The New Jesus Radicals Site

The Jesus Radicals updated their website recently, and they have been putting up more material than I can currently keep up with. In addition to an overhaul of the site (its capacity and aesthetics) they have made  (at least) two significant changes: they are alternating posts from a variety of people, and they have added an ongoing series of interviews called “iconocasts.” Nekeisha and Andy Alexis-Baker were the primary administrators of the site, but they have merged with Mark Van Steenwyk (formerly from www.jesusmanifesto.com, which now redirects to Jesus Radicals). The posts I have read so far are of decent quality (not quite peer-reviewed articles, but better than typical blog posts), and are usually posts that come in a two or three part series, giving in-depth reflection and analysis. I also listened to one of the recent iconocasts, and interview with Cornell West, and I was particularly interested in West’s critical comments regarding Obama near the end of the interview (sure, plenty of people are critical of Obama, but I think West has different grounds for his comments than most critics).

About these ads

75 Responses to “The New Jesus Radicals Site”

  1. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Interesting, but why are Christians so attracted to the reactionary doctrine of distributism? Seriously, can someone enlighten me?

  2. Hill Says:

    I couldn’t even tell you primarily what people mean by distributism. That may be another question to try to answer. I’d be curious what you associate with the word, Anthony.

  3. Thomas J Bridges Says:

    I’m ashamed to say that my understanding of distributism is pretty slim, though I am aware of some objectionable aspects of some of its “founders.” Perhaps someone else can answer this question (I believe that Andy A-B is not a huge fan of distributism, for what it is worth).

  4. Hill Says:

    Yeah, I guess what I’m getting at is, is there a discrete, self-standing economic philosophy called distributism, and if so, what is it and what are its failings. The other possibility is that there isn’t such a thing, and the criticisms one would want to make of it are criticisms chiefly of Chesterton and/or Belloc (and there are criticisms to make there, for sure).

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Wikipedia to the rescue!

    Note that distributism as a “third way” economic theory falls under my standard line that any purported “third way” other than plain old liberalism is fascism.

  6. Hill Says:

    Adam’s “reasoning” seems to be behind most critiques of distributism with which I’m familiar.

  7. Brad Johnson Says:

    I’ve never been at all convinced that distributism was at all applicable, or at least applicable in any degree worth of it being regarded an alternative, in our increasingly urban (& even suburban) lives. It all seems predicated on a certain pastoral myth that “we’re all in this together,” and even there it doesn’t seem to take seriously the notion of enforcement.

  8. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Hmm…. hearkening back to an imagined, more organic past… viewing class divisions as harmonious rather than conflictual and not trying to overcome them… — you’re right, this is nothing like fascism at all.

  9. Thomas J Bridges Says:

    I have found the claims about class division more baffling than anything. As I sit here and think about it, I am unsure why an anarchist would latch on to an economic/political philosophy that shies away from abolishing class gaps/divisions. (I am assuming that the author of the posts in questions is not an ideological fascist)

  10. Brad Johnson Says:

    Adam, I’m not at all sure why you apparently think I’m disagreeing with you.

  11. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I was piggy-backing on your point to argue against Hill, who referred to my “reasoning” in scare quotes.

  12. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Leaving aside the fascism point, I’m kind of unclear on two points about distributism. First, how could we possibly get there from here? Second, what would it look like if we somehow did implement it?

    My thought is that any attempt to implement it would look basically like the Red Tory “Big Society” bullshit — trying to reduce government power while doing nothing concrete to limit corporate power. In short, it’d be the typical Christian move of trying to do politics through moral suasion rather than, you know, actually thinking through institutional arrangements, etc.

  13. Hill Says:

    There’s an obvious bias present in the movement from distributism to Red Tory big society. My limited understanding of distributism is that it would be opposed to “big” anything. I think one finds in the source material at least as much vehement opposition to corporatism as anything, and there’s no reason to think that the only way one could espouse distributism is by exhibiting bad faith on this particular issue. Why can’t distributism be essentially anarchic? That is certainly my interpretation of Chesterton’s basically alignment. It would certainly be inimical to any form of authoritarianism, which is an actual salient feature of fascism, as opposed to the ones Adam brings up, which seem to be accidental or at most secondary to either arrangement.

    I’m saying this because I think much of distributism entails a basically straight-forward movement towards a more just society, and yet rather than attempting to engage and/or find some sort of consensus on these issues, one frequently finds a near pathological obsession with (for example) demonstrating how much Chesterton had in common with Hitler and other strange arguments.

    Now, the questions of “how do we get there from here” and “is distributism compatible with large, dense population centers” are fair, and quite possibly damning, but one ought to make a distinction between asking and answering them versus attempting to demonstrate how distributism is fascism.

  14. Hill Says:

    To clarify something I said above, my understanding is that the only legitimate function of government is precisely in limiting things like corporate power (according to distributism).

  15. Adam Kotsko Says:

    So you don’t see anything authoritarian in, for example, vehement Roman Catholicism?

  16. Hill Says:

    As regards political arrangements? No.

  17. Adam Kotsko Says:

    You have to have someone to decide whether tasks are appropriately sorted out, etc. Given that the model of when distributism was implemented is often taken to be the Middle Ages and given that papal pronouncements have embraced distributism, I think we might have a volunteer for that position.

  18. Hill Says:

    Adam, you are just making shit up at this point.

  19. Adam Kotsko Says:

    As opposed to the distributists themselves, presumably.

  20. Hill Says:

    You’ve made it obvious that you have a real hard-on for these people (whoever they may be), although you have yet to actually indicate why in rational terms.

  21. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I thought having a hard-on for something meant you liked it.

  22. Hill Says:

    But hey, if I thought someone wanted to make the pope the total boss of all task-sorting-out, I’d be pissed, too.

  23. Hill Says:

    You may be right. I have seen at times a kind of ambiguity associated with it, however, and I prefer this more complex reading. After all, we have a lot of ways to say that someone really likes something, but there is a kind of prison-sex connotation to “having a hard-on” for something that makes it a useful phrase. I’m mainly just being a comment dick above.

    Yours in Christ,

  24. Adam Kotsko Says:

    My objections to distributism are as follows.

    First, it’s a total fantasy. There’s no feasible way to reach the state described from the point we’re at now. Even if we did reach it, there’s no reason to believe it would be even halfway workable or stable. The only way I can see for it to happen would be either for everyone to spontaneously decide it’d be a good idea (never going to happen) or for a distributist Stalin to completely reorganize society (extremely, extremely unlikely to happen in the first place, then the dictator is unlikely to step down — hence undermining the whole idea). In either case, you’d have to violate the principle of private property in order to save it — that’s incoherent. How could anyone trust in the security of their holdings if they had just witnessed a revolutionary redistribution of everything?

    Second, given that it’s an impossible and incoherent fantasy, I assume that any attempt to implement it would wind up being a cover for something else. I don’t doubt that some people sincerely believe in it, but since it is impossible to implement, its only real-world application is to serve some other end. So Philip Blond’s sincere advocacy of Red Toryism wound up as cover for the most brutal form of neoliberalism, for example. That didn’t happen because Philip Blond is a cynical motherfucker (at least not necessarily… maybe he really is?), but because you can’t implement something that’s impossible and makes no sense and expect the results to be what you intended.

  25. Hill Says:

    I am in more or less completely agreement with you. My point is just that that the “impossibility” is the result of historical contingency, and the problems you point out with implementing it apply to essentially any economic system that deviates in any significant way from the status quo. As anyone who has ever espoused some form of socialism in public knows, the critique “but you could never implement that” has a certain intrinsically facile and pacifying character. I personally would not want any current secular government taking on the mantle of Catholic Social Teaching (as someone sympathetic to it), because I believe as a matter of principle that governments with the amount of power and wealth that our current superpowers possess are constitutively unable to implement it, and if such a thing were to take place, it would certain set off warning bells regarding “fascism,” as the current situation in Britain seems to be doing.

    However, on balance, if the citizenry of the United States were to move some direction towards the basic sensibilities of Catholic social teaching (or distributism), the country would be a unimagineably better place. So in that sense the question of “could a government actually implement this” isn’t the only concern, and a fixation on “what governments can implement” may in fact contribute to the problem.

    So I think one can at the same time deploy your critique of the British situation without having to make the case that distributism must be repudiated in toto, as I think its good faith proponents possess a healthy and potentially productive degree of anti-corporate rage.

  26. Alex Says:

    So distributism. Sorry I’m late to the party on this one. I’ll try to be as sober in my assessments as possible.

    My most major problem with distributism is that it remains obsessed with private property – the central idea being that all that is required is a wider distribution of private property and through this hence, the resistance to monopoly. As Chesterton said, and David Cameron repeated via Phillip Blond, the problem with capitalism is that there are not enough capitalists. The idea is in essence, capitalism if it worked, combined with ruralist and localist themes, and a good and healthy respect for workers rights. Distributism is, as Hill says “vehement opposition to corporatism”. This said, a wide variety of people support distributist positions, from Nick Griffin, neo-fascist leader of the BNP (fond of quoting Chesterton as his forebear) and Dorothy Day, saint of New York working with the poor in the slums.

    Yet as Adam suggests, the history and more importantly, the present of distributism is not unconnected with fascism. While Blond might object that Belloc and Chesterton’s enthusiasm for Italian fascism should be seen in context, he neglects that distributism has a connection with he actually existing extreme right wingers without having to give a damn about the closeness of Chesterton to Hitler (who he admittedly condemned). The economic stance of the Third Position, advocated by the far-right in the UK since the 1980s, though originating in Italy with figures such as Roberto Fiore, is distributism. This is not at all unconnected with right-wing traditionalist Catholic circles – Richard Williamson, the holocaust denying bishop from the Society of St. Pius X is a distributist and has written on the topic in a book called The Rural Solution. Well respected anti-fascist publication Searchlight has more details and there is more at the blog Fringe Watch, written by a concerned Catholic and more at Ratzinger Fan Club. The defences offered by one John Sharpe, to the charges, seem remarkably thin. Saying that Henry Ford’s virulently anti-semitic The International Jew, charmingly sub-titled The World’s Problem is “a collection of articles by Henry Ford which were published in his newspaper in Michigan in the early part of the 20th century” when its primary source is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is disingenuous at best.

    Regardless of this connection, the connection between distributist themes and neoliberalism runs from the German ordo-liberalism varient of neoliberalism (Wilhelm Ropke cites Chesterton), through to Thatcher even ignoring the Red Tory case. The idea of widespread property distribution, was the main driving force behind Thatcher’s ‘right to buy’ scheme, which completely decimated social housing in the UK, effectively ghettoising the poor where low housing supply as a result had not already consigned them to homelessness. Every Conservative manifesto since 1979 has some element of spreading wider share ownership and assets. One can complain that these are not examples of distributism, but this is the central problem of it as an economic policy – who distributes? This is the major reason why is it totally unworkable aside from its pedigrees in fascism and neoliberalism. It expects property owners to voluntarily give away their property widely and does not believe democratic government or even redistributive taxation is a means to do this. If there was a monopoly situation, who would then decide this an effect a further distribution. And so on.

    Like libertarianism, distributism is capitalism on stilts, even though this is not the intention.

    My question to you Hill is, if you want an anarchic form of society without any authoritarianism (which is certainly present in Chesterton) and some of the worker orientated stuff which is a good in distributism why don’t you go for one of the many varieties of anarcho-communism, social anarchism, mutualism, municipal communalism or anarcho-syndicalism? Why the attraction to the idea of wide-spread distribution of private property with a chaser of family values? It never seemed clear to me why Christianity is so often connected with distributism when the Acts of the Apostles advocate common property ownership where each gives according to his ability and takes according to his need, monasticism (particularly Fransician monasticism) objects to private property and the question of whether private property was a good over common property was an open one in the early church – see John Chrysostom’s writings. This is not to mention the radical traditions of the Diggers and so forth. Rosa Luxemburg makes this point in her essay Socialism and the Churches. I should point out this bit is an aside and I’d prefer to get to the meat of the stuff about distributism economically rather than going for these kind of arguments.

    This is not to say there isn’t important stuff in CST that would direct the US or any society in a right direction if Catholics pushed for it – take one, that a business should centre around the worker’s good, not profit and the need for unions and so on.

  27. Hill Says:

    That’s a super helpful post, Alex, and to answer your question, I do. I’ve found what I’ve read of mutualism quite compelling, and a close friends of mine routinely describes himself as an anarcho-syndicalist, and based on our shared affinities, I’m willing to trust him there. Of course, to Adam, it’s probably all fascism, and that’s what sparked me initially to respond. I definitely don’t self-identify as a distributist, but I think a more careful discussion of it is helpful, as it is a term frequently thrown around, condemned and praised without much clarity as to why.

  28. Andy AB Says:

    Just a point: our website, jesus radicals, has two articles from Catholic Workers in St. Louis on this. Nothing else. I think distributism is rather lame, but some Catholic Workers like it for some reason. I tend to think they like it because it allows them to reject capitalism without flagrantly going against the Vatican’s persistent denouncements of “socialism” and communism. I am not Catholic. I’d prefer something more radical. Dorothy Day was not a distributist as far as I know either. William Cavanaugh promotes a kind of distributism in his book “Being Consumed” and I think that his analysis, which explicitly refuses at the outset to attack capitalism is rather weak-kneed because of it.

    Distributism is not explicitly anarchist. For example, John Medaille’s recent book on Distributism advocates for more government in certain areas. The only way it can be anarchist is if you take it that anarchism is simply about providing alternatives to the nation-state in particular, but not much else. Which is kind of a weak anarchism at best.

  29. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I’m not aware of a lot of straight-up anarchists using the “Third Way” language. In fact, a cursory Google search indicates that the pairing of anarchism with “Third Way” type language is usually also paired with nationalism — hence (sorry!) fascism.

  30. Hill Says:

    Syndicalism and mutualism are third way systems in that they self-consciously offer a solution beyond state socialism or capitalism. I don’t know the extent to which either of them explicitly deploy the phrase “Third Way.”

  31. Hill Says:

    Your fixation on the point is literally the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard from you.

  32. Adam Kotsko Says:

    In addition, Hill, it doesn’t seem to me that distributism is difficult to define, nor is it difficult to tell whether such an idea exists. If critiquing it is primarily critiquing Chesterton or Belloc, that’s just as fair as critiquing communism through Marx or Engels. Your skepticism as to whether something like distributism is “a thing” seems to me to be unwarranted.

  33. Hill Says:

    I’m not saying it is difficult to define. I’m politely saying that many of the people with the most to say about it don’t know what they are talking about, and I would like to reserve the right to claim that critiquing communism through Marx and Engels is unfair.

  34. Andy AB Says:

    “Third Way” language is often associated with Anthony Giddens, who served under Blair for a time. Third Way is or was an actual movement in Britain of economic opium. Then there are the Christians who like to bifurcate the world into two parts and then make a “third way.” I doubt you will find any anarcho-communists in NEFAC talking about their way being a “third way” not only because of its association with the economics of Blair’s social democracy, which turns out to be a sham, but because the language implies there is a third “way” in a one-size-fits the entire world manner.

  35. Andy AB Says:

    I take it back that Dorothy Day was not a distributist. I had thought that her anarcho-syndicalism and early communist roots would have precluded it because distributists tend to downplay the importance of labor unions. She wrote several articles, after a brief search on the Catholic Worker website, about it.

  36. Hill Says:

    Andy, I think you bear this out to an extent, but there’s a sense in which there aren’t really enough distributists for there to be a truly authoritative critical mass. I think Dorothy Day was pretty cool? I think most people here who think distributism is dumb probably think she’s alright, too. If she did self-identify as a distributist, it is not immediately obvious what in particular she was attached to apart from, as you said, finding it a helpful ad hoc tool of resistance to capitalism in her particular context.

  37. Alex Says:

    It’s pretty clear from her writings that Dorothy Day advocated a combination of distributism and anarchism (she was an IWW member after all), going as far to recommend Chesterton’s books. Chesterton, as we know, hated anarchists and mainly associated them with making bombs.

    A few French ex-state socialists and personalists used the term third way as well without being fascists. But I subscribe to Adam’s point in most cases, with the notable exception of neoliberalism (in it’s original ordo-liberal coinage) which also claimed to be a third way, and as we know had a number of problems.

  38. Andy AB Says:

    Hi Hill. Yeah I think Dorothy Day was a great person. I was surprised to see the articles on distributism since I knew she was an IWW member and consistently fed people on picket lines and such things. Not exactly distributist. That she recommended it at times may, again, have to do with her very conservative Catholicism and deference to the pope. In the article I read in the past half hour, she explicitly refers to a pope who advocated distributism. So even a radical like her likes to have the backing of the powerful sometimes :)

    My problems with distributism, in addition to the good ones Alex and others posted, are that it seems stuck in the nineteenth century. It has no critique or analysis of our oil-based economy, the devastation it has wrought on the environment, or industrialism. Medaille’s book, for example, advocated making oil even cheaper with a drill now policy rather than capitalist speculators sitting on the oil driving up prices. He does not have any analysis of how even cheaper oil may accelerate the destruction of forests for farms, paving of farms for roads and malls, global climate change etc. It is just ridiculous not to answer the major questions of our day and to stick with those nineteenth century “pure” economic issues.

    Moreover, they do not critique the industrial society. Factory work shapes people to be stupid (Marxism generally speaking has the same problem). In no way shape or form will industrial workers ever be a revolutionary class because they are invested in this system. The clock and repetitive motion shapes them into obedient people for the most part. Most factory workers I know are very conservative. So that is a critique of not only distributism, but anarcho-syndicalism as well.

    They also have no answer for who will do the disgusting jobs like mining, garbage collection, sewer maintenance and all that. Many of these jobs are simply not conducive to a democratic life, as the Athenians knew well. They shape people into a certain mode of being that makes them less able to make good decisions for the overall telos of the community. Thus the Athenians excluded such people from democracy and made them slaves.

    So I have a real problem with not only distributism, but syndicalism and communism of any anarchist variety, though I would choose any of them over neo-liberal economics, which is not saying a lot for them. If they can incorporate a reduction in industrialism and a reduction in research and development, a withering away not only of the state, but of the technological society in general, I’d be on board probably, but they won’t.

  39. Alex Says:

    In the words of John Milbank, distributist and red Tory advocate, oil doesn’t matter because when it runs out we’ll find something else – said at a distributist soaked conference.

  40. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Well, I didn’t expect one little question to go so crazy.

    Hill, you saying that this is the stupidest thing Adam has ever said has to literally be the stupidest thing you’ve ever said. Clearly all “actually-existing” distributism is in some meaningful sense fascist. Zimbabwe, for example. You trying to shift the goalposts so that some people who sometimes said the word or entertained ideas means we can’t critique it seems, well, as disingenuous as Phillip Blond’s support for privatizing universities in the UK. I suggest you move on or make a point that avoids the traps of being a concern troll.

    As to your point about CST and America, sure, but what exactly? The problem with CST is that it is so vague! It has no real political program and it holds that up as a strength!

    Andy AB,

    Yes, I didn’t mean to tar your whole Christian Anarchy thing. I appreciated your comments in the post, for instance. That said, I still don’t really get what you’re talking about regarding “dirty jobs”. Perhaps this comes from my general distrust of anarchism as a political system and form of thought (I largely ascribe to an urban, ecologically directed form of communism), but I have never come across a response to these sorts of positions from anarchism. Can you tell me what your thoughts on it are or point me to the right literature? I’m assuming you’re kind of an Ellul guy, which means you’re still a kind of localist, no? I was interested in something you said in the comments to the Distributist interview concerning the exploitation of the earth at the hands of a thousand small shops instead of one giant factory. How do you square the need for a global response to the ecological crisis with this localism? I completely accept I may be ascribing a view to you don’t hold, so feel free to correct me.

    Hill,

    Seriously, come on.

    Alex,

    Thanks.

  41. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    “In the words of John Milbank, distributist and red Tory advocate, oil doesn’t matter because when it runs out we’ll find something else – said at a distributist soaked conference.”

    God, that was possibly the most wrong thing I’ve ever heard him say.

  42. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    There is a real connection between what Milbank said at that conference and Christian hallucination as present in the Tea Party. Compare that statement to this one: “”Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who will seek the Energy and Commerce Committee Chairmanship maintains that we do not have to worry about climate change because God promised in the Bible not to destroy the world again after Noah’s flood.””

  43. Hill Says:

    Yeah Shimkus got that one wrong, too. It’s just going to be fire this time. Someone quote some scripture at this guy.

  44. Andy AB Says:

    Hi Anthony. Well, I serve on the board of directors for the International Jacques Ellul Society, so you are right about my liking Ellul.

    The “dirty jobs” thing has to do with a problem I see in those systems that somebody is going to have to do the work that we mostly don’t want to do. Distributists say we should pay them more to make up for it, but that does not take into account how the jobs themselves form people and invest people in a certain way of life. Also they will always need, it seems to me, that surplus of labor to force people to do those jobs unless a strong centralized authority forces some people to do it. Is that clear?

    Anarchist, Murray Bookchin, has some decent writings on some of this that are ecologically sensitive.

    If we are going to have a thousand coal factories rather than one large nuclear one, the solution is not all that much better. If we plan to block out half the sunlight from the earth (a serious scientific proposal has been on the table to launch “sun shades” into space . . . utterly stupid, but typical of the technical mindset), that won’t exactly fix things either. With every technical solution, new problems arise and often the cure is worse than the disease. So my comment was that if we are going to have a localism, it cannot be based on industrialization. Alasdair MacIntyre holds up fishing communities, weaver communities and the like as models for what we should be seeking. It is very significant that he leaves out industrial society from his models, because he recognizes that that system can only find technical problems and technical solutions that lead to these large techniques like the state and globalization.

    So I guess in terms of a response to the global ecology problem, I have serious doubts that large scale investment into “green” technology will be all that much better. Nor do I think that any nation-state based politics will have the courage and wherewithal to face this until it is too late (and it may be that already). With the technical solutions like “green energy,” unforeseen consequences will arise that may very well be worse. So, with anarchism, we have a return to a quality based life rather than a technical one. At least that is the ideal. Maybe there are no answers though.

    In his book, The Technological Society, Ellul, who has predicted pretty much rightly all the directions we have went and its effects, said that the catastrophe he sees coming would only be diverted if 1) God intervenes (deus ex machina); 2) We blow up the world (still likely, but even more so in 1952); 3) if a critical mass “wakes up” and changes lifestyle and holds politicians to the fire and reverse course (he hoped for it, but it seemed unlikely to him). A bleak, bleak picture of what technique has done to us all.

    I am not sure localism or globalization have any anwers for us at this point. But the anarchist mantra has normally been, act locally think globally. How we live matters. But even if every person on earth stopped driving their cars right now, the earth, I am told, would continue to warm for the next 75 years or so at precipitous levels. Even a global response right now, even if capitalism allowed for it, or a “green” communist movement suddenly sprang up and took over everything, we are probably looking at a bleak future on earth. I fear we are Easter Island on a grand scale. Did the person who cut down the last tree there say that the gods would save them? Probably.

  45. Brad Johnson Says:

    To what end are one’s local actions directed, if one’s global thoughts are, presumably, so pervasively pessimistic?

  46. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Well, you have to take such predicative speculation with a grain of salt. Ecology as a science hasn’t shown itself to have the kind of predicative power that often gets credited to it in these pessimistic pronouncements. But, I understand the pessimism, even if I don’t buy Ellul’s critique of technology. I just find that sort of thing philosophically and naturalistically incoherent. I can say more if you would like, but if not that’s cool. Thanks for taking the time to explain your position more though.

  47. Andy AB Says:

    Brad,

    Well, I guess I have to say that I just don’t want to hope in all these false idols is all. Once I have swept those away, and realize that the fall of western industrial society would not be the end of the world, only the end of our way of life, I direct my actions toward what seems pessimistic only those who would still hope in tech. society and subscribe it a salvific role of some sort. As MacIntyre argues, keeping our skills and communities is a good thing, even more imperative in the dark ages within which we live than ever before.

    Anthony: I am open to hearing your views. I have to say though, that unless you’ve deeply engaged with technological critics like Ellul, Albert Borgmann or George Grant you probably should do so before leveling critique.

  48. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Ha. Well, that’s sort of relative, now isn’t it. I haven’t read Borgmann or Grant, but I’ve read enough of Ellul to know that I find him, you know, wrong on an objective level. And since most contemporary anti-tech philosophy has its roots in Heidegger, who I have, I think, engaged with deeply, I don’t feel a real need to engage with his children. I have other shit to do.

    I also think that Bookchin’s engagement with ecology is incredibly weak and have never read anything by MacIntyre I respected or liked. I do engage with scientific ecology at a deep level, though, and I think it, and not tradition, provides the determining, general framework for responding to the crisis. And, yes, I think that the crisis can be responded to and that it has to be responded to technologically. No hair shirts. That, I’m guessing, would already make me suspect in the eyes of anti-tech people.

  49. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I had heard of Borgmann before, but not Grant. Just looked at his Wikipedia page. No thanks.

  50. Andy AB Says:

    Yeah, I see. You probably know as well as I do then that when somebody says they have a critique of Ellul type thinking they haven’t done much with it. I’ve never read Heidegger and don’t plan to. As you say, I have better things to do than to read a man who would sell out to the Nazis. I’m not sure Ellul can be considered his child though, since he wrote about this stuff well before Heidegger and never really references him accept to criticize him. But you probably have other grounds. Understandable.

    If you find Ellul objectionable on too much, I suspect you would find far less objections in Borgmann. He’s not an Ellulian at all. He points out that different types of technologies have different effects on community. The “device paradigm” is one where the technology is hidden from view. He points to central air. We have no idea how to fix it. It becomes his hidden thing we depend on but its effect on us has been to change our house structures in ways that breakdown family. He points as an alternative, wood stoves and chimneys that heat. These technologies actually help foster community, and people tend to know how to fix them. They last. I really do think you would prefer Borgmann and find some good stuff in him.

    I don’t wear hair shirts by the way… :) They are usually made of clay and mud. Quite awkward.

  51. Andy AB Says:

    Grant’s wikipedia page? Good grief. I looked at it. I wouldn’t want to read him either after seeing the second sentence.

  52. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Sorry I was imprecise. I know that Ellul is his own man and for a time I was attracted to his thinking. I mean no disrespect to you or his legacy when I say I don’t find him persuasive though and of course. For the sake of accuracy, Heidegger was writing on this question as early as Being and Time (1927), so I’m not sure we can really say Ellul was writing on these issues before Heidegger.

    I was referring to Borgmann as Heidegger’s child and thinking of a number of young Christian theologians I have met over the past few years working on “liturgy and technology” and other such things. Device paradigm is just enframent in Heidegger. The idea that no tool is in itself value neutral, that the hammer “re-comports” us, blah-blah-Heidegger-jargon. There is some value there, yes, but I think it is a far too static view that lends itself to a dangerous form of social and political nostalgia. I wrote about this, largely through the conception of authenticity that is also present in Heidegger and other anti-tech philosophies, in my MA thesis on ecological restoration,

    Just as a matter of fact, people do know how to fix central air (which does different things than chimneys… ). Do you mean that people who live in the house don’t? I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t be able to fix a chimney, but why is the ideal (well not my ideal, but whatever) self-sufficient family unit a “community” but not the relationship between me and the guy who knows how to fix central air? We have a lot of very different presuppositions, I think, and I don’t want to be frustrating. So, I hope recognizing that we have decided to begin from very different starting points helps avoid the feeling that we’re being purposely antagonistic towards one another. I see the consistency of what you’re saying, but reject a lot of its premises.

  53. Andy AB Says:

    Sorry for the triple post, but this shall be my last. I’m traveling after tonight. I’d be open to suggestions from you Anthony on reading on ecology (and technology) that you find helpful.

  54. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    “Canadian nationalism” is a funny phrase, right? Nationalism is bad enough, but Canadian nationalism?! What would that even mean?

  55. Andy AB Says:

    Last post, for real, I should pull you into writing a critique of Ellul for the Ellul Society’s biannual publication, if you had the energy and time. I guest edit sometimes. We will disagree, but I’m open to hearing your points since you obviously have engaged the work.

  56. david cl driedger Says:

    I second Andy’s call for a few of the most significant works that you would suggest in this area APS (or at least a link to some buried post on it).

  57. Thomas J Bridges Says:

    Wow– George Grant was a Red Tory? For some reason I had thought it was primarily a British phenomenon.

  58. APS Says:

    The term originated in Canada.

    Andy, email me and we will talk. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing this without a serious revisiting of Ellul’s works and I’m not sure when I’ll have time for that. I want to though, it is a kind offer.

  59. Andy AB Says:

    From the road:

    Regarding George Grant, the Wikipedia entry is unfortunate because people have preconceived notions about what constitutes “a political conservative” that they may use for Grant that simply do not apply. Grant, as far as I can tell was not associated with any political party in Canada. he sympathized with the NDP, the farthest Left party there. He might be called “conservative” in the same sense that Ellul would be called conservative, he wanted to halt the mindless march of technological “progress” and destruction of our world in that name. He might be called “conservative” in the sense that he critiqued liberalism and rights language (something he’d have in common with the likes of Badiou for instance). He was on a search for a universal, a common good, not the good of the individual primarily as in liberalism. He was a pacifist too, which automatically puts him at odds with most political parties we’d associate with conservativism.

    APS: I’ll be in touch sometime about that idea.

    By the way, I don’t see how you can deny that technique (technique is a better word that technology) is not neutral or is somehow value-free. It seems to me that all of or modern institutions, for instance, like the State or Wall Street are not merely something we can convert into their opposite or some other thing. Not only did they historically arise to protect interests, but those interests are embedded in their very form. Seems to me that is why Badiou, for example, has abandoned political party politics in search of something more emancipatory and closer to what I might call anarchism (at least that is what he says he does at the end of “Ethics.”)

  60. dbarber Says:

    “By the way, I don’t see how you can deny that technique (technique is a better word that technology) is not neutral or is somehow value-free.”

    I presume the response would be: of course it’s not value-free, and that’s why what matters is to direct technology with the best values, rather than to simply condemn technology as such.

    It is this rejection of technology as such, in fact, that fails to engage with the truth that technology is always about values (and thus never about technology as such).

  61. Charlie Collier Says:

    Dan, your point seems to reproduce the assumptions of technological neutrality—techniques/technologies can be used for various things, but are not value-laden themselves. However, if they’re intrinsically value-laden, doesn’t that mean that the ends to which they might be directed are already (at least partially) embedded in the technique/technology itself? You can hammer AK47s into plowshares and use them, but then you’re plowing, not shooting an assault rifle. Use an AK47 as an AK47 and you’re trying to kill people. I have to have missed something here.

  62. Adam Kotsko Says:

    From what I can tell, the problem with anti-technology types is that they view technology as a force that imposes its values on us, when really any given technique or technology is developed for the sake of a particular end — that is to say, we come up with ways of doing things we find important. In a society where war wasn’t so important, it never would’ve occurred to anyone to create an AK47, and the fact that they had other techniques or devices for doing other important things would not have created some kind of inexorable force toward AK47s. The dominant force is the value, not technology as such.

  63. dbarber Says:

    I’d echo Adam’s point. And hammering Ak-47s into plowshares would also be a technology, right? (And especially so if one takes technology as technique.)

    What I’m trying to say (and perhaps “directing” technology is imprecise) is that there is no value without a technology of that value. So it’s not that there’s something neutral called technology that one then employs in the name of a value, it’s that value is technologically embedded/expressed.

    If one does not like the value embedded in a technology, then, the response is not to be anti-technology, it is rather to experiment with / create new technologies in which an alternative value would be expressed. This, i think, at least makes sense of my response to Andy — or no?

  64. Andy AB Says:

    Hi Adam. Unfortunately, I think technique does impose its morality on us so that there is a vicious circle. As soon as a given technique exists, it becomes virtually inevitable that it will be used, and even immoral not to use it. Think of stem cell research and attempts to limit it. All the arguments that we should use and are against its opponents invoke ideas that it would save lives and therefore be immoral not use. Or think of the A-bomb we dropped. ONce made, it was immoral not to use it because it saved, so the say, American lives.

    This video from Ellul spells out some of that when he talks at the beginning of car accidents and organ transplants. http://vimeo.com/14490665

    Also, arguments that all we have to do is impose our “good values” on a supposedly neutral material is that in actuality with these techniques there are both good and bad issues involved and we hide our heads in the sand when it comes to the drawbacks, which are always worse than we admit.

  65. Adam Kotsko Says:

    How did the technology come about in the first place, though? It’s not like someone found the A-bomb lying around and then reverse engineered it so it could be reproduced — and (knock on wood) after the initial use at the end of WWII, there hasn’t been another nuclear attack. Weird that such an overwhelming imperative wouldn’t be triggered for 50 years.

  66. dbarber Says:

    “arguments that all we have to do is impose our “good values” on a supposedly neutral material” — but Andy, neither Adam nor I are saying this. The point is a different technology. As in, wrt Marx, the technology of communism against the technology of capitalism

  67. Mark William Westmoreland Says:

    I’d just like clarification on how everyone is using certain terms. Often in philosophy of technology discourse, one will find a variety of usages for the terms techne, technique, technology, and techno-logical. Perhaps you all are clear on what each other mean by these terms, but I’m not sure that the last handful of comments are actually addressing the same exact concern.

  68. Mark William Westmoreland Says:

    and I should add “technologies” in the plural as well.

  69. dbarber Says:

    Andy defined it a few comments above as technique, and that’s the sense in which i’ve taken it.

  70. Mark William Westmoreland Says:

    Andy,

    By “technique,” do you mean something akin (or synonymous) to techne, technics, or actual production of particular technologies?

  71. Daniel Lindquist Says:

    “As soon as a given technique exists, it becomes virtually inevitable that it will be used, and even immoral not to use it. Think of stem cell research and attempts to limit it. All the arguments that we should use and are against its opponents invoke ideas that it would save lives and therefore be immoral not use. Or think of the A-bomb we dropped. ONce made, it was immoral not to use it because it saved, so the say, American lives.”

    I don’t see what the “it’s virtually inevitable that it will be immoral not to use it”-style talk is doing. Did nobody see any appeal in saving human lives before we got some stem-cell stuff working? Was the US not trying to save American lives before they had an A-bomb that worked? It seems to me that those ends were why the technologies were developed in the first place (and then it’s no wonder that they got used once they were developed). I don’t see where the development of stem-cell therapies/A-bombs is changing anything. It’s not that these technologies are “value-neutral”, but that their values seem to come from stuff that was already there before.

  72. dbarber Says:

    And i should add that it seems to me that this emphasis on the nearly intrinsic badness of what is is precisely the point of departure for the reactionary, who proceeds by calling for a time in which what is had not yet come about. Hence those halycon days of medieval guilds, etc. I’m not saying Andy pines for such days, but what he has in common with the reactionary is the refusal to think in terms of a construction of the future, for such construction would require a technology. (Even Benjamin, who was mentioned several posts ago regarding the critique of progress, was calling for a technology of memory for construction — he was not, in other words, proposing a return to a pre-contemporary or pre-technological or non-technological era.)

  73. On left and right « An und für sich Says:

    [...] the wake of our heated discussion of distributism, commenter Charlie Collier and I have been corresponding via e-mail. We tend to butt heads due to [...]


Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,285 other followers