Pope Michael, that Southern peacock loving writer I'm not really that fond of, capitalist realism, ephemera...
You may recall that Thomas Frank devoted a fair chunk of What's the Matter with Kansas? to this guy, whose given name is David Bawden.
His website is here.
Bawden, in my mind, is an interesting case study in the interplay of social fragmentation and social homogeneity. Watching this, I was struck at how similar Bawden's mannerisms and his approach to religion is to fundamentalist Protestants I knew in my youth and traditionalist Catholics and traditionalist Eastern Orthodox I met later in life. There is no doubt a separatist homogeneity in American religious life (a social phenomenon which Martin Marty has written a great deal about). At the same time, this corresponds with more and more "formal" fragmentation.
My thoughts on this matter are off the cuff and unfinished, so take this as a draft of sorts - I am initially inclined to wonder if there is not an operative milieu, or perhaps a social condition even, that is typical in the more fervent expressions of American libertarian tendencies - a drive to, unwittingly, embrace social patterns that are strikingly homogeneous, while at the same time the breaking down into ever more clarified and parameter laden camps. Even in mainstream religion one sees this tendency among those with a "libertarian ethos." Within, say, the Roman Catholic Church you have conservatives and traditionalists of various stripes who embrace social patterns very similar to their correspondent types in other communions. Thus a neo-con/neo-Cath in American Catholicism shares mannerisms and habits and displays a lifestylization that is very, very similar to neo-cons within Eastern Orthodoxy, neo-cons within conservative Protestant groups, and, perhaps to a lesser extent, neo-cons within Judaism. Libertarians in the RCC, EOC, Prot groups, etc., also tend toward this sort of easily categorized and objectively recognizable homogeneity. Of course the same can be said of leftists and petit-bourgeois liberals across the religious spectrum, but this is less remarkable as they don't stress separatism or "rugged" individualism.
In certain Christian circles there is the tendency to view this sort of fellow as a Flannery O'Connor type character. I don't think this is correct.
I have met a number of people raised in banal Christian middle class suburban settings (or those aspirant to such and able to keep themselves in some other form of saccharine social bubble) who ascribe Flannery O'Connor characterization to a wide array of eccentrics, which of course is a result of their inability to parse eccentricity - a given considering the human poverty of their life experiences. Bawden, at least as he is presented to us in the media which describes and portrays him, is not a Flannery O'Connor eccentric for any number of reasons. First and foremost the internet changes the whole game. Flannery O'Connor eccentrics are particular and localized in their eccentricity. Bawden seems genericized, and I can't help but think that the internet has something to do with this (though he did start his religious process that led to his enthronement prior to the internet). Bawden, at least as we know him via mass media, is also a hell of a lot more boring and more mundane than an O'Connor character.
But the point for those who would O'Connorize any analysis of human eccentricity and quirkiness is that it, whether explicitly or implicitly, ascribes some sort of goodness and humanness to said eccentricity and quirkiness. It's as if pretty much any hardcore eccentricity in this day in age represents a good akin to the good of an O'Connor eccentric. That is a mistake. Bawden gets things exactly wrong. Where he is united with others (his homogeneity) he is a cookie cut product of the more mundane mechanisms of capitalism - the guy has virtually no personality outside of that given to him through mass media and a culture with a rather unmitigated relationship to mainstream mass media. Where he is separated from people is his "formal" life - he and his flock of 50 throughout the world are the remnant set apart by God whose puny existence effectively renders the rest of the world hell fodder. So Bawden is, by volition, formally excluded from 7 billion people, sans 50 or so, in a formality that is both ridiculous and serious, while informally very much united with the masses around him, via his and their consumption and formation in capitalist realism.
Human beings should be exactly the opposite. They should be at least inclined toward (even if just intuitively) a formal unity with all other humans if not "formally" united to all of humanity (and there are any number of ways in which a person might do this in a manner that is essentially the opposite of Bawden's "formal" separation from nearly all human beings) and at the same time express their personal uniqueness and individual temperament and manner and interests via their choices of consumption and production and labor. I am not here suggesting that this is easily done in a late capitalist context. Perhaps it is most accurate to say that it is not really possible, and thus the social pathologies of the type Bawden embraces seem to be inevitable. I wonder if the drive for increased fragmentation with regard to formal ties to society and humanity is in part a desperate attempt to be able to choose something that is perceived to be unique or idiosyncratic or radically subjective (and at the same time providing meta-level meaning). Following Mark Fisher's logic in a post below, most people today intuit (at least) that their choices for this alternative music or that indy film or some organic food product or some other marco-beer to reject the microbeer are not essentially free expressions of human personality and temperament but are (to some significant degree) choices made in a context of capitalist mechanisms of manipulation and the homo consumericus social formation behind that. Perhaps the person doesn't even care about all that or has never thought of it, as Bawden seems not to. He just likes him some Jeopardy and Numbers like everybody else likes something of the sort. He doesn't have and can't get actual personal expression and actual individuality in his TV choices, or with regard to what he eats, or how he speaks, or his conceptions on culture and society and so forth. His day to day activities like TV watching and eating and talk of society/politics/economics aren't going to be too much different from other rural Kansans/Americans and they are going to be formed by the same "outside" self-interested and manipulating forces. But, he gets that radical subjectivity moderns hunger for elsewhere, in his papal white dress, his flock which seems to mostly connect via correspondence and online, his homespun marshmellow chapel, and his smugly watching 7 billion souls head toward an eternity of divinely appointed torture as God spares Pope Michael's twoscore and ten. Of course, with regard to many of these impulses, Bawden really isn't that different from a disturbing number of American Christians - "formally" separated, but a religious psychology and impulse cut from the same cloth.
Posted by Unknown at 26.10.11