Category: Virtue

Blog author: jballor
Friday, December 19, 2014
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noun_6905_ccJames K. A. Smith reviews Cass Sunstein’s Valuing Life over at the Comment magazine site. It’s a worthwhile read for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it should move Sunstein’s latest up in the queue.

It seems self-evident that everyone should favor “good” regulation, but the trick is getting some consensus on what defines “good” vs. “bad” regulation. A “people” or “person” centered regulation is a good starting place, perhaps. Or as Smith puts it nicely: “Regulation is made for people, not people for regulation.” Maybe what we need is a personalist revolution in regulation, to say nothing of governance more broadly. A political economy for the people? Yes!

I would insist on some clarifications, though, and note that regulators are often the ones most inclined to get that formula mixed up. Who, after all, will regulate the regulators? (I think the rapper Juvenile asked something like that.) So one distinction I would insist on is that the rule of law is not reducible to or coterminous with the minutiae of regulation. In fact, the latter can often conflict with, rather than support, the former.
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gift-of-magi-ohenry-della-jimAmid the wide array of quaint and compelling Christmas tales, O. Henry’s classic short story, “The Gift of the Magi,” continues to stand out as a uniquely captivating portrait of the power of sacrificial exchange.

On the day before Christmas, Della longs to buy a present for her husband, Jim, restlessly counting and recounting her measly $1.87 before eventually surrendering to her poverty and bursting into tears. “Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim,” the narrator laments. “Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling—something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.”

Wishing to buy him a new fob chain for his gold watch — his most valuable and treasured possession — Della decides to sell her beautiful brunette hair — her most valuable and treasured possession. “Rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters,” Della’s hair was so long “it made itself almost a garment for her.” And yet, shedding but a “tear or two,” she goes through with it, trading her lovely hair to secure the $20 needed to buy a present for Jim. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, December 4, 2014
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In light of my recent posts on boyhood and the formative power of work, a new holiday ad for UPS does a nice job of illustrating a key point: something deep down in a boy longs for work, and that basic desire ought to be guided, encouraged, and discipled accordingly, not downplayed, distorted, or ignored.

The ad highlights one of the company’s youngest fans, a boy named Carson, who is fascinated by UPS trucks and relishes the chance to perform deliveries in a miniature model of his own. It’s funny, charming, heart-warming, and all the rest. (HT)

Girls are created for work as well, of course — subject for another ad, another day — but anyone who is parent to a boy knows that the shape of Carson’s excitement has a particular arc and aim. Boys love things that go, enjoy working with their hands, respond well when given big-red-button ownership, and so on. Yet even as we perceive these basic tendencies, it can be easy for us to sideline them as mere Vroom-Vroom Stereotypes, cute and quaint as a blue baseball cap, but not all that meaningful or distinct in the grand scheme of things. (more…)

“Mockingjay, Part 1,” the first film installment of the finale to Suzanne Collins’ massively popular young adult trilogy, The Hunger Games, has dominated the box office in its opening week and over the Thanksgiving weekend. As Brooks Barnes reported for the New York Times, “The No. 1 movie in North America was again ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1,’ which took in an estimated $56.9 million from Friday to Sunday, according to Rentrak, a box-office tracking firm. Domestic ticket sales for ‘Mockingjay’ now total a hefty $225.7 million….”

While some would criticize the series for lack of depth, “Mockingjay, Part 1,” offers more than just a shallow cast of good guys vs. bad guys, acting as a window into the messy realities of tyranny, class, and freedom. (more…)

imageIn an increasingly atomizing and alienating culture, what role does the church play in holding the fabric of civilization together?

Over at the Evangelical Pulpit, Bart Gingerich offers a hearty response, albeit by way of answering a rather different question: Why do folks abandon the church, particularly those who still believe in Jesus?

Although plenty of disaffected church-ditchers have undergone deep shifts in basic doctrine and belief, Gingerich observes that, for many, “the abandonment testimonies seem fueled more by embarrassment and bad experiences.” If this is the key driver, he continues, such departures may have just as much to do with the typical failings of human organizations in general as they do with the church in particular.

“Humans in groups can be jerks, make mistakes, have blind spots, and mishandle all sorts of cases,” he writes. “Many of the ‘I’m leaving or taking a break from church because people hurt me’ manifestos could just as easily been authored about the local Ruritans, Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary, Garden, or Women’s Club.”

But therein lies the issue: “Few under the age of 40 participate in such societies any more.” (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Monday, December 1, 2014
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I would like to clarify that inequity and inequality are overlapping (and related) but not identical sets. Here’s a diagram that might be helpful.
Inequity Inequality
The way these terms often get used makes it seem like this distinction could provide some clarity. See also “the generally accepted formal equality principle that Aristotle formulated in reference to Plato: ‘treat like cases as like.'”

Taylor-Swift-SpotifyTaylor Swift recently made waves when her record label pulled her entire catalog off Spotify, a popular music streaming service. Fans and critics responded in turn, banging their chests and wailing in solidarity, meming and moaning across the Twitterverse about the plight of the Struggling Artist and the imperialism of mean old Master Spotify.

Yet as an avid and thoroughly satisfied Spotify user, I couldn’t help but think of the wide variety of artists sprinkled across my playlists, a diverse mix of superstars, one-hit-wonders, niche fixtures, and independent nobodies. With such reach and depth, had Spotify really duped and enslaved them all, leaving them brainwashed and helpless lest they rise to the courage, stature, and enlightened futurism of Ms. Swift?

Or could it be that some artists actually benefit from such platforms?

I’ve written elsewhere about the transformative effects of economic freedom on the arts — how unleashing opportunity, innovation, and prosperity has yielded unprecedented amounts of time, training, and resources, all of which can be used to create more art, and do so independently. For musicians, the cost of equipment continues to go down, even as quality goes up, and as artists continue to grab hold of these resources, companies like Spotify are swooping in to service the next step.

Much like Kickstarter and iTunes, Spotify continues to experiment with new ways of empowering artists, helping folks bypass record labels altogether (“the banks,” “the marketing machine,” “the Man”) and connect them more closely with audiences. Countless artists have jumped in. And yes, countless others have opted out, particularly the ones with cash, fans, and sway. (more…)

hLOcRIn case you hadn’t noticed, “manly Christianity” has become somewhat of a thing. From the broad and boilerplate Braveheart analogies of John Eldredge to the UFC-infused persona of the now embattled Mark Driscoll, evangelical Christianity has been wrestling with how to respond to what is no doubt a rather serious crisis of masculinity.

Such responses vary in their fruitfulness, but most tend to only scratch the surface, prodding men to spend more time with the wife and kids (good), provide more steadily and sacrificially for their household (also good), spend more time in God’s creation (also good, I suppose), and eat more chicken wings and do more Manly Things™ (debatable).

Yet as Alastair Roberts artfully explains in a beautifully written reflection on the matter, the fundamental problem is, well, a bit more fundamental. (HT)

Due to a complex web of factors, some more controllable than others, society and culture have increasingly promoted a full-pronged infantilization of modern man, driven by or paired with its increasingly hollow philosophy of love and life. Thus, Roberts concludes, “The recovery of Christian masculinity will only occur as we commit ourselves to the restoration of biblical Christianity and the recovery of the weight and stakes of its moral universe.”

I have routinely written about the challenges of raising kids (particularly boys) in an age where economic prosperity, convenience, and a host of other newfound privileges make it easier than ever to insulate ourselves from external risks and skip past formative processes that were once built-in features of existence (e.g. manual labor). When it comes to the cultivation of the soul, our character, and the human imagination, what do we lose in a world wherein work, service, and sacrifice have been largely replaced by superficial pleasures and one-dimensional modes of formation? (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
Monday, November 3, 2014
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About a week ago, I had the opportunity to be a guest on a radio show, The Ride Home with John & Kathy, on 101.5 WORD Radio, Pittsburgh. The interview was prompted by a little post titled “What is Fasting?” that I wrote for my personal blog, Everyday Asceticism.

Of interest to PowerBlog readers, I was able to share the experience of my first Great Lent as an Orthodox Christian and how fasting transformed my perspective on abundance and consumerism. Thanks again to John and Kathy for having me on the program.

Give the audio a listen below.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, October 30, 2014
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Following up on the recent discussions of envy, here’s a bit from Russell Kirk’s book on economics:

It would be easy enough to list other moral beliefs and customs that are part of the foundation of a prosperous economy, but we draw near to the end of this book. So instead we turn back, for a moment, to one vice we discussed earlier—and to the virtue which is the opposite of that vice.

The vice is called envy; the virtue is called generosity.

Envy is a sour emotion that condemns a person to loneliness. Generosity is an emotion that attracts friends.
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