Volume 44

Guests on Volume 44: James Davison Hunter, on the limits of the psychological view of character; Brian Robertson, on the changes in attitudes toward work and home; David Myers, on the disjunction of wealth and happiness, and crafting a "new American dream"; Robert Frank, on the escalation of luxury and how it can be slowed; Gayle Brandow Samuels, on trees, landscape, and cultural identity; Thomas Hine, on The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager; Thomas Hibbs, on Seinfeld, Hannibal Lecter, and nihilism in popular culture; and Robin Leaver, on how J. S. Bach used musical forms to impart theological truths.

Part 1

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    James Davison Hunter on the limits of the psychological view of character

    The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil (Basic Books, 2000)

    Sociologist James Davison Hunter is pessimistic about the outcomes of the current debates over character education. In his book The Death of Character, Hunter maintains that not only the forms of character education have changed, but also the content of that education; that is, the very definition of character has been redefined along with the forms of character education. The heart of his book, according to Hunter, is that character and morality are always situated within a specific moral community, and that the inculcation of morality through the individualistic methods of psychology will ultimately fail.

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    Brian Robertson on the changes in attitudes toward work and home

    There's No Place Like Work: How Business, Government, and Our Obsession with Work Have Driven Parents from Home (Spence Publishing Company, 2000)

    Researcher Brian Robertson, author of There's No Place Like Work, argues that "family friendly" policies in the workplace effectively redesign the family to suit corporate needs. Most of the discussion on the balance between family and the workplace takes place in a "historical and cultural vacuum," according to Robertson, which makes it difficult for people to determine what it is that drives the movement towards more time in the workplace and less time at home.

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    David Myers on the disjunction of wealth and happiness, and crafting a "new American dream"

    The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty (Yale University Press, 2000)

    Social psychologist David Myers, author of The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in the Age of Plenty, asks the question "If we're so rich, why aren't we happy?" He focuses attention in the book on the weak link between money and happiness. In countries where wealth has increased there is no measurable difference in happiness. It is, rather, personal traits, close relationships, and faith communities which are better predictors of happiness.

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    Robert Frank on the escalation of luxury and how it can be slowed

    Luxury Fever: Why Money Fails to Satisfy in an Era of Excess (Free Press, 1998)

    Economist Robert Frank, author of Luxury Fever, believes that the radical increase in luxury spending indicates a feverish form of status escalation that is personally and socially wasteful. Frank advocates moving from a tax on income to a tax on spending (not a luxury tax, however), which might encourage people to order their lives in accordance with what survey data say they really want (e.g., longer vacations, more time with children, etc.) rather than the things that establish mere status but do not bring happiness.

Part 2

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    Gayle Brandow Samuels on trees, landscape, and cultural identity

    Enduring Roots: Encounters with Trees, History, and the American Landscape (Rutgers University Press, 1999)

    Gayle Brandow Samuels, author of Enduring Roots, relates the ways in which trees have served as anchoring points to identity in American history. Trees, according to Samuels, serve as witnesses, markers, and public and private meeting places in the American cultural landscape. Because of the unique history of America, Americans have been forced to develop a consensus about what makes us American; landscapes, and trees in particular, have played an important part in this process.

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    Thomas Hine on The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager

    The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager (Avon Books, 1999)

    Thomas Hine, author of The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager, notes that the term "teenager" was not part of popular usage until post-World War II America. Earlier views of teenagers emphasized qualities of young adulthood, quite unlike the "noble savage in blue jeans" which pervades current popular culture. Hine traces the rise of our current view and treatment of teenagers to the Great Depression, when jobs were scarce and young people had a significant amount of time on their hands. Hine uses a historical approach as opposed to a psychological approach in examining the changing role of the teenager in American society, suggesting that our current culture expects different things of teenagers, and our perceptions need to be adjusted accordingly.

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    Thomas Hibbs on Seinfeld, Hannibal Lecter, and nihilism in popular culture

    Shows about Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from The Exorcist to Seinfeld (Spence, 1999)

    Thomas Hibbs, author of Shows About Nothing, detects a thread of destructive nihilism running through popular culture, as evidenced by the popularity of such television shows as Seinfeld and Late Night with David Letterman. Contemporary popular culture, according to Hibbs, is dominated by a "demonic anti-providence," as opposed to the Capra-esque method of affirming the providential structure of justice and hope. Today's nihilistic shows, on the other hand, represent a point of view in which the deepest desires of main characters are mocked and thwarted.

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    Robin Leaver on how J. S. Bach used musical forms to impart theological truths

    Leaver's book J.S. Bach and Scripture: Glosses from the Calov Bible Commentary was published in 1986 by Concordia.

    Dr. Robin Leaver, professor at the Westminster Choir College, is eager to remind contemporary listeners that Bach's cantatas were intended as liturgical pieces, not concert works. These works, including Bach's B Minor Mass and the St. Matthew Passion, were carefully constructed by Bach in order to convey the significance of a specific Biblical text. The pieces, according to Leaver, were intended to move the heart and the mind in a theological way.