Today on the London tube I was reading the introduction to ‘The Monstrosity of Christ: paradox or dialectic?’, a debate between Slavoj Žižek and John Millbank, edited by Creston Davis, the latter the author of the introduction. My post here is not about the main subject matter of the book (two views of theology / christianity) but the final sentence of the introduction stayed with me for the day:
The monstrosity of Christ is the love either in paradox or in dialectics – and I believe, may be the pathway beyond the current popular-absolutist rule of finance, spectacle, and surveillance.
Although we can argue about the faith part of this (or even reject it out of hand), the two sides this statement resonate nowhere better right now than at tent city in the forecourt of St Paul’s cathedral, in the heart of the City of London.
By a stroke of luck my companion and I happened upon a talk entitled ‘The Corporate Governance of the Square Mile’ led by George Monbiot, John Christensen, and a Father Taylor, and so we spent the next 90 minutes inside the ‘Tent City University’ straining to hear a discourse that went right to the core of what is rotten in the city of London. The particular topic – the Corporation of the City of London (itself an archaic structure cunningly serving the needs of London square mile financial overlords and protected more by opaqueness than power) – is just a detail in the overall story of the economic disaster in which we find ourselves today. Stuart Fraser, Chairman of the Corporation of London had also come (into the lion’s den, so to speak) to right what he felt were/would be misspoken half-truths about the Corporation. Well done for that. A debate needs both sides present.
The talks were worthwhile (Rev. Taylor who has worked within the corporation of London, and spoke eloquently on it), and I will probably revisit the tent city for more. Everyone was civil, despite the yawning gulf between Monbiot et al (recent article on the Corporation of the City of London), and Fraser (who replies here to some accusations).
What struck me today was the composition of the audience, as well as the speakers. There is always a segment consisting of people boiling in furious rage (and I can’t necessarily judge them for it – for my own subjective reaction to the slow-burn fiasco of the state of the planet is one of dejected detachment – and that is hardly more defensible) who fail to make it past the expression of such emotions, and enter meaningfully into a discussion. Which means that rather than doing research, learning facts, and constructing analyses and arguments, they make noise. They are the voice of all of us, if we simply want to express rage. Yes, there were a few of those. But mostly, the crowd was educated, over 40, and articulate. Dressed just like me. Everyone seems to know that the whole game is rotten. We just can’t see how to act.
The sad thing I felt is that on the steps of St Paul’s this afternoon there was an awful lot of human intelligence, going unheard. What great debates could these 200 or so people entertain? We’ll never know, because there is no place for intelligent, normal people to effectively discuss the problems of the day, much less produce decisions on what to do about it. The best we can do is hope that our friendly neighbourhood iconoclasts such as Monbiot say the right things for us. But it really isn’t good enough. Such people can only articulate their view, and what they see as the priorities. We really need to do better.
My suggestion on how is to consider the main topic: money. We need to make individual efforts on a) understanding the monetary system (earlier in the day I bought a book called ’23 Things they don’t tell you about Capitalism’ by Ha-Joon Chang – as good a place to start as any) and b) start thinking about how to overturn it. No, I don’t mean in some incoherent revolutionary way, I mean by subtle means available to us, including digital currencies and local currency systems. I will elaborate on these in later posts.
For now – on a Sunday – it seems appropriate (irreligious though I am) to meditate on the deep malaise at the heart of today’s civilisation, and the tiny hope I have when I see hundreds of people just like me spending their evening at St Paul’s, not inside in the anaesthetised comfort of worship-as-usual, but outside in the blasting wind among the tents of the younger generation, looking for a different kind of salvation. I have a feeling that only we can create it.
To the tent-dwellers: I salute you. Maintain the rage.
Acknowledgement: Adriána Daniláková for the great photos 🙂