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 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.
Last Friday I defended my thesis. It went well, my examiners were gracious and insightful, helping me to better understand the issues and topics discussed in my paper. I was given the opportunity to prepare an opening statement which turned into a reflection on my thesis as a learning exercise. So, I thought it would be appropriate to share that statement below. Perhaps when my thesis is ready to deposit into the ICS repository I’ll share it here as well.
The things birth sets in motion seem to have an unlimited reach, extending far beyond the body that emerges from the womb. Few comparisons are fitting to describe the meaningfulness of birth. Over the course of writing this thesis I’ve had the opportunity to personally witness and experience the birth of two children, but also the birth of a mother, the birth of a father, and, ultimately, the birth of a family. This experience obviously “helped” shape my thesis in as much as it complicated the process.
Just as it would be remiss to overlook the importance of birth, I feel compelled to briefly discuss how this learning experience has transformed my relationship with religion. When you’re saturated from an early age in religious ceremony and discourse, as I was, the meaning of religious concepts and rituals can be obscured by how self-evident they seem. One can easily take one’s tradition for granted. My thesis brought this tendency to light for me especially as I grew to better understand some of the theory that underpins principles germane to religion, such as, forgiveness, confession, reconciliation, promises, freedom, and conversion. This personal transformation illuminated religious texts and practices that I find belonging in. In particular, I have become increasingly interested in how themes significant to my Mennonite inheritance such as pacifism, reconciliation, and forgiveness could benefit from an engagement with the philosophical tradition represented in this thesis by Hannah Arendt and Jacques Derrida.
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.”
It seems to be true that we naively experience most of life’s activities, this fact is made strikingly evident in the lives of young children. A child’s struggle with the most menial tasks: sitting, rolling, grabbing something off a table in front of her, are all reminders of how much of life the average adult takes for granted. Adults for example, generally do not stop to examine the mechanics at work behind a hand movement, they generally do not even consider the fact that their movements stem from an intention. When things go wrong, when we develop arthritis for instance, all the mechanisms that make hand movements possible become a concern. Much of philosophy is devoted to considering the non reflective and often invisible aspects of life.
Some philosophers start this trail of inquiry at the most basic point, prying into the conditions of experience itself. Such projects, although they address what can be described as everyday experience, often become extremely complex. Considering and speaking of naive experience is difficult and complex for a number of reasons, one being that it is quite possible such experiences have never been made explicit. Many philosophers invent vocabulary to help describe aspects of life that may have never been considered. Beyond diction, philosophers adopt or invent rhetorical techniques meant to disorientate or shake their audience. Such shaking, whether gentle or not, wakes an audience from naive experience, revealing something that may have always been present but left unacknowledged.
Part 1, Part 2
A final noteworthy point, in consideration of household codes, is the fact that the call to peace between Jew and Gentile mirrors Paul’s later call for peace between husband and wife; child and parent; and master and slave. Yoder argues that the household codes promote peace and, at the same time, undermines its own hierarchical structures. In the same way, Paul applies the principles revealed through the mystery of Christ to the barriers dividing Jews and Gentiles, arguing that they are to be dismantled when they fail to establish unity, the very principle on which they were founded. Given Yoder’s argument, there is a clear parallel between the performative function of the household codes and the work of the mystery, which Paul is called to administer.
Household codes embody the tension between unity and the temptation to undermine destructive modes of identification. On the one hand, household codes as explained by Yoder, have an inner egalitarian logic that undermine hierarchical power structures, while on the other, they promote cohesive relations between members of society. Paul negotiates a fine line, arguing that Christ subverts identity structure, and encourages believers to identify as a determinate group or person. A well functioning community requires its members to make determinate decisions regarding ethics and identity. Without these decisions, the unity Paul desires to see made present in the world would remain an abstract principle. Yet, these determinate actions must also be suspended when they fail to live up to the principle of unity, which they endeavor to embody. Thanks to the power of Christ, movement is now possible between determinate actions and the principles they make present. Identities are not decreed by fate or immune to change, rather they must be negotiated in a context, responding to historical needs of a community or individual. Continue reading
I’m encouraged and motivated by all the work being done by students and faculty at the Institute. ICS encourages scholars not slackers #SNS.
Our students are just killin’ it! Check out the list of ICS Junior Members presenting or publishing their work so far this year (and check some of these papers out in Institutional Repository)
- “Holy Blood, Menstruation as a Signifier of the Holy: A Study of the Ritual Purity Codes of Leviticus 15.” Advanced Degree Student Association Theology Conference at Toronto School of Theology, March 14th 2014.
- “Back to the Rough Ground! Into Life!: Anti-Philosophy as Christian Philosophy.” Society of Christian Philosophy/Society for Continental Philosophy and Theology Conference, Trinity Christian College, March 27-29, 2014
- “Propositions, Art, and Truth: Zuidervaart’s Critique of Wolterstorff,” Society of Christian Philosophy/Society for Continental Philosophy and Theology Conference, Trinity Christian College, March 27-29, 2014;
- “Gadamer and Praxeology: The Hermeneutics Debate Revisited,” IHS Research Colloquium, George Mason University. Washington, D.C., November 2013;
- “Quantification, Sein and Univocity: A Response to Peter van Inwagen’s Critique of Martin Heidegger,”Philosophical Perspectives on Theological Realism, Erbacher Hof. Mainz, Germany, August/September 2013;
- Review of Heidegger and Philosophical Atheology, by Peter S. Dillard. Praxis;
- “Philosopher” and “Anthropomorphism” in Lexham Bible Dictionary.
- “Songs of Solidarity: A New Approach to Liturgical Music and Community Cohesion,” 20th Annual Graduate Interdisciplinary Conference, Concordia University, Montreal, March 6, 2014.
- “A Particular Collision: Arendt, CERN, and Reformational Philosophy,” Society of Christian Philosophy/Society for Continental Philosophy and Theology Conference, Trinity Christian College, March 27-29, 2014.
- “The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in a Christian Context,” in Christian Higher Education. Volume 13, Issue 1, 2014: 74-87.
- “Ontology and Living Death: Solitary Confinement in Prisons and Monasteries.” Penn State Graduate Conference in Philosophy, March 1-2, 2014;
- “Mysticism and Madness in Prison Awaiting Death,” 20th Annual Graduate Interdisciplinary Conference, Concordia University, Montreal, March 6th, 2014.
- “This Thinking Individual: Conscience and Subjectivity in Søren Kierkegaard and Hannah Arendt,” Ryerson Graduate Philosophy Conference at Ryerson University, Feb. 22, 2014.
- “Ephesians and the Household Code: a Conversation with John Howard Yoder,” Advanced Degree Student Association Theology Conference at TST, March 14th 2014.
- “Identity and Difference in Derrida’s “The Other Heading,” Traversing Traditions: A Polyphony of Thought, Ryerson Graduate Philosophy Conference, Feb 22, 2014.