Sunday, December 11, 2011


Most of us are post-Kantian when it comes to morals. The idea that there could be moral knowledge prior to experience—because consistent with reason in advance of experience—is less and less useful as an explanation for why we ought to be moral. Immanuel Kant was a product of a world that thought denial of bodily desire was the beginning of being-ethical, a Patriarchical/religious worldview that no longer has much clout. Moral Obligation on this view is the idea that doing something has to be difficult, even in opposition to your desires—although of course, one could become the type of being that only desires fulfilling what one has the duty to do. Kant would have us become fully subjected to the agency of moral law.

According to Richard Rorty, and I think he’s right, the very idea of ‘moral’ is the issue. For when we follow the trace of ‘moral’, we end up with Kantian signifiers that prescribe rules for any experience to come. No matter what you ought to do X, even if you don’t want to, and especially even if you can think of reasons why you shouldn’t.
The attentive reader will note that if one should do X it follows that there are only reasons for doing X. But that’s the issue. We can think of reasons why we ought to lie some of the time, reasons that we should not tell the truth, indeed, reasons for disregarding our Kantian duty to do X, come what may. But if we posit two uses between ‘ought’: OughtK and OughtH, it would seem that we have the beginnings of a genealogy of ‘should’, or a genealogy of ‘ought’, that may alleviate much confusion, and perhaps, explain why Kant’s views are only partially intuitive. That is, if Kant is using normal terms (should, ought, permissible) to talk in a way that is bizarre, we shouldn’t expect anything less than disagreement over terms. Just because Kant provides an explication of moral obligation, doesn’t mean his explanation is what we commonly think about moral obligation. (But how Kantian should we be?)
On the topic of our moral obligations, it would seem that on a Kantian construal there can be no difference between my obligation for my partner, my dogs and my friends, and the neighbor in the street that calls for my help, “calls” by way of being in a situation that demands action, whether through a ‘look of pleading’, or simply by way of the context—that may or may not presuppose a look of pleading. But this way of thinking about obligation, this Kantian way of thinking about obligation, fails to meet our moral intuitions because we do not feel obliged to help just anyone. We tend to think that morality has to be possible, and it would be simply impossible to meet the needs of humyns in the world at the expense of our privileges. Otherwise Peter Singer asks, how do we explain that we still have accumulated capital? If we were Kantian, perhaps, it is morally obligatory to will poverty upon ourselves in order to balance the right to resources.
So we are not Kantian.—That is, we tend to reason already, weighing consequences of behavior, pros and cons. For instance, we may feel obliged to hand some money to the persyn in the street that asks, or we may rationalize our way out of the guilt-look—the felt obligation of the look—by saying to ourselves, typically of course, “X will simply waste that my money on drugs.” This ability to reason, one way or the other, means, as Rorty would say, that there is no Truth in Morality, just rightness relative to a particular moral identity.
The question for us is whether we can say it is always wrong to do X about any act X, or whether this view can only mean the imposition of a moral code from one identity to another that doesn’t agree. There are a few candidates, of course. One is rape. And perhaps we can explain our intuition that rape is always wrong by the more general Kantian principle that it is always morally impermissible (One always shouldK not) to treat another X as a means rather than as an end. Is the wrongness of rape simply a misunderstood view that can be clarified by of moral relativity? Or, alternatively, is moral relativity simply a description that excuses oneself from listening to reasons?
If I try to articulate the inherent value of this animal’s interest to our decisions, it would seem that the right to say ‘I disagree’ is buttressed by moral relativity. A good reason for refraining from doing X can only be the objection from an Other whom is (or would be) affected by our action; and animals have never demonstrated an objection and thereby an end that must be considered prior to our actions. It seems the same excuses could excuse one from considering the inherent value of wild-spaces, and the inherent value of the earth. The earth has never spoken and said, “Fuck Off, Stop Raping Me”—so we rape the earth, taking resources to build skyscrapers, urban sprawl, and useless technologies that only serve the purpose of demonstrating hierarchy to poor communities. More than that, however, just existing in Industrial Civilization is a collective matter of Rape. So either our views of raping Mother Earth are misplaced, or we have to renegotiate what it means to be children of the earth, whereby we are taken care of by our true Mother. (And if it turns out that our notion of morality ought to be considered in an arbitrary way, whereby we scope moral obligation to suit our humynist purposes, perhaps we want to say instead (un-arbitrarily) that we do use each other because we take care of each other. More to follow...) 
Presently it is as though we have Killed our life-source again and again; so we ought to be ashamed. So, just as we can tune ourselves off from feeling the desire to alleviate some of the suffering of others in our midst, those that are close, those that oblige us, those that ask, so we tune off our ability to concern ourselves with being concerned, heeding the pains in the Other, whatever the Other.
The weight of responsibility that we have collectively can only be alleviated by the pragmatic choice to distinguish between direct and indirect responsibility, or, at most, between non-humyn animals and animal others, or again, between those and the earth. But why should we accept these arbitrary demarcations, these lines that we draw in the sand in order to give sense to the limits of created-good, as though ‘the Good’ should not be restricted by the Better? If the Good is restricted by the Better, we cannot call it best. 

In my non-novel view, there can be no un-arbitrary view of moral obligation, unless we accept that Kant was only talking about those that can speak and give reasons, rather than any other that can look and demonstrate pain--present to us the destabilizing figure of the face. More precisely, we have to begin to ask whether there is anything to be said about the Kantian intuition that ‘we should never treat X as a means (whatever the X)’. Maybe there isn’t something wrong with the opposite in some contexts (draw your lines) so much as there is something wrong with it in every context. Who knows? 

As for me, I think using an other for ones' purposes is always a problem, unless, of course, the other is using me and both parties are open to each others' usings. A mother permits the use of the child for consumption purposes. Presumably this is an earth ethic of Care.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review of Defending the Earth: A Debate Between Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman.[1

The debate between social ecologist Murray Bookchin and Earth First! co-founder Dave Foreman is interesting because it touches on some of the most pressing issues that stand in the way of any genuine dialogue between those that privilege the humyn socius and those that hope for a renewed world-view that privileges all life—not just humyns. In what follows I would like to evaluate some of the arguments presented in this debate. I wish to discuss the first text in the book named above especially and allow for a dangling thought to be produced by way of Dave Foreman’s repetitious gelassenheit, a Heideggerian term that means ‘letting things be’.

Murray opens the debate by articulating this precise issue.[2] He targets a position (a deep Ecologists position), namely that many think that the natural environment requires protection from all humyns. This position has often been associated with the view that the world would be better without humyns in the first place—that the humyn is a evolutionary mistake, and that Nature is trying desperately to restore the balance. It is important to get clear on this issue because there is a sense in which it lends a hand to the view that implies that natural disasters are good. (Of course, natural disasters are normal, indeed balancing, but the idea that Nature is deciding to destroy humyns is ridiculous because Nature doesn't have agency)
Bookchin counters this first point of view (not the associative cluster) by reductio ad absurdum, arguing that this position erases the differences of responsibility that exist between molar-masses, and that this ‘blames the victim’.[3] In his words, the black kid in Harlem is not the same as the CEO of Exxon. So, by talking about all humyns as being collectively responsible for the catastrophes on the earth, we blame those that are also directly affected by the actions of some humyns. Moreover, because these othered humyns, caught up in the exploits of capitalists are, ex hypothesi, on all fours with these capitalists, we trivialize the actions of the capitalists. In other words, relating the bosses to the workers makes the workers worse, and the capitalists better.
The trouble with this argument is that is let’s humyns off the hook for fucked up processes of consumption. Can we really say that humyns that live in industrial civilization are not to blame? Perhaps we shouldn’t say blamed in the same way; but we cannot let any industrial process off the hook. Just because you happen to occupy a space in fucked up social relations doesn’t mean that you have not contributed to the seething mass of plastic in the Ocean, or the deaths of Trillions of Animals. The original position that there is a problem with being-civilized can be defended provided that we make a distinction between those that have been formed by industrial civilization and those that have not; it would be victim blaming only if we said that all non-industrialized civilized humyns are on all fours with all civilized humyns. So, instead of advocating the death of all humyns, we advocate the death of 'industrialization' and so, all the processes that are picked out by this geographic reality.

Murray Bookchin seems to want to evade these issues because, in his opinion, ecological devastation has a limit; namely, that provided social relations and hierarchies are dissolved—of course only humyn hierarchies—ecological problems will be resolved.[4] In his mind it is patriarchal masculinity and echoes of this form that destroys the planet. But being a capitalist isn’t limited to only this or that body. Similarly, anyone can replicate the form of being-hierarchical. So there is no fixed ‘come what may’ distinction between Oppressor and Oppressed, despite leftist/anarchist rhetoric.  (In a language yet to be disclosed we can think of bodies as territorialized and territorializing productions; hence, while there are real issues to be resolved with repeated forms of hierarchy--and bless this anti-o apparatus--there is always more deterritorialization to occur. Only when all individuals are free to follow their own desires can we say that we have a prefigured apparatus for installation.)

The question that has to remain front and center is whether social justice entails ecological justice. Bookchin supports this view by noting that Humyns are part of the natural world and must be considered part of what we mean by Nature. Humyns are a product of natural evolution; we didn’t arrive ex nihilo. So it seems that we are destined to be here and our destiny is defined by virtue of ‘long antecedents in natural history’[5]. But our being here is not this or that; as it turns out, we have evolved to be possibly responsible (“nature rendered self-conscious”), and so, pro-ecological, rather than irresponsible and anti-ecological as our social apparatus has become with patriarchy at the helm.[6] So in Bookchin's view we have to alter our cancerous social apparatus and adopt a view towards the world that is pro-ecological and responsible. This argument trades on the genetic fallacy. It is strictly indeterminate whether humynity ought to continue; it is strictly indeterminate that the existence of Seven Billion humyns ought to be considered an “intended” part of the “natural” flows of “random” mutation. Just because something is or happens to be, doesn’t mean it ought or will continue to be. There are all sorts of conditions that humyns have produced that make the possibility of blind-evolution neither here nor there. It is strictly indeterminate that evolution is our ally, or, more precisely, that something to come isn’t seeking to break-through the civilized humyn being. Of course, this is what Bookchin is advocating when he says that we render ourselves self-conscious and in touch with Nature, as part; but I wonder if this position doesn’t seek to make humyns in control of what is essentially uncontrollable. 
Frankly, I doubt very much that the interests of the universe see the necessity of the humyn being in the first place. We should say instead, if humyns want to survive they had better adopt a new land ethic that is ecologically feasible. The idea of being rendered self-conscious implies that one is in a state of being-aware of how things really work (and ought to); and this thought segues rather well into the notion of mega-fauna advocated by Dave Foreman whereby we try to reach a natural threat-based cold-world equilibrium rather than create one that is warm and fuzzy for all humyns, or even create the illusion of one that is warm and fuzzy.  In the very least Dave Foreman has a nice little thought experiment here.
Dave Foreman wants to see a return to a world that permits the flourishing of all species (gelassenheit), even the reintroduction of species that would pose a threat to humyn beings.--My oh My! Of course, this point requires a bit of qualification: there has always been a ‘threat’ to the civilized world by way of “the wild”. From coyotes attacking roosts to cockroaches ruining dinner parties, and from rats eating the filth left over by raccoons, the humyn-wild binary has been upset; yet, the end result has always been the destruction of the different by humyn technologies of control. Dave Foreman’s view of gelassenheit is what he calls ‘rewilding’—that is, restoring ‘big wilderness’ (and then conserving it) based on the regulatory (top-down) roles of large predators.[7] So rather than permitting humyns free run over the earth, and thereby limiting the wild to “protected areas”, Foreman advocates, cautiously of course, that the humyn population be reduced drastically so that Nature can regain an originary equilibrium.
At least Foreman is willing to say something.

[1] Bookchin, Murray and Dave Foreman. Defending the Earth. Montréal, Québec: Black Rose Books, 1991.
[2] Bookchin, Murray and Dave Foreman. ‘Looking for Common Ground’ in Defending the Earth, 27-46. Montréal, Québec: Black Rose Books, 1991.
[3] Ibid., 31.
[4] Ibid., 32.
[5] Ibid., 33
[6] Ibid., 34
[7] retrieved from Dave Foreman’s website ( on November 16, 2011.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Dreaded Comparison

A persyn in Toronto recently has brought a form of indiscrimination to the attention of the humyn rights tribunal here in Toronto. Allegedly, her academic superiors refused recommendation to other schools for PhD programs because she believes that humyns and animals demand, presumably, the same moral obligation. This persyn seems to be doing the wrong work in the wrong program. Why the hell would one carry out a discussion concerning animal rights in a faculty of humynists that find the most radical forms to be state-sanctioned disability studies? Of course the expansion of inclusion is important; but give me a break! The reason why social justice is a pile of malarkey is precisely that it is grounded more fundamentally by a call from animals, the wild; no humynist is willing to accept that point. Instead, the line between “reasonable research” and “off-limits research” is reified, and 'wild et. al' is dismissed arbitrarily. Of course, once the social sciences are updated with French Post-Structuralism, say Deleuze or Derrida, AR will be a natural outcome.—In good time. As it stands Anti-Oppression can only (rhetorically) be a matter of humyn privilege.
            Anyways, this persyn has decided to kick up a stink. While it isn’t clear that she has finished her MA and that she is off to carry out a PhD, it seems clear that her desire to study Animal rights (in sociology) has been met with derision. But she has also been referred to as a racist for comparing some humyns to animals. Evidently there is a disagreement over terminology here; but it is curious. It obviously trades on meaning and use. I want to consider her entire claim and also some of her arguments before I turn to this last point and its soundness.
According to her claim, she is being discriminated against because she is vegan and because she believes that the moral imperative to help a humyn is the same call that obliges us to help an animal. Thus, animal rights and humyn rights are on the same foot. It was this ‘religious creed’—her words, certainly not mine—that purportedly got her into trouble; and because vegans follow a certain set of principles and rules, she thinks that she ought to be protected from discrimination, and that in particular, her reputation should not be destroyed because of her beliefs concerning moral obligation. The trouble is that her opinions are racist.
She objects! She identifies as a person of color; so it is impossible for her to be racist. The trouble is that her words have nothing to do with her at all. The form of her words is necessarily racist because it compares the animal to some humyns thereby, essentially, calling them animals. To say that the suffering of animals is anything like the suffering of any humyns is to refer to those humyns as less than humyn. The trouble of course is that the form of words (say, “the ongoing animal holocaust”) cannot escape this kind of racist-trace because the term ‘animal’ is always going to be sorted onto the complement or, outside. Remember that every humyn victory in the social justice world has been a matter of forcing the privileged class (the humyns) to see that “the oppressed” are not animals. To say that animals are anything like some subset of humyns is to necessarily relate some humyns in a direction that they would not desire, indeed, in the direction that “Oppressors” have always sorted them. So, it doesn’t matter that this persyn is Racialized. The function (animal holocaust, say) sorts some set of humyns (presumably not herself) onto the outside of humynity.
Of course there is a difference in use that is present. Some of us see that all the assigned terms and predicates are totally bullshit. But so long as we use the same terms to extend the line of persyn, the traces that precede us will always produce contrary conclusions to those that we desire.
Consider another example that was brought to my attention a while back. Deep Ecologists have always fetishized the idea of Nature as Woman—as caretaker, as Mother, and sometimes, when it suits them, as Wild and uncontrollable fury. To say that rekindling one’s uncontrollable fire is what is really important—in opposition to Stoic Patriarchy—overlooks the fact that this space (the wild) has traditionally been assigned as a lack. So there is a certain sense that even though Deep Ecologists meant the term in a different way, the semantic meaning of the term preceded its use and made it difficult, or even impossible, for deep Ecologists to make their point. This privileging of Mother Nature in the form of desired re-wilding, presupposes that the function of Patriarchy is legitimate in some sense. Deep Ecology supposes that what Patriarchy assigns to Womyn is what should be assigned to all of us. The trouble is that many persyns fought really hard to escape from the lack that they were assigned, and a reassignment is fucked up. 
The dreaded comparison between humyns and animals always reassigns this lack in a racist way, no matter how racialized one is; for even if one is assigning oneself the category of animal (and that is all that one can do) , there is every reason to suppose that one voice is not sufficient to speak for every right to an identity. In other words, just because you identify as an X doesn't mean that you can speak for all others that identify with X or that all X's would agree with your anti-hierarchical claim, and so, your reduction of X-hood to Y-hood by comparison.
The only real group that stands outside in the margins when it comes to similarity with the animal plight is the persyn that has been denied civic status in such and such a state. These persyns are treated "inhumanely" because they have no rights (or, what's the same, because they have animal rights). In order for there to be a positive value, there has to be a negative oppositional place, a place that is denied value so that every other place has value. Paradoxically, even if animals had rights, there would still have to be a place occupied by the reality of being-an-animal and so, being-treated "like an animal".

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Animals that We Have Always Been... Already

The classical binaries that oppressions generate, the differences between man and womyn, humyn and animal, or, more generally, the differences between reason and rhetoric, emotion/rationality, and Civil/Wild have lots of similarities. Indeed similarity is caught up in an originary definition of being human, as Aristotle put it: human just meant <rational animal>. However, as specialization over humyn bodies increased divisively under the sign of Capital, a complementary and manufactured desire forced the imposition of difference between humyn and animal in a rigid way so that we became less autonomous. If that which is wild is the very meaning of autonomy, and I intend to make this argument later, then domestication (zooification) is a process of de-autonomization. If it is true that the process of becoming more and more dependant describes the human condition, then humyns have never been free. Rather than acknowledge the animal within as a part, indeed, as the liberating (free) part, we began (and yet still!) attribute to the animal those undesired traits we find rupturing our codified (and predictable) existence.
Particles of our language signify this <setting apart from>. We often say in the negative that such and such a person is a beast, or a bitch, or that one is acting like a chicken or a peacock, or a mule, an ass, a pest, a bug or that certain types of people are pigs, or that living with some people, like me, according to my partner anyways, is “like living with a primate.” These terms signify traits that we do not wish to own, burdens that the animal has been created to bear, a negative placeholder for disowned behaviors. Are chickens really chicken? Are primates really messy? Do peacocks really parade around, fluffing their feathers and chests in such a fashion? Contrary to this logic, it seems overwhelmingly the case that the particular animals that we use to stand for undesired human traits do not in fact exemplify any of ‘their’ specified traits. Instead, it may be that these general points of specification are a function of a general logic, a logic that is amplified by associations that, by way of being negative, generate a necessary effacement.
One may wish to say that just as there are negative traits from which we wish to distance ourselves surely there are positive traits that we often use to describe ourselves positively. For instance, we might be inclined to say that we were as brave as a lion. Alternatively, in a weird sort of limit case, some of the more patriarchal among us might be inclined to say that so and so was “hot like a fox” hereby signifying, despite the beastial overtones, that men in fact desire “foxy ladies”. But while comparisons of desired attribution, as proper functions of animals, are a part of our everyday discourse, comparisons to animals, the brutes, tend to be negative. The reason is that it is of paramount importance that we (willingly) zooify ourselves, that we make ourselves set a/part from the animals.
The point that the animal has been “created to bear” undesired traits has everything to do with originary meanings of <animal> that have very little to do with animals at all and much more to do with us. The animal cannot be said to be stupid because the animal doesn’t make ‘stupid mistakes’; indeed, the animal is precluded from any attribution because the animal doesn’t conform to patterns of failed rationality. Despite this point, we have been given a representation for the animal that is variously described through a set of lacks: lacking in reason, lacking the ability to think, lacking the ability to choose to eat only plants, lacking the ability (or potential ability) to respond responsibly, to be ethical. From these meanings I’m supposed to understand the referent of the concept animal. But there can be no animal because the very idea of an animal is simply the distinguishing mark of the non-humyn and anything defined by way of lack will be necessarily imprecise. And this point is redoubled, indeed, doubly impossible, because the animal is defined by what the humyn lacks, and what the humyn has, positively, is also unclear across the board. So if the animal is defined by way of the humyn, and the humyn cannot be defined, then the animal cannot be defined. Here we do not have a limited that abuts against another; instead, we have a tangle, a mess that can only be prescinded for convenience.
Traditionally persons have used the term ‘beast’ or ‘the brutes’ to signify the animal; and this sort of anti-animalism finds a telling voice in Beauty and the Beast, a cultural artifact that I would like to turn to briefly. Here we have a monster, and not a monster made of different recognizable parts, like a griffin, or a centaur, or Medusa, rather, we are presented with a monster that doesn’t have any understandable similarities, indeed an “animal” par excellence. The closest kind that The Beast signifies is the wildebeest, from what I can gather; but the beast in the Disney film is nothing like the wildebeest, a kind that is misleading in its English dress given its close kinship to grass munching cattle. So here we have a story perpetuated by Disney that takes the form of the wildebeest and shifts its reality in order to create a particular entity, a fiction that stands no animal in particular; a brute in the truest sense of the word because this non-animal/animal stands for everything uncivilized that we should not want. The beast is isolated, untamed, aggressive, angry, irrational, uncivilized, in short a wild beast (wildebeest). And this introduction is assumed from the beginning. If you recall, this monster is completely irrational or unreasonable, truly animal, for Belle’s father, lost and looking for his way is enslaved upon trespassing.
At one point in the film, Disney lets out a subconscious word of explanation concerning this very peculiar non-animal/animal. Gaston has persuaded the townsfolk to go and kill the beast. Why? Because they
“don’t like what [they] don’t understand, in fact it scares [them],
and this monster [the beast] is mysterious at least.”
Indeed ‘the monster/the animal’ must be mysterious. Animals that function to stand for everything Wild cannot make sense to a culture that desires to destroy everything, or better, more deceptively, reduces the wild/untamed to that which is understandable. The beast, having no recognizable form, having nothing in common with a lion, or a tiger, having everything in common with a wildebeest but nothing to do with its operations, just is that which is fearfully non-humyn. It must be killed; or else, it must be made understood by way of a different presentation, say, by being mounted on Gaston’s wall—by being made weak as a sign for true humyn strength.
             The term <noble savage> gets a lot of play in Beauty and the Beast. The beast is clearly set up to be the noble-savage archetype, but it seems that we can invert these terms to signify Gaston, a <savage noble>, in the very least in order to understand what’s happening in this movie, how these two terms play off of each other. It seems reasonable to infer that Gaston is a noble or stands for the noble type given that there are no other nobles in town, and given that he thinks he has a rite to Belle’s hand in marriage. So how does Gaston fit the term <savage noble> that I am here inverting? We hear from Belle, that he is “boorish and brainless”. Being boorish just means being rude, or without manners, and “brainless” is the attribution classically given to animals that categorically fail to think and reason—clearly both tend to describe Gaston as a savage of sorts. Indeed, even Gaston seems aware of his brainlessness in that, at one point, he says to LeFou, “LeFou I’ve been thinking”. LeFou cuts him off saying, “a dangerous pastime” to which Gaston replies “I know”. So, just like an animal, Gaston is brainless and reactionary.
            The relationship between the savage noble and the savage becoming noble-savage is best represented in the climactic moment when Gaston and the Beast square off. Just as the beast is about to kill Gaston by dropping him from the ledge, the Beast, as True Noble (Savage), listens to Gaston’, “I’ll do anything for my life”, and completes the (implicit) contractual-promise, ordering Gaston to “get out”. Once in a safe space, Gaston, as savage, stabs the true Noble-Savage in the back. In breaking the implicit promise to the Beast, therefore, the nobility of Gaston is eclipsed by the Nobility of the Beast, a true noble savage. However, the state cannot leave it there; instead, the Beast must be eclipsed as savage-part of Noble-Savage becoming truly ideal and totally imaginary. It is important that we understand savagery as a curse, just as the beast understands that being a Beast was always a curse. This is why at the end of the movie it is important to have the narrator show the fictional archetype (the beast), the animal, becoming truly (humane), civilly civilized, desiring this way of being, rather than his perfectly imperfect savagery.
Interestingly, neither the beast nor his perfected humyn resurrection, have names. Disney has created a totally artificial way of being that spans from beginning to end, the perfect man and the perfectly imperfect animal without likeness. This artificial being, the perfect noble, is just as artificial as the being that existed just a few minutes prior. What we have is a set of artificial categories designed to set the humyn a/part from, on the one hand, the savage noble, as well as the noble savage. The truth that Disney hides is that the separation of the humyn from the animal is a separation of self into partial object and Other. In rejecting the wild, in reproducing the desire to reject the wild, a manufacturing of desires that is not our own, but is desired of us, a desire that speaks through us constitutes us as civilized subject, we are complicit in setting ourselves a/part, ready and waiting, an artificial apparatus that puts to pieces both ourselves and parts of us (as artifice), the animal, so that it becomes necessary to find ourselves again—so that it becomes necessary to re/wild.
Most of us resist the conversation that follows from the Genesis Narrative, and with good reason. Yet, that story contains a seed for a new reading of the difference between the humyn and the animal. The first thing that the humyns did once they had become accustomed to knowledge of good and evil, having disobeyed God and consumed the forbidden apple, was to put on clothes, nakedness being a source for their shame (Genesis 3:7). Having gained (God-like) knowledge of what is right and wrong, the humyns felt that it was wrong (improper) to be naked. Thenceforth, humyns lost their freedom to be naked without inhibitions, to be truly indifferent to ones’ shame because oblivious to nakedness. So I want to offer the notion of <re-wilding> as a matter of stripping sources of shame. What makes us zooified, shall we say, is the ability to feel shame.
In order to paint this picture, in order to trace part of the meaning of what it means to out strip sources of shame, I want to re-read The Emperor’s New Clothes. Here we have a down going that is opposite from the transcendent up-going of the Noble-Savage to Pure Civility. Thus, we might say we have instead the down-going of Pure Civility to Pure Animalism/pure freedom.
If you recall, the story goes something like this: we have an emperor adorned in all of the latest fashions, as Andersen says, “to [the emperor] clothes meant more than anything else in the world… He had different robes for every single hour of the day.” Then, along come some swindlers promising to make the emperor a new set of clothes, more beautiful than anything he had ever seen. The catch is that the clothes contain magic properties that appear invisible to anyone stupid or (and so) not worthy of their position in the emperor’s court. Since no one wants to be stupid, like an animal, stupidity being a purported sign of being-animal, no one admits to the plain truth that the emperor was being swindled. The next day the Emperor parades his new “clothes”, and a child, perhaps indifferent to the charge of stupidity, exclaims boldly that the Emperor was wearing nothing. In response and feeling as though there was perhaps some truth in the comment, the Emperor “drew himself up and walked boldly on holding his head higher than before…” (my emphasis).
            So here we have a moment where an exception to subject-hood, a child, “tells the truth” to another exception to subject-hood, an emperor. In response, taking responsibility and being reactionary, the Emperor goes beyond his clothed humans to demonstrate naked power. He shows that even in the face of embarrassment, figuratively speaking, nothing can touch him. Like an animal or a child that can maim and destroy with impunity, this state of exception shows himself as indifferent to his nakedness. Having tasted what it means to be truly beyond subjecthood, to truly not worry about placement as emperor, to know about his nakedness and yet remain indifferent, indeed, to be in the spotlight in a way that is exceptional, I would be surprised if the emperor could wear clothes again.
The Emperor is set apart from his subjects like an animal is wild. He is totally unpredictable, and even more now that he has discovered pride beyond shame, a way of being that puts him truly beyond law. He once had prided himself in wearing the finest clothes; yet now he has produced a sign that all of that is hardly important.
Jacques Derrida may have had the emperor in mind when he commented that autobiography without confession is captured in being-animal, or, being before/after the fall, being in a place where a distinction is not drawn—although, admittedly, Yhwh did grant Adam with the rite to name, and therefore subjugate everything except himself to the inability to name oneself—nevertheless, being-there merely living, without apology, indifferent to Dasein.
Humyns have a lot for which they ought to apologize. We humyn animals haven’t even begun to realize and take responsibility for our shame.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Against Identity, or Always Difference.

It can be helpful to consider certain philosophical distinctions as playing a role in our practices. One such distinction is the difference between appearance and reality. It was once thought that reality is beyond appearance and that we can never be sure if we have referred to reality because, as Descartes suggested, we might be under the influence of an evil demon, or, in a truncated ontology, that our brains are hooked up in vats like those that were made popular in the Matrix. Perhaps we can see this distinction as a virtue rather than as an issue; perhaps we can see this distinction as guiding our ability to name X under the term P, whatever P. 

The reality that we are not referring to has everything to do with the banal form of predicating that we normally use. By using <P>, it seems that <X is P> may mean either that <X is being P> or that <X is P>--and it makes a difference. To say that X is P, as though 'P' is all that X is, is to reduce an object that is already different from the sign ‘P’ to ‘P’, and nothing can be identical to anything else other than itself. So it seems we are only left with the latter: X is being P, by which I mean X is being like P. 

Of course, the inference that X is partaking in the Reality of P is just as violent as the absurd identification of a functioning object with a stagnant symbol. To say that X is right now functioning in order to create the reality of P is to dismiss as irrelevant all the other differences that are functioning at the site as well. Partaking in the reality of P is the reality of scientific mono-culturing; it is the scientific tendency to reduce a real functioning object to the “reality” of a term <P> which represents some algorithm. But this violent algorithm is necessarily a “violence of fitting”; for it is always a reality-signified that is represented as a signifier. The reference of the term here is not the infinite object of systematic differences but is rather, the object under the imposed sign. It takes a forming apparatus to call into Being--sort of--this particular object as "fitting" <P>.

So it seems that the distinction between appearance and reality can serve to interrupt the conclusion that X is behaving like Y, because the reality X is never subsumable under the appearance Y which can only name an appearance-form.  There is no Womyn; there is no Man; there are bodies. The question we must ask is: Is Y(x) really Present? Is X's total functioning really Y(x)? Or is Y(x) being re-presented(imposed)? But here we are asking whether a reality is Present (Y(x)), rather than an appearance; for an appearance, as we mean it, is nothing more than an imposition of Imperial mono-cultures.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Places of privilege

The rhetoric of identity politics is debilitating. As both Peter Gelderloos and David Graeber point out, the issue with identity politics is that its rhetoric tends to crush possibilities. For instance, the result of theoretical identity politics upon the possibilities set forward by the desires of the Zapatistas was one of denial. Being Maya originally, identity politics suggests that they could only assert the right to continue to be Mayan or to be recognized as Mayan. “But for a Maya to say something to the world that was not simply a comment on the own Maya-ness would be inconceivable" (See Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology 68). Gelderloos puts the problem succinctly by pointing out that the Authorities that lie behind the construction of the identity determine the possibilities that are permissible for those under the identity  (Lines in the Sand 6).

Given such a point of view it really isn’t any wonder that many white male anarchists cannot accept the labels being thrown their way. The incredulity that one might show here towards Meta-Narratives, a piece of good postmodern philosophy, is the greatest ally in rejecting the story of privilege. I am not a ruler; it wasn’t me that colonized indigenous people. But Gelderloos also notes, importantly, that meta-narratives help to make sense of one’s position in society (4). From this I can reason that I did have the luxury of a better education than most (although it was religious), and that my parents have managed to make a lot of money for themselves. Is it plausible to suppose that this has something to do with systematic privilege? Did blessings fall onto my parents because they are white? Is there supposed to be more to the story than that inference from generalizations? Simply casting this story as a story of systematic privilege does no justice to these objects; what does justice to those objects is what those objects contribute to the goodness of the fit. So the matter cannot be simple.  

This may be the reason for Gelderloos' remark that identities may be useful (for some purpose) but are "never valid" (ibid, 1). My ability to construct an identity for an other may be useful, but the persyns under the identity must determine the fit. So it's better for a person that does identify with an identity to determine the scope of the identitity. Of course, some believe that identities are unnecessary--that they must necessarily miss the point of what I am. 

Gelderloos' point is that Identity labels do not sit well, if one isn’t related to them in any experiential way. More succinctly, if one identifies with anarchism, if one feels it in their bones, then one cannot make sense of the idea that one is also part of the ruling class. Others may feel that a white anarchist has more privilege than others; but here we have an example of an Other constructing an invalid identity for an Other. While useful, such is never valid. So whatever story an anarchist thinks that I need to understand in order to understand systematic privilege, it may or may not be a story for me.
The purpose of an identity construction is to give a name to something that goes to work; but the conclusions of the work must be a matter of individual determination. However, in clarifying how these terms suit us, how they are justifiably applicable, we must not forget that identities have not been designed by us, but are rather a function of society and in particular the machine that we together hope to destroy. In short, they are functions of social (non-anarchist) parameters (an apparatus) and in using these terms we are the voice-pieces of Leviathan. Hence there is something wrong with the general belief that by relating an anarchist to a privation within non-anarchist society, it is likely that the functional term (male, say) will fit. In the very least, such explains why using terms that are prevalent within non-anarchist culture for persons within anarchist culture is often met with hostility and resistance. Such terms of Leviathan do not generally function as a part of an anarchist’s identity (if one has one).--Such terms are designed to hold-back, to make open possibilities seem impossible.

Obviously defining what one means by the term ‘male’ is part of the problematic. If it is a function of social parameters, in the voice of whomever, anarchism means I don’t have to take it seriously. If it is being used differently, it should come as no surprise that the definition will be contested because now we are talking about how I am to be identified. If anarchism has any virtues, surely they include self-determination. So you can bet that anarchism means that I will have something to say about my resultant, relevant, identity.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Most vegans are douche-bags!

Gelderloos' piece

on veganism as a consumer choice is bang-on. However, a number of his arguments deserve a response if only for the purposes of correct thought on the matter. I worry that anarchists might read his text as an excuse for eating meat--as though hierarchy as such ought to be tolerated in anarchist circles. Before we get to the heart of the matter, it would seem that there are two qualifications that require clarification. On the one hand, Gelderloos claims that he does not purchase meat in any way--that such would be a matter of taking part in capitalist consumerist culture--and on the other, that he would not take the life of an animal close to his ken, only those with whom he would not be able to form a relationship.

First, I want to thank Peter for the following points.

1. Veganism, as a culture, is definitely not holy in any sense given that Capitalism is essentially unholy. It is impossible to make capitalist consumer choices without killing animals. So vegans can get off their high horses. "You can't be a capitalist environmentalist."

2. Moreover, pace PeTA, you can be a meat-eating environmentalist. Industrial Capitalism is rather late in the history of human history and within that history one must include indigenous persons, and so, a way of co-habitating with life that is at once environmental and meat eating.

I agree with Peter on these obvious two points, but it is important to note that by arguing (2), all Peter has done is justify meat consumption today for lots of social "justice" activists. (Of course, it is absolutely essential that these activists qualify their meaning of justice advocacy because they are not interested in justice, just social justice.) Moreover, it is important to note concerning (2) that PeTA is targeting a particular sort of person; the person that eats meat from factory farms, and not the person that eats meat from dumpsters, or steals it from the supermarket.--So not Peter Gelderloos. This appears to be a general problem with interpreting PeTA ads--of course, such is the nature of making a controversial ad. Also, it should be noted that fetishizing indigenous culture in such a way has done nothing more than justify patriarchy. Man over Nature! Hoo-rrah!

But this kind of argument (2) raises an interesting problem in the movement. It is impossible to criticize indigenous behavior because indigenous persons have been displaced time and time again. Similarly it is impossible to criticize Black males for being sexist--you are then being racist. (So I cannot criticize Gelderloos for saying that Black people do not need meat or animal products. Of course, some evidence for this claim would be alot more helpful than some empty appeal to intuition). The problem is that the nature of the target of criticism permits easy withdrawal into a totally ridiculous identity politics, from which one can generate all sorts of absurd ad hominem arguments.

Second, it appears to me that Peter's argument is insufficient to make his conclusion stick. Lot's of vegans are conscientious consumers insofar as they purchase anything. When we are not eating out of dumpsters, we head out to local markets and eat in season. Some of us refuse GMO's and some of us even try to get involved in human-issue (social justice) based activism, although this often frustrates because of all the evident hierarchy present in these purported anarchists. Part of the problem here is that Gelderloos conflates lifestyle veganism with consumer veganism. But I think Gelderloos undermines his whole point when he says you cannot escape capitalism (1); it seems that no one can be an environmentalist. But surely there is a difference between being a hierarchical douche-bag anarchist and a lifestyle vegan.

Gelderloos' ethics....

Gelderloos admits that he cannot eat an animal that is part of his community but that he would have no problem with eating one that is not. The trouble here is that he is speaking from a position of ethics and yet he is not realizing the totalizing nature of ethics. What Gelderloos has to ask himself is whether the interests of an animal, and he admits that they have desires, are less important than his taste-interests; if the answer is yes! he has to answer why this is the case given the fact that eating animals and animal products is totally unnecessary in our consumerist culture. If he can steal meat, he can steal B-12 pills.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Celebrating the diffused self

And the choice is: greasing the gears or being legion…

The individuated self is a mystery that has often perplexed the ablest thinker. What is this self that gets beyond concepts and refuses to submit to identity politics? Is it entirely empty and so, controllable by way of economics, technology and the latest political image?; or is it infinitely complex and already related and therefore not reducible to any particular effability? Is the self one—something that must be made one, ‘panoptically’ as Foucault famously suggested—; or, is it legion, and is that preferable?

We have a desire to believe that there is something that all humans share in common, a common humanity. It is hoped that with some satisfactory definition we might be able to at last ground ethics metaphysically. In the very least we are numerically differentiated; you are you, I am what I am—however we are distinguished and despite the manufacturing of fashion that precedes us and defines what we are. As we each undergo change, we are told that we are the same thing, a consuming thing that differentiates itself from everything else as it consumes.

The self must be empty so that it can be filled, again and again. And the self must be filled, for if not, it has become nothing. To be something, then, is to be filled with whatever muck you are told makes you complete, whole.—Ritalin. If it is possible to be complete, it is possible to be completed.—You will either be completed or you will complete yourself, and everyone else will make you feel like you’re an outcast if you do not grease the gears!

Science tells us that consciousness is reducible, it promises it, in a faith like way. It is accordingly not very fashionable to reject this picture; indeed it may even be too religious to do so—whatever that means. Philosophers and psychologists tell us that we have to get our lives in order—that we should take drugs so that we can better grease the gears. Part of the lie of the self has been perpetuated by way of a lie concerning time. The self can “look” at itself—can consider itself as an event. This presupposes that the continuity of time is made up of parts going from part to part, and that the self transcends the parts in order to bring the parts of the self that seem disordered into better alignment. The claim then is that the bare self is stable—it can reason, it can think—the other parts of self—what one has done—are events that must be brought into alignment with the stable self. There are two lies here. The first is that continuity is made up of parts. If time is made up of parts then there must be no spaces. But parts presuppose space. So, either time is not continuous, or it is and there are no events, only generalized events that we imprecisely take to be events. The second lie is that the self transcends time. The truth of the matter is that the self on the psychologist’s clock is in time, and is considering events as an event. From this it follows that the greasing gears self itself is a construction as much as considered events, events perceived to be problematic, are constructions. Thus, the truth of the self is that it is time for a time, and that it can only be legion just like time.

Part of the reason that we are cautioned to not think this way, cautioned to not celebrate the diffuse self, is that if we find out that we are infinitely related to everything else rather than a unified self when perfectly aligned with our nothingness, we are impossible to manage and impossible to control. It is better then to be legion, to be weird, to keep ’em guessing. We play into their hands, we deliver ourselves if we are predicatble.

On the other hand if we take control of ourselves pragmatically and inconsistently, in a way that is unpredictable, perhaps we might steal the night.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

That's Sexist!

The distinction between semantic meaning and speaker meaning is a distinction that actually makes a practical difference. In what follows I hope to clarify this distinction and specify how its import can help to build better bridges between us, ineffable objects that we are.

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty and Alice have a bit of a spat over the meaning of a word. Humpty says: “When I use a word… it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less” and Alice responds saying that “The question is… whether you can make words mean so many different things.” The inter-textual play here may not be obvious, so I’ll try to briefly unpack the idea before teasing out its difference-making point.

Humpty Dumpty seems to be suggesting an absurd idea, an idea that pushes Alice to dispute it. So Alice seems to be saying: If there is to be only intentionality behind a word, how can I understand what you mean? Or, in other words: how is it that if what Humpty is saying is true we can even use language at all? The whole point of language is to convey meaning, intentionality; but this has to be a matter of inter-subjective agreement; otherwise there doesn’t appear to be any way of saying anything.

If I say “pass me the salt shaker”, by the ordinary rules of English discourse this simply conveys that the speaker would like for me to grab a salt-shaker in order to pass it to the speaker. (Here we are overlooking the uniqueness (‘the’) explicit in the order).  In response I may or may not pass the shaker. But this largely assumes that Humpty is wrong. If Humpty is right, on the other hand, it would seem that he might mean whatever he might mean, in which case I can neither take his words literally, nor know whether my metaphorical interpretation, supposing that I’m onto his game, is even remotely correct. Thus, Alice’s response might be a warning signal of a complete collapse in meaning, whereby X might even mean its’ complete and total opposite, not-X. Evidently there is a pressing instance here that demonstrates the absurdity of a wholesale endorsement of Humpty’s point; but is there something to be said here about how Humpty is right, or does this loss of communicative meaning force us into a wholesale rejection? Are we to be mastered by our words, no matter our intentions, or is there something to be said about mastering our own words? More importantly, how do we decide?

It is often the case that what one means is simply not what one is taken to mean. Our opponents often make mince meat of our words, playing on communal interpretive points, despite the call in our later words that should make any caring individual shift conclusions about what we were actually saying. How often do we protest: that’s not what I meant! Of course, there are instances where one did mean what one was taken to mean; and there are instances where what one meant is not clear. It seems to me that in the latter case there is a worthy protest to be had; for when what one says cannot be given a solid interpretation unless the speaker provides clarification, we cannot justly impose an interpretation. In the former case, when what one says is clear as crystal, there is an opportunity to correct what one means, despite referring to something transparently.

The other day I was at an anti-racism rally, and a fellow in the crowd taunted a Jewish Defense League mercenary to come out and fight in a public space. (Apparently JDL hires larger kids to marshal fear in peaceful opponents that verbally challenge its racist, colonial agenda—an agenda masked by Holocaust rhetoric.) Of course, the JDL “thug” backed off. Perhaps it was the police; perhaps it was his cod/dling superiors; whatever. However, in backing off, the anti-racist protester referred to the masked JDL fearmongerer as a ‘Pussy’. As soon as the words came out of his mouth, a number of people in the group were quite perturbed. The reasoning was that no matter how one spins it, such is a sexist comment and reinforces sexism in society.

However, according to the difference between speaker meaning and semantic meaning, we cannot simply assume that that particular speaker intended to relate that particular person to women, of which he thinks, all are weaker than all men. He may have had none of that in mind (and it's unlikely that he had all that in mind). With the above distinction it seems that we have to try a little harder to figure out what one means, and especially if the term has ambiguous connotations. Pussy seems to fall under that class of terms, at least as much as referring to cops as pigs.

Suppose for a second that we buy into the absurd binary distinction between male and femle. (I say absurd because there doesn’t appear to be a way to distinguish the sexes that does justice to “deviant cases”. And I doubt that the point can even be given any sexual grounding). Here we are playing the game that society plays, a game that subjugates womyn (and men) to loathsome categories of displacement. Men are supposed to make lots of money and drive fancy cars; womyn are supposed to do chores and raise children. Fuck all that—and fuck whatever anyone might say about what I am; but society plays this (reductionary) tune. So if person X takes this step and refers to Man Y as a ‘Pussy’, then it would seem that Man Y is going to be psychologically affected.—He think’s he’s a Man, not a WoMan! So, it seems that in some instances it may be rhetorically affective to play the one side of the absurd binary against one that buys into the other side. Given that reading it would seem that one might, as a matter of fact, say something that is sexist (because the binary is sexist) but not be sexist himself. It may also not be wrong to say it, especially if it calls a Man to doubt His Manliness—that’s always good! 

Of course, it seems rather convoluted that in a moment of charged anger one would even take such a step. But it’s no more convoluted than supposing that anyone thinks in structuralist terms—that there is some essence that unites all womyn; that anyone in the post structuralist milieu buys into the binary. What is more likely is that one is not associating female genitalia with some bad category, associating the lovely vagina with weakness, but simply using a term colloquially. In most colloquial cases, pussy just means weak, just like weenie means weak; but sometimes we abstract from these colloquial instances and try to tell a story about what the words mean—how words mean already, how we are (always) mastered by them. One might try to inform us that there are these large categories of sexism "in place” in society and that certain words are a reflection of this point, no matter how much you try and fail to master them. Interesting myth. I refuse to buy it.

Of course, before one misunderstands my meaning, as anarchists we should not attempt to replicate problems perpetuated by other sexist individuals. There are surely sexist assholes. So, we should try not to endorse and thereby validate binary privilege by way of language, however we use words. In the very least, we might speak and generate patriarchy or matriarchy by our words, despite our 'good' intentions. We simply must take responsibility for how our words are interpreted. We simply must take responsibility for the harm they might cause. We simply must take responsibility for the furtherance of oppression that those words may generate by way of other actors. But we must also take account of the intentions of the speaker using the words; for the matter is a lot more complicated than often assumed.

If I say, 'he's such a cock', I may be interpreted as setting up an oppressive inverted binary that is no better than patriarchal oppression. However, we generally do not police such terms. We colloquially let matters go. For it would be absurd to suggest that one is being sexist by using such a term as cock, dick or balls. However, the oppression is the same. The intuitive reason that one ought not to make a big deal about these remarks is that when one says that one has made a sexist remark, the person being accused, usually, does not feel that they are sexist; instead they feel that the remark was innocent, a colloquial remark. But if it's good for the goose then it's good for the gander. Since we do not typically smash matriarchy by way of calling out people for objectifying men, negatively or positively, we can understand why we should have patience with people who make sexist remarks. Everyone can improve.

The point that the above remarks suggest is that we ought not to focus on the words that one uses, but rather on the intentions behind the words. In the very least, rather than presume what X means by a remark, we should ask the speaker to clarify what they mean. For a cavern of difference yawns between a sexist person and a person, and there is no sharp way of distinguishing these by way of words.

It seems that the first step towards healing is a matter of letting speakers speak for themselves, thereby not confusing the means they use to establish their ends. But also, as people, we ought to move forward by not perpetuating the oppressive binary, whether privileging womyn or men. Let us not intend to cause harm with our words, whether directly or indirectly. Let us not replicate features of sexist individuals in our own communities. Our communities ought to be safe spaces for everyone.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Wagering for a better life.

A variant on Pascal’s wager suggests that since we are unable to be certain that there is no afterlife—that there is a 50/50 percent chance—we might as well "take our chances" and be good. This way, we might have everlasting life for just such a reason; for it is intuitive that people that do bad things haven’t a chance in the world. Of course, lots of people simply assume that there is no afterlife, or, analogously, that there is no God. But the argument suggests that since one cannot be certain that there isn’t one, it is better to be good than bad, given the chance that it may be rewarding to be good. Therefore, the argument suggests that one should be good, if only to escape eternal damnation.

Notice that I have recast this argument in order to minimize the problems that its original formulation provided. First, I am not suggesting that one must suppose that God exists. As far as I’m concerned, there is no theory-neutral way of going about defining what one means. Thus, it avoids the argument from inconsistent revelation. (Many argued that Pascal’s argument wasn’t sufficient to make one believe in Yhwh. In other words, many Christians might take this argument to be proof that it is rational to believe in Yhwh, without realizing that the very same reasoning can be used for any God, even Science.) Second: the argument is completely ambiguous what it means to be ‘good’. So, it doesn’t suppose that one must live a Christian life, with prayer and lots of kneeling, nor that a life filled with the absence of such things would be a life that is better; rather, it suggests that being good, being a moral exemplar, is open to proof. I suggest that this would be best carried out in the manner of the ancient Greeks: to find out what it means to be ‘good’, we compare exemplars. (And wouldn't that be revealing!)

I want to focus for a second on the above argument. According to that argument it is rational to be good. If we are good and there is an after-life reward in being as such, then we have everything to gain for being good. On the other hand, if we are good and there is no afterlife, then at least we were good. On the other hand, if we are bad, then if there is infinite punishment, we lose everything we might gain by being bad. Besides, we end up being jerks. On this reading, the gist of Pascal’s argument is that even if there is no reward in the afterlife for being good, it is still best to be good, because then we would be moral exemplars. The trouble of course, is that we have no idea what it means to be good.

It seems to me that the real pressing trouble with the above dichotomy is that it suggests that we should pursue the good life, because of the ‘rewards’ that await us possibly in the afterlife; and in particular, that the rewards that await us in the next life are better than the rewards that await us in this life. The sort of desiring experimentation problematically generates dystopian apathy about our world. By virtue of such potential hopes (for better rewards), we overlook the 100 percent certain fact that we are alive (not dead), and that it is 100 percent possible to be moral exemplars. We shouldn't be better people because it may reward us; rather we should be better people because being better is rewarding.

Of course, by comparing the rewards in this life with the rewards in the next (whatever these may be), it was thought that one could thereby distract everyone from the obvious fact that being good just isn't rewarding in any material sense. So by being good, it was reasoned that one would be rewarded with spiritual blessings. Furthermore, by focussing on the afterlife, it seems almost automatic that one is less likely to make an effort to improve present conditions. (But religion has bever really been that insterested). If we deflate this idea by focusing on spiritual blessing in life, rather than in the nothingness that may be after-death, it seems we are well on our way to realizing heaven on earth by being good. But couple the vague idea of 'blessing' (material and spiritual) with the absurd logic that God blesses the faithfully obedient, and you've got a pretty good explainer for why lots of the faithful wouldnt even come close to being moral exemplars by an reasonable observational standard.

Perhaps what we really have is not a world that is shot to hell, a view that almost necessitates a positive, hopeful, answer to the 50/50 question, is there a heaven?; but rather, a world in which one is living hell and reaping rewards and a world in which one is living heaven by reaping infinite blessings. How then might this appear? How might heaven, like Eden, or the practices of the early Christians (Acts 2:44-6)--Paris 1871--be on earth? Here's a story.

Perhaps becoming a moral exemplar is a matter of simply not being leviathan, a matter of resistance to the mega-machine that grinds us to the point of desiring more and more for ourselves. The machine takes, and we, in turn, take more. Perhaps then the infinite blessing in our 100 percent certain alive life today is simply giving more and more to the earth and its inhabitants, without any intention to receive. Not a holding-in for ourselves at the expense of others; rather an out-pouring of spirit, a pure immanent dance with each other. If we resist leviathan, we become human, ineffable perhaps; and if we realize our infinity through resistance to the megamachine--that we are not simply objects to be manipulated and controlled--and we make that our daily prayer, even if an afterlife could be better than that, it may not really matter.