Why I have no time for Girard

In lectures and conference presentations, I often have occasion to mention the ransom theory of atonement, or the crucifixion more generally. As such, I am very, very frequently asked how my work relates to Girard. And my answer is: it doesn’t, because I have never read Girard, indeed never even held one of his books in my hand.

I don’t expect that I ever will. Why? Because — although I’m sure there is a vast archipelago of nuance and subtlety that I’m missing here — every summary of Girard that I have ever read or heard sounds like a simplistic social theory that just so happens to make Christianity unique and central. In fact, I suspect that it’s the simplicity of his theory that makes it such a go-to for Q&A sessions, because it makes Girard the one theorist of the cross everyone can remember.

Admittedly, I may be falling victim to the paralogisms of pure dismissal insofar as I’m giving reasons for dismissing Girard. And it could be the case that there’s a valuable counter-reading that I could find if I studied his work intently, reading against the grain, etc. But given the unanimity of the summary accounts, I just can’t imagine that there would be some amazing nuance that would save Girard and make his theory useful to me.

Ever-expanding health care costs

We’ve all heard it before. A Republican says that Social Security and Medicare are going to bankrupt us, and then a clever liberal says, “Aaaaaaaaaaaactually, Social Security will be fine with minor adjustments — the real driver of deficits is exploding health care costs!” Whenever I hear a cliche explanation like this, I tend to assume it must be bullshit to some extent — and lo and behold!

Now of course there’s the question of why I would give credence to the Federal Reserve study summarized in the link post over the absolute lock-step consensus of liberal commentators that the deficit is of course very important and we of course need to get health care costs under control. I think the problem as I see it is that this “nuanced” approach basically accepts the Republican premise — namely, that we should be building government policy primarily around artificial accounting artifacts such as “the deficit” rather than actual human need — and shifts the terrain toward comfortable liberal positions. The need to get health care costs under control is, indeed, a position that both neoliberals and paleoliberals can enjoy: the neoliberals get to tinker with their wonky models for “nudging” market incentives, and the paleoliberals get to impotently point out that single-payer is obviously the best way to control costs.

What fun! We get to be smart and nuanced and really engage with smart conservatives, and fantasize about our favorite policy solutions! No wonder no one bothered to question the math!

Who gate-keeps the gate-keepers?

Zizek has an article up about Islam over at ABC Religion and Ethics, which is obviously one of the Official News Sources of AUFS. It makes some interesting points, but I was disappointed to see an obvious error:

But let me now move to a further key distinction between Judaism (along with its Christian continuation) and Islam. As is apparent from the account of Abraham’s two sons, Judaism chooses Abraham as the symbolic father; Islam, on the contrary, opts for the lineage of Hagar, for Abraham as the biological father, thereby maintaining the distance between “the father” and God, and retaining God in the domain of the un-symbolisable.

It is nonetheless significant that both Judaism and Islam repress their founding gestures. According to Freud’s hypothesis, repression in Judaism stems from the fact that Abraham was not a Jew at all, but an Egyptian – it is thus the founding paternal figure, the one who brings revelation and establishes the covenant with God, that has to come from the outside.

Emphasis mine. Continue reading “Who gate-keeps the gate-keepers?”

The Great Unignored

Yesterday unless you were living under a rock, readers of this blog from the UK will have noticed that campaigning for the General Election has begun. Speaking at the launch of his campaign, David Cameron spoke of “the great ignored” who his party was seeking to represent – a list which initially included gay as well as straight people, but this ended up too controversial for him to say. Of course there is some speculation who these people are, yet considering this list encompasses seemingly everyone, we are in familiar territory, a classic right wing appeal to ‘common sense’ and ‘the moral majority’. But there is one section that is certainly not ignored by the Conservative Party – the mega rich, members of the ‘Leader’s Club’.

A donation of £50,000 a year buys you access to the Leader’s Club, though cheaper options are avaliable at £25,000 (The Treasurer’s Group or £15,000 (the Renaissance Forum) if you have this money hanging around to make in a political donation. These clubs all give access senior members of the Conservatives, but in particular The Leader’s Club offers you direct access to David Cameron and the shadow cabinet in the form of lunches, drinks receptions and general hobnobbing with the potential future government. It had approximately fifty members in 2006, though full membership is undisclosed. As the Private Eye reveals, the sort of individual who is a member is exemplified by Jitesh Gadhia, the head of advisory at Barclays Capital, the investment bank wing of Barclays bank. Barclays Capital had £2.6 billion of exposure in the US sub-prime market (one of the major causes of the credit crunch) after it had been written down. The full list, could probably be established by consulting the list of party donors and working out who gave exactly the right amount of cash, or more. Other members of the club likely include David Rowland, a property magnet, and chucked a million or so into the party’s coffers. Just paying the door fee with 50k are David Harding, hedge fund manager, Hüseyin Gün, direct investment manager, Ryan Robson, head of private equity fund Sovereign Capital, Anna Hobhouse director of Wittington Investments, Stephen Morant of Morant Wright investment managers, Christopher Rokas of Brevan Howard hedge fund, Ramez Sousou of Towerbrook and David Royds of Matrix Group, two of the largest private investment companies in the UK. The group itself is organised by Andrew Feldman, who like Peter Mandelson and George Osbourne enjoys hanging out with Russian billionaires on boats attempting to get them to donate to the Tories, Cameron’s friend since they were at Oxford together. This shouldn’t surprise anyone or why it is particularly easy for the Conservatives to feel part of these circles. The Tories co-treasurer is a hedge fund manager Stanley Fink, its treasurer Michael Spencer, who is a city inter-dealer broker. Indeed, sorting donors from the city is a major element in their plan to “blow Labour out of the water”, and the two openly admit that they are “dependent a lot upon entrepreneurs and business people, financial people or property people”.

One voice that is not the great ignored in funding and shaping Tory policy is The City and investment bankers, the very same city that brought this country to its knees in the Credit Crunch.