Reading Michael Sandel and Ready to Move On

My Couch.

My Couch.

For reasons and milestones I won’t reveal here — or dwell on any further — I’ve decided it is now or never.  Time to uncork the bottle, so to speak, and put a little panicked energy into things.

I have been engrossed with these thoughts for much of the day.  Obsessed to the point that I walked invisibly through a crowded neighborhood fair early and now almost day dreamed through a thunderstorm.  I even had trouble hitting a golf ball.

Clearly now is the time to act on decisions.   Now or never.

I titled this post with Michael Sandel and I cannot imagine why.  Perhaps he is in some way caught up in the malaise.  He strikes me as a rather dry, somber sort of guy.  Is he?  I don’t know.  I hear much about him and have read little things here and there.  I don’t know Michael Sandel.

For a little light reading, I am reading his recent book, What Money Can’t Buy, that’s all I know.  And so far I am only moderately impressed.  For something from a man of Sandel’s reputation, I find this book underwhelming so far.

What Money Can't BuyI’m two-thirds through the book and it reads like a very basic essay on ethics with a dose of understated modal logic to brain it up a little.  And it feels presumptive, almost lazy.  Not deep and intense.

Among the things money can’t buy, for example, is a love of reading, Sandel argues…or seems to argue.  (That’s the nagging undertone of modality I sense.  His arguments come across a bit qualified, cautious, temporal.)

Sandel discusses programs that reward kids with money for finishing assignments, attending class, reading books and so and points out that this might teach responsibility to work (a job ethic, perhaps?) rather than a genuine love of learning.

But in the reading-for-money example, I think his criticism — if that’s what it is — were more focused on the benefits of learning to read for the sake of reading, his argument would be more persuasive and meaningful.

For example, isn’t it the case that someone who reads early and reads often evolves organically develops better reading and language skills generally?  The ability to interpret words and meaning skillfully is complex.  A mind trained to read for an external reward like money isn’t necessarily (that modal crap again) learning to read richly.  The creativity of reading and language matters beyond the written page, I think.  Where is a bright thinking like Michael J. Sandel on this line of thought and criticism?

Michael J. Sandel

Michael J. Sandel

It is a thought-provoking book and I think Sandel is right on the money — sorry — when he warns us that the tools of a market society have melded into a market society.  However, I hoped the book would dig deeper into the way society has changed, as he points out, from one that uses a market economy as a tool to one that lives as market society, where everything has a price and is assessed in commodity terms.

What does this change say about how our society functions politically today, for example?  That seems immensely prominent, but so far it isn’t discussed in any meaningful way in the book.  We’re given examples of the effects caused by market society, but no real discussion as to how it is changing us as a society and why it should matter.

Why, for example, are economic models for allocating human organs a bad thing?  How so in the way we organize ourselves as a society as a whole?  I wanted more discussion about this sort of thing…all the risks and benefits and why one choice should matter more than another.  Something with some meat.  Instead he argues points about fairness — as in paying to jump ahead in queues — and I think we can follow the argument of how this is unfair to those who cannot pay, but it doesn’t really get to how we got to this point as a society — where everything is for sale — and what the overall effect is of this market society behavior on our social structure as a whole.

But I’m not finished with the book.  I’ll probably end up writing a complete retraction.  But that’s ok.  I’m not finished with a few other things, too.  Time to get rocking.  The contemplative life is fantastic and not at all inconsistent with results in action.  Who’s got a bottle to uncork?  Come hither.  Help me write my strange little posts.  There’s a fresh storm brewing outside and I’m not missing this one.

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One thought on “Reading Michael Sandel and Ready to Move On

  1. Pingback: Market Society: What I Thought Michael Sandel Might Have Addressed | A Little Tour in Yellow

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