Author: David Cloutier

Unsustainable Cities

The (not failing!) New York Times had two extensive articles recently on the chronic environmental challenges faced in two of the world’s largest cities, Mexico City and London. From Mexico City, the Times details the extreme water shortages that threaten a city already known for its challenges with air pollution. The water shortage problem is forcing more and more reliance on fewer and fewer functional aquifers; this in a city that, when 300,000 Aztecs occupied it (instead of 20 million people today), was literally a city of lakes. Worse, the depletion of aquifers appears to have an even more problematic side effect: the city is sinking… and not at a slow rate either. A Times graphic suggests much of the city sinks 5 to 9 inches per year. Even worse, the sinking has affected the so-called “Grand Canal,” which is designed to remove all the waste water from the central city. The problem? The sinking means that in some places, gravity no longer does its work, and so the canal doesn’t flow or has to be “helped along” by massive (gas-guzzling) pumping stations. the city, with a legacy of struggling government, has no large-scale operation for recycling wastewater or collecting rainwater, forcing it to expel a staggering 200 billion gallons of both via crippled sewers like the Grand Canal. Mexico City now imports as much as 40 percent of...

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Building Catholic Minds?

How does one teach the first theology class to undergraduates? This is a question close to the heart (and heartburn) of virtually everyone I know in theology. In the most recent Christian Century, Aristotle Papanikolaou of Fordham has a marvelous take on this, one I read with particular interest as I am in the midst of teaching this first course for the first time at a new institution. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I emerge from my two sections wondering whether I’m accomplishing… well, what is it that we are trying to do in this class, exactly? Papanikolaou’s article...

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First Principles in the Trump Era

In his essay “Politics, Philosophy, and the Common Good,” Alasdair MacIntyre mounts an argument that the modern nation-state cannot in fact promote a politics of the common good because its political discourse rejects any genuinely rational enquiry and debate about overall forms of life. It sets “limits that are characteristically presupposed by its modes of discourse rather than articulated,” especially the proscription against appeals to first principles. He is careful to point out that appeals to more substantive goods do appear, but they only do so in non-systematic ways – such appeals “contain and domesticate those issues, so that...

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Epiphany: Universal Kingship

There are several feasts at key points on the liturgical calendar where we are reminded forcefully of the universality of Christ’s mission. Pentecost gives us the vision of the Holy Spirit communicating the Gospel across language barriers. Christ the King was instituted in the 1920’s by Pius XI to oppose rising nationalism and fascism – its formal title is “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe.” But the story of the Epiphany is probably the most well-known, the kings (or wise men?) from the East following a star to pay homage to the newly-born King of the...

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Moral Tribes After Trump

A considerable literature has developed, particularly in psychology, centering on the notion that people’s moral judgments are essentially “tribal.” Jonathan Haidt is probably the most well-known of these writers. But the notion has wide circulation. For example, just a few days ago, I heard a radio interview on the mainstream DC news station in which the commentator pointed out that the “fake news” problem is difficult to overcome with “facts,” because believing the world is a certain way is connected to a sense of belonging. For liberals to express concerns that identity politics has gone too far or conservatives...

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