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“Money promises value. It does not specify the form that such value will take. Used for consumption, money promises pleasure. Used for investment, money promises more money. The value of money, or the value that is promised, has no exact or fixed measure. It is an indefinite potential.” (Philip Goodchild, Theology of Money, 107)

“How could anyone expect to profit from unpayable loans without debtors who were already marked by their racial/cultural difference ensuring that at least some among them would not be able to pay? This is precisely what makes “high-risk” securities profitable. The Black and Latino/a holders of subprime loans, like Dana, owe incomprehensible and unpayable monetary debts precisely because they are not constructed as referents of either the relationship between persons presumed in commerce (which Graeber states precedes all other economic circumstances) or the capacity that according to Karl Marx ultimately determines their value of exchange (the productivity which John Locke, David Ricardo, and Marx agreed elevated the human thing).” (Denise Ferreira Da Silva and Paula Chakravartty, Accumulation, Dispossession, and Debt, 367)

Money promises value, as Philip Goodchild announces in the quote above. The promise of value is also the production of more money. Because money promises value, in order for more value to be created, more money must be created. In Goodchild’s elaboration, this creation of money to satiate the value it promises is the creation of debt. That is, the promise of value requires the creation of debt in order to produce value.

If money, according to Goodchild, is the promise of value—a promise which creates debt—blackness, following Ferraira da Silva and Chakravartty’s analysis, is the invention of an indelible indebtedness—the promise of a permanent inability to pay the debt that money creates. Blackness’ indebtedness is a demarcation of the threat that is named poverty. The threat of poverty in the US is figured as black just as the threat of global poverty is figured as Africa. The threat of poverty that blackness represents is the threat that secures the promise of money’s value. In other words, money is valuable and desirable because its accumulation is how one proves they are not-black, not poor. Goodchild understands the threat to value as exclusion from participation in social life and the loss of freedom:

“value is seen to be not a transcendental category, but rather always relational, and an effect of the use of money to mediate exchange. So, we find that the value of money arises from its nature of a self-fulfilling promise. And therefore, also, from the counterpoint of that promise, which takes the form of a threat of exclusion for those who are unable to participate in social life because of a lack of money. It may then be said that money also “draws its value from the will to survive that is threatened by a lack of money.” [pp. 119] The promise of money is then a certain kind of freedom, the freedom to make one’s demand effective and thence, to express one’s own evaluations.” (Indradeep Ghosh, Absolute Economics)

While this is correct on one front, we must also think from the underside of this logic. Goodchild argues that we must think ecologically about money – think about the relations it enables and disavows. I would argue this, but even further. We must think of money and blackness ecologically – Think of the relations that money and blackness engender. If we follow this ecological thought, we must take Da Silva and Chakravartty’s analysis as a necessary interlocutor and even more incisive understanding of the relations money produces. Because these authors understand global capitalism to come into being and expansion with the invention of race, they are also aware of the relation between money and blackness, not just the relations money produces. In this formulation, the promise of value is dependent on the promise of debt—the promise that the black will never be able to repay its debts and that the overwhelming debt accrued by blackness will be what organizes the principle of money’s promise. A permanent indebtedness, then, is the condition of blackness.

For my own part, I am concerned with how the criminalization of blackness alongside carceral, legal, and theological structures, works through this racialized relationship between the value that money produces and blackness. What I consider in my next two blog posts is the way value is distributed racially, what the implications are for our contemporary political moment, and some alternative ways we may be able to understand this distribution, or imagine it otherwise for the purpose of thinking of new modes of sociality. The second post in this series will consider whiteness as credibility, suggesting that whiteness is the position of finding one’s self credible even when one has debt (or perhaps precisely because one has debt).1 In other words, whiteness is the position Da Silva and Chakravarrty reference in the quotation above: “the relationship between persons presumed in commerce … or the capacity that according to Karl Marx ultimately determines their value of exchange.” My third post considers Blackness as indebtedness, arguing that blackness is the position of finding one’s self excluded from credibility and situated as a “high-risk” object, or criminal, whose circulation produces wealth for the credible.

My parenthetical above perhaps makes more sense in light of this. There is a difference between having debt and being indebted. The difference lies precisely in the relation between having and being. It is a difference of those who are the owners of their debt and those whose preceding indebtedness makes them ownable and exchangeable for profit. My hope is that in the following posts, greater clarity on the relation between having debt and being indebted will be produced and so gain new insights with which to examine the racialized ecology of global capital, and its carceral arm. Finally, I hope to invoke some ideas of how the relation between value and indebtedness, between money and blackness, enables us to follow the high-risk object, the criminal, into another form of social possibility.


1. Thanks to Sean Capener, who wrote some very insightful words in an AAR paper/thesis excerpt on the relation between credibility and indebtedness.

When I was previously immersed in research for years about Augustine and his legacy for theological anthropology, I came across an article by John Cavadini entitled, “Feeling Right: Augustine on the Passions and Sexual Desire,” [Augustinian Studies 36.1 (2005): 195-217]. I want to revisit some of the issues raised by this article in order to explore questions about Christian feminist options for decrying violent sexualities and encouraging healthy sexualities. Continue Reading »

We at WIT get a lot of trolls.

There’s just something about a group of young women with advanced degrees talking about God that really seems to get people all riled up.

Come, stroll with me down Troll Lane. There was the person who said, “You give good reason s why women need to be silent.” I can recall the lovely gentleman who told us, “you should not be called Wit you should be called witch women in theology creating Heresy.” There was the man who proclaimed us “under mortal sin, clearly” and the woman who called us “fringe wackos.” I could go on but I think you get the picture.

I must admit that being subjected to hateful, vitriolic, and occasionally un-hinged comments can get to me. I have felt tempted to slur back–anything to make my interlocutor feel what she has made me feel. And anyone who glances through the comments I have left on this blog will have no problem finding evidence of times I have lost my cool. I know I have said things I wish I hadn’t.

But these unpleasant visitations do not always end so poorly. Sometimes, as I learned tonight, they can inspire in us a fresh appreciation for forgotten beauty or push us in the direction of unexpected theological insights. Grace does not always look like we think it should. Today, a woman I can know only by the name of Mary left me the following response to an old essay of mine entitled “Jesus Was Not A Bully; The Ambo Is Not A Bully Pulpit.”

Continue Reading »

Trigger Warning This piece discusses pedophilia and the role of young bodies in art.

 

“Young bodies are like tender plants, which grow and become hardened to whatever shape you’ve trained them.”

Desiderius Erasmus

 

This week, Australian performer Sia released yet another mesmerizing music video. This time for her song Elastic Heart. Teaming up once again with dancer Maddie Zeigler and director Daniel Askill (both from Chandelier), Sia chose Shia LeBeouf to play Maddie’s dance counterpart; the result being a highly visceral exploration of, as Sia described it: ‘these two warring ‘sia’ self states’. LeBeouf was an inspired choice, not only because of the provocative statements both Sia and LeBeouf have made about fame, but because he exudes a kind of animal intensity that ensures the psychological dimensions of this clip remain bodily. As far as music videos go, I see this as a stunning piece of art

 

 

And yet in the two days since the release, Sia has come under attack for creating a piece that promotes pedophilia. There are hundreds of tweet going around, including this account of the video: “Smacks of child molestation #pervert #unacceptable #childabuse…Explain please!”[1] Well I have watched the clip a number of times, over and over, and I really I don’t see any overtones of pedophilia (this is not to presume or rule out the whole myriad of triggers that may occur for people for various reasons). As Sia has said, she constructed the clip entirely around her identity. And if one has followed Sia’s career, this is hardly difficult to discern. But it does not surprise me that this has raised eyebrows. It’s not surprising because we are increasingly uncomfortable with the bodies of the young, and certain rules about young bodies are emerging that seem increasingly objectifying and shaming.

 

I hesitate before moving going on. I know this discussion is tremendously difficult for many, and I certainly do not want to defend the production of visual pedophilia. What I do want to do, is to consider how certain reactions to art forms that include young bodies participate in a well-worn body shaming, suppress the imagination and the senses, and ultimately rehash the discourse of rape culture.

 

Maddie dances in the color of her flesh. So does LeBeouf. People have a problem with this. One commentator put it this way: ‘it doesn’t help that both dancers are not wearing much, and that those clothes are flesh-coloured – giving the appearance of nudity’[2]Would pink lyrca be more acceptable for a young girl? Young bodies must be covered in certain ways. This is a new rule. I remember my own childhood: summers often spent dancing and playing naked on an Australian beach. You can’t do that now. Now I get the complexity of this, I just think it is wrong to assume that the visual representation of a young body alone or exclusively promotes pedophilia, as if nakedness is always the definitive factor in pedophiliac desire. But what really concerns me is what our desire to cover over the young body is saying. That Maddie Ziegler’s flesh has created discomfort says something about the projection placed upon the young body. That this body is a cause for panic, censure, erasure even. It is a discomfort that teaches parents and guardians to hide away and hide from the young body. These bodies must be covered over because they are most significantly, sexual.

 

This is played out in the spaces in which young bodies can move, in the acceptable uses of their own body. Perhaps we have never had more concern over what exactly a young person can do with their body. The way they move is dangerous. In many neighborhoods, especially the affluent, kids are not allowed to climb trees, ride their bikes alone, flip backwards off the pier into the lake near Grandma’s house. It is not safe out there (despite statistics regularly showing otherwise). But there is something particularly disturbing about the way accusations of perversion or pedophilia emerge in the production of art, as with the case of the Elastic Heart video. Claims like this – of pedophilia – suggest that all contact between bodies is sexual. There is a problem of proximity, a young body in contact with an older person (and the way this nearly always plays out via adult male and young girl is telling) is inappropriately intimate. When Maddie dances with LeBeouf and their bodies make contact, a line has been crossed. And Maddie (as with LeBeouf) has done something terrifically wrong. She shouldn’t use her body like this, it is not right. Surveillance must be practiced over the movement of a young body, and their body must not be touched, because their bodies are most significantly, sexual.

 

The repetition of rape culture discourse is obvious. To the young person: your body is essentially sexual, you must cover it over and move only in ways that other, more powerful, humans dictate. You must do this to protect yourself against violent sex crimes, and you will do it because you are ultimately responsible for your own protection. Of course there must be boundaries with minors. I would hope I don’t have to argue that, but here is a message that is burdened upon the most vulnerable time and time again. Do we ask ourselves if this is ever helpful? What is achieved through these rules for young bodies apart from an early body shaming and fear? And when we squeeze young bodies into a trajectory that assumes all physical expression and contact is sexual, surely it dulls both the imagination and the senses? This is particular true in pop music. Consider the Disney child who grows up and inevitably feels a need to express adulthood in sexual terms. To be clear, I have no problem with this, but it does seem that their trajectory has been set, their imagination captured, their senses dulled. They have heard, ‘when you have some autonomy and want to explore and express yourself, perhaps through your body and art, this will be sexual, because you are most significantly, sexual.’

 

In Elastic Heart Sia clearly tells a story about herself. You might say it is haunting, disturbing, beautiful, poignant. You could say lots of things. Maddie returns to play the role of Sia. She is a dancer, a performer that uses her body to tell a story that is as riveting as it is confounding. And yet all that many can see is sex (a sex that is disordered and shameful). Is this really the only thing that we have to say to young people about their bodies?

 

 

[1] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/sia-apologizes-for-controversial-elastic-heart-video-with-shia-labeouf-20150108

[2] http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/sia-sorry-over-pedophilia-upset-caused-by-elastic-heart-video-20150108-12kabs.html#ixzz3OHYH4omz

U.S. Americans typically have responded to the release of the Senate Committee’s Report on Torture by debating either the morality or the efficacy of torture.  When opponents denounce torture as ineffective they do so because they believe that it does not provide the United States government reliable information about terrorism while those who disagree claim just the opposite. And when others decry torture on ethical grounds they do so because they believe torture an immoral way of securing national safety while those who disagree claim just the opposite. Either way, both debates center around whether or not torture represents an appropriate means to the end of self-defense against terrorism.

But what if torture serves another, even more primary purpose? What if, not foreign terrorists and their intransigent allies, but the U.S.-American public supplies the ultimate target of the torture wreaked upon the bodies hidden away in secret prisons scattered across pro-American parts of the globe? What if torture’s success lies precisely in its failure both to conform to long-recognized moral norms and to demonstrate with certainty that it gathers life-saving information.

We have misclassified torture. Rather than a strategy, I argue, the torture deployed in the war on terror operates as a soteriology, a type of salvation story.

Continue Reading »

The Archbishop’s column in the most recent Catholic St. Louis magazine made me start to think about New Year’s resolutions. All sorts of research shows that most people fail at the resolutions that they make for the New Year and a poll back in 2013 showed that most people don’t even make resolutions anymore.

Continue Reading »

I, like many at WIT, have had a fantastically terrible year. Lots of stress and sadness and shame to go around for various reasons. I think most of this has to do with the pain of human living. Not to say that it’s “redemptive,” just that it’s inevitable for most, if not all, of us.

There’s no point in getting into the details, but, for myself, it’s the kind of year I will look back on and probably just curse a lot about and then be thankful that other years are not this way (fingers crossed). It’s the kind of year where you are going about your business and then all of a sudden you find yourself declaring, “Hey, this year sucks. Like, a lot. Things feel weird and out of control, and also maybe I need to change some of my ways of being in the world, because said ways of being in the world seem to be making me very, very unhappy.”

Might you be having that kind of year? Continue Reading »

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