Posts Tagged security

American Decline and the Virtue of Industriousness

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, Charles MurrayI have previously commented on Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, as it relates to his larger argument of our “inequality of human dignity.” This week at Values & Capitalism, I offer some additional thoughts, this time on Murray’s analysis of America’s recent decline in industriousness.

Murray sees industriousness as one of America’s “founding virtues,” the others of which include honesty, marriage and religiosity. Yet while these others are important, Murray argues that industriousness was the most defining.

The founders talked about this virtue constantly, using the eighteenth-century construction, industry. To them, industry signified a cluster of qualities that had motivated the Revolution in the first place—a desire not just to be free to speak one’s mind, to practice religion as one saw fit, and to be taxed only with representation, but the bone-deep American assumption that life is to be spent getting ahead through hard work, making a better life for oneself and one’s children…If just one American virtue may be said to be defining, industriousness is probably it.

Murray provides plenty of data to indicate a decline in this virtue, including shifting attitudes about work, rises in physical disability benefits applications, decreases in labor force participation, and decreases in hours worked per week.

My conclusion?

The data affirm what many of us already know, and what I’ve made a habit of regurgitating in this space time and time again: Americans have shifted away from an energetic, purpose-driven, higher-order pursuit of value, and are instead moving toward security, insulationism, materialism and minimum-commitment thinking. Rather than building upon our history of sacrificial innovation and difficult labor, regardless of immediate or tangible personal benefits, many Americans are seizing our economic prosperity as an opportunity to slack off and opt for personal leisure, short-sighted consumerism and near-boastful protectionism.

If Murray’s data don’t persuade you, look no further than our country’s lackadaisical response to our debt crisis and our salivating over the pandering promises of our politicians. We yearn to be shielded from competition and globalization, nitpicking over which candidate offshored how many jobs to where. We want to be promised a retirement that no longer exists, and one that will never exist without a painful departure from the status quo. We want the government to do all of our risk-taking and weighty decision-making on our behalf, whether in entrepreneurship, health care, housing or charity. We want to be told that less will be expected of us, not more.

Rather than recognizing and embracing our basic human need to experience earned success, we are becoming more focused on simply putting in our 40 and demanding the stars in return. This shift in our attitudes about work—this decline in our culture of industriousness—is only one factor in this emerging cultural divide, but its corrosive cultural effects have no discernible limitations.

We must return to that attitude that Francis Grund once described, pursuing Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Comments

Functional Universalism: Do We Really Believe What We’re Saying?

The Rob Bell controversy has yielded several important lessons, but David Platt offers one of the best in a new video on the dangers of functional universalism in the Christian church (as opposed to intellectual universalism).

Using Northern India as an example — a country comprised mostly of Hindus, Muslisms, and Buddhists —  Platt challenges us to consider whether we really believe that the 597 million non-Christians therein are really going to hell. By asking whether we really believe it, he means to ask whether we are really doing something about it. 

Watch the video here (HT):

For Platt, the distinction between the intellectual issue and the functional one is as follows (though there can certainly be plenty of overlap):

If we believe that everyone is going to be ok in the end — if we embrace universalism, however it is cloaked — then we’re free to live our lives however we want, to sit back as easygoing Christians in comfortable churches. Because in the end, all of these masses are going to be ok. They’re going to be fine.

However, if we believe that people around around us — 597 million people in Northern India, 6,000+ people groups who have never even heard the Gospel — if we believe that they are going to an eternal hell without Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments

Agents of Faith: Pursuing the Pillar of Fire

Moses Crossing the Red Sea, Pillar of Fire, RaphaelIn times of uncertainty, we tend to look for the quickest path to security. We want solutions that are neat and tidy, direction that is clear and comfortable, and a future that is pretty and predictable. No one wants to be unsure about tomorrow, and no one likes to be exposed.

When it comes to looking for security in God, we are no different. Not only do we want a tangible sign that God is real, but we want a flashy display of his guidance, outlining exactly what to do and how to do it. We want to know which job will be profitable, which relationship will endure, and which parenting strategy will empower our children to the fullest.

In many ways, God has already given us the answers to these questions, and he has done so in a direct and persuasive way — through his Word. Not only does the Word take the form of written guidance for our daily lives, but it also became flesh in order to deliver us from sin and send us the Holy Spirit (aka “the helper”). In this sense, the answers are largely available. What more could we want?

The problem is that God does not answer such questions on our terms. If you’re anything like me, you’ve asked the following question at least once in your life:

If God is real, why doesn’t he just come down from heaven, tell me the Bible is true, and give me his phone number in case I have any questions?

The answer lies in the reality that God created us to be agents of faith, which is necessary for us to be agents of love. God yearns for relationship with us, and real relationship requires faith in the sense that real relationship requires trust.

The struggle of faith — of believing in God and doing what he says— is part of Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 Comments

Baby Can Stand: A Lesson in Empowerment, Risk, and Reward

Josiah, Barbaric YawpMy eight-month-old son has always been extremely forceful about pushing the limits of his physical capacity. With each new skill he has learned — whether rolling, sitting, or scooting — he has immediately set his sights on pursuing the next thing. (At a mere three weeks of age he was able to lift up his head completely on his own.)

Over the past week he has learned a new skill: standing.

He can’t stand independently, but as with every previous pursuit, he certainly thinks he can. He pulls himself up on anything he can find — our couch, his toys, his crib, whatever — and each time he is successful, his eyes light up, his muscles flex, and his voice sounds out what Walt Whitman would surely call a barbaric yawp.

He is empowered. After all of his struggling, all of his toiling, and all of his striving, his muscles are finally ready to support his body sufficiently.

But alas, standing is not good enough. Within minutes he moves away from his object of security toward the nearest open space. Slowly and intentionally, he begins to test the unknown, moving one hand away from his support until finally falling to the floor with a resounding thud.

This type of failure is continuous, but it does not discourage him. Within seconds, he pulls himself up and once again pushes away from his support, fighting feverishly to Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

Opting for the Artificial: “Just Do Something!”

Today at Ethika Politika I talk about the difference between artificial security and authentic struggle. As individuals, families, and communities, what is at stake?

Here’s a tidbit from the article:

We all want security and we want it now. It doesn’t matter if real value is being produced or if efficiency is being maximized. It doesn’t matter if a price floor is set, a dying industry is being propped up, or our neighbors are being forced to pay for it. “Just stop the bleeding,” they say.

We all want some kind of assurance – some tangible, visible, immediate sign – that everything will be okay. Thus, we are usually content if getting that assurance means settling for the artificial.

I center much of my discussion around Frédéric Bastiat’s essay, “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen.” If you are familiar with the now-famous Broken Window Fallacy, it originates in the same place.

Bastiat talks about “man’s necessarily painful evolution” from ignorance to foresight — a struggle that eventually leads to authentic prosperity. Economics aside, what do we sacrifice when we cower from such a struggle?

To read my answer, check out the full article.

, , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

Environmental Entrepreneurship: Plastic Bags in Nairobi

When the environment gets neglected, we hear that government needs to take action. When the economy goes down the tubes, we are told that bureaucrats must come to our rescue.

But for Evans Githinji, a 32-year-old entrepreneur in Kenya, achieving prosperity and exhibiting proper stewardship is simply a matter of imagination and initiative. Kenya’s economy is far from thriving, yet Githinji has found a way to both curb environmental harm and bring value to his economy despite his disadvantages.

Hear his story here:

As the video tells us, Githinji’s efforts have led to the opening of 23 collection yards, each of which employs 100 youths in collecting plastic bags.

“I feel great,” says Githinji. “And I feel I’m doing something good for this nation.”

But would it have been better if the Kenyan government had stepped in long ago? Would it have been more efficient if taxpayer money had been poured into dumptrucks and garbage collectors? Would the government have a better grasp on wage rates than Githinji does? Would it be better for Kenyans if the government banned Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11 Comments