I know I took the notion of optimising to heart as I learned it – implicitly – from my economist Dad. And there are those who might argue that the idea in economics came from the society around economists as the discipline came into being.
But now it seems optimising as the heart of life seems to have become ubiquitous. I just ran into a tweet which proudly displays the graphic to the left.
I also know that the advice, such as it is, embodied in the accompanying graphic is fair enough. A bit of prudence about life. One could do a lot worse. (Then again, is it not pretty obvious? Graphics induce a kind of ‘fake’ aha I’ve found – something I confess to exploiting in my own rhetorical tricks during presentations) But at the level of advice there’s also something strangely anodyne and sad about it as an embodiment of aspiration.
Traditional notions of how one might decide on one’s path in life or one’s career – at least since the rise of modern times and the idea of the self as a self-creation, it’s been pretty de rigueur to at least pay some lip service to following one’s heart or more recently, and more crassly, one’s dream. More dourly, Protestant ethics teach a kind of surrender to one’s ‘calling’. Each of these has the texture of life as an adventure and a story in which basic values are the foundation – one build’s on the rock to invoke Christian imagery – including bearing the burden of suffering in pursuit of one’s goal.
Even Maslow’s hierarchy suggests that, though one pays most attention to ‘the basics’, truth to oneself involves working up to ‘higher’ things. (I’ve always thought it wide of the mark by the way as things at the top of the hierarchy seem to turn up very early in human history and in many ways were more powerful influences in civilisations in which the vast bulk of people were pretty much at subsistence – but I digress).
In any event today alongside the hashtags “#Brand” and “#You” the tweet which brandished this insight into life, we lean in and regard our ultimate task as having it all. Even in the anodyne graphic, I’d have liked to see doing what one loves as being more important than being paid well, but there you go, though I’m all for it being important.
“MIT’s Openness to Jewish Economists”, E. Roy Weintraub
MIT emerged from “nowhere” in the 1930s to its place as one of the three or four most important sites for economic research by the mid-1950s. A conference held at Duke University in April 2013 examined how this occurred. In this paper the author argues that the immediate postwar period saw a collapse – in some places slower, in some places faster – of the barriers to the hiring of Jewish faculty in American colleges and universities. And more than any other elite private or public university, particularly Ivy League universities, MIT welcomed Jewish economists.
Warning: Enthusiasm Alert.
I’ve just got home from seeing the Crucible by Arthur Miller at the Melbourne Theatre Company. I thought it was a very good production. I thought I wasn’t going to like David Wenham much at the outset as he seemed a bit strained. But that’s perhaps because I’m familiar with him in very different comic roles, so perhaps it was just a bit of cognitive dissonance.
Anyway, I think I’ve seen the play three times in my life and each time I have been bowled over by it, but each time more so. I recall the first time I saw it, I remembered people in my year 12 English course talking about the play. I didn’t study it but they did and the general drum was that it was an allegory of the madness of McCarthyism. Based on this I expected to dislike the play as I expected lots of strained analogies and basically full on anachronism – something I really hate. Unless it’s pure costume drama like A Man for all Seasons or the Lion in Winter (which has dialogue like Eleanor of Aquitaine has an apartment and shrink on the Upper East Side) which is fair enough, really bad anachronism smacks of lack of seriousness to me. Anyway, it irritates me.
Anyway I recall first seeing it and marvelling at how much effort Miller had gone to to try to get inside the heads of his protagonists. The language seems right as does all the theology. There’s something very compelling about being taken convincingly inside something which looks trivially crazy on the outside. Yet the play is of course a contemporary play about classic themes, most particularly the dialectic of morality, the radical nature of any real commitment to goodness, the incredible maze through which good can be lost in and the upshot of that for those who must try to divine what is right and navigate their way through extraordinary times in which “the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law”.
I’ve written before about jokes that get better with age. Well I guess Shakespeare’s plays get better with age because one appreciates the language a little more, sees more in them. But for me this play is without peer. After the introductory scene, each of the next three scenes that make up the play are just masterful. They meld drama and insight so magnificently I’m still in awe of it all.
Like I said; Go see it if you can.
As people reading this blog would know, I’m no fan of Richard Dawkins writings on God.
However, having seen this video, I have to admit to preferring Dawkins to this guy, whose attack on the four horsemen of militant atheism I broadly agree with. On top of his superior manner, it turns out Terry Eagleton tells lots of jokes that aren’t funny and then ends up bitterly disappointed with his audience for not laughing. Terry – don’t shoot the messenger. Still I found the content of his lecture of interest. Some Troppodillians may, though not those holding fast to what Eagleton calls “the Yeti theory of God”
Apparently not. In any event, I found this an engaging conversation – even if it’s about cult beliefs. I wouldn’t have expected it, but I found Mitt Romney arguing for his cult more engaging than most of the rest of Mitt’s campaigning. Pity he walked out on what were essentially false pretences just as it was getting interesting. Anyway he had to get out of that booth to stay ‘on message’. It’s a tribute to him that he stayed as long as he did. And interesting to see how seriously people take the narrative of whether they’re a good guy or not.
It’s also a tribute to the Dems that they didn’t run round the evangelical belt of the US spreading rumours that Mormons eat their babies. Then again maybe they did and we didn’t hear of it – because of that liberal press that we have. Certainly there’ve been no end of alarums and excursions around the fact that the Obamas were born on Krypton where they do eat their babies. And Romney was prepared to help those rumours along, for instance making comments to the effect that people didn’t wonder where he was born!!
In case anyone wants to know, an American friend of mine tells me that as Governor of Massachusetts Romney was good on Government 2.0.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the vid.
The very sharp Waleed Aly has joined the debate over whether Catholic child abuse justifies a legal requirement for priests to break the confessional seal. Aly’s take: it’s an argument with almost no practical consequences, because most priests see excommunication as a far worse punishment than prison.
… Canon law prohibits a priest from revealing a confession even under the threat of his own death. Should we expect him to buckle under the threat of a prison sentence?
Here it’s essential to understand that any priest who violates the confessional seal faces excommunication.
That might mean nothing to you … But you are not the one hearing the confession. What matters is what this means to priests and, in Catholic terms, excommunication is as serious as it gets – far more serious than any prison sentence. This leaves us searching for a very strange creature indeed: someone devoted enough to enter the priesthood, but not devoted enough to care about eternal damnation. And we need lots of them. We’re betting on a team of rogue priests. That doesn’t sound like a plan to me.
You can’t legislate away people’s religious convictions, however much you might want to.
Aly notes that there’s little evidence of priests describing their crimes in confessional anyway. Does anyone know of evidence?
Aly also argues that the break-the-confessional-seal argument represents “irreligious people trying to address a religious problem with brute secular force”. Given that Catholics like Tony Abbott, Christopher Pyne and Barry O’Farrell are among the advocates of overriding the sanctity of the confessional, that characterisation seems wrong. But the non-religious (a category which includes me) might do well to think twice before piling on to this particular argument. It’s all fight and no pay-off.
To my astonishment, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney George Pell spent part of a press conference today claiming that the news media are exaggerating the scandal of Catholic Church child abuse in Australia. There was “a persistent press campaign against the Catholic Church’s adequacies and inadequacies in this area”, he said.
In fact, the opposite is true. The media has underplayed the issue to a remarkable extent.
A major Australian institution appears* to have harbored hundreds of child abusers abusing thousands of children over a period of several decades around Australia. The same institution has apparently committed the same offences across the globe. According to one senior NSW police officer, this institution covers up for paedophile priests, hinders police investigations and destroys evidence to prevent prosecutions.
The obvious reaction would be that this institution needs an investigation to run through it like a dose of salts.
Yet too few people have rushed to say this about the Catholic Church in Australia. Quite the contrary. On 3AW last Friday two national political leaders – Bill Shorten and Joe Hockey – talked with Neil Mitchell about how people close to them had been affected by Catholic Church paedophilia. Then they both tied themselves in knots trying to avoid saying that the Catholic Church should be the subject of a major official inquiry. Continue reading
Looking at the newspapers you’d think Catholicism is having a hard time with philandering priests and cover-ups of their doings being found out on a weekly basis. Dutch and German newspapers kept track for a while of the regional frequencies of new cases of sexual misconduct allegations. You might think Catholicism is getting its long-awaited come-uppance. Nothing is further from the truth however: Catholicism is in rude health.
There are now around 1.3 billion adherents making Catholicism the largest religion on the planet and the largest branch on the tree of Christianity that appears to hold about 2.1 billion adherents. Its strongholds in Latin America and Southern Africa are looking rock-solid, and conversion rates in the new centres of Asia (China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc.) are looking very healthy indeed. The Christian World Database hence proudly announced Christianity was the world’s fastest growing religion in 2006 and in terms of numbers, Catholicism is by far the biggest and probably fastest growing of the Christian faiths.
What is interesting about Catholicism is that it seems to have lost its footing in its traditional stronghold, Southern and Western Europe. The area where all the popes came from, where all the old cathedrals are, where nearly all the alternative branches of Christianity originated, is now more secular than ever. Europe now has to import monks from Latin America and Africa to fill up its most prestigious and old monasteries (such as the one in Poblet, Spain). Things are so bad for Catholicism in Europe that in April 2009, the Archbishop of Vienna proclaimed that “The time of Christianity in Europe is coming to an end”. It is of course partially this retreat of the power of the Catholic church that allows all the skeletons to emerge from the cupboard. It is striking how few scandals come to the surface in places like Brazil and Nigeria compared to the almost massive ‘coming out’ currently seen in Europe.