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.


The strong move quiet, the weak start riots.

Here’s a scenario: eighteen students and one professor are sitting in Found class in 203 Palm Tree Hall at Roads College when bullets burst through the windows. There is nowhere to hide as the steady stream of bullets flows into the classroom, leaving each student (and professor) to try to protect themselves by diving behind bodies and placing others in front of the bullets.

Think this isn’t a feasible scenario? Ask Kinji Fukasaku, director of the movie Battle Royale, who worked in a munitions factory during World War II. His entire class was drafted when he was fifteen to work in the factory and one day they were caught in artillery fire. With nowhere to hide, his classmates dove under each other to shield themselves from harm.

This, my friends, is Rousseau’s view of the natural man in society: the self-serving and self-interested human always interested in survival and self-preservation. We argued recently about whether or not it was essential for humanity’s survival for humans to be co-dependent upon one another, and brought up several post-apocalyptic scenarios in which there could be a dichotomy of choices, namely whether or not to help those weaker than you or just leave them behind.

I offer this link to a fantastic movie that we previously viewed in the Philosophy Film Series last year: Battle Royale.

You can ignore the stuff in the intro about the adults fearing the children and all that stuff. It doesn’t make much sense. Just keep watching.

In this movie, a class of 9th graders is sent to an island and given weapons and a three day time limit in which they must kill all others on the island. If there is more than one person alive after three days are up, everyone dies. The question then, my fellow classmates, is whether or not we can kill each other to survive. The answer, as we quickly see, is yes. Factions quickly form within the class and there is a general lack of unity among the classmates as they almost all turn on each other and kill each other in an attempt to survive. One might argue that the reason factions form is due to humans’ need to interact and depend upon each other, but I offer this counterpoint: cold-hearted Kiriyama almost won the game and he operated entirely as a lone wolf. I argue that factions are alliances of convenience which often deteriorate when no external threat is present. Later in the movie, a group of girls that hide in a watchtower turn on each other as mutual suspicion rises and there is nothing to keep them united. This pattern is not new, as the girls’ inevitable betrayals echo the course of history. Take the alliance of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. against Nazi Germany, for example.

The other argument that one might derive from this movie is that in the end love conquers all, and since it is love between two people that allows them to both survive the game, it proves humanity’s co-dependence. To this I say that the two lovers are an anomaly in a system full of people that are overwhelmingly interested in serving themselves.

I encourage you all to watch this movie (it’s only an hour and 15 minutes) and reply to my questions:

1) Do you believe in Rousseau’s view of human nature? If not, why?
2) Do you believe that survival is the ultimate incentive for humans? Is it realistic for humans to consistently sacrifice themselves for others? We see two examples of this in the movie (The rogue Kawada, who won a previous game of Battle Royale through the grace of his love, and of course the two lover protagonists Shuya and Noriko.) Are these two examples glitches in the system? Or are they true representations of human nature? If they are, then what justifies the actions of the other players in the game?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

She's not emotional, just hormonal.

Kant places too high a value on the human capacity to think rationally. Kant’s ideology speak to how humankind ought to act, and in doing so, speaks to the ideals upon which we strive to achieve but realistically fall short of doing. We are fallible beings with the capability to seek moral authority by way of acting rationally in a rational world. That being said, the Kantian human model turns humankind into something of a machine by discounting emotional influence on human action. As Solomon wrote of Hegel’s disillusionment with Kantian moral principles, such a character that abides by the categorical imperative would be utterly deplorable.

I find it fascinating that by divorcing emotion from rational, Kant’s ideal person is something of an outcast. We as human beings who function within a societal context and are fundamentally dependent upon interaction with each other do not discern emotion from rational judgment; indeed, emotions consistently guide rationale as a means upon which to make decisions. Though imperfect and certainly not absolute by way of its subjectivism, this system upon which we as humans decide how we go about deciding is, well, distinctly human. Perhaps Kant’s rigid moral structure would be more feasible if we view the achievement of a kingdom of ends as being achieved by a superhuman population. So long as Kant’s “ought” is an “ought,” Kant strives for humankind to achieve something above itself, something above its nature, something outside of its capabilities. Kant believes that it is perfectly feasible for human’s to act as such at this very moment by use of our rational minds; I believe that we will never sacrifice our propensity towards empathy or self-interest without losing our humanity with it.

Out of Curiosity...

I don't really remember how we ended up rationalizing that me committing a crime (probably a violent one, like committing a massacre while on PCP) makes it okay for everyone else to do so. In my PCP-induced madness, I clearly did not follow the supreme law of all morality, but does that really make it okay for everyone else to do likewise? Kant's laws are still in place, regardless of whether or not I follow them. Are you not held to the same moral laws?

Since I am irrational and immoral (whether this is due to PCP or if I just happened to be a psycho anyway), I am not willing my maxim of murder as universal law. There is no intent for my subjective principle to become an objective one, but since I am acting irrationally and on impulse I really would not be willing anything. I may be denying people their freedoms by denying their right to live, but if I am not doing this consciously, intentionally, or rationally, how am I breaking the maxim for EVERYONE? Just curious...

Hegel has a problem.

I have an issue with Hegel. His culmination of thought results in people no longer being individuals, at least that is how I understand it. But one of the fundamental limitations of humans is the self. We can never “be” outside the individual. If we reach the pinnacle of consciousness, as Hegel says, then we would have to cease to be human. But what does that look like? I’m not really willing to accept an “I don’t know” response. If we can’t know what it looks like, then there just doesn’t seem to be a point in considering it.

Ok, so what does it look like when you get rid of the individual? So far humanity hasn’t come up with very many pleasant images. The first two that leap to mind are the Borg and the Zerg (and all other knockoffs). And nature doesn’t do us much better, she gives us bees and termites. I wouldn’t call any of those images better for humanity. The only realistic state I can think of is a world in which everyone agrees on everything. But that wouldn’t eliminate the individual, it would just make him/her really boring.

I just can’t really get on board with Hegel saying that humanity will look entirely unpredictable and inhuman once its consciousness is wholly realized.

The necessity of Rationality?

As we've read through Kant he puts a large emphasis on rational and irrational actions.  Kant lays the founding for his work and on morality in wether an action is rational as well as it's being done for duty.  Rational people will make good, moral decisions where an irrational person would make a bad, immoral decision according to Kant.  Can we say this is always true though?  Is someone who acts irrationally always immoral?

In class we looked at Kant and what he believes.  He states that an action is rational if the person committing the action can will it as a universal maxim.  This meaning that a rational person could not will for it to be ok to lie because it would create a community of chaos where we cannot know if we are being told the truth or a lie.  Also, an action is moral if performed only for the sake of duty.  We explored this in Dr. Johnson's example of Dev helping an old woman across the street for twenty dollars, and Mark helping the old woman across the street out of duty even with a large range of problems.

The example of having Ann Frank in the attic of your house and the Gestapo were at the door asking if you had any Jews there was posed, and the question "would it be rational and moral to tell the truth or to lie" arose.  A normal person would say that it is rational to lie to preserve the life of another human being.  Kant, on the other hand, says it is moral and rational to tell the truth.  He declares this true for several reasons.  First, he states that we cannot know the future.  We cannot be sure of what will happen to her and therefore don't know if she'll be killed.  Second, as stated above, a rational person cannot will it to be ok to lie, even under certain circumstances.  Third, similar to the first reason, Anne Frank could have left the attic and be leaving in the direction you point the Gestapo.

During class I posed the question of "is taking a risk irrational or rational?"  We looked at someone diving in a lake to save a drowning person, even though they might be drowned by the struggling person.  While this was eventually discredited by saying that we cannot know the future and can't look at consequences, it doesn't necessarily take into account every situation of risk.  If one takes a financial risk would it be for duty or personal gain?  One could risk money out of duty for family to provide better, or they could risk it in hopes to gain more for themselves.  These are two opposing sides, one duty and one for personal gain.

  So are there actions that can be irrational and still be moral.  Also, can a person perform a rationally immoral action?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Locke and Slavery

John Locke was a British philosopher who was very involved with the governance of the colonies and the political conflicts of England. In 1689, Locke published The Two Treaties of Government in which he discusses political philosophy. Furthermore, Locke describes his theories of the natural rights of humans in a civil society. The fourth chapter of this text is dedicated to his theory of the existence of slavery.

In this chapter Locke states that one’s “natural liberty” allows for one to be free from any worldly power. It is the right of the individual to only be ruled by the law of nature. Moreover, an individual cannot be ruled by the will or legislative power of man. Therefore, slavery should not exist in a civil society. One can only be controlled by a societal legislative power if the individual gives their consent. Locke further claims that individuals are so concerned with self-preservation that they cannot voluntarily give up their freedom to any form of an absolute power.

Locke declares that the only state of slavery exists in a “state of war”. He defines a “state of war” as hostility that is brought about by an individual’s attempt to destroy another’s life. The relationship between the conqueror and the captive involves slavery because the captive has been overtaken forcefully by the conqueror.

In the eighth chapter Locke emphasizes that one of the basic characteristics of a civil society is being governed by the majority of that society. “The only way, whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community…”. By joining a society, an individual gives their consent to be governed. Therefore, one has to accept and obey the decisions of the majority. Is it not possible that slavery can exist in a civil society in which slavery is in favor of the majority?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bent out of shape by society's pliers

Although Rousseau is mostly noted today for his influence on political philosophy, I find him to be a compelling figure because of his image of human nature. His ideas may be considered “paranoid” and “flamboyant”, but nonetheless I appreciate and (for the most part) agree with his notion that all humans are innately good until society exerts evil influences on the individual. Also, Kant’s moral theory overshadowed Rousseau’s as far as our class discussions go, so I thought it was necessary to finally dissect Rousseau’s thought on the self and society.

To understand Rousseau’s argument, it is first important to understand the key components of the self. Rousseau defines the inner self as a distinctly moral and unique part of an individual. To discover the self, one must be guided by their feelings rather than reason. He says that “a man who thinks is a depraved animal” and “if all the philosophers in the world should prove me wrong, all that is important is that you feel that I am right.” Because emotions are one thing we do have control over, I think Rousseau’s point is valid even though he dismisses the importance of reason. If someone does something to make you mad, you can control whether you lash out and feel angry or stay calm and take a few deep breaths. He also argues that the goodness of the self should define us rather than our actions. This is reminiscent of Luther’s idea that a person is justified by something greater (in his case it was faith) than just their deeds. I agree with Rousseau (and Luther) because good people can do bad things, however I do not believe it makes them any less of a good person. People, even the most moral and obedient, make mistakes and have poor judgment every once in a while.

At the same time Rousseau explains the goodness of the self, he blames society for corrupting this innate morality found in everyone. Rousseau says, “ Nature made man happy and good, and society depraves him and makes him miserable”. To alleviate this misery he suggests that humans should rid themselves of the artificialities imposed on them by culture, and revert back to the ways of free and natural or else you will be like one of these savages that Rousseau describes:

“He enjoys not a moment’s relaxation; and what is yet the stranger, the less natural and pressing his wants, the more headstrong are his passions, and still worse, the more he has it in his power to gratify them; so that after a long course of prosperity, after having swallowed up treasures and ruined multitudes the hero ends up cutting every throat till he finds himself, at last, sole master of the world. Such is…the secret aspirations in the heart of every civilized man.”

Although this quote is intense, Rousseau (and I) just want others to realize that we (referring to the moral “self”) are better than we appear (referring to tainted society).

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Racism Continued

I wanted to add this as a comment to John's post but it got too long and is a bit of a tangent.
Personally, I believe that modern day racism is a product of racism. Today, besides a small amount of ignorant, simple-minded racist bigots, most people realize that all races of people are fundamentally the same. However, racism is still a problem. Why? I believe the cause is the result.
The subject of race is never far from the tongues of any Americans. Issues of race and racism are always on our mind, especially now that people have forced it upon the presidential race. The driving factor of this is extremist groups that scream RACISM at every chance. The most obvious example is Al Sharpton but there are examples for every race, even whites. If a white cop tasers a black or latino or asian then its because of their race, not because they broke a law. Now that white is practically the minority more of the reverse is seen. I know my grandpa argues that schools are racist towards whites now and focus more on the education of non-whites. It's whites being racist towards nonwhites, blacks being racist towards nonblacks, etc. that is the problem.
Another thing is the idea that "I have to look out for my own race". In the newspaper in my hometown there was an article about how a high ranking official for the NAACP was quoted saying basically that if Obama wasn't black he would not vote for him, but he cannot pass up voting for a black man. The article pointed out that if any white person said that he would be crucified. I'm also sure there are white people that are voting for McCain because they do not want to vote for a black person.
This is complete bullshit. The fact that people relate everything to race is what continues the monotonous idiotic struggle of one race versus another. It's the same old argument over and over again. The fact that you are white has nothing to do with why the black cop tased you, it is because you ran from him with a bag of weed hanging out of your pocket. Claiming racism every time something like that happens keeps it on the minds of all the public. It also makes every non-white person who sees the headline "White male gets tasered by black cop while saying 'don't tase me bro' " assume, dang he's going to claim racism, isn't he? And so the saga continues. Just like the fact that some hip-hop station DJ's say "Vote for a brother, vote Obama". There is absolutely no need for it, his skin color doesn't affect his politics, but now people assume every black person is voting for Obama just because he is black, not based on his politics.
Once people get over the color of their skin and actually pay attention this problem can't end.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Kant and Morally Permissable Lies

We all had a lot to say about Kant's policy on lying in class today; much like Descartes, Kant has built a case that many of us disagree with but have difficulties arguing against.
I agree that Kant's argument that no one can know the future and the consequences should be disregarded is something of a cop-out.

One statement of the categorical imperative says, basically, that we should never act except in such a way that we can also will that our maxims should become universal law.
Kant also says that a truly moral act is done out of duty to the law itself, disregarding the consequences.

But how can you tell that? I have some difficulty understanding how to determine if a maxim could be an appropriate universal law without considering any consequences. If it was permissible to lie, then we would live in an irrational world and no one could be trusted, right? But isn't an irrational world a consequence, and a hypothetical one at that, since surely no human can make universal laws on a whim?

Besides, we already live in an irrational world where no one can be genuinely and totally trusted. I have lied often, usually to protect feelings, rather than an infinitely-more-important human life. Some of those lies were morally justifiable in my opinion, if not in Kant's, but others were definitely not (lying about taking coins from my little sister's bank when I was six or so haunted me for years until I finally confessed). I know that certain people have lied to me, and I assume that often others have gotten away with it. We instinctively protect ourselves (and our families and other social groups) or attempt to benefit ourselves or others, sometimes by lying. Children, in my experience, definitely don't have to be taught how to lie.

I believe it would be my duty to protect an innocent human life if it was within my power to do so, even if I must lie. Of course when I make the decision to lie or not, I couldn't be certain that the killer wouldn't trip on the stairs on the way to the attic, to borrow an example from class, but I doubt that would assuage my conscience as children were dragged away to be killed. That is, of course, a very emotional argument, and I'm sure it's for extra emotional impact that Nazi Germany is often the setting for modern-day variations of this argument.

And if allowing a lie under certain conditions, even very specific conditions, means that the law is now conditional, so what? Why must universal laws exist?

I would not be surprised if Kant has addressed my particular objections somewhere, as they are hardly revolutionary, or perhaps a very careful reading of Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals would reveal that my arguments aren't even applicable to Kant's particular brand of metaphysics, but I'm interested in opinions.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Should We Go Beyond the Black-White Binary and Include other Races?

America is a diverse nation when examined in terms of cultural and racial elements. Commonly scholars have identified a binary between the white and black populations and this has acted as the main way social scientists have examined race and its effects in our nation. But would it be possible to expand this beyond the black white binary and include Hispanics into this racial examination. With the growing Hispanic population in the united state we might need to examine them as a separate group or at least introduce another binary? I believe that this action is supported by the fact that Hispanics make up about 15 percent of US population while African-Americans make up about 13 percent. These statistics also do not count any amount of illegal immigrants which if counted might increase the Hispanic population to about 20 percent of the country. My main point is that the racism that is directed at the Latino population within our borders is not totally parallel that of black racism and that we might need to expand beyond the simple black-white binary and look at relationships between all races in America.

Hispanics are in many ways a distinctly segregated population than African Americans because the media keeps portraying Hispanics as people who are taking US jobs, are only able to speak Spanish, have increased crime and are destroying our health care and public schools. People are in many ways more afraid of this "unknown" culture because these immigrants seem so unlike "us." But many Americans seem to ignore the fact that the majority of Hispanics are legal citizens and they have values closer to the white American. Many Hispanics are conservative- emphasizing family values, they are also Catholics, and in many cases are more inclined to support the republicans’ economic ideals. The current xenophobes keep telling us that this population will corrupt the spirit of America but maybe they are just helping it transform into a new America? Are immigrants not the basis of this nation? I think that while many view them as a threat and others view them as a crucial piece of America. Which creates a second binary – whether Hispanics are a threat to our way of life or a good addition to this nation?

Personally the race binaries as a whole make too many generalizations and I think we could do better without race as a whole. Are all black people the same? No there is some level of ethnic diversity or a dissimilar immigrant past which affect who they are, not simply the color of their skin. Mexicans and Cubans are not the same; each ethnic group is diverse and in many cases is treated differently even within America. Even Asian Americans should be looked at within their own ethnic groups not as a single entity, because Japanese and Chinese hate one another. Even white people, are they to be viewed as one all inclusive blob? My point is that while we can never stop our people from seeing the physical traits of others, we should try to focus on the diversity of an individual and what that brings to our society based on their abilities and skills.