Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Is Globalization really that bad?

Have you ever envisioned a world without globalization?  What would America be like if we never outsourced our goods and services?  What would happen if certain diseases had never infected American citizens, but instead infected only people from another country?  What would our world be like if politics, economics, and culture were not globalized?  The effects would be simply unimaginable.  The potency and importance of globalization is immeasurable because it serves as the basis for America’s (and the world’s) overall development and progress.

            America’s outsourcing of goods and services is one of the main reasons why so many of us have iPods that are much more advanced and cheaper as compared to when they were first produced.  And remember those huge car phones back in the 90’s that used to be considered so incredibly high-tech, yet so expensive? I doubt that it ever occur to any adult at that time that a small, sleek mobile phone would be free with a wireless subscription in 2011.  One of the ways this type of technological progression can be made possible is through globalization.  As demand for technological products (such as the mobile phone) increases, new firms enter the market.  The industry expands, outsourcing becomes more and more prevalent, and production and resource costs lower.  Thus, such products like the iPod become available to more people.  With this said, outsourcing can positively impact other countries as much as they impact America.  An American company that establishes a large factory in Indonesia is going to provide many Indonesians with jobs and essentially experience significantly lower labor costs as compared to having a factory within the U.S.  Globalization, as presented as the method outsourcing, therefore, affects the world in so many positive ways.

            Aside from its heavy economic impact on the world, America also plays a fundamental role in medicine.  Imagine if millions of people suddenly died from an infectious disease that only prevailed inside of Africa, yet the disease wouldn’t affect anyone in America.  How fast would American researchers find a cure or treatment, given that a treatment is feasible?  I’m sure that if the disease had actually spread to America, not only would people in the U.S. be treated as soon as possible, but those infected in Africa would also be treated at a higher, faster rate.  This serves as another example of how globalization benefits everybody, even in other countries.

            Globalization is essential to the world’s development.  Without it, would there be any advancement in technology? I can’t possibly describe all of the positive aspects of globalization without writing nearly a book.  Globalization takes on many, many more economical roles than mentioned above, along with political and more cultural roles.  So should we pause globalization, given our economic condition today? What would happen if we stopped globalization?  Taking both the long-run and short-run into consideration, I’m not so sure limiting globalization would be the answer to solving the world’s problems.

The meanings of texts

Today (december tenth, the last day of class) we discussed Derrida and his statement that "there is nothing outside the text" or something along those lines.  This was explained as saying that once an author has written something, they are then "dead" to the text and it is up to the reader to give it meaning.  While there can be importance in this view of literary works, I feel that it does not give the whole picture.

When we read a book, there is obviously some purpose behind the book.  Do we write simply for the sake of writing?  Or do we mean to show something through our words?  In writing this am I leaving it up to your interpretation that could have very little do with my original intent?  I would say that when something is written it has some inherent purpose, something that is trying to be conveyed.

If I write a letter wishing someone to get better quickly, my intent is to let them know I hope them a speedy recovery and nothing else that they might decide they'd like to have received more.  Likewise, if I were to write a book describing a healthier way to live, it is meant to be followed according to plan and not for someone to pick and choose what they want of it.

Picking and choosing from such a text may work to some extent in its own right; however, doing so diminishes the effectiveness of the intended outcome.  So is this applicable to philosophical texts as well?  I think it may be even more deeply ingrained in philosophical texts from their nature.  Finding truth and determining why things are the way they are, this needs clear statements and not random interpretations.  So even if the author is dead and we cannot know what they were intending, do we still not look and try to analyze what they meant by what they said?

My thought is that the text receives its meaning from the author and it is our job to determine what they intended and not to give it a new meaning that we deem appropriate.

Maybe Globalization Should Wait

When you look at the present situation of many of the first world countries that are expected to take the helm on globalization and helping promote the state of developing countries, does it hit you that maybe they should take care of themselves first?

Im not saying that we should completely ignore other countries, obviously that doesn't work, but maybe we should deal with the problems, particularly economic, in our own country before we throw money at other countries.

There are many economic problems in our country today. Obviously the economy is struggling overall, but there are many Americans that don't have the basic luxuries most of us at Rhodes consider a part of being American. Some don't have clean water, or consistent electricity, or jobs for that matter. I think that these problems are now in the spotlight because of the failing economy. However, when most people think of humanitarian work or helping impoverished people they immediately think outside of our borders. There are many places, especially border towns, where, if the average American just saw pictures or video of the town, would never believe it was in the US.

The reality is there is a need for globalization within the country. We should focus on our fellow Americans and our economy, then we can better deal with problems in other countries.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My problems with "The Problem with Globalizaition"'

[This is a response to MVP's post: "The Problems with Globalization"

For starters, we must bear in mind that Wall-e presents a world that is highly improbable if not impossible. For us all to be a bunch of overweight slobs in hover-chairs that wore the same clothes and ate the same food would merit that we all had the same tastes and preferences. (I have many other economic problems with the movie such as the question of where they got the resources for food etc. that they seem to just dump into space - but I digress.) You have a point that aid agencies give a lot - America as a whole gives a lot of financial aid. But that does not mean they are doing all they can; in fact, their giving money may be hurting as it goes to no useful/efficient end.

"Let's face it: there's always going to be a discrepancy or a gap between the rich and the poor... it will still exist so long as technology and capitalism... exists."

This is in places misguided and in others economically untrue. There don't have to be poor people for there to be rich people; life (and economics) is not a zero sum game. This view of the world assumes that when people voluntarily trade, one party is made worse off. To illustrate my point further, I'll present a hypothetical:

You can live in one of two worlds:
In World A - you have an income of $200,000 a year while everyone else makes $100,000 a year.
And in World B - you have an income of $300,000 a year and everyone else makes $500,000 a year.
Bear in mind that these amounts a real money terms: thus, in world B you can purchase 50% more than world A while everyone else can purchase 400% more in world B than in world A.

Think about your answer before you shout out the answer.

Most people I have asked will say "World A." Unless you think everyone being poorer would somehow make you better off (say you are malicious), this is the wrong answer. Relative wealth shouldn't matter - if it did, we should have a legitimate reason to hate Warren Buffett for being a smart investor. There may always be a gap between the richest person in the world and the poorest person in the world, but that doesn't mean there have to be poor people - we can all be rich.

As for your problem with globalization (as I understand it there is something wrong with you needing to be connected with the internet) this isn't really a problem with globalization. Globalization is in part about reducing barriers to trade, transportation, and information sharing. Your needing to visit facebook is a personal problem - the fact that you have access to facebook is because of globalization: do you see the difference?

"But now it's a much more dangerous device that even grown ups can't live without.

I'm not sure this is rational. Or at least any more rational than being in the 19th century and saying that we are becoming too dependent on candle power (for more fun on candle power, see Bastiat's "Plee of the Candlemakers"). It's technology. The danger always lies in the fact that one day (for some inexplicable reason) we might lose it and go back to scratching the dirt for subsistence. But that is not a legitimate argument against globalization - just because we fear not having technology, does that mean we shouldn't use it now?

After all, he was the walrus.

At the end of this search for values we talked about Derrida. Derrida said “there is nothing outside the text.” All we, as readers, have to go off of is what we have on the page. The author is not there to clarify or explain. This means any text can be de-contextualized and re-contextualized.

This, like existentialism, has been treated as devoid of morality. However, to cite Sartre in defense, we are ultimately responsible for creating meaning. For existentialism and post-modernism to be excuses someone has to chose to make it an excuse. Anyone can make an “ism” into an excuse but they are only cheating themselves (acting in bad faith). Like my earlier comment about Nietzsche’s discussion of Christianity as a crutch, it is only a crutch if someone decides to let it be a crutch.

It is strange to even refer to existential thought and “ism.” The whole point is that you are thinking and by yourself come to conclusions. You are not ascribing to an ideology when you are an existentialist, you are ascribing to your own will. And will, according to Kant is the only good thing, right?

I’ll leave you with a quote from that I thought I understood but now has new meaning for me (how’s that for Derrida?!) So to quote Ferris Buller “-Ism's in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, ‘I don't believe in The Beatles, I just believe in me.’ Good point there.” Good point, indeed.

An Economic World

Steger discusses the economic, political, and cultural dimensions of how the world, as we know it, has been globalized. However, I believe the international economic scene has further globalized the world more than any other dimension. "Economic globalization refers to the intensification and stretching of economic interrelations across the globe." These interrelations involve nations all over the world who open their doors for trade. Countries have become so involved and tight nit, that some could not survive without the goods and services of the other. Today's markets are universal, therefore linking the economies of just about every nation. Steger also mentions how massive corporations now operate on an international basis by manufacturing goods one place and selling them on the other side of the globe.

I don't understand how political dimensions could systematically globalize the world as economics has. I know that there are a lot of policies involved with a nation's economy but most countries rely on trade for goods that help sustain the nation's well being. Without these goods the nation would fail along with its political system. Why is trade considered a bad idea? Through comparative advantage, a country can use its resources to produce goods that it is most efficient in manufacturing, and trade for everything else.

How has the world been globalized through cultural dimensions? I don't think languages would be emphasized in schools if we were not involved with foreign nations, or people economically. Without an interlocked economy, what motives would there be for being cultured in a foreign nation?

The Problem with Globalization

Maybe it's just the capitalist sentiment in me, but I get weirded out when people start talking about foreign aid. Shannon's post below this one dealt with the issues regarding aid agencies not doing enough. From a political standpoint, they're doing as much as they can with what they have. A majority of the aid money comes from first world powers, and since first world powers are primarily capitalist and rationally self-interested actors, the aid agency has little to work with in the end. But could first world powers be doing much, much more? The rational answer is no. Let's face it: there's always going to be a discrepancy or a gap between the rich and the poor, and no matter how much we attempt to close that gap, it will still exist so long as technology and capitalism in the system exists.

The other problem I had with globalization is its effect on day to day life. I'll be honest, I'm pretty much addicted to the internet. When I'm not connected, I feel like I'm out of touch. It's now I get 1) my TV 2) my news 3) my facebook 4) my email etc, etc ad infinitum. Same goes for my phone. It allows immediate connectivity for myself and any of my friends. We've been hearing the same advice since we were kids: turn off the TV and go outside. But now it's a much more dangerous device that even grown ups can't live without. Are we doomed to a Wall-E future, with little chubby people floating around in their hoverchairs, constantly connected in 10 different screens at once, and yet never really reach out and touch someone?

I hope not. Though if it happens, I'm banking on a rusty little robot to zoom past me and bump me out of my chair.

When a good will isn't good enough

The American and British economies delivered nine million copies of the sixth Harry Potter book…in one day. Over the past almost sixty years, the ‘West’ has spent $2.3 trillion on foreign aid, yet (among a myriad of problems) it can’t quite manage to deliver twelve-cent anti-malarial meds to the children of the ‘rest’ of the world (Easterly 4). Imagine the chaos if millions of crazed Harry Potter fans had to wait sixty years to get their copies.

In Globalization, Manfred Steger outlines the cultural, political, and economic dimensions of globalization and illustrates how this phenomenon has unevenly benefited the ‘North’ at the expense of the ‘South’. According to data from the World Bank, the income gap between countries has become drastically more pronounced since the ‘onset’ of globalization in 1973 (Steger 104).

With $2.3 trillion allocated to international aid, and arguably more global awareness as a result of increased technology, why have previous aid initiatives proven unsuccessful (in terms of the economic gap between countries)? In general, I don’t think this failure reflects a lack of good intentions on the part of aid agencies or donors. Is this a valid excuse for ineptitude, though?

William Easterly, a development economist and former employee of the World Bank, criticizes the top-down approach to foreign aid in his book The White Man’s Burden. He separates people into two categories: Planners and Searchers. Planners, he says, are people who apply universal blueprints in an attempt to formulaically solve issues like poverty from a distance. Searchers, on the other hand, employ a bottom-up approach and tend to favor small-scale, homegrown projects in an attempt to solve particular problems. Easterly’s criticism of the Planner is summed up nicely in the following passage:

“Setting a prefixed (and grandiose) goal is irrational because there is no reason to assume that the goal is attainable and at a reasonable cost with the available means. It doesn’t make sense to have the goal that your cow will win the Kentucky Derby. No amount of expert training will create a Derby-winning race cow. It makes much more sense to ask, ‘What useful things can a cow do?’ A cow can nicely feed a family with a steady supply of milk, butter, cheese, and (unfortunately for the cow) beef” (Easterly 11).

Sixty years later, and aid agencies are still pouring money into that hope of a “Derby-winning race cow.”

According to Kant, the good will is the only thing that is absolutely, unconditionally good. It doesn’t matter if the action produced by the will is beneficial or not – as long as the intention behind it was good. The problem with such a mentality is that it takes away the sense of accountability when aid agencies need to be held more accountable for their results.

Cultural Differences

I never felt satisfied by our discussion in class concerning Steger's question in Chapter 5 of Globalization: "Does globalization make people around the world more alike or more different?" So I bring it up here.

I understand where Steger was coming from. Yes, McDonald's keeps appearing in random places (holy crap, CHINA!) and Hollywood is a major player in the homogenization of culture. Trends in fashion span the globe; music is echoed from one studio to another and there's probably some other poor guy that can't get MIA's "Paper Planes" out of his head halfway across the world. For my own experience, I see more Filipinos doing more American things (ahem...basketball? We are not supposed to be able to do that sort of thing...) and more Americans doing Filipino things (our cuisine is quite delicious, if you give it a chance). Our cultures seem to be merging, and while America is definitely dominating the world cultural market, there is a definitive middle ground.

However, that merging of cultures is also what breeds the separation of individuals. Really, when was the last time you met an MMA-fighting cannibalistic Filipino familiar with American contemporary, hip-hop, and swing dance? Similarly, it's always a pleasure to find an American that understands Tagalog or practices Kali/Eskrima/Anis or that I can share some balut with (and that last one is really rare). While the merging of cultures does seem to bring a measure of homogeneity to society, it is the combination of many cross-cultural experiences that makes an individual.

Of course, I am speaking from my own experience and that is not applicable to individuals who have little exposure to other cultures, directly (meeting people) or indirectly (TV, news, studies, etc.). On the whole, though, I feel that Steger tempers his statements by bringing up this new synthesis of cultures and how it has created "new symbolic expressions."

This is even apparent in smaller microcosms. I will use the MMA world as an example. We're all trained in various forms of striking and grappling and wrestling. Professional fighter Georges St.-Pierre is a prime example of the individuality present in our sport given through cross-cultural training. He is a traditionally a Kyokushfin karate fighter, yet he has been cross-trained in Muay Thai, boxing, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. While most of us are indeed cross-trained in multiple arts, we all have unique syntheses based on our natural abilities and the experiences we have had in cross-cultural martial arts.

Staying with combat applications, but moving into larger microcosms, observe our police and military forces. Kali/Eskrima/Anis training has become mandatory from some, or simply absorbed and adapted into a regimen (such as MCMAP). The ever-increasing presence of Kali instructors has led to police forces around the nation employing their services to teach officers more effective ways to engage hostile individuals with a baton or in hand-to-hand combat. Our knife training has been implemented into all U.S. military forces and in many other militaries across the globe as well. While this training may be from the same art, we have to consider the other factors: the teacher (your friends that have Search clearly don't all have someone as awesome as Dr. J), the individual's physical capabilities, their mental preparedness, or that person's cross-cultural martial arts training. All these result in an individual synthesis that includes a new form of martial art (the antithesis) being combined with whatever knowledge, or lack thereof, they had possessed before (their original thesis).

Anyway, that's my spiel. Thoughts?

Big Mac or Big Whack?

Globalization, according to Steger, is the new "buzzword." This is concerned with the ever-growing interconnectedness of politics, economics, culture, and ideologies around the globe. However, with this growing interconnectedness comes a homogenizing of peoples, cultures, and languages. I believe that this homogenization is somewhat tragic. I mean, yes, most people will only concern themselves with the economic benefits they can in turn receive. This change from the World to "McWorld" is somewhat interesting. Is it truly moral for us to concern ourselves with wiping out other cultures to further spread this intense idea of consumerism? This sole concern for economic gain causes us to turn a blind eye to all the unethical actions taken. How is it in any way our place to have an influence in so much or to "modernize" everything we can get our hands onto? In some ways, globalization serves the greater good, but how can we ethically justify stepping on other countries/cultures and keeping them down to further promote ourselves in their own homeland?

"Abraham Lincoln once said, 'If you are a racist, I will attack you with the North'" ~Michael Scott

One thing that has continually bothered me since we brought it up in class is the dilemma of the white supervisor versus the dilemma of the black supervisor. I don't remember how exactly it came up in class, but the example itself goes something like this:

Is it racist for a black supervisor to reject a white applicant for a job in an otherwise all-black office on the basis of possible interruption in office efficency?
Is it also racist for a white supervisor to reject a black applicant for a job in an otherwise all-white office on that same basis?

The argument presented in class was one of historical background. It was racist for the white supervisor, but not for the black supervisor.

My argument goes a step further to say that they are both racist. They are so simply because they are dealing with issues that are not directly concerned with the applicant's qualifications. This has some interesting ramifications for affirmative action, but I think that can be argued away as a necessary plan in order to facilitate change. As it stands now, I think the affirmative action does more harm than good (perhaps a bit of bias here as asians are discriminated against by affirmative action even more than white people) Yes, I understand that we cannot erase history. Yes, I understand that the white man is historically an oppressor. As cliche as this phrase is, you're "preaching to the choir." But I've been reviewing MLK Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech, and this stood out:

"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

...

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

My point is, as MLK Jr more eloquently stated, is that history is history. What we have the potential to change is the future. A heavy-handed end to my post, perhaps, but in light of recent events (Obama's election), perhaps heavy-handedness is the key.

Monday, December 8, 2008

All I want for Christmas...

dirty water Pictures, Images and Photos
Yum, right?
What if your drinking water came out of the sink this way? I'm sure each and every one of us would be typing up a work order on the computer right away. What if you actually had to drink it? In class, we talked about basic human rights. We discussed, or at least began discussing what exactly human rights are. Some classify human rights as simply being life in itself. Others classify it as a certain type of freedom. Although we never came to a conclusion in the class discussion, we did discuss certain other aspects that are concerned with human rights such as food, water, and shelter.
I recently just saw a video the other day that was actually quite shocking. We all know that there are violations of human rights everyday. Millions are dying every day from hunger and lack of clean water. We all know this. We've all seen the infomercials. However, when presented with actual numbers and figures, the focus changes.
As the figures stand today, it would only take $10 billion to provide everyone in the world with clean water. This figure may seem high, but not when we compare it to how much money we are spending in Iraq. The figure seems even smaller when we just compare it to an American Christmas. Americans spend over $450 billion EVERY YEAR for Christmas.
Now, that is an aspect concerning human rights that could use some readjustment. If we just put 1/45 of the money we spend just on Christmas, millions of people could be saved. It's not just the fact that these people are dying. In essence, we could even call it torture. The so called "water" that millions of people are subjected to drink each day leaves them with cholera or diarrhea- an unpleasant way to leave this world.
So what do we do? We saw from Globalization, how America can bring its Nike shoes, Chicago Bulls jerseys, and McDonalds to just about any country in the world. But we can't bring clean water or food. Globalization is mainly concerned with economics, however where do we draw the line? When does the economic focus end and the ethical focus begin?

Believing in your Value System

If you trust Socrates, then you believe that the wisest man knows he knows nothing at all. Additionally when we look at all of the great philosophers throughout time with such polar opposite views, what gives us such confidence in our search for values? I do not think I am smarter than Socrates and I have no reason to believe that I am any smarter than the other members of this class. I have developed a bad habit throughout this year of finding flaws in the arguments of others without producing arguments of my own.

This stems from the fact that while I obviously have a moral code of my own, I do not have enough faith in its validity or concreteness to assume that it is worth preaching. This is a habit I need to break, but I still can't ignore this question: where do you (dear classmates of mine) find the confidence to put forth your beliefs as facts? Do you have such faith in them that you believe they are more correct than the beliefs of the other members of the class? Or, do you put them forth in an effort to subject them to the critiques of your peers? I am asking an earnest question and really do not mean to suggest that our class is full of arrogance; I am simply curious and would like to find a good reason to put my own views forth.

Maybe I should have asked this question earlier than the last week of the last semester of Search...

Morally Guided Laws?

I know that this is not a small topic to breach, and that we have partially discussed it before, but I would like to hear some thoughts on what the class believes when it comes to making laws based on moral laws. This is a topic I have struggled with for sometime. I think there are certain things that the government needs to mandate out of self-preservation. Making murder, any other kind of severe physical abuse and treason illegal would fall under this category in my mind. The thing that catches me is whether our government should really base laws or build social programs based on moral laws or what is "fair".

Extreme examples, in my mind, would be things like gay marriage, abortion, the welfare system and the tax policy that is being put in place in a few months. (a side-note: we don't have time to discuss these specific examples and I do not think permanently publishing the class' views on abortion or gay marriage would be a great idea, I am just using them as examples.) When I look at laws based on the question of whether something is fair or not, I see a lot of failed programs which might not have been have been based in logic to begin with. Taking the upcoming tax policies as an example, the laffer curve (as well as the last Great Depression) shows us that raising taxes both stunts the economy and lowers the national tax revenue. Is further damaging an already broken economy while further bankrupting our nation, worth aiding people who do not 'contribute'* to the economy? The problem with this is that many people don't believe this is a 'fair' practice anyways, ignoring the likely consequences. Seeing as there is no solid definition for something being 'fair', there is no solid defense for these policies.

This can then be applied to other social policies. How can you prove that something is moral? Ethics have been heatedly debated for thousands of years, and now we force people to adhere to the 'moral codes' of Washington? Do you trust the morals of Washington? I don't.

*When I say 'contribute' I mean that they pay taxes. I am referring to President Elect Obama's plan to give tax refunds to members of our society who do not pay taxes to begin with.

To Be Distinctly Human

I was intrigued at the path the debate in class took last Thursday. It would seem that a distinctly Human trait would be something that, if not easy to find, would at least be easy enough to agree on. This was not the case, as we had a solid block of time dedicated to merely deciphering the points of the sides of the argument. On the one hand, some believe that life, in and of itself, is the most fundamental thing that allows an individual to be human. On the other side, some believed that freedom is the distinctly human trait which, if removed, would diminish one's humanity.

What is distinctly human about life? Are we any more alive than the plants and animals that inhabit the world around us? Or is it possible that they are, in some way, functional and yet not “living” in the sense that humans are? The technical definition of life is “A condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects.” The specific signs of life are threefold: growth through metabolism, reproduction, and adaptation to one’s environment. Surely humans cannot be unique because we are alive, so there must be something special about how we live that sets us apart from the rest of the organisms on this spacious blue planet. What could this intangible quality be?

Humans are obviously very different from other forms of life on the planet. We wage war, we have sex, and even end our very existences whenever we deem it appropriate. So what dictates human action and motivates us to do the things that we do? It must be freedom, or something like it. Some of the worst punishments imaginable to us involve bondage, imprisonment, and death; all of which are limitations of our freedom. These punishments are most despicable because they take away the very thing that we need to be human; freedom.

Some may say that in order to be free one must be living, however it is not life in and of itself that gives us any measure of freedom or satisfaction. Truly there are situations (such as a prolonged coma or lifelong slavery) in which a person would rather exert their freedom to end their own existence than continue on in a manner where their situation is limited. In the context of life, human’s cognizance of their truly wretched conditions can be enough to compel us to end the suffering. This is even extended by us to the animal kingdom in the form of putting animals to sleep as a form of consolation should their ailments become too great. What would humans be without freedom? We would be yet another simple life form on this planet with basic instincts and a very rudimentary awareness of their surroundings, but without ambitions, inspirations, or a unique drive to understand that which is beyond the limits of our reason. Also, we wouldn’t have as much sex.

What are Human Rights?

What does it mean to be human?

In class we discussed the idea that first off life by itself was not a human right, that has to be a given. If you take life away from a person, they cannot be a person any more - they are no longer a thinking thing.
I believe that Sartre's idea that humans are a freedom and we are giving the free will to choose what actions to do or not to do, that is what makes us human not something else. If this is true we decided that it was our right to have self-sovereignty which was the most important human right. If one was to tamper with or infringe on a person's ability to make choices then it would be inhuman.
For example: if the US government holds an Egyptian immigrant in a secret prison and they torture him. This treatment is an attack on that immigrant's human rights, he can no longer be self-determined. The torture is an attempt to push this person into a life where he cannot be able to make choices, so this prisoner sees a limit set of choices and he ends up not being able to be a human.

We also talked about how there were some basic other human rights. These would obviously include access to clean water, as well as food, and the right to have a baseline health care and education. These are the foundations of any modern human society so that people can have a properly lifestyle.

But, is there some level of international intervention to guarantee that those above noted rights are not to be tampered with by a government or organization. First off there can intervention when people are being killed like in Bosnia-Kosovo conflict. Here a certain people where having their ability to live their lives taken away just because of religion. They were treated not like humans, but more like animals at the slaughter. This was a case where the West in the form of NATO saw that humans were being killed and their self-sovereignty was being threatened by the will of other people. In the end I believe any nation with the power should intervene for human rights if they have the resources or the power to.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nietzsche on Christianity

As we’ve progressed to modern philosophers in our search for values, we’ve been confronted with several critiques attacking Christianity. After reading Sartre, who denies the existence of God altogether but offers no evidence for his claim, Nietzsche’s argument against the “anonymous, passionless, self-righteous, and hypocritical” (Solomon 112) Christianity serves as a more convincing analysis against this modern religion.

First, Nietzsche welcomes the “Death of God” because he thinks Christianity has encouraged weakness. He says Christianity serves as a crutch to the feeble-minded masses and rejects the values necessary for a man to live a self-actualized life. Instead of conforming to these harmful values, Nietzsche claims that there is a god waiting to be born inside of everyone that brings forth something creative and new to the world. With the “Death of God”, Nietzsche gives the power back to the individuals to decide their own values and courses of action.

Next, Nietzsche suggests that Christianity advocates slave moralities- doing what is most useful for the whole community (the herd), and not the strong. This belief prompts the weak to gain power over the strong because they make the strong believe that there are certain evils that they should avoid and certain values that they should uphold. Thus, humility, charity, sympathy and the like are the result of universalizing the values of the weak to bring others down. To Nietzsche, this mentality is flawed: great things should be for the great, while what is common should have little value to the great.

In response to slave moralities, Nietzsche outlines master moralities, which are based on individual excellence instead of obedience and conformity to a set of universalized values. Because this morality is for superior people who look beyond the emphasis of good and evil, they strive for values such as pride, honor, and nobility.

Finally, Nietzsche says that Christianity generates negative thinking. Because it is based on refraining from certain practices, especially those that seem instinctual, Christianity denies natural emotions and behaviors.

Nietzsche’s attack, originating from his disdain for universalized values and conformity, offers a sound case against Christianity. By emphasizing Christianity’s rejection of our instincts and creative capacities, Nietzsche argues that this religion denies the affirmative expression of our life.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Home-wrecking is happiness

So, Dev’s post on the “scarier implications” of existentialism suggests that ultimate freedom undermines the value of meaningful relationships. I, too, have apprehensions that stem from this notion of absolute freedom, however my fears take on a different form. In Existentialism Is a Humanism, Sartre states that values are not so serious because you are given the freedom to choose them for yourself. He argues that your values should be reflected in your actions, and should ultimately aim to make yourself happy. Period.

Although I am obviously in favor of happiness and enjoying life, choosing values on the basis of benefiting yourself seems like a selfish aspect of existentialism. Shouldn’t everyone have some set of morals to keep from acting completely out of line? What about caring for others and not just yourself…and the golden rule? I feel like existentialism focuses too much on the satisfaction of the individual, and because everyone cannot be happy all the time, focusing on the greater happiness for the greater good may be more beneficial.

Sartre illustrates this principle of using freedom to attain happiness, even if it hurts others in the process, through his Maggie Tulliver example. Maggie is in love with Stephen, who is engaged to another woman. Maggie forfeits her own happiness and decides not to intervene, letting Stephen and the other woman follow through on their plans to get married. However, Sartre mentions Maggie’s alternative option, to disregard Stephen’s fiancĂ©e and pursue a relationship with him to make herself happy, and claims that this is an equivalent choice to the one she actually makes. The only thing that matters to Sartre is that she made a choice (home wrecker or not).

Again, I understand that happiness is the aim of life, but I just can’t get on board with something that denies any sense of morality altogether. If everyone was operating to benefit themselves, the world would be a chaotic and mistrustful place.
Ultimately, I like that existentialism gives individuals the freedom to decide their own fate, but considering the flaws of the human condition, I find this freedom simultaneously scary.

Yet more on politics and economics

When we mentioned libertarianism in our discussion of ideology, Prof. Johnson stated that it is inconsistent to be economically conservative and socially liberal, at least in the widely accepted modern notions of liberalism and conservatism. In an attempt to receive more fresh criticism for a small portion of my rapidly-evolving political beliefs, I would like to expand on this point, and briefly state my position.

As stated in class, libertarianism might be better described in terms of a lack of government interference. In some individuals this ideology extends to a desire to abolish government entirely. There are many extremely different schools of libertarian thought ("liberalism" and many other ideologies cover quite a broad range as well), but I will be discussing the more anarcho-capitalistic (or minarcho-capitalistic) libertarianism common in the States, as the Libertarian Party is apparently the third largest political party in the US.

The laissez-faire capitalism advocated by these libertarians is incompatible with social liberalism in addition to economic. I will admit that I personally associate social liberalism first with issues like abortion and gay marriage, so it's understandable that the Libertarian Party, which is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage in general, could have this association, but libertarianism doesn't really fit on the left-right spectrum and cannot be considered socially liberal when it rejects affirmative action, anti-discrimination and hate crime laws, welfare, expanded or universal health-care, public education and income tax or any other attempt at wealth re-distribution.

I am of the opinion that granting complete and total individual liberty, at least according to this definition, means that minorities and the poor will remain poor and oppressed. If people are allowed to refuse to hire (or provide services to) racial minorities, women and homosexuals, many would. Many, many more would refuse to hire/serve transgendered people - admittedly this is already the case in much of America. I reject that notion that the "freedoms" to discriminate and to hoard resources that others need in order to remain alive and well are worth protecting.

Making no attempt to remedy the vast gulf between the rich and the poor that keeps many ignorant, without access to healthcare and lacking career opportunties will only perpetuate the racism, classism, sexism and homophobia of our largely "socially conservative" society.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say

Parrhesiastes, what are your thoughts? I’m for ‘em, and here’s why. Their belief in the truth wrests in their opinion that their beliefs are true; alas, parrhesiastes reconcile belief with truth and are hence completely committed to the messages that they profess. And the truth that they profess is no filler; indeed their messages are devoid of rhetoric, fraught with truth for truth’s sake. The truth they tell is frank and forthright—effective and unyielding in their message without appeal to rhetoric as a faculty upon which they promote the truth. Their truth is legitimate in that they cite fact based on what they know to be true and share these findings because they believe it to be incumbent upon themselves. And let us not forget that a parrhesiastes always must always be in a position of inferiority relative to that which s/he is critiquing. It is this risk that commands qualifies a true parrhesiastes, one who would rather risk his/her personal wellbeing for the sake of delivering a message than be comfortable with the truth being unspoken.

Based on these qualifications, I think it is fair to assume that Malcolm X is indeed a parrhesiastes. Early in his speech, Malcolm X speaks to the general state of moral, spiritual, and institutional degradation of Black America in 1964 at the hands of white suppression. He states:

“Now in speaking like this, it doesn’t mean that we’re anti-white, but it does mean we’re anti-exploration, we’re anti-degradation, and we’re anti-oppression. And if the white man doesn’t want us to be anti-him, let him stop oppressing and exploiting and degrading us.”

And this sets the tone for the rest of what proves to be a true to form dissertation on what it is that has kept the black community subordinate to that of white America. He talks about Black Americans were systematically coaxed and manipulated into supporting, if not contributing towards, the economic and authoritative system that exploits them. He then goes on to state that the government doesn’t recognize them as a citizenry despite having guaranteed all citizens unalienable rights, and states that Black America needs a ballot to enact change before it gives a bullet. Before concluding, Malcolm X comes to appeals to the international community in recognizing the disenfranchisement of Black American’s human rights in the face of blatant hypocrisy (i.e. America’s involvement with the U.N.)

Although it’s fairly obvious that Malcolm X spits hot fire, I don’t think the same can be said of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “I Have a Dream,” for a few simple reasons. Firstly, the language is much too inflated. Indeed the verbiage and phrasing speaks consists wholly of biblical allusions and extended metaphors that cloud would should be a frank and direct address (quite literally most of what is stated before Dr. King reveals his prophetic dream). What’s more, the speech isn’t an address to the oppressive superior. Rather, it is directed to those with concordant dispositions. There is no critique.

This isn’t to say that Dr. King is not a parrhesiastes. Alas, my thirst for knowledge and faith in Dr. King is unyielding, and I sought out a more telling work of Dr. King’s truth-telling exploits. Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is a solid example of what it is to be a parrhesiastes—committed, bold, frank, and instigating. The letter is a response to a formal statement delivered by eight Alabama clergymen who urge Dr. King to forego initiatives of direct action in favor of eliciting concessions by way of the courts as opposed to the collective conscience of White America. These clergymen offer the virtue of patience instead of their support in action, a point that Dr. King isn’t loathe to harp on and argue against.

Briefly, Dr. King explains the theory of direct action before revealing what it is that they mean to get at by it’s execution, eliciting a tension in the mind of the community so that the issues of the oppressed must be addressed. He states: “We have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure,” the equates the Clergymen’s advice to “wait” with “never.” He even hints at the notion of the master/slave dialect being in full-effect. So yeah, he’s pretty much saying to the established authority, look, here’s what you’ve got wrong and this is how I suggest you go about changing. To close, he writes:

“If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.”

I’ve provided a link to the letter; go ahead, take a peek. I think you’ll find that the incredibly direct and forceful nature of the work cannot otherwise be misconstrued.

http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/frequentdocs/birmingham.pdf

Sunday, November 23, 2008

And yet another Implication of Man Making Man

In Existentialism Is a Humanism, Jean-Paul Sartre lays out the basic premises and principles of existentialism. The first, and what I think is probably the most important, is that man's existence precedes his essence. It is because of this that, as Sartre says, "[man] will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself" (22). But what does this really entail for humanity, this idea taht we are what we make of ourselves (and not just what we eat)?

One answer, and one that I find particularly and paradoxically inspiring and depressing (but mostly depressing) is Absurdism. Absurdism, as most of you know, is a branch of existential philosophy. Its main tenet is that it is humanly impossible, or "absurd", to find meaning in a world where we are constantly creating and recreating meaning for ourselves. Albert Camus' The Stranger is the work Absurdist fiction, and I find it to be one the best pieces of fiction I've ever read. So, what I mainly want to do is shed some light on the scarier implications of the first principle of Existentialsim that Sartre shies away from.

The story of The Stranger follows a man named Meursaulf, whose mother has just died. He is conspicuously not grieving but goes through all the motions–goes to the old folk's home, goes to the funeral, everything. But where is his emotion, where is the pain he should feel for the loss of his Maman? This absence of emotion, I feel, hints at one of the first scary implications I referred to above: namely, that, in a world where we create our meaning almost ad infinitum, our emotions are queasily close to meaningless. This can be summed up beautifully in an exchange between Meursault and his mistress, Marie:

"She was wearing a pair of my pajamas with the sleeves rolled up. When she laughed I wanted her again. A minute later she asked me if I loved her. I told her it didn't mean anything but that I didn't think so. She looked sad. But as we were fixing lunch, and for no apparent reason, she laughed in such a way that I kissed her."

Or another instance when he is asked by his attorney if he ever truly loved his Maman:

"I answered that I had pretty much lost the habit of analyzing myself and that it was hard for me to tell him what he wanted to know. I probably did love Maman, but that didn't mean anything. ... I explained to him, however, that my nature was such that my physical needs often got in the way of my feelings."

So in these moments set-up for a confession of emotion, we merely get Meursault acting on impulse and sloughing off any claims to emotion. He has no rational or even emotional basis for anything he does. This can also be seen in the reason's for Meursault's shooting an Arab. He cannot come up with anything other than a description of the burning sun on the beach.

So it is apparent in the Absurdist school of Existentialism that emotions mean a-whole-lot of nothing. But what does that mean for our actions? Does it mean that any emotional bases I have for being friends with someone are in bad faith? Does it mean that any meaning I derive from my emotional exchanges with the people I love are, in the end, mere buffoonery? Camus, I assume, would nod and reply with a terse, "oui". I, on the other hand, am left screaming it can't be so. This is a reason I have a love-hate relationship with Existentialism. On the one side, it leaves me free to just be. But on the other, it leaves me with no way to get meaning out of my relationships with other people.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Moderation, please.

I was going to make this a comment, but it got to long, so for ease of reading, I making it a whole new post. I have problem with almost every point made in the previous post. This surprises me because when I saw that Richard was going to discredit Marxism I expected to agree. I expected to read what I consider the most persuasive argument for why Marxism doesn’t work which is that it asks a person to identify with someone they don’t know. The only way I see communism working is on the very small scale. Think of family (and heck, even there is doesn’t always work out). There are so many reasons why Marxism doesn’t work, but have a lot of problems with Richard’s argument.

First, Richard discredits revolution because you “can’t really think of a revolution that actually improved government” besides the American Revolution. While I am sure he didn’t mean to be ethnocentric, this statement left a sour taste in my mouth. I agree that revolution is often pointless, my favorite example is the French Revolution, where after decades of fighting the monarch was brought back. However to say that revolution hasn’t improved government except for the United States is to discredit every other former colonial holding that rebelled against imperialism. What about Nelson Mandela? What about Emiliano Zapata?

Second, I don’t know how Richard can say that “ALL human rights stem from property rights”? Are you honestly saying that unless you own property you deserve human rights? So what about us lowly students who own no land? Not to mention refugees forced from their land? I think almost everything we’ve read for this class would refute what Richard claims. Most importantly, Hobbes and Locke say that our rights derive from the fact that we are sovereign entities in a state of nature. What if Kant’s categorical imperative were based on what you suggest? He doesn’t say that the categorical imperative only applies to those who own property. Doesn’t Sartre calls humans “freedoms”?

Third, Richard uses the example of heath care in the United States as an example where pure capitalism is not being allowed to work its magic. Richard has a point that getting a drug is expensive and takes a long time. I don’t disagree that reform is needed. I will, however, recount a story from my Political Science 151 class as a sort of counter example. So, I am on a vacation with my family. I go to the supermarket to buy a pack of hotdogs and my kid ends up get violently sick because those hot dogs were not regulated by the FDA. So, I take my kids to the nearest a doctor and my kid ends up dying, because it turns out that the doctor is not really a doctor. The sign in front of the building says he is a doctor, but without any regulation no one can stop him calling himself a doctor. This story rules out the idea that if everyone just did enough research we could make perfectly informed decisions. I don’t know about you, but this to me is scary. Now, I know you would said that capitalism would fix this because this quack doctor would go out of business, but what about the poor people who suffer until then?

Moral of this story: pure capitalism is scary. Maybe I am not brave enough to embrace my “freedom” according to Sartre, but I recognize that I can’t be an expert on everything so I put a little trust in the government and I live my life in less fear because of it. I would also say pure capitalism is just as unlikely to come to pass Marxism. And there is a reason, both expect WAY too much out of people. Pure Marxism expects people to give up what they work hard for. Pure capitalism expects everyone to be smart enough to know what to do in every situation. In pure capitalism if you make a mistake you pay for it . . . which sounds like what is fair, but I offer another example. Let us look at the housing market. It was very unregulated and loans were made to people who could never pay them back. The consequences are so wide spread that if the government were just to say “not my problem” would be disastrous not only for the people but more importantly the entire economy. What happens with deregulation is that companies mess up . . . Franny and Freddy . . . and the government ends up having to bail them out because they are so important to the economy. We would’ve been better to just regulate from the beginning.

My final problem is with “wealth redistribution is morally wrong.” Not all wealth distribution is done Robin Hood style. Taxes are a form of wealth redistribution. I agree with Claire that the rich should pay more taxes to help out the people who need help.

In conclusion, I would ask everyone to meditate on the word moderation. Let us avoid these extremes of capitalism and Marxism. Let us moderate.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Marx v Smith

Believe it or not I’ve still been thinking about Marx and socialism and I can’t help but conclude that it’s just not functional, especially after our discussion in class. My most superficial problem with it is that its beginning is a violent and bloody revolution. With the exception of the American Revolution I can’t really think of a revolution that actually improved government. And all of the socialist revolutions that I can think of gave rise to monstrous tyrants like Mao, Lenin, and Hitler.

This brings me to my second problem with Marx. A socialist society requires surrendering all of your property rights, giving all the products of your labor to a totalitarian ruler and trusting him to distribute them appropriately. Milton Friedman argues, and I think rightly so, that ALL human rights stem from property rights. So giving up your property rights will inevitably mean giving up all of your rights. There’s no way that a people without rights could form a functional human society. Nature gives us pictures of societies like these, namely ants and bees. The individual in a bee hive has no rights and no property. And even though hives as a whole tend to be very prosperous, we would hardly call them better than a free human society.

In class we talked about the problems with capitalism that Marxism could possibly remedy. Namely, wealth disparity and the lack of care society provides for the individual. But to say that capitalism can’t remedy those problems itself is to jump the gun I think. At this point I’d like to say I’m really only talking about America given that it’s the best example we have of capitalism. Sure, if you look at wealth disparity over the past 10 years it might not have changed much, it might even have grown. However, if you look at the whole period of capitalism (which one could argue began with the end of the feudal system) wealth disparity has decreased dramatically and the standard of living has improved immeasurably. Maybe it’s happened more slowly than we would like, but the fact that it’s happening is undeniable.

Pure capitalism can also provide care for the individual and usually generate more wealth in the process, but the reason we don’t see the happening is precisely because the government has gotten involved. I think one of the best examples of this is healthcare. I could write a book on the problems I see with government run healthcare but I’ll list a few here to try to strengthen my argument. The reason drugs are so expensive is because the FDA has so regulated pharmaceutical companies that it costs billions of dollars to bring a drug to market. And the number of drugs that make it to alpha or even beta testing (which costs millions of dollars itself) and then go on to be rejected by the FDA is staggering. I read an article in either Time or Business Week (I honestly can’t remember which) that listed 8 cancer treatment drugs that cured the cancer of their test patients but still failed to be approved by the FDA for various, and often petty, reasons. This simply means that the next drug the company does get to market will have to cover the cost of producing that drug, and every drug that failed before it, making them exponentially more expensive for the consumer. I’m actually going to just stick with this example for now because if I list more this blog will be excessive. But the point is that the lack of care our society provides for its individuals can in many cases be traced back to government involvement.

My last problem with socialism is simply that wealth redistribution is morally wrong. Robin Hood was a criminal, we may think he’s badass for sticking it to the corrupt nobles but the fact is he was stealing. The government taking more from the rich simply because they are rich and giving it to the poor is no different. In fact, it is in some way worse. At least the nobles in Robin Hood were clearly corrupt. The vast majority of top income earners in America are rags to riches stories. We just hear about the Enron executives on TV and assume all wealthy CEO’s are like that.

So, to summarize, I simply don’t see how Marxism will solve the problems of capitalism and better than capitalism. And in some cases, Marxism creates problems worse than that of capitalism.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"The Century of The Self"

The following are from a BBC documentary called "The Century of the Self", which looks at the ways that those in power have used Freud's theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy.







Friday, October 17, 2008

Tragic views of property.

People are defined by things--- cards, systems. Everthing and everyone a commodity…ratings. I believe we as a society entitle ourselves to too much property these days. I find Locke’s views of property to be quite distinguished. The U.S. is a primary example of each person having too much property. We do not consider our body, as well as what we can use to be our sole property. Today, in our society, we are DEFINED by our property. We want as much of it as we can get. This I believe is a great tragedy, and according to Locke, almost an abomination.

Racism Part 3

Going along with Jon and Justin, I wanted to go back to Racism. Jon makes several valid arguments, one being that we need to focus on different ethnicities, not classifying people into certain categories such as “Asian or Mexican.” In today’s society, many people are against the great influx of immigrants into America. I’ve heard various “prophesies” that in several years, America will be a Hispanic nation. Lately, many people use the word “Mexican” in a derogatory fashion. They refer to Latinos, Spaniards, and Hispanics all as one: “Mexican.” First of all, disregarding a person’s ethnicity is not only inconsiderate, but many Hispanics or Latinos are offended to be called “Mexican,” for that robs them of their heritage and forces them into an incorrect category. I do find it strange that we are so worried about certain races becoming prominent in our society. For although no person wants his traditions or race to necessarily die out, America is supposedly a nation for all people. Why then are we so concerned with the influx of immigrants? In the last few years, the Hispanic population in Memphis has grown tremendously. The city itself is changing. I’ve always heard comments made about the number of people that live in a Hispanic household, referring to their economic status as being very poor. However, I believe this is a common misconception. Hispanics tend to have stronger family ties than most American families, thus the extended family lives in the house with the nuclear family in many cases. It is a part of their culture. Racism is tied to most of these misconceptions and derogatory terms. Thus what could be done to rid society of racism? According to the AAA (American Anthropological Association), race is not even biologically its own category. I would like to agree with Rousseau in that the self is a “good self, knowledgeable of society and “distinctively moral.” But when as Rousseau said does the “hero actually end up by cutting every throat till he finds himself, at last, sole master of the world?” As many agreed in class, we are inclined to look out for number one. For many people, that includes looking out for their own race and being thus recognized by it. We have more differences within our own race than between races….there’s really something wrong when we don’t care about the next human being.

Acting Upon One's Instincts


I feel like expressing some thoughts concerning a particular issue addressed on the 25th of September. As you may recall, Professor Johnson asked the class what our human instinct would be if the people in our class were trapped in our classroom, with a limited food supply, and the only humans left in the world.  After a huge debate, it turned out that our class as a whole reacted in a way that labeled us “cynical” and that we “need to start the search for values again!”  In this blog, I hope bring up some new perspectives and hopefully make particular members in our class think things over so our professor won’t think that they’ll have to go through three semesters of search again at Rhodes College!

            I must start off by stating the difference between animal instinct and human instinct.  Common sense will tell you that if there were a group of six starving dogs, and only one piece of meat large enough to satisfy only one dog, the dogs’ instincts would be to fight for the meat.  An animal has the instinct to survive, even if that means fighting and ultimately killing for whatever is necessary for survival.  Humans, especially the students in Dr. Johnson’s class, on the other hand are rational beings.  If our class were trapped in our classroom starving with a very limited food supply, would we act like dogs?  A rationally minded person may have an initial instinct of doing whatever is possible to stay alive, but actually acting upon that instinct is another thing.  A rational person would recognize other people, their conditions, and help lend their hand those who are weaker given the circumstances and possible consequences.

            Whether or not a classmate lends their hand out to another person during an adverse time is not necessarily dependent on their character.  A rationally minded person should be able to take everything surrounding them into consideration before acting upon their instincts.  They should be able to view things from the perspective of the weak people in the classroom.  Someone who is rational would not take on such aggression to the point of letting someone else die—it is not the fault of a weak person that they are left on the earth and in their condition.  In our case, a rational minded person would divide the food so that everyone would have equal amount instead of bully others and fighting for all the food.

            Some may argue that according to what I’m saying, if a person who’s unable to swim falls in a lake and is drowning, a rational person who is an unskilled swimmer would “jump in” and save them.  This is not the case.  By any means, a rational person may have that instinct, but actually acting upon that instinct is a different story.  A rational person would try desperately to save the other person through other means, but they would know that because they are not a lifeguard and will probably drown (along with the one who is actually drowning), they wouldn’t jump in.  Overall, if someone is rational, it doesn’t mean that they are going to go out and try to save everyone.  Given the circumstances, a rational minded person would maximize the survival of themselves and others equally.

 

I hope I have expressed my thoughts clearly.  Please comment and ask me anything you may be confused about.