modified from 10/10/2009
When I was younger and more Christiany I thought evangelical Christianity was the end all be all, that once someone "gave their life to Christ" they'd be all set. With experience came the realization that most the people who "gave their life to Christ" would live an existence that only varied slightly from the American norm. Studying the history of Christianity too showed me that though some were able to do incredible things with Christianity (e.g. Methodists in England pushing to stop slavery, MLK, Jr.), that Christianity itself was often impotent in the face of power or worse, used by the powerful to sedate and confuse the masses. Where I did see substantive positive differences they came mainly, I thought, from temperament and education (especially philosophical education).
After that, I went through a phase where it was hard for me to imagine someone who had studied epistemology and the history of philosophy yet remained content in his dogmatic slumbers reinforcing the status quo and still looking to repetition for answers. I didn't really expect all philosophers to be shining lights but at the least I expected them to understand how precarious and absurd our situation truly is. I was thoroughly disabused of that notion as I read and heard from philosopher after philosopher who clearly understood the material yet seemed to have plenty of psychological and rhetorical resources to keep them from any need to appropriate their knowledge.
At this point I assume as I pick other agents of positive change I'll just be corrected again and again; this must be my Sisyphus task. Imagining Sisyphus happy, I look for another. So what are the agents of positive change we can rely on?
I don't know. Different strokes for different folks? I do think some aspects of religion are the answer for some people at some times and the same for philosophy. They both teach types of discipline that can help us achieve goals and reorient ourselves in ways we require. The best answer, at this point, seems to be to put yourself in the place where there are the most external reinforces to move you in the direction you're trying to go.
And of course love, love is an agent of positive change. Gotta love love.