Friday, April 27, 2007

Systematic Theology and The Body Politic, My Answers to Thomisticguy: 4 of 6, Descartes' Senseless Self Image and the Absence of the Free Market

This is the fourth post in a series of six, which will, for the most part simply record part of a recent conversation with Thomisticguy at his post called "The Emerging Movement," on the importance and function or role of Systematic Theology.

Also, just because man enters into the no-man’s land of thinking about the doughnut that he ate this past morning does not change the fact, as pointed out by McLuhan, “every human being is incessantly engaged in creating an identity for himself.” What that means is that everything after Descartes is cogitified. Keeping in mind that the thinking cogito is, of course, not a perceiving organ of the body, we still have to remember that it’s the MIND – and NOT the body – who is capable of even ever processing anything that is “absent” in the first place. Hence my reference to a man’s thinking about a doughnut that he ate this morning as his “entering into the no-man’s land of thinking.” At the same time, however, his body is still present and perceiving everything about his this-man’s land of his dining room.

Here what YOU said becomes VERY relevant: “Central to classical metaphysics is the study of ontology—the study of being. Therefore, the ‘metaphysics of absence’ seems like a strange concept. From an ontological perspective I might term this as the ‘study of non-existence’—which, of course, cannot be much of a study since a non-existent thing is literally nothing.” A Descartian “being” who actually IDENTIFIES himself BY, with and through that part of himself that is able to actually BE “absent” (present somewhere other than where his body is at any given place in space and time)…uuhh…that’s confusing….and yes, very very strange.

That means that Descartes actually identifies and defines his very self – and his very existing - by what IS NOT (present). How on earth does that make sense!? Answer: it doesn’t. The thinking being, however, is still existing; its just that what is present to him by which he identifies and defines his very existence is not actually present to his body, which, previous to Descartes, was very much a large part of how most folks thought of their very self and their very existing (or existence, or whatever). In other words, previous to Descartes, most folks identified themselves with their bodies.

Oddly enough, the idea seems a bit loony to us now, to identify yourself with your body. I agree with you: this “seems like a strange concept.” But its not my fault; blame Descartes. If my professor hadn’t beaten me over the head with this “body” stuff for three years in college before I ever came across McLuhan like three or four years later, I would have thought McLuhan was loony! Because implicit in everything he says is that our body is part of not only our being but our identity.

Anyway, I had previously indicated that all of this absence and presence stuff is connected to the idea(l) of a free market economy. Keep in mind that from the get-go the free market is a theoretical ideal. That is its essence; that is what “defines” it. Its being an ideal is how it is identified. And yes, you guessed it, that’s because man is now a theoretical being; man actually considers his very identity to BE his thinking, his speculating…so of course the “technologies” that are “extended” from his being are ALSO “theories” - which must somehow of course then be “applied” - and also of course, since man is also at the time of Descartes, after the printing press, also a visual being – this “application” must occur in a time sequence of occurring after the completion of the theorizing. Adam Smith wrote Wealth of Nations DOWN, then it was “applied”.

I stressed the “wrote…DOWN” part to reference “as if from above, so to speak” – to quote the guy who at the beginning of this conversation was commenting on Smith’s critique of the emerging church: “If some ancient-future emergents do not see some sort of continuity with an authentic Christian tradition nor configure their ecclesiology in accountable relationships to a broader body but they selectively appropriate parts of the tradition that they find preferable, they may be assuming another kind of autonomy--one that picks and chooses 'from above' as it were. This may operate as much in a consumer framework as otherwise, and as many have said, one common way to be post-modern is to be a consumer self…”

In that light consider for a moment that notion of an ideally free market with the original Greek root of the word “economy.” Economy simply comes from the Greek word for “house” – “oikos.” Its not a whole theoretical system of thought (from above) about value exchange “out” in the world (out in a place that is not present to one’s body in the here and now). It is simply your house, your household, your domus, your dwelling. It is what the household fights to “keep up” rather than what the doctrinal ideal “keeps free” from above. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

As you can see, then, what I mean by “a metaphysics of absence” and of “presence” is in fact strange, but it is not, however, occult. So moving on…

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