Review of Adam Kotsko’s The Politics of Redemption

The Politics of Redemption: The Social Logic of Salvation is a very provocative book, and its brevity and clarity do not prevent it from also being an ambitious, complex and important undertaking.  The book is very well-structured, and builds to a concise but compelling final chapter where Kotsko constructs his own atonement theory. I like the way he combines theological and philosophical, and contemporary and traditional figures, even if the emphasis is more on the theological and the traditional here. In fact, this is a most impressive example of what Ricoeur calls the “hermeneutics of retrieval.” That is not something that I personally do with my own theological work, which is more critical and contemporary, but I admire Kotsko’s achievement here and he is one of the best people currently engaged in it.

The writing is very lucid and clear, and the book is very well-structured. After an opening chapter that makes the case for a social-relational ontology, Kotsko raises the issue of atonement in Chapter 2. After a chapter on “Reclaiming the Tradition,” Kotsko has chapters where he reads, engages and critically interprets Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa, Anselm and Abelard and their respective understandings of atonement. Chapter 8 is a penultimate setting of the stage, that argues with Karl Barth and Dorothy Soelle for a “religionless” as opposed to a “demythologizing” (Bultmann) orientation to the Christian tradition. Everything culminates in Chapter 9, which is admittedly a sketch rather than a fully fleshed out theory of a “Politics of Redemption.” I am not a scholar of patristic or medieval theology, so I cannot evaluate his readings of Irenaeus, Gregory, Anselm and Abelard, although they seem competent.

Most of the rest of my review will focus on the final chapter, but two quick points. First, whether or not you use Bonhoeffer and/or Jean-Luc Nancy, as Kotsko does, to argue for a social-relational ontology, it seems clear that ontology has returned, so to speak, and that any serious ontological perspective would need to be social and relational in important ways. So I find Kotsko’s claim that “the theological task calls for some degree of ontological reflection” convincing (2). Furthermore, he asserts that  “all the major thinkers in this tradition have been drawn, even if despite themselves, to speak according to a certain social or relational logic in their attempt to make sense of God’s saving work in Christ” (1). At least, it is necessary to read them according to a social and/or relational logic in order to make sense of their work for us today. Second, and this is a petty minor point, but since the book overall is so well-structured, I can’t help thinking that it would have been better to start Chapter 3 by laying out Gustav Aulén’s threefold typology from Christus Victor first and then critiquing Boersma and discussing Weaver. 

A genuine development of Kotsko’s theology occurs during his readings and results in the shift in terminology from atonement to redemption in the final chapter. The problem with atonement as such is its substitutionary character, and any effort to make Jesus stand in for us and represent us, despite his attraction to Soelle’s conception of Christ as a representative (181), seems to delimit human freedom and to make the divine plan automatic, which Kotsko wants to avoid. Redemption is a better word, because it is more participatory and more relational. We can be redeemed, but we can also work with and for our redemption, and Jesus is the model for our redemption insofar as he shows us a way to live without fear/han and without the sin of lustful domination of others. To say that Jesus atones for us seems to mean to replace us, to render human activity redundant, and this is not what Kotsko wants.

In the final chapter, Kotsko defines God as the purpose of the world, such that “the world might be an ever-proliferating network of relationships characterized by enjoyment” (193). God is not everything; the world resists and “pushes back” against God, because it pursues relationships predicated on possession rather than enjoyment.

One thing I really appreciate in this book and this chapter is the role of the devil, and how Kotsko redefines the devil in social and political terms using a “religionless” methodology. So our bondage to the devil means that we live in a social world characterized by possession in our relationships, which is a renunciation of our most important freedom, the freedom to be in relationships without possession or domination of others, including both humans and non-human beings. Our world of scarcity and insecurity is thus marred by ‘sin,’ and this situation creates and perpetuates a state of fear and han—the hopelessness of victimization and oppression that despairs of any possible solution.

God desires our free enjoyment over against our dominance by possessive relations, so therefore Christ models this active possibility. Christ “transcends the dialectic of han and sin….[with an] authority [that] is based in his radical openness to others” (199). According to Kotsko, Christ restores connections that have been cut off, and he does not try to control the outcome of his interventions (200). Kostko stresses the responsibility we as humans have to take up and repeat Christ’s self-effacing actions as opposed to our tendencies for self- and other-controlling ones. The book ends by raising the difficult problem of universalism, which Kotsko does not resolve but indicates two possibilities, first and most briefly a Kantian regulative ideal, and second, a little more fleshed out, Benjamin’s idea of a weak messianic power. I am not sure that universalism is the best name for this problem, which seems to me to be the central problem of redemption itself, although I admire Kotsko’s honesty in facing up to its difficulty. In my new book on Radical Political Theology, I try to come at the problem in terms of freedom thought as potentiality in the work of Agamben and Negri, or virtuality in Deleuze. I suggest that one of the achievements of twentieth century Continental thought, associated both with Heidegger and Benjamin, is a kind of reversal of the Aristotelian potential-actual opposition. The primacy of a kind of messianic potentiality distinguishes the so-called return of religion, although this messianicity itself is then criticized by Malabou and others.

As I said, I admire what Kotsko has done in this short book, and most of all in his last chapter. At the same time, I would question two presumptions here. First, I wonder what it means to claim that the fulfilling of divine purpose depends on humanity, especially considering the broader ecological framework of Kotsko’s thought. In a Heideggerian context, Dasein can ask the question of being, as opposed to animals which cannot, and rocks which simply lack any sort of world. In an evolutionary context, however, it seems a little arrogant and naïve to claim that the proliferation of relationships depends solely on us, even if we arrogate to ourselves the ability to name, value and ultimately to impact the nature and status of many of these relationships in the world.

Furthermore, my second question is a skepticism about how far one could push a distinction between relationships of possession vs. free enjoyment. Again, from a naturalistic perspective, enjoyment seems to be at least implicitly possessive, and we do live in a world marked by scarcity of available natural resources. I know that Regina Schwartz in a different context contrasts attitudes based on metaphors of scarcity vs. metaphors of abundance, but I also worry that part of the Christian and the capitalist worldview is the fantasy of infinite natural resources, the possibility for life to exist in a utopian and Edenic state of proliferation without downside or negativity. I know Kotsko is not naïve here, but this is a potential concern about his choice of metaphor. Furthermore, we could pressure his use of the term enjoyment with the psychoanalytic Lacanian and Zizekian resonances of the French jouissance, which suggests that enjoyment is not an unproblematic or unambiguous term.

My own ontology is more and more Deleuzian, and based more and more on my own understanding, limited as it probably is, of energy and thermodynamics. So I would see Christ more as a singular entity who expressed a powerful vision of life and then died, but that death is itself the resurrection into a repetition of difference that is both absolutely unique and completely inter-related to all other forms of life. There is a Christ-event, but also a Confucius-event, a Spinoza-event, etc. I worry that some of this recent emphasis on Christianity is a desperate attempt to save the West during a time of acute crisis. All these Christians who are so concerned with saving the name of Christ and Christianity are fighting a losing battle. All these Christians and others who are fighting for a more humane world are genuine objects of admiration. What I love about Kotsko’s work is that he is willing to risk the Christian theological tradition in order to see if there is anything it has left to teach us. And it does, or least his book does.

63 thoughts on “Review of Adam Kotsko’s The Politics of Redemption

  1. I assume most readers will wind up focusing on the final chapter, which is why I’m hoping to rework some of the historical argument (with more of a thematic focus on the devil) in a follow-up project. Will I ever write the “full” version of my sketch? The world may never know…

  2. The last chapter was what I was most excited about, although you do a good job building up to it. I envy your clarity of writing; you are able to summarize thinkers and ideas extremely well without over-simplification.

  3. It was “very well-structured” indeed (you repeat it again and again, maybe reading over your review after you finished it would help) – I imagine as opposed to “poorly well-structured” – and probably deserves a better review, no offense, Clayton. The genre of book reviews in the US seems to be losing its steam – it’s either “I hated this book” or “I will scratch your back if you scratch mine” (or, to be blunt, a shameless self-promotion with “in my new book”) – where is the real critical assessment? This review reads as though the author had nothing substantial to say about the book, except that it didn’t agree with his own “ontology” – it’s your opinion against my opinion. Is it really that boring? I found the book to be very engaging and fresh, but after this sort of “review” I feel as though maybe I overestimated it.

  4. On a more substantive level, re: your objection to my focus on humanity. First, it seems obvious to me that you just cannot have a plausible construal of the Christian tradition that is not focused on humanity — that is pretty much baked in when the founding event of a religious tradition is God’s incarnation as a human being.

    Beyond that, though, I would defend the notion that humanity has a special role, at least in the context of the planet earth. Not that humanity is “solely responsible” or that non-human realities don’t “push back” — obviously humanity can’t unilaterally construct reality out of thin air, and obviously what we do has to take into account the reality and structure of non-human reality or else face the consequences. For me, the problem is the substance of what humanity is doing, not the formal element of believing humanity has a special role (or at least that whatever beings turn out to have something analogous to consciousness and responsibility have a special role).

    I also don’t think you can talk about scarcity without also talking about the staggering and scandalous excess that accompanies it in our world. Again, the problem isn’t the idea of abundance as such, it’s the destructive acquisitiveness of the minority that insatiably claims more than they could ever plausibly need or use. The idea that the earth has enough resources to meet basic human needs and a good deal of our desires pretty much indefinitely seems plausible to me — and indeed it seems like a much more effective counter to acquisitiveness than the scarcity model, which to me supports the notion of “might as well get mine while I can!”

  5. It’s not the practical focus on humanity, which I agree is baked in, but the claim that humanity has a special role to fill the divine purpose in the world, as if an “ever-proliferating network of relationships” is only possible via humanity. You could argue that humans have affected the earth more than any other species, but even that raises other questions about how much we imagine we can affect the earth and arrogate for ourselves the power and mission to destroy or save it. Bacteria colonized the world long before we did, and one could argue that they incredibly complex and successful forms of life.

    I don’t think it’s a question of the survival of the earth, but more of us and perhaps animals that resemble us. So I was just zeroing in on that suggestion. You’re right that to say that God takes human form as opposed to a mollusk prescribes at least an implicit humanism and salvific role for human beings in the cosmic plan. But I can’t help viewing that as a kind of myth.

    Good point about the coincidence of scarcity and excess, which always go together. That also means that we cannot simply recommend one over the other in an unproblematic way. But insofar as enjoyment is based on desire, our desires are potentially infinite, and we are at the point where, perhaps for the first time in history, I would suggest that there are not enough resources to sustain the current population for very long. I think that when we reached real global limits to growth, starting around 1970 or so, the response of capitalism has been to mutate into a much more savage form of corporatism that is bent on continuing its own growth by impoverishing more and more of us who are not rich.

  6. I find it less plausible than you that we can explain the political-economic shifts since the 1970s primarily through naturalistic explanations. Even looking at historical oil prices (download the Excel sheet to get inflation-adjusted and percentage-of-global-GDP figures), it doesn’t seem at all clear to me that there was any kind of natural limit being reached — the spikes in oil prices are completely explainable through political factors.

    As I think more about what a non-possessive relationship between humanity and nature might look like, it seems to me that it could be found in one of the (apparent) distinctive traits of humanity — reflective knowledge. I believe humanity has as much right as any other species to survival and flourishing and that our special abilities bring with it a special duty not to pursue that goal in a destructive way, for which my model is “possession” (i.e., I own all the earth and can therefore destroy it if I please). Yes, our desires are potentially infinite, but what if we were able to channel that infinity into knowledge — we want to know the world more and more, which necessarily implies not destroying it, preserving it as much as possible. That makes me think that the reference to Benjamin toward the end was appropriate, because of his persistent reference to study as the definitive activity in the messianic age. Our mission then wouldn’t be to save or redeem the world but simply to know it, since that seems to be something that we are able to do in a way other beings (at least in our neighborhood) cannot do — and in any case, if we do it properly, we won’t interfere with other beings who can perhaps do so in a similar way.

  7. I’m confident that there’s a level of human activity that would be sustainable more or less indefinitely. I also recognize that our current habits are unsustainable and are actively destroying that carrying capacity — to the point where it may become a serious question whether life on earth is sustainable at all. If we do things sensibly, there’s almost certainly enough and probably more than enough. We’re not doing things sensibly, though.

  8. Yeah, I’m more pessimistic than you Adam, and Nietzschean insofar as I can’t see a will to knowledge and reflection as divorced from a will to power and possession and control. Disinterested knowledge is impossible, although I can see why that makes it attractive and an ideal, even messianic, or what Agamben calls impotentiality. The power not to consume or possess seems divine because it is not human, and I think it’s possible at the level of the individual, but not at the level of the society or the species, due to Jevons Paradox, among other things.

    And I know it sounds reductionistic to insist on natural resources, and I don’t see it as the sole cause, but there are complex inter-relationships among natural, economic, financial, political and psychological processes. I do think ignoring the natural factors are at least as naive as ignoring the political ones, though. US domestic oil production peaked in 1970 for lower 48, and US abandoned Bretton Woods and the gold standard in 1971, shortly followed by OPEC oil shocks in early 70s. This coincides with the political changes that took place in the 70s as described by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine. And this is on the heels of the culmination of the Green Revolution in agriculture in the 1960s. So this may be simplistic, but I can’t help thinking that we started to come up against real ecological limits in the 70s, and the response has been an unbelievable shift in wealth transfer from poor to rich that continues today

  9. To put it in theological terms, sin is too pervasive and insurmountable in social-ecological terms. We are evolved to maximize resources in an environment and then die or move on. We are not capable in a collective sense of living in a sustainable manner. We could say that Jesus shows us the way to overcome sin/han/possessiveness in our own individual lives, but that would not change human nature. At least I don’t see any evidence that it has.

  10. That just seems like total fatalism to me, Clayton. Also, I never said we would reach a point of pure non-consumption — that’s obviously impossible. Other creatures consume constantly, though, and no one seems to view that as morally problematic, because it’s not. Is it just fundamentally impossible for an ecosystem involving humans to be sustainable? I guess you think so. I still maintain that humans at least have the potential to learn and change and bind their individual impulses with laws and social systems. We’ve evolved to do a lot of things, and there are a lot of those things that the average human just doesn’t do at this point.

  11. Yes, I would imagine you can. I mean, I still disagree about the “specialness” about humanity, but it’s hardly a minority opinion you’re holding there so I realize the burden of proof is, in some sense, on me.

  12. Fatalism or pessimism is what gives me hope, because it helps me live without (as many) illusions. I know I’m going to die–is that fatalistic? And why is it worse to imagine the end of human civilization or even extinction than my own death? Life will still continue, at least for a while. But after another 5 billion years or so, the sun will expand and swallow the earth.

    Morality seems to apply fundamentally to human activities, and difficult to attribute to non-humans. It’s not a moral question, though, it’s a physical-biological one for me. I don’t think we can live in a sustainable way right now, at least in the terms most people presume when they use that word. To sustain ourselves and our environment–for how long? I don’t think we can sustain current rates of consumption for much longer, and human population is still increasing. That will level off and decline. We will survive and sustain as much as well and as long as we can. But I don’t see it in moral terms because I don’t think we have a choice. We will consume as much as we can until we can’t. I guess that is fatalistic. What’s important is how we survive and live in the meantime. The choices we make are important, and may or may not be the difference between life and death, and what kind of life, etc. But is it possible for an ecosystem with humans to be sustainable? Not now it isn’t, and I don’t see how it could be in the future without a tremendous amount of suffering and death, and even then what sort of world will we/they live in that’s been stripped, poisoned, etc? At least in our terms…

  13. The fast-growing populations are not the ones that are over-consuming. Your average impoverished Third World person likely has a carbon footprint equal to that of the average Western pet.

  14. Immediately upon reading this review I thought to myself, “How long before the conversation about ‘anthropocentrism’ beings?” Lo and behold, there was one of Adam’s trademark Twitter epigrams about the very subject.

  15. Adam is right about the footprint of the majority of humans, but I also think it’s connected, and of course there’s the idea that to give everyone the lifestyle we are used to in the first world, you’d need 6 planets.

    It’s not very nuanced Anthony, I admit, and there are alot of great and important ideas and practices going on, including with Resilience. I do think hypothetically it would be possible for such a world, etc., but I’m just pessimistic that it could actually happen. At least until capitalism consumes itself, and then how much would be left?

  16. But who in the world wants to give up our lifestyle? And who would do so voluntarily without being forced to? I think a very tiny minority, which is inspiring, but most of us will not until we have to. And that’s part of what’s happening globally, that having to give up our wealthy, subsized lifestyles. The immoral part is that we are giving it up so that the super-wealthy can continue to maintain theirs a little bit longer.

  17. I think that a lot of people would like a non-car-dependent lifestyle, for instance, if given the opportunity — I know this from experience. Now that I’ve lived without a car for a few years, I don’t want to go back. Note also that dense areas with good public transit are expensive, which is a good indication that people do in fact want to live in them. And isn’t it pretty much a cliche at this point that suburban life is empty and isolating, etc.? I’m pretty sure there are a ton of entertainment products that tap into this dissatisfaction.

    The perverse thing is that our governmental structures are set up to basically mandate car-centric, suburban-style development — and also supports bigger, separated houses, which wastes heating energy. I don’t think people want to live in faux-communities where no one knows or talks to each other, or spend a big percentage of their life stuck in traffic, or eat nothing but crappy food that poisons them. Giving all that up isn’t giving anything up at all.

  18. Adam, I was under the impression that most 1st world countries have a positive birth rate now. Am I wrong? Where are you getting your information? I ask because I use this in a class, so I need to have my facts right if I’m telling them lies.

    As for the “first-worlders are ruining the planet”. I think this has been a failing of ecologists, one common to scientists in general, in so far as they haven’t done a great job of differentiating amongst different socio-economic groups with stats like this. For instance, I’m fairly certain that my carbon footprint is pretty low compared to, say, random fighter jet tests flights or your average business man who travels twice a week for work. In my environmental ethics class I encourage the students to get past guilt, even if they can’t get past shame (according to the anthropological theory I use in the guilt is about individual actions that you can either atone for or not, whereas shame is about the inherent limits to being a finite being that require you depend on and sometimes kill other finite beings – I argued in my MA that the first is a static or reactive emotion and the other has the potential to be a creative emotion). I for one refuse to pay for the crimes of the rich against the environment or the crimes of the powers. A full-scale recycling scheme, for instance, isn’t really beyond the ability of our society, but I can’t do it anymore than fifty or so of us can do it. We need a large system to do so, and one that is centralized (resilience thinking suggests that certain management issues are better controlled at the local level, but I still don’t see how those can happen without a large, perhaps abstract more than centralized, apparatus). So, that’s where my despair comes from. Lack of power.

  19. Right, Clayton talks about how we can change our own individual living habits, but that is guaranteed not to make a difference in aggregate.

    One point I was trying to make with suburban development is that the whole system is full of what can only be classified as pure waste — built-in sequences where tons of energy is expended for something that none of the participants really do or can want (commuting in heavy traffic is the classic example). And of course, those very structures were set up to benefit property developers, auto makers, etc., so that even the stuff that the Average Joe is doing to destroy the environment (in a serious way) is ultimately built to line the pockets of the rich.

    I don’t think you or I really need to give up anything to create a sustainable lifestyle, Anthony. Clayton might, depending on how far he lives from campus and in what kind of dwelling — but apparently he’ll only do so if he has a gun to his head, due to evolution or something.

  20. Right, the current power is not interested in fundamentally changing how things work. So nothing will really change until this power does not have power. And that’s the fatalism, but also the opportunity–how long can this current process continue before breaking down and consuming itself, and how much of the world will it bring down with it? There might be a chance, but it’ll be a slight one.

  21. Anthony, On the stat with birth rates: you’re probably right. Sorry to throw shit out there without backing it up adequately. I’d imagine that the higher birth rates are likely in the lower socio-economic classes, though — perhaps even concentrated in immigrant communities. (Doesn’t Japan have a negative birth rate? They restrict immigration much more than any developed country.)

  22. Clayton, It seems possible that a “green boom” could deliver benefits comparable to the old “tech boom” — if it’s directed toward actual technological development and infrastructure rather than rent-seeking bullshit like “cap and trade.”

  23. It seems like it should be, but the problem is I see it is twofold: we don’t have the cheap energy required to blow up a green bubble, and so much of the economic boom is smokescreen for business as usual, or a total scam like ethanol. None of the alternative energies have the EROEI (energy return on energy investment) that fossil fuels do, unfortunately. And so much of our infrastructure is fraying and falling apart, and the tea party-led Republicans are gutting all social spending so as to make impossible investment in infrastructure on a large scale.

  24. Adam and Clayton, you sort of make up the two poles of “the actual problem” as I discuss it in my class. So, whatever that is worth. Sort of sucks that the only way to be a revolutionary now days is to burn yourself and hope that being massacred leads to a democratic government. I mean, I’m down for running up on them crackers in their City Hall, but that’s not kosher to say now days.

    Adam, yeah, Japan has a negative birth rate due more to racism than anything else.

  25. I’ve read more optimistic things about solar and wind at least, though both would depend on improved battery storage technology. Nothing is ever going to be as good as oil, but does it need to be? As I say, a lot of the energy we’re getting out of oil is basically pure, 100% waste, if not actively detrimental to people’s quality of life.

  26. Anthony, Explain this two-poled “actual problem” a bit. I do understand that what I’m saying isn’t totally incompatible with what Clayton is saying — perhaps the main difference is the affect?

  27. Clayton,

    Don’t you think that the EROEI problem is due to lack of investment more than anything, though? I know of some people in groups working in alternative energy who feel like they can’t get anywhere because of a lack of funds, rather than an inherent limit to reality (I’m a Deleuzian in terms of metaphysics, and a Heideggerian in terms of current biospheric regime – meaning I don’t recognize a limit to the cosmos as such, even if I recognize that there are finite ways for currently existing finite beings to combine).

  28. There is a ton of waste, and part of what we can and need to do is find ways to do things more cheaply and efficiently. We need to invest and explore solar and wind and every other option, including nuclear, but there’s no easy solutions from what I’ve looked at.

    As I understand it, the battery storage is one problem, and improving that would help a lot with what we currently do have and can do, but there are real limits to this technology even so, unless you posit some sort of technological breakthrough that doesn’t seem currently available.

  29. I’m saying that the argument you’re having, which seems to be frustrating you both a little, is the one that has to be had. It’s the argument around the actual problem, rather than the argument we have to watch people in power go through regarding, you know, bullshit. So, it’s a question over what it means to be human in an ecologically determined world, what it means to have a society there, how to respond to a crisis that is obviously there, etc.

  30. There’s an interesting article in the most recent n+1 that argues electric cars would be the game-changer in terms of pushing battery technology and stabilizing demand on the power grid (apparently coping with swings in demand throughout the day generates a lot of waste).

  31. You know Tesla really thought he could pull power out of the air and transmit it without wires. I wonder if he was right. Fucking Edison fucked us all up. That’s the real culprit, none of this Duns Scotus shit. Edison.

  32. Anthony, yes and no. i think we need the investment, but there seem to be inherent practical limitations, at least as far as current technologies go. There’s the hope, but it may be just a hope. I just think that lots of brilliant people have been struggling with this even if it hasn’t been on the radar.

    It makes sense to me to see Adam and my perspectives as two poles, positive and negative. And I’m less interested in being right than in the practical effects of facing up to the difficulty of the problems we’re facing.

  33. Thanks Anthony, for the constructive point about our disagreement. And I think we’re more compatible than incompatible. Part of what’s so frustrating is the split between serious philosophical thinking and important scientific knowledge that persists at least in the US. So that most people thinking in theological terms about these issues are relatively ignorant, myself included.

  34. “So that most people thinking in theological terms about these issues are relatively ignorant, myself included.”

    Don’t pull that humble theologian card! No humility allowed at AUFS! We leave that shit for the pious over at Inhabiatio Dei and Faith and Theology. Here we make no apologies! And then we drink. Or at least I do. And Brad. Can always count on Brad to drink. In a good way.

  35. Right, this is all tied up in money too, which is why Goodchild is so important. The problem is you can’t just fix one thing, because it’s connected with everything else.

  36. The problem underlying the link between oil and money is that any change has to be compatible with steady returns on existing financial assets. The technological and logistical problems involved in shaping a more ecologically resilient society are bad enough, without throwing that extraneous requirement on top of them.

    To that end, I would support the Federal Reserve printing money to guarantee a set return on all financial assets, as long as their owners would agree to shut the fuck up and leave the rest of us alone.

  37. Alright, let’s drink, and here’s to Brad too! Damn that was good. Apologies for Jack T. for the insubstantial review, but it opened up to some serious shit.
    Thanks guys! I gotta read up some more on this resilience stuff.

  38. Another problem: none of our politicians actually wants to exercise power. I remember a scene from Deadwood where a politician had made a particularly bold move and Al Swearingen said essentially, “A politician would never have the balls to do that, he must have someone behind him” (and that turned out to be Hearst). To me, that is emblematic of the American experience — the people with real ambition go into business and the politicians are generally mediocrities who serve them. Even if we had people in office who “sincerely believed” in major transformation, the odds that they’d be willing to do so in a way that really put incumbent capitalists at a disadvantage are extremely, extremely low.

  39. “I gotta read up some more on this resilience stuff.”

    I think it’s important, but it needs to be pushed. They are often very middle of the road in ways that are unhelpful. It is good to be reminded that you have to do with that, but I also noticed the author’s throwing in some vague references to socialism (Walker, the co-author of Resilience Thinking, is Australian and may be a “watermelon”, i.e. green on the outside, red on the inside).

  40. But how will people know when John Milbank has posted on ABC Ethics and Religion? Or what micro-brew beers are currently popular amongst quasi-emergent, high-church, traditionalist, pacifistic Epicopo-Mennonites?!

  41. I don’t think the possibility of the discovery of a paradigm changing energy technology can be easy ruled out. There’s a real chance something like that could happen. We are so far away from any kind of thermodynamic limit on life on this planet.

  42. Hill, email me at if you want to hear about a possibility for that, as crazy as it sounds. The downside is that we can’t find anyone who can critically evaluate it. Of course it might be crackpot, but that’s the risk of new ideas.

  43. Oh, if only D. G. Leahy could put his powers of arcana to more productive use we’d have all this nonsense solved in time for drinks not watered down by our tears, or, worse still, drunken spit from half-thought-out / quarter-understood assertions of certainty.

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