Saturday, July 01, 2006

In God We Truss...

"God is Dead!"

"Nietzsche is Dead."

Colin McGinn is one of philosophy's few living superstars. The Brad Pitt of metaphysics and consciousness studies, if you will. A 56 year-old British expat fascinated by the role religious faith plays in America, he has been a professor at Rutgers, and is soon transferring to the University of Miami, "where the windsurfing is better." His books have a decidedly pop culture slant, he writes about the ethical nature of fiction, the impact of movies on our consciousness, and how we can know our minds in a material world.

He is also a "practicing" atheist, a position he defends on European talk shows and most recently on Bill Moyer's new PBS show. Seeing him here, I was drawn to the calm subversiveness of his ideas. He seems to be able to say things that would get other people put in prison or worse round these parts. Some of his thoughts on atheism dovetail nicely with some nasty thoughts I was having yesterday about corporate America. Let me see if I can unpack them.

McGinn speaks of the "tremendous relief" he experienced after renouncing his lifelong Catholicism and entering a godless universe. He has since rediscovered the Law of Nature and humans' place in that schema (hence the windsurfing), something that gets lost in a world where God is "out there" somewhere. Where he expected anarchy to rear it's sloppy head, instead he found a new sense of moral responsibility and powerful motivations for living "right."

He noticed how most religious people act "good" for God, that is, to gain the reward of afterlife. Atheism takes this constant loop of self-interest out of the equation of our actions. An atheist acts for the good because, after much rational thought, they generally conclude that good is good... not because there are potential consequences for acting bad, as determined by some Big Brother who is evaluating your every move.

Corporations are increasingly acting good, going green and the like, in a very theistic manner. They do the right thing only because it will win them profit and favor in the eyes of another: the government, the consumer base, etc. (gods of other sorts). This ballsy feat of compartmentalization and selective perception enables businesses to serve only their agendas, not their belief in what's right, or how the impact the world. Like the godfearing, they are forced into acting good only for the reward. They could give a shit about the implications of their actions - as long as it means profit and minimal public outcry.

This quote from the new Wired magazine (pg 138) typifies what I'm talking about:

"As evidence mounts that carbon emissions cause global warming, big companies are realizing that going green is good for business. The focus on carbon reduction makes sense for GE. Obviously, investing in clean technologies pays dividends in public relations and marketing buzz. The global market is especially hungry for green technology."

Where do you turn when you live in a world where entities with that much power, take that little responsibility for their actions? To God?

You see. It gets confusing...

("Impossible Cylinder" by István Orosz)


Anonymous motoguzzi said...

Nice post. Great blog, too. On the topic of atheism, check out this article:

On the topic of the corporate eviceration of anything good in this world, we live in a time when even companies that rely on strip-mining as a core operation can yield excellent PR out of a "green" story. The one I have in mind strip-mines here in the US and Canada for nitrates and potash to be used in fertilizer (their final product) which is used in factory farming and exported all over the world. This company manages to have a "green" image by partnering with environmentally oriented organizations and by having a party line that goes... "we leave the land better than we found it." Good times.

10:48 PM  
Blogger Phil Williams said...

This is a tough one. It's clear that corps are tailoring their public images to public mores, but I'm a little uncomfortable with the comparison to God fearing folks tailoring their lives to religious doctrine... which of course is also clear. I see the corps more as mindless sharks or crocs finding the best places to gorge their survival instincts. ...and, I am also interestingly aware of our greater understanding and empathy for sharks, crocs, and predators in general. I'm so confused...

6:41 AM  

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