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


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

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)