Statement of Purpose

(Excerpts from the Manifesto) and introduction to the second issue

 

J. L. Hinman

 

 

or some time thinkers and social critics have warned that the foundations of modernity have collapsed. In reaction to the current malaise the realm of discourse in American public life has been closed around one particular social project: right-wing hegemony. With the death of the left, the failure of liberalism, the decline of the arts, and the ultimate decline of democratic values, new movements seek explanations and solutions. Most of these, however, consist of either uncritically imposing moralistic agendas, or, denying that foundations are possible. Negations is a journal of social criticism which seeks to expand the realm of discourse in American society through an interdisciplinary approach, drawing upon critical theory and praxis in the areas of art, history of ideas, political and social philosophy, political theology, and literary criticism. The editors of Negations feel that the most acute analysis and praxis lie in recovering the tradition of 20th century social criticism. We have chosen as springboards, points of departure, Albert Schweitzer, Karl Jaspers, C. Wright Mills, and Herbert Marcuse.

Specifically, what these thinkers have in common is the realization that economic forces render the public sphere synonymous with the commercial sphere. Art, religion, philosophy, ethics, political ideals, all else is reduced to "matters of taste" in the private realm. These vital areas of life, therefore, play a mitigated role in governing public discourse. Moreover, the public sphere has come to subsume the private; "matters of taste" become commodified and are themselves mere products. The process of civilized life is reduced to producing and consuming; serious public dialogue is reduced to a form of entertainment. Non-commodified needs, such as artistic expression, ethical values, or reflections upon our ultimate concerns, are marginalized. The closed realm of discourse reduces analysis of the cause of the crisis to a litany of its effects; "cultural relativism," declining "family values," or a failure of the educational system. The real problem lurking behind these symptoms is the inability of ultimate concerns to affect the social realm.

The editors of Negations draw upon the tradition of 20th century social criticism as a springboard to understanding this critical period. In bringing together ideas from the arts and Humanities, and from theology, we hope to expand the realm of discourse in such a way as to open up new possibilities and move beyond the current stalemate; a society of warring camps polarized between postmodernism's endgame and right wing hegemony. As the Marcusian term "negations" implies, we hope to negate the negations of further possibility which close the realm of discourse, and we hope to create a new synthesis out of diverse and marginalized views.

We do not expect contributors necessarily to write about Schweitzer, or any of the four thinkers above, although, we welcome such articles. Negations is a forum for discussions about the state of contemporary society, we use these four thinkers, different as they are, as points of departure for discussion. As a journal, Negations is virtually unlimited in the range of topics which might be selected. Anything from media manipulation, to advertizing, eccology, welfare, literary criticism, historical analysis, cultural criticism, almost all walks of life are touched by commodification.

In general, we seek scholarly articles from the Arts and Humanities, and the social sciences. we use the rubric "interdisciplinary" to describe the range of disciplines form which we seek contributions, and by this term we mean to indicate the openness of the juournal to publish a broad range of disciplines. We welcome quantitative work, but ask that it be tied to analysis.

The range of topics will be limited by the approach to commodification. We ask that articles center on one of two things, or both: 1) a critique of commodification (in whatever manifestation it can be seen) and/or; 2) a discussion of transcendent critical principles. That is to say, principles from beyond the commodified realm which may be brought in to form a critique of commodified society (examples include Schweitzer's notion reverence for life and civilization as ethical content). We hope that this approach will contribute something to the struggle for fundamental change. We know that we face overwhealming opposition, we are a mosquito trying to drink the ocean, but we hope that all who read this article will lend their support in whatever way they can. We also feel that our contribution to scholarship itself is not minimal. We feel that scholarship need not hide behind objectivity, but that critique, in so far as it leads to understanding, is the best approach of true scholarship. We feel that the academic way of life is in the greatest peril form a commodified society, a society which values only technique and commodifies learning and thinking. We believe that we can contribute in an academic sense, and that the strength of the academy is the best defense against the forces of one-dimensionality. We call for the support of the reader, and the best support the reader can give is to read our journal.

 

In This Issue

e begin with an article by the publisher of the journal, "One-Dimensional Man in a Postmodern Age." The focus of the essay is an examination of three thinkers who deal with the shaping of the self in bourgeois society. Michael Foucault, who represents a postmodern approach, argues that the secularized state coopted the authority of the confessional, and wielding such power, shapes the self through power relations. Moishe Postone presents a new reading of Marx in his latter years, arguing that Marx came to see the mode of production itself as the great transhistorical prolem, and class struggle as a historical manifestation within that framework. He argues that the mode of production shapes the consciousness of the individual. Finally Herbert Marcuse, whose notion of One-Dimensional Man is part of the basis for the journal itself. The essay is not an attempt to synthesize the three, nor even to harmonize their views. It is, rather, the development of a position which is informed by the three, and which enables us to begin to move beyond some of the impediments which stump those who would be Marcusians. The essay answers two of the perineal criticisms of Marcuse: 1) if we live in a one-dimensional society, how can Marcuse see beyond it? This is the charge of a privileged position of critical theory. 2) Haven't people always been one-dimensional? The implication here is that it is not really a problem. It's just human nature to be superficial and get hooked on false needs, we really don't need to worry about it.

Of course, the obvious answer to both criticisms is that society has not always been one-dimensional, those who did their homework at a time when society was not as one-dimensional as it is today, such as Marcuse, were capable of understanding what was happening. In so arguing, the essay presents an examination of the process which shapes consciousness around the social project, and which closes the realm of discourse to any notion that does not serve that end. In so arguing, the essay also introduces the notions of one-dimensional man, and its relation to both the capitalistic mode of production, and reductionistic and positivistic thinking. Positivism, or opporationalism is the software of one-dimensional thought. In the academy, in the scientific realm, operational thinking motivates and organizes the inteligencia of the social project. On the street, operational thinking feeds into capitalism and becomes commodified society. Every idea has a price tag, no idea is worth our attention unless it connects to the so called "bottom line."

The process of shaping consciousness is the process of maintaining a consumer oriented mode of production, and the economically enforced way of life it fosters. It is a total way of life, and it is "totalizing." From the way we orient our lives around occupations, choose friendships, get "educated," live at a pace so fast we never have time to think about where we are going, to the way we thoughtlessly pour our money down a thousand rat-holes just to meet our obligation to be constantly entertained; the way we live is tied to the mode of our production, and brings all life, all thought, all choices, all beliefs, and finally, all political understanding, to a grinding hault centered around two things: consuming and producing. Those two things become our world, our belief system, our purpose in life, and our motivations in political choices. They ultimately caused us to blind ourselves as the U.S. government killed thousands in Nicaragua, and they will cause us to blind ourselves further as we rape the planet and kill the oceans so that we my continue to feed our entertainment addiction, maintain what is called "our standard of living," and enable us to continue to feel good about ourselves because of what we own.

As stated, the essay is not an attempt to synthesize the three thinkers, but it does develop a position which is informed by them. Rather than continue to denude the individual of any importance, and to pretend that there is no self, the position sketched out in this essay calls for a model of the "social individual," one is truly individual in thought, but is capable of giving up independence freely in solidarity for the betterment of society. Since the nature of one-dimensionality centers around the mode of production, however, the specific breakdown of the process of shaping identity leads to a vast array of issues. The "commodification of life" (our own term coined to reflect more than mere merchandizing of products) affects every aspect of life. There are, however, certain issues upon which we have chosen to focus.

One of our major concerns is the environment. Environmental problems are directly connected to commodification. The environment itself is treated as the ultimate commodity. The rape of the earth proceeds directly from the notion that the earth exists for us to plunder, that no organism in nature deserves to survive in its own right, but exists in relation to human needs. Even much environmental planning that occurs is predicated upon the assumption that the environment is a product; environmentally friendly products are just another example of the commodification of nature. It says something acute about our views of nature that we refer to most of the things in it as "natural resources." Everything is a "resource," something for us to use. If we choose to preserve the natural setting, it usually because we value it as a product in some sense. This attitude toward nature as a resource underlies our sense of relationship with the world as a relationship with things. "Natural resources" are "things" in nature for us to use, rather than aspects of a process of life of which we ourselves are a part.

In this issue, we present two articles which deal with the commodification of nature, and with our value of nature as a repository of things to be used, to be sold, and to be consumed. In "Can the Cultural Re-Enchantment of Nature Help Stop Environmental Destruction?" William Gibson brings together the work of Max Weber and Marciea Eliade, in order to explore a certain aspect of ecological value (or dis value as the case may be) Gibson argues that the "disenchantment of the world" (Weber's concept), and the spirit of capitalism via the Protestant work ethic created a disvalue of nature. That is to say, in disenchanting the wold, and vesting it with a new status as resource (through the values of the Protestant outlook) our relationship with nature was reduced to a relationship with things. Nature became a thing to exploit. Through Eliade, Gibson explores the nature of enchantment, and contemporary attempts to re-enchant nature. He argues that unless we are able to create a new mythos of nature, we will be unable to change the value system which reduces nature to a product.. Commodification is not limited to the mere marketing of products, or even the plunder of the environment, it can also be found in the shaping of cultural identities and the marketing of human beings in a literal sense.

In his article,"Identity Politics and Identity Spiritualities...," Jim Perkinson demonstrates the way in which identity (especially racial or ethnic) is mobilized in religious discourse. The example is that of slaves in the American south, and how they resisted a very literal form of commodification (they were the commodities), and one dimensionality, to form their own multi-dimensional consciousness. Where did the slaves get their view of Christ? They gleaned it from their own melding of the imposed oppressor culture, their own African heritage, and their own experience and self understanding as slaves. Perkinson deals with the experiences of slaves in their religious apprehension of reality, their experiences of the divine and transcendent. In a sense, the story of slave religion is the story of a phenomenological apprehension of reality transcending theimposition of a commodified, metaphysically justified, and tightly closed realm of discourse. Perkinson is working in the "ground-up" tradition of liberation theology. Through a turn to the subject in history, he offers a reading of the experiences of oppressed people, taken as closely as possible from their own point of view.

Perkinson's article also offers an example of transcendent critical principles in action. Even though Marcuse's notion of TCP's was based upon a social or philosophical transcendence, the fact that Perkinson's is based upon religious transcendence, or "literal transcendence," makes it no less a TCP. By bringing into the commodified realm values from beyond that realm, concepts which a priori resist comodification, the closed realm of discourse is opened to new possibilities which transcend the social project. African American slaves brought into the commodified realm notions from their own culture which could not be commodified, and which were of no value within the established realm of discourse. They combined these notions with their own experiences, experiences which by their very nature cannot be turned into products, or selling points for products, and using these notions to transform symbols imposed from the realm of discourse, created their own critique and set of alternatives to the oppressive milieu.

The "ground-up" view of the turn to the subject is not the claim of special privilege for the oppressed group. That is to say, Perkinson is not making an argument that slaves had the only valid view of reality , or that theirstatus as oppressed allows them to define reality for everyone. He is saying, however, that unless we take their view into account, we are not willing to allow the categories of reality to suggest themselves, but we impose them from without. In other words, the way in which slaves transformed the imposed religious symbols constitutes a "revolutionary a priori." This notion is the Marcusian concept whereby one undermines the line of imposed discourse by taking some commodified notion, bringing out its inherent revolutionary implications, and placing it over against the commodified realm. For Marcuse, this meant developing a sensibility through art. Even though art is commodified, its basic nature (art qua art) resists commodification (it is not the price tag on a work which makes it a work of art). We feel that Perkinson illustrates the revolutionary a priori in religious experience. Nor is Perkinson calling for an abandonment of the Western tradition in philosophy. He does argue, however, that we should be more careful how the tradition is used, more mindful of the use to which it has been put in the past, and more inclusive in future applications of it.

Perkinson's inclusion of religious experience is a welcome contribution to the journal. For too long the right-wing has been allowed to speak for the religious community, as though religion and right-wing politics are one and the same. The fundamentalists are allowed to set the agenda for religious discourse in the public realm. This is another example of the closed realm of discourse. It is also a great shame, because the religious left is much older than the secular left (going back to the middle ages, with Joachim of Flora and his peasant revolt, John Ball, and the socialism of the monasteries, which even Marx commented on in the Manifesto). Liberation theology was not something that just sprang up within the last few decades, we find early versions of it in the middle ages, in the opposition to the colonization of the "new world" by the Spanish, and in every major turn the left has taken. The religious left, and Christian socialism, was involved in the first abolition movement, women's suffrage, and the great labor battles of the late 19th century. The first organized abolition groups and suffrage groups in America were started by Christian evangelists (both groups led by Phoebe Palmer and the Methodist women). Of course, anyone familiar with the Central American Solidarity movement of the `80s knows that liberation theology made a major contribution to all liberation struggles in Latin America, and in so doing, made a major contribution to Marxist thought. From C-Lamb to Christians for Socialism in Chile, from Camilo Torres to Thomas Borge, specifically Christian forms of theology contributed in a major sense to the struggle, perhaps more so than even Marxism itself (the Sandinista govement even printed Bibles for the literacy campaign). Liberation theology was so influential in Latin America, that the revolutionary conflicts of the `60s to the `80s cannot be considered without an understanding of the religious movements involved. Forms of liberation theology even begun to crop up in Asia and Africa.

While it is a wide spread aspect of the climate of opinion in the academy to assault Christianity (especially for postmodernism--always egar to tear down the hierarchies, to assault the logocentric) it is long past time to begin bringing forth the revolutionary a priori inherent in religious experience. The religious left is world wide as a movement, it has an ancient history (it goes back to Jesus Christ) and it is absurd to allow the small group of "fundis" in the U.S. to define religious thought as exclusively right-wing. The religious left has earned the right to speak on the left. Moreover, the ultimate means of forcing people to move beyond a fixation upon their false needs is to force them to confront their ultimate concerns. Yet, our concern with theology, at least within this journal, is not confessional, but is rooted in the social context. There are other issues, however, which are equally pressing. We return once more to ecology.

In his book review article, "whose planet is this?" Lantz Miller returns to the theme of ecology, he examines, through several recently published volumes, the way in which ideology affects our understanding of our relationship with and place in nature. The books that Mr. Miller reviews include: A Moment of the Earth: the Coming Age of Environmental Optimism, by Gregg Easterbrook, The Case Against the Global Economy And For a Turn Toward the Local, Edited by Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith, Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature, Edited by Greta Gaard, The Chicago Gangster Theory of LIfe, by Andrew Ross, and The Frankenstein Syndrome: Ethical and Social Issues In The Genetic Engineering of Animals, by Bernard E. Rollin.

We also offer a short book review by John Abromeit, "Ross Posnock's Henery James." Abromeit himself offers the best summery of the review. "In The Trial of Curiosity: Henry James, William James, and the Challenge of Modernity, Ross Posnock draws on the critical theory of Walter Benjamin and Theodore Adorno and the pragmatism of John Dewey to undertake a fundamental re-interpretation of the life and work of Henry James. Posnock calls into question the standard reading of James as a high modernist, i.e. as a reactionary aesthete who sought to escape the turbulence and alleged vulgarity of modern mass society by retreating into the transcendent realm of art." In discussing Posnock's reading of "postmodern" James, Abromeit discusses Franfurt theory on mass society, spescifically that of Adorno and Benjamin. Since the critical theory of the Frankfurt school (ala Marcuse) is a major tool for our work in Negations. Abromeit's article is a valuable contribution.

We offer a second book review article, "Putting Perfection Before LIberty--Robert Bork's Slouching Toward Gomorrah--a Review," by Victor Worsfold. It may seem strange that we would ask Dr. Worsfold, of the University of Texas at Dallas, to review this book (and he was kind enough to oblige). It is only natural that we should ask Dr. Worsfold, since he is an ethicist who studies the concept of moral decency, but strange that we should care about reviewing Bork's book, since none of our readership is in danger of running out and buying the book, much less of becoming right-wing thinkers of Bork's ilk. We wanted this review for two reasons: first, because Bork actually agrees with one of ourmajor positions about commodification, secondly, because it gave us the opportunity to lunch our position on ethics. After a long tirade about liberalism as the cancer of America, the ultimate scapegoat, responsible for all our ills, a glimmer of understanding dawns and (p.8)Bork breaks off his tirade. He announces that "Affluence brings with it boredom." The upshot of this observation is, "[affluence] of itself offers little but the ability to consume, and a life centered on consumption will appear, and be, devoid of meaning." He then connects this lack of meaning to the loss of moral values. He goes on to make a similar observation about technology reducing all values and beliefs to the level of mere technique. "A culture obsessed with technology will value personal convenience above all else, and ours does." Among the consequences for such a culture, Bork lists relativized morality. For one brief moment he sees beyond his ideology, and not only realizes that there might actually be something more to blame than just liberalism, but he actually grasps the themes of Negations. Unfortunately, he does not stay in this rarified air for long, he immediately goes back to his tirade, in which the cancer of liberalism is busy eating away the social fabric. He seems totally oblivious to the fact that his right-wing business mentality has a lot more to do with consumption, consumerism, technique, and ultimately, with discording moral values and reducing them to the level of mere instrumentalism than liberalism (or the left) ever could.

For too long the left as allowed the right to subsume all ethical theory, and to take out a monopoly on morality.While the right hogs the moral high ground, and castigates the left for relativizing ethics, the left obliges and continues to relativize. Of course, there are liberal and left leaning ethicists who are doing fine work today. Unfortunately, these ethicists have failed to gain the acclaim of the media, and have escaped the notice of people like Bork. The situation is complex, too complex to go into here, but part of the problem is the work of people such as Richard Rorty, who elevate the relativist position to that of a major philosophy of the day, thus re-enforcing the impression that liberal ethics is little more than an attempt to destroy ethical theory. There is also some discussion of this point about Rorty, and the left relativising ethics,in the first article of this issue. Worsfold brings John Rawls's theory of Justice to bear on Bork's attacks, and his review serves as a launching point for our attempts to add our contribution to the ethical discussion.

Thus, this second issue of Negations, demonstrates a small part of the scope of the topic. The commodification of life is in all things. It can be traced across the board, from the production mode and the shaping of the self, to ecology and the tendency to transform nature into a product, from religious thought and affects upon racial and ethnic identity, to ethical theory and moral decline. Yet, this is just breaking the surface. There are still so many more issue we are asking our readers to address: discursive reasoning vs. statistical reductionism, scientific reductionism in general, attitudes toward the poor (they are bad consumers), urban sprawl (land is a mere commodity), t.v. advertizing, the media in general, and all the assumptions of an overly commodified society and its affects upon the environment and psyche of a people pressed into a way of life reduced to nothing more than consuming and producing. Life must me more than merely buying products, thought more than mere knowledgeability. What greater threat to the academy than its reduction to engineering and business departments, and what greater contribution to scholarship than a critique of the forces which are rapidly bringing about such a transformation? Negations offers more than just a political outlook, and more thanjust a defense of academic assumptions, it offers an opportunity for academics and graduate students to do what the University was created to do: to reflect upon the nature of the universe, and our human experience of it.

 

Notes

 

 

1 Matthew L. Lamb, Solidarity with Victims: Toward a Theology of Social Transformation. New York: Crossroad, 1982, 122.

The turn to the subject in history is Marx's insistence, in the German Ideology and elsewhere, that social analysis must proceed from the point of historical context in which the oppressed find themselves, and from their own experience, rather than from some imposed principle which forces reality to conform to its own reading. In short, Perkinson and liberation theologians are saying that if we would support the liberation of the oppressed, we must understand their own reading of their experience as oppressed.

2 Barry Katz, Marcuse and The Art of LIberation: An Intellectual Biography.Verso, 1982, 200.

3 A. Daniel Frankforter, A History of The Christian Movement: The Development of Christian Institutions. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1978, 170. See Also, Karl Marx and Frederick Engles,The Communist Manifesto . New York: International Publishers Co. inc. 1948, 1984 ed. 33.

Granted, Marx didn't think much of "Christian Socialism" in the middle ages, which he called ":Feudal Socialism." "Nothing is easier than to give Christian ascetism a Socialist tinge. Has not Christianity declaimed against private property...? Christian socialism is but the Holy Water with which the priest consecrates the heart burnings of the aristocrat." Granted, history was waiting for Marx to come and introduce true socialism. But, the socialism of the middle ages was more diverse than that. It existed in the monasteries as a monastic form, along side early capitalism, but it also existed among the peasants and in revolutionary form. And there were thinkers, such as Joachim of Flora who led a peasant revolt to bring on the end of times.

4 Enrique Dussel, History and the Theology of LIberation. Maryknoll New York: Orbis books, 1976.

Dussel uncovers a long history, far more indepth than we have time for here. The point being, the "religious left," including all forms of Christian socialism, and left leaning social reformers, is very old and represents a whole world unto itself. It is well worth learning, and demonstrates the irony and tragedy of the current climate in the academy, a climate in which academics would rather feed their urge to bash religion rather than create a dialogue with thinkers who have access to a vast tradition they themselves know little about.

5 Winthrop S. Hudson, Religion In America: A Historical Account of the Development of American Religious LIfe. Second ed. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1965, 1973, 310-315.

Most people begin to date liberation theology with the radical priests of the `60s. If they know the history of the modern movement, they begin with CLAMB and Christians for socialism in the `50s. If they are really historically minded, they start with A Theology for the Social Gospel , by Walter Rauschenbusch. But, Rauschenbusch, while he could be viewed as a forerunner, and while he called himself a "Christian Socialist," may really represent the end of an older tradition of Christians in the labor movement of the late 19th century (his work was written in 1917). Those who came before him, int he labor movement, represent a vast movement of religiously minded reformers with antecedents in the second great awakening, much of which Hudson documents.

6 Timothy L. Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform: American Protestantism on the Eve of the Civil War. Baltimore, London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1957, 12980.

7 Penny Lernoux, Cry of The People. Penguin Books, 1982. 29-30.

Torres was the first priest , but not the last, to take up arms in the struggle. He died in Colombia in 1966. His example sparked much interest in liberation movements throughout Latin America.

8 Andrew Reding, Christianity and Revolution: Tomás Borge's Theology of Life. Marknoll, New York: Orbis books, 1987.

Borge was the leader of the FSLN, the "Sandinistas" in Nicaragua. He was one of the first to help start the Sandinista party. Some might argue that his commitment to religious belief was mere propaganda, but , while he was yet a gorilla on the run in the mountains, he sent for a priest (Ernesto Cardenal, latter to become a member of the Sandinista party). He wished to discuss religion with the priest. The simple note he sent is one of the most moving documents of the Latin American struggle. "I knew a God who joyfully rang the church bells and dressed up when General Somoza visited León..a God who forgave the heavy sins of the rich...I slew that God without mercy within my conscience. It would seem, however, that God does not wish to die. In the jungles of Colombia there has been a new Bethlehem. Camilio Torres told us before dying, or perhaps told us in dying." The priest made his way through the mountains to talk with the revolutionary, and the Nicaraguan revolution kicked in the womb.

9 For a strong sense of the crucial nature of religion to the struggle in Latin America see Penny Lernoux's book, op. cit. For a look at religious involvement in the Nicaraguan revolution in particular, see Margaret Randal, Sandino's Daughters: Testimonies of Nicaraguan Women in Struggle. Vancouver, Toronto: New Star books, 1981.

10 James H. Cone, Minjung Theology: People as the Subjects of History. ed. by the Commission on Theological Concerns of the Christian Conference of Asia. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis books, 1981.

Minjung means "mass of the people," as in "a great crowd." It is a theology specific to South Korea, where they are not allowed to use the term "the people" because the government fears the spread of Maoism. But, this is one example of a liberating style theology spreading over Asia.