Wednesday, August 26, 2015

‘Watchman by Harper Lee, A Review

Isaiah 21:6  For this is what the Lord has said to me, ‘Go and post the watchman, and let him report what he sees.’

           The recently published novel, Go Set a Watchman* by Harper Lee is an American classic about Justice.  John Rawls established an American philosophy of justice with his treatise, A Theory of Justice.**  Harper Lee wrote the novel;  both are insightful and provocative.  Harper Lee wrote her first novel with feeling and fascinating characters, presenting a personal understanding of justice.

           In the Watchman, Atticus Finch and his sister Alexandra represent the western heritage of Greco-Roman justice where slavery and suppression of women is acceptable. Finch’s daughter Scout, Jean Louise is able to see the overall battlefield in the struggle for human rights.  Jean Louise (her name rings of Joan of Arc, Jeanne d’Arc) represents a distinctly American concept of justice which, since Lincoln at Gettysburg, posits literally that ‘all are created equal.’ Despite dialogue in the book that indicates the South of the 50’s as rooted in fear and hatred of Koons, Kikes, Katholics and Komunists, the novel’s main characters eventually agree that equality is the goal and that it is a question of time and individual moral leadership.

          Religious services reflect the narrowness of the culture.  In contrast, Scout comments about the morning ‘service’ of the mockingbirds who sound the chirping of all birds.  Harper Lee’s prize winning novel To Kill a Mocking Bird*** was published in 1960, but the recently published Watchman was written before Mockingbird.

          The novel continues to resonate with current messages: the Black Lives Matter movement and the struggle over immigration reform.  A friend of African ancestry pointed out to me that the racism against immigrants is the same as that against Blacks.  “They believe that they are the good and we are the evil.” However, Jean Louise points out to her father Atticus, we are all human and therefore all have basic rights whether the law recognizes them or not.  There is justice and there is Justice.

    The fascinating characters in the prize winning romantic To Kill a Mockingbird originated in the long unpublished realistic Watchman.   Some may find the story of the Watchman difficult to imagine because the To Kill a Mockingbird paints Atticus Finch in the 30’s as a moral giant.  Go Set a Watchman, set in the 50’s, shows his racism.   Doesn’t this indicate an important truth?  Atticus Finch favored fairness, but with limits.  Aren’t we all like that?  There is racism and there is racism; it can be measured in degrees and it still dominates modern America.

              It is tempting to designate Calpurnia, the Finch’s African American maid, who raised Jean Louis, as the “Watchman.”(Calpurnia was Julius Ceasar’s wife who warned him not to go to the Senate where he was assassinated.)  But the ‘Watchman’ role is for each and every one of us.  Jean Louise’s Uncle Jack advises her of her destiny.  Atticus’ brother Dr. Jack Finch is an anglophile; he struggles with the burden of moving from the culture of Victorian England to the 50’s South and from the 50’s South into the modern age. Uncle Jack Americanizes a quote from the 17th century English poet John Donne, “Every man’s an island," Jean Louise. "Every man’s watchman is his own conscience.”  With this advice Jean realizes her identity as a woman and as a moral force.  At the end of the story, she indicates she will stay in Macomb and fight for civil rights.

*Harper Lee, Go Set A Watchman, Harper Collins, New York, 2015
**John Rawls, A Theory Of Justice, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1971

***Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Collins, New York, 1960

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Working Catholic: Rules Part II by Bill Droel

One chapter explains why “it’s better to receive than give.” Such surprising rules make Matthews’ book a classic. “Contrary to what many people assume,” he writes, “the most effective way to gain a person’s loyalty is not to do him or her a favor, but to let that person do one for you.”

Take for example a college graduate’s job search. The typical approach is well-described in another classic, What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles (Ten Speed Press, 1972). The young adult makes a list of potential employers (probably using the Internet) and sends each a confidence-flavored resume and an assertive cover letter lightly peppered with exclamation marks. A few more preliminary research hours and a more supplicating approach are probably more effective. Is there someone in the young adult’s circles who might have a weak-link connection to the prospective employer? Might your research uncover that your dentist with whom admittedly your link is weak or maybe the neighborhood funeral director have some connection to a board member of the bank or hospital where you seek employment? Ask a favor of your dentist. Maybe she feels too remote from the bank officer to comply, but she is now invested in your search. The circle of weak-link contacts is growing.

Candidates for office often make the rounds of social clubs, churches, union halls and the like. They tell the citizens what they the candidate will do for them. Matthews describes a famous candidate who avoided the normal circuit. Instead, he and his many family members walked around asking for favors: Can you put John Kennedy’s sign in your window; can you host a house meeting on Kennedy’s behalf? This smart politician, Matthews says, “is not so much demanding a gift or service.” He or she understands that to make a friend, you ask a favor. The successful public person offers “the one thing he [or she also] wants: the opportunity to get involved.”

Matthews has an advantage in compiling his adages and examples. He travels in story-telling circles—in legislative halls, in reporters’ hangouts and more. Those circles are fewer these days. Instead, there is a fair amount of texting and social media exchange about superficialities—what I had for breakfast or where I am going this weekend with no moral or lesson included. Yet public savvy comes through sharing and reflecting on stories.

There’s a clerical grapevine in Chicago. It is, I suspect, withering or is mostly given to gossip. But at its best the clerical grapevine is another example of a story-telling culture that contains lessons for public life.

There’s the old story about a newly minted monsignor who gives a scheduled talk at a conference attended by the then cardinal. The monsignor mentions the desirability of ordaining women. Of course, he had to appear on the chancery carpet, but walks from the cardinal’s office out into the sunshine. This story yields the adage all Chicago priests know: It is better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.

There’s the one about the newly ordained priests awaiting their assignments. All knew to dread one far away parish and its SOB pastor. The chancery bureaucracy announces the placements over the course of a week—six on Monday, a couple more each day thereafter. The dread increases down the alphabetical line, until on Friday Fr. Zimmer gets the news. He initially balks, but he goes to meet Fr. Tyrannical. After a week the pastor comes to him and says: “I’m not feeling great. OK with you if I go to Florida for a few months?” Sure enough, the pastor dies in Florida and the newly ordained, who handled matters superbly, is made pastor of that terrific parish with many leaders shedding few tears for the departed predecessor. The grapevine adage: The last shall be first. Or, take your lumps early; there’s a plum waiting.

To be continued….

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a print newsletter about faith and work.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Working Catholic: No Rules by Bill Droel

       Saul Alinsky (1909-1972) could not tell less experienced organizers more loudly or more frequently: There are no rules. Creative life is for fluid people.

       Alinsky’s insistence caused cognitive dissonance in many of his novice disciples. They read his Rules for Radicals (Random House, 1971) and concluded there really are rules for public life. They memorized his adages: “The action is in the reaction,” or “Reconciliation means one side gets power and the other side gets reconciled to it,” or “Personalize the target and polarize the issue.” Each of Alinsky’s so-called rules was supported by examples from his reading of history, his contact with John L. Lewis (1880-1969) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations and his own pioneering organizing efforts.

Alinsky’s rules, properly understood, are more like manila folders (in his day) or e-folders (for today). That is, label the folder with bold marker. Then, as you read and particularly as you experience, put examples under the relevant rule or in the corresponding folder. Then use those folders to interpret additional reading and again especially additional experience. Without folders, so to speak, a body of reflection cannot develop and each new thing is just one more random fact or activity. In a sense, curious reading and creative action and deeper reflection quickly become a dynamic process—one not easily torn away from the others.

Business literature should be used in the same way. Yet many people glam onto the latest business book (or latest self-help book) and think it is a template for tomorrow’s day at the office. Unfortunately, many writers of popular how-to business books and self-help books are like their readers: There is too little sustained reflection that goes into their rules for success and the result is a hodgepodge of personal incidents that don’t contain too much wisdom. Perhaps that is why Warren Buffett, upon being asked to name his favorite business book, reached back for an oldie: Business Adventures: 12 Classic Tales by John Brooks (1920-1993). Originally a series in The New Yorker, each “tale” derives a lesson or rule from a specific company. Buffett was hardly looking for one-to-one matches from those 1960s situations. Buffett treasured the creative thinking and action—or lack thereof—in Brooks’ examples, not so much the precise situations.

Peter Drucker (1909-2005) wrote several business books that might appear to be how-to texts. They are loaded with adages and rules: “Abandon what one proposes,” or “Performance trumps conformance,” or, sounding like a Biblical commandment, “Know thy time.” Yet Drucker understood his rules to be like folders to sort and reflect on experience. Events in themselves reveal nothing, he wrote. The only method, he insisted, was one that allows someone to test their opinion against reality. His books were not from the how-to genre. In fact, his Drucker’s best books, like Management (Harper & Row, 1973), are akin to humanities texts.

Chris Matthews authored a classic on public life: Hardball: How Politics Is Played (Free Press, 1988). Each chapter title is an adage or rule derived from Matthews’ reading of history and his extensive experience around elected officials and in the media. Yet again, anyone who reads Hardball with the intention of following one or another rule in the week or month ahead will soon wash out of public life.

A subsequent column will feature some of Matthews’ rules and will consider morality in the hardball game of business, politics and community organizing. A column will also explain the process for acquiring one’s own rules for success in public.

Droel edits a print newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Wednesday, August 5, 2015



(What is ousia – essence-taste? Aristotle 7th book Metaphysics)

Although Pope Francis’ encyclical, The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) is addressed to Roman Catholics, it was widely read and drew favorable comments from every quarter.  It was not intended as a sectarian document urging Catholics to raid other faith groups for recruits.  The encyclical insists on dialogue to achieve the common good advocated by Jewish-Christian-Muslim Scripture. 

    Francis’ encyclical On Care For Our Common Home (Laudato Si) is clearly intended for all.  The climate change crisis is similar to the threat of nuclear destruction faced by Vatican II.  The message is that people of good will need to join together to avoid disaster.

    The climate change encyclical does not avoid difficult philosophical questions.  Francis notes that the epistemological paradigm used in science dominates our thinking and is not suitable to look to solutions for the climate change and pending disaster. (#107)  This is a problem for epistemology that goes back to the time of Abelard and Heloise (12th century) with the battle between the universalists and the nominalists.    
   Empirical science has successfully focused on the individual and the collective, thus producing inventions that can make life better for humanity.  Empirical science successfully produced cars, airplanes, pesticides and drones.  This bright light of success has unfortunately reduced the ‘essential’, Aristotle’s ousia, to the ‘un-real’, a product of the imagination and therefore the term humanity or all men is meaningless.  Such thinking has prevailed since the philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) and later, the existentialists attempted to relegate the essentialists to past history. 

   Abraham Lincoln differed. What does “all men are created equal” mean?  Lincoln could be classified as a modern essentialist; he saw “All men are created equal” as including the slaves and having meaning yet to be developed, e.g. gays have rights also, humanity’s duty to protect the planet.   Author Gary Wills traces Lincoln’s thinking to the Unitarians and Transcendentalists of his time. (cf. Gary Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg, Simon & Schuster,  1992, p.104.  also blog, “Faith & The Labor Movement”, April 1, 2013)

Linoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois with Bill 'Lincoln' Lange and family

   Moral philosopher and former Harvard professor John Rawls (1921 -2002) would have supported Lincoln.  He contended that the equality of humanity was intuitive and based on experience. (John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press Cambridge, MA. 1971, p. 118) For Rawls, and Catholic Social Teaching, because of common humanity people have rights and duties.  (Ibid. pp. 27-28, 32, p. 333)

   To recognize that climate change is a crisis is to accept the conclusions of science; to do something about it is to recognize our common humanity with rights and duties. Pope Francis challenges us to cooperate and break out of the political structures of destruction dictated by an individualistic philosophy of economics producing inequality and a technology that ignores ultimate causes.

   Francis’ Encyclical is instructive and inspires faith in the hope that our common love of – humanity & nature will guide us towards resolving the climate crisis.