Saturday, September 30, 2006

Capitalism and faith, some early thoughts

Following Lenin's, and John "Sweet Nothing" Pistelli's, fantastic pieces on this subject, here are some addled and scrambled thoughts on faith and liberalism.

The nature of real substantial oppositions in society is highly distorted in official discourse. There are a few real and ostensible oppositions-
  • One opposition is between imperialism and its victims (the intersection and necessary conflict between an International Relations realism (or foreign policy realpolitik) and human societies – the intersection of Britain furthering its strategic interests in the Middle East, and Palestine, circa 1917, is one example among so many).
  • Another is between secularism and faith, and even between liberalism (which in theory enshrines the ability to practise faith alongside secularism), and faith.
  • And the last one I want to consider is that between life and matter; or between humanity as a concern and identification, and materialism.

(let me run through the banal points quickly)
The ruling class uses the second opposition to cloak the first, and to obfuscate the issue, as a useful-to-itself distraction and distortion of its true project.
In this way, spreading putatively Enlightenment values (freedom, democracy, etc), has been the pretext for extending imperial control. When the response to the violence of the latter project has arisen, it has been vilified as a terrorism based on religious fundamentalism, and this has added further weight to the pretext for continuing the project.

It's wrongly described as religious fundamentalism, and to describe it thus can only rely on racism (not to see that the victims of material irruption into their societies will of course respond). It's a useful excuse (within the context of managing domestic opinion) for continuing, prolonging and escalating projects of imperial expansion and control and for the whole philosophy of realism in foreign policy (so we can conclude that the epithet “terrorism” is a purely ideological confection; describing non-state violence which is not morally worse than violence by states, and is much less lethal).

Both of which (the project and the philosophy) ultimately come down to materialism (covetousness, rather than materialism in the marxist sense) - to espousing material gain over human welfare.
Which, it’s a banal point, is the opposite of the teachings in religion, including (perhaps even most explicitly of all) in Christianity, the professed religion of the capitalists.

Rather than be explicit about it, the quest for resources and geopolitical dominion is framed as a confrontation of values, which is a necessary distortion to create the acquiescence of voters. We the voters confuse the enemies of our well-being. "Our" enemy is not Islam, but objectively, in terms of what is good for us as social human beings, consumerism. It's the fact that we have to go to work in jobs which contribute to leading us all to catastrophe.

If our career and our comfort are threatened by the spiritual conception, then to the extent we identify with the former two, yes the spiritual conception becomes the enemy, but one which we cannot fight, and which cannot fight us; it would be a velvet revolution occurring within us in our confession only.

This is the material usefulness of liberalism to the ruling class (occurring coterminously as it did with capitalism and with the neoclassical economics which also functions as apology for the latter).

A quick note about the brethren ideology of liberalism, scientific reductionism (which gives rise to the scepticism, faith in the empirical scientific method, etc, which make it only and only it seem rational). These seem to constitute the highest values from our point of view of unparalleled-to-date technological advance, but what we need to understand is that these technological advances, the advance of technology into life, have narrowed and cloistered our perspective, as well as given us amazing insight into material processes.

We live in societies of advanced abstraction, removed from nature, from the lessons it would teach us about cyclical processes, and in vulnerability and engagement and faith. Our perspective and horizons are man-made, which results in our leaders (and ourselves to the extent we support them ideologically and materially (the genius of capitalism, or rather the reason for its successful take and self-propagation is the way that peoples' interests become felt to be aligned to those of the ruling class to the extent they have power)), feel powerful, over nature, and over man - a very dangerous situation. It's a dangerous combination, that of a reductionist and materialistic logic taking control in peoples' perspectives and incentives and feelings and decisions, in their subjective being, and being allied with their increasing material (military, economic) potential for dominion over human and other natural life; their inability to steward this linear power and to restrain it from being objectively harmful and threatening to all life.
This leads us to our current position of advanced danger.

Meanwhile, Islam, other religions and spiritual movements, indigenous wisdom, concepts of ecology, have a more holistic perspective.
If we accept the potentially reductionist, negative premises of liberalism (freedom of individuals and groups to practise their beliefs separately) the debate has been framed in a way which has made certain assumptions, and which leads to certain conclusions.
We judge other ideologies in terms of how they measure in terms of the positive values we have arrived at in the course of our society's development.

How about if we approach from a different angle?
Opposing the materialistic, reductionist, individualist viewpoint, is a conception that is holistic and whole, which spreads as a feeling from the centre of the being, encountering the experienced material universe and enveloping and relating to it in an motion which can only be described as love. It can't be measured, or really judged; it sounds foolish and frail and contingent. But as it's experienced (and its experience arrives in billions of forms any second to all living beings - when not actively prevented, because systemically occluded) - it's undeniably the greater truth.
When we say opposing, it is as if we are pitting rival ideologies against each other; and this leads to the conclusion that for one to win, they must engage each other in a fight. But this isn't the case. The spiritual conception, which knows and respects no names, which is available to all, which could be found for example in the firmest atheist, and not at all in the most professed religious person, flees like dew from grass from the project of fighting or asserting material ascendancy. The latter project can only belong to its substantive opposite.

We can see the tragedy in the current situation; people professing to be Christian fight in the cause of Mammon, utterly contradicting the teachings of Christ. People professing Enlightenment values of tolerance and liberty institute the polar opposite following illegal conquests.

The responses of their victims to these aggressions wouldn't need to be religious, but because in many cases the victims are religious, naturally their responses are expressed in religious terms, which adds (from the point of view of imperialist domestic audiences) fuel to the fire of a 'clash of civilisations' thesis.

Thus we have the lunacy of hell becoming true on earth; of American soldiers calling their Iraqi victims 'hajis', a blessed and sacred epithet signifying someone who has experienced heaven on earth, in the form of the pilgrimage to Mecca. Of reading news reports of Palestinians killed by capitalist invasion, with the given names of prophets and peace.

The materialism embodied in capitalism, which has gained objective existence in our social processes and subjective ascendancy in the hearts and minds of those who lead and travel in our social vehicles (e.g. imperialist nation states), brings everyone with it; it constitutes an objective evil, which threatens us all not just materially but spiritually too. This might ultimately be the greater tragedy - that all of us people, encountering the objective material situation in the world (in all the different ways - needing to make a living; experiencing and witnessing the terrible and mortal effects of capitalism which arrives precisely coterminously with the ways we have to make our living), find our faith precluded from existing and being developed, have our faith coopted into vehicles which bear the same names but none of the content; find our faith and our holistic conception, which must always and non-negotiably value human life above matter, and always and non-negotiably knows all human life to be of equal value, offended and occluded and evaporated in myriad ways every moment. Not just human bodies are wrecked and tortured by capitalism and imperialism; human minds are lost in mental illnesses and despair and depression; and souls burdened with the "sins" borne of the illusions of particularity and reductionism, of the continual profitable hiding of holistic realities, of the system.

That the truth of life - an unending opportunity to experience and express grace and serendipity and beneficence, in the form of creativity and cooperation and experience - is equally unendingly, continually, simultaneously precluded from ever occurring, by the objective existence of the system.

So it might be that in liberal societies, tragically, for all the sometimes emancipatory potential and intent of liberal ideas, that spiritual values are excluded, to the profit of materialism. This because the innate and throughout-patterned opposition of spiritual life and matter is not understood; or understanding deliberately removed; the opposition continually misassigned (as an inheritance of the scientific enlightenment; or rather, of the deliberate intent of capitalist ideological production). So that capitalism can spread like a parasite on a host which is no longer fighting it, to exclude that which is of life within the body - viciously attacking it anew for all it presents opposition to it.

So in sum, it's a necessary conclusion of having a faith, or a spiritual confession, an ecological vision, or an identification with fellow humanity, with the social conception which predates our civilisation, to counterpose capitalism.

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