Sunday, 18 December 2011

The 'Occupy' Movement

I rode past the 'Occupy Birmingham' camp on the way into the university. A notice at the camp talked of the movement representing the 99% and standing up to the 1% that control the bulk of the wealth. The occupy movement say that the 1% don't care about those who will struggle for survival during the recessions.

I have mixed feelings about the movement. They have identified that there is a problem and that it isn't those who created it who are suffering in the attempts to put it right. Maybe some who were involved in the banking decisions would say they are now suffering but is it the same suffering as those who no longer have employment or who were already below the poverty line?

As I look at the financial crisis, the process seems to be a transfer of private debt from banks to public debt which the government then seeks to rebalance by spending cuts. This transfers the burden back to private debt but not to those who created it. Rather it is transferred to those at the bottom of the heap who do not have the resources to pay for the debt. In other words, the debt has been transferred from the wealthy to the poor. Doesn't exactly sound fair or equitable.

The sign at the occupy camp seems to imply that there is only 1% who don't care. In reality, there is a middle group who have reasonable income security who are also indifferent to what is happening. I would argue that this middle group actually represent the largest grouping and are possibly the majority. Possibly a major portion of this group agree with the action being taken by governments. Like the government, they will argue that the government has to balance its books and live within its means (i.e. spend no more than what it receives in through taxes).

The problem is that this does not take into consideration how money is created as debt and how the banking system largely controls the money creation. I would contend that this is highlighted by what is happening in the European Community. A BBC journalist said that the national reserve banks are being funded by loans from the European Central Bank. Since they have a shared currency, there needs to be a central issuing authority but since these are multiple countries involved, it has to distribute the new money to the countries as needed. This is done through loans (i.e. creating more debt for these countries when they are already struggling to cover the payments on these debts).

The European Central Bank is creating these new funds, according to the article, by borrowing from the privately owned US Federal reserve. It doesn't matter that the US government also has a debt crisis and is also borrowing from the Federal Reserve. The debt mountain continues to grow with no one seeing the stupidity of the system.

The next report talked of the UK possibly being asked to contribute more funds to the International Monetary Fund. Where would the UK get those funds from? Of course, since the government is already struggling to cover its debts and expenditure, they will have to increase its borrowing or pass the deficit to the general public possibly through increased taxes. My conclusion is that the problems are getting worse and nothing is being solved.

Does the occupy movement understand what is happening in this process? Are they simply asking that the 1% contribute more to the balancing of the books?

Yes, I object to the 1% or banks being protected but I also understand the argument that if the banks collapse then the depositors land up losing the funds. This is likely to be primarily the central majority although it may possibly have some impact on the 1%.

The solution has to see the general public protected while the system is dismantled and reconstructed to remove the debt hole.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Reading the Bible in the Light of Jesus

Last night, we participated in a session discussing reading the Bible after Christendom. However, reading Revelation 1:7 this morning and Barclay's commentary, I am seeing how New Testament writers read the Old Testament in the light of Jesus.

Barclay refers to a passage in Zechariah 12 which talks of looking on a person who they had pierced. Barclay sees this passage as being behind John's words in this verse when John says “the people who pierced him will see him.” Zechariah was talking in a different context and to a different people but the message is consistent. God's servant has been rejected but at some point his message will be seen as true. At this point, the people will repent and lament for their actions.

I struggle to write what I am thinking in terms of economics but as I look at the reported evidence of increasing inequality, I see it as more important that we shift to a need based reward rather than a reward based on perceived value of the contribution. I think here of the New testament story of the vineyard paid all his workers the same amount regardless of when the started work in the day (Matthew 20:1-16). When will those living in luxury because of their high reward packages repent and look upon the damage that they have done and mourn?

How do we wrestle power away from highly paid CEOs and bankers so that the system can serve the needs of the people and creation rather than the pockets of the wealthy?

In our next cycle of Peacechurch sessions, I am to lead a session on economic grace. Is it God's grace that he does not judge the wealthy but cares for the poor? But how do I help people to focus on meeting need without concern for self? How do I put this into practice myself?

The occupy movement is being told to move on from Victoria Square in Birmingham and from outside St Pauls in London. Although I have sympathy for the movement, I haven't visited their camp or shown my support.

I find it interesting that the Anglican hierarchy in London is saying the movement has made their point and should move on. If they accept that the movement has made its point then they should act to address the issues but what they are saying is let us get on with our business, we don't want to hear your message.

Birmingham City Council is saying a similar message to the occupy movement here. They are saying we want the square for public events (i.e. our commercial street market). Our earning potential or lose is more important than changing in response to the message.

I think here is a sense in which the church leaders and civic leaders say that the message isn't about us, it is about the bankers. In other words, they haven't really heard the message or understand the significance of what is being said.

Will this be a situation where the leadership of the Anglican church and the Birmingham City Council will look upon those whom they rejected and tried to move on and repent?

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Prepare for Service

Reading Payne's (1982) commentary on 1 Samuel 1: 19-28, raised some interesting issues about what a parent's role should be. He says “a parent's ultimate duty to his or her children is to fit them for service to others and then to release them” (p 12). Hannah had certainly released Samuel although we would have to wonder whether she had prepared him for service.

Preparing for service isn't about preparing our children to build riches or to accumulate for self. It is to go out and serve others. In this sense, Samuel is an example as he is given into God's service.

My argument is that our economy should be about balancing service with need, not with the ability to pay. The 'market' supposedly balances supply with demand. An over supply and prices go down and production reduces. An under supply and prices rise along with production. Supposedly the driver is the demand for the product. The theory that thus us self balancing through 'market' forces. The difficulty is that not all real needs are satisfied by market forces.

Those not in a position to provide a service or product become unable to satisfy their needs. No one will service those needs unless paid to do so. Governments tax the transactions in an attempt to address these issues. The government is then forced to balance its expenditure with its revenue. That is, it has to apply 'market' rules even to its services. The consequence is that it cuts back on services even though the need remains.

As the UK government indicated a rise in student fees, students protested over the increases. Even though these protests seem to have died away, the falling apart of the concept of 'market' is falling apart. The theory would suggest the fees should rise if there is an under-supply but in this case the rising fees are more to do with changes in funding formulae. Potentially, there is an under-supply, although some would argue that there is an over-supply of graduates. 'Market' forces would suggest that graduate salaries should fall with a corresponding decline in those seeking university education. The reality doesn't seem to match the theory. When the demand for graduates is high, the enrolments fall because more people are able to get work without formal qualifications. As unemployment increases, the demand for qualifications increases and so do enrolments. If the price of education is linked to demand then the costs go down during good economic times and up during hard economic times. However, since the potential students ability to pay will also influence the demand, there are opposing pressures on enrolments at all times. The 'market' does not appear to be a solution for education. This also assumes that education is all about certification for employment. Another fallacy from my perspective and one that really hinders learning but that is a different issue.

Putting increasing fee burdens on students means that they come out of the educational process with increased debt. I contend that this debt enslaves them to the system. They are no longer free to serve. Rather they must commit to employment and the market. They are enslaved to the economic forces which they have little ability to control.

Serving is not part of the 'market' equation. Training for service or to satisfy needs isn't in the equation. Yet it could be argued that demand is driven by need. Are our artificial markets (currency markets, fashion accessories, electronic good, etc.) driven by need or artificially stimulated desire. Currency markets are purely artificial and I see no real product. Fashion items have their demand driven by marketing campaigns designed to build a desire for or 'want' for those items. Similar applies for many consumer items. They are built to be replaced or upgraded before the previous item is no longer usable. An artificial need is created and product is produced for waste.

Real need and service is lost in our 'market' economies. Waste and redundancy dominate. Sustainability is lost since waste is required to maintain the artificial market. There are real challenges here if we are to address the destructive forces of the systems that we have put in place.

Reference

Payne, D. F. (1982). Samuel. Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Failing Systems

Isaiah 58 is one of those passages where the prophet speaks out against fasting and Sabbath celebration if it is not linked with justice and caring for the needy. As I read, I thought of how hard our hearts are and just how much our systems focus on protecting personal wealth and promoting self interest. The cry for a more equal society is a call for a change to the way decisions are made but equality has more than just equal sharing of wealth.

I try to justify my own position through thinking about how I am looking at changes to the economic system but the reality is that I would be reluctant to have the homeless come into my home. I don't share what I have with those in need and to some extent ignore the requests for help. Am I any better than those in Israel who Isaiah spoke out against? I suspect not.

We are indoctrinated by our systems and self interest. Our priority isn't about addressing the needs of others. It is all about protecting and promoting our own status. As I think of access to education, our focus is upon improving the status of the university and not on equal opportunity. Would we be willing to provide opportunities to those who don't meet the entry standards or who have been cast aside by society? Surely equal opportunity is allowing all who seek to learn the opportunity to do so regardless of past achievement or ability to pay.

But equal access to education isn't enough if the door to employment is closed. In the UK, they talk of an employability statistic that reflects the percentage of graduates that end up in what are called graduate jobs. Does this statistic take into consideration the falling opportunities for employment? Our measures of success for the university promote continuance of the economic growth myth and the self interest of our systems. Could we establish measures that looked at how education promoted equality or change in the system? Critical thinking involves questioning current practice and to do that means being aware of alternative possibilities. What would a more equal society look like? How else can we measure progress? These are questions that we need to look at and act upon.

Failing Systems and Leaders

Despite the consequences of operating under a corrupt systems, the leaders seem to revert to that system as those consequences fade. I am thinking of the economic recession that we are trying to recover from and how the leaders and many people seem to be pushing back against the changes that are necessary. Supposedly, there will be reform to the banking sector but it is clear that any change will take years to implement if implemented at all.

But even more in the line retaining the status quo is the continued arguments over taxing the wealthy and giving the wealthy room to exploit the poor. The argument is that the wealthy create jobs so should not be restricted in their activity to generate more wealth. The evidence is that business practice will discard the worker in order to maximise the profit for the owners.

Sawyer (1986) commenting on Isaiah 56:9 – 57:13 says that the prophet is rejecting the 'Establishment' and is discriminating “in favour of the poor, the foreigners and the outcasts” (p 163). Any rejection of the current leadership of the UK or the US may also be seen as similar discrimination. But as I look at nations that have just overthrown their leadership, I see them installing leaders who in the past have been part of the overthrown leadership. I do not see change coming through those overthrows but just a change in those who wield the power. There may be a reduction in violence against opposing voices but the heart of the corrupt system remains. The new leadership returns to the ways of the old leadership, Change has not occurred. The prophets voice will again rise in protest focusing on the exploitation that continues to occur.

Reference

Sawyer, J. F. A. (1986). Isaiah (Vol. 2). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Cultural Violence

Recently there was a brief discussion on Facebook related to God fostering violence rather than being a god seeking to bring in peace. God is seen as initiating violence against Israel for her sins and against her oppressors. Isaiah 51:9-52:12 illustrates this with reference to creation and Israel's exodus from Egypt. The commentator, Sawyer (1986), links this with “God's power to defeat all the powers of darkness, not just the darkness of primeval chaos” (p 138). Sawyer through spiritualising the battle seems to want to push aside the violence to people and nature that is claimed to be initiated by God.

Yet I don't want to see God as an initiator of violence. My post (31 August 2011) questioned whether God initiated the riots here in the UK. There I said “God may permit or use people intent on violence to catch the attention of those who claim to be his people.” But what I am doing is attributing historical events to God to suit my theology. As I read this Isaiah passage, I wonder whether Isaiah and the biblical writers are doing the same thing. They want to give a picture of God rescuing his people and ushering in his kingdom but they see his people resisting. The cultural context is one of violence so God is seen to use it to chasten his people and then to bring them forth from the midst of other nations. In effect, the prophet is using language appropriate to the period to convey a message of God's salvation. We look back at it and see it encouraging violence and miss the message of shalom that weaves its way through the passages.

My question in my 31 August blog was “what would God need to do now or permit now to catch the attention of his people?” I see groups seeking to question mankind's rush to mutually assured destruction (MAD) but their messages on inequality and sustainability are ignored. Instead, we continue to create a wealth gap and chase greed then attempt to defend ourselves through weapons of mutual destruction.

Is it likely in this context that our prophecies like those of Old Testament prophets will warn of violence to come and which came visible in the riots and in Libya's rebels. Surely violence and destruction is still part of our culture. It will happen even though we cry against it. Does the prophet then see it as God's inevitable judgement?

Maybe what we see in the Bible is an attempt to write what seemed to be historical events as God's intervention in the world as as Sawyer says God's overcoming of chaos with his salvation. If so then we need to find new ways of talking of God's kingdom that take it away from this link with violence and focuses on the qualities of shalom (peace, wholeness, integrity) but will the people hear?

Reference

Sawyer, J. F. A. (1986). Isaiah (Vol. 2). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Does God Use Violence?

Could God have initiated the riots, using the frustrations of the disenfranchised to cause his people to rethink? Is God behind the violent overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya? Isaiah talks of the events of Israel's history declaring God's hand as being behind them. Is it really possible that God would motivate violence and possibly war for the security of his people and their salvation?

When I review the state of the Christian church, there are those churches were the prosperity gospel clearly dominates but even outside these churches, prosperity is clearly a measure of God's blessing. Finding God's peace and confidence in the midst of a struggle to survive and change the world is not seen as God's blessing. Rather the emphasis is being at peace with the possessions that God has given. More accurately, the possessions gained through our labours that conform to our dominant systems. Systems that despite their obvious casting of people on to the scrap heap and into poverty, are seen as being what God has given us and as a consequence should not be questioned.

Into such an environment, how can God catch the attention of his people. They are not hearing the voices of the down trodden or seeing the greed of their own actions. They do not see how their focus on peace in prosperity in an unequal society is destroying the message of salvation and encouraging people to see God as irrelevant. The prophetic voices do exist that call out that the direction in which things are heading is only disaster but do those who call on God's name hear his voice and seek to bring shalom. No, they are too busy trying to ensure their own security and prosperity. They do not hear or see the signs that surround them.

Even the riots do not cause them to rethink their ways and to reconsider the direction in which the systems that they support are taking the world.

As I read Isaianic prophecy, I hear the message of God's salvation of his people, their return from exile to the promised land but at the same time, the prophet says that they are the people who have worshipped idols and turned from doing God's will (Isaiah 48:1-11).

Both in judgement and restoration, we need to question the way that we live asking whether we have heard and are hearing God's voice. God will act to catch our attention allowing the floodgates of frustration to open and possible violence to overflow if we fail to hear his voice and act to bring shalom and his kingdom into being now.

I am not advocating that God's people should use violence. However, I can see that God may permit or use people intent on violence to catch the attention of those who claim to be his people. His people need to be advocates for change, leading the struggle for equality and for sustainable living. Their lifestyle needs to demonstrate shalom in a world that is charging to self destruction.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Productionism

The idea of a production focused economy from the reading of Douglas' (1974) "Economic Democracy." Dobbs in the introduction argues that society is focused on 'productionism' or 'employmentism' (p 19). He argues that if it was 'consumerism' then only what consumers need would be produced. Has anything changed in 36 years?

We are even more production driven. It isn't that we produce for the sake of producing. Through marketing and advertising, we endeavour to stimulate demand. We encourage upgrade to keep up with the current fashion. Last year, our desktop computer crashed. As a consequence, our scanner wouldn't work with the Windows 7 operating system. The scanner hadn't failed. It had just become redundant because it was not supported by newer versions of software.

Computers, software, mobile phones, fashions, etc. are all designed for a short life time and with redundancy in mind. The marketing encourages upgrade and replacement. For mobile phones, there is some encouragement to recycle but our society is in general high wastage and low recycling. Attempts are made to increase recycling but little to refocus production on real need rather than artificial desire.

The whole focus is supposedly on improvement but I wonder whether we are really doing little more than producing artificial goals. How much research is performed simply to satisfy publication requirements. How much real difference will a lot of this research make? I suspect very little. If we were better managing society and balancing needs then such research wouldn't seem to be wastage. We would need something to occupy our minds.

If the society was dictated by 'consumerism' then only what consumers need would be produced.

In the passage about the separation of the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), we see separation is based on how the people responded to need that crossed their path. The sheep, those on his right, feed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick, and went to those in prison. These are the people who 'inherited the kingdom.' Are these things about satisfying need on an everyday basis or is this those identifiable occasions? I would contend it is everyday basis since they say that they didn't know they had done it. They saw and responded to need.

Matthew 15:4-6 talks of how tradition can get in the way of obeying God's word. In this passage, this is withholding help to your mother and father because what might have been able to help has been dedicated to God. This may not be the generic helping of others but it does emphasise that tradition shouldn't take over from doing what God desires.

How far has our economic practice moved away from God's plan? Our economic system has replaced religious ritual. To some extent, it is more than the economic system, it is the measures of productivity that we use. The result is that we ignore need and focus on personal advancement.

References

Douglas, C. H. (1974). Economic democracy. Epsom, Surrey: Bloomfield Publishers.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Community

The riots and looting in the UK has raised a number of issues. Many commentators seem to be jumping to conclusions about the cause and proposing solutions or penalties based on those assumptions.

One assumption is that these are people who are on the benefit so the solution or penalty is to remove their benefit. But wait what is this really saying? The implication that I get is that these people shouldn't be on the benefit because there is work out there. They are just too lazy to find it. This is a major generalisation. Some on the benefit may be making little effort to look for employment but there are a lot more who are and are not able to find work. It is easy to target those at the bottom of the heap and blame them for the situation that they find themselves. The other implication particularly of the proposed penalty is that taking it away will force these people to face up to their actions and become part of a working society. More likely, I suspect that the removal of the benefit will cause greater poverty and inequality possibly leading to further crime and ultimately prison where the law-abiding tax payer will continue to pay for their costs while the person continues to develop hatred and resentment for society. So if the rioters are beneficiaries, removing the benefit isn't going to resolve the situation. An alternative solution is required.

However, the evidence coming from the court cases is that a reasonable number of these rioters have jobs. The are not dependent on benefits to live but probably will be after sentence is passed. They are likely to lose their jobs and find it difficult to obtain new jobs. They have incurred a black mark on their character that is likely to put them in the ranks of the unemployed and possibly unemployable. So why did these supposedly respectable people decide to act so destructively against the rest of society?
The New Economics Foundation published an article headlined “London can't afford to ignore inequality any longer” (Whitehead 2011). Research seems to show that unequal societies have more riots and looting. If this perspective is true then society as a whole needs to address issues that lead to inequality. The Equality Trust has a lot to say on this issue backed by research.

Another article that caught my attention was in “The Independent” entitled “Caring costs – but so do riots” (Batmanghelidjh: 2011). The trust of this article is that “These rioters feel they don't actually belong to the community. For years, they’ve felt cut adrift from society.” This perspective says that because the rioters do not feel a part of the community they are able to be brutal against what seems to others to be their own community. They have lost any sense of responsibility for the community and society. Destroying what others might see as important is just a act coming from their frustration and sense of being disconnected.

Both of these articles suggest some underlying issues that may need to be addressed although like the argument to throw people of the benefits, these articles cover all the reasons why people joint the riots and looting. What they do point to is that we need to understand the ills in our society and address them.

But I want to remain a little with the idea of lose of identity with and in society and turn again to look at the focus of our economic system. I have frequently talked about the economic system needing to have a change of focus and put more central the needs of people and the environment. In the current economic climate, all the focus is going on reducing debt but the foundation of the economic system is the expansion of debt and the growth of the economy. As long as there is borrowing with interest, there is no way for the system to ever clear the debt. What we see with countries that are struggling with debt are packages designed to restructure their debt and not to reduce it.

There seems to be an assumption that every nation and economic unit can make a profit but the reality is that exports have to equal imports or production has to equal consumption. There isn't anything magical or difficult in this statement. It is simply that if export or production around the world exceeds imports or consumption then the system is producing for waste. Not surprisingly, the cost of the wastage has to covered in the cost of consumption which if we disallow borrowing means that we can even afford less of what is produced putting the system into a downward spiral of not being able to buy what is being produced.

The solution seems to be to borrow against future income. Ignoring interest for the moment, this means that we buy today's production based on income that we expect to get from tomorrow's production. For the loan to be repaid, that means that some of tomorrow's production must remain unpurchased or we must continue to borrow against future income from production. Add on interest to the equation and the amount of debt required to maintain consumption of today's production simply grows.

In his crash course in economics, Martenson argues that we are looking at exponential growth in debt that can only be satisfied if there is exponential growth in production. When this fails to be the case then we have to expect the system to collapse. Martenson also talks of an energy economy where he highlights the the growing amount of energy required to extract a unit of energy. He contends that some energy sources are simply uneconomical because we are consuming a unit of energy in order to extract a unit of energy but I will leave you to read or listen to his material.

How do we overcome the problems? Possibly through sustainable communities. Daly and Codd (1989) review some research which looks at the impact of export-led economies. As I write this, I realise that this is exactly what my household is. I am dependent on the income that I obtain from exporting my labour and production in order to live. The difference between me and the cases that Daly and Cobb refer to is that the export-led economies tend to deplete the resources that the society is dependent on for survival and for generating their export income. In other words, the economy is not sustainable.

How does this relate to the rioting and looting? Export-led economies is what we all live under and we are approaching the point where they are no longer sustainable. As Martenson argues, we are running out of resources that are cheap and efficiently obtained. We are depleting the resources that we need for survival.

All this sounds quite negative and it would seem that we should expect things to get worse rather than better. There is a solution and it focuses on sustainable communities. Daly and Cobb quote from Thomas Michael Power (1988) who says “development policy should concentrate on things people really want rather than some abstract description of the economic process. What do people really want? Power offers the following list of goals for local development policy: (1) the availability of satisfying and useful work for members of the community; (2) security for members of the community in access to biological and social necessities; (3) stability in the community; (4) access to the qualities that make life varied, stimulating, and satisfying; and (5) a thriving, vital community” (Daly and Cobb, 1989, p 135).

It would seem that a sense of belonging to a community and ensuring the survival of the community should be central to our economic planning. It is also crucial for ensuring that we do not have a repeat of the riots that the UK has experienced.

References

Batmanghelidjh, C. (2011, 9 August). Caring costs – but so do riots, The Independent. Retrieved 14 August, 2011, from http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/camila-batmanghelidjh-caring-costs-ndash-but-so-do-riots-2333991.html

Daly, H. E., & Cobb Jr., J. B. (1989). For the common good: Redirecting the economy towards community, the environment and a sustainable future. London: Green Print.

Equality Trust. Retrieved 14 August, 2011, from http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/

Martenson, C. (2006-2011). The Crash Course Retrieved July, 2011, from http://www.chrismartenson.com/crashcourse

Power, T. M. (1988). The economic pursuit of quality. Armonk, NY: Sharp.

Whitehead, S. (2011, 9 August). London can’t afford to ignore inequality any longer. new economics foundation: a tumblelog Retrieved 14 August, 2011, from http://neweconomics.tumblr.com/post/8689858196/london-cant-afford-to-ignore-inequality-any-longer

Sunday, 7 August 2011

God's Blind Servant

Isaiah 42:14-25 has two portions. The first talks of God leading the blind along paths they had not known or had not thought possible (vv 14-17). Sawyer (1986) says “the second explains in truly Isaianic idiom what that blindness refers to (vv 18-25)” (p 68).

It seems to me that Isaiah isn't talking about the physically blind or about those that lack knowledge of his ways. He is clearly talking about people who believe they are God's people but who live in ways that God does not desire. They are blind to God's way and to the direction in which God seeks to lead his people.

If this is true then when God talks of leading the blind in paths that they thought were not possibly or they did not see then maybe we need to recognise the limitations of our own understanding. As I explore economics, the overriding thought is that our economic system is about restricting people and bringing them into bondage. It depends on money being available and binding people through debit.

If we look at creation, we see that God has created it with a lot of potential, beauty, and resources. The economic system should be about allowing people to contribute to the needs of creation in a way that isn't limited by some accounting for the exchange. The difficulty is that we have indoctrinated our society to the view that each individual must get a fair price for what they produce and that this is dictated by the supply of money.

If we take this Isaiah passage seriously then we need to recognise that God seeks a way that we cannot see and that we don't see as possible. If I believe God's way is one of meeting the needs of creation and each other then I need to act that way believing that in God's economy, he will meet my needs.

When I think of the cycling / triking journey around the UK and maybe further afield, I keep thinking in terms of how I might feed myself and cover accommodation costs. I also think in terms of the purpose; a photographic journey or a challenge to new economic ways. Jesus sent his disciples out with nothing to preach the good news. Am I prepared to trust that God will provide if this journey is really part of his plan?

When I went out for a ride with a friend on Monday evening, I reflected on the different purposes of our riding. My friend is out travel as far as possible as quickly as possible almost like I used to do when I was training for racing and sometimes still do. To some extent, this is the issue that I raise in Friday's (5 August 2011) cycling blog. At times, I see my riding as one of pilgrimage. A pilgrimage in which I explore God's creation and the way that He seeks us to live within it. Distance isn't the issue. Rather it is what can be learnt, shared, and given.

On my last ride (25 July 2011), I set my target as Oxford. Without the camera, I rode to get there in reasonable time. How would that journey have been different if I had taken time to stop and reflect, to interact with people and with God's creation? We are so interested in the goal that we have lost sight of the journey. Maybe we need to be less concerned about getting there and more concerned about what happens along the way.

Reference

Sawyer, J. F. A. (1986). Isaiah (Vol. 2). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Refocusing Education

One of my concerns is that education is becoming a certification process. Some do learn but not all. Some are just concerned about getting the grade. as I write this, I am thinking of a project student who was really looking at how to get the grade for their project rather than the learning that is needed. Somewhere we need to move these students from a focus on grades to a focus on learning. Grading techniques need to be designed to encourage this shift in focus. However, changing grading techniques doesn't fully solve the problem.

I am sure most lecturers would contend that the focus is on building knowledge and understanding. Assessment and grading are tools for verifying progress.

The time limit to learning and assessment change the emphasis to how to pass rather than on the quantity or depth of learning. What would happen if the time limit was removed and the learner could take as long as needed. Some learners may see thus as licence to waste time so there will need to be some checks on progress. No or insufficient progress should see the learner excluded from the course. Linking grade to the time it takes to learn to the required depth would also add some pressure for the student to focus on learning although some will try and find ways to get the grades without doing the learning.

It would be desirable to be delivering education to those who are interested in learning rather than grades. We do have some who fall into this category. They tend to pursue knowledge beyond requirements of the course. They ask questions to gain deeper understanding rather than just completing the required exercises.

In terms of my own involvement, it would be good to move away from the university context and to work with those who are interested in learning.

I am not convinced that using short term contract labour in introductory courses helps build the consistency that is needed. What ensures that the courses remain static is the use of past students as demonstrators and tutors. In some ways this is like maintaining the oral history or tradition. The tutors and demonstrators tend to critique and question if the lecturer should move away from how they believe the course should be taught. If the lecturer changes then the consistency remains through the tutors and demonstrators.

If change in the approach to teaching was to occur then the consistency has to be from the lecturer. Without this consistency, there can be no change in the direction of the course.

A tutor stated that he believes students see the real learning occurring in tutorials and in the labs with the demonstrators. Lectures are a necessary evil. They don't see them as having relevance. Admittedly the strategies that I have suggested earlier would require a change away from the normal lecture approach. If students are at different stages of learning then a lecture sequence that tries to maintain a regular pace doesn't make sense, The question is what do you put in place instead?

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Destruction

Sawyer (1984) in his commentary on Isaiah 30:27-33 seems to see the passage as one of judgement initially of Israel's enemies and then of sinful people. He refers to the passage on separation of the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). But Sawyer does say that these are “vengeful, “unchristian” feelings” (p 254). He contends their appearance doesn't justify the feelings but show that these passages are about real people.

But it is only in recognising the writer's context and that of the hearers of these words that we begin to have some understanding of why they exist. Sawyer attempts to communicate this and tries to link this with our own feelings when we are oppressed.

However, I look at our society and I don't feel anger for the decisions being made by political leaders of for those who are branded as terrorists by western governments. I am saddened by the misunderstanding that exists and by the assumptions that we work under.

As I write this, I think of how we interact with others around us. How often do we hear someone's struggle and shrug it off feeling that we cannot help. It is as though we are focussed so much on our own survival and status that we fail to see how we might be able to offer help and encouragement. I wonder how often when I hear a story of suffering, I am asking what I can do to help relieve that suffering; what do I have to give? I suspect that I am thinking more about how I can avoid being in their position rather than how can we resolve the issues that cause such suffering.

Reference

Sawyer, J. F. A. (1984). Isaiah (Vol. 1). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The New Order

Isaiah 30:18-26 talks of God's future blessing of all creation. Sawyer (1984) doesn't describe if in these universalism terms but it is clear that hears of its message have received judgement. They have had to face up to their sin or actions. They are now casting out the idols or practices that have separated then from God. Now the desire is to be pure and to enjoy the plenty that God has provided.

However, the prophet challenges his hearers to move forward despite their uncertainty about the path God would have them walk. God will provide direction from behind (v 21). They must simply move forward guided by God's voice, their teacher.

As I reflect on my own struggle to live out what I believe in a society that measures to create winners and losers, I often wonder whether I should give up. I can play at least some of the world's games and win but that isn't what I believe God wants. I must continue to move along the current path despite the struggle believing that he is guiding and will bring forth his plan.

The song “He ain't heavy, he is my brother” comes to mind. We help other not because of the reward to us but because these people are our brothers and sisters. We work for the health of the planet because we share this planet with the rest of creation. We need to change out focus from self to the service of others. It isn't about what we might gain. Rather it is about what we might give.

Reference

Sawyer, J. F. A. (1984). Isaiah (Vol. 1). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Understanding and Acting On

Isaiah 29:9-24 talks about being given a vision but not knowing what to do with it. Sawyer says of verse 10(“The Lord has made you drowsy, ready to fall into a deep sleep. The prophets should be the eyes of the people, but God has blindfolded them.”), “they are too drunk or stupid to know what to do when they receive a vision” (p 242). It isn't that they do not see the vision. They either do not understand it (i.e. blind to its message or unable to visualise its message) or they fo not know how to respond to it or communicate it.

The dilemma that I face it that I believe I see the vision or hear the message but I seem trapped by the very system that I see as diseased and needing reform. I struggle to communicate with those that share some of my beliefs, possibly because I am not sure how to break free of the constraints of a system whose assumptions I loath.

I question the assumption behind fair trade as one of saying there is a fair price for goods and services that doesn't consider the needs to the people. The focus is on the monetary aspect rather than the needs of the people.

This focus on balancing income and expenditure or supply and demand ignores the social cost and basic ability to survive. My thoughts are that what a person receives should have little to do with the value of the product to the receiver. We focus on price rather than the need of the individual or community. We want to reward what is produced to encourage on going production or activity.

I am wondering whether I have missed the point. This is phrased in terms of whether we have paid a fair price but I am wondering whether we ask this question because we are concerned about being paid a fair price for our own labours. I have written before about giving of our produce and skills without expecting return as in a 'fair' return, an agreed price. Rather through the exchange of skills and talents, our needs are meet. I see what you need that I can supply and I meet that need. You see what I need that you can supply and you meet that need. We don't attempt to balance needs, services, or the value of the exchange. We offer our services and resources to satisfy the needs of the community. Keeping account isn't part of the process. Accountability is rather measured by inequality that is occurring in society.

Inequality is a sign that someone or group is holding back on the resources and services that they have to offer to others.

Reference

Sawyer, J. F. A. (1984). Isaiah (Vol. 1). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Community Centred Economy

In discussing a third model for economic operation, Daly and Cobb (1989) say that "central to Catholic teaching is the "principle of subsidiarity."" This means "It is an injustice, a grave evil and a disturbance of right order for a larger organization to arrogate to itself functions which can be efficiently by smaller and lower bodies" (quoted from Pius XI, 1931, p 80) (p 17). The higher society is designed to help the lesser or smaller society. The higher society serves the lower societies and not the other way around. The higher society isn't there to set the rules for lower organisations. Modern governments misunderstand their role.

Daly and Cobb also quote Edward Schwarz (1982) who says "Unfortunately, most leaders and writers today have forgotten these communitarian concerns of Jefferson, de Tocqueville, and early Americans in general. The irony is that a wide range of evidence is now affirming empirically what these traditional theorists could assert only instinctively. It now appears certain that a strong, local community is essential to psychological well-being, personal growth, social order, and a sense of political efficacy" (p 264) (p 17).

The foundation for a healthy society and economy starts with local communities. Economic reform also has to begin with the local community, not the national or global community. Daly and Cobb contend that Pesch (Mulcahey 1952) contended that human communities "are part of a larger community that includes the other creatures with whom human beings share the world" (p 18). This understanding reflects the principles of shalom.

The authors say that "Victor Furkiss describes our situation graphically: "Present-day society is locked into four positive feedback loops which need to be broken: economic growth which feeds on itself, population growth which feeds on itself, technological change which feeds on itself, and a pattern of income inequality which seems to be self sustaining and which tends to spur growth is halted, technology is controlled, and gross inequalities of income are done away with" (1974, p 235)" (p 21).

Interestingly, Furkiss isn't arguing to halt technology change rather he seeks to control technology. The focus on doing away with inequality reflects the view of the Equality Trust (www.equalitytrust.org.uk)

Misplaced Correctness in Economics

This section is interesting because of the style of argument. Part of the argument is that it is assumed supply will expand as the demand expands. For example as the rest of the world's consumption expands to be equal with that of the US, the production rate in the rest of the world will increase to match the demand (Thurow 1976, p 40: Daly and Cobb 1989, p 40). The difficulty is that if the demand is for a non-renewable resource can the rest of the world increase production simply because demand increases?

The reason for the fallacy is caused by abstractions used to develop arguments. Daly and Cobb say ""To abstract" means literally "to draw away from." We can draw away from concrete experience in different directions and by different differences. To expect perfect judgement is choosing the direction and distance of abstraction proper to each argument, and never to mix up levels in the middle of an argument, is to expect too much" (p 41).

The Market

Daly and Cobb say that they support the principles of the market although they question some of the assumptions. They contend that market economies with independent, decentralised decisions lead to spontaneous order (p 44). They say "The apparent paradox of individual freedom leading to social order also occurs with language. Individuals are free to try to communicate in whatever ways they wish. But to succeed they have to conform to certain community conventions. The result is not a Tower of Babel, but an amazingly well-ordered structure, as is evident in the grammar of any language" (p 44). The contention is that the market will also establish a set of rules of play that bring balance to the economy but the reality seems to be different.

They say "Individual consumers know their preferences better than anyone else and act directly to satisfy them in the marketplace. Individual producers know their own capacities and options better than anyone else and they too act on this information in the market. This essential feature of decentralized decision making is what permits all this knowledge to be used" (p 45). The argument is that individuals have better knowledge of the market than a centralised decision making body. This may be valid for certain knowledge but a producer doesn't necessarily understand the demands of the market. They supply what they think they can sell but this can lead to surplus and waste production.

Later they say "The economists image of a market is a system of voluntary exchanges made by the parties concerned only because all consider it to their advantage to engage in these transactions. What has so impressed economists is the fact that all participants in the market gain. But this vision abstracts from the real world in which everything that happens has much wider effects. In fact, market transactions have consequences that are not limited to those who choose to engage in them" (p 52).

But in the market economy, it is assumed that someone has to pay for indirect or external costs (pp 55-58). It is assumed that internalisation of these external costs will help the system balance. In some ways, this assumption assumes that all the external costs can be identified and internalised in the production process. As can be seen from manufacturing sites, we often haven't uncovered the effects of manufacturing until after the damage is done. How can these costs be accrued into the system?

Even Daly and Cobb say that the market "provides no answer to the issue of optimum scale" (p 59). They also contend that the market has difficulties where we don't have unlimited resources and at the same time, the resources are not the obvious constraint (p 60).

I also have some difficulty accepting some of the things that they seek to internalise. Some are to try and redistribute spending power. As far as I can tell the market has no way to increase or control the credit.

References

Daly, H. E., & Cobb Jr., J. B. (1989). For the common good: Redirecting the economy towards community, the environment and a sustainable future. London: Green Print.

Pius XI (1931) Quadragesimo Anno.

Schwarz, Edward (1982) "Economic Development as If Neighbourhoods Mattered" In Community and Capital in Conflict: Plant Closing and Job Loss, edited by John C. Raines, Lenora E. Benson, and David Mc.I. Gracie. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Richard E. Mulcahey (1952) The economics of Heinrich Pesch. New York: Holt.

Victor Furkiss (1974) The Future of Technological Civilization. New York: Brazilier

Thurow, Lester C. (1976) "Implications of Zero Economic Growth." In The Steady-State Economy. Vol 5 of US Economic Growth from 1976 to 1986: Prospects, Problems, and Patterns. Joint Economic Committee. Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Conservatism and Economic Theory

How does conservatism and economic theory mix? I am going to argue that it is because of conservative views of economics that we struggle to redress the problems caused in the recent recession. As I write this, I have in mind Albert Einstein's quotes “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” and “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” We will make mistakes in searching for solutions to today's problems but we must not assume that because we make mistakes, we must go back to the old way of doing things. We must learn from our mistakes on move on. As Thomas Edison said “Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do in the first place doesn't mean it's useless ... . If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is just one more step forward.” We must have the courage to look for new alternatives that will address the problems that exist and bring the balance required between all the requirements of this world.

My thoughts here are influenced by three readings. From Gibson's (1985) commentary on Job, I am encouraged to think about the problems of conservative thought that influence our thinking and our assumptions about what makes a sound economy. From Daly and Cobb (1989) and Seers (1983) I am encouraged to think about how we might analyse the nature of an economic theory.

Starting with Gibson's commentary on Job 8 where Bildad presents a conservative or traditional argument on suffering. The foundation for this argument is that “God rewards the good and punishes the bad” (p 71). Job who had led an exemplary life and reaped the rewards now finds himself bereft of his wealth and his health in decline. His three friends struggle for words to encourage him. Bildad takes up his discourse by encouraging Job to repent before it is too late and seek the grace of God.

Gibson implies that we no longer support this view and maybe this is tru when it comes to natural disasters. However, the prosperity gospel still carries a lot of weight in some places. However, it isn't whether this belief still holds force that concerns me although it does underline my thoughts. Our society may accept that the good do suffer without deserving to and that the bad do prosper but I contend that we judge systems good or bad based on the rewards that they give us.

Capitalism must be good despite the current recession because nations operating under capitalism (and democracy) have tended to prosper. Communism with the possible exception of China has failed and is therefore bad. Since capitalism is good, all economic systems should embrace capitalism and we should not seek to challenge the fundamental mechanisms on which it operates. Although we see the current crisis, we will not look for new ways to solve the problem but apply austerity measures that operate within the rules defined by our capitalist economic systems. We are attempting to solve the problem with the same thinking that brought us to this problem state.

Daly and Cobb (1989) discuss a mechanism for assessing the nature of an economic system. They base their proposal on by Seers (1983). They contend that people primarily locate economic systems on a scale from left (socialist) to right (conservative). Seers modifies that by labelling the horizontal scale as egalitarian to anti-egalitarian and adds a vertical scale with anti-nationalist at the top and nationalist at the bottom. The top left corner (egalitarian and anti-nationalist) is Marxists socialists and the bottom right (anti-egalitarian and nationalists) is traditional conservatives. The top right (anti-egalitarian and anti-nationalist) is neoclassical liberals. The bottom left (egalitarian and nationalist) is dependency theorists, populists, and neo-Marxists. Daly and Cobb would prefer the vertical axis to be labelled communitarian and anticommunitarian but do accept that “nations are a desirable form of community” (p 9). They argue that the socialist – capitalist divide has its origins in the development of industrialism based on the ready supply of the necessary raw materials.

Daly and Cobb say “capitalism consists of private ownership of the means of production” (p 13). Socialism in contrast “is defined by government ownership of the means of production with allocation and distribution by central planning” (p 13).

Although Daly and Cobb say they favour private ownership with “the widest possible participation in that ownership” (p 14), they support “decentralization of political and economic power, worker ownership of factories or participation in their management, and the subordination of the economy to social goals, democratically defined” (p 15). They see this as “fresh thinking about the possibilities of human life in community” (p 15).

I wonder where Douglas' (1983) Economic Democracy would fall. One of his principles is that all “natural resources are common property” (p 110). This does not mean collective or communal. He is also concerned that the distributed purchasing power makes it possible to purchase all of production and that the creation of credit is the prerogative of the government and not the banks.

There is also another system that I would like to evaluate. This is what I have been calling shalom economics. The emphasis of shalom is wholeness and peace. In a shalom economy, the focus would be on ensuring needs are meet and that “all things” are able to prosper. It would involve a looking to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). Does this fit within the dimensions that Cobb and Daly describe. It certainly has a community focus but it is wider than human community but it isn't based on government or individual ownership. It possibly echoes more Douglas' concept of common property.

It seems that the question that we should be asking is what makes a system good? Is it the freedom that it gives people? Is it meeting the needs that exist in our world? We cannot judge goodness by prosperity or endurance. Such measures ignore those who struggle and the destruction that the charge to prosperity causes. Our base for goodness has to come from an understanding of shalom (peace, fullness, wholeness). Shalom economics therefore requires a focus on 'meeting basic needs,' establishing justice, and maintaining integrity. This isn't just for people but for all of the cosmos.

Reference

Gibson, John C.L. (1985) Job, Edinburgh, The Saint Andrew Press.

Daly, H. E., & Cobb Jr., J. B. (1989). For the common good: Redirecting the economy towards community, the environment and a sustainable future. London: Green Print.

Douglas, C. H. (1974). Economic democracy. Epsom, Surrey: Bloomfield Publishers.

Seers, Dudly. (1983) The Political Economy of Nationalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Friday, 29 April 2011

All Things

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether they are kings, lords, rulers, or powers. All things have been created through him and for him. He himself existed before all things, and by him all things hold together. He is also the head of the body, which is the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he himself might have first place in everything. For God was pleased to have all of his fullness live in him. Through him he also reconciled all things to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, thus making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20 (ISV)).

This passage places emphasis on God creating, maintaining and reconciling all things (Anvil Trust 2010, p 42) . Yes, the passage does talk of people as being the "image of the invisible God" and "the first born of all creation" but it is the repetition of "all things" that stands out. Other biblical passages also talk of "all things." We easily translate this to mean all people rather than all creation. These passages talk of God creating “all things” (John 1:3, Romans 11:36, Ephesians 3:9, Revelations 4:11), reconciling or restoring “all things” (Matthew 17:11, Mark 9:12), or “making all thing new” (2 Corinthians 5:17, Revelations 21:5). This Colossians passage emphasises God creating “all things”and concludes by saying “all things” will be reconciled to him. How can “all things” mean all that he created and then mean just people. God wishes to bring “all things” (i.e. all that he created) to its full potential. We need to be working for this purpose as well.

This emphasis on the inclusion of nature is also argued from the perspective of Jesus' teaching through the parables being "filled with images of nature." There is "an inward affinity between the natural order and the spiritual order" (p 42). There is the contrast between "the trust of birds and plants with the anxiety of humans (Mt 6:26-30)", "God's care and sustaining love for creation; the fragile life of sparrows rest in God's tenderness (Mt 10:29)" (p 42). Jesus saw God's hand at work in all of creation and he treated it with gentleness and yet robustly. This is further emphasised by seeing every healing miracle redress the balance of nature (p 43). This last point raises the issue of whether illness and many of our human problems come from the imbalance caused by our activities in nature.

The notes quote Richard Bauckham who observes that "The animals are treated neither as subjects nor as domestic servants... Jesus does not terrorise or dominate the wild animals, he does not domesticate them, nor does he even make pets of them... [He] lets them be themselves in peace, leaving them in the wilderness affirming them as creatures who share the world with us in the community of God's creation" (p 44). If we stopped seeing things as items to be used but rather as things created by God then we would be more careful with creation. Nothing would be treated as of little value.

This section ends by noting that "the eastern Orthodox tradition" sees Jesus as "the one who by his life sanctified all matter, and through his death and resurrection carries the whole creation up to God" (p 45).

In contrast, western culture and economics uses and destroys. It lacks values related to nature and matter. Through endeavouring to place value, we have lost sight of the unity that we share with all matter. I am drawn to think again of Asimov's novel and the planet that saw all life as equal. When we stop asking about value or cost and start seeing as essential and give equal status then we will give back all of creation, its true value.

Reference

Peace & Power: Being vocal, political and spiritual. (2010). Workshop - because faith is a journey. Course Notes. Anvil Trust.

The Questions of Job

According to Gibson (1985), Job asks God to answer three questions (Job 7). These questions are asked in the context of seeing the human condition as one of being a “conscripted soldier” or “hired slave.” In Genesis 3:17-18, man is told that he will have to toil for his food and battle to hold back the weeds. Yet I ask whether the enslavement of our system to work is what God really intended when he made that statement?

Through our economic mechanisms and personal greed, humans have sought to break free of the basic struggle for survival through enslaving animals and their fellow humans. The economic system is designed to enslave rather than set free.

If we truly believed in God's kingdom coming then we need to understand the nature of that kingdom, a shalom kingdom. In that kingdom, all needs would be meet and we would bow freely to worship before God and experience the blessings of his kingship. Any work performed would be done so with joy and enthusiasm and not by compulsion or need.

Here is the dilemma that we have as we seek to bring God's kingdom here on earth. We need to change from protecting what we claim as ours to seeking how to ensure that the needs of all are satisfied. We belong to the earth and not the earth to us. God's kingdom is about sharing, satisfying needs, and not about claiming for self. Are we prepared for such a change?

From the perspective of being conscripted by God, Job asks his questions. Does God see him as a threat that God needs to act to ensure that Job does not destroy God's creation? The answer for Job is 'No' but the answer for our human society is 'Yes.' Humans threaten the destruction and balance of this planet and the pollution of the solar system. We have taken for our own use and not considered the cost to other creatures of God's creation. We are the only creatures who wilfully destroy the habitats of others and our own kind for our own advancement. Our destruction threatens the balance of life on the planet and if we spread into the solar system, the balance of that system as well.

The answer Job sought may be 'No' but for humanity the answer is 'Yes,' we need to be reined in so that we do not destroy what God has created through our focus on self.

Job's second question asks whether humanity os significant enough that God should bother with us at all? What is puny man capable of that would threaten God's plan? Gibson answers this with 'Yes, he is as puny as that' but is he really? Man with his weapons is capable of destroying this planet many times over. Isn't this a very real threat to the created order? Yet blindly political leaders blunder on some how believing that more destructive power will put them in a greater position to control violence.

Do they not see Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya? Military might is nothing. Even if it could be targeted directly at the leaders whom the west seeks to remove, it doesn't remove the violent opposition and oppression of people. Do they not see the oppression brought on their own people made by their devotion to an economic and political system that seeks to enslave rather than set free?

Finally, Job asks whether if he had sinned does this harm God? Shouldn't God just forgive and let man alone? Humanity has sinned and continues to sin. If left to itself, humanity would destroy itself. Should God not act to bring an end to humanities attempts to enslave creation and to destroy all that has been created? Does God need to act when we bring such destruction upon ourselves? The problem is that it isn't those who bring the suffering who are brought to suffer but if God directly targeted those leading the destruction and enslaving who would be left?

Humanity seems incapable of seeing an alternative way without the input of a loving God. The problem is so many want to ignore him and claim that he is irrelevant.

Reference

John C.L. Gibson (1985) Job, Edinburgh, The Saint Andrew Press.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Wisdom and Revelation

Today, Christians celebrate Jesus' resurrection. Friends in New Zealand had already posted in Facebook “Jesus is risen” or “Christ is risen.” My response is partly “So what?” Not because I speak in disbelief but because like Keith Green, I want to say “Christ is risen from the dead but we can't even get out of bed.” What is the point of celebrating his resurrection if it makes no difference to the way that we live and work. Life will go on tomorrow as it did yesterday. This celebration will come again and make little difference unless we wake up to Christ's message to us and we begin to live it out on a daily basis. Christ rose from the dead and we need to stand up and live out his life amongst men.

I don't mean that we preach sin, repentance, and salvation but we live out “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We are Christ to this world; the shalom activist, who brings justice, peace, and equality to all of creation. Like Jesus, we bring release to captives (Luke 4:18), peace to the society (Matthew 5:9), and a challenge to the powerful. We need to be preaching new ways of living that are based on the Kingdom of God being in existence now and not simply calling for repentance and future salvation.

Behind this call lies the same tension as that is revealed in Job 4:12-21. How much of our call is based on the wisdom tradition and how much on revelation? God gives us insight to see things in a new way and through Jesus' resurrection to see that he is not bounded by the perceived rules of this world. If death could not hold him captive then why should we be held captive by human wisdom and rules. We need to break free of the shackles and learn to put God's way ahead of human created rules.

Gibson (1985) in his commentary on Job talks of how the wisdom movement “studied and deduced and observed, and did not need. Or so it thought, to look for guidance from on high” (p 39). Yet, as Gibson goes on to point out, revelation from God wasn't something just for the New Testament. Revelation played an important part in Israel's history. But it isn't revelation alone. Combined with revelation is careful study and a seeking of understanding.

The question is which takes precedence? Do we depend more on wisdom (study, deductions, and observation – I add peer review and critical evaluation) or do we allow revelation to guide our search for wisdom? I contend that in our search for wisdom, we can constrain our thoughts too much to what already exists and forget that we should be challenging existing wisdom.

My thoughts on this frequently come back to economics and the current recession. We will not solve the economic problems by holding fast to the current economic rules. I contend that we need to break the rules that create credit through the introduction of debt. However, credit cannot be created without limitations.

Governments need to use new measures to assess government spending and income. The way of filling the gap needs to be debt free credit but not an endless supply. The limit needs to be based on something other than desire. I contend that this has to be need, real need and not artificial need created by marketing campaigns and building for redundancy or waste.

Just to reinforce this last point, a digital camera is replaced by a new model every year (I brought my Canon EOS 300D on 2004 and since then there have been five new models). The iPhone and iPad have new releases annually. Our society seeks to upgrade with each new release but fails to ask what happens to the redundant models. We generate waste rather than meet genuine need.

We need to refocus our fundamental wisdom if we are to resolve this world's problems. Revelation and wisdom need to work together.

Reference

John C.L. Gibson (1985) Job, Edinburgh, The Saint Andrew Press.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Ecological Crisis

Having looked at Chief Seattle's response to the US government's attempt to buy the native American land, the Workshop notes looked at what has led to the ecological crisis (Anvil Trust 2010, pp 39-41). The author argues that the primary root is in western culture that is seen as being shaped by the Christian church.

Lyn White is quoted as saying that Christianity has "established a dualism on man and nature" and taught "that it is God's will that man exploit nature" (p 39). The implication is that in Christianity humanity is seen as unique and different from all of nature and that everything else in creation is there for the benefit of humanity. It is contended that in Christian theology, nature or the "natural world" had moved from being a mystery to "becoming a laboratory" (p 39).

People have taken centre stage and nature has been excluded. "God is the God of history rather than the Lord of creation" (p 39). It isn't simply that "God is the God of history" rather it is that God is seen as the future redeemer. God's kingdom isn't seen as something that exists now but something that will come into being in the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. As we begin to understand more God's desire for his kingdom to exist now, we begin to value nature and creation more.

The notes contend that "primal communities ... name things with a sense of sensitive respect and honour" while western culture claims and names based on control and prestige (p 40). The notes provide contrasts between names given by primal people (i.e. New Zealand' "Aoraki" - 'the cloud piercer') and the name given by western explorers / settlers (i.e. Mount Cook - the name of the British explorer Captain James Cook). The name that describes is replaced by a name the claims dominion or ownership.

It is argued that this is in complete contrast or opposition to scriptural teaching where creation is God's work that he sees as 'very good' and where God is the sustainer of all life.

The notes don't deny the influence of European 'Christendom' thinking as a major contributor to the development of 'secular materialism' (p 41). "The Enlightenment thinking and the rise of science laid the foundations for industrialization and secularism that are at the root of the crisis" (p 41). Like economic thought, it is our fundamental beliefs and thought patterns that determine how we view creation and how we treat others. Being pulled out of nature and placed in laboratories and offices, we lose that awe and respect for nature. However, I believe that in God's created order, nature fights back for its own survival. We see this through weather patterns, earthquakes, and the way that plants grow amongst uncared for buildings. I look at how plants are growing through the paving of our drive and at the back of the property, and I recognise how difficult it is to force our will on the natural order.

The notes argue for "a creation-sensitive theology" that sees the gospel as good news that proclaims the liberation and fulfilment of the whole creation" (p 41).

Reference

Peace & Power: Being vocal, political and spiritual. (2010). Workshop - because faith is a journey. Course Notes. Anvil Trust.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Ecology

What would happen if man considered all life as precious as human life? The answer is reflected in the efforts to save stranded whales by refloating them but is that really considering all life as precious? A New Zealand friend says that the whales are telling us to stop eating their food (Kai). Her argument is simple. The whales strand themselves because they have a food shortage. That shortage is caused by us over fishing their feeding grounds. If we really considered the lives of the whales precious, we would think more about what we do to the environment.

The rhythm of life involves life and death that includes for all humans. Why do we try to extend life at all cost rather than seek balance? In the "Peace & Power" notes (Anvil Trust 2010), James Lovelock is said to have made the assessment that "20% of humanity will make it beyond 2100" (p 36). Is this the reality of seeking balance as much as reality of having exploited creation? Can the earth and the universe (all of creation) sustain the increase in human population?

My economic thinking questions our unrelenting drive for progress. Ecological thinking also needs to question this same unrelenting drive.

The notes talk of ecology as "the study of plant and animal systems in relationship to their environment; with particular emphasis on the interrelationship and interdependence between different life forms" (p 35). The notes argue that "we are part of a delicate 'ball of life' in which everything is connected" (p 35). Here is my friend's interdependence. We take the whales food and they seek to die for lack of food. Humanity doesn't have the insight to see that placing its own existence ahead of the existence of other species is killing the planet.

The notes contend that to study ecology means encountering spirituality (p 35). They are linked and the understanding of shalom as "the wholeness, intergratedness and harmony of all things rooted in the creative and sustaining power of God" (p 35) echoes ecological thinking.

A Native American chief Seatle responding "to the US government's desire to buy their traditional lands" makes a number of telling remarks (pp 37-39). He says "If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?" (p 37). "This we know: the earth does not belong to people; people belong to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood that unites one family. All things are connected, Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth. A human individual did not weave the web of life; they are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves" (p 38).

The chief goes on to talk of not being able to own God, the Creator and that through our desire to own everything, we are in danger of extinction. He says "Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste" (p 38). The quoted passage ends "The end of living and the beginning of survival... One thing we know, our God is the same God. The earth is precious to him. Even the white people cannot be exempt from the common destiny" (p 39).

We cannot escape from our own failure to retain the balance of our world. The more we regard ourselves as superior, the more we put ourselves in danger. Yet we continue the drive to promote an economic system that exploits the planet and other people.

Reference

Peace & Power: Being vocal, political and spiritual. (2010). Workshop - because faith is a journey. Course Notes. Anvil Trust.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Economic Stories

These are initial drafts of economic stories that I am considering as the basis for economic simulations that challenge conventional economic thinking.

Committed to the economic system

Josh operates in an environment where he is concerned with balancing his inputs with his outputs. Most often he measures this in monetary terms. In order to achieve things, he needs to earn or borrow the money. Once something is created, he sells it at a price that he hopes will give him money to do things other than those focuses on earning money.

Although he works hard, he never finds the release that he is looking for and he increasingly becomes frustrated with his life. He feels trapped. He seems to have gathered a lot of assets but nothing brings him joy.

Josh's parents were hard working people who provided a stable environment and gave Josh every opportunity to pursue his interests. Josh studied at university and has slowly raised his living standards migrating from a semi-detached house to an apartment in central London. He claims to enjoy the Central London life style but it is more an escape from the pressures of attempting to progress on the economic ladder.

Committed to Service

Michael lives in a semi-detached in the suburbs of London. Michael runs his own training organisation. He operates in an environment where he is looking for ways to utilise his skills and talents. He is not concerned about ensuring his inputs equal his outputs. He probably outputs more that he gets in but he never seems to lack what he needs. He looks to maximise the use of his abilities and resources. He seems to find ways of achieving things despite the constraints that others endeavour to put on him.

For Michael life is enjoyable. He is doing what he enjoys and he is seeing others experiencing joy. He has some assets but only those that he really uses. He is full of life and giving life.

The Prophets Actions

In Isaiah 20, there is recorded the actions of the prophet to demonstrate what would happen to the people if they put their trust in foreign nations and not in God. It is clear that these actions were unusual and caused the people to ask what the message was about

If there are any prophetic insights today then they are either spoken at small gatherings or written in books or journal articles. The prophet doesn't take dramatic action to act out a part of the prophecy. Some protest groups do enact what they see as the consequences of the current direction of policies but these messages are not regarded as prophecy.

I am using this blog to try and talk about how I see things and the direction in which things are moving. The question is whether I would be prepared to act out this message in a public place. Would the leaders and people listen? Very few probably read my blog. It is getting the attention of the people so that they at least know the message has been spoken. This is regardless of whether they hear and understand or respond to it. This is the challenge for the prophet or reformer. Without lifting their message to the public forum, they are simply shouting in an empty room with no one to hear.

This brings me back to 'shalom activism.' With shalom activism, the activist acts to bring shalom to those that they are working amongst. The shalom activist aims to make a difference. Again, the activist cannot make that difference unless they are actively working amongst the people to make a difference. They have to be acting out their faith and endeavouring to practice what they preach.

In this sense, the prophet and the shalom activist share a common purpose and goal. The prophet like the shalom activist seeks the people to live differently so that they and all those around them can experience the wholeness of life.

The new Imperialism

War is about protecting our self interest. It is about doing all that we can to ensure that no one else takes or has what we believe is ours or that we believe we should have control of. If someone or group threatens our security then we will invade and destroy. Even if this destruction involves the destruction of a nation that has only threatened us or we suspect has breed a threat against our security.

We put up barriers to protect personal gain and status. We export our economic, cultural, and political ideals, ignoring those of the nations that we export our ideals to. Economics has become the new imperial building force allied by the notion of democracy. Our status, security, and well-being guide our involvement in the lives of others.

Economics is about the protection of personal status. It focuses on doing all that we can to ensure that we are maintaining and improving our position as measured by financial indicators. Concern for others is secondary to our personal position and status.

As I think of a walk around Woodbrooke gardens, the former home of Cadbury family, I think of the mansion that the Cadbury family lived in compared to the Bournville cottages that they built for their workers. Yes, they cared for their workers but not in the sense of being equals. I believe this continues to be our struggle.

Shalom in contrast seeks wholeness for all. The self moves to the secondary position with the focus moving to ensuring all of creation enjoys the wholeness and peace of God's shalom. There is a willingness to satisfy the needs of others ahead to maintaining personal status or power. Limits on giving are based on personal ability rather than the resources available.

The real contrast is the creativity of self or nation or our ways rather than the centrality of all of creation. Shalom focuses on personal gain, security, and protection of resources.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Shalom Activism

I believe we need some stronger voices that are chipping away at established structures and theories.

When the Power & Peace workshop (Anvil Trust 2010) talk of evangelism, they talk of it being the bringing of good news that makes a different to those that hear it. That difference is to their lives now, not at some future time in an escatological event (pp 18-21).

If we are living out the "good news" then we should be making a difference now. Those around us should be experiencing and rejoicing in the benefits of that "good news." This raises the question of what impact are we making in the lives of those around us.

In the notes, they go on to talk of shalom activism, giving examples where major changes have occurred through peaceful means. At the workshop weekend, we looked at Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and changes in Poland through the Solidarity movement.

I wondered whether these peace led changes have led to greater stability than the military led invasions such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Certainly with these two examples, the military solution hasn't yet produced a solution, and they don't look like producing a solution. A major difference with peaceful solutions is that the military solution never involved the people. It was imposed from outside. Even though they have endeavoured to install democratic processes, the bulk of the people in these nations still see it as imposed by an outside force.

In contrast, the peaceful protests involved the people rising up to stand firm against military force. A very recent example is the protest movement in Egypt that has begun a process to change the government determination process. These movements embarrassed the power structures into surrender rather than overthrowing the power structures. Not every peace led revolution has fully resolved the issues that motivated the protest but most have not had continuing conflict and instability.

Despite the obvious advantages of shalom activism, we see powerful nations continuing to use force to bring about what they believe will be better solutions. This is despite these invading nations having experienced changes brought about by peaceful protest.

There are few "peace academies" or departments dedicated to the research of peaceful solutions. There seems to be room for a movement to make the study of peaceful or shalom solutions have higher priority than research on military solutions including weaponry.

Reference

Peace & Power: Being vocal, political and spiritual. (2010). Workshop - because faith is a journey. Course Notes. Anvil Trust.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Shalom Principles

The workshop notes (Anvil Trust 2010) say that "Shalom is formed from a verb that has as its root-meaning: 'wholeness', 'completeness', 'intactness', 'holistic', 'integratedness' - everything fitting perfectly together" (p 9). The verb 'shalem' "has the sense of - 'to make something complete,' 'to finish,' even 'to make an end of'" (p 9).

This sense of wholeness "emphasises the material side with the sense of 'well being'; people having their physical needs met and satisfied" (p 9). This is for the whole of creation and not only human society. All of creation should be "experiencing completeness, unity, and fullness" (pp 9-10).

My contention is that we can not achieve this form of completeness can not be achieved in an economic system that seeks to balance of input and output, and ensuring a return for all that we have to offer. The Anvil Trust workshop notes don't give this emphasis but there is a repetition of the form "that everything, which shares life with us or has been created for beauty and presence, ...

"enjoys well-being" (p 14),

"experiences justice" (p 14), and

"experiences integrity" (p 15).

This experience of completeness is limited by some ability of that which is created. It is a property of the shalom experience.

Coming back to well-being, the notes contend that "every person should have enough food to eat, clothes to wear, a home to live in, able to provide for themselves and others, enjoy physical health, feel secure - and so on" (p 13). This isn't conditional on the person's ability to contribute or earn. It is what all should experience as part of shalom.

With respect to justice, there "should be just and health giving relationships between individuals and between nations, as a present reality and a future hope" (p 14). Again this isn't conditional. It is what all experience as part of shalom.

With respect to integrity, there is an integration "to the depths of their being, incomplete inner harmony (physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual" (p 15). The notes contend that this is similar to shanti, the Indian culture word for peace.

"Shalom is a declaration of how things should be and it is an affirmation of how things shall be" (p 16). The questions are why don't we have shalom and how can we get there?

Based on current economic principles then I believe we have no hope of ever getting to shalom. It isn't can we afford or pay for shalom. We have the resources. They need to be made available or released. It isn't keep for personal need but rather giving to enable shalom for all.

Rather than seeking to balance books and control distribution, we need to be asking how we can liberate what is already there to bring well-being, justice, and integrity (shalom) to reign through society?

I can only see this happening if we move to a focus that looks to the needs of others and all of creation rather than placing economic management as the highest priority.

Reference

Peace & Power: Being vocal, political and spiritual. (2010). Workshop - because faith is a journey. Course Notes. Anvil Trust.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Economic Equations

Ever since the ITiCSE conference in Turkey in late June 2010, I have been thinking of how flawed the economic thinking is.

At the ITiCSE conference, one to the speakers had talked of Turkey aiming to export more than it imported. The problem with that objective is that it isn't possible for all nations. If there are more exports than imports then somewhere there are exports that are not being consumed. Gifted exports are still imported somewhere. It is simply that the receiver doesn't attempt to match the value of the gift with their own exports so there is no imbalance added to the system.

If there is a country importing more than it exports, it has to be receiving gifts or borrowing to cover the difference between its imports and its exports. Fundamentally, the total physical exports must be equal to the total physical imports around the world.

sum of exports = sum of imports

If a nation is primarily on importer then it is either generating new credit into the system or accruing debt. If it generates credit into the system then it doesn't care about the imbalance because there is really no cost to itself. If it incurs a debt then that probably comes with an interest requirement attached meaning that in order to pay back the loan, it has to export more than it imports. I would contend since that is the goal of all nations and economic units then somewhere the system is going to breakdown and debts are not going to be repaid.

My argument here is that at best, we might actually get a balance between exports and imports for all nations or economic units.

However, there is another line of thought that really caused me to try and write this entry. It relates to things that are purchased / imported in order to be destroyed. An army is a consuming economic unit. Weapons for war are assumed to be produced simply to be destroyed. Nobody expects an army to earn through exports / sales, the cost of its operations. These are the black holes of an economy. Governments attempt in balancing the books to pay for these black holes through taxation but this upsets the export to import balance or does it? The government uses the tax to buy goods and services or to support others who are consumers of goods and services. You could argue it is a wealth distribution mechanism. The question is whether it works.

Maybe some of my thinking is too simplistic but what I see is pressure to have a system that is out of balance and a balancing mechanism in the form of interest accruing debt that simply puts the system further out of balance. The economic black holes consume without adding balance to the economy and consequently need gifts in order for the system to remain balanced. If these economic black holes cannot borrow against future profit because there will never be a future profit. All they do is increase the size of the future gift required to keep them in operation.

I see a fundamental problem with all of these attempts to balance economics because they make assumptions that profit (exports are greater than imports or income is greater that expenditure) is possible. In the end, they have to be equal and for that to happen in a system that is out of balance requires gifts to consumption units (the economic black holes).

Some will argue that I have it wrong because growth is what will enable a country to repay loans and interest. Growth doesn't generate funds to cover interest payments. There has to be growth in all nations in order to maintain the balance between imports and exports. It is not possible to have more exports than imports. If more is produced than can be consumed then it is simply wasted and adds further cost to an out of balance system.

References

Douglas, C. H. (1974). Economic democracy. Epsom, Surrey: Bloomfield Publishers.

Disaster Recovery

Christchurch, New Zealand, is a place that we are very familiar with. I did my BSc and MSc studies at the University of Canterbury and my second industry job with Canterbury Savings Bank in the centre of the city. When we look at the photos of the current damage cause by the earthquake, we see just how much of the character of the central city has been destroyed. We have heard from Marilyn's brother, and three families that we know in Christchurch. All are safe although they have various damage to their properties. One couple has left Christchurch to live with family until things settle down.

However, although our thoughts are with the people and the need to re-establish their lives, it is the ongoing cost burden that is my concern. I read that the current estimate is $10 billion to restore the city. It is difficult to see how donations will cover that type of cost. How will the difference be made up? I suspect by loans. What are the long term implications of such a strategy?

Countries, like Pakistan and Bangladesh, struggle to recover from floods and natural disasters. Donations help overcome some of the suffering but are never enough to bring recovery to all the people. The countries go further into debt but never producing a better environment. Our economic system is designed to enslave and natural disasters just ensure that the process of enslaving goes further.

I fear that New Zealand's disaster will plunge New Zealand backwards at a time when it seemed to be weathering the economic storm. The government has pledged to spend what is necessary for search and rescue but that is only the start of the costs. Will they be as willing to create funding to rebuild the city's infrastructure and to help people recover. Sure insurance may cover some of the recovery costs but what that guarantees is that insurance costs will rise.

Our economic focus is that someone has to pay even if resources are available. It also favours those who can afford to pay. As a result resources can be taken from areas of need and used in other areas where the need is not so great.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Leaning on

“In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean upon him that smote them, but will lean upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth” (Isaiah 10:20).This passage opened one of our morning readings but it challenges my thinking and the way that we live. We have become dependant on the economic structures of this world, leaning heavily on them and allowing them to dictate our decision making. We fear what will happen without them to dictate our decision making. We fear what will happen without an income source and as a consequence fail to really focus on those things that God is calling us to.

I have reflected on loan aid being given to countries suffering from natural disasters and debates on equality. I have wanted to talk of how loans further cripple and enslave countries and how equality economically is really only the starting point. But we don't have models or the evidence. How is my research in this area progressing? I still haven't made any progress. I haven't followed the threads that I have been given. Why? I have other priorities and a fear how focusing on these things might drive me further away from an ability to earn an income.

I have received calls for contract work that would provide a better income although not a more stable income. I didn't consider them but I could easily have done so. But what would this have done to my focus on the need for economic change. Already, I am struggling to do or live according to my belief system. A giving economy is still just a dream. It isn't our way of living.

We lean on financial support mechanisms and not on God. We don't follow where he leads us but live in fear of economic draught. The challenge of this opening verse is to refocus on God's call and to lean on Him for the resources for daily living.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Conception and Perception

This blog has its origins in being challenged by one of my ex-PhD supervisors on the way that I was using the terms 'perception' and 'conception'. What do these terms mean and how do they apply to learning. A third term is 'mental models'. What do we mean by 'mental models' and is there any relationship between 'conception', 'perception', and 'mental models'. I don't solve all the problems and some of my thoughts still ramble a bit but I hope that the key idea that learning is about conceptual change and that the perception of a task influences the learner's ability to achieve the task.

Definitions

From the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary:

  • conception: "an idea of what something or someone like, or a basic understanding of a situation or a principle"
  • concept: "principle or idea"
  • perception: "a belief or opinion, often held by many people and based on how things seem"

From the Compact Oxford Dictionary:

  • conception: "the devising of a plan or idea"
  • perception: "a way of understanding or interpreting something"

    • "the way in which something is regraded, understood, on interpreted"
    • "intuitive understanding and insight"
  • concept: (Philosophy) "An idea or mental image which corresponds to some distant entity or class of entities, or to its essential features, or determines the application of a term (especially a predicate), and thus plays a part in the use of reason or language"
  • conceptual: "relating to or based on mental concepts"

From the Free Dictionary:

  • conception: "The ability to form or understand mental concepts or abstractions"

    • "Something conceived in the mind; a concept, plan, design, idea, or thought"
  • perception: "The effect or product of perceiving"

    • "Insight, intuition, or knowledge gained by perceiving"

Which comes first perception or conception?

Tad Waddington (2008) claims that it has been "shown that people often don't see a thing unless they have some idea of what they are looking for." He says "People do not perceive primarily with their senses, but with their minds." The implication is that "conception leads perception."

Taking this perspective, I seem to be correct in arguing that the way a learner perceives a task is influenced by their conception of the concepts represented in the task. Consequently focusing on fostering an appropriate conceptual understanding of the concepts that form the task would appear to help learning.

Goldstone and Barsalou (1998) argue for similarity in conceptual and perceptual processing. They state that "many concepts are partially organised around perceptual similarities" (p 232). They argue "that perceptual processes guide the construction of abstract concepts" (p 232).

They go on to state: "First, perception provides a wealth of information to guide conceptualization. Second, perceptual processes themselves can change as a result of concept development and use" (p 232).

The core argument of Goldstone and Barsalou is that perception influences the formation of conceptions, and that conceptions influence perceptions. Perceptions are described as "implicit information" (p 237) and that conceptions are based on the formation of abstractions (pp 237, 243). In this sense concepts are seen as abstract thoughts.

Learning and concepts

Ramsden (2003) says that "learning is best conceptualised as a change in the way in which people understand the world around them, rather than as a qualitative accretion of facts and procedures" (p 79). He argues that the student's approaches to learning "are intimately connected to students' perceptions of the context of learning" (p 81). These include perceptions "of assessment requirements, of workload, of the effectiveness of teaching and commitment of teachers, and of the amount of control students might exert over their own learning" (p 81). He argues that student perceptions "are the product of an interaction between these environments and their previous experiences, including their usual ways of thinking about academic learning" (p 81).

Looking at the definitions, I would argue that the learner's conceptions of the topic, words used to describe the task, comprise their "usual ways of thinking." The conception is "a basic understanding of a situation or a principle" (Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary). The learner's conceptions are part of what they bring to the learning situation. It influences the way that they perceive the task, the perception that they form of the task.

On this basis, I argue that if we can influence the student's conceptions of key subject matter concepts then we will influence their perception of the task. In the case of my thesis, I am arguing that the learner's conception of a program (the way they understand or think about its nature) influences the learner's perception of the task "learning to program." What we are endeavouring to do is influence the way that the learner understands the world around them.

Likewise Bowden and Marton (2003) have argued that "the most important form of learning" involves a change in the way that the learner sees something in the world (that is conceptual change). Why is this important? Conceptual change influences the way a person perceives things and consequentially their response to those things.

My reflection is that I seek to change conceptual understanding that is the way concepts are understood possibly through adding new concepts. I do this on order that they might perceive a situation differently and as a consequence have a different perceptual understanding (perception). Conception in this context is the way the concept is understood.

Perception is the way that they regard or understand a situation or task. What I am trying to do is use perception in relationship to new encounters or situations and conceptions for existing experiences and understandings.

I would contend that in order to foster conceptual change, we need to present variations that will challenge the learner's current conceptual thinking I would contend that I am trying to influence the way a learner perceives the concepts. In the case of programming, I am targeting the nature of a program but I will also target conceptual understanding of the software development process.

Mental Models

Minsky (1986) describes a mental model in terms of "a model to be anything that helps a person answer questions" (p 303). This is something that exists inside the brain or more generally a model that help us explain or understand the world around us. Minsky uses the terminology "model of the world" and talks of "our models of our models of the world" (p 304). Minsky's terminology makes it clear that he sees individuals as having different mental models.

Technically the categories from a phenomenographic study are not any individual's mental model but they do include characteristics of features of how people express their understanding of the world or at least the phenomenon being studied. I, therefore, don't have a problem with saying that the outcome of a phenomenographic study may challenge models of the phenomenon.

Reference

Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to teach in higher education (2nd ed.). London: Routledge Falmer.

Bowden, J. A., & Marton, F. (2003). University of learning. London: Routledge Falmer.

Minsky, M. L. (1986). The society of mind. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Waddington, T. (2008, 23 November). Conception Leads Perception: On enhancing your powers or perception. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/smarts/200811/conception-leads-perception

Goldstone, R. L., & Barsalou, L. W. (1998). Reuniting perception and conception. Cognition, 65(2-3), 231-262.