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Choice and all that rot

Rather than speak against the windy rhetoric of choice and self-actualization that’s taking hold elsewhere, and because I need to clear my head of this question before I get back to line edits, and because I sometimes lose the forest for the trees—although I do like to think I try to see the forest, as hard as it is sometimes—how do you define capitalism?

My own definition is built of no small study of Marx & Engels, of literary theorists, and of Max Weber. It goes something like this:

Capitalism is an economic system that abstracts both time and life into quantifiable, transferable units.

In my more Weberian moments, my definition adds the following:

Capitalism further encourages ardor in the transfer and acquisition of those units and presents the transfer and acquisition as a righteous end in itself.

Last, I remind myself what a system is: a complex structure that is self-perpetuating and all-encompassing. (That capitalism is a system is why Marx advocated proletarian revolution to overthrow the bourgeoisie. Only radical change could disrupt it.)

I do intend to return to earlier studies in this matter (and Arendt will actually be a good person to begin those studies anew). When I do I’ll probably realize how impoverished this definition is, but maybe you can enlighten me before then. Where is my definition insufficient? I mean, when I say things like I really like separatists, I say it because I believe the social relations that separatist communities represent are based upon something fundamentally other, holier even, than those of the individuating contemporary West. Don’t think that I idealize such life as prelapsarian, but I do idealize it as evidence that things need not always be as they are.

 

Comments

Maybe I should just file this under our recurring theme of “Moments of Commenting Ineptitude” and leave it at that.

I like monastic communities, too.

i’ve peeked at the commentary going on over there and don’t have the intestinal fortitude to comment. in part, because marx and engles are writers i have read and not really remembered—i was in a recalcitrant, anti-intellectual mood, overwhelmed by all the reading i was doing… and there weren’t that many marxists in my program.

but, more than that, because those with whom you are conversing seem, largely, to have an unquestioning faith in the morality of capitalism… almost as if it were the last revelation of God.

what is more, as of when i stopped reading, they weren’t defining their terms very well.

unfortunately M & E are eminently forgettable as writers—altho the Manifesto has lines that stick, else it wouldn’t be a good manifesto…

anyone with a good understanding of locke would be welcome too, though. that person is not me!

But I think your last point is where I get frustrated most. A clear definition of terms is often superimperative, and if you ignore the necessity for it, then things swing way out of control, people talk past each other, and too often forget the foundation for the walls it supports…

i don’t know that i’d be able to offer much critique of your position… i essentially agree with you. (my fantasy has always been to become amish, or some such thing.)

and my fantasy is to take orders at a benedictine monastery.

In reading for the class on Revelation, I came across this quote from David A. DeSilva, A Socio-rhetorical Interpretation of Hebrews. 100-1. It’s about emperor worship and piety. The pious attitude put forward here seems similar to the faith and trust that many US Christians put in Capitalism… we must trust it, they say. It is the only inherently fair system—and yet, it isn’t fair. Wealth begets wealth… not hard work.

“Emperor worship was no “sham religion” enforced from above. Rather, participation in this institution, as in all the cults of the traditional pantheon, showed one’s pietas…, one’s reliability, in effect to fulfill one’s obligations to family, patron, city, province, and empire. Participation showed one’s support of the social body, one’s desire for doing what was necessary to secure the welfare of the city, and one’s commitment to the stability and ongoing life of the city. Moreover, participation was an important expression of gratitude toward those who were the city’s benefactors. The imperial cult in all parts of the empire focused on the emperor as the patron of the world…[It was believed that as] long as the emperor was strong and his clients faithful, peace and prosperity would remain and the horrors of civil war and foreign invasion would be prevented.”

also, i’m not convinced that jesus cares about the good of the majority (and i remain utterly unconvinced by them that capitalism helps the poor… harness your inner selfishness and then pour your money into the poor… or better yet, teach them to fish… um, deep thoughts)... instead, as i see it, jesus asks us to care for our neighbors (people with faces and not cogs in the system) and the poor and the widows

it seems that most remain ignorant of the various critiques of rational choice theory… and that capitalism isn’t simply what when two people get together and exchange things.

the purpose of the quote was to imply that christianity should question and critique ideologies that require blind allegiance…. and i know, i need to unpack that more… but i’ve got an article to continue writing.

I got what you meant about the quote. ;)

more later; bob dylan via marty scorcese now.

awww, man. i thought the dylan was a new episode. nope.

it’s still a pretty good thing… however, it doesn’t go beyond the motorcycle wreck.

i still think he was crazy for breaking joan baez’s heart.

and, i assumed you got it. (the quote, that is)

it’s really irritating that it never got beyond the wreck. everybody stops at the wreck. people might as well just say that dylan died then for all they ever care about him after. i guess it was bob dylan who recorded nashville skyline.

it certainly wasn’t dylan who sung lay lady lay

but someone else… maybe even a smokier leonard cohen

Personally, i would like it if you eschewed the benedictines for the trappists. And then invited the rest of us over for “free sample” night.

Where does K. fit into the Benedictine plan?

so what does chez chris think of les bleus in the copa?

not a bad game they played against the portuguese, though after that first goal they pulled up and didn’t play very exciting ball.

I think you can be both a Benedictine and a Trappist—or rather, Trappists under the rule of St. Benedict are Benedictines. So that I could do, although I can’t promise I’d make bier. I might make bread, like at the Genesee Abbey.

As yet, though, K doesn’t make it into that fantasy. Other fantasies, however, she certainly makes!

Speaking of free samples, we’ve a friend whose brother is a Maronite. They party a lot, apparently.

hey, for you amish/monk wannabes, i read a book recently by that guy who left grad school to go hang out for a year or so with some ultra-anabaptist-type group that was sort of interesting. the title and author escape me…all that to say, maybe i shouldn’t have mentioned a sort-of interesting book whose name i can’t recall?

as long as you post it, or have chris post it in the currently reading column… we can forgive a multitude of sins ;P

Well I’ve enjoyed reading the give and take on this thread. I guess I have to go with Greg somewhat on this one (I am weak on definitions too). I certainly agree that capitalISM is a system that is in league with the principalities and powers. But since I believe the entire world structure is as well, what could be the alternative?

Shalom,
Bobby Valentine

It’s a tossup, isn’t it? We either work in and for what we’ve got, or we work against and through it, or we try to absent ourselves entirely—which may be impossible, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.

How do you work against something that turns even your family against you because they’ve been sucked into arguing the health&wealth affirming powers of the system? i love the metaphors that the protesters of the 1960s used of which I was reminded watching that dylan documentary. modernity is a machinatation that need not exist as it is. mario savio, speaking of the university particularly, said it pretty powerfully:

There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

The owners often counter that the machine is freedom, and up is down, and left is right, and selfishness is selflessness, and individuality is community, and so forth and so on.

The alternative, I think, is discovering all the ways you have nothing to lose but your chains.

Back to the separatists: to me the communities they represent are older than modernity and capital. a wisdom is there that intrigues me.

I have taken to saying that I feel about capitalism much as Winston Churchill felt about democracy—that it’s the worst system out there, except for all the other ones that have been tried from time to time.

Of course, old pinko that I am, I’d still argue that socialism hasn’t really been tried, and that the socialist and communist experiements we’ve witnessed were really just state capitalism, blah blah blah. I’ve thought not infrequently of running off to join a commune, or monastic order.

I thought it was a pretty good game yesterday. I like Zidane and the French, and I am not a big Portugal fan (although I do like the actual country a lot).

Overall, I think most of the games have been entertaining—it seems like most of the teams have tried to score instead of just playing for 0-0 or penalties.

those with whom you are conversing seem, largely, to have an unquestioning faith in the morality of capitalism… almost as if it were the last revelation of God.

That’s just lazy and insulting, J. I’m not sure how all this translates here at kendall-ball north, but at the main site nobody has said anything close to what you claim, and the red flag is your use of “seem.”

what is more, as of when i stopped reading, they weren’t defining their terms very well.

Yes, our terminology is so loose and undefined that we simply can’t carry on a conversation. Nobody knows what anyone else is saying. Its like a dozen Gregorian monks chanting three different tunes into the howling wind.

i’ve peeked at the commentary going on over there and don’t have the intestinal fortitude to comment.

I wish you did have the intestinal fortitude. We clearly need another comrade to rush in and define the terms and dictate the terms of our surrender.

For the love of Pete.

dear mick, please reread the second paragraph of this comment

Capitalism just is sounds rather like God-breathed... or if not God-breathed, then Mother Nature breathed!

The first two comments aren’t even in the same thread, but anyway I don’t find any of the three saying anything near how you translate it. A system that works well, a system that has a tendency to occur, or a system being somewhat “moral” is nowhere near like a system being “God-breathed” or a “revelation from God,” as I’m sure you are aware.

Mick the threads are related. Greg links to both threads. And, I stopped reading soon after the Capitalism thread started…

Again… the statements capitalism just is… it’s what happens… it’s science… it’s inevitable in a free society, rhetorically place capitalism outside of discourse and argument. they place it outside of history, in the realm of natural processes and in a place akin to God, or at least as a principle God planted in the world. Am I overreading this rhetoric?

The wise management of wealth creates wealth… the foolish management of wealth screws self and others is a moral reading of capitalism; and you can’t say that it’s not. Wisdom and folly equal wealth or poverty is a moral reading of the market.

If a man believes that all which occurs is by the grace of God;

If a man likewise believes that God is the source of wealth and prosperity;

then if that same man argues capitalism is the best route for wealth and prosperity,

by substitution, that man believes capitalism is the work of God.

(And that is why J should’ve taken geometry.)

well, i may have to put down hobbes and pick up euclid as my fun summer read!

Well, I should probably drag this anecdote over there, but since I brought it up:

I was talking with a very good math teacher last week, in fact. She said, “Geometry’s not math, it’s a way of thinking.”

That said, I dunno that reading Euclid would suffice. You might have to rewrite Euclid instead.

The Internet Police are en route.

There is nothing to see here. Please maintain the anti argumentative BS splash-shield between this site and kendallball-non-north.

I blame G & J for this. You guys are supposed to hang up the phone when you exit the matrix.

I always forget how fast those spiders find the receiver. (You know what really surprised me about that KB-north jab? I am way better looking than GKB.)

First you respond to “Mick.” Now you’re picking fights with “GKB.”

I just had a magical thought. (I would have written epiphany if I could spell it.) I think I like websites where the main post/story is where the action is and the comments are like sitting around the table after dessert.

To that end, I say the three of you should fart/burp, stand up, and walk away from the table.

Like I said, offering a moral reading of a system is far different from claiming that system is “God-breathed” or is a “revelation from God.” And arguing that a system can be somewhat “moral” doesn’t mean placing that system “outside of history” or “outside of debate.”

Greg, I find your formula somewhat unstable, and in any case I don’t believe it exactly applies to anyone in the debate. I would venture a guess that someone such as GKB commenter “Richard” could agree with versions or variations on your three terms and still disagree with the conclusion of the postulate.

Wow, this thread exploded.

It seems to me that unrestrained CapitalISM is rooted in the fallen nature of the world. It is built upon the principality and power known as greed. And I believe Greed is anti-God. That does not mean that all capitalists are overtly evil but I do think the system has problems at the core. There are matters of biblical justice and mercy that (it seems to me) simply fly in the face of Capitalism.

David Lipscomb said “The poor of this world were the chosen vessels of mercy, the especially honored and blessed of God. They, as a class, constitute his elect.”

Though I do not believe God demands that we be poor, I do believe he calls us to have the heart of and for the poor. I do not see how capitalism fits into this.

Shalom,
Bobby Valentine
Stoned-Campbell Disciple

I don’t think any of us have studied Lipscomb at length or with any depth, BV, so I’m curious (since we’ve got you around): where would you say that line you quoted came from? By that question I mean, primarily, how class-oriented was L?

Incidentally, we’ve talked L pretty shallowly here before.

Dang. In a close one Joel Osteen edges out David Lipscomb. I guess old Dave was off his rocker when thinking so positively about the poor. Joel wins, therefore, the poor are dirty sinner and the rich are God’s chosen!

(Cough! Point taken, Dad!)

Fart/burp. Not “cough.”

Sincerely,
Dad

Curious: does fart/burp mean fart or burp, or does it mean fart and burp?

(To be quite frank, I’m really hoping it means the latter, because then we can call it an Ultrasatisfying Biexpulsive Gaseous Event, or UBGE for short.)

it does not mean. it only is.

I apologize that Comment #40 is such a non sequitur. It was intended for the Statue of Liberation post, but with so many windows open, each containing a different HR gem, I got confused.

Shoot, I just thought you were contributing to the general ad hoc chaos that is conversation around here. It made about as much sense as anything I ever say on any given day.

You know me: exporting KB.net chaos to KB.net-North as often as I can. Trucks running daily and all that non-sense.

I know you guys must feel like you’ve been raked through the mud by being associated with my little site, but I feel like I’ve been elevated a little. To have my name attached to such blogging greatness made my day!

Such flattery is unbecoming, GKB! We’re a hole in the wall. That someone of MW’s blogtastic stature would deign to visit here, even if only to berate us, surprises me. Surely people like that have bigger fish to catch and fry and then chew up in his maw.

(Of course, among bloggers, above any of us looms Apostropher, whose appearance the other day was a complete surprise.)

Ah, but you see, it’s the hole in the wall places that generally offer up the best fare. It’s true for Mexican restaurants, and for little back alley bookstores. You guys are like a high-class, tucked away boutique with excellent quality goods, and I am like Wal-Mart.

Maybe K-Mart.

A K-Mart in a really run down Southern town. Near Mobile, I think.

Again with the flattery! Stop it!

(which I say only for this: 50!)

Re: I’d really like to read Lipscomb’s “Civil Government.” There’s probably other stuff, too, to check out.

do you mean this book?

i should say i got the reference from this guy…who wants us to buy it

that’s the one. perhaps when we read instead of reading City of God... ;)

If GKB is Jerry Springer, and Mark Elrod is Maury Pauvich, Hermits Rock is NPR while enjoying a glass of red wine (but without the begging for money every 5 minutes).

GKB better watch what he says about Mobile, or he’ll see some real Jerry Springer action. Ooooooohhhh!!!!

David Lipscomb, by the time he passed, was a wealthy man. He was a successful farmer and was part of that agrarian culture. Jeffersonian in this respect.

DL however had experienced poverty to the extent of near starvation at times (especially after the CW). But by the 1870s DL had established his farm which was his basic source of income.

Interestingly, though, DL always identified with the poor and “labor.” There are numerous examples of this in his writings. He was a severe critic of the Robber Barons (Rockefeller and Vanderbilt come in for special criticism). In 1892 DL reported on Rockefeller’s wealth at 250 million (much more in todays dollars) he flatly believed that kind of concentration of wealth in a single person was a “sin.” He did not believe that one could amass that kind of wealth honestly.

During the Populist crusade of the 1890s, the Pullman strike (among other episodes) DL consistently takes the side of “labor” over against capital. He stated, almost like Karl Marx (but I have no evidence he ever read Marx) “one man profits by the labor of another, more than the laborer profits from it.” He believed the working classes had become “working slaves” in essence.

DL was not a “communist” in the sense of what many might think of today. But he was certainly mindful of what he calls the “comman man.”

A person has wealth to give wealth in his view. And this is exactly what DL did. He practically paid for the GA, he personally paid for the Fanning Orphan Home, he gave the land and later his entire small fortune for the Nashville Bible School. He shared sacrificially. I know both he and James Harding, by the time they died, were giving over 50% of their income to the poor. He lived a simple life. If a person ever encounterd Lipscomb he LOOKED poor.

The more I know about Lipscomb and Harding the more I like them. The were sinners with a capital “S” for sure. But they were “good” sinners.

Shalom,
Bobby Valentine

GKB the Lipscomb-Osteen is classic. I loved it.

But I didn’t get to vote!

Shalom,
Bobby Valentine
Stoned-Campbell Disciple

That’s really interesting, BV—and a perspective that unfortuantely gets underplayed among a lot of CoC historians (who don’t tend toward class-based historiography). While there’s value in seeing someone like DL as a “great man of faith,” I find it much more exciting that great men and women, even of faith, are of their times. Other 19th-century folk were pretty critical of working class conditions throughout the industrializing world—that Lipscomb shared in their concerns says a lot about his commitments.

Reading again what I too quickly typed, I should clarify that mine’s not a very studied critique of great lives histories—it’s more a preference for something else. Last night I was talking to a friend who’s been reading Moses Lard and pointed out that Lard was a mirror for his era: when Know Nothingism was popular, he knew nothing and railed against the Catholics, and so forth. There are ways to read without acknowledging your subject’s time, or by acknowledging it only superficially, but we are the world and the world is us, and we gain little by downplaying that fact. And social class is an important part of that worldliness.

Lipscomb’s criticism of Rockefeller, then, is really interesting. Had he read Ida Tarbell?

C.S. Lewis, in a wonderful essay called “On the Reading of Old Books,” has pointed out that it is sort of “rude” to enter another time period as critic simply because we will never hve the full picture of what was going on. I think that is good advice. I do think we can evaluate but we must always keep a person in her historical context.

With Lard it is important to recall his time. He, like all Protestants, railled against Roman Catholics. And that railing must be understood in the context of Catholicism of the time. Vatican II has profoundly altered the face of Catholicism and the 19th century was not quite the same.

Shalom,
Bobby Valentine