Category: Virtue

Thanksgiving_Turkey_Dinner_With_Paper_Plates_free_creative_commons_(4139402176)Today at Mere Orthodoxy, I have an essay building on some of my recent posts here exploring a healthy Christian response to the complex results (other than “Trump won; Clinton lost”) of the 2016 presidential election. In particular, I focus on how to be true to the exhortation of St. Paul: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
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Writing to early Christians in Rome, St. Paul the Apostle offered a succinct summary of the Christian ethic in the twelfth chapter of his epistle. It is worth reading the whole thing with the events of the last week in mind, but here I’ll just look at one verse: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Many are weeping and rejoicing after last Tuesday. A Christian who weeps ought to know how to rejoice with those who rejoice. One who rejoices ought to know how to weep with those who weep.

I realize that this is hard to do. Rejoicing with those we agree with is easy. Weeping with those we agree with is easy. Weeping with those who mourn the very thing that we celebrate – that’s hard. Rejoicing with those who celebrate the very thing that we mourn – that’s hard. But that is “the way which leads to life.”

This way is especially difficult, given the self-aggrandizement and demonization of others that have so often characterized this election cycle. Do you think everyone who voted for President-elect Donald Trump is racist, xenophobic, misogynist, Islamophobic, and homophobic? If so, I doubt you are rejoicing with those who rejoice right now. Do you think everyone who voted for Sec. Hillary Clinton is a pretentious, radically pro-choice, uber-progressive, out-of-touch, sore loser? Then you probably aren’t weeping with those who weep today.

As many of us look forward to sharing Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family of diverse political opinions, I submit that this approach could, at the very least, help avoid meltdown and strife this holiday.

Read the whole essay here.

The following graph, in various forms, is making the rounds:

2016 Voter Turnout

The suggestion of the graph (and usually of commentary by those who share it) is that Sec. Hillary Clinton lost to President-elect Donald Trump because Democrats didn’t turn out to vote for her like they did for President Obama.

The idea is that Hillary Clinton was a historically unpopular candidate. This is true. Second only to Donald Trump, she was the least liked candidate of all time, at least since anyone has been keeping track. Her career, though long and accomplished, has been plagued by scandal, much of which surfaced in the final weeks of her campaign. It makes sense that maybe Clinton just didn’t get enough Obama voters to show up at the polls.

I’m unsure the source of the data. It may be completely accurate, but even if so it is misleading. As Carl Bialik wrote last week for FiveThirtyEight, “On average, turnout was unchanged in states that voted for Trump, while it fell by an average of 2.3 percentage points in states that voted for Clinton. Relatedly, turnout was higher in competitive states — most of which Trump won.” (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Friday, November 11, 2016
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Edward Feser, with a nod to Thomas Aquinas, discusses whether there might be such a thing as virtuous Schadenfreude. As Feser puts it, “On the one hand, the suffering of a person is not as such something to rejoice in, for suffering, considered just by itself, is an evil…. However, there can be something ‘annexed’ to the suffering which is a cause for rejoicing.”

My collaborator and friend Victor Claar and I ran up against something like this in our engagement with Thomas on the topic of envy, and Thomas’ treatment of these questions should be read as an annex to the part of the Summa that Feser looks at. Envy is defined, following Aristotle, as grief or sadness or sorrow at the good of another. When you take the responses of grief and joy to another’s good or ill, you can plot them into four possibilities: joy at another’s good, joy at another’s ill, grief at another’s good, and grief at another’s ill.

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Envy and Schadenfreude are linked because they are opposite reactions to the evil or good of another. The envious person is the kind of person who will rejoice in the ills suffered by another, and vice versa.

And just as Thomas cautions against joy at the suffering of another because suffering in itself is evil, so too does he caution against grieving at the good of another, even as he leaves open the possibility of what might be called “righteous indignation” at the unjust or undeserved goods enjoyed by an evil person. In this case, Thomas warns against such feelings, because it really is only up to God to judge what someone really and truly deserves, and, in fact, something might be “annexed” to that good that makes it turn out to be even worse for that person.

For more on envy in relationship to economics, check out: Jordan J. Ballor and Victor V. Claar, “Envy in the Market Economy: Sin, Fairness, and Spontaneous (Dis)Order,” Faith & Economics 61/62 (Spring/Fall 2013) 33-54.

Victor has also spoken on envy in numerous venues for Acton, including Acton University. Here’s a link to a talk from a number of years back.

Blog author: dpahman
Thursday, November 10, 2016
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In his best-selling book The Black Swan, probabilist Nassim Nicholas Taleb warns against the need for easy narratives to explain the unexpected. Given how unexpected the result of this Tuesday’s election was, it is worth taking some time to review what Taleb calls “the narrative fallacy.”

According to Taleb,

The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship, upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.

Yesterday, I reviewed New York Times exit polling data to try to look at what we actually know about who voted for president-elect Donald Trump or Sec. Hillary Clinton. The results, as I noted, were often surprising.

The reason they are surprising is precisely because of what Taleb gets at here: we have a tendency to want everything to fit into neat-and-tidy narratives. But reality rarely works that way, especially in the case of unexpected events. Donald Trump’s win was a Black Swan event to many.

By nearly every poll, Hillary Clinton was the favorite to win (and, of course, it appears she did win the popular vote). The most cautious index I saw was FiveThirtyEight, where to their credit they stressed the probabilistic nature of their forecast. They basically put the odds at 2-to-1 in favor of Clinton, and they even said that her chances were not as good as President Obama’s reelection in 2012. Even so, they too have been reeling at the inaccuracy of, again, basically every poll.

So Trump won. It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility (obviously now), but it was certainly unexpected to most, even some of those who gave him a better chance than others. How did it happen? (more…)

As, no doubt, many readers are getting flooded on social media with think pieces and hot takes (not to mention apocalyptic worry or celebration), the point of this post is simply to look at what the data seems to indicate about those who voted for President-elect Donald Trump and his opponent, Sec. Hillary Clinton. I’ll add a few thoughts at the end, but I am mostly just fascinated with the result, which shows more diverse support for each candidate than I had expect. However, I am also, like many, disappointed at the passions, particularly anger, that motivated some voters and which will remain with us, no matter what our party preferences, if we do not make a point to address them.

That said, there is a temptation, especially as of late, to paint supporters of either candidate with broad brushes (often unfavorably but sometimes overly flattering too). Neither serves the virtues of wisdom, prudence, or love, which ought to be at the forefront of any Christian social engagement. So, with the encouragement of those virtues as my goal, lets look at that some of the most interesting demographic groups this year.

I’ll be using New York Times exit polling data throughout. You can view it all and compare with past elections here. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, November 3, 2016
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imrs (2)UPDATE: Given the recent attention drawn to this post, permit me to clarify that I do NOT endorse replacing education with paid labor, nor do I support sending our children back into the coal mines or other high-risk jobs, nor do I support getting rid of mandatory education at elementary and middle-school ages. Due to the confusion it brought, I have removed “bring back child labor” from the title, as many falsely took it to men a call to “bring back” earlier laws, conditions, or jobs, which is not my argument. My recommendation here is simply that we challenge our cultural assumptions about labor at all levels, from parenting to education to policymaking, and ensure we take a more holistic approach to education that recognizes the dignity of each human person.

The abundant prosperity of the modern age has brought many blessings when it comes to child-rearing and child development, offering kids new opportunities for education, play, and personal development. Yet even as we celebrate our civilizational departure from excessive child labor, we ought to be wary of falling into a different sort of lopsided lifestyle.

Alas, as a day-to-day reality, work has largely vanished from modern childhood, with parents constantly stressing over the values of study and practice and “social interaction” even as they insulate their children from any activity that might involve risk, pain, or boredom. As a result, many of our kids are coming far too late to the arena of creative service and all it brings: dignity, meaning, freedomvirtuecreativitycharacter, and neighbor love.

Operating out of a justified fear of the harsh excesses of “harder times,” we have allowed our cultural attitudes to swing too far in the opposite direction, distorting work as a “necessary obligation of adulthood,” a gift too dangerous for kids. Working from these same distorted attitudes, the Washington Post recently published what it described as a “haunting” photo montage of child laborers from America’s rougher past. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
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Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, who is president of the Ruth Institute as well as a senior fellow in economics here at the Acton Institute, debated Peter Jaworski, a co-author of the recent book, Markets without Limits: Moral Virtues and Commercial Interests, at an event hosted by the Austin Institute.

Check out this engaging discussion about not only questions of the morality and legality of things like prostitution and kidney transplants, but the picture of the human person on offer from differing philosophical and economic programs.

I also reviewed Markets without Limits for Books & Culture, “Markets & Moral Myopia.”