Archive for the 'Capitalism' Category

Das Kapital: Vol. 1 – Karl Marx

Upon waking up this morning I was struck with a though, “What this world needs, especially in our present moment of political excitement, is a healthy dose of Karl Marx! People should be reading Capital vol. 1.” And what do you know, upon my morning wanderings the blogosphere, I stumbled across a series of video lectures by David Harvey ( David Harvey is a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) and author of various books, articles, and lectures, which can be found linked on his site. He has been teaching Karl Marx’s Capital for nearly 40 years) exploring Vol. 1 of this very book. I know, I couldn’t believe it either! What a coincidence, or dare I say providential moment (actually I won’t dare, I’ll just stick with coincidence. There has been enough misguided melding of divine action and our daily events in the recent presidential campaigns to send half the country to hell in a hand-basket)?

In all honesty, I just happened to find this class through checking out blogs on people’s blogrolls. But regardless, taking up the challenge of reading vol. 1 should be good for everyone, and it can even be done at your own pace. I just got my copy today and am going to try and start lecture 1 tonight. I would encourage anyone else who might be interested to try and work their way through the class as well. While I can’t promise that it will be fun, it will certainly be informative and worth the time that it will require.

The lecture site is linked above, but it can also be found on my blog roll along with the blog of Laura Gonzalez, from whom I found out about the class.

John Caputo on the Religious Right

John D. Caputo, in his introduction to a newly published book on the intersection of religion and politics in America entitled The Sleeping Giant has Awoken: The New Politics of Religion in the United States, offers a perceptive observation on the contradictions of the political agenda of the religious right. I’ve chosen to include it here in its entirety, despite its length, because I believe its worth spending an extra min or so reading a couple of paragraphs to hear what he has to say.

“In his teaching, Jesus advised a life of uncompromising simplicity and nonacquisitiveness, like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, which is not bent on providing for oneself and building up a stock against the future, which trust God to provide. He said enough disturbing things about the coming of this kingdom, the rule of mercy, forgiveness, and nonviolence, to make the powers that be uneasy. Saying things like that in an occupied country brought him to an early grave and a cruel if not uncommon execution at the hands of an imperial power. But in death, he was no less forgiving and nonviolent. His earliest followers led lives of exemplary commonality, sharing all things in common, distributing to each what they needed. The first debate that broke out in what we today call Christianity was whether this complete commonality was being observed perfectly.

But the dominant form of American Christianity today, the Christian Right, has sat down at the table with virtually every power and domination that Jesus contested in his own lifetime, with the very powers of imperial rule, the rule of the world, which took his life. It stands for authoritarianism, nationalism, and militarism that contradict the letter and the spirit of Jesus’ words, who said to love one’s enemies, and if one is struck on the cheek, to turn the other cheek. It enthusiastically supports a war that cynically flaunts the classical conditions of just-war theory, “just war” itself being a strange turn of phrase to be found on the lips of a follower of the author of the Sermon on the Mount. It marches arm in arm with an unbridled capitalist greed that has recklessly permitted the rich to grow ever richer while grinding up the poor-flaunting the very ministry Jesus announced for himself. By lending its shoulder to laissez-faire capitalism, the Right undermines the everything it might have been believed to stand for. Unchecked capitalism wrecks family values by impoverishing families and leaving children homeless and parentless. As Lou Dobb-not exactly a member of the Left-has documented, the economics pursued by the Right constitutes an all-out attack upon the middle class, where family life is the mainstay. Unchecked capitalism turns sexuality into commodity; it seeds the fields of abortion, prostitution, drugs, and crime by holding its heel to the neck of the poorest and most defenseless people in society. Where Jesus found strength in the weakness of God, in forgiveness and nonviolence, the Christian Right openly lusts for a Christian Empire, even as it was an earlier Empire that took the life of Jesus.

The cruelest and most bitter irony is that the Christian Right does all this in the very name of Jesus, asking us, “What would Jesus do?”-as if Jesus were a capitalist out to make millions and a militarist with aspirations for imperial power, in search of a kingdom very decidedly of this world. What is this if not the will of humans in love with bare-knuckled power, with themselves and their own will, cloaking themselves in the name of the weakness of God and the nonviolence of Jesus?”

ed. Robbins, Jeffery W. and Neal Magee, The Sleeping Giant has Awoken: The New Politics of Religion in the United States, (New York: Continuum, 2008) pg. 4-5.

The Labor of Communion in a Capital Age

I recently read a great article by Daniel M. Bell in The Princeton Theological Review entitled “The Labor of Communion in a Capital Age.” In this article Bell takes issue with our Capitalist Age and its inherent tendencies to distort human relations with people, God, and the creation. In contrast to the subject of capitalism (homeo economicus), a subject characterized by “struggle, conflict, and competition,” Bell offers a Spirit-formed subject that is corporate and ecclesial in nature. “Unlike its capitalist counterpart this is a subject that is…neither self-interested nor relates to others as commodities in an endless (business) cycle of competition and conflict driven by scarcity but instead participates in the divine gift economy of abundance and ceaseless generosity.”

My friend (and roommate) Adam informed me that The Princeton Theological Review can be found online so I have linked the article and would definitely encourage all to read it. It is fairly short, focused in its concerns (comparing the autonomous subject of capitalism with the Spirit-formed, ecclesial subject), hard hitting in its critiques, and encouraging and hopeful in its proposals. I highly recommend it! Below is a summary quote from the article.

“In sum, the problem with capitalism is that it construes our relations with one another and God in a manner that precludes genuine friendship and communion. Under capital, we relate to one another competitively, agonistically, and God, far from befriending us, far from seeking to deliver us from the sin-induced agony that is this struggle, instead presides over it like a prison guard staging a gang fight. Thus, even if capitalism works, it is still wrong because the agony it fosters and perpetuates among people and with God is antithetical to the true communion for which we were created, to which we were called, and which Christians are empowered to proclaim and embody.”
(Daniel M. Bell, “The Labor of Communion in a Capital Age,” The Princeton Theological Review 35 (Fall 2006), 8.)

O’ the Compassions of Capitalism

The time has come, and I can no longer resist commenting on the utter irony of the compassions of the corporate world in our capitalist system. In the evenings during the week I work for Banana Republic – an overpriced clothing company owned by Gap inc. (who also own Gap, Old Navy , and Piperlime). While at work yesterday, I noticed a new line of products that BR is releasing referred to as their Green line. This line of products is currently being sent out to various stores in a trial run to see how it sells in different areas, ultimately to find the most successful (success defined in terms of profit) locations and strategically place them there. Now, the characteristics that distinguish this line is that they, both the item and price tag, are made with “sustainable fibers” (usually organic cotton along with silk, soy, bamboo, and linen) that are “eco-friendly.” To be honest, I wasn’t that surprised when I first saw this in our store given the growing national concern for issues of social injustice that is increasingly being worked into the marketing world.Take for example the (Product)Red line. This is a product line that was created by Bono and Bobby Schriver, chairman of DATA, that contributes a certain percentage of the revenue to help eliminate AIDS in Africa. Various companies can sign on and distribute their own Red Products. Below is how this nifty little program works for you as a consumer:

As you can see, everybody wins! People are still able to continue in unrestrained consumption (because this, and the structural forces behind it, obviously has nothing to do with problems of social injustice) while women and children in Africa are helped by receiving (RED) money (I can’t help but smile at the further irony of the fact that the only red money I’ve ever seen came with my Monopoly game set, a game in which the whole purpose is to monopolize the geographical space of the board, and therefore the market, so as to exploit all other competitors…hmm) . You see, win, win, win!

But back to the previous discussion of the BR “Green” line. The thing that really struck me, and thus prompted this post, is that according to the BR website, what prompted this action wasn’t so much that being “eco-friendly” was good for the environment, humanity, etc., but that it was good for business. Consider the quote below, taken from the BR website under “Environmental Efforts”:

Organic and Sustainable New Products:
Banana Republic values the opinions and ideals of our customers. That’s why we responded when we learned customers wanted eco-friendlier products. We’re proud and excited to introduce a selection of products featuring organic cotton and other sustainable fibers in Summer 2008. This collection features both basic essentials as well as iconic pieces that represent the best of Banana Republic design. (emphasis added)

Notice the reasoning – Because BR values the “opinions” and “ideals” of their customers (not necessarily their own), they, therefore, responded by giving them what they wanted (and would buy) in the creation of “eco-friendlier products.” I find it incredibly ironic that commodities such as this “Green” line are able to be promoted and praised for their compassionate concern when in reality these “concerns” are set in terms of an inherently dehumanizing, capitalist system that can only function “successfully” (again, success defined in terms of gained capital) if commodities are peddled to consumers, and all others in the market are reduced to competitors.

Now, I am sure that many of the people involved in this “Green” line, and many other product lines like it, are very well intentioned. Therefore, this is not a personal attack. I simply find the utter irony of the whole situation to be rather amusing, and offer it as something worth thinking about. In addition, I am also aware of the irony of I, as an employee of BR, am writing this post and saying the things I am. I know that I am part of the system, though not comfortable in that, and therefore part of the problem, directly and indirectly. However, given the all-pervasive presence and power of Capitalism, there is nowhere to which one can flee to escape contact. However, what we can do is live out our life as a community in Christ, guided and formed by the Spirit, embodying an alternative economic order, to the glory and praise of the Father.