Tuesday, April 12, 2005

barry schwartz

recently read two books by barry schwartz: the paradox of choice and the cost of living

to summarize his main points (probably very inadequately).the ideology of capitalism, the market, has infiltrated all aspects of our lives and we are worse off for it. it promotes an extreme form of individualism and consumerism. one aspect of this is we are overwhelmed with so many choices and options - from the trivial to the significant. he alleges, we might be better off relinquishing some control. individualism and a market economy has always been a part of the USA, but in the past there were counterbalancing forces - the church, stronger communities, etc...

what i find interesting is that the book would likely anger both conservatives and liberals. for conservatives, any criticism of capitalism makes one the equivalent of a communist. and for liberals, his notion of giving up some personal freedom, and the need for religious institutions to reinvent themselves, are things that don't go down easy.

i will say though, these books have had a strong influence on my thinking recently. moreso than any book since, i don't remember when. what i find interesting is how precarious he paints the balance of the needs of an individual and the needs of a community. there is much i agree with, though ultimately, i don't see religious institutions as the answer. for one thing, religious institutions today have many, many issues - something schwartz acknowledges and calls for reforms. however much as i agree for the need of institutions to bring back a sense of community responsibilty, what does one do when one simply does not believe in what the beliefs of the religious institutions. is there a way to build a community without dogma? a religious community needs to stand for something, as schwartz points out - and to be a member, one must give up some of one's individuality - one must have a level of commitment to the community, at the expense of personal preference. but how can one do this if one simply doesn't believe in the shared beliefs of the institution? does one turn one's brain off? does that move in the opposite direction - i.e. stifling the individual at the expense of the community?

all in all, my agreement with his premises, yet disagreement with his prescription does not leave me optimistic.


At 9:57 AM, Anonymous Renee said...

When we moved here - to a more rural area - I went through a similar thing. I wanted our family to be part of the community, but church seemed (seems) to be the only option to meet people and take part. However, my religious beliefs are murky at this point - and will probably always remain so. The book sounds interesting.

At 12:23 PM, Blogger Mike said...

yeah - churches seem to be one place where one can get a sense of community - and there are few options - i guess one has to decide, if one does not totally share the ideals, which is better - to join a community with which one does not share the values or to miss out on the feeling of community, or seek it ealsewhere...

for me, i guess i really don't have much in common with any church and as aresult - i feel very isolated - i tried the unitarians but interestingly enough - they seemed *so* much of a pastiche - i definitely have buddhist leanings - but appreciate it it more in philosophical than religious terms...

At 12:25 PM, Blogger Mike said...

p.s. thanks for stopping by - will check out your blog


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