Why should non-Christians care about Lent or the Resurrection?

What possible meaning could the sacrifices of lent, or the notion that God came to earth to suffer among men, have for non-Christians? In this entry I will attempt to show that these questions are not so difficult. While it is true that the language of Christianity alienates non-Christians from the meaning of the narratives, a mythical analysis which translates the stories into a more secular, maybe even “existentialist” language, can reveal the genuine power of these stories. The purpose of the following analysis is to show that the Christian experience of Lent and Easter is not merely mythical word-play, but a genuine appropriation of the Christian world-experience.

As a non-Christian, I speak from a precarious position which lacks any moral-authority to speak on-behalf of Christian texts or Christian “word-experience” – if I have anything like Christian world-experience, I have it purely as an existentialist, or as an eschatological Heideggerian. However, as I reject identity politics, my writing attempts to speak not from a particular position but “as anybody” – which is to say, from a particular position, but as a particular position which anyone could take up. In other words, there is nothing inherently valid or invalid about my position – if my analysis reveals anything to anyone, this would be wonderful, but I have desire to declare that my analysis ought be comprehensible to any particular group. That said, I do dedicate the following piece of writing to resolute atheists, of which I consider myself one.

What is Lent? Lent is a period of sacrifice. Christians who participate in lent give up something which they desire in order to free themselves from that desire. The giving up happens in community with other Christians, has dates, and concludes with a celebration (more on that later). In modern consumerist society, the “me” society of ipads, ipods and personal computers (who anymore shares a computer?), any restriction on desire appears as a destruction of your personhood. Worse, any restriction imposed by an arbitrary external power, i.e. the Church, appears as a controlling ideology – a dangerous imposition on human freedom, a stifling of creativity and exploration. Who then today could see value in lent, other than Christians who refuse to acknowledge that God no longer stirs the hearts of men – those passive nihilists who cling to ideals, refusing to acknowledge their devaluation by the rise of man as the ultimate measure on earth?

All this is certainly true. However, at the same time, does not everyone recognize the importance of sacrifice to succeed in our dog-eat-dog society? For instance, what sacrifices do people make to go to university? To have Children? To save money to travel? To quit smoking? In many areas of life, we recognize sacrifice as essential to success. More primordially, all work is sacrifice – the putting off of immediate enjoyment to attempt to secure future well being. Sacrifice, understood as the essence of labour, is what differentiates us from animals. Actually, that is a human-centric bias, in reality many if not all animals work, and exhibit exactly the same behaviour of sacrificing immediate pleasure for the sake of attempting to secure a better chance at survival and flourishing.

Furthermore, doesn’t the exact structure of sacrifice in Lent appear as a supplement to control the excess of immediate gratification in post-industrial society? Don’t we all have addictions today which hold us back – addictions to the internet, to cell phones, to certain kinds of food or drink. One primary way we have of dealing with addictions is to essentialize the addiction, call it an essential property of your human being, and define a human’s being in terms of that addiction no matter how long they have refrained from it. This is not a practice of the church – but alcoholics anonymous. Lent, on the other hand, attempts to establish a better relationship to the addictive element by gaining a distance from it (40 days of committed sobriety). The purpose is not to exorcize the object, but to enable the production of self legislation and control. Heidegger might call this “Freedom”, not the everyday consumer freedom of having a thousand choices, but the freedom of transparency which is gained at the moment when the human is freed from the desires which entrap it.

What might a secularized version of lent look like? The difficulties of secularizing the lent practice reveal the continued strength of religious communities in a world where there is a “question” of God’s existence, and where that existence can be secured only by an epistemic dualism which declares one class of beliefs evaluable on a different standard than all other beliefs (for example, the way Dawkin’s example of a belief in the great spaghetti monster reveals the absurdity of the unsubstantiated “belief” in God). The decision to make sacrifices for the period of lent is a personal decision, made out of conscience, and yet the experience of lent is not a personal experience. Individualistic ipod society might be able to re-value the personal choice of sacrifice in something like Lent, but not the communal being-together in that personal sacrifice. Furthermore, Lent is a period leading up to a community celebration – Easter. While Easter has been secularized along the same lines as Christmas, this secularization has not succeeded in carrying over any of the essential positive moments of the festival as experienced by the religious community over to the capitalist community. Whereas Christmas is about family, easter is only about eating too much chocolate. However, the eating-too-much-chocolate of easter can’t fulfill its essential function for the a-religious community because no one was eating any less chocolate than usual during lent. Therefore, unless Lent were secularized along with Easter, there seems no obvious way that the positive role for personal sacrifice in establishing distance from our everyday addictions could occur outside religious communities.

The elephant in the room in any discussion of Lent and Easter and their possible meaning for secular society is, of course, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What could this possibly mean for non-believers? I admit, this will be more of a stretch than what I’ve said so far – but I do believe I can make some sense of this story without appealing to belief in an intelligent higher power. First one must ask, “What is the Death of Christ?” – the theological consensus on this issue is that it is not merely Jesus who dies on the cross, but God himself (this is, I’ve been told, not controversial – most Christians believe Jesus is God). This is important – if what died on the cross was not God, then Jesus would be only a deem-God, and the origin of Christianity would be nothing other than Judaism becoming pagan. What does this mean that God dies on the cross? This is not so complex – the standard story says something like God dies on the cross because genuine love for man can not be established but out of an intimacy which can only come to be through becoming one of them, and experiencing all the vulnerabilities of humans. But what does this mean? First, remember that the monotheistic God is usually thought to be omnipotent. What it mean to be omnipotent is that every object of your will becomes reality without resistance. In other words, an omnipotent being does not first think of a world, then labour and bring it into existence (i.e. the way man sacrifices in labour to bring about the fruit of his ideas) – God thinks being into existence. But, in this case, we have an example where God can not simply think being into existence. In order to establish the desired intimacy with his people, God had to experience the vulnerability of being a being who must labour and sacrifice, and worse – have this sacrifice end in a failure: crucification for crimes not committed. From the perspective of man, the sacrifice of Jesus appears at best exemplary, and at worse irrelevant – after all, humans sacrifice themselves for each other all the time, and everyday good people who laboured all their life are put to death for wrongs they did not do. What is essential, then, about Jesus’ sacrifice is that Jesus is not a man but is God. In other words, using the two different terms is the source of the confusion surrounding the meaning of Easter – God is Jesus – and what is essential about Jesus/God dying coming to earth and dying on the cross is the notion that an infinite, omnipotent being would need to experience the finitude of man in order to love his people. This is, I think, far more radical than most Christians admit – it means that God is not, in fact, omnipotent. If God were omnipotent then he could merely think this new relationship with his people into existence. What the resurrection story shows up, therefore, is that omnipotence is not as powerful as it thought – omnipotence lacks the ability to feel the frailty of labour and finitude, and omnipotence can not, as itself, come into empathy with finitude.

The life and death of the Christ figure, therefore, is an ontological statement about the nature of reality of Christian experience. Just as the human condition is finitude and chaos (you labour because the world resists you, and this labour offers no guarantees of success), the ground of being itself (God), even in its omnipotency, experiences a lack in the face of the demand to empathize with non-ominipotent creatures. Omnipotency is not all it was cracked up to be – it cannot think love other than as pure Law, which cannot differentiate between care and concern and fire and brimstone – this is why the God of the Torah / Old Testament is genocidal, i.e. the story of the Battle of Jericho. For God to love man in a way appropriate to man, empathy is not optional, and this empathy can not be thought into existence in originally intuition. Rather, this empathy can only be acquired by God through going-under, walking among us, experiencing labour, frailty, and the failure of good works and truth to result in worldly success. God surely could have known these truths of human existence cognitively, but this was inadequate for Love. This inadequacy shows that the condition of Being itself (i.e. God) is finite, even thought as infinitude. Infinitude produces its own lack – an inability to empathize with tragedy – and because Being (God) desires empathy with all of creation this lack is significant and must be overcome.

What does this have to do with Lent? A Christian friend of mine tells me that the sacrifice of lent, leading up to Easter weekend, is felt/thought as a walking beside Christ – what could this mean? Following my analysis, it is quite clear that it might mean that the failures we experience in our own life, the difficulties we have at making the sacrifices which we believe we ought (and might be wrong about), mirror the suffering of God in his attempt to become adequate to the demands which universal love and empathy place upon him. Just as we suffer from our finitude, God suffers finitude in order to complete his infinitude. Thus, the walking alongside Jesus in Lent is a fidelity to the essence of Being as suffering.

But what is Being for the secular, atheist society? Being is not infinity, or the mystery, or an empathy between finitude and the absolute – rather being is thought as cognizability, rationality, computability. In other words, Being is the mechanizable by man, the organizable and securable to be put on reserve for further ordering. But is being really any of this? Certainly – but not only this. Being is also suffering, chaos, our inability to approach existence which constructs which stably secure our success. Being, in other words, is tragedy, and is failure. The standard notion of Christian Being as redemption and love is wrong (and politically wrong – counter revolutionary and immoral) if it serves to justify the suffering in the world, and put out the dreams of a fair society. However, the Christian notion which I have attempted to express here, that Being is suffering – both of God and of Man, is adequate to the human condition in a way technological being is not.

However, it is not enough to say Being is suffering (or, as Krell says, “God is trauma” or “the suffering of the absolute”) – and not only because of the political worry that the ontological declaration of suffering might be used to justify real political suffering. It is not enough to say “Being is suffering”, or “Being is redemption” or “Being is securability” because being is only any of these things grasped out of the essential thought of the will. The will projects possibilities in advance of itself, and sacrifices in its uncertain attempts to bring them about. Easter demonstrates that God, as Man, is a wilful being. But Being is not only thinkable or livable out of the thought of the will – will individualizes (even in its creation of communities), and will prioritizes abstract thinking (even in its recognition of the importance of emotions like empathy and love). Will is one of the ways man can be towards the world – and the “towards” itself is part of the willful orientation. To think Being other than by way of the Will might be the demand placed upon us by our current historical-ecological position. I have attempted nothing towards this demand in the preceding essay – and even the manner in which I express this other, as a “demand”, reveals that nothing of this thinking has yet occurred.

“Religion as Revolution” at McGill

This weekend I’ve come to McGill with my friend Kate to attend McGill’s Religious Studies’ graduate conference entitled “Religion as Revolution”. It has been a fruitful two day conference, with many new faces and friends made – and definitely something to return to next year, and a place to properly contribute something. =

On friday there were two keynote talks, one by micro historian Johannes Wolfart, and another by Travis Kroeker, a philosopher from the religious studies department at McMaster university. Whereas Wolfart dismissed the categories of “religion” and “revolution” as un fruitful “second order abstractions”, Kroeker expressed a fidelity to both these notions – recognizing the importance of fidelity to universalisms in our possible appropriation of a world changing event to-come. During question period I pointed out that Wolfart’s claim that “there is no data for revolutions” is trivially true – there is no data for any empirical universalities – every abstraction gained from individual examples is subject to the contingency of the possible failure of the next example to be fruitfully explained by the construct. The talks were followed by much wine, and open discussion with the keynote presenters. Kroeker, it turns out, finds my dissertation project very appealing – he encourages me to go on “fighting the good fight” in making Heidegger comprehensible and meaningful to people outside nerdy Heidegger circles.

Today, Saturday, was comprised of 3 seminar blocks and one “salon” block. For a graduate conference, it was huge – there were 3 or 4 panels during each seminar block, and 4 “salons”. The seminar blocks were normal (several presenters, followed by questions). One was especially excellent – a block on “Heidegger, Camus and the critique of modernity”, where a student from Trent gave a particularly excellent paper on the Death of God in Heidegger and the wider situation. The “Salon” block was novel – a block devoted to free and open discussion around a few quotes. The salon I picked, entitled “religion as critique of global capital” had its tone set by short quotes from Zizek, Freud and Heidegger. The discussion was quite fruitful, with many voices contributing, real disagreements exposed, and many clarifications made present.

The conference was followed by an excellent vegan diner of indian food which, and I’m not kidding here, reminded me deeply of “Curry Point”, a UBC institution. And then the pub, which served pints of Maudite at normal pint-prices. Pints of Maudite ought be illegal – it’s like two pints in one!

Tomorrow it’s back on the train to Toronto – school, courses, papers, grading etc… But – the term is nearly over, and in only one more month I’m off to Ireland for a week long academic festival of methodological nerdyness.

Sonic Cafe and Aunties and Uncles

I spent a few hours with my friend Valerie today, and we visited two excellent eatery/hang out places in my neighborhood in Toronto.

Aunties and Uncles is a 60’s retro themed diner. But rather than appearing like a diner from the 60’s, it looks like the inside of a 40 year old house which is full of trinkets, i.e. matchbox cars, gawdy advertising from the era, hockey posters, etc… It’s a funky place. I had the Leek and Potato Soup with Challah toast, for 3.50$. Val had the omelette.

Sitting with Val, her eating the Omelette, me eating the potato soup, made me feel the pathetic-ness of any attempt to remove yourself from the torture of animals by eating “vegan”. Don’t watch this video. You already know what’s there, most likely, and the making explicit of it might be alright if eating vegan somehow removed your guilt in relation to these acts, but it doesn’t. How removed is the vegan-eater from this evil? Sitting across from a plateful of eggs, only a few inches more distant than the egg-eater themselves. And yet, it’s a mistake to think eating eggs makes you “close” in some metaphysical sense to the torture of chickens which produce these eggs, even “free range” eggs. It seems to me that we are all complicit in the everyday violences required for the maintenance of average-everyday society.

This isn’t to say that egg production needs to be disgusting, my family use to raise chickens in our backyard – and I think – very humanely. I remember caring for the hens, especially old red, with the same kind of emotion I have towards a pet. Humans do seem capable of good relationships with animals.

Anyway, back to my afternoon with Val. We left Aunties and Uncles and walked back up Spadina. Near Grossman’s, we noticed a brightly coloured coach house with a bicycle hanging above the door. What we found was Sonic Cafe, a kind of West-Side answer to Jet Fuel – in short, a bike-enthusiast themed coffee shop. Quite an impressive place – really everything I approve about a coffee shop – funky decor, run by an enthusiast, an upstairs deck, cheap prices and creative drinks. I had the “Sonic Boom”, a double espresso filled up with coffee for 2.50$. I’m glad to see more real independent coffee shops opening up near U of T (although a bit far south for students), at least on the west side. Again, Val had a milk based drink, likened to hot vanilla ice cream. Again, you don’t want to know where that comes from.

Why CCRI Should Stop Moralizing and Rationalize its Rents

Campus Co-op is a co-operative in financial straights. “Rejuvenation”, its former plan to build new properties to support its aging houses, was abandoned and not replaced. It is unclear at present how it will raise the necessary revenue to keep its houses from degrading to slum condition. Its financial position is currently cripped by losses from high summer vacancies (i.e. rents not collected on rooms not rented). These losses have increased from 80,000$ a year in the 90’s and early 2000’s to a current budgeted level of 250,000$. For CCRI residents this has meant coping with large increases to their rent, to the point when it can no longer be said that CCRI is a cheaper, better alternative to the private rental market. These rent increases have largely been justified as the duty of current members to support the co-op for the benefit of future generations. However, when the rent increases come to mean raising rents to above market-level, (and CCRI experiences the corresponding and foreseeable decline in revenue) the moral argument breaks down and it morally required to think rationally about the market conditions in order to set rental rates appropriately.

To an extent, the problem of decay of CCRI houses century homes is inevitable. Previous large scale investments into the houses were only made possible due to government programs which effectively subsidized large structural repairs (i.e. CMHC’s grant of 370,000$ to CCRI in 1985). However specific irrational actions by CCRI have greatly exaggerated its own problems over the last decade. To understand why, it must be grasped that CCRI sells two products: school year rental housing, and summer rental housing. During the school year CCRI membership is restricted to current students, and during the summer the housing is open to anyone willing to pay rent. These are two different products because they sell to different markets, they have different elasticities (in a highly elastic market, demand reacts quickly to changes in pricing – vice versa for inelastic), and they respond to different sets of competing goods. However, despite this obvious economic reality, CCRI has for time everlasting held to the dogma that its school year rental prices should be the same as its summer rental prices. The fact that CCRI reports projected earnings and actual income to the membership with a single yearly figure, rather than by term, serves to conceals the absurdity of this dogma from the membership.

When one looks at the month to month data more carefully, the problem is clear: for the last several years, the increased rent at CCRI has been reflected in actual increases in revenue during the periods from September to April. However, in the summer, the actual earnings have steadily declined despite (or rather, due to) these higher rents. This can easily be explained if one recognizes that summer and winter rents are different products, and thus have a different price at which their demand and supply curves intersect (i.e. the point of profit maximization). It is a simple truth for classical economics that if one sets the price too high, every further increase in price will reduce profit. Modifications in the price of a good will only increase profit if that modification moves it closer to the ideal price point.

It is not obvious that CCRI’s summer rental prices were significantly below market, even as far back as 2002. This hypothesis is supported by the data which shows demand (i.e. the number of summer renters) strongly dropping off as summer princes increased. Price is not the only issue here: at the same time, U of T had recently built a glut of new student housing, which greatly increased the supply of cleaner summer student housing downtown. CCRI did not respond to this increase in market supply for summer housing with either a significant effort to increase the cleanliness of its housing (i.e. by hiring housekeepers), or by lowering rents. To make matters worse, CCRI began charging non-students extra surcharges to live in CCRI during summer months only. This lack of attention paid to the elasticity of summer demand reached its high point in 2009 when summer vacancy losses topped 350,000$.

To understand CCRI’s logic in this irrational price setting it is necessary to recognize that when one sets the price of a good or service below the optimal price point, every increase in price will in fact produce an increase in revenue. So, if a co-operative is under the market price, (as a cooperative which claims to be affordable in downtown Toronto rightly should be!) any increase in price will correspond to an increase in revenue. In this situation, it may be considered appropriate to moralize a rent increase, i.e. “we’ve been irresponsible, so we need to raise rents”. However, when current rents are level with the market price, one should not straightforwardly assume that further increasing rents will result in increased revenue. Thus, when rents are level with the private market, it makes no sense to moralize about the need for higher rental costs – since higher costs will likely result in lower revenues anyway. In 2010, it is not obvious that CCRI’s winter rents are any longer below market, and it should assume that further drastic increases in rent may very well result in lower winter rental revenues.

The defeat at this year’s Spring General Membership meeting of the proposed 4% rent increase as of May 1st 2010, and its replacement with a 2% rent increase as of September 1st 2010 is the first step forward to thinking rationally about CCRI rental revenues. The second step is to separate winter from summer rent such that they must be raised separately, and that projected earnings and actual revenue for summer must be reported to members as a separate item in the CCRI budget.

On Consumer Goods, or “Why I waited before buying a DSLR”

This week I finally bought a digital single lens reflex camera. I first became interested in photography during a road trip with Dave and Vashti to San Francisco in 3rd year of my undergraduate. I remember – at the start of the trip I thought Dave was being a bit silly with his big fancy camera, but by the end, I was converted and wanted an SLR of my own.

The best photography I have done, I have done on trips like that one. For instance, the next year I travelled to Phoenix and back during reading week with Dave and Milan. And then, that summer, my trip to Germany as a CISV trip leader.

Shortly after that, I picked up a tiny Rollei 35 which strangely enough almost single handedly killed my interest in shooting large SLR cameras. I found the photos I took with it (and these are not the best examples), tended to be far better than what I shot with my F90x. I carried it with me everywhere, so I always had it when a great photo opportunity came along. It was also around that time that I purchased my first digital camera. From then on, I tended to do my serious photography with the Rollei, and snapshots (i.e. Cabin Feevers) with my various pocket digital cameras (I replaced them as they broke, and I never took terribly good care of them). I still used the F90x on trips, such as the road trip with the CISV interchange leaders through British Columbia, but in general the large camera felt more and more out of place.

I eventually replaced the Rollei 35 with an Olympus stylus epic – which is an epic camera due to its being as technically good and small as the Rollei, and much more automated. (I don’t actually know where my Rollei is at present, but I hope it’s in my room in B.C.) However, I’ve never shot with the Olympus much since the cost of film, while not prohibitive, is a dis-incentive when one has a perfectly good digital camera. Also, internet publishing is how photos are displayed primarily today, so it just seems a waste to shoot film mostly so it can be scanned and put online.

Small cameras are wonderful. However, they do have limitations – they usually do not offer as much control as an SLR, they do not do wide angle well, and they do not have good sensitivity for low light (although the Canon S90 seems to solve these problems – I almost bought it instead of the D50!). Also, an SLR camera allows interchangeable lenses, and this D50 will work with my father’s 50mm AF F1.4 prime lens. And, since the sensor is smaller than a film negative, the 50mm effectively becomes a short portrait lens (80mm). So, while the D50 takes no better pictures than my A510 in normal situations (average light, average focal length), this combination will allow me to shoot indoor portraits in low light. This is especially exciting considering that some of my favorite photography was exactly this – shooting indoors, pushing black and white film to iso 1250 or 1600.

So far I’ve been enjoying the D50 greatly. I would say it seems to perform better than the A510 in real world situations, and I have a feeling it deals with contrast in a more elegant way (apparently it automatically adjusts its contrast setting based on feedback from the 420 segment meter!) Also, it has much better high ISO capability (it looks better at iso 1600 than the A510 does at iso 400!). However, it does not have IS, which means that without (yet) a faster lens this makes less of a difference than you might think.

Probably the best thing about the D50 is the lenses which can be used on it. It’s really the ideal consumer good, because it always has the structure: “What should I buy next?”. Ken Rockwell knows that it’s the photographer who makes the picture, not the camera, and that the person who mistakes technology for talent is on a lifelong search for that one lens which will make his pictures great. This lens, of course, doesn’t exist, and they will actually spend the rest of their life buying amazing junk they can’t use. This doesn’t mean, however, that buying a new lens doesn’t open a new field of possibilities – for instance, the first roll I shot with a properly wide angle zoom (a cheap knock off 19-35) on my F90x produced results I liked a lot, and could not be replicated any other way. However, the cost of a similar lens for DX format is high – the ideal nikkor 10-22 costs 800 US dollars. What would make more sense is the 55-200 DX VR telephoto, which is only about 230$, or the 70-210 F4 AF zoom from the late 80s which is rarely available, but very desirable due to its low cost and fast F4 aperture at the long end (also, it works on full frame cameras).

Libertarianism is dead, or, “What does it mean to be a Jacobin Today?”

Libertarianism is dead. Unfortunately, our entire political system is built on moderated versions of libertarianism. “Liberty” is a libertarian notion – so long as we grasp freedom as liberty, we are thinking in a way fundamentally at odds with grasping ourselves as part of a complex community/ecology/catastrophe.
What would be an alternative? The obvious alternative to Mill is Rousseau (although the dates don’t line up – even Hegel predates Mill! And Kant is between Hegel and Rousseau, both historically and in the genesis of anti-libertarian liberalism.
What is essential about Rousseau? Freedom is not freedom from compliance, freedom from society, freedom from taking up obligations towards others – freedom is doing your duty in civil society. And what do we do with libertarians – those who refuse to actively take part, and whose inaction poisons the planet (for Rousseau – state)? They must be gotten rid of.
What would getting rid of those interests which do not, could not identify with the general will today mean? The cheap answer is the terror – all the carbon criminals to the guillotine! But more seriously – what justifies, if it justifies, the terror – the poorly discriminated killing of suspected infidels? Two things: first, the virtue of the revolutionary state, and second, the state of emergency caused by the real counter revolutionary terrorist operations being perpetrated by every other nation in Europe against france during the 1790s. So, quite clearly, neither justifications currently obtain.
What would a more reasonable, liberal version of terror look like today? I venture to say it would look something like the massive nationalization of assets from those actors who are climate criminals. If an asset is not managed for the good of all by the private market, then it must be managed by the state. Of course, the virtue of the state is not optional – but this is what we should demand from any genuinely democratic government. And “virtuous” does not mean virtuous on Rousseau’s terms – it would mean what it means on our terms, which means modern Canadian values of tolerance, free speech, multi-cultural, etc… The universality of virtue would be singular only on universal problems, and climate change is the only universal problem today. In fact, it may be the only truly universal political problem to ever exist.

UTISM 2010 – Jordan Peterson

UTISM (University of Toronto Inder-Disciplinary Symposium on the Mind) has just wrapped up. It’s the 2nd time I’ve attended the conference, and although it was not as flashy as the last, it has continued to re-inforce my belief that cognitive science is a very exciting field – and less dogmatically scientistic than a phenomenologist might first assume. The best talk was given by Jordon Peterson, a psychologist from U of T who’se approach to our place in the world given what we know in psychology is explicitly Nietzschean. I could try to describe his position, but I’ve found a paper (PDF link) on his website, and I don’t think I can do better than citing from its abstract:

“We are doomed to formulate conceptual structures that are much simpler than the complex phenomena they are attempting to account for. These simple conceptual structures shield us, pragmatically, from real-world complexity, but also fail, frequently, as some aspect of what we did not take into consideration makes itself manifest. The failure of our concepts dysregulates our emotions and generates anxiety, necessarily, as the unconstrained world is challenging and dangerous. Such dysregulation can turn us into rigid, totalitarian dogmatists, as we strive to maintain the structure of our no longer valid beliefs. Alternatively, we can face the underlying complexity of experience, voluntarily, gather new information, and recast and reconfigure the structures that underly our habitable worlds.”

This approach has deep resonances with what I understand of Heidegger’s work on Nietzsche, nihilism and the history of being. When the talk is posted online by UTISM I will provide a link here.

EDIT: The talk is posted!

EDIT: There is a Peterson talk on “Evil” on Youtube.

Toad Lane Conference Schedule Details

Opening Remarks: These will be given by Ketan and Krista.

Sentience and Duty: This will be comprised of two presentations. Tristan Laing will speak on “The Ethics of Bare Minimums”, and Harmony will speak on “Sentience Beyond Pain: The Emotional Lives of Animals”.

Food and Culture: This will consist of three presentations. Scott will present on Food and Non-Western Cultures, Zach will speak on Conservatism and Veganism, and Honey will speak on Food and Spiritual Health

Meat and Masculinity: This will consist of a single presentation. Ananya will speak on the role of meat in constructing male identity.

On being complicit

The logic of “complicity” or tacet approval is popular with activists today. As someone who associates with (but does not strictly subscribe to, as if it were a publication) Veganism, I often am subject to the argument: “but isn’t it always wrong to be complicit in the exploitation of animals?”.

Yes. It is always wrong to be complicit in the exploitation of animals. However, it is always wrong to be complicit in the carrying out of any evil, be it individual or structural, and the society we live in is one of pervasive evils of both kinds. Simply by “not acting”, by ignoring political, social, animal violence, one is tacitly approving of a system which constantly violates the ideals by which it justifies itself. And by “acting”, there are countless other instances and forms of violence which by not concentrating on, one ignores, and tacitly approves by de-valueing that injustice with respect to another.

I would therefore, assert another kind of complicity – complicity in the idea that you are not guilty. The idea that one can be “consistent” in one’s actions, that one can avoid being a “hypocrite” today, is the greatest hypocrisy. Everyone holds ideals which they have the duty to demand the world to uphold, but they do not have the capacity to even speak in the most empty theoretical manner all these demands. The proper form of ethics in a world of infinite demand is not self-consistency, or taking up every single struggle available. Rather – it is coming to be aware of the hypocrisy which everyone is guilty of but few can be blamed for. The actions of those who do unspeakable violence are never justifiable, but they are comprehensible, understandable – we can see the humanity in their violence. Refusing to see humanity in the violent actors and structures of the world is to fall prey to radical ressentiment, a nihilism which says “No!” to all the world because that world does not live up to an ideal, which, thought generated out of the world, finds itself structured over-against it as a target which cannot be reached.

The answer is not to “not be complicit”, therefore, but to be complicit in the right way. To be complicit in such a way that attention is drawn to your complicity, to bring to light the hypocrisies which we all live with, ignore, “rise above”, etc… It is great ideology to confuse, for instance, eating a hamburger at MacDonalds with a genuine relation of human to animal on a genuine farm. However, it is greater ideology to assume that there was nothing, could never have been nothing, about the genuine relationship to animals on farms which the MacDonalds experience functions by referencing towards. There is something true in that relation, and there is therefore something true in the MacDonalds experience as well – although this is not a truth of “correctness” but a revealing which is buried over by all simplistic analysis which reduces the relation to food to the logic of resource, exploitation, and sentience.

The relationship between humans and their ideals is not simple – it can not be captured under the simple logic which states “we know our ideals, the task is to make ourselves equal to them” because it is never clear in advance what the real force of an ideal will be – these are empirical questions, to be worked out after history, and therefore the speculative projected answers in advance can never be given in the form of a certainty.

I therefore advocate the posture of struggle, of admitted guilt, of confusion – over the self righteous religious zealotry which claims not only to understand all the violences in the world today (which certainly does in the form of a recognition), but to at the same time understand the underlying causes and solutions to those violences. In other words, what we should stop naively asserting with positive certainty that the solution is always inherent in the problem as a potency which shows up in actuality as the motive for that problem’s condemnation.