October 2015 – Minutes

CLJP Minutes –October 13, 2015
Monticello Room, Westminster Canterbury

Present: Chip Sanders, Carroll Houle, John Peale, Hal Horan, Guy Hammond, Jean Hammond, Bob McAdams, Phil Best, Betty Kenner, Bill Kenner, Dave Warren, Taylor Beard, Jean Newsom, Carol Muntz, Peter Weatherly

Chip Sanders opened the meeting with prayer.

The Minutes of September 8, prepared by Horan, were approved.

Announcements: McAdams reminded the group that the United Nations is celebrating its 70th Anniversary and announced that former UN Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering will speak at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church—Unitarian Universalist—717 Rugby Road, at 4:00 pm. On Thursday, October 22, with a reception following.

There are also a special commemorative four-class series offered by the Blue Ridge VA Chapter of the UNA-USA through Olli at UVA, featuring

  • Two presentations by UVA Professor Allen Lynch on recent diplomatic and military issues concerning U.S relations with Russia.
  • Two sessions devoted to hands-on training and direct experience of the Model UN, a powerful tool used to simulate the United Nations as a diplomatic forum.
  • Session dates: November 4, November 11, November 18, December 2

Program: Sanders introduced John Peale who offered a lively look at Michael J. Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, peppered with some insights of his own.  He spoke for 30 minutes followed by an equally lively discussion.  

Peale shared just how far market as a tool has developed into market as a way of life by citing one of the examples that Sandel gives in his introductory chapter—a true account of a product’s pitch placed on shaved heads!

Sandel marks the beginning of what he calls “the era of market imperialism,’ in the 1980s when Reagan and Thatcher argued that the markets do a far better job of it than governments as a force for to creating prosperity and happiness and securing the public good, continued by Clinton and Blair with few modifications.

Some ways that the market way of life endangers the democratic way of life:
Treating such values as love and civic virtue as economic scarcities

(Lawrence Summers) rather than appreciating how those values actually improve and increase with practice (Aristotle, Rousseau, all religious practices worth their salt);

Treating human relationships as commodities often corrupts those involved—prostitution, body parts, bought apologies and wedding toasts, paying a surrogate to stand in line, paying children for books read, etc.

Acknowledging that inequality in general is inevitable and, in certain instances, even a good, the main reason the commercialization of everything and everybody is ultimately corrupting is this—when everything can be bought, then everything in the public square belongs simply to those who have the money.

Sandel ends his book by taking us to the ballpark:

In addition to debating the meaning of this or that good, we also need to ask a bigger question, about the kind of society in which we wish to live. As naming rights and municipal marketing appropriate the common world, they diminish its public character. Beyond the damage it does to particular goods, commercialism erodes commonality.

The more things money can buy, the fewer the occasions when people from different walks of life encounter one another. We see this when we go to a baseball game and gaze up at the skyboxes, or down from them, as the case may be.  The disappearance of the class-mixing experience once found at the ballpark represents a loss not only for those looking up but also for those looking down.

Something similar has been happening throughout our society. At a time of rising inequality, the marketization of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives. We live and work and shop and play in different places. Our children go to different schools. You might call it the skyboxirication of American life. It’s not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live.

Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share in a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of everyday life. For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good.

And so, in the end, the question of markets is really a question about how we want to live together. Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?                                       (Emphasis added)

The meeting adjourned at 2:05 pm.

Respectfully Submitted

Hal Horan