Playstations, trickle-down economics and the life worthwhile

As our local vicar likes to remind us, Christmas is about giving and about receiving.

This is not just about Playstations and socks and mince pies; what really counts is that it is done with meaning and integrity.

It is the thought that counts.

I am reminded of a passage in Michael J. Sandel’s book Justice. A meditation on political philosophy, Justice also makes the case for civic engagement in politics, something that seems a pitifully low priority for governing classes across much of the world.

The passage in question was the opening salvo in Robert F. Kennedy’s campaign to become US President, which saw him addressing students at the University of Kansas in March 1968. Of course, Kennedy’s campaign was doomed as within weeks he had succumbed to an assassin’s bullet in Los Angeles.

While the jist of his words is striking – even for the 1960s – its expression makes for a stirring and memorable piece of communication:

Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.  It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.  It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.  Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.  And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

The full text of JFK’s speech can be read here.

By contrast, Pope Francis’ recent denunciation of trickle-down economics appears an exercise in stilted verbosity which while making headlines also forced the Papacy into a clarification.

That said, it is certainly worth a read. Here is a decent overview.

Just as it does for companies and governments, the Playstation era enables religious leaders to communicate direct with their audiences.

As the Pope’s use of Twitter shows, this doesn’t mean that official communication must necessarily be dumbed down.

But it does have to be clear and, better still, emotive if it is to change hearts and minds, principles RFK had certainly heeded.

Whatever your religion and politics, Happy Christmas and here’s hoping for a meaningful and prosperous 2014.

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