A culture of work?

Meanwhile at Get Religion, George Conger picks up Mitt Romney’s comments in Israel the other day.

The Romney campaign appears to have been unhelpful and their man comes off badly from their actions. Yet what is also missing is an inquiry by the Post into Prof. David Landes and his book — which would go a long way toward answering the question of “what is culture?”.
And it is here was have the ethical and religious ghosts to this story for Landes’ book places great stress on the role of religion in economic development.

To be fair, Conger is also quite explicit that he’s not trying to diminish the role of the Israeli security state with respect to the Palestinians. Still…

Certainly part of the difficulty about the culture critique would be its implicit assumption that both sides are starting at roughly the same point. The problem of Israel’s security efforts (and settlement building) basically precludes making that assumption.

As a test case, one might ask how Christian refugees from the region have fared. Apparently, in a land of freedom they do quite well, becoming political leaders, industrial leaders and the like. If they succeed here, then the assumption that the differences in outcomes between Israelis and Palestinians derives from culture would not particularly stand. (A more cynical mind might even think that the turn to culture is more a function of American political rhetoric than deriving from analysis of the actual situation on the ground).

Additional Note

Marc Tracy at The New Republic anchors Romney’s remarks in richer, ongoing political context.

This has all been beneath the surface—until now. With Israeli “culture” out in the open, Romney has laid the groundwork to use Israel as merely the beachhead for a full frontal attack on Obama’s values and even Americanness. While Israel remains relatively parochial as a political issue, this link between culture and economics is anything but. And, as James Fallows reminds us, it’s been nearly 50 years since Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out, “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society.” Moynihan was a Democrat, but through the early neoconservatives this “conservative truth” became a Republican talking point, one that evolved into such a winner that the only Democratic president to win re-election since its advent first had to sign a welfare reform law that was in many ways the fullest realization of that conservative truth.


Getting Past Scientism

Philip Kitcher presents a fascinating essay on the limits of knowledge and our commonplace scientism, and with it a pleas for the humanities

Philip Kitcher: The Trouble With Scientism | The New Republic
To derive one’s notion of human knowledge from the most striking accomplishments of the natural sciences easily generates a conviction that other forms of inquiry simply do not measure up.

But there’s more too. If we approach all our science as finite beings with finite perspectives, what are the larger narratives we need if not to see the whole, then at least to touch on what is transcendent.  Abraham Heschel had a lot to say about that:

The greatest hindrance to knowledge is our adjustment to conventional notions, to mental clichés.

Standing eye to eye with being as being, we realize that we are able to look a the world with two faculties–with reason and with wonder. Through the first we try to explain or to adapt the world to our concepts, through the second we seek to adapt our minds to the world.

[p. 11, Man is Not Alone]

On Going Hume

I’m still digesting this essay by Amartya Sen from The New Republic, but it raises the significance of David Hume for international relations.

The notion it stirs is whether justice depends first on the reservation of force (the sovereign), or is it something more organic, and thereby arises from and is socially contracted by parties? Or in a slightly different form: does justice require force?  A thinking article.