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Monday, March 14, 2016


I saw a young woman in a Barnes & Noble in St Louis years ago with a t-shirt with some Calvinist slogans on it.

"Utter depravity" was the first one. I didn't get beyond that! Though she wasn't attractive it was suggestive, those words printed right over her bosom, even though the theological meaning is not very much fun, as I understand it. Sure, there are blander formulations of it, but those aren't much fun to make fun of.

How much of that Calvinism seeps into the water supply? What does it mean that a theological principle could also be the title of porno? Belief in human goodness does seem idiotic too. The belief that one is a good person seems absurd when there is much evidence to the contrary. Yet self-acceptance seems necessary, because it is better to say fuck it, this is as good as it's going to get, than to engage in self-flagellation. In other words, the self-flagellation might be justified, but it does no good and in fact makes things worse all around. And Jesus as a little escape valve from innate human depravity? Let's not even go there. It is dumb and repugnant in so many ways that would take me days to explain.

So why are academics Calvinists? Or are they Rousseau, Jesus-as-nice guy Christians? I'm talking not about someone's professed beliefs, but about the underlying theology that drives them. Are they actually Jesuits, Calvinists? What's going on there? When I figure it out I'll let you know.


Leslie B. said...

There was the blog Hedonistic Pleasureseeker, written by one who had been accused of being that by a disapproving religious father. Writer had decided to go for hedonism and pleasure, and would write about luxuries indulged in without apology.

Anyway, I will think about this. Why "utter depravity" would be a good porn title, well, because of Christian or perhaps general Abrahamic morality.

On academics, I will have to think about this.

Leslie B. said...

OK. Self acceptance actually makes people and work better, adds to happiness and focus, reduces avoidance, makes projection unnecessary, and just generally does a lot of good.

On the question of depraved vs. innocent, all of this is very Christian I think.

I also think a lot of harm is done by the culture of constant evaluation (against weird and sometimes destructive standards)

Jonathan said...

At one time I was sick of evaluating everything. That's all I did: my colleagues, grant proposals, student work, journal articles, tenure cases. We are always asked how good is it / him / her / them. In that context it is hard not to self-evaluate obsessively. Now I am in that phase again, unfortunately.

Leslie B. said...

Part of the Calvinism, or suffering, etc., has to do with the imperative to prove you are doing your very best in circumstances, or prove this to yourself

Jonathan said...

I've read that the protestant work ethic works alongside the belief that faith is everything and works count for nothing. It seems to be that your prosperity is a sign that you are saved. I've never quite gotten it straight but it's a long time since I've read my Max Weber. I think that if you look like one of the elect then maybe you are?

Leslie B. said...

You do well because you are one of the elect.
Nothing you can do changes whether you are one of the elect or not.
The elect must have faith in the system, and they owe it since they reap its benefits.
So you work to enrich yourself to prove you are one of the elect.
Work on behalf of others, that does not lead to individual "success," does not count as work

I have also felt that one was required to be a great sacrificer and penitent (these are phrases from the Popol Vuh)

Leslie B. said...

Ah, also, in Calvinism, gains made from working must be reinvested, must not be wasted on play

There really is a lot of this in academia

It is not productive

Anonymous said...

...there is something in all of this about alienated labor and the alienation of labor, as well.

If you are studying something you love but everything really is about producing articles for the university's statistics and your own feelings of self worth, then your conditions of labor will alienate you from it and distort your views of both yourself and it.

Leslie B. said...

I am still thinking about it.

The ideas are: (a) you can control what happens (hard work always pays) and (b) if you are successful, it is because you are one of the chosen and finally (c) works, particularly as in service, committees, etc., do not matter, nor does ethical behavior, etc.

So you get to believe in meritocracy and believe that you can control your fate, AND believe that some are chosen and some are not, AND not have any solidarity, just look out for you. BUT you must make the meritocracy thing work, so that you can show you are one of the chosen. Stress comes from needing to show one is among the chosen, so needing the meritocracy thing to work, and then feeling self-blame and also fear that one is not among the chosen if (a) and (b) do not both work out or both match up in a way such as they reinforce each other.

Do you see? It is all math, balancing the equation, except that for most the equation cannot quite be balanced since one does not have both total control and total luck ... and since one is not supposed to realize these things, one either blames oneself or other individuals, not seeing that there is a system at work with a catch 22 in it