Wednesday, August 28, 2013


As I move slowly and sadly towards the end of Rebecca Solnit's soul-searching,
The Faraway Nearby
 The Faraway Nearby

I continue to be enthralled by what she is able to put into words. My words here certainly can't do justice to her writing. Even culling a few gems as I did earlier or as I do below cannot portend to describe the experience of being with this mind/soul window into a world. The structure of the book itself continues to unfold in ways somewhat evoked in her string of characters inscribed on the pages.

After a brief description of a visit to a labyrinth. She writes:

Imagine all the sentences in this book as a single thread around the spool that is a book. Imagine that they could be unwound; that you could walk the line they make or are walking it. Reading is also like traveling, the eyes running along the length of an idea, which can be folded up into the compressed space of a book and unfolded within your imagination and your understanding. (p.189)

 from the same chapter

We live inside each other's thoughts and works. As I write, I sit in a building erected on a steep slope, so that what is in the first floor uphill is the second floor downhill. Someone thought through the site and designed the structure specifically for this corner; someone cut the lumber in a forest up or down the coast; someone framed the structure, plastered the walls, laid the oak floorboards, the pipes, and the wires; someone designed and others made the chair I sit on, all of it long before I was born. (p.190)

Long before that people established ideas about what houses and chairs should be like. I am in this moment hosted by anonymous craftspeople long gone, or rather their ideas and labor, surrounded by more ghosts in the books in the room and other remnants of trees, the language I speak, the body I inhabit with the adaptations and limitations of innumerable ancestors running through it, the city around me, the countless gestures, acts, devotions, that keep making the world. (p.190-1)

I am, we each are, the inmost of an endless series of Russian dolls; you who read are now encased within a layer I built for you, or perhaps my stories are now inside you. We live as literally as that inside each other's thoughts and work, in this world that is being made all the time, by all of us, out of beliefs and acts, information and materials. Even in the wilderness your ideas of what is beautiful, what matters, and what constitutes pleasure shape your journey there as much as do your shoes and map also made by others.(p.191)

...You build yourself out of the materials at hand and those you seek out and choose, you build your beliefs, your alliances, your affections, your home, though some of us have far more latitude than others in all those things. You digest an idea or an ethic as though it was bread, and like bread it becomes part of you. Out of all this comes your contribution to the making of the world, your sentences in the ongoing interchange. The tragedy of the imprisoned, the unemployed, the disenfranchised, and the marginalized is to be silenced in this ongoing conversation, this symphony that is another way to describe the world. (pp191-2)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Dreamin, Then and Now...What is Possible?

Kudos to personal finance columnist, Michelle Singletary for her Sunday August 25th column that ran in the Business Section of our Lansing State Journal.

 Michelle Singletary finance advisor

 Rarely do newspapers put these types of stories in front of the eyes of those who read this section of the paper. They flood this section with new CEO's whose company has had recent success, or what sold yesterday for how much, and what stocks have climbed. But rarely do they allow for a critique as strong and thorough as Singletary offers, given the limited space a columnist receives.

Singletary, like other writers on this the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King's memorable speech, have been looking back to see what has changed and what hasn't. She quotes King's speech, "The Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity." She then goes on to look at the stats, not just for black and other minorities, but how wealth has concentrated so much since this historic event. Citing a recent report from the Urban Institute she notes "Over the past 30 years.Americans in the top 20 percent saw their wealth increase by nearly 120 percent, while families in the middle quintile saw growth of 13 percent. The folks in the bottom 20 percent saw their net worth drop below zero, meaning their debts exceeded their assets."

Gary Younge, the Alfred Knobler Journalism Fellow at The Nation Institute, writing in this week's The Nation also looks back to King's speech and how history has remembered it with an eye most other pundits have ignored.
     It is implausible to imagine that, were King to be raised from the dead, he would look at America’s jails, unemployment lines, soup kitchens or inner-city schools and think his life’s work had been accomplished. Whether one believes that these inequalities are caused by individuals making bad choices or by institutional discrimination, it would be absurd to claim that such a world bears any resemblance to the one King set out to create...

...In the final analysis, to ask whether King’s dream has been realized is to misunderstand both his overall politics and the specific ambition of his speech. King was not the kind of activist who pursued a merely finite agenda. The speech in general, and the dream sequence in particular, are utopian. Standing in the midst of a nightmare, King dreamed of a better world where historical wrongs had been righted and good prevailed. That is why the speech means so much to me, and why I believe that, overall, it has stood the test of time.

     I was raised in Britain during the Thatcher years, at a time when idealism was mocked and “realism” became an excuse for capitulation to the “inevitability” of unbridled market forces and military aggression. To oppose that agenda was regarded, by some on the left as well as the right, as impractical and unrealistic. Realism has no time for dreamers.
     True, we can’t live on dreams alone. But the absence of utopian ideas leaves us without a clear ideological and moral center and therefore facing a void in which politics is deprived of any liberatory potential and reduced to only what is feasible at any given moment.
     In the summer of 1963, with a civil rights bill pending and the white population skittish, King could have limited his address to what was immediately achievable and pragmatic. He might have spelled out a ten-point plan, laid out his case for tougher legislation, or made the case for fresh campaigns of civil disobedience in the North. He could have reduced himself to an appeal for what was possible in a time when what was possible and pragmatic was neither satisfactory nor sustainable. 
     Instead, he swung for the bleachers. Not knowing whether building the world he was describing was a Sisyphean task or merely a Herculean one, he called out in the political wilderness, hoping his voice would someday be heard by those with the power to act on it. In so doing, he showed it is not na├»ve to believe that what is not possible in the foreseeable future may nonetheless be necessary, worth fighting for and worth articulating. The idealism that underpins his dream is the rock on which our modern rights are built and the flesh on which pragmatic parasites feed. If nobody dreamed of a better world, what would there be to wake up to?

This conjures up a little story clipped to my desk as a going away present from a student who worked for me many years ago.

The Weight of a Snowflake
        "Tell me the weight of a snowflake," a coalmouse asked a wild
        "Nothing more than nothing," the dove answered.
        "In that case I must tell you a marvelous story," the coalmouse
said.   "I sat on a fir branch close to the trunk when it began to
snow.  Not heavily, not in a raging blizzard.  No, just like in a dream,
without any violence at all.  Since I didn't have anything better to do,
I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my
branch.  Their number was exactly 3,471,952.  When the next snowflake
dropped onto the branch--nothing more than nothing--as you say--the
branch broke off."
        Having said that, the coalmouse ran away.
        The dove, since Noah's time an authority on peace, thought about
the story for a while.  Finally, she said to herself, "Perhaps there is
only one person's voice lacking for peace to come to the world."
        -Source unknown

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Libraries, Books, and Writing

I can't possibly accurately determine how my life has spent so much time with books. I wasn't a terribly active young reader, save perhaps every possible baseball biography, Chip Hilton and Hardy Boys. But later to work in bookstores, for publishers, and then 30 + years of library work. As occasional readers of this blog, and before it the Mindfulness and Tlinkster pieces can attest, reading far and wide as been some uncontrollable syndrome I have suffered from for years.

This week I finished Mary Pipher's The Green Boat,Hunger Pains

  and am sailing through Rebecca Solnit's the The Faraway Nearby, with occasional visits to Julian Agyeman's Introducing Just Sustainabilities,


and the final bits of Alice Walker's The Cushion in the Road.

It's Solnit's work I want to share here. Ranking writers is probably both a fruitless and foolish task, but let me say that there isn't a better writer, living today that I have read. I love the work of Wendell Berry, Terry Tempest Williams, David James Duncan, Alice Walker, Barbara Kingsolver to name a few. But Solnit never disappoints in her ability to carve with words indelible thoughts worthy of reflection. 

In this latest work, a memoir of sorts, she probes deeply into her own search for meaning. An exploration that is still evolving. In it I found reflections and assertions that resonated deeply. I'm only halfway through but a few excerpts may hint as the power of her writing. Enjoy...

 The Faraway Nearby

     Libraries are sanctuaries from the world and command centers onto it: here in quiet rooms are the lives of Crazy Horse and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Hundred Years’ War and the Opium Wars and the Dirty War, the ideas of Simone Weil and Lao-tzu, information on building your sailboat or dissolving your marriage, fictional worlds and books to equip the reader to reenter the real world. They are, ideally, places where nothing happens and where everything that has happened is stored up to be remembered and relived, the place where the world is folded up into boxes of paper. Every book is a door that opens onto another world, which might be the magic that all those children’s books were alluding to, and a library is a Milky Way of worlds…

…The object we call a book is not the real book, but its potential, like a musical score or a seed. It exists fully only in the act of being read; and its real home is inside the head of the reader, where the symphony resounds, the seed germinates. A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.
     The child I once was read constantly and hardly spoke, because she was ambivalent about the merits of communication, about the risks of being mocked or punished or exposed. The idea of being understood and encouraged, of recognizing herself in another, of affirmation, had hardly occurred to her and neither had the idea that she had something to give to others. So she read, taking in words in huge quantities, a children’s and then an adult novel a day for many years, seven days a week or so, gorging on books, fasting on speech, carrying piles of books home from the library.

     Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. Or rather writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them. Matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure, that I ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom I’m closest. Even once in a while I try to say them aloud and find that what turns out to be mush in my mouth or falls short of their ears can be written down for total strangers. Said to total strangers in the silence of writing that is recuperated and heard in the solitude of reading. Is it the shared solitude of writing, is it that separately we all reside in a place deeper than society, even the society of two? Is it that the tongue fails where the fingers succeed, in telling truths so lengthy and nuanced that they are almost impossible aloud?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What would you be willing to go to prison for 35 years for?

Bradley Manning was sentenced today to 35 years in prison for releasing to the public thousands of classified information. The release of that information removed the shroud from numerous immoral if not illegal actions done in the name of the American people. Actions that cost innocent people their lives, saw others tortured, and have haunted so many of the young women and men we asked to be a part of it, that there are record number of suicides and cases of PTSD survivors.

Manning accepted his sentence today with the following statement:

The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in. Since the tragic events of 9/11, our country has been at war.  We've been at war with an enemy that chooses not to meet us on any traditional battlefield, and due to this fact we've had to alter our methods of combating the risks posed to us and our way of life.

I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend my country.  It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing.  It was at this time I realized in our efforts to meet this risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity.  We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan.  When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians.  Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.

In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture.  We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government.  And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror. 

Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power.  When these cries of patriotism drown our any logically based intentions [unclear], it is usually an American soldier that is ordered to carry out some ill-conceived mission.

Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy—the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, the Japanese-American internment camps—to name a few.  I am confident that many of our actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light.  As the late Howard Zinn once said, "There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people." 

I understand that my actions violated the law, and I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States.  It was never my intention to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people.  When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.
If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society.  I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.

 I have been wrestling, in this age of seemingly constant sorrow, injustice, environmental unraveling, with what might I so firmly believe in that I would be willing to serve 35 years in prison for? And am I of sufficient strength to stand up for what I believe is right and true in the face of powers substantially greater than me, as Manning has surely done.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Heroine for Our Time

Congresswoman Barbara Lee has been a hero of mine at least as far back September 2001 when she was the lone member of either branch of Congress to vote against the unlimited use of force in response to the September 11th attacks. To have that courage in those hours following the attack was remarkable, and she took lots of 'unpatriotic heat' for it.
Barbaralee newheadshot 1200.jpg

But Representative Lee, who's been re-elected eight times to her seat from California is not a single issue legislator. She has chaired both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus. But I bring to your attention two more recent examples of why she is a heroine for me. The first is H.R. 808 Department of Peacebuilding Act of 2013. This is a slightly reworked version of Rep. Kucinich's Department of Peace bill, an attempt to evolve the original Department of War to the current Department of Defense to a new Department of Peacebuilding, thus changing the orientation of our foreign policy. The idea is to use savings from reductions in military spending to support training, research, education, and development of more nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution both foreign and domestic. See this Congressional Research Service overview here. Our local Peace Education Center has a petition circulating encouraging our own legislators to support H.R. 808. If you are interested in signing or want a blank petition for your own community send me a note

Tonight I learned that Congresswoman Lee introduced yet another bill on the first day of the 2013 session to address another challenge facing our society - increasing inequality. H.R.  199 the Income Equity Act of 2013 addresses this by putting limitations on executive compensation. Specifically, the Income Equity Act of 2013- Amends the Internal Revenue Code to:
(1) deny employers a tax deduction for payments of excessive compensation to any full-time employee (i.e., compensation for services exceeding the greater of 25 times the lowest compensation paid to any other employee or $500,000), and
(2) require such employers to file a report with the Secretary of the Treasury on excessive compensation (as defined by this Act) paid to their employees.
Defines "compensation" to include wages, salary, deferred compensation, retirement contributions, options, bonuses, property, and other forms of compensation.
GovTrack US rates H.R. 199 having a 1% chance of getting out of committee and 0% chance of passing, whereas H.R.808 has a whopping 7% chance of passing committee and a 1% chance of passing. As Senator Debbie Stabenow told a small group of us that met with her Monday, any proposed  progressive legislation is currently doomed in the obstructive House of Representatives
So is Lee's progressive proposals simply tilting at windmills or a ploy to get publicity? I believe these are simply proposals ahead of their time, that she is simply planting ideas in the halls of Congress. Ideas that can grow to reality if we, as citizens, commit to nurturing them through the tug and pull of legislative process.
Imagine if you will a strong Secretary of Peacebuilding sounding off against the rush to war, or the arming of another dictatorship. Imagine that person arguing for investments in education for conflict resolution  for K-12 schools.
Imagine a return to the 1982 CEO pay that was only 42 times their average worker down from the 350 times it is today. A better world starts with ideas, glimmers of possibilities. Barbara Lee has not been afraid to offer  those up and to work tirelessly to make them reality. It's up to us to help them grow, so that our children may harvest their benefits.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Therapy for Our Times

Mary Pipher, who has written several highly recognized works on issues of our mental and social health - Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls,
 Hunger Pains

Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders,
Hunger Pains

The Shelter of Each Other

 Hunger Pains

 has just written The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture

 Hunger Pains
in which she chronicles what she has learned from her own involvement in responding to efforts in her Nebraska community around the impending Keystone Pipeline.

In it she shares her own struggles as well as those she came to know through her involvement in efforts to stop the pipeline from coming through their land. In it she turns her trained eye towards our own moral development as individuals and as a society. Concerned with how we are treating our planetary home, she offers that

     We are not behaving this way because we are cruel but rather because we are caught up in the Great Acceleration and having a hard time slowing ourselves down and thinking things through. We are living in fragmented ways, disconnected from not only each other and the natural world, but from our pasts and our futures.

     Our interconnected problems are, at their roots, relationship problems. At core, every relationship has the potential to be profoundly emotional. For example, some people have a deeply emotional relationship with a particular brand of scotch. Others have this kind of relationship with their personal library. Most of us have intense relationships with our pets.

     When we speak of relationships, we are talking about attachment. With attachment comes its opposite: disconnection. And with connection and disconnection come the possibility of love, anger, fear, joy, and yearning. So our real questions as humans are: what is it we are attached to, why have we selected the attachments we have, and how intensely are we attached to particular relationships? Sorting this out is a lifelong, personal challenge -- and for our planet to survive intact, we must make answering these questions a global challenge, too.

Pipher focuses on the role of balance that merges her therapist background with her own understanding of how we fit together and how we must find this sense of relationship with each other and the other beings we share this planet with. It is hopeful, soothing, energizing but not awash in optimism. It might be a good tonic for any of us struggling to find how we can face the global challenges before us and our grandchildren and live a fulfilling life. That should be an imperative for all of us. It is an easy and comfortable read. Like having your own therapist on call....

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Food for Thought

From the reading pile over the last 24 hours are two pieces on food that I think are worth a review. the first is from a relatively new effort entitled Share The World's Resources: Sustainable Economics to End  Global Poverty. A blog from their site last week (August 9, 2013) "A Dialogue on Sharing Food" offers a simple, yet dramatically different way of looking at food and hunger. The author of this eight page missive, who would have benefited from some copyediting, nonetheless lays out his basic premise:

         Then what is the root of the problem concerning food? We might say it is the commercialisation of food, and the way in which the production, distribution and consumption of food is being manipulated in the wrong way for profit.

He follows this with a brief analysis of how food was handled before it was commercialized and hearkens us to reconsider how we share this basic resource - not  just in our community, but globally.

Off the new book shelf yesterday, came Colorado State University Professor Michael Carolan's Reclaiming Food Security,

whose pages I turned earlier this morning. Carolan seems to argue that our notion of food security has been hijacked and linked to simply the total production of calories. He would have us embed the notion of food security in Franklin Roosevelt's 1941 Inaugural AddressFDRL Photo Coll: 80-163(17); ©Wide World
 on the "Four Freedoms" - freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

Carolan shares a Food and Human Security Index that attempts to measure how nation/states provide this level of security. Not surprisingly perhaps one sees that the US and UK are near the top of the scale. Carolan also highlights the role of imagination, a theme I have been returning to recently and the undercurrent of this blog, in his final chapter.

       The philosopher Charles Taylor  (2004) has written a remarkably lucid account of what he calls "modern social imaginaries" in a book of the same title. He describes how a "new conception of moral order" has come to grip Western societies. It began, according to Taylor, as "just an idea in the minds of some influential thinkers, but it later came to shape the social imaginary of large strata, and then eventually of whole societies," where it is now "self-evident" (p.2). Taylor is writing of the rise of a distinct political moral order, not about food security. But I see overlap between his idea of social imaginaries and what I have written about here. We seem to be locked into a food security imaginary that is inherently bound up with the arguments about the "need" to produce more food. Yet when that becomes the starting point of discussion it directs attention away from some important questions. Why do we think we need to produce more food in the first place? And at what and whose expense are we willing to achieve these gains in productivity? For example, the unforgivable amount of food we currently waste is one reason we think we need to produce more. By leaving those needs "unexamined", and building into our future food estimates all that waste, we are only making the task at hand all the more difficult.

     We also need a social imaginary that treats food differently from other commodities. As described by twentieth-century historian E.P Thompson (1971), there was, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, an "old moral economy" of provision that emphasized the common well-being of society and placed limits on the market. In this economy, millers, bakers, and other merchants involved in the British food system were "considered servants of the community, working not for profit but for fair allowance" (p.83). This is certainly an aim that would today enhance individual and social liberties in light of the tremendous concentration and market distortions that plague so-called modern agrifood chains. (Carolan,  p.169)

My suspicion is that the thoughts of these two writers are not very visible in the curriculum  most students of our land grant universities experience. And that is a scary thought.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Call to Action

Image result for teaching civic engagement

In the recently published, Teaching Civic Engagement: From Student to Active Citizen, published by the American Political Science Association, the authors not only affirm the need for giving students from all levels some community engagement experience and reflection, but even more specifically call for political engagement.

     The time is now to incorporate the development of civically engaged citizens as a goal in the missions of higher learning. Curriculum should include, in addition to service-learning and civic education, the teaching of political engagement so that students participate in explicitly politically oriented activities that seek a direct impact upon political issues, systems, relations, and structures. (p.450)

The report is a catalogue of various attempts to do just that. The effective techniques reviewed fall among five kinds:
1)  Political discussion and deliberation
2)  Political research and action projects
3)  Invited speakers and the use of non-university mentors
4)  External placement as interns and workers
5)  Structured reflection

Ultimately the authors present a series of recommendations that form an action agenda

1)   Colleges and universities should educate for political participation.
2)   The federal government should expand its funding for such civic engagement courses and programs at colleges and universities, rather than contracting funding.
3)   High schools, community colleges, four-year colleges, and universities should adopt teaching civic  and political engagement  as a goal in their mission statements.
4)   Assessment at the campus level is needed to determine how well universities are complying with federal mandate to offer students voter registration forms.
5)   Institutions of higher learning need to comply with the federal mandate for an education program pertaining to the U.S. Constitution on September 17 of each year.
6)   State and local governments should be encouraged to use students to assist in the administration of elections, especially as paid poll watchers and election judges.
7)   Faculty should be encouraged to be politically active themselves.
8)   APSA should adopt a code of ethics similar to that of social workers, which recognizes the benefits of faculty civic engagement.
9)  Students should be encouraged to work with local governments, especially in smaller communities, to provide information on best practices.
10)  It is the duty of political science faculty to provide students with the knowledge, skills, and tools to become informed advocates.
11)  Civic and political engagement courses should be designed for cognitive and affective learning, along with effective service to the community.
12)  Civic education should be encouraged at the high school level, especially those courses which already use simulations or service learning components.
13)  More opportunities like the Model UN, Mock Trial, Congressional Debate, and national Student Issues Conventions should be developed.
14)  Multiple courses should be created at the campus level with different goals to create distinctive learning opportunities and a ladder of experiences ins service-learning and civic and political engagement.
15)  Reflection is more difficult than recognized, but it is essential to teaching political engagement.
16)  If civic and political engagement is to receive recognition in the profession, gain support on campuses and at various levels of government, and become widely adopted in a more complete and integrated program, such as a minor degree and certificate programs, then it must be rigorously assessed by both qualitative and quantitative methods.

While this report talks about what responsibilities educational institutions have, individuals, families, government, and other organizations can also seek to encourage their members to be more civically and politically engaged citizens.So about that letter to government you've been meaning write to convey your concerns.... how about now...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Message for the Econ Student I Met Yesterday

As chance would have it, I was doing a transaction at my local credit union yesterday when a brief conversation ensued. The gentleman who aided me, it turns out,  was approaching his senior year at the university and majoring in economics. When I asked him what attracted him to the field he bluntly declared that he loved gambling with stocks and trying to win. Perhaps his training at the U will aid him in learning the game and either using the rigged rules or getting around them to amass his fortune.

I left that encounter depressed. That in this troubled time so-called higher education would still certify such a graduate. Actually, given the large enrollments in both Finance and Economics here, I suspect there are many more like this otherwise likable young man, about to migrate around the planet to 'win' the game. I couldn't help but wonder if he had at least been exposed to critiques of such a system - perhaps by Nobel economists like Elinor Ostrom or Joseph Stiglitz? Might he have stumbled into David Korten's work or even seen his talk on Radical Abundance. Could he have been introduced to the work of Tim Jackson, Molly Scott Cato, Jared Bernstein, Juliet Schor, Hazel Henderson, Robert Reich, Michael Schwalbe, Charles Eisenstein, or Michael Shuman? And if so, how did he calibrate their look at economics with this notion that seeking wealth by betting on winners and losers would bring him and his society security or joy?

Korten notes early in this talk that the only beneficiaries of this 'game' are

      "a very small group of very rich people who reap the financial gains generated by large       corporations positioned to benefit financially from every economic transaction, irrespective of whether that transaction is beneficial or harmful to society."

Therein is the rub. I wonder if my soon to be graduated economics major has been asked to ponder :

is the transaction that he stands to gain from beneficial or harmful to society. My gut tells me that this isn't even a secondary consideration in the calculus taught here, let alone the primary one. But in a society where winning is consecrated ad nauseum, what should we expect.

Those economic thinkers mentioned above offer us a range of possibilities. They should at least be part of the conversation about nurturing a more sustainable society.

At the beginning the final chapter in Keith R. Brown's recent
 Buying into Fair Trade: Culture, Morality and Consumption, serendipitously he excerpts a quote from the same Howard Zinn piece I mentioned last week. I'll end with this more hopeful thrust.

     I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played... To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world... Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment... but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society. We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we don't "win," there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved with other good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope. (Howard Zinn, "The Optimism of Uncertainty", 2004)