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Archive for the ‘Liberalism’ Category

A Bodhisattva Vow Made in Bad Faith

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In an instant-messenger conversation with my friend Jon, more of which I will post above as their own chunks, I was stroked by genius.

Me: I didn’t notice this earlier, but this is the (neo)liberal fantasy par-excellance: ‘my practical goal is to bring about a fruition of captialism worldwide with as few losers as possible.’ It’s a kind of bodhisattva vow made in bad faith.

Jon: oh yeah

Me: That’s a really interesting marriage of theological concepts: a bodhisattva vow made in bad faith. I think it embodies what Zizek sees in Western Buddhism.

Me: Oh my God.

I think I just figured out my paper topic for that conference.

Jon: woaaaah! do it!

Update: From further down the conversation, still concerned with Zizek and Buddhism, I take up an earlier issue in the conversation concerning hegemony and the tendency of the Left to try to undermine hegemony rather than use it.

>You could think of a hegemon as the monopoly on the production of knowledge, where bodhisattvas ‘rely on prajna paramita’ or the production of wisdom for their work. What is wisdom though? Maybe it’s just the way that liberating knowledge first appears, and in todays spirituality industry we (arguably Zizek) have a glimpse into a primitive accumulation of our very souls. If the stress of living in capitalism is experienced as a kind of (what Zizek would call) subjective violence, the spirituality industry inflicts an objective violence that we do not immediately experience, just as we do not immediately experience the environment or our social support networks degrading. I want to risk an even more daring hypothesis though: what if the subjective violence that we experience as stress and other psycho-physiological distortions caused by Capitalism’s gutting of our world were a manifestation of the objective violence more usually called structural violence? In other words, they are not-two. This is the psychoanalytic marxist description of the Buddha’s compassion for suffering.

That is to say, people caught in the new-age, thearapeutic religious loop try to address their subjective suffering at the expense of an objective suffering, though they are one in the same. Such a spiritual path remains stuck in a dualistic paradigm, the very same paradigm it threatens to realize in its relegating of social welfare to self-fulfillment. Freedom for all beings: that is the answer to the first half of Lenin’s rhetorical question aimed at proponents of democratic freedoms in a capitalist society: “freedom for whom, and to do what?”

What of the latter though?

Written by Joe

June 9, 2009 at 3:10 am

Democrats and the Logic of Capital

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What do liberal, progressive or otherwise Leftist detractors from the Democratic Party have in common with Wells Fargo? They both endorse deferring responsibility in the face of fucking-up.

I say Wells Fargo because that is the bank I use, but I can imagine most banks advocating what I have in mind. For as long as I can remember, Wells Fargo has been regularly offering me credit cards. On the one hand, this is not entirely out of the ordinary. On the other hand, the most frequent kind of credit-card offer I get comes with what they call over-draft protection.

The idea here is that you use more money in your checking account than you have, and instead paying a $30 or more fee the difference is sent to your credit-card and no fee is incurred. In other words, the bank, usually what we associate with financial responsibility, is encouraging you that it’s okay to be financially irresponsible. If you do not have a credit-card, the bank will usually offer a line of credit to you. This makes perfect sense too, because since you need overdraft protection, you probably do not have the minimum of financial responsibility to keep up with your credit-card charges. Even if you aren’t a complete dolt, and get the charges paid off before they get completely out of hand, the bank still wins by encouraging reckless spending, especially if you regularly don’t pay off your credit-cards before the interest actually exceeds the typical overdraft fee.

A very similar logic of deferred responsibility dictates the actions of many “conscience-voters.” Seeing the Democratic Party let them down, they do what any good consumer is knows to do: instead of demanding quality, they demand choice. Typically, the choice implied is the choice of a third-party candidate. However, some freedom of choice advocates go so far as claiming that The People cannot be served by a single party, but only by multiple kinds of representatives who account for the diversity of The People. Everyone is entitled to their very own special opinion, and by extension everyone is entitled to their very own special political representative. Even within the Democratic party this rhetoric of choice prevails: “Yeah, Obama isn’t perfect, but he’s the best choice we’ve got!”

Instead of seeking more effective forms of political organization, many liberals and progressives retreat from power, whether they blindly embrace  or blindly reject the Democratic Party. They frame either move in a rhetoric of choice that is central to liberal capitalism, which is why Republicans can and do talk about responsibility in purely economic terms. Responsibility is a value the Left should embrace for itself, except it should re-cast it in terms of political responsibility first.

Written by Joe

September 13, 2008 at 3:03 pm

Fish on The Academic and The Political

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I wonder what difference there is between Fish’s judgement about private/public commitments in his article on “Liberalism and Secularism” and those he’s making in these last three articles (First, Second, Most Recent). In that article from late last year, Fish attacks the public-private distinction, while recently he’s happy to enforce it, though the terms are a bit more obscure. A professor as a professional pedagogue conducts their teaching in an effectively public realm by Fish’s view, but does Fish’s relegating their political commitments to the private sphere not constitute just another, if unspoken political commitment?

Fish is not about to say that of their political commitments professors should say “I have none,” because it’s ludicrous. At the same time, he doesn’t advocate that professors say their political commitments structure every last bit of their classes and how they’re taught. His middle-position, which puts political commitments off to one side and professional-academic commitments to another, is strikingly similar to the same kind of middle position he lambasts here:

“A candidate cannot say, ‘I don’t have any [religious faith],’ and a candidate cannot say, ‘My faith dictates every decision I make and every action I take.’ Rather, a candidate must say something like, ‘My faith generally informs my moral values, but my judgments and actions as president will follow from the constitutional obligations of the office, not from my religion.’ In other words, I too believe in the public-private distinction and I will uphold it. I won’t insist that you adopt my values and I will respect yours” (“Liberalism and Secularism,” Sept. 7, 2007)

What it sounds like Fish advocates is an approach to teaching that is like a liberal-secular approach to government. Academic and political commitments in this and the last two articles are analogous to the secular and sacred commitments he juggles in that article from last year. In the end, Fish suggests with Mark Lilla that “We need to recognize that coping is the order of the day, not defending high principles.” In the context of the academic and the political though, Fish doesn’t suggest coping, but rather candidly reverts to high, if academic, principles. His distinction on an academic level pre-supposes what is properly academic and properly political, but it is a matter of politics that this distinction is enforced, which he doesn’t escape. The problem this leaves is the same one Fish finds with liberal-secular neutrality: he does not expect academics to be apolitical so much as of a kind politics that respects the academic as distinct from the political.

Written by Joe

June 18, 2008 at 7:02 pm