Maximum Distance

Why don’t the lower classes of society band together & fight (physically or politically) to better their futures?

While the standard answer is a good one: “because the upper classes are good at keeping the lower classes pointing the finger at themselves”, it does not speak with much specificity and allows few solutions.

In her work, Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty, Silvia attempts to uncover the structures, mechanisms, and causes of this lack of solidarity.  She writes:

Ultimately, young working-class men and women believe that if they have to battle through life alone, then everyone else should, too.

Hacker writes, “Risk can bring people together, creating communities of shared fate. Yet risk can also split people apart.”

For the post-industrial working class, the necessity of taking care of themselves breeds resentment, fear, and distrust, thus making the possibility of community too risky.

Continue reading Maximum Distance

What is the Pseudepigrapha?

The term pseudepigrapha can refer to one of several things.  At its very core, the term refers to a writing that purports to be composed by person X, when it fact it was written be person Y.  This is where the meaning of the term is derived, from ψευδής (false) + ἐπιγραφεύς (writer).

Using the broad definition, some biblical works are considered pseudepigrapha, such as “Paul’s” Ephesians. Given the differences in Continue reading What is the Pseudepigrapha?

Of Frogs, Priests and Cultural Critiques:

An Interpretation of RigVeda Hymn 7:103

One of the more fascinating Vedic hymns is the The Frogs.[1] It is interesting because of the multitude of complex issues that the hymn touches upon. Essentially, the hymn compares the chanting of frogs with the chanting of Vedic Brahmin priests. Is this a positive comparison? For a modern American reader, the meaning is not clear. At first light, one can easily imagine this hymn being composed by either a rival group of priests or disgruntled laypeople. If so, it seems as though the composer, if he was a non-Sanskrit speaker, could have been lampooning rival Vedic priests and comparing their nonsensical chanting, i.e. in Sanskrit, with those of frogs. Perhaps stanza five speaks to the perception among the composing community that Brahmin priests and all Vedic followers are mindlessly repeating what has gone on before them without truly understanding it.

Is this really the case? The transmission and content of the hymn question this surface analysis. In the poems, the Brahmin priests and the frogs were responsible for the upkeep of the world. They are both inspired by Parjanya, the god of the rainstorm.[2] Through the chanting of the frogs and the Brahmins the people receive real-time benefits.[3] Therefore, the hymn is can be seen as one of reverence, comparing the sacred and sustaining sounds of Sanskrit with the sacred and sustaining sounds of the frogs; each is drawing off of the power of the divine sound. In addition, stanza six emphasizes the frogs’ particular variety and essential unity, hardly a tactic of the lampooner. All content aside, the transmission of the text must be considered.[4] No matter the identity of the composer, the hymn was definitely transmitted through successive generations solely by Brahmin priests orally. Because the hymns were in the sole possession of the people potentially being critiqued, it is unlikely that the Brahmin priests would include a hymn that was overtly antagonistic towards them. It is even possible that the use of frogs is a rhetorical device designed to hook the listener with humor and hammer them with truth. So perhaps it is the case that the hymn was a positive one. The gulf of time, culture, and worldview is too great to bridge with the tools that accompany a surface reading of the text.

In order to unravel the meaning and function of the hymn, several things must be accomplished. First, the authorship of the hymn needs to be addressed. For instance, did the author speak Sanskrit? Was he from a rival group of indigenous priests? Understanding the author is crucial to understanding how he intended to affect his listeners. Next the perception of frogs in Vedic culture needs to be identified, in order to open a window as to how the listener would have understood the hymn. Once these preliminary questions are answered, the hymn can be analyzed in light of its context. Continue reading Of Frogs, Priests and Cultural Critiques:

God is Surplus Human Good.

Marx’s theories stand and fall as one, or do they? Pals is very adamant that one must evaluate the totality of Marx’s theories instead of isolating and evaluating any one part. This implies, and is explicitly stated by Pals, that if one log goes rolling down the hill, the entire cabin will come rolling after it. However, is really the case, or does it suffer from the same critique Pals applied to Marx’s theory of religion? The philosophic base of Marx’s theory was an innovative synthesis of Hegel idea of alienation absolute spirit and Feuerbach’s critique of absolute spirit. Hegel provided the process; Feuerbach aligned the process; and Marx discovered the “why” powering the process. For all its empirical problems, Marx’s synthesis had two redeeming virtues, the human work as a value of humanity, and the process of its alienation. This is surprising for a person that grew up during the collapse of the Soviet Union, had read Rand’s We the Living, and found constant references to the natural greed of the bourgeoisie attached to the theory. This creates a public perception that Marx had a low view of humanity. In reality, he maintained quite the opposite. Humans, while by nature were alienated, echoing Rousseau’s classic zinger, “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains;” there is hope to realize their full humanity, as exemplified in Marx’s promise that, “[they] have nothing to lose but their chains.” Marx realizes this will be no easy process and that it might be bloody, violent, and take hundreds of years. However, the final result is as inevitable as it is justified. Religion is part of what Marx called a society’s super-structure; therefore, a society’s religion was dictated by the society’s economic system, or base. Religion serves to placate the poor and justify the rule of the powerful for Marx. Marx purposefully ignores the “oughts” of religion and only focuses on the “is” of religion. Marx only cares about the roles and function relgion plays in society. It is here that he makes a fundamental mistake. In various religions, there are warning and exhortations against the abuse of the poor and injustice on the part of the powerful. Marx skips over the possible effects of Luke’s warning to those that are rich and laugh now, for they will mourn and weep. Marx would do well to exhort also the religious, not only the philosophers that the point of all of this is to change the world. In doing so, Marx also misses the subtle and important ways religion works to resist an unjust social order. It is not the case that problems with the outworking of Marx’s social theory necessarily invalidate the rest of his theory. It only necessitates an attempt to modify the theory. Perhaps it is the case that the whole kit ‘n caboodle needs to be thrown out, or it might be the case that only parts of it need to be overhauled. It seems to be the case that Marx’s solution to human alienation needs to be readdressed in its particulars, however, Marx does have some interesting and perceptive insights into humans living in a capitalistic culture.