Category: News and Events

obedience1On his blog, Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowan links to an article about game show, The Game Of Death, that was recently broadcast on French television. According to the article (“Torture ‘Game Show’ Draws Nazi Comparison“) the program, “had all the trappings of a traditional television quiz show, with a roaring crowd and a glamorous and well-known hostess.”

For all that it appeared to be a typical game show, what “contestants . . . did not realise [was that] they were taking part in an experiment to find out whether television could push them to outrageous lengths.” As describe by SkyNews:

The game involved contestants posing questions to another “player”, who was actually an actor, and punishing him with 460 volts of electricity when he answered incorrectly.

Eventually the man’s cries of “Let me go” fell silent, and he appeared to have died.

Not knowing that their screaming victim was an actor, the apparently reluctant contestants followed the orders of the presenter, as well as chants of “Punishment” from a studio audience who also believed the game was real.

According to the article, some “80% of contestants went all the way, shocking the victim with the maximum 460 volts until he appeared to die” with “just 16 refus[ing] to shock the victim and walk[ing] out.”

Putting aside the morality of the project, the program parallels the study done in the 1960’s by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram. Milgram’s “experiment measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.” As with the television program, Milgram found that the majority of participants in his study (A Peer Administers Shocks), 25 out of 40, were willing to follow orders and administer a fatal electric shock (and again, as with the TV program, in Milgram’s experiment, the “victim” was a confederate of the researcher and did not actually suffer any harm much less die).

As Milgram wrote in a 1974 article for Harper’s Magazine (“The Perils of Obedience“) based on his experiment: (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, March 18, 2010
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In this week’s Acton Commentary I expand on a minor meme floating around the web towards the end of last year that criticized the purported claim made by Lord Brian Griffiths, a Goldman Sachs advisor and vice chairman: “The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is an endorsement of self-interest.”

I do a couple of things in this piece. First, I show that Griffith’s claim was rather different than that reported by various news outlets. Second, I place his reported comments within the broader context, which includes a greater emphasis on generosity than on self-interest. The entire transcript (PDF) of the panel discussion from which the quote was taken is an interesting read.

For instance, Griffiths also says this in the context of the question of ordering self-interest to serve justice: “…nobody, I think, on this panel believes in completely free markets. In fact, I don’t think I know anyone even in Goldman who believes in completely free markets.” By “completely free markets” Griffiths is talking about a pure lassez-faire view of the market. The broader context of Griffiths comments, including his emphasis on generosity and his qualification of endorsement of the market, should serve adequate notice to anyone who seeks to characterize him as a espousing some kind of radical view incompatible with Christian teaching. For more on the theological backgrounds of this topic, see my post over at Mere Comments.

And for even more background on Griffiths views, in addition to his Globalization, Poverty, and International Development, check out his plenary address, which includes endorsement of a kind of cap-and-trade system on carbon markets, given at 2008’s Acton University:

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On NRO, John Leo points out how Glenn Beck missed the mark in his recent criticism of “social justice” churches (the reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy, again). But Beck is on to something, Leo says:

When Glenn Beck urged Christians to leave churches that preach social justice, he allowed himself to be tripped up by conventional buzzwords of the campus Left. In plain English, “social justice” is a goal of all churches and refers to helping the poor and seeking equality. As a code word, it refers to a controversial package of goals including political redistribution of wealth, gay marriage, and a campaign against “institutional racism,” “classism,” “ableism,” and “heterosexism.” Beck was wildly off base linking “social justice” (of either form) to Communism and Nazism, but he was correct to note that the term is often used as a code.

Leo cites an article on Minding the Campus by Peter Wood, head of the National Association of Scholars, on one of the newest buzzwords in play today — sustainability:

The most potent of the current buzzwords is “sustainability,” which ties traditional environmentalism to the entire left-wing agenda. As Wood says, hundreds of campuses now have sustainability officers, courses that promote the ideology, and most ominously “co-curricular programs run through student life and residence halls to ‘educate’ students about their mistaken ‘worldviews’ and bring them aboard this new ideological ark.” Kathleen Kerr, who ran an astonishing all-out indoctrination program in the residential halls of the University of Delaware (students were all expected to accuse themselves of racism, for example), admitted in a speech that “the social-justice aspects of sustainability education” included lessons on “environmental racism” “domestic partnerships,” and “gender equity.” We are far from tree-hugging here.

A couple years ago, I wrote an article for the Conciliar Press magazine AGAIN on the use of social justice language in the Orthodox Church as it comes to grips with globalization. When you talk about “social justice” you really need to be careful:

What, exactly, is social justice? It is an ambiguous concept, loaded with ideological freight. No politically correct person would dare oppose it. To be against “social justice” would be tantamount to opposing “fairness.” Today, the term is most often employed by liberal-progressive activists and a “social justice movement” that advances an economic agenda which includes such causes as a “living wage,” universal health care and expanded welfare benefits, increased labor union powers, forgiveness of national debts in the developing world, and vastly increased transfers of foreign aid from rich countries to the poor. Because religious conservatives tend toward support for free market economic systems, they have largely shunned the “social justice” agenda and its government-based solutions.

The religious left is making quite a stink about Beck’s criticism of social justice churches (and let’s be honest here — Beck deserves some of this for his hyperbolic and dismissive attack). Jim Wallis, for example, is egging on Beck for a public debate, so far with no luck. Well, well. Wallis has been ducking Acton’s invitations for years to debate the concept of social justice.

For a serious discussion of what social justice really means today, mark your calendars for these upcoming Acton events. (Jim Wallis, you’re invited!)

“Do the poor need capitalism?” March 18, Grand Rapids. Acton Lecture Series with Rudy Carrasco

— “Must Social Justice & Capitalism Be Mutually Exclusive?” March 31, Grand Rapids. Acton on Tap with Rudy Carrasco. Details: 6 p.m. casual start time; 6:30 p.m., Rudy speaks! Location: Derby Station (formerly Graydon’s Crossing), 2237 Wealthy St. SE, East Grand Rapids 49506. No registration required.

— “Does social justice require socialism?” with Rev. Robert A. Sirico. Acton Lecture Series in Grand Rapids on April 15; Chicago luncheon on April 29.

Blog author: ken.larson
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
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“…we are setting an ambitious goal: all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career – no matter who you are or where you come from.” – Barack Obama, Saturday Radio Address.

A few years ago I asked a friend and business owner why he put value on a college diploma when talking with entry level talent who had majored in subjects incredibly tangential to his job descriptions. He answered, “Well, it shows they can finish something.” That’s a pretty weak reason for a student and/or his family to lay out $50,000 to $250,000 of tuition and lost opportunity costs but I let him have his fantasy.

Former Heritage Foundation analyst Dan Lips lays out another kind of fantasy in National Review Online with a proposal to meet Obama’s goal in last weekend’s broadcast in light of the increasing cost of college in the U.S.. It’s a version of “virtual learning” accomplished online. That’s certainly not “college as we knew it” and not as it might or should be – a place where one seeks Truth and learns how to think – but maybe that education is unretrievable. Maybe all we can hope for are certificates of accomplishment in niche fields and employers like my friend.

Yet even with Lips’ online world, any bureaucracy including the academy deserves some closer inspection before we all jump on the web to search out our next degree. But this only makes sense if you agree with my premise that college has more of a role to play in one’s life than assuring a potential employer that you can “finish” something. Mr. Lips is rightly concerned about affordability – I’m thinking relevance. (more…)

Power Line has a post over at its site titled “Why Don’t Christians Care?” Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit also linked to the post today. Powerline’s question refers to the lack of concern from the “mainstream” Christian community on Christians being massacred by Muslims in the Middle East and Africa. It’s a great question to ask.

Just for the record, we want to remind people that the Acton Institute cares. Last month I wrote a piece that received a lot of attention on the plight of Egypt’s Coptic Christians. It’s also an issue we heavily address in the next issue of Religion & Liberty, which features an interview with Nina Shea. Shea talks about many pressing issues concerning global Christian persecution. An exclusive preview of the interview is currently available on the PowerBlog. Christianity Today referred to Shea as the “Daniel of Religious Rights.”

LifeSiteNews.com recently asked me to comment on statements made by Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, president of the Vatican bank, about the economic effects of demographic decline in Western industrialized countries. Tedeschi told the Zenit news service that the “true cause” of the financial crisis is the low birth rate in these countries.

“Instead of stimulating families and society to again believe in the future and have children […] we have stopped having children and have created a situation, a negative economic context decrease,” Gotti Tedeschi observed. “And decrease means greater austerity.”

“With the decline in births,” he explained, “there are fewer young people that productively enter the working world. And there are many more elderly people that leave the system of production and become a cost for the collective.

“In practice the fixed costs of this economic and social structure increase. How dramatically they increase depends on how evidently unbalanced the structure of the population is and how much wealth it has. The fixed costs however increase: The costs of health increase and the social costs increase.”

This is from reporter Peter J. Smith’s article on LifeSiteNews.com:

Sirico explained that the Vatican economist’s view opposes that of population control groups, who subscribe to a different vision of economic activity: what he called a Marxist or “redistributivist” paradigm: “If there is a pie and there are more people added to the pie then there is more poverty.” But the reality, Sirico says is that “the pie is dynamic.”

“Mr. Tedeschi is saying is that: no, the human person is himself creative. Human beings are not mouths that consume, but minds that produce,” he said. Sirico added that John Paul II hit on this very point in his social encyclical Centesimus Annus, when he wrote that “Man is man’s greatest resource.”

Because human beings are also creative producers, the excess of what they produce becomes the basis for trade in the economy, and the creation of wealth, said Sirico. Contrary to population controllers obsessed with overpopulation, he noted, it is incredibly population dense cities like Tokyo and Hong Kong that are incredibly rich, while sparsely populated areas of the globe such as Angola are comparatively very poor.

Read “President of the Vatican Bank: Zero Population Growth Responsible for World-wide Recession” on LifeSiteNews.com

Choosing the Common Good from Catholic Westminster on Vimeo.

In today’s Acton Commentary, I review a new statement titled Choosing the Common Good (download it here) from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. In the introductory video linked above, The Most Rev. Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, introduces Choosing the Common Good and discusses the key themes in Catholic Social Teaching “as a contribution to the wide-ranging debate about the values and vision that underpin our society.”

Here is the text of my commentary:

Two Cheers for the Bishops of England and Wales

What a difference 15 years can make.

Back in 1996, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales issued a document, The Common Good and Catholic Social Teaching, to address political issues facing Britain at the time. Leaving aside the incoherence that characterized much of that text, a distinctly skeptical tone about market economies pervaded the document – almost to the point of being an anti-Thatcherite screed.

The 1996 document was written with a view to informing Catholics’ consciences before Britain’s 1997 General Election. Shaping Catholic consciences is, after all, part of a Catholic bishop’s job. But it was very difficult to read the 1996 text as anything other than a less-than-subtle appeal to vote for the then-opposition Labour Party.

Fast-forward to 2010. With a General Election imminent in Britain, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales have issued a new document, titled Choosing the Common Good. To the joy of many, it is a remarkably sound text. Characterized by a focus on principles, sobriety of expression, and avoidance of tedious policy-wonkery, the English and Welsh bishops have authored a document that repays careful reading. (more…)

Via Victor Claar (follow him on Twitter here), an op-ed in The Oracle (Henderson State University’s student paper) by Caleb Taylor, “Tiger Woods and Capitalism.”

A taste: “Contrary to what Michael Moore thinks, capitalism promotes moral and ethical behavior. In Woods’ case, it punishes poor behavior. Sponsors such as Nielsen, AT&T, Gillete and Gatorade have all either suspended or removed their endorsement deals with Tiger due to his moral mistakes.”

El alivio de la pobreza y el desarrollo económico dependen en gran medida de la creación de riqueza que proviene de la iniciativa empresarial y de negocios. Pero ni el comercio ni la libertad empresarial podrán florecer en un ambiente donde la estabilidad monetaria está ausente, el sistema bancario es débil, los derechos de propiedad carecen de protección, y el marco legal es arbitrariamente quebrantado. ¿Cuáles son los fundamentos morales y económicos de estas instituciones? ¿Cómo se pueden crear y proteger a través del tiempo?

El jueves 18 de marzo del 2010, el Acton Institute se une a la Universidad Austral y el Instituto Acton Argentina para co-patrocinar una conferencia de un día en Buenos Aires, Argentina, para examinar esas y otras preguntas en el Marriott Plaza Hotel. Académicos de renombre, expertos en políticas públicas y empresarios, abordarán el papel que desempeña la moneda, la banca, los derechos de propiedad y otras instituciones de crecimiento económico para promover la prosperidad de los países en vías de desarrollo y lo que depara el futuro para estos países. Se brindará especial atención al caso de Argentina. Esta es la segunda del ciclo de siete conferencias sobre “Pobreza, Libre Empresa y Desarrollo Humano Integral.”

Título: “Instituciones, Ética y Finanzas”
Ubicación: Marriott Plaza Hotel Buenos Aires, Florida 1005 Buenos Aires
Fecha: Jueves 18 de Marzo 2010
Hora: 8:30-14:00
Expositores:

• Dr. Roberto Bosca, Profesor Adjunto de Doctrina Social de la Iglesia, Universidad Austral
• Dr. Samuel Gregg, Director de Investigación, Acton Institute
• Dr. Peter Heslam, Director del Proyecto “Transforming Business”, Universidad de Cambridge
• Mr. Michael J. Miller, Director de Programas y Medios, Acton Institute
• Profesor Ramón Parellada, Tesorero y Miembro del Consejo Directivo Universidad Francisco Marroquín, Director Polímeros y Tecnología, S.A.
• Mr. Damian von Stauffenberg, Fundador y Presidente de MicroRate
• Dr. Gabriel Zanotti, Director Académico de Instituto Acton Argentina

(Information on the March 18 “Institutions, Ethics and Finance” conference in English here.)

Last Saturday Pope Benedict XVI addressed a group called Italian National Civil Protection, made up largely of volunteers. This is the organization that provided much of the crowd control at two of Rome’s largest public events, the World Youth Day in 2000, and the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005. (I was in Rome for both events and can personally attest to the surprising order these volunteers brought. If only the same order could be seen in everyday Roman life … )

Benedict took the opportunity to remind the volunteers of their particular vocation to protect persons and their dignity and also compared their service to that of the Good Samaritan. These volunteers choose to serve when others decline out of indifference or hardness of heart.

The Holy Father then reiterated one of the central themes of his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est, that while the State is responsible for the provision of justice, justice is not enough to make a society fully Christian. A Christian society must not rely on the State to provide what is most essential, i.e. charity, and must go beyond the strict provision of rights and duties. Here’s the key paragraph from Saturday’s talk, translated from the Italian:

As the Gospel reminds us, love of neighbor cannot be delegated: The State and politics, even with the necessary concern for welfare, cannot substitute it. As I wrote in the encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “Love will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbor is indispensable.” (n. 28). This recalls and will always recall personal and voluntary commitment. Because of this, volunteers are not “stopgaps” in the social net, but persons who truly contribute to outlining the human and Christian face of society. Without volunteers, the common good and society cannot last for long, because their progress and dignity depend in large measure on those persons who do more than their strict duty.

Of course, most people assume that the State is and should be responsible, at a minimum, for public order and safety. But with his praise and gratitude for the volunteers, the Pope is not suggesting that they should supplant the state’s legitimate functions. However, these legitimate functions rarely, if ever, incorporate a ministry of love, which is essential to a humane social order. When the volunteers successfully provide order and safety for millions of visitors to Rome, they are doing so much more than their “strict duty.” Indeed, they are showing us what a true “service of love” looks like.