Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tithing Talk

Good morning brothers and sisters. My name is Zach Myers and I am very grateful to be here today. I am super excited for the upcoming week. Thanksgiving is a holiday that I truly excel at celebrating. My goal this year is to eat my age in servings of turkey, potatoes and pumpkin pie.

I really enjoy food, but I also truly enjoy the spirit of Thanksgiving. I love gathering together with family and loved ones in a spirit of gratitude. During these get-togethers there is a particularly palpable sense of human connection. Nothing quite says love and unity like the bustle of people in a kitchen, warm food, and good conversation. I feel I am in Zion when I feel that special sense of place.

As at the Thanksgiving dinner table, we here in this meeting today are also contributing to the building of Zion. According to brother Joseph, the building of Zion is an incredibly important work that is essential to our salvation. So everyone in attendance today is contributing to everyone else’s salvation. So Thanks. I am grateful to you all for being here.

The subject of my talk today is another task, which like spending time with family and attending church, is also essential to the building of Zion. Namely paying tithing.

Doctrine and Covenants Section 119 verse 2 lays out three purposes for which we paying tithing: No. 1, tithing “is for the building of mine ahouse [temples].” No. 2, as I’ve already mentioned, tithing “is for the laying of the foundation of Zion...” And Third, tithing “is for the debts of… my Church.” I’m going to use these three utilitarian purposes for the institution of the tithe as an outline for my talk. First I would like to talk about the function of tithing in terms of building temples. Next and closely related to this, is how paying tithing helps lay the foundation of Zion; and finally, I’d like to discuss how tithing helps pay debts.

So let’s get started by talking about tithing in relation to temples. There is an explicit link between paying tithing and the building of God’s home on Earth - the temple. The money that we give to the bishop each month is used to pay for the construction and upkeep of the beautiful buildings that we erect in order to worship God. Temples are awe-some in both the original sense of the word – meaning awe inspiring – and in contemporary sense of the word – which is to say they are super cool.

Temples have always been places of sacrifice. In ancient times the temple ritual required a sacrifice of the firstling of the flock. The lamb would be layed on an altar and killed in payment for the sins of the one offering the sacrifice. According to Professor Andrew Skinner, of BYU’s Institute for Religious Studies, the Hebrew word for sacrifice is zbeakh; the Hebrew word for altar is mizbeakh meaning place of sacrifice. Professor Skinner goes on to say that “At the altars of the Lord’s temples today, worshippers covenant to sacrifice all they possess for the sake of Lord’s Kingdom.” So, today as in days past, we make sacrifices at altars – places of sacrifice. Kinda of interesting, eh?

These are serious covenants that require serious preparation. In his talk Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings, Elder Russel M. Nelson says that tithing is a “spiritual seperator”: “[It helps] determine if we truly live as children of the covenant…” Paying tithing is a strong indicator of whether we are truly willing to “live in accord with the will of the true and living God or if our hearts are still set [as it says in Alma 7:6] ‘upon riches and vain things of the world’”. Not only does paying tithing contribute to building temples, the law of the tithe is also what Professor Skinner calls, “a schooling process” which teaches us the principle of sacrifice which is requisite to keeping temple covenants. Therefore, in more way than one tithing contributes to the perpetuation and sanctity of God’s House.

Temples are also related to the second purpose of the law of the tithe, which is the laying of the foundation of Zion. So let’s now move to a discussion of tithing in relation to the building of God’s Kingdom. In the Doctrine and Covenants Section 119 verses 4, 6 and 7 brother Joseph lays down the law of tithing. He says the following:

“Verily I say unto you, it shall come to pass that all those who gather unto the land of aZion shall be tithed of their surplus properties… And I say unto you, if my people observe not this lawand by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me… behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of aZion unto you.”

Herein, brother Joseph mentions Zion several times. He makes it very clear that tithing is absolutely essential to the creation of God’s Kingdom. Tithing is a foundational principle: Without it, there is no Zion. This begs the question: Why is tithing so incredibly important to the building of the Kingdom?

To answer this question I thought it might be helpful to review the Lord’s definition of Zion as revealed to Moses and then to the prophet Joseph, in Moses chapter 7 verse 8:

“And the Lord called his people Zion because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.”

Here, Zion is defined as a place where the people of God are so united in following Christ and administering to others, that they completely eliminated poverty among their brothers and sisters. This lends itself to a better understanding of Doctrine and Covenants section 105 when we read, “But behold, they… do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them; and are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom.”

As this scripture makes clear, when we are not willing to impart of our substance to the help the poor and afflicted we are not united - our hearts are closed to our God and to the needs of those around us. Zion cannot exist if people are not willing to openly give of themselves and assist others in need. Thus, tithing, along with fast offerings, and other charitable giving, are essential because they teach us to impart of our substance to assist the poor and afflicted. Think for instance, on the Perpetual Education Fund instituted by our beloved President Hinkley. Our tithing funds are right now making much headway towards the great goal of creating “no poor among us” by elevating our disadvantaged brethren into greater prosperity via education.

Also related to the creation of God’s Kingdom on Earth, we learn in Doctrine and Covenants section 64 verse 23 that tithing is part of the sacrifice required by the Lord of his saints in the last days prior to his coming. I think Professor Andrew Skinner’s elucidation of the meaning of the word sacrifice is helpful here. Skinner explains that “[t]he word sacrifice comes from two Latin words put together: sacer meaning sacred and facere meaning to make or do.” (Sacer facer – Sacer fice - Sacrifice) “Thus,” according to Skinner, “sacrifice literally means ‘to make sacred.’” So when we sacrifice one tenth of our earnings, we do so in order to sanctify and purify our labors on Earth and show that we devote all things unto God. Not only does tithing unify us, but the law of the tithe also sets us apart and sanctifies our lives as participants.

Jeffrey R. Holland in a talk given in November of 2001 further elaborates how the law of the tithe both unifies us as a people and sets us apart from the world as participants in God’s Kingdom on Earth:

“Pay your tithing as a declaration that possession of material goods and the accumulation of worldly wealth are not the uppermost goals of your existence…. Perhaps our most pivotal moments as Latter-day Saints come when we have to swim directly against the current of the culture in which we live. Tithing provides just such a moment. Living in a world that emphasizes material acquisition and cultivates distrust for anyone or anything that has designs on our money, we shed that self-absorption to give freely, trustingly, and generously. By this act, we say—indeed—we are different, that we are God’s peculiar people.”

This doctrine is incredibly exciting to me. The sacrifice entailed in the law of the tithe is a preparation for the full realization of God’s kingdom on Earth – culminating in the complete renunciation of material goods with the reinstatement of the law of consecration. I exhort you to pay your tithing now, so that, as it says in Doctrine and Covenants Section 85 verse 5, you can be numbered among the members of Zion. Only, thus will you be fully ready for Christ’s return.

Finally I’d like to speak for a moment on Tithing and the renunciation of debt.

Elder Holland has said that, “Paying tithing is not a token gift we are somehow charitably bestowing upon God. Paying tithing is discharging a debt.” In Malachi chapter 3 verses 8 through 10 it reads, “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings...” This scripture makes it clear that when I fail to pay my tithing, I am stealing that which is rightfully owed to God. In explaining this debt, Elder Holland points to the words of Elder James E. Talmage who, “once described this as a contract between us and the Lord. He imagined the Lord saying: ‘You have need of many things in this world—food, clothing, and shelter for your family… , the common comforts of life… You shall have the means of acquiring these things; but remember they are mine, and I require of you the payment of a rental upon that which I give into your hands.’” God created our bodies and God created this Earth; therefore everything that is ours, is in fact His property. Every time we pay our tithing, the act should serve as reminder that everything we have is a gift from God. Furthermore, as virtual tenants on God’s Earth we must deliver our tithe or prepare to suffer according to the dictates of the Law.

This tenant agreement seems like kind of a harsh allegory. Fortunately, there is a flip-side to the arrangement: When we pay our tithing, we learn further from Malachi chapter 3 verse 8, that God will “open the windows of heaven, and pour [] out a blessing… that there shall not be room to receive it.”

Elder Holland in November of 2001 told the following story to illustrate this principle:

“After she lost her husband in the martyrdom at Nauvoo and made her way west with five fatherless children, Mary Fielding Smith continued in her poverty to pay tithing. When someone at the tithing office inappropriately suggested one day that she should not contribute a tenth of the only potatoes she had been able to raise that year, she cried out to the man, ‘William, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Would you deny me a blessing? If I did not pay my tithing, I should expect the Lord to withhold His blessings from me. I pay my tithing, not only because it is a law of God, but because I expect a blessing by doing it. [I need a blessing.] By keeping this and other laws, I expect to … be able to provide for my family.’”

While it may seem counter-intuitive that giving up ten percent of everything one has will somehow help them provide for their family, the blessings of tithing (like so many of the principles of the Gospel) rests on sound footing. For instance in Doctrine and Covenants Chapter 64, immediately after the discussion of tithing as “fire insurance,” comes a warning about avoiding debt. This link between paying tithing and avoiding debt, which is suggested in the Doctrine and Covenants, is made explicit in modern revelation.

Robert D. Hales in May 2009 laid down some powerful insight into the relationship between tithing and the avoidance of debt through fiscal responsibility.

First Elder Hales lays out the disease of which excessive debt is the symptom: covetousness. He says,

“We must keep that most basic commandment [found in Exodus chapter 20 verse 17]: ‘Thou shalt not covet’… Some of us feel embarrassed, ashamed, less worthwhile if our family does not have everything the neighbors have. As a result, we go into debt to buy things we can’t afford—and things we do not really need.”

Then Elder Hales explains how the law of the tithe can help us overcome covetousness: “Tithing helps us overcome our desires for the things of this world and willingly make sacrifices for others.” Tithing teaches us to be content with the things of God and not feel such a frantic desire for material possessions. For this reason Elder Hales is correct in saying that “the foundation of provident living is the law of the tithe…” Paying tithing teaches us to budget with this spirit of provident living. Every month this little commitment to God helps put our finances into greater perspective and helps us make sound fiscal decisions.

Elder Hales illustrates this spirit of provident living with a story:

“Our wedding anniversary was approaching, and I wanted to buy [my wife] Mary a fancy coat to show my love and appreciation for our many happy years together. When I asked what she thought of the coat I had in mind, she replied… ‘Where would I wear it?’… Then she taught me an unforgettable lesson. She looked me in the eyes and sweetly asked, “Are you buying this for me or for you?” I pondered her question and realized I was thinking less about her and our family and more about me.”

I relate particularly well to this story; although, I’m much more guilty than Elder Hales. For instance, for my wife’s birthday I bought her a digital camera. She likes it but she knows the reason I got it was because I wanted a camera and sought to hide my fiscal irresponsibility in the guise of generosity. Hopefully during this Christmas season we can all avoid egoism and be both responsible and generous in the way we dispose of our income. I suggest starting by paying your tithing.

This Thanksgiving Season I hope that we can all be grateful for the great abundance we enjoy as citizens of the United States in this amazing age. No other generation has ever participated in such widespread prosperity as we enjoy today – and that is basically true across the world – as standards of living continue to increase in virtually ever nation. I’m extremely grateful to live when I do and to be born into such a fantastic family and to have met and married such a lovely young hotty.

I’ll close by bearing my testimony that the law of the tithe is a really cool commandment, and if we pay it faithfully, submitting and opening ourselves to God’s will, we will be blessed. Our relationships will be more open and loving, we will feel God’s approval and sanctification in our daily lives, and we will stand on firm financial footing even in unstable times. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Love is a passion for the impossible

I recently read a great article by Jon D. Caputo. His argument is that love, though impossible, is still central and necessary to deconstruction. Love, as we know, is so violent - both to the loving subject and to the object of that affection. Caputo recognizes the cunning ruses of love, but goes on to affirm the name of love through love's negation.

As Caputo explains, in deconstruction everything is trapped in khoral play between being and not being. Therefore, the fact that love is both true and yet impossible should not be surprising to the student of Derrida. Caputo argues that despite knowing full well of the impossibility of love and the cunning ruses employed in the name of love, one must surrender, se render, to the name of love, or to the other of love, without actually expecting love to ever make an appearance. Thus, always saving the possibility of love for the future. Love, like all truth, is a coming-about or more accurately a call that is never actually here. This is how Caputo resolves the contradiction of deconstructive love.

Likewise, he takes the risk of affirming love sous rature. He leaves love in the text but puts a line through it, in order to signify its imperfection as a signifier for the promise imbedded within love. He takes the risk of denying the existence of love in order to save the promise of love. (Save, is here used in both the sense of preservation, and in the sense of setting aside for the future.)

I love this argument. I love the indecision and khoral play of deconstruction. Its like a balm to the frenzy of a skeptical, yet hopeful mind. Never fear to challenge every concept, and every faith, because this is the only way to save these concepts, and to save the possibility of faith for the future.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why Liberty as it is Commonly Conceptualized is in fact Violence

Today I've been thinking about popular conceptions of liberty/freedom. Tea partiers, liberals, conservatives, and libertarians all claim this concept as an end goal; Yet, I don't even understand what the mean by liberty. Do you?

A blogger named Karnick has attempted to answer what for him is meant by liberty. He slices into the void with a common theoretical distinction, attempting to divide libertarian thinking on freedom from progressives concept of liberty. He draws a line between (his preferred) negative liberty and (his opponent's) positive liberty: with negative liberty supposedly being "freedom from coercion by other people" and positive liberty for him being "freedom from social structures." Apparently, as his blog goes on to say, the critics of libertarianism don't understand this distinction and are therefore unqualified to touch libertarian philosophy. (Perhaps because the critics are unbaptized in libertarianism, and therefore unpure?)

First of all I would just like to say, what a weak argument. Firstly, Karnick fails to actually understand these two concepts before righteously flinging them about. You see, Negative liberty, from it's conception, has meant "freedom from" outside forces; and is opposed with, positive liberty which is "freedom to" do as reason (but not necessarily desire) designates.

I found this metaphor from a paper by Ian Carter helpful in understanding the distinction between negative and positive liberty:

"Imagine you are driving a car through town, and you come to a fork in the road. You turn left, but no one was forcing you to go one way or the other. Next you come to a crossroads. You turn right, but no one was preventing you from going left or straight on. There is no traffic to speak of and there are no diversions or police roadblocks. So you seem, as a driver, to be completely free. But this picture of your situation might change quite dramatically if we consider that the reason you went left and then right is that you're addicted to cigarettes and you're desperate to get to the tobacconists before it closes. Rather than driving, you feel you are being driven, as your urge to smoke leads you uncontrollably to turn the wheel first to the left and then to the right. Moreover, you're perfectly aware that your turning right at the crossroads means you'll probably miss a train that was to take you to an appointment you care about very much. You long to be free of this irrational desire that is not only threatening your longevity but is also stopping you right now from doing what you think you ought to be doing."

In this conceptualization, one component of freedom is external (the freedom from), the other immanent (the freedom to).

Now, that we understand the theory behind the negative/positive binary, let's look again at Karnick's definition of positive liberty. He says positive liberty is "freedom from society." Karnick here conflates positive liberty which is "freedom to" with what is actually one of the many dimensions of negative liberty - i.e. freedom from society! This seriously hurts his credibility.

Furthermore, this distinction (negative/positive) has been wielded for a long time. Hobbe's and Locke both built this distinction into their political philosophies, and both concluded (like Karnick) that negative liberty was the primary concern of politics, yet they both arrived at different answers as to the role of government. One envisioned a near totalitarian monarchy; the other a representative democracy with separation of powers. This demonstrates that there is nothing inherently libertarian about the elevation of negative liberty/freedom.

However, the common socio-theoretical idea is that libertarians emphasize negative liberty, while progressives and conservatives are also interested in positive liberty. Essentially, the idea is that liberals and traditional conservatives want to use government to open-up space for positive liberty, by pushing people to overcome their internal barriers via education and social reform programs.

Really though this whole negative/positive binary is just silly. In fact, every group in the US spectrum of politics assumes that there is something or someone preventing them from doing what they want to do - the actualization of their freedom. Liberals feel that society oppresses the poor and conservatives feel that society encourages immoral behavior and libertarians feel that society limits their market choices.

Furthermore, they're absolutely correct! Coercion is inherent to civilization. We accept this implicitly. For example, almost no one, regardless of their politics, would go so far as to say that murderers and rapists should be given free-reign to do as they please. We can easily justify this proposition by saying that the murderers freedom (the freedom to murder), comes at the expense of the freedom of the victim (the freedom to live).

This illustrates what is commonly accepted, in the US, as the proper sphere of the political - i.e. people's rights (freedoms) should only be regulated insofar as the exercise of those rights could potentially hinder the rights of others. In other words, "do what you want in your basement (where I won't be bothered by your inanities), but don't come trampling on my petunias." Murder is a no-brainer. The rights of the victim clearly outweigh the rights of the potential murderer. However, there is a great deal of disagreement about what other rights should be regulated using this logic.

Now, herein lies the shtick. You see all freedom, all exercise of rights or power, all willing, comes at the expense of another person's freedom/rights/power/will. When I exercise my freedom to watch The Daily Show on the TV, I necessarily remove my wife's power to exercise her freedom to watch Studio 5 on that same TV. Another example, when you exercise your freedom to listen to music, you take away the freedom of others in the vicinity to not listen to music. This logic is infinitely regressive: no matter what you do, you necessarily are removing someone else's freedom to do (or be). Therefore, all human action is within the realm of the political! You can't escape it!

For this reason, the uniquely US obsession with freedom and individuality tends to result in social atomism. (See here for a further discussion on rampant individualism.) Each individual tries to separate themselves from society as much as possible; they do this in order to exercise their desires free from the possibility of intruding (and being intruded upon) by others. Basically, the idea goes, "if I listen to my headphones here in my room alone, then I'm exercising my freedom without interfering with anybody else." Yet this is an incomplete solution, because even by assuming control of a given space (i.e. your home) you must divorce that space from everyone else's control; thereby, removing the rights of another person to use and control that space. Just occupying space; therefore, is an act of willing and potentially conflicts with the will of other people. Therefore all freedom (all existence!) - which is to say all exercise of power and will - comes at the expense of the freedom of other people.

We see the reality of this principle in our day to day lives. People are constantly being coerced and/or denied equal treatment. Furthermore, we accept and even enjoy coercion and unequal treatment (We don't want people to have the freedom and equal access of our living room that possess. I lock my door when I go to work...) Furthermore, whether you think the coercion comes from government (libertarians/conservatives/liberals/leftists), from corporations (liberals/leftists), from private individuals (conservatives/liberals/libertarians), or from society in general (leftists/liberals/conservatives), everyone likes to complain about the coercion at work in US civilization. My church coerces obedience through social pressure and guilt, my parents use a similar tool-kit, my job coerces obedience through economic dependency, and the government coerces my obedience through deterrence and fear. This is further evidence of the reality that there is coercion and segmentation at every level of society.

Yet, everyone seems to be missing this essential point: you're never going to eliminate coercion - you will never eliminate violence - because to do so is to eliminate life! (So unless you're an advocate of the end of civilization via nuclear holocaust just give up!) One type of violence/coercion simply replaces another. I will illustrate with an earlier metaphor, there is the coercive violence of the serial murder, which coerces victims to die against their will; and then, partially replacing and preventing this violence, is the coercive violence of the police. I dub this principle The Law of the Conservation of Violence: In a closed system, e.g. civilization, violence, is never eliminated, it just takes on different forms. However, some forms of violence are more tolerable than others.

Conservatives tend to prefer the coercion of their churches and local governments, liberals prefer coercion from the local farmer's market and centrally controlled agencies, and libertarians prefer the coercion of the economic variety (Adam Smith's firm, yet fatherly, invisible hand). That's fine, to each their own, but the reality remains: there is going to be violence.

Now back to the freedom binary, if negative freedom is freedom from coercion, then negative freedom is a fool's dream only accessible to hermits. You will never eliminate coercion-violence.

Those who conflate free markets with free people tend to ignore the violence of markets. Corporations, in fact, have the potential to be more violent/coercive than democratic governments, because they lack the fetters and constraints built into representative democracy. The federal government has some, institutionally supported, responsibility to the welfare of the people; a corporations only, institutionally supported, responsibility is to profit. (Read Chomsky for a deeper look into this subject)

On the other side of economic policy, liberals also have a tendency to downplay the coercive violence of economic regulation. Kelo vs. City of New London, a rather disastrous supreme court decision, is a good example of the coercive violence of governmental involvement in economics. Furthermore, conservatives are absolutely correct in saying that the health care reforms of 2010 are coercive. I happen to think this coercion is necessary; and not particularly onerous; and somewhat alleviates/replaces the built-in structural violence against which the poor of the US struggle; therefore, I support the legislation. However, I still recognize the inherent violence/power/coercion at work.

Also disdainful is the liberal fetish with "education." As though all of societies ills could be solved by enlightened self-interest: "The liberation of the mind!" Baa! All that education has ever done is taught people unique and clever methods for exercising their will to power - New devices for cruelty and coercion. Honestly, is their any environment more coercive than a classroom!? (Perhaps, it's sister the prison? - the reform school of last resort.) To "educate" people to lose their violence, and to police themselves ("self-discipline") is an act of domestication which requires thousands of prods, pokes and cruel Pavlovian tactics.

Likewise, I disdain the libertarian/conservative crowd which wears liberty and freedom as a mask, yet perhaps more than any other demands utter ideological purity. Libertarianism, rather than being individualistic and wild, is at bottom puritanical, paternalistic or both. There is never enough libertarianism - the only law they respect is private property rights of the master class. Furthermore, Libertarianism desires strict discipline via capitalist forces, and abhors collective economic action (outside of the totalitarian organization known as the business or corporation). Libertarians desire fatherly kings who guide their little fiefdoms (companies) with a strong, yet gentle hands, free from the interference of a centralized government. Hence, they are guilty of Puritanism and paternalism.

Let's quit dancing around the subject of violence and coercion in politics - every one of us desires to bend the will of others to fit our own designs. Politics is a competition of wills. Perhaps the founding parent's genius (if there is one) is that they embraced struggle and competition; and were thus able to redirect the will to power into institutional (rather than mortal) struggles. (One of my fears is that they were all too successful. Now we don't even recognize the violence inherent in ourselves and our politics.)

Peaceful politics is an oxymoron.

Feel free to disagree. But, if you do, I challenge you to articulate a social system free of coercion. Whatever you draw up, I feel confident will either embrace some form of coercion and violence, or else be Utopian and silly.

What we need now is a reconceptualization of "freedom"; because, if all that we mean by freedom is "doing," free from the interference of others, then freedom ultimately collapses into violence and struggle. In which case, hurrah!, we're free!

Freedom is violence. This seems silly, but ultimately I think there is a hard kernal of (un)reality in this realization. Embrace violence? If we were to integrate and sublimate violence in ourselves and our politics, then we might be on the path to a freeer path. (On the precipice of the impossible possibility?)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Empathy is Violent

I'm often surprised at how many people are anti-empathy. I'm not just saying people lack empathy (I'm commonly guilty of that), but some people are actually opposed to the very idea of being empathetic.

I participated in a discussion in an English class one time where me and my buddy Mike were advocating an ethic of empathy. The majority of the people who participated in the discussion opposed our advocacy and voiced the opinion that empathy is a bad thing! I personally knew some of these kids to be Christians (and the majority of my school was LDS), which makes these kids opinions all the more unsettling. Given Christ's project of charity, I thought empathy would just be intuitive. How can you claim to love another person - Christ said love all people - if you can't even claim to understand the person? [1]

Why did so many of these students distrust empathy? Their comments suggested that fear was the primary problem. The idea was that if you understand another person, than you will either become like them or understand them so well that you won’t be able to hurt them, e.g. if we empathize with Osama Bin Laden then we will lose the will to kill him.

Which is understandable, yet weak. The critics fail to grasp the possibility of Cold Compassion. Essentially, you can understand and even love a person, yet still do what is necessary to and against them. The critics of empathy are correct in saying that it is much more difficult to kill your enemy when you understand your enemy – but when has the path of the courageous ever been easy?

Yet the critics of empathy are on to something. To truly understand another person is scary. To truly understand another person requires you to become another person in a way. When my cousin Jake blogged about empathy, he dropped the common saying, "walk in another person's shoes." Which is a pretty deep concept. This saying implies actually being another person for a period of time, in order to understand them – if you’re not that other person than what would you be doing in their shoes! Shoe thief!

But if you don't like the other person, this is a scary proposition. Bending one's own will to the will of another is a self-sacrificial gesture (similar to Christ's sacrifice). Empathy as self-overcoming, other-becoming, is a form of divine violence and can be uncomfortable and even painful. For instance, there are some people with whom I am (so far) simply incapable of empathizing. It’s too painful. But that doesn't justify giving up on trying to relate to people; thereby lapsing into solipsism. Rather it only means that I need to further break down my own ego. I need to be more violent to the representations of reality that I hold so dear in order to break through into a glimpse of another person's reality.

Empathy is particularly dangerous to our ego when the people with whom we try to empathize are people that we hate. We don't want to try to understand them because we don't want to be like them. We don't want to be in their skin and we certainly don't want them under ours.

To be true to one's self and truly empathetic one must learn to be a little skizo. One must master the art of seeing from multiple perspectives at once and learning not to devalue the parallax perspective.

Empathy, like love, is as scary as it is violent. However, it is an awe-some and worthy challenge. An ethic of empathy can help you chip away at the soft weak parts of your soul, until all you have left is the hard, inner core. (This is what Nietzsche meant in Beyond Good and Evil about becoming hard). Empathy, then, despite being self-destructive is also self-creative:

Breaking down the artificial constructions I've built around myself is part of the process of becoming what I am.

[1] It's completely wrong-headed for a Christian to say, “even though I don't like so-and-so, I do love so-and-so as a child of God or because I know Christ loves her/him.” Christ said be like him, not just worship him. And when he said love one-another, he meant it as in you personally need to learn to love people – even those that despitefully use you. So it’s dumb to just claim Christ's love as your own - it's a cop-out that stunts your own progress in learning to love while on this Earth.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Spectral Aphorisms from Nietzsche


Every great philosopher makes a fool of her predecessors. If she does not, then she is not great!


Love common people, but absolutely hate and mistrust common ideas! Cast them out from yourself like the discharge from a boil. Else they will overtake you and make you ugly.


Representation is reality; and reality is not.


Truth is a fools battle-cry. There are only, ugly and beautiful, un-truths of varying degrees and types. The pursuit of Untruth, a taxonomy of all that is not - Now that is a worthy pursuit! Probe the inner depths of representation and deceit; plunder it's caverns; and lay up treasures while the day lasts.


The suffering of the strong is the greatest beauty.


Let us never pretend that the criminal has a monopoly on violence. It is the original violence of the masters of society that created the criminal.

Furthermore, all life is violent. To attempt to eradicate violence is to attempt to eradicate life. It is better to embrace violence and sublimate this erotic impulse.

Love is a particularly painful form of self-violence. Christ knew this better than any man. Violence is sublime!