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Bushman: "On Being Ill at Ease in the World"


Buckeye

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It has been a long time since I read something that sums up my thinking...

Ditto.

Opening paragraph:

"The theme of the conference this year indicates our discomfort with exclusivism. We want to break down walls and shed our narrow parochialism. We are to come down from our perches and mingle with the peoples of the earth as brothers and sisters under God, learning from them and giving to them what we can. I like that attitude and think we should cultivate that side of our religion."

Great stuff!

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It has been a long time since I read something that sums up my thinking on science, democracy, and capitalism so well. Just a great article. Thank you, brother Bushman.

Wow! Thank you for the link. I've spent a large part of this summer reading Locke, Adam Smith, Marx, Proudhon, Nibley, articles and talks by contemporary church leaders, the scriptures, and other stuff; and with respect to capitalism I've come to many of the same conclusions that Bushman does in that article. I am truly frightened by the seeming acceptance and promotion of capitalistic ideals in the Church. The mere acceptance and promotion isn't what bothers me, it's the fact that it's promoted as something like the God endorsed mode of operation. In any event, it's refreshing that somebody with as much clout as Bushman is reflecting my own ideals on this matter. At the very least, I feel a little less alone on this front. Finally, from my reading this summer I've concluded that a true celestial society is essentially an anarchist society and I find myself more and more compelled by anarchist thinking. While reading Proudhon's book, What is Property, there were passages that induced very spiritual feelings for me and at times I felt as though dark scales were dropping from my eyes; as if I were beginning to see things a bit more clearly. But, hey, that's just me... :P

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I enjoyed the article but found myself still feeling empty at the end. As my husband likes to say, anyone can point out the problems, the genius is the one who comes up with the solutions. Bushman's article points out problems Mormons have/should have with capitalism and democracy and his assessment is a good start. But in our present secular society, with limited options, we aren't in the position of choosing between right and wrong or even between adequate and inadequate. We're usually stuck with two wrong and wholly inadequate options.

So capitalism doesn't line up well with our faith. Neither does communism or socialism. Democracy is not perfect but we also know the dangers monarchy. And we know all too well the pain of living under an elected oligarchy.

If his aim is merely to expose the dilemma we face and explain why we do not fit well into modern America - he's done that. But to what end?

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I think the point Bushman makes is a good one. Sometimes in the church we are harshly critical of those who might follow one political or economic policy that isn't part of who we feel we should be. How do you respond to a socialist that believes, as a Latter-Day Saint, his is the better system based on scripture? I am a die hard capitalist, and I have had capitalist success. I think Bushman's critique is correct in the sense that he raises the question of acceptance without critical thought. I do believe that his conclusion is not necessarily the correct one in regard to capitalism.

On the otherhand I agree more strongly with his stance on democracy. A lynch mob is the most democratic of institutions after all.

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With all due respect, I am more "ill at ease" with the comments he makes in this article than the "evil capitalistic society" that we supposedly live in. I am sorry but while Bushman is very smooth here and is speaking many "flattering words" to the political left leaning, I find his remarks almost frightening in light of the current state of the "Union." But I finally understand where he is coming from, and know why he wrote the book RSR the way he did (I did not care for that book either, yes I read it.) He does not speak for me and I hope not for "modern Mormon thought." I still believe in a free market society, and I believe that communism is more of a "dirty word" than capitalism. He tries to comfortably position socialism next to the United Order and pretends that the brethren were just kidding (or espousing uninspired opinion) when they said that United Order was not and does not resemble socialism or communism and that communism is inspired of Satan. I would suggest reading an old book I have been reading by Mark E. Peterson titled: "The Great Prologue." It explains why this American nation was founded, so that the Gospel could flourish and go forth to all the world and convert them (not just "get along") but to preach to all the earth and convert them not find common cause. What makes the United States great is religious, political, and economic freedom, not socialist statism. Demonizing capitalism and encouraging class envy has been a major tool of Marxist and leftist promoters since the beginning. President Ezra Taft Benson is probably "rolling over in his grave" that such thinking should have voice in the Church today. The political machines (left or right) of the world are not going to bring about peace or bring in a Zion society, that is to be established by the Church and under the direction of the Lord's servants, not political hacks from either party or the United Nations. Sorry for making this thread political, but after reading the article it is already political. I cite the following in defense of my position:

(D&C 134:2) "We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life."
He and others may consider this not a revelation but it is in the standard works and I believe if I am not mistaken Br. Bushman may be dangerously close to the following:
(2 Nephi 26:29) "He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion."
I apologize if I have offended anybody but that is the way I see it.
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I wanted to expand my critique a bit, so I am posting again. I also sent this to "comments" regarding his article.

I think the point Bushman makes is a good one. Sometimes in the church we are harshly critical of those who might follow one political or economic policy that isn't part of who we feel we should be. How do you respond to a socialist that believes, as a Latter-Day Saint, his is the better system based on scripture? I am a die hard capitalist, and I have had capitalist success. I think Bushman's critique is correct in the sense that he raises the question of acceptance without critical thought. I do believe that his conclusion is not necessarily the correct one in regard to capitalism.

Capitalism does indeed reflect on individual achievement and a form of capitalism often calls upon a dedication to corporations or business. But what would the difference be between a pioneer working hard in a rural setting and the business run by an individual? How would the lack of capitalism have affected US growth into the frontier (note the more stingent economic control of Mexico and the lack of Mexican pioneers in the same region). I would posit that his criticism could be more narrowly limited to corporatism (which he describes clearly) and not necessarily capitalism (which I believe need not lead to corporatism - which can exist under other systems).

Another point I might raise is the direct coupling of consumerism with capitalism. I don't necessarily see it as such. Capitalism is the development of individuals and groups meeting consumer needs. It is consumer driven. The choice resides with the consumer and is promoted either by the capitalist who believes his product is best or through an advertising agency which sells its ability to convince to the capitalist. Consumerism is, I believe, the overriding success of advertising. Such a success can be just as strong when made by a centralized government. Capitalism is individualized. It is a reflection of individual efforts. Corporatism is not. In my view of course.

On the otherhand I agree more strongly with his stance on democracy. A lynch mob is the most democratic of institutions after all.

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(D&C 134:2) "We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life."

You can consistently be a capitalist, an anarchist, a communist, or a socialist and believe DC134:2 to be revelation. One of the difficult questions you are glossing over by assuming that socialist leaning thinkers might not be able to accept something like DC 134:2 is "what exactly is meant by property?". What sort of rights ought we have in property? What sorts of things can be property? And a whole host of other difficult political, economic, and philosophical questions.

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I wanted to expand my critique a bit, so I am posting again. I also sent this to "comments" regarding his article.

I think the point Bushman makes is a good one. Sometimes in the church we are harshly critical of those who might follow one political or economic policy that isn't part of who we feel we should be. How do you respond to a socialist that believes, as a Latter-Day Saint, his is the better system based on scripture? I am a die hard capitalist, and I have had capitalist success. I think Bushman's critique is correct in the sense that he raises the question of acceptance without critical thought. I do believe that his conclusion is not necessarily the correct one in regard to capitalism.

Capitalism does indeed reflect on individual achievement and a form of capitalism often calls upon a dedication to corporations or business. But what would the difference be between a pioneer working hard in a rural setting and the business run by an individual? How would the lack of capitalism have affected US growth into the frontier (note the more stingent economic control of Mexico and the lack of Mexican pioneers in the same region). I would posit that his criticism could be more narrowly limited to corporatism (which he describes clearly) and not necessarily capitalism (which I believe need not lead to corporatism - which can exist under other systems).

Another point I might raise is the direct coupling of consumerism with capitalism. I don't necessarily see it as such. Capitalism is the development of individuals and groups meeting consumer needs. It is consumer driven. The choice resides with the consumer and is promoted either by the capitalist who believes his product is best or through an advertising agency which sells its ability to convince to the capitalist. Consumerism is, I believe, the overriding success of advertising. Such a success can be just as strong when made by a centralized government. Capitalism is individualized. It is a reflection of individual efforts. Corporatism is not. In my view of course.

On the otherhand I agree more strongly with his stance on democracy. A lynch mob is the most democratic of institutions after all.

While we disagree about capitalism, I really appreciate your well thought out comments. Thank you Jeff. As to capitalism, I'm not sure that capitalism is the development of individuals and groups meeting consumer needs, since, for one thing, the needs of individuals and groups can meet the needs of others in a non-capitalist society, say, for example, a cooperative society. So I think your definition of capitalism needs revision. I'd like to make a suggestion.

Capitalism is a mode of operation that generates more value for the capitalist at the end of the day than the capitalist had at the beginning by means a certain sort of procedure. Assuming that commodities are being traded for their value and nobody is getting cheating in the market, in order to do this a capitalist needs a commodity that he can pay the socially acceptable market price for which then generates more value than it cost him to purchase that commodity and maintain it.

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You can consistently be a capitalist, an anarchist, a communist, or a socialist and believe DC134:2 to be revelation. One of the difficult questions you are glossing over by assuming that socialist leaning thinkers might not be able to accept something like DC 134:2 is "what exactly is meant by property?". What sort of rights ought we have in property? What sorts of things can be property? And a whole host of other difficult political, economic, and philosophical questions.

Each indavidual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property and the protection of life.

Do you suppose that this verse is talking about the government comming in and controlling what you do on your property? Telling you that you cannot have a farm on it or a fence? Does that sound like "free exercise of conscience" to you?

It would seem just the opposiste, that one is to govern their own property.

IT is a tough question though.

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Capitalism is a mode of operation that generates more value for the capitalist at the end of the day than the capitalist had at the beginning by means a certain sort of procedure. Assuming that commodities are being traded for their value and nobody is getting cheating in the market, in order to do this a capitalist needs a commodity that he can pay the socially acceptable market price for which then generates more value than it cost him to purchase that commodity and maintain it.

So do you think that profits are "immoral" or wrong? That seems to be what you are saying.

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Bushman has some ideas on science I find to be at odds with how I, at least, view the gospel. Science and the gospel are not separate. He seems to think that we, as a church, would be naturally at odds with science. This couldn't be more backward.

The gospel is about truth. Everything that is true is part of the gospel. If it is not true, even if it is scientifically accepted, it is not compatible with the gospel. If the gospel, ie: truth, do not agree with science then that 'science' is wrong. Eventually science will figure out where they went wrong then it will be in agreement again.

No form of government, as it exists today, is perfect. Some are obviously better than others but all are imperfect. It is pointless to defend one as being wonderful since no system is perfect, or even near perfect. Freedom is different however. It is not a government system. It is similar if not the same as free agency. Anything that allows free agency is worth encouraging. I suppose that includes economic systems if we are aware that freedom of choice also implies responsibility which seems to be sadly lacking in most situations concerning economy.

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I appreciate all the comments. And I apologize for starting a thread and not sticking around to respond to comments. Its a busy day at work.

At the risk of making this more of a political thread than it is trending (remember, Bushman's article also discusses science - which no one seems interested in so far), I will just elaborate that I found Bushman's specific criticisms of capitalism spot-on. I don't think he is saying that capitalism is 100% evil; in fact, he recognizes points where it overlaps with the gospel such as hard work and honesty. Most of the defenses of capitalism that have been raised in this thread are defenses of things that Bushman did not criticize (e.g, property rights). It would better serve this discussion to focus on the same things as Bushman; namely, capitalism's affect on preaching the gospel, its view of religion, its tendency to expand to encompass all of an indivudual's time, and the evils of consumerism.

So I'll start. First, so you don't think I'm a raving commie, I'll list some of my capitalistic credentials. I worked my way through high school, college and grad school. I have a business minor from BYU and a law degree from the University of Chicago (famous for law and economics). I even worked a year for Richard Posner.

As for Bushman's critiques: my mission experience and current church involvement have convinced me that there is a strong correlation between a person's prosperity and their willingness to listen to the gospel. This doesn't mean that prosperity is wrongful, but something we must address as we seek to fulfill the command to proclaim the gospel.

I also have first hand experience with our capitalistic's society's tendency to lengthen the work day and work week. One of the biggest struggles in our ward is that many of the most able brethren are time strapped because of work commitments. A brother who otherwise would make a great bishop cannot be considered for the office because he travels internationally the entire work-week. Similarly, many families struggle with the choice between keeping mom at home with the young children vs. having her work so they afford a more normal life-style.

Lastly, as to consumerism, I was at a family reunion in DC a few months ago. We stopped at the temple distribution center so my wife could get new garments. While waiting, my mother said, "lets walk so I can show you something." We walked to the entrance and she pointed to the houses across the street. She said, "when I was a teenager, we would take bus trips here for baptisms. On the ride home, everyone would talk about the 'mansions' next to the temple and the wealthy people who must live there." Of course, those "mansions" are now your standard starter-homes: four-bedroom, 2.5 bath, 2 car attached garage.

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Keeping this argument within the left-right paradigm is useless and that's my assessment of the article. It is of little use because it is lopsided. Bushman points out the problems with capitalism but not communism, with democracy but not monarchy. The omission may be interpreted as a tacit acceptance of those system that went uncritiqued.

We know that any system that uses compulsion as a basis and inhibits liberty stands in stark contrast to The Plan whose central feature is individual free will. We also know that pure religion is the care and concern for others, a sacrifice of the individual. Any system within which gospel adherents are at ease, must embrace the entire spectrum that ranges from unfettered individualism to the total submission of self. That system must be based on the Christlike ideal that in losing one's self, we acheive the pinnacle of individuality. For it to work, every individual has to willingly submit and choose put others first. It cannnot happen in a wicked world because some will always be compelled. Such sacrifices, made under duress, are sacrifices that stinketh to the Lord because they do not humble us or bring contrition.

And so we are left to treat society's ills with cheap and ineffective drugs. We can't continue to condemn each other because we've picked different poisons in search of an antidote.

Just my opinion.

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Each indavidual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property and the protection of life.

Do you suppose that this verse is talking about the government comming in and controlling what you do on your property? Telling you that you cannot have a farm on it or a fence? Does that sound like "free exercise of conscience" to you?

No it doesn't, and I think you might be missing my point.

It would seem just the opposite,
that one is to govern their own property.

Indeed, one ought to govern their own property. But, there's a meta-question of what is property. And certainly nobody, even the most hard-line free marketeer, is going to hold the view that one has a right to do whatever one wants to with their property. Setting government aside, depending on how you answer questions about the nature of property, how it is created, and what our natural or God-given rights are toward it, free exercise of property might turn out one way instead of another. When we talk about rights in property of the free exercise of property we don't mean just whatever somebody can do with a bit of property. We mean something more along the lines of what one ought to do or what is permissible for one to do with their property.

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I would suggest reading an old book I have been reading by Mark E. Peterson titled: "The Great Prologue." It explains why this American nation was founded, so that the Gospel could flourish and go forth to all the world and convert them (not just "get along") but to preach to all the earth and convert them not find common cause. What makes the United States great is religious, political, and economic freedom, not socialist statism.

While this is a popular idea in the Church, does a study of the first 70 years of Church history really support this claim?

And in what way was the United States (1830) different than Canada, Mexico, Australia, England, Germany, France, Spain, Brazil or Norway in a person's ability to start a new religion?

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While this is a popular idea in the Church, does a study of the first 70 years of Church history really support this claim?

And in what way was the United States (1830) different than Canada, Mexico, Australia, England, Germany, France, Spain, Brazil or Norway in a person's ability to start a new religion?

How do we consider viability? Is it merely the starting of a church or do we consider some very important elements and take a longer view of the issues? What of the elements such as long term stability? What if we combine elements such as stability, desire of religion for a people, levels of corruption, questions of the ability to derive affluence in order to grow the church, isolation from wars?

On a longer view we must remember that Mexico also pretty much outlawed Catholicism for quite some time.

Now my question, given the wars, and economic upheavels in so many places, which, of the alternative list you presented, might better withstand upheavels of various kinds than the US? Which provided a greater influential outlet for the church to grow than the US?

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So I'll start. First, so you don't think I'm a raving commie, I'll list some of my capitalistic credentials. I worked my way through high school, college and grad school. I have a business minor from BYU and a law degree from the University of Chicago (famous for law and economics). I even worked a year for Richard Posner.

I don't have any credentials, I'm just an interested chatter.
As for Bushman's critiques: my mission experience and current church involvement have convinced me that there is a strong correlation between a person's prosperity and their willingness to listen to the gospel. This doesn't mean that prosperity is wrongful, but something we must address as we seek to fulfill the command to proclaim the gospel.
I guess my mission experience taught me differently. I served in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I also served among the rich of Rio de Janeiro. We certainly baptized more poor people than we did rich people, but not a single one of the poor people I taught and baptized remained active longer than a year. They weren't in it for the right reasons.
I also have first hand experience with our capitalistic's society's tendency to lengthen the work day and work week. One of the biggest struggles in our ward is that many of the most able brethren are time strapped because of work commitments. A brother who otherwise would make a great bishop cannot be considered for the office because he travels internationally the entire work-week. Similarly, many families struggle with the choice between keeping mom at home with the young children vs. having her work so they afford a more normal life-style.

I can understand this point of view. However, I recall that GBH taught that a priesthood man's first priority was to his employer, then his family, then his calling. I believe this was in a world wide training meeting. I don't have an exact reference, so if someone else does that would be appreciated. It seems to me that part of the purpose of life is to learn to make bread "by the sweat of they brow." In my opinion being a father is a higher calling than serving in the Church.

I do sympathize however with the decision to send a mother with young children to work.

Lastly, as to consumerism, I was at a family reunion in DC a few months ago. We stopped at the temple distribution center so my wife could get new garments. While waiting, my mother said, "lets walk so I can show you something." We walked to the entrance and she pointed to the houses across the street. She said, "when I was a teenager, we would take bus trips here for baptisms. On the ride home, everyone would talk about the 'mansions' next to the temple and the wealthy people who must live there." Of course, those "mansions" are now your standard starter-homes: four-bedroom, 2.5 bath, 2 car attached garage.
I guess I just see this through a different paradigm. I find it wonderful that we are collectively accumulating a better standard of living as a nation. Wealth is a good thing.

Thanks.

Sargon

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While we disagree about capitalism, I really appreciate your well thought out comments. Thank you Jeff. As to capitalism, I'm not sure that capitalism is the development of individuals and groups meeting consumer needs, since, for one thing, the needs of individuals and groups can meet the needs of others in a non-capitalist society, say, for example, a cooperative society. So I think your definition of capitalism needs revision. I'd like to make a suggestion.

Capitalism is a mode of operation that generates more value for the capitalist at the end of the day than the capitalist had at the beginning by means a certain sort of procedure. Assuming that commodities are being traded for their value and nobody is getting cheating in the market, in order to do this a capitalist needs a commodity that he can pay the socially acceptable market price for which then generates more value than it cost him to purchase that commodity and maintain it.

Thanks for the compliment. My father was a member of the CPUSA so I have a certain understanding in regard to the distinctiveness of different economic systems.

Capitalism is inherently individual, it exists under the ideal of choice by the individual or as Adam Smith alluded to "individual competition". He did not create the ideal, it has always existed since before the foundation of government. Trade by its nature leads to choice and the consumer being above the producer, even in barter systems. The producer must meet consumer needs. My definition of capitalism goes to Smith and Ricardo who were the first to outline its natural occurrance. Cooperatives by their nature are not consumer based, or individually based. A cooperative is producer based and one might even call it an aspect of corporatism, only without necessarily a profit motive, even though cooperatives can and often do work with a profit motive (Amish communities come to mind). I think I will stand upon the definition of capitalism I know under Smith and Ricardo.

I don't really understand how you would define "socially acceptable market price" since it infers a type of price control that is not judged by the individual but by the "government" or "governing entity". Niether of which has a good track record in regard to providing for the people. The market normally is a reflection of individual choices which drive market price, not "socially acceptable market prices" which, if I interpret correctly, are designated by some sort of governing body.

Now Bushman raises a good point regarding Korihor's position and its play into capitalism.

Korihor
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Each indavidual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property and the protection of life.

Do you suppose that this verse is talking about the government comming in and controlling what you do on your property? Telling you that you cannot have a farm on it or a fence? Does that sound like "free exercise of conscience" to you?

It would seem just the opposiste, that one is to govern their own property.

IT is a tough question though.

I found a pair of nifty Brigham Young quotes in Arrington and Bitton's the Mormon Experience, talking about the first year in the Salt Lake Valley.

"Natural feelings would say let them and their cattle go to Hell," exclaimed Young when some refused to join their cattle with the community herd, "but duty says that if they will not take care of their cattle we must do it for them."

Of the surplus of those reluctant to share, Young said, "We will just take it and distribute among the Poors, and those that have and will not divide willingly may be thankful that their heads are not found wallowing in the Snow."

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