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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”

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In my discussion section (#5), we discussed nations in which there was a quota system set up to ensure active participation by women in the government.  After class I discovered that France is one of these nations.  French law currently states mandates that a certain percentage of parliament is made up of women (The Guardian), but the Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling party was fined five million euros in 2000 for failing to meet the government’s standards.  Yet, the president is pushing for new legislation that would push these reforms into the private sector.  Businesses represented in the Paris stock exchange would be required to have half of their board made up of women by 2015 (Feministing).  This legislation appears to be a large step forward for women, but many believe it would be a step backward.
If this legislation were enacted it would give women a much larger representation in French businesses.  If passed, French businesses represented in the Paris stock exchange would be required to have a board made up of at least fifty percent women.  Women currently make up only 9.7 percent of Europe’s top company boards.  Similar legislation was passed in 2004 in Norway.  The female percentage of their corporate boards doubled from 22 percent to 44.2 percent in only four years.  Clearly, women would have more equal representation in French corporate boardrooms if this legislation was made law.
Despite the positive effects this may have, not everyone believes it is a good move.  Ann Lavergeon, the CEO of Areva, the French nuclear energy company, calls the proposed legislation “humiliating” (Market Watch).  Lavergeon says that because eighty percent of her company’s employees it would be unfair to expect that women should represent a larger portion of the company’s board.  Lavergeon makes valid points, which should be taken into consideration before passing this legislation.
Reading about this controversial proposition reminded me of “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities”.  Both involve the idea of leveling the playing field so that everyone may be involved in “meaningful competition”; one on the actual playing field, and one in the boardroom.  Just like one who is deciding on the rules for a competition with disabled athletes, who may be able to play the same sport as other athletes, but perhaps in a different way, or with the help of an aid, one must consider what it does to the spirit of competition between men and women when women are given an advantage in promotion considerations.  I personally believe that the measures which the French are thinking about putting into place would be positive for a period of time.  However, if this legislation becomes a permanent part of French law, it make cheapens the competition between men and women.  If women only make up a small portion of an industry it is unfair to give them an equal portion of seats in that industry’s boardrooms.  Allowing women to be given preferential treatment for a short time would give women an opportunity to show their competency in business, and then give them the opportunity to compete for those jobs equally with men.
Sources:
Lavaque-Manty, Mika.  “Being a Woman and Other Disablities”.  The Playing Fields of Eton.
University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, 2009.

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Recently there has been a lot of talk about Afghanistan in the news because of President Obama’s decision to send more troops in to take out the remaining al Qaeda in the country. In general, people have looked at this issue from rather partisan standpoints, but I think it would be more helpful to look at Afghanistan through the lens of other political theorists who were not blurred by the only defined lines in America: the Republicans and Democrats. In fact, there are many ways that the war in Afghanistan can be seen through the eyes of other political thinkers including Dr. King and Hobbes.

CNN recently reported that the elections that took place in Afghanistan in November were fraudulent, and that the goal of President Hamid Karzi will be to, “form a government that is seen as legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people and the international community”[1]. Dr. King made an argument similar to this during his protests in the south because in the same way that the African American population was not being properly represented by being denied the right to vote, the people of Afghanistan are being denied that right by holding fraudulent elections. King raises the point that, “A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law”[2]. In this same way, because the people of Afghanistan were denied their right to vote, every law that is now made can be considered unjust and unfair. Even though the United States has applauded this government and the elections, the real fact is that they were unjust and everything that comes from the government now is illegitimate.

Another way to look at the war is through the lens of Thomas Hobbes. Even though there is a government established in Afghanistan, it can be argued that this government has little effect on the people, especially with al Qaeda inhabiting the outskirts of the country. In fact, I argue that Afghanistan is actually in a Hobbesian state of nature at this moment. The people in that country fear for their own lives and take sides either for or against America. That type of fear is a Hobbesian fear where looking out for themselves becomes their primary interest. Others have argued that a war against terror cannot be won because American presence only escalates the violence and in turn causes more terror. The reality is that all of this fear has put Afghanistan in a perpetual state of nature. However, if the people of Afghanistan take the advice of Hobbes and appoint a Leviathan to govern them, the odds are against that Leviathan as the US would most likely topple it in the name of democracy. Because of this, Afghanistan will remain in a perpetual state of nature and a perpetual state of fear; the fear of both terror from the Americans and fear of terror from al Qaeda.

Looking at something like a large scale war through the lens of something other than republican or democrat is helpful in many ways. In the case of Afghanistan, it can be related back to someone as cynical as Hobbes and someone as hopeful as Dr. King. People just have to be willing to look at it a different way.


[1] “Karzai declared elected president of Afghanistan – CNN.com,” CNN.com – Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News, section goes here, http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/11/02/afghanistan.election.runoff/index.html (accessed December 15, 2009).

[2] “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Letter from Martin L. King Jr. April 16, 1963.

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As many may already know, on July 1, 2011, the University of Michigan will institute a campus wide smoking ban. Hoping to provide a greater amount of transparency, the University recently held two informational sessions on the policy. Audience members at both sessions spent much of the time harshly criticizing the ban. After reading John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, I cannot help but think that Mill would have disapproved of the ban as well.

In Chapter IV of On Liberty, Mill discusses what he believes are the limits society has in its authority over the individual. In cases where a person’s conduct clearly damages or interferes with another person’s well being, it is completely acceptable for society to intervene. However, when a person’s actions affect only him or herself, Mill writes, “there should be perfect freedom… to do the action and stand the consequences” (Wootton 630). In such cases, any interference on the part of society is wholly unjustified. For Mill, the University smoking ban would most certainly qualify as an instance where society has overstepped the boundaries of its authority. Since the ban was not put into effect due to secondhand smoke issues, it cannot be considered a case of society protecting its citizens from the harmful conduct of others. At the informational sessions, University officials admitted that when it comes to smoking outdoors, the adverse health effects of secondhand smoke are negligible. Outdoor smoking incurs no “definite damage,” as Mill would say, upon anyone other than the smokers themselves (Wootton 633).

Nevertheless, there are plenty of ways for society to claim that an individual’s actions have indirectly interfered with the public’s welfare. According to Ken Warner, Dean of the School of Public Health, the reason for the UM smoking ban is that the University is trying to promote a “culture of health” for the betterment of the entire campus community. Smoking has been proven to be unhealthy. This classifies it as an activity that lowers the overall health of the community. It would seem then, that if people were allowed to continue smoking, the University’s process of creating a culture of health would be hindered. Mill believes this sort of argument is weak, writing, “With regard to the merely contingent, or, as it may be called, constructive injury which a person causes to society… the inconvenience is one which society can afford to bear, for the sake of the greater good of human freedom” (Wootton 634). In such cases, the benefits society obtains from preserving an overall sense of liberty outweigh those which it might obtain by restricting the actions of its citizens. Mill would say it is more important for the UM community to feel free than for there to be a perfect culture of healthy living on campus.

However, Mill believes that the best argument against societal interference in personal affairs “is that when it does interfere, the odds are that it interferes wrongly, and in the wrong place” (Wootton 634). Mill argues that although society sometimes knows what is best for itself, it rarely knows what is best for a specific individual. This is because society considers only its own preferences when passing judgment on a certain person’s actions. (Wootton 635). Although the vast majority of people would probably rather abstain from smoking and avoid the risks involved, it cannot be said that this is the case for all people. At the smoking ban informational sessions, University officials hastened to the conclusion that essentially all smokers want to quit anyway. However, I personally know several students here at the University who smoke and have no desire to stop.

Based on his writings in Chapter IV of On Liberty, it is quite clear where John Stuart Mill would stand when it comes to the University of Michigan’s ban on smoking. Outdoor smoking harms no one but the smokers themselves, and saying that it causes indirect harm is, in Mill’s opinion, utterly frivolous. Furthermore, the individual ought to have the final say in any matter that involves purely personal conduct. For these reasons, there is no doubt that Mill would have disapproved of the University’s decision to ban smoking across the entire campus.

Works Cited

Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2008. Print.

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The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, encompasses the idea of how the inevitable fall of capitalism is rooted within the “antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes”. They believed that capitalism would be the inevitable ruin to a government because its powerful free-market industrial system would create imminent social class distinctions, like that of the bourgeoisie and proletariat class, which would cause the exploitation of the proletariat and an eventual collapse of capitalism.  Likewise, America’s form of capitalism has produced well-defined social classes with industrial tycoons as the bourgeoisie and the working middle class as the proletariat.  For the reason being that Marx and Engels’ negative standards of capitalism about social class strife exists in American capitalism today, some look upon The Communist Manifesto as a prediction of America’s current economic instability.  Although American capitalism is similar to Marx and Engel’s classification of capitalism, I do not believe that the exploitation of the middle class and an overly powerful free-market industrial system were causes to America’s recent economic upsets, but that the main spark to this instability was the insufficient amount of industry within the system.

 According to Marx and Engels, the fall of countries who utilize capitalism is caused by the bourgeoisie’s self-interest of pursuing the attainment of as much profit as possible by paying laborers as little as possible.  Consequently, while this profit is being obtained, “the modern labourer…instead of rising with the progress of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class” (Marx and Engels 804).  Unfortunately, this idea of “pauperism” is occurring in American society today.  Specifically, there has been a significant increase in unemployment.  However, I do not believe the cause of this unemployment has emerged from the increasingly progressive, capitalistic industries.  Moreover, I view the lack of industrialism as a cause behind this idea of “pauperism” because it has hindered the existence of employment opportunities. The creation of more industry may not have prevented America’s current economic crisis, but the jobs it would have created most certainly would have given America’s economy a greater sense of stability.

In relation to this significant lack of industry, America’s economy has taken a detrimental hit.   Once known as one of the most economically-developed countries, America may change this once widely held world because their economic struggles have led to the development of some recent news regarding the probability of losing their Triple-A credit status rating.  According to a Fox Business news interview, Moody’s, one of the largest commercial credit rating agencies, suggests that if the U.S. government is not able to successfully manage its constantly rising debt, they “ may lose Triple-A status by 2013”.  This lowered credit rating will not only make government and consumer borrowing costs higher, but it may cause the dollar to lose global reserve status.  Nonetheless, even if America is able to hold onto their rating, interest costs will continue to increase and countries may believe that less global reliance should be on the U.S. dollar.  Despite the attempts to repair America’s economic problems, through bailouts and the creation of jobs, these actions have not proven to be permanently successful.  By increasing spending towards these failed attempts and not creating industry, which is the root of jobs, the issue of unemployment remains.

Overall, this possibility of losing the Triple-A credit status rating is a serious threat to the future of America’s economy.  Despite the way in which America has lived up to the assumed standards of capitalism that were set up within The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels could not have predicted this crisis.  In fact, this malfunction of capitalism has been caused by the diminishment of industry which has prevented the development of a stable working class.

Citations:

Marx and Engels. The Communist Manifest; Modern Political Thought 2nd Edition. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 2008.

“U.S. At Risk of Losing AAA Rating.” Fox Business. Web. 14 Dec 2009. http://video.foxbusiness.com/12332080/u-s–at-risk-of-losing-aaa-rating/.

Section 8

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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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In a recent dialogue over John Stewart Mill during my discussion section, the band Rage Against the Machine was brought up in regard to its recent appearance on Saturday Night Live. Throughout the band’s career, the members have used their right to free speech to protest many American institutions and values in a way that can be deemed controversial, offensive and anti-American. The band’s popularity, however, has risen dramatically despite their contentious nature. During the dress rehearsal before their Saturday Night Live debut, the band placed American flags upside down on every one of their amplifiers. They were asked to remove the flags and play the set without them, which they did for the remainder of the rehearsal. Just seconds before their live performance, however, the band put the flags back up, leaving no time for intervention before the camera started recording. In a panic, t he SNL producers cut to a commercial break as soon as they noticed the controversial display, and Rage Against the Machine was promptly asked to leave the premises.

            The discussion revolved around whether instances like this demonstrate a violation of free speech or free press, and if John Stewart Mill would defend or condemn Saturday Night Live and their decision to take Rage off the air. In Chapter II of Mill’s On Liberty, Mill describes “…’liberty of the press’ as one of the securities against corrupt or tyrannical government,” meaning that freedom to say what one thinks in public defends citizens from excessive government control that can easily lead to a corrupt, overbearing government with no desire to work for the needs of its people (Mill 599). He also asserts that every opinion must be heard in order for government to be able to correctly conceive the actual needs of the people. Finally, Mill discusses his conceptions of opinions considered to be ‘false.’ He states “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he…would be justified in silencing mankind,” (Mill 600). By this he means that just because a majority of society believes something to be true, does not mean that the opinion of the minority is false, or even that the opinion of the majority is true. Opinions can only be considered right or wrong when proved by history, experience and failed practice.

Therefore, John Stewart Mill would more than likely find the actions Saturday Night Live took against Rage Against the Machine and their attempt to voice their opinion against the current political situation in America, as a direct violation of free speech and freedom of the press. He would defend Rage in their attempts to express their opinions that are not only shared with their numerous fans, but may very well be correct due to the fact that time and experience have not proved them wrong. Even though Rage’s music and actions can be considered by many to be anti-American, corrupt, and even harmful, there is no historical proof that backs up this condemnation.  In the music video for the band’s song “Testify,” images of the presidential candidates, George W. Bush and Al Gore, are shown simultaneously with clips of starving, tortured, suffering people from around the world (“Testify”). It demonstrates the frustration that Rage, along with many other people around the world, has with American politics. Many people feel that American political policy is plagued by lack of activism for human rights, and that American politicians are concerned mainly with money, power, and the ability to bully its worldwide economic and political competitors. There is no hard evidence that this opinion is not true. In fact, villages have been destroyed, children have been orphaned, and innocent civilians have been tortured around the world without any American intervention, or even recognition. If anything, there is evidence that supports the controversial opinion of Rage Against the Machine. The lack of substantial American support and intervention during the Rwandan genocide of the early 1990’s is one of many examples of America’s negligence of human rights issues worldwide. John Stewart Mill would defend Rage, saying that without people in our society brave enough to voice opinions that could be condemned by others, or could offend those in opposition, the real voice of the people could never be heard, and those suffering from the government leaving “…all our interests uncared for, and all our duties unperformed,” would never see any change in our society (Mill 601).  I am quite positive that John Stewart Mill would view Saturday Night Live as wrong in their decision to suppress the opinion of Rage Against the Machine, and take them off the air.

 Claire Morgan

Works Cited

Mill, John Stewart. “On Liberty: Chapter II.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Company, Inc., 2008. 599-601. Print.

EditDelete

Rage Againt the Machine. “YouTube – Rage Against The Machine – Testify Music Video.” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. 10 Nov. 2006. Web. 13 Dec. 2009. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JSBhI_0at0&gt;.

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