Archive for May, 2008|Monthly archive page

Choose Your Weird

Check out this blog entry by my coworker Lisa. It provides a glimpse into the thrilling, unpredictable, and yes even in its own little way weird world of the InterVarsity Press Editorial Task Force (i.e., the minions, the dungeon-dwellers, the obsessive, hand-wringing gollums of the editorial world, the sad creatures flinching in the hallways, emerging for yet another cup of coffee or an extra blue pen only to shake their fists at the sunlight and scurry back to their tiny caves muttering about em dashes or running heads).

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Alberto Manguel On His Personal Library

“My library is not a single beast but a composite of many others, a fantastic animal made up of the several libraries built and then abandoned, over and over again, throughout my life. I can’t remember a time in which I didn’t have a library of some sort. The present one is a sort of multilayered autobiography, each book holding the moment in which I opened it for the first time. The scribbles on the margins, the occasional date on the flyleaf, the faded bus ticket marking a page for a reason today mysterious, all try to remind me of who I was then. For the most part, they fail. My memory is less interested in me than in my books, and I find it easier to remember the story read once than the young man who then read it.”

-Manguel’s personal library pictured above
from the NYT h/t Alan Jacobs

Some Thoughts On My Soon-to-Arrive Economic Stimulus Check

Caveat: I’m not exactly going to be in the town square burning my economic stimulus check or putting it all away in savings just to spite the government. No, I will be a good citizen and insert the majority of my money back into the economy via the shopping mall or what have you. So take this post with a grain of salt.

But I just want to register how ridiculous I think this all is. We go $100 billion further in debt so that the American people can go out and shop in the name of stabilizing our slightly faltering economy. A month or two later, Bush without blinking pats himself on the back because he gave $77 million to help out with the global food shortage.

In an effort to keep this from degenerating into self-righteous bloviation, I would also like to register that there are of course economic trickle-down justifications for taking such courses of action in the name of our economy (i.e., a good American economy is good for the global economy; people spend, economy grows, less people are poor and hungry). Most interviews with economists that I’ve read or heard are pretty optimistic that the economic stimulus package will work.

But the whole thing just doesn’t sit right with me. There seems to be a gaping divide between our economics and our morality. But this comes as no surprise; we Enlightened modern beings have long ago learned that the two have nothing to do with each other. I’m not trying to get into the argument of how, why, and when a government should intercede on the Market’s behalf, but I’m a little irked that I’ve been conscripted by the government to solve the Market’s problems. By spending the government’s money I become a representative  for the government’s economic policy. Who among us hasn’t joked that we’re just doing our civil duty? I have. But upon reflection it seems a bit sinister. Even more so when I realize that my spending habits probably reflect larger economic trends that I’m only dimly aware of, even when my money doesn’t come from the government. I’m not just criticizing Bush’s neocon economic policy but the more general American perception that the way to a healthy society and personal well-being is governed solely by economic prosperity.

This mindset was reinforced to me when I heard this story on the radio several months ago (the bit I’m relating was more of a side note told in passing in a larger story): American armed forces in Iraq inadvertently killed some Iraqi civilians. One of these was a married woman. In order to compensate for the husband’s loss the military offered him ten thousand dollars. He refused the money. The commentator said that this–both the offering of money and the refusals–happens regularly.

What on earth would possess us to buy off people’s grief at the loss of their closest loved ones with a few thousand bucks? Shouldn’t we realize this is profoundly insulting? “I’m sorry for your loss sir, but take heart! We have calculated the worth of your spouse’s entire life and it comes to $10,000. Please accept this money as a token of our condolences.” This also comes as no surprise. Decades ago, the economist Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize for Economics for writing about how we modern people view our world in primarily economic terms. The example of the Iraqi man and the military seems like the most twisted outworking of how thoroughly this way of thinking has sunk in.

This mindset, I think, is not neutral, one that can be used for good or ill. The way we think about the world, and they way our society is run, shapes us in certain ways and not in others. The Iraqi widower not only doesn’t see his wife’s value in economic terms but thought it was morally wrong that anyone should. I’m not saying that all of us Americans simply put dollar values on our loved ones, but I hope it drives the point home that there is something moral, something that shapes us in our very being, in the way the Market almost tyrannically controls our nation’s sense of ease or dis-ease. The whole economic stimulus scheme reinforces our identity as consumers and defines our well-being by what we can spend.

So while I’ll be buying up this and that with my money from On High, I will do it with the knowledge that what shapes me intuitively and gives me confidence in my well-being as a person is that I belong to the church before I belong to the government and that when I go to church every Sunday morning I am told to “draw near with faith” and approach an altar, kneel down, and stretch out my hands like a beggar, consuming not goods and services, but consuming the crucified and risen Christ.

Two Passages from Crime and Punishment

“Sullen, gloomy, arrogant, proud; recently (and maybe much earlier) insecure and hypochondriac. Magnanimous and kind. Doesn’t like voicing his feelings, and would rather do something cruel than speak his heart out in words. At times, however, he’s not hypochondriac at all, but just inhumanly cold and callous, as if there really were two opposite characters in him, changing places with each other. At times he’s terribly taciturn! He’s always in a hurry, always too busy, yet he lies there doing nothing. Not given to mockery, and not because he lacks sharpness but as if he had no time for such trifles. Never hears people out to the end. Is never interested in what interests everyone else at a given moment. Sets a terribly high value on himself and, it seems, not without a certain justification.”

-Razumkhin’s description of Raskolnikov.

* * *

“Your complete recovery now depends chiefly on you yourself. Since it’s become possible to talk with you, I should like to impress upon you that it is necessary to eliminate the original, so to speak, radical causes that influenced the onset of your ill condition; only then will you be cured; otherwise it will get even worse. I do not know these original causes, but they must be known to you. You are an intelligent man and, of course, have observed yourself.”

-The Doctor Zossimov to Raskolnikov

This Just In From the Department of Redundant Titles

If you can’t read the full title, it’s 11 indispensable relationships you can’t be without!