Archive for July, 2010

Phil Wickham on Radical Individualism: Lose Your Life Just So You Can Find It

Last week I wrote two posts dealing with the connection between self-denial and self-interest (or what I like to call the “upside-down economics of Christianity”).

Today I just wanted to share a song by Phil Wickham that conveys the concept pretty well.

Watch a live performance of the “True Love” here:

In the chorus, Wickham explains how Jesus’ sacrifice gave us freedom of sin:

When blood and water hit the ground, walls we couldn’t move came crashing down. We were free and made alive, the day that True Love died, the day that True Love died.

He then points out what is required to experience such freedom, namely faith in God and a rejection ofworldly (i.e. irrational) self-interest:

Search your heart; you know you can’t deny it. Come on, lose your Read the rest of this entry »

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Nullification: Federalism, Societal Innovation, and the Church

Historian Thomas E. Woods has a new book out titled Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century, in which he argues for a return to the Jeffersonian idea of nullification.

For those who are unfamiliar with nullification, Christopher Oppermann provides a good description in his review of the book:

The concept of nullification is simple, yet powerful: That individual states can and should refuse to enforce unconstitutional federal laws; and that the states, not the federal government, should have the final word on constitutional interpretation.

If you’re interested in learning more about Woods’ perspective, I recommend watching his interview with Jeffrey Tucker (courtesy of the Mises Blog):

I have yet to read the book, so for now I’d simply like to use this as a springboard for discussing the merits of federalism when it comes to societal innovation.

Woods’ primary argument for nullification is that it provides a check on the federal government, but nullification can also enhance competition among the states.

As an example, Woods points to Virginia and Kentucky’s nullification of the Alien and Sedition Acts. In this case, the argument for nullification was that the acts were in violation of the First Amendment. Even though nearly every Northern state disagreed with Virginia and Kentucky, nullification allowed them to take a Read the rest of this entry »

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Pay What You Wish: The Origins of Consumeristic Charity

BreadI previously wrote a post discussing Panera Bread Co.’s new pay-what-you-wish business model and its macro implications.

Here’s a brief summary of how the new store works (from USA Today):

While the store does have cashiers, they don’t collect money. They simply hand each customer a receipt that says what their food would cost at a conventional Panera. The receipt directs customers with cash to donation boxes (there are five in the store). Cashiers do accept credit cards.

Last week, the Freakonomics blog posted a new study on pay-what-you-wish pricing, which suggests that the best way to maximize profits in such models is to “combine pay-what-you-wish pricing with an appeal to charity” (quoted from Freakonomics).

Marketing professor Ayelet Gneezy reached this conclusion by presenting 113,000+ theme park visitors with several pricing schemes for purchasing souvenir photos.

The four schemes, as summarized by Freakonomics, were as follows (and I quote):

  1. A flat fee of $12.95
  2. A flat fee of $12.95 with half going to charity
  3. Pay-what-you-wish
  4. Pay-what-you-wish with half going to charity

When it came to profitability, the “charity” factor provided a healthy boost in demand for photos sold under the pay-what-you-wish option.

As Gneezy explains in the abstract:

At a standard fixed price, the charitable component only slightly increased demand, as similar studies have also found. However, when participants could pay what they wanted, the same charitable component created a treatment that was substantially more profitable.

This would seem to bode well for the Panera model, even though Panera is far less explicit when it comes to the actual amount devoted to charity. Although “all profits” will go to charity, the consumer has no idea Read the rest of this entry »

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Wild at Heart: A Post-Marriage, Post-Fatherhood Review

Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul by John EldredgeThe first time I read John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, I was looking for answers.

I was edging into my 20s, getting accustomed to college life, and struggling to get used to what would become a four-year, long-distance relationship with the woman who would later become my wife.

Our relationship had plenty of promise, but it also had plenty of bumps. To put things plainly, I was insecure. I was doing everything I thought a good guy was supposed to do. I whispered sweet nothings, paid for meals, and even opened doors for her here and there. But something was causing conflict. No matter how much I did or how much she expressed her devotion, I didn’t feel like I was good enough.

The worst part is that I let her know it.

We were stuck in a rut, and it was all because of me. But rather than realign my perspective and change the way I viewed myself (and our relationship), I thought the answer was to simply let things slide with the hope that things would fix themselves.

To be honest, I was afraid to recognize who I really was.

After all, if I did, I knew I would have to change.

With that as my attitude, Wild at Heart was exactly the book I needed to read.

The book is part diagnosis, part treatment. Eldredge begins by outlining God’s proper design for men, and moves quickly to condemning both modern culture and the modern church for promoting widespread emasculation. This trend, Eldredge argues, has led most men to exhibit a significant amount insecurity (or what he also calls a “false sense of self”). Eldredge wraps things up with a detailed recovery plan — moving step by step through different methods by which men can adjust their behavior and align their outlook to a Biblical perspective.

As I read the book, I slowly began to identify problems in my own life. The more Eldredge began to describe what a Godly man looks like — strong, secure, dependable, selfless, wild — the more I started to Read the rest of this entry »

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Eco-Consumerism and Moral Licensing: How to Hide Your Right Hand

Green Bags

A little subtlety would be nice.

A few months ago I wrote a post dealing with green consumerism and its side effects when it comes to priming and licensing.

In the post, I referenced a psychology study by Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, which concluded that “mere exposure” to green products can increase altruistic behavior, but actually purchasing those products can result in the opposite.

Michael Rosenwald recently wrote an article for The Washington Post that points to very similar conclusions (“Why going green won’t make you better or save you money”). The article mentions the same Mazar/Zhong study that I cited in my previous post.

Rosenwald introduces the topic nicely:

We drink Diet Coke — with Quarter Pounders and fries at McDonald’s. We go to the gym — and ride the elevator to the second floor. We install tankless water heaters — then take longer showers. We drive SUVs to see Al Gore’s speeches on global warming.

But why do we continue to make consumer decisions that conflict with the morality/practicality of others?

As Rosenwald explains:

These behavioral riddles beg explanation, and social psychologists are offering one in new studies. The academic name for such quizzical behavior is moral licensing. It seems that we have a good/bad balance sheet in our heads that we’re probably not even aware of. For many people, doing good makes it easier — and often more likely — to do bad. It works in reverse, too: Do bad, then do good.

When I read about these effects, I can’t help but think of Jesus’ warning about giving to the needy:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward Read the rest of this entry »

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Spontaneous Order and the Gospel: Avoiding the Chicken-McNugget Church

TED Talks recently posted a lecture on the origins of Chinese food by reporter Jennifer 8. Lee.

In the video, Lee explores how Chinese food has emerged across the world, from America to Italy to Japan. In each case, Chinese food has been altered according to the local tastes of the given culture.

Watch the video here:

I came across the video from a post by Jeffrey Tucker, who offered his reaction with this simple headline: “The Spontaneous Order of ‘Chinese Food.’”

Tucker is referring to the Hayekian notion of spontaneous order, which proposes that human ingenuity and creativity — when left alone by centralized forces — will lead to a much more efficient and specialized economy than any central planner could imagine.

Although Hayek is not mentioned explicitly in the video, it’s easy to see where Tucker sees the connection.

As Lee says in the video:

We [can] think of McDonald’s as sort of the Microsoft of the culinary dining experience. We can think of Chinese restaurants perhaps as Linux — sort of an open-source thing…where ideas from one person can be copied and propagate across an entire system. Where there can be specialized versions of Chinese food depending on the region.

As an example, Lee compares McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets with General Tso’s Chicken. Where Chicken McNuggets were centrally planned, researched, and rolled out to consumers nationwide, General Tso’s Chicken spread across Read the rest of this entry »

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To Birth or Not to Birth: Does Parenting Make Us Unhappy?

parentingJennifer Senior recently wrote a fascinating piece for New York Magazine titled “All Joy and No Fun,” in which she discusses whether having children makes us happier.

Although we all probably think we have a good idea of what happiness consists of, it becomes quite elusive when we analyze it as a scientific variable.

Senior adequately recognizes this elusiveness in her article. Rather than taking a firm position from the get-go, she instead drifts from study to study, illuminating some of the more persuasive points while still playing a fair amount of devil’s advocate.

Such an approach is necessary for this topic, for as Senior notes, the majority of mainstream studies say that parenting does not actually make us happier in the long run:

Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so. This finding is surprisingly consistent, showing up across a range of disciplines.

Most parents tend to doubt such findings (including me), but when you actually read the studies, it’s hard to doubt their conclusions (at least from a macro perspective). Certainly none of us are unhappy parents!

“So what, precisely, is going on here?” Senior asks. “Why is this finding duplicated over and over again despite the fact that most parents believe it to be wrong?­”

The only answers Senior is able to come up with are that either (1) “parents are deluded,” or (2) “the experience of raising children has fundamentally changed.”

I would say the second guess is probably more convincing.

As Senior explains:

Before urbanization, children were viewed as economic assets to their parents. If you had a farm, they toiled alongside you to maintain its upkeep; if you had a family business, the kids helped mind the store. But all of this dramatically changed with the moral and technological Read the rest of this entry »

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Supernatural Devotion: Oswald Chambers on Self-Denial

Oswald Chambers

Oswald Chambers (1874-1917)

Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest is perhaps the best devotional I’ve ever come across. Thus I am currently reading it for the second time (albeit off schedule).

This morning’s selection stuck out to me, particularly because it points to yesterday’s subject of self-denial and redirecting natural inclinations. The selection is titled “Why Can I Not Follow You Now?” and you can read it by clicking here.

Chambers is talking about how we often want to jump-start God’s will in our lives. Perhaps there is a vision or a calling that God has made clear to us, but we don’t feel like God has given us the final go-ahead to execute it.

As Chambers explains:

At first you may see clearly what God’s will is — the severance of a friendship, the breaking off of a business relationship, or something else you feel is distinctly God’s will for you to do. But never act on the impulse of that feeling. If you do, you will cause difficult situations to arise which will take years to untangle. Wait for God’s timing and He will do it without any heartache or disappointment. When it is a question of the providential will of God, wait for God to move.

When we think of Biblical self-denial, we tend to think of denying things that are “bad” (e.g. dishonesty, lust, selfishness, etc.). But although we must certainly deny our flesh when it comes to blatant sins, such self-denial may also be necessary when it comes to the actual things God has called us to.

This is where following the Holy Spirit is crucial. There will not always be a clear-cut Bible verse to tell you what your individual path looks like. Although we must align all of our pursuits to God’s Word, it is often the Holy Spirit that tells us which job to take, which person to marry, or which city to live in.

But even when we know God’s will (e.g. the job, the spouse, the city), our flesh still has the potential to distort the timing and the execution. For instance, Jesus’ death was the ultimate Read the rest of this entry »

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Deny Yourself: The Upside-Down Economics of Christianity

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane by Sebastiano Conca (1746)

Many have dismissed Christianity by claiming it is based in an ideology of pure selflessness — one in which the truly devoted Christian is destined to a life of pain, poverty, and abandonment. Given how many actual Christians assume this perspective, such a view is understandable. But although the Bible promotes selflessness on many levels, the holistic truth about what God intends for us is a bit more nuanced.

The key to overcoming this confusion is a recognition of the difference between poorly aligned and properly aligned self-interest.

Jesus provides the clearest explanation of these matters in Matthew 16:24-28:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Jesus then illuminates the profit motive behind it all:

…”For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

As counterintuitive as it may appear in natural terms, the choice to “lose your life” and follow Jesus provides the ultimate value. But although the new covenant is not a zero-sum game, we must remember to keep our intentions in selfless mode. That’s the tricky part. We must deny ourselves even while doing so will be in our best interest.

This is a challenge, because we are natural beings prone to natural inclinations. Even when we center our hearts and minds around the Word of God, we are constantly tempted to act according to Read the rest of this entry »

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The Empathic Civilization: Self-Interest and the Empathic Drive

The Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts recently released a video titled “The Empathic Civilisation.” The video is narrated by social commentator Jeremy Rifkin, who has released a book by the same name.

You can watch the video here:

The main gist of the video is that we are soft-wired for empathy, and thus, if we are to construct an “empathic civilization,” we must construct systems that properly leverage this key human component.

Rifkin’s rant is a long one, and there is much to enjoy, much to agree with, and much to disagree with, but the primary thing that rubs me wrong is his suggestion that empathy and self-interest are mutually exclusive.

He suggests that we are not soft-wired for aggression, violence, self-interest, and utilitarianism, but rather for sociability, attachment, affection, companionship. Aside from the audacity of making such a claim about the human disposition, I’m not sure why he lumps self-interest (or even utilitarianism) in with aggression and violence. If we are soft-wired for empathy, and if we find pleasure and reward in discovering Read the rest of this entry »

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