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?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Perception of Power

In class we discussed what power is, and how it is exercised. Dr. J was adamant about reminding us that someone can not possess power, but it left me wondering if power is real, or if power is merely a perception. I can understand that power is not like money because one does not physically have power, but I never thought about whether power was real, or merely something we have created in our minds. Using examples such as George W. Bush, our parents, and ever our teachers maybe I can help myself, and others, to understand what power is.

For the last 7 (almost 8) years George W. Bush has been viewed as one of the most powerful men on in the world. However when our country elects a new president, George Bush will no longer be in this position of power. As the president, Mr. Bush has the power to veto a bill and declare a war, among other things. However each individual has the ability to say “veto” or “I declare war upon…” The only difference between us and President Bush is the idea that he has power over us.

Furthermore we have our parents who exercise a great deal of power over us. However my parents are not powerful merely because they are John and Liz Collins, rather because of the position they hold. Even more so, they are not able to exercise power over me because they are my parents, but because I allow them to. They control the household in which I grew up in, what I did on the weekends, what clothes I could wear, and when I could use the computer. As regular people removed from the situation, parents are just regular people, however we as children perceive our parents to be powerful, thus allowing them to exercise power over us.

Finally we have teachers. Our professors are the same as us, on an individual level, however in the classroom they have the ability to assign essays, create deadlines, and give out homework. The only reason they are able to do all these things is because we as students feel as though they are qualified enough and have earned the ability to do so. Although this is true and professors may have earned this ability, their power over us is still based on students allowing them to assign essays, create deadlines, and give out homework. Like we discussed in class, no one has power, however people are able to exercise power.

Thanks to class I came to the realization that no one, be it the president of the United States of America, my parents, or even my college professors have power. The power that they exercise however, comes from the people that give it to them. Citizens of the USA, children, and students all see these individuals as figures who are able to make important decisions, control a household, or assign essays because they have done whatever necessary to earn it. For the president it involves a large amount of work and many years, for a parent it is merely becoming a parent and caring for your child, and a professor has to go through the schooling necessary to educate others. Through all this we can see that power is merely a perception given to an individual, and exercised by creating that perception.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Gene MC1R, Today’s Materialization of Culture

Doctor Johnson provided the example of our inherent racism through “barely conscious
reactions,” by giving us a thought experiment the other day in class.

“You are walking and are forced to make a decision between two alleys, one with Cal waiting at the end and an African American man waiting in the other.”

She stated that we, as humans subconsciously biased by racial stereotypes put there by society, are inherently racist; therefore, we will choose to walk toward Cal. Society has indeed succeeded in making me recognize these stereotypes, making certain reactions or thoughts a type of “mental reflex,” but are the reactions based on race or, instead, a culture physically materialized by race?

The answer to the class quarrel of whether we would choose to go down an alley with Cal or an African American man comes down to, in my own mind, “culturalism.,” the affiliation of ideas with a certain culture. I have heard people often describing a Caucasian boy as “black” or an African American as “white” according to their clothes and actions, proving many people of today see “black” or “white” as a culture more than an actual skin pigment. I personally think it is much more complicated than just the color of the man in the alley. Ideally, choosing upon race poses the equivalent of choosing based on hair or eye color. In reality when it comes down to these choices of objective judgment, it should come down to the conscious representations of their ideas and character. Race is not a choice and a ridiculous ground for scaling character. If Cal was dressed up like a gangster with his hat backwards and pants sagging, listening to rap music while the African American man was dressed in a business suit, the choice would then prove race completely irrelevant. I would then walk toward the African American man and ask for directions because these things (clothing, hair, grooming) imply a culture. My morality causes me to have a huge problem with “hip-hop culture.” In this case, Cal’s clothes possibly represent this culture, one made famous by rapping about killing, drugs, and the dehumanizing of women. Am I wrong in my anxiety toward his character? There is a definite moral backlash to this though, especially when addressing the inaccuracy of judging someone by their clothes or music choices, but personally I find when analyzing the lesser of two evils, judging a conscious choice such as clothing seems much more legitimate than an innate phenotype.

In the end, society has deemed race and culture as synonymous which is why I think Doctor Johnson’s assumption is very easily accepted .It is this attitude that causes people to react as they do toward certain races. The people of a certain ethnicity are grouped together in thought and compared in practice, creating stereotypes and prejudices. Sometimes, it seems that we forget about the immense potential for variation and exception.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Contradiction or Not?

When the suggestion was first brought up that Hannah Arendt might have been racist, I was skeptical to say the least. After all, Arendt was a German Jew who escaped to America during the political turmoil of the 1930’s and 40’s. She witnessed the mistreatment of her own people at the hands of Anti-Semites. The idea that someone from such a background could be racist seemed contradictory, even absurd.

Having read Professor Johnson’s essay, “'A barely conscious reaction': Arendt, South Africa, and Colonial Hearts of Darkness,” critiquing Arendt’s theory on the emergence of racism in South Africa, I have been thoroughly swayed. It seems obvious that Arendt’s theory is colored by her natural assumption that native Africans were incapable of being anything more than “laborers”. To me, the intriguing question now is not whether Hannah Arendt was racist, but how someone with her history could hold racist views.

To change tracks for a moment: as we’ve been studying Arendt in Philosophy, my English class has been reading The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson. The narrator, a mixed-race individual, deals with the discrimination of both blacks and whites in the early twentieth century. Despite this, he himself appears to be prejudiced against American Indians. He even comments that the African Americans’ abilities to create art, such as ragtime music, and their use of humor to lighten the burden of their struggles, have kept them from “going the way of the Indian.”

This is the same sort of irony as Arendt’s beliefs about Africans. But is it contradictory after all? To hold racist ideologies, one must believe their own race to be superior and another’s to be inferior. Arendt can suffer the bigotry of Anti-Semites, believing it to be unjustified because Jews are just as capable of “action” as other white Europeans. By her standards, black Africans are innately incapable of excelling past “labor.” Therefore, she can consider prejudice against her own people unjustified because they are capable of higher (superior) action, while holding racist views of another culture because it is has not advanced past the natural (inferior) state. The same sort of thinking can be followed among other oppressed groups, such as black Americans in the early to mid twentieth century. In The Autobiography, the narrator believes that “colored” people are proven by their accomplishments to be completely equal to whites, while Indians, because of various inferiorities, are beneath both groups.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

World Peace: One Nation, One Government

Currently the fear of war, and war its self is ubiquitous. Russia has invaded Georgia, China is eying Taiwan, and the U.S. is fighting war on many fronts: Iraq, Afghanistan, and on Terror itself. Currently diplomacy in the form of agreements and treaties are being used as temporary fixes to keep war and discord at bay. The sad truth is that diplomacy is just that, temporary. The reason that World War I became a world war was because treaties dragged nation after nation into the war like collapsing dominos. Diplomacy and agreements will only be followed as long as the parties involved see that as the most advantageous solution. Things change. One sovereign nation will only respect another sovereign nation as long as it does not significantly benefit them to challenge their sovereignty. You may disagree with me, but if you challenge me I would merely point to the past. History has proven my argument time and time again. Take for example the British and the French, they have gone to war with each other over and over again. Austria makes it a practice of being invaded by its neighbors, and the borders of European countries have changed in the recent past.

The answer to the question of world peace is simple: an Empire. By abolishing all the different sovereign nations and placing all authority instead in one nation, an empire, there would be no more war, there would be no countries to fight. Now don’t misinterpreted what I am saying. I am not saying that this empire would be a perfect utopia, that this empire would not have problems, the same that every nation now faces and others that come with the size and complexity of an empire. What I am saying is that there would be no more war between countries, just peace. Invevitably there would be fighting, turbulence, and strife withing the empire, an unfortiante side effect of human nature. Thomas Hobbes claimed that people allow the restriction of their rights when they come together in a social contract in order to have the best possible life. This is merely an extension with the qualification that not all of the people who fell under the authority of the empire would want it. I think that binding everyone under one empire would still fall under the “common good”, and be in the best interest of the majority. I say that in order to ensure peace the rights of people will need to be restricted, and should be restricted. Many would take offence to this saying that we have inalienable rights that no one but our individual personage has the right to discard. I disagree, we ascribe rights to people, and write that they are inalienable in constitutions and profess as much in speech, but that is just what we have decided, nothing more. Nothing absolute or objective, purely subjective. So in conclusion, at the expense of some of our “rights” and the abolishment of current governing structures world wide, we could have world peace in the form of one empire.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Finding Truth in Society

I recently attended the Spindel Conference at the University of Memphis. Paul Taylor, the main speaker, discussed race, racism and liberalism in the 21rst century. The part of the lecture that I followed most closely was his point about finding truth in society. According to Taylor, people are able to find truth in certain social and political situations. He argued that “truth-seeking” should be the goal of every society and gave an example of an ideal society for which truth could be found. Taylor continued by stating that “truth flourishes more readily” in liberal societies.

Having studied Hannah Arendt’s “Truth and Politics”, I wonder if Taylor’s argument can be considered valid. Arendt explained that truth can be broken down into two major categories; rational truth and factual truth. Rational truth is produced by the human mind and is found by men in solitude. Factual truth, on the other hand, is comprised of facts and events.

Based on Arendt’s definition truth, Taylor’s argument is incorrect. It is unlikely that people will be able to find these truths in any social or political situation. Rational truth cannot be found because social and political situations involve people interacting with each other. This eliminates the possibility of finding rational truth. Factual truth is threatened by people in power, false witness, and opinion, all of which can be found in social and political situations. Even in a society in which people believe that truth may “flourish the most” (liberal societies), it is doubtful that people will find it.

I believe the goal of society should be to find truth. Finding truth in these situations, however, does not seem plausible in today’s world. The government has become too powerful for people to find truth in political situations. They have the power to change information and hide it from the public. Also, the advancement of technology has increased the ability for anyone to distort truth in social situations. Mass media and the internet allow people to say what they want whenever they feel like it. If truth cannot be easily found in these situations but can be easily distorted, where does this leave our society?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Obama, Forest Whitaker, and post-racist ideology oh my!

The Spindel Conference was my first philosophy conference and it was quite the experience. I’m not ashamed to admit that much of what the speaker said went over my head and at times I felt as if I was listening to another language. But I did retain some information so bare with me as I attempt to relay what I learned to you.

The session I attended featured Paul Taylor, the Associate Professor of Philosophy at Temple University in Philadelphia. His speech was entitled “After Race, After Justice, After History.” He began by talking about the social imaginary, which is how one views his/her life, and how this imaginary is related to post-racist and post-racial views of America. In order to be in a post-racist society people must leave behind the idea of white supremacy and only then can a society be post-racial, which is looking past race entirely. Taylor argued that America is not a post-racial or post-racist society and his biggest example of this was Obama’s presidential campaign.

Many white democrats would like to believe that just because Obama is running for president America has somehow been able to put race aside and look past the color of an individual’s skin. This is considered the color-blind ideology in which believers disregard race and treat all individuals equally. Now, as lovely as this sounds, Taylor argued that Obama’s campaign does not prove this. Obama may be an icon of the post-racial ideology but that ideology is not realized in American society. This is due in part to what Taylor calls rapid cognition, which refers to the process of images bringing up emotions that can’t always be explained. Also tied into this is the affect art has on us. His example was the movie The Last King of Scotland. This movie stars Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin, the Ugandan president. According to the movie Amin is a savage. Why, Taylor asked, is this believable? Historically speaking Amin could not have been so savage or he would have never succeeded in becoming the president. Still, Whitaker is believable in the part. Taylor argued that this is because black actors often play savages so our minds are conditioned to accept that image. Now, this doesn’t mean when we see Obama we think savage, but still, his image may draw up certain unexplained emotions based on what we have been exposed to in society. Until the emotions brought up by such images are no longer felt, America as a society will never be post-racist or post-racial.

Taylor had more to his presentation but it was hard to keep up with and keep organized everything he said. But the post-racial ideology stuck with to me. I agree with Taylor that we are not post-racial, and I doubt we ever will be. There will always be people who refuse to look past skin or ethnic origin. Though racism and racial issues are a part of our history and will forever affect our country I do believe this affect can be lessened. I think Obama’s campaign is a step in the right direction, but if people are not willing to change then we could easily take two steps backwards.