Archive for May, 2014

On the Zombie Office

May 31, 2014

A review of Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace by Nikil Saval. Not a super positive review, but the book still looks like it could be worth a look for those of us who have or have had cubicle style lives.

Sexual Atheism

May 30, 2014

When our beliefs are completely separated from practice in any area of life, we get problems like those discussed in this article. The author notes that sexual behavior and practices for evangelicals are increasingly disconnected from any Christian teaching on these matters. A far from desirable reality. Even catastrophic.

Hacking the Bible

May 30, 2014

This is a little dated, but this article on “Hacking the Bible” was a good discussion of electronic Bible study, including my friends at Logos.

Is Evangelicalism the Best?

May 30, 2014

Pete Enns argues for a more modest approach than what he sees as a common evangelical explanation for the superiority of the evangelical tradition:

evangelicalism is the best iteration of Christianity because it is most faithful to the Bible and most in line with the history of the church

He makes some good points, but in the end I think I could accept a modest exceptionalism. I ought to think the tradition I am part of is the best one (at least in most cases), or else I should go elsewhere. At the same time, I recognize my tradition could be wrong and that there are still things of value in other traditions that we can learn from. I think that perspective probably satisfies most of his concerns, but may not be strong enough for some evangelicals. I can live with that.

The Death of Expertise

May 30, 2014

Is expertise really dead? Well, at the least it has certainly changed. People defer less to experts, which is a mixed bag. If I had a dollar for everyone who said something in this format, “I am no scientist [or some other area of specialized knowledge], but I know that …[followed by something that contradicts the consensus of knowledge in that field]”, I would be quite comfortable. I’m of two minds here. On the one hands, experts are useful and are more often right. So we need and should trust them. But experts also are often arrogant, ignore uncertainties, are subject to groupthink, and extend their authority beyond their area of expertise. So we should be skeptical. In the modern world, the internet makes the problem more severe. Anyone can just do a search and learn almost anything (even things that are completely untrue). And without expertise, sorting all the “facts” is very difficult.

The same thing applies to theological and religious issues, I think. Perhaps not in the same way, but I think the same dynamics are at work. Beware!

Where Mental Illness Comes from

May 29, 2014

I think the diagnostic here is somewhat helpful – various factors are at play in mental illness. Here’s my suggested application: To treat conditions with various contributing factors probably requires a multi-pronged treatment strategy.

On fixing culture

May 29, 2014

Megan McArdle discusses the problems at the VA and why Obama can’t fix them. Indeed, why probably no one can fix them. Here’s what she observes about promises that we’ll fix the VA (or most any other institution):

This is the sort of turnaround that a lot of corporate chief executive officers promise: We’ll handle more customers, but faster! Most of them fail, too. And corporate CEOs have a weapon that the president doesn’t: They can fire most of the staff. When looking at corporate turnarounds for my book on failure, I came across a lot of stories of successful turnarounds, and a lot of them started with just that step.

This is a problem with culture. To change the culture, you probably need to change most of the people. That’s a hard message, but I think it is true. It’s true in many educational institutions as well, I fear.

The Reparations Argument

May 29, 2014

There has been a lot of discussion over the past few days about the idea of reparations. It began with this article by Ta-Nehesi Coates. This prompted a series of responses. A couple I thought worth looking at included Kevin Williamson at National Review and Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution. Both of these articles make worthwhile observations, while pointing out some of the problems with the analysis. William Jacobson similarly points to some of the unanswered questions:

Coates never gives the answer as to who gets what and how.

And that’s ultimately the problem with reparations arguments that are not based upon the people causing the harm paying the people directly harmed by specific conduct soon after the conduct is remedied.

f you can’t answer the question of why a Vietnamese boat person has to pay reparations for the conduct of white plantation owners more than a century earlier, then you can’t make the argument.

If you can’t answer the question of why two successful black doctors living in a fashionable suburb should get reparations paid for by the white children of Appalachia, then you can’t make the argument.

If you can’t answer the question of why the adult black recent immigrant from Paris should be pay or be paid reparations based on the color of his skin for crimes committed in a land he did not grow up in, then you can’t make the argument.

And what about the increasing number of children of mixed race?

I certainly welcome the conversation about reparations, because I think the topic forces us to think about hard and difficult truths, including the idea of corporate responsibility. But I’m left with several fundamental concerns about the utility of the debate as it is actually playing out:

1) Is there the political will for reparations (or is there likely to be)? I think the answer is simply no. If I’m right, we’re wasting time when there may be useful things we can actually do. I have similar thoughts about Thomas Piketty’s book – where his policy solutions seem to be impossible.

2) Can we come up with any coherent theory of who pays what to whom? Some of those questions noted above are part of that. Again, I think the answer to this issue is likely not, again making the idea a non-starter. Maybe it could have done some good early on, but I think we’re so far down the road (new waves of immigration, interracial identity, etc.) it’s unclear how much good we could do.

3) There is also the issue of other kinds of disadvantages. The idea of reparations focuses on financial loss, but even if we could deal with that, there are a number of other factors contributing to inequality. Things like family, cultural values, good-old-boy networks, and so on. Write everyone a check without addressing all these factors, and we may not put a dent in the inequality issue.

4) It’s also worth thinking about whether reparations would move us forward in race relations and finally resolve these historic debts. If they would, I think I’d be in favor despite the other problems (though I fear we might create a new class of aggrieved  citizens). But honestly, I have serious doubts about that possibility. If some view reparations as a down payment, or if other factors maintain some of the social inequities that exist, then we might have further rounds of discussions – which could very plausibly lead to greater racial strife, not less.

I honestly wish there were an easy way to deal with this. I just don’t see one at the moment.


The Rise of the Religious Right

May 29, 2014

Randall Balmer makes an important point here. Perhaps several. First, evangelicals have a mixed history on abortion. I happen to think there are very strong arguments for the pro-life position, but we would be naive to not recognize how history and even science has adjusted how evangelicals think about this issue (and likely others, as well). Second, the reality of racism in evangelical history is often ignored. It certainly was a huge driver in the rise of the Christian school movement, and politics was part of it too. Not for everyone and not always. And perhaps not a large piece of the current reality. But facts are stubborn things, and failing to acknowledge them leaves us weak and easily mislead. Third, some Christians may have been played by political operatives who weren’t really interested in the same issues that motivated those Christians. [The same is true for certain issues on the political left, I would argue, but that’s not Balmer’s point]

So read, and learn.

The Scandal of the Evangelical Bicep?

May 29, 2014

I thought this was an interesting twist on the Scandal idea (originally in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind). There is definitely something in the argument. In some circles at least, there is a push for almost a hyper-masculinity which can be problematic. Probably an overcompensation for other problems, but running from one imbalance to another is no solution.