Archive for December, 2008

Is consumerism bad?

December 23, 2008

     Ellen Goodman, in her 12/15 column (here’s a LINK to it), is one of those rejoicing that materialist consumerism, at which they’ve always sneered, is falling victim to the recession, as people cut back spending. They applaud this as a simply wonderful retrenchment, a return to sanity and virtue.


         But why are we in a recession? Because people are cutting back spending. None of the other factors would actually cause a recession if they weren’t causing spending cutbacks. When people buy less, businesses need to produce less, so they need fewer employees. So people lose their jobs; then they too will spend less; so then even more people lose their jobs. And Ellen Goodman thinks this is a good thing?


         “Materialist consumerism” is people buying stuff that other people think they shouldn’t. But a free society has to mean people pursuing happiness by doing things–like spending their own money as they choose–that others disapprove. Some social critics just hate this. They’d prefer it if right-thinking moralists like them got to tell everyone else how to live.


         Such people, like Goodman, do believe that an economy based on consumerism is somehow an offense against virtue. But what else, actually, could any economy be based on? The “economy” means you produce goods and services that I buy, and I produce stuff that you buy; which makes us both better off. That production of things people want is the source of all wealth and income, our entire standard of living. It doesn’t come from heaven, or “society,” or government. You may sneer at consumerism, but you don’t want consumers to stop buying what you yourself are employed to produce; you’d be out of a job. And if all consumerism stopped, we’d all be out of jobs.


         A fine virtuous society we’d have then. 

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

December 16, 2008

So — did the guy get his shoes back??

“Dynamic Optimism”

December 14, 2008

I happened to run across a fairly lengthy essay on “dynamic optimism” by Max More. This is not a bunch of psycho-babble, but is very substantive, including references to scientific research. It is very good, and I highly recommend giving it a look. Here’s the LINK.


December 2, 2008

       The attackers apparently came from outside India. Interestingly, while Muslims are a minority in India, this is the second biggest Muslim population on Earth. So why are there so few home-grown Indian Muslim jihadi terrorists? India has its problems, including extreme poverty, and even some religious violence. But India is more like America than like the Arab nations. India is a secular, democratic, free-market country, where people can feel empowered to achieve their dreams. India has a Muslim woman on its Supreme Court. In Saudi Arabia, women can’t even drive.

     This tells us something about the nature of Islamic terrorism.

     Its practitioners will eventually realize that hatred toward the West does nothing to cure the ills of their own societies, and that bombings will not satisfy anything but bloodlust. While such a movement may seemingly burn brightly for a time, in the end it will burn itself out. It cannot prevail over a rational paradigm that offers freedom and hope instead. The vast majority of Muslims are peaceable, are not against modernity and democracy, and don’t want to go back to the Middle Ages. This too shall pass.

        After all, Islam coexisted with the West for a very long time, and is far more similar to Western faiths than it is different. The Koran is filled with bloodthirsty passages, but they are basically ignored by most Muslims, just as most Christians ignore the many outlandish directives in their own Bible. So we are not at war with Islam, and must avoid letting this be a religious conflict. We are at war solely with those who choose to be at war with us. 

       If our enemies strive to terrorize us, we must refuse to be terror-stricken. Our civilization is not going to be blown down like the wolf blew down the pig’s straw house, because we have built it upon the most fundamental and enduring human values. We can be morally strong knowing that we are defending a society worthy of defense. We must continue sticking to our core values—not only for our ourselves, but for the Muslim world as well. 

       Some deem it misguided to want Muslim societies to be more like ours. But ours do not produce legions of people who find no better use for their lives than to destroy them for the sake of destroying others. If this is to stop, Muslims must see opportunities to hope and dream and achieve. This does mean Muslim societies more like ours and less like they are now. This is not “imposing” anything on them. It is not “arrogant” to think that what Muslim nations need is more freedom and opportunity for their citizens and more toleration toward religious and other cultural differences among people. 

     We won the Cold War chiefly because our values rather than communism won the war of ideas. This one, too, is a war of ideas. The front line is inside the Islamic community. Our task is to encourage and support the decent, progressive, humanist individuals in that world to overcome the negative forces ranged against them. The future lies not with the anti-modern, antidemocratic, and antihuman vision of Islamists, but rather with the true human values that we share, of rationalism, freedom, and democracy, and the right of all people to seek their own bliss.