Part 1: Purchasing Labour
With two little boys at home, I don’t get out much, so a visit to a new craft brewery in Niagara was an exciting event. Playing it safe, I opted to start with the IPA. It had a nice grapefruit and tangerine aroma that lead into hints of tropical fruit notes followed by a slightly over the top bitterness. There was more than enough potential in this first beer to convince me to purchase a variety of tall cans. In the process of the exchange, I got chatting with the owner who was excited about the growing craft beer movement in Ontario but was worried that the ambition of a few breweries had elevated their production levels beyond the “craft” status. Relaying this story to a friend, I was told that any beer was craft so long as it wasn’t owned by InBev — the corporation responsible for almost 50% of the beer produced in North America that had generated revenue of about 47.06 billion U.S. dollars worldwide in 2014. Bubbling under the surface of the Niagara craft brewer’s concern was, well, beer. He was concerned that the larger the operation, the more likely it was that the passion for beer is eclipsed by the motivation to make money.
In the last post, we learned that according to Marx the only way to generate original value is through labour, the trick that we have yet to discover is how a capitalist generates value using capital alone. This mystery, as we will discover, isn’t all that complicated: to generate value without imputing one’s own labour, the capitalist must exploit someone else’s labour-power. The trick is to find a way of accomplishing this feat without violating the rules of economic exchange.
Part 2: Exploiting Labour
Asking “why read Karl Marx” is a legitimate question. It seems strange to believe that Marx, who wrote 150 years ago, could address current economic and political challenges. Certainly, things have changed in the last 150 years. Marx’s Capital, however, remains relevant in part because it’s an attempt to analyze the experience of capital, an experience that shows no signs of abating. Further, in examining capital, Marx inevitably touches on other integral parts of contemporary life such as money, labour, commodities, markets, value, technology, class relations, etc. Capital is connected to all of these things and in reading Marx we come to understand the consequences of our participation in the economic system. He reminds us that using a cell phone or tapping a credit card aren’t inconsequential actions. The rhythm of daily life has a storied history. Our participation in “the way things are,” has consequences for our lives and the lives of those around us. Even if you ultimately disagree with Marx, grappling with his arguments is an illuminating journey.
This summer was my first substantial introduction to Marx, and I wanted to use a series of posts to highlight a few aspects of his thought that have helped me evaluate my participation in the market. The first two posts are guided by one seemingly simple notion: that money can produce more money. How, for example, does an index fund grow in a capitalist economy. In this first post I explore Marx’s basic definition of capital, while the second one looks at capitalism as a social relation between labour and capital — better known as surplus labour. In the third and final part, I aim to evaluate Hannah Arendt’s critique of Marx found in her book, The Human Condition.
This post originally appeared on Groundmotive.net.
There are countless ways of understanding God’s nature. New atheists such as Daniel Dennett, for example, reject a variety of theisms that defines God as a supernatural agent who desires humanity’s worship. Peter Rollins, a self-identified emergent Christian defines God as “that which we cannot speak of [and] the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking.”* Rollins finds inspiration in Christian mystics such as Meister Eckert, tending away from anthropocentric understandings of God like the one Dennett rejects. Like Dennett, Rollins aims to disturb conventional theism while, unlike Dennett, maintaining a semblance of orthodoxy. Jack Caputo, taking these ideas a step further, conceives of God as an “insistence” with little agency in the world other than the ability to disturb and haunt our actions.
Conceptions of God play a critical role in shaping our moral lives; some theists practise an escapism because their God shuns the world, while others become champions of social causes because that is what they believe God desires of them. This post will work backwards, so to speak, considering how our daily attempts to act ethically can shed light on God’s nature. To this end, I will employ virtue ethics’ approach to moral life, a school of ethics that emphasizes virtues, opposed to an emphasis on the need to follow rules (deontological) or an emphasis on the consequences of one’s actions (consequentialism).
In a nutshell, virtue ethics claims that we should always make decisions that encourage health. On a personal level, this means being concerned with one’s character, believing that if one engages in the daily practice of care, for example, one will be prepared to act caringly when a weighty ethical situation demands such action. Similarly, on a societal level, a subscription to virtue ethics would aim to develop life together in ways that encourage healthy relationships — for example, by building neighbourhood landscape that create opportunities to practice hospitality.
But what does this ethical school have to do with our conceptions of God?
This post originally appeared on the blog Groundmotive.net.
Simon of Cyrene, as his name suggests, was a visitor to Jerusalem. His story is found in all three synoptic gospels but is noticeably absent in John’s account. Each gospel account begins with Jesus mocked and beaten by soldiers, after which he descends to Golgotha. However, as he begins his descent, the soldiers force a man from Cyrene, Simon, to carry Christ’s cross on his behalf.
I want to draw your attention to three aspects of this story. First, Christ needs help, he depends on Simon. Simon, in a sense, saves Christ’s life. Without help, it seems, Christ would have died even before he was able to begin his march towards the place of the skull. Second, Simon is forced to help, although just a sentence or two in each gospel, each account makes sure to specify that Simon doesn’t have a choice in the matter. Finally, it’s noteworthy that the idea of carrying one’s cross is foreshadowed in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke Chapter 14, Christ tells his disciples that the cost of discipleship will require them to a) hate their family and ultimately hate their own life; and b) take up their cross and follow him. Although I don’t want to discuss the specific meaning of this verse here, I think it’s fair to say that Jesus, and Luke specifically, considered carrying one’s cross to be related to one’s sense of belonging to a particular family. With these three points in mind, let us consider a contemporary parallel.
Jean Vanier recently wrote an op-ed for The Globe and Mail that addressed the issue of assisted dying. Although some may be disappointed that Vanier doesn’t absolutely condemn assisted dying, I believe that he accurately describes a dangerous failure in our society that must be considered regardless of our views on this sensitive issue.
Originally published at Groundmotive.net.
The other month I discussed the decentred nature of identity, attributing the decenteredness to the fact that decision-making-selves are different from, yet dependant on determinate actions. In a similar spirit, this post focuses on the liminal moment of decision and the tension that provides its (non)foundation.
Since reading St. Augustine’s Confessions in undergrad, I’ve struggled to understand conversion. What happens in the moment of repentance, for example? How is any decision made at all, for that matter?
Although most activities involve little decision making—my fingers flow quite unintentionally across the keyboard—decisions do at the very least seem to occur. We observe them most clearly when our routine is rudely interrupted, when for example, a slow moving elderly women impedes one’s commute. Moments of confrontation call us to account for our otherwise habitual actions, requiring a decision—do we stop to help carry her luggage or jump to the other side of the stairs?
Jacques Derrida argues that every decision must pass through a crucible of the undecidable. By this he means that although a responsible decision should be a well-considered one, action never waits for reflection. At the moment of confrontation, when the elderly woman queues ahead of us, the question “what should I do?” is already a response and an action taken. The immediacy of action leaves no time to reflect. One is responsible even before she wants to be. As a result, decisions always occur in a moment of ignorance, in non-decision. No amount of time or reflective resources would solve this dilemma—the problem is inherent in the phenomenon itself. As Derrida citing Kierkegaard writes, “The instant of decision is a madness.”
This article originally appeared on Groundmotive.net
Ethan Vanderleek, a fellow junior member at ICS, contributes to the upcoming edition of Perspective an excellent article titled, “Some Truths about Christian Prayer.” Quoting Merold Westphal, Ethan writes, “Prayer is the posture of a decentered self.” I confess to knowing very little about prayer, for this reason I’ll focus my discussion on the second half of this quote—the nature of a decentered self.
To illustrate what one might mean by a “decentered self,” let’s follow Derrida by examining the nature of a confession: “I confess.” When an unrepentant criminal confesses, for example, identity changes, the “I” becomes a repentant “I.” But there is a problem here. Given these two separate identities, how are we to decide which one actually makes the confession? Is it the repentant or unrepentant “I?”
A closer look at the moment the unrepentant self repents reveals something very strange. An unrepentant criminal by definition does not confess. Who then authorizes or initiates the confession? If there has been no confession, then the repentant criminal does not exist, at least not as such, and therefore cannot initiate the confession. So the confessing “I” is neither the unrepentant criminal nor the repentant criminal. Derrida claims that a fabulous gap resides in this liminal moment of responsibility in which both identities are inexplicably present and absent. Whenever we assume responsibility, whenever we act, make a decision, or confess, we enter into this space, our past and future selves are simultaneously present and absent.
That which originally seemed very definitive—the “I,” the decision-making self—is in reality quite indefinite. Two possibilities emerge from this ambiguity.
Tomorrow begins The Star of Redemption reading group at ICS. When Dean first suggested Franz Rosenzweig’s book, I was completely unfamiliar with the name. The short foreword to The Star by the translator, who was a student of Rosenzweig’s, presents the intriguing life story of this wonderful thinker.
Franz Rosenzweig was born December 25, 1886 in Cassel, Germany, as the only son of a well-to-do, assimilated Jewish family. It was during the war and his assignment to an anti-aircraft gun unit at the Balkan front, that Rosenzweig started to write The Star of Redemption, on army post cards (umm I’m struggling to write an MA thesis in the quiet of a library on a Macbook Pro, I can’t imagine attempting such a feat in the middle of a war using post cards and pencils).
Rosenzweig is another shining light in what seems to be an endless procession of German scholars clustered around the time of the World Wars. Reading his biography and introduction, which is really an autobiography of his philosophical thought, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Hannah Arendt, another Jewish German thinker whose life’s passion was sparked by the horrors of war, this time World War II.