Dean, our double-Master’s degrees in liberal arts member, asks if education is just about the Benjamins these days. Certainly, the worst recession in living memory has concentrated the minds of young people. Add to that the skyrocketing cost of college and the growing need for technical skills to hold many jobs, and you’ve pretty much turned college (and vocational education) into a bloodless transactional affair for most young people these days.
But, is college as something more – a voyage of self-discovery, a place for creating good citizens, etc. – really dying out? Dean will open our meeting with his brief take on this question, and then we can discuss it. I’m particularly interested in people’s personal stories and experience on this one, a la the first discussion question, below.
Discussion Questions –
- What kind of education did you get? Was it in the liberal arts or in another field that we typically think of as lower-paying? Why did you make this choice? What did you get out of it and what did you give up?
- How many people get a liberal arts education these days compared to the past? What has caused this change?
- Is there really a monetary disadvantage to a liberal arts education? What, if anything, compensates for that?
- What about from a societal perspective? Do we need liberal arts to form good citizens and well-rounded adults? Should our educations system go out of its way to revive liberal arts?
What is the purpose of education?
- Long discussion of education’s basic purposes, embedded in a liberal critique of No Child Left Behind.
- Well, most Americans say education IS mainly about getting a job.
- And, the wage – and happiness – premium of a college degree is higher than ever!
What is a liberal arts education?
- Definition of the liberal arts: “Academic disciplines, such as languages, literature, history, philosophy, mathematics, and science, that provide information of general cultural concern.”
Notice it includes sciences and math. But, most people probably exclude these when they think of the liberal arts, and I think we should, too. This lets us focus on the debate over a softer, generalist education versus a highly technical one that produces immediately marketable skills.
- A list of the many, many fields considered to be within the liberal arts.
Critique and defenses of a liberal arts education -
- A spirited defense of a liberal arts education and what it does for your life – not just your bottom line. Recommended.
- They don’t make less money! Yes, liberal arts grads make less the first few years than grads with other majors, but they catch up over time.
- Old CivCon mtg: Is college still the answer?
- The other side: The liberal arts are in decline, and it’s the schools’ own fault because they have embraced left-wing ideas and curricula, making the degree less and less relevant to real life. Worth debating even if you disagree.
NEXT WEEK: Jim Z. on, The Case For and Against Woodrow Wilson.
Traditionally in America, labor has been little-involved in corporate decision making. Under FDR’s National Recovery Act, there was an effort to bring labor and capital together to make big planning decisions jointly, but on an industry-by-industry – not company-by-company – basis. But, the NRA was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1937, because it basically cartelized the economy. It was not working well in practice, anyway, is my understanding. Since then, with a handful of exceptions, Labor unions don’t try to join management. They stuck to negotiating with it over wages, benefits, and working conditions.
Well, now labor unions are almost gone, and our economy has been cartelized, anyway by giant companies. Our globalized, finance-dominated economy has left average wages stagnant for 40 years. There’s been some effort to broaden business decision making via socially conscience investment funds and a few legal changes. But, formally and in practice, employees – especially lower-wage and lower-skill workers – have little to no voice in corporate decision making.
Some people think it’s time to change that, including Jim Z. and Carl. So, on Monday, they will lead our group to discuss alternatives to the current arrangement. I sent them some of the articles below and they will open with a brief presentation on the subject. I will be there, too.
Discussion Questions –
- How much of a voice did workers, through their unions, once have in American corporate decision making? Did it work? What happened?
- What are the basic arguments for and against trying to give workers a more formal (read: legal) role in company management? How would you rebut the side you disagree with?
- What are the various ways this might be done? Are there models for us in the way other countries organize labor-management relations?
- Since any of these are unlikely to happen, what alternate ways exist to make corporation better citizens and to enlarge their goals to be more in line with the public interest?
- Should works be represented on corporate boards? From Slate. Or, read this longer but more thorough version. Read one.
- More on the German model of co-determination. Recommended.
- Obstacle: U.S. companies focus on the interests of shareholders and no one else these days.
- Another obstacle: So many U.S. workers are contingent workers.
NEXT WEEK: Is education just about getting a job now?
We need topic ideas again, for 2014/Q2. May 12 through July or maybe August. Give me some in comments, email them to me, or give them to me in person.
We also need two volunteers. Last time it was Dean and Carl and the time before was Jim Z. and John S. So, I need somebody other than those four just to keep some novelty in the selection process. Let me know.
Our parameters are wide:
- Politics and public policy
- Foreign policy and world events
- Socioeconomic or cultural
- Religion and Philosophy
- Other you think we might get a good discussion out of
It’s always amazed me how quickly Guantanamo, torture, indefinite detention, secret renditions to other countries, and the rest of the seamy side of the War on Terror disappeared from the national conversation. Maybe it’s because most of the public supported just about any measures that would keep us safe, or perhaps because it all became partisan issue, or maybe we just never learned the worst details. But, the silence may be changing, at least a little, due to two developments.
First, Senate Democrats are warring with the CIA over its refusal to let them release a comprehensive committee report on the excesses of the War on Terror, including at Guantanamo. Press reports say the report, which requires a CIA classification review to be released, is devastating. Torture was very widespread. It did not work. The CIA lied to everybody about all of it. Etc. I know from personal experience that not all committee reports should be treated as Gospel. Still, the report’s release would be a big deal. The second development occurred a few months ago, when Obama, in his state of the union address, declared that he would try again to close the Guantanamo camp and asked Congress to make the needed changes to law that have been blocking closure for years.
So, it’s a good week to revisit “the dark side” of the war on terror, as the title of a famous book called this stuff. I think the key for our discussion is to understand that Guantanamo etc., raise many issues beyond torture. Al Qaeda is not the last stateless, amorphous enemy we’re going to fight and the legal and moral issues over indefinite detention, military tribunals, and so forth that have never been resolved will haunt us in the future, I guarantee it
Monday night, I’ll begin by quickly reviewing the latest on Guantanamo and the torture/detention issue, and then outline the broader issues that the Bush policies raised. Per our new rules, I will try to keep my remarks short and we’ll be limiting discussants’ remarks to two minutes with short. the links below mainly are about the torture issue. If I have time to prepare, I’ll be able to speak to other issues, many of which are really important
Discussion Questions –
- Why was Guantanamo opened? What were the alternatives?
- What happened there, and what issues does it raise – Legal, moral, political? Were war crimes committed by U.S. personnel? What should we do about that?
- What is the status of Guantanamo now and what prevents its closure?
- What lessons do you think Americans think they’ve learned from this?
- What are the real lessons learned, in your opinion?
What happened at Guantanamo -
- Leaked findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture. More here.
- Another major study found torture was used and ordered at the highest levels of the USG.
- It wasn’t just Guantanamo: We used torture elsewhere.
Issues Raised –
Closing Guantanamo –
NEXT WEEK: . Should/How Should Labor Have a Bigger Voice in Corporate Decisions?
We have a great topic this week and a lively one. Methods of Constitutional interpretation may seem like an obscure subject, and maybe it would have been five years ago. But, since the rise of the Tea Party, “Constitutional conservatism” has become a kind of battle cry and a label with a fairly specific meaning to its adherents. The right is calling for a kind of restoration of a lost Constitution, one that sanctions a much narrower range of federal government activities than it currently undertakes.
At its most extreme, almost the entirety of constitutional law that expanded government since the New Deal becomes illegitimate and illegal. The Constitution allows government to protect our basic rights, mainly from government itself, plus carry out a handful of other tasks (e.g., make treaties). But, nothing else is permissible unless specifically enumerated in the document. Not Social Security, nor the Clean Air/Water Act, nor Food Stamps, nor federal aid to states for education, nor national parks, nor…you get the idea.
As suggested by Carl, I wanted to spend a few minutes Monday discussing whether we should create some new rules to make or discussions work better. Then, I’ll do a brief opening explaining the Tea Party’s version of constitutional conservatism as I understand it, and then open it up for the group’s input and discussion.
In the interest of keeping my remarks short, please read the recommended links below to a get a more thorough idea of what Constitutional conservatism means to its advocates and to its critics.
What is a Constitutional conservative, in their own words –
- Must-read: It’s a return to a government that protects our rights (especially our property rights) and does little or nothing more. From RedState.com.
- It’s libertarianism minus the social issues. From American Conservative magazine. Very good.
- It’s opposition to redistributive socialism, says Tom Delay.
Criticisms of it –
Must read[update: NOT a must-read. Read the next two instead]: A thorough takedown of this notion and its real-world implications. The New Republic.
- Another TNR, but by a different author with a different emphasis. Constitutional conservatism’s religious overtones and reactionary nature. Must-read.
- Many practical problems with interpreting the Constitution so narrowly and literally. Must-read. An alternative way, the one we’ve used since the 1930s.
- [Update] Another good and brief point: The Founders’ main achievement was to create a framework in which future debates over government’s size and power were to be constructed, NOT to settle the matter for all time, in 1792.
NEXT WEEK: Lessons learned from Guantanamo.
Carl and Jim Z. wanted to lead a meeting on this most basic of Western dilemmas: Can religion and science be reconciled? They will kick us off with a short introduction on the topic. Here are some links via Carl, plus a few of my own.
Links – Via Carl
- “The Fundamentals” – a statement of 20th century fundamentalist Christian precepts.
- Major court cases re: The teaching of creationism versus evolution.
- One case of particular importance, Edwards v. Aguillard from 1987.
- Via David:
- Science and religion ARE compatible. Or, No, they are not.
- Only 28% of high school biology teachers consistently follow national scientific guidelines when explaining the evidence for evolution and the ways in which it is a unifying theme in all of biology.
- Is belief in evolution in America now more a partisan than a religious divide?
Next Week - A biggie: What is “Constitutional Conservatism?”
We haven’t talked about international relations in a while. Fortunately, for us, the Ukraine crisis has raised serious questions about the limits of Western power, but also about the usefulness of the major intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) through which we and the West often operate.
Our topic also is another installment in our little experiment in explicitly debating major beliefs of today’s political conservatives. To many people on the right, it is practically axiomatic that IGOs, especially the United Nations, undermine American sovereignty and power and give us little in return. Conversely, I think some progressives view IGOs as important tools for limiting American abuse of its power and forcing us to play by the rules. Most Americans probably are in the middle, viewing IGOs as a necessary part of the modern world but not wanting them to constrain our freedom of action in defending our core interests.
Anyway, I know a fair amount about this stuff. So, on Monday I’ll open us up by explaining what the major IGOs are and what they do, and how our participation in them is supposed to advance U.S. interests. I’ll focus on a few IGOs only, like the UN, World Trade Organization (WTO), and the “IFIs,” international financial institutions like International Monetary Fund (IMF), Bank for International Settlements (BIS), and World Bank. Then, I’ll talk a little bit about issues of American control of these institutions and relate it to the biggest controversies worldwide surrounding their effectiveness and governance.
One point up front: This is not about whether the United States should be beholden to a “world government.” There is no such thing and there won’t be for a long time. It’s about global governance (a verb). Governments have to cooperate to help manage the day-to-day tasks of a globalized age, and to solve its problems. That’s what the IGOs are for. So, even if you don’t buy conservative arguments about the horrors of the UN eroding American power, this still is an important topic. Since we do, in fact, give up at least a little of our sovereignty to the UN, the IFIs, and others, questions about, “what’s in it for us?” are fair game, are they not?
Discussion Questions –
- What are the most important IGOs that the United States belongs to? What do they do?
- How much power do they have over us and we over them? What are different ways to estimate/measure such a thing?
- Do any of the conservative criticisms of the IGOs ring true to you? Implications?
- What are the big issues surrounding the major IGOs these days that relate to our influence over these organizations and their influence over us?
ABCs of IGOs
- What is an intergovernmental organization and what are the few major types of IGOs.? Recommended and very short.
- Which ones do we belong to? About 50 70.
- A few of the biggies:
American Power and the IGOs
A thoughtful liberal debates aTwo thoughtful conservatives discuss their objections to the UN. Good summaries of bothone side’s views of the problems with IGOs in general.
- Making the IGOs stronger will advance U.S. interests in the 21st century, but we have to rebuild them. Long, but I highly recommend.
- What should we do about other, rising nations wanting more influence in the IGOs, which would dilute ours? In the U.N. Security Council and the IMF, for example?
NEXT WEEK: Are Science and Christianity Inherently In Conflict?
It annoys a lot of American liberals that the word, “freedom” has achieved a kind of totemic status on the political right. Witness last week’s annual Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference, or any Tea Party-oriented gathering. Only conservatives know what liberty is. Anybody that disagrees doesn’t understand freedom or is trying to destroy our freedom. Etc. Really grating.
But, it would be very inaccurate to say the Tea Party is the first American political movement to insist it alone understands the true meaning of freedom. A few years ago I read an interesting book called, The Story of American Freedom. The historian author believes that defining “freedom” has been the central animating struggle of U.S. history. That history, he says, is a more complex story than most of us assume. It has not been a simple, linear march towards greater and greater liberty, or even a story of a fixed set of freedoms being extended to new groups of Americans. Rather, he says, each American era sees its consensus on freedom’s meaning challenged. It gets defended, and a revised definition – usually more expansive, but not always – evolves. How can this be in a country that’s core values are supposed to be fixed in the Constitution and even universal?
Good topic idea, I thought, especially since the way our history works, if the Tea Party wins, their version of freedom becomes the right one. On Monday, I’ll just open up by listing some kinds of freedoms (like economic, religious, etc.) and tracing his basic argument of how freedom’s meaning has evolved. This will be short and with little detail since you all don’t need a history lecture. Then, in discussion we can apply it to our times and our political wars.
Discussion Questions –
- What are the different “types” of freedom: Political freedom, economic, religious, speech, privacy, family autonomy, etc.? How are they related?
- How has the definition of freedom changed throughout American history? How has the concept evolved in the last 4o years, as our politics has polarized along liberal/conservative lines?
- Liberal Freedom: What do you think is the current liberal definition of freedom? Your critique?
- Conservative freedom: Same.
- How do you think most regular Americans define freedom? Do they agree on its main components? How different is that from the definitions liberals and conservatives seem to have and wave around all of the time?
- A bit about the book I read that sparked this topic: The Story of American Freedom. A nasty but still useful conservative critique of it is here.
- Some Tea Party-ish views of freedom.
- A very thoughtful analysis of the conservative and liberal conceptions of freedom, although it favors the latter. Long, but a must-read.
- Fire-breathing, very liberal view of what freedom means and how much of it Americans have lost in recent years.
- What is Libertarianism?
- Two key concepts to understand: Positive liberty and negative liberty.
- Long but good optional read: Do we want to live in the Libertarians’ world? A skeptical but not totally hostile view of the philosophy.
NEXT WEEK: Do/Should International Organizations Have Power Over the U.S.?
I thought we’d try something a little different for a few weeks. Our next 4-5 meetings take on directly some of the major political themes that today’s conservatives sound. For me, there could be no other choice for the first topic than the “growing dependency” on government idea.
In case you didn’t know, the idea that Democrats in general – and Obama in particular – want to get Americans “hooked” on government is a major, major theme on the Right these days. One hears it over and over and over again on talk radio, conservative websites, and other media outlets. Dependency on government programs, they say, is rising, and the public only voted for Obama twice because he first promised and then delivered freebies to his voters. This meme has a powerful appeal to millions of Americans and seems to have become a core belief among conservatives. Poor people are no longer lazy, it seems; they’re seduced into dependency on the State. They are victims of liberalism.
It is easy – way too easy, speaking of seductive notions – just to dismiss it all as covert racism and willful blindness to seeing the worst recession since WWII and the fracturing of the job market for low-income Americans. One of my big goals for Civilized Conversation is to try to understand things most of us want to dismiss out of hand and to examine them on their merits. Could there be anything to this idea of growing dependency on government? What if the economy stays flat for years? Regardless of the merits of this notion, why is it so appealing to conservatives?
I’ll open our meeting by introducing the topic and summarizing the evidence for growing government dependency. Then, we can perhaps debate in a civilized fashion why so many of our countrymen believe in this.
Discussion Questions –
- What do they mean by a growing dependence on government? What evidence do they cite and how do they (or do they!) rebut the obvious counterarguments?
- Who really benefits from government? Do we really redistribute much? If so, why?
- Why does the dependency meme resonate so strongly with conservatives?
- Could there actually be a problem here? What if private sector jobs don’t come back? Will dependency advocates be right?
The argument -
- Yes, safety net spending is way up. But, the causes are mostly the unprecedented recession (temporary), and structural changes in our economy. It’s not some sudden growth in laziness.
- Does government redistribute wealth? Sure. But, it goes both ways and the federal government does not redistribute downward much!
- Of course the safety net redistributes. As social insurance, it is supposed to do that.
- Specific programs:
NEXT WEEK: Do Americans agree on what freedom means?
just a short intro post from me this week. But, that doesn’t mean Monday’s topic is not…well, the topic of everything. How do we determine which facts are true? What is a fact, anyway? And, who gets to say?
This one is Dean’s idea. Dean has advanced degrees in philosophy, so I’m looking forward to his take on “epistemology.” the study of how we determine what is true and what is not. In our discussion, we can apply the principles to politics, religion, or anything we want. Given that large percentages of Americans believe in some pretty weird things, and that our country seems to be dividing into warring camps of conservative/liberal, religious/non, and so, forth, I think it will be a pretty lively debate.
- What is epistemology? Far more detail here, from the on-line Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Knowledge in an Internet age:
- Are we just wired to believe whatever we want to believe, and what does that mean for our democracy in the Internet age? Recommended.
- IMO, the greatest epistemological advance in modern times: Stephen Colbert’s Truthiness.
Next Week – Are Americans becoming too dependent on government (a major, major, conservative belief!)