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On December 7th lecture Professor LaVaque-Manty alluded to the film Modern Times by Charlie Chaplin (1936). Although filmed some time after Karl Marx and Friedech Hegel’s The German Ideology (1845) and The Communist Manifesto (1848), Chaplin’s first talkie cites some Marxist concerns. Modern Times displays Marx’s idea of alienation and the worker being part of the machine to exhibit the lower-class struggle during the Great Depression

As stated in lecture, Chaplin presents an extreme and comical interpretation of Marx’s concept of alienation.  At the beginning of the film, Chaplin’s character is mindlessly screwing in cogs without being allowed the satisfaction of seeing the end product. Marx describes this isolation as the, “material life appears as the end, and labor, the producer of material life…appears as means” (796). The protagonist is only a source for the machine, feeding it, instead of the machine being used by the worker to create something. This idea is reiterated further in the next scene of a machine being used to feed Chaplin in order to decrease his lunch break. Because of the desperate times of the depression and the structure of capitalism, Chaplin’s character has little choice but to submit to, “the existing totality of productive forces not merely to achieve self-activity but to secure their very existence” (796). In order to survive, the character develops “individual capacities corresponding to the material instruments of production” (796). Marx’s concept of appropriation is shown humorously as the main worker is unable to stop his hand jerking motion. His degree of appropriation has reached such an extent that he is sent to the insane asylum to get rehabilitated. As stated, “the isolation of individuals and the particular private gain of any individual have become accidental” (797), meaning that it is surprising if any worker, including the character of Chaplin’s film,  actually benefits from his work.

In addition to the Marx’s alienation theory, the idea of workers being only fractions of a machine is also displayed in Modern Times. Chaplin’s character, although comically, physically displays this “cog in the machine” belief by being rolled through moving gears in the large machine. He is, as Marx suggests, “an appendage of the machine” (802). Furthermore, Marx argues that the laborers direct their attacks, “not against the bourgeois condition of production, but against the instruments themselves” (802). Chaplin’s character is unable to stand up to his bosses but does manage to destroy a hefty bit of machinery as he runs from the police. Also, Chaplin shows the idea of humans as just materials when the woman of the film is thrown aside as an orphan, “like a commodity…exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market” (802). The hunger of her family or herself is of little consequence to the capitalists.

Ultimately the alienation and dehumanization of laborers not only degrades their labor but also their means of life. Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times displays this merging of industry and individual satirically but also utilizes important concepts of Marxism.

Censorship

Today Australia’s minister for broadband, communications and the digital economy, Stephen Conroy, had a press release detailing plans to “improve safety of the Internet for families.” Essentially announcing that Australia would now force Internet service providers to filter websites which contain RC(Refused Classification)-rated material. From the press release, RC-rated material includes “child sex abuse content, bestiality, sexual violence including rape, and the detailed instruction of crime or drug use.”

The new plans are part of a continuing trend of censorship by the Australian government. Already content that receives an RC rating is subject to a take-down notice if it’s hosted in Australia, and it is illegal to “distribute, sell or make available for hire RC-rated films, computer games and publications”[1]. From the description of RC-rated material above it may seem like the censorship is only affecting media that most normal people wouldn’t watch or play anyway. However even Left 4 Dead 2, a first-person shooter which sold over 2 million units in two weeks[2], initially received an RC rating. The Australian version has now been modified to only receive MA15+, but it still shows that a game that millions of people find acceptable to play uncensored, has to be censored in order to be sold in Australia.

To tell the truth I find this continuing trend of censorship in Australia disconcerting. I believe that censorship in general is wrong, and agree with Mill when he says, “The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people. But if he refrains from molesting others in what concerns them, and merely acts according to his own inclination and judgment in things which concern himself, the same reasons which show that opinion should be free, prove also that he should be allowed, without molestation, to carry his opinions into practice at his own cost”[3]. People viewing content on the internet isn’t directly harming anyone else, and so shouldn’t be restricted.

It could be argued that people viewing this content and then it makes them commit crimes. For example viewing detailed instructions on crime may lead some people to go on and commit those crimes. However, I believe that the individuals who would actually commit the crimes would likely not be stopped by a filter. Proxies allow you to get around just about any simple filter, and if the government tries to start blocking proxies then it just becomes a back and forth between the government filter and the people trying to circumvent the filter. This same back and forth can be seen in virus writers and anti-virus software writers. No matter how good the anti-virus software gets, people with nasty intentions will always circumvent it. Besides, even “good guys” like the University of Michigan’s own Jon Oberheide will try and circumvent possible censorship[4].

In conclusion, I feel that the growing censorship in Australia is morally wrong. It can potentially be used to restrict access to sites that many people may not find offensive, and since it’s controlled by a small group, it’s open to abuse. Furthermore I don’t feel that it will actually stop people with ill intentions as there are many ways to circumvent any possible filter.
[1] “Measures to improve safety of the internet for families”

[2] “Left 4 Dead 2 Sales Explode Over Holiday Weekend”

[3] J.S. Mill, On Liberty, Chapter 3

[4] “Hacker ships tool to circumvent China’s Green Dam filter”

When John Stuart Mill wrote his essay “Subjection of Women”, he argued that business partnership should be the ideal model for marriage in order for women’s emancipation and a better marriage (Mill 672) as this would create an ‘equal’ atmosphere of interaction.

A television advertisement is depicting a happy family in a suburban setting, the husband, a middle-aged man acts immaturely and the wife then took care of his mistakes with a smile while promoting a certain product…

Seen one like this? Would this be one of the scenarios he conceptualize as the ideal equal marriage relationship? Mill described the equality of business partnership as having no absolute leaders, but having two co-leaders with two equal share of authority. Devoid of the uncontrolled patriarchal lordships Mill observed during his era, is top-down relationships considered an inequality and bad altogether?

Mill in advance, forecasted that at some point, certain opponents (he sometimes described as Casuists) would counter-argue that if both husband and wife have equal say, everyday decisions will be far from being accomplished and the smallest matter (e.g. who buys the grocery?) could involve feral disputes (Mill 672). He made an effort to offset this case by proposing that “one (person) should have their sole control” but it shouldn’t always be the same person each time (Mill 672). Well, shouldn’t deciding ‘who become the leader in which division’ recreates the same vicious cycle of bickering and disputes?

This so-called noble bondage of marriage is claimed by Mill as ‘domestic slavery’ similar to the slavery institution that is still operational in 1869 United States of America (Mill 669). The main point is, top-down relationships is regarded by Mill as unequal rights in action and should be abolished. Mill was and still not alone in this matter; top-down relationship is often viewed negatively especially in this new western civilization and that it is the stems of inequalities that it should be cut off immediately from the branch of society.

Top-down relationships should not be confused with the dominator-dominated relationship. It is crucial to not understand these two relationships to be interchangeable. A top-down relationship can be exemplified by the relationship of a democratic government leader and the civilians. This ‘leader’ exercises a top-down authority to his constituents, meaning that he is granted the ultimate decision power… But then, does he become the dominator? No, not necessarily. The leader is already in contract with its constituents when he signed for the post, therefore, he should be the main crusader for the best interest of his appointee…or he would then be unseated in the next election. A leader with top-down powers should always keep in mind his appointee, similarly, the appointed family leader (in this case, husband or wife) should always keep in mind his/her appointer, the core foundation of marriage: the COMMITMENT to have a physically, emotional, intellectual and for some, spiritual relationship with the significant other, if not, it will no longer be a marriage and all the powers of a leader would then be stripped off. Conditions applied, husbands or wives with top-down powers would then be the more responsible and mindful partner and sometimes tend to care more than required, but absolutely not the dominator.

As explained in my previous blog post (Honey, It’s Just Business), the foundation of marriage is rooted deeply on the commitment ITSELF to be a part of each other physically, emotionally, intellectually and for some, spiritually, and this being the source for a marriage leadership, top-down relationships then would not create unequal rights among partners but provide different roles for them. In this post, I WOULD NOT ARGUE which types of relationships is better, or which gender is worth more being the leader, but only to prove the point that top-down relationships are not bad altogether and is possible to be applied in marriage, without one being the dominated and one being the dominator.

Works cited:

[1] Mill, John Stuart. “On Liberty” in Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to

Nietzsche. 2nd ed., edited by David Wootton (Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2008).

[2] Honey It’s Only Business. [Polisci 101 Intro to Political Theory Blog]. Retrieved December 15, 2009, from the World Wide Web:https://polsci101.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/honey-it’s-only-business/

Karl Marx Today

In spite of the collapse of communism around the world, Marxism and its worldview are still popular in today’s political discourse. President Obama’s recent efforts to reform the American healthcare system and other initiatives have oftentimes been met with warnings of Marxism. They claim that president Obama is creating class warfare in order to justify expanding the government’s control over health care and other important economic sectors, which will allow bureaucrats to have greater control over our everyday lives. While critics of the president’s initiative oftentimes go to far, it is true that there are Marxian influences in many of the current political debates in America today.

One of Marx’s main critiques of capitalism is that there is a deep disparity in wealth and power between worker and capitalist classes. We hear this all the time in modern political discourse. The theory itself has evolved over time to adapt to the greater complexity of capitalist economies. Nowadays the political rhetoric centers around the middle class and how they are being squeezed by the wealthy. When politicians campaign, almost all of them talk about ways to “strengthen the middle class.” From a big picture point of view, a middle class is a relatively modern phenomenon that has a lot of complexity within it. The statement “strengthening the middle class” is pretty meaningless because members within the middle class have differing interests. To illustrate this, think about how different the interests are between an GM assembly line worker in Flint making $50,000 a year and a project manager in Charleston making $80,000 a year.

Nevertheless, rousing up the crowds with talks of class conflict is still a surefire way of political success. A couple of years ago when oil prices were at their peak, there was widespread outrage over reports of companies like Exxon Mobile who were making record profits. Proposals to impose a windfall profits tax, which expressly punishes companies from making a perfectly legal and ethical profit. Why do such proposals get such public popularity? Because so many people still view the world through the lens of Marxian class conflict.

This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. The class-centric worldview of the Marxian school is intriguing in many ways. Marxism is attractive to academics and lay people because it makes the world of a more simple place. What is interesting is the disconnect between the surface level rejection of Marxism and the infiltration of Marxism into much of political discourse.

I think that one of the reasons why elements of Marxian class conflict is so common in modern political discourse is because it touches people on an emotional level.  We humans have psychological mechanisms that cause us to compare ourselves to others and to become envious when of theirs have more than us even if it is not rational. An example is the income gap. For the past 100 years, The United States Economy has grown dramatically. All social classes have benefited from this. Americana living below the poverty line today are significantly better off than at most a middle class Americans were 100 years ago on a purely material level. Nevertheless, most political discourse to day focuses on view growing gap in income between rich and poor in the United States.  In fact, there is a general sense that the American economy is on the decline because of this growing gap in income. This is a very Marxian critique of capitalism.

So twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union and the supposed victory of capitalism over communism, it can be argued that Marxism it is still a very strong force in politics, even in America. Marxist ideas like class conflict an inherent instability and capitalism are still very prevalent.  Even though it is political suicide for an American politician to outwardly say that he has Marxist ideas, and very few people advocate for outright communism today,  it seems that many of those Marxist ideas are in fact mainstream.

Every decision in life is a trade off, whether or not you take the bus or walk, what type of clothing you wear, whether you study or go out.  All decisions come with consequence. Hobbes mused about a more serious tradeoff in many of his writings, a tradeoff that is faced regularly by sovereigns governing the commonwealth.  Remove the freedoms of its citizens, or fall into a State of Nature.  When a government takes away some freedoms of its citizens one could argue that the population is generally more secure and less vulnerable to the chaos of the State of Nature. Hobbes believed that governments were under a “moral, not legislative obligation” to keep their people safe.  He believed that there was a “constant war” without regulation and that every sovereign was faced with a decision.  Keep his commonwealth safe and limit the freedoms man is naturally born with, or allow his commonwealth to regress into a dystopic State of Nature. In the 21st century this same conflict presents itself in the area of personal finance, people have gained greater, easier, and more efficient access to their own financial information through e banking. This places our current government in a dilemma. Should banking be limited to secure, face-to-face transactions that eliminate a large portion of the risk for identity theft? Or should we continue as we are, in a vulnerable society of e transactions?

Hobbes favored an all-powerful monarch over any other form of government to regulate a nation, as well as the security of said Leviathan over the constant war of the State of Nature.  While Hobbes believed that every man had a right to everything, the need for self-preservation was his first law of nature.  In accordance with this fundamental law, people take all kinds of precautions to preserve their identity.  From shredding sensitive documents to the safeguards (both cyber and otherwise) put in place by institutions that regularly access their customers’ personal financial information.  In spite of these precautions, identity theft is the fastest growing type of cyber crime due to its lucrative results, high level of anonymity, and relative ease.  In 2005 alone, over 42 million Americans became susceptible to identity theft through malicious attacks on databases holding sensitive financial information.  This recent rise in identity thefts has coincided with the growing popularity of Internet banking as well as developments that have made technology easier to use than ever.

While it may be up to the individual citizen to regulate and protect themselves in this situation, Sean Hoar, a top US attorney for cyber-crime recently wrote that he believes the two most pressing needs in the fight against identity theft are the establishment of a national response system and a national threat and vulnerability reduction system for cyber-crime.  Under their moral obligation to keep their citizens safe, the government must take the steps outlined by Hoar to police the Internet against the rapidly rising threat of identity theft.

While there is no cure-all solution to the problem of identity theft, the issue remains a pressing concern.  This modern problem presents current sovereigns with the same dilemma that was presented during Hobbes’ day: keep the commonwealth secure, or allow them uninhibited freedom and the risks that come with it.

During the 1500s, the main form of government in Europe was a monarchy: a king who solely ruled his kingdom and was supported by a group of nobles. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his famous book The Prince based on this feudal system, teaching what he believed to be basic principles of governance for a ruler. In this book, he posits that it is better for a prince to be feared than loved and should stay in power at all costs, because they have the power to do anything necessary for the betterment of the state. Certain aspects of Machiavellian ideologies are slightly apparent in the offices of the President, congressmen, and even the people of the United States. However, the laws prevent anyone from becoming Machiavelli’s “Prince” by establishing a system of checks and balances of power.

The majority of Machiavelli’s concepts can be applied to the President as he is the foremost leader of the nation. Above all else, Machiavelli believes that a capable leader should remain in power at all costs. Many presidents share this desire and are willing to go to extreme measures to stay in office. This is illustrated by the millions of dollars a candidate will spend on his campaign each term. With his vast amount of influential power, the President has the ability to continually approve or prevent bills from passing. His agenda for the nation can be accomplished through various methods such as veto power and pardoning prisoners.

Moreover, congressmen have also been known to get their hands dirty in order to see a bill passed or to maintain their image. These actions are deemed acceptable in Machiavelli’s eyes as long as the congressmen are committed to benefiting the state. Unlike the President, however, they do not possess the level of authority required to manifest all of their objectives for the state.

In any democratic society, the people hold the future of politicians in their votes. This power may resemble Machiavelli’s Prince, but the people have no subjects, methods of enforcing their will and don’t possess the power to control the majority of governmental issues. An argument may be made that the people are their own subjects, yet this argument presents many issues concerning the practicality of enforcing the people’s will upon themselves. The same case can be made concerning their power over politicians: they may have some influence on who gets into power, but there is not a strong enough argument to say they are the “prince.”

A democracy differs from Machiavelli’s monarchy in that the President and congressmen operate by terms and must be reelected. These reelections by the people make it necessary for politicians to find favor in their eyes. This notion contradicts Machiavelli’s belief that it is better to be feared than to be loved. In his opinion, the subjection of the people will lead to their love for their leader.  However, modern day politicians in America do not have this option because they cannot simply subject the people. Furthermore, even the President can be impeached. The law creates a boundary that a prince in the 1500s would not have encountered because, essentially, he was the law. The President cannot simply carry out his will for the state as he sees fit, but instead must operate under the confines of the law. Similarly, congressmen possess even less power than the President so this idea of legal constraints applies to them in an even greater sense.

Machiavelli’s “Prince” can never be clearly established in America’s democratic society because of the laws put in place that give power to each branch of government and the people as well. Nevertheless, his theories will continue to assist the analysis of politicians today and their methods of gaining and retaining power.

Political Theorists continually question the practicality of Hobbesian theory in modern day societies. They ask if his concept of a government based on a sovereign is applicable to nations today. Zimbabwe has a government that generally appears to follow Thomas Hobbes’ theory, yet there remain certain aspects of the current President’s rule that differ from his theory, causing the downfall of the country. In this post, I will analyze several similarities between the Hobbesian theory of sovereignty and the current government of Zimbabwe; additionally, I will examine the extent to which the Zimbabwean situation deviates from this theory.

Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980, after which Robert Mugabe immediately won a landslide victory in the first ever democratic elections. Since that time, Mugabe has caused hyperinflation that has destroyed the economy. This is because he chose to print astronomical amounts of money in order to pay off the national debt, which causes the value of existing money to decrease dramatically. He has also caused a lack of foreign exchange when he confiscated most of the farmland that led to a regression of agricultural exports. In an effort to make Zimbabwe’s cities appear more modern to the rest of the world, the President evicted the poor out of their homes in the city. Moreover, the life expectancy rate has dropped from 60 in 1990 to 37 in 2008. Despite this economic depression, Mugabe never left power. He began to threaten voters and created a one-party system. In the 2008 elections, Mugabe’s opposing candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the majority of votes but due to the small margin of victory a runoff election took place. Tsvangirai withdrew from the runoff election after receiving multiple threats from Mugabe’s supporters and violence from the police against Tsvangirai supporters.   

On the surface, this situation may seem to correlate with Hobbes’ idea of a sovereign solely governing a nation. There is a solitary ruler that originally came to power by the mutual consent of the people. Hobbes states that “no man that hath sovereign power can justly be put to death, or otherwise in any manner by his subjects punished.” This sovereign, according to Hobbesian theory, is unimpeachable. Therefore, the current opinion of the people does not matter. However, the duties of the sovereign entail “the preserving of peace and security” and creating a stable environment – obligations that Robert Mugabe has not fulfilled. Instead, he has established one of the most economically instable and impoverished nations in the world. According to Hobbes, a sovereign “may commit iniquity; but not injustice” and clearly Robert Mugabe has committed injustices. The citizens no longer endorse their leader due to his inadequacy and, in actuality; their lives have been threatened if they chose to vote for a candidate other than Mugabe. Numerous men, women, and children are left homeless in the countryside and are dying daily from starvation – characteristics similar to a Hobbesian state of nature. The purpose of a sovereign is to draw the people out of the state of nature, not cause them to digress back into it. Mugabe’s time of rule does not properly reflect Hobbes’ idea of a sovereign due to his incapability of providing security and solidarity for the country.

There are not a large number of governments today that even slightly resemble a Hobbesian system. However, the structures that have similarities appear to have negative outcomes such as Zimbabwe or North Korea. Therefore, can we assume that Hobbes’ theory of government necessarily leads to futile societies?  We may, however, perceive that a government must perfectly follow Hobbes’ theory, with no discrepancies, in order for the country to be successful.

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