Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kierkegaard's Pseudonymous Works

During the last class we discussed the fact that Kierkegaard wrote most of his works under varying pseudonyms. I found this very interesting and in looking into some of his other works I found that he wrote a piece, which was published posthumously, called The Point of VIew where he explained his use of pseudonyms in his writings. In this text he discusses how he does not take ownership for any of the words written by his pseudonyms quite clearly divorcing himself from his pseudonymous works. I found this quite interesting because he actively disowns his own writing as if to preempt any negative backlash for his ideas. With this in mind are we as readers supposed to accept Kierkegaard’s writings as belonging to him or to their corresponding “authors” and what does it say of Kierkegaard’s philosophy if he himself is unwilling to take ownership of it? Is it that he was afraid of backlash for ideas or was it a built in death of the author so that each individual text would be read without taking into consideration the aspects of Kierkegaard’s life. I feel that Kierkegaard was most likely trying to create a piece of text that would be read without delving into its point of origin; in other words he was trying to create self-contained arguments that were meant to be interpreted based on what they actually contained and removed from extra-textual information. If this is so Kierkegaard could be seen as a sort of self-aware post-structuralist in that he was forcing readers to set aside any intent the author may have had and focus on the meaning that was perceived in the reading. This makes Kierkegaard, as Dr. J said, a very literary writer. His “philosophy” is wide open to varying interpretations from readers; as none of his pieces were meant to be seen as elements of a body of work but rather as individual pieces that were unrelated.

Faith is a substitute for the immediate

Kierkegaard claims in the second Problema on page 69 that recent philosophy has reduced faith to a substitute for the immediate, consequently placing it on the level of mood and feelings. Kierkegaard claims that this is incorrect and that nothing justifies philosophy in using such language. To explore this issue I will argue that faith is indeed something along the lines of a mood or feeling.

Isn’t faith, by virtue of being illogical, at best a feeling and at worst bad logic? I may be in a great mood having set a record running time recently, and so when confronted by a pack of hungry dogs have faith that I can outrun them. However doesn’t the hungry pack of dogs overtaking me and devouring me evidence that my faith yields no better results than feelings? One might object that in that instance I was being foolish, and that I was consulting feelings and not faith, an absolute connection with God. What if God tells me run from those dogs? What if I do? Now having faith that I will out run the dogs because God said I would won’t change the speed of the dogs, or my painful death. Isn’t faith just the same as feelings but with a different name? It seems to me that Abraham could have just been mad, despite Kierkegaard’s claims, and merely acted on his feelings.

A second objection to this idea of faith is the part of the paradox it creates in which it cannot be mediated and understood by anyone else. Hegel famously claims that if something cannot be said, it is not true. Kierkegaard dismisses this idea, but really, how can anything exist if it cannot be verified by anyone. Allowing something to be true because someone has an experience of it that cannot be explained to anyone else seems to me like giving people a license to populate our world with as many fictional things as they can think of.

A third of objection to this idea of faith is Kant’s critique of metaphysics. In its desire for unity our reason tries oversteps it’s self and leaves experience behind to create a priori concepts full of error. How can we even comment on things such as faith and God? They are beyond our knowledge. Even if this paradox of faith exists, but we can have no knowledge of it and so it is useless to argue about.

The Arational Leap of Faith

It seems that there's been some confusion in dealing with Kierkegaard's articulation of faith as an embrace of paradox. Let's keep in mind that a paradox is a statement that is logically impossible. This could be something as simple as A=~A (for those of you who haven't taken Logic yet, that's to be read as "A equals not-A") or the much more complex example that Kierkegaard gives us, which he takes to be the very model of Judeo-Christian faith. Let's try to explicate this paradox a bit.

Before all this binding and murder business happened, Abraham asked God for a son, which was a tall order because he and his wife were both very old (though, let's not forget, Abraham did have a son, Ishmael, with Hagar, a slave woman. This is a rather dramatic story, kind of like an Old Testament-themed episode of Dynasty). God tells Abraham that he will be the father of many nations and gives him Isaac. There was much rejoicing. A few years down the line, God says to Abraham, "Kill me a son." Rather than replying (as the prophet Bob Dylan would have it) "Man, you must be putting me on," Abraham dutifully takes his son up the mountain and gets ready to slaughter him.

Okay, we all know this story, right? Kierkegaard tells it five different times, for christ's sake (religion joke!). The key to understanding the paradox, though, comes with that first part of the story, where God tells Abraham that Isaac will have lots of babies. Now, we're dealing with the Old Testament God here, which means that he's not messing around; this God is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, omnibenevolent (yeah, I know), and others. He's also without sin, which means he's not lying when he says anything. So when he tells Abraham that Isaac will have lots of babies, he absolutely means business. The same goes for when he tells Abraham to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice.

This is the paradox, then; God, an infallible deity, guarantees two things: first, that Isaac will have many children; second, that God wants Abraham to kill him. In the end, God changes his mind, but that doesn't mean that his intention for Isaac to die was untrue. The point, then, is not that God is asking Abe to believe a lie, but rather to believe in two incommensurable truths, which is to say that God is saying, "A=~A. Have fun." Abe has faith because he believes in both incommensurable truths. His faith, then, is not a belief in one true thing and one false thing that he thought was true, but a belief in something that is completely impossible given the laws of logic or reason.

Abraham, then, did not "rationalize" the situation. To do that would have been impossible. God's command doesn't "make sense," not even to Abraham. It is absolutely senseless. This means that faith has absolutely nothing to do with reason. He calls this the "leap of faith": it doesn't make sense, it won't make sense, and when you do it everyone else is probably going to think that you're insane. Faith is the philosophical equivalent of a trust-fall off of the Burj Dubai. But it isn't irrational; irrationality implies having the knowledge that taking the leap is, in fact, a bad idea, and doing it anyway. The leap of faith, then, is arational, meaning that the decision makes no appeal to reason whatsoever. Does it make sense? Of course not. But that's the point.

Saying It

What strikes me about Kierkegaard's reading of the Abraham story is not the absurd implications of faith (that Abe actually does go to the top of the mountain with the intention of killing his son but believe that his son will not die) but that he admits to it later. Hearing the voice of God and following his orders makes sense. Pure faith could drive a person who truly believed to commit sins if they were ordained by the big man himself. However, it seems so odd that after the event he would climb down the mountain and tell everybody all about it.

It is an example of a truth that cannot be communicated. A distinctly private relationship that has no place in the public realm of ethical. This clear rejection of Hegel's idea of truth being something that one must be able to communicate strikes me. However, I am unsure if that for something to be true one must be able to make it comprehensible for another. Is just saying it enough? There are so many incomprehensible things that still seem like they could be true (like the existence of god, for example).

Abe could have said anything when he came down from that mountain. God never told him that he had to communicate this event to anyone else. But it almost seems as if he felt an obligation to attempt to communicate this incommunicable truth. This leave me wondering if truth is something that is necessarily comprehensible or communicable. But, maybe, the will to communicate a truth, believable, comprehensible or otherwise, holds some truth in and of itself. Maybe a mere gesture or suggestion of a possible truth can contain a truth of the agent attempting to communicate: that they believe what they are saying to be true.

The Pain of the Knight of faith

During this weeks reading on Kierkegaard I found the section on the characteristics of the night of Faith very interesting. As we learned in class last Tuesday, the night of faith is of the world of the singular. He experiences a noumenon and therefore cannot express himself to those around him (those of the world of the universal). In the story of Abraham, we see an example of the singular (Abraham) experiencing an event, to which the universal would be, and is completely averse. Therefore since it is an experience that only Abraham can understand and experience, it is a singular event.

One of the questions that I had from last class , that I didn’t get a chance to bring up, was that if a person were a knight of faith, how would he know? For instance, even if a person experienced a singular even, does that make them a knight of faith? Even if it technically does, make him a knight of faith, how does the knight of faith, at what point does the knight recognize it? Even if I experienced, a singular event I don’t know that I would know that it applied to me, and If I did recognize it as singular, how do I know that I am no longer part of the universal?

The answer for Kierkegaard is a rather odd one. I thought that it might be the Knight’s estrangement from the group of the universal, or his lack of being able to communicate to those of the universal, but instead Kierkegaard says that what forces him to recognize his own identity as a knight of faith is pain. Kierkegaard says on pg.80 of Fear and trembling, “He [the knight of faith] feels the pain of being unable to make himself understandable to others… The pain is his assurance.”

It is this pain of being unable to communicate his experience to those of the realm of the universal that causes the knight of faith to recognize his position of an absolute singular. And this inner pain of being unable to communicate with the universal, but only with the absolute is what allows the knight of faith to personally understand the separation of his being with those beings that are attributed to the universal. It is through his own personal experience once again that the knight of faith sees himself as separate from the universal, and only able to communicate with the absolute.

Telos of Faith?

For me, the theological suspension of the ethical is mysterious notion; and there is no doubt that what ensues from Kierkegaard’s teleological suspension of the ethical is a near incomprehensible understanding of faith. The teleological suspension of the ethical makes Kierkegaard’s notion of faith so complex because it suggest that, despite the faith as a phenomena, there is a method for explaining how one comes to faith. In other words, there’s an explanation for how one comes to faith, but faith itself is unique between God and man and thus inexplicable to all others. But what makes Kierkegaard’s teleological suspension of the ethical so intriguing is that from it do we gather an element of purpose behind faith.

I think it is safe to say that most of us have come across the word telos multiple times. As we discussed in class last Tuesday, the word telos is defined as a subject’s end to which that particular subject’s entire existence is concerned. But what is most fascinating about the word telos is that is meaning suggests a form of purpose. If animals (aside from Humans), for example, exist only to reproduce their own kind in order to continue the cycle of reproduction, then the ends of their existence is to reproduce. Hence from this example can we conclude that reproducing is the purpose all animal existence. The word telos, therefore, indicates a certain element of purpose behinds its meaning. With that in mind, it can then be gathered that what lies in Kierkegaard’s teleological suspension of the ethical is a purposeful, if you will, suspension of the ethical.

This makes the question of faith all the more complicated because faith or acts of faith are no longer irrational or arbitrary, but rather done intentionally and purposefully. Obviously, this is what Kierkegaard is trying to convey in the teleological suspension of the ethical, yet it is intriguing to see how faith becomes that of a rational decision for the individual. Meaning that if arriving at faith is something teleological, then it must also be something rational, at least to the individual experiencing faith. Thus the beauty of faith for Kierkegaard is how faith is almost completely rational for the one experiencing it, while completely irrational for those who observe other’s acts of faith. This is why Kierkegaard’s example of Abraham is so apt, because it demonstrates how Abraham purposefully (teleological) came to the faith despite the actually act of faith appearing irrational.

Possible Connections

What is it about Fear and Trembling that makes it a particularly philosophical work? Does it not seem more in line with a sort of religious self-help text? The work seems more indicative of a novel, given the attention to style and metaphor, and admittance on the narrator’s part that he is limited when it comes to the intricacies of philosophical debate. However, in bringing back a dear, old friend, G.W.F. Hegel, I find a possible connection between the two. In a sense, the faith seems comparable to gut feelings from Hegel, although Kierkegaard has an explicit tie to God, whereas Hegel would not give a particular identity of his Absolute. While Hegel was more focused on a humanistic, and scientific approach to philosophy, his section on morality is particularly baffling, especially with the miraculously healed hardened heart of the beautiful soul. It seems like Kierkegaard, through Johannes de Silencio, works from a similar model, as the beautiful soul is akin to those merely going off the Abraham narrative and not experiencing faith. The beautiful soul resembles the masses blindly accepting that act of faith and making it his/her own model without fully comprehending the absurdity. Action seems to play a key role in both models of morality, as the beautiful soul is at odds with an acting conscience, which engages in the world instead of merely judging it. Likewise, faith can only be comprehended by some type of engagement with the absurd, and ultimately coming to grips with certain contradictions; like how Abraham had to fully believe he would sacrifice Isaac, but at the same time expecting to see him again. The element of engaging absurdity, rather than disembodied judgment bears heavily on both Hegel and Kierkegaard’s sense of morality, but I am still not completely sold that they have articulated a plausible alternative to Kant’s categorical imperative, from a logical standpoint. Yes, disinterested judgments arising from rationality sense highly unlikely, but seem much more plausible to have a common standard for all to share, rather than all of the factors in engaging with the absurd. Of course, Kierkegaard would languish my decision, as I am preferring standards of the ethical realm, but it seems more desirable to have an appeal to all of humanity, not just isolated cases of absurdity that by definition should not be intelligible to others that are not directly experiencing the situation in question.

The Paradox of Faith?

Throughout the portion of Fear and Trembling that we’ve read so far, Kierkegaard continuously paints faith as a sort of paradox. This characterization can be seen clearly in the section, “Eulogy on Abraham.” He explains that in patiently waiting for Sarah to become pregnant despite the fact of her old age, Abraham exhibits faith. He hopes and expects something to happen that the laws of nature have proven almost impossible. Therefore, according to Kierkegaard, his faith makes him childlike; he hopes in ignorance of reality like an uneducated kid. In this sense, faith seems contrary to rationality and akin to foolishness. However, at the same time, this foolishness is rewarded in a way that rationality would not have been. Abraham perseveres and finally has a son. Therefore, while contrary to rationality, it is also somehow greater than rationality.

According to Kierkegaard this same duality of faith can be seen when Abraham is willing and prepared to sacrifice his beloved son. Had Abraham had less faith, he would have acted more heroically. He would have sacrificed himself instead, “something great and glorious…[that] would have been admired in the world” (20-1). Instead, his faith almost leads him to sacrifice his son, an action that would most surely be labeled horrific by our world. Therefore in this sense, faith is contrary to the heroic and lower than it. At the same time though, it was Abraham’s willingness to obey this command—which was made possible by his faith—that has made his story unforgettable. By acting contrary to the heroic, he has somehow become a timeless hero.

I get the feeling that Kierkegaard thinks this duality of faith is an unsolvable mystery—a secret quality that partly explains faith’s power. However, is it possible that this duality does not really exist? I think that these supposed contradictions are merely the result of an ignorance of perspective on the part of Kierkegaard. Abraham’s faith that Sarah will get pregnant despite the couple’s old age is only foolish from one perspective. Science and experience tell us that the human body loses its ability to reproduce at a certain age. However, from a Christian perspective, this faith isn’t foolish at all. For Christianity claims that God is all-powerful and presumably can bend the laws of nature without much difficulty.

Similarly, in the case of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son, this willingness is only considered un-heroic from an earthly (this probably isn’t the right word here) perspective that deems self-sacrifice the most heroic human act. From a Christian perspective, however, self-sacrifice in this situation—which would have been an act of blatant disobedience to God—would have been the un-heroic action. From this perspective, Abraham’s willingness was heroic. Surely this is the reason he still remains a sort of Christian hero today.

Faith is Action

When reading the story of Abraham, I was struck by a thought: who would align their will with that of a God whose morality you did not share? While I'm not arguing that this is what Abraham did, it turned me on to a simpler point about faith. Faith is not analogous with belief. To simply believe in God is not faith. Faith implies trust, submission, and an ultimate devotion to God's will. Does the God of Abraham deserve such?

Abraham's faith is in a God who is good. From this springs the paradox. How can God's will be anything but good? Yet how can this same God will Abraham to kill his son? This suggests to me one of two things: either...

God is not good,


God asked Abraham to believe him to be something he wasn't.

The first case is indeed an alarming one. Should there be a being far more powerful than man with a morality that clashes with that of humanity, what hope has human morality? I am unsure as to how to begin such a consideration. To this point in my life, any appeal to God or suggested evidence for such a being has presumed God's goodness. In this I cannot help but remember Descartes, who saw God's goodness as unquestionable, something inherent to the very idea of God. While I do not take it a proof of God, I find myself grossly lacking in abilities to consider God without goodness.

Since God is good, it would seem then that God tried (and managed) to deceive Abraham. Yet, continuing my examination of Abraham’s God in light of Descartes, let us quote the philosopher himself. God "cannot be a deceiver, for it is manifest by the light of nature that all fraud and deception depend on some defect." By the faculties available to me, it seems God is either entirely beyond my grasp, non-existent, or a deceiver who shares not in my morality. An incomprehensible God certainly lends itself to a reading of the story. Does anyone really understand why an omniscient God would subject his most faithful servant to such trauma under the guise of a test? Here we find perhaps the greatest theological meat. Faith is not even the alignment of one’s will with God. Rather than a purely internal process, faith is action. While God knew how Abraham would act, it is only in such action that faith resides. This is the incredibly powerful message of Abraham’s story.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Fear and Trembling -are they necessary for true faith?

I would like to preface this post by recognizing that I have never before read any of Kierkegaard's works, and only have a very limited knowledge of his philosophy. Thus, I pose this more as a question relying on my inference from the title of the book, and the limited knowledge that I have gleaned of its meaning. (I feel a bit like Johannes de Silentio in my former explanation, attempting to redirect any criticism, but rather than deflecting the critiques I invite them as I truly just wish to be more informed. So please do not see this as a cop out, ha ha, as it is not meant to be- thanks)

So from what we have discussed, I feel it is safe to say that this work, Fear and Trembling, is all about the qualification of faith, and how we should seek to gain access to this notion. I feel as though Soren, through his mouthpiece Johannes, criticizes the world for being far too lenient with the qualification of 'faith.' It seems to be a given association that we give and allow to be taken for granted, that any who attend a religious organization with regularity [or not as the case may be extended to] has 'faith.'

Yet Soren is disgruntled by the ease in which we are allowed our status of 'faithful' servants of the lord, when others such as Abraham had to go through immense trials and tribulations in order prove his faith to the lord. He had to engage in an act that seemed insane and ludicrous when looked at through an Ethical and public lens. He had to actually attempt to sacrifice his only son! Now the faith in this, is not blind faith in following God's word to a 'T' and expecting some good to come about it, but rather a faith in God's perfection [as I see it], for god, in being perfect must not be able to lie to us. Thus, Abraham's promise that his son Isaac would be the father of many nations could not be jeopardized by God's new assertion. Abraham had enough faith in this notion of God's perfection and the reality of that perfection, that he indeed was willing to kill his only son, maintaining the belief that his son would be saved from [actual] death through God's divine power.

This is how I have understood the work thus far, and by looking at the title, I have to infer that Abraham, being a rational and sane man, had many doubts and fears that he had to overcome in order to allow this faith to manifest. As I see it; placing your most valued possession, your only son's life [when you are hopelessly elderly], in the hands of an immaterial divine being, of which no absolute certainty can be displayed for its existence, save perhaps the voice that resonates through your own mind. How can you be sure this voice is God? Is it not just as likely that your insane and thus are being prompted by your own lunacy to act in a way that neither furthers your own insanity? Or perhaps in a theological sense, it is as possible that the voice you hear is that of the devil's temptation, after all it is prompting you toward a deadly sin. Is it not true that its not only as likely to be one of these options, but rather MORE likely? These thoughts would have to cross the mind of a rational being in such a circumstance, promoting and prompting the responses that indeed give title to this book; fear, and trembling. But, as I see it, the point of the argument is that faith is not rational. It is the absurdity that you can actually overcome such potent objections and BELIEVE that your actions are truly being demanded by the almighty. This is what true faith is. The ability to stand up to all claims that oppose your beliefs, and embrace the absurdity of the divine, allowing God's will to be done, and in the end reaching the stage of the Knight of Faith, gaining both the infinite and finite.

So then my question is, do you agree? Must we all endure such an ordeal as facing the paradox of religion, and holding fast to beliefs in opposition to all rational universalities and ethical claims that are offered by the public sphere in order to truly gain faith? Is that what this Abraham, this Father of Faith, teaches us within the context? If so, those of you who were raised christian in house and home, and upon coming to college found that faith in question, do you find any parallels between such an ordeal, and the collegiate attitudes toward faith and religion?

I offer no side in this argument except that I can see where it could be an interesting application and twist for each of us, if we began to see this period of our life as the two day struggle that Abraham had, knowing that the essence of our faith [and depending on your beliefs, your eternal soul...?] is being held in the balance. And I apologize again if this is far off of Kierkegaard's own argument, I just began putting myself in the situation and decided it might be an interesting blog post. Let me know what you think!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Revisiting Faith

The first time I read Kierkegaard, I was honestly taken aback by the way he took such a profound Biblical story and questioned the Faith behind it all. Being raised in a church atmosphere and having attended Christian schools, I had questioned certain aspects of the Bible and my own religion, yet I felt guilty for doing this. Kierkegaard gave me some inspiration to look search beyond the surface value of the Biblical tales and truly search for what the story means to me in the modern day sense. These stories that had been taught to me since pre-school were so engrained in my mind that I did not see them for their true value.

In Kierkegaard’s story of Abraham, he identifies the absurdity within the tale that our God could ask something of such magnitude as well as a painfully sinful task of one of his true believers. The tale is suppose to resemble that through faith and trust in God, he will relieve you of your deepest fears. I feel that Kierkegaard points to the obvious in the situation that this story does not seem to resemble the type of faith in the God we believe in now. Throughout history, we have seen how different perceptions and types of relationships change. This can be seen even within the past century with women and civil rights, which have affected the way we connect or communicate with other people. These types of relationships would not have been known in the 19th century. To better understand the depth of the story and the type of faith conveyed, I feel we need to recognize that the way we perceive a relationship with God is different than it was during the these Biblical times. Without identifying that the relationships with God have changed, we cannot fully appreciate and grasp the depth of the type of faith that Abraham must have had with God.

I am not suggesting that the story resembles the ideal form of Faith with God. I am merely stating we cannot fully understand this direct connection with God, because in our modern day state the relationship has changed. Although the story seems completely absurd in our world, we must not omit the depth of the story through analyzing it in our modern lenses. To fully grasp this true sense of connection, this suspension of the ethical in its rarest form, we have to revert to a different time perception and appreciate the overarching theme of the story.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Easier than it seems

Kierkegaard is obviously critical of how faith has evolved. Faith, he explains, is not as easy as we make it out to be; it is not simply standing up in front of a congregation and saying “I believe.” He almost seems to suggest that it is nearly impossible to exhibit true faith. The example of faith, Abraham was put to the test when God asked him to sacrifice his only legitimate heir. Abraham, in his great faith, despite great anguish, obeyed God and carried his son up the mountain to be sacrificed. How many of us would be willing to make such a demonstration of faith? While it seems as though the answer is none, I would care to argue differently.

The problem is not with faith but with one’s relationship to God. Yes, for many of us God is just simply an abstract concept we cannot even begin to explain. To complete such a sacrifice for this abstract idea would seem absolutely irrational. But, Abraham had a close relationship with God for most of his life and he had been promised a son and was given one by God. I equate this relationship to that of a mother and child. The mother has loved the child greatly for its entire life; the child, in return, loves its mother. If the mother were to ask the child to do something unethical, would the child refuse? This would obviously require a very strong relationship between the mother and child, but I would say that in some cases, the child would do what the mother asked. The child, in its relationship to the mother, has experienced its mother’s love and has come to trust that the mother has its best interests in mind. While the child might not understand the mother’s reasoning, it might still complete the task at hand. Thus the child has suspended the ethical in order to keep its close relationship with its mother and stay under her loving protection.

Faith in this sense is in no way as easy as speaking the words “I believe,” but is not as impossible as we make it out to be. We have seen countless examples throughout history of people who have suspended the ethical in order to draw closer to a loved one. Take for instance, Charles Manson and the “Family.” The people he assembled under him probably knew what he asked them to do was unethical, but because of their love and commitment to him, they did whatever he asked. It was easy for them to suspend the ethical in favor of the individual.

Now, the question of whether there is a teleological suspension of the ethical is one I won’t attempt to answer. My point is merely that once a relationship is established between the individuals, be it man and God or man and man, suspension of ethical, faith as it appears to be, is not impossible to imagine.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Ever since I first read Kierkegaard for the Existentialism class I took I have enjoyed his interpretation of the shortcomings of the way most people practice religion. His main argument deals with the teleological suspension of the ethical. He discusses this using the Abraham story from the bible asking if it is possible for Abraham’s intended actions, sacrificing Isaac, to be good despite being unethical. Kierkegaard basically argues that this story should be absolutely terrifying to people but instead is just accepted by religious believers. There is no evidence that Abraham isn’t just some crazy individual who is listening to his imaginary friends and planning to kill his son. Kierkegaard’s idea of Faith is very difficult compared to most interpretations. Faith is in every aspect irrational and absurd and requires one to be willing to ignore all the social norms and laws that have been agreed upon out of the hopes that some unknowable truth will come to pass. With that in mind how do we separate the people who actually hear god from those who are just insane and hearing voices? It’s impossible because we can never know, that’s what faith is it requires one to believe completely against all reason. It’s interesting however that in most cases people who claim to have faith in god do not see this as absurd, this is where Kierkegaard is a critique of most people, this is because they don’t have the faith of Abraham they have not thought or experienced what it would be like to completely suspend ones devotion to the ethical sphere and establish a direct connection to the divine. In other words they’ve never considered if they would be willing to sacrifice a member of their family to some unknown entity who interacts with them through remote means.

Evolution of Doubt

In his book “Fear and Trembling”, Kierkegaard asks a lot of really fascinating questions. In the Preface, a question that stands out to me right away is the discussion on the attainability of doubt. I had never really considered the fact that doubt is something not easily attained. Without giving the idea much thought, it is of course, easy to realize how one could take the feeling of doubt for granted. According to the narrator, doubt, along with faith, is a concept that needs some time with which to become familiar. If it takes so long to acquire knowledge shouldn’t it take even longer to find reason to doubt it? Reading this seriously makes me consider the process of doubting. I suppose it is a familiar process that isn’t easily attained. One must have some sort of pre-conceived notion which they can eventually begin to doubt. But to achieve doubt, one must do some very serious thinking in regards to all the possibilities of the situation at hand. Doubt can only come after the initial assessment of the situation and the ensuing questions raised. Once you stop and think about it, doubt really is more of a process than an instinct. Perhaps everyone can eventually have doubt about things but it is not an immediate way of thinking about things. The narrator even points out that at by the time Descartes reached doubt he had denied himself everything, a process which had taken an extensive amount of time. Therefore, in order to really get with the idea of doubt one has to sit down and think about what it really means to have doubt. I’m sorry if this seems repetitive but this question really resonated with me. In order to have doubt about something shouldn’t it make sense to argue that before having doubt the individual must have some pretty serious knowledge of what it is they are doubting? I suppose that might not be true in all cases. I could find myself doubting a boyfriend’s feelings or doubting my performance on an exam, but there must be some underlying reason for that doubt. As in, maybe my boyfriend didn’t answer my text message, or maybe I felt nervous and not confident while taking the exam. Either way, doubt is not something necessarily universal, but something that must have some serious reason or personal discussion in order to occur. And again, I apologize if this post seems somewhat repetitive, but that tends to be the way in which I work out these things. This question about the nature of doubting just really makes me think about that ominous feeling and the (probably mental) actions leading up to it. I am interested to see if others agree. Do you think that doubt is an inherent thing that all people feel or do you think that it something that can only occur after great consideration? I guess in the end, I feel a bit of both. I don’t know anyone that has never felt doubt, yet I am fairly certain that a lot of thought goes into the production of doubt. Next time I am concerned about a situation I will think it through and decide whether doubt is an appropriate thing to feel.

A FInal Look At Self-Interest and Marxist Communism

The Manifesto of the Communist Party, as written by Karl Marx, provides an outlook on progressive capitalism and modern industry. Within the Manifesto, Marx emphasizes the revolutionary imperative for the entire working class, while laying the foundation for Marxist communism. For some, Marx’s principles of communism yield a desirable solution to the problem of class struggle; yet for many it fails to persuasively demonstrate how the potential for a single-class society aligns with the nature of self-interest. Thus a foreseeable difficulty – which Marx seemingly overlooks – is a solution to humankind’s tendency to act from self-interest.

Marx dates his critique of capitalism back to the expansion of market enterprise amidst the remnants of the feudal system. This he attributes to the clashing of lords and serfs, which eventually paved the way for modern capitalism. But Marx neglects to observe how market expansion was ultimately a product of individuals exercising their freedom to interact in the market. Thus, the formation of the middle-class was in essence a challenge to the political and economic norms of the state, as individuals desired better living conditions, land, and freedom from political oppression. However, Marxian theory presupposes that all forms of human interaction are predicated upon economic (capital) gain. Yet in actuality, it is seen as a need for economic liberation; liberation from the oppression of a mercantile state (i.e. early America wanting to practice private enterprise apart from England, which would eventually lead to a revolution).

Although Marx’s conclusion for communism contains elements of truth, it does not account for individuals as theoretically self-interested beings. Instead Marxist Communism assumes that man is naturally inclined to cooperate with one another towards a common goal. Hence Marx’s prescription for society requires a peaceful coexistence where individual’s conflicting interests do not exist. However, historically, this is untrue, as individuals, regardless of class affiliation, have always interacted with clashing interests. Again, Marx’s recognition that social inequality persists as resulting labor exploitation deserves the utmost credence. Yet Marx’s conclusion that the working class will revolt, forming a new class, living in uniformity, is unsound. As historically exemplified through the Soviet Union, communism did not continue as both an agreeable and sustainable form of society. Ultimately, from this state-run nation, did a ruling elite come to fruition, as power-hungry individuals became consumed by the desire for political and economic gain. Furthermore, from the Soviet Union is it also learned that under a forced ideology like communism, creativity is both stifled and neglected.

Despite Karl Marx’ accurate assessment of the societal malfunctions behind class relations, his solutions for social equity are proven to be historically impractical. Communism is a reaction to the inherent greed of mankind, not a solution for it. As long as mankind acts out of self-interest, whether feeling compelled to seek reform, or inclined to exploit his neighbor, history has proven that human nature cannot be suppressed.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Individual vs. Humanity

As we move into early existentialist thought with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, the distinction between the individual or private self and the public realm becomes very important. With Hegel and Marx (but particularly with Marx) we have been concerned with the interaction of consciousness with the world, and specifically with other consciousnesses. Marx takes a political direction, which necessarily aligns itself with the public realm, as politics consist of interactions and relationships of power between beings; basically, you don't really get political when dealing with the self as an individual, existential being. Though this distinction can—and often does—lend itself to criticisms of both sides of the debate, something that I've been working with a lot is the individualistic basis for public action (which amounts to ethics, for the most part). Up to this point, most of us have probably dealt with ethics from the standpoint of there being correct and incorrect ways to treat other people, or that actions can be classified as "good" or "evil" based on either the intention behind them (in a deontological system like Kant's) or by their consequences (as in utilitarianism). What happens when we deny that there is such a thing as good or evil? Or even that there is no such thing as truth in an absolute sense? The question of ethics then becomes not about how we should treat others, but why we should care about other people at all.

It's my personal belief that a recognition of our selves as historically and cultural contingent—that is, the understanding that we are not wholly self-created beings, instead gaining our ideas of ourselves as individuals from the point in time and culture in which we are situated, not to mention the affect of other people like parents and teachers on these self-conceptions—gives us both a reason to discount fundamentalist or absolutist accounts of truth or ethics as well as a reason to care about others. By adopting an understanding of humanity as something evolving—a process of which we ourselves are a part—we first see that we are neither as we are "supposed to be" nor are we working toward an ideal being; this could be taken as a reason to despair or take an apathetic approach to existence. Despair, however, is not our only option; by viewing meaning as something created by humans working together in some manner (through conversation or more direct action), we can understand the need to take an active role in this meaning-making so that the things we do are meaningful for us as individuals as well as the group.

Something to think about, then, as we move through Kierkegaard and Nietzsche is the ramifications of their ideas on human interaction, and what that means for us as an evolving culture.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Moving On

Finally, we move on from the sprawling megastructures of Marx and the often, well-always confusing Hegel to something that seems more dear and coherent to everyone: A focus on the individual. Kierkegaard is a breath of fresh air from the impending doom of Marx and the windiness of Hegel, as the analysis of the Abraham narrative strikes me as more relative, more engaging than socialism. In addressing how faith can be authentic, Kierkegaard raises some interesting points: in what other type of society would Abraham not be considered a madman, for killing his own son, or a lunatic, for obeying voices that he heard? How can it ever be ethical to ever justify human sacrifice? That is to say, even though he was following God, how can the intent of murder be justified ethically? Here is where philosophy and theology intersect, as Abraham must have faith in what Kierkegaard calls the absurd, or things that seem logically impossible. Abraham’s story is taken as the benchmark for how one should be faithful, but ultimately, Kierkegaard contends that this is impossible to comprehend, because this one instance of faith transcended interactions of the intelligible, ethical realm, and entering into a union with just God and Abraham. The emphasis on the personal union, rather than a whole scale analysis of everything in terms of economics is refreshing, but raises questions on how relationships should be favored. Should we favor the ethical relationships, which is what we share in common with everybody, or the religious, which we only share between us and God? Abraham had to have faith in the absurd, that while he was losing his son Isaac, he also hoped to see him returned or live on in his lifetime. It is this paradox of thought that Kierkegaard feel justified in calling authentic faith, because that notion seems absurd. This raises the question to me: what can be reasonably be called faith, it each cases is personally identified and a major qualification is a belief in the absurd? What differs that from thoughts of children, who may believe in contradictions, is that now properly faith? The inclusion of religious aspects usually complicates matters, as Marx would dismiss this outright and Hegel would probably say something that not even he could comprehend on the matter, but it is an interesting move away from the secular movements of other nineteenth century philosophers. Does that focus on faith enhance what Kierkegaard tries to claim in his account in his philosophy, or will the championing of the absurd ultimately pale in comparison to the socialist calls in Marx?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

In reflecting on Marx’s work and Zack’s blog post, I think there is merit in Zack’s claim that it is natural to want to secure that which is necessary for survival for ourselves. That being said, there must have been a transition in which we went from claiming that which is necessary to claiming that which we merely want. It’s definitely natural to claim food necessary for survival, but one cannot make the claim that owning five cars is necessary for survival. So what is it that drives us to desire these things? One could argue that our society has evolved in such a way that we stop merely desiring what we need. But why didn’t society evolve in a way that once we have secured what we need for ourselves we move on to help others secure what they need for themselves? It’s possible that while society evolved we became increasingly concerned with providing for ourselves, such that we believe if we stop trying to provide for ourselves we will lose everything. What I mean to say by this is we have been conditioned to believe not only that it is very difficult to secure the necessities for our own life, but also that we believe we need way more than we actually do to live. This could be coupled with the idea that possibly no one is going to help us but ourselves. Our society has conditioned us to be selfish. What I find interesting about his is being selfish seems counterproductive. If we lived in a society in which each person worked for the benefit of every other person, then we would probably be way better off than we are now. This brings to mind Nel Noddings’ work which I read in both ethics and philosophy of education. She describes her philosophy as an ethic of caring. She describes the caring relationship in which there is the one-caring who is the one who cares for another, and the cared-for. I don’t really want to get into too much detail (I mean her work takes a few weeks of class to go through and we don’t really have that kind of time in a blog post) but basically the goal of her work is to get every person caring for every other person. This seems like a fantastic idea, a much better way to live, but it is usually only seen in the smaller scale (usually between a mother and child, but also between a teacher and student). If we could somehow overcome our current state of selfish living, it would be to the benefit of all, however, the individuals who have more than enough are afraid that if they give up what they have and the plan backfires, they will be left much worse. Also, it seems as though with such a huge population, such organization would be difficult. All I know is our society could do much better than the current state of affairs; exactly how we could do that is yet to be seen.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bravery, Reason, and Faith

In Kierkegaard's exposition, he discusses the bravery of Abraham, which Kierkegaard claims not to possess. In spite of this, he admits of a lesser bravery, that of following his own thoughts, be they pleasant or hideous. This led me to consider, what is bravery?

Bravery is ultimately tied to action. The lesser bravery of Kierkegaard, in facing ugly truths, realities, or visions, is tied to the action of the mind. But there is a greater bravery, that of heroes. This bravery is purely action; it is the bravery of men who do what no others will. Sometimes they fail in their act, but their bravery itself can achieve, by way of inspiration. Other times, they succeed in achieving what some would call impossible.

Not everyone who acts in the face of staggering odds is brave. If I were to attempt a triathlon over spring break, this would certainly not be an act of bravery. There are two qualifiers of bravery that are well highlighted by this scenario. First, I cannot complete a triathlon in my current state. To do so would be stupid; dually so, in that this physical test has no meaning for me. I would argue that acts of bravery require that they be worth doing. So, we find someone brave who undertakes real risk in attempting something of meaning (be it necessity or moral consequence).

Under this definition, not every great act is a brave one. Great acts involving little or no risk involve little or no bravery.

Also, not every well-intentioned failure is an act of bravery. If this act was truly an attempt at the impossible, our would be hero should have simply known better.

Where does Abraham fall in this picture? In his incredible faith, he has abandoned understanding (and to a degree, his reason) for faith in God, in order that he might follow God’s will. I would argue that bravery requires reason. Here, it seems Abraham is not brave. Is a faithful man who talks to God brave? There are only so brave as the person who achieves sense-certainty. For faith is the supersession of one’s own will with God’s. He who struggles with God might seem brave, but here I would argue they are stupid. Anyone who dares to contradict God (as the powerful creator presented in the Pentateuch) should know that they have no hope that they might succeed. Isaac’s very son Jacob serves as a counterexample to this claim, but it seems he didn’t know better, so I figured I could go ahead and post this.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Survival Instincts or Capitalism?

Marx thinks that even the way we think is influenced by the concept of private property (which is an essential component of capitalism), and I think his claim is correct. If I can’t think in terms of “mine” and “yours,” I can hardly think at all. Furthermore, Marx argues that there is a causal relation between capitalism and this mentality in which, obviously, capitalism is the cause of this way of thinking. While I agree that there is a causal relationship at play here, I wonder if Marx hasn’t gotten it backwards. Perhaps this possessive way of thinking is what has resulted in the creation of private property and capitalism rather than the other way around.

It seems that private possession has strong ties to survival instincts. Is it implausible to suppose that animals want objects that are essential to their survival all to themselves? I think that territorial animal behavior is evidence that this supposition is correct. When a bear chooses a cave in which to hibernate, he presumably chooses one (or is lead by his instincts to one) that he deems best fit to protect him over the course of the winter. In other words, this cave becomes valuable to his survival. As a result, he likely isn’t going to share it with me or some other bear. In fact, he will probably try to kill anything else that enters, because, from his perspective, the cave is his crucial survival tool.

I think that the human desire to own things is similarly rooted in our animalistic survival instincts. For instance, we are unwilling to give up our food to strangers because it is ours, and it is important to our survival. Furthermore, this mentality has been extended to all types of objects that are less essential to our survival simply because of the fact that these items can be traded for money, which is, of course, the ultimate means to survival in modern times.

If I am right and the private possession mentality is not something artificial that has developed in us over the years, but rather something essential that has been there all along, serious questions arise for the Marxist. Given the way we are, is any other type of society possible? Should we be pushing for a social structure—communism—that is directly contrary to our instinctive way of thinking?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Stand By "Your" Man:

I've been thinking a lot about the extent to which capitalism pervades our conceptions of society and ourselves. It's clear to me that I have a capitalist understanding of career and possessions, but there are other, more subtle ways in which it's affected our modes of operating.

For example, relationships. In simple friendships and in romantic relationships, feelings of possession often appear. I can recall middle school fights between bunches of girls who are upset about who's whose "best friend." And you can only have one "best" friend.

Romantic relationships are the same way. We think about our significant others as private property. That's why we get mad about cheating, why we "break up," why we champion marriage for its exclusivity. We think about the people we enter relationships with as things that we own in some capacity, and it causes lots of problems when that idea clashes with their status as actual humans.

Now, I'm not too familiar with historical human relations, but I'd be interested to see what a truly communist society would yield in terms of relationships. Would we stop pairing off this way?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Tying up some loose ends

Since the paper we turned in last week was a short foot note to Marx, I wanted to use this blog post to explore some what an idea that I left behind in last class, that I didn’t have time to adequately address in the paper, and since the paper was only meant to be a examination of Marx to show our knowledge of the text, not to reinvent the wheel with Marx.

At the beginning of the class Dr.J asked what we found interesting in the text, if we made any discoveries. My discovery was a small but interesting one to me. What I found was a new connection in estranged labor. Now, in the section of estranged labor, Marx takes a very logical sequence of steps. He first moves from man’s estrangement from his product, then from his labor, himself, lastly his species being. This sequence follows the order in which Marx says that these estrangements take place, as each new step is the cause of the next.

However, what I found interesting was coupling something I found in the German ideology with Marx’s theory of estranged labor. Marx says in the section on estranged labor that mans estrangement from himself causes him to lose his ability to relate to his species being. However, What I found was that in the German ideology was that Marx says, much like Hegel, that Man requires Man in order to recognize himself in the other. That ones own humanity can only be recognized in ones self in relation to another person.

With this in mind, it seems to me that if in fact this is the case, that it is not that man loses himself and loses his species identity as a result, It is the other way around. Man estranges himself from the owner from the means of production first, because he is the one that holds all of the foreign objects created by the worker. Then he estranges himself from his fellow workers, because he sees that they are no more free human agents than he himself, which would be fine, except he is constantly in direct competition with them. Finally he estranges himself from his species because he can no longer recognize other himself in other people. Since he can no longer see himself in others, the worker does not identify with any other people. Since the worker has no equals, only competitors and the owner of the means of production, now he can find no person that can recognize him as a human, and without this relation to his fellow man, the worker loses himself.

Like I said I know this is very condensed and provides no support, but I just wanted to give a quick footnote to what I meant, not so much to explain it and analyze it at length.

Friday, March 12, 2010


In our class, we heard a lot about Marx's idea leading us into a revolution... My question addresses if this truly would allow for a communist society. In my mind a revolution is bred from all of the things that Marx states; that the proletariat realizes the inequality in how they are treated and decide to rise up. Where I differ with Marx is simply the reasoning behind such an uprising.

Marx seems to think that the proletariat would rise up and conquer their land back for the good of the proletariat as a whole. I would argue that this is a naive understanding of the actions within a revolution. The people don't just wake up one day and decide all at once to revolt all equally. There are leaders and warhawks that push these ideas upon the people and rile them up, taking positions of power within the revolution. This is usually done by those within the proletariat that see this as an opening to gain what they have not had this whole time; not equality, but rather upper-class. They want to be the very thing that oppresses them. This is what leads nations into rebellion, a selfish desire of the few that infects others with ideas of a better existence. In truth though, this sort of action, a revolt, leads only to a new form of the same dynamic regarding the rich and the poor. The only thing that changes in these situations are the names of the oppressors, and maybe some of the policies.

I just don't see how such an action as a revolt can possibly overturn a way of life. Instead, I would propose that the only way to have communism is to have a nation full of well-informed, intelligent and willing people. This seems very unlikely, and nearly impossible, which is why I would say it is a great idea [communism] but it is not practical, as there is no great way in which we as a LARGE group of people can manage to reach it. Thoughts?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Democracy and Communism

Our class discussion on democracy and communism got me thinking about a television show that I feel exhibits similar ideas. The Colony on the Discovery Channel is a sort of reality/survivor type show where they took ten volunteers and stranded them for ten weeks. The show was meant to create a scenario of what the world would be like after a global viral outbreak that eradicated most of the population and destroyed modern technology. These ten “survivors” of the global disaster are confined to an abandoned warehouse for shelter. The point of the show is to see if they are able to basically rebuild civilization and the necessities of the world we currently live in. They have no technology apart from a few working tools and are also given a small food supply, without running water, electricity, or communication to the outside world; the colonists are tasked with building such necessities as a shower, water-filtration system, and a solar cooker.

In the episode that I remember watching, the colonists are faced with a pair of outsiders who come into their warehouse and consider joining the colony. This challenge to their system really enforced their strong sense of self-governance. What I found most interesting is that it appears as though human beings, when left in such dismal circumstances where survival is the biggest issue, seem to resort to some form of democracy and communism to rule themselves. In class we debated whether or not communism and democracy could co-exist and I feel as though this show proves the point that they could and do in fact work well together.

The colonists on this show have varied backgrounds. For example, one man is a computer engineer and one of the women is a martial arts instructor. Now, in the episode I saw, the computer engineer worked on constructing a basic battery and sensory system that would work the solar panels the colonists had built so that they turned to follow the sunlight as the sun moved and also stored the energy gathered from the sun. This task was much more difficult than anything the martial arts instructor could have done for the colony. But when they sat down to dinner that night, each colonist was given the same amount of food and water. Each colonist got the same amount of time in the shower they had built. While the computer engineer was doing things far more beneficial then anything the martial arts instructor had been able to do for the group, he was not given anymore than the rest of the group, although some might argue he earned more.

In this sense, the colonists showed their dependence on a communistic society. Each one got the same amount of food and shared everything with the others. When they were challenged by the two outsiders who wanted to join the colony, each member of the colony got a vote in the decision which was a very democratic approach. However, instead of joining the colony, the outsiders wasted all their water in the shower and tried to steal some of their food; when this happened, the colonists banded together to stop them and forced them out of the warehouse. This show exhibited the perfect combination of communism and democracy in my opinion, but maybe such collaboration between the two would only work on such a small scale and in such dismal circumstances as these. The combination worked well for them because each one had a voice and vote and also did not want to be valued less than any of the others. In order to survive on their own, each one had to work for the good of the group, had to help in any way they could.

For more information on The Colony, video clips, or how to apply for season 2, check out here:

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A closer look at the alienation of labor

A reason that the issue of the alienation of labor is so significant is because of the centrality and focus it commands in society. Marx writes “For on this premise it is clear that the more the worker spends himself, the more powerful the alien objective world becomes which he creates over-against himself, the poorer he himself-his inner world-becomes, the less belongs to him as his own”. Marx wrote that “the more a worker” does this he is alienated, and in current society a worker works toward their own alienation the majority of their day, of their week, and of their life. When the core activity of humanity holds the greatest focus of society and that activity is corrupted, and so poisons its propagators while simultaneously creating even more dependence on itself, the life of the worker becomes a miserable prison.

In order to understand the alienation of labor, and how it operates in society, it is necessary to examine the processes of labor, which can in a certain context become a step in the alienation of itself. Marx writes “The worker puts his life into the object; but now his life no longer belongs to him but to the object.” In this passage Marx expresses an interesting view of the human component of labor as a transfer of creativity that detracts from the worker who bequeaths it. This view may be more peculiar than merely that of an opportunity cost, but even as an opportunity cost it is still detracts from the worker.

The understanding that labor involves the transfer of something from the worker to the object of labor which the worker then no longer possesses, deepens the gravity of the situation when that object is alienated from the worker because the worker is less than before, and that part of the worker which they invests in the object of their labor is now alienating them; part of their own being becomes alien to themselves. This situation is pernicious in any degree, but is all the more damaging since the current culture endorses and forces as much of this kind of labor as one can stand. Marx writes “Hence, the greater this activity, the greater is the worker’s lack of objects. Whatever the product of this labour is, he is not. Therefore, the greater this product, the less is he himself.” According to Marx’s logic, since the current society is labor oriented-alienating labor- the workers of today are less the considerable amount that they work.

Just How Defined are We by Our Products?

So as we all are now very much aware, dealing with Karl Marx is not really my philosophical strong suit. At the very least, however, for the sake of this blog I will try and figure out how to understand and apply one of his theories or ideas. According to “The German Ideology”, individuals are shaped by both the process and the result of their individual production. As a big believer in personal action and responsibility, I thought this is really an interesting concept. I was thinking about this idea and debating how I could write about it and relate it to my life. I find that is usually the best way for me to understand philosophical concepts. How convenient it was then that the Academy Awards happened to be on television this evening. What better way to watch (at least in a more broad or loose sense) Marx’s idea in action? Each nominee is chosen based pretty much on what he or she produces. In this case, it is usually acting or something that in some way has to deal with motion pictures. Each person who receives the award has been selected because he or she has produced the best product. This is clearly a momentous occasion and I think shows how certain circumstances can really change a person’s life. As Oprah shared with all of us viewing the ceremony, Gabourey Sidibe, the young lady who plays the title role in the film “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” was simply a college student who tried out for the movie on a whim and tonight was sitting in the Kodak Theater vying for an an award against such legendary actresses as Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep. Every single piece of work that goes into making a film is another material condition that will determine the fate of each person involved. How they choose to use the materials available to them will really determine the overall production value of each person. If individuals are defined by what they produce and by how that product came to be produced than it seems that awards shows are really the perfect example. Everyone who was at the ceremony now has been shaped in some way by the experience. This may not be the most sophisticated application of Marxist theory but it seemed to me to be an interesting way of looking at things. Just think about how this applies to your own life. What you have chosen to work with and how you have used it has likely formed you in some way. Although the product may not always be easy to define, it really does define a part of who you are.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Marx's legacy? The Story of Stuff

Everybody needs to watch this video. It's an extremely accessible look at material economy and how it harms the planet as well as us—the consumer. I don't think that Annie Leonard is a Marxist; she expresses a firm belief that democracy can work. However, her argument contains strong echoes of Marx. She talks about how material economy (the system that takes natural resources, turns them into products for consumption, and then discards them) is a linear system on a planet with finite resources; it cannot support itself indefinitely.

While Marx focuses on the worker and production, Leonard is focusing on the average American consumer. Though she certainly addresses the oppression of workers, what really drives her message home is her emphasis on the oppression of the consumer. It seems that, in a post-industrial society, consumption has displaced production as the target of criticism. This makes sense to me: if we can diminish our absurd consumption, production might become less of a problem (still a problem, but perhaps a more manageable one).

If you have 20 minutes, I can't recommend a better use of your time. Please watch this.