Fragmentary oppositions

Forty years ago, a group of Situationists, building on their original 1968 manifesto, wrote of the progress of the ‘spectacle’, the name that Guy Debord had given to the bread-and-circuses face of modern Machine capitalism. They maintained that ongoing, surface-level conflict – what we would today call a culture war – was not a manifestation of rebellion against the Machine, but an necessary part of its functioning:

Fragmentary oppositions are like the teeth on cogwheels: they mesh with each other and make the machine go round — the machine of the spectacle, the machine of power.

Unlike many of their fellow travellers on the left, the Situationists had identified the true tenor of the times: no longer a clarifying class war over the means of production, but a fog of constructed and managed lies, consumer images, competing media narratives and fomented cultural divisions, all of it serving the interests of those who run the show. Fragmentary oppositions, the machine of the spectacle, the machine of power: it’s a description of our time. There are a lot of people out there who benefit daily from us all being at each others’ throats: arguing furiously over surface trivia while the money and the power funnel upwards, as they ever did.

Paul Kingsnorth, Under the spreading walnut tree, the introduction to his new Substack, The Abbey of Misrule.


Based on the conversations I hear these days among the New Urbanists, there is a division now in the movement between those on-board with a techno-utopian vision of an alt-energy economy that allows us to maintain the current standard of living, with all its comforts and conveniences, and another faction who recognize that something quite different and rather ominous is underway—a combination of economic de-growth, vanishing capital resources, political disorder, and environmental crises. The first group tends to get the most attention, because “green optimism” has such palliative appeal, just as the purity of modernism was so appealing after the gigantic mess of World War II. But the second faction, the adaptationists, have a better grip on reality.

I’m for the adaptationists because they are more in tune with the way circumstances actually roll out, that is, emergently. Societies are organisms that respond to the forces that reality brings to bear at a particular time. They self-organize and reorganize as reality compels them to. The signals now say: get smaller, get simpler, get less technocratic, get finer, and get more local. Despite all the portentous chatter about a “great reset” or a coming global government, centralized authority (in the U.S., anyway) only becomes increasingly impotent and ineffectual. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they will “solve” the problems at hand. The real trend is not to greater concentrations of power but dispersed autarky, or local self-reliance. We’re on our own.

James Howard Kunstler, The Next New Urbanism


For our reading group, we decided to go through N.T. Wright’s 2008 publication Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. This work expanded on many of the concerns Wright had raised when I heard him speak in 2006. He shared a body of evidence which suggested that there has been widespread compromise with the heresy of Gnosticism. “A good many Christian hymns and poems,” he warned, “wander off unthinkingly in the direction of Gnosticism.” Wright used the doctrine of physical resurrection as the linchpin to refute this implicit Gnosticism, as well as to undermine a type of evangelical pietism that is so heavenly minded that it ceases to be of any earthly good. Using scriptural exegesis, Wright showed that although going to heaven is important, it is only one part of the Christian hope. The early Christians, he pointed out, actually believed that heaven is more like a waiting room where we will anticipate the final resurrection. In the final resurrection, the faithful will be given new bodies to enjoy in the renewed heaven and earth. This scriptural hope, Wright suggested, has implications in the here-and-now, transforming how we view the earth and the mission of the church …

I did not expect Surprised by Hope to be particularly controversial, as it simply articulates the historic Christian hope. Nevertheless, much of the public reaction to Wright’s book treated his teaching as something of a novelty. In February 26, 2008, ABC news ran a story claiming that Wright’s idea that “God will literally remake our physical bodies” was “a radical departure from traditional belief.” Although the Nicene Creed contains the statement “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”, and although the Apostles’ Creed professed belief in “the resurrection of the body”, the wider public appeared to assume that this is no longer part of traditional Christian belief. The widespread assumption seemed to be that eternal disembodiment is the orthodox Christian hope. For example, in his compendium of information about what happens after death, Biochemical researcher Brian Innes observed that “current orthodox Christianity no longer holds to the belief in physical resurrection, preferring the concept of the eternal existence of the soul, although some creeds still cling to the old ideas.”

The fact that the media treated Bishop Wright as a novelty for simply articulating the doctrine of physical resurrection, convinced me that I needed to take another look at the phenomenon of implicit Gnosticism ….

Robin Mark Phillips, Confessions of a Recovering Gnostic.

It is astonishing that orthodox, historic, credal Christianity should be flagged by media as a novelty, but I think Robin Phillips was onto something when he proposed that the West’s implicit theology is gnostic.


I just (as I’m writing, undecided when to publish) finished listening to a Vox Conversations podcast about George Soros (Who is the real George Soros?), of whom I have an unfashionably neutral-tending-positive opinion.

There came a point in the podcast, though, where I yelled bad words at the participants. They had just set up a trick bag to the effect that one cannot criticize the "open society" idea because it’s antisemitic to do so because the open society idea is associated with Jews and criticism of it is always, and by definition, implicitly antisemitic.

If that sounds confusing and circular, it’s because it was. And I have enough sympathy for the case against the open society (and especially some of what have become its corollaries, like open borders) that it infuriates me to hear it insouciantly dismissed out of hand as tainted.


Speaking of open societies:

Because [Karl] Popper did not anticipate threats to open societies outside of grand historical narratives, he did not imagine that the source of fanatical certitude would one day be individuals, who would fashion it out of a veritable flood of discordant facts and suspicions … Americans have increasingly come to see themselves as capable of sifting through all the available evidence to discover unerring truths that their political opponents are too biased, ignorant, or corrupt to see.

The Danger of Fact-ist Politics


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