On free will and necessity

All previous attempts to reconcile the contradictions between free will and necessity have neglected the decisive role of social class in distributing the two. While there are gray areas in the middle areas of the social hierarchy, broadly speaking free will is the province of the lower classes while necessity is the prerogative of the privileged.

The lower classes always “had a choice” — emphasis on the past tense. They could have worked harder in school. They could have formed a more stable family. They could have gotten a job rather than choosing a life of crime. They could have been more deferential and polite to the police officer. That choice is, sad to say, always already in the past, but it is enough to establish that practitioners of bad choices deserve what they get.

By contrast, the privileged act according to sheer necessity. They do what they must, for their families, for the country, for the company. They respond to political pressures and market forces. If they did not do what they did, someone else would — for the upper classes are all obedient servants of necessity. Even when they do not exercise their critical thinking skills to consciously discern the dictates of necessity, they “just react,” responding in a quasi-mechanical way to the choices made by those in the lower classes.

Deprived of free will, which belongs to the oppressed alone, the privileged cannot be held morally accountable for what they do — unless we think of obedience as the highest moral value, in which case the ruling classes are clearly of a much higher moral caliber than those they command. And if they are occasionally a little over-exuberant in enforcing that obedience, surely we can agree that their victims deserved what they got. After all, they had a choice.

My God, just raise taxes!

Chicago Public Schools is facing a deficit of $200 million. That obviously sounds like a lot of money, and that’s the only figure we ever hear. You never learn what that amount represents as a percentage of last year’s budget, or as a percentage of tax revenue — or basically any relevant contextual information.

Here’s another fun stat: the population of Chicago is 2.7 million. That means that this unbridgeable deficit, requiring massive slashing of crucial services, school closings, etc., could be closed by making everyone pay, on average, LESS THAN A HUNDRED BUCKS A YEAR in additional taxes.

And this is another area where we get no context: state and local taxes are trivial. If they went up by the amount needed, basically no one would notice the change in their take-home pay. Yet people hear the word “taxes” and immediately think of all the jobs that will be “killed” — and of course, to avoid that horrifying eventuality, we have to fire a bunch of public workers.

And the irony is that the “multiplier effect” for public spending is much higher than that for tax cuts, so that speaking simply on an economic level, it’s basically always a net gain to raise taxes in order to maintain spending rather than to cut spending in order to avoid raising taxes. Yet the simple and relatively painless step of raising state and local taxes by the small amount necessary is absolutely taboo.

As the man says: “My God, pure ideology!”

Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts

I was interviewed by Tripp Fuller for his Homebrewed Christianity Podcast; the link to the podcast is here.  We discussed radical theology in the church, some of my current ministry work, and my forthcoming book, The World is Crucifixion and my earlier book, The Synaptic Gospel.  I had a lot of fun doing this, and I hope it is helpful.

If you’d like to tune in this Wednesday, July 22, I will again be interviewed by Tripp as part of the Imagination Sauce podcast event from the Disciples of Christ General Assembly, sponsored by The Hatchery LA. Read the rest of this entry »

Twitter updates

After much reflection and thought, I have decided to create a new “professional” Twitter account that will consist solely of selected blog updates and links related to my publications and public appearances. I have arranged things so that it has inherited my old handle of @adamkotsko. It has also inherited my old block list, thankfully, but not its followers — so I encourage you to follow if you haven’t already done so. I have moved most of my social media activity over to Facebook, where I am eager to make new friends.

Magazine subscription recommendations?

Over the years, I have been an avid magazine subscriber. At times, I’ve had four going at once. I’ve done Harper’s (my first and longest, though I finally had to give up after the “maybe HIV doesn’t cause AIDS” article), The New Yorker, The Atlantic, n+1, New Left Review, New York Review of Books, Bloomberg Businessweek, and London Review of Books. The latter two kept me busy for a couple years, but I finally let my Businessweek subscription lapse and am now at a critically low level, contenting myself with LRB alone.

Hence I come to you, dear readers: should I add anything to my arsenal? Should I return to one of my past subscriptions? (For instance, has Harper’s bounced back?)

My current reading queue

I am currently about halfway through Davis Hankins’ The Book of Job and the Immanent Genesis of Transcendence. I had vaguely thought of writing something on Job some time in the future, but I am pleased to announce that his book renders anything I might do redundant. I also quietly note that this is a book that seems to have no title, but only a subtitle.

Future (non-class, not directly research-relevant) reading, in no particular order:

  • Kristin Ross, Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune
  • David Porter, Constantine the Emperor
  • Knut Vikør, Between God and the Sultan: A History of Islamic Law
  • Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse

(I am also on volume 2 of Knausgaard’s My Struggle, but that’s more of a lifestyle choice than an item on a reading list.)

What about you, dear readers? What is populating your to-be-read pile?

A Debate over the Generic and the Secular

Some of the readers here already listen to my occasional podcast, My Name Is My Name w/ APS, and so will have seen this already. Daniel Barber, Alex Dubilet, and myself have been working on a tri-authored book over the past few months. The impetus for the idea goes back a few years though to discussions occasioned by discussion of the “generic secular” in the Editors’ Introduction that Daniel Whistler and I wrote to After the Postmodern and the Postsecular. We are carrying out the work on the book in public through a series of workshops. At these workshops we aim to present very evocative versions of our work to elicit discussion amongst those working the various disciplines we are engaging with. The first of these workshops, for example, took place at Berkeley where serious work in anthropology and rhetoric around post-secularism finds its home. We recorded our papers for that event and you may listen to them via the podcast.

We will be presenting the next phase of the work this week in Liverpool for the biannual Association for Continental Philosophy of Religion, an important audience for this work. We will be recording our talks there as well. However, these workshops are expensive and we are hoping to cover some immediate costs as well as planning for future ones. If you are able to support us please check out our GoFundMe page where you can find more information about the project as well. These funds are only to cover our costs, including future renumeration for a fourth participant in the project who will be acting as a moderator for one part of the book.


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