Filling in for DZ this week…

1. Judith Lichtenberg of the NY Times writes this article in defense of altruism over against egotism – known on this blog as a low anthropology. Her critiques of egotism are valid and while she proposes an understanding of altruism which may sound close to Reformation ideas of freedom and love, it instead seems to be a return to Aristotle and the formation of a virtuous identity (ht DZ):

“The point is rather that the kind of altruism we ought to encourage, and probably the only kind with staying power, is satisfying to those who practice it. Studies of rescuers show that they don’t believe their behavior is extraordinary; they feel they must do what they do, because it’s just part of who they are. …As Prof. Neera Badhwar has argued, their identity is tied up with their values, thus tying self-interest and altruism together.”

1a. Speaking of self-perception, a recent study by Dr. Jessica Escobedo has found the people give their actions greater moral worth than their peers -shocking! (ht KW):

“Other data we collected showed that when you’re asked to rate your own actions, you rate yourself as about 10 percent more morally good than other people rate your behavior. While this isn’t too surprising, we found that if you were asked how other people would rate those same actions, you were remarkably accurate in estimating their ratings of your behavior. In other words, even though you know what other people think of your choices, you still think you’re doing better than others give you credit for.”

2. Is Homer Simpson a Roman Catholic? So says this article and the Vatican’s own “L’Osservatore Romano.” As the Vatican magazine suggests: “Few people know it, and he does everything he can to hide it, but it is true: Homer J Simpson is a Catholic”. Who am I to contradict the Vatican on all things Catholic, but this seems like a bit of a stretch (ht DZ).

3. Setting aside political allegiances (honestly), this research article from the Wall Street Journal about the Tea Party movement is worth the read. The author, Jonathan Haidt, sees a strong belief in the notion of Karma amongst conservative Tea Partiers that ultimately underpins their emphasis on personal independence. That’s not to say that all Tea Partiers agree with Karma (Haidt notes that libertarian Tea Partiers largely disagreed with Karma), but given the recent very religious march on Washington, it may be worth it to ask what Christianity has to say about all this. As the article notes (ht JD):

“[In] today’s ongoing financial and economic crisis… those guilty of corruption and irresponsibility have escaped the consequences of their wrongdoing, rescued first by President Bush and then by President Obama. Bailouts and bonuses sent unimaginable sums of the taxpayers’ money to the very people who brought calamity upon the rest of us. Where is punishment for the wicked?

4. As someone who is going back and re-watching old seasons of Friends, I enjoyed this article by David Brooks on the portrayal of friendship in television – shifting further away from a one-to-one relationship to a larger, complex web of relationships. From my standpoint, a web of friendship isn’t so much a revelation, rather Brooks indicates that something has been lost in the shuffle:

“Thanks to social network technologies, people have to figure out how concentrated they want their friendship networks to be. Those with low-density networks can have a vast array of friends, but if the network gets too distended you are left with nothing but a dispersed multitude of shallow connections. People with a concentrated network have a narrower circle of friends, but if it is too dense you have erected an insular and stultifying social fortress.”

5. A recent debate on the role of religious belief and society happened this past week between Christopher Hitchens and his brother, Peter. I admit I’m not sure who is right. On the one hand, Christopher offers an accurate and unflattering diagnosis of the real effect of Christianity in modern cultures. On the other hand there’s something to Peter’s categorization of Christianity as a “combination… of liberty and order, … where people take into their hearts the very, very, powerful messages of self-restraint without mutual advantage, which is central to the Christian religion.”

6. On the lighter side, as a dog owner I can’t help but love this video despite its somewhat cheesy prayer.