_Cities of God_: Communities of Desire (ch 5)

I think (I hope) I might be reaching “a simplicity on the far side of complexity,” that is, a grasp of the big picture of what Ward is saying and doing in this book.

My dad & I have a long-standing argument over the question, “Is the world getting better & better, worse & worse, or something else?” It is easy, especially for Christians in the West today, to think that the world is getting worse & worse. However, what Ward (along with other practitioners of theological genealogy) shows is that the state of affairs we have today (I am thinking, for example, of rampant and dominating consumerism, and its many destructive effects) is really just a point on the trajectory of certain developments which have been happening for centuries now within modernity.

A few such developments are key to Ward’s thesis: the reduction of eros down to libidinal desire; the reduction of real community to transaction, then to imagination, then to virtualness.

These trends, along with the Hegelian and Freudian belief that the “nuclear family” is the building block of civilization, are all at work to produce the situation in which we find ourselves today: a culture in which we are determined in almost every way and at almost every level by the capitalistic marketplace which endlessly stimulates our desires, promising satisfaction but never delivering. (Worst of all, it is this dynamic which grounds most postmodern forms of community, or vestiges of community.)

However, what if we are at a “late point” in the history of these trajectories? For example, Ward shows how transactional community (seen clearly in the commodification culture of the Industrial Revolution) has led to imaginary community (ie, the formation of community, for example, in the modern nation state around nothing but the imagined belief that we are a real community), which has led to the virtual community which characterizes life today.

Well, what will this lead to? It is easy to see this as the last phase in modernity’s long project of the destruction of true community. If so, then that is good news, and perhaps we could say that, in this narrow sense, the world is getting better and better (or something like that).

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Hmmn…so much to say about this post. Allow me a string of loose thoughts:

-I enjoyed how you broke down Ward on this! You are very right when you say it is easy for Christians in the West to think that the world is getting worse. It would fit with almost every Christian’s pre-millennial instinct.

-Unlike most Christians, for reason far more erroneous, everyone else in the west is, and has, for some time now, been drunk with the notion that (especially in the States) we are doing very well regarding progression (Kant has a neat little essay that speculates about this). This has been going on since the breakthrough scientific management theories of F.W. Taylor, the re-birth of a moral spinning on wealth accumulation by Reganomics (a.k.a. greed), and the market populism “boob jubilee” of the prophets of the New Economy (and they aren’t dead just because of this current recession, they’ll be back). And in that sense, the world is getting “better”–but towards an end, which you and I both do not agree.

-You are right to not say that the world is getting worse (James Dobson anyone?) nor is it getting better–the way, I’m sure, Steve Jobs thinks it is. And as you noted, the “reduction of real communities to transaction” (something I blog about endlessly)is exactly where the nucleus of this virus lies.

-The social atomization, for the purpose of segmentation (marketing–which is control), under the auspices of “democratic individuality”, is the aim of late (hyper)-capitalism, and subsequently the certain ruin of western civilization.

-I believe, this subsequent ruin of western civ as a result of hyper-capitalism is what Ward is anticipating; (the “signs of the times”), the needed ruin of the false worldly regime at work right now (Milbank’s disdain of “Liberalism”, no?).

-I guess I can see a needed “fall”, a final rejection of the “milking it”, as it were, by this current political economic apparatus, a forced revolt to the continuing increase in income inequality (which hasn’t stopped in America since it dramatically began under Ron Reagan)and an eventual awakening to the unashamed and naked aim towards the complete “reduction of real communities to transaction” that is the heartbeat of our current political economy (and Culture Industry).

-Like we discussed earlier, the church represents the real community, and the world, the false. And soon all shall see, that the short-changing of the libidinal economy vis-a-vis the virtual marketplace is only a false (and empty) alternative to the “life, and life abundantly” of the erotic economy of the church as Christ’s redeeming body.

[…] posted on my buddy’s blog regarding how we view the progression of this world, Is it getting better or […]

Collins,

You rock, dude!

Great bullet points. I am so glad that you and I agree in terms of seeing our current world / culture in somewhat apocalyptic terms. There is no way that late capitalism can continue its nonsustainability much longer.

And when it collapses, the true community of Christ’s wounded body (sorry if this sounds triumphalistic) will be there, waiting, waiting in love.

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