Saturday, 30 April 2011

Irreconcilable differences / Relics of the third rank

Relics of the third rank are of two categories. The first category is a piece of cloth touched to a first or second class relic of a saint. The second category is a piece of cloth that has been touched to a shrine of the saint. It is permitted to be sold without a charge of simony.

How does an institution hold two incompatible and irreconcilable concepts simultaneously? Paul Dinter’s eschatological analysis of his present predicament is as follows:

“For when colleges become self-interested market actors, they join the societal shift away from fostering the communitarian values that even Adam Smith, the Apostle of capitalism, saw as a necessary counterbalance to a freewheeling market economy. In his book The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith called for counterbalancing our natural ambition and competitive striving with an empathetic observing conscience. He called this agent of balance an "impartial spectator" that would help guarantee a decent society in which the products of individual labor could be fairly traded. For left up to nature alone, the laboring classes drift toward indentured servitude, unable to bargain for or receive the fair exchange for their service that befits moral decency.”

Who is this impartial spectator and can he worship both God and Mammon? Another liquid asset of the church as outlined on the Medieval Blood Relics website:

“The relic of the Holy Blood was brought to Bruges by Thierry of Alsace in the 12th century after the Second Crusade. The blood is preserved on a cloth claimed to have washed the body of the dead Christ as related in one of the apocryphal gospels. Popular legend ascribes the origins of the relic to Jerusalem however it was more likely looted from Constantinople during the sack of the city in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade. The relic is encased inside a rock crystal phial decorated with gold coronets.

The relic was extremely important to Bruges’ cultural and religious history. The Basilica of the Holy Blood, where the relic is kept, was a popular pilgrimage destination and pilgrims were granted indulgences by the Pope for visiting the relic. The relic is also the centerpiece of the Procession of the Holy Blood that occurs every year since 1303 on Ascension Day. The parade is one of the largest religious celebrations in Belgium and the arrival of the relic to the city and various Biblical narratives are reenacted throughout the festivities. Although the blood is normally congealed, the relic is said to liquefy once a year on this day.”

It certainly is an asset to the town in both the monetary sense and as a physical manifestation of the pilgrim’s belief. Zizek would say that the truth of the ideology (belief) lies in what it practices rather than its doctrinal statements and its ultimate goal is to “secure and defend the idea of the polity as a wholly unified community.” This is true for Bruge in spite of its fundamental fantasy of a perennial liquefaction of the relic. It’s also true for Manhattan College when the administrators deny a fundamental injustice within the institution in order to maintain its ethical ideal as a cohesive socially responsive community in the tradition of LaSalle. Zizek would point to the variety of logically inconsistent responses to the adjuncts united only in the desire to establish the greater good (and the material reward to the bureaucrats) and apply Freud’s kettle logic to the situation. Freud described a story in which a person borrowed a kettle and returned it broken. The borrower would then offer a number of logically inconsistent reasons for not compensating the owner such as it was already broken, he didn’t really borrow it and it’s not really broken. The only unifying theme is the desire not to pay the owner. The only unifying theme in the college is the desire not to lose control of the employees. The moral code is subordinate to the general social construct of a deregulated free market economy. Dinter makes a plea based on a prior societal construct which is not acknowledged by the institution although that is its nominal mandate. I think that when the Roman Catholic Church transitioned from the feast day of Joseph the worker to Divine Mercy Day it signified a physiological shift from the temporal concerns of the people to a pious abstraction divorced from reality. This has real consequences for a moral force independent of the current political dialogue in which we find ourselves. Good luck to Mr. Dinter.

He’ll need it because last Wednesday the U. S. Supreme court allowed AT&T to use the fine print of contracts to eliminate class action law suits in AT&T v. Concepcion. According to an article in the Hufferington Post by David Arkush, this flouts the laws of 20 states.

“The case's potential impact is breathtaking. Corporations can now prevent consumers and small business owners from exercising what is often their only real option for challenging companies that defraud them by millions or even billions of dollars: banding together to file class action lawsuits. The case could be equally devastating to millions of non-union employees, who need class actions to challenge systemic discrimination by their employers. The Supreme Court has given major corporations the green light to engage in nearly limitless wrongdoing against others, so long as they do it in relatively small dollar amounts, which ensures that no one can afford to challenge the misconduct without a class action.

A sudden demise of class actions will shock the markets and the legal system. It will dramatically increase the market power of major corporations over ordinary Americans and small business owners, who are already outmatched. Innumerable laws that protect the public will become irrelevant because few people can enforce them.”

I’m glad that I live in Canada.

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