The Abrahamic Moment: A Call for Ir-Responsibility.
Let us recall Abraham. There have certainly been other historical moments when this "father of faiths," so central to all the monotheisms, has served as a figure for thought. Ours, once more, is such a moment. We have reason to call on him because he, more than other, compels a thinking about the limitation of ethics. Abraham, in his absolute, radical fidelity to God, which hinges on his radical refusal of the ties that ordinarily bind us: family, faith, community. Abraham, as might be expected, did not submit to God easily, but when "God tested Abraham" (Genesis 22:1) Abraham undertook that tortuous three day journey to Mount Moriah. (Surely, it must have been difficult, painful, gut wrenching, to have accepted God's brief to commit such violence against his own, to agree to put to death, by his own hand, his own flesh and blood.)
In building that altar, in binding Isaac and in laying his son "on the altar, on top of the wood" (Genesis 22:9) and preparing to kill his son with his knife, Abraham throws into the ethical itself into question. Abraham challenges, he might even be said to dispense with, our most primal understanding of life: how could Abraham liquidate his loyalty to his son? To his family? Abraham, there is no way around this, lies; he lies to his wife Sarah, to his son, to all those in the land of Canaan who imagined they knew him; after all, because this event, they had no reason to doubt him, to doubt what to many of his neighbors must have been his sanity, even his standing as a man of faith.
But Abraham answered to a higher order of things (trying as it must have been), to what the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard conceives as the "transcendence of the individual" in his work Fear and Trembling. And so, because of Abraham, we are compelled to ask, What is our responsibility to those closest to us? Abraham's act of unimaginable fidelity provides a remarkably simple, if bracing and frightening, answer: the greatest responsibility we have as human beings, Abraham teaches us, is to refuse the logic of the ethical. In fact, at critical conjunctures, of which ours - November, 2016, in the days following the Kurtzian specter, "The horror, the horror" - is surely one, acting ethically is precisely the wrong thing to do. Abraham, trembling before God and his son, was ir-responsible to Isaac because of his radical fidelity to God - to that which transcends, to which is of the highest order of being. The only way to be responsible to God, to what is transcendently good, is to be ir-responsible to everyday ethics.
It takes an inordinate amount of courage to be ir-responsible. It is, in the Abrahamic mis-en-scène, this test of faith, humanity and truth, easy to be ethical. The ethical requires no courage; one simply follows a prescribed set of actions. The ir-responsible, a critique of the ethical that Jacques Derrida derives from his engagement with Kierkegaard, challenges everything, endangers everything, life itself, the life of a beloved child, its undermines a wife's faith in her husband (where is the veracity between spouses, where is the truth?).
it is only when we strive for the ir-responsible, when we forswear that which is most dear to us, that we achieve ir-responsibility (to act against the ethical impulse), which is what makes it becomes possible to undertake a radical politics. It is only when the self is willing to risk what is most like itself (the son, in this instance) that the self can know the transcendence of love.
In the wake of this horror that is the coming of the Trump presidency, the question, urgent, life-threatening, autoimmune, presents itself: what kind of individual transcendence are those 25,200,000 (which includes 7 million college educated white women) white Americans who voted for Trump capable of? Are they capable of ir-responsibility now that the reality of the horror has, one hopes, begun to sink in? If, as Greg Popovich, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs puts it, those white Americans who voted for Trump would not tolerate the kind of behavior (racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, mocking those who have physical disabilities, and so on) that the president-elect has exhibited over a lifetime in their children, would they now be willing to review their responsibility to themselves?
Unless those whoconstitute Trump's white America can be made ir-responsible, unless they can dispense with their ethics and reconsider what it is they subscribe to in Abrahamic terms, surely there is cause for tremendous concern on the part of those who do not resemble the white, Trumpian self, whatever its gender.
It is a difficult project: to institute a radical Abrahamic politics when those who have triumphed hold fast, with a desperate vengeance, to themselves before all else. Making America White Again is utterly inconsistent with the transcendent courage of Abraham's unethicality.
Whether or not our moment is, already, with our both knowing it and being unable to
properly know it, 1930s Europe, one would have to be deliberately tone deaf not to hear the undertones of Martin Heidegger's famous declarative. Heidegger, a thinker who struggled so determinedly against the Roman Catholicism of his youth, was partly flippant (a sort of wistful, poetic agnosticism) and partly in search of political answers (aren't we all? Now, more so than ever) when he said that "only a god ["God" was intentionally not capitalized] can save us now."
Following Kierkegaard and Derrida and their careful articulation of the Abrahamic project, might it be possible to confront those who voted "ethically" and "responsibly" and say to them, challenge them, with this proposition, one whose level of hubris we cannot yet know: only your ir-responsibility and your embrace of the unethical can save us, those who are not like you, now. Can, should, this question be posed? Or, does it cede, before itself, already too much to those who are about to take power (already consider themselves empowered, entitled to behave as they wish toward and against those who do not resemble them), or, to those who have given their sanction in the name of a Christian self, a Christian self unrecognizable and incommensurate with the radical unethicality of that nineteenth century Danish philosopher, theologian and everyday man of letters?
However one addresses this series of questions, of this we can be sure: we have seen, yet again, the violent effect of the ethical. If the unethical is not realized, if finds no articulation, if does not interrupt our perilous, precarious, hate-filled now, there is the possibility that the first effects of the ethical (Trump's electoral victory) will pale - pun intended - with what might emerge out of it later.
The Abrahamic Moment: A Call for Ir-Responsibility.