Posted by: Harold Knight | 12/31/2010

Tying my shoes—I demand, Henry Paulson supplies

religion founder

religion founder

I write about my inability to tie my shoes for playing the organ (ballroom dancing shoes). They are ten-hole lace-up shoes. I bought them recently at the Capezio store for $149. The fourth time I wore them, the lace on the left shoe broke.

I didn’t have a new lace. I relaced the shoe using only eight holes, tying the lace short of the top. Tried to tie it. Could not figure out how to loop one end to pull the other end through. Dementia? Lack of motor skill? Lack of practice (the only lace-up shoes I ever wear)? The broken lace was too short? Whatever the reason, a strange and aggravating experience. Felt like a three-year-old.

When John Locke (1632-1704) wrote his Second Treatise of Civil Government (1689), the belief in government established by “revelation” (religion) had all but vanished from Western society. “Reason” was the basis of government. Government by reason insures individual freedom as every American knows. It provides “a state of perfect freedom . . . a state also of equality wherein all power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another” (1). The state of perfect freedom allows individuals to give up only enough of their personal rights to maintain order and protect “natural” rights. It is

a state in which there [are] natural laws and natural rights, of which property [is] one. In order to enjoy protection of life and property, men made a social contract, giving up to the government the right of determining and publishing offenses against the laws of nature (2).

In Locke’s vision—perhaps the most influential founding vision for our government, not the “social contract,” but the government—governments determine “the laws of nature.” We natural beings live together in a tacit social contract, agreeing not to violate the “laws of nature,” and inventing governments to decide both what the “laws of nature” are and how we should live in relation to them.  How we live in accordance with the decisions of the government determines our civility as opposed to our savagery.

Let’s oversimplify to the point of absurdity. As “natural” creatures, we live one way (murder, mayhem, cannibalism, rape?). With a government to tell us which of those “natural” instincts we should allow ourselves to follow, and which we should not—for the purpose of protecting me from your instinct to rape, and you from my instinct to murder—we live a different way. In civility.

(Note: Take all of this with a grain of salt—read these guys’ writings yourself; don’t tell me my interpretation is wrong until you have.)

David Hume, a generation after John Locke (1711-1776) saw things more clearly. He realized the social contract is not the result of “reason.” He understood the “natural” propensities of humans are based not in thought, but in feelings. “Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason” (3). Furthermore, the government that decides these rules arises not from agreement, but from exercise of power.  According to Shepard, “the evidence [to Hume] showed that governments were established and maintained by conquest and power” (4).

Much “morality” is related to owning property. Locke said we have an equal and unalienable right to own property. Hume was a bit more pragmatic. He realized we may have the right to own property, but the strong will decide how the social contract manages the right to property.

Enter Adam Smith. The Invisible Hand. Greed. Every first-year student at the Cox School of Business at SMU will tell you unequivocally, without a trace of irony or self-awareness, that the Invisible Hand is God. The Law of Supply and Demand is the ultimate reality of life. We worship minute by minute at the altar of my right to take as much of your property as I can get my hands on. Because the richer I am, the less likely I am to die.

Adam Smith is the Savior of My Soul. My God and King.

Adam Smith eliminated need for government.

We don’t need to “[give] up to the government the right of determining and publishing offenses against the laws of nature” because we have discovered the absolute law of nature: Supply and Demand.

We don’t need government. Read the newspapers of the last three or four years. We have Wall Street and Ben Bernanke (ostensibly an official of the government). We have Henry Paulson and Michael R. Francis as High Priests of the “Natural Law” of Supply and Demand.

The Strong

The Strong

When Henry Paulson and Michael R. Francis take as much of the property of the weak as they can get, the Church Universal will play its role in the Worship of Supply and Demand and make its token gesture of caring for them, decrying the greed of the strong while doing nothing to change the religion of Supply and Demand.

(The preceding may sound like a Leftist rant. It’s not. It’s much simpler than that.)

I don’t get it. I don’t understand the total and unquestioning religion of getting stuff. You may tell me I can opt out. About as much as the Roman Christians in 100-300 CE could opt out of the Cult of Emperor Worship. Coliseum anyone? This religion of getting stuff not only gives our lives meaning but also releases us from ever thinking about how one authentically lives according to the “laws of nature.”

Everything that I say about survival as a complication of the life and death opposition proceeds from my unconditional affirmation of life. . . I am never more haunted by the necessity of death than in moments of happiness and pleasure. Taking pleasure and crying in the face of impending death, for me they are the same thing. . . When I recall the happy moments, I bless them as well, surely, at the same time that they propel me toward the thought of death, toward death, because it happens, fini (5).

How does the Religion of Supply and Demand “propel [one] toward the thought of death, toward death, because it happens?”

Judith Butler quotes Derrida (in this last interview before he died) saying, “I have not learned to accept death.” But his not accepting death is much different from trying to avoid understanding death.

There’s a paradox that emerges, since at the end of the interview there seems to be a nearly ineffable acceptance of his death, and we might pause then to consider whether learning how to live and to die is the same as a certain capacity for affirmation, a yes-saying (6).

Does the worship of the Law of Supply and Demand have a “certain capacity for affirmation?”

If so, I don’t see it.

Music demands, Paulson supplies

Music demands, Paulson supplies

Tying my shoes to make music is a life-affirming action. But sometimes even that is not a “yes-saying.” I had to buy the new shoes. I demanded a supply. And now I have to buy a new lace.
(1) Locke, John. Treatise of Civil Government. New York: D. Appleton and Century Co., 1937. (5). Quoted in Shepard Jr., John W. “The European Background of American Freedom.” Journal of Church & State 50.4 (2008): 647-659.
(2) Locke, 2.
(3) Hume, David.  A Treatise of Human Nature. New York: Dover, 2003. (168).
(4) Shepard 650.
(5) Derrida, Jacques. “Je suis en guerre contre moi-même.” Le Monde 18 Aug. 2004. Quoted in: Butler, Judith. “On Never Having Learned How to Live.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 16.3 (2005): 27-34.
(6) Butler, ibid.


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