8/27/2010 11:15:10 AM
In the latest issue of YES! David Korten discusses his newly revised book, Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth. In response to a question regarding the housing bubble—“Four to six trillion dollars of value went away when the bubble popped. But what does that actually mean in terms of housing?—Korten replies:
It means absolutely nothing in terms of houses. That’s the part of understanding the difference between phantom wealth and real wealth. It was a financial bubble, and the most extraordinary thing is how few economists and economic policy makers seem to have had any recognition of the distinction. An increase in real housing value would, for instance, provide more comfortable shelter. The simple inflation of housing prices changed nothing except increasing the financial claims of those who held title to those houses.
Later, Korten recognizes that this idea—the idea of something’s worth actually corresponding to something of value that that thing provides—is not unique to him. It’s just that the opposition to such thoughts has been so systematically ingrained in people (as an example, the interviewer asks ealier: “What about the stock market? That’s widely accepted by Americans as an index of economic health”*) that most doubt their own instincts as to how things really should work. Or, as Korten puts it:
Most psychologically healthy people recognize the truth, because I believe the true moral values are innate in our mature human nature. Yet the power of the perverse cultural manipulation in our society is so strong that it causes people to doubt that which they know in their heart to be true.
Korten sees the glorifying of the seven deadly sins in capitalist culture as that “perverse cultural manipulation.”
[I]t’s turning the whole moral framework on its head and convincing us that somehow the pursuit of the seven deadly sins is really good for society and helps us build wealth and happiness. It’s the most incredible moral perversion and the fact that this is not widely recognized is sort of like “oh my goodness.”
*Korten’s answer to this question is probably my favorite part of the interview: “Well, the fact that the total value of stock market assets can go up and down by trillions of dollars day by day is a pretty powerful indicator that it has no relationship to any underlying real value.” Exactly.
Source: YES! (interview only available in print edition; an excerpt from the revised edition of Agenda for a New Economy is available online.)
8/26/2010 2:59:21 PM
Should nonbelievers shy away from examining or criticizing the religious beliefs of the devout because it might offend them? Certainly not, writes senior editor Ronald A. Lindsay at Free Inquiry in his commentary “Expressing One’s Views on Religion”:
Religions make certain claims about reality, for example, that there is a god, there is an afterlife, and natural disasters constitute divine punishment. Believers assert these claims and in many cases try to persuade others to accept them. These claims should be subject to examination and criticism, just like any other claims about reality. In other words, there is no principled reason for placing religion off-limits. Religious claims and religious beliefs should be treated the same as claims and beliefs relating to physics, politics, or pottery. If we maintain that a religious belief is mistaken, unsupported, or vague to the point of being incomprehensible, we should feel free to say so. If the expression of our views offends a religious person, that person has no more right to tell us to keep quiet than a Democrat offended by criticism of President Barack Obama, a physicist offended by criticism of string theory, or a potter offended by criticism of the clay mixture in his or her earthenware.
Well aware that he’s wading into the debate stoked by the anti-religious fervor of the so-called new atheists, Lindsay proposes a measure of civility and religious tolerance tempered by the clear-eyed gaze of the secular humanist:
Of course, we must respect the religious. But respect is not manifested by treating the religious like children for fear they may be upset when someone questions their beliefs. That would be deeply insulting to our religious friends. They are our peers in all relevant respects, intellectually, morally, and otherwise. As fellow members of our moral community, they are entitled to have their beliefs treated seriously; they are entitled to have their beliefs probed, questioned, and critically examined; they are entitled to work with us in our efforts to understand reality.
Source: Free Inquiry
Image by au_tiger01, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/25/2010 10:33:08 AM
Over at Slate, Jessica Grose writes about Micah Toub’s book Growing Up Jung: Coming of Age as the Son of Two Shrinks. In the annals of childhood psychological adjustment, I don’t think my head has ever exploded quite the way it did when I read this paragraph:
There was a lot of dream analysis in the Toub household, of course, and also exercises in the Jungian technique of "active imagination," which Toub explains is "deliberately exploring one's imagination and fantasies by … acting them out verbally or physically to read the message that one's unconscious is trying to communicate." In one memorable scene, Toub's mother encouraged him to "be" an erection in order to help him get over a bout of teenage impotence. To accomplish this, she took young Micah to a local park and had him pretend to be his own boner. "Your name is not Micah, you are not a human being," she told him. "You are an erection. What words come into your head?" He visualized himself as a "victorious penis," running around the park triumphantly.
Image by marine_perez, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/20/2010 8:43:50 AM
The world's happiest countries have been announced, and three of the top five are among the least religious countries in the world, reports Alfredo Garcia at Religion News Service. Garcia acknowledges that this "might be like comparing apples to bookshelves" and that "measures of 'happiness' or 'religiosity' can often be so vague and difficult to quantify that they lose their meaning" but it's a notable finding all the same. Here's more:
The nations taking the top spots include: Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands. This might not come as a surprise to many who have been to these nations. What is surprising, however, is that three of these five nations are among the top 10 least religious nations in the world (also from Gallup).
Indeed, Sweden, Denmark and Norway came in at second, third, and fourth, respectively. Only Estonia was less religious than these nations.
(Thanks, Religion Dispatches.)
Source: Religion News Service
Image by Stig Nygaard, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/19/2010 12:55:35 PM
For many people, the books of Ayn Rand are a source of great spiritual, philosophical, and political wisdom. Her readers, furthermore, demonstrate the kind of devotion most writers can only covet from afar. In a show of gargantuan appreciation, one of those devotees recently scrawled the commandment “Read Ayn Rand” across the United States using a GPS tracking device as a makeshift pen, according to World’s Biggest Writing.
In the comments section of the New Yorker’s Book Bench, one quipster has remarked that it is “sad that such a cool thing, and a pretty neat ambition, was wasted on something so frivolous as ‘Read Ayn Rand.’ Unless someone's willing to spell out ‘Don't’ all over Canada.” That made me chuckle, but then I was reading the World’s Biggest Writing a little more closely, in particular the bottom of the page, where links and small thumbnail images of Rand’s books suggest buying her work on Amazon. Below that, the proprietor of the site—reachable at nick at worldsbiggestwriting (dot) com, an email address that suggests he is the same Nick Newcomen who pulled off this nifty stunt to begin with and therefore seems to be talking about himself in the third person on World’s Biggest Writing—has included a note making it clear that “[i]f you click on the above link(s) and buy a product(s) at Amazon.com, the owner of this site will earn a commission.” Then I really chuckled, because I can’t help but wonder if he’s talking about himself in the third person in order to cover his self-interested, entrepreneurial tracks. Oh, he’s so Rand-y!
(Thanks, Book Bench.)
Sources: World’s Biggest Writing, Book Bench
Image by Rodrigo Paoletti, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/12/2010 4:04:53 PM
Let’s put our ideological and spiritual differences aside for just a moment and, through reasoned argumentation, decide what happens to human beings after they die. Easier said than done. Should we approach the mystery from a high philosophical horse, or whittle it down with the empirical edge of the scientific method? And don’t forget: the cozy theologian will have something to add to the discussion as well. Even if we strip passion from our assumptions about the afterlife, we come no closer to understanding its feasibility.
After reading four recently published books regarding life after death, Jacques Berlinerblau is as clueless as he ever was. But what appears at first to be a run-of-the-mill book roundup in The Chronicle Review becomes a careful examination of the difficulties of talking about the afterlife in a useful, scholarly manner.
Berlinerblau first tackles books that try to prove the existence of an afterlife through modern science. One such book, Life After Death: the Evidence by Dinesh D'Souza, is a spirited read, Berlinerblau writes, but the alleged scientific accuracy of D’Souza’s claims is questionable, and far outside the realm of a lay-person’s ability to second-guess. “[D’Souza] devotes great energy and imagination to popularizing complex scientific ideas for his readers,” says Berlinerblau. “Whether his distillation of those ideas is accurate is something that only physicists, neuroscientists, astronomers, and biochemists, among others, can answer.” Looking to the humanities is just as unsatisfying.
Theological and philosophical writing is infamous for its convoluted complexity. Berlinerblau tried, with marginal success, to unpack the metaphysical arguments for an afterlife in Princeton professor Mark Johnston’s Surviving Death. Things don’t start well: “From the outset, let me confess that Professor Johnston's argument went so far above my head that it jettisoned booster rockets into the poppling ocean of my incomprehension.” After numerous dense, jargon-y chapters, Berlinerblau concludes that “It would be pointless to try to summarize [Johnston’s] hypotheses.”
Berlinerblau speculates that rational conversation about the afterlife may be impossible and offers his own modest solution: “There is, of course, a counterpossibility: If we do in fact perdure, perhaps we transit into a realm beyond good and evil—a realm so radically other that science, theology, and philosophy cannot fathom its contours. That does not mean we should stop asking questions. But insofar as there are no answers, a recommended course of action might consist of living according to some minimal standard of decency and cherishing our bright moments.”
Source: The Chronicle Review
Image by Qole Pejorian, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/6/2010 1:23:08 PM
Andrew Holecek has a nice piece on the practice of mindfulness in the autumn issue of Light of Consciousness. He claims that although it’s a natural state for us, it’s been lost due to “eons of mindlessness” and we need to reconnect with it through repetition (and a fair bit of patience) before we can fully transform our lives. He also makes this great comparison to boiling water:
Put a pot of water on the stove, turn on the heat, and wait. Depending on the intensity of the heat and the temperature and volume of the water, it will boil slowly or quickly, but either way there is a period where nothing seems to be happening. All this energy is going into the water with no obvious result. The phase transformation from water into steam takes time.
Similarly, when we engage in spiritual practice, we have placed ourselves on the stove and turned on the heat. If our practice is half-hearted, then it takes time for that low temperature to transform us. If we practice wholeheartedly, the higher temperature brings us more rapidly to a boil. But either way there is a period where nothing seems to be happening. All this energy is going into our practice but nothing is cooking.
As long-term practitioners reflect over years of practice, they discover they are starting to get warm. The changes come slowly because the water that is being heated is so cold, and the heat of our practice is usually tepid. But sooner or later we come to a boil.
Source: Light of Consciousness (partial article available online)
Image by Sterlic, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/5/2010 3:14:42 PM
“With his arm around me I would melt into him and carefully link my fingers through his, neither of us speaking or looking at each other, leaving things superficially ambiguous. It would be years before we finally kissed but those late-night journeys in the savaris left us breathless and elated.”
That quote may read like a dog-eared, grocery store romance novel, but is actually emerging Iranian author Kamin Mohammadi recounting her story of risky, long-distance passion under multiple repressive Sharia-Law touting regimes in the latest issue of Virginia Quarterly Review. Throughout the essay, Mohammadi paints a vivid picture of “the interplay of repression, sexual experimentation, and the presence of technology,” especially in the lives of the Iranian youth. Her narrative is masterfully interwoven with modern techno-social history of Iran, including this shocking passage:
“[My lover] also started to accompany me to the local internet café where I joined all those lined up at the banks of computers to connect with the outside world. That was the beginning of another revolution that has changed so much in Iran; the ever-watched youth of Iran—a colossus in number—suddenly found in the internet two things they did not have in their everyday lives: an instant connection with the outside world, and anonymity. In a society in which most are forced to dissemble to some degree, to wear some sort of a mask in order to survive, a way to express oneself unhindered and without possible repercussion was intoxicating, and soon became addictive. In separate groups boys and girls were squeezed into the booths, giggling while tapping away. And pornography, of course, was the most popular search, any kind the limited bandwidth and censors would allow. This was before cell phones and before people had internet at home, before pornographic material started being passed around over Bluetooth and on CDs, and perhaps something about looking at this illicit material in a public space, its heady thrill, made what came after easier, made the chat rooms and the virtual dates inevitable. And the influence of pornography on the sexual imagination of the nation started right there in those internet café booths.”
(Thanks, Hit & Run!)
Source: Virginia Quarterly Review
Image by kamshots, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/2/2010 1:23:48 PM
“I know there are those who will accuse me of exaggeration when I say this,” writes essayist David B. Hart in a metaphysical explanation of the Great American Pastime for First Things, “but, until baseball appeared, humans were a sad and benighted lot, lost in the labyrinth of matter, dimly and achingly aware of something incandescently beautiful and unattainable, something infinitely desirable shining up above in the empyrean of the ideas.”
To be fair, baseball has always had its share of eloquent, celebrity boosters—American litterateur Mark Twain was a fan. Journalist George F. Will has deemed the game “Heaven’s gift to mortals.” But few have elevated baseball to such a lofty perch as Hart. “My hope, when all is said and done,” he says, “is that [Americans] will be remembered chiefly as the people who invented—who devised and thereby also, for the first time, discovered—the perfect game, the very Platonic ideal of organized sport, the ‘moving image of eternity’ in athleticis. I think that would be a grand posterity.”
Baseball’s inherent spectacle and hard to master skill-set, Hart argues, are interpretive launching points for all faiths.
My friend R.R. Reno sees a bunt down the first-base line, in which the infield rotates clockwise while the runner begins his counterclockwise motion, as a clear evocation of Ezekiel’s vision of the divine chariot’s living wheels, and so an invitation to Merkabah mysticism. A Buddhist acquaintance from Japan, however, sees every home run as a metaphor for the arahant who has successfully crossed the sea of becoming on the raft of dharma.
As a Christian and a die-hard Baltimore Orioles fan, Hart contends that baseball speaks to a biblical worldview:
First, there is simply its undeniable element of Edenic nostalgia: that longing for innocence, guileless play, the terrestrial paradise—a longing it both evokes and soothes ... I only observe that the ballpark is a paradise into which evil does occasionally come, whenever the Yankees are in town, and this occasionally lends the game a cosmic significance that it would not be improper to call ‘apocalyptic.’ This, in fact, is why that dastardly franchise is a spiritually necessary part of the game in this country; even Yankees fans have their necessary role to play, and—although we may occasionally think of them as ‘vessels of wrath’—we have to remember that they, too, are enfolded in the mercy of providence.
And, second, the game is, for many of us, a hard tutelage in the biblical virtues of faith, hope, and love.
Source: First Things
Image by mwlguide, licensed under Creative Commons.
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