The following is the transcript of “Critical Conversations” No. 9, an ongoing series of Zoom seminars conducted by The New Polis with distinguished international academics. This seminar on economics, theology, debt, and the religious origins of the modern economy was held on May 18, 2021.
While the ancient world offered various forms of large-scales debt forgiveness, contemporary global capitalism grew from specifically eurochristian aspirations to empire that produced colonialism. It is not that empires, indebtedness, and slavery did not exist before. As Philip Goodchild explores in Credit and Faith, “the Financial Revolution in England was able to conceal the credit economy which was its foundation and foster the pursuit of self-interest as the apparent means to the common good” (9). Yet this concealment allowed “the modern world to imagine the economy in independence of theology,” creating a false divide between secular and religious that hides a theological structure.
Goodchild argues, “When economic life is misrecognised as ‘free market capitalism’ rather than as a distinctive ordering of the creative power of investing value (based on credit and debt), there is a divorce between thinking and being” (10). While recognizing that there are many articulations of Christianity today, Goodchild emphasizes the concept of ascesis in its ability to transform mindsets (8).
Devin Singh’s Divine Currency tracks genealogies of economic thought from the ancient world, giving lie to common assumptions that money is profane material, separate from spiritual substance. Building on the work of Foucault and Agamben, Singh connects the emergence of money in relation to sovereignty.
Roger Green: Welcome everybody, my name is Roger Green, and I am the general editor for The New Polis, and this is another Critical Conversation. Today, we have Philip Goodchild and Devon Singh. There are fuller bios for each of our participants today on the website and so I’m not going to read over that but I will just say, very briefly, Philip Goodchild is professor of Religion and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham and he has an expertise in continental, especially French, philosophy and its relation to religion, and he’s the author of a current series – I only have the first two right now, because the third one is not out, although I’ve been able to read it, a series of books under the title of Credit and Faith ,so there’s Credit and Faith, Economic Theology and the most recent edition, which is out this summer, is The Metaphysics of Trust.
Devin Singh is an Associate Professor of Religion at Dartmouth, and he studies religious thought in the modern West and sites of colonial encounter with attention to the Christian tradition and its interaction with economy and politics, and he’s the author of Divine Currency: The Theological Power of Money and the West. And I think to kind of frame things a little bit today having read these books, Devin’s book is very much about, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, but an earlier period. It’s about the kind of reception of Christianity by the Roman Empire, by Constantine and how it becomes institutionalized, I would say, as a religion. And Philip’s books, and even his earlier book like Theology of Money, is very much dealing with the modern period and the creation of the English bank, for example, in that transition into the capitalist era and as a sort of bridge, I think these two thinkers really help us to reconceive in a really unique way the ways that we think about economy and money.
A lot of Devin’s book deals with reconceiving, for example, the discussions that Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben have had, and they have such intellectual currency in the world and so I think Devin’s book is really, really helpful at digging deeper into the nuances of those projects. And I find Philip’s recent project entirely original and unique, and it shifts from different books, so I can’t give a really good account, but very much in the first book, rethinking what thought is and how thought works and then maneuvering in a really eloquent way, I think, into what we mean by trusts and who perhaps gets trusted in the current world.
But I feel like these two projects really, really complement each other, so as a way to open things up, I might just have Devin and Philip kind of explain in their own words kind of what their projects are about, and then I will turn things over to Carl Raschke from The New Polis, as well, and let him moderate because Carl’s work definitely intersects with Philip and Devin’s work. So, thank you all for being here and I’ll ask Devin first, just because I have a historical mind and because you’re dealing with an earlier period a little bit, so maybe we’ll start with you Devin.
Devin Singh: Thank you, Roger, for that introduction and that opening and thank you, Roger and Carl, for the invitation. It’s lovely to be here and it’s wonderful to be in conversation with Philip and all of his important and groundbreaking work. I will talk a bit about divine currency, and I’m also eager to talk about my current book project, which the working title is Sacred Debt which aligns with many of the concerns and inquiries that Philip is undertaking, and so, in many ways, I think that will also be, hopefully, a good sense of dialogue and conversation there, but just to sort of talk a little bit about divine currency, particularly in light of the sort of historical trajectory that Roger has laid out for us.
As Roger noted, I call it archaeology; it’s participating in a genealogical sort of study but it’s not itself a genealogy, it’s an archaeology in the sense of it is looking at a snapshot in a longer potential narrative that one could imagine or trace of the lingering effects of this fusion of economy with theology that happens in many sites, but I look at particular sites within Christianity and Christian thought. Ones you know would have to do a much larger, more meticulous sort of historical work, I think the trace how that leads towards certain issues and modernity with attention to the medieval period and whatnot, in particular, but I ground this in late antiquity, and so, looking at the three hundreds, to the 600s, 700s, and part of why this is an interesting era for me is that this is sort of the beginnings of kind of a formerly codified theology.
Certainly, there’s theology implicit in and at work in the biblical texts, as well as in the early church and the so-called apostolic and early church fathers, but in this patristics period, this is when we have the codifications brought on by empire with conciliator sorts of agreements through these ecumenical councils. We have emperors that are lending their weights and their imperial weight behind certain doctrinal agreements and alignments. And so, it’s an interesting moment of fusion of theology, politics, and as I focus on in this book, economics.
And as Roger noted, there are interesting ways that these early theologians are looking at the economy around them. The Greco-Roman administration, the operation of currency and coinage, the prevalence and presence of debt slavery, the use of economy and conquests, as the Roman Empire encounters so-called barbarians on its borders, all these things provide interesting tropes, metaphors, conceptual schemas for theologians to say, “This is what God is doing. God is doing these things in the cosmos through conquering the devil, through economy, through purchasing humanity back from a kind of spiritual or cosmic debt slavery, whether to the devil or to some unseen demonic forces. This is what salvation means. I look at early ransom theory, which is the sort of most prevalent kind of articulated theology or soteriology in the early Church, which is this theory of humanity being in some sort of bondage, typically construed as debt bondage, to Satan, to death, to some sort of powers, or sometimes to God and God-self, which is an interesting sort of twists. And Christ is the currency crisis, the redemptive payment that liberates humanity.
And we still have this language, of course, of redemption operates very centrally in Christian thought, often in sort of ways that practitioners forget the meaning of the metaphor and think it just sort of means, synonymously, something like forgiveness, something like salvation, but I try to recall the actual economic context to it and the ways that economy is operating there. And this gets taken up in the ways that bishops then advocate for the poor, and the ways that emperors style themselves as, somehow, representatives of divine economy and the ways that theologians describe God using economic dynamics, emperors then imagine themselves as models reduplicating that for the world, and so this contributes to what I see as a political theological template that gets handed down, and we can think about the ways that might then lead toward forms of sovereignty and governmentality in the modern world.
And, of course, this is one of Foucault’s and Agamben’s trajectories, and part of what I try to add to that, particularly with someone like Agamben, he writes a whole book about economy and, in my opinion, doesn’t really talk about economics which I find very interesting, and so I tried to actually say, well, yes, there’s governance happening here, and there’s glory happening here, but what about the actual materiality? What about the exchanges and the economies that are happening there?
And I sort of supplement, as well as challenge, some of Agamben’s paradigms there. But a couple things that emerged for me in this study, and these are things that Philip and I have talked about at length as well, I focus on currency, I focus on money, but money is a symbol and a token of a much larger sort of reality which is credit and debt. There are these credit and debt relationships and operated within society that operated for actually millennia before something like money emerges. And so, it’s not just about the money “stuff” – whether its currency, cash, coins, or other tokens – but something called the money of account, the system of weights and measures and proportions, the limitations and tabulations and regulations under some sort of centralized power, some sort of centralized authority, and you often use the term sovereignty to denote this.
So, there’s a link between the money, debt, and sovereignty that I think is generative and important to explore, and that’s something I, in some ways end on in the book and so that’s one of the launching points for my next project. I also end on this theme of debt playing a profound role in the Christian imagination. It’s central to these theories of ransom and redemption that I explore where humanity, again, isn’t some sort of debt slavery or debt bondage. But, of course, it emerges in the language of Jubilee with debt cancellation and debt forgiveness, which becomes as metaphor for spiritual forgiveness, as well. But this forgiveness is economized, as is the language of grace and we see this and Paul in the New Testament playing with language of gift but also wage and payments, so there’s just a litany of various economic tropes and metaphors and concepts that certainly some have given attention to, but
I know there’s a lot more there to explore, as well as the language of gratitude and obedience that are often couched in terms of a debt that’s owed to God and this is something that certainly Calvin is known for and some of the other reformers who want to say that salvation is not about works, you don’t earn it, but there’s still a an obedience and faithfulness that that must emerge and it’s construed as a debt of gratitude that one needs to pay to God. So, there’s operations of debt there in the Christian imagination that I find also important to highlight and that part of my conjecture and part of my intuition in this next project is that part of the power and swayed influence of debt in our contemporary moments, you know.
Certainly, there are a number of studies emerging, obviously we can think about Graber, we can pick about Lazzarato, we can think about other philosophers and social theorists that are looking at the modern West and, in particular, we can, of course, think about it globally as in some ways permeated by debt. We’re saturated with debt as a structuring concept, as well as, in the actual institutions within society that Lazzarato talks about, the subject born into debt, that the neoliberal subject, the subject of modernity is born already in debt and that indebtedness constrains our horizons of possibility, or horizons and trajectories of being. And so, I want to tease out some of the origins and roots of that and, of course, I think this religious and theological linkage to debt is certainly one source and I make no claims to I think of it as “the source” or the only reason why debt is so pervasive. There are a number of reasons.
But its linkage to these theological concepts that have structured the West and structured Western society and economy I think are important. I also think that debt linguistically and conceptually has sort of usurped its place, so I want to make the claim in this project, “sacred debt,” that debt is one of a variety of kinds of obligations, that really “obligation” is perhaps a master category we should think about. And within that we have relations of loyalty, of fealty, of duty, of love, of gratitude, of gifts that all construe different ways that we might be obligated to one another, and debt is another one of those possibilities. And yet debt has sort of ballooned and emerged and colonized all these categories so that we speak about our obligations in terms of debt and yet.
And yet I want to push back and say we often don’t really mean “debt” when we say these things. Shen we talk about debts to parents, debts to society, debts to ancestors, debts to the gods, we don’t mean that we have an arrangement where the value that we owe has been quantified and that we have an agreement to pay that back in some way, often with interest, and so we use the word “debt” to name this very discrete set of economic instruments that result from lending and loan agreements, which are very different than these other relationships.
And so, to speak about our debts that we owe to our parents don’t make sense and months unless we intend to kind of quantify that obligation to our parents and then sever those ties through somehow repaying or extinguishing the obligations that we owe to them. And so, debt provides the structuring logic to these obligations. And it also it provides a background condition for many assumptions about morality and justice, but our notions of morality and justice are often trade on ideas of compensation that we’re going to balance the scales, that we’re going to pay back what is owed, those early notions of “an eye for an eye” and these kinds of reciprocities, these are ways of extinguishing debts, that by removing your eye I have somehow incurred a debt, and so, in order to pay back that debt my eye needs to be removed.
There’s an economy of exchange that’s assumed there in this equalizing logic of justice. And it also emerges in our assumptions of morality. There’s a lovely essay that I want to plug in this, there’s a book called The Debt Age, which I recommend and think it’s a lovely collection of essays and one of the editors, Jeffrey Di Leo, has an essay in there where he engages Graber and this concept of debt and morality, but he starts with the death of Socrates. And this cryptic, enigmatic statement that as Socrates lies dying, he basically is like, oh, hold on before I die don’t forget we owe a cock to Asclepius, don’t forget to go and make that payment. And then dies.
So, Socrates’s dying breath is about somehow a debt owed to this God that needs to be atoned for in the sacrifice. And then he dies. Obviously, we can discuss this ad nauseum, there are a lot of interpretations about what this is about, why is this included here? But certainly, one of the possibilities is that something like debt and owing structures notions of philosophy and justice here that Socrates is kind of a cipher and stand-in for, and I think some of some of Philip’s speculations, I think, are probing this and really interesting ways. Like to what extent do categories of debt and repayment of obligation offer the categories of thought for philosophy, as well as for ideas or justice? And that’s what Di Leo problematizes, and he’s also sparring a bit with Graber in this essay. Graber also notes that debt problematically structures are sense of morality, particularly in the West, but I think we can speak globally. And Graber wants to rupture that and say, well, we need to think about morality and moral obligation in different terms.
And Di Leo is sympathetic with that, but also doesn’t think that we can escape debt as a structure and category, we’re just too immersed in it, this is how we understand what it means to be just, what it means to be moral. So, there’s an interesting debate to think about there, about what other kinds of terms and criteria we can use and draw on to construe notions of morality and ethics and justice that don’t rely on this kind of economy of repayment, this new economy of exchange. And we can talk about a variety of others so I could go and kind of outline my chapters in terms of the book, I won’t do that for the sake of time, but I will just talk about a few kind of overlaps that I explore in this book that I think are interesting. One is this conflation of debt and gifts.
The ways that debt and gifts are often blurred, and many exponents and analysts have said the gift will speak about the debt that the gift imposes. And part of why I find that problematic is that the language of “debt” and the language of “gift” mark two different types of exchanges; that we often use “gift” to mark informal or implicit reciprocity, that typically gifts denote things that are not – there may be an obligation, and it may be binding, but it’s not something that’s openly, explicitly stipulated. “I’ve given you this gift and therefore you must reciprocate at a later stage.” It’s implied, it’s informal, it’s implicit, whereas debt is something that has become formalized and formally explicit. I am lending you this amount of value, and this is a loss that I’m incurring and that you need to pay me back at some point, often with something called interest, value added. Everyone agrees on this, it’s enforceable by contracts, by witnesses, by oaths, various sorts of means. So, some dynamic in the gift, I think, has been made explicit in the debt.
So, I do think that one can think about a genealogical relationship between debt and gift, that debt relations emerge as formalized and stabilized and legally enforceable elements of the gift, but they’re not the same thing. And so, I want to problematize and trouble that relationship as well, in terms of that connection. And we can think about debt and sacrifice, as well. So, part of the part of the reason I’m exploring these overlaps is that these have played a major role in Christian thought, as well as other religious language. But sacrifice, as well, has this broad spectrum. Sacrifice can mean something like a shared or communal meal, it can be a demonstration of one-sided devotion, it can be a way to pacify wrath and appease, it can be a way to restore and reconcile, these are all cases or reasons given for one why one might sacrifice.
It can be a kind of “tit for tat” exchange, which has been explored in particularly the Roman notion of sacrifice, or it can be compensatory and repaying, but you sacrifice, you shed blood in order to repay and pay back something. And it’s this last notion that I think often has become sort of a dominant category and gets merged together in really interesting and problematic ways in Christian thought. We see in the in the New Testament, in particular, these two separate sorts of languages and economies: One of sacrifice where sacrificing, appeasing, paying back, or not paying back, but cleansing and appeasing in a moral way.
And then language of paying back that then gets merged. And so then we have language of Christ’s blood buying back humanity, which are the merging of these two separate ideas within Christian thought. But I think one can do a genealogy of carcerality and suffering and pain as paying back one’s debt as linked in some ways to this language. And that’s one of the end goals of this project is to think about the merger of these two economies. And, of course, the whole regime of penance that emerges in the Middle Ages, I think, is tied to this.
The idea that that you can suffer and that you can incur pain as a way to pay back some sort of debt that one might be owed. And again, these are not self-evidently connected, they have merged and connected in Christian thought, as well as in a number of other traditions. There are a number of other sites, I look at debt and guilt, we can spend some time talking about. Of course, Nietzsche makes a lot of this, Benjamin in his language of capitalism as a guilt religion is playing with the snippets, and Schuld, this German notion of debt and guilt that I think is important to think about, as well, in terms of the ways that debt becomes more alive. So, why is being in debt sometimes construed as being guilty?
That we have a sort of moral layer that many of our societies put on indebtedness. Indebtedness could just be an objective, sort of matter-of-fact thing. Okay, you’re in debt. And yet there is this language of guilt and shame that’s often attributed to being in debt and there’s something there with this merger with language of guilt that I think needs to be explored. Debt and sovereignty, as well. And debt and reproduction is an interesting site that I also want to explore. The language of interest is often construed as money’s unnatural reproduction.
This is Aristotle, that interest is wrong because it’s money but giving birth to money. And so, he has a very strong and stipulated notion of what counts as natural or acceptable reproduction and what is unacceptable or unnatural reproductions. There’s whole ideologies of sex, gender, and reproduction, and social reproduction that are at work in in language of debt and indebtedness that I think also need to be teased out. What sites in society become these sites that indebtedness gets reproduced but also invisibilized? And then reparations, I think I’ll end there, but thinking about the language of reparations, and this language of guilt in debt is key there.
So, a number of scholars have looked at the language of a kind of racial guilt that has been ascribed, particularly to black folk, in the history of chattel slavery and the slave system. Drawing on language of the Curse of Ham and this kind of universal justification for slavery based on race, there’s this imagination in early maternity that arguably goes back later that people of color are to be enslaved as a kind of curse or condemnation. And so there’s a sense in which there’s an original guilt that black folk have that justifies their enslavement. This, then, can get appropriated by slave holders to say, therefore, this slavery and forced work is part of a way to pay back this guilt. And we see this language emerged rampantly in this time period, that slavery and the suffering of slavery is going to be purifying, it’s going to be redemptive, it’s going to build your character, etc., but it’s a way to pay back this this original guilt. So, unpaid labor then in slavery is paying back an original kind of guilt or dept that one owes such that their reparations are nonsensical in this imagination because there’s no outstanding unpaid labor.
That enforced labor of slavery was already there in force to pay back this original guilt, this racial guilt. And so, this is part of, I think, the conceptual resistance to reparations for some within the structures of white supremacy because black folk and people of color are originally guilty and that labor was to pay back this guilt so there’s nothing to repay, why should we talk about reparations? And that gets transposed then to modern notions of criminality, that criminalization of people of color also justifies a resistance to reparations, so mass incarceration is brought in here, as well, that regime criminalizing the darker races also undergirds a resistance to reparations and I think also goes back to this Curse of Ham and its original guilt language that many people of color bear.
And so, that’s another example of a way that you can trace, I think, an interesting trajectory and movement of debt and guilt and other notions of obligation that I think has a real kind of political and social traction. So, I’ll wrap it up there. Those are some sites that I’m thinking about. There are others that I can expand on, as well, where I’m interested in going and extremely thrilled about Philip’s project and the questions he’s asking and there’s a lot there that we can kind of tease out in our conversation together.
Roger Green: Great, thank you so much. And as I’m transitioning over to Philip I’m noticing that Joshua Ramey is in our discussion today and I wouldn’t know Devin if I hadn’t known Joshua Ramey, who I’ve done interviews with on The New Polis and he’s been out to Denver before, as well, and he’s been doing a series which is now in Part three right now on “incite seminars,” so I just want to give a plug for Joshua’s current seminar, the current one starts tonight and it’s called Becoming Soil, but it’s part of a larger series called For the Remains, and even if you’re watching this later you can generally find incite seminars online and in a different, asynchronous type setting. So, I’ll turn it over to Philip now.
Philip Goodchild: Thanks for that. You’ll see how technically challenged I am as we go on. Thanks very much to Roger and Carl for setting this up, and thanks especially for everyone who’s come along to join in a chat conversation, it’s really valuable time to spend some time talking about these issues surrounding debt, and Devin, whose work I’ve engaged with quite closely over the years is quite an inspiration to whose work might keep me grounded but I’m afraid that’s impossible, I’m not very grounded at all. So, the reason for using a slide show is to keep things relatively brief, I tend to keep rambling away and just to have some visual pointers for what I’m talking about. So, about over a decades’ work has culminated in a book that fell into three because it was too long, so here we have Credit and Faith, Economic Theology, and The Metaphysics of Trust as three books, the last one I confirmed afternoon that all the proofs are done and it’s all ready to go to printing now, so that should be out in July. If I could say a few words about how I got into this topic in the first place.
I see myself as essentially a kind of philosopher and key influences more recently has been Bay, but originally Nietzsche and others, and I see myself as someone who’s learned to think by studying their work, but also rewiring my brain so that I’ve become a rather different kind of being than most philosophers. And there’s other important philosophers, too, and this gives me a rounded view of a level of dissent or sense that the modern world is completely messed up because our thought is messed up, and our thought is messed up in relation to, it’s basic concepts, it’s genres of writing, it’s images, what it means to think, the ways in which we engage in practices aimed towards aspiration and fulfillment, privilege we give to certain accounts of material reality grounded on data and evidence, the way in which we allow everyday presuppositions to alter and control, well, to control and shape the way we do things.
So, I see myself as trying desperately hard to find ways of innovating in each of these dimensions, really. It’s a project to try and produce a new sort of philosophy and it’s been going on for about 25 years. I’m going to have, of course, as many influences as I can possibly myself have. But two key threads that I’ve been wandering around and to shape the current project concern temporality and money. So, around temporality, a lot of the philosophers I’ve been influenced by have been saying that there is a new kind of thinking and frozen sites that new thinking takes time and needs another person that takes time seriously. And that’s what I’m trying to do here.
Taking the point from Kierkegaard that life has to be understood backwards but going to be live forwards, which he made note of in his journals, it seems to me that nearly all our practice of thinking are somehow upside down, or back-to-front, or the wrong way round because they’re essentially looking at the reality that is fixed, whereas our human existence is a matter of making reality in and through an app as the rest of existence makes that reality, too.
And that involves spending time distributing attention, investing care to the point where the only life that we have is the life that we spend in our time, care, and attention. So, that’s one thread that I’ve started pulling off and I’ve been trying to work out ramifications of. The other thread concerns money and one neat way of summing it up is this point from Marx in the 1844 manuscripts that the difference between effective demand based on money and ineffective long based on my need, passion, wish, etc. is the difference between being and thinking. So, here I get the sense that philosophy is concerned with the relationship between being thinking. But money intervenes in quite a special way, if not unique way, in quite a special way you between thinking and being in order to bring being about so you can get from thinking being, but not in a way that you can do purely by yourself in imagination.
So, money can be thought, along with all the other apparatuses that make up a modern economy, whether we’re talking about rules, contracts, regulations, practices for audit, derivatives, financial products, etc., etc., they’re all things that are created in and through the words that we say to agree them. So, in some sense they’re in line with ritual, they’re kind of interpersonal ritual that generates reality. Now, some 30 years ago, some of you might remember, everyone that’s following Gerard was talking about sacrifice to explain all things, and then following Derrida, questions of gift and reciprocity and forgiveness in the economy came up, and I found this quite unsatisfactory.
I found these exciting, in that they seem to be very specific phenomena that could be used to illuminate everything else. But I also found them to be quite unsatisfactory because they didn’t illuminate everything, there were there were other things going on as well, so I started when a lot of theologians we’re talking about gift or phenomenologists or colossus of religion, I started pulling on this thread of economy and understanding economy, first of all, and where is presented to us as a market and then thought, well, what market depends on money and started teasing out notions of money and turning it into capital and then essentially into credit and essentially into trust.
So, I’ve been pulling this thread for 25 years, and gradually it’s generated quite a different perspective from which many, many things can be thought out afresh and illuminated in a fresh light. So, my aim is to try and understand why we’re so confused and so messed up, and what is the gap between thinking and being and how that can be reunited. How it’s reunited in practice through things like money, even when it’s not effectively reunited through our sciences, for example, and our models of reality.
So, taking the power of money, after 25 years or so I’ve concluded that it’s not just some abstract thing that sits in money itself, it requires a definite concert text. You need a determinant currency. Carl on his wall has euros, but the money in general is nothing. Euros, dollars, pounds, yen, Swiss francs, they’re all something so you need a determinant currency backed by definite institutional arrangements. And the currency only has power, only has credibility, only has credit and value insofar as there is a consistent network of central banks, national treasuries, clearing banks, institutional actors, individuals, all doing their expected economic jobs in keeping the value of money alive.
Secondly, money is created as debt in the modern world and, perhaps, as it comes clear in Devin’s work, too, in the ancient world, too, going back to the first examples of coinage by the tyrants Lydia and Phrygia, money involves the creation of determinate debt obligations and, unlike the way we normally think of it as something totally interchangeable with any other being’s money is the same as another, that’s why we can use it as a standard value, with debt obligations you have a named debtor and a named person who the debt is due, whether these are individuals or bodies and have a specified amount of currency, denominated a currency, that’s been supplied usually with a date specified, though, that can be flexible, rolled, and moved around. But it didn’t really exist, then it’s the unusual situation but infinite that.
But alongside that you don’t get the debt obligations unless someone has taken the risk of speculating on the future that it’s going to be sufficiently predictable or manipulable in order to yield sufficient profit resources, what have you to make that that repayable. Now you see on the slide I put, you’ve got to situate money within a determinate world, you need a determinate sense of self or identity or individuality, you also need some kind of orientation to the future, I might mention faith, if not God here, but here we’re talking about metaphysics, Kant’s transcendental ideas will sell from God.
But, what I’m trying to do in my work is a kind of metaphysics, essentially, it’s a matter of rethinking the relationship between thinking and being, but a metaphysics that takes its cases from actual events in the world or actual situations, so we understand the world in terms of a determinate set of arrangements or cells in relation to certain interpersonal bonds that are created and agreed or orientation to the future in terms of credit and faith. So, this leads to a number of big paradigm shifts in a number of different dimensions. In the trilogy I conclude that an economy is only very partially understood when we see it in terms of the market, because the market imagines some kind of barter situation of instantaneous exchange, but most dire economic relations are actually contracts that endure over time, establishing during bonds.
And that has a different kind of relationship with power structure, different situation, if you have a solid set of obligations or bonds you’re not in the same situation as if you’ve just got a set of commodities in your shop that you can buy and sell as you wish. And also, our economy, we often use this word “capitalism,” as though it’s building up an accumulation of stock or accumulation of means of production, but in the contemporary economy destruction of resources yields profit just as easily as construction of resources. So, it can’t be properly understood primarily as capital, and it can’t even be seen as a system aiming at wealth, efficiency, and effectiveness because, in terms of what it produces, it produces as much poverty as it does wealth, as much wastefulness as efficiency, as much exclusion of people from the economy, from a wider set of economic interactions as it does inclusion.
So, I think the paradigm shift needed, and there’s quite a few, and Devin mentioned quite a few people who are social theorists of debt who are working within this paradigm shift, is seeing an economy as a mutual binding of imagined obligations, or these ritualized obligations, that we collectively produce, the directed activities that result in them and from them, and in accord with them, and the investments of trust to the point where I’m seeing capital as essentially a certain kind of almost magical power to invest something with trust and significance that becomes socially effective so that something happens.
And this means that trust in a certain way of thinking about the modern economy, and I call this economics, trust will be trust in quantification itself, producing data in pricing, in calculation, exchange, and profit seeking. But all this happens in reality in terms of money when people after profit, they’re not after something – and I rarely use metaphysical as a kind of aspersion – but the way in which value and utility and preference, these are not real things, they just imagine metaphysical realities.
Money is real. Money is real because at least we are we work with it, it has some definite institutional presence in the world, whereas value, utility, and preference do not, but a kind of trust in this picture of reality is part of the system. This means that the way I look at our current era, which is often described by broadly new-left critics as the Era of Economic Neoliberalism, Financialization, I very much value their narratives and realized quite early on that I’d never be able to write these narratives as well as they do. But for me I’m not seeing this as a fundamental change in economic reality over the past 40 years or so. As some say there’s quite a rapid change, which would assume that the previous post-war decades were in some sense of law, but instead, these are responses to crises and things that affect further crises that disclose economic reality itself, the part of economic reality is a belief in the freedom and justice of a perfect market.
And that is an active component that enables human behavior in line with that to be guided so that it becomes consistent and predictable, could be modeled by equations as if human freedom was, in some sense, mechanical. Likewise, finance, which is on the one hand trying to create all the missing markets to make market more perfect where knowledge isn’t perfect, well as big a transaction costs and it’s trying to overcome all these, it consists entirely in terms of debt, but there’s no substantial difference between the kind of debt produced in the process of financialization over the past 40 years and the process of finance that’s found in the creation of debt that happened in the financial revolution in England three centuries ago, that is in some respects, obviously in many other respects that happened earlier, but in some respects, the foundation of our current economic system.
There’s something about the way in which these things do not quite fit with reality. On the one hand you’re in a market, you can model it with equation so it’s determinists but it’s about human freedom and that’s a big thing that makes you scratch your head, and then finances geared towards the settlement of debts and obligations so that we can just go away and leave each other alone afterwards. But a means of facilitating economic transactions is by perpetual deferment of settlement debts. And it’s these kinds of contradictions, this mismatch between being and thinking, that generates a whole set of conflicting constraints that destroy wealth and freedom and trust in practice and lead to our messed-up state where people end up asking for much more of the same in order to solve the problems.
Likewise, I then come to a kind of paradigm shift in our understanding of politics. If we make the question of trust central – trust is the creative power, trust is what enables us to cooperate – then, of course, politics has always been either about order, establishing order, sometimes legitimate order, and emancipation from order when that order is illegitimate or oppressed. That’s a huge I mentioned but it’s not the sole category in which politics is to be thought, likewise it’s not simply to be thought in terms of power and resistance, or struggle for recognition. That there is, beyond that, there’s the wider question of the investment in public trust in various different ways. So how do we establish public trust? And in most societies throughout most of history religion has been fundamental in extending trust from interpersonal relationships with the divine local communities into wider relationships with strangers. It’s made an economy possible, a wider economy possible.
But the trouble is, every empirical criterion the people set up as some kind of criteria for trust leads to a situation where some people are judged as trustworthy and others are judged as untrustworthy for various reasons, or they’re judged as those who don’t respect the criterion for trust, and so are threatening to pull the whole system down. And this leads to short circuits of exclusion at the expense of long circuits of inclusion and I’m suggesting that justice needs to be thought in terms of this kind of dialectic is problematic. On the one hand, you want as much trust as possible. On the other hand, you want as much inclusion and justice as possible, and the two are often working against each other. There’s a paradigm shift in terms of metaphysics, how we do philosophy at all, and typically in the past this has been done in a rather abstract way. You take some basic concepts like necessity and possibility, or substance an accident and try and establish what are the eternal realities, space and time, etc. But when we think like that all that we achieve is sought out what’s involved in our presuppositions. If you think in terms of possible worlds, for example, you’re just really looking at your own presuppositions.
There’s nothing to read, nothing to learn from that. But I’m suggesting that we could have a concrete local and provincial metaphysics, this is strange because it’s going to be intervening and relevant at one time and then it’s going to be discarded as insignificant at another time, which is not about things that are detached from reality but is the depth dimension that you find in specific landscapes, or crises, or institutions, or structures. It’s not a matter of just pure concepts, but actually the material that is used in my thinking is something that someone has actually thought or narrated in terms of a story. It’s something that has a named individual attached to it, and it concerns, and this is perhaps but the metaphysical dimension that that emerges when we think and think about all the world in all sorts of ways and narratives and sorts of ways.
The metaphysical dimension comes up when we ask the question of the forward orientation of life, the forward orientation of thought. What are the live problems faced? Which concepts can we use as instruments of perception and recording? How are we going to distribute our sense of how we spend our time, our attention, our care, what we trust? Jow are we going to express our and refine our faith in what matters? What grounds the reasons for things, or what illuminates the truth of things? And I’m sorry I present this in very abstract way, I try and the book to make it much more concrete, but there’s this shift in the nature of what – I’m by no means the only person doing this, but not many people are announcing that what they’re doing is specifically metaphysical, the whole set of cultural theories engaged in in projects like this. But it’s a fundamental paradigm shift about what it means to think.
Now I’ll try to keep this short. There’s less to say about religion, but I understood religion for a long time is having an economic dimension that concerns how we use words to create things, to redeem things, to judge things, how we use words to and actions and behavior to water our time, care, attention, trust, cooperation, devotion and there’s this strange precursor for this way of looking at religion and it’s what Devin was mentioning earlier; that in the New Testament, particularly the synaptic parables and the Crusades, they go on about all the time about estate management, tenants, about feasts, about homes, and lamps, and inheritances. The economic dimension of life is to the fore and yet you don’t learn how to manage your household by reading the historical narratives.
So, I’m suggesting that there’s a precursor to the work I’m doing in the recorded teachings of Jesus, which are not the same as what’s been brought out in in Christian theology in terms of the way in which it concerns the economic dimension of life, the way in which you manage your own body, and your own thoughts, and your own household, and the way in which you manage interpersonal trust. And so, I would divide up history into various periods, periods when trust as being primarily local and interpersonal and ritualized, tradition based. There’s been times when trust has been extended and facilitated by world religions. But we live in a world in which world religions are as important as ever and yet, their role in providing trust is short-circuited by something that seems more efficient and effective, which is bureaucracy and governments and debt-based capitalism. And this massive shift in human affairs to how we manage public trust has, which I think arises out of the financial revolution, has absolutely enormous consequences for the creation of modernity and how we think about things. And the outcome of modernity is a world of contingency, of invention, of projects, but also crises emerging out of these.
And, and I think there’s only two ways of addressing this or thinking about this, that at some point we might have to give up on notions of free market capitalism and become fully deterministic and have a regime of governance based on algorithms and data collection and daily nudges that’s going to do all our thinking for us and tell us how we should behave so that our planet can survive, or we can return to this future orientation and a future orientation which isn’t just a matter of projection, how things will go in future, but as a complete re-thinking of the nature of time, time is what comes towards us, ideas and what come towards us, some of them have a capacity to realize themselves in reality and produce entirely fresh kinds of reality. So, the machine versus the religious perspective is where I end up at the end of the trilogy. So just in summary of the three books, Credit and Faith is where I’m looking for sources, for ideas, the economic reading of the New Testament, reframing what philosophy of religion is.
The genealogy, it’s not so much a historical genealogy as starting from seeing trust as what generates cooperation and economic value to see how that gets expressed, handed over, immersed in specific institutions until eventually it becomes pursuit of self-interest which obviously happens, historically. Then the second volume, Economic Theology, is more of an update of my theology of money book. It’s an analysis of the current predicament with sections on economics, on this equilibrium dynamics, and on finance. And then the third one is the strange book that’s about to come out and takes off in somewhat different direction from what I’ve done previously. Still concerned with economics, politics, and religion, but through the metaphysics that I set out that that distinguishes three kinds of goods that we can seek after, the goods of appropriation where what is mine cannot be yours. So, I’ve got this water here. If I drink it no one else can drink this particular water at this time until it’s purified, etc., etc.
So, that’s kind of goods of appropriation, goods to participation which are institutions ideas which only exist, you know, these collective interpersonal ritual products that only exists insofar as we participate in sharing them, and then seeing grace as that’s potency of ideas, rather than as some kind of automatic mechanical necessity that’s entirely predictable on the basis of which you can project. And basically, I argue that we have an everyday metaphysics, and every day understanding of what wealth is, what’s collateral, that every day understanding of power, it’s power to keep your word and persuade other people, every day understanding of necessity is what you can predict or describe through science or ancient technology. And I’m suggesting that these are not very effective or wealthy or good ways of understanding. What is the deep structure of the reality we know, which could be understood much better as appropriation and participation of grace? I’m going to leave it there. Sorry if that’s gone on a bit too long, but it summarizes what the three books are about.
Roger Green: Thank you, Philip. I am going to pass the moderator’s torch to my colleague, Carl Raschke, for the remaining of the session because Carl’s work deals with all of this, as well. Carl, do you want to jump in here?
Carl Raschke: Thank you, Roger. Thank you, Devin, and thank you, Philip, very much. At this point I want to give our two discussants an opportunity to kind of talk to each other for no more than 10 minutes, please, any quick remarks you want to make to each other. I have a general question that I want to throw out and it’s a very broad question. You might want to think about this: There’s this word that has come up only sparingly in your presentations, but in many ways, in my thinking about it, it is the linchpin, it is the key, in fact, it is, in some ways, I think Devin said it, that it really is what the larger philosophical issue is all about and that is the question of justice. I’ve always been fond of telling my students, you know, that it’s not accidental that the kind of foundational book we all read in Intro to Philosophy 101 is Plato’s Republic, or Politeia, as it is in Greek, which starts out with the problem of justice and ends up with the problem of knowledge.
Most of us think philosophy is about the problem of knowledge, but I would maintain that it’s about the problem of justice. And, of course, I think what Devin is talking about is the kind of theological infrastructure which is in with so much thinking about credit, faith, economy, but also political and social issues. Right now, the kind of watchword is “social justice,” as if we need to really add the word “social” to it because it’s about justice. And the question of justice seemed to kind of dominate over all of this. And so, I’m wondering if you have anything both to add about that or to say to each other about what justice means in this larger economic context. Talking about economics in the very broad sense, the Greek meaning of the word “household,” the kind of dynamic relationships that involve the everydayness of life, the world that is given to us in our transactions and our various participations and so forth. I find Philip’s new book that’s coming out, which he was so kind to share a PDF to Roger and I is fascinating in that respect because of what he calls “the metaphysics of trust”; this question between trust and justice. We tend to think of justice very much in terms of how it comes out at the start of the report, giving everybody their due.
The question of what is their due? We have a term for that now, which seems to be sort of overpowering, and that’s the question equity, so that we don’t really understand it’s kind of the balancing things out in a way in which somehow human relations become truly moral relations and so forth. But the question of a metaphysics of trust is both a whole new way of understanding economy, but also of understanding justice and understanding also what we might call the metaphysics of human relationships, which is what we all seem to be talking about. So, that’s just kind of my comment, I don’t want to eclipse a conversation here, I was just wondering if you have any more thoughts about that and/or thoughts about what each other said. And if we could just take 10 minutes and then we’ll let anybody jump in that wants to.
Devin Singh: I’ll kick us off and just sort of respond to that and also some thoughts that that Philip has provoked. Yeah, Carl, I mean it’s a huge issue. I think it looms in the background and in the foreground, I think, for both of us in various ways. So, one issue, I think, is this issue that I named that a lot of our conceptions of justice seem to be structured with notions of measure, quantification, they’ve been economized. And I guess a live question for us is: Are there other conceptions of justice that don’t need that? And certainly, this is part of what some might see as these kinds of abstract and reified debates about the gift that Derrida engaged in, but to turn toward questions of justice. And so, someone like Derrida would have to make a distinction between justice and law and legality, and I think that’s an important thing to think about. So, maybe it’s the realm of law and legality which is where this kind of enforcement of quantity and compensation happens, and then justice is this thing that, of course, for Derrida we never fully realize it because we can’t capture it. Because it shouldn’t be and can’t be quantified.
So, that’s one attempt, it’s a philosophical attempt to think outside of these kinds of economic categories and we can argue about whether that’s successful or not. Levinas, of course, has his response to that and has actually arguing that money is justice. So, I think it’s helpful to think, though, about distinctions between morality and ethics, law, legality, justice and then these other categories that Philip has introduced. Trusts. One of the questions and thoughts that I had for Philip, and I think it relates, is this issue, I loved what you said and your slide about determinacy and focusing on money as being determinate, and it’s something that’s come up for me a lot in thinking about debt. That one of the hallmarks, it seems, of debt, and with it money economies, is this focus on formalization, making something explicit, making something determinate.
Whereas trust and gifts often, at least that can be argued, operate in the amorphous, implicit, qualitative realms. So, I wonder about this role of determinacy, and I think it relates to Carl’s question of justice, but it relates to these broader issues of economy. Is determinacy the background condition here? Is there sort of this human need that’s evolved that we need to make things that we need to stipulate, that we need to concretize, that we need to formalize in in certain ways? And is it the result of a lack of trust or are there other issues that have kind of raised this? And this links with the question of writing, of philosophical debates linked with writing as somehow a failure because the verbal/oral encounter is actually aware authentic relationality happens and writing inserts of kind of formality and distance there. So, I think it’s linked in with that. So, that’s one, but I also was interested in the person’s provincializing metaphysics, and I want to ask about that.
Philip Goodchild: Thanks, Devin and Carl, that’s some really interesting issues. And, to start, no idea what I’m going to say so I’ll have to start where we work just now with the formalization and making things explicit. I think that’s a good description of the way in which I see what we do in the modern world. That we’ve lost trust in trust, and I see this with a kind of cultural revolution that has swept through universities over the past 30 years, the invention of new systems and bureaucracies, but this is just a kind of microcosm of a whole process of rationalization and modernization that involves trying to replace relationships of interpersonal trust that are often by paternalistic or patronage or open to all kinds of abuses and injustices with systems of procedures in which we can trust itself. So, I would see you, you almost make this metaphysical gesture towards a human need or something in human nature, and I would say it’s not necessarily something in human nature, it’s about distrust, it’s about a situation where we’re less and less rooted in our home, our communities, our traditions, our customs, our experience, all the things that used to guide human communities. So, we’re trying to invent other kinds of mechanisms so that we can trust in the mechanisms, systems, and procedures instead of trusting each other because we know that people often make a pretty bad job of things.
And this is deeply ambivalent, it clears away all sorts of abuses, but it also leads to a whole set of constraints and determinisms so that we become progressively more and more functionaries in a system that we don’t really know or understand or don’t know what we’re doing. We have less than less individual freedom and become much more people who are tending a kind of machine, a big social machine. And that’s following. Weil’s Oppression and Liberty, the account that she gives of, well, human nature in general, human society in general, but especially modernity. So, I don’t know if you ever read the good research, but she’s taken Marx’s notions of assumption under the machine and generalized them to the way in which society works in general. So, to me, I see the root of that as trying to use, of being in a situation of distrust and prices and then trying to use that situation to create things that we can then trust. And it’s about the general insecurity of modernity.
And, if I can try and tie that into justice, that in some ways the way in which we treat justice in terms of quantification is about inventing some kind of calculus through which we can be sure that we have measured and done justice appropriately. But the trouble with distributed notions of justice, I find, is that it presupposes some kind of utopia of equality which is purely imaginary because everything real in the world is different and likenesses or artificial creations. So, I think the way in which we imagine justice is it’s probably based on an artificial projection which gets us into further trouble.
So, the way in which I handled that justice in the new book is primarily through imagination, and I’ve gone back to Augustine, and although I wouldn’t want to reproduce quite a lot of his conceptions of justice and a lot of Cicero has been used by Augustine, the notion that understanding things at they’re appropriate level, the things that we can handle and control and are subject to the human mind, the things are that human minds like us, and the things that guide and orient and direct human mind, if we can keep these understandings at their own appropriate level, then that is a form of justice, that is a form of managing your own thoughts, kind of an economy of thought, as well as managing your actions and your bodies. I think justice has to be thought in terms of self- management, not just in terms of distribution. I should pause here to let others come in.
Carl Raschke: We have a have quite a few questions here and a few hands up, but as I said, I’ll go in the order in which thing popped up on the screen. This one is from Joshua Lawrence. He says, “Philip can you say more about the distinction between appropriation and property. Hard for me to think appropriation outside of some of the kinds of hoarding collection purchase of goods, which I think you’re pushing against in the forthcoming work.
Philip Goodchild: Okay, yes, good question they seem so similar and obviously in the forthcoming work I make a distinction between property as something that you can put a fence around or claim a right to, and appropriation as actually a habitation and they’re quite different things. So, you don’t actually have to nominally own what you inhabit, so you can pass through an area regularly and feel that you live there, and I say that your workplace can even feel like home when you spend some time and have idle conversation or wiling the time away or not really used to doing any directed activities, then at least you’re dwelling there.
And you don’t own it, you’re doing your job, but it’s in those moments of great reflection and imagination that you’re, in some sense, appropriating the world around you. And I think that’s especially so by the paradigm I had in mind was the way in which I’m influenced by so many writers to the point where they feed into my unconscious and then I completely forget who they are, or what they said, or how it’s influenced me. In fact, most of it happens at the unconscious level, so I’m thinking of appropriation is something closer to that. And it’s not only about ideas and thoughts, it’s how we relate to the material world around us, it’s our way of inhabiting and living a kind of life on the basis of something which doesn’t necessarily involve hoarding or collection, but there’s more on that in the book.
Carl Raschke: Thanks. So, the next one comes from Joshua Ramey. He says, “This is an open question: Is justice even the issue anymore? Isn’t it always too late for justice? If justice is a form of reciprocity for the categories and reasons that Devin suggests looking gift and debt, if I have to reciprocate, I have to have something to give, where would I get that if not for inequity?”
Devin Singh: I think that’s definitely one of the issues, and I think that’s a struggle. I think there are obviously alternative ways that people have tried to conceptualize justice in more qualitative senses or relational senses. But even, I think about restorative justice, etc., I mean, there’s still an implicit quantification there. I mean, it’s tough, I’d love to hear your thoughts, Joshua, on if you think there are alternative ways, or if there should be sort of push back against the category of justice.
Joshua Ramey: I also would like to hear what you have to say about this, but I also want to reveal where that question is coming from, because I’ve been thinking a lot about notions of blackness that come out of Afro-pessimism, also for moments or two it’s not you know after President and trying to think I kind of outside of modernity and outside of civil society from the point-of-view of those who are determined, that is ontologically determined as those who have nothing to give, even when they appear to have a lot to give, even when they contribute a lot to this society, apparently, in terms of arts and culture, and so on, because the black is still positioned as the inhuman or the anti-human, we still don’t owe them any reciprocity for what we nevertheless take from them.
But the solution to that, at least if you follow this line of thinking, is not to sort of properly pay black artists and musicians or even, perhaps, engaging reparations, although it might be more radical, the answer is, as Willison said, destroy the world, like actually end modernity and this paradigm that it requires. And I guess Derrida is still kind of bothering us here, because it requires some someone or something, X, that is completely outside the entire possibility of reciprocity, the entire potentiality of relations that can, whatever you want to call them, it can be compensatory, it can be redistributive, it can be reparative or something. I owe you know the black radical traditions for provoking need to think the last few years. I just wanted to reveal what’s on my mine has something very concrete behind it. I’m not coming at it just from a kind of Derridean, oh, this is a really interesting, logical, transcendental structure. This is very concretely historically how modernity is constituted.
Philip Goodchild: If I come in at this point, I probably won’t say much that’s satisfying, but I’ve always had doubts about nations’ reciprocity and considering justice in terms of reciprocity because of the fundamental differences in kind that, particularly in our relations, I mean, obviously example you talk about, Joshua, is important, but a very different example is the relations to the non-human world, the environment. Of course, there are multiple interactions that take place across multiple registers, but I think to think those in terms of reciprocity is to invent some kind of abstract measure through which obligation is understood. And I’m just an old-fashioned liberal, really, I don’t want I don’t want compensation for anything I do and I’m a very ungrateful character, who rarely reciprocates any favors that anyone does for me, so I do think reciprocity is a very different thing from justice and I go back to the gospels on this.
Justice has to be thought in terms of giving respect to that which matters to giving respect to that which has potential distributing credit. It’s always got to be totally unequal, and if it enables things to happen, enables people to thrive and flourish and cooperate and be included, then that would be a much better sense of justice. So, in the Metaphysics of Trust book, I imagine justice again in terms of an imaginary city, but an imaginary city which is characterized simply by respect where people think, “Oh, that’s significant. “Oh, that matter.” “So that’s appropriate” or “that’s suitable” and just guide their behavior in that way.
Lissa McCullough: I wanted to take a step back and consider, well, I don’t think talking about justice in the situation where today is going to be anything but exercise in dreaming, so let’s talk about the real world we actually live in, and it’s a world that has been defined by capitalism, and we’re now in late financialized capitalism, which is an end game that will destroy the planet if we don’t find a way to stop it. And we have to ask: What allowed this catastrophe to happen? And it’s a power game and we need to think about this power game and how the different players have it. Like, when you examine a game of chess, what happened in that championship? What was the first move? What was the next move? And if you look at it that way, kind of unwinding it logically, or unfolding it logically out of its beginnings the way Spinoza unfolds the world out of God, or however you want to put the concept of God, based on the necessity, but what are the necessary steps that made this end game possible, given all the forces that would prefer that it not go this direction?
And so I look at early modernity and I see social-political theory that is designed to shatter society into individuals. And you see that in Hobson-Locke – what is their number one purpose? To shatter society and create, only out of mystic individuals. And what is the purpose of their theory is to give power to those that have a power to redesign society based on their interests. And they did that very well and they had the power to recreate the bond, to recreate the game from an organic religious society grounded in religious traditions and so on, to be all about markets and capital and redefining the fundamental relationship between individuals as economic rather than social. And, as a consequence of this, you might say that there’s still the kind of trust operating in the system. Yeah, it’s kind of naive and it’s clearly trust in traditional relationships on the part of the little people.
The capitalists totally shattered all of those systems, but the little people go on accepting a sense of guilt when they take on debt and that they need to pay back their loans and they need to work hard for every out, for every $7.15 per hour that they earn, and they keep functioning on these assumptions of the social relations and of being a good person on ethical ground. Do the capitalists look at things that way? Never, or they wouldn’t be capitalists, they wouldn’t be able to play the game they do. And so, it’s really a split ethic between those who abide by those traditional, social, relational bonds and those who absolutely understand that power is a game that functions quite the opposite direction. And they need the sovereign because they can’t rely on trust. Why can’t they rely on trust? Because everything they do is constantly showing I can’t be trusted, I’m going to take advantage. What I call “self-interest” is against the interests of all others, including the other capitalists, including the one big agriculture firm’s interest is against the other big agricultural firm, and they all have to, even when they collude they’re not doing it on trust, they’re doing it on the basis of building their power.
So, they have several federations of power, but it’s all in order to, in the end, stab everybody else in the back and run away with the greatest power. So, to me, the only way to look at this whole system of the economic realities of modernity is as a system of power. It’s the only way you’ll ever understand anything. And there’s a really interesting economist who is, I believe, Israeli but he’s based in Canada at the University of York, and he analyzes capitalism as power. And he’s an economist and he does these elaborate empirical studies and crunches data to show, to demonstrate that it’s a system of power. His name is Jonathan Nitzen and I highly recommend him. And so, a trust you would think would be an Achilles heel for the capitalists, but in the end of what’s happening is more and more as the economy is no longer productive and there’s no interest in being productive, there’s only interest in kind of grabbing the resources and these cutting shorts so that you win billions in three microseconds on Wall Street or whatever ways of grabbing – it’s a vulture economy now.
There’s nothing left in the productive economy as Giannis Fairfax has argued, there’s been a complete decoupling of the real economy, productive economy from financialized capitalism, which is all the money. The world awash with trillions of dollars it’s all being used to buy back stocks, it’s just the greatest stock bubble in world history. And so, what are you doing Phillip? It seems to me what you’re doing is you’re thinking about reinvesting society after the shattering and after this power end game. And one of the things that this goes to show is a certain truth that was understood well in Christianity by Augustine. That without love there’s only the devil. And what is love? It’s those real relations that are the web of life. Those real relations, they’re not metaphysical, they’re material, they’re psychological, every aspect of our being is enmeshed in a web of relations that is sustaining our life. This whole modernity, the shattering of society has been a tragic demonstration that we need love. And what is trust? Trust is a form of love, in my opinion. You’re not going to have trust without love, and that’s why this whole system has taken us to the brink of destruction of the planet, because all power is being used in forms that have no idea that what they call self-interest is actually just a nihilistic, purposeless driving towards absolute destruction. That’s my that’s my dark picture of the world we live in today.
Philip Goodchild: I will respond with two thoughts. I agree very much with all of that, Lissa. And I’ve sometimes thought, if I can do anything to reverse John Locke’s legacy and epistemology and the study of religion and politics, then that would be some kind of an achievement. But the kinds of questions that I’ve been asking recently is how did Hobbes turn from being this atheist the people would barely mention except with utter opprobrium into an influential philosopher? And how is it that John Locke’s nakedly self-interest ideological justifications for slave trade, etc., etc. were received as, in some sense, an emancipation, a step towards progress and freedom and toleration. And I think we have to understand the relationship, the integration and the relationship between thought and society. And although I’m not a good historian and I’m not a good scholar, the way I’ve made sense of the 17th century that Locke’s expressing in some ways it’s just a symptom of that kind of the standard dominant attitudes that were around it is that you have, from Tudor, England you have this economy that’s suddenly geared towards exports, sheep export, craft export – it’s growing massively.
More and more relations are explicitly trading relations and economic relations, but there’s this massive shortage of coinage. I know it seems arbitrary, but most transactions had to take place on credit in the literal sense of defer payment. And this sets up a system of debt cancellation, clearances between different people’s debts when you could, when things have worked out people are willing to accept that. It has a system where there’d always be a third party who witnesses a verbal agreement, who can explain what’s been agreed. You have enormous amounts of litigation going on, when things break down. But you have this strange economy that’s an economy of trust and cooperation whereby people do things, simply pick on credit because they were asked to, they’re contributing to each other. And it then becomes a situation of, on the one hand, beneficial cooperation, on the other hand, real risk of contagion because if you don’t get paid by your creditors, so your debtors, then you can’t pay your creditors and your good name falls.
And so, credit as that reputation, which can attract other people to give you what you need or when you need to pay someone you can get someone else to do it for you, that sense of credit is what was all important, and this is clear in the diarists like Samuel Pepe or in the writings of Daniel Defoe in The Complete English Tradesmen. And this sense of credit leads to this strange puritan, and I’m not with favor here, strange puritan ethos where, if you’re diligent, if you’re clearly, visibly working, if you’re thrifty, if you’re not wasting your money and if you’re pious and you clearly take your life seriously and expect to be judged by God, then you are credit-worthy, your reputation rights is, and you can do more for society by means of your credit. So, somehow there was this connection between pursuit of honor as pursuit of credit as pursuit of self-interest. And the way in which you contribute to society, and also the suspicion of the poor who were accused of hanging around in ale houses, who weren’t worthy of credit, who are wasting their money and wasting their labor.
The suspicion of them for being the ones who are actually undermining society, and so you have this moral system which heavy converts into individualism. The moment you replace coin – which there wasn’t enough of, it was very poor quality, you wouldn’t trust a lot of it, it was defaced and the wrong weight etc., etc., it was really old – You replace it with paper money, which is all the same, except there might be different serial numbers, but otherwise it’s the reputation of the Bank of England, for example, that you’re trading with, not your own credit your, your own reputation. Suddenly, it becomes the honorable, sociable thing to do, is to pay with bank money because then you prove you have substance, you prove that you’re not leading to the debt contagion credit bubbles, the South Sea Company was an extreme example of that. And you get this this strange way whereby pursuit of self-interest starts to converge with for a bit and then eventually displace what had seemed to be working for the common good.
So, whereas in a in a more traditional republican society, individual honor and the social and the common good intimately tied into each other and work together cooperatively that once we externalize that trust and put it into money then suddenly self-interest starts to take over and, there’s more to it than this, but then individualism starts to become possible. And that’s led to this strange world that on the one hand, it has broken apart society, and on the other hand it’s built it more intensely as much as ever before. We don’t live in such a complete wile, anarchic freedom, we have all our bills to pay and our debts and our constraints and our expectations for our careers, etc., etc., everything is much more regulated and managed than before, and it’s become much more machinic.
Devin Singh: The only thing I would add really briefly to this is that, while it’s without question that Locke and Hobbes are some of the philosophical architects of what we’re dealing with that, that they’re, of course, writing as reflecting upon certain historical material realities. I think one is this dynamic that Philip has mentioned, I think a couple others that are essential to keep in mind, of course, are the closing of the commons which provides a kind of material historical foundation for Locke to theorize, as well as Hobbes. So, that’s happening before their writing and, of course, slavery and colonization and we can’t understand Locke or Hobbes on the state of nature without understanding their fantasies of the savage in the wilderness which are informed by encounters with indigenous folk and the colonial encounter right. So, these are kind of historical material realities that that are undergirding their philosophical systems.
Alan Richard: Well, it was a question about Philip’s presentation which really set up what seemed to be a tension between regimes of trust and justice. And the only reason that would matter to me is the exclusionary part; that it seems like the more you have a regime that’s built on trust, the way that it was described, the more there is an exclusionary practice going on because there are these criteria, trust, and, in fact, if you just look at the example of slavery, the way that race-based slavery was set up in the United States, it really did start out with Christian versus heathen. And it had to do with exclusionary criteria for who you can trust and who you could’t. So, I want to see if Devin and Philip can talk a little bit more about this tension, and I know we kind of resolved it earlier by saying, well, justice we’re not really interested in that. But there’s a certain notion of justice we’re not interested in, but there is also, presumably, we don’t want to repeat this kind of exclusionary practice. But it does seem that the way that the regimes of trust were being described that that’s inherent in it. So, what is way in which that can be negotiated, I guess.
Devin Singh: If I can jump in really quick before giving Philip the floor because I think he’ll have a lot to say about this, but I wanted to kind of add to this and kind of complexify this because, while I think it’s unquestionable that in modernity we’re seeing a proliferation of systems of distrust, whether we want to talk about bureaucracy, money, contracts, etc., I also would want to push back against and problematize any sort of simplistic kind of trajectory of the pre-modern world as a world of trust, the modern world is a world of distrust. And I think so Philip certainly wouldn’t want to say that, but I think we could interpret his project in a problematic way if we took that incorrectly.
So, I think, and I take your point, Alan, to also be kind of pushing back on – there are ways that trust can be problematic, and I think you’ve put your finger on that. But I also wonder if we’ve always been, as a species, this this mix of trust and distrust, and we can look at archaic forms of ritual and tradition as modes of distrust. I mean, we think about modern bureaucracy and it’s a kind of ritual as well, so the rules and rituals of encounter, rituals of exchange, these are ways to stabilize ambiguity, these are ways to deal with the “other”, with the “stranger” etc.
And so I do think that there’s a complex sort of play of trust and distrust in a variety of historical periods and I wouldn’t want us to come away from this with a kind of nostalgia for a past that is full of trust that we’ve lost. I think we can think about these forms of engagement with different communities, and certainly human communities are always encountering others, you know, strangers. And there there’s always bloodshed and conquest and slavery at a variety of moments. Going as far back as historical memory and before that. And, of course, these instruments of debt and money emerge, you know, easily 5,000 years ago if we want to kind of go with Graber, but also with Hudson and others who are kind of mapping this. So, it’s been around for a while so I don’t think it’s unique to modernity and so I think that complexifies this.
Philip Goodchild: I think, in a nutshell, it’s the fundamental political problem that’s universal to all kinds of societies, from the most ordered societies to the anarchic movements. How do you reconcile trust and justice? And if I had the answer this, I’d have some kind of formula for Kant’s cosmopolitan future. In terms of the direction we should headed, I think leaving behind notions of comparison is to recognize that the principles we’ve largely used for the allocation of trust have been working rules-of-thumb that have had some kind of functional role in different societies, but have always produced deep problems for lots of people, and people and relationships between societies.
So, there aren’t really models to go back to, we still need invention, we still need to learn, we still need to redirect our sense of what are the ultimate grounds for trust, and in some sense a society in which there is inclusion, in which everyone’s given the opportunity to flourish and cooperate in which the wealth of so many is not just simply squandered in terms of their potential and what they can be and do and achieve in all sorts of different dimensions and ways.
It’s that that we need to work towards, which is a nice image, but how do you get that without trust? Well, I suppose, when I was thinking about this talk I was going back again to this image of a dissipative structure, that trust is a bit like what you’ve got. That credit is going to be sending out in all the entropic directions and all sorts of different ways that usually get completely wasted. But it might bring back in more, eventually, than it sent out in the first place, and that we have to build our society as this negentropic set of relationships that continually grows and includes and gathers new dimensions and involves more and more diverse kinds of interaction. That’s not a good answer to because it’s such a hard restaurant and I’m waiting for people to slam the new book. I get sleepless nights about that I’ve not solved this problem properly. But at least I post the problem.
Lissa McCullough: But Philip, isn’t that exactly the opposite of what capitalism, all those basic principles of capitalism, isn’t it exactly what’s going in the opposite direction?
Philip Goodchild: Yes. That’s the aim, to move in the opposite direction. The capitalism works as a system of increasingly short-circuiting relationships and trust, which I contrast sharply with Christianity and its original presentation. And so, a system of distributing and wasting deliberately systems of trust. And I’m on the Christian side here.
Carl Raschke: You know, if I could just jump in here quickly making observations. I think one of the most under-analyzed philosophical figures in this whole regard is Kant. We talked about Locke and the theory of possessive individualism and so forth, but Kant’s metaphysics of justice or metaphysical elements of justice takes what is essentially the moral issue of Christianity, what he’s trying to turn into not faith but what he calls pure reason, or moral faith and so forth, but then when he tries to actually concretize it, which he does in Metaphysical Elements and Justice, he bases it all on appropriation and, loosely speaking, property or the right or someone to command another. And that’s why, in my latest book, I’ve argued that Kant is the first neoliberal thinker because of that particular kind of transformation.
This whole question of relationship between trust and possession or ownership or domination, all those are triadic in terms of the same power structure, what Lissa was talking about is economics of power makes a lot of sense here, particularly when we go back to what is that ethical era which all this come into being, which is the 17th century. Not only beginnings of capitalism, but also the building of capitalism on the backs of African slavery, primarily, and the development of the new world. So, I think, in some ways, we have to look at the kind of transformation that goes on in Kantian thought and for Kant’s influence.
I just want to say that. We have time for one more question here, which is from Adam. He says, it gets into a little different area, it gets very theological: “With the murder of God that you discuss in capitalism and religion, modernity has burdened itself with modeling the world and its primary apparatus for this task is money. Money’s attempt to approximate or model or human relationships. The two political tendencies that have arisen from the secular world can vocally described as capitalism Communism or liberal democracy and social democracy. Isn’t the problem, the idea that we could grasp or model reality within an economy?
Adam Cope: So, the first chapter of Capitalism and Religion is, in my copy, mostly margin notes now, but the idea has stuck with me that part of the problem in thinking, I was thinking about questions of justice when I wrote this, so part of the problem I see it as posed or enlightened to me by Philip is that the secular world is obsessed with an economy as the thing that stands in place of the world, or it can only grasp the world and its relationships as an economy. That there’s some ability, then, to set up relationships of exchange between classes or individuals. And so, it seems to me that the problem that is put forth by Philip is that perhaps an economy isn’t actually a picture of the world and if being is closer to something like hexality where there isn’t exchange possible, then aren’t the two political tendencies major political camps of the secular world? They’re incapable of answering their fundamental questions of how do you model the world?
Philip Goodchild: Yeah, it’s an interesting consideration. I don’t see capitalism communism as two different really, essentially. I see them as excited about individual ownership of the means of production or collective ownership of the means of production, but I see them both is capitalism and the means of production counts. In terms of this attempt to model the world, and I think this goes back to what Devin was saying about the human tendency to model and formalize and understand things by making things explicit, this is clearly a tendency that’s as old as writing or older still, but it’s something that has taken on force within the modern world because it it’s been a way of managing relationships of trust and distrust. So, the kind of 17th Century epistemological revolution, which involves a complete distrust of not only the evidence of the senses, but the idea also that the most obvious thing that we see around us as the sun is going around the earth and that’s wrong, so you’ve now got have a totally new system for establishing the truth and you got to have some kind of explicit method and some way of agreeing with these things.
I think that’s a very important aspect of modernity and the modern project to the point where sciences, even economics is no longer trying to copy physics or trying to be adaptive science or mathematical science, it’s only trying to construct models. You gather as much data as you can, you feed them into a computer, you see if you can find a model that will fit and describe what’s going on. And that, to me, seems to be a way that is motivated ultimately by the desire for prediction and control, the desire for controlling your own conduct, to maximize your own interests within that. But also the sense of mastery over nature that this is designed to solve is in some sense an expression of insecurity and distrust that the world is no longer a place in which one has a place and is at home and which one is adapted to by one’s cultures and customs and experience and traditions and rituals and practices and economic practices, and I think it ultimately goes back to sorry to sound so chauvinistic, but it ultimately goes back to an English problem of enclosure and land ownership and the colonization of the English landscape. People often say Ireland was the first colony, but I want to say my ancestors were colonized first, and partly it’s the normal Anglo-Saxon thing, but that understanding this distinctive English understanding of property and enclosure has somehow led to a position of insecurity whereby suddenly were looking to put up loads of defenses, we’re looking for make everything explicit, it’s driving this process that at the time, two decades ago I was calling capitalization, in the chat to refer to.
Devin Singh: I’ll just put in a quick plug for power and sovereignty here, as well, in the sense that while we can certainly, I think, find situations where money spreads almost like a contagion, because as Phillip says it lends itself so easily to melping mediate these issues of trust and distrust and the kind of monetization and financialization of everyday life that many theorists lament is evidence of that. But we can also find plenty of accounts of resistance to monetization, particularly in colonial accounts, where incursions into territories and there’s an attempt to impose currencies on a conquered populace that there’s just a resistance and intractability to using monetary categories. And so that’s also interesting to think about, how discipline power and sovereignty are often needed to sort of enforce and basically force people to use money and use monetary categories, as well. So, it’s not always necessarily spontaneous or immanent to communities, but it’s something that has to be coerced, as well.
Carl Raschke: Okay, great. I see we’re out of time, and I know people are having to slip off to other appointments. So, this was fabulous. Thank you very much, both of you. We need more conversations about this. And as we develop, I hope we can, especially when Philip’s new book comes out which is really takes this whole thing in a different direction, which I find very exciting, a lot of ways.