Monday, July 25, 2011

A sense of proportion

The problem is not capitalism.

It is not the exploitation of fossil fuels. It is neither corporations, nor government taxation and spending. It is not wealth. It is not political donations and special interest lobbying. It is not economic growth. It is not consumption (though consumerism is always wrong, no matter the ecological situation). It is none of these things per se. The problem is a loss of our sense of proportion. All these things may have their place in a healthy society. But we have lost a sense of their appropriate place and scale. We have taken good things and thought that by maximising them, then the common good would enlarge. We have thus enabled each of these things to become hideously deformed, metastasizing throughout the body politic at a pace and scale that threaten our collective life. We have taken certain goods and ideas and fashioned them into idols.

What horizon of reference can help us to regain our bearings and a feel for the relative weight of different claims upon our attention? When our actions and hubris have ballooned into reshaping the sky and oceans and earth, what backdrop can highlight our grotesque distortions of priority and probity? Against whom can we measure a life that is properly creaturely, aptly humble, truly human?

9 comments:

Sam Norton said...

I know a book that talks about this...

byron smith said...

Quite so! - though to be honest, I haven't yet had a chance to have a look, so if this is a line of argument in it, then I apologise and can merely say that great minds think alike (and so on).

Juggernaut1981 said...

Tail end of Job. Pretty much seems designed to give you the idea that maybe, just maybe, aren't that big, aren't that knowledgable and aren't that powerful.

Mister Tim said...

Hi Byron, could you please define 'consumerism'? given that you state (albeit, as an aside) that it's always wrong, I'm interested in what it is that you think is always wrong.

Watcher said...

So is the sense of proportion acquired / gifted / formed?

byron smith said...

Tim - Good question. I was going to include a gloss in brackets, but the comment was already parenthetical enough. I probably should have provided a link to another post that does so.

In short, what I mean by the term is the practice of defining oneself through what one buys, where identity is rooted in consumption. Given that I believe any identity not ultimately rooted in Christ is a diminished form of humanity, then consumerism too takes its place as yet another idol (perhaps one of the most pervasive ones in our culture).

Watcher - Excellent question. Is it too much of a cop out to say, "all of the above?" Proportion, like the other virtues is a gift that must be formed in our lives through habit based on the overflowing abundance of divine love for us.

Anonymous said...

hey, i came to this post via another where u mention myopia: where else have you written on this sense of proportion stuff? It's very interesting - seems to take everything back to issue of how we see, what's in our range of vision (as something very broad that involves cognitive, affective, imaginative etc.): what registers as salient, what we block out, what we distort etc. and so then to the question of everything that shapes this and how it can be reshaped once already in certain patterns etc.. very interested in this if u have more posts elsewhere on it?? trying to catch up on your blogging a bit - tho there is a lot! (-annette)

Anonymous said...

also: curious about the status of terms like proper, apt, in proportion. How do you understand your use of these? (just curious as moral sense theorists like Smith also rely on the idea of proper, propriety a lot too, tho usually with reference to a "natural" norm i think)

byron smith said...

Ah, philosophers, always wanting to know the meaning of words...

Yes, ok, so I wasn't using these terms with a great deal of reflective precision, though perhaps a post hoc investigation of my assumptions will reveal something (even if only a hopelessly muddled ontology). I guess my basic reaction would be to assume that proper, apt and in proportion have to do with something like natural law (though which is not necessarily freely available to unhindered universal reason, but which may require spiritual insight in many cases to assess).

As for myopia, being more short-sighted than almost anyone I know, it is a metaphor that springs frequently to mind. I also just like the sound of the word. It sounds good as an insult (and is even better than some people need to go and look it up, but that's probably just some vindictive linguistic snobbishness that I may one day repent of). If you want to find all uses of a term on my blog, you can use the search box in the top left corner of blogger, which is generally ok, though doesn't seem to include headlines for some reason, and also occasionally drops out certain posts (I know this because I use it a lot to find old posts and sometimes even a perfectly framed search fails to find the post I have in mind). So for instance: myopic posts and posts on myopia. Some of the more interesting posts in these searches (to cut down your work) are:
• My first use of the term when I first learned a new phrase.
Starting with Christ: The limits of neutrality, in which I reflect on a von Balthasar quote that leads me to conclude that I am a Christian fanatic.
Losing the woods for the trees, and vice versa: or the eschatological reconciliation of complex goods, in which I reflect on a quote from Reinhold Niebuhr about the relation of the part to the whole (a theme I also touched on here).
On imagining the future: Human action is reaction, where I try to sketch an appropriate stance towards an uncertain future (I guess that's what I'm trying to do with much of the blog, and my project in some ways). This post is actually quite important for me and I'm glad I've just re-found it.
• And then here I reflect on Homer Simpson for a simple thought on craving as myopia, where my real beef (so to speak) was tuna.