File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2003/lyotard.0302, message 105

Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2003 14:07:58 -0500
Subject: Re: Fear.

I'm curious. If we do not acknowledge a basic difference in the economies
of "obedience to [explicit] law" + "fear of the lord" and "the law of
then where, in terms of very practical critique, does that leave us? The
conflation is useful if you want to lump all "religions of the book," but
such talk of "tendencies" is simply ahistorical, and ignores essentially
of the conflict within the "western moral tradition." You end up in the
position of claiming that very progressive social practices have been
covertly "reactionary" because of some tendency (which they may even
have been quite explicitly working against.)

I'm thinking, for example, of Mayor Samuel Milton "Golden Rule" Jones,
of Toledo, OH, and very practically successful politician who, the record
suggests, was far more progressive that most of the Progressives of his
era, precisely because he paid close attention to the differences between
these two economies of "law."

As an anarchist, it naturally warms my heart to hear folks claim that
to law is inherently reactionary. I even agree, within limits of how we
"law." But anarchism's specific form of the "what is to be done?" question
revolves precisely around how the necessary functions of social
are to be differentiated from "law" and "government." I won't pretend to
answer those questions, though i have some strong opinions. However,
one of those opinions i will advance is that only close attention to the
dynamics of systems will bring anything like illumination. Isn't it, for
the case that "original sin" is far from a uniform factor even within
practice - and that plenty of secular philosophies include some attention
the internal division of human beings which has much the same function?


Eric wrote:

> All,
> Let me say first of all I thought Geof's position was rather eloquently
> stated. I want to chime in, however, in favor of Steve's comment that
> Levinas is reactionary. Perhaps, Geof is right about Levinas being hard
> to put into politics terms because his ethics is concerned with a
> mirco-level face-to-face basis regarding the other. I think it is still
> possible to raise the issue that Levinas does not really break with the
> moral tradition of the west, he simply finds new ways to defend it, and
> therefore the core of his ethics remains conservative and even
> reactionary.
> Certainly, at the heart of this western tradition there lies the notion
> of original sin - the self left to own device becomes evil. This self
> must always be subjugated through the law in order to be saved. When
> this is done, the worship of god and the respect for the neighbor are
> seen as the primary ends of ethics.
> Jewish tradition obeys the Torah; Christianity discards the rules of
> kosher and ritual purification, but still maintains the law of love. One
> of the ways this break is characterized (usually by Christians) is that
> the old law is based upon 'fear of the lord' where god is seen as a
> being who is wrathful and quick to anger. Nonetheless, this fear is
> useful insofar as it teaches humility, the repentance to sin in sack
> cloth and ashes. Christianity usually claims this fear must be overcome
> by love and posits a new, more intimate relationship with god - Jesus is
> my friend.  This kind of tenderness seems to be related closely to the
> kind of positive fear that Geof was invoking. Levinas is interesting
> because he rewrites this tradition in a way that stands Christianity on
> its head and tends to validate the Jewish tradition from facile and
> empty criticisms.
> The problem with all this, however, is that this disowned self under
> both the Jewish and Christian traditions tends to be very negative. In
> the Lacan-Badiou sense it gives up on desire. The western tradition
> strongly advocates making the self at best, passive and at worst,
> masochistic.
> Feminists have usually critiqued this kind of ethics as follows. It
> tends to idealize service and for women, roles such as being a mother,
> teacher, nurse, nun, - the so-called caretaker and nurturing roles are
> valorized. Certainly these are concerned with the ethics of the other,
> but in a way that tends to limit the woman herself. If a woman chooses
> to become something else, such as an artist, writer, athlete these roles
> tend to be seen as somehow suspect and less than the ideal.  Such a
> woman may be described by religious judgment as being selfish when she
> was really being ethical.
> Without going into the details, I think it is fairly obvious that
> Levinas never really breaks with any of this basic orientation in his
> ethics. He always tends to disavow the self (chez soi) versus the face
> of the other.  In his system, alterity always trumps desire.
> In this sense, Badiou is more modern and more political in his approach.
> Instead of the traditional self-other axis, his is an immortal-animal
> axis which is guided by truth rather than god as the ultimate source of
> its ethics.  This may be seen as contra-natural in the sense that
> ontology-sets-difference-being are in some sense natural. It is not,
> however, concerned with the care of self, but rather with the event of
> truth. Who we ultimately become stems from this break; this encounter.
> In this way, ethics are always political in their import.
> eric
> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> [] On Behalf Of Don Socha
> Sent: Monday, February 17, 2003 3:23 PM
> To:
> Subject: Re: Fear.
> >G/all
> >
> >I had thought of the Levinas angle but discarded it, for
> myself at
> >least, because of my rejection of his ethics.  Beyond the
> critique of
> >Levinas by Badiou, there is something deeply reactionary in
> statements
> >such as "...Ethics is, therefore, against nature because it
> forbids the
> >murderousness of my natural will to put my own existence
> first..."
> >
> >
> >regards
> >steve
> I don't see what's necessarily reactionary about this
> position, Steve.  Surely you don't mean to suggest that
> Levinas is anything like a biological determinist. Though I
> don't want to overlook the always difficult context of his
> work, isn't he simply saying that while nature is
> indifferent, people need not be fatalistic?
> I've yet to read Badiou (plan to begin this week), but
> doesn't Levinas mean something quite distinct when he
> says "against nature"?  I do know he wasn't in favor of
> putting his own existence first... rather, his whole ouvre
> stands against precisely this.
> Or do you see ethics as something other than an artificial
> means by which better versions of ourselves might be
> explored?
> Don Socha


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