In Praise of Doubt

June 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

In the previous book I reviewed for etcetera, A Brief History of Thought,  French philosopher Luc Ferry provided a whirlwind tour of key philosophical movements throughout history, beginning with the Greeks and ending with post-postmodernism.    In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic, by Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld, limits itself to the past several hundred years, but is some ways could be read in tandem with Luc Ferry’s ambitious venture.

The book begins by noting the role of reason and science in eroding faith over the past 250 years.  Voltaire’s writings and the French Revolution ( which actually enthroned the goddess of Reason in a church in Paris) serve as iconic markers for the beginning of the Enlightenment.  Auguste Comte soon paved the way for a very influential empiricist science, as seen in the later philosophies of Mark, Durkheim, and Weber.

The modern path to secularization seemed inevitable. When Neitzsche finally declared God was dead, many believed this would be the final nail in the religious coffin.

But “secularization theory” turned out to be just that – a theory.  Two World Wars brought about a disillusionment in the ability of science and reason to bring about a better world. A global explosion of religious movements revealed a world that was not so enamored by the promises of a godless Enlightenment as had been expected.  In addition, a rising communication network brought about what the authors call a “cognitive contamination” as people inevitably absorbed the ideas around them. Rather than moving everyone to a Neitzschean conclusion, this communication has brought more worldviews than ever to the table.  Modernity did not secularize the world.  Modernity pluralized the world.

Modernity has also heightened the desire for choice.  As people learned that life offered a buffet not only at Ponderosa, but in the realm of ideas, ideologies, religion, and personal values, they increasingly rejected the power of tradition and institutions and began to find their own way through life. This kind of shift does not happen without consequence. German social philosopher Arnold Gehlen explained how this modern shift toward choice changed the West:.

“The area of life in which choices are allowed Gehlen called the foreground, while the area in which choices are preempted he called the background.  Both areas are anthropologically necessary.”  

Here are some practical examples:

  • When Kobe Bryant shoots, his form is background – he’s practiced that shot release ten thousand times, so he doesn’t have to figure out each time where his elbow should be.  His decision when to shoot, however, is foreground .
  • When I leave my house, I wear clothes (background), but I choose to wear Ohio State colors (foreground).
  • At a blinking red light, I stop (background), and I go when there is an appropriate break in traffic (foreground).

Modernity moves the background to the foreground.  In other words, it takes what we accept as normative and makes it subjective. Berger and Zijderveld go on to note:

“A society consisting of foreground only, with every issue a matter of individual choice, couldn’t sustain itself for any length of time; it would lapse into chaos….a society consisting of background only wouldn’t be a human society at all, but a collectivity of robots…”

Before, people went about their daily routine without too much reflection (self-aware choice), as the background institutions in society brought predictability and normalized structure to their lives.  Since modernity has brought about an increasing amount of foreground reflection, we increasingly reject the power of institutions and embrace what Gehlen called secondary institutions, which “offer entire packages of beliefs, norms, and identities to individuals.” Read the rest of this entry →

The “Occupy” Recap

June 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

Thanks, everyone, for helping to make last night’s etcetera meeting an excellent one.  Brandon Everest, Matt Zymanski, and Carey Waldie - we appreciate what you brought to the meeting.  As always, we couldn’t do it without the generosity of  the Good Work Collective, and we wouldn’t go away quite as satisfied without Aroma’s fantastic coffee.

If you weren’t able to be there, the video should be up in a couple days (thanks, Scott Smith).  We don’t have printed texts from last night, but we do have a couple quotes from the speakers.  To read more, and to make the experience interactive, go to our Facebook page (just click the icon on the right side of the page).  A number of discussions have already started – feel free to join in! Read the rest of this entry →

Economic Good Intentions

May 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

In preparation for this month’s meeting on May 31st,  (Topic: “If Occupy is the answer, what was the question?”) I  just finished Good Intentions: Nine Hot Button Issues Viewed Through The Eyes of Faith.  This book is written by Charles M. North, an  economics professor at Baylor University, and  Bob Smietana, an award-winning journalist.  The official blurb notes:

This is the work of an economist and a religion journalist who have little interest in making decisions for other people. Instead they attempt to… make sense of nine hot-button issues that affect us all…Good Intentions suggests that it is possible to do good in economic matters if we begin with the right assumptions (and begin to ask the right questions).   Read the rest of this entry →

Occupy Wall Street and Economic Justice

May 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

This month’s meeting on May 31 will address the question: “If Occupy is the answer, what was the question?”   Joining us as special guests whose life experiences and training have given them unique insight into real world economic issues:  Brandon Everest, sociology professor at NMC;  Morgan Burke-Beyers and Matt Szymanski, members of Occupy TC; and Carey Waldie, pastor, pilot, and author of several books, including Pursuing the Best : The How’s and Why’s of Living Life to the Fullest.

In preparation for the meeting I will be posting links to articles and stories relevant to the topic of economics.  This week, I am providing an overview of the Occupy Movement, a number of links both pro and con, and several articles addressing economic questions of morality and justice.



 From Wikipedia: 

Occupy Wall Street is a protest that began on September 17, 2011 in Zuccotti Park, located in New York City’sWall Street financial district. The protest was initiated by the Canadian activist group Adbusters and has led to Occupy protests and movements around the world. The main issues are social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the undue influence of corporations on government—particularly from the financial services sector. The OWS slogan, We are the 99%, addresses the growing income inequality and wealth distribution in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. To achieve their goals protesters act on consensus-based decision-through what OWS calls a “general assembly”-to affect “direct action” instead of petitioning authorities for redress.



The home page of the movement:

 ”Occupy Wall Street is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations. The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to fight back against the richest 1% of people that are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future.”

The home page of occupy

“What does #occupy want?  To end the monetized relationship between corrupt politicians and corporate criminals. To end profit-driven policies. We believe our grievances are connected and rooted in corrosive corporate influences. We want a system that operates in the interest of the people.”

From The Guardian: “The Call to Occupy Wall Street Resonates Around the World.”

“There is a shared feeling on the streets around the world that the global economy is a Ponzi scheme run by and for Big Finance. People everywhere are waking up to the realisation that there is something fundamentally wrong with [the] system…”

The Huffington Post also has a page dedicated to the Occupy  movement.



From Reason Magazine“What Occupy Wall Street Gets Wrong.”

“The conviction among OWS activists is that the rich have improved their lot by taking money from the not so rich—that wealth has been cruelly redistributed upward. What they overlook is that the real gains come from the creation of new wealth.”

From The Washington Times:“Occupy Wall Street – The Problem is Government.”

“The occupiers are right to be angry at the system that has let them down, and in some cases kept them down, but they incorrectly lay the blame with capitalism and the free-market.”

From the LA Times: “Three Inconvenient Truths for Occupy Wall Street.”

“The Occupiers are right about American incomes: They’ve definitely grown more unequal. But this fact presents three inconvenient truths for the Occupy Wall Street movement.”



From “The Debate Room” at “Occupy Wall Street: The Right Focus?”

“Occupy Wall Street protesters are wise to focus on unequal income distribution-such as the outsize gains reaped by financial-industry companies. Pro or con?”

From “black/white,” a website looking to give the pro/con on issues.  Their topic here is: “Pro/con: Is Occupy Wall Street Effective?”

“Occupy Wall Street’s mid-September protests In New York City’s Financial District gained momentum and inspired numerous “Occupy” movements. The groups operate under the mantra, “We are the 99 percent.” Members of the grassroots movements have camped out in parks and public areas in over 1,500 cities around the world. They strive to lower corporate influence in the democratic process and combat the inequality that leaves the richest one percent with more net worth than the rest of the population combined. Many Americans have questioned, however, whether these movements bring about real change.”



Interesting article by a philosopher and an ethics professor concerning what the Occupy movement reveals about cultural shifts: “Kids Today: Occupy Wall Street is part of a major shift in ethical behavior among young people.

From the National Review: “What’s Wrong With Economic Justice?”

“At a minimum, they seem to be demanding a universal entitlement to ‘affordable’ housing, medical care, higher education, jobs that pay a “living wage,” and a comfortable, early retirement. If people have a “right” to these goods and services, it follows that other people must have an obligation to provide them. That would be the rich — the 1 percent who are being demonized as undeserving, greedy, and selfish.”

From Michael Sandel in The Guardian: “Towards a Just Society.”

” One of the most striking tendencies of our time is the expansion of markets and market-orientated reasoning into spheres of life traditionally governed by non-market norms. Consider the outsourcing of war to private contractors; the rise of commercial surrogate pregnancy; the growing use of market incentives to motivate students and teachers; the advent of for-profit prisons. These questions are not only about utility and consent. They are also about the right ways of valuing key social practices – military service, child-bearing, teaching and learning, criminal punishment, and so on. As marketising social practices may corrupt or degrade the norms that define them, we need to ask what non-market norms we want to protect from market intrusion. We need public debate about the moral limits of markets.”