Further reflections on Milbank

I think it’s fitting that the metaphor of a misty day is so central to Milbank’s essay in The Monstrosity of Christ. No matter what that metaphor tells us about the structure of reality, it does tell us a lot about the experience of reading Milbank, where various names emerge briefly from the fog, grounded in a certain haziness. We learn that Zizek is at times more Schellingian than Hegelian, at other times a hair’s breadth from being properly Kierkegaardian, perhaps closer to one of Eckhart’s predecessors than to the Meister himself, certainly distant from Aquinas (though perhaps not equally distant on all questions), etc., etc. But they’re all just names! He doesn’t tell us why Zizek is Schellingian, for example, by reference either to Zizek’s text or Schelling’s text. He doesn’t tell us what he thinks it means to be Schellingian. He doesn’t explain what “degrees” of Schellingianism look like.

I think we all realize by now that Milbank has idiosyncratic views of certain figures, and I think that’s wonderful in itself — let a thousand flowers bloom, right? But part of the process has to be occasionally showing your work. For instance, he could acknowledge that he disagrees with the scholarly consensus and then put forward his own view, with some degree of textual support. If he doesn’t want to do that “in place,” then he could drop a footnote to an article or chapter where he does support his opinion — or even promise a future one, since presumably Milbank is past the point where he has trouble placing articles.

Another possibility: if he is writing a response to a piece by, for example, Zizek, a piece that perhaps appears in the same book, he could maybe drop in a few quotations from the actual Zizek piece. (I haven’t finished Zizek’s response to Milbank yet, but it would appear that quoting each other was not against the rules, since Zizek quotes Milbank extensively.) Or he could maybe consider possibly responding to the actual things that Zizek talks about rather than free-associating about sexuality.

Doing that would help him to avoid a move that is near and dear to my hate-filled heart: taking what you think of a topic that Zizek addresses, plugging in your own view instead of his, then arguing that this bizarre hybrid that you are now choosing to call Zizek doesn’t make sense. In this case, it’s the dialectic. Suddenly, we’re to believe that Zizek’s idiosyncratic appropriation of Hegel by way of Lacan is exactly the same as what the traditional criticism of Hegel teaches us to fear. Above all, we’re to fear the dialectic’s oppressively teleological nature, right? Well, I may be alone in this, but I can’t think of a less teleological thinker than Zizek, anyone who is less convinced that things will come to a happy synthesis in the end. In fact, he claims that this teleological version of the dialectic is the thing that brought down Marxism. Naturally, he doesn’t embrace that teleological version and has in fact spend multiple books detailing exactly what his idiosyncratic view of Hegel is.

Surely Milbank, a major practicioner of idiosyncratic reading, can sympathize with Zizek’s desire to read Hegel differently, right? Surely some basic respect for Zizek would require at least making note of the fact that Zizek understands Hegel — who is, after all, one of his most important intellectual touchstones — differently from the scholarly consensus and in direct opposition to that consensus. But no: we just get the “scary teleological Hegel” and plug him into Zizek. And then it turns out that Zizek is teleological, too! But things could’ve gone differently — for instance, we could’ve gotten some fantasy version of the middle ages without all the bad stuff — and therefore Zizek’s wrong. Done and done!

Oh, and by the way, Zizek is misreading Eckhardt because he agrees with the scholarly consensus, whereas Milbank properly (and idiosyncratically) sees Eckhart as pointing forward to the “missed opportunity” version of the middle ages that we could’ve gotten if only… I don’t know, if only we’d kept everything more in balance. At this point, I’m going to hope that the opportunism of Milbank’s readings of figures (the scholarly consensus is right if it would undermine Zizek, and it’s wrong if it would undermine Zizek) is sufficiently clear and move toward more substantive questions.

For instance, I think it’s clear that Milbank’s “Catholic” position (drawing on Desmond in specific here) is a way of saying “you really can have it all!” We can “account for” everything if we have an ontology grounded in an analogical relationship between finitude and the divine. And in fact, if we don’t have such an ontology in place, bad things happen! Therefore, we should all become Catholic or something (this is another area of haziness). But I think we’re missing a few steps here. First of all, there’s the big question: what if there isn’t a God? Sure, bad consequences might follow from there not being a God, but is that really how we make these decisions? If it is, then it seems that Milbank is “postmodern” in the most vulgar possible sense — and given the rigorous lack of concreteness when it comes to what the ideal Milbankian utopia would actually look like, I’m not even sure how convincing such an argument is on its own terms.

The more serious point, however, is that despite the capaciousness of Milbank’s Catholicism, it seems to be unable to “account for” one thing — precisely Christ. Everything seems to work just fine without him, and the attempts to shoehorn the Incarnation into the system strike me as afterthoughts for the most part. The Neoplatonism is where Milbank’s heart really is, and he’s into his idealized version of “Catholicism” because that’s been the primary historical carrier of Neoplatonism in his part of the world. (Presumably an Iranian Milbank would’ve been a Muslim who believed himself to be providing the Ayatollah with some intellectual “wiggle room,” and an Indian Milbank would be wondering aloud if the caste system hasn’t gotten a bad rap due to poor implementation.) For all his talk about history and thick contingency, he doesn’t seem to me to have any serious sense of the contingent historical event that should be central to all his reflections. And so for me, Milbank’s argument suffers from a problem much worse than being an unconvincing argument for Christianity — it’s unclear to me that what it’s arguing for even is Christianity.

72 thoughts on “Further reflections on Milbank

  1. This is a helpful criticism. Thanks for it.

    I once had a conversation with a professor who attended Duke Divinity, and had a chance to hear Catherine Pickstock speak once. At some point, she made a comment that if she wasn’t a Christian, she’d be a Derridean. Based on the little Milbank I’ve read, I suspect he would say the same thing about Neoplatonism,

    I don’t intend that as an attack on Pickstock or Milbank, but I suppose it illustrates the question I have after reading your post, which is essentially the relationship between philosophy and theology. A broad topic, of course, but when there is a case of Christianity wedded to Neoplatonism, I can’t help but think it. Clearly you highlight a different major problem of idiosyncratic views of people with seemingly no actual argumentation based on quotations, etc, but I’m wondering if such a style of argumentation is partly the result of wedding theology with a particular philosophical commitment.

  2. i suppose dogmatism in general may lead to dogmatism on the details as well. not sure if it’s specifically a matter of the phil/theo thing here. — i am on my phone but wanted to drop in to admit that i may not have been fair on the hegel thing — m. does provide something of an argument for how z’s reading amounts to the same thing as the traditional reading – but a very quick one in my defense.

  3. I’ve never read anything by Milbank before, and I don’t really know that much about theology, but I find it incredibly bizarre how Big Important Thinkers (e.g., Milbank and Laclau) attack Zizek on the basis of the version of Hegel taught to undergraduates (thesis-antithesis-synthesis!). You point out how Zizek’s reading is idiosyncratic, which is certainly true to some extent, but I think that almost gives too much credit to these so-called “critics.” (i.e., that quite a bit of Zizek’s reading comes from the deflationary account of Hegel + Lacanian not-All ontology, so ostensibly Zizek’s reading of Hegel, despite the Lacanian flourishes, is more grounded in what Hegel actually wrote than the stupid distortions).

  4. I think its great that Milbank has got a rough knowledge of 100,000 thinkers that he can reel off at will, and give degrees of quiddity to (ie. ‘more Hegelian than Hegel’ or something like that). Makes for exciting reading and flowing prose (if not always intelligible of course).
    But what we really need is for people to go to town on his reading of these thinkers, for they must have read them more than he has. Right? Has anyone really done this? I know Richard Cross disputed his reading of Duns Scotus, and put the blame more on Occam, but thats kind of minor…

  5. i bet more people would do that if it was possible to tell what milbank’s reading *actually is* in most cases. scotus is probably the clearest — and reportedly among the most erroneous.

  6. Good critique – very helpful. I think the claim that you level at Milbank (too misty as it were) is a problem inherent within Radical Orthodoxy in general (if not, to a lesser extent, theology in general). I like to call it ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ syndrome where scholars all pretend that they see the point of something rather than going with their gut instinct and questioning whether or not there is anything there.

    BTW – you USAians are lucky – we’ve not received our copies of Monstrosity yet (and my thesis is due in 4 weeks… ARGH). Thanks again Adam for helpful way in to the work.

  7. This is almost completely unrelated, but I was hoping to shed some light on the method of another major theologian- Hauerwas. I havent read a great deal, but it seems that the large bulk of his books are collections of more or less related essays unified under some theme or other. He’s open about this, and says its because people come to him asking for his wisdom on an array of topics, so fair enough I guess. But even in those essays, he extensively quotes and summarises large bodies of material, so that the reader has to somehow strain to see what Hauerwas is saying himself. Does this seem unfair of me? I realise this may constitute heresy, as he is a total hero, but I just wish his books were more coherent and strongly argued.

  8. I’m not disagreeing with the Milbank criticism per se, yet I’m never clear who ever firmly established that Hegel is the correct cypher for Christianity, either? (Versus Neoplatonism, etc.) In that sense it seems to me that Zizek falls into the same reason/faith, philosophy/theology gap or slippage, just at a different angle. It’s unfortunate only if one really does think that politics (even radical or revolutionary politics) should be dependent on some sort of systematic ontological understanding (rather than on some sense of pragmatic struggle or solidarity, etc.).

  9. Where in his essay does Milbank focus on teleology? It seems he spends a lot of time soaking up on the supposed interplay of univocal, equivocal, and dialectical that’s noncontradictorily embraced in the paradoxical… maybe I missed/mist that part?

  10. adam,

    I haven’t read ‘monstrosity’ yet (on the summer reading docket), but I can definitely see your frustration in that type of argumentation. It feels like they just find what they are looking for and don’t show you how.

    however, there is also a (inherent?) tension in constructive theology, something I think this site wants to promote. In constructive theology one is always drawing from diverse sources and never giving all the details, but usually summaries to set the table for the constructive part. You can always fault Barth, von Balthasar, Rahner, Milbank, Zizek, Agamben, Badiou for a hasty reading of some historical figure (and often be right about it). But do we really want these writers spending all their time writing historical investigations? And usually when the do you only learn more about the author and not the philosopher under investigation.

    Of course, someone like de Lubac only wrote historical pieces and let the constructive part be implicit…he barely ever gives a thesis…!

  11. charles – he doesn’t use the term teleology that much – i was thinking of how he says that z has a protestant/progressive view of history that makes this particular modernity inevitable & ignores the fact that things could’ve gone differently

  12. geoff – i see what you’re saying but milbank is often failing to even tell us straight out what he thinks of someone. it becomes a haze of names that to me obscures his own views as well – the worst of both worlds (constructive & historical theology).

  13. Ah, yeah, right. I think I just downplayed that in my mind because, yeah, that’s not Žižek nor the way he reads Hegel. I don’t think you’re alone in seeing that about Ž. I mean, it seems to me that “things could’ve gone differently” is one of the corollaries to his use of death of God language as well as the fragility of taking a stand for the truth. Isn’t that the point to his “fighting atheism” bit? If you don’t fight for it, make it happen, work to renew it, the inevitability of failure follows.

  14. In unrelated news, Adam’s posting on this thread from a mobile phone alone shows his commitment not only to this topic, but to his chosen intellectual discipline as a whole. Top stuff.

  15. You might say Milbank has told us what he thinks about Aquinas, de Lubac, and Vico, since he has written whole books on each of them, and in the cases of de Lubac and Aquinas, the “experts” have been none too pleased with his reading.

    I have Monstrosity on my shelf too (yet to be cracked), but I look forward to comparing his reading of Hegel here with his reading in TST. I had the chance to ask him last fall if he thought Zizek was a more faithful interpreter of Hegel than Rowan Williams and Graham Ward (his sometimes collaborators–or something…), and he said he was sure Zizek was reading Hegel rightly.

  16. John told me the same thing about Zizek on Hegel a few months ago.

    On that note, before I read any Zizek or was aware of any of these conversations with him and Milbank on Hegel (this was during my MA), I read Hegel in a similar ‘disruptive’ and more ‘contradictory’ way, although without any of the Lacanian overtones. I was focusing more on his conception of the Absolute in his ‘Difference’ book on Schelling and Fichte and his continued working out of that in his project. One of my thesis readers had me pull back on that reading into the more traditional reading. At the same time, when I pushed him on this subject later when I discovered Milbank & Zizek’s reading of Hegel, he said that there is a plurivocity in Hegel on this point.

  17. Remembering conversations with Milbank (up to two years odd ago almost), the reason he likes Zizek’s Hegel is that it shows Hegel to be an atheist and a nihilist, which allows him to therefore dismiss him. And this is pretty much what he says in the book.

  18. Well, while I’m sure you don’t care to hear it from me, but you know what I say: Christianity is the greatest of conspiracies against Christ. Christ is a singular event and as far as I’ve been able to tell, the Church has mostly been a defense against that event. From what I’ve read of and by Milbank, nowhere is this more evident than in the thesis of “radical orthodoxy”, where one sides with the “church”– and not in the sense of “ecclesia” but in the sense of dogma –rather than that Christ-Event and how it evades any doxa. I think Kierkegaard got it right in his thesis that no rightful Christian would ever call himself a Christian given the “bourgeois Christians” in their Sunday best described so vividly in Sickness Unto Death.

  19. Levi,

    I didn’t reply to your own post on the monstrosity of Christ, but it seems you missed the point of the book a bit. The central discussion in the book is regarding the incarnation and what it means rather than the monstrosity of any specific ethical teaching. For Zizek in the incarnation in a Hegelian manner, shows that Christianity (pace Bloch, death of God Christians etc) is ulimately atheistic. For Milbank, it is that the God-man (pace Kierkegaard and Chesterton) is a sublime paradox which enables us to “have it all”, and this is a shock to the imagination, monstrous etc.

  20. I mean really, have you not heard of Mark C Taylor prior to the infamous Times article? Or the majority od Derridean-influenced theology in the early 90s? We have, you know, thought about this stuff before your “interventions”.

  21. As for whether or not I have unoriginal opinions, I couldn’t say on this matter. I’m just outlining how I understand these things. Seriously, you guys are like a pack of rabid dogs whenever it comes to butting heads on something. Rather ironic given what you claim to be about, but not so surprising given the nature of these structures.

  22. But in another way, I think there’s a way of reading what you’re saying, larval, and comparing it with Adam’s own two closing paragraphs in the post. You’re both in agreement that Milbank is shying away from Christ Jesus, but it seems to me that Adam is even going further: Milbank is even shying away from Christianity.

  23. What do we claim to be about that renders forceful disagreement or criticism of what we take to be ill-informed positions problematic? I’m having trouble thinking of what that would be.

  24. What we claim to be about? What is that? And rabid dogs is over the top. Way over the top. You’ve intimated that you don’t take anything said by critics too seriously so why would we waste our time even being rabid dogs. I’m just annoyed that you come here to “enlighten” us on a matter you’ve given some thought to while sitting on the can as if we are a group of morons who have never considered the humanist tradition or something.

  25. Really? As I write in my review om my blog, i found it quite hideous, morally at least. Very clear and well written though. Wonder if Altitzer will become all the rage again after this.

  26. I guess as a theologian and a Christian I just really feel realations are important. Zizek seems to want to get away from them.

    And I really don’t think it is ok murdering people, no matter how bad they are.

    But maybe I have just missed that Zizek has this position, I have read fairly little of him.

  27. I don’t know what to think about your short review Patrik. Zizek has never claimed to be anything other than a “fighting atheist” who advocates converting all churches into grainstores and centres of culture. As you point out in your review, he repeats the argument from The Puppet and the Dwarf where he makes the Hegelian point that an atheism proper should go through the Christian experience, but you know, end up atheist. I don’t see how he hasn’t been clear. So when he suddenly drops in that this is the case, and that therefore arguing for the transcendent and the analogical participation in it as a source of a important political ontology is a non-starter for him, why are you at all surprised?

  28. OK, I spellt it out a bit.

    It wasn’t really his atheism that shocked me, but his ethics and to a degree his politics. But I concede that my knowledge of him is shallow.

  29. Again, not wanting to be rude (and continuing the comments here for the sake of ease), but why precisely, again, are you expecting Zizek to have a “interest in lending his support to theological projects of other kinds”, given all the evidence I have cited above (churches into grainstores) etc?

  30. If there is no Big Other, if there is nothing that ensures justice will triumph in the end, if there is no final accountant of life who rewards or punishes someone for their deeds, why *wouldn’t* a person go ahead and make sure a known torturer is exterminated so as to prevent that person from doing any more harm and damage? Sitting back and saying, “Yes, yes, I know you are evil. But even an evil person deserves properly administrated justice, just not today. Maybe later, when someone else will do it,” is to become complicit in the torture itself. If you have the opportunity to stop evil, why wait? We don’t think it strange for someone to pick up a hitch-hiker, or pick up litter, or go out of their way to donate money to a homeless shelter, or spend time building a home, or develop a cheap anti-malarial medicine, or perfect a water purification system.

    If someone has the opportunity to do those things but passes them up, it’d be considered selfish, a missed opportunity, a damn shame. What makes the torturer different from pollution, disease, or diarrhea?

  31. Thanks for removing the extra copies – leaving the one with the typo :)

    I’m not offended (That post is tounge in cheek you know, I’m not as shocked as I am (jokingly) supposing Milbank is). Milbank’s part, as Adam suggests, implies that he seems to be forgetting that Zizek is an Atheist, not I.

    But consider his praise for Milbank’s “Being Reconciled”. And writing a book together with him? That could be understood as having some such interest. And I think it is safe to say that many theologians have seen some such interest there.

    I guess I have taken that grainstores quote to be ironic (stalinist reference you know) – it is not easy to say the way Z writes IMO.

    But Adam has written a book on the subject, I’m curious, and I want to make clear that I am not suggesting anything here, if not that chapter in any ways make it complicated to see Zizek as relevant for theology in any deeper sense. I mean, He would be relevant they way, say, Dawkins, is relevant, but does he with such ethic goals actually have anything to say that theology would benefit from?

  32. The commonality in Milbank and Zizek is philosophy — they are talking about Christianity, and thus theology, but in a philosophical sense. Obviously theologians who are not also philosophers will be disappointed in Zizek, and possibly in Milbank (though of course Milbank is useful to such theologians).

    So, to be upset that Zizek is undermining supposed theological projects is to miss the point of the debate. It is no different than arguing against someone by calling him an idolater … fine to say, but one must be philosophical in order to make that have any meaning. And Zizek, as well as Milbank, are being philosophical in this sense.

  33. What makes the torturer different from pollution, disease, or diarrhea?

    That is a troubling question and I believe some torturer’s have recently asked the same about “terrorists.”

  34. Charles R,

    One thing: It is a human being (or just a living being if you prefer that). And what if it is not such an obvious evil person as in Zizek’s example, but a slightly lesser evil person, say a rapist, should we kill him too? Or even less evil, a person that is nasty to his co-workers. Off with his head?

    Or what if it is a person that some think is evil, other not? What gives Z the right to determine?

    I mean, this is so obviously problematical that for anyone, let alone a world famous philosopher to suggest this is something one can do “without a vestige of remorse”, is nothing short of amazing.

    d barber,

    Sure Z is speaking philosophically, but Milbank too? I am not so sure.

  35. Absolutely he’s speaking philosophically. For Milbank, i think it’s best to say, Christianity should be affirmed because it gives the best account of being, and/or the best politics. Both of these claims being open, in principle, to the argument of any thinker. I don’t agree with Milbank, but I do respect this about him — there’s no retreating behind the presupposed sufficiency of dogmatics.

  36. i think the only way you can be *disgusted* at z’s claim about killing the torturer is if you’re an absolute pacifist – other than that there seems to be room to at least engage.

  37. “a pack of rabid dogs”? when i first read that i thought for a second that it was a pack of “rabbit dogs” which initiated a google search and a momentary puzzlement over multiple beagle videos…

  38. I’m confused, Patrick. Help me out here. On the one hand, human beings are fabulous things that we shouldn’t kill outright. On the other hand, who is anyone to determine what’s evil?

    Well, on the first part, if human beings are fabulous, what do we do about the people who abuse and degrade those human beings? Why not, for the sake of human beings, do something about those who abuse and degrade human beings?

    For the second, if Žižek produced a calculus for determining the quantitative amount of evil a person is and consistently uses it, would you then be satisfied?

    I am not sure how one gets from torture to busybody co-workers. Sure, some folks are annoying. That’s not torture. But, the argument is overall a problem: because we might get tripped up in the vague or ambiguous or multivalent cases, we shouldn’t accept the simplest answer in the clearest case? Or is the simplest answer to not kill at all?

    Smith, if the question is troubling, is there a clarifying answer?

  39. Charles’s question of E. Smith’s question reminds me of something Zizek once said about totalitarian regimes — their ideological power came not so much from controlling the answers as controlling the questions. Now I’m not saying E. Smith’s a totalitarian, only making a superficial connection with what he said, kind of like he pulls that question out of context and makes a superficial connection.

  40. Charles R,

    Those are two different arguments. On the one hand Christianity tend to value life, which means murder is wrong per se.

    If you reject that argument, As Z no doubt does, there is still the question of the “vague and ambiguous” cases, which in reality is all cases. Who is to decide? Thus I really think the simplest answer is not to kill at all, and I must say I am a bit alarmed that I have to defend the idea that murder is wrong.

    And the notion of a calculus of the amount of evilness needed to kill is even more hideous and just shows how impossible it is to judge these cases without ending up in endless contradictions.

    Basically, what I take offense is that Z argues that these questions are simple. The only simple answer is nonviolence – all other solutions are very complicated. That does not mean nonviolence is the right choice, but it is the only simple one.

    Adam, why would one have to be a pacifist to feel disgust at the thought of individuals killing each other? It is one of the rather few deeds that are considered a crime in all cultures. Generally, not even states feel they can do that (US being a major exception of course).

  41. I’m not saying that Zizek’s right — I’m just saying that it’s hard for me to believe that you can’t even sympathize with what he’s saying in the case he gives. I never intend to kill anyone ever in my life, but I still feel deeply convinced that, for instance, a world leader who starts a war on false pretenses and makes torture a routine policy deserves to die. I don’t feel at all ambiguous about that, and I don’t feel like I’m “playing God” by making that call. Does that lead down a slippery slope? I don’t think so — there aren’t a lot of people like that.

  42. Well, if you’re a Christian but against some calculus of sins, what is the idea behind oxen, lambs, and turtledoves? Why does blood guilt get one sacrifice and uncleanliness get another? Is God not able to figure out who’s bad and how bad, with all the rigor of a mathematical proof? Is God hideous?

    To me, it seems that while you don’t have an algorithm for evil, you nevertheless call some things evil and make distinctions in degrees of evil. The rhetoric leading from torture to co-workers makes sense on this distinction; otherwise, if it is the case that we’re all confused here about what to do from big to small, we wouldn’t need to worry about the everyday cases as fraught with moral peril. We would just talk plainly about how killing a torturer is right or wrong.

    If all cases are vague and ambiguous, why ask “Who decides?” I decide. You decide. We’ll decide together. They’ll decide together. Play it by ear. You said: all cases are vague and ambiguous–so there’s no right or wrong answers! But you still think there are. That means you do think not all cases are vague and ambiguous. Everything is clear: it is better to not kill. Okay, then what? Can I imprison for life? Deny someone food? Deny them sex? Deny them contact with other people? Deny them internet access? You asked what gives Žižek the right to determine–but if that’s at all a question, what gives someone the right to imprison or deny them mobility or access anyway? If we don’t kill them, do we let them walk?

    I think Žižek is talking about the one case. In the one case, and the one case he is talking about, it is simple. If there is no guarantee of a Final Justice or Great Reckoning, why let the opportunity pass?

    My point is that we don’t let the opportunity pass in the small cases. Help a brother out. Give a sister a hand. As problems get bigger in scope, work harder for solutions. Christianity is all about not ignoring the opportunities. Woman drawing up water by the well? Talk to her! Jerusalem closed? Go to Athens! Ethiopian asking for directions? Direct him to Jesus! Mass murderer and torturer going to grow old and live the peaceful life he denied so many others?

    ?

  43. My comment about Charles R.’s question was simply intended to spur a clarifying response. I intended no critique of his position or Z’s. Indeed, I am deep sympathy with the argument that Charles has been making and was making in just that reply. The point was simply that the language of the last sentence itself displayed certain ambiguities – which I found troubling – instead of the precision that is typical of his arguments here. There was implied no discouraging of the questioning whether or not the torturer should be opposed or even killed (nor do I care one iota for whether or not remorse is “felt” therein).

    My apologies to those who read what I said as trying to shut down conversation or forestall the presenting of questions that ought to be asked no matter how offensive they are to the practioners of the dominent discourse. Such is one of things I appreciate about Z. and I would hope never to stand in its way. I would hope that great care is taken with one’s expression when so doing and that patiance would be had with those who point out what they perceive as a lapse in clarity. How does that shut down conversation? Of course it is not as productive as a sarcastic and argumentatively relevant use of the term “totalitarian.”

  44. I hardly ever post here, Smith. Much less post precise things.

    I get that there’s something maybe wrong in thinking that there isn’t a difference–dehumanizing the enemy, &tc–but that’s my question for Patrik. I think Žižek makes this argument (in either On Belief or Fragile Absolute?): it’s because the Nazi (whomever) does horrible things to human beings that I (whomever) will end the life of the Nazi, for the sake of humanity. For the sake of humanity, we try to stop pollution, we try to stop diarrhea, we try to stop the things killing human beings or making their lives miserable. If a torturer already regards humans as objects for dismantling or rearranging to produce pleasure for themselves, they signal to the rest of the world just how they view their own humanity.

    What is the problem, then, with doing morality on their own terms? I’m not dealing with a human anymore. A human wouldn’t have tortured somebody in the first place. Humans irritate other humans. Humans cut each other off. Humans are snarky, too. But do humans torture and kill people?

  45. I suppose the lesson of E. Smith’s despicable treatment at my hands is that if you’ve never posted here before and none of us have any idea who you are, maybe your maiden voyage shouldn’t be an ambiguous and weirdly insinuating comment comparing someone to a terrorist. And your second comment shouldn’t be a whiny, passive-aggressive thing about how you love everyone here and certainly don’t deserve mild sarcasm.

  46. In sum, the way things work around here is as follows: if one isn’t being overtly aggressive, one is necessarily being passive-aggressive. The latter is frowned upon. The former is encouraged so long as “rabid dogs” are not associated with any of the proprietors of this blog, as this is beyond the pale.

  47. Just a clarifying point: I compared no one to a terrorist whatever else my faults in posting here.

    Charles R.: Your response clarifies for me the relationship of the language used in the relevant passage with the rest of your argument. That is what I was puzzling over.

  48. Well, in light of the ‘ad hominem’ post, I think it is reasonable for people to see “You ask this question, but torturers asks the same question,” as a form of ad hominem: if torturers ask it in a way to justify their position, it must be a morally bankrupt way of arguing a point, and nobody wants to be morally bankrupt. You can see that much, right? I mean, my first reaction was “Uh, okay, so I’m a torturer, too?” Without any other of your own supplied context, I didn’t have many other options.

    Had I written ‘torturer’s crime’, would that have been better?

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