Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Rise of the Disciplinary Society 1-2

With many, many apologies for the long delay.

The way that Taylor reads history is really interesting to me. Section 1 of this chapter begins to describe the displacements Taylor wants to track and then by Section 2 he has dove right in. This looking at how ideas become distinct and eventually part ways is a Hegelian tactic that is part of other works that I've read from Taylor. I'm sure Kenny will comment on this, he is the resident historian, but I want to shift our attention to something I really enjoyed in this reading - attitudes.

The attitudes that Taylor flags have far reaching influence. In fact we feel them still today. These attitudes are directed towards the poor, society and nature. They allow us to view these things in particular ways. In fact what he shows is that there is a marked difference in the way 15th century folk viewed the poor, for instance, and folks in the 16th century would see them. These attitudes evolve, but in a way that builds in a specific direction.

In the evolution of the attitude towards nature we see the breakdown of the Thomistic medieval synthesis. How we go from an idea of nature intrinsically connected with our ideas of the divine to a basically notion of utility. We end up with a nature that we can exploit because it has lost its divine significance. But it is more than this, it is that nature becomes something we must assert control over. Nature becomes the enemy (p.101). I think that attitude is what makes it hard to animate sufficient ecological response (I don't find stewardship compelling or sufficient). But it also identifies a root of our love of consumerism. What is life about? It isn't about a quest for the holy grail, the plumbing of divine mystery - but it is now about control, management and the mitigation of fear.

This is similar to the attitude towards society, or civility as Taylor puts it. Taylor insightfully identifies this need to combat nature with civility as the root of the pervasive notion that social transformation is only truly accomplished through religious conversion, and that true religious conversion effects social change. I have a particular frustration with this attitude. While I value religious conversion (I am an evangelical after all) I don't see that it is sufficient or even the tool for social transformation. The reason is that evangelicals are good at compelling religious conversion and yet are often deeply complicit in systemic injustice. There are lots of reasons for this, but I think that attitude, that is the expectations that are attributed towards religious civility, is at the root.

Looking forward to your thoughts!

1 comment:

Kenneth Sheppard said...


I've actually got relatively little to say about Taylor's dialectical approach. On the practical level, I'm not sure how he could have presented his study without this multi-layered, contrastive approach, and arrived at the "conditions of possibility" of contemporary unbelief.