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The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Chapter 5: “The Emancipator and His Monkey”

Posted by Robert C. on February 12, 2010

There is a lot that I loved in this chapter. In general, I agree with Ranciere, that emancipation is something that cannot be guaranteed by the establishment of an institution. In fact, I think this is a very useful chapter in terms of thinking about the Apostasy in Mormon theology: in a sense, Christ’s failure to establish a lasting church, in the Old and New worlds, attests to Ranciere’s main point of this chapter.

But where does that leave us in terms of thinking about the Church as an institution, and efforts to establish Zion?

That’s the main question I would like to discuss on this thread. I’m inclined to think that there are lots of interesting and productive discussions to be had regarding better and worse institutional practices (and this is closely related to my discussion at the end of the chapter 4 discussion with Joe regarding Habermas, since Habermas addresses many of the same concerns in his worry about “colonization of the lifeworld” in his Theory of Communicative Action, Vols. I & II).

Here are a few other random thoughts and questions:

1. Families. Ranciere makes several fascinating comments about families in this chapter, as being different than institutions. I wish he elaborated on the sense in which families are different than societies and institutions. Can anyone help me as to why this isn’t just an arbitrary distinction? What is fundamentally different between families and institutions? Can we have ward families in the church, or only ward institutions? What would be the difference?

2. Monkey? What’s the significance of monkey in the title of this chapter? I’m likely missing something obvious here, so any help is appreciated.

3. Republican strawman and thinking organizations. I think there are actually many interesting similarities between, say, a Jeffersonian, limited-government kind of Republicanism/Federalism, and Ranciere’s thought. Ranciere does not seem interested (here or elsewhere, from what I’ve read) in serious engagement with political thought that calls for a limited role of government. Similar thinking has been done regarding organizations more generally. This is disappointing to me, since I think that there are many situations where we should think about the “institutional”/organizational/familial traditions, norms, principles, structures and precedents that we are setting, that will have persistent effects, and I don’t think Ranciere is helpful along these lines. Again, this is probably not really a fair criticism of Ranciere, since he’s a philosopher and not a social theorist (and he’s in France where there’s a different political culture than in the U.S.). Nevertheless, I think his writing risks a dismissive attitude toward this kind of thought, which I think can be very productive.

4. Parental hierarchies? Ranciere is critical of rank and hierarchy, and criticizes “paternal” leaders (p. 118). But, again, this leaves me puzzled wondering about how families are different? Is it OK for a father to paternal, but not for a leader? Why or why not? For Mormons and Christians, there is a rich way to pursue this question, since Jesus is, in so many ways, our Father, and yet he allows himself to be crucified. And so we get this idea of servant leadership where the chief among us is the servant of all. My question, then, is the extent to which this idea can be instituted in families, organizations, communities, classes, etc., etc. I think I’m less pessimistic than Ranciere, or at least I’m inclined to think that he has a very specific and narrow notion of institutions and society in mind.

5. Wars and revolutions, good and evil. Ranciere talks about wars and revolutions, and about good and evil on page 117. This is rich. I’d like to think about it much, much more. It got me thinking about war in the Book of Mormon, and the establishment of the judges in place of kingship. How might we appropriate Ranciere’s insights to reading these parts of the Book of Mormon?

6. Families can’t be trusted. I loved this critique of paternal attitudes toward education on page 121. Again, however, I think this is more a part of conservative, limited-government political discourse in America than Ranciere seems to want to acknowledge (though I’m quick to forgive him of this since he’s a French philosopher). I’d love to see more engagement of Ranciere’s ideas and this kind of conservative/classical-liberal (or anarcho-capitalist—was it Rob who mentioned a similarity with Ayn Rand previously?) political thought.

7. The strength of opinion’s weakness. Ranciere talks about the strength of opinions and axioms in a couple different places in this chapter (e.g., 123-124, , harking back to previous chapters. Great stuff!

8. Institutional baptism. The invocation of the baptism imagery (top of p. 126) is fantastic. Reminds me of some of the less-inspired attitudes I’ve seen among missionaries….

9. Proper names. Is Christianity a proper name in the same sense that Jacotot is? How can this help us think about the way we take upon ourselves Christ’s name at baptism, or a new name in the temple?

10. “Curb the liberty.” Joe’s other post on free agency made the passage on p. 130—about society wanting to “curb the liberty to learn” so as to focus on the best methods of explication—really jump out at me. (Again, though, how different is this than political thought that gave us our inspired Constitution?)

11. Unequal society of equal men. Ranciere talks about this reversal of attitudes of progressivism, which tries to establish the equal society of unequal men, on p. 133—also fantastic!

12. Interested in all discourse. The universal interest/love of the panecastician, as described on p. 136, is superb.

13. Seek and not find? Can we take Jacotot’s following claim as a viable scriptural hermeneutic, or is there an underlying tension here with Mormon doctrine? “Seek the truth and you will not find it, knock at its door and it will not open for you, but that search will serve you in learning to do. . .” (138).

30 Responses to “The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Chapter 5: “The Emancipator and His Monkey””

  1. joespencer said

    Nice comments, Robert.

    I just finished reading this morning, and found myself saying over and over as I read it, “Yeah, this is what’s wrong with Habermas!” only to get on here and find you saying, “Yeah, this is why Habermas might be helpful!” I suppose I’m more French than American (or German, really) on this point, but I don’t see Ranciere as being dismissive, but as arguing very well that the social questions are distractions from the real questions. In other words, I don’t see him arguing against institutions, but as arguing quite coherently that institutionalizations of genuinely emancipatory efforts always dismantle them.

    In short, rather than reading Ranciere as refusing to engage the question of the social, I see him clarifying the question: “the social” as such is grounded in the belief that intelligence is not equal.

    All of this is, I think, to say that I think your initial question about Zion is ultimately misguided, isn’t it? Zion is not an economic order or a certain social construction; Zion is whatever society all those who believe in the equality of intelligence will fashion, whatever shape it might take at any given point in time. (A nice clarification is buried in this of what really went wrong with Zion in 1831-1833: it wasn’t that Joseph was a good social engineer or a competent economist, since this is not what mattered; what went wrong was that very few involved in the endeavor actually believed in the equality the law of consecration prescribed. In other words, the reason it failed was precisely because people couldn’t handle its presupposition, not because Joseph couldn’t sort out the social/economic means to arrive at the utopian projection. That distinction is, I think, crucial.)

    In short, why are we so interested in “progress”?

  2. Karen said

    Robert says: “I wish he elaborated on the sense in which families are different than societies and institutions.”

    From what I understood (reading especially from page 105), social orders by necessity must be explicated because they are arbitrary and created. They are constructed because they are “less bad than disorder,” but not because of any natural or obvious reasons. In other words, since there is no actual superiority, then a social structure is absurd. (Those who are emancipated are ok with this, and live it out of choice.) But since the leaders are afraid the people will not live in a social order if they realize it is absurd, the leaders have to convince people to live it in one way or another. Through this people become citizens first, and men second.

    I think then, in families we are men first, and citizens second. Ranciere seems to see families as the only group that is outside of any social order – they are more basic, fundamental, etc. than any constructed social order.

    The wording of my explication certainly brings up some issues: some would say the family is a social order, and some would say I only called the family basic because I’m Mormon and call the family the “basic unit” of society. But I do see Ranciere himself saying that families have something unique – something that the social order does not have. And if he calls the social order is “a dramatization of inequality,” then I think he is implying that the family is not. It seems he is saying that the family is (or can be?) a dramatization of equality.

    This quotation seems to be one of our starting places (what other ones do you see?):
    “the family was a sanctuary where the father was the supreme arbiter, and that consequently, it was there and there alone that intellectual emancipation could be fruitfully sown” (p 105)

    The word “arbiter” is an interesting choice. An arbiter is someone who judges, not rules. From back on page 31, we read: “What prevents the ignorant but emancipated mother from noticing all the times that she asks the child where ‘Father’ is, whether or not he always points to the same word; what prevents her hiding the word and asking, what is the word under my finger? Etc., etc.” An Ignorant schoolmaster “judges” if work has been done with attention.

    But in this family situation, as in any other, a person can only emancipate if they have been emancipated; they can only verify searching if they know how to search. There is still an “announcement” to be made; trusting families to do the work doesn’t mean we don’t do anything, but we know the best place to start: emancipate the parents.

  3. RobF said

    Once again, just happy to be part of this conversation :-)

    1. Families When Ranciere says that “Universal teaching belongs to families” (103) I immediately thought about family scripture study. So much of our discussion here at FUTW over the years has been about how to really teach the gospel, but we’ve mostly focused on how to do that at church. How is teaching at church different from teaching at home? Should there be a difference? If so, what is that difference? We’ve heard time and again that we should be teaching the gospel primarily at home. What can we see in that idea or practice? And is there a difference between “home teaching” and “teaching in the home”?

    All of this talk about institutions set up to bring about progress really has me thinking about the church. What is the role of the church in helping our eternal progression? What does eternal progression here mean? Is there a way that we can see eternal progression as valid in a Rancierian fashion, or would an LDS disciple of Ranciere see in that notion a denial of our co-equality with God? Back to families, what is the difference between the Patriarchal Order of the priesthood and the other ways we organize priesthood int he church?

    2. Monkey–my take on this is that Ranciere is indicating that the “Emancipator” dedicated to progress does not create equals, but unequals (“Monkeys”). Anybody see something different here?

    5. Wars and revolutions, good and evil I find a lot to think about in Ranciere’s statement that “The most elementary hierarchy is that of good and evil. The simplest logical relationship that can serve to explain this hierarchy is that of before and after. With these four terms, good and evil, before and after, we have the matrix of all explications” (117). So…where to even begin with that? How does our LDS doctrine incorporate distinctions of good and evil, before and after? Do these distinctions help us, or are they themselves in effect The Fall from which we need to be emancipated (redeemed?). Was the war in heaven a setting up of these distinctions? What would an LDS theology look like if good and evil, before and after weren’t relevant? Can we see something different about our eternal nature if we forgo thinking in terms of good and evil/before and after? Can we think of eternal progress without these distinctions? Is there an eternal existence apart from these things, a place where there is no good or evil, before or after (one eternal now perhaps?).

    11. Unequal society of equal men. Is this really Zion? If so, how are we to “establish it”? And what is the role of the church in establishing it? Is there a difference between building up the Kingdom of God on the Earth and the establishment of Zion?

    A few other thoughts as I read:

    General Conference I thought about this when I read “Explication is not only the stultifying weapon of pedagogues but the very bond of the social order” (117). How can we appreciate General Conference or the teachings of the General Authorities without falling into a trap of seeing them as Superior Intelligences trying to help us progress by somehow forever positing our ignorance/disobedience to be addressed? Do we treat General Authorities as progressive leaders that “have no power other than that ignorance, that incapacity of the people on which their priesthood is based” (129)?

    Role of the Church What might Ranciere say about the role of the church? Wouldn’t you want to be a fly on the wall in a discussion between Ranciere and Joseph Smith? Or does that desire place the two Josephs on unequal grounds, shouldn’t we be able to have this same dialog? What are we to make of statements like this: “the emancipated are undoubtedly respectful of the social order. They know that it is, in any case, less bad than disorder. But that’s all that they grant it, and no institution can be satisfied with this minimum” (105) What might this tell us about the relationship between emancipated people and the church? I’ve got to admit this thinking gives me pause. I’m not sure where to go with it. So how about here…

    Church Correlation How is Church Correlation like or not like a “Society of Methods”–“An Areopagus of superior minds who want mass education and try to select the best methods of arriving at it” (113). Accepting or being respectful of the social order, how might emancipated Saints view Church Correlation?

    Panecastic Mormonism? Can there be such a thing? What would it be like? Is that how we can avoid mingling the philosophies of men (with the interminable quest for Truth through the lifting of masks) with scripture, ie. panecastic stories that give themselves “over to the pleasure of the imagination without it having to settle accounts with the truth” (138)?

    Is there a distinction to be made somehow between styles of LDS discourse that might recklessly be termed an Explicating McConkie vs. a Storytelling Monson?

    What is the role of explication in modern LDS teachings and practice? How might Ranciere encourage us to examine those practices? What inequalities are being masked/propagated through explication in gospel teaching?

    Discipleship This chapter starts off with a discussion of discipleship: “The duty of Joseph Jacotot’s disciples is thus simple. They must announce to everyone, in all places and all circumstances, the news, the practice: one can teach what one doesn’t know” (101). How is this different from announcing to everyone, in all places and all circumstances, the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Can one be a disciple of Jacotot (or Ranciere) and Christ? Of the two Josephs (Smith and Ranciere)?

    What say ye? What do you see here? What do you make of this?

    • Karen said

      Rob, these are fascinating questions & I hope to get to them soon!

    • BHodges said

      Is that how we can avoid mingling the philosophies of men (with the interminable quest for Truth through the lifting of masks) with scripture, ie. panecastic stories that give themselves “over to the pleasure of the imagination without it having to settle accounts with the truth” (138)?

      Interesting question. I suppose it is possible to give a different reading to Satan’s description of teaching the philosophies of man mingled with scripture. Are we to take Satan at his word here, and assume that because it is Satan’s supposed method that it is the wrong method? Or is it simply the way things have to be, in other words, isn’t everything we talk about the “philosophies of men mingled with scripture”? Aren’t the philosophies of men bound up within scripture since scripture is a negotiation between the revealer and the revelator?

  4. RobF said

    BTW, anybody up for doing a group call/podcast where we can explore our thoughts on Ranciere more directly?

  5. Robert C. said

    Rob, a podcast would be great, though I’m super swamped right now, and will be for the next few weeks. However, I’d love to in, say, a month or two….

    Joe and Karen, these thoughts are very, very helpful. I have a much better understanding now of how you’re reading Ranciere. Let me see if I can rephrase my main complaint, though, because I don’t I expressed it very well. I basically agree with everything Ranciere is saying, I’m just a tad impatient with him for talking so abstractly without engaging actual practices and practices within actual organizations more. Ranciere cites a few examples of failed attempts to implement these strategies in formal education societies and the military, and he seems resigned not to give up on these organizations altogether.

    I think a more productive approach is to: First, recognize, a la Ranciere, that organizations and social structures are inherently very limited in what they can formally accomplish and implement. This is where I agree that emphasis on the axiom of equality is of utmost importance. Second, however, what I think is needed next is a more detailed critique of different kinds of cultural norms, organizational practices, etc. that shed light on how inequality is generated and how equality is undermined. Habermas, if read in the proper light, offers a critique of various political practices and policies in terms of the extent to which they variously foster attitudes, habits, norms and values that are conducive to sustained equality, or not.

    Now, in each of these cases, attitudes of inequality can be subverted simply by understanding the nature of inequality better. This is a fantastic insight. However, I think an even better approach is to first understand the nature of inequality, and go on to think about the ways in which actual (democratic and capitalist) organizations, practices, structures, and norms make the implementation, inculcation and transmission of attitudes of inequality more or less difficult.

    Take the question of teaching in the academy as an example. I think attitudes of inequality are fostered in most academic institutions. However, I think that some academic institutions do a better job than others of fostering attitudes of equality. Liberal arts colleges, in my opinion, do this better than research institutions. I also believe that humanities fare better than the sciences on this score. Exploring the reasons for these kinds of differences is, basically, what I’m calling for, though I’m suggesting this kind of thinking needs to be extended to political and social organizations and norms, beyond just the classroom. Habermas has taken steps in this direction, though I don’t think his undertaking can be made productive without recognizing the deep nature of inequality which Ranciere has given us. However, with this understanding of inequality, we can understand better why, for example, results-driven policies and organizations might run more risk of fostering attitudes of inequality (and myopia, which I think Ranciere suggests is a related phenomena—“it takes too long to learn language that way!”) than, say, more process-focused policies and organizations. Of course there are limitations to what can be accomplished within policies and organizations, but I am arguing that policies and organizations need to be rethought from the perspective of equality, rather than merely dismissed as unredeemable (as I think Ranciere—or at least certain readings of Ranciere—are apt to do).

    • BHodges said

      I’m just a tad impatient with him for talking so abstractly without engaging actual practices and practices within actual organizations more.

      That’s been my main frustration as well. Am I craving inequality, expecting an explicator?

      • Karen said

        I would guess that the problem with giving examples is that people have a temptation to want to imitate the example instead of understand the principle. Remember his discussion about a teacher teaching by words instead of syllables? (p 27-28) The “old master” decided to switch to using words to teach, but this missed the point entirely.

        There is something about examples that both reveals and covers over. My personality is such that the way I see if I’m understanding a person I’m talking to is to translate their words into an example. Then they can counter where I’m misunderstanding. I personally love examples, but I see where they can lead someone astray.

        So maybe we could throw out some examples of what we think Ranciere is saying, and then we could critique each other’s examples, based on how we are reading Ranciere? Would that be helpful and productive?

    • BHodges said

      I also believe that humanities fare better than the sciences on this score.

      Or maybe we just expect that they should be? I’ve seen plenty dogmatism and explication in the humanities classes I’ve taken at the U.

  6. Robert C. said

    After rereading my comment, I should reiterate that I understand Ranciere is saying the very nature of structures and rules is based on an axiom inequality (citizen first, man second—as Karen nicely summarized). My complaint is that Ranciere, taken alone, is basically only thinking about man first, without any robust notion of citizenship (and I have Arendt in mind here in terms of citizenship, as well as an analogy with the Holocaust which I’ll mention below). I am agreeing that man qua man should be taken first—but I think citizenship should also be carefully and responsibly rethought as subordinated to man, and I don’t think Ranciere really does this in any of his writing that I’m aware of.

    The Holocaust analogy I have in mind is simply related to Victor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning. This book has great psychological insights, but it cannot really be considered social (or political) criticism. Similarly, I think Ranciere’s philosophical (and psychological, to some extent) insights are phenomenal (much, much better than Frankel!), but I don’t think he’s really engaging in social criticism in a very meaningful sense, simply because he’s not engaging (non-French…?) political thought—and that is a project that I think is very much worth undertaking (i.e., Rancierean socio-political criticism that engages social and political theory in a more responsible and sustained way, that better engages current thought and scholarship…).

  7. Karen said

    Robert –

    [Okay, after rereading my comment below and Robert’s comments in #5/6, I see that Robert you are agreeing with Ranciere that the work of institutions is secondary to the work of teaching individuals. My comments flesh out why I think Ranciere sees it as secondary and why he sees it as so much less important. Hope it still helps address your complaints…]

    I haven’t read Habermas, though I know Joe is diligently working through a book right now so he can engage your ideas on him. So that aside, I think in some sense Ranciere does address the situations of “better or worse” institutions. I remember three answers in the chapter, as I read it:

    1. Even though Ranciere doesn’t think institutions or systems are the way to go, he did agree to teach in them and formed military instructors according to the King’s wishes (p104). In his speech to them, he said that they had seen a “superior order” that they, as military instructors,would “be useful to the State” etc. It seems that Ranciere does say we could enter an institution and make it better with universal teaching, but that it spoils it in some sense.

    2. Studying which institutions are promoting equality “more or less” also sounds like a good idea to me in a lot of ways, but I think Ranciere would have little patience with this. Which is why, I think, he didn’t address this much. The only example I am thinking of the institution set up to evaluate teaching methods. The problem he saw was that it set up a superior group to decide for everyone else which teaching method was best. In some sense would we have to set up a group of superiors to decide which organizations promoted equality better? Perhaps this is an unjustifiable comparison, but I thought I’d throw it out there.

    3. Ranciere does have lots to say on politics, so I would recommend you talk to Joe about which books to read. But I think the idea of Ranciere (and Badiou, if I’m being fair to either to lump them together?) is that we can either go through the current state or current institutions to get work done, or we go around or diagonal to them – or perhaps like a skew line that doesn’t meet up with the rest? We acknowledge that the state/institutions etc exist, and we let them do what they do, but rather than trying to dismantle them or invade them, we just get to work regardless of them. In other words, I think he would name what you are calling for a progressive idea. It assumes that equality is an end goal and we can get closer and closer. Ranciere would rather, I believe, leave that task to someone else and just get to work.

    So, now I am thinking about your original question in your post: But where does that leave us in terms of thinking about the Church as an institution, and efforts to establish Zion? It’s a very good question! A few initial thoughts:

    1. the Church’s “institution” – depending on what we mean – is really superfluous and just “helpful” in the time being, but not the actual gospel
    2. remember how often we have to be told “focus on people, not programs”? The programs can be reevaluated to do more good, but in the end the whole point is that they don’t matter one bit!
    3. Elder Oaks gave a talk in October 1995 called “Priesthood Authority in the Family and the Church” which may be interesting to reread after reading Ranciere. The line that has stuck with me from when I first heard it is: “If all families were complete and perfect, the Church could sponsor fewer activities.” What I heard implied was that real work goes on in the home, but because there are so many circumstances, by choice or not, that keep that from happening, we are happy to set up programs and classes to supplement families. But the ideal teaching situation is in the home.
    4. While we do have a huge, massive organization with manual committees and program guidelines, we also have family home evening, visiting teaching, home teaching, PPI’s, Bishop interviews, and other one-on-one and/or in-home situations. Every member, ideally, is being taught in their home on a weekly and monthly basis. (Well, ideally they are being taught every day through family scripture study too!) So while the church does get criticized as a corporate-style organization, it also provides immense opportunities for teaching individuals and families. And it empowers and encourages families to teach their own children in their own homes.
    5. Should we then focus our energies on how to improve the programs of the church, or simply take advantage of the many opportunities to teach individuals?
    6. Work can be done on the programs and manuals themselves to improve them, and I’m all for it. In fact, before I found out I couldn’t go to MHA I was preparing a paper on how the YW manuals have changed in their attitudes towards the intelligence of young women. The very structure of the lesson guides says a lot and I do believe it has an impact on the classroom. So I myself have been and plan to be engaged in this sort of improvement. But I think this is a secondary movement, a long-term plan, and if we focus our main energies here I think we become distracted (p 113) from the hundreds of opportunities we have right now to teach. A conversation, a presidency meeting, an interview, a home teaching visit, a ward council, a lesson given out of any manual, etc., all provide opportunities for the real work to be done; even if our church organization is largely superfluous, the real work of the church can be done right here in it. In other words, while the programs of the church are not the work of the church, they do open up holes in which the real work of the church gets through and is accomplished.

    So, this long-winded response to Robert is probably saying, in essence, the reason Ranciere doesn’t talk much about evaluating institutions is because it is a distraction from the most basic work. The work can go on without institutions, so let’s just get started! In the meanwhile, if we want to spend time tweeking organizations so they promote equality more, then let’s do that too. But I think Ranciere would say it would be better to emancipate a person in the organization than it would be to change the structure of the organization itself.


    • Robert C. said

      Great thoughts, Karen.

      I would only amend your final sentence.

      You write that Ranciere “would say it would be better to emancipate a person in the organization than it would be to change the structure of the organization.”

      I am simply saying that “it would be better to emancipate a person in the organization than it would be to try to think about the person as being wholly separable from organizations, cultural practices, and family norms.”

      Another way to rephrase my complaint is that Ranciere mentions the possibility and promise of teaching within families, but he doesn’t talk much about how this is actually done. His examples are rather hokey and/or abstract: if a mother doesn’t know how to read, she can still tell her child to pay attention to the letters. OK, does this mean then, that during our next FHE we should spend the whole time asking our 3- and 4-year olds to look and see what letters they recogize in the BOM? I think this would, indeed, be a productive exercise, but I think FHE should be more than that. And I think a Rancierean approach would not object. But what are some ideas for applying Ranciere to FHE (or to any family or social setting)? I don’t think we have to get overly obsessed with unequal structural rules and policies to productively address these questions. Rather, we need to supplement Ranciere’s brilliant insights. My concern is simply that Ranciere, and those who get excited by Ranciere, are simply too French to have much influence beyond France (or beyond French-focused philosophy departments). In short, I’m trying to provoke Joe, you and others to help translate Ranciere into non-French terms that are more understandable, recognizable, implementable, practical, etc.

      A final way to try and articulate my complaint (I’m repeating myself mainly to get more clear about this for my own benefit—thanks for everyone’s patience!) is to say in response to Joe’s final query (#1, “why are you so interested in progress”):

      “It’s not progress per se that I’m interested in; rather, I’m interested in building the kingdom, and I don’t buy that this is merely an individualistic undertaking. Rather, it is a collective effort that entails collective (or ‘familial’ if you prefer) efforts.”

      I’m not trying to establish some sort of authoritative theory or policy for families or other societal structures; rather, I’m hoping to hear more concrete examples and shared ideas—thoughtfully conceived—of contextual applications of this notion of equality so that I can understand how I might transform my own thought, conceptions, practices, familial norms, etc. according to what rings to my own intelligence in Ranciere’s thought.

      [Addendum: Also, rather just talking in terms of the Church organization as “programs,” I would say the analogy I’m shooting for is more in terms of Gospel doctrines, principles, or practices. I don’t think the gospel can be reduced to a set of doctrines, principles, or practices (or even finite, unchanging set of axioms), just like I don’t think Habermas’s notions of lifeworld can be reduced to some analogous set of laws, structures, institutions, or norms. Nevertheless, these comprise the existing site that is to be transformed. So, rather than diagonalizingly avoiding more direct/transformative engagement with these existing structures, norms, practices, and organizations, I want to transform or redeem these practices, structures, etc. Christ did not come to do away with the law and the prophets; rather, he fulfilled them. So, if we believe in, say, an inspired Constitution, I think it behooves us to fulfill the promise embedded in such a document, rather than to simply dismiss it. (Likewise, if “the powers that be are ordained of God”—a la Rom 13:1—then might not we conceive of God’s work being accomplished through these powers, as opposed to merely diagonal to these powers?)]

      • Karen said

        Thanks, Robert, for making me be more thoughtful in my responses.

        I think I see what you are saying now: while we can consider people outside of social orders, institutions, etc., they are in fact actually a part of them and we can’t ignore that. When I understood better what you were saying, it reminded me of the beginning of chapter four “There is only the society that exists.” I need to give this some more thought.

      • Karen said

        I do have lots of ideas about how to teach kids at home in this way, and no I don’t think it involves the ABC’s at FHE. :) The principle of being “ignorant” assumes that we are all students together. So in an FHE setting, I would pick something that we can think together. Yes, I know more facts than my kids do, so I will likely give them some facts to start with – that is true to Universal Teaching as well (think of Jacotot teaching the poor fathers – he gives them the verbal sentence and the written sentence, so they can get started thinking). So for example, if we’ve been reading about Nephi making the boat, we could find a picture of the story to look at and tell them, “This is Nephi making a boat. What do you see?” They might see the boat, some tools, some other people, some water, etc. Each of these things provides an opportunity to think and talk. “Who do you think the other people are?” (remember we’ve just read the story, so we can verify that they are picking someone in the story they just heard). “Are they happy or sad? Why? What do you remember from the story?” etc. It gives them a chance to look, think, and talk about what they say. The answers are not from us, but from the story they just heard. We just verify that they are thinking. We could even pick a picture of the story we’ve never looked at before.

        Or, we could read or sing something, and then ask them about what they just heard. We could sing “Hark the herald angels sing Glory to the newborn King!” after talking about the Nativity story. Then ask them, “Who sang? What did they say?” The answer is something we just read or sang, and we can verify their attention. We can sing it ten times if we need to. But the answer is in the words of the song, and not in us or them, and so the song becomes the “thing” that levels our intelligence. Does this help make sense of Ranciere and FHE? Do you see problems in this approach?

      • RobF said

        Karen, I like this a lot.

  8. Karen said

    A few responses to RobF in #3:
    1. So much of our discussion here at FUTW over the years has been about how to really teach the gospel, but we’ve mostly focused on how to do that at church.

    That is an interesting point. I wonder what posts on teaching at home would look like on a blog like this one. Are families too unique? Are kids too different? I suppose we could have said the same things about wards and classrooms and never got started on any of this. I would be very interested to see posts on family teaching. Do you think they would end up being more than “here’s what we do” sort of posts? I wonder if we could seriously engage something like teaching an 8 year old about faith. Or maybe how to teach a specific passage? I wonder what shape a post like this might take.

    what is the difference between the Patriarchal Order of the priesthood and the other ways we organize priesthood in the church? I’d recommend Elder Oaks’ talk in Oct 1995. I’d have to reread it before I’d have anything specific to say though. Would that be a good way to start a discussion on this blog about teaching in the home? Start with a conference talk like this and discuss it?

    11. Unequal society of equal men. Is this really Zion? I don’t see anything wrong with it myself, but something seems to be striking you as odd, I take it? I’d love to hear what you are thinking here.

    I think this is why we can have callings for a while and then trade around without problems. The reason a person can be a Bishop one year and a Webelows leader the next is because our “society” of callings is unequal, with heirarchies etc., but we know the people fulfilling them are equal. We respect a Bishop because of his authority given to him through the Spirit and the priesthood, but not because he is a superior human being. He was not born with the right blood or has a superior intellect to us. It is exactly because we believe any person can receive revelation that we are okay with levels of authority in the church. (Although, unfortunately, there are lots of people who think they are “lesser” members who could never hold a “big” calling.)

    So how do we begin to establish Zion? If Ranciere is right, then exactly not by waiting for some mandate from church headquarters that sets up a formal city charter with rules that force everyone to be equal. It seems to me we begin by teaching one person at a time, just like Ranciere suggests emancipating people one person at a time. And those who are seeking truth will find others who are seeking truth, and will keep announcing the truth of the gospel and gathering in more and more.

    In other words, think of the difference between people who are already consecrated coming together because they rejoice in seeking truth and doing the work, verses putting people in a community and then enforcing consecration upon them. It seems to me that the latter would never work; the only way we can build Zion and get ready for Christ is for more and more individuals to become consecrated individually.

    (So the question this brings to my mind is what is the connection, if there is one, between seeking truth – ie, being intellectually emancipated – and consecration? If there is a connection, then Ranciere applies very closely to our question of building Zion. If there is not a direct connection, then perhaps we have some other questions to ask that we haven’t raised yet.)

  9. joespencer said

    If I’m to be provoked, I’ll need some understanding about how much time it will take me still to catch up on the many comments. I’ll have something to say tomorrow, hopefully.

  10. RobF said

    Good to see the comments starting to pile up!

    Karen #8, I’ll have to think some more about the connection between consecration, seeking truth, and emancipation. Of course, seeking truth seems to have a whole ‘nother function in a Rancierian emancipated society than what I may be more used to thinking about traditionally. I’m having a sort of vision of the elders quorum moving party, where guys have come together to load up a 24 foot truck while telling jokes. Perhaps its more about a union of wills (one heart and one mind) with each free to orbit truth in their own way (thinking of electron shells here–with folks in all kinds of funky orbits). So can we see Zion as made up of people with united wills served by emancipated intelligences?

    I like the thought of temporary personal power inequalities in the hierarchy being swallowed up in the larger picture of emancipated intelligences. But what about General Authorities, or at least the “called for life” Apostolic position? Should we see those too as just temporary callings? Do we ever get in trouble by misreading the Apostolic calling as something more than just a temporary call to serve, like any other calling?

    More later after I’ve re-read Elder Oaks’s 2005 talk on Priesthood Authority in the Family and the Church.

    • Karen said

      Rob –
      Do we ever get in trouble by misreading the Apostolic calling as something more than just a temporary call to serve, like any other calling?

      I am thinking of the talk Elder Packer gave in October 2007. Here are a few lines:

      As General Authorities of the Church, we are just the same as you are, and you are just the same as we are. You have the same access to the powers of revelation for your families and for your work and for your callings as we do.
      It is also true that there is an order to things in the Church. When you are called to an office, you then receive revelation that belongs to that office that would not be given to others.
      No member of the Church is esteemed by the Lord as more or less than any other. It just does not work that way! Remember, He is a father—our Father. The Lord is “no respecter of persons.”

      There is the natural tendency to look at those who are sustained to presiding positions, to consider them to be higher and of more value in the Church or to their families than an ordinary member. Somehow we feel they are worth more to the Lord than are we. It just does not work that way!

      What my son and his wife are doing with their little children transcends anything they could do in the Church or out.


  11. joespencer said

    I’m finding that it’s difficult to find the time to catch up on this discussion. (I still haven’t had a chance even to read all the comments, which continue to pile up, and the ones I have read I’ve only read in skim-mode!) I will probably have time at last to get back to it responsibly by something like Tuesday, but that’s far enough away that I don’t think anything I can say by that time will be taken up as part of the discussion. (What’s perhaps most frustrating is that I got my own hard copy of The Ignorant Schoolmaster in the mail the other day, but I won’t have time to read the missing pages until next week sometime, let alone do some serious thinking about them, etc.)

    The result of all the above: I’m going to make a few general responses here that are probably missing the main points of the several comments. But here goes….

    (1) Contrary to others here, it seems, I find that Ranciere’s refusal to provide examples and/or applications of the theoretical work he’s laying out here quite refreshing. Rather than banalizing, reductively oversimplifying, or simply compromising his philosophical rigor by turning to examples, he dedicates his attention entirely to the task of ensuring that he’s worked through the ideas themselves as fully as possible. I’m currently reading Slavoj Zizek’s The Parallax View, which I find to be the exact opposite: there are so many examples and illustrations of Zizek’s basic ideas that I find I can’t read more than twenty or thirty pages of the book a week.

    (2) Again, I don’t see Ranciere dismissing or failing to address questions of society, the institution, organization, progress, programs, etc., etc., etc. I see him as raising these questions in the most rigorous fashion by sorting out their real significance (or insignificance), putting them in the right place rather than coming up with practical advice about how to deal with them. I can’t help but hear all of the concerns about what Ranciere doesn’t do, not so much as valid points of criticism that manifest one’s desire to complete what is otherwise an almost completely perfect project, but as so many iterations of one and the same confession that one takes Ranciere to be, on the whole, wrong.

    (3) I think Ranciere’s Disagreement may be quite crucial to sorting out what’s going on here. There Ranciere claims that there are three “political philosophies” that try to pass themselves off as actual instances of politics. The first of these, associated with Plato, is what Ranciere calls “archipolitics,” the idea that some kind of transcendent order guarantees the superiority and right to rule of certain individuals. Given what Ranciere has done in The Ignorant Schoolmaster, it is not difficult to see that Ranciere wants to militate against archipolitics. But this is only one of the three “political philosophies” against which Ranciere wants to wager the idea of the equality of intelligence. I think it is too easy to see Ranciere, because of his helpful and somewhat obvious critique of Platonic archipolitics, as trying to push away from the one and towards one of the other two.

    The result is that I see most of the criticisms here as asking Ranciere to spell out the details spelled out, according to Ranciere, in the two philosophies he calls “parapolitics” (Aristotle, Habermas) and “metapolitics” (Marx). Parapolitics is the belief that politics begins when we presume an equal society, but this must be distinguished from the presumption of equal intelligence. At times, I hear the criticisms here suggesting that Ranciere spell out how his “equality of intelligence” can be translated into “equal society.” But I think Ranciere sees these as being sharply distinct: hence, an unequal society of equal men. Metapolitics is the belief that the task of politics is to cancel politics, that politics is the work of bringing about a utopia where and when politics would no longer be necessary. At times, I hear the criticisms here suggesting that Ranciere spell out how the idea of equal intelligence should be translated into a political program that will allow politics eventually to be canceled. But I think Ranciere sees this as being essentially backwards.

    For Ranciere, politics—or the assertion that all intelligence is equal—is something that has to happen over and over again, is an essentially infinite and unending task. To provide examples or concrete rules for this conception of things would be to compromise the eternal by pretending that it can be fully realized in the historical, contingent, temporal moment. (Ranciere here shares Badiou’s Platonism: the eternal is only ever compromised if it is confined to the temporary.)

    Or, in a word: I teach them correct (eternal) principles, and they govern themselves (in whatever circumstances arise).


    • BHodges said

      Your explication on the political aspects clarified quite a bit for me. I am not investing enough time in it to pick out the nuance, the practical direction of the argument, hence my call for examples. You have added some explicating categories that help me understand what he’s getting at now. I can’t vouch for your take on it, but I can say it makes sense to me now.

  12. Robert C. said

    Thanks for the article link, Rob.

    And thanks for the FHE examples, Karen. These are, in part, what I want more of. But actually I think Joe’s right (and you, in some previous comments) that really I’m still equivocating regarding the implications of what Ranciere is saying regarding “progress,” parapolitics, archipolitics, etc.

    The deeper issue at stake for me is, basically, the meaning of being in the world but not of the world—the spiritual/eternal and the temporal/temporary. I like so much of what Badiou and Ranciere write, and their ilk, but they both often seem . . . well, rather dismissive of the temporal (though, Badiou more than Ranciere), and this is what makes me nervous. Or, rather, this is what I want to think through more (and in direct relation to my thinking about D&C 42, by the way…).

    So, I’m going to start Disagreement ASAP (which will still take me a while—I’m really swamped for another couple of weeks…) from the beginning and quite carefully. I’ve read a few of the chapters previously, but without really being ready to read carefully and in the proper light. I’ll post most of my thoughts on lds-herm, sharing here only my thoughts as it relates to scripture and pedagogy here. Thanks again for feedback and patience as I try to really grapple with these ideas—they are quite flooring!

    • joespencer said

      Interesting, Robert. I’ll be interested to see what you have to say about all this as you formulate your ideas, particularly your concerns about the dismissal of the temporal (something I’m not entirely sure I see, though I think I know what you’re getting at).

      Incidentally, I’ve read through the first chapter of Between Facts and Norms, but I’ll confess I found it so remarkably dull and uninsightful (but not, for all that, difficult) that I returned it to the library and checked out (and already read) Oxford’s Very Short Introduction to Habermas. When you begin formulating your more specific critiques of Disagreement, I might be able to talk myself into getting back to Between Facts and Norms so as to make my own critiques more rigorously. For now, I’m happy with what I’ve read.

      Having said all that, I’ll now leave all this kind of talk—as you implicitly suggest we should be doing—to LDS-Herm!

    • BHodges said

      How does one enter this secret herm combination?

  13. […] Ranciere’s book here on the blog in a series of posts to be found here, here, here, here, and here. An electronic version of the book, which is unfortunately missing a few pages at the beginning of […]

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