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Archive for the ‘justice’ Category

The idea of a communist revolution happening here and now seems ridiculous to us. Why? Because we believe that capitalism has evolved to a point at which there is no longer a bourgeoisie oppressing the proletariat, and instead, a large middle class that functions without oppression, through the principles of self-advancement, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Jobs today generally require enough skill and have pleasant enough working conditions that work is not characteristically dehumanizing. Equal opportunity is given to most to be able to elevate themselves from unsatisfactory lifestyles. And so the proletariat has turned into a lower middle class that can work hard and become an upper middle class, which is not far beneath the modern bourgeoisie in social status.

This is the norm in America, at least. Our “American dream” ideal of a common laborer using his skill and ingenuity to advance in life has permeated our cultural ideology to a point where we cannot fathom the concept of modern slavery, or the inability to progress out of an unpleasant position. But there is still a need for people to work unpleasant jobs—technology has done much to lighten that burden, but it hasn’t come close to lifting it completely. Marx’s proletariat has become the minority. We don’t live in a society in which the majority suffers daily in their labor, the benefits of which are enjoyed solely by the rich. Those are the premises on which Marx and Engels based the Communist Manifesto; we can no longer identify with the problem that they propose to solve.

However, globally, there is most definitely an oppressive upper class and a suffering lower class. Here in the USA, people from rich to poor are able to adorn themselves in status-symbol clothes and shoes, made by foreign workers whose wages would not afford them a fraction of that which they produce. Is this proletariat similar enough to Marx’s that there might someday be a global Communist revolution? In “The Communist Manifesto at 150”, Slomo Avineri points out that “although polarization did not, as a rule, take place within advanced industrial societies as Marx and Engels predicted, something quite like it did occur on the global level” (3). We’ve sent our proletariat to China, India, Taiwan—all of the countries whose names appear on the “Made in….” labels on clothes. As easily as globalization made it possible for us, the global bourgeoisie, to separate ourselves from the proletariat, it is only a matter of time before globalization gives the proletariat means to recognize the injustice that is inflicted upon them, and to remedy avenge their situation, be it a global revolution or just an economic crash.

True, a global-scale communist revolution would not work, at least in the next hundred-or-so years, because the world is not yet unified enough that a successful system could be put in place after the revolution. Wasn’t that one of the problems with the Soviets’ attempt at it? “[Communist revolution] can begin in less-developed Russia, but there can be no ‘Socialism in One Country’ there or anywhere else” (5), Averni says. The Cold War was not what Marx had in mind for interactions between communist and capitalist countries. In order for Marx’s vision to realize, nations must first gain each other’s trust. Communism relies on cooperation, so in order for it to work effectively, the world would have to be much more unified than it is now.

In that case, why not stick with capitalism? It’s working for us at the moment… or is it? With the global financial crisis, we begin to realize that cooperation will be necessary for the survival of the human race. In this cooperation comes the evening out of class differences. It’s quite possible that through capitalism we could achieve many of the ends of communism, but to do this, we must not be averse to considering the adoption of some socialist policies. Obama has been accused of being too “red” in his policies for Americans, but at the moment, we need some socialism to help fix the problems created by capitalism. With an ever- more unified world, something close to Marx’s communism might be inevitable someday. We do not need a revolution, but in the end, after all of our reforms, a state that resembles communism might just be the most just solution to many of the world’s problems.

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[NOTE: The following essay contains plot spoilers for the movie and book versions of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. It is highly recommended that you experience  one or both before continuing. You have been so warned.]

In making her case for the usefulness of disaster, Rebecca Solnit argues that catastrophe holds a certain cooperative potential that exists outside governance and law; in creating the conditions for a ”state of nature’, natural disasters expose human behavior uninhibited by the concerns (and external limits) of the everyday and provide a ‘profound satisfaction’ that ‘transcends even disaster’s devastation.’ In using comparative language, Solnit claims that disasters are on the whole a positive, transformative development in their ‘rupture of the ordinary’ – that is, a world with catastrophe, particularly effective and destructive if possible, is preferable to an existence in a perfect state of control.

On face, it seems a callous and repugnant moral calculus to make; people die for the sake of, say, connecting with old friends and holding an impromptu village meeting. From another perspective, however, a disaster of large enough scale can broaden the global consciousness and expose injustices, as Solnit cites in the sympathetic response to 9/11 or the feelings of solidarity after the Mexico City earthquakes.

Solnit’s philosophy exists on a similar wavelength to Adrian Veidt’s in Watchmen. In unleashing deadly staged attacks throughout the major cities of the world to look like an externally controlled disaster (in the graphic novel, aliens; in the film, a Dr. Manhattan atomic explosion), Ozymandias intends to bring world peace. America and the USSR, great powers on the brink of nuclear annihilation, would mutually disarm and work outside their ideological differences in the face of destruction beyond their immediate control. As long as the secret – that their strings had been pulled by a rogue hero-turned-super-vigilante – was kept, peace was possible; the twenty million or more innocent victims  that Veidt’s schemes killed ‘would not die in vain.’

Ozymandias’ argument seems persuasive if we accept Solnit’s premise (namely, that the long-term results of disaster relief outweigh the short-term deaths of thousands or more) and a utilitarian ethic. As Veidt responds to his colleagues’ angry objections, he has killed millions – but to save the billions who would be destroyed by an all-out war.

To put the ball back in Solnit’s court, what gives us – or Ozymandias – the moral authority to claim what level of disaster is justifiable against murder? The most salient response would probably come along the lines of Walzer’s ‘dirty hands’ – Ozymandias accepted the moral culpability for his mass murder, at least claiming to have seen and experienced the pain of every one of his victims, and has to live with the consequences of keeping the truth to himself.

Though the series’ end is somewhat ambiguous, Alan Moore himself would probably disagree with both Solnit and Walzer. To the unabashedly anarchistic Moore, the decision to exterminate all or a portion of humanity – regardless of whose hands the ‘big red button’ is in, be it a comic book villain or the President – cannot fall to a single person or any hierarchical system of policy making. Annihilation, by the will of a ‘majority’ or an intellectual (here, Veidt and the complicit Solnit) leaves the door open for twisted interpretations of who deserves to live and die.

Perhaps the most explosive response is also the shortest. When asked by Veidt whether his ostensibly fateful and final decision was, in the end, the right one, Doctor Manhattan replies:

“Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.”

Sources:

Moore, Alan. Watchmen, 1986. DC Comics.

Solnit, Rebecca. “The Uses of Disaster”.

White, Mark. “The Virtues of Night Owl’s Potbelly”, 2007.

–kd

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Politics and Religion in America:
Where is This Religious Tolerance I Have Heard About?

Section 011

I have decided to post this blog this late in the term because it does not directly correlate to any of our readings, however, I do believe this is an important political issue that should be discussed.

How many senators and representatives in congress believe in some form of a God? How many do not? The 111th congress opened this year with, at most, 7 “non-believers”. Breaking that down, there were actually two Buddhists and five who declined to answer the question. This means that a confirmed 1% of congress does not believe in a God. Is this just because 1% of America does not believe in a God? Not quite, only about 80% of Americans believe in a God, leaving 20% who have declared not to be affiliated with any God religion. Thinking about this in a larger sense, how many presidents have declared to not believe in a God? Zero. So, one may be asking oneself, what’s the issue here? The issue is that those who do not believe in a God are put at a disadvantage on the political level by many of the American people and there is something seriously wrong with this.

A USA Today/Gallup poll in 2007 showed that only 45% of respondents would vote for an Atheist. So, theoretically, even if a non-believer ran for president and would clearly be the best candidate for the position, he would still not win, because of his lack of belief in a God. Does this seem right? Does this seem like it is in the best interest of the country? I do not see how the answer to this could be yes. Some may claim that because he does not believe in a God, he would be immoral and therefore advocate immoral laws. However, this attack against political atheists has relatively little ground. Just because religions with a God advocate some kind of moral position on almost everything, why is it that without a belief in God, someone cannot be moral? This is blatant prejudice thought. Also, since when did everyone who believes in a God follow all those morals anyway? (We all have at least heard one story of a politician who has been “unfaithful” to their spouse).

Maybe one could argue that, “people should have the right to vote for who they want.” This is true, but that does not make this issue any less of a problem. The issue of stereotyping race, sex, gender, etc. has come to discussion in American politics, so why not religion? Just like there is no reason not to vote for an African-American who is most suitable to be the Commander-in-Chief, there is no reason to not vote for a non-believer in the same situation. Too many voters are unfairly stereotyping those who do not believe in God and consequently voting their religion in office and not voting based on merit. Once again, this can in no way benefit America and can only hurt it.

The United States claims to have a government that is separate from religion, but the word “God” is on our national currency and is said during almost any political address. We claim to have freedom of opportunity, but the political scene looks grim for anyone who enters without a belief in God. I am not advocating “Godlessness” in America, only in American politics. We should vote for our public officials based on merit, not on religion. Government and religion need to be in two separate spheres: just as the government has no place in religion, religion has no place in American government.

Sources:

Lin, Joanna. “111th Congress reflects greater religious diversity in

the U.S. .” L.A. Times 05 Jan 2009: n. pag. Web. 13 Dec 2009.

<http://articles.latimes.com/2009/jan/05/local/me-beliefs5?pg=2&gt;.

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“I’m a woman and a Jew and so I know about discrimination, said Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan.” [1] Krueger was one of 24 New York State legislators that voted yesterday in favor of a bill that would have allowed same-sex marriage in New York had it not been defeated in a 38-24 vote. Since the year 2003, seven of the 50 states have passed laws that allow same-sex couples the right to wed; however, two of those states, California and Maine, have passed referendums that have taken this right away.

 I would like to draw on some of J.S. Mill’s theories in The Subjection of Women and relate them to the issue of same-sex marriage and its place in modern-day society. Marriage has long been a traditional coupling of two individuals founded in religion and social culture. The way society perceives marriage differs greatly among various cultures. In some cultures it is common for one man to have multiple wives. In others, it is acceptable (and even customary) for men to beat their wives. In western society, marriage has evolved to become something viewed as a symbol of love and eternal commitment between two individuals. The part that sucks is that these two individuals must be a man and a woman. Why, because it’s custom. As the executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, Richard E. Barnes, said, “it has become clear that Americans continue to understand marriage the way it has always been understood, and New York is not different in that regard. This is a victory for the basic building block of our society.” [1] I think Mr. Mill and I would agree that Richard E. Barnes is in many regards….wrong.

 The argument that because something has always been one way it must stay that way is completely unsound and ignorant. Mill presents an argument of social epistemology where he states that customs can be justified if you can offer another reason as to why something has become a custom. Just saying that A is B simply because A has always been B is not logical. How do we know A has always been B? Furthermore, how do we even know that A is B? The fact is, things change over time. Would you agree that slavery is wrong? Would you agree that women should have the right to vote? These may be things you can answer with ease, but not too long ago, these things were as contentious a topic as same-sex marriage is today. As Mill states, “little do people remember or consider how institutions and customs which never had any ground but the law of force, last on into ages and states of general opinion which never would have permitted their first establishment.” [2, 656]

 Mill argues that contingent facts of birth such as physical differences do not justify certain social and political advantages. His argument is largely focused on addressing the issue of women and the justification of their insubordinate position in society by their physical distinction from men. I would like to borrow his argument and apply it to same-sex marriage, which is something very near and dear to my heart. First off, many people do not agree, but being gay is a contingent fact of birth. By definition, contingent facts of birth are aspects of a person that aren’t contingent on anything the person could have done. I am gay and I love who I am, but I did not choose to be gay. I did not wake up one morning and decide that I was going to start liking guys. Due to the lack of scientific evidence, many people question how homosexuals know they are gay for purely genetic reasons. I typically respond by saying that humans don’t start having sexual feelings until around a certain age, usually between 8 and 14 when puberty starts. Before this stage, homosexuality may be evident in other ways, but it is not something that the person is aware of yet. Ask any 5-year-old, I guarantee they will tell you both boys and girls are gross. I can remember starting to become attracted to guys around the third grade, about the same time my guy friends started to become attracted to girls. I had trouble understanding the feelings for a while until sometime in middle school where I personally accepted and understood the fact that I was gay. I didn’t officially “come out” to friends and family until my senior year of high school when my maturity level was high enough to tolerate the social stigma that surrounded my sexual identity. That aside, the point I am trying to make is that things that are uncontrollable by birth such as gender and sexual orientation should not determine social and cultural attributes, and above all, should not be politically salient.

 Natural differences should not justify any form of social hierarchy or political inequality. Similar to how claiming that women are not as capable as men when it comes to sports has been shown false, it is also false that men cannot intimately love another man. Just as Mill makes the claim against the general principle of social and economical science by saying, “But if the principle is true, we ought to act as if we believed it, and not ordain that to be born a girl instead of a boy, any more than to be born black instead of white, or a commoner instead of a nobleman, shall decide the person’s position through all life-shall interdict people from all the more elevated social positions, and from all, except a few, respectable occupations,” [2, 661] I am making a claim against the principle that same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry each other simply because they are physically different.

 Just as the civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement took a while to take hold, the gay rights movement will not resolve itself overnight. Society does not accept change with much grace, but it is a historical fact that change eventually does occur. I don’t want to make the claim that change is inevitable because this in itself is not a good argument. I would instead like to make the claim that change is necessary. Most people will agree that the world today is better than the world 300 years ago. Historical records date homosexuality back to the time of the ancient Greeks. It is a real part of our society, and it is becoming more and more open in everyday life. Marriage equality may seem like a futile thing to some people. Some argue that homosexuals are allowed domestic partner benefits and shouldn’t destroy the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. Some people, although crazy, also argue that same-sex marriage has the potential to be a slippery slope that could lead to people wanting to marry their pets. My response to both of these arguments is based on the idea that marriage involves the societal recognition of mutual love between two human beings. It’s not only about the shared health insurance, and it is not only between a woman and a man, and certainly not between a man and a beast. As a gay male I want to be able to marry my future boyfriend. I want the same rights as my parents and grandparents. I want the right to love, and I know with time I will. And not because it’s inevitable, but because it’s just.

Footnotes

  1. Peters, Jeremy W. New York State Senate Votes Down Gay Marriage Bill. 2 Dec 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/03/nyregion/03marriage.html?_r=1&hp
  2. Mill, J.S. The Subjection of Women. From Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche, edited by David Wooten. 652-705.

 If you are interested in learning more about LGBT rights visit, www.hrc.org.

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“Society can and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.”

– On Liberty, J.S. Mill, W p.594

In reading J.S. Mill, the idea of religious freedom has been in the minds of many of we students, both as we study his writings and in our discussion sections. Much of what Mill argues for is the ability for the individual to argue in opposition to a state’s ideals. He also warns against the “tyranny of the majority”, or allowing the majority opinion to force its ideals and beliefs on the dissenters. In modern-day America, while our country is not technically a theocracy, many nevertheless argue that our laws can and should be based upon Christian ideals, as our country’s founders are thought to have been primarily Christian (and thus the country was founded on Christian ideals), and as the majority of the citizens consider themselves Christian. Does it not follow, then, that “majority rules”?

One of the most common arguments for Christian ideals being implemented in our country’s laws is the idea that our country was founded upon Christian beliefs. The evidence drawn to support this argument is most frequently the idea that most of the founders were Christians, and that the writings of the founders, and our country’s founding documents, often reference God. However, nowhere in our country’s founding documents is it stated that the United States is a Christian nation, that it is a theocracy, or that laws should continue to be made based on Christian principles. Nevertheless, even if the country had been founded on Christian ideals, according to Mill this would still be wrong: A country’s leaders coercing its citizens into abiding by certain religious ideals simply because of its having the power to do so would be a restriction of liberty, and thus in direct opposition with both Mill’s ideals and that oft-quoted unalienable rights of man in the Declaration of Independence: those of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. While one could argue this idea for days, let us put it aside in favor of a more relevant discussion to Mill: That of whether the Christian majority makes a Christian nation.

It is frequently argued that the fact that the majority of Americans are Christians with the power to vote thus makes America a Christian nation – perhaps not officially, but at least in practice. By that logic, if the majority vote for a law that supports Christian ideals (such as Proposition 8 in California, banning gay marriage in that state), it is permissible for that law to exist based on its simply having majority support, regardless of whether the law is of a secular nature, or “right”. But is this logical, and is it fair? According to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, as conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, some 77% of Americans consider themselves or can be considered to be Christian. In fact, the majority of those reading this will probably be Christian as well. But if our nation is not a Christian nation, is it nevertheless allowable for the Christian ideals of the voting majority to create and uphold laws that abide by Christian morality and ideals?

If we are allowed to create and pass laws based on our own personal beliefs, and we are the majority, is this simply an example of democracy in action, or is this, as Mill says, “a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression”? Mill also says that, “Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs to be protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them”. If this “protection” against the tyranny of the majority is necessary, what lawmakers have the right to do so, and how can they rightfully go against the majority to protect the minorities being oppressed in a democracy such as ours, in which the very founding principle of government is that the people have the power?

Your own personal religious beliefs on which laws should and should not be passed aside, what do you think? Is it right that the majority should be allowed to impose its morals and ideals upon the nation as a whole in a democracy such as ours, or is this, as Mill says, just another form of tyranny and political oppression? And how, if you agree with the latter, can lawmakers logically and morally decide which laws are oppressive to the dissenting minority?

 

Source:

Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar (2009). “AMERICAN RELIGIOUS IDENTIFICATION SURVEY (ARIS) 2008” (PDF). Hartford, Connecticut, USA: Trinity College. http://b27.cc.trincoll.edu/weblogs/AmericanReligionSurvey-ARIS/reports/ARIS_Report_2008.pdf.

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Hobbes’ perception of what constitutes the free will and liberties of men are rooted, or rather mired, in a false conception of what actions a man has “freely willed” to do, or what contracts he has “freely” entered upon. Hobbes goes so far as to argue that the forces of fear and coercion do not absolve a man from keeping a promise he made under those conditions: “Covenants entered into by fear, in the condition of mere nature, are obligatory.” (Wootton 163) Hobbes claims that despite the external pressures placed upon a man to enter a contract or carry out an action, the decision remains ultimately his, and he must therefore fulfill his obligations. Should we suppose, then, that Solzhenitsyn elected to be exiled to the gulags; should we assume that it was not the bayonet, but the result of a rational decision making process, weighing the pros and cons, that led millions of Armenians to their deaths in the Ottoman hinterlands?

Attempting to apply Hobbes’ principles in Leviathan to situations that arose years after its publication is not entirely fair. Hobbes appears sincere in his contention that a man, in nature, is self-interested and evil, but that a collectivity of men is inherently altruistic and protective. As much as we may want to dispel the principles of Leviathan with ex post facto incidents, it remains far more possible to do so by attacking the examples Hobbes himself presented to make his case. Can we, reasonable, freethinking adults, be led to believe that a man is morally obligated to deliver his abductors ransom because he had “decided” to enter upon the “contract” to secure his safe release? After all, the captor fulfilled his contractual obligations; he didn’t kill his captive.

Hobbes, we are told, was a wise man.  But how great can his wisdom be if the most basic tenants of logic and reason can so easily unravel the foundational examples of his ultimate argument that:

“a covenant, is always something that falleth under deliberation; (for to covenant, is an act of the will; that is to say an act, and the last  act, of deliberation;) and is therefore always understood to come; and which is judged possible for him that covenanth, to perform.” (Wootton 163)

Even if a party of that covenant had entered upon it through coercion or fear of harm? Apparently so. Hobbes seems to believe that, be it a contract with a lowly criminal or an all-powerful entity of governance, a man is morally obligated to fulfill his end of the bargain, no matter what forces, whether it was his own reason or a baton strike to the head that drove him to enter said contract.

Hobbes fails to address the criminality and immorality of the other party. The criminal must receive his ransom, Hobbes argues, because he did not kill you; the government which was democratically elected five, ten or one hundred years ago may imprison you for dissidence because you are somehow the author of their actions.

Hobbes makes the argument that a man’s membership in a commonwealth is somehow justifies his censure, imprisonment, or even his death at the hands of a state. Having resolved to not lose one’s livelihood, one’s property, and one’s life, a man is morally obligated to fulfill the promises he made when such things were threatened.

Worse still is Hobbes’ contention that the Leviathan is not morally corrupted but rather morally upstanding for forcing a man into submission or to his death because it claims to be fulfilling its contractual obligations of protecting its population. Hobbes, it can be argued, would quite perversely laud both the kangaroo court and its executed defendant for fulfilling their “contractual” obligations.

Hobbes’ principles, quite brazenly, ignore the true cause of justice. They seek to create the illusion that a man, having chose life over death, faces certain consequences for such a decision, because he had resolved, with his “free-will” not to die. Hobbes’ calculated, utilitarian arguments of a man’s obligations ignore the injustice that is coercion and fear of death. Such a principle has only been observed under flagrantly unjust regimes, and has no place within the set of principles that can be observed in a true democracy.


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            In his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. advocates a non-violent approach to seeking equality.  In reading his letter, I am reminded of the various approaches to end the Apartheid in South Africa.  Nearly three years earlier, the “Sharpeville Massacre” of South Africa took place.  The Afrikaner police left 70 black Africans dead, and nearly 200 others severely injured.  The Sharpeville Massacre was a turning point for black South Africans, it marked an attitude shift, and left black South Africans with the idea that maybe non-violent protests were just not good enough.[1]

            In 1912, black South Africans created the African National Congress (ANC) in the hopes of promoting equality and justice[2].  Albert Luthuli, an ANC leader described the purpose of the ANC as to reverse “the total exclusion of the African from the management of South Africa, to give direction to the forces of liberation, to harness peacefully the growing resistance to continued oppression, and, by various nonviolent means, to demand the redress of injustice.”[3]  After the Sharpeville Massacre, members of the ANC slightly altered their views, they would still support non-violent methods but understood that sometimes they were not efficient, and could not stand up to the increasing violence of the Afrikaners.  A small faction of the ANC released a manifesto stating, “Government has interpreted the peacefulness of the movement as weakness; the people’s non-violent policies have been taken as a green light for government violence.”[4]

            Why was Martin Luther King Jr. never forced to use the kind of violence that anti-apartheid advocates were?  Was it because white Americans were not as violent as the Afrikaners?  Or was it simply that Martin Luther King Jr. was more patient?  How would the civil rights movement in America have looked if the same violence was employed here that was used in the anti-Apartheid movement? 

 


[1] David Mermelstein, The Anti-Apartheid Reader  (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1987), 214.

[2] The American Friends Service Committee, South Africa: Challenge and Hope (Bloomington: American Friends Service Committee, 1982), 56.

[3] Ibid, 52.

[4] Mermelstein “Anti-Apartheid Reader,” 218

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