As usual, we will assign eleven topics and leave one month open for a current event or a runner-up. This year one of the months will be a field trip.
1) Legalized Marijuana in the U.S.
Is its illegality having the same effects that prohibition had on alcohol--increased crime and crime prevention costs? And a look at the drug itself: Is marijuana really a "gateway drug"? Is it more/less dangerous to use than alcohol?
Some individuals are born with ambiguous female and male physical characteristics. Early 20th century doctors sometimes chose the gender without consent of the parents and performed an operation immediately. How do these individuals cope today? Are they attracted to both sexes as adults?
3) Child Choice
What determines how many children people choose to have and how does this “child choice” change nations (their environments, economies and cultures)? How do income, education, cultural norms influence the “child choice”? What are the impacts of decreasing reproduction on the industrialized world? Perhaps compare Japan, the US and Brazil as case studies. [Further commentary on this topic from another member of the group: Is it men or women making the reproductive choices in these various countries? Does it change from country to country? I've heard from a sociologist that wealthier people in the U.S. tend to have fewer children. Is this true in Brazil, Japan?]
3a) Another angle on this topic: Children. Why having them is not about economics; Not about the environment; Not about fashion and self fulfillment; Not about self perpetuation. Having children is about self-realization.
4) National Debt and Deficit
What about the national debt? Should we be concerned about the size of the national debt and does it matter who owns the debt? Is it advisable to continue to increase deficits and the debt in the short-term? Economists seem to have various opinions on the debt and I envision selecting readings from economists with differing opinions on this topic to start the discussion.
5) The role of theology in religion
Theology plays a critical role in every religion, at both the institutional and individual levels. How do different faith traditions and their adherents understand their theologies? How can these understandings be healthy or unhealthy? What are the pros and cons of orthodoxy? To what degree should theology be "flexible," and what do we mean by "flexible"? Part of my presentation would propose an understanding of theology as an inspired framework, as a touchstone that points us to deeper truths that connect us more closely to God. I'm concerned these days with "healthy" theology as well as the effects that "unhealthy" theology can have on people. My overriding concern is does theology help us become closer to God, or does it drive us away? What assumptions do we make about theology, and where do those assumptions lead us?
6) Theology, religion, church, and spirituality—defining terms
How do these tools help and hinder people understand God and his will?
7) Can Labor Save Us?
In 1935, at the height of economic turmoil, Congress enacted the Wagner Act (or National Labor Relations Act ). The Act allowed employees to organize collectively, which created a balancing of power, making employees and corporations "partners" in a successful economic recovery. Since the 1970s, unionization has been on the decline in the United States and apathy towards the same has risen to the point where, for example, some attribute the recent fall of the auto industry, in part, to overly powerful unions. Against this perfunctory backdrop, the question is if, in the current recession, a resurgence of unionization is the key, if not an essential, tool in rebuilding the economy.
8) Happiness (vote for this if you like any of the ideas below. The topic host can pick and choose)
• I would really like to discuss ways to MEASURE happiness if possible. That seems to be the struggle now. There's this movement called the Fun Theory. Is someone having fun a sure indicator of happiness? If so can that be measured? The Fun Theory tries to measure it.
• I think how we spend our time brings happiness--do we in the U.S. need to slow down and make more free time? Is it possible to support a family or yourself by living an "alternative lifestyle" and work less than 40 hours a week (without being rich already) taking more time for socializing, being outside. Compare the typical full-time American adult to a traditional 1950s hunter-gatherer in remote Africa. Who works harder--time wise? Who is more happy/healthy?
• I saw a piece on Stephen Colbert featuring a book called "The Story of Stuff". It encouraged reducing materialism. Our physical possessions take time, and money, could owning less make us happier, less stressed out, more available for desirable pursuits? Could we use a "possession cleanse"?
What is manliness? Is it dying? Should we mourn its loss? The concept of manliness conjures up pictures of courage, strength, and honor. Don’t we want more of that, and not less? Harvey Mansfield has written eloquently and provocatively in defense of manliness. He writes, for example, that efforts to create a “gender-neutral” society have taken a toll on true manliness without meeting their real purpose of maximizing greater equality (women have joined the workforce in droves, for example, but they still do all the housework). How can we encourage manliness and gender equality?
What determines intelligence and who gets to decide? We could talk about IQ tests, the multicultural dimensions of IQ scores and what the IQ test is blind to. What are other models of intelligence (i.e. how do you measure musical or athletic intelligence)? Explore ideas about intellectual capital.
11) Numbers in Nature
Mathematical patterns show up all over in nature. It would be interesting to become familiar with some of these patterns and why scientists think this happens. The Golden Section is one of the more studied and proven theories of numbers or fractions in nature and how it repeats itself. Also, Fibonacci Numbers and the Golden Spiral. They are in sunflowers, seashells, and artichokes to name just a few. What do such common natural mathematical patterns say about us and the nature of the world we live in?
12) The Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Builders, Generation X, Generation Y, and the E generation
What differentiates these generations and what aspects of growing up in different times affect us? We could have representatives from each age group give opinions. How does advertising/media affect our perspectives and myth-making about the generations? Explore the phenomenon of having nostalgia for a time you did not experience.
It would be interesting to see exactly how we are influenced and where that influence is really coming from. Do those crazy expensive designs we see on the runway really have an impact on popular fashion and who decides what the trends are?
14) Left-Handers: What is up with them?
Left-handed people are disproportionately represented in high-ranking political offices, corporate boardrooms, and in influential art circles. Is this just a strange coincidence or is there more there?
15) Wealth Redistribution
Is wealth redistribution a good thing? If so, what methods of redistribution are best? (i.e. how well does the earned-income tax credit work at redistributing wealth?) [Further comment on this topic from another member of the group: Why has mandated wealth redistribution consistently failed over and over throughout history? What, if any, alternatives work better?]
16) Food—the stuff life is made of
How, what, and where food is grown, processed, and delivered affects us economically, environmentally, physically, spiritually, and socially. But few believe it. I would like us to explore how the food we are consuming affects us in all these areas.
17) Rape as a weapon of war
The United Nations recognizes rape as a tactic of war and a threat to international security. In a resolution denouncing rape as a weapon of war, the Security Council noted that “women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” Major-General Patrick Cammaert, former commander of UN peacekeeping forces in the eastern Congo, has said, “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict.” Why is rape as a weapon so powerful? What does it do to the fabric of a community? What is being done to strategically combat rape as a weapon?
18) Paradox of sexual freedom
Birth control makes it possible for women to have sex with far less risk of getting pregnant. Because of the pill, women clearly have more choice and more sexual freedom. One could argue, however, that with that freedom has come greater exploitation of women through pornography and relationships that lack commitment. Is that true? What are the implications?
19) Music theory
Why and how is music the most common and powerful mind altering drug next to sex?
20) Field Trip ideas
For the field trip, we will still study up on some relevant materials to educate ourselves prior to the field trip, and perhaps dedicate some time after the field trip or at the beginning of the next month’s group to discuss the experience. Vote for the ONE field trip you are most interested in.
a. Music studio
b. Backstage of a theater or the opera (sets, costumes, lights, etc.)
c. Interactive craft/art creative night
d. Urban design (study up on Greenbelt, Maryland and maybe visit Daybreak or other designed community)
e. Nature hike with an expert
f. Gilgal gardens
g. Hawk watch
h. City dump/recycling or other waste processing facility
i. Kennecott mine
j. Masonic temple
k. Factories in North Salt Lake
l. Go to a mountain spot where we do nature writing (a la Rachel Carson in the personal essay vein), then we read our essays to each other at the next group meeting.
m. Ben Behunin (potter). He has made his living doing this for the past 15 years. He has just published his third book in a series about a young potter. They are delightful and thought provoking. He has a whimsical home and studio in Sugar House. It would be worth your time to see the studio and the art he creates. It is both irreverent and inspiring. His love for live and art is fun and infectious. Yet he is also very practical. I have heard him speak to a group before and he can share some remarkable insights about following your dreams and passions while staying true to your ideals.