Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Cavanaugh's Being Consumed, a critical review

Occasionally, when reading a book on a topic that is of interest to me, I get to close the book again and think: "rats, if I want to read something good on this, it looks like I'm going to have to write it myself".

I was disappointed by this book, which reads like a rush job written for professional gain, rather than a genuine attempt at enlightening the reader. There is no depth to it and nothing I haven't read before (admittedly, this might be because I'm usually afforded a bountiful diet of good reading stuff).

Seriously, compare this meagre 100 pages rehash of things the blogosphere has been saying for yonks, with the early work of the likes of Mark McIntosh, and it leads me to think that there are early career monographs that are true labours of love, and early career monographs that are not. It reads like a long rant, supported by maybe fifteen sources, most of them are big hitters to be found on any first year undergraduate's reading list. I really hope that Cavanaugh got tenure and that he'll start writing good stuff again.

The thing that annoys me with authors who go on and on about something needing to be done about the poor is that they take money for granted. My thinking (and I suspect that was Peter Maurin's thinking too) is that you'd be better off trying to operate as much as you can outside money. It is not fully possible of course, not even for the likes of Jesus and his band of followers, but I think that this should be intented when possible.

This is my reading of giving back to Caesar what is Caesar's. It might be a way-out-there interpretation but it is mine and I own it. To me Christ's answer ammounts to saying: "Don't you see that by asking this question and using those coins you already are a part of Empire, and that Empire has got its grip on you through this".

Increasingly, I don't think money can ever be kosher, because no matter what kind of ethical job you do, it's all funded by profit made elsewhere and quite unethically. The same goes for being on the dole, since dole money was raised through taxes, and guess who got taxed. So my solution is do as much as you can outside of it. As I say, it is not always possible. But it is no surprise that alternative currencies are flourishing in Greece or is it?

Thus, it would be a good idea to go beyond Cavanaugh's recommendations of letting Communion wean you of your own desires for more stuff and towards giving more away. And when you do buy things, buy fairtrade and support companies with a triple bottom line. No shit Sherlock!? And if someone desperately poor gives you a present keep it and bring it back to your home in the first world as a reminder of what real sharing looks like.

So now, the concept of Christian desire is quite interesting, but I can't think of anyone that has treated it well (apart from me that is :-)). Even this dissertation on Augustine was a bit of a let down.

Additionally, I don't think that talking or writing about the poor as "the others" is all that constructive. To hell with Noblesse Oblige in all its forms. We would be well inspired to ditch the dichotomies of "the poor" and "the nice people who are in charge of benevolently helping them out by empowering them". But more on this in a next post.

Still the heart of the matter is that I'm tired of reading guilt-infused exhortatory stuff by liberal academics. I just want to read the "how tos" of people who have done it, and done it well.


dan said...

I'm with you on money. I think I started leaning that way when reading Marx's "Grundrisse" (I got bogged down somewhere around p500 and never did finish the damn thing... like you predicted). As I was going through the analysis I kept thinking... it's money that is the problem. That said, I just finished Graeber's book on debt ("Debt: The First 5000 Years") and I think it's quite relevant to this discussion. Actually, I found it a really exciting book (much more exciting, for example, than the book by Cavanaugh you mention here... which really was a let-down after "Torture and Eucharist"). I would love to hear your thoughts on Graeber's book.

That said, I enjoyed this post and look forward to the next one!

PS: I've been more removed from money again these days -- haven't had a pay cheque since the first week of Nov, 2011. It's nice being free from wage slavery for awhile anyway. Keep thinking we're going to have to go on the welfare but money keeps appearing... reminds me of another season of my life (although not so much for Mel -- stresses her the fuck out).

dan said...

Oh, and this:


Might be good?

Dany said...

Thanks for commenting! Personally, I'd keep a part time job in a bakery or somthing for subsistence.

I would not feel comfortable relying on people's generosity since there are needs that are way more pressing than mine and require attending to.

This is the thing that most kills me these days, the choosing between causes to support.

Not that I can be that much of a philanthropist. I had to resign from my job in the UK when we moved here, and there isn't that much for me to do in rural Oz. Or rather, there is plenty for me to do but none of it is paid. That's what happens when welfare states collapse.

Have you noticed this fashion that the very rich have of saying these days: "I'm glad I'm so rich because I can do so much good in the world, which you lefty loser can't". Huge in Australia. Many many issues with it.

I'm sorry to hear that Mel stresses out. It's the second time you mention it, so make sure you hear her out. You will be fine on welfare if that is what you decide to do (I mean finer than residents of the horn of Africa).

I think I would spend time thinking about what impact you both would like to have on your surroundings and whether paid work or unpaid work, part time or full time, is the best way to have that impact.

My solution increasingly is to get my worldy desires out of the way so I can have a bit of space for more. I'm thinking of acquiring a decrepit studio flat or trailer somewhere unsexy and then rent it out at or below market rate so it pays for itself over a couple of decades.

It's a weakness, but I can't fully give myself without the safety of knowing that I have somehwere that's mine. I wish I could but meanwhile I can't, and it's occupying space in my head.

Maybe something similar is taking up space in Mel's head. Ask her what minimum safety she would need to be able to pour herself out in the world.

If you're going to say Jesus or St Francis didn't have that minimum safety, I'll say BS. What about the places at Nazareth and Bethany, the solidarity network they could rely on.

As for St Francis, a lot of the things we know are edited out and selected out of all of his writing, so he sounds etheral and perfect. Read the whole writings in their entirety and he was not. At the point of dying he was yearning for home and home-cooked food, being quite picky even.

That doesn't make him any less of an awesome saint, just a more realistic one.

Gosh, there are plenty of leads for future post in what I just typse, at least 5 or 6. I should get to work.

dan said...

Well, here's the amusing thing:

I've tried like hell to get a job and have been unable to attain one! I have applied for more than 80 positions(!) -- from social work jobs perfectly suited to my resume, to manual labour, to data entry, to janitorial work, to retail, to dish-washing, and have not been able to get a single offer (except for doing janitorial work in a remote camp in the tar sands... and Mel decided she did not want me to go... a decision I was happy to agree with!). I've made strategic modifications to my resume, I've doctored references (kinda, sorta), I've done all the tricks... but nothing.

Also (thankfully, especially from Mel's point of view) we haven't been too reliant on the charity of others -- the money that has been appearing has almost all been coming for the government (getting extra money back on a tax return, getting a year's worth of back pay for child tax credits, etc.). I'm perfectly happy to go on the welfare and write full-time until my book is done (which I've been doing for a few weeks now and, if I had a few months of this, I would be finished). Mel isn't a fan of that idea though, so I continue to job search. Of course, we do have a "solidarity network" here in Sarnia and folks who would be more than happy to carry us for at least awhile financially, but Mel really hates getting help in this way (they've chipped in little bits here and there already -- most notably, a couple gave us a car that they were no longer using, and we rent from some other folks for an astoundingly low price).

So here's what's amusing about all this: part of the reason why we chose to move to Sarnia was because I felt that the far lower cost of living there would enable me to move more into the "trajectory of "solidarity than I have been. Rather than needing to work in social work in order to sustain my family, I would be able to get the same kind of work as the folks I worked with as a social worker, and would thus be able to be a friend and co-worker, rather than an authority and service provider. This would help facilitate a move from more professional to more personal relationships, while still paying the bills. The surprising twist is that I got a whole lot more "solidarity" than I bargained for! I'm not escaping wage slavery and moving closer to poverty and the welfare because I'm choosing it -- we're actually getting pushed further that way despite our best efforts to change that! The difference between Mel and I is that I find this amusing and exciting (kinda sorta what I've wanted for awhile anyway, so it feels like a gift from God), whereas Mel finds it terrifying and shameful (so it feels like rejection by God).