Concerning Authority

We do not often reflect extensively on the nature of authority in the modern world; at least, we do not entertain public discourse about it. We cede authority to people all the time, however, and with alarming frequency in consumer environments or business settings. In most cases, we cede it to individuals who, or institutions which, are expert in a subject or topic; we also cede it to corporations which specialize in a certain kind of product, and who have a reputation for excellence in it.

We might leave matters on that meritocratic note, and banish further questions about authority from our mind. More than this could be quite disruptive. After all, there cannot be any institutional life without order, and there is no order without some kind of authority — but that should not stop us from seeking authority’s proper grounds, especially in a liberal environment where we are expected to be sufficiently cultured to have mature consciences which can responsibly dissent, on the basis of a higher principle, from the authorities who govern, or from the proposals of our fellow citizens. Finally, this should also extend into religious life and institutions.

While the following cannot claim comprehensiveness, it certainly aims at addressing universal concerns. Continue reading

Reinhard Hütter: The Subject is the End of the Church

Having now finished what seems to be the last of several bookshelves for our (rather small) place, I look to selling or boxing-up books.

I’ve already cited the volume by the formerly-Lutheran writer Reinhard Hütter (he converted to Catholicism sometime after the writing of this book, if my timeline is correct) titled “Bound to Be Free: Evangelical Catholic Engagements in Ecclesiology, Ethics, and Ecumenism.” I had originally thought that I’d keep this volume. It’s stimulating, but I’m not sure how helpful it is, for as I scan through it, it seems to largely provide the stimulation that foils provide when they are riddled with mistakes.

The passage cited below is no exception. Hütter here writes about the alleged transition from an older way of conceiving “theology” to an allegedly more rationalistic way which sought surer ground in metaphysics. As the story goes, the aftermath of the Reformation and the ensuing religious wars of Europe put into question the idea that knowledge of God can be had through church practices, as there then obtained an incompatible and irreconcilable plurality of practices.

First I’ll cite the passage, then discuss it.
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Procedures and Proceduralism

At some point, all of us have run up against policies that, in our concrete circumstances, simply don’t seem to make any sense. I’m not talking about bad laws, like the forced conversion of minorities — large-scale policies have been around for as long as there have been large-scale political arrangements. Rather, I’m talking about running headfirst into a procedural wall that was designed to be helpful, but in certain contexts seems to thwart the good.

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Laboratory Music

In 2012, I would often work at my mother’s house in the late evenings until early morning, trying to finish the first of what are now four bookshelves. There is and was simply not enough space at our rented house to work on it, but I could then occupy both a barn and a workshop at my mother’s.

There is an old radio in that workshop which turns on whenever the lights do. It is in an inconvenient location, and the antenna is super-finicky, so I simply end up listening to whatever station it’s tuned to when I’m not in the barn. Back then it was Pop music. My musical diet is fairly strict: I make it a point of largely only listening to Classical, Folk, and some British/Irish stuff (Radiohead, etc.). I’d forgotten what Pop was like. So I thought: this was another chance to examine it anew.

Of the many things I’d wished to write about after the dozens of hours listening to Pop radio in those months, after looking at my notes, three main points emerged. Continue reading

Machines for Eating and Humans for Feeding

Or: What I Learned from Working at Dunkin’ Donuts.

The view from the bottom is really quite spectacular, but those who have always lived there rarely see clearly. They’re not stupid –they know roughly where they are– but they’re  trapped by so many tethers they find elusive, and they have no map for how to get out. The rest of us cannot see the truth about ourselves until we have dealt with the truth about them. I worked with them for two months. In immediate hindsight, here are six observations:

1: “Minimum Wage” really means that your employers would likely pay you less, but that they can’t legally get away with it.

This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “human resources.” Resources: like oil or coal. When people are paid only enough money to fund some small entertainments, or to pay their cell phone bill, then what does that say about the way that their employer values them? –as better coal, or as worse coal, but always as coal. This demotivates. One is sensitive to this, even if one is not aware of it.

It’s true that good help is hard to find; it’s also true that good help is impossible to retain or appropriately incentivize on what is approximately an $8.50/hr. minimum wage: employees become as disposable as the coffee filters, and care about their job as much.

Of course, these jobs are not designed as career jobs, and high turnover is expected, so a critical reader may waive this all away as so much whiny cavaliering. Employees are seen as deluded for trying to turn a temp gig into a permanent one.

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