about things and just have fun. Unfollow if you’re not into what I start talking about, I won’t mind. I’m just going to treat this as space where I can rest my thoughts. I’ve been needing an outlet and there are few places better for me than the pen/keyboard.

I’m disappointed in myself too. I’m not who I was when I started this blog. Sometimes I regret that, sometimes I am proud of it. Sometimes, it’s whatever. I’m not really surprised at most of who I’ve become, and I am glad that I am where I am. I see so much injustice in the world sometimes, and it’s made me bitter at times. I see so much evil, and it’s made my heart weary. But I also see good things, and good people, and that’s made my heart glad.

It doesn’t really matter who the fucking president is, not because I’m here to offer you some “God is still on the throne” statement, but because really, presidents do little, and at the end of the day, the person most responsible for my life and my future is me. Besides, whether God is on the throne or not, that phrase is more often a passive aggressive way of saying, “I didn’t get my way, so I hope you know I’ll just go above you.”

I’m exhausted, and I have little to offer in the way of comfort or hope. Whatever we do, I do it first as a human questing for kindness and gentleness in a world made cruel through conquest. Whatever I do, I will try to write more honestly, more deeply, and more thoughtfully.

It’s my sincerest hope that I can get back to theology and philosophy in the near future. I’ve got plans to write some posts, but in the interests of not disappointing, I won’t announce them, in case I don’t write them.

Anyways, you’re all awesome, and I’m gonna pick up blogging about open source and doing film reviews as a general direction spiced with some other things here and there. I can’t say what the future of this blog holds, but thanks for sticking around if you do. And you’re welcome to leave if you don’t want to read it.

Thanks for being my friends.

I need you.

Who is John Galt?

So, I’ve been in absentia from this blog for quite some time, but I had to share some thoughts, so here goes:

Over the past year, I’ve undergone a serious and very difficult transformation of sorts. The anti-capitalist theory and theology that I professed made physical, practical demands of my being, and I went to listen to the call. I went to serve and discover where the Christ of the gospels, Hauerwas, Yoder, Barth and others might find me. I found myself thinking of Abraham Heschel, and of my place as just some guy in the midst of this too-wide world.

I’ve also become increasingly frustrated with the state of things and must often remind myself that my task is not to make the world more just, but to make the world the world. As a Catholic, albeit a Catholic with problems, issues doubts, etc. I stand at a very strange crossroads of mentors, sources and paradigms. However, for this post I wanted to talk about Ayn Rand. given that Rand was a big deal the past few weeks due to Paul Ryan’s vice presidential nomination, it’s fitting that she comes up now.

“Virtue is to be apologized for. Depravity commands respect. Success is cast as evil and punished while failure is blamed on others and rewarded.” -John Galt

I agree with this quote, but not its contextual subtext.

Readers of Rand approaching the text from her radical capitalist standpoint in Atlas Shrugged walk away from this quote saying, ‘Yeah, bad government!’ Whereas, I’d walk away with a broader context in mind. I’d say that we live in an age where the virtues we must apologize for are not only courage and personal strength, but free thought, the will to assert oneself, conscious altruism, and compassion. When reading the above verse, even Christians might be tempted to read this as a statement on their personal virtues, or the church’s virtues, which isn’t what Rand means at all.

Rand means greed, she means narcissism, the kind that is a lobotomized Oscar Wilde, all selfishness, no aesthetics to reduce the blow.

By depravity, Rand means altruism, she means charity, she means sloth, she means some of the things that the Church calls virtues. She does not mean that the godless men who command respect are lurking monsters, megaliths of power, but rather, weaklings at the top of empires. Ayn Rand is putting anemic emperors on trial. They’re depraved in their giving, weak in their chortling about like wounded animals. Rand disdains the government as well as the corporate powers that be on her books, though she balances her disdain with a strong ubermensch capitalist we know as John Galt.

Rand’s idea of success is individualist, selfishness. By success she does not mean emotional or moral development, she does not mean a community of love and care, by success she means the virtue of greed and self assertion manifesting itself in terms of brutality against the weak.

I agree with the words of this quote, there’s a good deal of global blame game, and a lot of virtues that have become rude, and a great deal of depravity commanding respect. From the drone wars to the increasing police state, national security has asked us to compromise our tolerance in the name of national borders. Obama’s peace prize commands attention, even as his administration cracks down on civil liberties including journalism and privacy.

Failure can mean a great many things, but practically, from an economic standpoint, failure means bailouts, something that Romney, Ryan, and Obama criticize, though let’s not forget they were started by George W. Bush. I respect the words of this quote, I think we should see banks fail if they’re gambling and taking risks they can’t afford. However, I cannot but critique Rand’s contextualization of such pointed words.

We do live in a society where failure is outsourced, and rewarded. We put the companies with the most capital gains and ROI for shareholders on the covers of magazines, while never showing the same attention or value to companies that ensure their workers have adequate healthcare, enough vacation time, and so on. To me, this is rewarding failure. Instead of adding a human element to our values of business, Rand simply removes what humanity there is, and prizes sadistic self-indulgence.
So, while I like the quote, John Galt is no friend of mine.

The Empire is Not My Friend

When someone asks me how I feel about Obama or says “Obama will represent us…he’ll fight for us. Let’s get him a second term.”

I respond: That’s not true.

It’s not.

The American President is bought out by special interests just like every other politician. There is no singular issue that politicians can side with the people on other than the vague platitudes put out by the Bush and Obama administrations because the people and the government are at odds, and have been for many, many years. Politicians thrive on vague promises, they cannot either covertly or openly ally themselves with anyone’s interests but those of the powerful.

As such, Barack Obama and his entire administration represents the global banking cartels, the military industrial complex, the Orwellian perpetual warfare this country is so fond of, gentrification, surveillance and ultimately the continued capitalistic expansion of the American Empire at the expense not only of the American people, but of the world. He has not represented the people, he will not represent anyone but himself and the monied interests that have bought him and pay to maintain him.

Electing him to a second term means the expansion of military powers, the expansion of surveillance, the expansion of the global military conflicts we’re engaged in, and the continued oppression of the poor. It means the levying of power and money in favor of corporations, banks, the oil industry, the American War machine, and prisons.

That Obama faces a second term merely tells you about the ignorance of the American people and the sad state of our electoral politics. Everyone is mildly frustrated that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not over, and our media ignores by and large the covert wars we are engaged in with Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia among others. Obama ordered the military drone strike that killed a 16 year old American Citizen.

When we’re left with a “liberal” who enforces every regulation and matter of policy as Bush did and would, and expands the patriot act rather than repealing it, authorizes surveillance, enacts the 2012 NDAA and illegalizes public dissent via H.R. 347 we must severely question our liberal class, which Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Chris Hedges has acclaimed dead, and rightly so.

There is currently no way to vote for the people against the government, or even to curb the government’s abuses of power. “We have a choice,” says Chris Hedges. “You can either be complicit in your own enslavement or you can lead a life that has some kind of integrity and meaning.”

You can ask me to play nice with Obama, but I won’t. I will choose to have integrity, and meaning, and to stand for what’s right, over against those who would assuage fear with platitude and dishonesty.

That we have an elected dictatorship is a fact. If you vote republican you’re voting for a small social structure of government and a large military budget with the expansion of the war-machine, if you vote democrat, you’ve voted for the exact same thing, as democrats embrace the language of austerity and have refused to deal with America’s addiction to military conflict. In fact all we’ve done with America’s addiction to military conflict is domesticate it, and allow the police to make war on the people with war-time technologies that have been opened for use against civilians.

We are in a twilight of ideologies and identities in America. “You either embrace the crusade to physically eradicate evildoers from the face of the Earth or you are an Islamic terrorist, a collaborator or an unwitting tool of terrorists.” says Chris Hedges.

My response is simple: The President is a traitor, he has brought the terrorism onto American soil, and this time in the form of our own government and law enforcement agencies. The police riot in the streets, the FBI and DHS monitor dissent, and Utah now hosts the largest spy center in the world.

America has no choice but to turn upon itself in paranoid surveillance. The war on terror, history will recognize, was America’s moment of decline and fall. Obama is as complicit as Bush in perpetuating the American war-machine, and has in fact given that war-machine a boon in the drone strikes and escalation of robotic unmanned conflict. We’re in a state that will continue to exploit the poor globally, consume beyond its means and expand beyond its ability to control.

The country has entered into its perfect war, a perpetual war. It is a war no one can win: The war to eradicate an ideology.

How to Save the University, the Economy and the Universe

I originally posted this over at my other blog.

As money tightens, and people look up alternative solutions to increasing debt at the hands of student loans, it’s important to ask if the university system is going the way of the dinosaur. Is the university system the best model for learning? And if so, what will it take to make it economically viable so that talent can match job production?

Last night I was reading this article about how in the music market genius has overtaken the industry’s ability to produce jobs. I mean, think about it, if you like Indie bands, like I do, you can choose from 40-50 acts off the top of your head, each more obscure, underground and wildly talented than the last. Even as research bemoans the death of the academy and scholars everywhere are feeling the crunch as tuition gets higher, drop-outs increase and jobs for people with master’s degrees in English, History or Philosophy become harder and harder to find, maybe it’s time we question the way that thee areas of work are still committed to the Industrial age, in a digital world.

Opportunities from higher education are not expanding with the rate of education and talent. For example, the market is flooded with more written material than has ever been possible  and with digital media there is nothing short of exponential growth. However, due to this mass flooding, the general rate of quality is decreased and so we see fewer and fewer works that stand a cut above. There is also the problem of how research papers and theses are largely ignored in the outside world. The Academy is no longer the central hub of learning in the public sphere.

People want ideas, and they want them now.

Of course the academic community contributes to public learning, however, with movements like TED talks there is a wider access to education and innovation, but the difficulty is that despite the proliferation of innovation and the rapidly increasing rate of technological development, the market and the university have ceased to relate almost entirely in terms of research and expansion leading to new industries except for in the fields of chemistry, engineering, electronics/technology and biology. Even in these places where the academy meets the road in a very public way, the ability of these institutions to generate innovation that leads to employment is minimal compared to the industrial revolution.

Here are 10 Things Every Parent Should Know About the Ivy League which originally appeared in Time Magazine and was later re-published by Reader’s Digest. Claudia Dreifus and Andrew Hacker provide the following advice about Ivy League schools: Don’t do it. Research Universities are often more enabled and empowered by publishing and their graduate programs than their undergraduate achievements. The rule seems to be that culture and technology are changing very quickly and that educational institutions are not, making the university system unnecessary for career advancement for those able to ride the waves of new technology and become Social media Entrepreneurs, or Android App developers, or any other of the new careers that were unthinkable even 20 years ago.

Is university the game-changer it used to be? Consensus seems to be: No. I mean, don’t get me wrong the University spawned Google, Facebook, and the ideas that would lead to the personal computer.

The important question is not really whether the University is viable as an educational institution. It’s a good distraction and removes our attention from the one that’s truly important: What we are willing to do to apply the University educational system to the needs of the world today? What are we doing to make the knowledge acquired at universities economically viable so that the middle class is not crushed under student loans or a decreasing job market?

If we want to save the university from obsolescence what should we do? Here are my 5 ideas.

  1. Specialize in Skills Education:
    Skills and not general ideas will be the way of the future, and our education system should match. When people have a wide skill base they can generate more ideas based on what they know. The thing that fueled so much innovation for the industrial revolution was not simply the power of a few inventions but the widespread ethos of work and the openness of the culture to bridge gaps and embrace new skills for the future.

    The culture was shocked by the new technologies, but it made due, and adapted. Our current culture is reticent to join the innovators on the edge, we love our iPhones, but refuse to let the new media become the way of the future in our educational systems. Instead of focusing on fact collection, we should foster education that teaches things like: social intelligence, new media interaction, arts and crafts, business management, ethics, and literature. All of these systems should foster measurable, tangible goals for students to reach to demonstrate proficiency.

    An example would be: Use demonstrable critical thinking skills, be able to synthesize a coherent logical argument within 15 minutes of being presented source material of up to 10 pages to read.Skills and not simply the acquisition of information has been and will continue to be the way of the future. But all this has to begin in grade school, with a new educational criteria simple dubbed Digital Literacy. Kids need access to the tools of today if they’re supposed to dream up the ideas that save the world of tomorrow. Let’s ditch the polish, the pomp and get back to work, making education that suits the needs of a world not yet here.

  2. Ditch the Bureaucracy:
    It’s funny to me that educated people across the globe paying attention to the financial crisis are calling for austerity measures in Greece, Cyprus and France, yet refuse to acknowledge the bloated universities that reflect the financial markets of the Eurozone. Monkey see, monkey do.

    Austerity shouldn’t be a buzzword for capital gains only, it needs to take hold in our education system as well.A huge part of college funding goes to administration needs, and in this day and age, the university is bloated with unnecessary departments entire projects that seem to exist for the sheer purpose of letting people with degrees hobble within the institution that should have turned them into innovators instead of grave-keepers. Instead of a complex system of administration, return the university to an institution where teachers are key, and teacher salaries equal those of “administrators” who in many cases are not doing much for students. Make teachers the majority, turn the University into a vox populi, and reduce administration to bare bones efficiency. It’s a dream job to be working at a university making six figures to do paperwork, but it’s unrealistic in this culture and financial climate, and it simply has to stop.

    Another thing that has to stop that’s related to the bureaucratic machinations of the educational system is paperwork. We need to find a way to streamline, digitize, and reduce the amount of paperwork that’s being done. Teachers should be teaching. Having close friends who are professors I see the amount of extra paperwork that the current system requires of them, and I think it’s absurd. Teachers should be providing education, moral support, skills based education and camaraderie in a mentoring relationship that fosters the next generation with role models that exemplify some of the best that culture has to offer eager minds. Teachers can’t do that if in their 40 hour work week, 20 of those hours are dedicated to paperwork, administrative emails and non-education related tasks.If we want education that matters, we need educators that do just that, educate.

    The university should be a breeding ground for innovation and universities could invest more money in labs, extracurricular activities such as open experiments, green technology innovation centers, student think-tanks, cultural integration investment (to turn students paying money into job-holding future re-investors), art studios open to all students, photography labs, student centers that not only encourage leisure but also curiosity and make available the new technologies that make it possible.Once upon a time, the University system invented the computer, made possible the need for new technologies and stood at the forefront of those projects. I think if we all took a little time to invest in group founding spaces that invite interdisciplinary discussion and innovation like TED talks, the university might be able to survive extinction.

  3. End Standardized Testing:
    The GRE and other standardized college exams are huge money-makers, but the thing is, they’re too general. How is it that a philosophy student and a history student are expected to meet all the same general criteria? Standardized tests are easy to make, but hard to really get results out of, instead each discipline or inter-disciplinary study should develop tests that fit a criteria agreed upon by the academy, subject to change and refining and open to discussion by the whole of academia.Standardized testing does nothing to prove a student’s proficiency, instead, we should develop tests across all levels of education that demonstrate skills, not fact retention. The mind is a muscle made for skills, and unless we get with the program, we’re going to be left behind.
  4. Decentralize:
    This is where I might be getting a little wild in my thinking, but here’s the concept: Interdisciplinary studies are the way of the future, if someone wants to take English as a major, encourage an English course that has some interdisciplinary benefit to society as a whole. Do away with English as a major and instead offer things like: English for the Third World, or Literary Theory and Psychology. In doing so, you create an educational system that ties our general studies like English with education for developing countries or with psychological practice. We should take our finely honed traditional majors and connect them with places that will generate jobs and new markets in the world to come. Imagine: Philosophy for Green Technology, a series of courses designed to teach both classical philosophy and the applicability of those studies to environmentally friendly technological development.

    Go Online:
     Build a strong online base that allows for both traditional classroom learning and online classwork that can be managed by fewer staff, for a cheaper cost and can actually increase the amount of time students get to spend with teachers via blogs, email, twitter, research journals, online magazines and other digital media. Taking textbooks to Kindle, Nook or other e-book readers can also reduce costs, and if the books can be read online by multiple students through a comprehensive online library then fewer books will be required, but the information will be the same.

    Go Public: Another method of decentralization that could save the university is to take Higher Education fully public, and make it tax-funded. This is a long term idea, but merit, prowess and innovation should be rewarded, not simply being born into the right class or family. If we took Higher Education fully public, anyone could go to college and we could raise the standard of education across the board, while creating a system that would have stricter standards.

    However, I’m not saying let the government run higher education. Keep it private, let the institutions run the way they’re running, but with higher standards. The Government could create a list of criteria for full federal funding of all tuition, and let the institutions worry about fundraising. Put the money in the hands of students, and raise the standard so that anything below a B average has to receive private funding instead. Putting tuition directly into the hands of students, with a $60,000 grant to attend college provided the student has maintained a B average could make for war with the banks and other institutions that don’t want to lose student loans as a source of income, but in the long run, do we want a better society, or simply a cheaper school system?

    Making a grant system that bases your tuition grants on merit rather than income would reduce the drop-out rate, retain the best and the brightest, and facilitate making sure the most innovative students have the financial capability to meet the needs of a changing world. This wouldn’t altogether eliminate the need for student loans but could drastically reduce the necessity for upwards of $50,000 average debt for college graduates.

  5. Innovate According to Logic: The best and brightest schools of today, who wish to take practical steps to retain viability and existence as the world changes will do the following:
  • Build a strong online curriculum able to be managed more efficiently, by a smaller staff.
  • Retain a traditional university presence where classes can combine the best of online and traditional classroom education.
  • Focus on Undergraduate Studies as a prime factor and avoid tuition hikes.
  • Enforce Austerity measures on non-essentials and begin to specialize the scholarship types they would like to perform.
  • Develop larger of more elite students who can be recognized for more significant achievements in more specialized fields of study.
  • Ditch Graduate programs that have smaller class sizes and focus on a broad low-cost undergraduate base.
  • Focus on class availability and make sure all degrees can be accomplished in four years or less.
  • Reduce departments, administration and focus on specificity and expertise, more like the guild system of the Middle Ages.
If we really want to teach smarter and not harder, it’s going to take some work, but those ideas along with the courage to change the DNA of what a university should be will help foster higher learning into the digital age. The world has gone post-industrial, and it’s about time our schools did the same. The ideas in the list are practical, logical and viable answers to what Higher Education needs to stay afloat.

As a former University student, I admit I loved my education. It taught me to collect ideas, both new and old, to look to the future and imagine possibilities, but also to retain the best of the past. I also learned to foster relationships with a generation of people learning and creating and discussing ideas. Those things will never need to go away, and they are essential functions of the university as institution. Some of the best moments I had in college were with teachers who invested not only in what I knew, but how I went about knowing, and thinking and feeling and seeing the world around me. Those things cannot be done away with, and they’re essential to who I have become. I love the University, but I hope it changes so that it rises above instead of floundering into extinction. Besides, the only way you can save the universe is if you have the know-how that comes from a great education.

Sexuality is Spiritual

Just a note: I simultaneously posted this on my blog at The Practical Catholic

Ever wonder why Christians hate porn?

Or why Christians insist on marriage being between a man and a woman?

Well, it’s because a secret some of us have discovered, one the Church has known for millennia, and one people are starting to realize is getting back out there. Sexuality is Spiritual.

Sexuality is more than just chemicals and genitalia, and we all know that. The Church teaches us that sexuality is a spiritual as well as physical connection. It’s deeper than emotions, it’s a whole system of actions and reactions that transcend the here and now. Sexuality is a part of the human person in ways that cannot be reduced to simple accident.

Dr. Paul McHugh has an engaging article on the matter of sexual reassignment surgery from a Catholic perspective, with very interesting findings. What were the good Dr.’s findings? What we always knew. Regardless of how you manipulate the body and its environment for a desired outcome, gender and sexuality are intrinsic to the human on a more fundamental level than the attitudes of society. Culture cannot ultimately shape what we know to be proper sexuality.

But what about the Politics!?

This week President Obama decided to tell the Department of Justice to not uphold The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). I think this is simply a distraction from the budget wars that have been fought on Capitol Hill. What this means for our politics is simple,

  1. We are not always allies with the government as Christians.
  2. We will have to work culturally to revive the values we believe are intrinsic to human dignity, including traditional marriage.
  3. We will have to work harder in the gay and lesbian communities with love, patience and understanding to create a country we can all share without ostracizing one another.

However, issues of the ethics of sex begin to raise all sorts of questions about the nature of our politics. Stanley Hauerwas says “…[T]he ethics of sex must begin with political considerations, because ethically the issue of the proper form of sexual activity raises the most profound issues about the nature and form of political community.” So in essence, when we talk about gay marriage and traditional marriage, we’re not just talking about a civil institution, we’re talking about the entire structure of our lives as a culture, and a people. Hauerwas goes on to say “To reduce issues of sexuality to the question of whether acts of sex are or are not fulfilling for those involved is to manifest the assumption of political liberalism that sex is a private matter.”

The Christian Alternative

In Jewish culture, which is the wellspring of Christian thought, issues of sex affect the shape of the entire culture. Judaism was one of the first, if not the first culture with a code of sexual ethics as part of religious/societal life. That Christians today attempt to defend the public nature of sexual acts and collaborate towards a common good is not strange, but inherent to the wider Christian worldview. It is not only in Christianity, but in society as a whole across the world that marriage is a fundamental element in the social/political landscape. Marriage involves a whole convocation of issues at the foundation of every society and changing marriage means changing a whole social order.

Hauerwas is worth quoting at length here:

We must understand that if Christians and non-Christians differ over marriage, that difference does not lie in their understanding of the quality of interpersonal relationship needed to enter or sustain a marriage, but rather in a disagreement about the nature of marriage and its place in the Christian and national community. Christians above all should note that there are no conceptual or institutional reasons that require love between the parties to exist in order for the marriage to be successful. Marriage is, as Russell argues, a biological institution to beget and rear children for the ends of particular communities. What makes marriage Christian is the rationale behind having and raising children. Marriage and the family for Christians are not less political because they are not understood in terms of a national order. Indeed, their political nature is clear from the fact that they refuse to be so defined.

I’d like to take a moment to say: I disagree with Hauerwas in that I think romantic love done Christianly is the human element that make marriages increase in perfection. Hauerwas is of course on one level right, but I’d say that the case he presents has been used wide and far in all sorts of extremely non-Christian relationships, especially among Fundamentalist evangelicals and Fundamentalist mainline Protestants. Marriage is for begetting and rearing children, but it is also for the Christian community, it is also for love, for companionship, for the sacrament of friendship, for communion between persons.

Christians have a differing view of love from the secular societies they form part of. “We do not love because we are married, but because we are Christian” says Hauerwas, and I could not agree more. The basis of marriage for Christians is not romantic love. The basis of marriage for Christians is founded in the faith that calls them to love with full self-emptying devotion. In fact, this makes clear to us the venerated position of early Church martyrs. They were nuptially given to Christ. The criterion was a bodily givenness that could not be duplicated twice, and happened in a context so specific that it could not happen without certain given variables.

If marriage is understood as similar to the way we think of martyrdom, a nuptial sharing with Christ, and yet at the same time a political body which does a service to a community, we must return to what it means to be called to marriage. Being called to marriage as Christians means being called to serve the entire Christian community with our bodies, our fidelity and our patience and hope.

In short, we can say that every marriage is a death of self, so that our self may be free to give to another bodily. It is irreplaceable, and not able to be duplicated without the proper context. Just as Christ gives his body for the Church on the cross and in the Eucharist, the martyr echoes this back in a way at once dissimilar, because the martyr is not God, but sharing in the same identity. Christian marriage is bodily givenness because we are Christian, not because we have passion. Thus both marriage and martyrdom require a bodily fidelity that can be echoed by the other in a way at once dissimilar and mutually identical. Bodily fidelity such as this can only be fully expressed in marriage when a male body is given to its female counterpart as it was made to do.

The Fundamentalist Problem

This givenness fosters in us the passions and loves that the middle ages championed as the height of love. It may very well be that Christian love is the only way to reach these properly. The human element as well as the theological and emotional have to be present to foster a healthy love. Just as much as healthy sexuality is not just proper genital interaction, it is not simply about a purely theological element.

We cannot afford to lose the connectedness and the unity of sexuality for the sake of “biblical sexuality” as some have used it, claiming the other’s body as a sex object at any point through phrases about conjugal rights, and honoring husbands and submitting to the man’s desires. Any structure of sexuality where abuse, lust, rape and adultery are conceived as impossible once the couple are married is a flawed structure. Christian marriage does not say that these things suddenly do not exist or only exist in extreme situations.

Every marriage is subject to the fallen created order, which means that a man can feasibly lust after his wife. Pope John Paul II was mocked by the media for saying that a man should not lust after his wife The Holy Father says, “each man must look within himself to see whether she who was entrusted to him as a sister in humanity, as a spouse, has not become in his heart an object of adultery.”[1]. It is the responsibility of every man to care for his wife as a sister and uphold her dignity. Growing up, I had similar experiences to this where no sex before marriage was the ultimate goal. But I have since learned a fuller Christian theology of marriage and the family.

We must remember that it’s important to recognize that our spouses are not the objects of our sexual pleasure, or where we should direct our sexual frustrations. Our spouses are not where we get to live out every whim and fancy. Marriage, true marriage is a liberation of the person. It calls us to live a life in the fullness of freedom. Christian marriage calls to some and says “If you wish to have freedom from lust, live this way!”

Character and Sex

The issue for us, all of us, is not what we should do with our genitals. That’s important, don’t get me wrong. But the question is deeper and more fundamental than that. It’s a question of ‘What kind of people should we be?’ and that will clearly have something to do with our faith, cookware, genitals and virtues. But the reason that much of the argument for traditional marriage is failing in some areas is that people have made it about genitals and not the character necessary to use those genitals, and indeed our bodies rightly.

What I mean is, we’re called to use our bodies as a statement of faith. Every child that we bear is a fight against the idea and culture that says that we’re all doomed .Every single birth is a statement of faith that says, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, Lord and giver of Life.” This is not to say that children are simply this. Just as marriage needs a human element, parent-child relations need a human element. Every child is an opportunity to reflect the love in our marriages, and testifies to the fruits of our love for our spouses, be they natural-born children or adopted, it says that our marriages are still places where widows, orphans and our neighbor are cared for.

Every successful marriage testifies to fidelity between man and woman, as we were created to be. Every positive marriage shows our patience in waiting for the end, and living today as if it has ultimate importance, though we wait for the end. Every marriage serves the Church, through being called to God as a domestic priesthood, a temple of the faithful in everyday life.

When we remember this calling, what we do with our genitals matters, but for reasons larger than sex itself. Sex is an act of worship, but just as every other thing in our lives should be worship. Marriage, and sex for our good, our pleasure and our ability to enjoy. However, marriage is still a vocation and engenders us to certain responsibilities. This new understanding for the 21st century is an old one for the Church, and a view that fractures many of our cultural illusions, but as Christians we can do no less. Our kingdom, our bodies and our sex is not of this world.

[1]. Pope John Paul II, apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem 14 (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women) (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1988).

 

Christianity and the World, ala Hauerwas.

Stanley Hauerwas, my love-hate fling with theological liberalism and radical Orthodoxy all at once says:

“When Christianity is assumed to be an ‘answer’ that makes the world intelligible, it reflects an accommodated church committed to assuring Christians that the way things are is the way things have to be.”

I think there’s a lot of wisdom in this little saying. When we say that if a society were Christian or that Christianity is the answer to the world’s major malfunction, we’re saying that the world is the judge of the Church, rather than the other way around.

I think we should instead try to really reframe what we’re thinking about both the question and the answer.

The ultimate question, I think is:

What is our responsibility given Jesus Christ, his life, his ministry and his endowment to the Church?

 

The answer is, I think:

Our responsibility is to be as Jesus Christ, who transforms all things. We must reframe the world we live in, knowing that we’re provisional intermediaries at best, yet this should not reduce our fervent devotion to live a life against the cultures of death and violence so common in the world of every age.

Christianity is not a system by which we make sense of the world or ourselves. It’s at best a challenge to be transformed, a summons to responsibility, a summons to a new and radically different culture, a culture which has at its heart, Trinity, cross, resurrection, Jesus Christ, Father, and Holy Spirit, Kenosis, Perichoresis. And all these things.

Christianity is not God’s answer to man’s problem, it is God’s way of telling us who He is because Christianity is in fact all a response to the life and words of Jesus of Nazareth.

 

I don’t know if this makes any sense to anyone but me right now, but the answer is: Christianity belongs to God, not to me. That little fact, changes everything.