Approval and Condemnation: Must they be based on Morality?

Alec Ramsdell aramsdell at
Wed May 16 10:29:30 PDT 2001

Wallace Stevens wrote:

"Sad men made angels of the sun . . ."

--- Gordon Fitch <gcf at> wrote:

> _need_ for gods is still there, in any case. And
> Modern Man
> is not without gods . . .

In Stevens' bourgeois ideology of self ("his self and the sun were one") there is still "the will to be and to be total in belief," its object however having become reflexive. So one could say belief itself today, in the reified universe of--and I hesitate to say it because it sounds too clumsy here--capitalist social relations becomes its own object. The things it uses, in the sense of utility, are just temorary stand-ins in an ongoing turnover of objects of worship, which just as quickly turn into trash ("The Man on the Dump"). But the will to believe persists, the one constant in exchange, like money, maybe. Religious fundamentalism is another story.

So, it seems to be most useful in this instance to consider belief rather than it's object, whether that object be a celestial figure, a leader, a smelly star, science, classless society, Beatrice, or Karl Marx (the latter a really ungodly couple).

Carrol wrote,

You seem to argue that we need
> some metaphysical
> > > absolute in order to ground our approval and
> disapproval of this or that.

Without the object ("some meatphysical absolute"), where does this leave the status of the aim, belief, as far as metaphysics is concerned? It is possible to idealize materiality.

> > > But none exists, so we'd better learn how to get
> along without one. But
> > > as it happens, we never really needed such a
> support and don't now. We
> > > are better off without it, since in fact all
> such supports (as Ollman
> > > suggests) turn out to be disguised arguments for
> capitalism.

But belief isn't endemic to capitalism, is it?

(Ollman on
> Marx:"The criticism of religion
> > ends,"he says, "with the doctrine that man is the
> supreme being for man. It
> > ends, therefore, with the categorical imperative
> to overthrow all those
> > conditions in which man is an abased, enslaved,
> abandoned, contemptible
> > being.")

Gordon wrote,

> I think the idea of man being the supreme being for
> man is
> terribly depressing.

Yeah, if one accepts "Man's narcissistic concern with himself" as the debilitating religious epidemic of today, which I'm not sure it is, seen in the change from Stevens' lofty Transport to Summer to John Ashbery's endless, muggy Night, where one does get a sense of isolated abasement and enslavement, than the idea is depressing. This would be the condition Ollman on Marx would call to overthrow.

And lastly, Ollman on Marx:

"[Marx] says, for example, that in bourgeois ethics speaking and loving lose their characterisitic significance and 'are interpreted as expressions and manifestations of a third artificially introduced Relation, the Relation of utility.' According to Marx, 'something is demanded of the individual's power or capacity to do anything which is a foreign product, a Relations determined by social conditions -- and this is the utility Relation.' In short, a social relation has become a thing in the form of a principle, and moreover a thing which exerts important influence over people's thinking and action."

So in a world where a social relation is reified into a thing, a principle of utility Relation, there's the question of how belief might work in practice to change the state of affairs. One might accept belief, consciously choose, or make, and elevate an overarching idea to a kind of "god," then work backwards from the reification to the material, or original social relation. And isn't this what someone politicized as a "socialist" or "anarchist" or "leftist" or whatever, must always be doing, in part?
>From what little Marx I've read I'm still struck by
the value and neccesity of marxian self-critique. It would be wrong the look at these categories as eternal principles, and equally debilitating to take one's political stance for granted, it seems. The social relations that define a group of socialists are just as prone to reification as any others.

>From my reified soap box,


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