File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0109, message 70

Subject: Re: re 9/11/01
Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2001 12:00:33 -0500


Don't worry about offending me.  This is fun (but scary).  What
statements/proposals defend fundamentalism?  Mine?  As far as I am able to
read what you are saying, here is your silly gism:

1.  Matthew defends religion from attack.
2.  All religion is fundamentalism.
3.  Matthew defends fundamentalism.

I was making a distinction between fundamentalism and religion in general.
If you are going to elide the specificities of different religious views and
practices, well, there's our differend.  My whole feeling about religiosity
is that it is so diverse that it couldn't possibly provide a monolithic
obstacle to political improvements.

Dumezil's argument as you report it sounds like Adorno's and Horkheimer's
*Dialectic of Enlightenment*, only without the punchline.  My copy of DoE is
not here, so I will quote Martin Jay:

"The Enlightenment, for all its claims to have surpassed mythopoeic
confusion by the introduction of rational analysis, had itself fallen a
victim to a new myth....  At the root of the Enlightenment's program of
domination, Horkheimer and Adorno charged, was a secularized version of the
religious belief that God controlled the world.  As a result, the human
subject confronted the natural object as an inferior, external other.  At
least primitive animism, for all its lack of self-consciousness, had
expressed an awareness of the interpenetration of the two spheres.  This was
totally lost in Enlightenment thought, where the world was seen as composed
of lifeless, fungible atoms:  'Animism had spiritualized objects;
industrialism objectified spirits.'" (*The Dialectical Imagination* 260).

In other word, it's not that in the absence of terror people are able to be
rational and don't need religion (as you describe).  It is that the human
domination of nature has made people less afraid of nature (because it seems
less angry and more logical), but has also increased the domination of
humans over humans (because we are part of that subdued nature.)
Rationality is another mythic construct (another religion) which diminishes
fear of nature but increases the fear of human nature and legitimizes the
technodomination of minds/bodies.  It's root metaphor is mechanism and it
treats people like machines.

When I was ten I read a book called *Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy*.
Very silly, funny and clever.  I don't know if it would still be good at 30.
Anyway, there is a restaurant scene in which the cow that will become dinner
is also a waiter.  The cow comes to the table and tries to make its
hindquarters sound more appetizing.  This is how we might view the
Enlightenment:  It teaches us to be self-reflexive, intelligent and
communicative so we can help the system enslave us more efficiently.  19th
Century slaves broke the plows so they could rest.  20th Century slaves
organized labor so that it could be less painfully (more efficiently)
extracted from their bodies.  21th Century slaves are finding less painful
ways for labor to be extracted from our minds.

I'm writing this so pessimistically for effect.  You can tell the story in a
pretty way also, as a tale of rising productivity and living standards.

In any case, what is perfectly clear to me is that the BIG SCIENCE allows
people of all different religions (faith-driven or secular) to participate
without destroying their differences.  All is permitted, so long as it
doesn't obstruct the creation of markets or damage the financial
institutions.  Fundamentalism provides an exception, depending on how you
look at it.  It has to be discrete (separated and nondisruptive).  The
jackbombs were anything but discrete and here comes the discipline.

You ask me to expand upon my discussion of the difference between
fundamentalists and religious people in general.  If you ask a specific
question, I will have a better idea of what needs filling in.  The point of
that paragraph was definitional.  I was trying to create an "excluded
middle" between fundamentalism and relativism.  Fundamentalists like to boil
life down to a single imperative. "Do what this text says and it only says
one thing!"  Or "Make Islam the only religion by any means necessary!"  Or
"Convert the world to Christianity!" Or "Obliterate religion so we can think

Nonfundamentalists try to live with conflicting needs and desires.  I want
more toys and to impress people, but I want to be considered a good person,
but I want my children to have what they want, but I don't want them to be
materialistic, but I want them to be well educated, articulate and
sophisticated, but I don't want them to be classist, but I want to have
humility, but I don't want to be slavish, but I want to achieve things, but
I don't want to step on other people, etc.  MORE TO THE POINT:  I realize
that my ethics come from an ancient tradition with wierd assumptions about
the world, so I have to negotiate the ethics I inherit with what I see going
on in the world.  There is no simple picking one or the other.

A fundamentalist religious person thinks they can reject the new in favor of
the old.  A fundamentalist athiest thinks they can reject the old in favor
of the new.  And we suffer.

This is my oversimplification intended to squash the anti-religious
superiority complex that only blinds us to own unthinking dogmatism.  If
Sept. 2001 leads us to WWIII between the East and West it will be because 1.
religious Christians like Bush allow fundamentalism to take over and start a
new crusade (He even used the word "crusade" the other day.  To me that was
the fifth jackbomb.)  and 2. the seculars go along because they view the war
as the Rational vs. the Superstitious.  In other words, the terrorists will
have their way in creating a war between fundamentalisms.


----- Original Message -----
From: Steve Devos <>
To: <>
Sent: Monday, September 17, 2001 3:55 PM
Subject: Re: re 9/11/01

> Mal,
> Please don't take the following in any sense personally, that is not my
> occasionally in these discussions things sometimes get 'rough', that's
all. In a
> truly civilised, physically non-violent society human beings would not
have to
> be polite.
> The statements/proposals made are indeed a defense of fundamentalism and
> fanaticism. I would regard any defense of religion and spirtuality as an
> acceptance and defense of the irrational, accompanied by a reluctance to
> that the most useful philosophical/social position is one founded on the
need to
> investigate and understand 'it' from a secular stance. The difference
> the Pope, the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury, Rabbi J.Sachs, Billy Graham, some
> fascist evangelical priest, Mullah Oman, the sick Muslim in North London
who has
> been encouraging young men to die for Allah... the difference is small, in
> ideological terms there is no real difference. Are the figureheads of the
> religions saying 'no'  to the virtual war that is struggling to turn into
a real
> one? Perhaps a few... There are always good exceptions...
> The position of religion in human societies has best been defined and
> by Dumezil in his work on comparative mythology. It is as myth, an object
> of study and understanding alongside all other aspects of the human
> It's importance is perhaps, not in its humane specificity to the terror
> lies in the heart of the human condition, after all as the terror
> societies have tended to become more secular, recent changes changes
> from the postmodern economy have increased the unpleasent socieities and
we have
> thus seen an increase in religious activity.  (Eric I have been checking
> statistics since we last communicated about this... more anon). However
what is
> especially interesting is its mythological relationship to the state - all
> religions desire to occupy a position of power in relation to the state,
to in a
> sense become the state....
> During the modernist period this was being increasingly supplanted by the
> science-technological nexus, recently the postmodern shift has thrown this
> slightly into question and the lack of anything better...
> In the sense of your post I may confess to being at times like this
> atheistic, however I would reject the notion that they are
indistinguishable -
> in philosophical terms people have often suggested this (Lyotard in
> Phenomenology for example) but I think that the argument, to propose an
> alternative reading than the last time I  discussed this on the list,   is
> deeply flawed because it appears to relay upon a binary construction which
> be founded ultimately on Pascal's false wager. Pascal's wager only works
if you
> accept its initial theistic position and not if you assume, as an atheist
> that each 'god' is a unique myth in itself worthy of study because human
> societies invented them, in the same way that there are myths surrounding
> 'white house' or 'friends'....
> The below paragraph, which is extremely generous to fundamentalists, of
> creeds, is contrary to the existing evidence. Except where it hints at the
> levels of the legitimisation of violence and aggression.
> > Fundamentalists are people who think they perceive the totality or who
> > believe in the pure representation of language.  If their understanding
> > that violence is required--even suicide--they don't question that need.
> > They act.  On the other hand, it is probably also true that they are
> > hesitant to be generous and kind.  This intolerance for unsurety makes
> > people very effective, tremendously manipulable and extremely dangerous.
> I would like you to expand on the following -
> > Among "rational people" or the more circumspect, I think religion is
used as
> > the rationalization for violence because religious language provides the
> > phrase universe from which they can draw.  They rationalize their good
> > in exactly the same way.  'Freedom" or "vital interests" or "Revolution"
> > talk can just as easily provide justifications.  Religion is not the
> > of the murder or the good deeds, because "moderates" don't make
> > that way.  Most people balance many different considerations before
> > starting with life, food, shelter, clothing and on down.  Unless on
> > deathbeds, religion is often placed very low on the list of priorities.
> > Nevertheless, when it comes time to make an argument, it hops to the
> > Why?  Because that's the rhetorical tradition people have access to.  It
> > the pathos trigger.
> >
> > It is worth adding that religious people are fully aware of the
> > contradictions between Jewish, Muslim and Christian theology on the one
> > and capitalism on the other.  "Do not worship money" is the most
> > sermon.
> later...
> >
> >
> > The ethics I hear on this list are monotheistic THROUGH AND THROUGH.
> > real complaint is not that people are religious, it is that people are
> > religious enough and that the religious institutions are cooperating
> > hegemony rather than resisting it as their own doctrines should insist.
> We never got to discussions of Badiou, Zizek, Irigaray and Kristeva... nor
> those aspects of Lyotard which we could investigate in this way.
> >
> late...
> > regards
> sdv


Driftline Main Page


Display software: ArchTracker © Malgosia Askanas, 2000-2005