Ecclesiastical and political pragmatism, with a beat
I read Mr. Haidt’s piece in the WSJ when it first came out and some of what he described reminded me of the Just World theory. I don’t know how many Americans believe in the type of karma he describes. (“They are patriotic and religious, and they want to see those values woven into their children's education. Above all, they want to live in a country in which hard work and personal responsibility pay off and laziness, cheating and irresponsibility bring people to ruin. Give them liberty, sure, but more than that: Give them karma.”) What about all the gray areas in between hard work and laziness? Should average students who spend a lot of time studying to grind out a “C” instead get an “A,” due to “hard work,” in comparison to the very bright who can scan a text, absorb concepts in no time, and who have plenty of time to goof around because they “get” what they studied more easily? What about the unemployed workers Michael Gerson described in January in Virginia, who once worked in furniture factories but whose jobs have disappeared? Is it wrong for such men to receive the type of government assistance in retraining that Gerson described? Would believers in karma think, “tough luck, you’re losers for taking jobs in industries that downsized, serves you right for losing your jobs?” Is it their fault that carpentry skills they learned from their fathers, which once enabled men to support families, no longer are in demand? What about jobs that reward the “burstiness” of innovative thinking of the type Bill Gates exemplifies rather than the at-your-desk-all-day nose-to-the-grindstone “busyness” of Bob Cratchit work? Is the Cratchit a better person than the "idea man" whose work comes out in bursts?For those who do believe in the simplified karma Haidt describes, perhaps insularity and an unrealistic view of economic and societal forces plays a part. I just watched the movie Precious for the first time this past weekend. How would believers in karma assess what happens to the main character, who is terribly abused from the time she is a baby? And whose horrible home life in the ghetto places her at the starting line so far behind those of us who grew up in stable, loving families with nurturing parents who valued rather than bad mouthed education and protected rather than abused us?I lean towards Andrew Sullivan’s view that conservatism in the U.K. and parts of Europe differs from that in the U.S. in rhetoric and in some beliefs in part because those areas are haunted by suffering during World War II in ways that we are not. A lot of our rhetoric about issues here in the U.S. simply comes across as unrealistic and mythic in a fairy tale sense. Sully’s argument that too many Americans don’t understand (or want to examine) suffering and the extent to which bad things happen to the innocent makes as much sense to me as a way of explaining some of the cartoon-like political images we see here as anything else.
A beautiful reflection, suitable for framing. Reading it, I found myself wondering if a residual attachment good, old-fashioned Calvinist predestination is afoot. Folks who thrive are favored by God, those who don't, aren't. That would take care of the grey areas you mention. It also absolves the well-off of any intrinsic responsibility for those who are suffering.
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