Posted by: Harold Knight | 11/29/2009

My conundrum, paradox, inconsistency of hate

Adam Smith Abounds

When I play the piano or organ, I have the guarantee that I will not have a seizure. Or, if I do, I will not feel it. I will not be aware of it.

Yesterday and the day before, I spent six hours preparing a booklet in Spanish of Biblical meditations for Advent. I hate Advent. If there is a spiritual dimension to life (which, as anyone knows who’s read any of my recent writings, I am quite skeptical about), it is utterly destroyed in the month leading to christmas. This destruction is one of the greatest mysteries I know. And the fact that it bothers me is an even greater mystery.

I don’t get it. And I am not smart or disciplined enough to say anything about it that some one else has not already said. The supposed birth of God in human form (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” and all of that nonsense) ought to be, if one could really believe it, the single most frightening event since the first chemical reaction among H2O and other chemicals somewhere in the vast earth-covering ocean became one cell of what we, in our vast wisdom, call “life.” This terrifying possibility is reduced, in Texas at any rate, to a frenzy of bottom-feeding that totally ignores both the mystery of life and the awesomeness of the possibility that “God” became a living, breathing, yelling-obscenities-at-the-christmas-merchants-of-his-day part of the fabric of the “highest” form of the life that one cell started sometime in the last 6,000,000,000 years. And in Texas (I can’t vouch for any other place), even people who have never thought about the possibility that one cell (or maybe a trillion trillion cells all at once) sprang to “life” out of the liquid muck celebrate this season of “the Word made” flesh and are willing to go to the mat (or at least to the Supreme Court) to make sure that we call it “Word-Made-Flesh” season rather than what it is: capitalism run amuck season.

If my dad’s cousin sends me one more idiotic mass-email about calling this season “Christmas” instead of “The Holiday,” I will find him and personally. . . .

We, of course, have Adam Smith to thank for all of this nonsense. When he invented the “invisible hand” that guides our every move, he codified in one fell swoop the inviolable principle that “greed” (which is what the “invisible hand” is—not my idea, but I don’t remember where I first read it) will be the byword of our social contract—if, indeed we have one. Americans are convinced (as part of the ridiculous “metanarrative” under which we all live) that we have a written Constitution that determines the workings of our society (at least the “political” aspects of it), but everything we, as a people, do, say, and think, is controlled by the “invisible hand” of greed. Look at the so-called “economy” for the last two years. It has been absolutely in charge of our resources and thinking—including the “political” process that is supposedly governed by the Constitution—and everything else we do.

Even I, who refuse to own a credit card because those little pieces of plastic tie one without recourse to the “invisible hand” of greed, have not, as is obvious, been able to escape the insanity of Adam Smith’s intellectual nonsense.

Oh, silly, undisciplined, TLEptic me, I digress. Who first said that? Everything we do is a digression.

I spent all of this time making a Spanish-language booklet of Biblical mediations for the yearly orgy of Adam Smith-ness that I hate. I have good reason to hate it (except, of course, my more spiritually evolved brothers and sisters would tell me that I shouldn’t waste the time, energy, or spiritual capital “hating” anything). I am caught in a paradox from which I cannot extricate myself.

When I play the piano or organ, I have the guarantee that I will not have a seizure. Or, if I do, I will not feel it. I will not be aware of it. This is the time of year when friends most want me to play the piano or organ, I think because real music, made by a living, breathing human being—whether the Word was made flesh or not—is one way people can wrench themselves away from their abject discipleship to Adam Smith and at least pretend they live in some dimension other than greed.

So I am caught in the conundrum, the Catch-22 of wanting nothing to do with living in our social contract of greed but knowing the time of year when Adam Smith is most worshipped is the time of each year when I could, if I gave in to the temptation, be most likely to go for hours without any strange electrical misfiring in my brain.

So what’s wrong with greed? I don’t know. I made the foolish decision somewhere along the line that I don’t want any part of this greediness. The fact is, of course, that it may be my mental “disorders” that brought about my decision in the first place. Another conundrum. My Bipolar Disorder and my Temporal Lobe Epilepsy prompted my decision to try to avoid the feeding-frenzy of greed , but the feeding-frenzy accounts for the time of year when my own greatest delight is useful to other people and I can be freed from the misfiring of my own brain more now than at any time of the year.

The real paradox is that I spent all of that time, instead of playing the organ or piano, making a little folder of meditations for the season I hate, in a language I have to work much too hard at to understand or communicate in. I am part of a community who speak Spanish—at my church (the greatest paradox of all—I doubt I will ever sort that one out), and I was trying to give them a gift. As if anything I would give anyone would be other than a cruel hoax.

OK. I love that community.

The aspect of Adam Smith’s Gospel of Greed that most repulses me is that, in greed, any given community can smugly reject any other community. As if we’re not all descended from that same chemical reaction billions of years ago that resulted in “life.” Feeding frenzies are also hatred frenzies that “…express an imagined difference and sameness, elaborated from actual or apparent differences such as race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, class, or gender. The cultural work of representations of boundaries is to enhance the differences and make them a part of a community’s self-conception, or ideology. The symbols of community themselves are heavily invested in signs of difference no less than commonality.”**

If the “Word became flesh,” then it became all flesh, not just Anglo Americans who live on the plastic they can slide through a machine at Target or Bloomingdale’s. **

**Morgan, David. “The look of sympathy: religion, visual culture, and the social life of feeling.” Material Religion 5.2 (2009): 132+.


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