Archived Posts June 2011 - Page 2 of 7 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, June 24, 2011

Ben Shapiro was at the Heritage Foundation recently to talk about his new book, Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV. Publisher HarperCollins describes the book as “the inside story of how the most powerful medium of mass communication in human history has become a propaganda tool for the Left.”

Shapiro made the point at Heritage (see the video of his talk here) that conservatives underestimate the power of narrative and its purpose — moving the emotions — and that’s the case we’ve been making here at the PowerBlog for some time.

“Narrative matters,” Shapiro said at Heritage. “Unfortunately, conservatives have abandoned narrative as an emotional tool … you hear it on talk radio all the time. We have all the logical arguments; we have the facts on our side; they just rely on emotion all the time. Yeah, [because] it works.”

But logical arguments aren’t often the stuff of mass entertainment. Liberals, on the other hand, move the emotions via story telling and write sympathetic characters who may “behave badly” yet advance their agenda. Shapiro:

They’re very clever about it; they recognize that if they slide their messaging in, it’s much more effective than if they simply come out and hit you in the head with a two-by-four.

In a May 2009 PowerBlog post about film making, not television, titled “Cheesy Christian Movies and the Art of Narrative,” I pointed out that “the cultural right still hasn’t mastered even the rudiments of cinema storytelling.” That may have overstated the case somewhat, given that more and more films are coming to screens that conservatives can like (see NRO’s list of best conservative movies). But by and large the right is still much better at rhetoric than it is at storytelling. My main point from “Cheesy”:

The power of narrative lies in its ability to reach the whole person, the heart and the head. It begins by creating an effect on the emotions — moving a person — and can register indelibly in human memory. Thus, narrative can serve as a powerful means of communicating ideas, but not primarily in message form. It works at a deeper level, sometimes tapping into the mythic consciousness of an entire people. That is why narrative is essential for political mass movements; once you get the hearts and the minds of the people excited, you can then move their feet in the direction you want them to go.

Also see “Obama and the Moral Imagination” my Acton Commentary from January 2009 about the use of narrative in politics.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, June 24, 2011

Bread for the World CEO David Beckmann once said, “We can’t food-bank our way to the end of hunger.” As I said then, if “changing the politics of hunger” means that more people are getting food assistance from the government rather than food banks and community efforts, count me out.

But on a more hopeful note, this story from NPR tracking how Walmart has partnered with Feeding America, the largest food bank network in the nation, to get food that would otherwise be wasted into the hands of those that need it most. Last year Walmart announced a plan to contribute $2 billion to food banks in the form of direct cash assistance as well as material donations. You can see more at Walmart’s “Fighting Hunger Together” page.

And be sure to check out Feeding America to find out what food banks really can do.

R.R. Reno at First Things has written a moving meditation on the preferential option for the poor:

“In the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus warning us about how our lives will be judged. His words are pointed. We are to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner. For what we do to the poor and the destitute—“the least of these my brethren,” says Jesus—we do to the Lord himself.

It’s a sobering warning, and I fear that I’m typical. For the most part I think about myself: my needs, my interests, my desires. And when I break out of my cocoon of self-interest, it’s usually because I’m thinking about my family or my friends, which is still a kind of self-interest. The poor? Sure, I feel a sense of responsibility, but they’re remote and more hypothetical than real: objects of a thin, distant moral concern that tends to be overwhelmed by the immediate demands of my life. As I said, I’m afraid I’m typical.”

Reno points out something very interesting about the language used to describe our relationship to the poor:

“In Octogesima Adveniens (1971), an encyclical marking the eightieth anniversary of Leo XIII’s seminal treatment of modern social issues, Rerum Novarum, Paul VI evoked the fundamental importance of a transformative spirit of self-sacrificial love. “In teaching us charity,” he wrote, “the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society: the most fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods generously at the service of others.”

“Preferential respect” became the handier slogan “preferential option,” a formulation that first emerged from liberation theologies in South America but has percolated into a great deal of Catholic pronouncement on social ethics in recent decades. It captures a fundamental Christian imperative. When we think about politics and culture, our first question should be: “What are the needs of the poor?””

The late Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. coined the phrase, ‘preferential option for the poor’ a few years prior to Pope Paul VI’s use of ‘preferential respect’ in his encyclical and both phrases bring out a different dimension of what the Christian’s relationship with the poor should be.

The language of Arrupe follows the Ignatian tradition in its emphasis on choice. It is a preferential option, a decision to be made, and a commitment to be lived. The language of Pope Paul VI is more ontological, a respect to be given to the poor as poor, possessing a dignity that also demands ones own renunciation of rights and claims before them.

When meditating on the preferential option, a relationship of action and choice, Reno is right to recall the words of Jesus when he speaks of the judgment, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

When I think of Pope Paul VI’s language of respect my thoughts go to these words of Christ, “For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.”

The poor must never be reduced to a project or duty and they must never be ignored while simultaneously held in our esteem. They are our neighbors and all that that entails.


Blog author: kspence
Friday, June 24, 2011

Jeffery C. Pugh has landed every blogger’s dream: the book deal for a best-of collection of his musings. Devil’s Ink: Blog from the Basement Office is an answer to the question “What if Satan kept a blog?”—one of several (the opportunity to pun is apparently irresistible) all of which immediately invite comparison with C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. Pugh anticipates that comparison in his book’s preface, saying he offers “another way of looking at evil,” a modern way that reflects how the “locale of evil has changed,” and confronts particularly its rise in popular culture.

He certainly offers a different perspective on evil; so different, in fact, that rather than avoiding comparison with Lewis, he forces it. Pugh presents only one kind of “evil” in his bloggings from the throne of Hell—and such is the nature of a blog that the action of evil can be nothing else than as he presents it. That evil is not the personal sin that Lewis explored in Screwtape’s letters on the art of temptation, but a kind of corporate, structural sin based on a view of human history as class conflict.

Pugh offers some insightful entries on pride and on spiritual community, but he is continually caught up in the idea that evil is found in the structures of society rather than in men’s sinful hearts. In fact he rarely uses the word sin, preferring the more ambiguous “evil.” Post after post deals with war, human suffering, and the vulgarity of popular culture—all of which are valid subjects of reflection, but which totally consume the author’s ethical thoughts.

One sees flashes of Lewis in postings like “Spiritual but Not Religious,” when he warns that “Spirituality pursued without the community of faith is easily dealt with and dispersed. Discipline pursued in the community of faith makes them stronger and less susceptible to us.” But the community is not the basic moral unity—that unit is the individual person, and when Pugh says in his preface that “it is difficult sometimes to see evil when one lives in the midst of it; it is usually in retrospect that one sees how evil manifested itself,” it becomes clear that he does not realize where evil—where sin—is first of all to be found. The Screwtape Letters draws the reader to look inward; Devil’s Ink lets him off the hook by directing his meditation at society.

This confused ethics comes from Pugh’s view of history as a narrative of class warfare. As he writes in a post about Utopia (in which he reveals a real misunderstanding of Thomas More’s work), the Devil scores a big victory when man ceases to see revolutions as “the historical eruptions of the masses who want more and desire what the other has.” Pugh is not the writer that Lewis was, and so it is often difficult to find his voice in the Devil’s, but in this case the context makes it clear: the author’s embrace of history-as-class-warfare leads him away from a proper understanding of personal sin.

A recent post on the Devil’s Ink blog illustrates Pugh’s confusion. He is right that attention paid Kim Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan, and Anthony Weiner is attention distracted from worthwhile pursuits, but he cannot resist seating evil in the popular culture that promotes those three. “The ways [humans] construct their society, the type of human beings those environments create, and the material effects of those communities” are the Devil’s prime victories, not the corruption of men’s souls. Such a view is not fundamentally different than those of Marx and Lenin, with Christianity sprinkled over the top.

What is to be recommended in the book? Some of Pugh’s irony is indeed funny, as the blurbs on the back cover note. Jabs at public figures are often landed to humorous effect, although each laugh is a reminder of the author’s search for moral fault anywhere but the self. Stanley Hauerwas is quoted on the back: “Pugh’s devil is indeed deadly serious, but in this hilarious and wise book we learn to laugh at Satan. Pugh teaches us how important it is to defy evil with humor.” One is instantly reminded of Screwtape’s advice on counterinsurgency: “The fact that ‘devils’ are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you.”

Judy Hill with her son James

A few weeks ago I made a phone call to Judy Hill at High Cotton Ties simply because I had a strong feeling she had a compelling witness to offer about entrepreneurship, vocation, and creativity. Picking up the phone was a wise decision. She agreed to an interview for readers of the PowerBlog. I had ordered a few bow ties from High Cotton Ties and was extremely impressed with the unique design and high quality. I had no idea of any of Judy’s values, or her beliefs about vocation and entrepreneurship. I didn’t know her at all. At the same time, I was not surprised to find that so much of her thinking aligned with Acton’s ideas and principles. Simply put, Judy is easily among the most gracious, kindest, and spirit-filled ladies I have ever conversed with. She has a radiant personality and a great story to tell about turning a passion into a business success. Below is the interview:

How did the idea for High Cotton develop and what are a few things that make this product so unique?

High Cotton Ties was born out of prayer and the financial needs of our family. Our family had just moved to Charlotte in 2007 after 22 years in the D.C. area. Upon moving, the recession hit our family hard and we found ourselves searching creatively for ways to provide for our family of five, two sons in college and one son in high school. I took a year off from teaching a young women’s Bible Study to devote myself to thinking creatively of ideas for work. Eight months later, it was Christmas time and, having sewn most of my life, I decided to make a pattern and sew a few colorful bow ties for my son Cameron, who is a medical student at the University of Virginia.

Not able to find any silk to my liking, I chose four colorful cottons with which to make the ties. Cameron thought this was a great idea because he would be able to wash the ties so they would be clean to wear when seeing patients in the hospital. I had no idea until then that a study had been done which showed the presence of germs such as H1N1 on the silk neck ties of doctors nor did I know that wearing silk ties was already being discouraged in the hospital.

My middle son, James, took the same bow tie to his fraternity at Carolina (UNC Chapel Hill) and it received an even more enthusiastic response. The college students immediately took to the idea of a comfortable, cotton bow tie. It was preppy, smart, and had its roots in the South. It began to take off on the college campus and that is where the High Cotton Ties culture eventually developed.

Our product is unique in that it is made of high quality, washable cotton and is the first line of bow ties and cummerbunds made exclusively of cotton. Our line is made in the South by Southerners to precise standards and specifications. Our designs are “Southern Mainstays”: traditional patterns and fabrics such as tattersalls, ginghams, madras and seersucker as opposed to novelties and tiny prints. Our bow ties and cummerbunds are hand cut and hand sewn here in North Carolina.

How does your faith or your own concept of a “calling” play a role in your business?

I believe that God has given me a gift in High Cotton Ties, to be able to create the bow ties, to work hand in hand with my sons and to put my mind and abilities toward the work He has given me. Because I see my vocation as a gift and calling from God, it definitely brings more satisfaction to my work. It helps me to see that I am not doing this alone, or even just with my boys, but I am in the process of creating something with the help of the very God of creation and that brings joy, excitement and pleasure in my work.

What do you think are valuable character traits and virtues needed for entrepreneurship?

Creativity, vision, perseverance, integrity, honesty, and willingness to take risks. Focusing on the needs of others is an essential trait of entrepreneurship and that is a crucial aspect for building relationships.

Do you feel like any of these qualities have helped to make High Cotton Ties a success?

High Cotton Ties is still a young company and so if we are considered a success, it would be because we had a vision from the start that was unwavering and clear. We decided early on that we wanted to be the best cotton bow tie on the market, to make a genuine product through a genuine process and we have done everything we can to stay true to that mission with integrity and honesty.

How has it influenced the actual product?

We have worked hard to perfect and improve our bow ties and cummerbunds. In fact, just last week, after a very successful first year and significant praise for our product line, we decided to redesign our bow tie pattern to make it truer to size at the urging of two friends, one a trusted mentor in the apparel industry, and the other, a store owner whom we greatly respect. The product was slightly off in actual neck size and so we made the necessary changes to the pattern, losing valuable time, money and inventory, but the end result was to have as fine a product as is on the market today. We always say we want to be able to sleep at night knowing that we have made a good product and the recent changes to our ties have helped us get that good night’s sleep.

You have said you want to help bring a revival to the North Carolina textile industry and your business is very organic. What does that mean?

Growing up in North Carolina around textiles, I have seen and felt the devastation that industry experienced in recent years. When we outgrew the individual seamstresses we were using, we began to look in North Carolina for a manufacturer, determined to keep true to our mission.

After a state-wide search, we found a textile manufacturing company in a small North Carolina town (population 1200). The owner had returned to North Carolina to open the factory after working with larger international textile firms and experiencing first hand the difficult conditions in the factories overseas. It was a perfect match for our mission. So, now our ties are produced on the still vibrant main street of a “three stoplight” North Carolina town using North Carolina seamstresses.

Our distribution/fulfillment center is also located in another small North Carolina town, Cherryville.

In June, we are releasing our first t-shirt that, again, has the common theme of High Cotton Ties: Made in North Carolina. The cotton for our t-shirts is grown on local farms and picked, ginned, spun, woven, dyed and sewn, all within the borders of North Carolina. In committing ourselves to a local product, we are encouraging jobs in the industry, hopefully for years to come.

Our business is organic in that we have used our own resources to build the company because of a long term commitment to growing High Cotton Ties.

What are you excited about for what the future holds for High Cotton Ties? What would you ultimately like to see develop out of this idea?

The future of High Cotton Ties is all about growing our product line, creatively using 100 percent cotton fabrics to make high quality products for our customers. We are looking at a variety of apparel and accessories to add to our line in the near future and, most importantly, of finding ways to manufacture cotton fabric once again in North Carolina.

We would ultimately like to see our product line continue to grow and be produced in North Carolina, bringing jobs to the textile industry of our great state. And, we would like to earn the respect of our customers, for unparalleled customer service and quality products.

Blog author: ehilton
Thursday, June 23, 2011

It is nice to know that we here at Acton have friends in high places.  This article at Catholic Exchange by George Weigel points out that Blessed John Paul II had some keen insights into what makes economic life flourish:

“John Paul taught that what the Church proposes is not simply the free society, but the free and virtuous society.

It takes a certain kind of people, possessed of certain virtues, to make free politics and free economics work toward genuine human flourishing.

Democracy and the market are not machines that can run by themselves, so a vibrant public moral-cultural life is essential to disciplining both the market and democratic politics.

In fact, in the Catholic vision of the tripartite free and virtuous society—democratic polity, free economy, vibrant moral-cultural sector—it’s the latter that’s most important over the long haul. The habits of heart and mind of a people are the best defense against their allowing their political and economic liberties to become self-destructive.”

In a new article on Public Discourse, Samuel Gregg explores social contract theory and how that may apply to the current budget battles:

In very broad terms, social contract theory is a way of understanding the relationship between governments and the people. It holds that, having agreed upon the need for a government, individuals create a state on the basis of mutual promises. This permits the state to claim that its authority is based on a delegation of people’s rights to pursue their particular interests in their own way.

Our present economic disputes are, at a deeper level, about the precise content of those mutual promises. One influential interpretation may be found in John Rawls’ Theory of Justice.

On the basis of what reasonable people in an imaginary “original position” and blinded by a “veil of ignorance” about their future abilities, social status, etc., would want, Rawls argued that each person had “an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties with a similar system of liberty for all.”

As part of this calculation, Rawls maintained that no one in the original position would risk being abandoned at the bottom of the social heap. Rawlsian social contract theory has thus, economically speaking, usually been interpreted as translating into extensive entitlement programs and large welfare states.

At the other end of the social contract spectrum is an older concept. This was given prominent expression in John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government.

In Locke’s view, what he called “the Law of Nature” meant that individuals were morally bound not to damage other people’s lives or property. The only way to ensure that this was given effect was through a government that defended everyone against anyone else’s attempts to damage their lives or property. The citizens thus agreed to set up a state that would protect the life, liberty, and property of everyone living under its sovereignty.

In economic terms, this position broadly equates to a state that focuses upon protection of property rights and adjudication of contractual disputes. Issues of distribution according to criteria such as need are deemed beyond the state’s competence.

The significance of these understandings of the social contract is difficult to overstate. The Lockean conception profoundly shaped the Declaration of Independence and much of today’s movement for limited government. By contrast, the Rawlsian interpretation represents the most contemporary philosophical underpinnings of modern American progressivism.

Not only does Gregg explain the problems with different ideas of social contracts, but he articulates what is needed for people to flourish in a society. Gregg states that many times it is the principle of subsidiarity that allows people to be successful:

Subsidiarity’s genius is the manner in which it uses this attention to free choice, human flourishing, and the need for support to provide guidance concerning how we apply subsidiarity’s two axioms of non-interference and assistance. It helps us determine (1) what economic roles can only be performed by the state (such as the provision of courts to adjudicate contractual disputes); (2) when the state should allow other communities to provide assistance (private banks should normally be the first place of call for loans); (3) when the state should intervene outside its normal economic responsibilities (when those communities that would normally assist are clearly unable to do so); and (4) when such interventions should cease (when they start impeding human flourishing or when the communities that normally provide assistance are now able to do so).

Click here to read the full article.