Saturday, July 04, 2009

NOT Independence Sunday

Instead of composing my own piece on the problem of celebrating the 4th of July in church, I am linking to a blog written by Michael Gorman, a new professor at Duke who has written some good books, particularly his one on Paul.

Check out what he has to say here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Prenatal Testing and Eugenics

I have not posted for a while, and I'm not terribly upset about that. But I am posting a link to my final paper for my Christian ethics class. I've had a few people express interest in reading it, so for your leisure I present it to you. I wrote on prenatal testing.

Prenatal Testing as Eugenics: Diagnosing the Undesireable

Monday, December 22, 2008

Starbucks, Apple, and AIDS

Okay, so I never got around to writing a post on the election, and my reasons for not voting. But I have wanted to lay out some thoughts bouncing around in my head for the past month.

At the beginning of the month Starbucks participated in the effort to aid World AIDS relief by contributing 5 cents for every specialty drink ordered. On December 1, you could get your coffee and help a great cause as well. At least, that was how it was marketed. Starbucks expanded their advertising for the promotion to facebook, which of course allowed for numerous comments on the event's “wall.” The comments were pretty evenly split between people saying, “greedy Starbucks, 5 cents is hardly anything!” and others saying, “Great! I can get Starbucks and help a good cause!”

My first reaction was to echo the thoughts of the former group, as 5 cents really isn’t much at all. Plus, the event was intended to increase the consumer presence in each national Starbucks, thus actually boosting profits for the day. In short, Starbucks was not sacrificing anything to give 5 cents to AIDS relief per drink, and probably made out better than a typical day.

But all that aside, I began to think about the premise behind Starbucks’ “participation” in AIDS relief. I was particularly struck by a comment a person made on the facebook event. This young man voiced his disdain for Starbucks coffee, but then said, “Besides, I’m already doing my part to help AIDS relief by buying the Apple RED iPod.”

...Did you catch that? “I’m doing my part by buying the Apple RED iPod.”

Jean Baudrillard wrote of what he called the “simulacra.” He utilizes this concept to analyze, in particular, the democratic United States. I would not pretend to understand all that he intimates with this term, but the basic idea is that the simulacra is the copy without an original. It is pure simulation that stands in the place of reality, but to which no reality corresponds. The simulation becomes our reality. Baudrillard suggests that the simulacra is basically how we Americans experience all life. For example, the way we experience a football game is the same way we experience the Civil War; through the television. Or the way we experience the Iraq war is through the media, which is of course a particular narration/simulation of reality that has become the reality of the war as we experience and know it. All of it is simulation. The entirety of our lives is formed by the simulation, the simulacra.

What Baudrillard also observed is the way that simulacra renders citizens immobile. It thwarts social action. It does so by absorbing our activity into the proliferation of images and simulations that shape our bodies. With this in mind, reflect again on Starbucks mode of participation in AIDS relief: buy our coffee. Even more direct, slowly read what Apple says on its site about the RED iPod. “Since its introduction, (PRODUCT) RED has delivered over $100 million to the Global Fund. And now you can make an impact by purchasing (PRODUCT) RED.”

I find this absolutely remarkable, and really quite genius. Participation in AIDS relief is tied to buying an iPod. You participate by consuming. Thus, both Apple and Starbucks have found a way to simulate participation in AIDS relief by reinforcing the shaping of our bodies in practices of consumption. Therefore, simulacra ensures that we will continue to find ourselves trapped between processes of consumption and production, buffeting the continued success of capitalism, and the commodification of the entirety of our lives. I can now be “involved” in AIDS relief without leaving my home, without going abroad, without touching people, without moving outside of habits of consumption. My involvement in AIDS relief is clicking a button on the computer to purchase the RED iPod. Remarkable.

Like I said, I find this ingenious. Our reality is the simulation of involvement, and it is tied to consumerism. American capitalism has in part contributed to the poverty of nations in which AIDS is running rampant. But now capitalism is employed as the way to end AIDS. It is self-reinforcing. And global capitalism has the incredible ability to absorb all of life into itself. This AIDS event is merely another manifestation of capitalism’s ability to enact this absorption. I do think a critique needs to be brought against all of this, in order for our bodies to be freed from being both commodified, and from commodifying. But that’s not my main purpose in writing this brief account. I find the complex connections here astounding, and I am merely giving voice to that. My social involvement in fighting AIDS is tied to purchasing an iPod…now that is amazing.

I hope to write a post soon in which I detail how voting can be/is often simulacra. In fact, voting in the democratic United States is one of the principal ways this state ensures its own survival, and the pacification of its citizens. I also would love to unfold how the office of President is a kind of simulacra, in a way that is not so for most other nation-states. But Christmas break is only so long…. :)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Forthcoming Post

It's true, I've largely given up on blogging. With 70 pages of papers to write between now and the end of the semester, it's difficult to imagine that I'd find any time to post snippets here. Furthermore, I suspect my readership is quite sparse, and my failure to blog regularly has not helped this. Nonetheless, I'm not ready to shut this thing down yet. Indeed, that may come, in time. But I would like to keep this space available for those who find it difficult to keep up with what I'm thinking and writing to have a brief snapshot.

Therefore, I thought it might be prudent to let ya'll know that I will hopefully be composing a short reflection on the recent national election. As all of you know, this was one of the most vicious and divisive elections of my lifetime. I found my stomach being turned all too often. I was especially ashamed and disappointed in many of my Christian brothers and sisters. Things were said (and are still being said) from Christians of a variety of political persuasions that are absolutely unacceptable as Christian discourse. So, with all that said, I intend to focus my post on why I did not vote. I'll admit, I'm glad with the outcome and think Obama will be a fine president. But I am even more confident in my conviction and decision not to vote in this past election. Those of you who know me well know that I consider voting to be the exception, not the norm, of Christian engagement in US politics. And I was far from convinced that this was one of those exceptions. Therefore, if time permits, I hope to set forth some of the reasons why I did not vote, the preeminent one being that I was firmly convicted theologically not to do so. The rest unfold under this.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Are Women Voters Sexist?

I'm interested. Ostensibly any and every critique of VP-candidate Sarah Palin is construed as sexist by the McCain campaign. This is as ridiculous as saying calling Obama "uppity" is racist (although it's always confused me as to how Obama is the elitist when McCain is the one with over 7 houses and a wife worth $100 million...). Of course this is merely a manifestation of the reality that in elections like this truth is the first casualty. Christians should be particularly careful with the words we use in this season as well as with the extent and type of our participation in these coming elections. For the moment, though, I'd like to briefly pause on this claim that the Obama campaign is sexist for criticizing Palin. Various news-outlets report that a significant number of white women voters have (for the time being at least) put their support behind McCain, because of the selection of Palin for VP. How is that not sexist? How is it that Palin may potentially poach disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters when she is Clinton's ideological opposite? I suspect McCain's campaign may be right when it says this election is "not about the issues." At the very least, McCain seems to have bought into that quite thoroughly. Obama, of course, has his own problems with this as his entire campaign has been tainted with questions of racism. Is it racist to vote for Obama because he is black?

I suspect most will not actually reduce their voting rationale to whether a candidate is a woman or is black. Nonetheless, it is curious how the platforms of these candidates for the present time seems to have receded into the background and their distinctive novelty is what powers the polls.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sweet Stewart

This is not intended as a partisan ploy on my part. Do I think McCain's recent antics/ads are ridiculous? Yes. But his running mate proves McCain does not have the monopoly on ridiculous. This presidential race has already about run its course for me...But mainly I just love Jon Stewart. :) Enjoy, and laugh a little for Pete's sake. This election season is at least good for that.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Time for Some Campaignin'

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