Saturday, October 30, 2004

Work to live or live to work?

I just read a great chapter from a book by Dorothy Sayers called Creed or Chaos?
The chapter was titled ‘Why Work?’ and in short is about the role of work in the lives of people. Sayers, writing around the time of WWII, questions the motives of why people are working. She finds that people are working primarily to earn money. This is still true to today. She talks of the change from wartime production to peacetime production and the view of work in these two systems. Sayers that during wartime production, a product is made because of its usefulness and its ability to fulfill its design. To sum her position up, work is valued for the work done. In contrast, peacetime production seems to focus on producing goods to make money. So we make disposable goods that are bad in design and low in quality just so that people have a way of making money. She points out how this peacetime attitude fosters a bad attitude toward work. Work becomes something despised rather than desired.
This is an important point, as she points out, because according to Christian teaching, man is made for work. Put another way, work is not what one does to live, but what one lives to do. So when we despise what we are made for there is a disruption of the natural order. She believes that this is why war breaks out.
I have personally experience what Sayers is talking about. While I have not experience wartime production, I have experienced a bad attitude toward work. This is an attitude that I grew up with because of the culture I lived in. It was not until I had a conversion in my life that I came to associate work with something valuable. Sayers calls our current system a “social system based upon Envy and Avarice.” She says, “A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built on sand.” What a wonderful description of our society. She asks the question, “… shall we want to go back to that civilization of greed and waste which we dignify by the name of a “high standard of living”?” Is living a good material life work the societal result? Is a “high standard of living” worth the price? As I look at our culture here in America I say no. People pursue happiness through material goods and are enslaved to work as an illusory means to happiness.
Six years ago I started changing my work habits. I started working with the desire to do the best work I could. I wanted my products to be the best they could be. This was, and still is, very counter cultural. This change brought happiness and contentment in my work. The next stage that I went through was asking myself if my work had a positive impact on the world. At that time as a computer programmer, my answer was, and still is, no. So I decided it was time for a career change. I have yet to start a new career, but when I do, it will be a career that gives me the opportunity to work to my best capability and that has a positive impact on the world – to me that means positively affecting people lives.
I like Sayers point about finding the right person for the job rather than the least expensive person for the job. I believe that it is possible for people to like their jobs. But if we give mindless degrading jobs to people, they will never be happy at their job. We need to take into account peoples gifts and skills when they are seeking employment. Everyone benefits when a person is in a job where they can focus on doing the best job they can – where they can live to work.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Innocent until proven guilty

It is commonly believed in this country that people are innocent until proven guilty (except in a tax court where it is the opposite). But outside the court system, I have been noticing a trend that is counter to this policy of mercy. It seems to me in several of my recent conversations that when it comes to our personal views of others, we tend to quickly judge without much research.
In my limited understanding of the judicial system, I think both the plaintiff and the defendant have representatives that spend a good deal amount of time looking into the 'facts' of the case. Then these representatives (lawyers) use their rhetoric skills to convince a jury or judge that 'x' is what should be concluded from the facts.
When we interact with other people, we must be able make some basic judgments about them in order to make decisions. But I think that there is a line between judging someone and judging someone's deeds. We are called to 'hate the sin, and love the sinner.' But what does this mean? I think that it means that we should treat people with respect and dignity even though we may disagree with their actions or beliefs. I think it means that even if we don't like someone, we should give them the benefit of the doubt instead of jumping to a conclusion like, "see I told you he was like that..."I think that we would be shocked to find out that some people aren't as bad as we think they are. Remember, we are all people here and we are all capable of making bad decisions. (although some more than others it seems)
In my experience, people often make choices that are logical and right given the knowledge and experience of the person. If we think that people are dumb to choose 'x' and then someone chooses 'x,' we naturally call them dumb. But do we ever care to find out why they choose 'x' or are we content just calling them dumb and being done with it? If we walked a mile in the other persons shoes we would probably be more compassionate toward them. But that takes work and a desire. We have to be willing to make the effort. In my experience, a lot of people are not willing to make the effort. It is easy to judge and condemn, but difficult to understand and have mercy.
In our culture it is my experience that the media loves scandal. They latch onto anything controversial. Just look at the popular TV programs: reality TV, Wife Swap, etc. It seems like the American public loves to watch other people go at it. They love to see anger and hate and violence. They love revenge, manipulation, and backstabbing. The public eats it up faster than it can be produced. Look at the news - full of stories of hate crime and scandal as well.
It is no wonder that people here tend to latch on to anything bad they hear about people, or directly experience themselves. It is so easy for us to build a bad profile of someone. I don't know why, but it always seems easy to remember the bad stuff and forget the good stuff.
In a recent conversation with a friend, he was telling me that he has encountered a lot of negative aspects of someone. The encounters of my friend have been so impacting that he has difficulty seeing this other person as fit for his job, and has taken the stance that someone else should have the job. This was a shock to me because my experiences of the same person are quite the opposite. What I can take away from this is that neither of us really knows the whole truth about this person. I was unaware of the bad things going on, and he is limited in his knowledge of the good things going on. But what annoys me the most is that neither of us have talked to this person directly about it. We put him on trial and do not let him have a personal word on the final judgment. We simply take the actions we see as his testimony. But do we really his motivations? Have we seen all his actions? I doubt it. So why so quickly judge him as unfit? If we walked a mile in his shoes, we still may disagree with him, but we would probably have more mercy and less judgment.
So we conduct these unfair trials on people all the time without their having any personal say. We take their actions as words and overlook motivations and reasons. We judge based on output and effect. I think it is time for a revolution in this. People deserve the dignity and respect of being innocent until 'proven' guilty - not our own proof of 'I see and hear bad things', but proof based on research and effort. This does not exclude the possibility that someone may be guilty, but at least they maintain their dignity in the process.
I take the stance that mercy should come before justice. There is a lack of real genuine love in this country and there is no need to perpetuate that. We need to love the person even if we hate their actions. If God treated us like we often treat others, we would never get into heaven.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Declining intelligence

It seems to me that the media has put forth a great effort to keep the American population dumb. I’m not referring to general intelligence, but to knowledge or possession of truth.
It seems like the powers (the rich and powerful who would like to be richer and more powerful) have been whittling away at intelligence since the birth of easily accessible media. I supposed we could trace this intention all the way back throughout history. The powerful have almost always abused the poor for their own benefit – including keeping the peasants ignorant of what is really going on.
What perplexes me is that this country has stood behind the right to education for EVERYONE. This country probably has some good statistics regarding the general level of education of the entire population. Yet it seems that while we ‘know’ more, we are still being played as the puppets of the powerful.
So how do the powerful keep an increasingly educated mass from knowing the truth? If I were in that position (and I am not) I would start by attacking the definition of truth. I would attempt to convince everyone that truth is relative and that there can be no ‘universal’ truth. Once people start to buy into that, I would challenge the definition of happiness. I would define it as, ‘the attainment of my products and services.’ Additionally I would go about a plan to keep people from ‘growing up.’ What I mean by this is that when people are between the age of reason (7-9 years old) and adulthood (the dying to selfish attitudes) they are keenly aware of themselves. They constantly try to figure out how they fit into the web of society. One overarching attribute of people this age is their selfishness. It seems from their perspective that the whole world revolves around them.
If, as a rich and powerful man as described above, I want to achieve my goals, I would do what I can to keep people in this selfish mentality. Teenagers are one of the most sought after market segments because they are willing to make purchasing decisions that are unwise and imprudent. So if I can extend this market segment from 9 years old to death, that expands my ideal market dramatically.
I believe that this is exactly what has been happening here in America. I don’t think that this is a big conspiracy that we are all unaware of. I don’t think that this whole thing has been guided by some diabolical person(s) with the intent to deceive and conquer. I think that it has happened more subtly by many people over time.
But here I am, living in a culture where this is daily life. There is little I can do to immediately change the system. I can make efforts that will hopefully change the system in the long run, but it must be a consorted effort of many people. Hopefully others will see what is happening and be willing to work together to work towards a change in our economic system.
Let’s grow up out of our adolescent days and become reasonable and responsible adults who refuse to be played like a puppet by the rich and powerful. Don’t’ adopt the attitude of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’ Life is not about us. It is about others. The sooner we realize this and change our lives, the sooner we will break free of this downward spiral culture we live in.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

One and not the other

Recently here at St Thomas we had a “Engaging Truth” event sponsored by the Catholic Studies department. In this particular event, the topic was, “How should Catholics vote?”
It was an interesting event with a Faculty panel of three professors with varying views on what a good Catholic should do.
As expected, the first professor, being a philosophy teacher, talked about the moral implications of voting as well as natural law. The second professor was a theology teacher who feels strongly about the position of the church on the issue of human life. The third professor was a theologian who disagrees with some of the conclusions Catholics seem to often reach regarding voting.

This trio made for interesting debate. It was almost as if the first two professors where against the third one. The third professor believes that as a former Catholic republican, the republican party has failed to deliver on their promises. He believes that the republican party is only pro-life in name and not in deed. He feel like he has been tricked into choosing republicans solely because of their stance on pro-life issues when they have no intention of doing anything about it. He feels like pro-life is a trump card that republicans use to ‘get the Catholic vote’ while going about their anti-gospel policies. He believes that unless the republicans do something great, like overturning Roe vs. Wade, it is not worth voting for them. He believes that the negatives associated with voting for republicans outweigh the pro-life stance. He also does not like the current stance of the democratic party. He promotes voting third-party or abstaining.

The second of the three professors jumped all over that saying that the republicans have shown progress in a campaign which is called ‘The Culture of Life.’ She believes that voting republican is more than a ‘Roe vs. Wade’ or ‘anti-republican’ choice. She says that the pro-life issue is the number one issue that trumps all other issues by a large magnitude. She says that as Catholics we are morally obligated to vote solely on the pro-life vs. pro-choice stance. She sited several documents from the Vatican that supports these claims.

The first professor mainly addressed voting itself. He said that as Catholics we are morally obligated to vote and that abstaining is not a choice. He talked a little bit about the ‘Culture of Life’ and how it is supported by Natural Law. He said that all people, Catholics and non-Catholics, can know the truth of Natural Law and are subject to it. He says that ignoring it or rejecting it does not make it invalid or make it disappear. Like it or not, Natural Law is a part of life and should be cooperated with and not risen against. He also presented several Church documents supporting his position.

In the end, I believe that all of the professors had excellent points. I also believe that the third professor was misled in some of his understandings about Catholic teaching. I can only hope that he does not disagree with and reject Church teaching. I am specifically referring to his promoting of third-party voting or abstaining for voting. It is true that the Catholic Church teaches that we are morally obligated to vote. But it does not say how we should vote. Should we vote Kerry or Bush?
While none of the panelists (many others as well) like either candidate, we are obligated to pick someone. So who should we pick? Topics like ‘Material Cooperation’ came up regarding how morally responsible we are as voters if our choice for president does something immoral. The first two professors put so much weight on the pro-life and Culture of Life issues that they say any morally conscious Catholic MUST vote for Bush. The third professor obviously disagreed saying that pro-life is not that weighty of an issue.

I have been thinking about what the third professor said, and I don’t agree with his position on voting third-party or abstaining. We all agreed that it would be detrimental to this society as Catholic Americans if Kerry gets into office. But are we really FORCED to vote for Bush. Well, here is how I see it:

Kerry has about the same percentage of pre-votes as Bush. So far the pro-life Catholic vote has gone toward Bush. So if the Catholics, rightfully not liking Bush’s other policies, jump ship from the Bush camp, we are pretty much handing Kerry the presidency. So it looks like NOT voting for Bush equates with supporting Kerry for president.

So it is more important to vote for Bush or against Kerry? I think these are two very different things. Some will vote for Bush because they think he can make a least a few good changes, other will vote for him because it would be worse for Kerry to be in office. But I think that to abstain or vote third-party will produce the worst case scenario.

Whether I like it or not, it looks as if I am to be a responsible, morally conscious, Catholic American, my vote will have to go to Bush.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Politics as a matter of personal beliefs

As we get closer and closer to the election, it seems that nerves have become more and more frayed. I have found myself asking the question, “Why is it that politics and this election seem to rouse anger and hatred in people?” I see Democrats and Republicans going after each other in very undignified and degrading ways. One example is how the political parties use the media, specifically TV ads, to attack not merely the issues, but more so to attack the person. Slander seems to be the name of the game as we get nearer to Election Day. A little closer to home is the heated encounters between the campus Democrats and Republicans. It seems impossible to have inter-party discussions anymore. This election is even starting to divide some friendships. So what is the cause of such division? To me it seems to be mostly a matter of personal beliefs. After reading several articles on the current division of our country over this election, it looks like most voters are voting by issues rather than traditional platforms. This begs the question, “What issues do you stand behind?” I am saddened by the tactics used by people to attack the opposing view. The tactic I see most commonly employed is to throw statistics at people. After taking a statistics class here at St Thomas, I have learned to be wary of the data/numbers, as well as the presentation of them. It is extremely easy to manipulate data to get the result you want. This tactic preys on the ignorance of people, with the intention to deceive. Of course many of the people I know who use these tactics are themselves deceived because they “were once ignorant until they were shown the truth.” I say they are deceived because many of these people to whom I refer have failed to look into the data for themselves. So I myself have been challenged to take my own words to heart and look into the data. As I have I find that I am constantly surprised by how much misrepresentation is taking place. So without the statistics, what issues do I stand behind? The question for me comes down to personal beliefs and moral convictions. I believe we are all seeking for the truth; but the truth we seek seems to be vastly different. I myself stand behind what the Catholic Church says in the hope that I am not being misled, while some of my friends do not agree with the Catholic Church. Because of my moral convictions as a Catholic, my vote is obvious. So when we challenge others’ political choice, it seems that we are challenging their moral convictions. I believe this is the source of our division and anger.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Political Passion

I have been very disappointed lately when I realized that emotions are driving voting choices rather than reason. Recently in a political conversation with a friend I will call Jake, he said, “While I don’t like Kerry, I hate Bush even more.” When I inquired as to why Jake hated Bush, he quoted a whole string of questionable statistics in the form, “Did you know that Bush…” While Jake had some very valid points about Bush, most of the ‘facts’ were indeed not the whole picture. While I have no desire to defend Bush, I am interested in the truth. I am tired of these supposed ‘facts’ that have been taken out of context. I have been fortunate to take a class here at St. Thomas called Catholic Social Thought. In this class we have from time to time discussed some of these ‘facts’ by putting them into their proper context. To say the least this class has been an eye opener for me. I previously had very little to no concept of the global economy or of the ‘big picture’ that these issues belong in. While I still am no expert on any of these topics, I feel a little less ignorant, and a little more able to vote using my intellect instead of my passions. After putting doubt on most of Jake's ‘facts’ he could only say, “Look, I hate Bush and everything he stands for. I will never vote for him. Ever.” Where is reason? Where is the intellect? Why all this deep hatred? The response was, “Everything I read, everything I hear, all my discussions about him; they all lead to the only answer: Bush is never to be trusted.” What is Jake reading, listening to, and who is he talking to? I was a bit ashamed to learn that Jake has bought into the media ninety five percent – the liberal media. I feel as if Jake is not the only one with this problem. Many of us have become lazy, including me. We want the information handed to us while we sit back and enjoy life. We put too much trust in the media, accepting what they tell us unless it sounds too suspicious. But the media is deceptive and manipulating. They give us a mixture of truth and lies; with enough truth to get us to buy in to the lies. So because Jake doesn’t like Bush, he naturally latches onto all of the anti-Bush media. The anti-Kerry people are the same way, latching onto the media of their preference. They all hear what they want to hear and reject most everything else. They allow their passions to dictate their motives and choices while reason and intellect get the back seat. I was, and still am to a certain extent, one of these people. Most of us are if we are honest. I hope that we can get beyond our passions and engage our intellect when we vote this November.