Posted by: Dan | May 27, 2007

Christianity and Capitalism Part XI: Dependence (Nonsensical Vulnerability)

What is immortal in the United States, what refuses to lie down and die, is precisely the will… It is a terrifying uncompromising drive, one which knows no faltering or bridling, irony or self-doubt…

The cult of the will disowns the truth of our dependency, which springs from our fleshly existence. To have a body is to live dependently… We are able to become self-determining, but only on the basis of a deeper dependency. This dependency is the condition of our freedom, not the infringement of it. Only those who feel supported can be secure enough to be free. Our identity and well-being are always in the keeping of the Other.
~ Terry Eagleton, After Theory, 183f.

Do not be afraid.
~ YHWH, Jesus, and God's messengers, as quoted in several passages.

When I began to explore the idea of a Christian political economics that embodies a genuine alternative to capitalism, I suggested that the Church — as a community of beggars — needed to pursue sharing and dependence. I have spent the last few posts in this series exploring some of the ways in which Christian sharing (as “nonsensical charity”) could (and should) counter capitalism, and I would now like to spend some time exploring the issue of dependence and what I like to call “nonsensical vulnerability.” I like to refer to dependence as “nonsensical vulnerability” because dependence is risky and, if you believe what the culture of capitalism teaches us, it is risk that is to be avoided at all costs. Indeed, if we are living rightly, according to capitalism, we are taught that dependence is a risk that is unnecessary. Hence, to chose to move into a lifestyle of dependence can only be described as the pursuit of nonsensical vulnerability.

It does not take much thought to realize that the political economics that I have been developing is one that makes those who seek to embody it dependent, and therefore vulnerable, in some rather ways. However, I would like to emphasise that such vulnerability-as-dependence is not a drawback to this political economics; rather, it is another essential way in which this approach offers a genuinely Christian alternative to capitalism.

Capitalism teaches us to be self-sufficient. Becoming independent is a rite a passage, a sign of maturity, and the more we embody “rugged individualism,” the more we are honoured within the culture of capitalism. However, the first thing to realise is that this “independence” is not any sort of independence at all. Sure, we learn to be independent of our parents, our friends, and our churches, we learn “not to be a burden to anybody,” but all the while we are still absolutely dependent upon our capital. We rely on our credit cards to pay our bills, we really on our RRSP, or GICs, or our other savings, to sustain us when we get old, just as we rely on our property increasing in value, and so on and so forth. Thus, capitalism teaches us to be independent of one another so that we will be absolutely dependent upon the structures of capitalism.

Therefore, if we are to truly embody an alternative to capitalism, we must become less dependent upon our capital. By saying this, I am not suggesting that we dive further into our pursuit of independence and rugged individualism (not least because the language of “independence” and “rugged individualism” are mythical fictions that, themselves, perpetuate ever-deepening cycles of consumption [as we, for example, spend more on more money crafting unique images for ourselves]). This is why I included the quote from Eagleton at the beginning of this entry — Eagleton reminds us that absolute independence isn't an option at all; rather, it is always a question of what we will be dependent upon. Consequently, I am suggesting that we must learn new forms of dependence — forms that fit more naturally with Christianity.

However, just as we find the reformation of desire to be unappealing, we find the reformation of dependencies to be rather scary. For some reason, we find that it is much easier to trust banks and credit companies, than it is to trust other Christians, let alone trusting the poor (or God, for that matter!). However, it is worth remembering that the command “Do not be afraid!” is one of the most frequent commands issued from God, and God's messengers, to God's people. The problem is that very few Christians actually take this command with any amount of seriousness. Therefore, in the next couple of entries I want to explore some ways in which we can stop being afraid and move towards vulnerability within the Christian community, vulnerability among the poor, and vulnerability before God.

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