Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Power of Ideas on Value and the “Redistribution of Wealth”

There is something about the human mind that finds meaning and significance in everything of the world. This significance or meaning translates into some arbitrary value on the basis of some currency. These items of significance present burdens on the world and its people when necessity and want get confused. People go to buy Hummers while other people can barely afford clothes, and others are reconstructing their 30,000 square foot mansions while people are dying of AIDS because they cannot afford modern retrovirals.

I can understand wanting a car that operates well and even extremely efficiently, yet the phenomena of H2’s and Ferraris baffles me. These cars range from 40,000 to millions of dollars and what are they used for? I guarantee 80 percent of people with H2’s never go off road or enter some kind of insurgence assault. The key is the idea behind the car. An Italian company puts a really powerful engine in the wrong end of the car, adds some curves, and the value multiplies by 10 because of some “rare” factor. H2’s, designed from the army’s HumV, has been designated some kind of “badass” vehicle, while getting about 9 mpg (if even), which leads true “badasses” to pay about 40K for their vehicle to represent their true selves. It does not matter the product. The higher the price of it translates into its value or meaning in society. The Mona Lisa painted by Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the most well known and valuable paintings in existence, yet, if the idea of genius and age were not behind it, I wouldn’t pay more than four or five dollars for it at a yard sale. It really is not that great of a painting no matter how many times I have been told of its wonder and mystery throughout my life. These expensive and valuable things are not necessary, but the people, in search of higher social standing, flock to the opportunity of owning such luxuries in some illusion of accomplishment or importance.

Doctors and CEO’s spend time in their huge homes while others can’t even afford them, but people try to justify the doctor as if he is the protagonist of society and deserves such luxuries. I know that there are many blue collar workers who work just as hard as the doctor. I understand a high salary for the sake of paying off student loans, but after the debt is gone, they are working just as hard as the cook at waffle house or the secretary in the CEO’s office. Doctors that I have talked to even strongly agree with such statements (at least the ones who are doctors for the sake of being doctors and not the pay). So this is the reason I think everyone deserves the same pay and why I support Obama’s “redistribution of wealth.” I recognize the illusion of value in society and its deteriorating influence. I only believe this though because of the unequal distribution of opportunity in the world and in our society. If the laziest actually made up the population of those in poverty, I would say to help themselves (to a certain one should die for a want to be lazy), but I grew up in an extremely poor neighborhood and have seen its school systems and inescapable cycles. I was just lucky enough to have one rich parent. So with this “redistribution,” I hope to see people find that real worth is not correlated with currency or salary and overpower the superficial ideas of today’s consumerism.

Maybe Spiderman Can Free the Slaves

“With great power, comes great responsibility.” Pretty much everyone knows that this line comes from the movie Spiderman, but virtually no one practices it (at least it seems that way). Being American, we have a lot of power, even as individuals. We are part of the most successful, influential, and dominate country in the world. So, we have a lot of responsibility that we need to strive to uphold. But how far should we be responsible for something, especially if we are not directly linked to the problem.

For example, we buy products that are made by slaves in third world countries. Should only the business that makes the products be held responsible for supporting slavery or should the consumer be held responsible as well? Did the consumer technically do anything wrong even if they knew that the product was probably made by slaves? Does even ignorance exempt the consumer from being blamed, since slavery is such a major and terrible problem?

If consumers were held responsible for buying such products, pretty much everyone would be incriminated. Take a look around your room. Probably half of the things you own are somehow made by slaves in another country. Unfortunately, the alternative option to that slave-made product is probably a much more expensive kind that you might not be able to afford (since you now have to buy a lot of expensive products that are not made by slaves).

So what should people do? Not buy things that they need, because they feel responsible to help stop slavery or ignore the problem and buy these products, because they did not directly enslave people to make the product? And should people feel guilty when buying these products? Or should they take the attitude that they didn’t start the process of enslaving people who made the product, so they shouldn’t have to feel bad?

The Fight Against Valueless Capitalism

As I was doing some research on capitalism, I came across another blog that proposed a way to end the “valueless capitalism” that seems to be so evident in the American society. The woman that wrote the post said she was a CEO and was constantly told to “maximize share holder value.” Stepping back for a minute, this thought concerned me. Rather than analyzing and critically weighing the components contributing to the decision, the innate response seems to be to produce profit. This is not just by the CEO of the company, but seems to an understanding amongst the workers as well. The author tries to set things into perspective. “Money on its own is worthless. Money has worth only insofar as it is able to improve life. Too often business make money, but decrease the quality of life for so many who are involved.”
Becoming part of a modern day business, one can lose their individual thought and can be immersed into the “mob mentality” without being consciously aware of their decisions. This can be detrimental to the ways of society due to the ignorance of other’s well-being. As many have said before, money cannot buy one’s happiness. It is the life style that one conducts day to day that creates an enjoyment of life. To help solve this problem, the author purposes being an active capitalist by buying with values. She introduces companies that try to give back to the community, offer benefits to low-paid workers, and help provide jobs for the unemployed.
If people were to base their decisions to buy goods on their values, would this help build a better community as she suggest? Could it be possible to change a valueless capital system? More importantly, could the mentality that drives the economy today, be changed to a value based mind-set? Sadly, I believe it would take generations to mildly change the greed hungry American society. People may search out business that benefit others, but if it hurts their personal income I highly doubt people would continue in that direction.

The website I recieved my information :

Thumpin It and Civil Rights

Several weeks ago I listened to Jacques Berlinerblau’s lecture concerning his book Thumpin’ It: The Use and Abuse of the Bible in Today’s Presidential Politics. For me, the lecture clarified a lot of issues about the separation of church and state in America. Though the idea of separation between the church and the state is nowhere in the U.S. Constitution or the Declaration of Independence (as most people believe), many “secularists” are fighting religion’s inclusion in American politics.

Unfortunately, secularism is becoming increasingly unpopular in the political field. While the left-wing has been known to champion separation of church and state in the past, the secularist movement within the Democratic Party was conspicuously absent in the 2008 presidential election. Why? Because Christian evangelicals make up too large a percentage of the vote in America for politicians to overtly oppose Christian values.

While the Bible hasn’t been referenced to justify slavery in the U.S.A. in some time, it has been used to deny civil rights to certain groups in more recent history: ethnic minorities, women, and homosexuals. As recently as the 1990’s there were American states in which a woman could not legally prosecute her husband for rape. The idea that all sex (even violent, forced sex) between a man and his wife is not rape stems back to the cultural belief throughout history that women are inferior to or the property of men; this idea has all too often been backed up by religion – Christianity in Europe and America, Islam in the Middle East, Thai Buddhism in Thailand. The U.S. has a lengthy history of violations against ethnic minorities and immigrants, from Old South slavery to the civil rights movement in the mid-twentieth century. Again, justification was often rooted in religion, specifically Christianity. Today the big issue is same-sex marriage. Just as the case with women and ethnic minorities within America, giving human rights to a group is denied, based mostly upon the religious views of the majority.

Power Experiment… Success or Failure?

At the beginning of this semester Dr. Johnson passed out a syllabus that did not list the order of our reading assignments. The objective, she explained, was to give our class the power to choose which books we would read and when. However, Dr. Johnson did suggest that we select one of the introductory books to start with. As most of us will remember, we held a formal vote on the second or third day of class to decide our first reading: Jackson’s Sovereignty won out over Ideology: A Very Short Introduction. Overall, it was a very democratic exercise of power.

Our next reading was the runner-up to Sovereignty, Michael Freeden’s Ideology. Though we didn’t actually vote this time there was a general consensus that the second reading should be everyone’s second choice. As soon as we finished this book, however, Dr. Johnson decided we should read some work of Hannah Arendt’s. Society Must Be Defended by Michael Foucault was similarly chosen. By the time we finished struggling through Foucault the end of the semester was beginning to loom ever closer, and I suggested that we read Disposable People next, since one of our seminar paper topics focuses on Bales’ book. Though a few people offered non-committal nods, shrugs, and throat-clearings, there was no vote once again; if anyone disagreed, they didn’t voice their dissent. Finally, our last book, Capitalism, was picked by our professor, since so many students were expressing an interest in the economic issues tied up with slavery.

My question to my classmates (and Dr. Johnson as well) is whether our power experiment was a success or failure. Did we ever really have any choice at all? What if we decided half-way through reading Sovereignty that it was a waste of time; was dropping the book, which we had chosen, a possibility? More importantly, did our class ever have the power to veto one of Dr. Johnson’s suggestions?

Personally, I think the experiment was a success. The deterioration of our “democratic” system reflects the real-life crises of many nations today. Whether or not the reading material was what we wanted, it is what was believed by Dr. Johnson to be in the class’s best interests. Similarly, many governments have the power to pass laws without the consent of the people. This is made possible in two ways: the citizens either trust that their governments are truly doing what is best for them, or those who disagree keep their silence, believing that their dissension will make no difference. Clearly, Dr. Johnson is not a dictator and our class is not a state; however, the parallel between power within our classroom and power within the world is very telling.

Practical Foucault

Initially I struggled to grasp Foucault's Society Must Be Defended because I was skeptical of how change could occur and where the change would come from. It was not until I read this story on (I know, not the most academically meaningful website)about New England Patriots safety Je'Rod Cherry. Here is the story:
It is my opinion that professional sports players are grossly overpaid to entertain. I am also not fond of using sports as a metaphor for life, but that is another issue. However, Je'Rod, in an unselfish move, is auctioning off his Super Bowl ring in order to raise money to help start orphanages for sex slaves in Cambodia and Thailand. This is a great intersection of two the books we have read this semester. First, someone is aware of the problem of slavery that Kevin Bales documents. Next, this can be an example of where change can occur in Foucault's system. Although Je'Rod arguably is the product of what has produced him (the American culture that places a premium on entertainment, he worked hard and found a job in the industry), he is doing something to help change the discourse of selfish athletes. Although this is a small step, it is better than no step. I was satisfied in that I could see a real life example of Foucault's philosophy in action.
Unfortunately, I found it unsettling that some of his teammates are trying to keep him from selling the ring for charity. That is a selfish move on the other players part, and simply asinine in general. It is just a ring, practically worthless until we ascribe dollar amounts and value to it, I imagine that the memory of winning the Super Bowl is much more valuable than a rock on a piece of metal.

Connecting the dots

“It is a constant struggle, and that is how we know that we grow.” It comes to the end of the semester and of the class and perhaps of this blog, and I have an urge to share with you what I have learned the most from this class. The quote above was from Dr. Johnson. Honestly, I do not remember exactly the context of the quote; however, it made such a big impact in me because it recaps the philosophy behind all the topics that we discussed in class. The most recent topics that we touched upon were slavery and capitalism. Let’s look at slavery, have you ever questioned if slavery will ever get totally abolished? Realistically to say, I do not think it will ever happen because exercising power is a natural tendency of human being. People love controlling, directing, exploiting people. Also, in terms of financial consideration, the lowest waged worker out there, still, can never beat a slave working for you to pay debt or even better, for free. However, moral values do not allow us to accept that unethical benefit and that bitter fact should not discourage us from fighting for equality. Here we see, it is truly a constant struggle, we know that the struggle will never stop, but we do not give up fighting because that is how we progress. Same concept applied to the topic of capitalism, our class discussion already pointed out that crisis is part of capitalist societies. A capitalist society will always be full of peaks and bottoms; however, in that constant struggle, we, as people of that society, can always find a way to progress so that the next crisis, people will at least experience a lighter hit and a softer bottom.
Turning back to our daily lives, right now, we all breathlessly rush to finish papers and review for final exams. Some of you may find it enjoyable and for you, the difference compared with a normal day is just one more cup of coffee every night from now to Wednesday. Some of you may struggle, trying to study really hard to pull your grade up. Personally, my first semester at Rhodes so far has not been a bed of roses as I EXPECTED; however, I do have fun and I think the struggle is worth it. I hope you do the same.