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 extent..no 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 : garyalloway.wordpress.com/2008/10/07/being-an-activist-capitalist/

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 ESPN.com (I know, not the most academically meaningful website)about New England Patriots safety Je'Rod Cherry. Here is the story: http://myespn.go.com/blogs/afceast/0-4-406/Cherry-hopes-hollow-ring-will-save-children.html.
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.

Slavery, Our Government, and Other Moral Problems

When Paul brought up the idea about watchdog organizations not being enough to fix the problem and our government’s need to intervene as the only logical solution, it made me think of a few things. First, about the U.N. being involved in these countries, I just wonder how much help/support they will get from both within and from the country they are intervening in, since it is likely that the country in question is a member of the U.N., and they, as well as the locals in the country, will want to be able to voice their agenda.
I just think that, for any country, it is almost impossible to make a perfect decision; one with absolutely 0% chance of backlash. It just depends on how far and at what cost us and our leaders are willing to go to do the right thing.
For example, I think we could very easily fix the problem of slavery in any country we choose by simply refusing trade unless they agree to get on top of their problem of slave labor. Sure, we might make some enemies and other countries might think we are handling it unreasonably, but we will have the support of other nations and maybe even set a GOOD example for those who may be on the fence about what to do about this or other controversial issues.
I also think that it is impossible to have a perfect leader, or maybe even a perfect government, but we can be a nation of conscience.
Along the same lines, being that we live in a culture and nation where the first pictures of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s baby sold for over $4 million, I think that our country would greatly benefit from making some decisions within the realm of morality.
Another example, I think, could be the issue of our gas. Touchy subject, I know. They are low. Good, right? But how good is it for us? Not you…us? I was talking to my dad about this over thanksgiving break, and we sort of came to the agreement that we should have a higher tax on gas. Again, a lot of people would complain, now it costs more to drive their SUV’s – with ONE PERSON in them (that’s another issue) – around all the time, but I just think it would be good for our country. I know this is a really general and simple way of looking at it and there are a lot of complications, but this is the way I figure it: our government needs the money (what are we like $2.4 trillion in debt to the rest of the world?), the people who can still afford to drive around all the time don’t need the money, the rest of us who can’t afford to drive as much as them (the other 98%) will need to drive a little less, it will help break our addiction to foreign oil, and it will be good for our environment because it will improve the demand, profit, and use of alternative energy sources.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Blast from the past....

When Kip brought up the speakers that came to class earlier this semester it reminded me of a blog I wanted to write but never got around to, so now I am. One idea brought up was that if you feel voting is the only way to express your democracy, then democracy does not matter. The logic behind this was that voting only occurs once every four years and, as Kip pointed out, the elected individual still may not please everyone. If all an individual does to contribute to democracy is vote and nothing else, it was argued, then democracy does not matter. In my opinion one does not have to go out and volunteer or join and organization to participate in democracy because we participate in our everyday lives. Although many democratic ideas have been challenged and America is not as powerful or successful as it once was, the democratic ideals it was based on still hold true. The bill of rights allows people to practive freedom of speech, press, the right to bear arms, and many other rights that protect us from being controlled by the government. In countries that do not have a democracy citizens are not rewarded the same rights and thus have different lifestyles and ways of thinking. Simply exercising our freedoms is practicing democracy and American citizens do this daily. Although corny it is a fact that because America has a democracy we are able to exercise these rights and I at least think at least one, if not more, of these rights is exercised on a daily basis. If voting was the only aspect of democracy that individuals consciously take part in and if they think that makes democracy then it still should matter, because along with their vote they are also living day to day lives exercising democracy.

Blast from the past....

When Kip brought up the speakers that came to class earlier this semester it reminded me of a blog I wanted to write but never got around to, so now I am. One idea brought up was that if you feel voting is the only way to express your democracy, then democracy does not matter. The logic behind this was that voting only occurs once every four years and, as Kip pointed out, the elected individual still may not please everyone. If all an individual does to contribute to democracy is vote and nothing else, it was argued, then democracy does not matter. In my opinion one does not have to go out and volunteer or join and organization to participate in democracy because we participate in our everyday lives. Although many democratic ideas have been challenged and America is not as powerful or successful as it once was, the democratic ideals it was based on still hold true. The bill of rights allows people to practive freedom of speech, press, the right to bear arms, and many other rights that protect us from being controlled by the government. In countries that do not have a democracy citizens are not rewarded the same rights and thus have different lifestyles and ways of thinking. Simply exercising our freedoms is practicing democracy and American citizens do this daily. Although corny it is a fact that because America has a democracy we are able to exercise these rights and I at least think at least one, if not more, of these rights is exercised on a daily basis. If voting was the only aspect of democracy that individuals consciously take part in and if they think that makes democracy then it still should matter, because along with their vote they are also living day to day lives exercising democracy.

Having your voice heard

I have been contemplating many of the situations and ideas we have studied in this class thus far and I have had a lot of trouble with how some of the ideas relate to the importance of the voice of the individual in modern society. Modern civilization, especially America, has a new found love for the individual, putting all sorts of emphasis on diversity and opportunity and ensuring everyone has a fair shot, however it seems as though it is most difficult to get the individual's voice heard. I think about earlier in the semester when we had the speakers come to class and point out that we only exercise democracy once every four years when voting in the presidential race. I think about this and realize that even in this instance, it is almost impossible for a candidate to represent each and every one of a person's interests so there are always some areas where the voter must settle for different than they desire. Going beyond the issue of when one exercises their right to vote, politicians in modern society are usually characterized as untrustworthy, selfish and biased. It is difficult to find someone who is willing to dedicate their life to politics who isn't trying to push their own agenda's but the people's, and even in that right, if the politician does try to represent the people, there are always voices and opinions left out. Too often we are governed by liars and hypocrites who perpetuate a fake image of themselves to their own personal gains. So what can we do? We can organize, as there are more than a few organizations dedicated to nearly every cause out there, but still, there are too many voices to be fair. It has been perpetuated that democracy only works in the small scale, and lately it has appeared as though it is the shear number of different people and viewpoints that has overcome the system so that no matter how it is broken down, there are always voices that will be squelched. It can be argued that this new era of individualism has lead to a sense of loneliness for the individual, as he realizes his individuality makes him just like everyone else in the sense that everyone is just as unique as he is. From this point, individualism links him to everyone else in the sense that everyone is just as different from him, but alienates him in the sense that he may not find what makes him unique and how he can ever set himself apart from the pack. The pack is no longer made up of identical beings, but rather identically different beings which become even harder to distinguish as the individual gets lost in the crowd. The individual is conintually threatened by the tyranny of the majority as democracy must necessitate the enactment of only the greater part of the people's will. The majority runs the show and the individual's wants and needs are pushed aside as our system can only deal with the most popular of interests. What can be done to protect the individual's voice and give equal attention to all modes of life?

Legalizing immigration?

As discussed in class a few days ago, illegal immigrants tend to end up participating in some kind of modern day slavery. Being an illegal immigrant does not necessarily mean that one will become a slave, but the lack of jobs and opportunities offered to illegal immigrants cause many of them to end up being slaves. Also, many of these immigrants are tricked and think they can follow someone to another country and then receive help and education from that “sponsor,” but instead they end up becoming a domestic slave and remain an illegal immigrant. And there is no way of documenting the number of illegal immigrants and domestic slaves because it is all done underground. I believe that the harder it is for immigrants to legally come to a country, like the United States, the higher the rates of domestic slaves will be. According to a 2005 Newsday investigation on the living conditions of immigrants in the New York area:
“In the city of Westbury (median income: $83,000/year) officials found twelve immigrants living in a basement flooded with sewage. In Southampton (median income: $64,000/year) officials found immigrants living in sheds with no plumbing or heat. In New Cassel (median income: $62,000/year) officials estimated there were dozens of "shift-bed houses" where immigrants literally rent mattresses for a few hours a day to catch some sleep.”
These conditions are the conditions of slavery. If immigration laws are changed and it becomes easier for immigrants to come, maybe the number of domestic slaves will be reduced. The more work visas that a country can give out, the fewer immigrants will try to come to that country by illegal means, making it hard to document the type of jobs that they take. With the requirements that we have now, it takes lawyers and money for many of these immigrants to find ways to come legally, and that is money that these people do not have. If we are able to reform our immigration system and ease our immigration restrictions it will make it easier for those who are willing to obey the law, work, pay taxes, and learn the language to be allowed in. Though restrictions should still exist, loosening the restrictions will make it easier for those that want to come for the right reasons to become legal immigrants, and if we put better security on our borders it would reduce drug and human trafficking. Because these illegal immigrants cannot get a job without some kind of governmental proof, they have to take underground jobs that lead to different types of domestic slavery. This slavery can continue because there is an availability of illegal immigrants needing to make money. The topic of illegal immigrations has been pushed back in recent years because of the economy and the war in Iraq, but even though immigration is not our top priority, I believe that it still should be a priority and it cannot be ignored.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The U.N. Needs Power

One of the major reasons that slavery is able to thrive in the world today is because the governments and police forces of these countries either turn a blind eye, or participate in it to some extent. Recall if you will the police mentioned in Disposable People who acted as slave catchers. In other countries this new form of slavery is an integral part of the economy, or at least integral to the rich business men who the government want to keep happy.
In countries such as Brazil, the slaves are moved off into camps far away where escaping is difficult, and where family or support is nonexistent. Without the strong support of a police force to ensure human rights and keep greedy business in check, anything that can payoff the authorities can operate unmolested. If someone manages to get free but is hunted down by the police, or isn’t given any support and help by the government they will just fall back into the slavery they escaped.
Well why doesn’t the U.S. step in? Send in the army and free them? Well to begin with do we really have the right to invade another sovereign country to enforce anything we want? Do we have the authority? I don’t believe we do. As a sovereign country equal with all other sovereign countries we do not have the authority to make that choice.
At the moment, the only effective way to change things, to remove slavery, and see that basic human rights are observed, is through watchdog organizations. We have to raise awareness and support these watchdog organizations for them to then put pressure one the governments of the counties to make changes. This actually works fairly well, but is slow and ineffective compared to other solutions, was well as not being necessary.
The United Nations is supposed to regulate and enforce international policy and law. The only problem is that they lack any sort of capacity to enforce these laws and policies. The only things they are able to enforce are the things that countries like the U.S. want enforced and then use their military to do so. The U.N. is the answer we are looking for. It has the potential to keep things like modern slavery in check. It is designed to deal with sovereign powers in a way sovereign powers cannot. The U.N. needs a military force. Each country should be required to send a certain amount of troops and equipment to serve in the U.N. military for a certain amount of time.

The Seperation of Church and State

In the BBC documentary, “The Power of Nightmares,” and the Kevin Bales novel, Disposable People, the role of religion in each serves both as a justification and a means to rule the people of an area through fear. Sigmund Freud was well known for his view of religion, saying that it was just a means of governing children and people until they had developed to understand their morality themselves. Religion on the individual scale provides hope and comfort, but when it becomes a fad or a movement, religion becomes a tool, allowing justification of the most (to me) immoral convictions. In "The Power of Nightmares," Islam was seperated from the individual and brought into society. There were murders in the streets of children and political leaders, and every death was for their God and a cleaner "public" religion. This is an example when religion escapes into government (not the official government, but the governing of the people). In the United States of America, Christianity is the overarching moral construct of its society. A poll created by the Institution of Social Research said that 44% of Americans go to church or synagogue at least weekly, showing how huge this population is, not even including those who go every once in a while or those who study the Bible on their own. But for this population, the Bible is their symbol of fear in their everyday lives. Many people who follow religion and believe its laws, constantly strive to implement such laws into government. Whether it is by electing a Christian president or Senate members, Christianity dominates many peoples decisions. God is constantly watching, constantly judging, and constantly ordering them to do their duties for the communities which is nice, but in the context of Bilal from Mauritania in Disposable People and “old slavery” in America, religion is a craze that is inadequate and detrimental to the rule of the people in society, providing my conviction for the separation of church and state.

The true power of religion is both its ability to make claims about the existence after death and apply unquestionable moral statements about the interactions between people under constant judgment. The idea of an omniscient being judging every move a person makes allows no room for disobeying his laws, but what about Bilal in Mauritania? For every delivery of water, Bilal received 1 ouguiya (200 ouguiya = 1$). His fear of lying in the presence of Allah prevented him from taking the money he rightfully deserved, keeping him in his place, enslaved and downtrodden. With barely enough food to eat or money to buy it, Bilal will never be able to buy himself out of slavery, and if, through some miracle, Bilal is freed, the possibility of him dying of starvation is disturbingly high. People, when discussing Disposable People, were all morally outraged by the ongoing cycle of slavery in these countries, yet every country had moral justification from their god. No, this religion was not Christianity, but in America, the exact same cycle existed in African and Native American slavery. In the Bible, the Ten Commandments represent the main laws of Christianity or any follower of YHWH, but people seem to ignore the near 390 more commandments immediately following them in Exodus 21 and pick and choose among them. In this chapter, God tells Moses the rules concerning everything, including slavery. “When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property” (Exodus 21: 20-21). In my opinion, I do not see anything about this statement that belongs in a moral standard in governing people's interactions. Whether or not my logic is able to grasp God’s purpose in this statement or the quote was somehow misinterpreted by the writer, this book is the sole foundation of the religion; therefore, it, in my opinion, must be taken at its intended value. . But the Bible is not amendable so where is the room for development? So from this, when communities allow religion to rule them, their moral structure becomes stagnant because of their inability to judge such ethical dilemmas objectively. I think the primary reason that gay marriage is not legalized today is because of this mix of government and religion. Objectively, I really can't think of one thing wrong with it that would label it unjust or unethical besides the Bible's conviction against it.

While religion does provide hope, answers, comfort, and “love,” they all come with this essence of fear, whether of hell or death. Although it is the perfect system for ruling people (implementing rules which are punishable for eternity and the inability to question such rules because of God's sovereignty), it stunts the development of society, creating injustice in society and disrupting our reasoning when faced with this injustice because of mankind's inability to question such things.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Individual Freedom of Opportunity

The concept of individual freedom of opportunity is often diametrically opposed to the security of welfare. Because we are individuals, we often think of the world circling around our own specific sphere of interests and concerns. We want what is best for us. It is the individual freedoms that much of America was built on. However, any collection of individuals, whether it is a sorority, a nation, or mankind (global species survival) often puts aside what is best for one person and focuses on what is best for the group. How does one reconcile these two very different needs?

First, history has shown that, in the extreme, both of these constructs can have negative, catastrophic consequences. The recent economic crisis has shown what can happen when individual opportunity and greed overtakes concern for the greater good. At the other extreme, Marxism and the socialist system have many laudable ideals. However, a completely socialist system kills individual creativity and initiative and has not survived in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union. 

Thus one can argue that we need both constructs in place. The question remains: is one more important? It seems that enlightened individuals can move society forward, such as Abraham Lincoln (and, hopefully, Barack Obama). Unfortunately, other individuals, such as Adolf Hitler, can create atrocities that are inexcusable. A system built only on individual freedoms leaves too much at risk. The wrong individual could start a nuclear holocaust. Societies, and societal systems, can protect the individuals that live within those systems. The "greater good" should prevail. The challenge of any group is to encourage individual freedoms. The enlightened society will do this. The security of welfare, and, therefore, societies, are more likely to move the individual forward and mankind, in general, than the reverse. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bailout

These are not my particular views, but I feel that it is an interesting alternative that must be considered. I want to propose a Nietzschian analysis of the economic bailout.
According to Friedrich Nietzsche, we are living in a slave like (think feudal and pre-civil war slavery, if you are now conformed to Kevin Bales’ definitions) society. Society was not always this way, but as the many slaves began to resent and outnumber their masters, a shift occurred (this is a very brief summary of Genealogy of Morals, if anyone is interested). This shift placed what was once “good,” being a powerful and controlling master, to “good” encompassing weakness and meekness of the slaves. What was once “good” was now considered “evil.” A premium was placed on the weakness of the slave because they were in majority. This shift also led to a sensation of a “herd mentality,” and the need to conform to society. Nietzsche despises these shifts because they are life-denying values, because the weak feel that they will be vindicated in another life (think Christianity), so they are resentful of this life. Nietzsche feels that this is completely unnatural, in a literal sense. In nature, it is know that the weak do not survive, something Nietzsche feels should translate into human existence. He also asserts that we have no responsibility to help the weak or the downtrodden, because it is not a naturalistic action, and is only sprung from such socially constructed emotions like compassion and sympathy.
That being said, why do we feel an obligation to endorse a government bailout, especially for companies like Ford, GMC and Chrysler? If they were a bad business, then, like in nature, they are simply not fit to survive in this world. An analogous situation that comes to mind is Wal-Mart. This company effective eliminated a large majority of competition like mom and pop stores, and continues to thrive. While some are critical of Wal-Mart’s “tyrannical” practices, the majority supports them buy buying there goods because they are at a low cost. They are successful because they eliminated competition and are still going strong. In a natural sense, they were the “most fit” species of retailers to see another day.
Nietzsche would assert that it is when feeble emotions delude our mind to feel sympathy and a need to help these people who have already failed. When the government bails them out, they are effectively saying, “this is how your business ought to be: successful and sustaining jobs for Americans.” Yet this denies the reality that they are failing, and therefore fundamentally should face elimination without sympathy from others, according to Nietzsche. Any sympathy or need to empathize with those that lose jobs or suffer from a non-bailout situation is considered weak and slavish. The bailout is already ideologically at odds with a pure form of capitalism, but also in contrast if you subscribe to a form of social Darwinism that Nietzsche endorses.
This ultimately begs the questions: should ethical standards be ascribed to economy at all? If yes, where do ethics come into play when dealing with an economy?

Information overload

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Disposable People, as much as a book about slavery can be enjoyed. My eyes were opened to the horrors of our world and reality of life outside the United States. I’m not a sheltered person and have been to countries where running water and 3 meals a day are luxuries. But I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams the conditions Bales described.

The problem with my new found knowledge is the overwhelming feeling of guilt and responsibility I now have. Reading about the sex slaves in Thailand and the children slaves in India breaks my heart and makes me want to do something to raise awareness, but it also puts a huge weight of guilt on my shoulders. Here I am, sitting in my heated dorm room using my relatively new MacBook about to exercise my right of free speech, while at this same exact moment somewhere across the world a young girl is being raped or a man is being whipped from trying to escape a batteria. Thinking about this, I suddenly get the urge to sell everything I own, donate the money to Free the Slaves, and live on the streets in order to try and understand what life is like for someone who has nothing. Of course, that’s absolutely ridiculous because what would that achieve? Feeling guilty won’t help any slave find freedom.

Well then, it’s as easy as raising awareness; but even that has problems. For one thing, there are thousands of issues in the world that need awareness: domestic violence, rape, increasing CO2 emissions, world hunger, genocide, animal and environmental conservation, and the list goes on. With all of these issues it’s overwhelming knowing which one to actually do something about. Because let’s face it, one person cannot be active in all of these issues, there simply is not enough time. You can definitely support and spread the word, but as to really doing something, really making a difference, I’m afraid we must pick and choose.

As wrong as I think slavery is and as much as it needs to be stopped, I personally pick the environment as my cause-of-choice. I feel that the state of the environment and our role in harming, as well as helping it, is of enormous importance. They way we treat the Earth has a direct affect on our quality of living, as well as the quality of living for the entire world. The scale is just too grand for me to ignore.

So I ask, what is your cause? What are you going to do something about? Not just spreading the word by printing flyers or striking up a conversation, but by really taking those steps to make a change. It’s all good and great to talk about taking action, but until something is done, it's just words.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Modern Slavery?

The other day, I was speaking to a friend about the current book I was reading in Philosophy class, Disposable People (spreading awareness, right?!). I was telling her about how these extreme forms of slavery exist around the world and how there is usually a never-ending cycle in each country that makes this slavery continue. In some countries, debt bonding causes slave families to work for a debt that will essentially never be paid off. This is an ongoing cycle that relies on factors to keep it going; such as slave owners cheating out the records to make sure that the slaves do not overcome their debt.
My friend mentioned something that she had learned in her International Studies class about conflicts between countries around the world: there exist all over the world core countries and periphery countries. The core countries are developed countries, often being rich, while periphery countries are developing countries, often being poor. This existence of the two types of countries allows a similar cycle as slavery does and creates a situation in which these countries are potentially never going to move out of their position. The concept of this phenomenon is that core countries keep the periphery countries poor and weak, while periphery countries keep core countries rich and strong. The periphery countries rely on the core countries for resources to stay alive, creating dependence on the core countries. This means that there is going to be an unofficial debt that the periphery countries will owe the core countries; this creates the cycle. Since the first concern of countries is security, the core countries exploit the periphery countries so that they can get cheap goods from them and so that they can keep the periphery country where it is, and no threat will be put upon the core country.
This core-periphery country idea is a cycle similar to slavery, but is it slavery? I think it is just as much slavery as is exemplified in Disposable People. At some point the periphery countries are put at a point that does not allow them to move up. They have only one option and it is being “controlled” by the core countries. Slavery in this sense is having no other option but slavery.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What We Can Do

Kevin Bales’ book Disposable People has opened my eyes to the slavery present around the world. In addition to providing information and details about slavery in multiple countries, Bales gives reasons as to why slavery is being practiced in such modern times. He believes that slavery flourishes in the world today because of the global increase in population, agricultural technology, and greed. People fighting to end slavery would find difficulty in targeting these three areas. Fortunately, the book also provides a three step plan for readers wanting to make a difference, complete with an organization to join and a website where people can donate money. This plan, as helpful as it sounds, makes me wonder if there are other ways for students to try to end slavery as informed members of a college community.

Bales believes that one of the most important ways to combat slavery is to raise awareness about the issue. One of the best ways for college students to raise awareness about a specific issue is to create a student led organization or group designed to target the problem. Creating an organization against slavery would be fairly easy to accomplish on a college campus because people generally believe that slavery is immoral and unethical. Student organizations are also financially supported by the college. These organizations would have enough power to teach people about slavery and raise money for support.

Almost all colleges around the nation have organizations that attempt to bring awareness to specific local and global problems. Georgetown’s Center for Social Justice grants its students access to forty organizations that target issues ranging from poverty to cancer. Georgetown provides some of the top organizations nationwide but it does not have a student organization designed to combat slavery. Not many colleges do. The issues they combat are important, but it is time to add another one to the list. Creating an organization to fight against slavery at one college has the potential to spread to other colleges and the communities around them. An organization like this is an excellent way for students to take a stand against slavery.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Slavery in Brazil

Although many people are unaware that slavery still exists, it is alive and thriving in many countries. In his book Disposable People, Kevin Bales discusses the issue of slavery in Brazil. Slavery has been present in Brazil since it was colonized in the early sixteenth century. The slave trade was officially abolished in 1854 but this did not end slavery within the country. Brazil’s current economic situation has created a society full of poverty and crime where slavery flourishes. Although slavery is unethical and immoral anywhere it is practiced, the world should pay close attention to this area in particular.

Brazilian slavery is directly tied to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, which will continue to have detrimental environmental effects on a global scale. Slaves in Brazil are used in agricultural enterprises. Cheap labor is exploited and the rainforest is being cut down for profit. The world could see a dramatic climate change with its elimination. The Amazon also keeps the production and absorption of oxygen balanced. Throwing this balance off will have damaging effects to the ozone layer, which could increase global warming. Slavery in Brazil should be a main priority of all major countries because of its potential to have these serious effects. There is little concern involving the practice of slavery. If more countries knew the devastation slavery can cause, perhaps they would be more willing to show support for its elimination.

Bales describes the difficulty of trying to end slavery in Brazil, but he also believes that the world is making progress in the fight. Although alerting the media about the situation and putting economic pressure on the people in charge in Brazil has had excellent results, Bales says that this approach is not enough. It is up to the Brazilian people to end slavery in their country. This elimination, however, will be difficult for the Brazilians, especially with such a weak economy. Brazil will need to continue to receive economic support from the rest of the world. Another idea that the world should consider is that better protection of the rainforest may help reduce the practice of slavery in Brazil.

Mark London and Brian Kelly, two of the world’s leading experts on the Amazon, have their own plan to save the rainforest. Supported by the Marriot chain of hotels, they have created protected communities on the outskirts of the forest. The people in these communities serve as protectors and guardians of the Amazon rainforest. In return, the Brazilians that live there receive money, food, and a more modern place to live. This system helps reduce poverty and could help reduce slavery in Brazil.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

McDonalization

The other day a friend of mine made a reference to the McDonalization of the modern day cultures. Having never heard the term before, I did a little research and realized how much it applied to our continuous discussion of power. A few years ago, George Ritzer saw more importance in the McDonald restaurants than just the convenience of having one on every corner. He took the ideology behind McDonalds and applied it to the “routine tasks of every day life” that seems to be spreading over the current generations. He strives to show that problems are no longer solved through analytical thought, rather there is a step-by-step solution already prepared. Although at times this does not seem like a bad idea, it made me start thinking about the effects this could have or is currently having on our culture.
First, I think that people would fall into this trap based solely on laziness and the convenience of having their problems solved. I also feel that taking a step down this path would make it hard to turn back. The easy way out is a weakness found in many people, but could be detrimental to our progress in society. To accept the McDonalization would be failing our historical intellectuals that through dialectical idealism, we have created progress. In many realms, we can see that this is true. Even in this class, we continue to mold and shape our perception of power. If we were to accept the definition that was given to us the first day of class, we would have not created some greater knowledge and continue to find a conclusion.
It is important to realize that our thoughts are being influenced even when we don’t realize it. The society that we live in creates a model that we are “suppose” to follow. It is necessary that we continue to question and strive for more so that our power of thought is not fried, grilled, or flipped.

I recieved all my information from myweb.stedwards.edu/mikef/mcdonize.htm

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Response to Video

I am not sure that Leo Strauss and Sayed Kotb can be credited with masterminding the neoconservative and radical Islamic movements, respectively. It did not seem like Leo Strauss, in particular, was that concerned about religion. Rather, his agenda was "good versus evil" like the TV show, Gunsmoke. He wanted to reorient the country from the liberal freedoms and recreate the myth of America. His main enemy, as portrayed, was the Soviet Union. Sayed Kotb did seem much more dedicated within the religion of Islam. His leap of faith (no pun intended) was when he believed the infection of selfish individualism has corrupted both the people and the leaders that is was now justifiable to kill Muslims in a holy war (Jihad). 
The neoconservatives relied on a union with the religious fundamentalists and that seemed to come way after Strauss. Curtis, the writer of the documentary, declares that the fundamentalists really didn't get involved in politics or government until the 1980s. I grew up in North Carolina and find it hard to believe that this group of people were not involved until the 1980s. They may not have had an organized voice, but they were not first time voters when Reagan came on board. 
Regardless of whether Curtis is right about naming two rather obscure people as the initiators of our current "Reign on Terror," he is right about the role of religion to justify war, jihad, killing, torture, and so many other evils. The structure of religion has been a terrible thing for much of mankind's history. The more extreme the religion or the believers, the worse the atrocities. This is irrespective of Islam, Christianity, or Judiasm. If you have God on your side all terrible things are possible. 

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Politics of Fear

Today in Philosophy class Dr. Johnson told us about Hegel and his theory that world history is teleological and is determined by dialectical idealism, meaning that history is moved by conflicts of ideas that eventually reach a synthesis which becomes the new thesis, until one day it reaches a final synthesis. One aspect of this is that people's freedom's are a blockade to one another, and someone is always forced to recognize another's freedom, making that person like a slave. There is no mutual recognition between the two people, which creates one person's dominance over the other. Dr. J compared this to a relationship, such as a romantic one, where one person submits their freewill to the other and recognizes the other not out of mutual appreciation and respect, but out of a desperate need for that person to not go away. This got me thinking about the role of fear in every aspect of life, from individual relationships, to international politics as a whole. 

In my Intro to International Studies class, we have been talking about how misperceptions happen in the international system. Leaders in government often misconstrue or wrongly emphasize data based on stereotypes already in place, or on past events that went badly. For example politicians often have "Munich Syndrome," meaning they are afraid that if they ever give in to the demands of another country, that is an appeasement just like how Hitler was appeased by Neville Chamberlain in 1939 when he stepped aside while Hitler invaded Poland. Politicians today compare completely unrelated situations to this all the time, and are often very paranoid that history could repeat itself somehow. No one wants to be the Neville Chamberlain of the 21st century. Fear oftentimes rules over reason and levelheadedness in politics, and realist theory would suggest that states are willing to do anything to protect their security. When President Bush announced that the United States would be invading Iraq, the politics of fear was behind one of his main purposes for going. The American people were made to believe that September 11th or something like it would happen again if we didn't act, and people are more willing to agree if they are afraid.

Outside of large international politics, even politics on the smaller scale seems motivated by fear to me. During the talk last week on "Does Democracy Matter?" Dr. Erfani encouraged us to be involved and active in democracy in more ways that just voting. One reason this is a rarity may be laziness or ignorance as to how to get involved, but I would argue a third reason is fear. People are afraid to face to problems in the world, and the problems in democracy itself, because it is all so overwhelming. It's so much easier to say that your small contribution wouldn't really matter, and just step back, than it is to really face the world with your eyes wide open. Dealing with all of these problems would bring up so many fears, that sometimes it's easier to stay away from them. I am no different than this, I'm afraid of what's happening to world culture, of what's happening in human relations, in religion, in countries far away with conflicts going on that I can' t even fathom. 

Fear holds people back, and causes decisions to be made less rationally oftentimes. At the same time, fear is not usually unfounded, and a certain amount of fear is healthy. I just believe that when fear is used as a weapon, like it is oftentimes in politics over the world, it stunts progression. 

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Power through Modern Communication

An article I read recently in Comparative Politics entitled “Bin Laden, the Arab ‘Street’, and the Middle East’s Democracy Deficit”, by Dale Eickelman, stood out to me as something worth discussing in our philosophy class, because it focused largely on power. Bin Laden, in our minds, is simply a symbol of terrorism, but to his targeted Middle Eastern audience, he conveys so much more. He is an icon in the modern world of media, trying to convey himself as a traditional Islamic warrior. His messages contain many secular elements, which appeal to his targeted audience- the Arab youth, the unemployed, and the poor. “He speaks in the vivid language of popular Islamic preachers, and builds on a deep and widespread resentment against the West and local ruling elites identified with it”(Eickelman). He blames the suffering of the people on American brutality against Muslims. He focuses on themes of oppression and corruption, which are themes that even non-religious people can relate to. He is charismatic and controlled. He even has a major TV logo in the corner of his broadcasts that add to his message’s authenticity, much like an ABC or CNN logo would in American media. Sounds like the majority of politicians we witness daily, right? That’s because to his audience he does play a similar role. His mastery in modern propaganda can be likened to that of political campaigning in the United States. Bin Laden’s audience does not judge him on his ability to cite authoritative texts, but rather on his skill in applying generally accepted religious tenets to current political and social issues. In other words, he knows how to play to his audience.  

Through mass education and new communication technologies, such as the internet, he is able to reach large numbers of Arabs. Former Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, said in 2001, “Through access to the internet and other means of communication, a restive [Arab] public is increasingly capable of taking action without any identifiable leadership or organized structure.” Although in the past the generally non-democratic governments of the Middle East would punish organizations that went against the government, the new media is much harder to censor. Because these uncensored news outlets have certainly had an impact on public opinion, or what the article refers to as the “street”, the Arab governments have been forced to be more responsive to their citizens, or at least to pretend to be. So, “rather than seek to censor al-Jazeera or limit Al Qaeda’s access to the Western media- an unfortunate first response of the United States government after the September attacks- we should avoid censorship”(Eickelman). Their statements should be treated with the same caution as any other news source; censoring them will only bring more attention to them. If we look at the war on terrorism from a communication standpoint it turns not into a war on terrorism of one group against another, but instead a war versus terrorism and radicalism in all societies. In conclusion, although the United States has never underestimated the organizational skills of Bin Laden or Al Qaeda, their skills in effectively conveying a message through modern media that appeals to some Muslims should not be underestimated either. 


(I couldn't find the full article online, but I have a copy of it in my textbook if anyone is interested)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Truth vs. Deception/Philosophers vs. Politicians

I really like how Ryan once commented in one of the blog that “ignorance to some extent might just be the bliss we need to continue with a purpose.” I do agree that many people do enjoy living an ignorant life because it is a much easier life compared with the assiduous, hard-working life of a philosopher. I do think that in any society, any culture, any country, we all need philosophers, they are WISE, and without them the truth can hardly get revealed. Everyone will question me that, “So if they are so important, why are they not as popular as politicians?” Please don’t feel offended if you are on the politician’s side and observe here that I put politicians on the other side of the equation. I wholeheartedly DO NOT mean that politicians are less wise or ignorant. My point is politicians and philosophers have different responsibilities and missions in this world and it is just a totally challenging work to compare which one is more important. However, I do think we are living in an ignorant world because what we know is limited compared with all the truths out there. Therefore, in order to control that ignorant world, we need politicians, but in order to find out the real truths, we still need philosophers. One of the reasons I took this class was because the last summer, I read The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. The book was very interesting, very realistic. It is based on the fact that men are self-interest and natural venture seeking creatures, they get appealed by mysterious things, and if you can focus on these characteristics of men, you will possess the power to influence, to control, and in general to spread your power on any individual that you desire. Deception seems to be the backbone of all the strategies. At the beginning, it made me question so much whether the book is useful for me and, by any means, moral. Some of the laws sound very wicked and deception-oriented, for example, law 3 states that “conceal your Intentions” by all means or law 10: “Make other People come to you – use Bait if Necessary.” After finishing the book, I realized that the book is written and its laws were designed for a certain category of readers. If you are the one who is on the philosopher’s side, you will get quite skeptical towards the content of the book. However, you are politicians; the book is a true bible that helps you deal with people. It turns me back to the beginning of my stream of thoughts that the truth is still the truth, it is just the matter of time that before it can get discovered; however, ignorant men do not care much about the truth, they are self-oriented, self-interest; therefore, politicians, holding the control responsibility, have to have a different medicine to deal with these patients, deception is just one.

Lies, lies, lies...or not?

The main focus in our discussion on Hannah Arendt was her seemingly racist views. We read “The Human Condition” to gain a better understanding of the vita activa which we then looked at in its relation to racism in Dr. Johnson’s paper “A barely conscience reaction: Arendt, South Africa, and Colonial Hearts of Darkness.” But I’d like to go way back to our first reading by Arendt, “Truth and Politics.”

In our discussion of “Truth and Politics” we asked whether truth-tellers can exist in politics to which there was a consensus of no: politicians have to lie in order to appeal to the public. But what exactly is lying? Is it as simple as being untruthful or are there degrees to which one can manipulate the truth before it’s actually considered lying? Is there a difference or should there be? This seems to be a very gray area, a faintly drawn line in the sand that is often crossed.

For example, the issue of negative campaigning was brought up in the presidential debate Wednesday to which both candidates acknowledged that campaigning has been tough. Both McCain and Obama have issued negative ads aimed toward the other but that’s nothing new in politics; it seems to be a good way of attracting attention. But by being negative have the candidates crossed the line between manipulating facts and lying? One of McCain’s ads criticizes Obama’s plan for sex education saying that Obama wants to teach sex education to kindergartners. However, the ad is full of quotes taken out of context to make this claim appear to be what Obama proposes. On the flip side, there are Obama ads that speak out of context in regards to McCain’s views on energy, immigration, and stem cell research. Do we consider these misused quotes to be lies or manipulation? If the ads are not truthful then they are lying; but if the information in the ads is truthful, only presented in a way that is untruthful, is that merely manipulation?

And how does this negative untruthful campaigning affect the American people? So much is taken at face value in today’s society that many who see these ads don’t make an effort to check the facts. They simply accept the message as truth whether it is or not. What does this say about Americans? Are we na├»ve or so lazy that we blindly believe what we hear without discovering for ourselves the validity of such ads? By not fact-checking are we admitting that the truth doesn’t actually matter? I find it scary to think Americans would rather believe manipulative ads because it gives them one more reason to dislike a candidate than acknowledge there is more to the issue.

Politics would be radically different if instead of having negative ads that often misrepresent their opponents politicians stated only the truth about their views and opinions as well as those of their opponent. It seems that entirely truthful campaigns would be most beneficial to the American people since the majority lack the impetus to discover truth for themselves. So why is negative campaigning used? What is so terrible about telling the truth? I think it is because negative ads stir up drama. They anger people and turn campaigns into he-said she-said games with no progress on actual issues. But that makes life interesting and gives people something to follow. If Americans want and respond to untruthful drama then what’s to stop the media from giving them just that?

Foucault

Foucault, in his own verbose and difficult way, deconstructs everything that we have attempted to grasp in the class. He “emancipates the analysis” power, in relation to sovereignty and its basic elements of subject, unity, and law into what he calls operators of domination. He wishes for us to extract operators of domination from relations of powers, since power functions in networks, and cannot be possessed. We must then begin with the relationship of power before we analyze the subject, because the subject is only created by power, according to Foucault. Foucault explains his analysis of power to be in concrete terms, in which we must reject the juridical view of sovereignty. However, to theoretically counter his elaborate analysis of power, I would like to introduce to the theory of Occam’s razor. Occam’s razor is a theory that states that when given multiple definitions, the simplest one is the best. While I can accept Foucault’s attempt to reanalyze power, I feel that most people would be quite content with the idea of power as exerted through sovereignty, like in the first book that we read. I assume that the general population does not often think of power the way Foucault does, as a flowing network in which power is not possessed. I think the general population is content with the idea that power can be possessed, like physical strength. I think the common misconception of Foucaultian power materializes when he says that warlike society was replaced by a State with military functions. The State is an entity, which common can be seen as a possessor of power (i.e. a military), but this trap that Foucault wishes for everyone to avoid. Complicating the matter was the beginning of the historico-political discourse that linked war to the institution of power.

Foucault’s argument is very accurate in his own system that he has created, but he himself admits that knowledge (and truth, to some extent), in relation to the histrico-political discourse of war, is based on perspective. This is one aspect that I can particularly agree with. This idea was championed by Frederic Nietzsche. According to Nietzsche, truth is never universal. Foucaualt draws on this in one of his other works, La Volonte de savoir, when he states “knowledge is always a certain strategic relation in which man finds himself placed (xx).” In Foucault’s historico-political discourse of war, truth functions as a weapon, because its discourse can be manipulated in order to fit the situation.

The Nature of Stereotypes


I recently finished reading The Nature of Monsters by Clare Clark, an intriguing novel where the lines between “normal” and “inhuman” are explored. The story is set in 1718 London, where modest apothecary and scientist Grayson Black is conducting some very unusual experiments. Born with a disfiguring birthmark after his mother witnessed a fire, Black is obsessed with “maternal impression,” the idea that a mother can mark her unborn child. He therefore invites Eliza, a pregnant sixteen-year-old, into his home, and attempts to disfigure the fetus by traumatizing the mother. As the story develops, Grayson Black proves himself to be a monster—perhaps not in appearance, but certainly in nature.

Obviously, this is just fiction, but a good story always has a little truth in it. Black, after years of being labeled a “monster” because of his appearance, becomes one in truth. Which raised the question for me: do people mold themselves to fit society’s expectations? For example, do blondes sometimes purposely act like the stereotypical “dumb blonde” because it’s what is anticipated? The same goes for “fiery redheads” and “dependable brunettes.” Or is society simply programmed to notice the people who fit these stereotypes rather than those who defy them: e.g. the even-tempered redhead, brilliant blonde, and vivacious brunette. No one wants to be stupid, over-emotional, or boring, yet it seems strange how many people “fit” their labels.

I think the same applies to more serious typecasts. If someone can’t speak or read clearly, they must be stupid; obese people are lazy and gluttonous; all African Americans speak in Ebonics. When a person encounters this sort of negative attitude constantly, unless they have very high self-esteem, they might adopt some of these traits, or simply believe they have them, out of pure hopelessness. A girl with a speech impediment, having been told she’s an idiot for the hundredth time, may start to believe it. The overweight little boy might stop attempting to lose weight after enough wise cracks from his thin older brother.

Society’s views and expectations have an effect on how people present themselves. Modern American culture is one full of categories, and almost everyone feels the need to fit in somewhere. We want to fall into a category, even if it isn’t necessarily accurate or flattering, for the sake of having a niche.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Source of Power

I think that Foucault’s idea of what power is fails to explain and makes it very difficult to determine how a person becomes what we call “powerful”. One thing that he makes clear is the distinction that we cannot have power, but we can exercise it. So, what I want to focus on is the source of power.

Not source in the sense of, “Where does it come from?” or, “How do we get it?” because, as stated above, we cannot have it and therefore we cannot give it or receive it.

For example, Foucault explains that power is not quantitative, that one person cannot have more power than another. Instead, one person can be better at exercising power than another, and that would make them “more powerful”. In other words, one can exercise it with greater efficiency and less expense than someone else. However, this idea begs the question: how does one come to be in a position to exercise power? For example, someone looking at the way president Bush runs the country and makes decisions or policies, that person could say, “I can do it better or more efficiently”. And even if they are right, even if they can they are still not nearly as “powerful” as the president. Therefore, one is not “powerful” because of the knowledge of how to exercise power better or more efficiently.

We say that we give the president power, but I feel like if that was the case, we could take it away at will, or give it to someone else if we feel like it. It sort of implies that we are more powerful than the president since he is only powerful at our will. And if that is the case, how did we come to be in the position to “give” that power to someone?