Fearless Girl, Bronze Bull, and the Purpose of Art

For over 27 years, a bronze bull has been a symbol of, well, bullishness on Wall Street. A gift from artist Arturo Di Modica following the stock market’s troubles in the 1980s, the iconic bull has no doubt fulfilled its mission of lifting traders’ spirits many times over.

For National Women’s Day of this year, State Street Global Advisors installed its own gift to Wall Street: the statue known as Fearless Girl. Hands on her hips and head cocked back, she faces down the bull.

Fearless Girl

This week, sculptor Di Modica registered his displeasure with the girl. He feels she has made his statue into a villain, robbing his art of its original purpose of portraying “prosperity and strength.”

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Why You Don’t Have To Check Every Nutty Claim

going-to-hellA friend once earnestly invited me to his very fundamentalist church. I was a Christian at the time but, according to his church, I was not the right kind of Christian and was destined for hell. He said to me, “With the stakes so high, doesn’t it make sense to come check it out?”

He had a point, but I declined.

Why?

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Must Believe, May Believe, and Make Believe

How is it possible that after more than two months of continuous lies 77% of Republicans believe President Trump is an honest man? Just as perplexing is the contrast with Democrats. Living in the same country and with the same information available, 90% of them have concluded that Trump is not honest.

An article I read recently (sorry I can’t remember where) gave an answer that made sense to me. People who want to believe something look for reasons they may believe it; those on the other side want to know if they must believe because the evidence is overwhelming.

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President Trump Meets Plato

If there is a silver lining in the current political cloud of scandal, chaos, and lies, it is that the more responsible American media outlets are making unprecedented efforts to educate the American public in how to distinguish truth from falsehood.

rsz_inauguration-crowd

It started with the first moments of Trump’s presidency. He grumped that the press had deliberately misled the public about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. The New York Times reported Trump’s attack under the headline, With False Claims, Trump Attacks Media on Turnout Size and Intelligence Rift. When have the media ever begun a headline about a president’s first day with the words “With False Claims”!? This is a new focus on truth.

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A Rich Ecosystem of Virtues

The Big PictureSean Carroll’s phrase, “a rich ecosystem of virtues and lives well lived,” which I mentioned two posts ago, has been in my head lately and I’d like to share more of what he had to say on the subject.

He starts with the maxim from Bill &Ted’s Excellent Adventure: Be excellent to each other. That’s one kind of virtue–how we treat each other. As Carroll says, you could do worse as a starting point for moral philosophy.

But the similar-sounding maxim, Make the world a more excellent place, also sounds good.

What’s the difference? Making the world more excellent is more of a big-picture view, less focused on individual relationships. You may have to be less than excellent to a few people along the way to creating a better world. For example, conservatives take this view when they say that in order to encourage individual responsibility (surely something we want in the world), the government may have to stop providing free health insurance. Liberals emphasize being excellent to each other by providing the insurance.

A third take is in the maxim, Be excellent. This is more about your motives: did you act “on the basis of virtues such as courage, responsibility, and wisdom”? Most of us believe that good intentions are not enough, but we also admire people who show great courage, even if it is in the service of the wrong cause.

Each maxim sounds good, but they can lead in very different directions. Sean Carroll says that we need people who emphasize all three types of excellence, and probably other types, too. When they are in conflict, the tug-and-pull of debate makes us stronger and better.

Just as a biological ecosystem is healthy when diverse species inhabit it and will die out if reduced to just one species, our ecosystem of virtues is healthiest when we have people who advocate a variety of perspectives.

Our World in Data

Although it has been said that “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics,” surely the real danger lies in having too few statistics, not too many. The more you know, the more likely you are to get closer to the truth.

With that in mind, I want to recommend a fabulous website: Our World In Data (https://OurWorldInData.org). You’ll find in-depth, data-driven articles on many social and political issues. Most of the data are in graphs, many of them animated, so you can just look at the pictures if you choose.

For example, here’s one that shows the income-inequality situation in many leading countries before and after redistributive tax policies are accounted for. The orange bar marks the Gini coefficient before redistribution and the blue bar after. A bar farther to the right indicates more income inequality, not necessarily more income. I know the graph is hard to read here. Click on it to jump to the article and then scroll down a little to see the graph.

You can see at a glance that incomes in the United States are a little more unequal than most countries’ before taxes, but our minimal redistribution leaves us among the most unequal after taxes. On the other hand, Ireland starts out the most unequal, but its policies put Ireland in the middle of the pack after taxes.

Inequality

I hope you enjoy Our World in Data. It’s a very enlightening site.

Not Ready for Ten Commandments? How About Ten Considerations?

Perhaps God engraved the Ten Commandments with his finger on stone tablets because he knew they would become the touchstone of morality in the western world. (Come to think of it, is that where the word touchstone comes from?) Even Christopher Hitchens, no fan of the biblical ten, connected to them when he produced his own ten.

The Big PictureSean Carroll’s book, The Big Picture, is an exposition of what he calls poetic naturalism. He has this to say about the Ten Commandments (page 420).

A good poetic naturalist will resist the temptation to hand out commandments. “Give someone a fish,” the saying goes, “and you feed them fish for a day. Teach them to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime.” When it comes to how to lead our lives, poetic naturalism has no fish to give us. It doesn’t even really teach us how to fish. It’s more like poetic naturalism helps us figure out that there are things called “fish,” and perhaps investigate the various possible ways to go about catching them, if that were something that we were inclined to do. It’s up to us what strategy we want to take, and what to do with our fish once we’ve cauth them.

It makes sense, then, to put aside the concept of “commandments” and instead propose Ten Considerations

Here are his Ten Considerations with excerpts from his few paragraphs about each.

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