Eleventh Edition

•August 16, 2021 • Leave a Comment


Publisher/Editor: Eli Kanon

Student Editor: Elektra Jordan

Reviewers: Vaughn Baltzly, Amelie Benedikt, Jo Ann Carson, Carrie Crisp, Anthony Cross, Robert Fischer, Eric Gilbertson, Vincent Luizzi, Ivan Marquez, Russell Moses, Burkay Ozturk, Nevitt Reesor, Justin Williams and Lijun Yuan.

Guest Reviewers: Eric Chelstrom (St. Mary’s University), Ben Craver (Wayland Baptist University) and Jonathon Lollar (TXST Dept. Curriculum & Instruction).


Brother Christopher Kalan, Graduate Student, University of Dallas, The Agreement in the Phenomenology of Approaching God between Jean-Luc Marion and St. Thomas Aquinas

Evan Jones, Graduate Student, Houston Baptist University, On the Adamic Myth and the Conceptual Revision of Sex: An Interpretation Using Philo, Freud, and Buber

Ron Stockdreher, Graduate Student, Texas State University, The Best of Both Worlds?

Gates Ely, University of Houston, Anthropocentrism, Biocentrism, and Ecocentrism: A Critique of Our Relationship with Earth

James Attwood, Graduate Student, Texas State University, An Essay on Black Lives Matter

Adriana R. Montoya, Texas State University, The Kids Aren’t Alright: Impacts and Solutions of Structural Oppression in K-12 Education

Hunter Roy, Texas A&M University, Analysis of Capitalism from a Perspective Concerned with Bad Faith

Devin A. Granado, Graduate Student, Texas State University, How Social Participation has not led to Social Change

Hunter Griffith, Graduate Student, Texas State University, Sex at the Cinema with Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Hegel

Zane Shirley, Texas State University, Homeless Queer-Punk American Anarchism (Or, Steal From Places, Not From Faces)

Eris-Jake Donohue, Texas A&M University, Salvific Transness and the Inescapable Hopelessness of Dysphoria

The Agreement in the Phenomenology of Approaching God between Jean-Luc Marion and St. Thomas Aquinas

Brother Christopher Kalan, Graduate Student, University of Dallas

In an understanding of God, especially a Christian understanding of God, God is described as an infinite and transcendent being. Since man is a finite being, philosophical investigations into an infinite being pose a significant conceptual challenge. Philosophers like Martin Heidegger attempt to construct philosophical concepts that help bring such lofty concepts into a tangible relationship with our intellects. The transcendence of Dasein in Heidegger’s philosophical framework attempts to build up a way to understand all beings in the world, which includes God. Everything is known and is included in Dasein for Heidegger. An objection against the primacy of Dasein is offered in The Essence of Ground, claiming that while God may participate and be in the world he is not of or limited to the world and confined by the phenomenological implications of Dasein as Heidegger portrays. (Heidegger, 1998, pp. 107-108). This objection is raised by Jean-Luc Marion, who adapts the Heideggerian phenomenological framework, but comes to the position that the phenomenology of Dasein is too limited. Marion wants to push beyond the Heideggerian limits of Dasein and, not get to, but direct man towards an infinite God. Interestingly, St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote seven centuries before Marion, has many points of agreement regarding man’s need to orient himself towards the infinity of God, while using phenomena available to him in the world. Though St. Thomas was writing before there was a school of “phenomenology,” one can argue on the basis of Aquinas’ works that a correct phenomenology recognizes that we are open to the infinite without grasping it. Though Marion sees his work as resolving the short comings of Heideggerian phenomenology and rejecting traditional Thomistic metaphysics, upon investigation both Marion and Aquinas have significant points of similarity in their philosophical investigation of God, which are worth unpacking.

Marion, as a twentieth century philosopher, wants to engage with and work in the ever relevant and influential framework of Heideggerian phenomenology. He wants to meet Heidegger on his own terms and then push past the boundaries that Heidegger sets with Dasein. Marion’s concept of the idol and the icon as put forth in his work God Without Being is a powerful tool to see how man can call into question the phenomena that are present to him in the world and through them turn towards the infinite. As Marion says, “the idol does not indicate any more than the icon, a particular being or even class of beings. Icon and idol indicate a manner of being for beings, or at least for some of them.” (Marion, 2012, p. 7). For Marion, things are given to us in our human experience, but he wants to show that what is given in human experience can allow for a transcendence that moves beyond the world of experience to see beyond the shortcomings of Dasein. Marion wants to make the move from the idol to the icon.

As Marion describes it, both the idol and the icon capture the piercing gaze of man. An idol is something that attracts our attention, but then becomes all consuming. In the idol, our gaze becomes fixated and no longer sees anything outside that idol but becomes satisfied with the idol and all that it contains. This causes man to stop looking. It settles man’s curiosity and settles him on whatever the idol offers. An icon on the other hand draws man in but does not stop man’s gaze; rather it redirects his gaze to something beyond the icon. It acts as a portal, or a window to something beyond itself that cannot be fully captured or represented in the icon, but is a part of it, pointed towards. Like the idol, the icon makes visible what was formerly invisible, but the icon does not limit the viewer to itself; rather it points beyond itself and acts as a window into the divine. The icon is not something constituted by the gaze of man but is something that appears to him as an image. The idol tells us more about our aim at the divine than about the divine itself. Both the idol and the icon are genuine experiences of the divine, but one contains and keeps man within a system of his own understanding, while the other engages the transcendence of man’s intellectual capacities.

Dasein is an idol. Dasein limits man’s view so that everything beyond it disappears. It is the divine measured by human aim. The phenomenology of Dasein is something finite and therefore it cannot point to, cannot go out and engage an infinite God. It tries to bring God into man’s world as a being among other beings. This ultimately cuts God off from the infinite, something man cannot grasp, and fits God into a convenient world. It fits God into philosophical thoughts that express concepts that are then identified as God but are not actually God in his entirety. This then leads man to a conceptual idolatry.

The transcendence of love is Marion’s solution to the dilemma. Understanding God as love is the key for moving from the idol to the icon. Marion proposes we think of God in non-idolatrous agape love for two reasons. 1) Love always exceeds itself and is ever overflowing. Love is unlimited and infinite. The moment we think we have grasped love, love transgresses those limits and continues to give itself without end. Furthermore, agape love is pure self-giving; there are no conditions and no reservations. The Cross represents the infinite unthinkability of God as love, and God as love cuts through any need for us to “prepare” a place for Him. 2) This love does not need to be accepted by a recipient to be there i.e., God does not need us to be God. Everything is done through God’s initiative, and it is unconditioned. Marion’s solution goes deeper than ‘world’ as an idea that Heidegger could not have envisaged in his system. Marion does not need a “being theology” for God to be in our world. Marion actually sees a “being theology” as a type of idolatry, which is part of his assault on Aquinas. Marion accuses Aquinas of falling into the same idolatrous boat as Heidegger. However, in unpacking Aquinas use of “being” we find that this is not the case; rather, Aquinas’ use of “being” in the world can be likened to the phenomenology of the icon.

Marion in his crusade against “beings” is trying to free “beings” by understanding “beings” by something other than Heidegger’s “Being”. In thinking of God as love, Marion challenges Dasein’s attempt to measure all “beings” and indeed God himself by human pride. This is indeed a good challenge that Marion’s thought places before us in that we can only think of a thing insofar as it is capable of being thought about by us within our world; so, his question to Aquinas might be: how can we use the word “beings” to signify anything other than what is capable of manifesting itself to us within world? Basically, how do we describe what is on the other side of the icon without making an idol? Aquinas’ use of “being” is not as limited as Marion accuses it of being. Aquinas does not limit himself like the Heideggerian notion of “being”, but “being” for Aquinas acts like an icon and is not an attempt to capture God in human concepts, but to use human concepts to orient one’s gaze to the infinite God.

Aquinas, to Marion’s disapproval, asserts we understand God as being and that the first way we come to know God is through being, because the mind is ordered towards knowing being first.  Marion has a complicated relationship with Aquinas in On God without Being. In chapter 8 Marion retracts some of his initial criticisms of Aquinas’ use of being, but still generally maintains Aquinas’ use if being to describe God is ultimately not very useful. Aquinas says, “being is the proper object of the intellect and so is the first intelligible thing, in the same way that sound is the first audible thing.” (Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Part I, q.5, a.2). The intellect and the concept “being” are perfectly related to each other, for Aquinas, and one could not find a more appropriate starting point. Marion’s main objection to this notion is that the primacy of “being” is rooted in the human intellect, and is thus limited by the human intellect’s capabilities, and thereby too limited for knowledge of an infinite God. Marion reads Aquinas through the Heideggerian lens and accuses Aquinas of making an idol of “being” as understood through the intellect. Aquinas’ response, however, is that it is the nature of the human intellect that leads him to say that “being” has the place of primacy. Aquinas is not making up the concept “being” to fit the human intellect; rather by how the human intellect is created it is ordered to understand and come to knowledge through beings. This is not idolatry.

Being has the place of primacy for Aquinas, yet this assertion does not then lead to some sort of finite idolatrous understanding of God. We can know God through the concepts of “being”, Aquinas asserts, but that does not then mean we know God’s “being”. Aquinas is not claiming that we come to know God in his infinity. We are opened and directed to God. In Marion’s language, “being” becomes an icon. It orders us towards God without being able to grasp him in some sort of idolatrous way. Aquinas is not trying to define God’s “being” and say that it is possible to arrive at a full and complete understanding of God. This sort of move would make “being” into an idol; rather “being” is an icon through which the intellect first grasps things around it, but can then transcend them. Aquinas is not making the claim that we grasp the infinite “being” of God, but that finite “being”, which the human intellect can grasp, orients us towards and makes us curious about the infinite God, which we can never grasp but are always drawn towards. In this manner understanding God as “being” is similar to understanding God as love. It is always something we can understand more and more, and as soon as we reach one level of understanding there is a higher level that further transcends us and there is something more to grasp.

Aquinas’ use of “being” is clearly an opening to the infinite, yet without grasping it. This is particularly seen through his negative theology and his arguments of remotion. Aquinas argues that we can say things about God, but not in a way that we come to encapsulate His essence and say ‘this is what God is.’ By saying things like, “God is not a body, (Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Ch. 20) or there is no passive potency in God, (Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Ch. 16) or there is no matter in God, (Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Ch. 17) or that God is eternal,” (Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Ch. 15) we come to a finite understanding about His infinite existence because His action in the world makes Him knowable to us while simultaneously not defining Him. Aquinas, perhaps contrary to what Marion fears, is not offering a ‘20 Questions’ approach to God at the end of which we can say, “here is God, this is his being.” Rather, Aquinas is using human concepts to show how man can open up and be directed, as through an icon, towards an understanding of the infinite God.

Aquinas is the first to affirm that certainly reason alone is not going to get us to God. Yet if we have the truths of faith, then we can see in sensible things faint traces or likenesses of divine things. Those faint traces, however, are not obvious to us and are still far from the original. At best we tease out those likenesses, which only remotely resemble the God who created them. Yet, this is a wonderful and joy-filled experience for man. In Marion’s terms, this faith gives material beings an iconic status. We see material beings pointing to things beyond themselves. In fact, Aquinas warns that we must be careful in speaking about God so that it does not sound like we are taking conceivable beings and confining God to those concepts. Aquinas says, “…it is more fitting to say that a creature is like God rather than the converse… the creature has what belongs to God, and consequently, is rightly said to be like God. But we cannot in the same way say that God has what belongs to the creature.” (Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Ch. 29). Aquinas is very clear in that what we are saying about God with our limited creaturely vocabulary and explanations can be accurate, but only in one direction. Anything we can say is always going to be inadequate. We only begin to touch on an understanding of God. We are oriented towards God as through an icon, not confining him, but rather looking to what is on the other side through this use of language and being.

For both Aquinas and Marion, a correct phenomenology is essential. Aquinas’ “being theology” operates similarly to Marion’s “iconography.” Both take man and open him to the infinite without man ever being able to grasp it. Both Marion and Aquinas present the phenomenology of an infinite God as the satisfying never-ending solution for man’s intellectual endeavors for which man will never stop seeking, by which he will never be disappointed, and towards which he can always progress.

Works Cited

Aquinas, T. (1975). Summa Contra Gentiles (Book 1, Ch. 15, 16, 17, 20, 29). University of Notre Dame Press.

Aquinas, T. (2007). Summa Theologiae (Part I, q.5, a.2). Cosimo Classics.

Heidegger, M. (1998). Pathmarks (W. McNeill, Trans., pp. 107-108). Cambridge University Press.

Marion, J. (2012). God Without Being (2nd ed.). University of Chicago Press.

On the Adamic Myth and the Conceptual Revision of Sex: An Interpretation Using Philo, Freud, and Buber

Evan Jones, Graduate Student, Houston Baptist University

The Adamic myth, or the myth of Adam and Eve, has several interpretations, with each interpretation used to justify different beliefs. Some rabbis justify divorce by placing importance in Genesis 1:28, the act of sexual reproduction, over the vows of marriage, while others find within Genesis a sexual code of conduct (Pagels, 1988, p. 12). Contrary to the former, the interpretation Jesus gives in Matthew 19:4-6 interprets marriage as two becoming one and thus through marriage man and woman are inseparable (ibid., 1988, p. 13). Further still, Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher of the first century, interprets the myth as man and woman being allegorical to intellect and external sensation, and their marriage is the union which results in pleasure (Philo, 1993, p. 72). What lays at the heart of the Adamic Myth is the erotic relationship: “a thirst for that which can never be possessed or fully known” (Clemente, 2020, p. 2). Whether it manifests itself as a desire for a divorce due to infertility, or the desire for man and woman to be made one out of two; this is the domain of the erotic. 

I seek to offer a psychoanalytically informed interpretation of the Adamic myth. I will first give a brief historical account of the concept of sex in the Judeo-Christian framework and its use in the allegory of the Adamic myth provided by Philo, then I will discuss the Freudian drives and give Matthew Clemente’s account of the reversal of their operation within the Christian worldview. Finally, through the analysis of Genesis 2-4, and largely drawing on the allegorical works of Philo, I will show that the Adamic myth displays significant insight into the drives at play within consciousness. By bringing psychoanalysis into an alternative interpretation of the Adam and Eve narrative, one will be able to place an emphasis on the concept of sex, not as an act which aims at reproduction of offspring, but as an act that aims at something mental. Through this interpretation I aim to show that the erotic relationship portrayed in the myth is a desire for a return to oneness, a desire to go back to the Adamic man who lacks self-comprehension. (Philo, 1993, p. 60).

Sex and It’s Telos in the Judaic Worldview

At the center of the account that i am proposing is the concept of sex. Many prior interpretations of Genesis 2-4 have at their center this same concept. It may not be surprising that the Adamic myth came to be seen as sexual, but it was not necessary for the Jewish community to adopt solely a teleological view in their popular interpretations of the relevant scripture. In Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, Elaine Pagels gives a brief and selective historical account of some of the interpretations of Genesis 2:23-24. That the Jewish community held a teleological view of the process of sexual reproduction in the Adam and Eve account is apparent: 

Rabbi Eliezer (c. 90 C.E.) took the words “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother” to mean not only that a man must not marry his mother, but that he must also refuse to marry “her who is related to his father or to his mother” within the degrees of kinship prohibited as incest. Rabbi Akiba (c. 135 C.E.) took the next phrase, “and cleaves to his wife,” to mean, in his words, “But not to his neighbor’s wife, nor to a male, nor to an animal”—thus disposing of adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality. (Pagels, 1988, p. 13)  

Pagels continues further to tell the reader of Rabbi Issi, who interprets “and the two become one” as restricting sex to the limits of the of the reproductive organs. In the account of Rabbi Eliezer, the concerns about marriage and incest are not merely about social conventions, but they are the concerns of creating healthy offspring. The same can be said of two of the three concerns of Rabbi Akiba. While the problem of adultery may be belonging to society proper, the other concerns of homosexuality and bestiality are concerns based on the incapability of these sexual acts to produce children. This theme too is found in Rabbi Issi’s interpretation; sexual acts must be limited to the organs used in the biological process of reproduction. Ultimately then, many Jewish teachers believed that sex was for the purpose of reproduction (Pagels, 1988, p. 13).

Another scholar who sought to give an account of the Adamic myth was Philo, who was a Hellenized Jew from Alexandria who sought to wed Hellenistic thought to the Jewish worldview. Philo’s desire to bring into union Hellenistic philosophy with Judaism is made clear in the three Allegorical Interpretations. Here, Philo adopts the Aristotelian biological account of the generation of animals while providing an allegory of Genesis. “Philo’s account,” claims Deborah Savage, “mirrored Aristotle’s in almost every way” (Savage, 2020, pg. 7). By taking in this Aristotelian explanation of the biological process of reproduction, Philo affirms this notion of the telos of sex as production of offspring. In Allegorical Interpretation II, Philo asks the question, “How can anyone believe that woman was made of a rib of a man, or, in short, that any human being was made out of another? And what hindered God, as he had made man out of earth, from making woman in the same manner?” (Philo, 1993, p. 65). To rephrase the question, why is it that woman must come from man, and depend on man’s prior existence for her own generation? This is to be answered by Philo in a later text, where he claims that the power of generation is a power that man alone has, and it would be impossible for a woman to generate. Why is this task impossible for women? It is because “nature has given to women the womb” (Philo, 1993, p. 153). This should hearken the reader back to Aristotle’s On the Generation of Animals, where Aristotle claims it is the female “which receives semen, indeed, but cannot form it for itself, or secrete or discharge it” (Aristotle, GA IV, pt. I). It is the woman, according to both Aristotle and Philo, that provides the material cause. 

What makes Philo’s allegorical account interesting is the fact that he makes two movements: as has been shown, he examines the scripture from a biological reproductive perspective, but then Philo provides another interpretation through examining the myth as an allegory. In Philo’s Allegorical Interpretations, Philo interprets Adam as a symbol for Mind, which is the cause of love. Philo gives his account of the races of man being twofold at the time of creation: one the earthly man, the other the heavenly man, “born in the image of God” (Philo, 1993, p. 51). On this account, Philo concludes that the heavenly man is independent from terrestrial essence, while the earthly man, the man born from clay, is corruptible. Philo claims, “we must consider that the man who was formed of earth, means the mind which is to be infused into the body, but which has not yet been infused. And this mind would be really earthly and corruptible, if it were not that God had breathed into it the spirit of genuine life” (ibid., 1993, p. 51). It is this mind created in the image of God, that partakes in the spirit. Thus, Adam is mind, and as such has the ability to reason. It is the Adamic man who is placed in the garden as a generic man, who names the animals, but never names himself (ibid., 1993, p. 60). It is this same generic man who, “they say that the male and female sexes are contained” (Philo, 1993, p. 65). It is Eve however, in Philo’s interpretation, that symbolizes external senses, “the formation of the external sensations, was postponed till He began to form the woman” (ibid., 1993, p. 65). Created by rib (Philo explains this to mean the power or strength of man), the woman is made second to man, and the external senses are second to mind. Philo claims that after the creation of mind, there was a need for the creation of the senses; this was a necessary creation “for the perfection and completion of the whole soul, and for the proper comprehension of subject matter as might be brought before it” (ibid., 1993, p. 66). What Philo has thus far offered is an account of Adam and Eve as symbolism for mind and external senses. The mind needed “a partner suited to him” to fully comprehend the world (Genesis 2:18). 

What does symbolism of Adam as mind and Eve as external sensation have to do with sex or reproduction? This question is answered in the account of pleasure that Philo produces from the scripture. Through the examination of Genesis 2:25, “Both were naked, the man and his wife, but they had no feeling of shame,” Philo interprets this to mean that “the mind is naked,” which means the mind is blank, having no virtue or vice impressed onto it, but also that the senses could not detect the nakedness (Philo, 1993, p. 72). Adam and Eve, mind and sense, could not comprehend their nakedness, thus they were not ashamed. The shame, according to Philo, did not get brought forth into the mind until the moment of self-comprehension. Having mind and external sense, and these two concepts being naked of vice and virtue, a third concept must join the two together; this concept is pleasure. According to Philo, pleasure is represented by the serpent:

the motion of the serpent is full of many windings and varied, so also is the motion of pleasure. At first it folds itself around man in five ways, for the pleasures consist both in seeing, and in hearing, and in taste, and in smell, and in touch. But the most vehement and intense are those which arise from connection with woman, through which the generation of similar beings is appointed by nature to be effected. (ibid., 1993, p. 73)

This ultimately means the external senses come to be seen as the cause of desire, while the mind is the cause of love. These are united through pleasure, and when the senses and mind are united, does the myth allow for self-comprehension (ibid., 1993, p. 72). It was only then, once pleasure and self-comprehension took its grasp on Adam and Eve, did they hide from the Lord, because now they could understand their nakedness (Genesis 3:8). By pursuing this allegorical method, Philo shows the myth in a new light. Philo doesn’t only focus on an interpretation that deals with the concept of sex as merely biological, but he gives an account where the pleasures of sex bring about self-comprehension.

 Having finally given a brief account of the Adamic myth’s relation to the concept of sex, especially in the work of Philo, the question arises as why in the Judaic worldview has the Adamic myth been rigidly interpreted to show the process of sex as aimed teleologically to the production of offspring. It seems that it would be more accurate to say that the biological process of reproduction aims to reproduce, but to ground the concept of sex to such a rigid biological understanding seems to remove something uniquely human from the action. In the next section I will examine the same myth, but rather than assuming the telos of sex is to reproduce offspring, I will consider the concept of sex to have an altogether different aim. By pursuing this line of thought I will arrive at a new interpretation of the myth, which seeks to restore the myth’s humanity. This new interpretation will be the synthesis between the allegorical account offered by Philo and the concepts of psychoanalysis. 

A Conceptual Revision: Is the Telos of Sex Reproduction?

I have established a brief historical account of the concept of sex in a Judeo-Christian worldview as largely a teleological process seeking to produce offspring. Though Philo seems to have flirted towards an alternative account of how sex is to be understood in the context of Adam and Eve in his Allegorical Interpretations, what still remained throughout his texts was this underlying concept of the traditional teleological biology of reproduction. This is a purely physical account of the concept of sex, removed from it is the phenomenal encounter to which so many people have been a witness. A fundamental question must be asked: Why, in interpretation of the Adamic myth, must one maintain this concept of sex? And why did Philo’s interpretation, which was largely examining the story as an allegory, still end up focusing in parts on sex as a process seeking to produce an offspring? In truth, there are other possibilities when interpreting the scripture. Some possible interpretations do not require the concept of sex to be understood as a teleological process. This process could be reasonably applied to the genitalia, or it could be specified as merely the biological process at play in the action of sex. If we choose not to assign solely the teleological process of reproduction to a new interpretation, on what might the new interpretation focus? The new interpretation will focus on the conceptual revision of sexuality made by Freud, where “unlike other animals, human sexuality is essentially imaginative” (Lear, 2015, p. 78). 

The claim of human sexuality being essentially imaginative is not meant to disregard the biological process of reproduction; as Freud claims, “Biology teaches that sexuality is not to be put on a par with other functions of the individual, for its purposes go beyond the individual and have as their content the production of new individual” (Freud, 2005, p. 204). But Freud also wants to make clear that there is more to sexuality than reproduction; as he notes “the individual is the principal thing, and sexuality is one of its activities and sexual satisfaction is one of its needs” (ibid., 2005, p. 204). The aim of human sexual instincts for the individual, with biology suspended, is simply satisfaction, i.e., not reproduction of offspring. This satisfaction is originally obtained through organ-pleasure, but it is through the imaginative aspect of sexuality that the objects of our sexual aim are replaced; this is the process of sublimation (ibid., 2005, p. 205). Through sublimation the sexual energy can aim at other objects such as art, philosophy, and science.  While one may retain a biological process which strives at reproduction, this is not the whole picture of human sexuality. In this view, one should be wary of sacrificing the individual and its experience to the realm of sciences, which through improper use reduces the individual to the abstract.  Furthermore, in Freudian psychoanalysis the sexual instincts came to be seen as Eros, “the sexually charged life drive,” whose goal is to have a “fusion which makes one from two” (Clemente, 2020, p. 3). The erotic drive as understood here does not have as its goal the reproduction of offspring, the one, by its parents, the two. Instead, the erotic drive is aiming at an absolute union of the two, making the one through the union. But the erotic is not the only drive at play in psychoanalysis, there is another drive which stands in its opposition: Thanatos, the death-drive. The death-drive is a destructive force which seeks “the oblivion of the living being by returning it, through death, back to its original, inorganic state,” i.e., Thanatos is a regressive drive. (ibid., 2020, p. 18). Unfortunately, there is a problem with Freud’s conception of Thanatos within the Judeo-Christian worldview. This problem is addressed in Clemente’s Eros Crucified, where he argues the drives must be reversed for a Christian perspective:  

in Greek mythology Chaos, the primordial void, precedes the existence of the world; in Hindu Vedic cosmology, time is cyclical, existence arises out of nothingness and fades back to it in a constant ebb and flow— the genesis narrative stands in stark opposition to it… Genesis asserts that the world was created by a personal, loving Godhead with a definite plan and purpose and, what is more, that it was created good… Thus, while the Freudian assumption is that death is primary— that existence moves from death to life back to death— the Abrahamic tradition posits that life is primary— that existence moves from the fullness of life in God to created life which is subsequently interrupted by death back to the fullness of life, the redemption of creation by its Creator (Clemente, 2020, p. 17). 

Therefore, Clemente believes the Erotic drive is really Thanatos. If this is true, it is the erotic drive which aims at regression towards the original state. 

Thus, different possibilities have been established that stand in contrast to the original telos of sex, that is to say there is offered multiple accounts where the concept of sex has escaped the traditional biological framework. Rather than sex aiming to produce offspring, the other ends of sex could be: 1) the sexual drive may instead be sublimated into other endeavors, 2) through sex, the subject strives for union with the other, 3) through sex the subject strives towards the annihilation of itself, or lastly, 4) some formulation where the previous three possibilities are in combination. Having these possibilities in mind, it is time to consider the Adamic myth.

The Psychoanalytic Account of the Adamic Myth 

Having established the possibility of conceptual revision of sexuality introduced by Freud and going a step further and considering the reversal of the drives offered by Clemente, it is now time to return to the Adamic myth. With the reproductive concept of sex replaced with a new concept, sex as an amalgamation of the mental and the physical, it is now appropriate to ask the following: what would a new interpretation of this myth look like from a psychoanalytic point of view? The interpretation will be a synthesis of Philo’s allegorical account, and an understanding of the reversal of the drives. Though it has been dubbed a reversal of the drives, it is really a simultaneous movement of progress and regress; Eros seeks both. It is a living to lose oneself. The new interpretation will also make use of the philosophy of Martin Buber, which emphasizes the basic words “I-It” and “I-You,” and the notion of experience versus encounter (Buber, 1996, p. 53).  

Both Philo and Clemente note that the Adamic man of the first half of the second chapter of Genesis has not become a subject proper. Philo claims in Allegorical Interpretation I, that Adam, which is to say the mind, can understand and comprehend things, but not himself. Philo uses Genesis 2:18-20 as justification for this belief, claiming, “It is therefore very natural that Adam, that is to say mind, when he was giving names to and displaying his comprehension of the other animals, did not give a name to himself, because he was ignorant of himself and of his own nature” (Philo, 1993, p. 60). In Eros Crucified, using the same scripture for justification, Clemente likens Adam to a newborn, who, “neglects to distinguish himself from his mother’s breast (the outside world)” (Clemente, 2020, p. 21). In Philo’s case, Adam can distinguish the outside world but lacks the comprehension of the self, and in the case offered by Clemente, Adam cannot distinguish himself from the outside world, but also lacks the concept of self. It is the notion of selflessness, that is to say a lack of the self, which is central to the new interpretation and supported by both authors. The self is lacking by Adam and Eve in the garden because they are submerged into a special relation with the world. The special relation is the I-Thou relation, which is a state of existence which transcends the subject/object division, Buber calls this an encounter (Buber, 1996, p. 59). In this relation, Adam and Eve do not confront each other, the world, the species, or God as an It, but rather as a You. In this relation the I has no object:

When I confront a human being as my You and speak the basic word I-You to him, then he is no thing among things nor does he consist of things.

He is no longer He or She, limited by other Hes and Shes, a dot in the world grid of space and time, nor a condition that can be experienced and described, a loose bundle of named qualities. Neighborless and seamless, he is You and fills the firmament. Not as if there is nothing but he; but everything else lives in his light. (Buber, 1996, p. 59). 

The basic word I-Thou does not only apply to humans, but also to inanimate objects, trees, and God (Buber, 1996, p. 56). The selflessness had by the Adamic man, and presumably had by the woman, comes to an end during the sexual encounter; it is here that the mind and senses combine through pleasure giving both Adam and Eve their sense of shame as well as their sense of self (Philo, 1993, p. 73). The important thing to note is it is only once the pleasure takes place that they begin to comprehend the self. It is here at self-comprehension that the I stands apart from the world. Once Adam and Eve grasp comprehension of the self they also grasp true alterity. The sexual encounter ends by turning into a sexual experience. Before the sexual experience they encountered the world, and they encountered God, and they encountered each other; they did not encounter things. But with comprehension, the world is reduced to things by the experience, even the world becomes a thing, even God. It is by experiences, the I-It word pair, that brings to a human “a world that consists of It and It and It, of He and He and She and She and It” (Buber, 1996, p. 55). This is shown in the scripture. It is only after Adam and Eve find pleasure that they clothe themselves with fig leaves, this is not simply illustrative of self-comprehension, but it also illustrates that the two of them can now reduce themselves to parts, that is to say, to its. Parts that need covered, and other parts that do not. It is also after Adam and Eve have experience and enter into the I-It word pair that even God is reduced to a thing, “the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking about in the garden at the time of the evening breeze,” thus God becomes an object to be experienced in space and time (Genesis 3:8). 

Viewing sex as a mental phenomenon, the I is aiming for the alterity of the other. Through the mental conceptualization of sex, sex becomes about losing the self to the other, not so only the other remains, but so that there is no self separate from the other; an annihilation of both the “I” and alterity, because they strive to stand in the I-Thou relation. It is precisely the state of Adam and Eve, which regress, disguised as the erotic, whose goal is to have a “fusion which makes one from two,” aims to replicate (Clemente, 2020, p. 3). It is an attempt to force a genuine encounter with alterity in such a way that self-comprehension is dissolved back into the realm of pure encounter. Of course, it is also the desire to repeat this state of incomprehension, this being lost in the encounter, which can never be obtained. Through sublimation, one’s sexual goals look to the body of the other, now the sex act stands in symbolically for the desire to lose one’s self in the other; that is the real desire, to submerge the self back to incomprehension, as it was for Adam in the Garden before the sexual experience. Through sex one avoids the displeasure of never obtaining the making of one from two, but one is also never satisfied, as the state of being in pure encounter with humanity, the world, and the Divine can never be seized.


 Having examined interpretations of the Adam and Eve narrative that used the teleological conception of sex and having rejected this conception for a new one, the concept of sex as a mental phenomenon, I have arrived at this alternative interpretation of Adam and Eve. This interpretation reveals the tragic predicament of humanity: the desire to escape the self through the encounter with alterity, an unquenchable desire to return to the state prior to self-comprehension.  In other words, the erotic drive, understood through the reversal of the drives proposed by Clemente, leads the individual on a paradoxical quest, to regress to the stage of Adam so that the individual can live in the encounter with the Divine and its creations.  

To live as Adam and Eve lived prior to the experience of sexual pleasure is to live in a oneness prior to the subject/object division. It is a return to the I-Thou relation which humanity possessed in the garden of Eden. 

 Works Cited

Aristotle. (2018, October 22). On the Generation of Animals. http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/a/aristotle/generation/book4.html

Buber, M. (1996). I and Thou (W. Kaufmann, Trans., pp. 53-59). Simon & Schuster.

Clemente, M. (2020). Eros Crucified: Death, Desire, and the Divine in Psychoanalysis and Philosophy of Religion (pp. 2-21). Routledge.

Freud, S. (2005). The Essentials of Psycho-Analysis (A. Freud, Ed., J. Strachey, Trans., pp. 204-205). Vintage.

Lear, J. (2015). Freud (p. 78). Routledge.

Pagels, E. (1988). Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity (pp. 12-13). Vintage.

Philo. (1993). The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged (C. D. Yonge, Trans., pp. 51-153). Hendrickson Publishers.

Savage, D. (2020). Redeeming Woman: A Response to the “Second Sex” Issue from within the Tradition of Catholic Scriptural Exegesis (p. 7). Religions, 11(9), 474. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11090474

Suggs, M. J., Sakenfield, K. D., & Mueller, J.R. (Eds.). (1992). The Oxford Study Bible Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha. Oxford University Press.

The Best of Both Worlds?

Ron Stockdreher, Graduate Student, Texas State University

Foundationalism (F) and Coherentism (C) are two competing theories of justification of a belief in Epistemology that have profound differences. Each has compelling logical reasons for their support as well as weak points in their arguments that can be craftily exploited by respective opponents. Dr. Susan Haack proposes a new theory of justification called Foundherentism (FH) blending these competing theories of justification striving to reenforce each theory’s strong components and mitigate their weak ones. While Haack’s work is laudable, I hold that F, and in particular Moderate Weak Foundationalism (MWF), is more plausible than FH. My argument for this position follows a brief consideration of what F and C theories state about justification and touch upon some nuance within each such as the MWF in my argument. Following this groundwork, my argument will provide a concise breakdown of FH’s key points for justification followed by my argument that FH is more similar to MWF than not. The FH rebuttal which points out a key difference between MWF and FH, the unidirectional nature of MWF’s justification scheme, is then answered by a description of the multi-directional nature which MWF embodies. I put forth a second argument for MWF by examining the weak FH position on skepticism when considering justification followed by Haack’s clarification of how FH ideally manages the skeptical hypothesis. My rebuttal of her position clarifies the MWF concept of skepticism is managed, followed by my conclusion that MWF is more a plausible theory of justification than FH.

Towards a More Perfect Justification

 Justification explains beliefs that one has an acceptable reason for holding. The structure of justification as well as its source are areas of philosophical debate. In this paper our concern is solely for the structure of our justification. The two most prominent structural theories are F and C. While it is not within the scope of this paper to delve deeply into these or in their joint antagonist, FH, a brief outline of each theory is worthwhile.

 Foundationalist (F) justification holds that all beliefs can be traced directly to a special kind of belief called a “basic belief” and are not inferred from any other belief or relationship to another belief. Basic beliefs are beliefs that can stand alone as self-evident and incorrigible. Examples of a basic belief would be “1 + 1 = 2” or one’s own perceptual experiences need not be inferred from any other beliefs in order to be justified. As you may well imagine, requiring that all justifications stem from basic beliefs tends to create a poverty of beliefs that can be justified. You may recall Rene Descartes’ example of an “evil demon” which led Descartes to discard all beliefs except one, his existence leaving us a world rife with skepticism (Fumerton, 2016).

 Coherentism (C) justification loosens the bonds created by relying on basic beliefs. They argue that a belief is justified when it exists within a system of mutually supporting relationships with other beliefs held by someone. For instance, my belief that my dog is lying on his bed sleeping involves an intricate, often layered, set of beliefs: I see a dog, I see a dog-bed, I see a dog on a dog-bed, I see a dog with a set of characteristics that suggest he is sleeping, a dog is a particular kind of mammal, a dog-bed is a particular type of object, my vision is generally reliable under normal circumstances, these are normal circumstances, and so forth. From a F position, one would have difficulty tying all these elements to specific basic beliefs. What is clear is that all these elements cohere. They are logically consistent with each another and logically consistent with any number of other beliefs in my set of beliefs. Each of them provides mutual support to each other and the set as a whole (Olsson, 2021).

 Returning to F for a moment, relying on a justification structure that severely limits the number of beliefs that can be justified creates some hard to accept difficulties, such as only being able to prove your existence and nothing else in the case of Descartes. Philosophers not willing to completely abandon F like those who support C have theorized different forms of F. The original theory of F is often referred now as Strong Foundationalism (SF) and another more open to coherence between beliefs is called Weak Foundationalism or Moderate Weak Foundationalism (MWF). These terms are not codified, regretfully. Indeed, you may find a reference to MWF as “Feeble Foundationalism”. None the less, MWF, as I will refer to this theory, holds that some non-inferential beliefs are justified but this justification is not strong enough by itself to provide the justification condition for knowledge. There can be basic beliefs, but coherence among one’s beliefs is also required for knowledge and can act as premises for other beliefs. This blending of components from F and from C presents a stark difference between traditional SF and MWF. It also is key to the relationship between MWF and FH. To explore this connection however Haack’s theory of FH must be explained (Fumerton, 2016).

The Blended Approach of Foundherentism

 Susan Haack has put forth a theory of epistemic justification she calls Foundherentism (FH) which combines the key strengths of F and C while eliminating the weaknesses of both. Haack finds a weakness in F in that it identifies a class of basic beliefs that are self-sufficient and disregards the broad interdependence found among a person’s beliefs. In C, Haack notes that it does not consider a person’s perception in justification. F has the strength found in the acknowledgement of a person’s perception in justification of a belief, per Haack while C’s strength lies in embracing the interdependence found in a person’s beliefs and not requiring basic beliefs for justification.

          Her FH theory is as follows:

  1. Sensory experience is a component of a person’s justification for a given belief.
  2. Introspective awareness of one’s mental states is a component of a person’s justification for a given belief.
  3. Therefore, justification is a “double-aspect concept” (Haack, 2008, p. 136), partly causal and partly logical in nature.
  4. Justification permits degrees depending on how well it is supported.
  5. The notions of evidence and justification are connected. A person’s justification in believing something is contingent on the quality of that person’s evidence with respect to that belief.
  6. Different people can be justified with greater or less certainty in accepting a given belief because each person’s justification depends upon the quality of the evidence held.
  7. The relevance of a person’s evidence for justification does not depend on belief about the evidence’s relevance.
  8. Justification is relative to a specific time because a person’s justification for accepting a belief at a specific time is contingent on the evidence’s quality that person possesses at that time (Haack, 2008, p. 136).

 This is a compelling theory which does blend the best of F and C while depending on each other to mitigate weaknesses that crop up in their arguments. However, it also has a ring of familiarity with a variation on the F theory – Moderate Weak Foundationalism (MWF).

Are We not Brothers?

 The theory for FH sounds familiar because the key elements of FH are essentially the same as those found in MWF.

  1. Both MWF and FH agree that sensory experience and introspective awareness of a person’s mental states are components of justification for a given belief.
  2. Both MWF and FH agree that evidence and justification are connected and that a person’s justification is contingent on the quality of the evidence.
  3. Both MWH and FH allow for differing degrees of justification and can be justified with greater or lesser certainty based on the evidence for justification.
  4. Both MWH and FH hold that belief is relative to a specific time.

 It appears that there isn’t much daylight between these two theories. The one point that Haack claims separates the two is bi-directional relational support for justification. Haack claims that MWF only allows for one-directional relations of justification support and without that one-directional support it may as well be a FH theory. This idea hinges on the directionality of support between the constituent elements of a justification structure. In one-directional support all support goes downward from the specific belief down towards the core supporting justifications. Using the earlier dog example, the belief that my vision is reliable under normal circumstances is directly dependent on the determination that these are normal circumstances.   In actuality, MWF does support bidirectionality, but Haack’s conclusion that if MWF supports bidirectionality it would therefore be tantamount to being FH is incorrect. The logical decision from that would be that FH is no more than a derivation of MWF and is essentially foundational at its core. For that reason, MWF is more plausible than FH (Annis, 1978).

The Direction of the Truth

 Haack would claim that any attempt to call MWF bidirectional would be specious. While it is true that MWF does support bidirectional justification for derived beliefs, it does not support bidirectionality for basic beliefs because MWF characterizes a class of beliefs “justified to some degree independently” (Haack, 1997, p. 28) of any other beliefs, for example by claiming that that class of beliefs (basic beliefs) are those originally justified by experience. For that reason, MWF is not bi-directional, and FH is not another form of F but a better justification argument (Haack, 2008; Haack, 1997).

The Truth Shall Set You Free

 Haack’s rebuttal to this paper’s argument takes a narrow view on the directionality of MWF. The MWF theory states that there are no basic statements in the form other F variants hold. There are no statements that are necessarily justified independently of other statements as there must be according to the strictures of SF. Justification, per MWF, requires that all current and relative objections be met if they exist. MWF has contextually-basic beliefs instead of the basic beliefs specified in other F theories. If the objector-group raises a relative and timely objection, a reason must be supplied meaning that this contextually-basic belief is not a basic belief in the same irrefutable sense as those in Strong F for example. The usage of contextually sensitive basic beliefs also supports the assertion that MWF is not one-directional (Haack, 2008).

The Demon is in the Details

 Further, there is a weakness with Haack’s FH theory in that it essentially disregards the skeptical argument (Haack’s referenced Evil Demon) even admitting as much. Haack states, “…I have not ruled out the possibility that our senses are not a source of information about the external world …” (Haack, 2008, p. 143). She goes further and points out that, per the skeptical hypothesis, the trickeries of the Evil Demon would be completely undetectable, and truth would elude us. Haack’s response is that FH at least provides truth-indicative criteria. Let me explain further.

 In Haack’s view, the evidential force of a person’s experience in the moment can be described as indicating that the person is in the sort of perceptual state one would be in when having that experience. The person might not have the concepts in question or might not know how they apply to the experience. If the person does not have them then they can’t be aware their experience is the sort that would result from having that particular experience.

 Another issue is that the person might have a belief with the indicated content about their experience, but what is the reason such a belief would not itself require justification of some sort as Haack rejects the notion that beliefs about a person’s own experience require no justification. We can be fairly certain that we are aware in some way about the nature or content of our sensory experience just by noting that we have that sensory experience. Haack, however, does not frame this particular basic awareness of experience in propositional or conceptual terms even though that seems to be the point of the double-aspect view. How then, through a non-propositional experience of this particular sort, a propositional description, as described by Haack, becomes available to the believer for purposes of justification? Is this not a prime example of fundamental sensory experience’s relation to propositional judgments, particularly those concerning the real world, that lead directly to skeptical hypotheses? And, as mentioned earlier, Haack deals with this essential epistemic challenge by specifying the evidential force of experience but providing no plausible account of its derivation (Bonjour, 1997).

Laughing in the Face of the Demon

 Incorporated in the FH concept of sensory evidence is the idea that what we perceive is, normally, things and events in the world around us. Therefore, if the evil demon exists, the standards of FH’s justification would fail. They could not be counted on to be truth-indicators for our beliefs. This, however, would be true for any manner of truth-indication if there were an evil demon.

 For that very reason, other philosophers, when coming to grips with the skeptical hypothesis, modify their positions in the hope of creating a place for justification – most often to no avail. Taking that FH has no useful position or answer for the skeptical hypothesis is misunderstanding Haack’s position. Haack takes the skeptical hypothesis as being “an epistemically idle hypothesis an unhealthy fascination with which is encouraged by impoverished conceptions of the evidence of the senses” (Haack, 1997, p. 32). The Evil Demon objection argument is irrelevant (Haack, 1997).

The Path out of Purgatory

 According to MWF, when a person has a justified belief that person is able to answer objections from truth-seeking objectors which challenge that person’s ability to be in a position to know or challenge their belief as being false. These objections must be current (time-sensitive) with the belief and can only be objections that raise real doubts as the objectors are taken to be truth-seekers. This does not include all possible objections or those that are improbable or theoretical on a global scale, explicitly ruling out skeptical hypotheses. According to FH, as the previous counterargument points out, the skeptical hypothesis is ignored. While one could propose that both FH and MWF similarly handle skeptical hypotheses, the nature and explication of how it is handled are stronger and more clearly understood (Annis, 1978). It is true that a dedicated skeptic can claim that the skeptical hypothesis cannot be ignored, but an adherent to MWF would counter, asking the skeptic to give reason for his specific skeptical argument to be truth-seeking in the context of a specific MWF justification. If she has none, the skeptical argument is moot on that justification.


 My purpose in this discussion is to claim that Moderate Weak Foundationalism is more plausible than Foundherentism. The probability that Foundherentism is, at its heart, simply another form of Foundationalism and that it provides weaker explanations than Moderate Weak Foundationalism leads to the conclusion that Moderate Weak Foundationalism is, while similar, marginally more plausible than Foundherentism given MWF provides a measured response to the skeptical hypothesis. Having said that, I believe that Moderate Weak Foundationalism can benefit from some key elements of Foundherentism such as the nature of integrated support for a person’s beliefs.

Works Cited

Alston, W. (2005). Has Foundationalism Been Refuted? In M. Huemer (Ed.), Epistemology – Contemporary Readings (pp. 402-416). Routledge.

Annis, D. P. (1978, July). A Contextualist Theory of Epistemic Justifiation. American Philosophical Quarterly, 15(3), 213-219.

Bonjour, L. (1997). Haack on Justification and Experience. Synthese, 112(1), 13-23.

Fumerton, R. (2016, October 24). Foundationalist Theories of Epistemic Justification. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/justep-foundational/

Haack, S. (1997). Reply to Bonjour. Synthese, 112, 25-35.

Haack, S. (2008). A Foundherentist Theory of Empirical Justification. In E. Sosa (Ed.), Epistemology – An Anthology (pp. 134-144). Blackwell Publishing.

Miami, U. o. (2021). University of Miami School of Law Faculty. University of Miami School of Law. https://www.law.miami.edu/faculty/susan-haack

Olsson, E. (2021, March 9). Coherentist Theories of Epistemic Justification. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/justep-coherence/

Anthropocentrism, Biocentrism, and Ecocentrism: A Critique of Our Relationship with Earth

Gates Ely, University of Houston


Why do we continue to neglect our negative effects on the climate and the environment we inhabit? Why do we continue to focus time, money, and energy on ventures that only temporarily benefit humans and destroy other life? What is this mindset, what is the cause, and how do we abandon it? In this essay, I will argue that anthropocentrism, or human-centered thinking, is leading to the destruction of the very world in which we live, as well as the other life that inhabits it.  I will touch on the roots of biocentrism and anthropocentrism, show the positives and negatives of these lines of thinking, introduce ecocentrism and Deep Ecology, and explain not only why biocentrism is a necessary transition between anthropocentrism and ecocentrism, but also why ecocentrism is the eventual end-goal. In order to reverse this trend of regression we are seeing in our environment, we must transition into a more biocentric, or life-centered, way of thinking, eventually leading to an ecocentric-based society—a society that recognizes the intrinsic value that Earth, as a whole, possesses. 

According to Joseph DesJardins, biocentrism is an “ethical perspective holding that all life deserves equal moral consideration or has equal moral standing” (DesJardins, 2015). In other words, there is an intrinsic value in all life and humans need to respect it. Has a society based on anthropocentric rather than biocentric views led to the environmental catastrophe that we are currently experiencing? If we, as humans, did have a more biocentric-based society, would extinctions and climate change be happening at the rates we are seeing right now? These are questions that I always have when thinking critically about the way humans treat the environment and our fellow animals. After all, we are animals. Evolution has done nothing but prove this, so why do we believe that we are special? Do our advanced cognitive abilities make our lives more valuable than all others? If so, where is the line when it comes to species and environmental destruction? There is a lot to be looked at and plenty of questions that arise when addressing biocentric ethics, and there is not a better time in human history to do so. The way we are treating our planet and everything on it is extremely questionable and needs to be looked at in a critical manner. Biocentric ethics is a great place to start.

Religious Influence

Firstly, the roots of both biocentrism and anthropocentrism are extremely important when trying to explain why we act the way we do towards animals, plants, and the environment today.  In Buddhist ethics, the first five principles all concern not harming any living thing. Even Saint Francis of Assisi had a biocentric theology he would preach. Most Native American cultures have always had a sincere respect for all things living. On top of the this, the Romantic movement in the 18th and 19th centuries focused on the intrinsic value of life and was way ahead of its time when addressing humans’ exploitation of the natural world and only seeing it as having instrumental value. Biocentric ethics have played a role in contemporary human history. However, they didn’t truly start to be philosophically addressed in Western society until the latter part of the 20th century (DesJardins, 2015). During the last few decades of the 20th century, talks of climate change and environmental justice really began to gain momentum. Despite this momentum, our views in Western culture still tend to be extremely anthropocentric. Climate change and humans’ contribution to it are quite well-known (NASA, n.d.) and require no introduction to most people, but we as a society are still very human-centered when it comes to our everyday thoughts. Why is this, though?

It is no secret that Christianity, which is a very anthropocentric religion, has heavily shaped Western society. “Anthropocentrism regards humans as separate from and superior to nature and holds that human life has intrinsic value while other entities (including animals, plants, mineral resources, and so on) are resources that may justifiably be exploited for the benefit of humankind” (Boslaugh, 2016). After all, in the very first book of the Old Testament (Genesis 1:28), it is said the humans are made in the image of God and that we are supposed to take advantage of the earth: “God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon earth” (Brown, 2009). Seeing that most of Western society identifies with this religion, it makes sense as to why we tend to feel and act the way we do. However, with less and less people identifying with a religion (in the U.S. particularly), will our anthropocentric views start to fade away?  Surveys are finding that people who identify as Protestant and Catholic are becoming less and less frequent, and the number of people who don’t identify with a specific religion (or “no religion”) is steadily increasing (Pew Research Center, 2019). So, as generations are replaced, people are much less likely to be Christian. Does this mean that people will be more likely to have biocentric views as well? It certainly seems that way. The fading of religion in the U.S., for better or worse, along with the overwhelming and overhanging potential impacts of climate change, will likely cause people to become more and more biocentric. Humans do naturally seek out some form of spirituality, however, so maybe we will become more “earthiest,” as Edward Abbey put it (Abbey, 1971).

But what about stewardship? In Christianity, stewardship represents “the obligation of Christians in managing and utilizing intelligently the gifts that God has given… God wants human beings to be His stewards in the work of creation, redemption, and sanctification” (“What are Stewards,” 2020). According to Hugh Whelchel of the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, there are four principles of biblical stewardship: the principle of ownership, the principle of responsibility, the principle of accountability, and the principle of reward (Whelchel, 2012). This is very similar to conservation, which I will discuss later on, as it is not only self-serving, but anthropocentric as well. In the context of humans’ relationship to nature, what do these four principles mean? To put it simply, God owns the earth and Christians are His “managers” of it. Christians therefore have a responsibility to maintain it and to hold others accountable. God will eventually reward the people who do this. So, as I said this is a very self-serving, anthropocentric, and incentive-driven approach to environmentalism, but it is an approach, nonetheless. Despite my disagreement with the reasons for being a steward for the environment, it could still yield some positive outcomes. In theory, if Christians followed these principles, their actions would undoubtedly have a positive effect on the environment. There would be ample incentive to conserve our home and everything that lives in it as failing to do so would jeopardize one’s chances of salvation. What it comes down to is whether the majority of Christians’ environmental beliefs align with these four principles or the quote from Genesis 1:28 that I mentioned earlier. David Konisky of Indiana University suggests that, based on Gallup survey data from 1990-2015, environmentalism has actually decreased among Christians.  He writes,

Many scholars have recently argued that there has been a ‘greening of Christianity’…The analysis reveals little evidence that Christians have expressed more environmental concern over time.  In fact, across many measures, Christians tend to show less concern about the environment (Konisky, 2017).

This is not to say that religion is the sole cause of climate change and anthropocentrism, as I will mention soon, but to neglect its potential impact would be inadequate.

Religion is not necessarily the only foundation for anthropocentric views, nor are such views always a bad thing. Anthropocentrism is fairly natural without religion. It is a natural process for something or someone to favor its own species. We have a natural inclination to keep our species afloat and thriving (McGlynn, 2010). However, the exploitation of other animals and the environment is not necessary in order for us to do this. We can utilize to the point where it still does not have negative lasting impacts on species and ecosystems. In other words, we do not need to be excessive. Sure, the human race has far more advanced cognitive abilities than any other species on Earth, which is another reason anthropocentrism is so easy to resort to. Does this mean that it is okay for us to take advantage of other animals and resources? Our cognitive abilities allow us to control animals and the environment (domestication, deforestation, etc.), but they also allow us to not do so. The positive is that, once we realize we have gone too far, we have the ability to put an end to it. If we can start something, then we can absolutely end it. We clearly have the ability to cause accelerated rates of climate change that are occurring today, so we clearly have the ability to stop it. On top of this, if we focus on saving humans and creating a sustainable planet for future generations, it will directly help other species and ecosystems as well. This is an overwhelming positive of anthropocentrism that could benefit the rest of the planet.

To sum up anthropocentrism, less and less of it will be seen in the coming years and generations. This, in turn, will lead to a more biocentric-based society in which we will care more and more about our lasting impacts on the organisms with which we share the planet. Anthropocentric views always cause negative impacts, but the consequences and results of them are very clear to see, especially today. It has led to humans valuing things simply for their instrumental value, which has led to potential environmental catastrophes and species deprivation. Overall, anthropocentrism is phenomenal for economic gain, country development, etc., but its impact is overwhelmingly negative for our planet and its inhabitants due to its value system based on utility alone. If it continues to dominate societies, especially Western, then it will eventually backfire and lead to our own demise (NASA, n.d.).

The Value of Biodiversity

So, now let’s discuss one of these serious effects that anthropocentrism does seem to have on the environment—extinction. Currently, a mass extinction is happening that is undoubtedly due to human influence:

Some scientists… estimate that over 100 species per day, and almost 50,000 species each    year, becomes extinct.  Fossil records show that extinction has been a fact of life.  But these same fossil records show that the rate of extinctions that are not related to human influence… is significantly smaller than present extinction rates.  Without question, the earth is in the midst of the greatest single extinction episode since the one associated with the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago (DesJardins, 2013, p. 126).

But does it matter if we lose these species? I would argue that it does, especially if we are the ones who cause it. Some of these species may not have any instrumental value, although most do, to their respective ecosystems, but they all have intrinsic value. The biological diversity that Earth possesses is one of its most defining traits. The complexity of the genetic makeup of all of these different organisms is remarkable by itself, so when we induce the extinction of them, it is a problem. Extinction is natural by itself, but just like climate change, we are responsible for its acceleration. Even if we do look at extinction from an instrumental standpoint, it can still be beneficial to make sure its rates do not increase too much. Certain species are crucial to their respective ecosystems and their loss could be detrimental. Even from an anthropocentric standpoint, preservation of species is still important as was shown in the stewardship coverage. Biodiversity is key for the planet’s natural processes in many different ecosystems, and we rely on some of those ecosystems, as well as the variety of plant and animal life within them. But just like climate change, a question arises: Should we intervene to try and reverse the effects that we created, or should we simply try to preserve and sustain what we have now? After all, our intervention in the first place is the reason for these current predicaments, so more intervention could simply make things worse. For example, many people are opposed to the idea of geoengineering, specifically the introduction of aerosols into the stratosphere. The idea of shooting chemicals into the atmosphere to slow down the hydrological cycle and cool the planet seems extreme at first glance, but so is our current problem. At the end of the day, desperate times do indeed call for desperate measures, so maybe our intervention is not only reasonable, but necessary when it comes to extinction and climate change. If we are responsible for returning extinction rates back to their natural state, how do we do this? Synthetic biology is a potential solution for this problem. But, just like aerosols, it is an artificial approach to biodiversity, which occurs in the natural world:

Tremendous medicinal, agricultural, economic, and scientific potential lies in the variety and diversity of life. However, such achievements are exactly the primary goal of synthetic biology. Thus, it may well be that we can achieve those goals ‘in a more rational and systematic’ way through synthetic biology than by working with naturally occurring organisms. If such values could be better served by artificial life forms, then this instrumental justification for biological diversity loses much of its force (DesJardins, 2013, p. 127).

Sure, the instrumental justification of natural biodiversity would certainly not be as strong if synthetic biology proved to be a solution, but there is no arguing that its intrinsic value would remain the same. The intrinsic value of biodiversity stems from the mere happenstance that any particular animal exists, including humans. The genetic makeup of different organisms, the environments in which they have specifically evolved to thrive, their diets, and the conditions that need to be met in order for them to survive is remarkable. The odds that some of these organisms exist at this point in time adds intrinsic value. All of the factors that have gone into the random creation of species and the individuals within those species are numerous, which makes their existence so incredible.

So, from a biocentric standpoint, the intrinsic value of a synthetically-made organism would surely not be as high as a natural one. From an anthropocentric/instrumental standpoint, synthetic biology would be of way more value. “Was the creation of a biological organism from four bottles of chemicals more or less wondrous than the species of mite that exists only on the mandibles of ants?” (DesJardins, 2013, p. 127) I would argue that the mite possesses much more intrinsic value and is more wondrous as a result. The amount of adaptation and evolution that happened in order to create that species is noteworthy and should therefore be valued simply for what it is. It has value in its own sake. However, a synthetically-made organism can still certainly have the same instrumental value as one that occurs naturally.

To sum up extinction, there is both intrinsic and instrumental value when it comes to biodiversity. Intrinsic value comes from the amount of factors that had to take place for a species and an individual organism to exist. Instrumental value comes from the utility that a vast number of species provide to the planet. In the end, both values are valid and extremely important, so shouldn’t the sustenance of this biodiversity be a priority? No matter the angle taken, biodiversity will always be important on Earth, and should be valued as such. If we are accelerating extinction rates to the point where this biodiversity is threatened (which it is), then systemic changes need to be made.


All of this being said, though, anthropocentric and biocentric views are not the only thought camps that address our relationship with the planet and its other inhabitants. For example, ecocentrism and Deep Ecology go a step further than biocentrism in that they value nature as a whole rather than living things exclusively. Ecocentrism “is the belief that ecosystems, including all things (living and nonliving), have intrinsic value regardless of their perceived usefulness or importance to human beings” (Samanthi, 2020). This value system aligns even more with the belief structure I hold and solutions with which I agree. So, then, why the focus on anthropocentrism and biocentrism? Well, biocentrism is a necessary transition between where we are now as an anthropocentric society and an eventual ecocentric society. Ecocentrism should be the end-goal. However, we are so far from that and a very clear example of this is conservation in the United States. Conservation is something for which there is an overlapping consensus, and this consensus is the reason why it is so successful. It is truly one of the only environmentally-friendly campaigns/initiatives that has been successful in this country. Conservation works and the public overwhelmingly supports it. According to WeConservePA, a website under the administration of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources:

Since Pew Research Center began polling on environmental issues in the early 1990s, public support for environmental protection in general has remained high. According to 2016 data, 74% of Americans believe the country should ‘do whatever it takes to protect the environment’ compared to 23% who said the country has ‘gone too far’ in environmental protection efforts (“National Poll Results,” n.d.).

But why the support? Is it from a biocentric or even ecocentric point of view? On its face it certainly might seem that way- we are trying to conserve the earth and everything that lives on it because it is the right thing to do. We see that flora, fauna, and nature as a whole have intrinsic value. Sure, many people, including myself, believe this and it is the reason why we support conservation. But this is not the primary reason for the public’s support. At the end of the day, the public supports conservation for its own self-interest. We love national parks, fisheries, etc. because we enjoy them. This is by no means a bad thing in effect, but it is true. My overarching point here is that anthropocentrism is so deeply embedded in our culture, especially in the individual-focused United States, that even the most successful environmental initiatives are human-centered, and therefore a transition to ecocentrism will be very difficult. Biocentrism is an easier sell for this very reason- it is more compatible with the individualistic culture that already exists here because an individual life can still be seen as an individual life, whether human or otherwise. The main difference in a biocentric society is obviously that a human life is no longer valued that much more than any other. This will be a necessary transition in order to achieve an ecocentric society, one where nature as a whole is intrinsically valued, not just the life that exists within it.

So then, why is biocentrism not enough? Why is ecocentrism necessary? Why is it better? Well, it goes a step further than biocentrism. It is all-encompassing. It values living things just for living but it also values the environment itself. Ecocentrism does not value the environment because of its relationship to living things and its instrumental value for life. Rather, it values it for its own sake. This is an important distinction. This way of thinking allows for a deeper appreciation and better treatment of our planet. Deep Ecology, a movement started by Are Naess in 1973, accurately reflects the goals of ecocentrism. Deep Ecology transforms the ecocentric ideology into a pragmatic platform, which is always necessary when presenting an ideology. After all, what is the point of having an ideology if it cannot be implemented? Alan Drengson describes the foundations of Deep Ecology:

Naess saw two different forms of environmentalism… One he called the ‘long-range deep ecology movement’ and the other, the ‘shallow ecology movement.’ The word ‘deep’ in part referred to the level of questioning of our purposes and values when arguing in environmental conflicts. The ‘deep’ movement involves deep questioning, right down to fundamental root causes. The short-term, shallow approach stops before the ultimate level of fundamental change, often promoting technological fixes (e.g., recycling, increased automotive efficiency, export-driven monocultural organic agriculture) based on the same consumption-oriented values and methods of the industrial economy (Drengson, n.d.).

This “shallow ecology movement” that Naess presented is a movement that does not promote fundamental, long-term change and is anthropocentric in nature. These “changes” are still capitalistic and based in human consumption. Along with the examples given above, geoengineering, which I mentioned earlier, could very easily fall into this category. While the intentions of these proposed changes are likely good and could have positive short-term effects, they do not address the fundamental, anthropocentric issues at hand. Shallow Ecology attempts to fix the levels of consumption, rather than the consumption itself. Deep Ecology and ecocentrism focus on how we are consuming, rather than how much.


At the root of biocentric ethics is the valuing of life not just for its utility and instrumental value, but for its own sake and own existence as well. Different plants and animals have different roles in their relative ecosystems, but they should not be valued on how big or small those roles are. If the human race’s value were based on the impact we have on our own ecosystems, it would be abysmally low. As it pertains to our relative environment, we have done nothing but cause its regression. However, value need not be derived from utility alone. To answer my previous question: “Do our advanced cognitive abilities make our lives so much more valuable than all others?”—the answer is absolutely not. Value does not stem from cognitive abilities, even if looked at through an instrumental lens. Instrumentally, for the Earth, our value has been mostly negative while a species like the honeybee (far less cognitive ability) provides arguably the most utility and value out of any animal in existence. That being said, the bee has intrinsic value as well, just like we do. For these reasons, the transition from anthropocentrism into biocentrism is a necessary one. Once human beings start to view life like this (through a biocentric lens), we will start to see significant changes in the way we treat our home and everything that lives in it. On top of this, a further transition into ecocentrism will be possible. A society in which we all value our home for its own sake is a society that will be more ethical and will flourish. Our air and water will be cleaner, biodiversity will remain stable, our emissions will decrease, and the ecosphere will prosper. 

Works Cited

Abbey, E. (1971). Desert Solitaire. Ballantine Books.

Boslaugh, S. E. (2016, January 11). Anthropocentrism. Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/anthropocentrism

Brown, C. (2009, January 3). Genesis 1:28, To ‘Subdue’ and ‘Have Dominion Over’ Creation.  Poiesis Theou. https://christopherbrown.wordpress.com/2009/01/03/genesis-128-to-subdue-and-have-dominion-over-creation/

Climate Change: How Do We Know? (n.d.). NASA. https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

DesJardins, J. R. (2013). Environmental Ethics: An Introduction to Environmental Philosophy           (5th ed., pp. 126-127). Wadsworth Publishing Company.

DesJardins, J. R. (2015, February 20). Biocentrism. Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/biocentrism

Drengson, A. (n.d.). Some Thought on the Deep Ecology Movement. Foundation for Deep Ecology. http://www.deepecology.org/deepecology.htm 

In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace. (2019, October 17). Pew Research Center. https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/

Konisky, D. M. (2017, November 14). The Greening of Christianity? A Study of Environmental Attitudes Over Time. Environmental Politics, 1-35. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321954216_The_greening_of_Christianity_A_study_of_environmental_attitudes_over_time 

McGlynn, T. P. (2010). How Does Social Behavior Evolve? Nature Education. https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/how-does-social-behavior-evolve-13260245/

National Poll Results: How Americans View Conservation. (n.d.). WeConservePA. https://conservationtools.org/guides/111-national-poll-results

Samanthi. (2020, July 5). Difference Between Anthropocentrism Biocentrism and Ecocentrism. DifferenceBetween.com. https://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-anthropocentrism-biocentrism-and-ecocentrism/#Ecocentrism.

Shilton, AC. (2017, March 1). What Would Happen if All the Bees Went Extinct? Vice. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/d7ezaq/what-would-happen-if-all-the-bees-died-tomorrow

The Effects of Climate Change. (n.d.). NASA. https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/

What Are Stewards in the Bible? Meaning and Importance of Stewardship. (2020, January 6). Christianity.com. https://www.christianity.com/wiki/christian-terms/stewards-in-the-bible-meaning-of-stewardship.html

Whelchel, H. (2012, November 26). Four Principles of Biblical Stewardship. Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics. https://tifwe.org/four-principles-of-biblical-stewardship/

An Essay on Black Lives Matter

James Attwood, Graduate Student, Texas State University

“I’m a human being goddamn it! My life has value!” Howard Beale bellows in the film The Network (Lumet, 1976). If Black Lives Matter implies anything it seems to imply just that imperative. The purpose of this essay is to show that Black Lives Matter carries with it the imperative above that is absent in All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. Though Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter are all thought of as correct for some and incorrect for others, I conclude, or rather the conclusion which I have found, is that Black Lives Matter is morally correct and the other two incorrect. The conclusions are based on their historical geneses and ontologies, as well as a critique of power and their existential realities.

There is much we can learn about an idea’s historical genesis. Why did Camus focus so much on absurdity? Why did Anzaldua illuminate the idea of borders? Understanding what these writers are responding to does appear to illuminate why such thinking was needed to begin with. Camus’ notion of the absurd doesn’t exist in a historical vacuum, but rather it is a response to the circumstances in which he lived. Anzaldua’s notion of borders as well, is a specific response to the way borders exist in both society, and the psyche of that society. This might seem like a trivial thing to say, but it is important moving forward. Taken in a historical vacuum, or without any social anchorage, Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, and Blue Lives Matter are all true statements. Human life is valued in-and-of-itself, and each of those statements comment on human life. However, the confusion begins in thinking of these statements as existing in a historical vacuum in the first place, which they do not. If we investigate the historical genesis of these statements, we will discover that, though all three statements are true in a historical vacuum, two misunderstand, or refuse to understand, the historicity of Black Lives Matter.

Historical Geneses and Ontologies

The only way to begin is to start with the statement from which the other two respond. However, this is not to say that which came first is necessarily morally correct. What makes Black Lives Matter a morally correct statement has less to do with its historical primacy and more to do with the weight of its historical genesis and its existence within our current social-political environment. I will investigate two questions for each statement. The first, the historical genesis, or why such a statement is needed within its specific social political milieu. The second inquires about the statement’s ontology, or its essential characteristics.

Black Lives Matter

The historical genesis of Black Lives Matter is a response to systemic brutality and oppression by both law enforcement and American society, generally. The ontology of Black Lives Matter might best be understood by something Dr. King called the “language of the unheard”; and what America has failed to hear is precisely that Black lives matter (King). It is specifically because of this failure to listen, this failure to understand, that an imperative such as Black Lives Matter is necessary.

It is a mistake to say, as All Lives Matter implies, that Black Lives Matter is a statement of superiority or exclusion, reasoning that it prefers one race over others. This mistake begins in assuming, not that all people are equal, but in assuming that all people are being treated equally by the societal and governmental structures. That such structures do not treat all people equally, isn’t historically obscure. It is true that not only does law enforcement, whether intentionally or inadvertently, assign black people in particular, but people of color more generally, a priori guilt, but the legislative and judicial body seems to commit the same mistake. We might immediately think of Rodney King, Eric Garner, Treyvon Martin to validate this concern. These are all cases in which the conclusions of both law enforcement, and those of the court are unsound, because they rest on the false premise that ‘resisting arrest’ justifies killing or brutalizing the resistor.

All Lives Matter

The historical genesis of All Lives Matter is a response to Black Lives Matter. Again, this is not to say that which came first is correct, but if All Lives Matter exists as a criticism of Black Lives Matter what exactly is it criticizing? Its criticism is based on Black Lives Matter’s  supposed exclusion of other races, but this is either a poor understanding of Black Lives Matter or it’s an excuse to ignore the movement by focusing on semantics. It would be vicious, or malicious, to respond with ‘All Lives Matter’ to a holocaust prisoner’s plea of ‘Jewish Lives Matter’. This is because it ignores the historical specificity from which such a statement is needed. Similarly, if I responded, ‘I love everyone’ to someone asking me, ‘do you love me?’, not only do I ignore the question, but I also implicitly respond to the question in dissent. The ontology of All Lives Matter, at the very least, reveals a continual failure to listen, and, at most, exposes an active participation in silencing those who must be heard.

Blue Lives Matter

The historical genesis of Blue Lives Matter began as a response to the deaths of two NYPD officers. Though, the need for such a statement is confusing. It is historically accurate that the lives of law enforcement do, in fact, matter and have always mattered. We need only look at passed legislation, and court results, to validate this certainty (large funding, policies like qualified immunity, police unions). Furthermore, the lives of law enforcement can be argued to have always mattered because they have the ability to exercise a greater amount of power than an average citizen, though rightly so. Law enforcement is in the line of fire and they risk their lives every day. Thus, if the lives of law enforcement are not, and have not, been challenged by legislative and judicial structures then what is the statement attempting to say? What are they attempting to argue? They might be simply saying that the lives of law enforcement matter, but this would be to give resistance in an environment where there is no force being applied. To say, ‘do not refuse me!’ where there was no refusal to start. To say, ‘I will be treated with respect!’ where there was no disrespect given. Blue Lives Matter cannot be arguing that the lives of law enforcement matter in the same way that Black Lives Matter because law enforcement is not oppressed in the same way the Black community is oppressed. The lives of law enforcement were never something that was doubted, or something that was questioned by those in, and with, the power to take it away.

Black Lives Matter, succinctly, is a response to oppression, some of which, or most of which, comes from the police. Rodney King, Eric Gardner, Elija McClain, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Jacob Blake, are only a few who have suffered from the lethality of law enforcement. For someone to sponsor Blue Lives Matter given the history we are, and have been, living in, it amounts to saying that Blue Lives Matter More Than Black Lives. It is a statement of superiority. We are far from the rhetoric that it’s all the result of ‘a few bad apples’, but this is not reason to say anything absolutely on the matter of police conduct. There are law enforcement officers that genuinely want to help, but this is undermined by many factors. One of which, specifically, is that the consequence of Blue Lives Matter is having to choose a side. Black Lives Matter is a protest against police brutality, but instead of law enforcement listening to the citizens which they are supposed to protect, they double down in opposition. Blue Lives Matter not only fails to hear the protests of Black Lives Matter, but its very existence creates an adversarial opponent to Black Lives Matter.

Critique of Power

We can also clear any confusion that Black Lives Matter is a statement of superiority if we consider the teleology of the statement itself. Although the movement of Black Lives Matter itself might have a wide range of goals, what seems to be an essential goal, a necessary goal, of Black Lives Matter is for society to understand and recognize that the lives of Black people, in fact and in practice, matter.  The statement is its goal. Black Lives Matter cannot be a statement of superiority because it exists in a society where the statement Black Lives Matter is needed. To prove this, let’s examine two similar, but vastly different statements. Any sensible person in America knows, as a matter of fact, that there is a difference when we hear the phrase ‘Black Power’, and when we hear the phrase ‘White Power’. They are both statements which focus on individuals of a certain race, though a novice understanding of American history will almost conjure the reason why one wishes to uplift and the other suppress. This is precisely because of the massive historical weight and ontologies of each.

Those in opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement might concede that although there are racial issues in society, these are the exceptions, and not the examples of the norm. This is a mistake, and the contrary seems to be true. Though, even if we were to concede to this point, that police violence against Black people is the exception to police conduct and not the example of police conduct, this still doesn’t account for how the justice system, and society also, has responded to acts of injustice. Rodney King was filmed being beaten by police officers and yet the jurors acquitted the officers of “almost all charges, deadlocking on one assault count” (AP). The results of this trial led L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley to say that “the jury’s verdict will never blind the world to what we saw on the videotape” (AP). The results of this unjust verdict also led to the L.A. riots of 1992.

Dr. King said that “a riot is the language of the unheard”, and what has America failed to hear? Or, rather, more precisely, what has America failed to understand (King)? Rodney King. Eric Garner. Treyvon Martin. Elija McClain. Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Jacob Blake. The reaction to these acts of racial injustice is divided between the ones who see humans inflicting violence on a fellow human being, and the ones who attempt to excuse that violence. Rodney King was ‘resisting arrest’, so the officers were ‘justified’. The ‘justification’ was that Jacob Blake was reaching for something so that’s why he was shot. The ‘reason’ was that Treyvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery were ‘resisting’ citizen’s arrest so that’s why they were murdered. George Floyd and Elija McClain were ‘resisting’ so that’s why they were murdered. But we know these are not ‘reasons’, or ‘justifications’, but they are excuses. The oppressors promise that ‘all you have to do is stop resisting oppression and brutality and everything will be fine’. ‘Do not resist oppression’, they say, ‘and you can live to be oppressed another day’. They assure us the problem is not with police violence, but the resistance to that violence.

The fact that police brutality, and citizen brutality, exist against Black Americans are only part of the problem of racial injustice in America. The second form of racial injustice is the response to that brutality. The attempt to excuse that brutality by any means. It is not what America has failed to hear, or see, but what America has failed to understand. Even when it is captured on video, somehow the brutality is argued to be ‘justified’. ‘He resisted’, they say, ‘and that’s what happens when you don’t listen to the police’. ‘Just follow the law and this won’t happen’. This response fails to understand that George Floyd didn’t break any law. Neither did Eric Garner or Elija McClain. Though all died by police brutality. They were also largely compliant with police officers. None being violent with police officers. Though all died by police officers. We all agree that unwarranted police brutality is wrong, but we disagree on when, and to whom, it actually happens.

Black Lives Matter is a response against oppression, and to be oppressed requires an oppressor. To be an oppressor requires the power to oppress. Without power, oppression cannot exist. Some might point out that violence itself is oppressive, and though we have seen violence from law enforcement there also exists violence against law enforcement. Thus, they might conclude, ‘law enforcement is oppressed too’. But this reasoning would be flawed.

Paolo Friere correctly argued in Pedagogy of the Oppressed that the oppressed are never violent first (Freire, 2005, p. 55). To be oppressed necessarily implies that unjust violence against one’s autonomy “has already begun” (Freire, 2005, p.55). We would not say that the child who retaliates violently against a bully has now become a bully themself, and the bully now becomes the victim of oppression. We recognize this difference because we can differentiate the infliction of power justly, and the infliction of power unjustly. This is why Nazi Germany, although they had violence inflicted against their autonomy, isn’t viewed as being oppressed during WWII. We might be able to say that WWII is a caricature-like example that clearly highlights the architecture of power inflicted justly and unjustly. We run into issues, though, when American systems of oppression are shown to be, as a matter of fact, oppressive. ‘We are not oppressive’, the oppressors assure themselves, ‘we are just following the rules’.  The difficulty of understanding police brutality and racism in America is that it is not a critique of a country which is separated from the fabric of our social and political milieu. Rather it is a critique of power that is woven into what America appears to be and what America is. It is a critique of who we are versus what we are.

Black Lives Matter is protesting for a change in our society which will advance justice to its proper place to include all and not some. Black Lives Matter is not only protesting due to the fact that police, and citizens, brutally exist, but they are also protesting because when the justice system, and perhaps society to some extent as well, hear these facts they don’t see Rodney King, Eric Gardner, Treyvon Martin, Elija McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Jacob Blake, and too many others as victims of injustice.  Rather they are seen as being somehow guilty. They are seen as somehow deserving of what has happened to them (all had reports which attempt to justify their deaths). Black Lives Matter is not only protesting because of what the facts are, but, additionally, because of how the American justice system, and American society generally, has interpreted these facts. The question is not only what is it that America has failed to hear, but why has America failed to understand what they have heard.


There is an existential difference in Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. We will notice that one is born Black, while the other chooses their profession. To be clear, this is not a justification for violence done to law enforcement, but it is only to unveil the existential realities of the two. One is born into a reality which they cannot escape, and the other chooses a profession which they can, not only escape, but change the social reality of the other. Though they do not. The reason this is relevant is because this is also one of the goals of the Blue Lives Matter movement. To include violence against, or the murder of, law enforcement into the category of a Hate Crime (Blue Lives Matter Act, 2016). A category usually limited to social groups of race, sex, religion, and gender identity. A category which is usually limited to social groups of race, sex, religion, and gender identity. However, one does not have to commit violence against a police officer to be charged with a Hate Crime. A teenager was recently charged with a Hate Crime in Utah for stomping on a ‘Back the Blue’ sign in front of police officers (Mark, 2021). We might all agree that violence against, or to murder, a police officer deserves a severe punishment, though to include law enforcement into a category of Hate Crime is out of place. Hate crime involves a hate of one’s being, not of their doing.

When Sartre speaks of ‘shame’ it is a shame-of-doing. An experience of the gaze of another consciousness seeing you doing what you have done. Catching you in the act. Though, when Anzaldua speaks of ‘shame’ it is a shame-of-being. The experience of another seeing you as yourself. Catching you in your own body. What is central here is not this concept of shame, but rather it is the gaze of the other. The gaze of the other according to Sartre attributes shame when one is caught doing something that is shameable. There is an equal, or at least a relational, balance to the act and the shame. Though, what Anzaldua suggests is that the gaze of the other attributes shame when one is caught being one’s own self. One is caught in their facticity. One is caught in their skin. Caught in one’s own language. One is shamed for things that they have no control over. Blamed for it. Black Lives Matter is also protesting the gaze of the other attributing blame for existing in one’s own facticity. The suspicion of being one’s own skin. ‘He looked suspicious’, or ‘I felt threatened’, they say when they call 9-11. They are ‘super predators’, as was said of the Central Park Five. The history of the infamous Stop and Frisk illustrates assigning, not just shame, but guilt for existing in one’s own facticity.

A response which might immediately follow this notion of the gaze of the other is that it applies both ways. Not only do law enforcement gaze prejudicially at the people, but the people gaze prejudicially at law enforcement. Admittingly, social media and pop culture might validate this concern, but even if we were to grant this concern, the gaze is existentially different. Blame is placed prejudicially onto law enforcement, but not in the same way law enforcement places prejudice onto the Black community. Past legislation might not validate any kind of prejudice against the law and, by extension, law enforcement, but it might allow an understanding of how the gaze is existentially different. Prejudice is blame or guilt placed unjustly. Law enforcement enforced Jim Crow laws. They enforced the 1993 Crime Bill. Laws are not always just but they are enforced all the same. Again, past legislation might not validate, or justify, the prejudice people have against law enforcement, but the reason the people do not have prejudice against the fire department might elucidate why this prejudice exists against law enforcement.

Politicians declare what is correct. Legislation builds on that opinion. It then creates the fabric of our social reality. Jim Crow was declared correct. Legislation created a society of thorns and barbed wire. The narrative of Jim Crow was then blighted into the consciousness of society. Jim Crow was overturned, true, but not before the damage was done. Not before the perceptual instinct of the snake and the spider had gripped the subconscious of the people. Not before the damage was done, but also, not after was there any room to breathe. Southern Strategy, War on Drugs, Crime Bill, Mass Incarceration. The past; the validation of present concern. The present; a shove into paranoia and rage. We are still in what Michelle Alexander calls the New Jim Crow. The problem is that not everyone thinks that this is true. Black Lives Matter proponents believe that this racial oppression exists and we mustn’t simply bury it. Out of sight out of mind. We should spend energy to understand and resolve the root issue, or issues, of the problem. The others, All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, disregard this history as already resolved. The wounds as already mended. The pretentiousness of silver spoon children speaking of ‘bootstraps’ and the ‘want to succeed’ is only a recent, and obvious, manifestation of this failure to listen and understand.


I must bite the philosophical bullet and show the excavated bones of what I have found. What I think is reasonable and true. I conclude that Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter are morally incorrect statements. I cannot reasonably accept what these positions wish to achieve given the historical elements of racism and brutality that have existed and continue to exist in American society.

The chants of Black Lives Matter will fall silent when black lives, in fact, matter. If Black Lives Matter is a protest against oppression, and what they are attempting to change is the existence of law enforcement as their oppressors, then what is All Lives Matter protesting against, and what are they striving to change? What is Blue Lives Matter protesting against, and what are they striving to change?

Kwame Ture stressed that there is a higher law than the law of government, and this is the law of conscience. Though justice should be the law, the law is not necessarily what is just. Law and order do not require any conscience whatsoever. It doesn’t require any critical awareness of your reality. It only requires you to follow the law which someone else has written. If those laws are followed, then you will live in an environment that somebody else calls ordered. Justice, however, requires a conscience. It requires a conversation about morality. It requires people to be critically aware of, and perpetually criticize, their reality. Baldwin rightly argued that it was because he ““love[d] America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, [he] insist[ed] on the right to criticize her perpetually” (Baldwin, 2012, p. 9).

 When we see the video of Rodney King, Eric Garner, George Floyd, Jacob Blake, and others which clearly capture the unwarranted brutality of the police our consciousness tells us, or should tell us, that something is not right. The problem is that we mistakenly believe that a focus on ‘law and order’, rather than ‘justice and peace’, is the solution. This is not to say, however, that one is necessarily right and the other wrong. It is only to reveal what we think is important to spend energy on during specific situations. What we think is important to spend time on in specific situations. In 1969 some might say that the moon landing was proof of American excellence, but this is only one side of the social reality. Artist Gil Scott-Heron illuminates darker side of the moon landing in a poem titled “Whitey on the Moon”.

A rat done bit my sister Nell

With whitey on the moon

Her face and arms began to swell

And whitey’s on the moon


I can’t pay no doctor bills

But whitey’s on the moon

Ten years from now, I’ll be paying still

While whitey’s on the moon (Scott-Heron, 1970)

“How much more time do you want for your progress?” (Peck, 2016), James Baldwin once rhetorically asked. It did indeed take up too much of his time. It is taking up too much of our time. I know that what I see is wrong. I also understand that it needs to change, but here I am attempting to justify why I think this is so. Here I am taking the time to explain. Taking the time to make sense of what is unclear for others. I am told that ‘there is not a problem with how we police, but only bad apples’. I am told that the problem is under the very thing I say it is out of. All the while names become eulogies. They become hashtags. Perhaps that is the problem? The difference between being in control and being under it. The difference between Zeus and Prometheus. The difference between the power to enact Jim Crow and having to fight for your life against it. The difference between having time and having none left to spare.

Many thanks to Dr. Amelie F. Benedikt who helped me structure and edit this essay.

 Works Cited

Baldwin, J. (2012). Notes of a native son (p. 9). Beacon Press. (Original work published 1955)

Blue Lives Matter Act, H.R. 4760, 114th Cong. (2016). https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-


Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the oppressed (p. 55). The Continuum Publishing Group Inc.

King, M.L. (1966, September 27). A riot is the language of the unheard [Video]. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/video/mlk-a-riot-is-the-language-of-the unheard/intcid=CNM 00-10abd1h

Lumet, S. (Director). (1976). The network [Film]. MGM.

Mark, J. (2021, July 14). A teen was accused of defacing a pro-police ‘back the blue’ sign. Now she has been charged with a hate crime. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/07/14/pro-police-hate-crime-charges-utah/

Peck, R. (Director). (2016). I am not your negro [Film]. Magnolia Pictures.

Scott-Heron, G. (1970). Whitey on the moon [Song]. On Small Talk at 125th and Lenox. Flying Dutchman; RCA.

The Associated Press. (2017). Rodney King riot: Timeline of key events. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/fa4d04d8281443fc8db0e27d6be52081  

The Kids Aren’t Alright: Impacts and Solutions of Structural Oppression in K-12 Education

Adriana R. Montoya, Texas State University


Public education in American society has consistently remained at the forefront of battles for progressive thinking, yet in the 21st century it remains largely avoidant of topics on social justice, particularly when it comes to racial inequality. Research demonstrates that a combination of historical, infrastructural, and cultural shortcomings has made public education a favorable environment for white-centered history, excellence, and representation, giving some students a sense of internalized white supremacy, others an educational experience of marginalization and underperformance, and all a surface-level understanding of race in American society. In this way, problems like police brutality, voter suppression, hate crimes, and more are both amplified and validated outside of educational settings. Findings of research indicate that through comprehensive educational reform, schools can become spaces to address societal and personal bias in a learning-friendly environment and evolve into institutions that encourage culturally conscious thought and inclusive perspectives that fit in with an increasingly diverse world. The following research points to reorienting measures of achievement, restorative justice, and anti-racist teacher and student relationships as methods of education reform that can be achieved by educators, students, politicians, school board members, and allies alike, creating a comprehensive guide for not only understanding the origins of structural racism in education, but also providing accessible steps and examples to deprogram it from the status quo. By analyzing patterns of policy and examples of social justice interventions in practice, this research will put forward a new perspective on educational reform and solutions to generational educational oppression through the lens of nonviolence philosophy. 


On June 23, 1990, Nelson Mandela delivered a speech to a crowd of students and administrators at Madison Park High School in Boston, Massachusetts, in which he emphasized the importance of staying in school and famously stated, “Education is the most powerful weapon which we can use to change the world” (Mandela, 1990). As possibly one of the most notable nonviolent activists in history, Mandela understood the importance of breaking cycles of oppression through the education of youth, and yet this historic quote is often taken out of context as a generic platitude that is used to categorize any and all education as inherently beneficial. On the contrary, education has historically been used as both a tool for societal progress and as a reinforcement of cyclical oppression. In the United States, the public school system behaves not only as a microcosm of greater societal issues, but also as a conduit of structural oppression that occurs on the basis of racial and ethnic discrimination. Through examination of the history of institutional racism in schools, modern-day remnants and reincarnations of blatant discrimination in education, and methods by which these issues can be addressed on both a curricular and systemic level, education reform is proven as a highly effective agent of racial and social justice.

Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and American Memory

 Following the conclusion of the Civil War, the United States was experiencing a fundamental shift of American identity, a fact that was reflected in discourse surrounding education and schooling. During Reconstruction, freedpeople of all ages were instrumental in the ultimate creation of public schools in the South, operating out of old plantation houses and churches and servicing Black children, adults, and even poor white people. Classes were taught by Northern missionaries and Black community leaders and were sponsored by missionary associations and the Freedman’s Bureau. Black Americans at the time understood the importance of literacy as an instrument of equality and viewed it as a method of achieving financial independence (Downs & Masur, 2017, p. 29). According to Christopher Span, professor of educational policy studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, this demand for schooling generated by Black people in the South during Reconstruction directly contributed to the eventual establishment of provisions for public education in Southern state constitutions (Chamberlain, 2007).

Meanwhile, white supremacist backlash grew against the Reconstruction as new modes of institutional racism replaced legal slavery as a method of separating Black people from the white population. Though the Reconstruction Amendments outlined emancipation, suffrage, and naturalization for Black Americans, Black Codes- and later, Jim Crow laws- were established to segregate schools, create neighborhood boundaries, and discourage Black political participation. In 1896, the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson confirmed that segregated facilities remained constitutional provided they were maintained at similar qualities, cementing the doctrine of “separate but equal” into the American status quo and creating a standard for public education that invariably distinguished white-only schools as higher quality and more easily accessible. Where charitable organizations could not support Black schools, chronic underfunding at the hands of hostile state governments led to large class sizes, few teachers, and secondhand materials. Communities were forced to pay out-of-pocket to cover the costs of school property and teacher salaries. The question of whether education was wasted on Black people was often brought up in circles of both Northern and Southern white conversation, as “the Negro Problem” became a topic of intense debate across the country (Gates, 2020, p. 83).

From a curricular standpoint, public imagination fueled the publication and commercialization of warped and dehumanizing narratives surrounding Black biology, psychology, and potential, which was reflected in poetry, songs, and literature used to both educate and entertain children in school settings.  For example, numerous variations of the story Ten Little N*****s, a racist counting poem in which Black children are gradually eliminated from ten children to zero through horrific accidents and deaths, were printed and distributed for more than one hundred years, beginning in 1875 and extending into the late 1900s (A. Brown & K. Brown, 2015, p. 110). In a Southern textbook published in 1931, the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan was recorded as a secret society created to “break negro control” when the South was “threatened with ruin” (A. Brown & K. Brown, 2015, p. 116). Such materials served to portray Black Americans as savage and inept, orienting national dialogue away from white perpetrators of violence and towards the perceived inferiority that either justified or diminished it (A. Brown & K. Brown, 2015, p. 112). Racist perversions of curriculum became a central strategy to systematically revise American memory surrounding slavery and race relations through the education of new generations. In conjunction with the discriminatory policies of Jim Crow, education transformed into a formidable force for rooting white supremacy deep into societal consciousness.

Enduring Infrastructural Disparities

It was not until the post-Civil Rights era that education became more inclusive of Black and brown history and leaders, with curriculum involving references to the contributions of figures such as Harriet Tubman, Phyllis Wheatley, Martin Luther King Jr, and Frederick Douglass. Black activism and mass organizing ushered in an age of increased minority representation in education. Yet, “postracialism” replaced the deformed stereotypes of earlier pedagogy and was characterized by educational discourse in which race is acknowledged and represented, but paradoxically “rendered silent in relation to the…current context of racism in the United States” (A. Brown & K. Brown, 2015, p. 119).  In essence, though educators and materials began addressing race and race relations in the classroom, the lack of “robust knowledge” on the subject and its relation to the founding and overall history of the US resulted in an “absent presence” of race that limited it to passive surface-level discussion (A. Brown & K. Brown, 2015, p. 123). Dialogue surrounding subjects of race became oriented in a way that implied constant and inevitable progress, presenting key activists as martyrs or heroes rather than role models. History may be framed in an almost fairy-tale-esque manner, posing racial struggle as a story with a happy ending and villains that can be easily recognized and conquered through good will and sacrifice. While justice is lauded as a national accomplishment, eras of American injustice are downplayed or attributed to results of poor choices as opposed to systemic inequality (Delacroix, 2019, p. 38). Most importantly, no flaw in the American system is addressed in the classroom setting unless it has been solved or conquered, leaving students only with a history of racial progress rather than a history of racism itself (Delacroix, 2019, p. 39).

 This marginalization is evident as well in the allocation of resources and funding of public schools, a factor that can be directly attributed to the persisting segregation of modern schools and neighborhoods. Though Brown v. Board of Education, one of the most significant accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement, prohibited states from segregating schools on the basis of race or class, almost seven decades after the 1954 ruling there have been few successful policy and programming changes enacted to provide much needed integration in deeply segregated regions of the United States (McCardle & Bliss, 2019, p. 115). Consequently, more than half of American schoolchildren continue to live in “racially concentrated districts, where over 75 percent of students are either white or nonwhite” and are served by teachers and administrators that are equally if not more segregated (Mervosh, 2019). In 2016, it was reported that predominantly nonwhite school districts received $23 billion less in funding than white school districts, a result of the heavy reliance on local taxes that are affected by generational income (Mervosh, 2019). Achievement gaps resulting from lack of resources reinforce stereotypes portraying students of color as less capable, motivated, and intelligent and discourage lawmakers from pursuing integration initiatives (McCardle & Bliss, 2019, p. 115).

Passive Discrimination and Unconscious Bias

 Where students do not face disparities in tangible infrastructure, they are affected by disadvantages that exist in the very perceptions held by teachers and administrators in public education, who may harbor bias reminiscent of historical racist discourse. While educators may not actively seek to diminish the capabilities of students of color, studies show that academic expectations, disciplinary action, and educational opportunities are significantly impacted by racial mismatches between students and teachers. Compared with white students, black students are more likely to be suspended, expelled, and skipped over as considerations for gifted programs or advanced classes (Wier, 2016). One study that surveyed teachers using national data of US tenth graders found that nonblack teachers harbor “lower educational expectations for black students than do black teachers” when evaluating the same students based on questions of what level of education each student was predicted to complete (Gershenson et al, 2015, p. 22). Though it is difficult to pinpoint the rationale of individual educators when interacting with students of color, these undeniable discrepancies reflect assumptions of “internal deficits” in a student’s family, financial status, intellectual ability, language comprehension, or motivation (Osanloo, 2016, p. 2). This deficit-laden thinking results in behaviors towards students of color categorized as macroaggressions and microaggressions; they are “aggressive intercultural interactions” in the form of automatic and thoughtless responses that can occur on a society-wide or interpersonal scale (Osanloo, 2016, p. 3). Whether students are being actively labeled as trouble-makers and low performers, or simply not having their needs met by educators who underestimate them, manifestations of unconscious bias can be added to the long list of disadvantages stacked against Black and brown students across the United States.

Social Justice Interventions in Communities and Schools

Considering the vast history of structural oppression in the American educational system for students of color, structural approaches can be logically offered as one form of solution to address these multifaceted shortcomings. For the purposes of this research, these may be defined as efforts made on a district or statewide level designed to address wide-reaching societal disparities.

Such solutions may begin with addressing standards of success that fail to factor into account racial and ethnic inequities. It might appear that these standards of success are upheld by individual educators and administrators, thereby qualifying them as not institutional solutions but rather interpersonal ones. However, as Kenneth Shores, Ha Eun Kim, and Mela Still of the Brookings Institute counter, it is schools themselves that establish these standards, and must therefore be held accountable for altering them in a way that results in higher levels of equity and compassion. Traditional research on measures of achievement such as test scores, grade-level retention, and gifted and talented placement uphold the conclusion that out-of-school challenges faced by students are the primary culprit for racial disparities in in-school achievement. Varying educational experiences can be attributed to socio-economic status and “not because of anything that schools do” (Shores et al, 2020). Yet Shores, Kim, and Still argue that it is schools that create these socially relevant classifications into which students are sorted and therefore cannot deny responsibility for “racialized tracking” and the “categorical inequalities” that emerge because of it. Schools – and state education boards by extension – are guilty of maintaining the ability of teachers to label students as “gifted,” “suspended,” or “low-performing” by using measures of achievement that theoretically report objective results but are blind to their own shortcomings.

 In Finland, a nation widely considered to have one of the most equitable education systems in the developed world, this deficit-laden perspective harbored by American education does not exist, and rather than seeking to divide students amongst high and low performers, the Finnish vision for education seeks to maximize human resources and create “good, balanced, and enlightened human beings” (Burg, 2021, p. 11). With a national curriculum, shorter school days, only one standardized test at the end of high school, and state funding allocated to food security, housing, healthcare, and child support, academic achievement gaps in important subjects like reading are much smaller than those of the US and the global average (Burg, 2021, p. 7). Finland truly fulfills the goal of leaving no child behind by addressing community needs and regarding schools as environments conducive to supporting the psychological and self-fulfillment needs of students, while simultaneously cutting down opportunities for students’ socio-economic status to be categorized and blamed for their individual success or failure (Burg, 2021, p. 13).

Beyond reforming inequitable education standards, another structural solution that may be the most direct and efficient way to decrease inequalities in K-12 schools is desegregation. The 1980s saw the greatest levels of integration in American public schools, with the percentage of Black students in white southern schools peaking at 43.5% in 1988, a figure which decreased to a level below where it stood in 1968 by 2011 (Breslow et al, 2014). In the midst of this era of revolutionary integration policy, Willis Hawley, then Professor of Education and Political Science at Vanderbilt University, arranged a compilation of key strategies for effective school desegregation. Among them, he stressed the involvement of community in the process of integration and offered combining voluntary incentives like magnet schools with mandatory requirements to encourage parents of all races to become more comfortable with sending children to school in situations that may feel new and unfamiliar (Hawley, 1981, p. 302). Maintaining smaller class sizes, smaller schools, and offering financial incentives to parents and districts for voluntary integration may also be strategies employed to ensure that desegregation remains as much of a community effort as possible, rather than a forced federal policy that can quickly appear unattractive and ineffective (Hawley, 1981, p. 179). At the same time, Hawley understood the impacts of white flight and housing segregation as direct contributors to racial divides in the classroom, and addressed this by providing the example of the 1977 program that took place in Kentucky’s Louisville-Jefferson county, which advertised school attendance zones that families could move to which prevented their children from being bused, thereby encouraging white neighborhoods to desegregate on their own terms (Hawley, 1981, p. 177). Though this example may not be applicable in its entirety to current housing and urban development patterns, it presents the principle of community self-integration by positive affirmation that can be mimicked in other policy formats. By implementing desirable programs and policies that foster an inclusive school culture, as well as addressing housing inequality from a grassroots perspective, cycles of structural oppression in education can be broken through the effects of desegregation. Combined with the aforementioned holistic reform of academic standards, structural approaches can significantly improve the quality and educational experience of both white and nonwhite students.       

Social Justice Interventions in Classrooms and Relationships

As much progress that can be made on institutional racial disparities, unschooling racism itself may be the most difficult aspect of conquering structural oppression and must be approached through both teacher and student education.

 Improvements to teacher education can be mainly generated in regard to deprogramming whiteness as the norm in educator spaces by meeting taboos on topics of race with uncomfortable yet necessary conversations. Current pedagogical models operating under principles of color-blindness are in fact not color-blind at all, but merely tailored to fit the white American experience in which race does not impact or jeopardize student success or wellbeing. Deprogramming this assumption from the status quo and the stigmatization of race along with it allows teachers to create more inclusive class environments which celebrate diversity rather than silence it. It is equally important that race is addressed among educators without fear of persecution, and that priorities are recentered from white comfort to the acknowledgement of race as a construct designed to serve the economic and political interests of the racially privileged (Orelus, 2020, p. 9). Furthermore, because the organization and orientation of classrooms functions as a significant agent of socialization for students, teachers must be tasked with analyzing whether their lessons and very environment are reflective of color-blindness and race invisibility, or are effective in honoring “the centrality of race in shaping children’s identity” (Escayg, 2020, p. 5). A common argument against addressing default whiteness in educator spaces is the insistence that education can and must be entirely removed from anything deemed too controversial for the classroom setting, as such dialogue could diminish student learning by pressuring them to believe irrelevant or potentially harmful information. And while it is undoubtedly necessary to prevent the promotion of inappropriate endorsements and personal ideologies, denying teachers the ability to address race and racism in the classroom in a constructive manner is a decision that is already impairing the learning experiences of both white and nonwhite students who would benefit from racially conscious instructors and class environments. In essence, current pedagogy of racial inconsequence and naivety must be replaced with teacher education that is not hesitant to discuss how race can and does impact the student experience.

 For students, restorative justice is the model for improving education in an increasingly diverse world. Restorative justice is defined by practices which underline dialogue between victims and perpetrators of injustice as instrumental in healing societal divides between community members. In an educational setting, it can be shaped to the needs of each school community, whether it be restorative discipline, restorative conferencing, or restorative culture (Grant & Iver, 2021, p. 6). Restorative justice takes the form of both proactive and reactive practices; it can include preemptively revising curriculum that presents nonwhite history as a passive happening in a greater Eurocentric story, or perhaps peer mediation programs and advisory periods to garner a close-knit school culture that fulfills each student’s hierarchy of human needs (Grant & Iver, 2021, p. 6). Opponents of current restorative justice models argue that candid conversations about race have no place in the classroom, citing fears that such dialogue would alienate white audiences and demonize white history. And yet it is the unrelenting impulse to defend white comfort that creates this misinformed defensive tension. Restorative justice does not seek to demonize or alienate, but to restore dignity to a relationship tainted by institutionalized power imbalance. Above all, it intends to right the generational wrongs suffered by nonwhite students throughout American history and recognizes the need for race to be a central topic of conversation both in policy and in the classroom.

Education and Nonviolence Philosophy

Education as the ultimate tool of nonviolent movements is not a new or unheard-of concept, yet it is often the most difficult to achieve and least utilized because of the sheer enormity of reformation that must take place in order to witness positive change. For centuries, education systems in the United States were built on the premise of subjugating entire demographics; it is impossible to speak on the history of American education without addressing its inherent ties to American white supremacy. This report exposes the abysmal experience of namely Black Americans through centuries of schooling, but does not even begin to cover the devastating cultural genocide that occurred in indigenous boarding schools, the imperialistic anti-Asian sentiment in US history education that has contributed to recurring AAPI-targeted hate crimes, the demonization of Middle Eastern nations in US political curriculum that fuels hatred and fear of refugees, or even the poverty among Hispanic migrant farm workers whose children are forced to skip entire grades just to put food on the table. For every instance of education lifting a person into enlightenment, there are many more of the same systems being used as the cruelest tools of systemic oppression. This duality is one that cannot be underestimated or overlooked.

It is because of the tremendous power of education to either bend the curve of the universe towards or away from justice that it must be utilized as a foundation for nonviolent movements. The face of current grassroots social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter are often confined to work done in protests, state legislatures, and at the polls, and while this type of community organizing results in policy changes, it is not as effective in changing society-wide sentiments and common understanding. After every significant act of social progress in the past two centuries there has been a demonstration of profound backlash- Jim Crow following Reconstruction, the rise of the Christian Right following sexual liberation of the 1970s, restrictive voting legislation passed in state legislatures following the mass organizing and registration of the 2020 election. This vicious cycle that can only be described as “one step forward, two steps back” can and will continue to happen as long as nonviolent movements are based on protest and policy rather than educating future generations to create a more just world.

This is not to say that proponents of nonviolence should abandon all hope in picket lines and lobbying. On the contrary, the most successful change comes about from constant political pressure in conjunction with comprehensive educational reform. If this were not true, systems of oppression which employ these strategies would not be so difficult to dismantle.

Teaching and learning were humanity’s first methods of advancement. They allowed us to become kinder, more compassionate, and more cooperative. It was, and continues to be, a revolutionary act of equality simply to learn. It is in public schools that children develop their initial perspectives of the world, experience their first interactions with a diverse array of people, and above all, learn core values of good and evil that last a lifetime. Nonviolence is epitomized in the use of education to fulfill the value of human potential.

Today, public education has been largely agreed upon as America’s greatest invention. The ultimate tool of human dignity and independence for many freedpeople following emancipation lay in their ability to become educated and enlightened. Still, the structural oppression suffered by generations of nonwhite Americans continues to thrive in conditions made unequal by denying access to or corrupting education. By decreasing these discrepancies between the educational experiences of white and nonwhite students, fulfilling this promise of dignity and independence becomes ever more attainable. Nonviolent philosophy seeks to enact sustainable social change, and yet it is impossible to seek a world of equity and equality without also seeking to change the way in which students are prepared to live in it.  

Works Cited

Breslow, J. M., et al. (2014, July 15). The Return of School Segregation in Eight Charts. Public Broadcasting Service. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/the-return-of-school-segregation-in-eight-charts/

Brown, A. L., & Brown, K. D. (2015). The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: Excavating Race and the Enduring Racisms in U.S. Curriculum. Teachers College Record, 117(14), 103-130.search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edselc&AN=edselc. 2-52.0-84953251770&site=eds-live&scope=site

Burg, C. A. (2021, March). A Comparison of Finnish and American Education Policies and Practices That Address Educational Equity. Handbook of Social Justice Interventions in Education, 1–25. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-29553-0_126-1

Chamberlain, C. (2007, February 12). How Former Slaves Established Schools and Educated Their Population after the Civil War. Illinois News Bureau. news.illinois.edu/view /6367/198842

Delacroix, J. (2019, November). The Problem with the ‘Disney Version of History.’ Education Digest, 85(2), 37–41. search-ebscohost-com.libproxy.txstate.edu/login.aspx?direct=true& db=f6h&AN=138678993&site=eds-live&scope=site

Downs, G. P., & Masur, K. (2017, July 28). The Era of Reconstruction 1861-1900 (p. 29). National Park Service. http://www.npshistory.com/publications/nhl/theme-studies/reconstruction-era.pdf

Escayg, K. (2020, April 3). Anti‐Racism in U.S. Early Childhood Education: Foundational Principles. Sociology Compass, 14(4), 5. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/soc4.12764

Gates, H. L. (2020). Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (p. 83). Penguin Books.

Gershenson, S., Holt, S. B., & Papageorge, N. W. (2015). Who Believes in Me? The Effect of Student-Teacher Demographic Match on Teacher Expectations. Upjohn Institute Working Paper, 15-231. https://doi.org/10.17848/wp15-231

Grant, A. A., & Iver, D. J. M. (2021, March). Restorative Practices as a Social Justice Intervention in Urban Secondary Schools. Handbook of Social Justice Interventions in Education, 1–23. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-29553-0_113-1

Hawley, W. D. (1981). Effective School Desegregation: Equity, Quality, and Feasibility (pp. 177-302). Sage.

Mandela, N. (1990, June 23). Keynote Speech. Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, Boston, MA.

McCardle, M., & Bliss, S. (2019, October). Digging Deeper: The Relationship between School Segregation and Unconscious Racism. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 89(2), 114–131. Taylor & Francis Online, doi:10.1080/00377317.2019.1686929

Mervosh, S. (2019, February 27). How Much Wealthier Are White School Districts Than Nonwhite Ones? $23 Billion, Report Says. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/ 2019/02/27/education/school-districts-funding-white-minorities.html

Orelus, P. W. (2020). Unschooling Racism: Critical Theories, Approaches and Testimonials on Anti-Racist Education (p. 9). Springer International Publishing. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.libproxy.txstate.edu/lib/txstate/detail.action?docID=6386180

Osanloo, A., et al. (2016). Deconstructing Macroaggressions, Microaggressions, and Structural Racism in Education: Developing a Conceptual Model for the Intersection of Social Justice Practice and Intercultural Education. International Journal of Organizational Theory and Development, 4(1), 2-3. http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Azadeh-Osanloo2/publication/ 301201502_Deconstructing_Macroaggressions_Microaggressions_and_Structural_Racism_in_Education_Developing_a_Conceptual_Model_for_the_Intersection_of_Social_Justice_Practice_and_Intercultural_Education/links/57e94fc508aef8bfcc9610bc/Deconstructing-Macroaggressions-Microaggressions-and-Structural-Racism-in-Education-Developing-a-Conceptual-Model-for-the-Intersection-of-Social-Justice-Practice-and-Intercultural-Education.pdf

Shores, K., et al. (2020, February 21). Categorical Inequalities between Black and White Students Are Common in US Schools -but They Don’t Have to Be. Brookings Institute. http://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2020/02/21/categorical-inequalities-between-black-and-white-students-are-common-in-us-schools-but-they-dont-have-to-be/

Weir, K. (2016, November). Inequality at School. Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/11/cover-inequality-school

Analysis of Capitalism from a Perspective Concerned with Bad Faith

Hunter Roy, Texas A&M University

In the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx asserts his critique of capitalism and his reevaluation of social relations. He claims understanding these social relations is an essential task in the effort to understand the conditions humanity lives under. Painting capitalism as the perpetuation of inequality, Marx asserts that humans cannot live freely under this economic mode of production (Marx & Engels, 2005, p. 11). The existentialist philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre focuses on freedom in a similar vein. Primarily, Sartre addresses the “chief existentialist virtue” of authenticity (Flynn, 2013), which posits that improperly acknowledging and pursuing one’s freedom to define their existence is to live dishonestly, or in bad faith. The concept of authenticity emerges when viewed in the context of Sartre’s notion of facticity, which is the set of societal and physical limitations that we are born into as human beings (Varga & Guignon, 2020). The absence of rebellion against these limitations is to live in bad faith. An authentic life may occur when one rejects the limitations of their circumstances and exposes themselves to the extensive potentiality of their existence. This essay will attempt to illustrate, through Marxian analysis, how capitalism structurally and systematically imposes an ignorance of authenticity on the proletariat class, forcing the members of this class to live in Sartre’s conception of bad faith.

Marx begins the first chapter of the Communist Manifesto with a description of history that lays the foundation of his entire critique of capitalism. He writes “the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles” (Marx & Engels, 2005, p. 2). Marx further explains that class struggle is the tension that persists between the oppressors and the oppressed. The revolution Marx eventually predicts is preceded by class consciousness. This occurs when the proletariat becomes aware of its function in the economic system, and aware of the aforementioned tension which plagues the system (Marx, 1999). The acknowledgement of capitalism’s inherently restrictive qualities must precede the pursuit of an authentic life. The successful rebellion against one’s facticity requires social and economic liberty. Until the proletarians realize they are bound in chains by the economic mode of production in place, they are fated to live as slaves to the system, ignorant of the freedoms which they are refused.

Through the lens of Marxian analysis, the bourgeoisie work to maintain the bondage of the proletariat and they do so through the manipulation of the minds of the workers. Marx defines the bourgeoisie as an oppressive “ruling class” (Marx & Engels, 2005, Preface). Additionally, I will define this class as a group that is distinguishable due to their broad ownership of the means of production. The subjects of bourgeoisie exploitation are the proletariat, an economic class define by Marx as the modern working class, distinguished by their lack of ownership of the means of production (Marx & Engels, 2005, p. 7). I will now describe the historical evolution of slavery in the United States using such an analysis. In doing so, I will illustrate the mechanisms initially employed by the bourgeoisie to convince the worker they are not a free human being. Historically, slavery is forced labor supported by the threat of violence. The slaves are aware of their condition, and the potential for pain and suffering inhibits the slaves’ consideration of revolt. Additionally, the slaves have an understanding as to how and why they became the property of another human. For example, slaves may have lost their freedom because they could not repay a debt or were captured and made a prisoner of war. American slavery changed the structure of this system. The enslavement of black people was justified through the implementation of a new natural hierarchy. That of which placed white people at the top, and all other peoples below. This racial hierarchy enforced the idea that blacks were destined to become slaves because it was in their nature to serve the white ruling plantation owners. While discrimination on the basis of race was not invented by the early capitalists, I stress that modern racism is directly connected to the supremacy of the bourgeoisie. Slavery in America changed the way slaves viewed themselves. They were not victims of war or debt; they were exactly where social norms said they belonged. They had no freedom and were persuaded that freedom was never an option. My description of slavery’s evolution through the lens of Marxian analysis leads to a greater understanding of class relations today. When our conception of slavery’s history stems from the assumption that workers have been convinced they are meant to spend their lives generating profit for someone else, it naturally follows that they have no concern for their authenticity because the possibility of liberating themselves from their facticity is not seen as achievable. Under capitalism, the identity of the individual is directly tied to one’s occupation rather than the identity of the individual being embedded in one’s ability to challenge the societal roles they have been given. As human beings they are free agents with the opportunity to decide the course of their own lives. I must affirm the fact that their bondage under capitalism conceals the possibility of an authentic lifestyle and enforces the idea that they must commit their lives to a system which exploits them.

Marx explains this manipulation of culture further. He writes that “the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society” (Marx & Engels, 2005, p. 4). Marx explains that in order for the bourgeoisie to retain their power over the proletariat, they must redefine the idea of how humans ought to exist. This means that the proletariat are living inauthentically due to the deception of the bourgeoisie. Marx asserts that they have been told a story riddled with falsehood by the bourgeoisie in an effort to maintain current class relations (Marx & Engels, 2005, p. 4). They are unaware that they are not born with a purpose to work, more importantly, they are unaware they are born without a purpose. According to Sartre, the bondage employed by one’s facticity leads to a life ignorant of one’s lack of purpose, that is, a life of bad faith (Varga & Guignon, 2020). Capitalism exists as the set of conditions that workers are born into which inhibit their authenticity. Furthermore, identifying life under capitalism as part of one’s facticity allows us to understand how the worker’s bad faith lifestyle occurs. Therefore, the worker must oppose capitalism to avoid a bad faith lifestyle. Bad faith is not the onus of the worker, it is the result of a structure preserved by the bourgeoisie in order to maintain a system and a culture that convinces the worker to live inauthentically.

I contend that this act of deception was perpetuated through imperialism and is maintained by imperialism’s legacy. Members of the Western world claimed their civilization was superior, and that they had a moral duty to spread their ideas across the globe. Marx explains, “the need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere” (Marx & Engels, 2005, p. 5). He explains that the motivations of imperialism are themselves a lie. Due to this, the proletariat is convinced that the conquest led by Europe was to teach the world a better way of life. Rather, the bourgeoisie is instead increasing their influence on the world. They are expanding a culture which maintains and supports their power to other nations under the guise of civilizing the savage. I affirm that in the United States, a country founded on imperialism, has its own history of this falsehood. Known as Manifest Destiny, colonizers and early Americans used this ideology to justify the subjugation and elimination of entire nations of Native Americans. Settlers spread across the continent believing they were pursuing their freedom to acquire the land that was rightfully theirs. Yet it was the bourgeoisie who benefitted the most. They held control of large-scale industry sustained by the farms and territory which many settlers founded and claimed, respectively. The settlers expanded the reach of the bourgeoisie, giving them greater access to resources. In order to process these materials, labor is needed, and this labor comes from the proletariat. The settlers (proletarians) act against their own interests, further propelling their exploitation under the misguided idea that they are making free choices. But as I have illustrated, there are no free choices under capitalism because the roles dictated by the owners of the means of production are forced upon the proletariat. This notion that Americans have a right to expand and dominate allow the bourgeoisie to justify further imperialistic (profit backed) efforts. This is the legacy of imperialism. The bourgeoisie convince the proletariat they are conquering the world in conjunction, conquering that which is their destiny to control, when in reality the infrastructure of proletarian exploitation grows in power and illusion.

The false consciousness forced upon the proletariat class alters their perceptions of their daily endeavors. For example, consider the romanticization of the workplace. People attend university to search for a vocation and find their passion. People place their identities in their work. At a dinner party, people do not introduce themselves as a free human being with the capacity to manipulate the conditions they are born into, but rather distinguish themselves firstly as a worker whose role in life is to fulfill the duties ascribed to them by their employer.

Social norms compel them to act this way. I assert that capitalism strips workers of their true identity, which is based in their ability to oppose their facticity. Their value is not in their capacity to live authentically, rather it is in the worker’s ability to increase the capital of the bourgeoisie. Those who disagree with the vocation example and argue that university is not the place to determine one’s position in the workforce often instead claim that a university is an environment that is conducive to the establishment of a social network. Both vocations and networking are glorified in society. People have accepted that they must indicate that they possess an exchange value. The proletariat works for the owners of capital during the day and works to prove their monetary value to their social network in the night. Capitalism obscures the worker’s consideration of their freedom of choice, thus convincing the worker that their sole purpose is to contribute to the economic system. Any set of limitations which inhibit the freedom to define one’s existence must be challenged, as this is the sole avenue to living authentically (Varga & Guignon, 2020). This life of bad faith is one that is forced upon the worker, a form of life that the bourgeoisie work endlessly to prolong. This compulsory bad faith lifestyle exists to inhibit the proletarians from developing class consciousness, permanently keeping the workers in a subservient and exploitable position.

I have shown how the bourgeoisie manipulate the self-perception of the proletariat class. It would seem that once class consciousness can occur, the revolution begins, and economic equality is achieved. Marx reminds the reader of one very important issue, that of which is the government. He claims, “the executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (Marx & Engels, 2005, pp. 3-4). This means that the government works in the interest of the oppressor, and not in the defense of the oppressed. For example, the state works to give the wealthy advantages such as tax breaks and loopholes. It is a regular occurrence for the economic and social elite to receive community service after attempting to defraud the Internal Revenue Service of millions of dollars. It is also common to see a single mother coming across the border in search of a better life placed in a detention center and separated from her children. The state exists to protect those in power and keep the powerless in a position incapable of revolution. The workers may desire to change society, but through the powers of the state they cannot prepare for change, let alone initiate a discourse. A well-known example of a state’s effort to maintain the capitalist mode of production was McCarthyism in America, which occurred during the Cold War. The Cold War was a war between governments that stemmed from a desire to control global territory and expand their respective spheres of influence. Yet the American proletariat was convinced that the danger was not a state with unrestricted power, but instead an economic system based in a desire for economic equality. This deception is evidence that workers cannot choose freely under capitalism, nor can they change the system; the state makes certain of this. The very act of negating any possibility that capitalism is a system destined for collapse is an act of bad faith because the potential for change must receiver constant consideration in the mind an authentic agent.

Some may argue that I have made too extreme of a case against the owners of the means of production. They may assert that claiming the bourgeoisie actively work to deceive the proletariat is a straw man, and rather they are business owners working to improve their profit margins. These skeptics may claim that the bourgeoisie are simply making free choices themselves and cannot be held at fault for realizing their innate freedom to live as they wish. I must assert that in any society, self-determination is paired with responsibility. The ability to make choices must be met with accountability. Without a consideration for the collective good, and more importantly, the sovereignty of others, there cannot be true freedom. If people are constantly acting to protect themselves from others, are they free to make decisions? It would appear not, instead, they are controlled by their fear of others. The bourgeoisie control the proletariat through this same mechanism, weaponizing one’s fear of losing their worth in society if they do not participate in the system. They fear the loss of their exchange value and their ability to provide for themselves. This fear is predicated on class consciousness, something capitalism intrinsically inhibits. The bourgeoisie work to prevent class consciousness and prevent those who are aware of their conditions under capitalism from ever reaching power, supporting the fact that system is self-supporting.

An example of this circular system is union busting. Union busting is a vast array of efforts put forth by the owners of the means of production in order to prevent the creation and activity of labor unions. I argue that in doing so, the bourgeoisie inhibit the worker’s ability to engage in collective bargaining, an essential component of a fair wage-labor agreement, a component that an idyllic capitalist system ought to contain. Unions serve as opportunities for workers to acknowledge that they are deserving of better working conditions, and thus more freedom to restrain their facticity. By bargaining as a collective, the worker reclaims their ability to negotiate with their employer. A worker in isolation loses their bargaining power because they become expendable. It becomes cheaper to hire a new employee than to accommodate the employee filing a complaint. For those who hold the position I have just illustrated, it is apparent that an effort to penalize union membership is an effort to systematically isolate the worker. It follows that an isolated worker is more easily made ignorant of their facticity and thus hindered in pursuing an authentic life.

Some may argue that, generally speaking, corporate entities contribute to the public good due to the nature of the service or good provided while simultaneously employing members of the proletariat. The argument follows that corporations must pay their workers a livable wage that justifies their efforts to provide the service or good to the consumer. Additionally, the environment in which the labor occurs must be conducive towards this process. For example, some might say that while wages and working conditions in Amazon.com warehouses are unsatisfactory, the company still employs numerous individuals and provides convenience to the company’s consumers. I must counter and remind the reader that Amazon.com is one of America’s uppermost spenders in the area of corporate lobbying. Data published by the Center for Responsive Politics indicates that for the year 2020, there are more reports claiming that Amazon.com lobbied on bills related to worker compensation, wages, and healthcare than any other issues (“Amazon.com Profile,” 2021). I will assume that Amazon.com possesses the ability to address the aforementioned issues internally, without government intervention, and therefore was likely lobbying against government regulations that would mandate policies beneficial to the worker at the expense of profit margins. I assert that any effort to prevent fair compensation and accommodation of the worker is an effort to keep the worker dependent on their employer, thus reducing their freedom.

Some may argue that slavery in the United States was an economic system distinct from capitalism and thus an inadequate example to explain the early stages of bourgeoisie deception. They may argue this on the fact that much of slavery and the laws that surrounded it were designed in such a manner that only the economic elite may participate. This would mean that by excluding the general populace there could be no wage-labor transaction, an essential tenet of capitalism. I assert that when capitalism is viewed within the proper historical context, the actual demarcating feature of capitalism is the exploitation of the worker through the extraction of labor value which is then converted into profit. Provided that the owners of the means of production rely on the lowest possible wage for a worker’s labor to create profit, I argue the economic system may be considered capitalist. This definition may be additionally extrapolated to early American westward expansion and colonialism more broadly. I assert that when considering that the primary purpose of colonialization was to locate additional sources of profit, the efforts of the bourgeoisie to expand a culture that deprives the worker of their innate freedom is revealed.

Some capitalists may object to my critique of capitalism and argue against my consideration of capitalism as a component of one’s facticity. Provided that humans must “transcend” their facticity, there is an implication that capitalism impedes the individual ability to live authentically (Varga & Guignon, 2020). The common refutation to this claim asserts that capitalism has liberated some proletarians from financial struggle. Therefore, it is disingenuous to label capitalism as an abstraction that requires transcendence because capitalism is itself a means of transcending one’s facticity. Capitalism is a component of one’s social and historical circumstances, and as such must be considered as part of the individual’s facticity regardless of their position in the system. I assert that the accumulation of capital within a system built upon the exploitation of labor value stands fundamentally in opposition to authenticity. While the possibility of amassing such wealth exists so that the individual may themselves escape the conditions that afflict the proletariat class, this is by no means liberation from one’s facticity. Members of this middle class remain a mechanism for bourgeois supremacy, as they evolve from the victims of exploitation to those who perpetuate the ideology of the bourgeoisie (Marx & Engels, 2005, p. 9). Marx labels these individuals as the petty bourgeoisie, and they are those who assert that the bondage of the working class may be transcended under extraordinary circumstances (Marx & Engels, 2005, p. 9). Marx states that for the proletariat, any victory obtained is a victory for the bourgeoisie (Marx & Engels, 2005, p. 9). This means that any individual that joins the petty bourgeoisie is not liberated from their conditions but is instead repurposed by the bourgeoisie. Those who become the petty bourgeoisie inhibit class consciousness on two fronts. They deceive the worker into believing their position in the system is temporary and circumstantial while simultaneously empowering bourgeois ideology. This occurs instead of an illumination of the inherent contradictions within the capitalist system. Such contradictions include but are not limited to the exploited status of the proletariat and the necessity of the state to intervene and regulate capitalism so that the bourgeoisie do not consume themselves in their pursuits of capital. Capitalism is a core component of facticity, and authenticity cannot be achieved while the current economic system is maintained. As long as the economic system is controlled by the bourgeoisie, there cannot exist a successful rebellion against facticity within that same system.

My argument attempts to convey that capitalism forces the proletariat to live in ignorance of their potential for authenticity, condemning them to Sartre’s conception of an existence maintained in bad faith (Flynn, 2013). According to Marx’s description of the capitalist mode of production, all features of life are manipulated by the bourgeoisie to justify and maintain their oppressive position in society. They are so effective in doing so that the workers of the world are entirely oblivious of their own bondage. I maintain that humans cannot live to their fullest potential under capitalism. The rules of the game must be redrawn, and the economic system must change so they worker may enjoy the freedoms that they innately possess.

Works Cited

Amazon.com Profile: Lobbying. (2021, April). OpenSecrets. http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/amazon-com/lobbying?id=D000023883

Flynn, T. (2013). Jean-Paul Sartre. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2013/entries/sartre/

Marx, K. (1999). Economic Manuscripts: Capital Vol. I – Chapter Twenty-Five (S. Baird, Ed.). Marxists Internet Archive. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch25.htm

Marx, K., & Engels, F. (2005). The Communist Manifesto (Preface- p. 11). Digireads.com.

Natanson, M. (1951, March). A Critique of Jean Paul Sartre’s Ontology. Digital Commons University of Nebraska Studies, (6), 1-138. digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1023&context=univstudiespapers

Varga, S., & Guignon, C. (2020, February 20). Authenticity. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2020/entries/authenticity

How Social Participation has not led to Social Change

Devin A. Granado, Texas State University

The modern life is a complicated one with many ways to connect and disconnect from others in previously unimaginable ways. The exponential growth of communications technology has led the way for us to change aspects of our lives and the lives of others, and this is the case, yet at the same time, the world has stayed the same. Suffering continues to exist as it always has. Nothing is new here, and I would go as far as to say most sensible people did not expect suffering to end when communications technology was born. I do not think it is a stretch however, to imagine that social media and other forms of communication could ease the suffering of the less fortunate if given the chance. We do not have to look far to see the ways in which technology had already achieved such goals prior to the invention of the internet and more advanced forms of communication. Technology, as a broad term, means many things. The invention of radio and television achieved similar goals, intentional or not. Goals of making the public aware of atrocities around the world became far easier using these tools. From aliens allegedly attacking earth to the first televised war, radio and television have shown the capacity for human concern and intervention in events that harm them or their fellow human, real or not. With this information in mind, it brings up a very important question, why has there been little to no help for the less fortunate and the oppressed even though we are more aware than ever of their suffering and oppression? The sole reliability on radio and television to access such news and events no longer exists for many. Most people have access to a smartphone capable of bringing the events of the world into the palm of their hand. News and the rate at which we receive it has become faster and more easily available than ever before, yet there is little effect on the decrease of suffering and oppression in the world.

In this paper I will argue that there exists the ability to be aware of the suffering of others in the world, but there is little helpful action done to alleviate this suffering because of a sense of participation developed by social media known as performance activism and its resultant phenomenon known as social capital. First, I will look at performance activism and social capital and what it means to participate in them. I will then look at how technological progress has allowed such a phenomenon to grow into a global issue. Then I will propose a possible solution to this phenomenon that could open the way for more direct action in helping those in a community experiencing oppression and suffering.

Performance Activism

What exactly is performance activism? There is no clear-cut definition to the term because it is used both positively and negatively by different groups. Positively speaking, performance activism is activism that is done to create media attention to an issue. By performing some sort of large-scale act in defiance of oppression for the sake of media attention to increase awareness, a person is participating in performance activism in this sense. Looked at in this way, performance activism is most forms of activism that is thought of today from large scale protesting to sit-ins and boycotts. The focus of these being a desire to gather attention towards an issue. Dr. King’s non-violent activism is the idealized form of performance activism in this sense. Dr. King understood the importance of the news in showing people the ways in which African Americans were being mistreated and he relied on news coverage to get his message across the nation, regardless of whether it was negative or positive news. Specifically, Dr. King understood the power of television in conveying the visual suffering of African Americans, something that was not fully possible until television was invented. There was a certain power in television by conveying the suffering of others that traditional news media through paper or radio mediums could not achieve as successfully. The film Selma and the actual historical event at Selma itself are a perfect illustration of King’s understanding of the importance of this form of activism (Duvernay, 2014). The treatment of African Americans was being televised and printed across American media, and this put pressure on the President to pass the civil rights act. The atrocities committed against African Americans could now be witnessed on televisions across America, helping to put this pressure on the president. It should be noted that the term performance activism did not appear during the fight for civil rights for African Americans, LGBTQ+ or the rights of farm workers. It seems to be a new term and every instance of activism prior to the invention of social media has simply been referred to as activism. Those trying to argue that performance activism is a positive thing are arguing that it has always existed in activism because most activism is a performance that is used to garner attention. Another similar definition of the term states that performance activism is literal performance as an act of activism. Dance, art, and musical performance protesting for a cause are performance activism in this sense, but this definition still falls under the previous one.

A more negative definition of performance activism, and a more generally agreed upon definition of it, is that performance activism is activism for the sake of gaining popularity, typically on social media. This activism is not genuine and the people participating in it tend to not care about the cause they are allegedly fighting for and can sometimes hurt the cause itself with their participation. The black square movement on several social media platforms is an example of this. Companies posting a black square on social media to show their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement can illustrate this form of negative performance activism perfectly. The hashtag Blackout Tuesday was set to trend on June 2nd, 2020, with multiple influencers planning on flooding Instagram with black squares on a hashtag used primarily for resources. Many influencers deleted their posts when they realized what they were doing was hurting the movement, but companies joined in on the movement from seemingly out of nowhere. Pascale Diverlus explains that “Within days of George Floyd’s public lynching, more than 950 brands, companies, influencers and retailers rushed to release statements of solidarity in the form of a black square. Searches for “blackout Tuesday image” and “blackout image” surged 400 percent within the same day” (Diverlus, 2021). They earlier mentioned that such participation did not exist prior to this day. There was no urge to show solidarity with the movement until this point. By finally showing support for the cause, these companies hoped to gain financial support. The black lives matter and defund the police movements were harmed by this because the hashtags used to give people necessary resources for bail relief and effective and safe ways of protest were difficult to find due to a flood of black squares that provided no use other than hindrance from people who thought that posting a black square was a symbol of solidarity.

I propose a unified definition of performance activism, one that develops it as a spectrum instead of simply negative or positive acts. Perhaps the best definition is the one that states that any form of activism that is aimed at spreading the awareness of an issue is performance activism. This still includes the great work of Dr. King, Thich Nhat Hanh, Ghandi, and many other great leaders, but also includes those who spread awareness for inauthentic reasons. This means that performance activism has always existed but has recently changed to allow an increase in harmful activism that lacks authenticity and can hurt a movement. How this increase has happened will be explored next.

Social Capital

The rise in popularity of social media is obvious, there is no debate here. With such a quick increase in popularity and availability, there will be side effects, which are currently still being debated. In their book Networked: The New Social Operating System, Barry Wellman and Lee Rainie develop the concept of networked individualism as something to create a better, more educated public, all of which provides social capital. I wish to look at social capital directly and what it means for performance activism. Social capital according to Wellman and Rainie is “intrapersonal resources not only to survive and thrive, but also to change situations…or to change the world or at least their neighborhood” (Rainie & Wellman, 2012, p. 19). What this means in the context of social media is that to gain social capital, one needs to be a part of an online community, something very easy to do, and the person needs to do something that affects the community or someone or something outside the community. They can do so in either a positive or negative way, social capital itself is neutral, it is the user that determines its effect. Initial ideas of social media, and the internet in general looked at these forms of technology as something that would allow the community to grow and the possibilities to affect it to be infinite and mostly positive. There was a prior sense that it would revolutionize the ways in which we communicate and bring the world together. John McDermott’s Technology: The Opiate of the Intellectuals begins by showing this overtly positive sentiment towards technology in general and the continued positivity surrounding it. Technology in the view of these writers is self-correcting according to McDermott (McDermott, 2014, p. 695). Such a view continues to perpetuate our society today, although not as severely as McDermott describes. What this means in the context of social media and social capital is that there exists a popular view that the acquiring of social capital can only be a positive thing. More social capital means better living and the best way to obtain social capital is through social media. For many, the goal of social media is to gain social capital. The common responses to why someone uses social media is to connect with others, to be part of a community, to talk to others across the world, in summation, to connect. Social media is the tool of social capital, it has a purpose of expanding communities, this is the purpose we gave it, and it is the purpose we have exploited from it under the guise that it will only result in positive benefits. Companies provide a perfect example of gaining social capital through participation in a cause that they do not care for, and despite their participation, no resulting policy change occurs. The problem with jumping excitedly into a new technology, we fail to recognize the harm in it. This guise I speak of was the ability to connect with others and the ability to make change in the world through this widespread connection. There was an understanding that social media would make us more aware of the suffering of others and we assumed that this awareness would lead to change. Again, it has not, and this assumption was overstated. Is it true that we are more connected than ever? Yes, certainly. Is it true that we are more aware of suffering and oppression? Also, yes. Where we went wrong was in assuming our increased awareness and connection would lead to greater change. I would not go as far as to say it was an unfair assumption, but there were side effects of our connectivity and the desire to increase our social capital.


Social capital does not sound harmful in concept, and I would argue that it is not. The issue with social capital is that the ways in which we affect greater communities is not necessarily always positive. It is important to note that there is nothing in the definition of the term that says the community must be positively affected, only that there is a desire to affect. What this means is that there are those that gain social capital for the sake of social capital, who do not care, or are not aware of the damage they may cause in their pursuits. We desire community over most things, we are social animals, so we will do a lot of things that harm ourselves and others to have a sense of belonging in a community. This is where social capital becomes a problem in social media. Social media has made it clear that there is suffering and oppression in the world, and it is generally deemed morally problematic to ignore social injustices in the world. If I am aware of injustice and I can do something about it, then I should. Social media allows me to make others aware of injustice and increasing awareness of something is considered doing something and is also very easy for me to do, so it follows that I should share any injustice I come across to do my socially expected duty. In doing so, I show that I care about whatever cause I am sharing and so the communities I am part of see that I can contribute to my socially expected duty and continue to accept me. I am participating in the continuation of my social capital in this way. I seemingly help a suffering community (possibly my own) while I also continue being accepted in my own community (and possibly others). Let us say I see a GoFundMe for someone I do not know who needs surgery. I see it and do not donate but thank goodness I retweeted the post so others can. I have the money, but by retweeting the post, others will see it and I am sure they will donate. This mentality—that someone will do something more than me commonly known as the bystander effect—is contagious. This person may reach their goal, but they would only reach the goal because of the sheer number of people that they reach. I would not be surprised if most who interacted with the post did not donate but only shared. In fact, based off studies into the bystander effect, the main reasons as to why people do not help is directly correlated to the number of bystanders surrounding the situation (Chiu & Chang, 2015, pp. 450-456). The more people, the less likely they are to help. If there are millions of people on a social media platform, the chances of the bystander effect occurring is increased drastically. So, I do not cause drastic change for a community by simply sharing it and doing less than I can do but enough of what is expected of me. This happens on a much larger scale because the same can be said for every single person using social media as well, thus leading to greater change not happening. While instances of this does not necessarily hurt; sharing a post to get someone to afford surgery, as the mentality grows, so does the possibility of damage. There are also instances where such a mentality is inherently harmful depending on what is being shared. Let me return to the black square example to show this. There are people who shared this in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, but in doing so, they harm the movement by making resources available in the hashtags harder to find. The intentions of people doing this vary of course. Some genuinely believed they were showing solidarity with a struggling community, participating in gaining social capital, but not consciously being aware of it, while others were doing it for the sake of being appreciated by other communities. They wished to be accepted and appreciated by others without having to participate in any serious effort, consciously trying to increase their social capital by growing their community and making change in other communities, not caring whether it helped or not, only whether it appeared as if they helped. Consciously or unconsciously speaking, what matters in all instances of growing or continuing social capital is the appearance of helping, not the actual effect. Turkish sociologist Zeynep Tufekci provides a different description of what happens with social media and activism that still reaches the same result. Tufekci has claimed for some time now that social media has allowed protests and the movements behind them to grow at a rate greater than never seen before. They see nation wide attention and participation, but this growth only remains for a short amount of time before dying down. In a conversation with Alex Kantrowitz, Tufekci refers to these post social media protests as being like a startup going from 0 to 100. It is good for such exponential growth to happen, but it is not sustainable without hard work and organization put into it outside of showing up at a protest or sharing the event (Kantrowitz, 2020). She says a similar thing is happening with the Black Lives Matter movement currently where there are large scale organizations, but limited change by comparison. For instance, despite calls for defunding or reducing policing budgets nationwide in response to the deaths of multiple African Americans, President Biden has stayed committed to increasing policing budgets, and many other cities have done the same rather than move that money towards mental health resources (Akinnibi et al., 2021).

Why does such a phenomenon continue? There is already a mentality that sharing is enough, nothing else is necessary for you to continue being accepted in your community, but I argue that there is some underlying reason behind this. Borrowing from Shannon Vallor’s Technology and the Virtues, there is a lack of friction in communities. Vallor writes that “they [new social media] also promote a dubious ideal: frictionless interactions that deftly evade the boredom, awkwardness, conflict, fear, misunderstanding…intimacies that often arise from traditional communications” (Vallor, 2016, p. 161). Vallor is speaking of a broader issue with social media, but this frictionless interaction is easily applicable to the phenomenon experienced in not doing as much as we can do to alleviate the oppression and suffering of others. We are not challenged to do so. Often, there is no one to tell me I am not doing enough to help others on social media. If there is someone telling me I need to do something, they are typically keen to add that sharing is enough, thus continuing the mentality that I do not need to do much at all, perpetuating the ease at which I can gain or continue my social capital. The perpetuation of this mentality that a share or a post is always enough having deeper roots beyond our own individual mindsets. Because of this, it is important to address the primary reasons why such a mentality has developed if there is ever going to be a hope of it changing. With social media it is easier than ever for a business to connect with its customers and expand its base while also possibly show its political face. Most major companies like to remain apolitical, something that is well known to most, but because of the ability for people to demand statements from them regarding movements, they are pressured into complying. For many, making a statement or taking a stance while donating what seems like a large amount of money is enough from the company. Similarly, but to a smaller extent, the same can be said about influencers and celebrities. Many try to stay apolitical until they cannot and then are required to take some stance and are expected to donate some amount of money or participate in some sort of activism while saying that others can do as much as they can afford to as well, affording to including the easy and free act of sharing something. These words from powerful companies and celebrities do not just go in one ear and out the other, they stick in the heads of many people and then they continue the trend, leading to a population that sees the sharing of something as enough while also being capable of doing more.

Some might argue that the benefits outweigh the negatives of performance activism. It cannot be debated that social media has brought mass awareness to issues and some sort of change to individuals and certain groups and communities. The exponential growth is what matters, not whether the people spreading it care or not. What matters is the act not the intent. To This I would argue that the lack of genuine care for a cause is part of what causes it to die out. The cause being shared may seem big, but after a certain amount of time, those people sharing posts and information will stop caring, they will lose interest. One might add that there are people whose minds are changed by being made aware of the atrocities happening to people and this is what really matters with performance activism. One example would be the video shared of George Floyd’s death waking up millions of white Americans to the ways in which African Americans are being treated in their own country. Tufekci speaks on this as well, noting that the Black Lives Matter movement shifted the mentality in Americans once the video of Floyd’s death began to spread which is something unique to social media and its ability to spread awareness to others (Kantrowitz, 2020). This is true and is certainly a step in the right direction for properly using social media and performance activism in general as an outlet for greater change, but as we can now see, there has yet to be widespread change from such an atrocity being viewed on millions of screens. This is a first step of many in creating change, something that cannot solely be done through performance activism.

So far, I have shown that the issues with how we use social media to create change is primarily the fault of our own mentality towards what constitutes enough help, something intensified by companies and celebrities, and the bystander effect that results from this mentality. Additionally, this mentality fosters and grows due to the very nature of social media and its capacity for a flourishing bystander effect. Similarly, the space that social media creates allows frictionless interactions that allow everyone to continue living with these mentalities and not worry about being questioned. There is also an issue with how we treat social capital, most try to increase their social capital for the sake of growing and not for the sake of bettering the community. There is a disconnect between the goal and the intention of social capital, that intention being one where a person is both affecting and increasing their community for the benefit of their survival. Note how the goal for many is an increase of social capital for the sake of social capital while the intention of social capital is not this, the intention is an increase for the sake of the person and the greater community, not for the sake of itself. The goal differs from the intention in this way, creating a disconnect. This disconnect perhaps creates the biggest problem for social media and provides the best explanation for why suffering and oppression continues to persist at such a severity despite there being resources for most of the world to help. The concept of social capital has the potentiality to create positive change in the world when it is gained for the sake of a community and not for its own sake. By its very definition, to have social capital means to change a community, and while the form of social capital that currently exists is still true to this definition, this does not mean that there is no need to change it. If something can be improved, then it should be, and to improve social capital would mean that it helps those that are suffering and being oppressed. In addition to all of this, it appears that a way to adjust the mentality of what is considered enough could be done through demanding that companies and celebrities do more than they offer to do. These people and entities have more resources than many people can imagine and in the case of companies, can affect policy wide change and affect the lives of their employees, many of which may be the oppressed and suffering people seen on social media pages. As an individual I cannot affect change this deeply, and this is what we fixate on, ourselves as individuals. If I look at myself as an individual in the context of social media, then I am stuck doing little, but even with what I can do, I do less than that. I can do more than share a post, but for reasons already stated, I do not. The same can be said with companies and celebrities but they fully know that there is sweeping change they can make that they do not make because, what they do provide in the way of change is enough for most, just like what I provide in the way of change is enough for most. I would like to clarify that the individual is important, and their contribution to the greater community can be effective, but the more individuals unify, the stronger they become. The foundation of a powerful movement for change is reliant on the individual, but if everyone has a different sense of why they want change, if they even want it at all, then the foundation is shaky. Policy change is more probable when the individuals who want it actually do want it and put in effort beyond sharing posts to sign petitions. Policy change happens when the individuals come together to unionize and protest in ways that affect the companies and politicians that prevent change.


To fix the phenomenon currently being experienced in our world, I propose a shift in mentality towards what is considered enough help for those less fortunate in the digital space. Forcing opposition to create friction on social media platforms would help shift this mentality and potentially alleviate a bystander effect. Demanding more from those who can clearly do more than they provide is a start to this shift in mentality. A shift in how we pursue social capital and our goals for it also needs to happen to open the possibility for social media to be used to its fullest potential, one that many envisioned happening when it, and the internet at a much earlier time, first came to the minds of the public. Such changes in the minds of others just might alleviate the issue of performance activism that plagues us today and slows down the possibility of enacting meaningful change to the lives of those less fortunate.

One might respond to my solution and claim that the community is not as strong as I claim it is. Once people are challenged for only providing the bare minimum of helping others, they will leave the community. Underappreciation will lead to a weakening of the community due to those who leave for not doing enough. To this, I respond that ways in which we must demand more from others is something that should be approached with sensitivity. I find that this problem can be quite possible if not approached carefully and without a sense of persecution but instead through a desire to help. People may be open to doing more if it is not a request that is simply thrown at them but is instead provided with resources and ways to help. Doing this will reduce the amount of people who feel under participated, but even then, I imagine there will still be small pockets that leave their communities for feeling this way. If one can do more than share a post for a cause and they get mad when they are called out for not doing more, than, after time is spent helping them try to realize why they should do more, and they still do not realize this, then perhaps it is best for them to leave their community. I reserve this response to the counter for extreme cases.

Works Cited

Akinnibi, F., Holder, S., & Cannon, C. (2021, January 12). Cities say they want to defund the police. Their budgets say otherwise. Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2021-city-budget-police-funding/

Chiu, Y. P., & Chang, S. C. (2015, August 7). Leverage Between the Buffering Effect and the Bystander Effect in Social Networking. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 18(8), 450-456. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/cyber. 2014.0377?casa_token=bExkfajOhb4AAAAA%3AcQ0AJwFuMnfPaIOznkIeuV5k6IUAnnanVGrswrUWLZ17xQdFPJNzcI6aojbI0IULDPxrCprE9Q

Diverlus, P. (2021, May 24). One year after #BlackoutTuesday, Have White “Allies” Actually Kept Their Promises? Refinery29. https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2021/02/10271739/black-squares-allyship-life-after-blackout-tuesday

Duvernay, A. (Director). (2014). Selma [Film]. Paramount Pictures.

Kantrowitz, A. (2020, August 24). Discussing the Future of Social Media-Driven Protests With Zeynep Tufekci. OneZero. https://onezero.medium.com/discussing-the-future-of-social-media-driven-protests-with-zeynep-tufekci-a5c914c34176

McDermott, J. (2014). Technology: The Opiate of the Intellectuals. In R. C. Scharff & V. Dusek (Eds.), Philosophy of Technology: The Technological Condition: An Anthology (p. 695). Wiley.

Rainie, L., & Wellman, B. (2012). Networked: The New Social Operating System (p. 19). MIT Press.

Vallor, S. (2016). Technology and the Virtues (p. 161). Oxford University Press.

Sex at the Cinema with Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Hegel

Hunter Griffith, Graduate Student, Texas State University


This essay considers major themes in modern philosophers– Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Hegel—as applied to cinema with the aim of questioning their consistency or relevance of insight. For modern philosophy, the starting point is the intervention of subjectivity into experience of the external world. Central to such subjectivity, is the ‘sexuality’ of the subject. I will employ a Lacanian analysis of sexuality through a comparison of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Hegel. Inspection of three films— Another Round, El Topo, and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, respectively—illustrates the insufficiencies or inconsistencies within these philosophies in attempting to reconcile how subjects attempt to overcome failure and limitation within their experience. It will be shown that Kierkegaard is limited when confronted with lived experience, Nietzsche suffers from contradictions and Hegel incorporates and refigures failure into constructive coordination of thought and action. Of the three philosophies, Hegel alone manages to retain his relevance in the post-modern era.

Analysis of Sexuality

According to Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, the unity of a concept or ‘term’ (in Hegelese: ‘becoming’ through ‘being-there’ as a part of a ‘genus’) is organized by the logic of the “becoming of the animal” (Malabou, 1991, pp. 114-38). This implies, for Hegel, vital becoming is an inherently sexuated thing, from the realm of symbolizable human sexuality all the way down to the “indifferent difference” of sex within vegetal life. Vegetal life is a culmination of the asexual processes of microscopic organisms, ‘evolving’ from asexuality into sexual difference ‘in-itself,’ followed by sexual difference ‘for-itself’ in animals, actualized in the presence of two sexes. Vital sex exists as a manifestation of the internal antagonisms of reality. Within the domain of the becoming-of-the-animal, I am both absolutely an individual and absolutely a member of a genus which simultaneously expresses itself through me and is denied by me in my limitations which keep me from being a stable or ideal member of my genus. Sex operates as a marker, for Hegel, of the persistence of negativity and tension within becoming. From our perspective (our ‘being-here’), always—already in the wake of a fall from ‘grace,’ (that is our loss of direct contact with the real, or ‘the thing in-itself,’—the questions of cosmology and ontological mechanisms face such tension and can only be presented or interpolated within this sexua(l/ted) frame (Žižek, 2020, p. 149). Sexuality confronts and affects our interpretations no matter our conception of sexuality, be we radical empiricists, essentialists, formalists, etc. There is a clear line of relation between the basic ontological structure of reality and our experience of it, this being a sexualized experience. Given this, we aim to examine the different understandings of sexuality, gender, (the realm of sexual difference) and love in the work of the creators of various philosophical systems in order to illuminate broader conceptual elements of those systems through comparative analysis, and to refine our capacity for response or engagement with these works.

To engage in a properly sexual act with another person, attempting to cut across the irresolvable gap which isolates and individuates subjects, grasps at the hope for a wholly ‘shared’ experience.  This is evident in the basic structure of sexual exchange being commonly thought of as an experience of freedom, equality, property, and enjoyment which each participant absorbs from and confers on the other, ultimately culminating in the ideal goal of the poetic unity of subjects in the experience of simultaneous orgasmic pleasure (Žižek, 2020, p. 202). Such a hypothetical union comes up against the aforementioned tension of becoming, and this sort of ‘sexual tension’ presents a problem for subjects attempting to symbolize their sexuality within a presumably consistent objective order. Symbolization of sexuality from the perspective of imaginative (self-conscious, creative) beings within this ‘real’-world context is one way to understand the conceptual basis for the Lacanian triad of the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real. This ideal sexual relationship, according to Lacan, does not and cannot exist. There is a fundamental “missing link” between the two parties, referred to as the ‘impossible-Real object.’ The impossible-Real object here would be the properly “sexual,” being only present between the two parties in the midst of their shared failure to directly attain it (Žižek, 2020, p. 125). Animals engaging in instinctual copulation is not something to be considered ‘perverse,’ as their direct engagement in ‘sexual’ contact does not retain the same function as ‘sexuality’ within the world of symbolic meaning. Because of this missing link, this object which exists only as a result of our failure to fully grasp it, there is a necessary moment of mediation or a performative element in typical sexual exchange, i.e., a fantasy. This mediator functions as an invisible third party, privy to the acts engaged in during sex and contextualizing them within the necessary fantasy frame through which sex, or the sexual, is approached. The properly ‘sexual’ cannot be fully grasped or else it disappears as in the case of animals, and to develop an understanding of the effect of my subjectivity on reality (my ‘fantasy frame’) would be to understand my ‘sexuality’ which seems impossible here. To understand ourselves, we must understand our sex, and it is clear that we can only do that by reconciling with the tension of becoming and failing-to-ever-fully-be. We can only ask of the work that we analyze to find such answers, “what does the best job at failing? What way of thinking can bring this failure into a new and constructive set of coordinates rather than a dead-end? Is there another way to think about sex, or about failure?” Back to Lacan, his logic (of fantasy) at its most extreme argues that there is no direct or inherent link between our world of symbolic meaning and direct experience of the external world, and the two are linked only via the intervention of our subjectivity applying a fundamental fantasy frame (Žižek, 2020, p. 197). Engagement with a piece of cinematic art, as one might do at the cinema, is a parallel act to this foundational application of fantasy. It is an intentional participation in the role of the unobserved observer, the silent third party which contextualizes experience.

Nietzsche has put forward a similar idea, i.e., that fiction can play a functional role in the development of thought by allowing us to see ourselves as participants in a sort of ‘story’ or a greater set of circumstances outside of ourselves (Nietzsche, 1974, §78). He is not alone, such a broadening of perspective, and an attempt to contextualize our experience or to understand why we try to do so can be traced through the works of Kierkegaard and Hegel. The common feature of these being that from such a ‘zoomed out’ perspective, the meaning of immediate parts of our lives can be radically altered, including our ideas on sex and love. For Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, love and sex are shown to be something amoral, or at least not-necessarily-ethical. Kierkegaard would say that it’s because of its transcendent, incomprehensible and supernatural character, while Nietzsche sees it as being all too natural to be ethical, as nature is an inherently amoral thing (Nietzsche, 1974, §363). Hegel’s conclusion is the exact opposite, seeing love as the highest ethical act which we can achieve. Contextualizing our experience and theories through the fantasy frame of cinema, we will attempt to examine where each of these systems falls short (each being parallel to the ‘failings’ of their respective cinematic counterparts) and how they attempt to respond to their failures.

Another Round and Kierkegaard

Apropos of our analysis, the Danish 2020 film Another Round, directed by Thomas Vinterberg and starring Mads Mikkelsen, opens with a quote from Kierkegaard which reads: “What is youth? A dream. What is love? The content of that dream.” The basic argument being made here is that love and youth are both parallel in their development (fleeting) and illusory or ‘dream-like’ in their disconnection from reality. Our potential responses to this fantasmatic quality of love and youth (and sex) are explored over the course of the film. The story follows a middle-aged man named Martin, played by Mikkelsen, who is a high school history teacher with a cold and detached demeanor, having lost his passion for his work and life as his relations with others grow increasingly distanced. Martin and his friends, 3 other teachers at the same school, meet for dinner and end up discussing a psychological theory which argues that the human body is naturally at a deficit of .05% blood-alcohol-content. Supplementing and maintaining this .05% BAC would theoretically enable an individual to be happier, more passionate, and in their ‘proper’ state.

Martin and his friends decide to test this theory by drinking consistently and recording the results so as to convince themselves that they are not engaging in alcoholism, but merely passionate and self-sacrificial research. As could be expected, the experiment goes well at the beginning. Martin reconnects with his family, finds passion for teaching again, and re-ignites his sex life, but things quickly spiral out of control as Martin and his fellow researchers increase the BAC which they seek in order to achieve the same results as .05% had produced at the beginning of the experiment. As the group loses control of the experiment and their alcohol intake, Martin becomes estranged from his family, his wife leaves him, the group is (rightly) suspected of being inebriated at work, and one member of the group descends into alcoholism, loses his job, and commits suicide. The final act of the film centers on Martin’s contemplation of these events and his participation in what resulted in the death of his friend. Meanwhile, another member of the group is proctoring an oral exam over Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety when he sees that a student is too nervous to speak and secretly offers the student liquor, which the student hesitantly accepts and reattempts the exam with much better results. Here, the role of alcohol (the Dionysian) is momentarily elevated from its position as the cause of destruction to being an ethically neutral part of life to be continually grappled with, acceptable in some situations while not in others. The film ends with Martin and his friends attending their late friend’s funeral and discussing the events of the oral exam. During the funeral, there is a celebration occurring in the streets for recent graduates, one of them being the student who passed the oral exam through the aid of alcohol. Upon seeing the students, most of them dancing, shouting, and drinking champagne, Martin initially recoils, but is invited by his friends to join in the festivities. Seeing the despair and death which alcohol and his actions had caused, Martin had resigned himself to sobriety. Upon witnessing this celebration, however, he makes a further move into the realm of faith. He accepts a drink and sends a desperate text message to his wife (or ex-wife), telling her that he misses her, having nothing left to lose and being willing to take the risk. Much like the triumphant ending of the book of Job, which involved Job’s earthly wealth being restored to him by God upon successfully displaying his faith, Martin’s faith is rewarded as his wife responds immediately, reciprocating his feelings and seeking reconnection. Martin hears a song celebrating the joys of life, begins to drink and dances with his friends and students before the credits begin to roll.

The obvious lesson of this story is one of faith. We cannot feasibly force love or youthfulness to manifest in our lives, or we will encounter inevitable disappointment, failure, and despair. The only option that we have is to be faithful. In a way, Martin learns to become like Kierkegaard’s ‘knight of faith,’ infinitely resigning himself (to sobriety and solitude) before coming to infinite faith (in joy and love). The problem which the story suffers, like the book of Job, is the tangible rewards which Martin receives as a result of his faith, making it no longer purely a ‘faith’ in the face of infinite adversity but a utilitarian solicitation of external power or the universe for the sake of some sort of material benefit. Kierkegaard, throughout Fear and Trembling and The Sickness unto Death, argues that our existence is founded in God and the only way to escape the infinite despair of material existence is to enter into an absolutely individual relationship of love, faith, and commitment to God as the power which founds us (Kierkegaard, 1989, p. 131). Our attempts at finding true love in our life reveal themselves to be a mere dream, only able to be realized in the act of “losing one’s mind” and engaging in complete faith. In this way, the love of Christ is defined by Kierkegaard as being an ‘offense,’ (in the same sense as the Hebrews were offended by Christ’s promise of forgiveness for all of their sins) which must be overcome and accepted infinitely (Kierkegaard, 1989, p. 149).

At this point, we enter into an amoral space outlined by Kierkegaard’s contrasting of Abraham against the figure of the ‘tragic hero,’ arguing that the tragic hero can be vindicated within the logic of the human realm, while Abraham is made to go beyond the morals of men and perform the “teleological suspension of the ethical” in order to fully commit to his love for God (Kierkegaard, 2005, pp. 70-72). For those of us who are unable or unwilling to ‘lose our minds,’ we have Kierkegaard himself to relate to (or, Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous persona, ‘Anti-Climacus’). “Abraham I cannot understand, in a way all I can learn from him is to be amazed,” says Kierkegaard from the self-effacing position of the ‘knight of resignation,’ unable to make the additional ‘leap’ into faith (Kierkegaard, 2005, p. 40). Here we have failure, a realm characterized by God’s silence, where love between individual people (and our experience as a whole) is caught in utter despair, and a bifurcated despair at that. Masculine and feminine despair, per Kierkegaard’s analysis, are different modes of despairing which, while not absolute, separate the male and female gender based on categories such as “intellectuality,” “concentration,” “devotion,” and “selflessness.” A woman lacking in these latter categories would be considered “not feminine.” However, this is potentially elevated past basic essentialism by Kierkegaard’s later clarification that all distinctions between the masculine and the feminine disappear in relation to God, where all subjects before God acquire self through self-abandonment. The problem returns in Kierkegaard’s qualification of this equality as being available to or possible for women (or feminine subjects) “only through the man” (Kierkegaard, 1989, p. 131). A picture is painted of a moral world of social mores, ethical considerations, and substantially determined subjects which is always ultimately superseded by the amoral code of Kierkegaardian love for God, which many of us fail to ever ascend to (Kierkegaard, 1989, p. 88). Martin, on the other hand, is able to find love and well-being within his immediate reality, finding his attempts met with the promise of abundance. It is not necessarily that Martin is given the path to success without struggle or despair, but that he attempts to escape his despair through engagement with the world and does it without ever breaching into the domain of ‘offense.’ Martin committed a destructive act and hurt multiple people, then gestured toward the world to solicit forgiveness, and was rewarded. One could imagine a version where Martin was instead manipulative of those around him, pushing the limits of what is acceptable and forgivable in his social setting and in terms of practical repercussions, careless of the effects that his projects have on others. Perhaps, in our failure, we are already participating in an amoral game here in the material world, not of infinite sacrifice or commitment but of power.

El Topo and Nietzsche

Power is the recurring theme of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1970 avant-garde Western film, El Topo, Spanish for “the mole,” which is also the name of the film’s protagonist who is played by Jodorowsky himself. The film follows the experiences of a cowboy and his child companion (implied to be his son) as structures of power are found and destroyed around him, exposing the wild irregularity of power and social relations amidst an attempt at preserving or producing a consistent narrative thread. The film opens with Topo imparting wisdom onto his young companion about the cruelty of life and the indifference of the world to our suffering, as the boy’s mother has died, and he is now being made to bury the last remaining photograph of her along with his favorite childhood toy. Topo and the boy leave and come upon a reality-bending scene of ultraviolence, a town with a literal river of blood created by the bodies of the citizens killed by a group of bandits. Topo defeats them, finds their leader hiding out at a monastery, and mounts an assault on the stronghold before ultimately defeating the leader and his gang and castrating him for his crimes of mass-murder and the sexual abuse incurred on a young woman from the monastery. Topo’s life appears to be following a pattern, endlessly discovering atrocities, finding the perpetrator, thwarting them, and riding into the sunset in classic western-movie fashion. Then, introducing a violent cut into this recurrence of the same, the woman from the monastery approaches Topo and he falls in love with her, deciding to abandon his child companion at the monastery before he rides away with the woman.

Though appearing at first to interrupt Topo’s cyclical experience and introduce difference, this love between the two of them reveals itself to be more of the same, another instance of an exercise of power. This culminates in the couple riding into the desert with few possessions or supplies in order to seek their freedom but quickly running out of resources. They pray and are gifted with miracles which sustain them for some time (such as a rock which begins to spout water when shot), but these miracles eventually cease, and they are left with nothing. The woman, overwrought with the bleakness of their situation, circles around Topo in the sand in a lengthy scene of over 5 minutes wherein she ceaselessly repeats the word “nada,” Spanish for “nothing.” Topo strips his equipment and clothing from himself and interrupts her rhythmic chanting by sexually assaulting her. In doing so, he sacrifices his vital interests (which would be best served by cooperating with her for survival) and uses the last of his strength in order to exercise his power over her. This causes her to experience an orgasm, and to subsequently hold Topo in contempt. This ambiguity of their relationship (and this focus on power) is heightened when, in the aftermath of Topo’s betrayal of this woman, she proclaims that she is willing to love him again only if he is able to find and defeat the 4 legendary gun masters of the desert, becoming the supreme gun master. He accepts her conditions and begins a quest to track down these gun masters, winning through luck or trickery each time. The 4th and final gun master is an old man with no gun to defend himself, but only a butterfly net. Topo attempts to kill him, but the old man bests him by deflecting his bullets with the butterfly net before telling Topo that he can never win and that he shouldn’t be so obsessed with victory. He grabs Topo’s gun, tells him that their duel and the things which he is telling Topo go beyond just life and death, and he shoots himself in the heart in order to prove it. Dying in Topo’s arms, the old man uses his last words to say that Topo had lost the duel, and now can never win. Topo hears this and begins to weep.

With no remaining justification for continuing on as a gunman, having eternally failed to become the gun master of the desert, Topo is deprived of any vestige of power over himself and others. Topo attempts to commit suicide by jumping off of a bridge while repeating Christ’s words, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Standing on the bridge, his suicide is interrupted by a lone gunman that challenges him to a shootout for his (illusory) title of gun master. He refuses, instead extending his arms to his sides and approaching the gunman before being shot in the hands and feet (in the form of stigmata) and being left to bleed to death on the ground, as the gunman rides away with Topo’s female companion. Topo is left unconscious and dying before being dragged into a nearby cave by a group of dwarves and people with various disabilities. He awakens in the cave decades later, realizing that he has been in a coma for many years, and renounces his old life as a gunman, committing himself to easing the plight of the denizens of the cave. The inhabitants consist of disabled victims of incest and disease, given that inbreeding had occurred over multiple generations of being trapped underground with little to no access to outside resources. The only existing route to the surface was a dangerous climb which the weak, sick, elderly and young could never do. Topo decides to attempt to free this community by constructing a tunnel between the underground society and the surface, spending each day begging in a nearby town for funds and digging the tunnel himself. Upon his success, the underground denizens venture to the surface for (what is for most of them) the first time, and journey toward the nearby town for assistance. Upon entering the town, the group is immediately confronted by an angry mob of armed locals and are collectively gunned down. Topo witnesses this, grabs a gun off of the ground, and slaughters the town. Now guilty of everything which he had slain his enemies (and castrated the bandit leader) for in the past, Topo sees the results of his efforts all around him, sits in the center of the town, and sets himself on fire.

Viewing this story from a Nietzschean perspective, he argues, in The Gay Science, that we are caught in a chaotic cosmos of phenomena which are indifferent to our experiences and our interpretations, one which we would do well to ‘de-deify’ (Nietzsche, 1974, §107). All that we can do from our distinctly perspectival positions is interpret this chaos, which means that all of our categories and notions of absolute ‘truth’ within this reality must be ultimately arbitrary (Nietzsche, 1974, §112). There is no universal moral, and all that we can do is argue for or against competing values. At the same time, Nietzsche also maintains that certain interpretations and values are ‘healthier’ than others, meaning that they are more conducive to human flourishing and “health of spirit” (Nietzsche, 1974, §382). One apparently healthy interpretation would be the view that reality is defined by a non-teleological ‘will-to-power,’ being not an anthropomorphizing of reality but an adaptive and evolving struggle of forces which could be referred to as ‘wills’ (Nietzsche, 1974, §349). This ‘de-deified’ nature, and the arbitration at the base of our interpreting, seems to run counter to Nietzsche’s conclusions regarding love, sexuality, and gender. On one hand, he argues that all of our divisions of terms (even of cause and effect) are illogical and arbitrary, such that any attempt to live in accordance with our ideas of the logic of reality can only come from a self-deception (Nietzsche, 1974, §111). On the other hand, Nietzsche very explicitly endorses acquiescence to the natural order of things (living one’s life according to the ‘natural’ or present unfolding of the will-to-power), at least in the realm of sex and gender. He argues that men and women have fundamentally disparate prejudices regarding love, even claiming that, “a man who loves like a woman becomes a slave; while a woman who loves like a woman becomes a more perfect woman” (Nietzsche, 1974, §363). Here, it appears that Nietzsche’s system suffers a lapse into naturalism, as he comes to endorse the idea that what is in harmony with nature (as “being an expression of the will-to-power” is the nature of things) is good, or at least ‘healthy.’ At the same time, one can see these valuations as just that: personal value judgements asserted by Nietzsche which need not be held as absolutely true. But, if this is the case, then how is Nietzsche’s system impacting this view and what ‘need’ might Nietzsche be expressing through its declaration?

Love and sex are presented as expressions of power in El Topo. Relations of love or commitment all come to reveal their contingency and the craving for power which motivates them. Even the personal journey of the film’s protagonist is driven by a lust for certainty and control, made clear in a scene where one of the legendary gun masters speaks to him, saying, “You shoot to find yourself. I shoot to disappear.” The will-to-power, and wills-to-power, drive conflicts of values and ambiguous ‘victories’ as the contest for power plays itself out across the desert, as it does across time. Topo’s restless attempt to exercise his will, in the unfolding of his radical project of self-creation, results in the death of many people and the suffering of many more. This could be seen as worthy of contempt for Topo, but Nietzsche might see this as merely another moment in the amoral unfolding of the will-to-power. Here, it would be easy to misunderstand Nietzsche. We see the film end with the death of the sick and the meek at the hands of the ignorant and frightened townspeople, before those very same people are singlehandedly wiped out by our mighty protagonist. The weak are destroyed by the strong, and we may see this gruesome scene as the ultimate expression of the amoral space of the will-to-power. But perhaps there is more to Nietzsche’s evaluation. The secret of the will-to-power is that its ultimate expression arises through self-overcoming (Nietzsche, 2006, p. 90). We could potentially interpret the end of the film, Topo’s immolation, as Topo brutally reasserting power over his destiny, refusing to atone for his sins and freeing himself from his life of regret and emptiness. But a truly Nietzschean reading might say that Topo overcomes himself in his sacrifice. He engulfs himself in fire, in a wholly processal and self-consuming event, in a moment of eternal destruction and eternal creation (what is done cannot be undone), giving birth to a tragedy. Topo’s self-annihilation acts like a ‘mask’ which Topo puts on in order to perform a role in the creative self-overcoming of the will-to-power as old masters die, whole societies burn, and Topo’s son is shown at the end of the film, fully grown and in gunslinger clothing of his own, riding his horse into the sunset. From here we can see that to dismiss Nietzsche for his finite determinations of thought (as in the case of his perspective on gender) would be to overlook this radical emphasis on self-overcoming (Nietzsche, 1974, §255). Nietzsche’s position ultimately does not undermine the structural integrity of his system. What is untimely in Nietzsche “dies no more,” and what is timely passes away with time (Nietzsche, 1974, §262).

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Hegel

In John Cassavetes’ 1976 film, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, the Hegelian logic of love, subjectivity, spirit, and sexuality are rendered beautifully. Cosmo Vittelli, the owner of a sleazy LA strip club by the name of Crazy Horse West, is seen making his apparently final payment to a loan shark at the beginning of the film before picking up several women whom he employs (Margo, Rachel, and Shelly), and taking them with him in a limousine to celebrate his newfound freedom. The party goes to a poker game and Cosmo immediately acquires $23,000 in gambling debt. He discusses this debt with the mobsters to whom he is indebted and is made to offer his club as collateral. Cosmo, distraught, drops the girls off at their homes and returns to his own home. The next night, the mobsters come to Crazy Horse West and attend the performance of a man named Teddy, also known by his stage name, ‘Mr. Sophistication,’ and the club’s dancers. Mr. Sophistication is a depressed, overweight, and supremely ironic artist, accepting his role as the unwanted (and seemingly superfluous) justification for the club’s erotic performances. Mr. Sophistication wears a comically ill-fitting tuxedo and top-hat, along with a poorly drawn-on mustache, acting as a master of ceremonies by delivering introductory monologues before performances, singing, and inviting audiences to go on imaginative ‘journeys’ to exotic locations. While Mr. Sophistication sings about Paris and the power of imagination, Cosmo is instructed by one of the mobsters to kill a nearby Chinese bookie in order to alleviate his debt.

Cosmo procrastinates, spending the next day biding his time and even holding a private audition for a young woman seeking to work at his club. Rachel enters the club in the middle of this audition and is deeply upset by what she sees, attacking the young woman auditioning. Cosmo wrestles her to the ground, demanding to know why Rachel was so upset in spite of her knowledge that he is the owner of an erotic dance club and that private auditions of erotic dance are real and necessary (though slightly intimate) aspects of the business. Rachel has no response, and instead lies on the floor and begins to weep. Following this, Cosmo is assailed again by the mobsters and is given a car, a gun, and the location of the bookie’s house with orders to kill him immediately. Cosmo makes his way to the bookie’s home, shoots and kills the bookie as well as a few bodyguards, and runs away after being hit by a stray bullet. He returns to his club to find one of the mobsters waiting for him. He goes to sit with him when Rachel approaches their table, causing Cosmo to tell her that he wants to buy her a diamond ring, and he begs her to say that she loves him. Immediately after, Cosmo is dragged by the mobster to a parking lot to be killed, as he was not meant to survive his mission in the first place, but he manages to kill one mobster and evade the others in order to escape. He goes to Rachel’s house and asks her mother where she is, before her mother sees his bullet wound and insists that he go to a hospital. He refuses, knowing that a bullet wound could implicate him in his crime, before Rachel’s mother tells him to leave and to never return.

Cosmo returns to his club, seeing nobody on stage and entering the dressing room in order to figure out why nobody is currently performing. The women, and Mr. Sophistication, offer their various explanations for their unwillingness to perform, ranging from creative differences to a pure lack of motivation to do their work (as erotic dancers) in such a performative and theatrical way as Cosmo and Mr. Sophistication seem to mandate. Cosmo delivers a speech to the performers in an attempt to raise morale, which ends up espousing a sort of relativism, by saying, “I’m only happy when I’m angry, when I’m sad, when I can play the fool, when I can be what people want me to be, rather than be myself.” He goes on to argue that all people are ‘bluffing’ in this way, and this is why their approval cannot serve as a consistent basis for one’s self-evaluation. Ultimately, in this mindset of emptiness and charade, Cosmo reasons that the best approach toward experience is to maximize personal comfort, even if it means maintaining a lie. In the film’s final scene, the performers take to the stage while Cosmo informs the audience that Rachel will no longer be performing at Crazy Horse West, and that he loves her, before exiting the club and clutching his wounded abdomen. Cosmo stands on the sidewalk, with no clear indication of his next intentions, while Mr. Sophistication addresses the crowd and begins to sing the song, “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love.”

Sexuality runs amok throughout the story as a purely negative foundation for action. This means that inability, lack, and failure find material expression through (what Lacan would call) ‘partial drives,’ expressed in the theatrical and ironic stance which the dancers must participate in and which they protest, as in the dressing room scene, but which nonetheless sustains their performance. This necessity (as a ‘necessary illusion’) is not registered by Rachel upon seeing the young woman’s audition and she becomes jealous in spite of her outward awareness/acceptance of the situation, culminating in her indignant silence (Zupancic, 2017, p. 92). A lesson in the Hegelian form of subjectivity is presented as the (de)sexualized subject of Cosmo Vittelli navigates his landscape as a (self-described) tangential product of a void (symbols, appearances, performance, etc.) which emerges through the vanishing, or ‘self-sublating,’ of its quantitative determinations. In other words, Cosmo “drops the act” and reveals his inner void (the lack of truly being or fully relating to any particular concept or event, only feeling happy when he no longer has to ‘be himself’) in his ‘inspirational’ speech in the dressing room (Žižek, 2020, p. 140). After this speech, Mr. Sophistication, an embodiment of the Hegelian spirit par excellence, reprises his role on stage as (what Dostoevsky would call) the “humiliated and insulted” (Dostoevsky, 2019). He is cynical, volatile, detached, and self-loathing in his demeanor, yet he is simultaneously an artist craving the spotlight. Mr. Sophistication’s attempt at producing dignified art is thwarted by the context of his performance, being done in a run-down strip club for an indifferent audience while sporting a lazily applied marker mustache. He recognizes the constitutive contradiction/impossibility of his actions, only being able/willing to perform to any success in this unsavory setting while continually attempting to transcend these particular determinations in his striving for dignified art. Mr. Sophistication attempts to accomplish a goal under conditions which he knows will prevent him from accomplishing this goal, thus violating Kant’s concept of the ‘perfect duty,’ as this is the only possible way for him to accomplish said goal. He attempts to overcome his circumstances by finding an artistic ‘break-through,’ as a spirit “finding itself,” as Hegel famously formulates, but only being able to do so as a result of the very self which spirit ‘finds’ being retroactively produced in the process of finding or attempting to find it (as his striving for dignified art only comes about in his state of privation and depravity) (Dostoevsky, 2019, p. 221). This, and the basic structure of love, is illustrated in Mr. Sophistication’s final performance, where he sings of the ineffable value of true love. Should we take Mr. Sophistication’s persistently ironic tone as an indication of the irony or humorous futility of the ideas he professes? Every human act is something ‘done’ or ‘performed,’ and this is recognized by Cosmo in his monologue in the dressing room. However, if we are to take Hegel seriously when he claims that spirit is the self-overcoming of all determinate forms of thought – the living proof of the inconsistency and incoherence of any and all categories – then this, too, can be overcome. There opens here a space for the authentic articulation of desire, for what Žižek has called a “short circuit,” a “brush with the absolute,” or simply a “miracle” (Dostoevsky, 2019, p. 239). This miracle is called ‘love.’

To put this slightly differently, Cosmo Vittelli comes into contact with the negativity and failure at the base of his experience, or what Kierkegaard would call ‘despair.’ Cosmo cannot commit to absolute and unconditional faith in the meaningfulness of experience, having no connection to any power to found or orient him. In failing to become a ‘knight of faith,’ Cosmo becomes what Nietzsche would call a “sick man,” disillusioned with the collective performance of social reality and seeing personal comfort as the only possible guarantee of meaning (Nietzsche, 1974, §168). Meanwhile, Mr. Sophistication acts as the Hegelian ‘spirit,’ finding itself based in its ironic self-retrocreation. There is a dual readability to the end of the film, being that Cosmo either dies from his wound or risks imprisonment in order to seek medical attention, like the dual readability of Hegel’s system through a formalist or a materialist lens. In seeing Hegel either as too Hegelian (materialist) or as not Hegelian enough (formalist), self-overcoming emerges in the reintroduction of asymmetry to the terms standing in dialectical opposition. It is a self-overcoming because we do not have to force any particular reading or perspective onto the existing content in order to witness its dual-readability and to see its relation to our framework. There is an ambiguity immanent to the experience, in the openness of the future. Cosmo could take up either option in front of him but would engage in self-overcoming all the same (i.e., sacrificing his ‘self’ as a material being vs sacrificing his self as a substantial entity capable of love). In this sense, we can see the split between Nietzsche and Hegel more clearly than ever: Nietzsche welcomes being overcome by the values of another strong will, so long as they continue to oppose the will of the herd. Hegel sees his overcoming as a necessity for our progress, if there is to be anything like “progress” at all. To overcome Hegel is to witness asymmetry and to side with the feeling of privation, to find the ways in which Hegel did not go far enough, was not Hegelian enough.  


In the end, emptiness is the common theme of all of these films and philosophers, each pushing us toward different responses. For Kierkegaard, the emptiness of experience means that love is ultimately just a dream, but a dream to be nevertheless believed. For Nietzsche, this emptiness hollows out our words and our feelings, rendering love an empty phrase which we use to describe amoral mechanisms of nature in the pursuit of power. For Hegel, we are empty, but it is only as such that we can truly love at all. The very condition which makes it impossible to be certain of our love is the condition of possibility for love to exist whatsoever, as this alone presents the chance for a brush with the absolute. It is through such a lens that we can see the possibility of sex from the position of a creature constitutively barred from the properly ‘sexual.’ No person can be certain that they are in love, or that they have ever felt love. The only way to love is to take a risk, to sacrifice something (everything), namely, to forsake eternity for a flawed individual. One can, therefore, redouble their emptiness, find power in their vacuous tyranny, and say, “I can’t give you anything but love.”

Works Cited

Dostoevsky, F. (2019). Humiliated and Insulted (I. Avsey, Ed., pp. 221-239). Bloomsbury Publishing.

Kierkegaard, S. (1989). The Sickness unto Death (A. Hannay, Trans., pp. 88-149). Penguin Books.

Kierkegaard, S. (2005). Fear and Trembling (A. Hannay, Trans., pp. 40-72). Penguin Books.

Malabou, C. (1991). Who’s Afraid of Hegelian Wolves? In P. Patton (Ed.), Deleuze: A Critical Reader (pp. 114-138). Wiley-Blackwell.

Nietzsche, F. (1974). The Gay Science (W. Kaufmann, Trans., §78-382). Vintage Books.

Nietzsche, F. (2006). Thus Spoke Zarathustra (R. Pippin, Ed., A. Del Caro, Trans., p. 90). Cambridge University Press.

Žižek, S. (2020). Sex and the Failed Absolute (pp. 125-202). Bloomsbury Publishing.

Zupancic, A. (2017). What Is Sex? (p. 92). MIT Press.

Homeless Queer-Punk American Anarchism (Or, Steal From Places, Not From Faces)

Zane Shirley, Texas State University

The first time I tried stealing food from a grocery store I shoved two Lunchables down my pants, tried acting normal while I bought cigarettes, and was immediately held up by the plain-clothed security guard as I tried to leave. Conveniently, I knew he wouldn’t be able to hold me. I had stolen less than $5 of merchandise, he couldn’t prosecute me. When he took my ID, he told me we shared a name. “Your name is Zane? So is mine,” he said, “I thought Zanes were supposed to be Good People.” I laughed at him.

“Man, I took 2 Lunchables and paid for cigarettes. I’m hungry and broke, I don’t think this makes me a ‘Bad Person’.” He didn’t laugh in return, part of me was disappointed. I was hoping for a lively philosophical debate with this security guard that shared my name.

Instead, he put my picture on the wall, and told me I was banned from all of the brand’s stores in Miami-Dade County. He told me they had face sensing cameras and they would know if I went into any of their stores. I asked if I could keep the Lunchables, knowing he couldn’t put them back on the shelf after they had been in my pants. He said no, threw them in the trash, and told me to get out. I walked down the block and stole Lunchables from the next grocery store.


In so much of our discourse today we often overlook some of our largest societal failings. Important aspects of moral degradation in the framework of society go largely unheeded in our political and philosophical conversations. The most glaring of these is the struggle of the Homeless Person, globally and domestically. From Jesus to Rawls, we have been taught to gauge the moral worth of ourselves and our societies by how we treat the worst off among us. If we take a short glance around highway intersections and under the crumbling bridges of America’s infrastructure, then one can clearly see our society does not live up to the hype. Most politicians won’t even deign to ask a Homeless Person what it is they need, or how they need help. They seem to take a prescriptivist stance without any context for the humanity of the Homeless subject. So, what are these people to do? They survive in a state of Otherness within the frameworks of our society, within and yet somehow left out. They must then build their own ethical principles, their own support networks, and, in many ways their own microcosm of society within society. The goal of this piece is to reframe one core tenant of Homeless Ethics—to justify and explain why the Homeless Person is faced with Moral Relativism or death—to one who may not have considered the perspective of the Homeless Person previously. For many who have experienced homelessness in their lives, this paper will be nothing special, it is just using a lot of flowery, academic language to explain something they already know, something innate to one’s existence as a Homeless Person.

Poverty surrounds us. We have created the wealthiest and most technologically advanced society the world has ever known and yet poverty surrounds us. Why is this? An answer to this question is a necessity to living on the planet in the modern day, one would go insane at the brutality of the world without an answer to this question. The majority of Americans, conservative and liberal alike, have chosen to answer this question with such things as “That’s just the way the world is, you have to learn to accept it.” (here meaning, “I try not to think about it.”) or “If people worked harder then perhaps they wouldn’t live in poverty.” (here meaning, “I try not to think about it.”) This is an answer, I suppose, but not the correct one. If anything, it’s a band-aid answer to keep you getting through the day, surrounded by unthinkable savagery, by the Homeless People you see on the street on your way to work or by co-workers with cancer that can’t afford treatment. I once believed in these answers. I once felt that they must be true, they needed to be true. What other reasons could there be? What just God could allow this needless suffering in His Creation? There’s no way a rational and caring society could allow these injustices to persist if they were at all repairable.

Ben Shapiro has become famous today for the incessant and snide catchphrase, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” Shapiro is, of course, a right-wing propagandist and his “facts” hold as much water as a pair of eight-dollar knock-off Vans shoes from Walmart, but his sentiment is true. If a majority of people believe that the reason poverty surrounds us is a lack of discipline or subscription to some bootstrapping ideology, that does not make it a fact. The fact is that poverty surrounds us because those in power intended it to surround us; they need poverty to thrive around us in order to supplement their own dragon-hoards and keep the rest of the population so divorced from reality that we cannot see them doing it. “Coming from an age of serfdom it helps to maintain serfdom in present society; through its police, prisons and the like, it is an open sore, throwing out a constant stream of purulence into society, a far greater evil than the one it is supposed to fight against.” (Kropotkin) Through a corruption of reason and religion, and blind ideological patriotism, those in power have created a system that will keep the impoverished in poverty while enriching those above. This is the fact, and it doesn’t care about neoliberal first-world Americanist feelings. The condition of the Homeless Person is used as a threat to general society to stay in line.

Once we have established this fact, new questions arise. What is to be done for the impoverished and what is to be done about those that keep them in poverty? Violent upheaval of the status quo seems to have become the historical Sisyphus, and incremental change won’t do much for you in the moment. So, what must we do to survive without them? One must begin to live as though the oppressors are not going to be paying attention to you, because it is most likely that they are not.  The state of surveillance in which so many in the modern world live has brought us to a place where so many of our actions are being watched that it is impossible to watch them all. If you fly under the radar, you can hide in plain sight. This is especially seen in the homeless of the modern day, the Othered, the Unseen. Surveilled at every moment and yet looked over.  “To be un-seen is a special term, here, meaning, there but ignored, or obscurely regarded, or even overlooked, but specifically because not to do so would unsettle the behaviours and practices of their more mainstream parallels… wherein the ‘un’ has the effect of cancelling out, or annulling the recording, of that which has otherwise been regarded and ought not to have been. This is because being un-seen, its ontological status, is principally a characteristic of not belonging” (Moran, 2019, p. 10). This experience of Homelessness, becoming Un-seen, is a trauma and will inevitably change one’s view of ethical behaviour.

The short story goes, I was disowned by family for being queer and left-wing when I was younger, and I spent some time living on the streets of Miami until I was able to get back on my feet. One of the best lessons that I learned in life was taught to me by another homeless punk kid, aptly named Dreads, while we feasted upon stolen Walmart Lunchables underneath an overpass. I told him that I had never stolen anything in my life, I felt kind of guilty about it. He said, “Don’t worry about that, we all have to eat. Just remember the Golden Rule: Steal from places, not from faces.” This endearing phrase has become a cornerstone of my ethical philosophy. If you are in need and those with the means to reasonably help you refuse, steal it. They do not deserve it, for what ethical behaviour have they shown that makes them deserving of such wealth?

Once I was holding a sign on the side of a road, trying to make money for breakfast and coffee that morning, and I remember a woman in a red convertible stopped at the light. I said hello to her, she was very close to me, the top was down, and it seemed awkward not to say hello. So, I said hello. She then screamed at me, she told me about all the money I was stealing from her through the government. She told me I had some real gall to ask her for more money when I already had all her taxes. I asked if she sent the check to the right place, because I hadn’t received it, but the light turned green, and I don’t think my scathing political humour landed. That interaction has lasted with me, it replays in my mind often. I had done nothing to this woman, I hadn’t even asked her for money. I smiled and said hello to a stranger, and for this crime I was immediately reminded of my place. I was Homeless, I was the Other, and thus I was not meant to make myself seen, much less heard, by those in lovely red convertibles, lest they be reminded of their moral failings and lash out.

Recognizing that the powerful have done little to nothing to earn their power is the beginning of a change in ethical perspective. One should never accept the world as it exists if that existence is built upon lies and villainy and injustice. It becomes very clear to the homeless, very quickly, that ethics means nothing in terms of monetary value, but those inside of the frameworks from which the Homeless are excluded cannot seem to separate fiscal success from ethical goodness.  If a multi-billion-dollar grocery store corporation has spare food and they choose to pour bleach on their trash to stop the poor from going through it, (this is often done for fear of lawsuits when the poor steal from dumpsters) then they should be stolen from. The act is so unprecedentedly evil, so morally reprehensible, that they deserve no remorse on your part for dealing a strike against them.  Poisoning a food supply goes against the Geneva Convention and yet we legally allow grocery stores to do it for the sake of profits.

Building upon a basic understanding of Dreads’ Golden Rule is a necessity to ethical living today, especially for ones so Othered by cordial society. So let us break down this phrase, “Steal from Places, not from Faces.” Faces are people, people like you or I. Those people struggling to survive, impoverished by the powerful. Stealing, an immoral action, should be considered moral when it undermines a greater evil. Stealing from Faces, however, should be considered an incredibly immoral act. Those powerless in society should be aided, not abused. The principle of mutual aid should exist among all Faces, for though we are powerless alone we are powerful together. History proves that over and over again. Mutual aid does not mean charity, it does not mean giving out of pity. A Face is just like you, you give to a Face because you know a Face will give back to you in the future. It may not even be the same Face that returns your aid in your time of need but living a good life should not be about score keeping. If we all agree that a Face is one deserving of aid, then we can continue surviving as a community while those in power attempt to keep us struggling. This is the only route to survival, joining with other Faces against and in spite of the Places. For example, consider getting a buddy to run interference on the security guard that shares your name next time.

Active knowledge of the power structures inherent to the society in which we live is key to differentiating a Face from a Place. This is, of course, the most difficult aspect of this philosophy. Power in the modern day likes to hide behind a smiling human face, a face that will try to blame you, and you alone, for societies shortcomings. To keep with the earlier story, Dreads was a Face and Walmart was a Place. It can be argued that some Faces have Place tendencies, but knowledge of the power structures in play tend to make them fairly easily distinguishable. A Place is the home of those in power. A Place is not only the building in which the means of one’s survival reside, it is also the owner of the building who chooses to jail those necessities away from the impoverished. While the manager in Walmart is a Face, albeit one whose job is to take advantage of other Faces, stealing from Walmart is not stealing from the manager. The power structures as they exist have convinced many Faces that Places are equally as important. This is a trick, a ploy to continue the cycle of poverty for the many and enrichment of the few. The Place is an immoral object, and although they are tied to a human that human is not Face. The human who has made an existence on abusing and stealing from Faces has given minimal, if any, aid to other Faces. Taking aid from a Face in order to enrich oneself while returning no aid, in this case putting employees at poverty wages while one’s own Christmas bonus grows annually on the back of their labour, deprives one of any claim to Faceness. The powerful have decided that they will be Faceless. This is how something becomes a Place, for a person without a Face is anything but human.

When one becomes Homeless, it is often a jarring experience. One rarely sees it coming. If one could plan it for it then one would most likely avoid it. I found it after the wreck of a car I had been living in, which is another form of Homelessness, but at least with a car one can return to one’s hometown or support networks. The friends I made while Homeless had many different stories of their own: one had gotten out of jail and had nowhere to go, one struggled with schizophrenia which made him unable to keep a job, one said she just found this kind of life easier than what America offered. Universally, however, once one becomes Homeless, it seems that over the course of a few days, society crumbles around you. The Symbolic Order starts to dissipate the longer you sleep outside, and in a very traumatic way, the world you once knew is gone. Bars and restaurants don’t want you around, not that you could afford a meal. If you had the privilege of believing the police would help you, that is stripped away the first time the police run you off a corner or out of a store. There is of course no therapy to help you recover or adjust to this new trauma, you just slowly meet other Homeless People to share the experience with. You slowly conglomerate into a group or a crew, people to watch your back while you sleep, or to run interference with a retail worker while you pocket a beer or some chips. One builds a sense of solidarity and camaraderie with the other Homeless People one sees in their part of town; it becomes known which corners are used by who, which corners make most money, and inevitably some style of equitable distribution forms. “I’ll take Hopkins and I-35 on Monday, you can have it on Tuesday, then we can both make some money.” Cash becomes a higher-level currency, because most things one needs (food, cigarettes, booze, drugs) become something one can barter for, or if lucky scab it off a friend. No one has a consistent job or income source, save the inevitable drug dealer that hangs out occasionally, but even he often spends all of his cash on more drugs to sell or do himself. Thus, bonded by trauma and a state of Otherness, inevitably a micro-society forms among the Homeless that forces them to help each other as those with money move around them as though they were non-existent. Homelessness brings you into the category of a statistic. You become a body, humanity is stripped from you, and you become something that must be cleaned up or ignored. “And in the culture of human being, there are countless examples of what Agamben (1998) has usefully described as the state of exception, where life is stripped of all but its biological identity, a thing without, as the deal says, the conditions that are thought to be the prerequisites of human being. Coming close to acknowledging this truth is a hollowing experience” (Moran, 2019, p. 31). Homelessness is a singularity of identity, pervading and containing all other identities of a person. One’s race, gender, etc. become overwhelmed by and combined with Homeless.

Of course, this is not to say that the Homelessness brings some innate virtue that existing within normal society does not supply. The change in ethical perspective, the breakdown of the previous governing rules of your life, can breed malice just as easily as solidarity. Like any trauma unaddressed, people that hurt will inevitably hurt people. I have been both aided and abused by my fellow Homeless People, people have taken advantage of my goodwill and of my body in ways that I sometimes fear I will never truly recover from, but I can still say in my experience that most Homeless People mean you no harm and just want to survive another day. One can say this is the innate darker side of mankind’s existence, the dog-eat-dog nature of the world, but I would argue it is more akin to the baring teeth of a scared dog. The dog feels it has no recourse but to bite you once it is cornered, and what is Homelessness if not the ultimate cornering of a human being today? We know that hard times can breed good will, but they also breed spite. When one considers the stratification and Otherness forced upon those deemed Homeless, it is unsurprising that some would collapse into existential anger.

Separating the goodwill and the existential rage becomes a bit more complicated when one sees the poor, the wageworker, as equally a Place as the Walmart. This cannot be true, but when one’s view is clouded by trauma and anger, it is an easy mistake to make. After my car wreck, I was stuck in South Georgia and needed to get to Miami, where I had a friend who would help me. I found myself hitch-hiking in the back of a U-Haul that I would later discover was stolen. Of course, when kind, Homeless carnies offer you a ride to where you need to go, how can you say no? I rode in the back of their U-Haul for days south through Florida, sleeping in Walmart parking lots, and one day we stopped at a bar. I was excited to grab a beer, I had a few dollars I could spend. The carnies made friends with someone at the bar, and that friend invited us to keep drinking at his house. We all piled into the small apartment, the man excused himself to the bathroom, and the carnies immediately started rifling through drawers for valuables, drugs, anything they could find. I was aghast, I thought we were treating this man as a friend, an equal, a Face. He invited us into his home. He left the bathroom only to discover them robbing him, and we all immediately ran out the door, they started the U-Haul, and I was hopping in the back while they were peeling out of the apartment lot. I travelled with them until the next morning, and then politely bid them farewell. I had yet to meet Dreads at this point, I had no words for this feeling of betrayal. These thieves were not me, but I was at a loss on how to differentiate myself from them. It stuck with me for weeks, to this day, I wonder what that man must think of me for associating with them. Then I met Dreads, and it all made sense. They had broken the Golden Rule, whether accidentally, through misunderstandings of power, or purposefully, they abused one of their fellow Faces. Just because this man had a small apartment did not make him the equivalent of a vile hoarder like Walmart. He was a Face, and it seems that my carnies’ trauma had blinded them to that.

A significantly bigger issue than the Homeless forgetting who Faces are, is the rest of society forgetting that the Homeless are Faces. I imagine the former would happen less often without the antagonization of the latter. The lady in the red convertible yelling at me for saying hello, the cops that woke us up at gunpoint for the crime of sleeping behind an abandoned building, or simply the people on the street ignoring the Homeless instead of spending a second to smile at their fellow Face, all of these create further unnecessary antagonizations between fellow Faces that make knowledge of inherent power structures increasingly difficult to ascertain. I have no immediate prescription or solution for this, there is no legislation that can be passed to make us care for our fellow Face. We must, together, lift each other (and Other) up in spite of the Places dehumanizing us. We must not forget the other Faces.

I have used my own experiences as Homeless to explain some of the awkward moral situations that the condition can bring. It goes without saying that many people have faced far harder times than even I did. Steal from Places, not from Faces. It is a cornerstone of my ethical philosophy. Places do not care about one’s humanity or one’s needs. Faces are the people being taken advantage of by the Places and the owners thereof. You, the reader, are a Face. I, the author, am a Face. For the last century we Faces have been abused by Place after Place and the Places have fed us lies in an attempt to make the Faces consider the Places equally human. Homelessness is a trauma, and ironically, a trauma that we are taught to ignore in this woke era. If one makes it out of Homelessness, then that identity and that trauma must be given up because wider society does not care or does not know how to react to it. That existential trauma of Homelessness is a topic for another paper, but it is a real trauma that shapes and contorts the lives of those afflicted by it. One cannot judge the morality of stealing food when food was available and kept from the hungry. I would go as far to say that the Homeless have no just reasons for our laws to apply to them, when they gain so few benefits of its protection. How could one ever trust the police after being woken up at gunpoint? How could one accept the laws of a nation that has spat you out? And how could one dare to judge the morality of those left Othered and Un-seen by conventional standards? Only when we perceive Faces for what they are, extensions of ourselves, can we move on from the philosophical era of false Faces and false answers to our most important questions.


“The way of doing without it (“it” being the security guard that shares your name, but probably a lot more than that too) will be found in voluntary arbitration, in greater effectual solidarity, in the powerful educative means which a society will have that does not leave to the policeman the care of its public morality.”

– Pyotr Kropotkin

Works Cited

Kropotkin, P. (2009, March 1). Organised Vengeance Called ‘Justice’. The Anarchist Library. https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/petr-kropotkin-organised-vengeance-called-justice

Moran, P., & Atherton, F. (2019). The Philosophy of Homelessness: Barely Being (pp. 10-       31). Routledge.

PlasticPills. [Username]. (2020, February 14). Lacan – The Real [Video]. YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UPhrQjHi_s

Rawls, J. (1999). A Theory of Justice (2nd ed.). Belknap Press.

Salvific Transness and the Inescapable Hopelessness of Dysphoria

Eris-Jake Donohue, Texas A&M University

One always perishes by the self one assumes: to bear

a name is to claim an exact mode of collapse.

-E.M. Cioran, The Temptation to Exist


Transformation and suicidality. Two staples of the trans subject’s existence. The latter is well known and empirically well documented. Trans people face substantially higher rates of ideation, attempts, and completion of suicide than the cis identified (Haas et al., 2014). As for the former staple, transformation receives attribution as the accompanying means for warding off this self-annihilative propensity. Metamorphosing from one sex-gender (to use Jennifer E. Germon’s all-encompassing term) to another, the trans subject sheds a life of dejection and dysphoria for one of euphoria and self-fulfillment (Germon, 2009, p. 16). Transness accordingly becomes something salvific. And yet, under certain conditions, salvation itself can beget its own state of unlivability. If transitioning sex-gender invigorates the trans subject with a hope for life, then said hope depends upon transition’s successful completion. What happens, though, in the event of its failure, in transition never coming to its completion as promised? For subjects who frame the success of their shift by a criterium of salvation—which is to say, a total departure from where they were for a total assumption of where they posit self-fulfillment as awaitingsuch a failure is not a contingency, but an inevitability. On account of the impossibility of pure transitioning, those who seek deliverance through this salvific transness are ultimately condemned to a state of hopelessness, one of possibly greater suicidal threat than were sex-gender transformation never initiated. In what follows I will outline salvific transness, its inevitability for failure, and the way whereby it depletes the trans subject of hope.

I. Salvific Transness

Before delving into any trans related issues, the ‘salvific’ part of salvific transness requires preliminary explanation. My conceptual use of salvation here derives from a musing by pessimist philosopher E.M. Cioran. It goes as follows: “To believe in the reality of salvation you must first believe in the reality of the Fall: every religious act begins with the perception of hell … heaven comes only afterwards, a kind of corrective, a consolation” (Cioran, 2012a, p. 175). By Cioran’s assertion, a projection of salvation depends firstly upon an occupied state from which deliverance proves vitally necessary. In other words, only as initially entrenched in a hellish or hellbound situation does one seek from it a means of escape. Now, while Cioran’s musing explicitly pertains to the salvation and hell of Christianity, the salvific dynamic outlined therein need not remain confined to this realm alone. Its applicability extends beyond the religious context. As proposed by Joseph Acquisto, “theology [can function] as a structure of thought even as this thought divorces itself from questions of religious belief and practice” (Acquisto, 2015, p. 1). Working from this structural approach, traditionally theological concepts redeploy into otherwise non-theological predicaments, all while never importing therein the problems of divinity (Acquisto, 2015, p. 2). Acquisto targets salvation, especially as understood by Cioran, as one concept apt for such de-Christianization (Acquisto, 2014, pp. 18-19). Theology rendered as a structure of thought thus enables an appropriation of Cioran’s quoted account of salvation toward a trans context. Having covered the general conception of salvation at play within this project, salvific transness itself can be described. A reiteration of Cioran’s quotation, this time with some of its key religious terms traded out for those of a structural trans equivalency, imparts the defining dynamic of this transness: “To believe in the reality of salvation you must first believe in the reality of dysphoria: every transitional act begins with the perception of hell, heaven comes only afterwards, a kind of corrective, a consolation.” Let us map out the two structural exchanges that take place here. Firstly, ‘dysphoria’ assumes the place of ‘the Fall’. Both terms connect through their relation to a corrupted, suffering-laden state. For Cioran the Fall represents humanity’s entrance into the self-consciousness of its own existence, a basic condition characterized, in line with the philosopher’s pessimist principles, as intrinsically one of one of constant agony. As for the other term, etymologically derived from the Greek dysphoros, meaning ‘hard to bear’, dysphoria is an intense unease experienced relative to one’s occupancy of a particular sex-gender, typically the one of one’s birth assignment and its significations thereof (Ignorant Research Institute, 2016, pp. 255-256). Under its affliction, sex-gender becomes a lived form of hell, one from which finding a path of escape proves absolutely dire. Hence opens the byway of transition, the term structurally exchanged for ‘religion’. Defined by Julian Carter, “‘transition’ is frequently deployed to refer to the ways in which people move across socially defined boundaries away from an unchosen gender category” (Carter, 2014, p. 235). Akin to how religion promises deliverance from the Fall, transition promises deliverance from sex-gender suffering, doing so by moving one out of a category of unease and into a new position of internalized solace. A myriad of modificational tactics help to achieve this projected telos. These include, but are not limited to, adopting a new label of gender identity, switching to a more masculine or feminine style of behavior and dress, changing one’s name and third person pronouns, receiving hormone replacement treatments, and undergoing SRS (sex reassignment surgery) (Serano). In summary, salvific transness in its most basic sense can be understood as any form of transness that both 1) establishes itself upon a rudiment of dysphoria and 2) posits the act of transitioning as the means toward dysphoria’s escape. Salvific transness orients the trans subject toward a total exiting from one point of occupancy for a total entering into another—toward a shifting from a hellish to a paradisal existence.

Initiating this shift can occur under a variety of assumed ontologies. As different instantiations of salvific transness, all remain consistent with the posed dynamic between dysphoria and transitioning. Their distinguishment hinges upon their alternative framing of sex-gender’s ontological being. Here, I will non-reductively outline only two of the more common figurations. The first account characterizes this being as latent, proposing it subsists as an immutable constant that accompanies a subject from the time of the subject’s inception. Dysphoria emerges accordingly due to a true, latent sex-gender failing to properly materialize positionally, especially at the level of the corporeal. ‘Wrong body’ conceptions of transness fall within these accounts fittingly. “To imagine the body as a prison for the soul,” comments Carter on wrong bodiliness, “is to participate, however reluctantly, in a conceptual universe where our flesh is inconvenient matter which limits the free expression of our inner and nobler being” (Carter, 2013, p. 130). Transitioning serves as the means of making manifest this nobler being, onsetting a move from an improper to a proper positional expression. The second sort of account characterizes sex-gender being as more transformable. Instead of subsisting as an immutable constant that demands sufficient expression, sex-gender can adapt into a different ontological specificity from the one the subject possesses initially. Transition here functions as the procedure whereby one alters this being, specifically as driven by the affliction of dysphoria. Aren Z. Aizura critically exemplifies this account through understandings of transness that liken transitioning to a territorial, point-to-point relocation: “From man to woman, from woman to man: the ‘from’ and ‘to’ denote a one-way trajectory across a terrain in which the stuff of sex is divided into male and female territories, divided by the border or no man’s land in between” (Aizura, 2012, p. 140). Conceived as two bordered-off localities, different sex-genders assume their own ontologically predicated autonomy. The trans subject leaves a native locality behind to arrive at one poised as a final destination, moving from a place of position/being dissonance to one of concordance.

II. Impossible Being & Sex-Gender Repetition

Having outlined salvific transness and a selection of its ontological instantiations, I turn now toward exposing its defects and the malignancy produced thereof. Cioran again sets up the main issue surrounding salvation. As Charles Newman summarizes, commenting on the previously quoted text from which salvific transness originates, “Cioran [says] … that it is our penchant for diagnosis which is our sickness, and that is precisely why it is incurable. It is our relentless attempt to be well that distracts us and finishes us off in the end” (Newman, 1970, p. 19). When put under scrutiny, the transitional trajectory propagated by salvific transness becomes evident not only as unable to deliver the trans subject into any promised position of solace, but as a path of ruinous errancy. Dysphoria is not escaped through salvific transness; it is intensified, possibly to the point of unliveability. Self-hatred and self-destruction, not relief, reside at its telos. Correspondingly, Cioran rebukes doctrines that orient toward salvation (Cioran, 2012b, p. 19). Acquisto’s commentary on this opposition outlines why salvific transness proves defective: “To be saved is to pass into a realm of changelessness, which by definition opposes itself to life and the constant progression through time. To believe in salvation of any kind is to be convinced that there could be a kind of life that is better than the form it takes now, which for Cioran is non-sensical since to live is to suffer” (Acquisto, 2014, p. 2). The two deficiencies reflected here—that salvation entails an impossible changelessness and that its attempts at eliminating suffering all end in futility—transpose to the issues that underpin salvation’s unattainability through transition: 1) the fact that sex-gender is not a being and 2) the fact that numerous pertinent sex-gender signifiers remain insusceptible to modification. Expounding on this fatal combination of limitations lends itself to demonstrating why hopelessness awaits as salvific transitioning’s ultimate end.
Across the field of pro-salvation ontologies, sex-gender substantiates itself through a stabilizing being. Distinct from sex-gender position, which is intrinsically based in contingency, being fixes within its subject an underlying essence, one that must be properly expressed or crossed into for the sake of dysphoria’s elimination. These essentializing measures, however, prove unsound. As Judith Butler articulates, “sex appears within hegemonic language as a substance, as, metaphysically speaking, a self-identical being. This appearance is achieved through a performative twist of language and/or discourse that conceals the fact that ‘being’ a sex or gender is fundamentally impossible” (Emphasis mine) (Butler, 1990, pp. 25-26). Salvific transness incorporates being not to innocently reflect sex-gender’s deepest truth as an essence, but to occlude sex-gender’s ineluctable instability. What then allocates this fallacious conception? What fosters this illegitimate essentiality of salvation?  “The being of gender is an effect,” Butler clarifies (Butler, 1990, p. 45). “Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of a substance, of a natural sort of being” (Butler, 1990, p. 45). Any understanding of transness grounding sex-gender positions upon a substantiated essence proves relationally backwards; the establishment of being derives from a consistency of positional signification, not the other way around. Being rendered impossible, position alone is all that validly remains.

Understanding how sex-gender operates through repetition entails an explanation of three interplaying concepts: Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘becoming’, Jacques Derrida’s ‘iterability’ (although Derrideans would call this a ‘quasai-concept’), and Butler’s own notion of ‘the norm’ (Evink, 2012, p. 274). To introduce the first of these, ‘becoming’ presents itself as an alternative ontological scheme to being. While the latter emphasizes isness and stability over motion and metamorphosis, the latter reverses this prioritization, deeming process as greater in significance to isness. Nietzsche characterizes becoming in the following ternary outline: “1. Becoming does not aim at a final state, does not flow into being. 2. Becoming is not a merely apparent state; perhaps the world of beings is mere appearance. 3. Becoming is of equivalent value at every moment; the sum of its values always remains the same” (Nietzsche, 1967, p. 378). Perpetual, without hidden underlying stability, and without telos, becoming replaces being’s foundational privileging of solidity and consistency with change, movement, and fluctuation. Abidingly, Butler pegs sex-gender as “a term in process, a becoming, a constructing that cannot rightfully be said to originate or end, … an ongoing discursive practice” (Butler, 1990, p. 45).

From becoming, we segue into iterability. By Derrida’s description, iterability ensures “that the identity of the selfsame be repeatable and identifiable in, through, and even in view of its alteration” (Derrida, 1988, p. 53). At stake here is the meaning generative capacity of the signifier—or, in Derridean terms, the ‘mark’ or ‘writing’. A signifier necessarily cannot be a one-of-a-kind occurrence. Its meaningfulness depends on its cohesive redeployability, its identifiable repeatability as a selfsame repetition. Repetition, however, necessarily discludes sameness, for the identifiability of a recurrence as such entails a corresponding identifiability of its differentiation from past contextual and instantiated deployments. Ergo, for a signifier to repeat itself as an iteration of the same signifier, it must do so through a process of perpetual transformation. The constant change of iterability connects it pertinently to becoming. The former tames the chaotic flux of the latter into identifiable, albeit ever shifting and unstable, units of signification. Relative to sex-gender, these iterable units generate meaning at a variety of sites. One area of signification pertains to those “repeated acts” and “repeated stylization of the body” spoken of by Butler. Habituated behavioral mannerisms, styles of dress, and sexual practices all contribute to one’s sex-gender. However, the effective breadth of sex-gender iterability is not confined to mere actions of the body, for the material body itself acts as a site of these significations (Butler, 1993a, pp. 1-2). Drawing from Butler and Derrida, Paul B. Preciado conceptualizes sex-gender as emergent from the iterability of a “biowriting system” (Preciado, 2018, p. 25). “The body is a living, constructed text,” Preciado explains, “an organic archive of human history and the history of sexual production–reproduction” (Preciado, 2018, p. 25). Sex-gender iterability thus exudes from every level of corporeal becoming: from the broad movements of the body as a whole to the minuscule processes of genetic replication, as well as every other gestural or anatomic fluctuation in-between.

The final concept of the norm, however, outweighs both becoming and iterability in establishing sex-gender as repetition. Already it has been alluded to as sex-gender’s “highly rigid regulatory frame.” Butler gives the norm the following definition: “The norm governs intelligibility, allows for certain kinds of practices and action to become recognizable as such, imposing a grid of legibility upon the social and defining the parameters of what will and will not appear within the domain of the social” (Butler, 2004, p. 42). While iterability maintains the selfsameness of a signifier throughout its differential repetition, the norm dictates the very signification of that signifier, and hence its recognizability as repeating meaningfully from the outset. Particularly for sex-gender, the norm regulates a diverse range of iterable signifiers (e.g., names, behaviors, anatomies etc.) into specific discursive arrangements. The system produced is ultimately binary: ‘male’, ‘man’, and the ‘masculine’ on one side; ‘female’, ‘women’, and the ‘feminine’ on the other (Butler, 2004, pp. 42-43, Preciado, 24-25). Accordingly, one’s coming into a sex-gender position depends on their totality of binarily regulated signifiers repeating at a rate of sufficient intelligibility to themselves and others. Done at a high enough aggregative and temporal consistency, repetition congeals, taking the guise of an essentialized being.

Between becoming’s perpetual flux, iterability’s transformative repetition, and the norm’s polarizing congealment, the postulation that transition eliminates dysphoria loses tenability. The constitutive facets of salvific transness are undermined. Already, I have demonstrated one facet, that of sex-gender being, as impossible, but how does this impossibility compromise the specific salvific ontologies outlined previously? For understandings of transness that assume a latent, immutable being, like those of wrong bodiliness, a foundational switch to becoming proves irreconcilable. That the sum of becoming’s value remains perpetually the same means its alterative fluctuations are unavoidable. No safe haven free of change finds edification in this world; all is in flux and transformation. The subject proves no exception. To predicate the subject upon a hidden, unchanging being entails denying its in-becoming for a conveniently oversimplified stability. As Nietzsche explains, “‘The subject’ is the fiction that many similar states in us are the effect of one substratum; but it is we who first created the ‘similarity’ of these states; our adjusting them and making them similar is the fact, not their similarity (—which ought rather to be denied—)” (Nietzsche, 1967, p. 269). This notion of making similar the dissimilar demonstrates another connective instance between becoming and iterability. Subject states do not emanate from a core being. They congeal as iterations of an ongoing, imperfect repetition. Hence the problematizations of latent sex-gender being come into view. If the subject as grounded on a singular substratum is a fiction, any innate and constant aspect of this subject is itself equally fictional. This includes the sex-gender of the trans subject. Furthermore, in becoming rendering all states of assumed similarity as uncapturable inequivalencies, no state of expression can representationally correspond with a trans subject’s  “true” sex-gender. Such a correspondence would require a positional expression of equal immutability to the nobler being it supposedly makes manifest—an utter impossibility given sex-gender’s repetitional inherency. Similar issues plague understandings of transness assuming a crossable sex-gender being. While being here can shift as assisted by transition, its crossing nevertheless occurs as the property of a fictitious singularized subject, as well as under the supposition that both its entered and exited ontological localities contain their own internal, adhesive similarity. Becoming’s rupturing instability remains thoroughly neglected. Additionally, accounts of crossing face a problematization contingent of becoming entirely unique to themselves, one stemming from the first point of Nietzsche’s three-part outline pertaining to becoming’s lack of a final state. As undirected toward a final state, becoming lacks a teleological end point. For an understanding of transness modeled upon reaching a projected destination, this absence has drastic consequences. Transition no longer viably serves as a mere passage from one being to another. It desists as a border crossing, as a ‘move’ in the singular sense. As grounded in becoming, sex-gender entails perpetual movement, one without reprieve be one transitioning or not. Transitioning never accomplishes its aim of a total crossing over. Its adhering trans subjects, rather, find themselves incessantly propelled toward a teleologically elusive aim of positional congealment, one without grounding in any definitively stable sex-gender being.

III. Impossible Purity & Immutable Biotextual Signifiers

Now, in spite of all these ontological disruptions, being’s impossibility alone is not enough to fully undermine salvific transness. If sex-gender position can act as a base for dysphoria and positional instantiation depends on the norm’s congealment of iterable in-becoming signifiers, then salvific transness need only readjust from aligning the trans subject with an essence toward guiding them into a pure congealment, wherein harmonic positional repetitions displace the sum of those that are dysphoric. And such a reschematization would work impeccably were it not for one setback: pure congealment for the trans subject is unattainable. For sex-gender to facilitate itself as a being, its salient repetitions must reiterate themselves at a rate of high aggregative and temporal consistency. These repetitions, however, never come into full ontological solidification. Becoming does not flow into being. All sex-gender positions, therefore, are of a fragile integrity. A position might appear rigidly congealed or perfectly exemplary of the norm’s regulative system, but appearance here is merely that: appearance. “Men and women are metonymic constructions,” says Preciado, or, as Butler calls them, “ontologically consolidated phantasms” (Preciado, 2018, p. 25, Butler, 1993b, p. 313). Opposed to subsisting as a coherent whole, a sex-gender of becoming operates through the combined iterability of a diverse set of signifiers. As Susan Stryker, riffing on Luce Irigaray’s famous adage, states, “‘sex’, any sex, is a category ‘which is not one.’ Rather, what we typically call the sex of the body, which we imagine to be a uniform quality that uniquely characterizes the whole body, is shown to consist of numerous parts … that can, and do, form a variety of viable bodily aggregations” (Stryker, 2006, p. 9). The fragility of aggregation opens up the possibility for one’s position to be alterable and its initial iterations to undergo reconfiguration. It is through this possibility, in fact, that transitioning has any significant effect on sex-gender whatsoever. The transformation of transition does not happen en masse as some single, momentous event. It happens as a progression of incremental revisions, as resignifications of varying subtlety that guide one out of one normalized position and into another. As more signifiers steadily change over, the trans subject gains an ever-increasing sense that their projected telos grows nearer. A pure sex-gender position, one free of dysphoria, seems approaching on the horizon. This sense of forwardness, however, bounds one for catastrophic disappointment. The teleological trajectory of salvific transness hides an insidious malfunction, one that unintentionally, yet inevitably, leads to the trans subject’s self-destruction. Specifically, said malfunction sources from the fact that a significant number of key sex-gender signifiers either resist or entirely elude the modificational capacities of our current transitional technologies. A harrowing conclusion follows: any effort to transition into a pure sex-gender position—be that by the rubric of an essence of being or a congealment of becoming—is ultimately asymptotic. ‘Woman’ and ‘man’ for the trans subject are targets ceaselessly pursued but never completely grasped. Not only does this mean that their projected salvific telos can never truly be entered, but that their dysphoric position as well can never be truly exited.

The limits of sexual reassignment surgery epitomize how modificational deficiency obstructs purification. A digression into this topic will help to critically demonstrate salvific transness’ defectiveness. While SRS is capable of remodeling genitalia into a corporeal shape of like signification to a positional end (i.e., the feminine through vaginoplasty or the masculine through phalloplasty and metoidioplasty), creating a perfect simulation of an organ as developed in utero exceeds technical capacity (Hausman, 1995, p. 66). Drawing out the implications of this limitation, Bernice Hausman states the following,

The difference between the sexes will never rest entirely on physiological distinctions between sex organs, but these differences are neither superfluous nor inconsequential. They constitute problems in the construction and reconstruction of matter that the plastic surgeon faces in his or her attempt to reorganize the physical signifiers of sex on the operating table. Any attempt to engage and decode the semiotics of sex in contemporary Western culture must acknowledge that these physiological signifiers have functions in the real that will escape, or exceed, their signifying function in the symbolic system. (Hausman, 1995, p. 69).

These semiotic functions happening outside the symbolic system, the system of the norm in other words, radically interfere with the positional congealment process. While the norm regulates corporeal signifiers into feminine or masculine intelligibility, what Hausman is referencing here are the workings of the biowriting system (à la the ‘real code’ of early Roland Barthes reinterpreted toward the living, textual body) that make these signifiers iterable and distinguishable in the first place (Hausman, 1995, p. 189, Barthes, 1990, pp. 28-29). Generating and maintaining the textual body, the system delimits which bodily repetitions are viable for reformative signification under the norm’s set discursive parameters. In other words, it ultimately dictates the scope of what transition can modify, allowing varying degrees of mutability among some aspects of sex-gender while closing off others from alteration entirely. A tension of discrepancy between the two systems arises accordingly. This includes within SRS procedures. The entire directive of such surgeries aims to construct genitalia of equatable signification to those of the trans subject’s targeted sex-gender position. Constrained, however, by the biowriting system into having their own materially distinct configurations, the resultant anatomical constructions fall short of physiologically signifying equally to the organs of the idealized target. When the norm subsequently loads the body with masculine and feminine signification, the SRS produced genitalia assume a chimerical character. On one hand, their corporeal shape and utterable name express a sex-gender signification in alignment with the transitional telos, indicating successful transformation. Yet, simultaneously, by the subtle distinctions that the biowriting system imposes, significations of these modified genitalia hark back continually to the positional occupancy from which the trans subject was attempting to vacate. The unwavering homeostasis of certain tissue structures serves as one such case of this. Neither male-to-female operations like vaginoplasty nor female-to-male operations like phalloplasty and metoidioplasty involve constructively replicating the unique organic material of the target genitalia crafted; they merely reconfigure the initial tissue provided (Hausman, 1995, p. 70). Said tissue, then, in spite of all surgical interventions working to establish the contrary, effectively retains its initial specificity of sex-gender signification. Chromosomes serve as another pertinent instance of this same immutability, for, against all initiations of modification, the ongoing replication of the sex-gender coded XX and XY chromosomes, a process present in not only the significationally unwavering tissues of SRS but every organically biowritten signifier, remains entirely impervious to alteration by today’s transitional technologies (Hausman, 1995, p. 140).

By consequence of the biowriting system’s physiological signifiers clashing with the norm’s regulated significations, the trans subject finds themselves troublingly tethered to their position of dysphoric occupancy. The perilousness of this connection cannot be stressed enough. The complete exiting from a position of dissonance stands as the primary end of transition. Accomplishing such an exit requires completely converting one’s totality of sex-gender signifiers into a new, aggregately consistent positional congealment. However, in numerous signifiers upholding such undeviating tenacity in their iterability that no measure of modification can alter their sex-gender signification, whatever position one achieves through transition proves de facto impure, as unavoidably tainted by a turmoil inducing aspect of one’s initial occupancy.
Thus, as Hausman attests, “while a transsexual can become an effective representative of the other sex, an opposition between physical signifiers remains as a reminder of his/her crossing over” (Hausman, 1995, pp. 139-140).

IV. Impossible Hopelessness & the Enterprising Self

In connecting how this persisting reminder interplays with the path set by transition, the malignancy of salvific transness starts to come into clarity. Central to understanding this malaise inducing relation is what Nikolas Rose calls the ‘enterprising self’. “The enterprising self,” outlines Rose, “will make an enterprise of its life, seek to maximize its own human capital, project itself a future, and seek to shape itself in order to become that which it wishes to be. The enterprising self is thus both an active self and a calculating self, a self that calculates about itself and that acts upon itself in order to better itself” (Rose, 1996, p. 153). Among the many axes of improvement for self-enterprise, Rose gives special note to those of manliness and femininity (Rose, 1996, p. 24). Indeed, with its predominant goal of ongoingly optimizing the life of the trans subject respective to masculine and feminine self-modifications, transition indubitably locks its participants in the governmentality of the enterprising self. The compulsion toward optimizing sex-gender modification, even for cis subjects, already onsets toxic states of living. Enterprising feminization aims practices of diet, cosmetics, and fashion toward such unachievable extremes that self-betterment devolves into constant feelings of inadequacy and physical self-harm (Bordo, 1993, p. 166). Enterprising masculinization, likewise, pushes activities of body building and athleticism to such excess that similar thoughts of personal insufficiency arise, initiating self-destructive measures of improvement such as steroid usage (Pope et al., 2000, p. xiii-xiv). The trans subject, however, on top of having to deal with these sex-gender specific pitfalls, faces their own exclusive optimization crisis. As an enterprising self, the trans subject is compelled to meticulously calculate the modificational procedures required to successfully transition into their teleological sex-gender position. Because transitioning makes alterations incrementally, this calculation need not factor every necessary change comprehensively from the outset; though, as increasingly more changeovers occur, the trans subject must perform additional compensative recalculations in order to progress further along their set trajectory, creating a routine of improvement driven self-evaluation. But from transition’s self-regulative cyclicity comes a worrying byproduct. Through the compulsive checking of their changing positional status, the trans subject develops a hyperawareness of their full range of sex-gender signifiers, as well as whether or not said signifiers align in signification with their transitional telos. It is here where the reminder of the remainder enacts its devastations. When those remaining, unmodifiable signifiers—which need not inherently be those related to SRS, merely those that exceed the scope of possible alteration—enter the calculative scheme of transitional self-enterprise, the trans subject obtains the realization that they will never fully congeal into their idyllic sex-gender position. The amount of trauma this unattainability evokes upon first coming to light depends upon the amount of pre-completed signification changeovers. If still somewhat early into transition, the trans subject can curtail the weight of the asymptotic epiphany by initiating other mutable, yet-to-be-complete modifications, thereby maintaining the illusion of progressing toward positional purity. Yet even with these resignificational outs, those with particularly keen foresight, who know the impossibility of what they pursue and are honest enough not to suppress the implications of this impossibility, will all the same be ravaged by this teleological unreachability. As for those who actually have reached the limit of what transitional technologies can reform, there is no luxury of postponement. They must confront their own incompleteness, accepting the entire course of their trajectory was doomed from the start to never fulfill its intended aim. No matter one’s place in transition, be that the open expanse of its beginning or closed limit of the end, one remains just as presently connected to that position of initial dissonance as one did prior to transition’s commencement.

Having explained the impossibility of both sex-gender being and positional univocality, the ruinous character of salvific transness comes at last into full focus. Its logic goes as follows: Dysphoria frames one’s sex-gender suffering as contingent upon a positional occupancy, an occupancy from which escape is of the highest urgency. Transition frames itself as the needed means of escape, promising to remove one from their currently occupied dysphoric position and deliver one into a new position free of dissonance. This deliverance, however, never manifests in the totalized sense as promised. The trans subject remains, in spite of all opposing transitional efforts and strides, forever chained to the source of their sex-gender agony. They find themselves liminally trapped between hell and the paradisiacal. Hence the emergent conclusion from this shortcoming: dysphoria is inescapable. While transition, as still transformably effective upon some sex-gender signifiers, might momentarily reduce a subject’s suffering, it possesses ultimately zero capacity to bring one out of this pain completely. Quite to the contrary, in fact, the shattering realization of transition’s insufficiency potentially situates one in an even worse predicament than what one faced prior to this revelation. The nullity of a chance for salvation begets the nullity of the chance for hope. A particularly raw piece of activist literature by the anonymous transanarachist collective Ignorant Research Institute (IRI) articulates this foreboding predicament stunningly. In a zine article entitled “Dysphoria Means Total Destroy” they state, “Hopelessness marks the quality of dysphoria, burning the border between the world and impossibility deep into me, making its omnipresence unbearably visible” (Ignorant Research Institute, 2016, p. 256). This world/impossibility border reflects the same tension established between the biowriting system and the norm. The tandem workings of iterability with the norm predicate the world’s possibilities; the former dictating their contour and the latter dictating their comprehensibility. Iterability and the norm, therefore, delimit the line between the possible and the impossible. For the asymptote calculated trans subject, however, ‘possibility’ remains ultimately excluded as a factor from existence. Impossibility assails on fronts. On one hand, the telos of transition, blocked off by a host of obtrusive, undeviating sex-gender significations, proves impossible to accomplish. But simultaneously, the sex-gender of pre-transition occupancy proves itself just as impossible—the inherency of dysphoria’s hostility rendering it intolerably unlivable. With both the world of the future and the world of the present equally saturated in an omnipresent impossibility, the trans subject becomes caught within a hopelessness of dysphoric deadlock. The IRI epitomizes this forlorn situation thus:

Beyond not fitting the category we were assigned (I am not-this), [dysphoria] is our continual failing to be (I am not-that). This is where the rhetoric of the liberal transfeminist fails. I wasn’t born this way, and I can’t ever be either. Not-this would imply that dysphoria has a similarity with despair, sharing the commonality of something else one could hope for. The not-that both stands in for and precludes that hope (Ignorant Research Institute, 2016, p. 257).

While the IRI frame the not-this, the not-that, and the preclusion of hope as derivative directly from dysphoria, a consideration from a broader perspective points to a culprit beyond the mere condition of sex-gender dissonance. Dysphoria by itself only necessitates the problems of the not-this, that hellish position of one’s initial sex-gender. The problems of the not-that, however, cannot manifest without one first positing transition as the viable cure for dysphoria only to then subsequently realize its ineffectiveness as a remedy. Salvific transness in its totality damns the trans subject to a state of hopelessness. Dysphoria, as contingent upon its demonstrably unshakable sex-gender significations, locks one into a life of perpetual suffering. Transition plays as much as a culpable role as dysphoria in this perpetuation; for, in its deceptive posturing as a route of deliverance, those who buy into its false promise are from the start bound to a telos of pain. What salvific transness offers is therefore not escape for the trans subject: only entrapment, disappointment, and the utmost degree of ruination.


It would be a fatal mistake to try and find hope in the face of this hopelessness. The pursuit of deliverance, after all, is the very mechanism whereby salvific transness leads the trans subject to their downfall. A way does exist, however, for one to survive this crushing darkness, although it relies on extraordinarily paradoxical measures. Cioran once again provides its figuration: “The certitude that there is no salvation is a form of salvation. In fact, it is salvation. Starting from here, we might organize our own life …: the insoluble as solution, as the only way out” (Cioran, 1976, p. 195). In finding salvation through its rejection, a solution through the insoluble, everything that originally wrought ruination under salvific transness reverses in polarity, astonishingly transforming into a source for life. Hopelessness, while closing in before due to a lack of positional purity and an unachievable telos, comes to turn on itself. Demonstrating the not-this and the not-that as impossible to respectively evade or obtain, a new hopelessness breaks the trans subject from the scheme that revolves around such idealizations. Dysphoria as well under this anti-salvific solution assumes inverse properties. Instead of casting the trans subject into an unlivable existence, dysphoria and the suffering it ensues work as sources of invigoration. “To love suffering is to love oneself unduly,” Cioran exclaims, “it is to want to lose nothing of what one is, it is to savor one’s weakness” (Cioran, 1970, p. 139). To want to lose nothing of what one is respective to sex-gender, to embrace dysphoria rather than reject it, means to accept for oneself an embodiment rife in multiplicity. One’s position becomes kaleidoscopic, a zone where contrasting significations of masculinity and femininity confoundingly meet and clash. And while no doubt this amalgamated state is painful, it nonetheless is a pain that the trans subject can savor and love, something unable to be said for the agony of the salvific deadlock. Hence, from both of these transfigurations of hopelessness and dysphoria, new conceptions of transness consequently arise. Different paths, ones untainted by the hope of a faulty salvation, present renewed opportunities for life. Does this mean all tribulation dissolves from the trans experience? Hardly. But there is at least in this turn away from salvation some greater reprieve from the suicidality that salvific transness assuredly brings, making life for the trans subject just a little less hard to bear.

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