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  1. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
    February 1, 2015 8:44 am

    This is a very interesting post Jeannine. it ties in with a book I have just started reading: Una Cadegan, All good books are Catholic books. She is analyzing American Catholic literary culture between (roughly) 1890 and 1960. One of the points she makes in the introduction, is that Catholic writers and intellectuals were attempting to create a version of modernity which responded to the challenges raised by “modernism” (in art, literature, philosophy and theology) while still being authentically Catholic. So this is a “first world” example of multiple modernities.

  2. Ronald King permalink
    February 1, 2015 10:20 am

    Jeannine, Very thought provoking. My first thought is related to the process of socialization and how we are conditioned to fuse with the intrapersonal and interpersonal psychodynamics which form the identity of our culture. The indoctrination with a cognitively distorted belief system based on a culturally narcissistic revisionist history is particularly damaging to a realistic and healthy worldview. These core beliefs are seeded within a subjective environment which becomes extremely difficult to change once the protein level for this type of subjective learning begins to drastically decrease in our early to mid-20’s.

    • February 1, 2015 2:53 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Ronald. My understanding is that we are able to grow and change in our beliefs and perspectives throughout our lifetime. Have you ever read the book “The Brain That Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge? Another good one is “Rewire Your Brain For Love” by Marcia Lucas.

      • Ronald King permalink
        February 1, 2015 5:09 pm

        Jeannine, I haven’t read that book but I have read a lot of others. I didn’t say it’s impossible. I did say it was very difficult to learn new subjective responses.

  3. Nick permalink
    February 1, 2015 12:33 pm

    Fun with maps

    And more discussion about international aid

  4. Mark VA permalink
    February 1, 2015 8:47 pm

    I find this article rich in content, with many observations on which to develop robust discussions. Let me pick one strand: “All of us have implicit assumptions about how our world works”:

    I would say these implicit assumptions are often first absorbed in various high school and undergraduate history courses. Norman Davies, in the Introduction to his book “Europe – A History”, elaborates on eleven “meanings and connotations” of the foundational concept “Western Civilization”, upon which many of these assumptions rest:

    Roman, Christian, Protestant, French, Imperial, Marxist, First German, WASP, Second German, American, and finally, Euro. (pp. 22-25)

    He argues that the resulting world-view assumptions are usually built as amalgams of several of these meanings, and essentially serve to “… further the interests of their authors”.

    Now, this is where the fun begins: Davies identifies four mechanisms that are often used to build these amalgams: Reduction, to compress complex narratives, elimination of contradictory material, anachronism, to present certain configurations as “permanent”, and “enthusiasms of language”, to “… indicate what is to be praised and what deplored” (pp. 25-26). The young are then taught these amalgams, for better or worse, as histories and world-views.

    And the most “insidious” of these mechanisms is “anachronism” (p. 26). This is the point where, in my opinion, the upside-down map comes in: when what we believed to be permanent reveals itself as changeable, the ground shifts beneath our feet. So, Jeannine, I think you scored a bulls-eye – your diagnosis is the same as Davies’s!

    However, my point in all of this is that berating well meaning young people for their sometimes clumsy charity (“To hell with good intentions”) is not charitable – far from it. The charitable thing to do is to educate ourselves and the young entrusted to us, so that what was implicit, is now fully within our conscious grasp. Then, once we remove that beam from our eye, we can be in a better position to offer effective charity to our neighbor.

    • February 1, 2015 9:35 pm

      Mark, I agree that Ivan Illich is unduly harsh in his statement, and his words should be taken with several grains of salt. I prefer to read his words as “tough love”; I also think it’s significant that he was speaking to an earlier generation of youth. I don’t think he actually meant to drive people away from volunteering – I think he wanted them to educate themselves first. But I agree with you that this kind of harsh diatribe is not very charitable. I plan to write something later this month about the widespread phenomenon of such uncharitable language and the negative, divisive impact it can have in our contemporary media-saturated world. Please stay tuned! :)

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
        February 2, 2015 6:22 am

        ” I don’t think he actually meant to drive people away from volunteering – I think he wanted them to educate themselves first.”

        I am less sure of this. I am not familiar with Ivan Illich: I have heard his name but not read his works. However, his stance is familiar to me from other sources. It is an argument that no matter what they do personally, such volunteers are agents of a system of hegemonic power that cannot be subverted from within: whatever they do, they will invariably serve to advance the agenda of “the system”.

        Now in saying this I have grown skeptical of missionary tourism, particularly the short missionary trips that drop a group of students for a week or two into some situation “to help”. But even there, the small corporal works of mercy that are performed should not be discounted or devalued.

        • February 2, 2015 4:45 pm


        • Melody permalink
          February 2, 2015 5:19 pm

          Yes, I found the Ivan Illich piece pretty harsh. I see it was written in 1968. Hopefully maybe people are better educated in how they relate to other cultures now. Probably some are and some aren’t. But I don’t want to be dismissive of kids who are trying to help others.
          One thing I somewhat have a problem with is the trend of linking the sacrament of confirmation to “living the faith” points, for things such as mission trips and other good deeds. I would rather see them do the good deeds because they are worth doing, and focus on faith formation and the unmerited grace of the sacrament for Confirmation prep.

      • Mark VA permalink
        February 2, 2015 8:12 pm


        I feel that I instinctively picked up on an unfortunate dissonant note, but, dwelling on such a thing usually brings on indigestion – so let me try to remedy this:

        I believe that the below lecture, even though it is about Europe with a focus on Poland, provides a type of universal lesson on how to introduce young people to the wider world. Substitute “Mexico” for “Poland”, and “North America” for “Europe”, and its universal aspect becomes apparent. I especially liked the questions these students asked after the lecture:

    • dismasdolben permalink
      February 2, 2015 7:07 am

      MarkVA, I know of only one secondary curriculum that does everything it possibly can to stand those things you have identified as being problematic on their heads, and to dispel them, and that’s the “Theory of Knowledge” course of the International Baccalaureate. If properly taught, no student can walk away from it with their prejudices, their intellectual pretensions or their ideologies unchallenged, and, in many cases, demolished. However, religious fundamentalists hate it, and have tried to drive it out of school districts in America, because it argues–and mostly proves–the “plurality” of truth. How could it do otherwise when it calls “knowledge” “justified true BELIEF”?

      • Mark VA permalink
        February 2, 2015 7:08 pm

        Thank you Dismas, for this information.

        In my opinion, the expansion of our cultural horizons may not necessarily lead to syncretism (“plurality of truth”, as you put it), but to a more informed, less prejudiced, world view.

        Paradoxically, this expanded world view may sometimes invite strong judgements, especially if its backbone is a universal moral framework (somehow, as a Catholic, I feel justified to say it this way without apologizing). The difference here is that if we did our “homework” well, our judgements will be better informed, defensible, and charitable.

        I think highly of the academic content of the IB program, but do need to ask a hard question: what is its moral framework?

        • dismasdolben permalink
          February 2, 2015 10:10 pm

          As an academic programme, it doesn’t need to have a “moral framework,” but, put it another way, it is susceptible of being used profitably by any institution that has its own “moral framework”–so long as that “moral framework” is compassionate, loving and tolerant. There is, for instance, a course in the IB called “comparative religion.” That course, intentionally, does not use any one religion as a reference point for judging the verity or the worth of any other religious tradition, but it DOES broadly define “faith” as being, in Huston Smith’s formula, “a trust that ALL WILL BE WELL,” and, frankly, as a fairly “syncretist” Christian, as you call it, that seems to me to be a better definition of “faith” for the modern world than something “confessional.” Right now I’m living in a Muslim country, and perhaps if you were living here with me, you’d have a better sense of how AWFUL religious fundamentalism and blind insistence on religion-enforced “tradition” makes life for everyone but rich, “successful” males.

  5. February 3, 2015 11:51 pm

    Do we (perhaps) assume that helping others means changing them and their society to become more like us? Are we prepared to invest in them and learn about them rather than just giving them what we think they should want?

    It seems to me these questions need to be asked universally at every level of helping relationship…one society to another…groups within a local community…the family…parents and youth. In many ways the ‘patterns of helping others’ follow from what we do at the most immediate level.

    Ultimately, the greatest transformations (i.e., St. Francis and the leper) happen when we discover the dignity, greatness and goodness in those we least expect it. And what can be more humbling that seeing God in others?

    In the meantime, I’m pondering your disconcerting world map image on my smartphone …and every time I try to fix it by rotating the phone it never stops being upside down!

  6. Mark permalink
    February 4, 2015 7:24 pm

    Unfortunately, Taylor’s thesis depends on the assumption that we can in fact analyze different countries or “cultures” or “civilizations” as separate things in parallel, like test cases in the experiment of “what happens when you add modernity to A, B, or C.”

    Immanuel Wallerstein destroys any such possibility with his World Systems analysis.

    The global society is a single unit. “How different cultures manifest modernity” has nothing to do with how their particular culture reacts with it or filters it. It has everything to do with where those countries are embedded in the World System, core, semiperiphery, or periphery.

    • February 5, 2015 10:26 am

      Thank you for bringing Wallerstein to this conversation, Mark. I’ve actually never read his work (though I’ve been meaning to) but I’m somewhat familiar with the concepts of core/semiperiphery/periphery, and I think that his World Systems theory is a good alternative to rigid ideas about a First World and Third World, or a developed and developing world. Based on the little I know, I suspect that Taylor and Wallerstein might actually be complementary rather than contradictory. I will have to read that material and find out!

      • Mark permalink
        February 5, 2015 1:48 pm

        Well not really. Wallerstein *does* believe in a First, Second, and Third World, at least inasmuch as those can be mapped onto the Core, Semiperiphery, and Periphery functions.

        The key with Wallerstein is that he doesn’t believe that these are just levels of “development” that, someday, everyone will catch up and get to First World status.

        Rather, he believes that the current capitalist world economy NEEDS, structurally, all three roles to make the whole thing work. It’s like in thermodynamics how a heat engine needs a cold sink to maintain the gradient differential that keeps things moving.

        Taylor, at least as described here, seems to be imagining that the differences between countries is neither because they’re at different levels of the same path-template, nor because they’re all different functional parts as the world traverses a single World Path, but rather that they’re all “versions of Modern” with the different versions corresponding to their different cultures.

        I think this is naive. More likely, their different cultures are a result of their structural role in the world system, NOT the other way around. I hate to sound like a Marxist, but the cultural is an epiphenomenon of the material relations, not the other way around.

    • Mark VA permalink
      February 5, 2015 9:56 pm


      As I was looking at the various core-periphery maps devised using the World Systems ideas, I couldn’t help notice how dated they looked. It seems that with the fall of communism (a generation ago!), the global flow of capital has become greatly more dynamic.

      Perhaps the discussion below describes a much more up to date, research based analysis of the world’s capital, human and financial, system (b.t.w., this is required viewing for all mathematicians among us :)

      • Mark permalink
        February 6, 2015 7:12 pm

        Wallerstein has written since the Berlin Wall fell, lol, trust me.

        • Mark VA permalink
          February 7, 2015 1:38 pm


          It seems to me that in today’s world, this core-periphery idea would need constant updating, otherwise it would quickly fall prey to anachronism, precisely as defined by Norman Davies (whom I quoted in a post above). Just consider the developing multifaceted relationships between China and many African countries, and China and our country – where are they reflected on these maps?

          Thus, how does one contrast this rather static, in my opinion, core-periphery idea, with the dynamic flow of global capital (human and financial), as outlined by Eric Hanushek and Paul E. Peterson in the above Wall Street TV video?

        • Mark permalink
          February 8, 2015 9:24 am

          Wallerstein admits, first of all, that which areas are core and which are periphery is always changing throughout history. Hegemony declines, new strong states arise.

          I’m not sure why you’re obsessed with “mapping” it, or with the “flow of capital.” That’s not really what determines it so much as the strong-state/weak-state distinction and (essential to Wallerstein’s idea) the fact that multinational corporations have no single political authority that controls everything they deal with. So they can get the benefits of a weak state in one place and the benefits of a strong state in another, each under the aspect that wants those.

        • Mark VA permalink
          February 10, 2015 4:21 pm

          No one is obsessed, Mark.

          I just wanted to sound out the merits of an idea, and you were kind enough to respond.

  7. Mark permalink
    February 12, 2015 1:40 pm

    Merits you’re apparently willing to dismiss based on how stable or unstable the “map” the idea implies is!

    • Mark VA permalink
      February 13, 2015 3:40 pm


      I enjoyed our conversation, and feel that I’ve learned something. Thank you.

      Right now, I’m learning how to say “Wallersteinian Weltanschauung” – sort of a souvenir of this “core-periphery” idea.

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