Archived Posts May 2005 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jspalink
Tuesday, May 31, 2005

C.S. Lewis identifies the development of "the machine" as the most drastic change in both technology and philosophy in all of history (he pinpoints the machine age as generally beginning around the time of the Industrial Revolution). While Lewis’ context is directed more towards a realistic understanding of the interval of time separating the "dark ages" and the Renaissance, the continued developments in technology in the last century, and in particular the last five years, have led us out of a sort of "dark age" by providing us with overwhelming sources of information about everything imaginable. While there is still skepticism about the proper role and niche that blogging fulfills in the neo-renaissance, the realm has now officially expanded to first-hand reporting – a role that has traditionally been reserved for news agencies.

An article from the Wall Street Journal on the expanding role of blogging says this:

Already we’re seeing a lot of reporting from non-journalists, where the "reporter" is just whoever happens to be on the scene, and online, when news happens. Given the ubiquity of digital cameras, cellphones, and wireless Internet access, that’s likely to become more common, making the kind of distributed newsgathering seen during the Indian Ocean tsunami the norm not the exception.

Reporting through a blog sidesteps editorial processes and can provide a very quick means of communication – publishing to the world requires only an Internet connection, a few minutes to type, and the push of a button. The more people who blog about something they’ve seen, the better the picture becomes of that event. Direct and unfiltered.

Other online resources use the general public to populate their pages. As an example, look at Wikipedia. Wikipedia is an "open source" encyclopedia, edited by the public. It is edited and checked for accuracy by a sort of "distributed intelligence" – people who know about something write. People add to it; other people remove from it. A record is kept of all changes (all visible to the public) and its accuracy is assured by the general consensus of the readers. People who disagree will change an article to reflect what they believe to be accurate, others will view the changes and make their own. This distributed intelligence also works as a self-checking mechanism in the blogging world, something we will see more of no doubt.

The invention of the printing press was revolutionary in the distribution of information. Perhaps the Internet has finally found an efficient means of reforming the now "traditional" method of information creation, shifting away from singular (or close to) news sources to larger distributed networks of redundant and peer reviewed information.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, May 30, 2005

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

–U.S. Book of Common Prayer, “For the Nation,” (1979), p. 258

Blog author: jballor
Friday, May 27, 2005

Cuke Skywalker vs. Darth Tater

The popularity of the Star Wars franchise (and Episode III Revenge of the Sith) has been fertile ground (pun intended) for various political satire and commentary. For a mildly entertaining take on Star Wars from the Organic Trade Association, attacking "the dark side of the farm…more chemical than vegetable, twisted and evil," visit "Grocery Store Wars."

Check out the Acton Institute’s Environmental Newsletter on Genetically Modified Foods.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, May 27, 2005

A good question and discussion over at WorldMagBlog: “Should everything that’s immoral be illegal, regulated, or punished? If so, by which kind of government (include family and church as kinds of governments)? Can you give an example of a behavior that’s immoral but shouldn’t be regulated by the state?”

My answer:
Here’s what Aquinas has to say on this (in part), and I think it has a lot of merit in determining when and in what situations conduct should be legally sanctioned:

“The purpose of human law is to lead men to virtue, not suddenly, but gradually. Wherefore it does not lay upon the multitude of imperfect men the burdens of those who are already virtuous, viz. that they should abstain from all evil. Otherwise these imperfect ones, being unable to bear such precepts, would break out into yet greater evils: thus it is written (Pr. 30:33): ‘He that violently bloweth his nose, bringeth out blood’; and (Mt. 9:17) that if ‘new wine,’ i.e. precepts of a perfect life, ‘is put into old bottles,’ i.e. into imperfect men, ‘the bottles break, and the wine runneth out,’ i.e. the precepts are despised, and those men, from contempt, break into evils worse still” (Summa Theologica, II.1.96.ii).

The point is that in cases where the law would cause greater evil to be done, it is not prudent to criminalize the behavior. Prohibition strikes me as a particularly excellent example of this.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, May 27, 2005

The Road to Serfdom, by F. A. Hayek

This OpinionJournal article, “Investing in the Right Ideas,” by James Piereson, surveys a brief history of philanthropy in the 20th century. Piereson describes three phases of conservative philanthropy, initiated by F. A. Hayek in the 40’s and 50’s. He writes, “The seminal influence on these funders was F.A. Hayek’s ‘The Road to Serfdom,’ published in London in 1944 and in the U.S. the following year. This slender volume, an articulate call to battle against socialism, turned its author, then an obscure professor at the London School of Economics, into an enduring hero among conservatives and classical liberals on both sides of the Atlantic.”

The second phase is identified with a move toward a broader interaction with society, in areas of art, religion, and literature, among others. The funders in this phase “were more self-consciously conservative than libertarian. While sympathetic to the writings of Hayek and the ideals of classical liberalism, they adopted a broader intellectual framework encompassing fields beyond economics: preeminently religion, foreign policy and the traditional humanities. In contrast to Hayek and his followers, they were also prepared to engage the world of politics and policy and to wage the war of ideas in a direct and aggressive style.”

The third and current phase of conservative philanthropy represents a greater emphasis on practical policy issues and a corresponding devaluation of the ideas and underpinnings of conservatism. Piereson, I think rightly, identifies this generally as a negative shift, and concludes that “in this sense, Hayek and the neoconservatives have had it right all along: Any movement, if it is to maintain or augment its influence, will need to wage an ongoing battle of ideas. To do so, conservatives, no less than liberals, will need the help of sympathetic philanthropists.”

Part of the article is a brief sketch of corresponding giving among liberal causes in the 20th century. Piereson identifies the financial abilities of the conservative philanthropists as dwarfed by liberal institutions, including higher education. In that vein, I pass along this link to DiscoverTheNetworks, a site that “identifies the individuals and organizations that make up the left and also the institutions that fund and sustain it; it maps the paths through which the left exerts its influence on the larger body politic; it defines the left’s (often hidden) programmatic agendas and it provides an understanding of its history and ideas.”


Blog author: jballor
Friday, May 27, 2005

Contained in this year’s Christian Reformed Church 2005 Agenda for Synod (PDF), which will be held June 11-18, is a report from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches recent General Council in Accra, Ghana (pp. 257-63). The agenda states, “A reading of this document will make it clear that, while all participants appreciated the common Christian concern regarding issues of poverty and the oppressive structures that contribute to it, not all delegates were comfortable with either the decision-making process or the ideological positions expressed by the General Council” (p. 235).

Also contained is an English-language version of the text, “Covenanting for Justice in the Economy and the Earth,” (pp. 264-68) the resulting “declaration” to come out of the WARC assembly. In many ways this document represents a defeat for the radical factions in WARC. Over the last decade we have seen the push for WARC to enter a status confessionis, and prepare a binding confessional statement on matters of the environment and the economy. As noted above, however, the “ideological positions” of those behind the push has precluded a more general acceptance of their plan.

The approaching G8 summit in Scotland has led the World Council of Churches to renew its call for a debt-free world. That is, debt-free if you are one of those developing nations that have been victimized by “increasingly unconscionable levels of inequity,” according to Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, general secretary. There is nothing in Rev. Kobia’s letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair that is new — the WCC has been lobbying for debt cancellation for years. And it is tempting to simply dismiss Rev. Kobia’s sentiments, if it weren’t for the fact that undoubtedly a great many clergy and faithful in the WCC’s constituent churches take his analysis seriously. Here’s a sample of Rev. Kobia’s economic thinking:

The WCC, therefore, urges the G8 to rethink the logic of corporate globalization, which we believe has only sharpened the gap between the rich and the poor and has led to a destruction of the environment. The grinding poverty experienced by millions in our world today is derived from economic models of excessive competition motivated by profits. The WCC cautions that if no drastic changes are made in the present paradigms of economic growth, there will only be an aggravation of poverty leading to insecurity, violence and unnecessary deaths.

He’s also calling for a debt cancellation that comes “without externally imposed conditions on impoverished nations.” Not one word about corruption or waste among the kleptocrats.

When the G8 ministers meet in July, they would be far better off with the much more thoughtful analysis of global economics offered by the Archbishop of Canterbury in a speech given in Sarajevo earlier this month. Rowan Williams would never find himself on the cover of Fortune magazine, but he is willing to view the poor — and developing nations — as something more than a class of individual and corporate victims. Get past the archbishop’s introductory and perfunctory slams at “multinational” corporations pulling the strings on the global economy, and you come across this:

Religious believers will be found among those who are sceptical of appeals to the market as the primary agent of benevolent change; but they should also be found among those who seek to encourage the kind of enterprise that creates wealth in the form of employment, which represents increased levels of control and capacity in a social environment. Perhaps one of the most distinctive contributions that can be made by religious communities is the active encouragement of local credit schemes. Whether in the shape of the Anglican ‘Five Talents’ initiative in Africa, or the Grameen banks of Muhammad Yunus in South Asia, there is a way of furthering economic maturity that belongs most obviously with religious conviction simply because it assumes that a dependable local community, bound by trust and common commitment, is an ideal unit in which economic empowerment can take place.

And, yes, there is a mention of “endemic corruption” which paralyzes economic life.