File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0109, message 56

Subject: Re: Mystify me!
Date: Sun, 16 Sep 2001 12:29:17 -0500


Have you ever written a post and then received objections that felt like
they must have been directed at someone else?  It is an interesting
experience to have someone agree with you in a tone of disagreement.  I'll
try responding to you bit by bit in the small areas where we disagree.

> Let's step this down a notch.  You say "there is no meta-science that
> can tell us which beliefs are true." I agree, but then I would turn
> around and ask you if you believe there is any science that can tell you
> which beliefs are true?

Absolutely.  Sciences determine truths for specific conditions.  I am
objecting to the word "mystification" because the strength of its pejorative
or even defamatory tone suggests that the speaker feels justified in
attacking a whole belief system.  Even if the speaker firmly believes in
contingency, the use of a word like "mystification" suggests to me that the
speaker is "on a roll," so to speak.  The speaker enjoys the pathos of
righteousness and is also "on a role":  slips into a certain kind of
performance.  This performance does not just illustrate the problems of a
position.  It attacks the persons and their ways of life.

How effective can this be?  If you want someone to change their position,
you have to downplay what they will have to lose in order to take your
position.  You don't say "You have to slay your God."  They won't.  They
will slay you instead.  What you do instead is suggest a different
interpretation of God which allows for the change.  Those interpretations
already exist.  You yourself have argued that persuading a religious person
to not be religious is nearly impossible, so why try?

> The reason why an atheist and a believer can never reach agreement is
> not merely because the meta-science is lacking or (to invoke Lyotard
> here) because no tribunal exists that can resolve the differend, the
> phrases in dispute.

While athiests and believers can't reach agreement about the question of the
existence of God, how often does that question need to arise?  That is the
kind of conversation that is fun over beer, but impacts upon nothing.  Most
issues cut across that question.  My point was that making this about
secularism vs. religion is useless.  The distinction is, for the purposes of
most situations, negligible.

> So, yes, I believe it is possible to argue politically that institutions
> such as Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are  "mystifications" because I
> think they are adapted to the needs of an earlier age and their inherent
> xenophobia renders them ill-suited to the new cultures blossoming within
> the emerging globalism.

You are calling monotheism primitive, just like colonists called natives
primitive.  No.  We are all contemporaries.  I know the arguments behind
your identification of monotheism and xenophobia, but I don't buy them.  I'm
not a structuralist and so I don't make that kind of statement.  Some
monotheists are xenophobic; some are not.  I think Kevin Kelly provides a
good example of a post-humanist who understands globalism and cyborgism and
is not xenophobic, but who is a Christian.

> What is the meta-science I use to determine this?  None at all.  I am
> simply making an empirical judgement based upon my own holistic garden
> of forking concepts and a set of values that favor greater autonomy and
> self-determination for individuals and hence is opposed to all those
> institutions that remain authoritarian, anti-gay, anti-women and white
> supremacist. (For the latter I am referring primarily to certain strands
> of Fundamentalist Christianity.)

The belief in individual autonomy is one I have always associated with
monotheism, so this turn in your post confused me.  Without favoring either
monotheism OR the idea of individual autonomy, I think finding them
essentially at odds is unempirical.  For better or for worse, one of these
memes seems to have mutated into the other and they now coevolve.  Look at
Jimmy Carter:  Very religious Christian and powerful human rights advocate.
(As an aside, the idea of individual autonomy may be the most powerful force
against the idea of general economy).

> In my own lifetime I have been a Roman Catholic,
> an atheist, a Buddhist, a born-again Pagan, a tithing student of AdiDa
> and finally the practicing Epicurean I am today. How is it that I myself
> became de-mystified, unless you want to posit some thoroughly postmodern
> plurality of selves where it was always just those other folks and never
> me?

I don't accept the idea of mystification so of course I don't think you were
mystified before and I don't think you are mystified now.  And I don't think
you became de-mystified.  I guess you learned some truths and forgot some

> Let's have a postmodernism which honors that instead of an abstract
> relativistic discourse that impoverishes political and social action and
> makes us all a little too weak-kneed before the authoritarian bullies
> who currently run the planet and could care less about metadiscourses or
> metanarratives.  The structures of knowledge may seem relative, but the
> structures of power are not!

That's not fair.  I also object to the shutting down of discourse by
statements like "we are all entitled to our own opinion so lets drop it."
But relativism can be much more sophisticated than that.  Do you think you
are not speaking abstractly?  Obviously we both enjoy and need abstractions.
Relativism does not impoverish political and social action.  It just begins
by admitting that deciding what to do will never be simple.  It doesn't mean
that you never act.  By the contrary it helps us focus on the kinds of
actions that identify and solve particular problems rather than focusing on
the impossibility of making everyone the same religion or -ism.

> For the rest, I liked what you had to say about Bataille, the general
> economy and religion.  Have you seen that Canadian letter currently
> making the rounds? (I think it was even read on tv by Peter Jennings.)
> It also invokes the Marshall Plan as a sign of American generosity.  The
> trouble is that was over fifty years ago.  As you imply, why not forgive
> the IMF debt now that is crippling so many countries?

> best wishes & may you groove with your God to the beat of the times,
> eric

Did I say I believe in God?  I grew up in a completely secular household and
remain secular.  I like to flatter myself and suppose that because I never
left a religion I don't feel the compulsion to make others follow.



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