Posting the Problem

by Bo Sanders

Earlier this fall I was introduced to an idea by Santiago Slabodsky. Slabodsky is an Argentine thinker who has spent the last several years in Canada as a professor and is now at Claremont School of the Theology. His specialty is in Globalization, Ethics and Evil.

He was explaining why there are so many “post-” things being used these days: post-modern, post-conservative, post-christian, post-colonial, etc. He told us about the work of his mentor in Argentina and his own work to bring to light that all of these “posts” were the result of a failed project in the Enlightenment-Western-Colonial project. What people are realizing is that something is wrong and they are trying make adjustments. Part of admitting this is using a “Post-” connected to the aspect that they find objectionable (i.e. post-Colonial).

His point was that all these “posts” needed to be grouped into one big collection and looked at through a different set of questions: A) is the project basically good and just needs to be tweaked 10% to adjust for the excesses and abuses or B) is the project flawed from the beginning – rotten at its roots – and needs to be cutdown, uprooted or abandoned?

Option A still holds to the idea that the project was rational but there are just a few aspects that were taken too far or neglected. This is what he calls “Post-irrational” since it is only attempting to deal with the irrational part of the project. Option B is what he calls post-rationality. It says the whole thing is irrational and we need to move on from it. We don’t need more of the same only done better.

This is one of those ideas that once you have been introduced to it, begins to show up in more and more places. In fact, the more that you think about it, the more it becomes a lens that you see  other things through.

Take economics for instance. News came two weeks ago that Congress had voted to settle two cases for $4.6 billion. $1.2 billion goes to black farmers, who claim they were unfairly denied loans from the Department of Agriculture (among other accusations). $3.4 billion is going to Native Americans who were cheated out of oil and gas royalties by the Interior Department. This is on the heels of last year’s Cobell v. Salazar case which could amount to a $1.4 billion payback to Indian plaintiffs involved in the case, plus another $2 billion to buy back fractured trust interests. This all comes in the shadow of a “too big to fail” automobile industry bailout and the $700 billion for Wall Street.

So, is the system (modernity) basically good and sound and just needs to work out the kinks?  Or is the project itself rotten and these examples are not abnormalities or side-issues but are the truth about the system surfacing through the pretty facade that is normally presented?

Paul Knitter, talking about the current Global economic crisis, was critiquing the ‘invisible hand of the market’ where it is held that if everyone just does what is best for themselves then the market balances out. This is a view of humanity labeled Homo Economicus and it sees every individual as a consumer, requiring them to be essentially selfish.

He quotes Bill McKibben in talking about two birds called ‘More’ and ‘Better’ that have traditionally appeared  to sit on the same branch. In the past, you could aim for both. Now the two birds of More and Better have separated and if you want to get them both you will necessarily destroy the whole forest that sustains them.

We need to change the conversation from simple prosperity to address disparity; from affluence to address the greater issue of  inequality. But why would we do that if we think that project is essentially good and just needs a little regulation? We would only start into that conversation if we thought that something was fundamentally wrong.

I was listening to the Smiley and West Radio show on podcast and they were talking about Christmas, the focus on gifts and losing the reason for the season. Then this exchange followed:

Smiley:  Yeah. The other thing that seems to get lost in these holidays, of course, is the increasing numbers of people who are suffering. It is true that during the holiday season we get a better chance at trying to get some real conversation about suffering, about hunger, about poverty. Every network, every TV show, every radio show invests some time in trying to do these feel good stories that tug at the heart.  We of course see the Salvation Army courageously and honorably come out every year ringing their bell trying to raise money. But why is it that it is only during the holidays that we get any traction at all, and even then just for a moment about those who are suffering, those who are hungry, those who are needy, those who are homeless, those who are without?

West: I think what you have in a capitalist society such as our self is the stressful and pity as opposed to compassion so you end up with a stress on philanthropy as opposed to justice. Genuine compassion and justice is not about waiting once a year then feeling sorry for those catching hell, giving a little money then moving on.

Not until we have justice and not until we have serious compassion at the center of things will we be able to break that kind of cycle.

Pity and philanthropy still is better than indifference, there’s no doubt about that. But it would be nice, in fact, if we had a justice in place so we wouldn’t have to have this kind of cheap pity. We want a costly justice. And we don’t want to pay the cost to deal with justice. And this is part of our problem it seems to me though, my brother.

(This was from Friday, November 26, 2010. You can read the full transcript by [clicking here] The exchange begins on page 5.)

I need to talk with Santiago Slabodsky further to understand the concept of “post-rational”  better. Right now I am asking  A) is the project (Enlightenment-Modernity-Western-Capitalism) basically good and just needs 10% adjustment?  or B) Is the project rotten from the get go and needs to be addressed as such?

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7 Responses to Posting the Problem

  1. easy… the “systems” of this world are all corrupt. we need a new government headed up by an incorruptible man- Christ.
    till then we seek to walk humbly, act justly, and love mercy.

  2. joe becker says:

    “We need to change the conversation from simple prosperity to address disparity; from affluence to address the greater issue of inequality”

    Christians have always been concerned with poverty and the poor. socialism is NOT the answer. capitalism, with honesty and integrity, mixed with charity is the answer. that’s the biblical way. the problem isn’t capitalism, but corruption and socialist meddling.

    the answers that people are coming up with are just going to bring more problems. the answer is not, everyone just do what is best for themselves, but everyone be nice to one another. do unto others as you’d have them do to you. yup, it’s that simple

    • Jimmy says:

      Joe – I agree that honesty and integrity are part of the answer, but I don’t think the point of Bo’s post was to promote socialism, in fact I would say that it was meant to tear it down as an option. It also tears down capitalism. The point isn’t that we need to make adjustments, its that we need a new animal. Thinking that charity will solve the problems of the world is like thinking a band-aid will heal a bullet wound. More charity is like a bigger band-aid, its still not going to heal the wound.

      Bruce and Anita – I totally agree that ultimately Jesus is the redeemer, the savior, the ruler. But “passive patience” isn’t (I think) what we are called to. The Church is the Body of Christ, which I think means we are meant to act out and strive after exactly what we hope for. We can’t ever settle for a solution, either, because that just leads to more passivity and neglect.

  3. Jimmy says:

    I love this, thanks for posting.

    One thing I’m curious about, though, is:
    Before replacing the old, don’t we need something new? What does that look like? How do we get there?

  4. @ Jimmy – thanks for the feedback. Do you seriously think that walking humbly, acting justly, and loving mercy are passive? Have you tried to walk humbly- for me it requires regular action as I am prone to falling to my default of pride. Loving justice mandates action. As for loving mercy- that too for me requires pursuit.

    I notice you say we need a new animal. I concur. We do indeed, and it will not be of human origin whether indigenous, western, or eastern in thought.

    In the meantime- pressing into the challenges of Micah 6:8 is a beginning of His Kingdom coming to reign on the earth.

  5. Bo Sanders says:

    Joe – merry Christmas! I try not to be argumentative. The more I think about it, the more I am concerned with two things about your post:

    – the use (and assumption/ introduction) of ISM. I never suggested Social-ism. In fact, the use of ISM is going to be a real barrier to both good conversation and to innovative thinking.

    – When we jump to ISM you may have missed my point. I am not interested in another learned scheme designed with Utopian ends in mind. The era of totalizing or universal solutions needs to be behind us. What I am wanting is to begin with the simple recognition of our Inter-relatedness and connectedness. We need each other. We are all connected to each other. It’s not so much ‘Us and Them’ as much as it is all us. We are in this together and we are all connected or related. This is why the growing disparity is such a hurtful trend.

    Jimmy and Bruce – I am enjoying the convo.

  6. Joe Paparone says:

    Sorry to chime in here so late.

    Looking at the questions Bo concludes with, I wish it was simple and one or the other. I think the reality is that the system is rotten, and needs a complete overhaul. However, I’m not sure the best way (or a way modeled after Christ) is a (relatively) quick revolution and replacement. Jesus uses agrarian metaphors, partly because he’s talking to an agrarian society but maybe also because God created plant life and not computers. Societal change is more like cultivating a garden than installing a new operating system.

    There’s a tension in the Gospels in Jesus call – it requires radical transformation but still takes place within existing structures. The end result though, is subversion of those structures. Is there a way to work within current systems and structures that is intended to emerge or evolve into something new and different? Micro-finance comes to mind as a possible example of using the best of the current system in a way that is counterintuitive to the most “successful” parts of the system. It doesn’t seem to make financial sense to lend money to the poorest of the poor, yet with creativity, ingenuity, and relationship, the system that previously passed the poor by ends up working differently and in their favor. This may at first seem like option A – a simple tweak of the system – and in some cases I think that would be the case, but I also think it’s possible to transform into something else.

    I’m all about Option B – but I think the idea of chucking the current system and replacing it with something from the ground up might just be part of a different system. Just read this, can’t find the quote though – ‘the only thing that revolution changes is the flag.’ I’m not entirely convinced, but I see the point (and it’s clear in history). The author is suggesting an internal evolution as opposed to some kind of external re-working.

    Lots of scattered thoughts, but I’m interested in everyone’s response.


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