Sunday, February 17, 2013

why I'm not running for Pope

I have decided that I will not give my name in consideration, and if elected will not serve, as the next Pope. (If you're wondering, I had settled on Extremely Guilty I as my pappellation. It just sounded right.) I am at peace with this decision, and in order to extend this gift of peace to others, thought I would explain briefly my reasons.

1. By long-standing tradition, no one officially runs for Pope. Popes are elected, but the events prior to the vote of the conclave of cardinals do not permit any electioneering. No cardinal may officially put his mitre in the ring or boost another cardinal's candidacy.

Well, there goes my primary advantage! Other candidates may be more knowledgeable of the policy issues or the inner workings of the Vatican, but my status, running as an outsider, could have given be tremendous leverage. I figured, it works so well in US Presidential elections, why not? I had already booked negative campaign ads.

2. Despite the fact that no one officially runs for Pope, the fact is that by the time the cardinals begin to convene to chat about the future of the Church, there are already known candidates. I was a bit behind on getting my name mentioned in those chats, so I have a huge name-recognition deficit. Frankly, I wasn't expecting Benny to step down. I blame my operatives on the ground in Rome. They're fired.

3. Despite the history of the Papacy, apparently nowadays the business about celibacy and bachelorhood is taken somewhat seriously.

4. Oh, and that whole faith thing, too. Damn these newfangled modern ideas creeping into orthodoxy! I ask these so-called cardinals, whither the Church?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

something is rotten

For [Adorno], the question of how to live a good life in a bad life, how to persist subjectively in a good life when the world is poorly organized, is but a different way of claiming that moral worth cannot be considered apart from its conditions and consequences. In his words, "anything that we can call morality today merges into the question of the organization of the world. We might even say that the quest for the good life is the quest for the right form of politics, if indeed such a right form of politics lay within the realm of what can be achieved today." -- Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself, p. 133
Butler states the fairly obvious connection between Adorno and Foucault to what she calls "the critical tradition," meaning the tradition skeptical of Enlightenment conceptions of Reason as ultimate principle and savior of subjective agency, responsibility, universal morality, and political ends. I like very much the phrase "how to live a good life in a bad life," because of its simplistic expression of a basic urge of "the critical tradition," namely, that ethical reflection begins with the intuition that something is wrong.

I spend a lot of time and energy focused on what is wrong. From my standpoint, there appears to be a lot that is wrong: social inequity and discrimination, exploitation, hypocrisy, domination of individuals, the public, and the polity by extremely wealthy people, etc. This is not a pretty world.

One could chalk this tendency up to a reactive habit of anxiety instilled prior to any memory. This would be dismissive and reductive. I would not deny that a pre-reflective and pre-rational outlook on the world subtends every observation and interpretation we each make. There are, on the other hand, objectivities to observe. Ultimately, I think it's futile to try to separate and correct completely for the pre-thetic sensibilities through which we observe the world.

Besides, such a reductive view would miss a fundamental point. To the extent that my habitual self is pre-thetically oriented toward the world as "poorly organized," that orientation is the condition of my habitus (the condition that subjected me to the "bad life"), and thus of my having any moral outlook whatsoever. The world I find myself always to have inhabited is "poorly organized."

The ethical question is not about assigning blame for this "bad life;" neither is it about my responsibility for fixing it (which would seem to be both an impossible task and a performative contradiction, if you dig that). By "right form of politics," Adorno can't mean that those in this situation know precisely what is wrong and how to fix it, because that isn't politics at all, but the dissolution of politics. Politics would be, instead, the ethical discourse concerning how worlds can and ought to be organized, and how subjects in those worlds could act ethically and responsibly in them.

The critical approach thus asserts that the world and ourselves are out of joint, that ethics and ethical responsibility for an individual do not gear into the world as presently constructed. The task of ethics is not to make the world conform to my subjective conception of what is right, nor to make my subjective conception conform to the world as I find it. The task is to respond to that condition of being out-of-joint.