Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Adorno on the totality of individualism

I have been reading through Theodore Adorno's Lectures on an Introduction to Sociology and I really liked these quotes about how our society is united by individualism and competition and how this might possibly be self-destructive. 

“the totality within which we live, and which we can feel in each of our social actions, is conditioned not by a direct ‘togetherness’ encompassing us all, but by the fact that we are essentially divided from each other through the abstract relationship of exchange. It is not only a unity of separate parts, but a unity which is really only constituted through the mechanism of separation and abstraction.” 

“We live within a totality which binds people together only by virtue of their alienation from each other… it is precisely through the insistence on the principium individuationis - in other words, through the fact that within the dominant forms of society individual people seek their individual advantage, profit - that the whole is able to survive and reproduce itself at all - even if while moaning and groaning and at the cost of unspeakable sacrifices….. precisely because the whole or the totality of society maintains itself not on the basis of solidarity or from the standpoint of a comprehensive social subject, but only through the antagonistic interests of human beings, this society of rational exchanges is infected in its constitution and at its very root by a moment of irrationality which threatens to disintegrate it at any moment.” 

Review: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent".... That is the 7th and last proposition of Wittgenstein's seminal work: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. I suppose this could apply to my book review, since I understand so little of this book I should just be silent ;)

I read this book for two main reasons: because of the historical significance of this work, it is said by many to be one of the greatest philosophical works of the 20th century and to help me understand Wittgenstein's later writings, especially his posthumously published "Philosophical Investigations" which talks about "language games" - a concept and work that is fairly common in modern philosophy and theology. It is a short but dense work in the philosophical family of logical positivism. In seeking to answer the common philosophical problems, Wittgenstein points to the logical errors used in language as a root of all philosophical problems and aims to design a laws for logical language. The book is broken into the below 7 propositions and written in a really interesting point by point manner. The 7 basic proposition are listed below....

7 Basic Propositions
1. The world is everything that is the case
2. What is the case, the fact, is the existence of atomic facts.
3. The logical picture of the facts is the thought.
4. The thought is the significant proposition.
5. Propositions are truth-functions of elementary propositions.
6. The general form of truth-function is [p, E,N (E)]
7. Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent

Check out this website for one cool way of reading two different translations of the Tractatus 

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Roger Olson on Doubt

I mentioned in my review of Greg Boyd's book "Benefit of the Doubt", an excellent blogpost by Roger Olson on Doubt. Here is an excerpt from the post titled "Clearing up Christian Confusions about Doubt" 

"Is doubt a necessary, even helpful aspect of Christian faith? Should faith conquer all doubt so that we regard as heroes of Christian faith those who seem to have risen above all doubt?
I think the answers to these questions must begin with definitions of “doubt.” Much confusion is caused in Christian (as other) conversations by multiple (unstated) meanings of words.
Insofar as “doubt” indicates skepticism toward God, genuine unbelief, resistance to the submission of trust, I judge it to be always only a stage on the way to stronger faith and not an element of faith itself. This “doubt” is a disposition that resists trusting reliance on the truth of God and God’s Word. This disposition is an indicator of the continuing liveliness of “the flesh” (as Paul calls the fallen human nature). It is a sign of need for greater submission to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit renewing the mind.
Insofar as “doubt” means lack of absolute certainty it is merely a sign of finitude. Similarly, insofar as “doubt” means partial understanding (of God and God’s ways) it is merely a sign of finitude. I take it Paul is referring to these when he says that now we see in a glass dimly and only in the future will we see face-to-face. In this sense of “doubt” it is an element in faith because it constitutes admission of not-being-God. We are not capable, at least in this life, of “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” His ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Admitting that is no sign of unbelief and stands in no tension with true faith.
Insofar as “doubt” means questioning and wrestling with notions about God we are told to believe but have trouble believing I judge it to be part of the process of “examined faith.” We are instructed in the New Testament to “test all things” and “hold fast to that which is right.” Questioning, examining, reflecting, thinking critically, using our God-given intellects to reason—these can look like “doubting God” when they are only doubting human ideas about God with a disposition of wanting to believe and understand only what God has revealed. This “doubting” is an aspect of what James Sire has called Discipleship of the Mind (1990).
I think it would be helpful if people would make clearer what “doubt” they mean when they talk about doubt as a positive aspect of the life of faith, of Christian living. Insofar as doubt spurs us on to greater dependence on God’s revelation and faith and insofar as doubt causes us to question half-baked notions promoted by Christian communicators it is positive. Insofar as doubt constitutes a disposition of resistance to God’s self-communication and dependence on him alone for self-understanding and understanding of answers to life’s ultimate questions communicated in God’s Word it stands in tension with faith and is something to overcome with prayer: “Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief.” "

Review: Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty

Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty by Gregory A. Boyd
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of several books on doubt and christianity that has come out in the last couple years (a few others: Barnapas piper: help my unbelief. Pete Enns: The sin of certainty). I think this was a good book, but not a great book. To be honest I think people would be better off listening to the "house of cards" sermon series that Greg preaches to learn the essential core ideas of Boyd's thoughts on faith and doubt which I will quickly summarize as (1) biblical faith is covenant/relationship based, not certainty-seeking/intellectual based; (2) christocentric faith- Greg proposes the idea that we should believe in the Bible because we believe in Jesus, not that we should believe in Jesus because we believe in the Bible. For him this important, b/c it means our faith is not based on interpretive disagreements or views of authorship but rather the center of our faith is in who Christ is and what he has done. (3) Wrestling it out - I think the most significant takeaway for me from this book is the overall attitude and message to wrestle with difficult questions from a place of relationship and commitment to God. Don't wait to be certain to be committed to following Christ, follow Christ in the midst of uncertainty. This is like being in a marriage where one does not wait for the problems to be fixed or to know the other person completely before committing to love them. In a marriage, you choose to commit to loving the other despite mysteries and problems.

The book is good, but like I said above, I would encourage people to listen to the sermon series or even just the single sermon below:

One last thing, on the subject of doubt. Roger Olson has a really good blog post titled "clearing up some christian confusions about doubt" (link below). For anyone interested in christianity and doubt I would encourage them to read that short but excellent blogpost.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Bauman on Love, Commitment and Sacrifice

A few Quotes from Zygmunt Bauman's book "the art of life" about love, commitment and sacrifice:

“By loving we try to recast fate into destiny; but by following the demands of love, the logic or ordo amoris; we make our destiny a hostage to that fate… This is why love tends nowadays to be simultaneously desired and feared. This is also why the idea of a commitment (to another person, to a company of persons, to a cause), and particularly of unconditional and indefinite commitment, has fallen out of popular favor. To the detriment of those who let it lapse - since love, and self-abandonment and commitment to the Other, which is what love consists of, create the only space where the intricate dialectics of destiny and fate can be seriously confronted.” (pg.40)

“ ‘ Sacrificial culture is dead,’ declared Gilles Lipovetsky bluntly in his 1993 postface to his stage-setting 1983 study of contemporary individualism. ‘We've stopped recognizing ourselves in any obligation to live for the sake of something other than ourselves.’ Not that we have turned deaf to our concerns with the misfortunes of other people, or with the sorry state of the planet; nor have we ceased to be outspoken about such worries. Neither is it the case that we’ve stopped declaring our willingness to act in defense of the downtrodden, as well as in protection of the planet they share with us; not that we have stopped acting (at least occasionally) on such declaration.s The opposite seems to be the case: the spectacular rise of egotistic self-referentiality runs paradoxically shoulder to shoulder with a rising sensitivity to human misery, an abhorrence of violence, pain and suffering visited on even the most distant strangers, and regular explosions of focused (remedial) charity. But, as Lipovetsky rightly observes, such moral impulses and outbursts of magnanimity are instances of ‘painless morality’, morality stripped of obligations and executive sanctions, ‘adapted to the Ego-priority’. When it comes to acting ‘for the sake of something other than oneself’, the passions, well-being and physical health of the Ego tend to be both the preliminary and the ultimate considerations; they also tend to set the limits to which we are prepared to go in our readiness to help.As a rule, manifestations of devotion to that ‘something (or someone) other than oneself’, however sincere, ardent and intense, stop short of self-sacrifice. For instance, the dedication to green causes seldom if ever goes as far as adopting an ascetic lifestyle, or even a partial self-denial. Indeed, far from being ready to renounce a lifestyle of consumeristic indulgence, we will often be reluctant to accept even a minor personal inconvenience; the driving force of our indignation tends to be the desire for a superior, safer and more secure consumption.” (pg.41-42) 

“Love, which we need to conclude, abstains from promising an easy road to happiness and meaning. The ‘ pure relationship’ inspired by consumerist practices promises that kind of easy life; but by the same token it renders happiness and meaning hostages to fate. To cut a long story short: love is not something that can be found; not an objet trouve or a ‘ready made’. It is something that always still needs to be made anew and remade daily, hourly; constantly resuscitated, reaffirmed, attended to and cared for. In line with the growing frailty of human bonds, the unpopularity of long-term commitments, the stripping away of ‘duties’ from ‘rights’ and the avoidance of any obligations except the ‘obligations to oneself’, love tends to be viewed as either perfect from the start, or failed- better to be abandoned and replaced by a ‘new and improved’ specimen, hopefully genuinely perfect. Such love is not expected to survive the first minor squabble, let alone the first serious disagreement and confrontation…” (pg.132-133)

File:MMG ! Zygmunt Bauman (10325121585).jpg

Review: The Art of Life

The Art of Life The Art of Life by Zygmunt Bauman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

5 Stars!
This is the first book by Zygmunt Bauman that I have read, and now I want to read all of his books. Bauman's writing is a blur of sociology, philosophy, history, theology, art and all things good. There will be a few dry passages here and there, but overall he has a sharp bite to some of his messages and speaks directly to the heart of our modern culture. This book is about a lot of things, but in a simple way he is trying to critique the fear of commitment and sacrificial love in modern culture and promote the idea that to live life artfully takes time, commitment, discipline, sacrifice and charachter; a happy life does not just fall in our lap it is made and fought for. Bauman, hits on a lot of other subjects regarding modern life; but the call to commitment and sacrifice in the art of life is a main core of this book. In the last page of the book, Bauman ends with these words on love/commitment:

“Love, which we need to conclude, abstains from promising an easy road to happiness and meaning. The ‘pure relationship’ inspired by consumerist practices promises that kind of easy life; but by the same token it renders happiness and meaning hostages to fate. To cut a long story short: love is not something that can be found; not an 'objet trouve' or a ‘ready made’. It is something that always still needs to be made anew and remade daily, hourly; constantly resuscitated, reaffirmed, attended to and cared for. In line with the growing frailty of human bonds, the unpopularity of long-term commitments, the stripping away of ‘duties’ from ‘rights’ and the avoidance of any obligations except the ‘obligations to oneself’, love tends to be viewed as either perfect from the start, or failed- better to be abandoned and replaced by a ‘new and improved’ specimen, hopefully genuinely perfect. Such love is not expected to survive the first minor squabble, let alone the first serious disagreement and confrontation…” (pg.132-133)

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

September 1, 1939 by James W. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade: 
Waves of anger and fear 
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth, 
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death 
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use 
Their full height to proclaim 
The strength of Collective Man, 
Each language pours its vain 
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare, 
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are, 
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Robert Fogel's Four Great Awakenings

Robert Fogel's book "the fourth great awakening and the future of Egalitarianism" is on my too read list, but here is a pretty good summary of the four phases of great awakenings in western religious history  

Phases of the Four Great Awakenings
 Phase of Religious RevivalPhase of Rising Political EffectPhase of Increasing Challenge to Dominance of the Political Program
First Great Awakening,
1730-60: Weakening of predestination doctrine; recognition that many sinners may be predestined for salvation; introduction of revival meetings emphasizing spiritual rebirth; rise of ethic of benevolence.1760-90: Attack on British corruption; American Revolution; belief in equality of opportunity (the principle that accepted the inequality of income and other circumstances of life as natural, but held that persons of low social rank could raise themselves up—by industry, perseverance, talent, and righteous behavior—to the top of the economic and social order); establishment of egalitarianism as national ethic.1790-1830: Breakup of revolutionary coalition.
Second Great Awakening,
1800-1840: Rise of belief that anyone can achieve saving grace through inner and outer struggle against sin; introduction of camp meetings and intensified levels of revivals; widespread adoption of ethic of benevolence; upsurge of millennialism.1840-1879: Rise of single issue reform movements, each intending to contribute to making America fit for the Second Coming of Christ (these included the nativist movement, the temperance movement which was successful in prohibiting the sale of alcoholic drinks in 13 states, and the abolitionist movement that culminated in the formation of the republican party); sweeping reform agendas aimed at eliminating all barriers to equal opportunity; antislavery; attack on corruption of the South; Civil War; women's suffrage; continuation of belief in equality of opportunity.1870-1920: Replacement of prewar evangelical leaders; Darwinian crisis; urban crisis.
Third Great Awakening,
1890-1930: Shift from emphasis on personal to social sin; rise in belief that poverty is not a personal failure ("the wages of sin") but a societal failure that can be addressed by the state; shift to more secular interpretation of the Bible and creed.1930-1970: Attack on corruption of big business and the right; labor reforms; civil rights and women's rights movements; belief in equality of condition (principle that equality is to be achieved primarily by government programs aimed at raising wages and transferring income from rich to poor through income taxes and finance welfare programs); rise in belief that poverty is not a personal failure but a societal failure; expansion of secondary and higher education; attack on religious and racial barriers to equal opportunity (leading to later attacks on gender-based assumptions of behavior and discrimination based on sexual orientation).1970-?: Attack on liberal reforms; defeat of Equal Rights Amendment; rise of tax revolt; rise of Christian Coalition and other political groups of the religious Right.
Fourth, and Current, Great Awakening,
1960-?: Return to sensuous religion and reassertion of experiential content of the Bible; rapid growth of the enthusiastic religions (including fundamentalist, Pentacostal, and Protestant charismatic denominations, "born-again" Catholics, Mormons); reassertion of concept of personal sin; stress on an ethic of individual responsibility, hard work, a simple life, and dedication to family.1990-?: Attack on materialist corruption; rise of pro-life, pro-family, and media reform movements; campaign for more value-oriented school curriculum; expansion of tax revolt; attack on entitlements; return to a belief in equality of opportunity.?:

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Review: Reason in History

Reason in History Reason in History by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really recommend this as a good introduction to Hegel's philosophy of history. I had attempted to read his larger work but was struggling through this and then found this copy of one of his lectures on the topic and devoured it in a couple days. Whether you agree with Hegel or not, you know when your reading him you are reading a great mind; and his work is incredibly influential still to this day.

Here are some quotes just skimmed off the top of this deep but short lecture:

"The sole thought which philosophy brings to the treatment of history is the simple concept of Reason: that Reason is the law of the world and that, therefore, in world history, things have come about rationally.... That this Idea or Reason is the True, the Eternal, the Absolute Power and that it and nothing but it, its glory and majesty, manifests itself in the world - this, as we said before, has been proved in philosophy and is being presupposed here as proved." (pg.11)

"it is a widespread fabrication that there was an original, primeval people taught immediately by God, endowed with perfect insight and wisdom, possessing a thorough knowledge of all natural laws and spiritual truths..." (pg.12)

"divine Providence is wisdom endowed with infinite power which realizes its own aim, that is, the absolute, rational, final purpose of the world. Reason is Thought determining itself in absolute freedom." (pg.15)

"But in mentioning at all the recognition of the plan of divine Providence I have touched on a prominent question of the day, the question, namely, whether it is possible to recognize God - or, since it has ceased to be a question, the doctrine, which has now become a prejudice, that it is impossible to know God. Following this doctrine we now contradict what the Holy Scripture commands as our highest duty, namely, not only to love but also to know God. We now categorically deny what is written, namely that it is the spirit which leads to truth, knows all things, and penetrates even the depths of divinity. Thus, in placing the Divine Being beyond our cognition and the pale of all human things, we gain the convenient license of indulging in our own fancies. We are freed from the necessity of referring our knowledge to the True and Divine. On the contrary, the vanity of knowledge and the subjectivity of sentiment now have ample justification. And pious humility, in keeping true recognition of God at arms length, knows very well what it gains for its arbitrary and vain striving." (pg.16)

"In the Christian religion God has revealed Himself, which means He has given man to understand what He is, and thus is no longer concealed and secret. With this possibility of knowing God the obligation to know Him is imposed upon us. God wishes no narrow souls and empty heads for his children; He wishes our spirit, of itself indeed poor, rich in the knowledge of Him and holding this knowledge to be of supreme value. The development of the thinking spirit only began with this revelation of divine essence. It must now advance to the intellectual comprehension of that which originally was present only to the feeling and imagining spirit." (pg.17)

"world history is the progress of the consciousness of freedom" (pg.24)

"nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion." (pg.29)

"reason governs the world" and later... "God governs the world"

"one's particular purposes contain the substandard will of the World Spirit."

"The assumption (of the noble savage) is one of those nebulous images which theory produces, an idea which necessarily flows from that theory and to which it ascribes real existence without sufficient historical justification." (pg.54)

"the idea of God thus is the general fundament of a people" (pg.64)

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Review: Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life

Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life by Kathleen Norris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Norris' "Acedia and Me" was a great book, a little bit slow at times (I suppose that's fitting for a book about acadia) but it is a book with great depth and most importantly it made me want to be a better person, husband and to live life full of love and wonder. The subtitle says it all - this book is about Acadia in the midst of marriage, monks and a writers life. Kathleen weaves a nice combination of quotes from ancient monastic writers, examples from english poems and lit and her own personal life.

Here is a good summary quote from the book:

"What does it mean to have learned how to love, reject the fleeting pleasures of infatuation for the deeper satisfactions of commitment? Or to have apprenticed myself to the discipline of writing, so that I now crave the desert journey of revision as much as the initial burst of creativity and flow of words? Or to have undergone a religious conversion, replete with fervor and gladness in its early stages, and now marked by aridity and pain? If I find myself starved for the merest hint of spiritual ardor, I know I have arrived in a place where many others have been. The monks and mystics of my faith all teach that persevering in a spiritual discipline, especially when it seems futile, is the key to growth." (pg.261)

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Review: The Road

The Road The Road by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't read fiction as much as I should, but I could not put this book down. I was up till 2 am reading it and went to bed with a racing heart b/c I got so engaged in the book. The two quotes that will stay with me for a while from this book are:

"He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the interstate earth. Darkness implacalbe. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like groundfoxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it." (pg.110)

"She said that the breath of God was his breath yet though it pass from man to man through all of time." (pg.241)

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Review: Democracy: A History

Democracy: A History Democracy: A History by John Dunn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book gets 5 stars for content and quality but 3 stars for being difficult to read. I am sure if I was a little better versed in political philosophy and the history of democracy it would not have been as difficult to read. I am just saying this as a warning for the would be reader that it is a good but not easy intro to the history of democracy. However, since it was a short book (188 pages before about 40 pages of notes) it was like a small dive into the deep end.

Dunn splits the history of democracy into two comings - the first coming (ch.1)- athenian democracy and the 2nd coming (ch.2)- modern day democracy from the lens of the french and american revolutions. Both chapters have great historical context, original thoughts and a good overview of each democratic era and model. As a beginner to political history I was introduced to characters like Pericles, Robospierre and Babeuf along with the usual suspects of Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Locke, the Federalists etc.

After going through the two "comings of democracy", Dunn has a chapter titled "the long shadow of thermidor" that I recall being mainly about "egoism and equality" as political forces and how modern day democracy embodies egoism perfectly as to allow the people to put up with under the belief that they live in a society where everyone is equal (this is my very simplistic idea of his well worded and complex presentation of the dynamics of equality and egoism within modern political systems going under the name of democracy). His last chapter is titled "why Democracy" and seeks to answer the question "why has democracy become the standard system of legitimating political power in the modern world. This chapter also has some good original thoughts on the modern push for "deliberative democracy" and an enlivening of the publich sphere and some good reflections on the pitfalls and importance of representative democracy.

One of the more interesting and constant themes throughout the book is actually about the word democracy. In a way this book tells the history of a word and how it has been used and understood by people from Athens till today. I did not know that "democracy" was usually said with negative connotations for the larger part of philosophical history ranging from Plato up to the Federalist party that wrestled with how to use the term. So Dunn wrestles with how this word which used to be viewed negatively and as a sign of a country in chaos became a rallying cry of hope and has enabled America and Britian to storm into Iraq by justifying the move as liberating from tyranny and establishing democracy. How did democracy shift from a negative political term to a modern day war cry? This question, and Dunn's answers, rolls throughout the whole book.


“Why should it be the case that, for the first time in the history of our still conspicuously multi-lingual species, there is for the present a single world-wide name for the legitimate basis of political authority? Not, of course, uncontested in practice anywhere, and still roundly rejected in many quarters, but never, any longer, in favor of an alternative secular claimant to cosmopolitan legitimacy.” (pg.15)

“When any modern state claims to be a democracy, it necessarily misdescribes itself” (pg.18)

Pericles: “for we alone regard the man who takes no part in public affairs, not as one who minds his own business, but as good for nothing…. it is not debate which is a hindrance to action, but rather not to be instructed by debate before the time comes for action.” (pg.27)

“What happened in France in the few short years between 1788 and 1794 changed the structure of political possibilities for human communities across the world almost beyond recognition.” (pg.92)

“A representative democracy was no system of direct citizen self-rule. Instead, what it offered was a system of highly indirect rule by representatives chosen for the purpose by the people.” (pg.122)

“Once the happiness and strength of a society is placed in riches, the exercise of political rights must necessarily be denied to those whose fortune provides no guarantee of their attachment to the creation and defense of wealth. In any such social system, the great majority of citizens is constantly subjected to painful labour, and condemned in practice to languish in poverty, ignorance and slavery.” (pg.124)

“In America, once the Constitution was firmly in place, democracy soon became the undisputed political framework and expression of the order of egoism.” (pg.125-126)

“To delegate government to relatively small numbers of citizens but also insist that they be chosen by most, if not all, of their fellows was a cunning mixture of equality and inequality.” (pg.128)

“As a modern political term, democracy is above all the name for political authority exercised solely through the persuasion of the greater number, or for other sorts of authority in other spheres supposedly exercised solely on a basis acceptable to those subjected to it.” (pg.132)`

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Saturday, March 5, 2016

Review: Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist: How to Explain the World Without Becoming a Bore

Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist: How to Explain the World Without Becoming a Bore Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist: How to Explain the World Without Becoming a Bore by Peter L. Berger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great book!

An autobiographical account of Berger's sociological career that at times looks at his religious/theological journey as well, though it is not the main focus. One of the values of this book is that he summarizes almost every book and paper he wrote, giving the context of his life at the time, what the book was about and what he thinks about now. Berger has written a lot of books that I want to read (Social Construction of Reality, In Praise of Doubt...), I felt like this was a good place to start to get an intro of his work before diving into some of his specific projects.

Berger's perspective is unique and mature; it comes at the end of a long and diverse career and he doesn't fit neatly into an ideological box as some of his stances will upset both liberals and conservatives. He speaks briefly but sharply on a wide range of topics in this book: economic development of third-world countries (marxism vs capitalism), development in S.E. Asia in light of Weber's protestant ethic, Pentecostalism in South America, Evangelicalism in America, culture wars and politics, multiple modernities and globalization, development after apartheid in South Africa, the ins and outs of academia, basic explanation of some key figures and concepts in sociology and even a sociological look at comedy. For some this list might be boring, but for others it is a treasure to have such a great mind writing on so many topics in less than 250 pages.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Peter Berger on Constructivism

Peter Berger's "Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist", an autobiographical sketch of his sociological career, is a mix of light anecdotal stories and brief reflections on important topics such as the sociology of religion, secularization, race relations in the U.S. and the cultural movement of the 60's among other things. I personally enjoyed his 1-2 page comments on the Postmodern movement associated intellectually with Derrida and Foucault and popularly with the mantras of "relativism and tolerance". His important work with Thomas Luckman, "the Social Construction of Reality", is viewed as some to be influential in this postmodernist/constructivist school; and so he spends some time addressing misconception of his work on the sociology of knowledge as a green light for absolute relativism and absence of facts. Below is quotes from pg.94-95 of his book where he defines the constructivist/postmodernist philosophy and gives his criticism of it and describes where he is in relation to it. The basic jist of what he has to say is "yes everything is interpretation, but not all interpretation are equal".

"The [constructivist] argument goes something like this: Since all reality is socially constructed, there is no objective truth or at least none that can be accessed. Indeed, there are no facts, only 'narratives.' There is no objective way to make epistemological judgments as between the 'narratives.' But what one can do is to 'deconstruct' them - that is, to unmask the interests that they invariably express. These interests are always expressions of the will to power - of class, or race, or gender. And here, of course, postmodernism links up with various ideologies of the Left - Marxism, 'post-colonialism', 'Third Worldism,' and all the various strands of identity politics (notably radical feminism and 'queer theory').
This amalgam of theoretical trends has become enormously influential in American academia over the last few decades, and in many places it has become an oppressive orthodoxy. But these trends have been popularized far beyond academia. They have a pronounced affinity with a widespread relativism... It is a widely diffused worldview, in which the only real virtue is 'tolerance' and the only real vice is 'being judgmental."
The disastrous intellectual and indeed political implications of this type of nihilism cannot be followed up here. But it should be clear why Luckmann and I have felt constrained to say repeatedly, 'We are not constructivists' (perhaps imitating marx's statement 'I am not a Marxist'). Our concept of the social construction of reality in no way implies that there are no facts. Of course there are physical facts to be determined empirically, from the fact that a particular massacre took place to the fact that someone stole my car.... Reality indeed is always socially interpreted, and power interests are sometimes involved in some interpretation. But not all interpretations are equal. If they were, any scientific enterprise, not to mention any medical diagnosis or police investigation, would be impossible. As to the most radical formulation of this 'postmodernism' - that nothing really exists but the various 'narratives' - this corresponds very neatly with a definition of schizophrenia, when one can no longer distinguish between reality and one's fantasies. 
Luchamn and I would place ourselves in a tradition of sociology rooted in the Enlightenment project of seeking to understand the world by exercises of reason. Many 'postmodernists' have proudly described their purpose as the end of the Enlightenment project. We understand our sociology as a defense of that project."  


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Influential Books in Academia

Came across two cool links while browsing  openculture aobut influential books in academia. The first is called "the Open Syllabus Project", by a group that I think is from Columbia University, the Open Syllabus Project took over 1 million syllabi and figured out what were the most commonly studied books in higher educational institutions and made a pretty cool data chart to see it on.

The other link is an article from the Guardian that talks about a UK poll of publishers, librarians and academics about what were the most influential academic books. The number one book was Charles Darwin's "the Origin of Species" and the list of the top 20 in alphabetical order are below:

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
Orientalism by Edward Said
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer
The Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson
The Meaning of Relativity by Albert Einstein
The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
The Republic by Plato
The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
The Uses of Literacy by Richard Hoggart
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
Ways of Seeing by John Berger

Sunday, January 24, 2016

MLK Day- Bernie, West, Turner and Killer Mike

This is a pretty relevant weekly talk because of the recent MLK day and the rise of Bernie in the polls. If you do not really know much about what Bernie is running for then check out a video series he does with the rapper killer mike or some interviews he has with vox. Those are good ways to get to know what Bernie Sanders is running for. I mention those, because Sander's proposed policies are not the central theme of this but rather implied and if you don't know what he is calling for then you might not know how he lines up with king.

All in all, just a great panel of speakers and it made me want to get Cornel West's new book "the Radical King", a collection of some of  Martin Luther King's more liberal teachings.