Monday, February 27, 2006

How much is "enough"?

Having listened to me on PBS, a listener wrote:

"I am an Educator, of Young Adults and of Parents, helping families to teach a responsible relationship with money. I was grateful to listen to your ideas on the Feb 26 broadcast in the series "Speaking of Faith"; you speak with clarity and insight. Where can I learn more, particularly expanding on your mention of 'Enough'?"

My reply:

"Enough" is as difficult to measure or define as is "poverty".

Here are some preliminary thoughts:

The concept of "enough" is essentially related to CONTENTMENT and PHILANTHROPY - and those are driven by a load of spiritual, cultural, economic and physical factors.

Let's start with the economic/physical ones as these are the easiest to relate to:

1. "Enough" for a poor person is obviously different from what might be "enough" for a rich person (whatever may be the definition of "poor" and "rich" in any particular society)

2. "Enough" is obviously dependent to a certain extent on whether one has dependents (parents, spouse, kids...)

3. "Enough" is obviously related to a certain extent on one's state of health

4. "Enough" is obviously tied to one's metabolic rate (people who are highly active, mentally and/or physically, need more calories!)

5. "Enough" is obviously dependent to a certain extent on one's physical characteristics (a tall, heavily-built person usually needs more food compared to a short and slightly-built person, allowing for the metabolic rate, hormonal imbalances, and so on)

6. "Enough" for poor person "A" may be different from "enough" for poor person "B", depending on whether and what sort of roof/ clothes/ job s/he already has

7. "Enough" for rich person "X" may be different from "enough" for rich person "Y", depending on their social and professional and business responsibilities – e.g. some people are required by their job or social roles to have a bigger house then they would really wish to have, as the wining and dining of guests may be part of their job. Other people may like to have a larger home because they enjoy offering hospitality to friends, relatives and strangers.

8. All the research shows that, for most people (whether rich or poor), "enough" is about 10% more than they have currently!

Spiritual/cultural factors clearly influence one's concept of enough:

A. Most pre-modern cultures (i.e. pre-Reformation ones) emphasised being comfortable with the socio-political status quo, so the perception of what was "enough" was naturally influenced by the level of prosperity of any particular society (in addition to considerations 1-7 above)

B. Reformed or "Modern" cultures (starting with the European and American, but then spreading through globalisation to many other parts of the world), both democratised individual ambition and made rapid progress possible, and insisted that, because wealth is a gift from God, it has to be used responsibly as humans have to give account to God someday of how they have spent their life and resources. As modernity spread through other parts of the world, it planted some seeds of discontent with the status quo there, by enabling people to see that it is possible to have a higher level of income and quality of life, if one adopts specific values/ attitudes/ practices. However, modernity added, to the cultural norms that existed in these areas (regarding care for family and the immediate community, some seeds regarding "responsibility" so that, as the older cultural norms faded, in most cases, these were replaced at least to a certain extent by the Protestant concept of "responsibility". The difference between the Protestant view of "responsibility" and the pre-Protestant view is basically that the pre-Protestant focused on care for family and immediate community. The Protestant version looked well beyond it, so that at least 10% of one's income has to be given away to people who should not normally expect any help from you – this derives of course from Jesus' teaching in answer to the famous question "And who is my neighbour?".

C. Post-modern cultures may be considered to have started around the 1980s with the re-emergence of the notion of the lack of objective truth. Post-modern culture is at present confined to the intellectual elite levels (e.g. university professors, post-grads, and artists) but is rapidly spreading into the rest of the population. Post-modern attitudes split into two:
(a) "if you have it, flaunt it", and
(b) "I only have it because of luck, and I should be responsible in my use of wealth" (though people who hold the latter have, in light of their own worldview, no one to be responsible to, and no particular reason to be "responsible", beyond parental/cultural conditioning; they therefore have very little to say, objectively, to anyone who takes view (a) – because people who take view (a) presumably take it because of THEIR parental/cultural conditioning).

Implications for today:

Whatever the history and the reasons, people in developed countries (such as the USA) who wish to take seriously the concept of "enough" today, may wish to ask themselves the following questions:

i. Can I be considered to have internalised the concept of "enough" if I don't give away at least 10% of my income? (NOTE: in the past, really rich people have given away up to 99% of their income – e.g. the Barclay, Rowntree and Cadbury families in the UK, and families such as Colgate and Palmolive in the USA..... There is one such person who I know personally – though only a little! ).

ii. Are the goods in my house, the size of my house, the quality of my house, the location of my house, the holidays that I take, the car that I drive (you can extend the list for yourself) at the same level as they are for those who are earning what I am earning? How can I live on less than I do live on, so that I can give away more than I do? (of course, in some matters you may want to have MORE than the average for your income-level because you want to share them with others – but beware! the human heart is highly deceptive and many people use this argument to have, say, a large house, but rarely do the sharing!)

So here's my summary: If you have three square meals a day, two pairs of clothes and some sort of roof over your head, what is "enough" is a matter of what is going on in your head and your heart.

Perhaps this will become clearer if you will allow me to conclude by telling you a short story. There was a time when we were relatively poor and living in a rather small house. A relative came to visit and, at the end of his visit that evening, I expressed my ambivalence about the visit as it had been lovely to see him but the visit had been rather short. My child innocently asked me "But, Taji (that's what the children call me), if he had wanted to stay, where would we have put him up?". My answer was the simple and traditional answer: "Dearest one, if there is space in your heart there will always be enough space in your home, however small the house may be. But if you don't have space in your heart, then there will never be enough space in your home, however large the house may be".

BTW, if you don't know the Tolstoy story, "How much land does a man need?", it is a riveting exploration of exactly the same subject, and far easier to use in teaching!

Warm regards, prayers and blessings for your important work


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nexien said...

RE: Enough
I am not completely convinced that "enough" is primarily related to contentment, philanthropy, spiritual, cultural, or economic factors.

It seems to me that the concept of "enough" has several levels and that Abraham Maslow's "hierarchy of needs" serves as a good initial classification scheme. For all living entities, the satisfaction of primary physiological needs of the organism, enabling the maintenance of the normal homeorhettic processes of life, define the first level of "enough". The next level would then be the satisfaction of those additional physiological needs required to propagate the species, but not required for individual survival.

The introduction of the species survival adds the factor of time, in that "what is enough" changes with the (often implied) duration under consideration.

Without at least the satisfaction of these primary, physiological needs, "enough" is meaningless, hence the satisfaction of these needs is, in mathematical parlance, necessary.

It seems to me that the determination of a sufficiency criterion for "Enough" is kind of hazy and much less capable of a priori determination.

The concept of "Enough" also splits up at this point. Along one branch "Enough" can be defined essentialy as "satiated" Where the implicit "price" of any additional input is not worth the "gain". This is primarily individually determined. General economic procedures can evaluate this kind of "enough", at least in a statistical sense.

The other main branch of meaning for "enough" is much more fuzzy, and involves the determination of what is socially and culturally sufficient, and is thus environmentally determined, not individually determined. IMHO, it is herein that the majority of your analysis seems to fall.

Additional factors which need to be considered are who does the determination, and for what reason the determination is done, and for the time duration under consideration.

To take an extreme example:
Do Bill & Nelinda Gates have "enough"?

1) They certainly have enough money to meet their immediate personal and family needs and private desires. But do they have enough to support their descendents for a thousand years?

2) They obviously do not have sufficient resources to fully finance the elimination of AIDS or Malaria, world wide, although they seem to be trying.

Who decides if they have "Enough"?

jpcarson said...

Hi, I listened to your recent interview on "speaking of faith." the following may be of interest.



March 3, 2006

Ms. Debra Mason
Executive Director
Religion Newswriters Association
PO Box 2037
Westerville, OH 43086-2037
Phone: (614) 891-9001
Fax: (614) 891-9774

Re: Have story, looking for religion writer?

Dear Ms. Mason,

I'm Joe Carson, a licensed professional engineer (P.E.) employed as a nuclear safety engineer for the Dept. of Energy. I am a multiple-time prevailing whistleblower as somewhat detailed on my somewhat dated website (it's now down, hopefully it will be back in a few days, but if you google my name, you should find several news stories related my case.

As a P.E., I have a positive legal and ethical duty to "blow whistles" as necessary to protect others. I did my legal duty, my employer unlawfully punished me for it. That is the established legal record. At end of it my actions are faith-based, in a Christian worldview that one's work matters to God, and that God expects me to comply with my legal and ethical obligations as an engineer, even at significant risk, sacrifice, suffering and loss. My faith informs me that "suffering for righteousness' sake," is not necessarily to be shunned.

I am scandalized by the lack of open support I have failed to receive from Christian faith communities and Christian public policy organizations. The result is that I'm just a "speeding ticket" to my employer - in fact it considers my case beneficial as it has served to intimidate other concerned employees into silence. This is largely because faith communities have not gone on record to de-legitimize my employer's lawbreaking.

I do not take it personally, Christian faith communities have no process, precedent, protocol, or policy for doing anything much more than say "we'll pray for you" in such circumstances. But I want to see it changed, my whistleblowing involved, indirectly at least, safeguards and security for America's nuclear stockpile, in my employer's sole custody. The stakes are potentially cosmic, my faith community is AWOL, and I am trying to find a religion writer who will publicize it.

Too much institutional wrongdoing is enabled by Christian professional employees who "look the other way at it," in part because their faith communities will "wash their hands of them" if they "blow whistles" and see expressions of open support from them, even if they are legally vindicated.

I am well know in the whistleblower community. Leading whistleblower organizations as the Gov't Accountability Project (GAP) <>; Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) <>; and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) <> are supportive of this aspect of the dismal realities concerned employees face being publicized. They can help provide background information and other interviewees as well as help get the story placed.

I would appreciate any ideas you or others at RNA may have about locating a religion writer for this story.

I will call to follow-up on this email in a few days, if I do not hear from you or someone else at RNA. I am also known to some leaders of Gegrapha, an auxiliary journalism society for Christian journalists .


Joe Carson, P.E.
President, Affiliation of Christian Engineers

Knoxville, TN

P.S. the following is a August 2005 Washington Times front page story (but it was August in DC, otherwise it would have been page 20!) on whistleblowers of faith. It follows the time-worn model of "martyrs of faith," the complementary story - Where are their faith communities and why are they AWOL? - has, to my knowledge, never been covered.


Religion Helps Workers Speak Up

Washington Times

By Julia Duin
Published August 22, 2005

Recent news accounts on the ethics of whistleblowing have left out one major reason some government employees tell all -- religion.
Call it faith-based whistleblowing.

Joe Carson, a nuclear safety engineer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, said it was his Christian worldview that impelled him to blow the whistle 19 times since 1990 on workplace and public-safety hazards at the Department of Energy, guardian of the nation's nuclear stockpile.

"Whistleblowers are thinking of what's good for others, not just looking out for number one," said Mr. Carson, 51.

"If society wants to constrain evil, they license certain professionals to do so," he said, "and I have a legal duty as a licensed professional engineer to blow whistles. Either you look the other way or confront what you believe is wrong."

Jesselyn Radack, a former ethics attorney for the Department of Justice and a member of Temple Sinai, a Reform synagogue in Northwest, said Exodus 23:2 persuaded her to blow the whistle in the case of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh.

The verse, "Do not follow a multitude to do wrong. You shall not give perverse testimony in a dispute so as to pervert it in favor of the mighty," was the central theme in her 1984 bat mitzvah, a coming-of-age ceremony for Jewish girls.

It came to mind on Dec. 7, 2001, when she advised Justice's criminal division not to interrogate Lindh without an attorney present. Lindh's father had already retained counsel for his son.

When the FBI did so anyway, while claiming Lindh's rights had been respected, a federal judge began looking into the matter. When Mrs. Radack learned that e-mails concerning the case were missing from her files, she retrieved them from her computer hard drive and gave copies to Newsweek magazine.

"I'm not a Bible thumper that goes around quoting Scripture," she said. "But after September 11, there was such an outcry to get the terrorists dead or alive. What bothered me was the cutting of corners and the taking of shortcuts. In the DOJ's ethics division, it was important to cut straight corners."

Calls for comment to the Department of Justice and its Office of Special Counsel, created to protect federal whistleblowers, were not returned.

Mrs. Radack, who will be the keynote speaker Sept. 23 at a Whistleblowers for an Honest, Efficient and Accountable Government convention at the Watergate Hotel, said she's spent $50,000 in attorney's fees defending herself.

"It unleashed the full force of the executive branch against me for four years," she said, adding she ended up on a "no-fly list" and was put under criminal investigation, although no charges were brought.

Rosemary Dew, a Lutheran who now works with the Department of Defense, said her decision to blow the whistle on sexual harassment in the FBI from 1978 to 1990 was based on Matthew 25:40, "Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me."

She applied that thought to the treatment that she said many women and minorities received at the FBI, which she described as "a very creepy, aggressive, predatory kind of harassment I had never seen anywhere else."

"I decided whatever they'd do to the most disenfranchised of their employees, they'd do to the public."

Her experiences, chronicled in her 2003 book, "No Backup," were out of her 13 years as an FBI supervisory special agent specializing in counterintelligence and counterterrorism.

The Rev. Louis Clark, a Methodist pastor and lawyer who is president of the Government Accountability Project, said religion was a "significant factor" in 50 percent of the cases he's dealt with. It also motivated several nationally known Catholic whistleblowers, he added, citing Coleen M. Rowley of the FBI, David Graham of the Food and Drug Administration and Burt Berube of General Services Administration.

"It has to do with a strong value system, which most religions strongly cultivate," he said. "They care about how something might impact your neighbor."
But Watergate conspirator Chuck Colson, who subsequently converted to Christianity, made a case against whistleblowers in a May 31 "NewsNight With Aaron Brown" regarding W. Mark Felt, the former FBI official exposed as Watergate's "Deep Throat."

"He easily could have come to the officials responsible. If they hadn't acted then, he would resign, have a press conference, and that would be entirely honorable," Mr. Colson said.

An astounded Mr. Carson sent a letter to Mr. Colson, calling his position "morally wrong."

Citing Mr. Colson's "leadership position in a number of Christian ministries," the June 9 letter said he was failing "to properly execute the church's God-given office of confronting, via peaceable means whenever possible, the system of state-sponsored lawbreaking that punishes concerned federal employees who do their legal duty ... in exposing governmental wrongdoing."

A July 19 response from one of Mr. Colson's assistants thanked Mr. Carson for the "loving spirit" of his letter.

Anonymous said...

Joe Carson:
What you say about the Christian community - and others, but most surprisingly the Christian one, seeing as it's most in its interest to stop what's going on in some cases - keeping its mouth shut is also true of other areas, such as absolute religious discrimination on the topic of Darwinism in universities and faculties.

See "The Contemporary Suppression of the Theistic Worldview":