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Posts from the ‘Intercultural’ Category

A Word for God

[A paper for my Intercultural Ministry class at Trinity, responding to this case study from Paul Hiebert.]

Ivan threw up his hands. “What is more important-” he asked his colleague, “that people think of God as ‘ultimate reality.’ or that they think of him as a’ person’ with whom they can communicate? Each of these, by itself, is a half-truth. Yet somehow it seems to me that we must choose between two words that carry these two meanings when we translate the word God into Telugu. What shall we do?”

After joining the Union Bible Society, Ivan had been asked to assist in a new translation of the Bible into Telugu. After settling down in the city of Hyderabad, he began to work with Yesudas, a high-caste convert who was also assigned to the project. Together the two had worked out many of the difficult problems they faced in translating the Bible into this South Indian language. But the most stubborn one remained unsolved. What word would they use for” God”? The choice they made was critical, for the nature of God lies at the very heart of the biblical message. To use the wrong term for “God” would seriously distort the Christian message. But although there are many Telugu terms for “god,” none conveyed the biblical meaning.

At first Ivan suggested,” Let’s use the term deva. That is the word the people use when they speak of ‘god’ in general terms.”

But Yesudas pointed out, “The devas are the highest form of personal beings, but they are not the ultimate reality. Like all things in the universe, they are maya, or passing phenomena. In the end, they, too, will be absorbed into the ultimate reality or Brahman. Moreover, they do both good and evil. They fight wars with each other and with the demons, commit adultery, and tell lies. Finally, in Hinduism ‘all life is one.’ In other words, gods, humans, animals, and plants all have the same kind of life. Consequently, devas are not fundamentally different from humans. They are more powerful and live in the heavens. But they sin, and when they do, they are reborn as humans, or animals, or even ants.” Yesudas added. “Hindus claim that devas often come to earth as avatars to help humans in need, but because there is no difference between them it is like kings helping their commoners or saints helping their disciples. We, therefore, can use neither deva or avatar, for both destroy the biblical meaning of the ‘incarnation.'”

“If that is the case, why not use the term parameshwara?” Ivan suggested. “That means ‘highest of the deities.'”

Yesudas replied, “Yes, but this carries the same connotations as deva. In fact. all Telugu words for ‘god’ implicitly carry these Hindu beliefs! We have no word that means a supreme being who is the ultimate reality and the creator of the universe. Moreover, there is no concept of ‘creation ‘ as found in the Bible. The world itself is an illusion that does not really exist. ”

Ivan took another approach to the problem. “Why not use the concept of brahman itself? After all, brahman is ultimate reality-that which existed before all else and will exist when all else has ceased to be.”

Yesudas objected. “Brahman,” he said, “may be ultimate reality, but it is a force, not a person. True, some philosophers speak of sarguna brahman, of brahman in a personal form. But even he is only a manifestation of nirguna brahman, which is an insular, impersonal force. It makes no sense to say that nirguna brahman reveals itself to gods and humans, just as it makes no sense to say that a dreamer speaks as a real person in his dream. Similarly, humans have no way of knowing about or communicating with nirguna brahman. Moreover, nothing really exists outside of brahman. The heavens and earth are not creations that exist apart from it. They are projections of brahman in much the same way that a dream is a projection of the dreamer. So, in fact, we are all simply manifestations of the same ultimate reality. This destroys the biblical idea of a creator and a real but contingent creation.”

“What shall we do then?” asked Ivan. “Perhaps we could use the English word God or the Greek word Theos and introduce it into the translation. In time the word would become familiar, and it would not carry within it the implicit Hindu theology found in Telugu words.”

“How can we do that?” asked Yesudas. “When we preach in the villages, no one will understand those foreign words. We must use words the people understand . Isn’t that what the early church did when it took the Greek words for ‘god’ and gave them new Christian meanings?”

Ivan counterd, “Even if we do use deva or brahman and try to give them a Christian meaning, they will still be given Hindu meanings by the Hindus. And since the Hindus make up ninety percent of the population, how can a small Christian community maintain its own definitions of these words when the linguistic pressures for accepting the Hindu connotations are so great?”

“Well,” said Yesudas, “we’re back to square one. Should we use deva, or brahman, or ‘God’? We have to use one of these.”

The two discussed the matter for a long time, for they knew that their choice would influence both the evangelistic outreach of the church and also the extent to which the church would understand and be faithful to the biblical concept of God in the next fifty or hundred years. Finally they decided to . . .

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How can we translate words from one culture and language to another? The answer is less straightforward than it may seem. There is a word in English for “hand,” so there must be a word in our destination language that means the same thing; just find that word, substitute it in, and repeat for each word in the sentence. But languages do not work this way, and words do not work this way. This is the problem faced by Ivan and Yesudas, translators working with Union Bible Society to produce a New Testament translation in Tegulu, a south Indian native language.

This “most stubborn problem” must be solved in some way, because “the nature of God lies at the very heart of the biblical message. To use the wrong term for “God” would seriously distort the Christian message.” But the problem is not solved easily. Ivan “threw up his hands… what shall we do?” he asks, exasperated, leading them to “discuss the matter for a long time.” In the Tegulu language, they have two words that come close to the English word God. Those words are Brahman and deva. The word Brahman communicates “ultimate reality — that which existed before all else and will exist when all else has ceased to be.” This sounds like the Christian concept of God. But, critically, it leaves out the personal aspect of God. Christians believe in a God who answers prayers, who has thoughts, who has a discrete will, who even experiences something analogous to emotions. The word deva communicates these aspects of “God” that Brahman does not. However, devas are “not ultimate reality, but passing phenomena… they “do both good and evil. They fight wars with each other and with the demons, commit adultery, and tell lies.” They also “are not fundamentally different from humans” because “all life is one” in Hinduism, so they can be demoted to humans in reincarnation just as humans can be promoted to devas. Yesudas notes that this relationship “destroys the biblical meaning of the ‘incarnation.’” The words Brahman and Devas are reciprocal failures to convey the English word “God.”

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Photo by Varun Tandon on Unsplash

What deeper issue is at stake in this dilemma? The first is the location of meaning in a word. Do words have intrinsic meaning? Or do words take meaning only in their use in a sentence? If words have meaning in themselves, then our language has a sustained set of meanings that are combined according to these meanings. But if words do not have meaning in themselves, then any word can be anything. At this point, many are prone to employ a colorful argument: if words don’t mean “what they mean,” then all language is impossible and nothing means anything! But this slippery slope ignores that people employ words in consistent usages. Even if the meaning of a word is located outside the word, in its use in a clause, it does not for that reason become wholly meaningless and its communicative function wholly arbitrary.

For example, the word “bump” has changed because it has taken a metaphorical usage among social media users. Before, it meant something like “to knock something or someone aside by physical contact.” But now, it has gained an additional meaning that goes like, “to highlight something from the past that had faded from memory.” If meaning is located inside the word — whether the theory is (1) Platonism, where the word’s meaning exists as a universal highest form, or (2) theological neo-Platonism, where the word’s meaning exists as an unchanging concept in the mind of an unchanging God, or (3) Kantian linguistics, where we deduce that the word’s meaning exists as the result of transcending the noumenal realm through universally-accessible reason — whatever school of thought is taken, they cannot explain that words meanings change in time. Instead, they generate an ethical imperative: you must not change the meaning of words.

In contrast to these essentialist linguistic schemes, a nominalist scheme denies that words have meaning because this meaning cannot be justified ontologically. (In the Medieval period, this had more startling metaphysical implications than just linguistic implications). But I think that these nominalist understandings are also reducing the problem of language. By denying that language has any foundation at all, it escapes the trappings of the other responses, but it fails to provide any constructive answer of its own. Language doesn’t have meaning… so… what? What then? Rather than answer the problem incorrectly, it withholds an answer at all.

My (and my numerous Greek and Hebrew professors’) way of navigating through these extremes is to claim that lexical use is real, observable, and enduring within a cultural context. A good lexicographer will try to catalogue all of these uses, and that’s… that. Their work is done. There is no hunt for an objective meaning to the word, as that is unnecessary, and there is flexibility allowed for change in meaning of a word over time, as that is necessary. (It does take much more work than offering a single definition).

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Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

How does this perspective bear fruit in the dilemma that Ivan and Yesudas face? They do not need to concern themselves with finding the correct translation because the proper focus is to find the correct lexical use. Thankfully, the Bible contains many sentences in which the lexical use of “God” implies an attribute of God in context. Consider God’s appearance to Moses:

Exodus 3:13 Moses said to ____, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The ____ of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 ____ said to him, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

In this example, the reader receives new contextual information about God: the passage can imply many of the same things that the Tegulu term Brahman implies. And yet, because God is speaking, it implies some of the characteristics of deva. Consider another example, from James:

James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the ______ of the Heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Here the translators must render a Tegulu word for the English word “Father,” which faces the same complications as God because the target culture may interpret “Father” as a biological and material figure. However, when reading this word according to its use in the sentence, the reader gathers that the “Father” does not change (the Brahman tendency) and yet shows his personal agency by giving gifts and by “choosing to give us birth” (the Deva tendency). These examples demonstrate that the lexical use of a word defines its meaning for the reader, even if the word itself does not communicate anything (and even is replaced with a blank).

This works for the simple reason that “God” is always used in some lexical way. There is no sentence with the word “God” and no other words around it. Sentences require an actor and action, and from these we can always learn something about God. What do the Biblical writers predicate of God? We can learn much from this. Similarly, no preacher to the Tegulu speaking population will ever use the word “God” devoid of some context in their preaching. If the Jewish concept of God is basically opposed to the Hindu conception of God, then we should not expect any word to correctly translate the English “God” into Tegulu. In fact, the Jewish concept of God functions as a polemic against exactly the type of conception of God that the Tegulu speakers believe in, such that without the preacher also polemicizing against that conception of God, the audience will not understand the Jewish idea. Rather than fixing our attention on translating the English word God into a Tegulu equivalent that accurately codes our beliefs about God, the translators must popularize verses like Exodus 3:14 and James 1:17, to mention only two. By popularizing these sentences, the lexical use of God as both personal and transcendent will begin to take hold in the minds of the Tegulu speaking people.

There are additional ways to popularize this lexical use. I suggested an example in my discussion board post where we learn the poetic or literary forms that the Tegulu use (they may use in-rhyme more than end-rhyme, or find alliteration more exciting than meter, or something) and popularize the preferred lexical use in that literary form. My favorite example does this into rap from the Twitter account “Augustine of Hiphop.” He raps,

It follows from the faith,
Na it ain’t no eccentricity,
His whatness and his thatness,
they the same: sweet simplicity.

In addition to using the Biblical text to popularize the correct understanding of the meaning of “God,” missionaries like Ivan and Yesudas should consider these additional phrases.

All things considered, how should they translate the word “God”? Brahman and deva would take the same amount of corrective preaching to reach the lexical use of the English word “God.” But instead of trying to shift the lexical categories for these words, a better approach would use “God” as a calque – or better, use Adonai or Jehovah as loanword proper noun names for God, and the Tegulu speaking people will start fresh in understanding the transcendent, unchanging, personal, responsive God who we represent with this silly little English word “God.”

Converted Together?

A fascinating scenario from Paul G. Hiebert, not sure what publication, for my intercultural ministry class. Here, you can read the scenario and my response essay. Also enjoy this photo I found of the forest in Borneo.

borneo forest

Mark looked at the chief and elders before him and at the more than two hundred men, women, and children crowding behind them. “Have they all really become Christians? I can’t baptize them if they don’t each decide for themselves!” he said to Judy, his wife.

Mark and Judy Zabel had come to Borneo under the Malay Baptist Mission to start a new work in the highlands. They spent the first year building a thatched house, learning the language, and making friends with the people. The second year they began to make short treks into the interior to villages that had never heard the gospel. The people were respectful, but with a few exceptions none had shown any real interest in the gospel. Woofak was always around and had been from the beginning. In time he had become a believer, but few of the others took him seriously. He was something of a village maverick. And there had been Tarobo and his wife and four others. By the end of the third year, the worship services were made up of these seven baptized believers, Mark and Judy, a few passersby, and a dozen children.

That year an epidemic had spread through the highlands. For weeks Judy and Mark went through the villages, praying with the sick and dispensing medicines, until they thought they could go on no more. They wept with families faced with death and told them of the God who loved them and had conquered death itself. One village in particular had suffered greatly from the disease. Though the people seemed to appreciate the love shown by the two missionaries, they had shown no particular interest in the gospel.

Three months later, two elders from this village had come to the mission home, wanting to see the missionaries. “Can you come to our village and tell us more about your God?” they asked. “We want to know more about him.”

Mark and Judy were excited. Their many hours on the trail in the rain and the weary days of ministering to the people were bearing fruit. Taking some food, water, changes of clothes, cots and nets, they set out for the distant village.

It was almost dark when they arrived. The village chief invited Mark into the men ‘s long house where all the adult males of the village were gathered. Judy joined the women, who sat in front of their huts discussing the decision the village elders were about to make. She sensed that there had been much discussion in the village before she and Mark had been invited to come. Now there was a feeling of excitement and uncertainty in the air. Some of the women wanted to know more about this new God. Others said that it was best to stay with their ancestors who cared for them in the spirit world, and with the tribal gods who had helped them to be victorious over their enemies in the past. In the long house the chief asked Mark to tell them more about his God. For three hours Mark told the men about the Jesus Way and answered their questions. Then the chief asked Mark to sit down on a log. Mark noticed that the men broke up into smaller groups, each made up of men from the same lineage. For half an hour there was a loud debate as men argued for and against following the new God. The arguments died down, and then the leaders from the various lineages gathered with the chief. Again there was a heated discussion. Finally the chief came to Mark and said, “We have all decided to follow the Jesus Way. We want to be baptized like Woofak and Tarobo.”

Although it was late, neither Mark nor Judy could sleep after the meeting. The decision of the village, especially the way it was made, had caught them totally by surprise. They knew that tribal people often made important decisions, such as moving their villages or raiding neighboring tribes, by discussion and group consensus. But they never dreamed that people might use this method to choose a new god. All their theological training in their church and Bible College had taught the young missionaries that people had to make personal decisions to become followers of Christ. Here the group leaders had decided for all. What did that mean? Was it a valid decision, especially when it was clear from the debates that some had opposed the choice? How could they baptize the whole village when not all were agreed? Then again, what did it mean in Acts when the jailer believed and Paul immediately baptized him and his whole household? Moreover, if they did not accept the villagers as Christians, the Villagers might return to their old gods. Judy and Mark knew that they had to do something before they left the next day. . .

As Mark and Judy searched for an answer, suddenly the great spirit gong in the men’s long house rang out. Hurrying over to find out what was going on, Mark found the chief and asked him why they were summoning the tribal spirits, now that they had become Christians. “Don’t worry,” the chief said. “We are calling them to tell them to go away because now we have a new God.

Judy and Mark were still uncertain as they finally fell asleep, bone-tired and knowing that they would have to give the chief and the village an answer in the morning.

Hiebert’s scenario involved a missionary couple converting a tribe. The tribal council elders, through much debate, decided to follow the missionary’s (Christian) god rather than the ancestral spirits. Conflicted with the implications of “group conversion,” the missionaries face a dilemma: do they baptize the village, and so assume that each tribe member has been saved? Or, do they wait until each person professes faith in Jesus, and then baptize each person individually?

The dilemma facing this missionary couple depends on two factors, one anthropological, the other theological. First, why do the tribal people not understand that salvation is a personal calling? Second, what is the purpose of the baptism the missionaries have offered? Quickly it becomes apparent that the first question raises meaningful theological questions, and the second meaningful anthropological questions, thus betraying the distinction between these categories in the first place.

Why do the tribal people not understand that salvation is a personal calling? The Hiebert case study characterizes the decision process of the tribe as “a loud debate as men [not women] argued for and against following the new God,” followed by “a heated discussion.” This model of “group consensus” seemed alien to the missionary couple, who “never dreamed that people might use this method to choose a new god.” The missionary couple resists contextualizing the gospel to the tribe’s collectivism. If salvation is primarily a born-again experience in which a single person makes an individual decision to make Christ their personal lord and savior – notice, “a single person,” “an individual decision,” “personal lord and savior,” clauses littered with adjectives stressing the solitary nature of salvation – how can the tribe choose together? Notably, the tribe did not even begin to consider conversion under these terms. It did not occur to them that each and every tribe member could convert, but not all at once. This means that the difference is one rooted anthropologically in the way the tribe is culturally structured.

The missionary couple brings a gospel steeped in individual language not because such framing is necessary to the gospel message, but because their own context has so mediated it to them. Why is salvation a “personal” “choice” to “accept” Christ “into your heart”? Where is that language found in the New Testament? Of course, it is well known that the Sinner’s Prayer is a modern invention, but does the individual salvation upon which it rests also come from modern times? It does. The New Perspectives on Paul movement has gone to great pains to show several closely related ideas about Second Temple Judaism and its social context, relevant here. First, in Second Temple Judaism, Jews did not have “works righteousness” as Protestants are common to claim, in which a person’s good deeds or bad deeds earn their standing before God. Rather, the temple was the locus of God’s presence, and sin rendered one ceremonially unclean so that they could not enter the Temple, and so they were considered “out” of society. This is why the Levitical code contains not only moral injunctions but also chapters upon chapters of instructions on ceremonial cleansing and ritual impurity. Second, from this, it becomes clear that Paul’s understanding of salvation was not “non-works righteousness” in the sense that God has nullified the old system and so now we ourselves individually do not have to work to earn God’s favor. That would nullify a system that never existed. Rather, the nullification is of the legal system itself, so enabling Jews who had the Law and Gentiles who did not to both share in the people of God, the Kingdom of God. This community is a body mediated through the bodies of its members (a concept later stolen and secularized by Hobbes) rising together into one reified being, for which Christ will return.

As a result of this communal understanding of salvation – we enter into a community, which is saved, rather than each person being saved, and then forming a community of the saved – the language of accepting Jesus as “personal lord and savior” or “individual” decision does not make sense. This has not addressed the other outstanding theological problem: that an individual “decision” has been made by “accepting Jesus” as personal lord and savior. (The quotes have been switched from the previous sentence). The simple answer to this is that people do not decide their salvation though it manifestly appears that they do this on the surface. Ephesians 1:11-14 (a passage well understood as collective salvation in the above sense) speaks to God’s choosing, predestining plan to redeem the elect, which manifests itself in our believing upon hearing the gospel and so being marked by the Holy Spirit as a seal. The reason that the New Testament does not use “accept Jesus into your heart” language is because by the time a person does so, Jesus is already in their heart, having orchestrated their accepting him in the first place. The combination of these two perspectives – that salvation is not individual, and salvation is not a decision – should, if thoughtfully considered by the missionary couple, shift their categories in way that reduces their hesitation to baptize the tribal people.

Baptism remains. Could the missionary couple’s understanding of baptism be what holds them back? What other perspective on baptism would rectify the problem? There an irony in the debate between paedobaptists and credobaptists. The former baptizes as an infant, and then does confirmation to be included in the life of the local church; the latter does parent dedication, and then does baptism to be included in the life of the local church. However, baptism in paedobaptist churches and parent dedication in credobaptist churches have similar functions: infant baptism signals God’s promise of election upon that child, into which they will grow as they are raised to be a Christian; parent dedication signals the parents’ promise to raise the child as a Christian along with the congregation’s help. In both cases, the event that takes place at about 1 year old signals that the child will live under the authority of a Christian household and be raised in the local church; the even that takes places around 15 or 16 or so years signals that him himself or she herself will be a participant in that local church on the basis of their profession of faith. The similarity is striking, really, and is the reason why paedobaptist and credobaptist churches do not differ in practical ways as a result of their position on baptism.

My suggestion to the missionaries is that the tribe is not being credobaptized, but paedobaptized, despite being adults. This seemingly askew category choice is appropriate because the only claim that can be made about them is that they are about to be subject to the authority of the local church (presumably run out of the Chief’s office). The promise of God’s election is being declared over them, into which they will grow as they are raised to live to follow Jesus. Since the tribal council decision was not about personal faith, but about whether to continue using the village spirits or the new God, it only makes sense to understand the council’s decision as one of official structure and committed religion.

In this response, I have shown that three aspects of evangelical Revivalist theology fail to meet the needs of the tribal people in Borneo to whom the missionaries were sent. Rather, by adopting a confessional, paedobaptist, Reformed theology, the missionaries could articulate the gospel clearly to the tribal people, without hesitation as the legitimacy of baptizing them together. We have seen that the anthropological question of individual vs. collective cultures is solved by a theological route (understanding Pauline justification and election), and the theological question of paedobaptism vs. credobaptism is solved by an anthropological route (understanding how church ceremonies actually function), betraying the assumed distinctions between the fields.

 

Biopolitics and Race

The difference between European countries and the US on race is that the former do not have it.

racism shades

At least, not in the same way that we do. Where European countries — say, Romania, as was the case in a conversation I had today over the book scanner at the library with a Romanian — have nationality, this does not mean the same thing as nationalism in the US. What we call Nationalism in the US is not really nationalism.

In Romania there is a strong identity, (“being Romanian”), that is understood biologically. My friend Jon. He has a Romanian face. Romanian blood. Romanian DNA. In this way, his very nature, his biological life itself, is bound up with a group of other people into the nation of Romania.

Importantly, the nation of Romania and the State of Romania are not the same thing. Within the boundaries of Romania there is another group of people called the Roma — he used the term Gypsy, although someone told me once that that is a really loaded word. The Roma are another group. A person in that group could be said to have a Roma face, Roma blood, Roma DNA. Yet they live within the State of Romania, not the State of Roma, which does not exist.

These two separate concepts — (1) the nation and (2) the state — refer to (1) a group of people who are associated together by common biology, and (2) the governing structure that occupies a certain territory within really, really specific boundaries. Like, wars happen if those boundaries get crossed. The boundaries are really important. The land too.

But something strange has happened in the course of history. I’m not sure when it happened, or if it was destined to happen. But at some point these two separate concepts blended together and became the same thing. This is called the nation-state. Clever name. The nation-state is when a state gives up the territorial definition and instead tries to define itself by the biological life of its people. Instead of saying, “Romania is this land mass,” the governing authorities began to say, “We, the ethnic Romanians, are Romania.”

The connections to Thor: Ragnarok are too obvious to pass up. Loki takes the set of antlers from the death god (whatever his name was) and resurrects him. Death-god comes back to life, fights a massive 1v1 against Hela, destroying the entire city of Asgard. Then, repeatedly, at least five times — a truly nauseating number of times to hear the same sentence in a film — the lead protagonists all declare that “Asgard is not a place; it’s a people.” Of course, they have to say that, because the place has been destroyed. But in their minds, if all the citizens of Asgard got onto a ship and landed somewhere else to plant a new city, that would be Asgard. The nation-state defines itself not in terms of its territory, but its people.

The same is true of all the European countries. The bloodiest century in recorded history was the 20th century for exactly this reason. States were able to mobilize their young men to war because those young men believed that they are their State, biologically.

volk recruitment poster

What is the problem with all this? Why is this not the best system? Better put, why does this always spiral out of control into a ghastly, totalitarian death-machine? Because biological identity is not flexible, but who lives under the jurisdiction of a government is very flexible. A Roma person cannot change their face, their blood, their DNA. But their location can change. And they are the minority in the place they live now.

Key today is immigration and refugees. Refugees cannot decide their biology. That isn’t flexible. But the place where they live is, clearly, something that can change. Especially when their country descends into war-torn Failed State chaos. They can run away. But the problem with running away is that the State in whose jurisdiction they will later arrive has defined itself in terms of the nation, the biological life of its people. And so the refugee cannot truly assimilate. They cannot actually “become” a part of that new State, because they cannot possibly become a part of the Nation that resides there.

You can change states. But you can’t change nations. Sounds pretty 50-50. Except that there are no states anymore. Only nation-states. So, it’s really 0-100, and everyone living outside their home nation-state loses.

Enter the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave. A nation of immigrants. While European states can define themselves in terms of the nation, and so can group themselves by face, blood, and DNA collectives… The US doesn’t seem to have much going for itself in terms of nationhood. Is there a “nation” to the US? Is there anything physiologically or biologically that can be called “American?” What would that look like? I can sort of tell you if someone is German, but can a German tell if someone is an American?

This is because, again, the US is a nation of immigrants. The British came over, also the French, also the Dutch, latter Germans and Italians, and even later Polish, Ashkenazi Jewish, Russian, Slavic, and so on. And over time everyone mostly integrated with each other and now I have no idea what my ethnic heritage is. I’m probably German, maybe some Irish? Am I British? I usually tell people that I am Swiss, but I made that up. Who knows? 23andMe has probably already collected data from some relative of mine and is now creating a probabilistic map of my entire Genome. Wonder if they could just tell me without my paying the $129 fee…

And yet, this has not really forged much of a common American identity. It has almost totally excluded the African-American population from the integration process. Plus all Native Americans. And it has led to us using terms like “White” and “Black” instead of “British,” “German,” or “Italian,” “Gambian,” “Ghanan,” or “Cameroonian.” We have a general sensation that the US is “mostly white,” but what is whiteness? Is it just having light skin? Because many, many people in Europe have light skin but would recoil at being tagged together with similarly-skin-colored Europeans of other national backgrounds. Meanwhile, white Americans are the descendants of those same groups, and have no issue with it.

To put the problem shortly. There is a deep contradiction in the way that the American State defines itself. It has abandoned the land-based understanding of statehood. So, you would think that the other option is to have the understanding of statehood be some biological national identity. But, alas, there really is no way to understand American identity biologically.

Not that our country hasn’t tried!

eugenics photo burden

This is the same problem facing all Nation-States. The US just tries really, really hard not to resolve the tension. Want an example of a country that has tried to resolve the tension? Let’s go with the most obvious one. Germany in WWII. Definitely a nation-state. Defined itself explicitly in terms of the nation, the biological life of its people. The term they used for this was Volk, which just translates to “People.” But it could not be avoided that Volk cannot be everyone, or it would be a meaningless term. To define who is the nation is also to define who is not the nation.

So, they had to define Volk, and this definition did not include the Jews. They did not share in the same face, blood, and DNA as the Germans. So, they were not included in the Nation-State. Which is really, really bad if the German government has labeled you The Problem. As someone who is not a member of the nation-state, you have no citizenship within its jurisdiction. And since you have no citizenship, i.e. you have no part to play in the national scene, you do not “exist” in the same way that a German does. You are not “alive” in the same way that a German is. In the eyes of the Nation-State.

(All of this comes from Agamben, by the way, not me. Here is a primer video).

So, the United States is not returning to the land definition of the State. But it also doesn’t have much of anything to go on as far as defining who, biologically, is in the nation. So that decision remains capricious and arbitrary. Don’t get me wrong — that decision is made every day when the Black body is deemed outside the nation, and thus expendable. This racism is palpable. There is an Us-vs-Them mentality in the minds of many of my also-white friends. While my friends would never say something as forward as “Black people do not deserve life,” there is certainly an underlying mentality that sees the Black body as different and therefore incompatible with (white) American life. That same mentality, transposed from my normie friends to a police officer with a gun and 0.4 seconds to respond, leads to death.

why is color separating us

The United States absolutely has the power to make arbitrary and capricious decisions about whose life is on the inside and whose life is on the outside of the American body. And while European governments may have the semblance of national-biological identity to them, they are just as arbitrary and capricious. Every country in Europe besides Portugal has a separate national identity somewhere within its jurisdiction. Should the gun be drawn and Camps be built again, these national-others would be the first to experience the destructive force of the now-militarized police. Nobody really has any basis to decide who, biologically, is “in” and who is “out.” That is legal fiction used by atrocious rulers to keep their power. And anyways, when one of these countries invades another country and sets up shop, everyone in the occupied country faces this fate.

Something like “race” was necessary to develop because it mirrors the European concept of “nation.” In the biopolitical nation-state, whoever holds power must decide who is in the nation. Without some construct like a common identity based on the people who had always lived on that land (Hence Nazi “blood and soil“), a new identity had to be formed, somehow. For most Americans this is probably as simple as “my ancestors have always lived here.” But African Americans, and certainly Native Americans, have been here just as long if not longer than your white ancestors. Than my white ancestors. Yet, they are excluded from being considered part of the nation-state. They are seen as a thorn in the nation’s side. And so the biopolitical machine will seek to remove them.

Four Reflections from the MLKJ Day event at Trinity

king slide

Today my university’s Intercultural Development Office hosted a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day program over lunch and into the afternoon. I just got back from it, and wanted to write out a few reflections before I get busy again or forget. None of these are very insightful, but even regular truths can be important to remember. Here are four.

Giving a platform to black people does not require us to stoop low. Sometimes it is thought that picking speakers “because diversity” means that more qualified white people are left out. I sometimes think this. But today reminds me that there are equally-qualified black people who can speak and lead. I was thinking about this throughout the program, which intentionally had a diverse speaking lineup. I also thought about this earlier in the morning as I read an article from Thabiti Anyabwile on the TGC website. He is such a qualified speaker and writer. I ask myself, “why aren’t there any theologically conservative black pastors?” but the answer is clearly “they are out there, but we don’t usually listen to them.” Maybe another Kevin DeYoung or Matt Chandler lies in the wings, but if they are, they will rise up anyways. So, give black people the platform every once in a while. Even if it hurts our pride and feelings of supremacy, it won’t hurt the message preached.

Justice can require personal sacrifice. Today I sacrificed four and half hours of my time, and the opportunity to finish an essay that could have won me $250 in a paper competition on campus. Those sting. But getting to hear the perspective of my black peers outweighs the loss. Being there, as a white student, means something — that their voices aren’t just bouncing around an echo chamber. But man I wanted to submit that paper. I spent the past week on it, and 10:00-1:30 this morning at O’Hare while I waited for my ride, writing the paper. The clear parable, obviously, is that you should do what you can for racial justice even if it stings. Also I’d add that justice can require getting uncomfortable, like talking to people you don’t really know (e.g., every black student and every white student on campus to each other). Or it could mean not speaking up to share my opinion, when I’m the boisterous, extroverted, verbal-processing guy who always speaks up.

Love remains the motivation. The middle of the program was a reading of King’s “Paul’s Letter to the American Church.” Here is the text, it is worth reading. He mimics Paul’s tone and style but addresses the American Church in the 1950’s, not Rome in the 0050’s. Near the end he gets around to reframing the Love passage from 1 Corinthians 13 into his day. Here’s the relevant bit:

I must bring my writing to a close now. Timothy is waiting to deliver this letter, and I must take leave for another church. But just before leaving, I must say to you, as I said to the church at Corinth, that I still believe that love is the most durable power in the world. Over the centuries men have sought to discover the highest good. This has been the chief quest of ethical philosophy. This was one of the big questions of Greek philosophy. The Epicurean and the Stoics sought to answer it; Plato and Aristotle sought to answer it. What is the summon bonum of life? I think I have an answer America. I think I have discovered the highest good. It is love. This principle stands at the center of the cosmos. As John says, “God is love.” He who loves is a participant in the being of God. He who hates does not know God.

So American Christians, you may master the intricacies of the English language. You may possess all of the eloquence of articulate speech. But even if you “speak with the tongues of man and angels, and have not love, you are become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”

You may have the gift of prophecy and understanding all mysteries. You may be able to break into the storehouse of nature and bring out many insights that men never dreamed were there. You may ascend to the heights of academic achievement, so that you will have all knowledge. You may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees. But all of this amounts to absolutely nothing devoid of love.

But even more Americans, you may give your goods to feed the poor. You may give great gifts to charity. You may tower high in philanthropy. But if you have not love it means nothing. You may even give your body to be burned, and die the death of a martyr. Your spilt blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as history’s supreme hero. But even so, if you have not love your blood was spilt in vain. You must come to see that it is possible for a man to be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. He may be generous in order to feed his ego and pious in order to feed his pride. Man has the tragic capacity to relegate a heightening virtue to a tragic vice. Without love benevolence becomes egotism, and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.

So the greatest of all virtues is love. It is here that we find the true meaning of the Christian faith. This is at bottom the meaning of the cross. The great event on Calvary signifies more than a meaningless drama that took place on the stage of history. It is a telescope through which we look out into the long vista of eternity and see the love of God breaking forth into time. It is an eternal reminder to a power drunk generation that love is most durable power in the world, and that it is at bottom the heartbeat of the moral cosmos. Only through achieving this love can you expect to matriculate into the university of eternal life.

Maybe this can be added to the list of differences between King and Malcolm X. I think it also stands in sharp contrast to the way that people think about racial issues today. Today we think of protesters and activists who are frustrated with the system, who say disparaging things about “white people” generally (though often this is a misinterpretation of the point being made), who are more about getting justice by putting down the privileged classes rather than getting justice by expressing love to them. Here is a fair example of what I think King would do today. This comes from love, not resentment.

Its also worth pointing out that love for a black person as such isn’t really love of them, its a love of their skin color and upbringing. Which is not really love for them. So while this doesn’t scale on to the policy level, it does apply on a person-to-person level. It applies for me in the Trinity community. I’m really open to being friends with black students on campus (current number of black friends = zero) (and that is not unique to me or below average for white students). But I’ve got to make sure that it is because of them themselves, not some heteronomous factor like my belief in diversity.

Racial justice is not just secular. During this morning’s daily perusal through the TGC website I also read Russell Moore’s new post about Dr. King. Here is the relevant bit:

King’s understanding of human dignity was founded upon the Christian Scriptures. As the struggle for civil rights advanced on multiple fronts, he spoke courageously from this foundation. In the political realm, Dr. King pointed out how the American system was inconsistent with Jeffersonian principles of the “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Americans had to choose: be an American (as defined in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence), or be a white supremacist; you can’t be both.

But the civil rights movement was, at its core, also an ecclesial movement. King was, after all, “Rev. King” and many of those marching with him, singing before him, listening to him, were Christian clergy and laity. To the churches, especially the churches of the South, the civil rights pioneers sent a similar message to the one they sent to the governmental powers. You have to choose: be a Christian (as defined by the Scripture and the small “c” catholic apostolic tradition), or be a white supremacist; you can’t be both.

Segregation, like slavery, was shown to be what all human consciences already knew it to be: not just a political injustice or a social inequity (although certainly that) but also a sin against God and neighbor and a repudiation of the gospel. For conservative Christians, and especially Southern Baptists, we must be careful to remember the ways in which our cultural anthropology perverted our soteriology and ecclesiology. It is to our shame that we ignored our own doctrines to advance something as clearly demonic as racial pride.

My public school upbringing did not showcase this side of King. But he was a pastor, and drew on Biblical imagery and principles not just as rhetorical fluff or pandering to a Christian audience; it is usually the core of his arguments.

Likewise our motivation for racial justice today should not be from non-Christian principles. Why would that be necessary? We’ve got everything we need in human dignity and autonomy, the spiritual equality of all people under Adam (and in Christ), a theology of the nations, and love for neighbor.

I am going to be a pastor in a few years and will stand face-to-face before a 90+% white audience to deliver my first pastoral sermon. That will be an interesting time. As king points out in the sermon above, 11:00 on a Sunday morning is the most segregated time in American Christianity. I’m not sure what I’ll do to seek racial desegregation in that church where I will work. I have no idea. But King reminds me that it doesn’t take much of a theological stretch for a Christian to do that. Just a willing heart. The principles are already there; will I do anything with them?

Two Definitions of Racism

racism

When liberals and conservatives use the word racism, they tend to mean different things.

A conservative using the term racism is probably meaning something along the lines of people making race-based comments, committing race-based crimes, hiring an employee because they are one race or another, or something like a person’s college admissions status (which usually has a racial component snuck in there somewhere). For them, racism is specific and active. Racism is specific because it happens to specific people; a person can have very racist attitudes but not actually be “a racist” if they never act upon them, because, in their mind, racism is a thing that happens in the particulars of life, like the examples above. It is active because it requires a person to intentionally want it to happen, and anyone who has agency (activity-ness) can do racist things. Racism isn’t something that “just happens,” because someone has to decide to do it.

A liberal tends to use the term racism, not to put too fine a point on it, in the complete opposite way. For a liberal, racism is general and passive. Racism can be general because a single person is no longer the regular focus, in this definition. Instead, entire groups are viewed in aggregates (on average) and work together. “Whites are _____” and “Blacks are _____” can be meaningful, reasonable statements under this definition (whereas before, it could not). Accordingly, racism can be passive because those groups do not have collective agency (cannot act all together). The general setup of society is the way that it is, for various historical reasons, of course, but it means that nobody alive today planned on racial difference being this way.

The difference in these definitions are profound, and understanding the two definitions will cut away most disagreements before they really get started. For example, if a liberal says “you can’t be racist against blacks”, they don’t mean that you cannot say a racist word to a black person. Of course you could do that, and of course it would be morally wrong, but in the liberal’s mind, that is not enough to count as racism. You see, the liberal scheme of racism is that Racism = Hate based on race + Power. But, and this is the inconvenient truth, the conservative scheme of racism is that Racism = Hate based on race. Conservatives either deny that such a power disparity exists, or, more often, they neither agree nor disagree with the idea, as they have not had it explained clearly to them.

In shorter words, the conservative is talking about bigoted racism, and the liberal is talking about systemic racism. The term “racism” has these two parts, and so it is usually irresponsible to argue that something “is racist” or “is not racist.” Instead, it would be much clearer or everyone if we said that certain things “are racially bigoted” or “are not racially bigoted,” and that they “are systemically racist,” or  “are not systemically racist”.

I believe in the value of precise language.

So the next time someone uses the term racism, ask, “well, possibly, but which kind of racism do you mean? Bigotry, or systemic?” and then most of the friction will go away. You are now left with a claim that can be proven right or wrong, given the relevant facts and data, rather than a debate over categories and definitions, which are the worst.

Noahpinion on race, homogeneity, assimilation and diversity

Today a blogger posted the best essay I’ve seen in rejection of the idea that diversity is inferior to homogeneity, or put more charitably, that the alt-right’s message of “diversity + proximity = war” is not sound.

View the post here.

This ties together everything I’ve been saying about immigration politics the past year or so. You can see bits and pieces of my thought process in this post and this post, but I never got around to an outright refutation. That would have been against the rules I set forth in this post.

It’s not worth trying to summarize his points because 1. Finals week is coming up and 2. he already said everything better than I can.

 

Flagged Paragraphs on Globalization

A few months ago I decided to start a giant project on Globalization over the semester break. It was going to be Very Thorough, and I was going to finish it Super Fast because my productivity would be Excellent.

So anyways, I only read one of the books, it took forever, I gave up on the project because the new semester started and suddenly I had /actual/ work to do, and the library books were due. The mission is thus passively euthanized, and I have signed the DNR with the best handwriting I could manage.

The one book I dependently sludged through was Malcolm Waters, “Globalization,” Melbourne: Routledge, 1995. Insightful commentary I write not, but mega quotepost you here will find.

 


 

1.

7-8 – Globalization is traced through three arenas of social life that have come to be recognized as fundamental in many theoretical analyses. They are:

  1. The economy: social arrangements for the production, exchange, distribution and consumption of goods and tangible services.
  2. The polity: social arrangements for the concentration and application of power, especially insofar as it involves the organized exchange of coercion and surveillance (military, police ), as well as such institutionalized transformations of these practices as authority and diplomacy, that can establish control over populations and territory.
  3. Culture: social arrangement for the production, exchange and expression of symbols that represent facts, affects, meanings, beliefs, preferences, tastes and values.

2.

13 – Industrialization carries with it more general societal ramification. It induces the pattern of differentiation to other areas of social life as these areas increasingly become functionally articulated with the industrial core – families specialize in consumption, schools teach differentiated skills to the labor force, specialized units of government provide economic infrastructure, the mass media sell appropriate symbolizations, churches promulgate supporting values, and so on. These structural changes induce value shifts in the direction of individualization, universalism, secularity and rationalization. This general complex of transformations is called “modernization”. As industrialization spreads across the globe, it carries modernization with it, transforming societies in a unitary direction. Imitating societies may even adopt modern institutions before effectively industrializing.

3.

27-29 – the snooker table as being overlain by a cobweb of relatively fragile connection between the balls – when the balls move gently (diplomacy) they are guided by the strands, when they move violently (war) they disrupt them. The networks that Burton identifies are patterns based on such factors as trade, language, religious identification, ethnicity, ideology, strategic alliance, communication links, and legal and communications conventions. In a formulation that clearly prefigures true globalization theory he argues that we should replace a simplistic geographical notion of distances by one based on what he calls ‘effective distance’ (1972: 47). Here the more dense the systemic linkages between locations, effectively the closer they are. If we were to take Burton’s argument to its extreme we would indeed have a genuine globalization theory – if the entire world is linked together by networks that are as dense as the ones which are available in local contexts, then locality and geography will disappear altogether, the world will genuinely be one place and the nation-state will be redundant. However, for Burton, as for many other political scientists, this position remains much too radical because it denies the saliency of the state as a prime organizing principle of social life. He wants to insist that the world is dualistic, integrated at the substate level but still organized as segmented nation-states. Burton is not alone – dualism remains the bottom line for political science and International Relations versions of globalization. Bull (1977), for example, insists on the continuing saliency of what he calls the states system, a pattern of international relations in which there is a plurality of interacting sovereign states that accept a common set of rules and institutions. Bull identifies the clearest threat to the states system that he values so highly as the emergence of what he calls a ‘new medievalism’, a system of overlapping or segmented authority systems that undermines the sovereignty of states. He analyses this threat as four components that are generally consistent with the argument being offered in this book. They are:

  • A tendency for states to amalgamate on a regional basis (e.g. the EU);
  • The disintegration of states into constituent nationalities;
  • The emergence of international terrorism;
  • Global technological unification

However, Bull asserts that there is no evidence for the emergence of a world society that displaces the states system but his criterion for the emergence of a world society is too severe by most standards embracing: ‘not merely a degree of interaction linking all parks of the human community to one another but a sense of common interest and common values, on the basis of what common rules and institutions may be built” (1977: 279). No self-respecting globalization theorist would subscribe to such a straw-person condition … It does allow Bull happily to conclude, in the face of a great deal of evidence that he adduces to the contrary, that: ‘the world political system of whose existence we have taken note in no way implies the demise of the states system’.”

4.

29 —  Rosenau’s analysis of emerging global interdependence is another example of what might be called a dualistic approach to the current transformation. [note 10]. Rosenau’s early work (1980) concentrates on what he calls ‘transnationalization’. This is a process by which inter-governmental relations at an international level are supplemented by relations between non-governmental individuals and groups. Here Rosenau is a technological determinist much in the fashion of Kerr and his colleagues or Bell:

Dynamic change, initiated by technological innovation and sustained by continuing advances in communications and transportation, has brought new associations and organizations into the political arena, and the efforts of these new entities to obtain external resources or otherwise interact with counterparts abroad have extended the range and intensified the dynamics of world affairs. (1980: 1-2)

So the proper study for a political science of world affairs is no longer simply ‘international relations but ‘transnational relations’ involving complex extra-societal relationships between governments, governmental and non-governmental entities. Non-governmental interaction rebounds onto states to produce an increasing level of interdependence between them and a disintegrative effect as it promotes intra-societal groups to the world stage. This involves: ‘a transformation, even a breakdown of the nation-state system as it has existed throughout the last four centuries’ (Rosenau 1980: 2).

5.

41 – he [Robertson] no longer speaks of an international system of states but of globalization at the cultural level. He begins by giving a two-part definition of the concept:

Globalization as a concept refers both to the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole … both concrete global interdependence and consciousness of the global whole in the twentieth century. (Robertson 1992:8).

6.

45 – he [Robertson] claims that globalization, for example, is neither necessarily a good nor a bad thing – its moral character will be accomplished by the inhabitants of the planet.

7.

46 – Not all theorists accept Robertson’s view that the cultural cleavages that might prevent globalization have now been closed. Kavolis (1988), for example, would argue that such a view represents a peculiarly Western version of culture in which religion is conceived to be an increasingly subordinate subset of it. Rather, under Islam, for example, culture is enclosed by and is subordinate to religion. To the extent, then, that religions offer differential moral codes we can identify separated civilizational structures that constrain individual action. World culture is, for Kavolis, divided into at least seven such incommensurable civilizational systems: Christian, Chinese (Confucian-Taoist-Buddhist), Islamic, Hindu, Japanese (Shinto-Buddhist-Confucian), Latin American syncretist, and non-Islamic African (Kavolis 1988: 210-12).

8.

47 – The burgeoning development of international organizations during the twentieth century does not, Giddens insists, imply a loss of sovereignty for the nation-state but rather the securitization and institutionalization of that sovereignty. The reflexive system of international relations affirms the territorial and ethnic integrity of individual nation-states. Indeed, it provides a secure environment in which new states, however small and weak, can emerge and to some extent prosper.

9.

53 – The contemporary order, Lash and Urry argue, is therefore: ‘a structure of flows, a de-centered set of economies of signs in space’. Insofar as these flows of symbols are undermining nation-state societies we can identify a process of globalization. This involves (1994: 280-1):

  • The development of transnational practices (see Chapter 2 on Rosenau);
  • The development of localized sites, ‘global cities’ that originate transnational practices (see King 1990b);
  • A decreasing effectivity of state policy instruments (see Chapter 5)
  • An increasing number of inter-state connections (see Chapter 5);
  • The embryonic development of global bureaucracies (see Chapter 5);
  • The emergence of new socio-spatial political entities (see Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 on ethnic nationalism);
  • An overall decline in the sovereignty of the state. [note 2]

10.

54 – Giddens is notable within the current upsurge of interest in general social change for his insistence that current transformations constitute a continuation of rather than a break with modernity. While such postmodernists as Lyotard (1984) would point to current uncertainties as the consequence of the collapse of foundationalist meta-narratives that previously attempted to provide comprehensive answer to questions of human existence, Giddens argues that there is nothing new in this. Modernity has always created uncertainty and as the juggernaut gathers speed the incapacity of knowledge systems to tell what to do becomes chronic. Giddens characterizes the contemporary period as a high or radicalized modernity in which concerted action on a global scale is increasingly probable, although linked to processes of dispersal and localization. Postmodernity is for him a utopian condition in which human beings have resolved their problems within each of the four organizational clusters of modernity. A postmodern society would incorporate: a post-scarcity economy; multilevel political participation, especially at the local level; the humanization of technology; and global demilitarization (Giddens 1990: 164).

11.

55 – We might argue that if people in Tokyo can experience the same thing at the same as others in Helsinki, say a business transaction or a media event, then they in effect live in the same place, space has been annihilated by time compression.

12.

62-64 – THE GLOBALIZATION PROPOSAL

Taken together, the above arguments represent a new sociology of globalization that has emerged over the past five to ten years. In summary, it proposes the following:

  1. Globalization is at least contemporary with modernization and has therefore been proceeding since the sixteenth century. It involves processes of economic systematization, global culture or consciousness. The process has accelerated through time and is currently in the most rapid phase of its development.
  2. Globalization involves the systematic interrelationship of all the individua social ties that are established on the planet. In a fully globalized context, no given relationship or set of relationships can remain isolated or bounded. Each is linked to all the others and is systematically affected by them. This is especially true in a territorial sense (i.e. geographical boundaries in particular are unsustainable in the face of globalization). Globalization increases the inclusiveness and the unification of human society.
  3. Globalization involves a phenomenology of contraction. Although commentators often speak of the shrinking of the planet rather than a literal truth, that is, the world appears to shrink but (pretty obviously) does not materially do so. The particular phenomenological registers that alter the scalar appearance of the world are time and space. Because space tends to be measured in time [note 4], to the extent that the time between geographical points shortens so space appears to shrink. Insofar as the connection between physically distant points is instantaneous, space ‘disappears’ altogether [note 5]. A more recent phenomenon is that localizations of time disappear – if, for example, a Korean house-spouse can watch with an America FA-18 pilot as she bombs a chemical factory in a Middle East war, their time frames become synchronized. Globalization implies the phenomenological elimination of space and the generalization of time.
  4. The phenomenology of globalization is reflexive. The inhabitants of the planet self-consciously orient themselves to the world as a whole – firms explore global markets, countercultures move from an ‘alternative community’ to a ‘social movement’ action configuration, and governments try to keep each other honest in terms of human rights and dash to commit military assistance to the maintenance of world order.
  5. Globalization involves a collapse of universalism and particularism. The earlier phase of unaccelerated globalization had been characterized by a differentiation between arenas in which general and rational standards could apply and others in which the particularities of relationships and the qualities of individual persons were paramount. This differentiation is registered in the well known sociological distinctions between life chances and lifestyles, gesellschaft and gemeinshaft, public and private spheres, work and home, and system and lifeworld. The separation was largely accomplished by boundaries in time and space but because globalization annihilates time and space the distinctions can no longer apply. Each person in any relationship is simultaneously an individual and a member of the human species – they can say ‘I am myself’ and ‘I have rights’.
  6. Globalization involves a Janus-faced mix of risk and trust. In previous eras one trusted the immediate the knowable, the present and the material. To go beyond these was to run the risk of injury or exploitation. Under globalization individuals extend trust to unknown persons, to impersonal forces and norms (the ‘market’, or ‘human rights’) and to patterns of symbolic exchange that appear to be beyond the control of any concrete individual or group of individuals. In so doing they place themselves in the hands of the entire set of their fellow human beings. The fiduciary commitment of all the participants is necessary for the well-being of each individual member. A fiduciary panic (e.g. the ‘Black Monday’ stock market crash of October 1987) creates the risk of global systematic collapse.

13.

66 – the original and continuing fundamental of economic globalization is trade. Trade can link together geographically distant producers and consumers, often establishing a relationship of identification as well as interdependence between them… Under current circumstances, wearing Armani fashions or grilling food on a Hibachi barbecue (itself a polyglot phrase) provides an opportunity for commonality of lifestyle across the globe… Overall in the period since industrialization, world trade, understood as the exchange of commodities and services between nation-states, has expanded very rapidly. One indicator is the positive ration of growth rates in trade to growth rates in production throughout the nineteenth century and second half of the twentieth. Only during global conflict and associated economic depression that marked the first half of the twentieth century did that ration turn negative. Even then global trade continued to grow except in the twenty years following the Great Depression (Gordeon 1988: 43).

14.

68 – the inter-war period saw a return to protectionism as national governments strived to restore their shattered economies by curtailing imports and subsidizing exports. However, the emergence of the USA as the post-Second World War political, military and economic hegemon game it an opportunity to establish a trade system that suited its interests. Insofar as much of the rest of the industrialized world had been exhausted or devastated by war, the USA was well placed to take advantage of a liberalized trade regime.

15.

76 – Until recently it was also possible to offer the more moderate critique of MNEs that they had grown so large and powerful that they undermined the legitimate and often democratically established sovereign authority of the nation-state but in the current context of the delegitimation of the state the debate has become polarized.

16.

79-80 – We consider in an earlier section the liberalization of world trade. Emmott (1993: 8) argues that in a completely liberalized trade environment and where the marginal costs of transportation are low, MNEs would cease to exist. This is because firms would obtain the best cost advantage by producing in one place so as the maximize the economies of scale and licensing offshore production where such economics failed to offset transportation costs. In a truly globalized economic context then, the MNE would disappear in favor of local producers marketing globally.

17.

82 – More importantly there has been a process of global cultural transmission to which the Japanese version of the best way has been carried around the world as a system of ideas. This transmission occurs in three arenas: in the popular mass media Japanese production systems are represented as a highly generalized but somewhat ambivalent ideal, discussed in terms of both fear and admiration; in universities, business school academics and organization theorists conduct comparative research on the Japanese advantage and these results are both published and incorporated into organizational design courses for potential managers; and third they are written up as easily digestible popular books that can be peddled to managers as manuals for organizational transformation.

18.

86-87 – In the post-Second World War period, the key treaty in the so called Bretton Woods Agreement of 1944 established the IMF. The IMF’s brief was to maintain stability in rates of currency exchange by providing temporary loans to carry states through periodic balance-of-payment deficits without massive structural readjustment. For some 25 years the IMF thus effectively returned American balance-of-payment surpluses to countries in deficit, although in chronic instances it did demand readjustment, and in many cases states simply went ahead and devalued. An important stabilizing factor was the linking of the dollar to a specific price of gold… the key event that signaled the collapse of the Bretton Woods system was the withdrawal of the US dollar from the gold standard, because the relationship could no longer be maintained in the face of dollar inflation. Already the IMF had supplemented gold by so-called Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), the rights to borrow from the IMF as necessary, as the fiduciary support for the dollar and other currencies. Now SDRs have replaced gold, sterling and the US dollar as the global standard of accounting and are constituted as a weighted mix of five currencies ($US, £Stg, DM, FFr, ¥). However, the SDR has not become global currency.

19.

101 – the excuses of politicians for their failures have taken on a global hue: our economy is failing because of the recession in the USA or Europe or Japan or somewhere else; our currency is declining because of the activities of unidentified international speculators; our air is dirty because someone else has had a nuclear meltdown; we cannot solve the problem of urban crime because it is fed by international drug syndicates; or, we cannot feed our people because the level of international aid is not adequate. Insofar as politicians deflect blame on to the global arena, collective political actors will focus their attention on that arena and the nation-state will progressively become an irrelevance.

20.

111 – The redefinition of social problems as global problems undermines the sovereignty of the state in three ways:

  • It redirects individual political preferences;
  • It delegitimizes the nation-state as a problem-solver;
  • It sets up new international organizations to which some elements of state sovereignty are progressively surrendered [note 4]

21.

111 – to speak of a globalized polity can invoke the image of a world government, a single unitary and centralized state similar to contemporary nation-states or even a world empire. This need not be the case. A globalized polity can have the characteristics of a network of power centers, including nation-states, coordinated by means other than command. In principle such power centres might be coordinated because their controllers shared common norms and common interests and sought to move towards consensus on such issues. Such a view is not as romantically optimistic as it may appear. Regional groupings of states, such as the EU, and a wide range of specialized interest associations already coordinate their activities on just such a basis. However, such an outcome is less likely than a polity organized as a market, or more precisely as multiple markets. Here process of allocation (e.g. of welfare, economic development, peace and security, pollution, cultural performances) would be governed by competition between power centres much in the same way that global flows of finance or of information are the consequences of multiple complex decisions.

22.

113 – [NGOs] constitute a complex and ungovernable web of relationships that extends beyond the nation-state.

23.

117-118 – Certainly, such developments indicate that in many instances national interests are becoming merged into global ones.

There are three possible theoretical interpretations of these developments. The first suggests the emergence of a ‘new world order’, a liberal construct that implies the disappearance of the superpowers and the emergence of a highly differentiated yet relatively consensual family of nations that punishes the deviant and protects the defenseless. This is clearly an ideological conception that seeks to obscure very real differences of interest and military power. The second is the suggestion that the USA won the cold war and that the world is dominated by an unchallenged hegemon. Curiously this view appears to be the property both of leftist critics and rightist triumphalists. If fails in the light of American impotence in Vietnam, Iran and Somalia. The USA succeeded in Kuwait but only with allied military support, UN legitimacy, tacit Russian acceptance, and European, Japanese and Arab financial assistance. This suggests that a third interpretation, that of the emergence of a multipolar world, has much to offer as a realistic assessment. The domination of the superpowers has disappeared to be replaced by a fluid and highly differentiated pattern of international relations that exhibits much of the chaos and uncertainty that is also found, for example, in financial markets.

24.

121-122 – A shift is under way towards a culture described by Inglehart (1990) as the rise of post-materialist values. The traditional focus of politics in liberal democracies was material values, issues to do with the distribution and redistribution of goods and services. The typical division in this politics was between a ‘right’ or conservative side that stressed the preservation of property ownership and freedom of contract in markets, often coupled with a paternalistic welfareism, and a ‘left’ or social democratic side that stressed the redistribution of property and income on a more egalitarian basis, a state-interventionist welfare system and the regulation of markets. Post-materialist values emphasize community, self-expression and the quality of life. Here a political value division emerges between a ‘new right’ which stresses individual autonomy, the right to consume and governmental minimalism and a ‘new left’ that stresses the empowerment of minorities and a mutuality of interests among human beings and between them and their environments. Inglehart estimates that by 1970 post-materialists outnumbered materialists in the core group of liberal democracies in Western Europe, North America and Japan.

The question now arises as to why this value shift should be regarded as a globalizing trend. The answer is that it contributes to many of the developments discussed above. In materialist value-conflicts the key issue is the role of the state and the way in which it represents the interests of one class or another. Here the state is the focus of political attention and its structures will be extended insofar as political parties can enhance their support by so doing. In post-materialist politics the state is problematic: the new right regard it as a transgressor on individual freedoms, and a distorter of markets; the new left views it as an agency of rampant materialism and a means for the juridificational control of populations and their minorities. More importantly post-materialism focuses political attention on trans-societal issues, the planetary problems discussed above. It indicates such phenomenologically globalizing items as ‘the individual’, ‘life’, ‘humanity’, and ‘the earth’ that indicate the universality of the condition of the planet rather than the specific conditions of their struggle with an opposing class about the ownership of property or the distribution of rewards.

25.

125 – the current accelerated phase of globalization does not refer to the triumph and sovereign domination of any one of these ‘metanarratives’ (Lyotard 1984) but rather to their dissipation. A globalized culture is chaotic rather than orderly – it is integrated and connected so that the meanings of its components are ‘relativized’ to one another, but it is not unified or centralized.

26.

136 – globalization does not necessarily imply homogenization or integration. It merely implies greater connectedness and de-territorialization.

27.

144-145 – It might be argued that consumer culture is the source of the increased cultural effectivity that is often argued to accompany globalization and postmodernization. Insofar as we have a consumer culture the individual is expected to exercise choice. Under such a culture, political issues and work can equally become items of consumption. A liberal-democratic political system might be the only possible political system where there is a culture of consumption precisely because it offers the possibility of election. But even a liberal democracy will tend to be McDonaldized, that is leaders will become the mass mediated images of photo-opportunities and juicy one-liners, and issues will be drawn in starkly simplistic packages. Equally work can no longer be expected to be a duty or a calling or even a means of creative self-expression. Choice of occupation, indeed choice of whether to work at all, can be expected increasingly to become a matter of status affiliation rather than of material advantage.

28.

170 – Fordism was indeed paradigmatic and idealized rather than generalized. It never accounted for more than 10 percent of manufacturing labor, even in the US (Crook, et all. 1992: 172).

29.

171 – Although Soros has been mentioned widely in academic circles as an example of a capitalist who can move governments, he did so because he speculated against their currencies and not because he ruled or controlled them. Soros cannot be regarded as a traditional industrial capitalist located in a class struggle with a proletariat. He is simply a market speculator on a grand scale.

— end book —

A framework for the spread of ideas

The term Globalization carries all sorts of connotations. To some, it inspires hope and change through the productive innovation of free enterprise. To others, it signals doom and destruction, the capacity for a New World Order and the subjugation of all mankind to one centralized dictator.

To most people, it registers nothing, a blank term they’ve never heard.

Globalization is a very large phenomena, and like a good critical thinker does to all large phenomena, I will set up some categories which will help to begin to understand it all. First, globalization happens economically, politically, and culturally. These are three separate processes, but they are not totally separate. Where they overlap and how they interact are the subject of theoretical debate and it all gets confusing very quickly.

(This is all irrelevant primer to the actual topic here).

The full subject of globalization will be treated in much depth later. But for now, I just want to present an interesting concept from one of my research books which will not fit with the actual research essay.

Malcolm Waters mentions this concept, and it has more widespread applications than the author’s modesty would allow.

“More importantly there has been a process of global cultural transmission to which the Japanese version of the best way has been carried around the world as a system of ideas. This transmission occurs in three arenas:

in the popular mass media Japanese production systems are represented as a highly generalized but somewhat ambivalent ideal, discussed in terms of both fear and admiration;

in universities, business school academics and organization theorists conduct comparative research on the Japanese advantage and these results are both published and incorporated into organizational design courses for potential managers;

and third they are written up as easily digestible popular books that can be peddled to managers as manuals for organizational transformation.” (82).

From Malcolm Waters, “Globalization” Routledge, 1995.

I will draw a crude comparison between this and the postmodern movement in the 1980’s. Initially the academic response to relativization of truth was fear and anywhere it was represented, which wasn’t many places, it was greatly oversimplified and streamlined. This is where fundamentalist Christianity stopped its analysis, and still today I have seen this streamlined version presented and ‘debunked’ on several occasions. This is a perpetual meta-strawman fallacy, and nobody realizes it. Second, the concept became academicized and gradually entered the mainstream of university departments like gender studies, social sciences, economics, and racial theory. These (some of them) are the <identity> studies departments, often mixed with Critical Theory. Finally, they become easily digestible chunks which has been everywhere in the feminist hyper-inflation bubble which finally burst late last year.

This same process can be repeated with a dozen other things. I will be writing on them in the future.

Globalization research project

Today I start a research project on Globalization that I’ve been procrastinating for at least a few months now.


I bought five books from the nearest HPB and checked out two from my university library.

They are:

  • Malcom Waters — Globalization
  • Magdish Bhagwati — In Defense of Globalization
  • Mangers B. Steger — Globalisms, 3rd edition
  • George Soros — On Globalization
  • Koichi Iwabuchi — Recentering Globalization
  • Tang Suit Chee and Allong Wong, ed. — The Challenge and Impact of Globalization- Towards a Biblical Response
  • Stephen Kinzer — Overthrow

My goals for this project are:

  1. Read all seven books
  2. Write summaries of all seven books
  3. Write a 17,000 word minimum research essay
  4. Discover five new things in favor of globalization and five new things against
  5. Convert the research essay into a series of bit-sized, easily digestible blog posts
  6. From the book bibliographies identify fifteen new books for further study

I plan to do all this, limiting myself to eight hours a day, before I leave for a missions trip on January 3rd. I also will be gone a few days here and there, notably Christmas but also some other events as well.

James Legge

Background

James Legge, born in 1815 near Huntly, Scotland, served as a missionary to China in the mid nineteenth century and later became a world-renowned sinologist. He excelled in academics during his formative years; with noteworthy skill in Latin and quick memorization, he quickly advanced past his peers. Legge developed a tendency to wake early, often using the extra time to study. He later graduated from King’s College in Aberdeen with High Honors and in 1835 earned a Master of Divinity from the same college, along with several prestigious awards. Legge joined the London Missionary Society in 1838.

After several miscommunications, a few failed-but-retracted doctor recommendations, and a marriage, the Society sent Legge to its Malacca outpost in 1840. The Anglo-Chinese College, of which Legge became Principal, had a unique strategy to handle the language barrier. Rather than learn each Chinese language to preach themselves, Legge’s predecessors thought it more sustainable to teach native Chinese preachers English. Eventually these preachers could access English language resources and return to their region to preach with native fluency.

The mission relocated to Hong Kong in 1842 following the Treaty of Nanking and the accompanying transfer of the island to Britain. Legge began translating the Chinese Classics into English almost immediately upon arrival, such that missionaries could better understand the culture they wished to reach. He taught students and directly discipled some, with one later being significant.   

The Taiping Connection

Western missionaries greatly influenced Hong Xiuquan, a peasant tutor who began an uprising called the Taiping Rebellion. Xiuquan claimed divine authority; he saw in a dream his brother, Jesus Christ, and his father, the Christian God. He traveled and built a resistance to the Qing dynasty, and among his followers was his cousin, Hong Regnan. He led a small force in battle, but ended in failure; his flight ended with safety in Hong Kong at the mission. Regnan grew in his English language ability and later assisted Legge with translation of several Chinese classics. Regnan spent these years isolated from his cousin, Xiuquan, the leader of the Taiping regime. During this time Legge found that Regnan’s “literary attainments were respectable; his temper amiable and genial; his mind was characterized by a versatility unusual in a Chinaman,” and that eventually his “knowledge of Christian doctrine was largely increased,” such that ”the sincerity of his attachment to it there could be no doubt,” leading ultimately that “over young men his influence was peculiarly beneficial.”

legge image

Xiuquan began publishing pamphlets and declaratory statements in Chinese, which the Mission quickly translated into English. They were dismayed at what they read: Xiuquan claimed continuing revelation from God, equivalence with Christ, and a variety of other heterodox teachings. Legge strongly discouraged Regnan from joining the rebel forces, preferring that he continue with Legge in the various translation projects yet undertaken. In 1859 Regnan managed to return to his cousin Xiuquan, who promoted him to (essentially) Prime Minister of the Taiping regime.

Attitudes and Criticism

Beginning in 1858, Legge encountered criticism from fellow missionaries along the Chinese coast who felt his views too sympathetic to Confucism. The missions board instructed Legge to include in his translations footnotes condemning eastern ideas, but Legge decided to only include footnotes that compared and contrasted viewpoints. He wrote that he “must say that it was unnecessary thus to school me” in the customs of translation, given his past experience in the field. The controversy centered around Legge’s lack of harsh categories for the Chinese – i.e., pagan and inferior – leading later into his most shocking claim yet: Christians and Chinese each worshipped a supreme God from ancient times. Legge never claimed these deities as one, and his statements belong in comparative religion, not declarative truth; nevertheless, his peers did not understand.

legge image book

Western missionaries to China have a reputation for thinking themselves superior to the Chinese. Educated westerners saw the Chinese as materialistic; the Chinese saw western missionaries as just another aspect of foreign intervention. Justified or not, this reputation fed into wider anti-foreigner views among the Chinese, especially following the First Opium War.

Legge marks a deviation from the stereotype. A colleague of Legge wrote that, although “[Europeans in general] all conveyed Western culture to China,” Legge chose to “make known to the West the essence and nicety of the Chinese Classics.” More so, while the Bible had not been fully translated into even one full Chinese dialectical language, Legge, the most highly respected and skilled translator in the field, chose instead to translate Confucius into English, to the ire of his colleagues. Legge, unlike any of his colleagues, took caution in accepting applications for baptism; he did not pressure his academic students to become Christian. He thought the route to true belief was difficult and that quick conversions and baptisms would cheapen the process. “We are in no hurry to baptise our candidates”, and instead boasted that two good students were “labouring away at Euclid.” He implies that a study of geometry, rather than theology, many benefit his students the most.

For an example of Legge’s respect for the Chinese, note that he said, while settling a case of persecution:

“If news comes that I have been murdered, go at once to the English consul and tell him that it is my wish that no English gunboat should be sent up the river to punish the people for my death.”

Further, he criticized his government’s [Britain’s] policies on opium, expressing respect for China’s policy positions to improve public health. His concern for public health probably came from direct contact with Chinese opium addicts, whom he tried to reform according to his Christian faith.

Oxford and Death

By 1865 his own health began to decrease. While still living in Hong Kong, a peer wrote that

“The immensity of his programme is shown by the fact that while taking his full share of the teaching and administration of the College, Legge filled the pulpit at the Union Chapel and discharged the pastor’s duties amongst all the families, he visited jails and military hospitals regularly in the role of Chaplain, he was an indefatigable worker in almost every aspect of the social services so badly needed in the busy port of expanding Hong Kong; in addition to all that, he took a leading part in developing the policy of the Government regarding the education of the local Chinese.”

The decline in health was gradual, as Legge still remained in China until 1873, when he returned to Scotland in an attempt to retire. However, upon arrival in the West, he discovered that an international scholarly reputation had preceded him home.

Oxford University took note of Legge and quickly developed a position for him, the Chair of Chinese Literature and Language. At the time, Oxford only hired Oxford-educated faculty, so after some academic trickery involving an honorary diploma, illegitimate matriculation and string-pulling from the Vice-Chancellor, Legge gained the position. He continued to teach and translate until his death in 1897.

Unlike some other specific faculty members, he took his teaching duties seriously, though the number of students was pitifully small (sometimes no more than three or four). On many occasions he lectured on Chinese literature to the wider student body, several such lectures later being published and included in the wider sinological corpus for the time.

His health quickly deteriorated in November of 1897, and he passed on the 29th of a stroke. His body was entombed in the cemetery at Oxford.

legge image tombston

At the funeral service the Principal of Oxford make remarks that echoed Legge’s sentiments largely, if not entirely:

“he was sent Eastwards, to the oldest of living civilizations, and he studied it with an eye made luminous by love. For if ever man love a people, James Legge loved the Chinese, and he could not bear to see them do wrong or suffer it. He saw that English ignorance was as invincible and as mischievous as Chinese exclusiveness.”

In all

Legge published dozens of works, most notably the English translations of the Chinese Classics and his lectures on Chinese culture and language. History remembers him, if sometimes not enough, for his scholarly accomplishments, his intermediate temperament and his lifelong persistence while on mission.

Conferred With and Works Cited

[Because of this medium, I cannot include in-essay citations. Nonetheless, here are works to consult for documentation.]

Adrian A. Bennett, “Encyclopedia of Asian History, Volume 2,” Reed Business Information
Center, 1988.

Marilyn Laura Bowman, “James Legge and the Confucian Classics: Brilliant Scot in the turmoil of colonial Hong Kong,” Simon Fraser University Press, 2015.

Thomas P. Dolan, “Berkshire Encyclopedia of China,” Berkshire Publishing, 2009.

Kenneth Scott Latourette, “A history of Christian missions in China,” Macmillan Press, 1929.

John Rapp, “Clashing Dilemmas: Hong Rengan, Issachar Roberts, and a Taiping “Murder”
Mystery,” Journal of Historical Biography, 2008.

Lindsay Ride, “Biographical Note,” from the introduction to James Legge’s “The Chinese Classics,” SMC Publishing, Inc.,1949.

Alexander Wylie, “Memorials of Protestant missionaries to the Chinese,” American Presbyterian Missions Press, 1867.