Christian Social Teaching and the Politics of Money: Attempt at Liveblogging

The proceeding being the attempt at liveblogging the Centre of Theology and Philosophy’s (Dept of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Nottingham) conference “Christian Social Teaching and the Politics of Money” (July 9th-10th). I’ll try to post on the interesting bits. Do hope this doesn’t mess with everyone’s RSS feeds.

9:03am: Dr. Karen Kilby opened the conference and introduced one of the Pro-Vice Chancellor. No one cares what he’s saying. Something about how awesome Nottingham is. It is kind of awkward. Why do universities always insist on having some suit from up high attend when that person obviously feels slightly out of place and the conference participants are largely uninterested in the promotion of a university they’ve already spent time coming to for a conference?

9:05am: So while this is guy is going on, and he’s being quite nice I should say, it will be interesting to see what the format for the sessions are. It doesn’t seem like anyone except the keynote speakers are giving full papers. I thought everything was listed as round tables, but the paper version doesn’t it have it that way. Maybe I’m remembering wrong.

9:08am: Prof. Milbank is introducing Dr. Peter Selby (I don’t know of him, but he wrote a book on mortgages and grace I hear). He is using the time to stump for the Radical Orthodoxy-inspired debate between Red Tories and Blue Labour. Unless I misheard, he said it is the most important political movement of the time. Also claims we see a coming together of Catholic social teaching and the “paradoxical” politics arising in Britain.

9:14am: Selby has begun speaking. Thinks what we have to deal with in the light of this crisis is that we consider the nature and character of money itself. You know, sort of like what Philip Goodchild did.

9:17am: Interestingly suggests that the verse in Mark 12:15-23 gives us a sense of the development of money. The question “in whose authority was this coin printed” only makes sense if there is one authority for the coining of money, one sovereign. The fact that the Queen’s head is found on the British pound doesn’t mean the same thing, but is rather a quaint survival from antiquity.

9:25am: I’m not really following. Basically just reporting some facts about the the crisis. Public outrage. Massive bonuses for people in the failing banks. Etc.

9:26am: His point seems to be that banks are not charitable or gracious because of a systemic problem where banks pursue profits without worrying about people, that they pay huge bonuses to try and keep “good people”, systemic circular logic. This system is how we got to this crisis point.

9:30am: Short history of the development of money from the sovereign’s monopoly on the creation of money to the creation of money through banking. If you don’t know it, Wikipedia it.

9:34am: I’m having trouble telling if this is a good paper or not. To me it seems as if much of it is old hat. Markets need to be reigned in, we’ve let markets become too hegemonic in the civil society, etc., etc. Perhaps though this is a minority position in the wider world, I don’t know, but it seems in this environment it is merely preaching to the choir. Perhaps in the Q&A I’ll get a better sense of all of this.

9:38am: Nice comments of the poor, or at least it kind of made me want to say “yeah!”: poor people aren’t worse managers of their money, they are not addicted to gambling, they simply, unlike wealthy people who have access to bets with better odds, have worse options for the management of their money and the creation of wealth.

9:44am: UK is 2nd place in terms of incarceration behind the US. USA! USA! USA! …

9:47am: What does the “fair” in “fair trade” mean? Would we consider it fair if the coffee grower could feed their family and send their children to school? But that’s not what we, the coffee drinkers, consider fair for our own labour. Fair trade can only be said to have made trade fairer, but not fair. These movements offer “witness” to the importance of persons over against money and the regime of Mammon. Witness to the “true eschatology” of plentiful life against the “false eschatology” of unencumbered growth of money.

9:56am: Selby has ended with a nice little story contrasting the present situation where the poor are asked to support the churches whereas a famous painting of Jesus clearing the temple was penance for a rich man who committed the sin of usury. Though, I might point out, that was dependent on a single individual recognizing his sin and confessing it, whereas, and Selby may disagree, there is a question of whether or not all lenders would see their act as sinful is.

9:59am: First question came from Philip Goodchild. Practical question about the role of the State in regulation. Selby thinks it is somewhat obfuscatory because some of the same people who created the problem have been asked to fix it. So the State and the banks have colluded in taking ownership of money from the sovereign (the People). Selby worries that nothing has been learned from this as the government always gives money and nationalizes while in the same breath saying they will restore it to the private sector as soon as possible, that is the same people who have shown what they do when they are given all the ownership.

10:03am: Question coming from a “financial writer/economist of sorts”. Obviously not a pithy writer. Asking a question about credit unions I think. “Puzzeled” by Selby’s history of money, but I don’t get the sense that he really has a problem with it but is just splitting hairs. Get to the fucking point man! Ok, so no point? Selby’s response, to agree that the cycles of lending and debt as an issue of solidarity. The tragedy, though, of the British history is that they had very good savings and loans communities (building societies), but they were destroyed in the 1970’s and 80’s as they were converted into (not very good) banks. Selby goes on to contest that he is pro-Government, but rejects the questioners implication that “Government is to bad as Markets are to good”. Interested in a dialogue with Islamic economists (there is one such economist speaking at the conference).

10:10am: Adrian Pabst, one of the organizers, asking a question about the distinct contribution of the Church to the local and international aspects of the crisis (what the Church can do to help us redress the balance) and what is the distinctly Anglican contribution? Selby responds first by saying the Church needs to own up to its collusion with the powers. Many of the leaders take a very survivalist approach to the problem, motivated in large part by self-interest. Anglicans need to sort out their relationship to the State in a way that gives real weight to the critical function of the State-church.

10:16am: Mr. Phillip Blond, Former (already?!) director of the Progressive Conservative Project at Demos, thinks that the problem is the monopoly of the State in holding wealth. Not really a question, just suggesting two “solutions”. 1) Banks transparently show the risk. 2) Pluralize sovereignty. Every transaction is thus sovereign. For the Church that means there is a transcendent dimension and an immanent dimension. All transactions have to be held to account, I think he said judgment, to the transcendent dimension. Somehow he thinks that regulation isn’t the answer, but rather this “transcendent dimension”. Some interesting things there, even if it isn’t really a question, (I especially liked the bit about each transaction being sovereign) but I don’t see how this “transcendent dimension” (very Kantian!) is really possible outside of some kind of discipline and in the present society that’s the duty of the State. Weirdly, though of course we would all have to hear more, Blond seems very modern, that is Kantian, here with his non-coercive transcendent judgment. The only difference, really, is his emphasis on the local aspect of regulation instead of the State-level. This is a question of what the local is now though and I don’t know that Blond has dealt with that really.

10:26am: We need to break out the shock panels for “This is more of a comment/reflection/thought experiment than a question” types. Funny watching John interpret people to ask “Can you please ask the question?” He usually is the one terrorizing chairs during Q&A. Karma?

10:33am: Really ready for some tea now. Be back in 30.

11:04am: So the first plenary session beings with Dr. James Noyes introducing the pluralist goal of the conference, both within the Christian tradition and a Jewish and Muslim voice to represent the other two monotheisms. Not to be a puerile liberal, but it would have been nice to include a similiar diversity amongst the Jewish and Islamic voices. I know, for instance, that the difference between Sunni and Shia Islam provides differing social teaching in relation to the economy. There are also interesting approaches to these issues coming out of Buddhism, in relation to agriculture, and Hinduism.

11:10am: Prof. Michael Northcott begins speaking. Like Selby’s keynote, I am not hearing too much new. Maybe hanging around anti-capitalist for so long has inoculated me to these talks. Northcott does spend some time comparing the Pope’s encyclical to some anti-capitalist research. The last example was pointing out that the current system breeds instability through inequality. The Pope called it systemic, which is nice to see, though I think it would be a mistake to think that this means the Pope sees the problem as systemic, it is more that the problem of individual wills has an effect on the wider system of values. Northcott does discuss the ecological issues inherent in the crisis and and the unequal burden that the ecological footprint of the rich places on the rest of the world. Interestingly notes that people like Murdock, who has a huge ecological footprint, doesn’t contribute to the common good by avoiding taxes. It is time for a global tax body for these international businessmen and their businesses.

11:18am: Northcott criticizes the Pope for not recognizing that there is a real transfer of wealth from Africa, the poorest continent, to Europe, the richest. Some of the things he says he finds “helpful” in the encyclical seems to be a lot of stuff we’ve been hearing from anti-capitalists for yeas. Why is the Pope saying it helpful when he hitches some of his fetish issues (family values/no gays) to these statements?

11:21am: Northcott is hedging his criticisms of the encyclical in a similar way that the Pope hedged his criticisms of capitalism. It would be nice to see some bolder formulations.

11:29am: Again saying that we haven’t learned anything from the crisis. Still addicted to debt, still aiming to keep the banks private, still not protecting workers. Highlights the Pope’s condemnation, and here I really agree with the Pope, of the race towards the bottom. Again though, thanks Pope for saying something many others already have.

11:32am: Northcott makes the claim that true freedom, in the Christian tradition, is freedom from coercion (and thus from coercive labour). Is it? Isn’t that just the same negative freedom of liberalism?

11:36am: Practical suggestion: Follow the Roberston Plan and make illegal banks claiming the money they lend as assets on their balance sheet.

11:38am: Main issue with the encyclical is the weak Green character of it, the lack of a recognition of the connectedness of the well being of the planet with the well being of humanity. It was a nicely delivered paper. Would have liked him to have a bit more time so he could develop some of his Green critique of neoliberalism a little more. I worry that he has a slightly idealistic agrarian view.

11:40am: During a question where Alex highlights the ambiguity of the encyclical and the fact that these critiques have been circulating since the mid-90’s (at least). He’s interrupted by Milbank who wants to point out that Weigel, a Catholic neoliberal, has denounced the encyclical. Seems that this sort of thing is going to be the ideological buffer that keeps RO from taking a critical distance from the encyclical and allow them to ignore the other, more “humane” conservative and liberal celebrations of the Pope’s failure to condemn global capitalism in toto. Northcott gave a kind of hand-wavey answer to Alex focusing on the desire for the Kingdom of God. Maybe that’s not fair since me and mine are hoping for the Communist utopia.

11:43am: Donal Dorr is speaking now. He’s rather funny. Though I’m a little worried the speed with which these papers are flying by is going to make it somewhat difficult to follow them all.

11:46am: Dorr is running very quickly through the list of major interventions by Catholic social teaching, and some other Christian denominations, into social issues and political economy (trade unions, workers’ rights, etc.). All of it is very helpful and interesting history, but he’s running through it too quickly for me to catch it all. One interesting thing he notes is that Pius XII seemed to suggest a alternative to capitalism that was perhaps influenced by the fascist situation in Italy at the time. Not sure if that was a negative or positive reaction to the fascist situation though, as he is literally just highlighting these issues.

11:52am: Highlights some of the key aspects of the recent encyclical. “The book of nature is one and indivisible”, spirtual dimension of development, humanism does not exclude God, challenges ‘rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property’, challenges ‘downsizing of social security systems’, challenges ‘exclusively binary model of market-plus-State’ and favours economic forms based on solidarity, environment and energy issues are addresses, grassroots involvement in international aid, trade unions: work for welfare in developing countries, fair trade initiatives, reforming the UN and (Dorr points out that they are not named) presumably the IMF and their ilk. The first is the one I have a real problem with, the other I think are largely laudable though I think the Pope really needs to name the problem more (not “some countries have too high a carbon footprint” but “America uses too much energy” and “the IMF needs to be completely reformed if not dismantled and replaced with an entirely new system that works along a preferential option for the poor”), but the first is the Pope’s contention that bioethical issues are not separate from political economy. The Pope is right on this issue, but where he goes from there is absolutely dangerous and wrong. Zizek, at the recent Idea of Communism conference, highlighted this as well and sketched a far more egalitarian and ecological responsible response.

10:58am: Dorr’s major point appears to be that people are unwilling to be talked down to by Church leaders. In some way this is really an anti-hierarchical talk. Calls for a different starting-point for a foundation of moral values, but as there are no institutions available to replace the Churches (in his view), we have to start from the bottom up and start with people’s own spiritual experiences (and, we might add, exercises).

12:00pm: Wants to begin with the axiom that “we are nourished by nature.” So nature needs to remain as a source of nourishment and that is supported by spiritual experiences of nature. While I find some of this laudable, and also want to retain some sense of a “wilderness experience” even if there is no ontological wilderness, I wonder if it this is really starting from the bottom though. One thing I’ve come to be convinced of in my work on nature and human relation to non-human nature is that there is affective differences that arise from our cultural organizations. Such that, yes, middle class white people might have the time for a “wilderness experience”, but, for instance, African-Americans in the South Side of Chicago have a very different affect. Nature is varied and the experience of it is thereby varied. So, while it is a nice axiom to begin with, perhaps the demand for equality and working with communities to change their affect, is more important to consider from the start.

12:05pm: One of the spiritual experiences we have is outrage at evil. I think this is right, but how do we let these images (he used one of a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay under extreme sensory deprivation) retain their affects?

12:10pm: I can’t tell if I liked Dorr’s talk or just like him.

12:11pm: After a bit of technology issues, Prof. Habib Ahmed gives the “Islamic perspective”. This looks to be another quick run though of Islamic social teaching (I’m guessing Sunni) and then looking at the current crisis and the relation between it and Islam. For the background he focuses on Riba and Gharar, which I am guessing he’ll suggest as aides for helping to prevent a similar crisis in the future.

12:15pm: Islamic Worldview (ugh, hate this word): The essence of Islam is tawhid, or the oneness and sovereignty of God, meaning that Allah is the only source of value. This knowledge comes to the Muslim (just meaning one who submits for those who don’t know) through revelation. There are two sources of knowledge about the rest of the world (including ethics) revealed (Sharia) and derived knowledge (fiqh) – through ijtihad.

12:18pm: This is a very rudimentary talk really just introducing the audience to Islamic thought on law and ethics. Ahmed is rather dry in his delivery, which may add to that feeling, but this level of talk may, sadly, be appropriate for the audience. Interestingly in his summary of prohibitions and obligations/recommendations he lists “free markets” and also “interest free loans”. I wonder if the first means the same thing as a Western free market and if the second happens much. It is is possible Islamic ethical teaching precedes the Evangelical Christian valorization of micro-loans.

12:21pm: Riba (literal meaning “increase”) is prohibited. This means that the selling of debt, which largely got us into the crisis we know face, is prohibited under Islamic law. Gharar means “excessive risk, hazard, or ambiguity” marks a prohibition against risky derivative markets. I have a similar question for this speaker as I did for Blond: what is Islam adding here other than a kind of fabulation/belief in the reality of the regulative transcendent ideal that finds its liberal articulation in Kant? Obviously these principles need to be implemented by government, but is the lack of Islamic religious belief the reason the collapse happened? That seems a jump since major Islamic countries were caught up in the collapse as well.

12:29pm: Ahmed has put up a little chart showing that under Islamic law and ethics is against all the aspects of the banking system that brought us to the crisis. Admits, however, that the ethical obligations cannot be forced upon the people, whereas law is, well, law. “If Islamic principles were followed, the crisis would not have taken place the way it did”. He does offer some evidence that the Islamic financial sector was “virtually unscathed”. Just shows these regulatory demands should have been going on in the West as well, but, like the question of the particularity of the Pope’s encyclical, what is distinctly Islamic about this? Can these principles not be subtracted or does that lose something that makes these “not work” outside that system? My intuition says that it can be subtracted, but I must pause looking at the ability of Western governments and bankers to allow greed to overcode some of the same religious prohibitions found in our cultural milieu.

12:33pm: Noyes asks the Sunni/Shia question. Ahmed says that the teachings are very similar and the differences are found more in the way worship takes place. Outside the Arabic community, like Malaysian Islamic scholars, there are more liberal interpretations of these ethical principles. Pabst asks the question of how these principles are implemented (good question), Ahmed says it happens through central banks that must answer to a central Sharia court. Though in most countries there is no central court and so boards are set up by individual banks out of a demand from the customers (the wider Islamic community) who would not use the bank if they were not accountable to Sharia. This means that there is some discrepancy between banks as they do choose the particular scholars and can kind of game the system there. Another participant points out that many have criticized Islamic loans as being essentially the same as Western loans, even being treated as such under British tax law. Ahmed says that this is true, but there has been some global attempts to resolve this issue and make the Islamic loans less of Islam-washed Western-style conventional loan.

12:40pm: Mr. Zaki Cooper, the Jewish perspective, starts off with the standard “I know I stand between you and your lunch” joke. This has to be made at every conference I’ve ever been to. It’s not funny. Moratorium now!

12:46pm: Cooper is repeating much of the same themes that the Christians and Ahmed have already covered. Religion gives commands that could have countered the crisis or that directly oppose the practices that led to the crisis. Interestingly Cooper and Ahmed have emphasized the role of the transcendent/divine aspects of these principles. I’m still stuck with the question of how this helps. Maybe the Pauline pollution is too deeply ingrained in me to understand how the divine law can really help.

12:56pm: I need lunch. Having trouble paying attention. Seems like the whole audience is fading too. No questions for Cooper. Pabst keeping us longer from the food. No mutiny though.

1:01pm: Blond now keeping us from food. Stating that there is no relationship between increased money supply and inequality (not sure this is true). The Third World sees capitalism as the most readily available option for growth. So the Religious Left can’t get trapped into saying “no growth in the Third World”, but focusing on how development happens and how that growth happens.

1:04pm: Wish this was a bigger event so I had some distance between the speakers and could make catty remarks about their clothes and speaking styles. That’s what makes liveblogging interesting, right? I mean, gossip and all. Jesus I’m hungryl See you in an hour.

2:20pm: Alright, we’re back starting 20 minutes late. Adrian did some long speaking, but I was sort of spacing out. I find the room very, very warm. If they just had a fan to circulate the air… Anyway, Ann Pettifor of the New Economics Foundation has begun speaking. Apparently she has some role advising the Queen. She has promised a rant – claiming we are living through a period of exploitation that is unprecedented in history. Where the financial system, in collusion with governments, went on a massive spree creating debt, burdening the whole world with a massive amount of debt. Having gone on such a spree the system collapsed on 9th August, 2007 when the German banks collapsed and credit lending between banks was frozen. The banks then demanded that the banks’ debt socialize and we the people take on their debt and the governments capitulated because the banks held us all ransom (pensions, savings, etc.).

2:25pm: We are living now under this ransom threat where all the major parties, including the main platform of the Tory party, is saying we must live in strict austerity in order to make up for the extravagance of the financial sector. That austerity is not simply skimping at the grocery store, but it means that there must be massive unemployment, no benefits for unemployment, no pensions, no benefit for single mothers, no protection and care of the mentally handicapped and ill. We are in this position because of the state of economics, the State, and the Christian Church. Pettifor is quite fiery. Why isn’t she an MP? She has decided that she’s going to blame the Church for the state we’re in.

2:30pm: There is direct correlation between high lending rates to companies and unemployment rates.

2:32pm: Overly spirtualized our understanding of sin and forgotten the material basis of it. Trespasses replaced for debts. On her powerpoint slides she includes her website.

2:35pm: Blames much of the change in Christian thinking on usury on John Calvin and points out that even the Financial Times recent issue celebrates Calvin’s 500th birthday. Claiming that “Calvin and work ethic key to modern Geneva’s destiny”. Making money from money, the key capitalist doctrine. Pettifor tells us that she comes from a South African Calvinist background that might account, she tells us, for her views and is unapologetic for her prejudice against Calvin and Calvinism after being told she was one of the chosen and black people were, unfortunately, not. I think I’m in love with her.

2:43pm: Running through a history of the theological-political development of Usury from Calvin to Smith to Bacon and onwards. It is helpful and I think covered in her book The Coming First World Debt Crisis.

2:45pm: $16,000,000,000,000 = what the banks have gotten for “quantitative easing”. $10,000 = 1/2inch thick bundled together. $100,000,000 =about half a man. $100,000,000,000 = crates and crates much larger than the man. $1,000,000,000,000 = can’t see the man. The $16trillion has never been printed though. It doesn’t exist in the form of paper money. Ben Bernanke (Chairman of the Fed) says that the money was given to the bank in a similar way as it is a bank gives to us. “So, to lend to a bank, we simply use the computer to mark up the size of the account that they have with the Fed.” Pettifor reminds us that this isn’t a bad thing as such, it would have been much worse if the Fed hadn’t done that, but it is important to realize that this money isn’t really in circulation.

2:58pm: Highest interest rates under Thatcher. Pettifor differentiates “capitalists” and “the financial sector”. This seems a misunderstanding. The kind of M-M’ that the financial sector creates is an outgrowth unfettered by the M-C-M’ of capitalism.

3:05pm: Claims that between 1945-71, prior to Nixon’s unilateral dismantling of the Bretton Woods Agreement, there was no international financial crises. Should be noted for those who may think she’s harping about the gold standard or something, she’s talking about the resulting deregulation of the financial sector.

3:08pm: Shows a graph which shows that public spending for services actually lowers the amount of debt relative to GDP in both UK and US. Blond is going to hate this.

3:10pm: Pettifor was one of the writer’s of the Green New Deal which is pretty much calling for re-regulation, abhorrence at usury, and a call for “tight, but cheap money” (lending at low rates on loans that are short, long, safe and risky) and the creation of millions green jobs by bringing together unions, agriculture (Liam might hate this), environmentalist and faith movements (not sure why though, that wasn’t touched on much).

3:16pm: Pettifor says that, for ecological reasons, we might have to 0% interest rates, because we can’t take more from the earth than it can give. This is the real limit to capital and it absolutely must determine what happens economically, not the other way around which is essentially turning humanity, not into custodians of the earth, but a cancer upon it. Goodchild’s essay on this is excellent. In response to a question on who gets the “tight credit” Pettifor claims that all credit decisions should be decided by democratic processes. Shockingly she doesn’t think Hurst should get credit, but people who produce things. That worries me. Does that mean those of us in the humanities can’t get credit? I doubt I’ll get that question in, I’ll try to track her down during the break.

3:21pm: Blond appears determined to ask a question at least once an hour, and by question I mean he’s determined to talk for 5 minutes and then raise his voice at the end as if it were a question. Clever boy. He and Pettifor are having a little argument about the exact nature of debt. Blond disagrees with Pettifor’s happiness with Keynes. Now Pabst is interrupting and Pettifor is answering the “question”. “When the economy recovers, the deficit goes down. It’s as simple as ABC.”

3:24pm: Goodchild asks the question if the financial sector’s hands around the throat of the government are real or if the money given to the banks could have been pumped into the Green New Deal, resulting in a similar if not better recovery. Pettifor thinks if we put $16trillion into defeating climate change there would be a massive creation of jobs, instead of just being soaked up by the financial sector.

3:26pm: Pettifor calls for a Global Central Bank that clears checks between Japan and Zambia and UK and US and everyone. I don’t know what the critiques are against this, but it seems entirely sensible to me.

3:30pm: Alex pulled a “more of a comment than a question” but it is forgivable because it was to shame the financial sector for not putting in a small $150billion to lift the entire world out of poverty (in 2006) when they apparently can pump $16trillion into sponge-esque banks. Good session.

3:53pm: Starting the sessions called “The Role of Religion in the Economy”. Philip Goodchild is starting off, though I should point out he is not Professor of Religious Studies but Professor of Religion and Philosophy (despite the introduction by Peter Candler).

4:03pm: Internet went down for most of Philip’s talk. It was essentially a rundown of “what is wrong with the economy”.

4:05pm: One class produces while one class consumes. One class can consume, because they have security and the other has to produce because it lacks security.

4:12pm: The conditions of possibility for these two classes to exist is dependent on the risk economy (that is now in crisis). From creating and accumulating. It seems to me that this is rather a translation of the opening chapter of Anti-Oedipus into financial terms.

4:15pm: Update from the Pettifor talk. I asked her about funding the arts and she said that she should have been clear that it is absolutely important to fund, that is to give credit, to both the arts and humanities. Her problem with Hurst was not a problem regarding the artistic worth, but the obviously cynical ploy (I’m not sure I agree, but that’s less worrisome).

4:18pm: We have to find a way to steer debt, not merely demand that financial acts be ethical. Seems like a dig at the encyclical. Says that we have to create new forms of banking, that is the only option. Philip always says these sorts of things, rather radical and if it happened world-changing, in such a calm way you can sometimes miss the weight of it. The current crisis, he says, does not spell the end of credit capitalism, but the intensity of its grip.

4:21pm: John Milbank asks the first question, a kind of “gotcha”, asking how a Deleuzian (Philip is one of the first-generation of Deleuze scholars in the Anglophone world) can also be a Malthusian. Philip has a nice formulation for this saying, “I think the world is finite in some ways and infinite in different ways.” Meaning fresh water is finite, but creativity or “enriched life” is infinite. An elegant answer to a ridiculous question (Deleuze didn’t, to my mind, ever suggest that there were no limits on the earth!). The next question comes from the financial writer asking why Philip suggests that the financial system isn’t in human control since it is man-made. Philip is adamant that there are non-human elements to the system we’ve created (he hasn’t said the word Golem, but it seems apt) and then says “Perhaps I’m a reformist” saying that we can’t simply forgive the loans as that would destroy the unconscious system whereby we create credit and trust in communities. The financial writer pretty much seems incredulous to most of what is being talked about here. There is then some discussion about the levels of coercion in financial contracts – no separation between economics and politics and survival needs of the producing class.

4:30pm: Maurice Glasman is a Polyani-style theorist of the economy. I’m starting to wane again and it doesn’t help that I know nothing about Polyani. Alex comment!

4:33pm: I really wish Goodchild had been given much more time to speak. His paper really seemed more of an introduction to moving to a much deeper analysis with some more to say on his suggestions. This guy is really, really slow in his delivery and it isn’t working well with the heat. Apparently he is some expert on Catholic social thought, did his PhD in Italy and felt he had to say something Gramscian. Let’s move on to the discussion.

4:39pm: Does Polyani make equivalent the rise of Communism and Fascism? The crowd is slipping.

4:41pm: Says that there is a extraordinary pressure to sell your body (he mentioned how you can’t get your kidney back) and your environment. These are “commodity fictions” according to Polyani.

4:44pm: Apparently Glasman is the leader of the “Blue Labour” movement. I guess that’s another attempt at the paradoxical, third-way politics.

4:51pm: …

4:53pm: While this guy is talking, thought-experiment inspired by his comment that our bail-out of the banks is the highest gift ever given that they then lend back to us at high interest rates. Is this an example of the gift that can’t be given? Comments?

4:57pm: Question about the gift comment! The only interesting thing mentioned in the whole talk! Glasman then gives the Derridean definition of the gift! Now… next paper.

4:58pm: Michael Mack is the next speaker. Going to try and not use all his time as everything seems stressed for time. The distinction of Modern Jewish Thought after Spinoza is to unmask the secular state as founded by Hobbes as a religious development.

5:04pm: Mack is hitting on some major themes from his forthcoming book. Spinoza’s rejection of community/self, the need for a true community, the development of this thought through to Benjamin and the need for resistance to the cult of capitalism qua religion.

5:12pm: Mack ends way early to massive applause and compliments to his virtue. The discussion moves to questions of sovereignty. Who has it? Money, the government, etc?

5:16pm: Neil Turnbull of Nottingham Trent is next and admits up front that he doesn’t understand how the world financial system works and then says he doesn’t think he needs to in order to understand the crisis. Wants to present a culturalist view of the crisis. Contemporary culture in the West is what drives the crisis. Not about greedy bankers, nothing new about that, but about particular demands that have been placed on the system by consumers. Wow…

5:19pm: Materialist, neoliberal system. Turnbull is a secular theorist (kind of an anomalous sociologist), but he remarkably seems to have a similar individualistic view to that of the encyclical. He may be right that part of the driving force of the economic collapse is cultural, but where is the material analysis of that culture? Perhaps I’m being too Marxist (Tim?).

5:22pm: The culture is largely anti-Christian (Nietzschean-Freudian-Darwinian). Really?! Neil wasn’t here for the talks earlier today that showed the Christian roots of this crisis. Makes the claim that orthodox Christianity is unpopular and is thus counter-cultural. I really think he’s wrong here, the power in religion is not to be found in its majoritarian structures, but the potentia running beneath those structures. Hopefully Dan Barber and I have an article coming out on this soon in JCRT (not sure if it has made it past peer review quite yet). Also an article in Political Theology from coming out sometime this decade (hopefully) that touches on this.

5:26pm: Turnbull has given, ironically, the most conservative paper of the day! Though I can’t tell if he’s doing a kind of description or if he is advocating. Just asked “Am I doing alright?” and Pabst replied “Well, on time it’s alright.” Laughter abounded, I think I said “Oh shit!” out loud. Good times.

5:29pm: New Left colluded with the neoliberals. Sigh. Christianity needs to replace the place left vacant by the Left (!?!?!) and be critical instead of sneering, moralists.

5:30pm: So, I’m a little concerned that this is a kind of Orientalist structure of thinking with regard to Christianity. Not unlike how most of us, myself included, often let our desires stagnate by feeling as if live through the Latin American acts of resistance. Battery is about to die, need to find an outlet.

5:33pm: Alex taking him to task over his negative comments towards young people. Definitely more of a critique than a question.

5:38pm: Blond claims that Sarkozy is the real criticism of capitalism. Well… come now. He’s a reformist of sorts, but that’s about it. Usual for a good deal of European politicians, not unlike Blair really, but that’s hardly laudable!

5:42pm: Laptop dying. See you in a bit. Turnbull kind of blames the crisis on the youth. Seems like blaming the victim, not seems, it is blaming the victim. More when I get back.

6:15pm: Wants to shock us! Wow! Only Christianity can do what the Secular Left used to be able to do – tell a good story. The Left never had a sufficient critique of capitalism or liberalism, but Christianity does! Huzzah!

6:17pm: This is going to be the same old same old mediation talk. So, real quick, one of my main issues with Turnbull’s blaming of the financial crisis on the culture of the contemporary youth is that is completely lets his generation off the hook. They, and not us, are how we got here. We are not de-politicized, but there is a lack of even the modicum of a large-scale structure of resistance left to us by them and they do not join us in our marches, especially here at Nottingham when we have marched against the injustice being perpetuated by our university, its officials, and its collusion with private “law & order” industry, the police forces, and the Home Office. We are not stupid and we will not march into the jaws of death without any sort of hope of winning. That sort of courage is only intelligent in entirely dire situations, when one can win big, but not when we have very little to win. What can I say? We care, I know the students I taught this year care, but there are structures, structures that you allowed to sediment, that we have to wait for a weakening of.

6:22pm: We can have hierarchy and egalitarianism! … though, no word on how…

6:25pm: Ecological disaster isn’t caused by the “fantasized” reality of scarcity. The world can give us so much! Though, you know, science says it can’t. But Milbank assures us those are just liberal politicos parading as ecologists. Though, you know, actual ecologists, the ones who crunch numbers, tell us different. Fuck, that’s dumb.

6:29pm: He actually said “When oil runs out, there will be something else.” What about when water runs out? When arable land runs out? What Milbank is arguing here for is a vapid vitalism, as opposed to a realist vitalism/speculative vitalism of the sort that Bergson first developed and Deleuze and others have taken up. The fact is that, yes, to a certain extent we can work with the universe, especially the earth we’re dependent on most immediately, to fix some of these problems. But this possibility is limited, both by time and material, and the more we wait the less chance we’ll have to actually take these possibilities and make them real. Sure, if you don’t want to call that scarcity for some set of reasons, fine, but scarcity is locally real and there is a temporal aspect and global limits that are very, very real. Though hopefully these limits can be recognized not as a scarcity of resources and thus a real reason for war between nations, but as collective limits that must be responded to by a global, egalitarian Communist movement. Perhaps a reformist movement like the Green New Way is important to begin working with, but certainly this fantastical theological vision of… the influence of Radical Orthodoxy on British politic?!?!… is the enemy.

6:39pm: He keeps making these cute little jokes about colonialism, England as the beginning and end of all things, and Christian superiority and everyone keeps chuckling. I take it as clowning than serious thinking. Wish Nina Power was here.

6:42pm: Christianity in the Middle Ages resisted, but then modernity fucked it all. Ohhhhhh.

6:45pm: Should I even continue to post on this? I mean, he’s essentially just saying some stuff, presenting it as history and, as there is no roundtable and no real secular voices here, it just sits out there as if it were truth. How does one respond to that except by ignoring it? I mean, the man just said “Only Christian socialism works.” The rest of it, the bits that I think are probably right, are taken from secular sources and developed by other secular thinkers in very contrary ways and ways that I think are far more truthful and charitable.

6:54pm: First mention of Aquinas. Though he does say it isn’t to appeal back to a time as that time didnt’ exist. Though… then he says some more crazy shit. I wonder how many American RO types are former D&D players.

7:00pm: It is weird to watch people watch him speak with such smug looks on their faces. I suppose it is enjoyable to hear things that you find “radical” but that don’t change a damn thing about the way you live your life. It is also nice for Christians, largely in the West forming a comi-tragic cult whose cultural and political importance is more asserted than actual. It is almost like being in a strip club, watching the faces of pathetic, undersexed men stare greedily and smugly at the real flesh in front of them giving them the fantasy that they are somehow actually participating in an erotic relationship.

7:15pm: @ the Faith and Theology crowd. A little dig about Rowan Williams. Claiming that Williams supported the risk-based economy, without further comment. Come on guys, join us! Though I suppose it could be true.

7:20pm: Ten minutes to go and no sign of letting up, which means that there will be likely no chance to respond unless the organizers decide to go over the set end time of conference.

7:29pm: Makes the claim that the countryside is at the heart of ecology. Um, no, it’s not. And that Jesus, unlike “all other Rabbis”, used parables from the countryside. I guess this is the “better ecology” promised on the conference poster. I think we would be better off with no ecology if this is better.

7:33pm: Just finished. Wonder if there is going to be any discussion at all.

7:34pm: Extra ten minutes. First question is very servile and celebrating him. Apparently Foucault has no answers.

7:38pm: Fuck this noise. I’m out. I’ll see you all in about 12 hours.

17 thoughts on “Christian Social Teaching and the Politics of Money: Attempt at Liveblogging

  1. I think the point that many a third world theologian (or philosopher/political theorist) would make is that Development carries the baggage of being a certain type of development, that is, development towards a western capitalists system. Liberation on the other hand is a freedom from the grasp and control of any residual colonial powers, and the freedom to be creative in economic and productive forces. When Blond says that the third world sees capitalism as the best way for growth, what he’s really saying is that the capitalists west sees capitalism and the best available option for growth. This is why many a liberation theologian (best example here may be Jung Mo Sung) would claim that the will of the people (excuse the Hallwardianism) is a liberation from market control, not a further dependence on it.

  2. Alex isn’t “asking a question that is more of a comment” every paper though. And he’s not saying crazy shit. Though, to be fair, either is Blond for the most part. He’s said a few interesting things.

  3. well, I love Alex like how I love perfectly cooked pizza; and I love Blond like how I love watching clips from the hills.

  4. Skimmed through this because of bits on Twitter. What a feat to listen, comprehend and write all this stuff down. Amused by what you said about Alex. Enraged about the Milbank stuff. Keep up the good work.

  5. one of my main issues with Turnbull’s blaming of the financial crisis on the culture of the contemporary youth is that is completely lets his generation off the hook. They, and not us, are how we got here.

    Yes. All this hatred poured on the youth is pernicious nonsense. The youth didn’t vote in Thatcher and Blair and stand by while every left wing structure in this country and globally was systematically dismantled. Peter Selby was right to stand up and berate him for his ideas. All this stuff speaks of a kind of dislike for people as they actually are, a kind of intellectual superiority that accompanies this kind of moralising all the time. The irony of saying that the Church must not resort to shrill moralising while engaging in shrill moralising is hilarious.

    The whole conference was marked by a anti-statism which I found boring and a characture of the left that was utterly tiresome, sabre rattling and unproductive. With regard to the former, neoliberalism is NOT opposed to the state in theory or in practice, so revealing that suddenly it is is completely misleading. And as I remind my anarchist friends ad nauseum, we have had 150 years of this kind of anti-statism and we haven’t got anything approaching the brilliance of the welfare state, however much of it is being removed. With regard to the latter, the left we are told has sold out to liberal individualism. What left is this? If you mean the theoretical left, marked by continentalists like Deleuze, Negri and Badiou who are hardly individualists, and by Chomsky, the CSSGJ at Nottingham, the Democracy Now crowd et al who aren’t either. Even Classical Marxism is anti-indivualistic, and so is Foucault. If you mean the practice, anti-globalist, anti-climate change movements are hardly liberal individualists in secret collusion with the right either. Even Tony Blair founded New Labour on a critique of individualism. It is straw manning at its finest.

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