As is tradition at Merion West, here are the editor’s choices for our favorite Merion West articles of 2019.
5. “The Cinnabon Made Me Do It” by Christian Miller
In this April piece, Professor Christian Miller, a philosopher at Wake Forest University, re-examines an assumption underlying much of moral theory: that one’s capacity to do good (or to fail to do good) is relatively fixed. Miller, by invoking a variable as seemingly trivial as a whiff of a Cinnabon, demonstrates how overwhelmingly various aspects of a given environment can impact helping behavior.
4. “Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories” by Matt McManus
Matt McManus, in this September essays, seeks to understand why conspiracy theories are so widely adopted and propagated. In the course of examination, McManus puts forward an important idea: “Rather than confronting a world that is chaotic and beyond the purview of human control, negative events can be attributed to an antagonist who is hyper-rational and manipulating everything. The world, then, is no longer a complex and over-determined assemblage of technological changes, economic forces, and political pressures which have primarily destabilized social identity and national homogeneity.” Conspiracy theories, for McManus, are arguably a person’s all-too-human response to make sense of—or ascribe agency—to causes of suffering.
3. “What Notre Dame Says about Civilization” by Henry George
Henry George, writing in April in the days following the fiery damage sustained by the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, tries to come to terms with how a society processes the loss of one of its most sacred and long-standing symbols. For George (and likely Burke as well), structures as fundamental as Notre Dame unify persons across generations and allow for the individual to be anchored to a sense of continuity with the past and future. When such symbols are lost, gone with them are at least a share of that sense of continuity: “The destruction of Notre Dame has shaken our complacent belief in the permanence of things and the ability for our culture to last without care and cultivation,” George writes.
2. “We Will All Be Banned” by Allen Farrington
Written in June, amid the wave of de-platforming that came to mark 2019’s fixation on so-called “cancel culture,” Allen Farrington asserts that—at the rate things are going—before long, there will be few survivors to the ascendant effort to digitally purge those who deviate from the expected norms championed by the so-called Big Tech companies. Also imperiling this situation is the failure of large technology firms, in many cases, to apply a similar degree of scrutiny to those who engage in questionable behavior but also share these companies’ ideological commitments.
1. “On Trump Hatred: A Plea from the Heart(land)” by David Eisenberg
In this May essay, Professor David Eisenberg of Eureka College in Illinois beautifully chronicles his move from Manhattan to the heart of so-called “Trump Country.” In this piece, Eisenberg describes correcting his own assumptions about rural Americans, many of whom support President Donald Trump, before putting forward a gentle admonition to fellow “cosmopolitans” about the dangers of holding reflexive prejudices about those who vote and live differently. “In our impious minds, many features of this region have stood out—but few more prominently than the generosity of its people. They are devoted to their churches; they volunteer their time; they give to charity; they start charities; they adopt children—and it’s not just couples struggling in vain to conceive a child of their own, but parents who already have four kids and decide to adopt a child with a terminal illness so as to render what little time remains as pleasant as possible,” Eisenberg writes.