The contemporary theologian John Milbank begins his classic book Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason thus:
Once there was no secular, and the secular was not latent, waiting to fill more space with the steam of the ‘purely human’ when the pressure of the sacred was relaxed. Instead there was a single community of Christendom. (1990: 9)
Against depictions of the secular as a hidden place, ready to be uncovered once modern reason pushed obscurantist religion back to its proper inward and otherworldly spaces, Milbank positions the secular as a modern construction– an invention rather than a discovery. The secular was, he argues, created and is temporally located, arising out of the Protestant reformation and seventeenth-century Augustinianism. For Milbank the secular is grounded in the emergence of certain liberal Protestant onto-theological commitments, chiefly a ‘completely privatised, spiritualised and transcendentalised sacred; … [a] reimagined nature’ where the material world is reducible to its fully intelligible mechanistic functions; and ‘human action and society is a sphere of autonomous, sheerly formal power’ (1990: 9). Furthermore, it is only because the contingency of the secular and its indebtedness to these liberal Protestant onto-theological principles is routinely ignored, underplayed, or gainsaid that the secular may masquerade in popular discourse as something other, as a neutral, ahistorical space, transparently located (even if not locally cognised) across all cultures, regardless of any extant and opposing theological perspectives.
Postcolonialist scholars, particularly in the field of ‘critical religion,’ have carried Milbank’s ideas further, arguing that the use of the secular sui generis , descriptively and analytically, provides a conduit for discursive power. It opens an entry point for Western ideas and values to penetrate into other cultures and colonise indigenous systems of meanings (Asad, 2003, Fitzgerald, 2003 & 2007). The locating of secular practices, institutions, or experiences across the world is, therefore, viewed as political, as a rhetorical vanguard for the global enforcement of a Western worldview, promoting particular liberal capitalist values and interests.
Milbank sought to expose the legerdemain inherent in this modern use of the secular, argued for its rejection and the reactivation or ressourcement of a non-positivistic, non-reductive Christian holism – Radical Orthodoxy. However, what is crucial for this paper in Milbank’s opening paragraph is not so much his new vision for the Christian church, but his positioning of the secular. For the secular here is not given as a space, as is commonly prescribed in the modern discourses of science, economics, and politics, but instead as a happening, a coming-to-be, an event.
What kind of creeping, slow-burning and diffuse event could the arrival of the secular possibly be? It certainly does not have the punctuated singularity of 9/11 or Hiroshima. Nor does it seem to gain much greater lucidity when compared to more hydroid or enduring events such as the revolutionary year of 1848 or the riots of May 1968. With the event of the secular comes a huge sprawling configuration of concepts and discourses, wars and revolutions, emergent empires and the rise of global capitalism, spread across centuries where whole worldviews were dethroned and dominated. Yet despite the secular event’s enormity, it is hidden or masked, barely cognised, and, instead of the secular being viewed as contingent, it is referred to as a permanent fixture of our world, begotten not made. Its eventfulness is denied. We might be tempted to suggest that it is the actual magnitude of the secular event that disguises its eventfulness. Or perhaps, as this secular event is still occurring, it may yet remain unappreciated as an occurrence. It is in light of these aporia that this paper should be read. For if a subtle enough model can be provided to account for an event as unwieldy or intangible as the secular, it may well be a model of some analytic value and applicability.
This paper, therefore, proceeds in three parts. The first part describes the secular’s sleight of hand: its masking of its eventfulness, its disguising of its parochialism and historicism, and the false appearance of a self-evident, cross-cultural natural space. To what purpose has this misuse been popularised and by what agency or discursive ploy has it been achieved?
The second part seeks to unmask the use of the term ‘secular’ and to engage with the secular not as a space, but as an event. What is the genealogy of this term and how has it been historically constructed such that its rhetorical application promotes the interests of hegemonic liberal forces? By what structure of meaning, or within what broader ideology, may we investigate the secular’s framing archaeology?
The final part suggests a particular modelling of the secular event and, by doing so, provides a framework by which other events may be cognised and interpreted. It is a model of hierarchical opposition, of binaries and paradigm shifts. This is introduced with reference to ethnographic studies of dualistic relations in pre-modern cultures, in particular the work of Hertz, Needham and Dumont on the symbolic significance placed upon the left and right hands. At the last, it is suggested that other holistic or macro-events, such as climate change, may achieve new clarity when framed within such an understanding of hierarchical opposition.
I: The Masking of the Secular Event
It is observable that the popular descriptive use of the term ‘secular’ as a transcendental signifier, being assumed legitimately and without prejudice to demarcate neutral spaces across cultures, is not disinterested. When the secular is rhetorically applied positively and positivistically, as if its meaning is self-evident and natural, and as the politically necessary companion to progress, rationality, fairness, tolerance and freedom, we are witness to the operations of power-discourse. When Commodore Bainimarama, the military-installed Prime Minister of Fiji, demands that Fiji be a secular state he does so with the approval of Western powers. To position the secular as an event, therefore, is to identify it as an event of the episteme (Foucault, 1969). Heeding Foucault’s methodology for discourse analysis, it is important to enquire not merely into what a term means now, but also into what powers derive value from its use, and how this use sits within a wider configuration or structure of meaning (Foucault, 1970: 47-78).
Thus we find that interpreting the way in which the ‘secular’ has attained such political punch necessitates reference to its discursive accomplice, its validating other, its binary opposite. For it is the manner in which ‘religion’ as a term is also presented in popular discourse, as superstitious, irrational, dogmatic, private, and otherworldly, that has issued the secular with its rhetorical force (Fitzgerald, 2003, 2007). Precisely as that which religion is not: logical, rational, reasonable, universally accessible and an authority in this material world, now fully subject to the secular scientific method. Indeed, where in the writings of Edward Said the implied binary in Orientalism provided the ‘imaginative geography’ with which to legitimise conquest and annexation (Said, 1978: 96), the religion-secular binary ostensibly presumes to map out ‘neutral’ and ‘unbiased’ secular spaces wherein a distinctly Western liberal worldview, often entailing open access to capital, commodities and markets, may claim authority in foreign cultural systems.
The evidence of this discursive imperialism can be found in the shoe-horning of foreign cultural practices into the ill-fitting category ‘religion’. The critical religion scholar Timothy Fitzgerald gives two examples where the term ‘religion’ is obliquely stamped upon cultural practices in both Japan and India. Both the propitiation of angry ghosts in Japan and Ambedhkar Buddhism in India are referred to as manifestations of religion. Yet Fitzgerald argues that the former lacks any soteriological quality (2003: 6), while the latter lacks any relation to a transcendental power or being (2003: 122). The popularised concept of religion as applied in modern discourse, he states, ultimately ‘is confined to the salvation of the soul’ (2007:22): an individual’s relationship with a supernatural power designed to impart broader meaning to a finite life. The two examples of cultural practice in Japan and India do not fall into this definition, and yet are commonly described as religious. The error lies in allowing the broad use of the term ‘religion’ without seriously addressing the unreflecting simplicity with which the term is commonly understood.
Fitzgerald argues that these subaltern cultures, which do not meaningfully – in an analytic sense – share in the concept of religion, have been labelled as ‘religion’ because, by identifying particular practices as religious, corresponding secular spaces are created as well. These secular spaces, conveniently amenable to marketisation, must be present to ensure continued participation in the club of modern, advanced societies, of which being secular is a key membership criterion. Without identifying practices in one’s own culture which are to be called religious, and subsequently rhetorically distanced from the secular spaces of economics, science and politics, one cannot wear one’s secular mantle of reasonableness or legitimately be called a democracy. ‘Religion’ is thus overdetermined – as is the secular – and operates as a simulacrum – an instance of supposed irrationality used to present the illusion of a greater, secular rationality (see Baudrillard, 1981). Fitzgerald posits that the religion-secular binary is propped up and propagated because it serves the hegemonic interests of liberal capitalism, opening up spaces for trade and capitalistic enterprise. That the terms ‘religion’ and ‘secular’ protect or promote other interests too, particularly minority rights, is not to be denied or ignored. However, this protection is offered subject to, and not in competition with, the hegemonic values of a liberal capitalist discourse. This is argued in greater detail towards the end of this paper in Fitzgerald’s discussion regarding the legal status of the Pueblo Indians in the United States in 1920s.
Masking the secular event, that is, pushing the idea that the secular is not an event but an ever-present space, relies upon a particular structuring of the religion-secular binary. This structure is prescribed as one of simple logical opposition, delivered as a spatial binary of direct and antithetical distinction. The binary is held absolutely to perform the principle of non-contradiction. Just as one must be either alive or dead, all cultural practices must be either religious or secular. This structure for the secular-religion binary is presented to us as a competition for territory along a linear axis, between two competing poles. Where space previously controlled by the religious pole is pushed back, the secular domain is revealed. Under the discourse of secularism this is called progress. As religion retreats from previous fields of dominance, the secular advances and claims authority. In this structure of simple opposition, even where one pole obtains complete dominance – where the sacred saturates every waking thought and act – the secular is not completely absent, as the two poles, religion and secular, are hermeneutically co-dependent. Where the secular is seemingly not present, it is not viewed as truly absent but simply undiscovered, and, therefore, always present in potentia. This popular structuring of the religion-secular binary as one of simple negation and competition over space hides or masks the secular as an event and allows the trumping of subaltern onto-theologies that reject secular structures as foreign impositions. The secularist may freely admit the non-visibility of the secular both presently and historically, but nonetheless affirm its potential presence and thus argue for the secular as, one might say, universally endemic.
This structural positioning of the secular, as a latent space transposable across cultures, is a useful myth. It is perpetuated and popularised as it legitimises a particular normative worldview – ‘authorizing and naturalising a form of Euro-American rationality’ (Fitzgerald, 2007: 22) – and chimes neatly with the universalising intentions of the discursive hegemon, secular liberalism, or, with another face, liberal capitalism. Through demarcating spaces that are homogenous, fully corporeal and non-holistic, all human experience within this space now yields readily to the interpretations of modern positivistic science. As the cultural and physical landscapes are split into sacred and profane spaces, free places for trade and economic development open up. These desacralised spaces are left with nothing but instrumental value and, therefore, offer no footholds for resistance against their exploitation for profit by neo-liberal capitalist consumerism.
II: The Rise of the Secular
The next step in this paper is to unmask this misleading dualistic structure, and develop a more accurate understanding of this secular-religion binary. Through Fitzgerald’s historical analysis of the changing discursive use of the terms ‘secular’ and ‘religion’, the perfidy of the above binary structure becomes apparent, and a new binary structure emerges. Instead of a binary of simple opposition involving a competition over space – religious spaces versus secular spaces – there is an entire paradigm shift; a radical event that utterly reorders the mapping of reality. The binary structure of simple opposition suggests a progressive, linear, spatially co-ordinated process of secularisation. Yet the secular arrived as a wholesale interruption, replacing old systems of meaning with an entirely new structure of hierarchical opposition –encompassment. Here the secular pole does not sit in simple opposition to religion, but actually encompasses it. It is later posited that this modelling of the secular event as hierarchical opposition may not only clarify further how power is exercised through the use of religion and the secular sui generis, but also may provide a model for interpreting other enduring macro-events that radically reorder the episteme.
Timothy Fitzgerald’s Discourse of Civility and Barbarity undertakes an historical examination of the transformation of the term ‘religion’ in relation to the developing Protestant politico-theology of the 17th century, in particular the separation of Church and State, and the Protestant privatisation of Christian faith. Reformation theology, Protestants against clergy corruption and the Guttenberg printing press, increasingly moved religion towards a private faith-based relationship between the individual and God. The writings of John Locke, William Penn, and Thomas Jefferson are paradigmatic of this change in meaning and use. Before this epochal turn, ‘religion’ was better understood as something akin to ‘Christian Truth’ (Fitzgerald, 2007: 53), and was synergistic, plenitudinous, normative and avowedly theological. Like Bourdieu’s doxa(1972: 164-169), it was a worldview that occurred before any sein-sollen or fact-value distinction associated with Auguste Comte amongst others. ‘Christian Truth,’ characterized by such ideas as Christendom or the Commonwealth, provided ‘a holistic and hierarchical vision’ of society, that is, ‘God’s order on earth’ (Fitzgerald, 2007: 20), namely, indivisible, dynamic, organic, and permeated with notions of divine goodness. The binary other of this understanding of religion is not yet the secular, but instead superstition, witchcraft or heresy (Fitzgerald, 2007: 109), and the meaning of these terms were wholly determined by the rules of the master discourse of ‘Christian Truth’. In this sense, heresy and witchcraft persisted on an inferior pole of a hierarchical binary, present only ever with negative identity. Their meaning, whilst in opposition to the perceived values of Christian Truth, were also encompassed and defined by the logic of its worldview.
However, as the new Protestant hermeneutic for religion gathered momentum, religion as ‘Christian Truth’ became less prevalent and the term lost its holistic compass. The all-encompassing ‘religion as ‘Christian Truth,’ through which all human activity and knowledge was made meaningful, split in two, and was slowly replaced with the newly created religion-secular binary. Religion was cut down to its mysterious otherworldly essences. Previous areas of worldly authority were siphoned off and made other. They were ostensibly desacralised, and these became the new ‘secular’ spaces of politics, science and economics, constituting a public domain of ‘secular reason.’
Thus, during this period, the discursive meaning of religion changed dramatically. It shifted from being normative and holistic – religion as Christian Truth over and against, yet still encompassing, the savage world of the God-less – to being descriptive, reductive and now but a part – religion in contradiction to the secular. The secular event, however, as will be explained in greater detail, was not simply religion changing from an encompassing whole to a part, but a complete paradigm shift, whereby a new secular ascended, and even now sits where ‘religion’ as Christian Truth once did, and has itself become normative and holistic, structuring the world to its prescriptions. The old hierarchical binary has been replaced, yet this Kuhnian-scale revolution is rarely critically engaged. It is by the othering of its binary foil, ‘religion,’ that the normative hegemony of the secular is concealed, which enables the secular myth to continue, ordering the world to the dictates of secular reason quietly and efficiently, ever under the cloak of neutrality, reasonableness and fairness.
With this unpacking of the secular event now being presented as a matter of an asymmetric binary structure, and in particularly a structure of encompassment, it is instructive to turn to our hands, or at least to various ethnographic studies of them. For while a pair of hands may appear simple, symmetrical opposites at first glance (as indeed the religion-secular binary is so casually positioned in popular discourse), a little reflection upon them reveals that to be anything but the case.
III: Handling the Secular Event
In 1909, in La Prééminence de la main droite, the French ethnographer Robert Hertz found that in all pre-modern cultures a practice of assigning different values to our right and left hands existed. Indeed, the echoes of this spatial asymmetry resound today in such terms as ‘rights’, ‘right-hand man’, ‘sinister’, and ‘widdershins’. Furthermore, Hertz found that not only was the right universally favoured over the left, but that there were whole sets of other binaries that homologically lined up, predictably fitting into the right or the left. On the right were aligned ideas of the positive, the pure, the auspicious, the homely, and the legitimate whereas on the left were aligned ideas of the ambiguous, the impure, evil, the inauspicious, the disorderly and the hostile. Life was assigned to the right and death to the left, male to the right and female to the left. Hertz, under the influence of Emile Durkheim, gave a place for the sacred (right) and the profane (left) as well. Hertz’s idea was that ‘all societies must avert internal opposition by claiming [certain facts] to be grounded in “the nature of things”, an example being right-handedness’ (Parkin, 2003: 10). Societies communicated symbolically through asymmetric representations of space.
Due to the tragic death of Hertz in 1915, Hertz’s work was not picked up by the English-speaking world until the Oxford structuralist Rodney Needham introduced, translated and expanded Hertz’s work in 1960. Needham argued that this elementary logical opposition, best cognised (though not universally manifested) by the binary of right (superior) and left (inferior) was an ‘essential’ aspect of human cognition. All binaries could simply be tabulated under right and left. As such, we can understand this structure of logical opposition as matching the binary structure of religion (left) and secular (right) which masks the secular as an event in popular discourse. However, when Needham was studying the culture of the Meru tribe of Kenya, and in particular the status of the Mugwe, he came across a complication. The Mugwe, a patriarch elder with sacred spiritual authority, attained all the typical homological qualities of the right hand. However, it was the Mugwe’s left hand that was sacred and used for blessings and holding the tribe’s insignia, thekiragu. This led Needham to the confusing statement that the Mugwe’s left hand was symbolically his right (Needham, 1960: 20-33). However Needham’s contemporaries were deeply unsatisfied with this contention, and it is here where Louis Dumont, and his binaries of hierarchical opposition, enter the conversation.
Louis Dumont, a contemporary of Lévi-Strauss, argued that Needham’s binaries of logical opposition were in error as they failed to take context and the importance of structural relations sufficiently into account. In building binaries of simple logical opposition Needham’s methodology, Dumont claimed, had been insufficiently reflexive. Needham’s preference for logical opposition was a result of his own cultural bias, his ideological commitment to what Dumont calls the ideology of equality – a secular individualism that invokes a methodological atomism by reducing the whole to its constituent, autonomous parts. Here, meaning is intrinsic to each self-contained unit that collectively constructs the whole. This ontology is only made possible by the transcendental, autonomous subject, disconnected from its object of perception, another distinctly secular modern invention. Not only did Dumont, as a structuralist, object to the idea of the transcendental subject, he also argued that pre-modern societies, in contrast to the secular modern, were structured by hierarchy where meaning is established by embedded social relations. As such, Needham’s modern secular bias could only distort his ethnographic analysis.
Dumont’s meaning of hierarchy is easily confused. It is not a ‘body of persons or things ranked in grades, orders or classes, one above another,’ as one might expect, ‘but a relation that can succinctly be called “the encompassing of the contrary”’ (Dumont, 1970: 239). Dumont provides the example of a whole set (animals) as being in hierarchical opposition to a part of this set, a subset (vertebrae). He notes that vertebrae are consubstantial to animals as they are a part of this whole set, and are yet opposed and differentiated: ‘There is also difference, or strictly a contrariety (a vertebrae is not solely an animal, an animal is not necessarily a vertebrae)… this double relation… of identity and contrariety is a logical scandal’ (1979: 809). This principle for Dumont parallels Plato’s Republic. The luxurious city is one of internal inter-dependence and consistency. The workers, warriors and rulers are defined by their different, yet harmonious, relations regarding the functioning of the polis as a whole. Thinking of our hands, we may say when viewed as a distinct pair that they are symmetrical and equal and can be placed in simple opposition to each other. Without attachment to a whole one cannot assign them with different values. Indeed, Dumont would argue that here there is no value. However, when these hands relate to a whole, to a person, who as socially situated communicates symbolically through asymmetric representations of space, the right hand and the left hand attain value. It is hierarchy, I suggest, that is the appropriate structure for ‘religion’ as Christian Truth – the direct attaching signifier for the wholesomeness of God’s creation. Dumont’s hierarchy is asymmetric and built upon a system of unequal oppositions, yet this is all encompassed and made meaningful through a relation to the whole.
Dumont replaces Needham’s logical opposition between the right and left hands with a structure of hierarchy opposition, and thereby includes context, a reference to the whole. Dumont elaborates upon hierarchical opposition by reference to Evans-Pritchard’s 1940 analysis of the South Sudanese tribe, the Nuer (1970: 234ff.). During the ritual recitation of the ox-names, the spear is held in the right hand and represents the whole body, the whole person, and even the whole clan. The left hand is opposed to, and yet identifies with, the right, but it is only through the right hand that the left attains any relation to the whole.
It is this hierarchical opposition and idea of encompassment, and not logical opposition, that best defines the religion-secular binary and explains how it may release power and promote specific interests. Fitzgerald, in his analysis of the Pueblo Indians, provides an excellent example of how this hierarchical binary executes discursive power.
In 1924, the Pueblo Amerindians, seeking to protect themselves from cultural annihilation, met together and issued a group statement to the United States federal government. In this statement their culture was presented as a religion: ‘We have met because our most fundamental right of religious liberty is threatened and is actually at this time being nullified… our religion is sacred to us’ (Fitzgerald, 2007: 92). In this the Pueblos were adopting ‘an English-language category that had no parallel in their own language’ (2007: 92). For Tina Wenger, this vindicated secular discourse. The religious identity-rights invoked by Pueblo Indians were subsequently protected in law. However, with the Pueblo self-identifying their culture as religious, their culture had to submit to the secular boundaries within which ‘religion’ is limited. This had consequences regarding the participation in traditional dances and initiation rites for young Pueblo men. These rites and dances, already perceived to ‘impede Indian progress towards “civilisation”’ (Wenger, 2005: 96), were further vilified for causing extended absences by young Pueblo men from state education and contracted labour. Pressure was subsequently brought to bear on young Pueblo men to opt out of these rites. Furthermore, by their appeal to constitutional rights, the Pueblos had made participation in these rites a matter of individual choice, and not at the behest of the traditional authority of the elders. As Fitzgerald quotes Tina Wenger:
The religious freedom defence was somewhat effective as a discursive strategy for protecting Pueblo traditions from outright government suppression. Accompanying it was a degree of implicit individualism, derived from American conceptions of religious freedom, which forced traditionalist Pueblos to conceive of ritual responsibilities in newly individualistic terms. (Fitzgerald, 2007: 94)
Religion is now shaped by the secular into something fundamentally other. In this hierarchical relation, religion must attach to an encompassing master secular discourse. Religion is now the private choice of the intrinsically valued individual, and the relations between individuals are of comparable insignificance. Religion has been sanitized for liberal capitalism. Dumont provides a similar example of this asymmetric hierarchy through the Christian binary of good and evil. It was Satan’s rebellion that created evil, yet he nonetheless remains an angel, albeit one fallen from God’s grace. However, at the same time, good does not obtain meaning without evil. Evil is the lesser pole, and meaningful only through good, but even so is necessary for good to exist. Absolute good, therefore, is not the absence of evil, but its complete subordination. The secular needs religion in order to establish its discursive legitimacy, but ever seeks to control it and shape it to the reductive atomism of secular reason. From this perspective, the rise of the Christian Right in the United States is not a failure of the secular event, but its fulfilment, reflected in faith as propositional belief – religious truths as facts-in-the-world, profound individualism, and the tyranny of the ‘socialist’ federal state referred to in terms of the Anti-Christ. Should Liberation Theology seek a similar platform to the Christian Right, or Muslims campaign for localised instigations of Sharia law, secular forces would quickly cry out the First Amendment: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…’
The event of the secular may, therefore, be understood as the replacement of religion on the right hand by that of secular reason. Religion as Christian Truth that previously encompassed all that lay before it radically changed. Religion, now opposed to the secular, became encompassed and of the left hand while the secular of the right hand dominates and encompasses. Science, economics, politics are all derivatives of this newly dominant secular: Œconomics – the responsible management of the community or household resources – developed into economics – the mathematical measure of scarcity – and is but one manifestation of the secular event. It is these atomistic, reducing cognitive systems, master discourses, or modes of thought that now appear to dominate how meaning is structured in the modern world. That the secular event is not commonly recognised in these popular discourses of science, economics and politics is primarily because their academic authority lies precisely in not cognising the secular as an event, but also because the event of the secular has disguised its own eventfulness. By establishing an ideology of equality, where meaning is now intrinsic to the parts and not contingent on a contextualising whole, it has altered its own frame of reference, thus allowing the secular to be presented as integral-to-itself. Thus, the contextual influences of capitalism and colonialism, and the secular’s Protestant onto-theological archaeology, may be negotiated as incidental, and not formative to such an extent that its cross-cultural deployment is denied. Yet it is only because of this secular shift in how meaning is allocated within our popular discourses that this gainsaying of the secular as an event is able to take place. When discussing this disguising of the secular event, Churchill’s remark that ‘history is written by the victors’ is well worth remembering.
This model of the encompassing right hand can even provide a raw model for conceptualising other events that, as necessarily unpredictable occurrences, must enter discursively on the right hand – at the level of paradigm shift – and not from the left – where meaning is pre-programmed by extant discourse structures. The right hand/left hand model understands the event as a metonymic switch whereby the whole is repositioned for a part, a part that is now shaped by the arrival of a new, previously impossible to predict, whole.
The right hand/left hand model may be particularly useful when looking at the events that appear to creep slowly into our world, gradually but emphatically remapping the co-ordinates of our universe, yet without the trumpets or the screams. Such events are often hidden or denied because of ideological preference or blindness. Such as the secular, these events are positioned as inevitable progressions, discoveries or evolutions, causally determined by the natural procession of history or the realisation of human destiny. Foucault discusses extensively the illusions of the transcendental subject, of history as discontinuity and rupture, and of the need for vigilance against transposing modern narratives into the past or across cultures. This model affirms this principle by re-iterating an understanding of the event as radical interruption and helps to identify those slow-burning or episteme-shifting events that through discursive misrepresentation are overlooked or, instead, deemed inevitable and, as such, not that eventful at all.
Another benefit for the right hand/left hand model of the event concerns how we may decide when an event which radically alters the episteme – such as the secular event – has occurred. A potential candidate for such an event, climate change, to a large extent remains presently a non-event. We may call climate change a non-event as it still resides as a part, on the left hand, dominated by the extant power discourses of economics, science, international politics, and an eschatological theology. When the immanent existential threat of climate change is radically transformed, ascending to the right hand, delivering the apocalyptic nightmares that scientists have forewarned, it may then provide the master-discourse through which liberal capitalism (having now moved to the left hand) and the other secular discourses are themselves discursively dominated and understood. Economic growth and scientific advancement, under this new event, might then be framed within the context of continuing human life on an ever-increasingly intemperate planet. Here it is capitalist growth that has now been instrumentalised – as desacralised holy spaces were instrumentalised half a millennia before – to serve another new and more intrinsically important value: human survival. It is – perhaps – only under such circumstances, with climate change discursively dominant, that is, on the right hand, that we may then perceive climate change as an event.
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