Archive for the ‘Section 5’ Category

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.
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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In the modern world, one can see variations of Thomas Hobbes’ State of Nature through the open waters of the Earth’s oceans.  The Somali pirates are a perfect example of this because the oceans make for the perfect situation for Hobbes’ State of Nature by allowing for a realm of no governing authority, allowing for the pirates to easily attack naval ships in order to receive ransom money, creating a state of chaos.  This situation created by the ocean near Somalia, is similar to Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature because the pirates have caused constant quarrel with ships that pass through those waters which then has led to the countries of the world wanting to seek peace.

Hobbes envisioned a condition of nature where each person is their own judge and since each person is their own judge, quarrels occur because there is no neutral third party with any authority to help solve their problems. So if the pirates want to take another man’s ship then they can take another man’s ship, without being punished by any particular governing body because it occurred in the open waters of the oceans. Now, this can cause a fight between the two ships as the one ship can attempt to fight back, but normally fails as nature has it with any fight, one side wins and one side loses.   This is why Hobbes considers the state of nature equivalent to that of a state of war because in the state of nature people are their own judge, people chose to settle problems violently.

Going further, Hobbes’ Law of Nature forbids a person from doing anything that would be destructive to his life; he also notes it’s in the best interest of humans to work together for survival rather than be independent. This leads him to develop his first branch of nature, which suggests that humans seek peace and follow it, relating back to the situation with the Somali Pirates that have created such fear among the nations of the world forcing them to join together to seek peace with the pirates. BBC news reports that on November 10, that there are nearly forty ships, from the European Union, United States, China, India, and Japan, in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. Unfortunately, with no governing body able to regulate international waters and punish the pirates, they can continue with the status quo and only worry about the specific retributions from each ship.

However, BBC news also reported that on October 28 the Prime Minister of Somalia pledged to eradicate piracy within the next two years. This seems like an empty pledge for the Prime Minister to make given the circumstances that I have alluded to above concerning the lack of a strict governing body over the oceans.  Even though the pirates are from Somalia, it seems that the Prime Minister will not actually be able to do much to curb piracy.  It seems as though the pirates will continue to take advantage of the lack of a ruling body over the Earth’s oceans and the fact that they cannot be properly held responsible.

In summary, the situation in the waters off the coast of Somalia resembles Hobbes’ state of nature due to the lack of authority held over the oceans, which leads to quarrels exemplified by the Somali Pirates.  This state of war that is created makes others seek peace, just as Hobbes suggests, but it is only seen in the modern world.  This correlates to a CNN report showing that in 2009 there have been 102 pirate attacks and 39 hijackings in the region of the Gulf of Aden, supporting the claims made by Hobbes in our present state of nature courtesy of the Somali Pirates creating a constant state of chaos.

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As I was reading John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women, all that came to my mind was how drastically the rights for women have changed over the 20th century.  This led me to think of how long it has taken for Mill’s ideas to actually come to pass; he was far ahead of his time in many ways as far as marriage laws and the equality of women went but what struck me the most was Mill’s notion of the effect of the law to the status quo as far as the treatment of women goes.  The equality in law, as seen in education (as the foundation of equality in the workplace), does not always equate to equality in the real world due to the societal acceptance.

Mill made me think of my own family’s history. If I look back three generation on either side there is a vast discrepancy between the rights the laws grant women and the way women were actually treated. On my dad’s side, my great grandmother, who was born in 1912, was not allowed to go to high school or college because her family did not want her to, but the law granted that right to her.  Whereas my grandma was able to go to high school, both by the permission of her family and by law, but was not able to continue on with college because her family felt that it was her duty as a woman to marry my grandfather.

Now on my mother’s side, my great grandma went as far as her small country school would allow her to. However, her daughter, my grandmother, was given the opportunity to go to college, which was extremely rare for women at that time.  I find the reality of this absolutely appalling. According to the American Association of University Women, women were allowed to attend higher education institutions beginning in 1848, but the Association also notes that by 1870 only .7% of the female population was going to college, then 2.8% in 1900, and 7.6% in 1920.  It was still considered quite rare for women to go to college when my grandmother went in 1947 and yet again when my mother went to college in 1976.  There is obviously a social constraint on women that the law alone was not resolving.

Mill was pushing for the law to ensure total equality between men and women, which seems odd for a man to be advocating for the rights of women in the 19th century.  It’s surprising to discover that Mill was writing for the equality of women in 1869 and then to realize that women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920.  We can see from looking in just four generation of women how far ahead of his time Mill really was in his regards to the advancements of the rights of women and his thoughts on the correlation between the status quo and laws for women.  I find it interesting that, from looking at my family over this past century, one can see that even though there were laws in place for women, society prevented them from being socially acceptable for in higher education.  What would Mill think of a society that has continually regarded women so poorly? I personally think Mill would just give women all the more credit that has been taken from women… Glass ceiling… Mill would shatter it!

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Hobbes has a methodical and mechanical view of the universe and world; however, in this mechanical view there seems to be a metaphorical “screw” loose. Hobbes argues in The Leviathan that in a state of nature, devoid of government and laws, mankind is in a “war of all against all.” His argument is based upon what he views as man’s natural tendencies and actions. Hobbes asserts that mankind has “a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.” (Wootton 2007)  Due to man’s insatiable appetite for more power, possessions, and honor and the natural limited amount of resources on the planet Hobbes deduces that there will always be conflict because “the way…to the attaining of [man’s] desires, is to kill, subdue, supplant, or repel” (Wootton 2007). Therefore, in total, Hobbes argues that in the state of nature every natural man is against one another because they have unending desires and resources are scarce.  Hobbes then deduces that the reason men make societies with governments and laws is to facilitate peace because an untimely death is the consequence of the state of nature’s perpetual war.

I, however, disagree with Hobbes conclusion about the natural inclination of men towards violence. I believe that the establishment of commonwealths actually facilitates more violence rather than less. It is true that humans have a “fight or flight” defense mechanism, biologically, that promotes survival, but this mechanism is a vital, or involuntary, reaction and is produced only through provocation.  Furthermore, Hobbes argued that voluntary actions, like violence, are only committed with sufficient appetite or aversion.  In this case, man’s appetite for more power drives his violence towards his fellow man.

I believe that contrary to his belief humans are naturally nonviolent because violence is a learned behavior, not a natural one. The development of language and laws and social conventions after the establishment of a commonwealth actually facilitate more violence. Robert H. DuRant, vice chair of pediatrics at Wake Forest University School of Medicine says, “the strong association between exposure to violence and the use of violence by young adolescents illustrates that violence is a learned behavior.” (Winston-Salem 2000) Humans are not naturally violent but rather they have to learn by some means how to be violent. Jennings Bryant and Susan Thompson explain that “this is especially true for young children who identify with the characters they see on television and try to imitate them.”(Bryant, Thompson 2002) No better evidence for this associative learning is seen than in Albert Bandura’s pivotal psychological experiment involving Bobo Dolls. Bandura set up an experiment with three separate rooms of children. The first room watched a film of an adult hitting and beating on the inflatable Bobo doll violently. The second watched a film that showed non violent behavior, and the third watched no film. When the children were later put into rooms with Bobo dolls, “the children who had seen on film the Bobo doll being battered were not only more aggressive…but actually copied the violent behaviors they had witnessed.”(Bryant, Thompson 2002) It is thus obvious that violent behaviors are only caused when provoked or taught rather than existing in nature.

Further evidence for the fact that the state of nature is not a violent one and that the establishment of societies increases violence comes when studying violence in war. The development of war as a means of country conflict resolution only developed after the development of societies and the movement away from the state of nature yet wars are undeniably the most violent development in the history of the earth.  However, when studying the largest war in history, WWII, we see that according to Army historian Brig. Gen.  “In World War II, U.S. soldiers with a clean shot at the enemy, actually shot only 1 time out of 5.”(Haddock 2006) This evidence proves that there is a psychological disposition for humans to kill one another. More evidence of this fact comes from Konrad Lorenz, Nobel Prize winning psychologist, who says “we have a built-in defense against hurting a member of our own species.”(Lorenz 1966) In his book On Aggression Lorenz argues that species develop psychological barriers to prevent themselves from killing one another. The military, when statistics like the afore mentioned 1/5 shooting in WWII, implemented tactics like combat simulations and behavior modification drills in the hopes of breaking down or rewriting man’s natural disinclination towards killing. The result of this training can be seen in the increased report of shots fired at opponents in subsequent wars, like the Iraq or Vietnam wars. However, along with these reported higher shot ratios we also see increased psychological disorders of the soldiers returning home. Of soldiers returning after the Iraq war, “20 percent were diagnosed with psychological disorders” and of those returning from Vietnam “15.2 percent of all male veterans…and 8.1 percent of women” returned and were diagnosed with a psychological disorder. (San Francisco Chronicle, 2005)The demanding of the military to kill is in such a conflict with human’s natural instincts that it leads to psychological brain malfunctions.

Finally, when non-western and isolated societies and tribes are examined, the closest thing to the state of nature still existing, we see further disinclination towards violence. Tribes without western influence that have remained isolated for centuries when finally found are of particular interest to the world. They give a view of what life was like in those long dated days without governments, technological advancement, and modern institutions. These tribes are found on remote islands like those in the pacific, or deep within isolated mountain ranges in Asia , or deep within the confines of the Brazilian rainforest. These tribes do exist, in fact CBS recently reported “One of Brazil’s last uncontacted Indian tribes has been spotted in the far western Amazon jungle near the Peruvian border.”(CBS 2008) When these groups are finally found researchers love to examine them to get a more realistic view of what our own ancestors must have been like. When violence becomes the topic of interest we see “studies over the past century have found that half of the tribal societies studied had little or no violence against women, against children, or among men.”(White Ribbon Campaign 2007) Because societies in the “state of nature” had no recorded history, we cannot see what violence was like for them but the closest modern day example proves that these societies were most likely non-violent just like their modern day cousins.

In conclusion,  the violence in a state of nature must have been minimal. Infants and isolated groups of people, the two least effected by our current societies and standards and thus most indicative of natural man, both demonstrate that humans are not naturally violent. Furthermore, institutions like war show that there exists a natural disinclination towards violence, the opposite of what Hobbes suggests. In The Leviathan Hobbes argues that commonwealth is the only way to escape the violence in the state of nature but there is more violence due to commonwealth. With the establishment of states and countries we see violence furthered. Through war, one of the most used policies in the history of established governments, we see violence encouraged and fostered. Also, through societal and cultural establishments we see violence further incorporated. Popular television shows and movies  teach violence through imitation. Even our cultural constructions of masculinity and femininity promote violence. For men, they are encouraged to play violent sports in “productive” ways. Sports like football, wrestling,  boxing, and the increasingly popular Ultimate Fighting all promote and teach violence. For these reasons I believe that violence is not stopped by the creation of commonwealths, it is perpetuated.

Works Cited

Bryant, Jennings, and Susan Thompson. Fundamentals of Media Effects. New York: McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages, 2001. Print.

Epstien, Jack, and Johnny Miller. “U.S. wars and post-traumatic stress disorder.” San Francisco Cronicle 22 June 2005. Print.

Haddock, V. (2006). The Science of Creating Killers: Human reluctance to take a life can be reversed through training in the method known as killology. The San Francisco Chronicle. 8/13/2006

Lorenz, Konrad. On Aggression. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974. Print.

“Tribe Found Untouched By Civilization – CBS News.” Breaking News Headlines: Business, Entertainment & World News – CBS News. 30 May 2008. Web. 14 Dec.2009.<http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/05/30/world/main4137506.shtml&gt;.

White Ribbon Campaign. Web. 13 Dec. 2009. <http://whiteribbonday.wordpress.com/&gt;.

Winston-Salem. “Violence Is A Learned Behavior, Say Researchers At Wake Forest University.” Science Daily: News & Articles in Science, Health, Environment & Technology. Web. 13 Dec. 2009. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/11/001106061128.htm&gt;.

Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Company, 2008. Print.

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John Stuart Mill’s arguments for defense of the rights of women could also be used to defend homosexuals against the policy which currently bars them from serving openly in the military.  Mill says “the generality of a practice is in some cases a strong presumption that it is, or at all events once was, conducive to laudable ends” (653).  It was assumed before the passage of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell that homosexuals in the military would have a difficult time focusing on the task at hand if they were distracted by members of the same sex who they would be serving with.  Unfortunately, as we have seen in cases such as the Air Force Academy sexual assault cases earlier this decade (New York Times Survey), it has been shown that members of the same sex also have trouble controlling themselves.  The logic behind this measure is also flawed because heterosexuals in the military are allowed to openly discuss their personal relationships amongst themselves, but homosexuals are required to withhold their personal information.  Simply sharing personal information shouldn’t conflict with a gay soldier’s duties any more than a straight soldier’s.
Mill also mentions “that people of the last two or three generations have lost all practical sense of the primitive condition of humanity; and only the few who have studied history accurately . . . are able to form any mental picture of what society then was” (655).  This is also applicable to the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, and it undermines the historic fact of homosexuality in the Greek military.  Although these relationships were regulated by societal standards, homosexuality wasn’t regarded as an abomination, but rather a practical solution to the problem of not having women serving alongside the men.  People who shun gays in the military are forgetting the history behind homosexual relationships in the military.
When discussing the idea that women were naturally incapable of doing certain jobs, Mill dismissing this thought, saying “even if it be well grounded in a majority of cases, which it is very likely not to be, there will be a minority of exceptional cases in which it does not hold:  and in those it is both an injustice to the individuals, and a detriment to society, to place barriers in the way of their using their faculties for their own benefit and for that of others” (661).  The same is true of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy which assumes, based on few or no examples, that homosexuals will not be able to control their urges in the line of duty.  It is offensive that this law makes such an unfounded generalization about a group of people.  It is also unfair that these men and women, who are wiling to sacrifice everything for the good of their nation, are being turned away for something that has nothing to do with their job performance.  Mill asks “Is there so great a superfluity of men fit for high duties, that society can afford to reject the service of any competent person?” (678).  Fifty-seven Arabic linguists have been fired because their sexual orientation has been discovered (Huffington Post Blog).  In this time of war, in which we have a shortage of military members who are able to translate Arabic, it is ridiculous that we are turning them away.  Doing this is a disservice to these brave Americans, and our nation which is in desperate need of their services.
Although The Subjection of Women doesn’t let on to how Mill would have felt about this 20th century policy, the principles he used seem to give a clear argument for overturning it.
Mill, John Stuart.  “The Subjection of Women”.  Modern Political Thought.  ed.  David Wootton.
Hackett Publishing Company:  Indianapolis, 2008.

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In their writings, Marx and Engels observe a society where an upper class holds almost absolute power. They describe their society as “the epoch of the bourgeoisie” (799), a society that has “simplified class antagonisms” (799). They observe that “society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.” (799) Furthermore, they theorized that these conditions would only amplify, with the bourgeoisie getting more powerful and the proletariat’s conditions getting worse and worse. They predicted that under such conditions, a revolution would be inevitable. They predicted an end to class divisions.

In “The Communist Manifesto at 150,” Shlomo Avineri points out that capitalism has radically changed from the rampant and uncontrolled state that it was in 150 years ago. He points out that in many ways, Marx’s predictions came true, yet in just as many ways they have fallen flat. He says that there has been no proletariat revolution. However, he notes that there has been a technological revolution, one which has created a need for educated workers. In today’s society, high school graduation rates have reached 92% in some states, and almost 56% of graduates go on to pursue a higher degree. The proletariat class has drastically shrunken from the time of Marx and Engels, and the majority’s conditions have improved dramatically. Instead of the proletariat increasing in size while their conditions worsened, the opposite has happened. At first glance, it seems as though Marx and Engels were incorrect in their prediction. It seems as though their idea of capitalism as an unsustainable force was wrong.

Avineri ends his paper with the following: “The revolution, of course, did not break out there. Does this demonstrate the shortcomings of the Marxist analysis? Or was the Manifesto one of history’s most glaring examples of self-falsifying prophecy? The jury may still be out.” (6) While I agree with many of the ideas that Avineri presents in his paper, such as those previously mentioned in this post, I was dissatisfied with how he concluded his paper.

The economic collapse of 1929 was the beginning of the end of the kind of capitalism that Marx spoke of. While there was no sudden structural collapse of our government, the changes made in the US are obvious and significant. The majority was given power. The plethora of government programs put in place exclusively for the benefit of the lower class is a testament to this. Coming out of the collapse, there was a realization that the conditions that Marx was describing were unacceptable and unsustainable. As a result, a large part of our government’s role in modern day society is to keep conditions for everyone acceptable; in other words, to equalize conditions for everybody. Examples of this can be seen in government programs established since. The minimum wage, Social Security, and Medicaid are all meant to equalize conditions for everybody and to improve the position of the working class. The ‘revolution’ is ongoing. As the lower class gains greater power, they gain greater equality, and as they gain equality, they gain power. It is a cycle which can be seen today, as programs are instituted such as the socialization of healthcare and government subsidization of education for lower income families.

While the upper class undeniably still has significant influence in politics, they are no longer in control. As the populace becomes more and more educated, the lower class is better able to understand how to use their voting power towards their own benefit. Major political parties now pander to the lower class; they use methods such as ‘dumbing down’ their politicians so that the common man can relate (a practice used by both major political parties.) While this is often seen as a way in which the upper class actually controls the lower, it is important to realize the significance behind it. First of all, policies which benefit the lower class are rarely revoked, as it is hard to convince a group of people to give up a benefit which they already enjoy. Secondly, new policies which blatantly oppress the majority are rare. The freedom of press and media are key in this aspect, as it makes it far more difficult mislead the populace on the true nature of policies and changes in government. Finally, the rich know that every few years, they need the explicit consent of the majority in order to keep control. In our past elections, it may seem as though they have had significant power in influencing the lower class. However, the more educated the ‘proletariat’ becomes, the less influence the upper class will have.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a revolution as “The overthrow of one government and its replacement with another.” While our government has the same basic structure it has had since its creation, its overall purpose and who it is controlled by has been changed. It is slowly moving towards the society that Marx envisioned. Every policy in the US designed to improve conditions for the lower class brings greater equality to the masses. It is a slow process, and is not immediately recognizable as one which will end in perfect equality for all, but if most new policies are designed to improve conditions for the majority, eventually complete equality is inevitable. While Marx’s prediction of a quick and obvious revolution has clearly not been realized, his overall prophecy stands. His only major fault was underestimating the ability of the US governmental structure to adapt to the ‘revolution’ as opposed collapsing under it.

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J.S Mill and the “Right to Die”

The legality of assisted suicide is an often debated topic, which periodically receives a large amount of media coverage. Often referred to as the ‘right to die,’ assisted suicide is simply suicide aided by another person. The issue is most often brought up in the context of hospitals and other medical situations. Some people argue that patients in extreme pain or those that are considered terminally ill should have a right choose death, and in doing so attain the help of a doctor (making the practice “assisted suicide.”) Others think that patients should be denied this option, and should not be allowed to choose death by artificial means.
In our section last week, a fairly heated debate broke out on whether or not this practice would be allowed by J.S Mill, and based on that, whether the practice should be legal in today’s society. Mill’s promotion of personal freedom is the foundation on which a good government should be based upon (and arguably, the foundation in which OUR government is based on). Those who agree with Mill’s stance but want to deny others the ‘right to die’ are misguided. The issue, I believe, is that people have a problem separating their fears and personal beliefs from the policies that they support. So while one might agree to the arguments and principles which Mill sets forth, often times in practice that same person will think that they have a right to impose their own ideas and practices on others. Yes, the idea of a person helping someone else die is absolutely awful. It is depressing, unnatural and in some cases, the wrong decision. However, it is not the right of others to prevent individuals from making that choice.

Mill spends all of chapter four defending the idea that “neither one person, nor any number of persons, is warranted in saying to another human creature of ripe years, that he shall not do with his life for his own benefit what he chooses to do with it… Acts injurious to others require a totally different treatment.” (630-632) Mill states here that a person has a right to do whatever they wish with their own body. Suicide does not physically harm others, and it is a personal decision which people should be allowed to make for themselves; the fact that someone else is helping that individual is irrelevant. This explanation in itself would seem to prove that Mill would in fact have allowed it. However, some cite his statement that “acts injurious to others require a totally different treatment” and argue that suicide does affect others. Because of this, they contend, it is not a ‘personal choice.’

The argument in question is that by killing yourself, you are affecting others by causing them emotional anguish. To refute this point would be absurd. We do not live in a vacuum, and whether or not you live or die will affect those around you. The problem with this argument is that EVERYTHING we do affects those around us. What profession we train for, what foods we eat and who we date are all decisions which can involve others, however there is no nationwide attempt to prevent people from making these choices. Mill provides the example of pork in Muslim countries, writing that “nothing in the creed or practice of Christians does more to envenom the hatred of Mahomedans against them, than the fact of their eating pork… The practice is really revolting to such a public. They also sincerely think that it is forbidden and abhorred by the Deity.” (635-636) Mill acknowledges that others, even the vast majority, may be sincerely repulsed and offended by a practice. He acknowledges that personal decisions are never purely personal; however, this is not grounds for prevention. As mentioned before, every action can be construed as somehow affecting others, but a line must be drawn. Disgust, disagreement or even mental anguish at what an individual is doing to him (or her) self is not sufficient reason for banning the practice.

But what about those that are close with the individual? Do the hurt feelings of family and friends constitute enough of a reason for the government to make suicide illegal? I argue this point with the same quote that I argued the last with. Who is to say that grief caused by a loved one dying is more significant than grief caused by the violation of a moral or religious code? Couldn’t a religious leader argue that watching a man choose death is as disturbing to him as seeing a loved one die? While to many, the idea of a family member dying is more disturbing than the violation of a religious code, it cannot be used as an argument against allowing the practice.

Another common argument, one which was brought up gratuitously in class discussion, is that oftentimes suicide is simply the wrong choice. It is impossible to know when new treatments will become available. For all anyone knows, the day after you choose death, a new procedure will be discovered which could have cured you of all maladies. This is an excellent argument to bring up when trying to convince an individual not to choose suicide, but that is all it is. Mill explicitly supports the right to make wrong decisions when he says that “We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still” (600). Mill does not argue that we have the freedom to make personal choices only so long as they are the right choices. Right or wrong, it is the individual’s decision. Mill even argues that these wrong decisions are beneficial to society, as the general public will learn from seeing them (601).

To me personally, the most ridiculous fact of the current laws is that patients are completely and totally free to refuse treatment. This choice, which many patients decide upon, almost always leads to a slow and painful death. By denying patients the right of assisted suicide, lawmakers are saying that we have a right to choose death, but not the quick and painless way which could have been induced by a doctor. They do not prevent anyone from choosing death, but they do force an immense amount of suffering upon them. When animals are diagnosed with painful terminal conditions, we euthanize them in order to end their suffering. This is not an act that implies we no longer care about the animal; it is an act of kindness carried out for the animals benefit, owners who let the animal live are considered cruel. Why can’t we afford humans the option of that same benefit?

Finally, some argue that if assisted suicide were to become legal, abuse of the practice (by doctors, family members, psychopaths or whoever) would become easier. This is a place where government actually does have a right to step in. Abuse of this practice would constitute murder. Assisted suicide needs to be regulated, I am not arguing that. I will not try and define the logistics and specifics of the laws which would need to be put in place, except to say that their purpose should be to ensure that ‘assisted suicide’ is in fact the individuals choice, and not a choice by others. If the people who put forth this argument were truly only worried about the possibility for abuse, they would realize that it would be much harder to abuse the system if assisted suicide was legal. When a practice is carried out in an illegal setting, it has to be kept from the eyes of the government, preventing any kind of oversight. If the practice was visible and regulated, the government would be able to identify examples where abuse may be taking place far more effectively. Mill would also insist that in order for a person to make the final decision, they would have to be sane and of age. In the first quote I used, Mill is careful to specifically say “human creature of ripe years” (630). In this, he stipulates that one must be of age to be given free reign over their decisions. Not only would this apply to children, but to the mentally insane, as the point of this specification is that those making decisions should be capable of a reasonable level of thinking.

Mill makes it very clear that the only times where a government should prevent an individual from something is when his or her actions would hurt others in a significant way. While there are people who try and argue that it does in fact hurt them, this is simply an example of others trying to force their beliefs onto an individual, and the violation of these beliefs do not affect them enough to classify suicide as harmful to others. Based on this, assisted suicide should be legal.

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           “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity”. Immaturity is when laziness and cowardice overwhelm man. When he finally overcomes these natural instincts that hinder him from being enlightened, he becomes an independent thinker who can judge and decide everything on his own and express himself without fear. At the end of “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?”, Kant asks “Do we presently live in an enlightened age?” and gives an answer of “No, but we do live in an age of enlightenment.” If the same question is asked today, the answer would be yes. At least people living in a democratic country like the United States live in the enlightened age. People might not be completely enlightened, but freedom, the only requirement for the enlightenment is undoubtedly assured. 

          The complete freedom gives people rights to speak freely in public. In democratic country, people can think what and believe what they want and express their thoughts without any impediment. People even have freedom to criticize authority. They do not fear to do so, because freedom has become one of their rights. They have ways to appeal to the government for what they think is right and wrong. People freely interact, and their opinions actually influence what authority does. Emergence of World Wide Web has made this freedom even more complete. Individuals can anonymously post any ideas on web. These accumulated ideas and opinions on web affect what authority does as number of individuals on web increases.

          Some people might raise such argument that people do not have freedom to disobey the laws. People are bound to the laws as citizens of a country. Disobedience means penalty. Authority strictly enforces laws to keep a stable society. However, people living in a democracy have options to influence governmental policies. Freedom to express any ideas allows this. The democratic government is designed in a way that candidates running for government offices have to take electorates’ opinions into account. Even after elected, people in authority cannot just ignore public opinions, because public is entitled with the power to remove them from the office. Even though people have to obey the laws that might be seemingly unfair, they can always appeal and mend those laws.

          Even among the most conservative areas such as religion has changed. Different from the past, citizens in democracies have complete freedom over what they believe. They can decide on their conscience on their own. They can freely choose which religions to believe and not to. Their preferences over different belief does not cause them any disadvantages. Even among the religions, various dominations arise. A pastor freely establishes his own church apart from any of the nominations. Some religious men go out to set their own religions.

          For people to be enlightened, freedom is necessary. Today’s people might not be completely enlightened, but they have opportunities and circumstances that guarantee the freedom which is the only requirement for the enlightenment. People live in an enlightened age.

 section 005


An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” by Immanuel Kant

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Tomorrow, Friday the 13th, marks an ominous day in my hometown. In Bethesda, Maryland, at Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School the infamous Westboro Baptist Church is coming to protest a number of student run groups on campus. At my high school, they are protesting The Diversity Club, The Feminist Club, The Gay Straight Alliance, The Jewish Culture Club, and The Special Olympics Club. All of these clubs are well known at my school for fostering acceptance and tolerance for all people worldwide. This Westboro protest really strikes home for me because I know a number of friends in these clubs and can personally attest that what they advocate and promote are both progressive and peaceful ideas not the kind to be protested. The Westboro Baptist Church is known nationwide for its controversial protests of LGBT groups and its radical beliefs about homosexuality. There was a prominent play entitled The Laramie Project, which document one of their protests at Matthew Shepard’s funeral, because he was gay. Their website is here for those interested in learning more about them http://www.godhatesfags.com/. The most interesting part of this controversy, however, is the student’s reactions. Our high school has issued a request that students do not cause too much of a commotion due to the protest and want any counter-protest to be silent and peaceful. Students at my high school created two rival facebook groups to combat the protest, one entitled “Counter Protest Against Westboro Baptist Church!” focused on being “a SILENT and PEACEFUL protest” And the other “VOCALLY protest Westboro!!!” which advocated disobeying the high school administration’s request for a silent protest. These two opposite protest methods seem highly reminiscent of the Civil rights movement and both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X’s theories on protest. Like the civil rights movement, Gays and Lesbians across the country are currently denied their civil rights and groups like the Westboro Church are likened to racists and anti-civil rights supporters back in the 1960’s.  In their respective essays, A Letter from a Birmingham Jail and The Ballot or the Bullet, both King and X argue for their protesting methods. I believe that were they alive today King and X would support the corresponding methods by which students are counter-protesting.  In his essay, King states that “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.” In this case, the nonviolent, non-vocal, and peaceful protest of the first group personifies King’s ideals. They create tension through counter-protest, while simultaneously bringing positive attention to the cause because of their respectful dissent to their opponents. Malcolm X on the other hand advocates a different type of protest. In his essay, X says that we should remain “nonviolent as long as the enemy is nonviolent” By being vocal and trying to instigate emotional and negative responses, the Westboro church, by X’s standards, validates an equally vocal response. The Westboro church is known for trying to spark emotional responses to their protests. One of the main concerns that both the students of the first group and the school administration share is that the Westboro Group loves attracting news coverage through the response that those they are protesting provide. The harsher the reaction to their protest, the more coverage they can generate. The debate becomes this: which is a better method of protesting? I believe, in both this situation and the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King’s protesting strategy has many more positive results. It is responsible of the majority of students, shown through the number of members in the respective Facebook groups, to choose to silently protest. They show their disagreement with the church’s views while simultaneously being respectful, more mature, and denying them their desired press coverage. Just like in the Civil Rights Movement, being peaceful and passive makes their opponents look worse for seeming more radical. The excessive force used to put down the non-violent protests generated a lot of positive media coverage for the movement. In this case, by being peaceful and silently rejecting the church’s protest, B-CC students will rise above their opponents. Simultaneously, if the students had adopted X’s ideals in their protest they would be playing into the hands of their opponents by generating more media coverage. In conclusion, it is easy to see why King’s strategy for protesting is a superior one, both in the Civil Rights Movement and for tomorrow. By being peaceful and not regressing to emotional responses, protesters can make their message heard and seem mature and right while doing it.

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