As America celebrates Black History Month, Anthony Bradley looks at the forces that threaten the very foundation of black society in this country. “Two aspects of pre-civil rights-era black history — strong men and strong families — will have to be recovered if we wish to have any black history in the future,” Bradley warns.
Clive Cook has a terrific article in the March 2006 Atlantic Monthly that is worth reading in its entirety. But here’s my favorite paragraph:
What is most striking, so far as the movies’ treatment of capitalism goes, is not the hostility of films whose main purpose is actually to indict corporate wickedness (Wall Street, Erin Brockovich, A Civil Action, The Insider, The Constant Gardener, and so forth). It is the idea of routine, reckless corporate immorality—maintained as though this premise were inoffensive, uncontroversial, and hardly worthy of comment—that drives movies whose principal interest lies elsewhere, whether in the human drama of contemporary geopolitics (Syriana, to cite a recent instance), knockabout comedy (Fun with Dick & Jane), children’s fantasy (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), star-crossed romance (In Good Company), or, classically, in some dystopian near or distant future (Alien, The Terminator, Blade Runner, Robocop, and many others).
The point is not that such movies, or the culture more generally, argue that capitalism is evil. Just the opposite: it is that they so often merely assume, innocently and expecting to arouse no skepticism, that capitalism is evil.
I’ve been compiling a list of popular movies in which the business entrepreneur is treated in a positive manner. It’s a very sparse list. One of the few I’ve thought of is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The fact that Cook cites it in his list illustrates that even this is an ambiguous example. There are bad-guy business people who want to steal Willie Wonka’s secrets, but at least in its most recent incarnation, with John Depp playing Willie Wonka, Wonka is portrayed as a good, if highly eccentric, entrepreneur. Perhaps this is the exception that proves the rule. When Hollywood occasionally portrays an entrepreneur positively, he must highly eccentric–that is, atypical.
I’m sure there are some exceptions to the Hollywood theme of business=evil, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head.
This Sunday I went to Mass at a parish I’d never attended before. I was quite pleasantly surprised—the music wasn’t bad, the rubrics were followed, the homily focused on the gospel, they chanted the Agnus Dei, and prayed the prayer to St. Michael afterward; not apparently liberal and better than many typical “suburban rite” parishes. But, during the petitions, one of the prayers was for leaders of nations, that they would eradicate poverty. Here is a classic example of the right desire, poverty eradication, and the wrong way to go about it, government. It also betrays the common misunderstanding that governments solve poverty. Now, leaders of nations and governments do have a role in poverty reduction. They need to create rule of law and enforce contracts. They can help reduce regulation and tariffs and open their borders to free trade. But leaders of nations do not eradicate poverty, nor does aid from the developing world. What eradicates poverty is business. Entrepreneurs and businessmen who create jobs and opportunity and wealth. Michael Novak called small business “the strategic vocation for helping the poor.”
The desire for poverty alleviation through government involvement is a prime example of good intentions combined with unsound economics. Many people have good intentions, but they don’t understand basic economics so they often support solutions without “thinking beyond stage one” as Thomas Sowell says. A prime example of this is the enormously popular One Campaign. Thousands of people are signing on to a good intention without knowing whether the proposed solution will bring about their desired outcome. Good intentions are a start, but they’re not enough and Bob Geldof is wrong when he says do something even if it doesn’t work.
If it doesn’t work—stop doing it. Activism shouldn’t be done for the sake of being active. This is the problem with too many Hollywood stars and other “professional” activists. Activism should have an end that is beyond itself, so if it doesn’t work, we should use our minds to apply reason to the situation and come up with a plan that might. C.S Lewis said that “progress isn’t going forward if you’re going in the wrong direction.” You’ve got to stop and turn around. Acton Senior Fellow, Jay Richards argues that the Bob Geldof idea is reflective of many who believe that their actions or policies will be either good or neutral, but never harmful. But despite what they may believe that is not the case. Often things that don’t work exacerbate the problem. Hence the Acton Message, Don’t Just Care, Think.
We need to have good intentions, but this is only a beginning. If we are going to care about poverty and economic policies then we should begin by taking economics seriously. Some books I recommend include Basic Economics and Applied Economics both by Thomas Sowell, and of course Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. Bono is a force for good intentions, can you imagine all the good he could do if he connected his intentions to sound economics?
This story in the UK’s Education Guardian is remarkable for its links to a number of issues.
In contrast to the American system, Britain’s permits “faith” schools that are part of the government system. Thus, this Scottish “Catholic” school is, in the American usage, a “public” school. Now that 75% of its students are Muslim, some Muslims are demanding that the school switch its faith allegiance.
One of the obvious issues is the Islamicization of Europe. Here is a Catholic school in the middle of Scotland’s countryside that is three-quarters Muslim—and another 13% Sikh. France, with its headscarves-at-school controversy, is not the only nation struggling with this new reality.
Another issue is the Catholic identity in educational institutions. (The problem applies more broadly to other kinds of Christian schools as well.) The school is evidently making efforts to preserve it (given the priest’s reference to Mass), but it seems to me that it is possible to reach a tipping point in terms of numbers of non-Catholic students and/or faculty, when Catholic identity becomes impossible to maintain adequately. Serving non-Catholic populations is generally laudable and can even be evangelizational, but Catholic educators need to be realistic about how fidelity to an institution’s original mission can be threatened by a lack of Catholic majorities among students and staff.
Finally, there is the issue of government interaction with religious schools. This Scottish Catholic school benefits financially from depending on the government. But it also thereby depends on the government for its existence. If the state determines that it’s better off Muslim—or anything else, including secular—Catholics (who have made it, apparently, the most attractive school in the area) must stand aside and see it transformed.
In yesterday’s Acton Commentary, I argued that the biblical foundation for the concepts of stewardship and economics should lead us to see them as united. In this sense I wrote, “Economics can be understood as the theoretical side of stewardship, and stewardship can be understood as the practical side of economics.” I also defined economics as “the thoughtful ordering of the material resources of a household or social unit toward the self-identified good end” and said that the discipline “helps us rightly order our stewardship.”
Within the context of environmental stewardship in particular, I concluded that economics should play a key role in defining public policy. This is becoming a more pressing issue as a number of evangelical and religious leaders around the world are endorsing specific policy initiatives to combat global warming.
Following the formation of the Evangelical Climate Initiative by a number of prominent evangelical leaders in the United States, general secretary of the World Council of Churches Rev. Samuel Kobia said yesterday, “Just as atomic weapons changed the very way we thought about life, so too the potential of major climatic changes put life as we know it in danger” He said this while emphasizing that all religious people should “speak with one voice” about climate change.
My brief commentary outlined some reasons why Christians may have differing opinions on this point. And Chuck Colson’s BreakPoint feature, “Evangelical Activism,” details some of the other aspects of the debate.
“Now, we all have a stewardship responsibility for God’s creation, but we also have responsibility for God’s creatures. Balancing those interests requires prudence,” he writes. On issues of prudential wisdom, Christians on both sides of a debate may well have good reasons to disagree. Check out his commentary for links to a number of pertinent resources.
The February 11 issue of WORLD Magazine includes a culture feature, “Giving their names back.” Profiled in the article is Citizens for Community Values (CCV), a nonprofit in Memphis that does a victim assistance program called “A Way Out.” It’s a reclamation program of sorts, literally reclaiming women ensnarled in the sex trade industry, and giving them back their lives, reclamation evidenced by names.
The very nature of the sex industry, be it topless dancing, stripping or prostitution, requires anonymity–no names. And having no name reflects the ultimate devaluation of the human person. One of the women in this program said, “I felt like I was just a joke that God had accidentally made.”
Imago Dei may seem an odd term in this context, but in fact, it is the very core value of “A Way Out”: The reality of the imago Dei, being created in the image of God, having inherent worth, value and dignity. And the excellent way in which just two staff people, George Kuykendall and Carol Wiley empower women with so many problems and issues, oftentimes beaten, drug addicted, dumped naked on a busy street is the reason that the program was selected as a 2005 Acton Institute Samaritan Award Winnner.
While well-meaning Christian leaders protest public funding cuts for poverty and social programs, getting themselves arrested for blocking the entrance to the House office building, other effective compassion workers like George and Carol aren’t focused on whether the ultimate issue is fraud in government programs or tax cuts. Since “A Way Out” doesn’t depend on public funds, George and Carol just keep patiently returning again and again to help the hookers and strippers near the Memphis airport. They just keep connecting them to mentors who help them leave the sex trade, find good work, save money, learn how to live.
Each person has dignity, has value expressed in a name, and effective compassion programs, even very tiny ones in Memphis, are reclaiming those names, one woman at a time. This is the translation of imago Dei that matters.
Wired News passes along this article by Chris Kohler, “U.N. Game Wins Hearts and Minds.” The story gives a brief overview and history of the video game created by the United Nations World Food Programme, Food Force.
Kohler writes, “The United Nations created the game after witnessing the success of the U.S. Army’s recruitment game, America’s Army.” The game takes players through six stages of work to get desperately needed food and supplies to vulnerable and malnourished populations.
Justin Roche, the game’s project manager, points out that Food Force is a non-violent game that competes with first-person shooters like America’s Army. “We really are the antithesis of the plethora of violent games that dominate the market,” he said. “Not one shot is fired, yet we are competing for kids’ time often devoted to shoot’em-ups.”
The Washington Post published an article yesterday highlighting the usage of virtual combat games to train a generation of new soldiers (HT: Slashdot). “The technology in games has facilitated a revolution in the art of warfare,” says David Bartlett, the former chief of operations at the Defense Modeling and Simulation Office, a high-level office within the Defense Department and the focal point for computer-generated training at the Pentagon.
Roche also said of Food Force,”We have many e-mails from children, saying that they would like to come and work for us when they are older. It’s wonderful to think that our little game is having this kind of impact.”
Check out my review of Food Force here. I conclude that the game is good as far as it goes: “Larger structural issues about the WFP and the UN remain outside the scope of the game, but nevertheless are reflected in the game’s guiding ethos and makeup. We can only hope that the WFP’s stated commitment to the independence of those it helps is manifested by policies that actually give those in need economic freedom and the hope of development. Addressing the root causes of poverty can be the only real long-term solution to poverty, hunger, and the devastation brought about by natural disasters.”
Western Europeans often talk about the homogeneity of American politics and how the parties hardly differ from one another. One reason why Europeans believe this is because they often pay attention to US politics only during a presidential campaign, so they do have some justification. But while their opinion is understandable not only does it fail to reflect the real difference between the left and the right in America; it obscures the homogeneity of Western European political life.
What is interesting about the Western European perspective is that despite a multitude of parties all over the EU, the major ones are all more or less the same: left leaning, big government, egalitarian and morally relativist. There is a lot of noise, but no real serious diversity. Most of them are less distinct from each other than they are from conservatives in the US. In how many countries in Western Europe does there exist real debate about the welfare state, free market solutions to poverty, labor laws, the importance of the family, and the morality of abortion. Issues that are of central importance to many Americans are looked at as unsophisticated by a great many Europeans.
European parties are great in number, but almost none of them support a free economy, minimal government involvement, and strong and vibrant families and churches. If the Europeans want real diversity of thought they should begin to question the social democratic welfare-state model. So far this is usually only done by parties such as the greens or the communists who argue for even more government involvement.
The social democratic welfare state is failing and has sapped the cultural and spiritual energy of Western Europe. Unemployment is high, economic growth stagnant, and the elderly of tomorrow may find themselves out in the cold. They won’t have any children to help them and the government will not be able to take care of them because the dwindling population won’t be able to fund the welfare state. Maybe what the Europeans need in their political life is real diversity: a party that advocates personal responsibility, strong families, free markets, and a culture of life. That would be novel.
George H. Taylor, the State Climatologist for Oregon, writes at TCS Daily, “A Consensus About Consensus.” The article is worth reading. It shows that scientific consensus is often overrated, both in terms of its existence and in terms of its relevance.
With resepct to global warming, Taylor looks at some of the claims for scientific consensus, and states, “But even if there actually were a consensus on this issue, it may very well be wrong.” This simply means that the majority can often be terribly wrong.
It is noteworthy that what holds true for consensus in the hard sciences also holds true for efforts in other fields. So, while Christians should take seriously the work of the Copenhagen Consensus, for example, there should not simply be an uncritical move from consensus to specific policy action. Christians are called to critically engage the efforts of science and economics, and the failure to do this on either count is an abdication of responsibility.
A friend forwarded a Website link for The Nonprofit Congress recently that was downright scary. It appears to be the epitome of good intentions fraught with unintended consequences. Or perhaps the consequences are not unintended. The Congress is an apparent call to advocacy (i.e., political pressuring) within the National Council of Nonprofit Associations.
To the group’s credit, the “why” is a forthright statement of their view and values: The time has come for nonprofits of all sizes and scope to come together. The nonprofit charitable sector has long served our nation with distinction – from helping individuals survive (through health care, domestic violence centers, meals, and other human services) to helping local communities thrive (through artistic, cultural, educational, environmental, and other enriching services). Every American has been touched at one time or another by the work of a nonprofit. Good intentions.
Unintended consequences: Rather than championing the nonprofits’ unique abilities to provide individualized solutions, the Nonprofit Congress labels such efforts “fragmented and isolated” and frankly seems to be advocating that onerous “one size fits all” strategy for which government programs are so famous.
With that perspective, however, what this Nonprofit Congress wants to DO is not surprising: forge a collective identity based on shared values; develop a unified vision and message; and exercise a collective voice.
I would argue that a primary value of nonprofits is their lack of a collective identity or message and the freedom to contribute or help based on divergent values. That reality has been revealed within the Nonprofit Panel of Independent Sector — literally battling government agencies and federal policy makers for the continued independent existence of the nonprofit sector.
But with a Revere-like ‘call to arms,’ the council invites nonprofits to join the movement, forge a “stronger, bolder, more prominent role for nonprofits.” Hmmm … sounds like burgeoning political power to me, fashioned under the banner of “but we help people and communities. We do good things.”
Peter Drucker, arguably the most visionary management guru of this century, said that it is more important to do the right thing, than to do things right. Doing the right thing — helping individuals and communities–does not include sacrificing nonprofit uniqueness to leverage potential political muscle. And those who think so need to recalibrate their compassion quotient. The nonprofit sector may be “like herding cats,” but “unionizing” isn’t the strategy to help individuals or communities.