Questions on a Sunday with Ursula LeGuin, Daniel Kahneman, and Ched Myers

My Sunday rest found me listening to an interview with Daniel Kahneman and completing the 800-page collection of Ursula Le Guin’s collected novellas. In the middle of those two, I studied Ched Myers’ Bible study on Isaiah 5-6 (Ecological Theology of the Vineyard).

Below are quotes that are significant to me and questions that arose:

From Paradises Lost by Ursula K. Le Guin:

” ‘You have a sense of duty,’ Bingdi told [Luis] affectionately. ‘Ancestral duty–go find a new world … Scientific duty–go find new knowledge … If a door opens, you feel it’s your duty to go through it. If a door opens, I unquestioningly close it. If life is good, I don’t seek to change it. Life is good, Luis.’ He spoke, as always, with little rests between the sentences. ‘I will miss you and a lot of other people. I’ll get bored with the angels [those who stay on board the spaceship]. You won’t be bored, down on that dirtball [planet]. But I have no sense of duty and I rather enjoy being bored. I want to live my life in peace, doing no harm and receiving no harm. And, judging by the films and books, I think this [the spaceship] may be the best place, in all the universe, to live such a life.’

‘It is a matter of control, finally, isn’t it,’ Luis said.

Bingdi nodded. ‘We need to be in the control. The angels and I. You don’t.’

‘We aren’t in control. None of us. Ever.’

‘I know. But we’ve got a good imitation of it, here. [Virtual reality]’s enough for me.”–The Pragmatist, in Paradises Lost by Urusula K. Le Guin

“Paradises Lost” is a science fiction novella by American author Ursula K. Le Guin. It was first published in the collection The Birthday of the World (2002) and was republished in The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin (2016), which I just finished reading.

From an interview with Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize in 2002 for his work in behavioral economics in which his empirical findings challenge the assumption of human rationality prevailing in modern economic theory.

“When you look globally at people’s actions, overconfidence is endemic. I mean we have too much confidence in our beliefs, and overconfidence really is associated with a failure of imagination. When you cannot imagine an alternative to your belief, you are convinced that your belief is true. That’s overconfidence. And overconfidence — whenever there is a war, there were overconfident generals. You can look at failures, and overconfidence had something to do with them. On the other hand, overconfidence and overconfident optimism is the engine of capitalism. I mean entrepreneurs are overconfident. They think they’re going to be successful.

People who open restaurants in New York think they’ll succeed; otherwise, they wouldn’t do it. But at least two-thirds of them have to give up within a few years — more than two-thirds, probably.”–Daniel Kahneman is best known for his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. He’s the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton University, Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs Emeritus at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, and a fellow of the Center for Rationality at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. (See “Why We Contradict Ourselves and Confound Each Other” at OnBeing.org)

Ched Myers wrote this for the Wild Lectionary series at Radical Discipleship.

Isaiah 6:7 returns to the narrator’s voice that began the parable. The prophet now decodes the parable as an allegory about the nation. The image of Israel as a vineyard being assessed by the true Landowner recurs several times throughout Isaiah (we find a parallel song in Isa. 27:2-6). In 6:7 YHWH’s lament is a poignant play on words:

God looked for justice (mishpat),
but saw only bloodshed (mispach);
righteousness (tsdaqah),
but heard only a cry (tsa`aqah)

This last verb, which could be translated as “scream” (or “groan” as Jim Perkinson calls is) connotes an outcry against injustice or a cry of distress. It is used in Exodus 3:7, upon which the whole liberation history of Israel turns: “Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their oppressors. Indeed, I know their sufferings…’”–Ched Myers, Ecological Theology of the Vineyard

My questions:
What is duty? Where does it come from?
What is the relation between duty and community?
What constitutes control?
What is the role of religious belief in control and duty?
What is the relationship between duty and delight (see Dorothy Day quote; see also conclusion of “Paradises Lost”; see the wine vat and harvest festival in Isaiah)
What is the relationship between peace and control?
What is the relationship between overconfidence and duty?
What is the role of religious belief in imagination?
Regarding Myers’ on Isaiah, if the rich crush the worker “like grapes” and the poor “like grain,” then do the rich not eat the body of the poor and drink their blood and is this not an abomination?
What is the role of mercy in duty?
What is the role of imagination in economics?

Send me your questions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.