I just finished rereading A Theory of Justice by John Rawls for a philosophy reading group. One of the themes I noticed is the attempt to deal with contingency in politics.
Rawls acknowledges that everyone approaches political decisions from their own point of view, with unique biases and ideas. The original position is designed to overcome these biases by acknowledging them and then rationally agreeing to make decisions while ignoring individual personal biases.
My recent trawls around the internet have brought up some interesting finds that seem to cross ideological lines. A week ago David Brooks fired off a column linking the recent recession to a decline in America’s financial values. Brooks decries the growth of debt and consumption as a falling away from our previous virtues of hard work and thrift. I put on my very skeptical hat whenever I hear someone talking about decline from a previous golden age, but I think that Brooks may have something.
Harry Boyte, a senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, spoke to the Minnesota Independent Scholars Forum on the topic Beyond the Knowledge Wars. The event was held at the Hosmer Public Library in Minneapolis.
Boyte began by discussing the cult of the expert, the ultimate outgrowth of the philosophical positivism and objectivism that dominated intellectual culture in the first half of the twentieth century. Objectivity became the byword for intellectual investigation, demanding the removal of all self-interest or awareness from the research process.
Dane Smith, the president of Growth and Justice a local Minnesota think-tank, spoke to the Twin Cities Chapter of the IEEE Education Society on Friday. The event was held at the Bakken Museum on Lake Calhoun.
Mr. Smith began by laying out the assumptions made by Growth and Justice when considering education policy in Minnesota. Like many think-tank presidents he describe the mission of Growth and Justice as being bipartisan, neither conservative nor liberal.
Another of my favorite economic-moral connections is choice. I recently talked with a friend about health care and choice and was treated to the full-on Republican explanation that as long as people have choices they will do fine. Choice becomes the most important value and making bad choices becomes the fault of the individual. The organizations and social structures that force a particular choice are glossed over or completely ignored. It all fits into the Randian argument of the economic overman.
I remember wistfully back in the 1980s listening to neoconservatives, like Jeane Kirkpatrick, argue that any comparisons between the bad things that America did oversees and bad things done by the Soviet Union were the height of irresponsibility. Liberals, like Noam Chomsky, were creating a “false equivalence” between the always-working-for-good America and the devil-incarnate-evil-empire Soviet Union. The whole messed-up thread was most salient during the year I was on the high school debate team and the resolution was about American foreign-policy in Latin America.
I shuffled off to an early morning Citizens League meeting on Thursday to hear Alex Cirillo Jr., vice president of community relations at 3M, talk about the Principles of Innovation. I went because I’ve been interested in this topic for at least ten years. I was also interested in seeing what the Citizens League would be like.
Cirillo began the session with a short 15 minute presentation, a time limit he admirably fulfilled.
I’m an occasional visitor to the local Socrate’s Cafe discussion group. Most of the time it frustrates me. It’s predominantly a white, middle-class group that never wants to talk about business or personal experiences with culture. The talk always returns to politics - usually national. And vague reifications about this culture does x, when it should be doing y.
Business is one of my ongoing obsessions that I wish more people would think about in a serious way.
I’m not sure why this particular issue has begun to obsess me over the past few months. I think it’s connected to my wastage of talent that pervades the world and the crazy belief that poverty teaches us lessons.
Punishment is also an American obsession. In Five Myths about prison growth John Pfaff offers a number of statistics and reports that he says prove that long sentences, low-level drug offenders, and technical parole violations have no effect on prison growth.
A few weeks ago I wrote a bit about the immense amount of talent that gets wasted or ignored in the world today. I claimed that the problem was based on a winner-take-all morality that has infused Western society. CEO salaries are just the most recent example. I think any argument that can be made against oversize CEO salaries can also be made against celebrity salaries in sports or entertainment.