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Archive for the ‘Section 9’ Category

Mill’s ideas on freedom seem simple enough; as long as it’s not a nuisance or interfering with others’ lives, you are free to do as you please.  Others can criticize you for what they see as wrong doings, but they have no right to actually stop you (Mill, 600-620).  It simple terms, if its not directly bothering you, mind your own business and everyone gets along.  But the question is, can Mill’s philosophy actually work, when put into practice?   A prime example to look at is drugs and drug use.

Though the actual act of doing drugs only harms you, it remains illegal to even possess most drugs.  Mill would undoubtedly argue that though drugs may not be positive, used responsibly they do not harm others substantially (Mill, 600-620).  Opponents argue that drugs, even when used “safely”, affect those around you; from emotional pain to your family, to slacking on your responsibilities.  But that argument can be applied to many things.  Televisions for instance: much of today’s youth spends hours in front of the TV, possibly wasting their potential.  Should we then outlaw televisions?  Mill obviously would not.

But to think that drug use would remain totally responsible, is naïve.  Just take a look at alcohol; we have drunk driving, and alcoholics.  Mill would clearly classify these situations and acts as nuisances to those around us  (Mill, 600).  But does outlawing it even prevent it?  I would argue quite the opposite.  As we saw in the time of prohibition, making alcohol illegal only created a black market for it.  Instead of regulation, the supply of alcohol was run by gun-toting gangs.  Now does any of this sound familiar?  It is the exact same situation we currently have with drugs.  By implementing Mill’s idea of individual responsibility and freedom, the same principle applied to alcohol with the repeal of the prohibition, drugs could be regulated.  Violence would decrease, and money through business and taxation would increase.  Of course issues of drug addicts and impaired driving would be present.  But those problems persist now, even with the outlawing of drugs.  Just as some consider heavy drinking to be immoral, there will always be those who do not condone drug use either.  But we are a world of unique individuals, and to apply the same morality to everyone is overbearing, especially if the actions of said “immorality” does not affect those around them.

The United States of America has an incarceration rate of 7 times the global average  (National Council for Crime and Delinquency).  And I would argue this is due to the immense about of drug related “crime”.  Many of these crimes are victimless, and as Mill states, victimless crimes, should not be crimes at all.  So would an application of Mill’s ideas of freedom, actually work in modern day?  I would certainly think so, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion…assuming it isn’t a nuisance.

Works Referenced

“Fact Sheet.” National Council for Crime and Delinquency . N.p., Nov. 2006. Web.
22 Nov. 2009. <http://www.nccd-crc.org/nccd/pubs/
2006nov_factsheet_incarceration.pdf>.

Mill, J.S. “On Liberty.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. Ed. David
Wooton. 2nd Edition ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2008. 599-620. Print.

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Is America Becoming Socialist?

In  “The Communist Manifesto” Marx and Engels explore the positives features of both socialism and communism. And with the problems that capitalistic America today is suffering from, socialist ideas are beginning to once again gain supporters. In fact, many have made the claim that President Obama is even implementing socialist ideas and cite the motor company bail out and public health care as examples. Marx and Engels claim that capitalism “would inevitably produce internal tensions which would lead to its destruction [and] just as capitalism replaced feudalism…socialism would, in its turn, replace capitalism, and lead to a stateless, classless society called pure communism” (Wikipedia). Marx and Engels raise interesting points. Clearly, capitalism in America today has its problems. America is in one of the worst economic times it has ever been in and production and trade are at an all time low. Yet, is it really sensible to believe that out of capitalism will grow first socialism and then a stateless and classless society? While capitalism will always have its fair share of problems, it is improbable to believe that from capitalism will grow socialism.

America is indeed experiencing one of the worst economic periods ever however; capitalism is not the only factor to blame. Across the globe economies are suffering, despite what economic system they practice. Also, America endured a similar economic decline during the great depression and it was capitalism that pulled the country out of it. Capitalism is in its own right, a valid and strong economic principle and certainly more than a stepping-stone to socialism. President Obama has been accused of being a socialist for signing a bill that allowed the government to bail out the motor companies and for making health care public. Marx and Engels would argue that the President’s actions in these cases were indeed socialist. “Or how does it happen that trade…rules the whole world through the relation of supply and demand – a relation which, hovers over the earth like the fate of the ancients, and with invisible hand allots fortune and misfortune to men, sets up empires and overthrows empires, causes nations to rise and to disappear – while with the abolition of the basis of private property, with the communistic regulation of production, the power of the relation of supply and demand is dissolved into nothing, and men get exchange, production, the mode of their mutual relation, under their own control again.” Although, President Obama’s actions in some respects were socialist in nature, he did not sign the law nor make health care public in the hopes of abolishing private property and entering into a classless and stateless society but instead to help stimulate a capitalist economy and provide basic rights to its citizens.

From the state of the economy today it is evident as to why socialist ideals are gaining more and more support. And with a President that has socialist tendencies this support only grows. However, America is not heading toward a socialist economy nor is capitalism just a stop on the way to a “perfect” socialist or communist state. Capitalism is a thriving and enduring economic principle that allows for class movement and a large middle class. Socialism and communism are more of economic ideals that in practice do not endure. Marx and Engels raise the alluring point that without private property the world would not be ruled by supply and demand. Yet, this is just an ideal. While this would be nice, it is not practical. Capitalism is practical. The United States is indeed facing uncertain economic times but capitalism alone, not capitalism on its way to becoming socialism or communism, is our best bet to improve.

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Women in Politics

Rachel Koresky

Women taking on roles that are usually thought of as a man’s role has become increasing prevalent. However, there are still many obstacles that women must overcome to enter a role typically held by a man. A role that women have recently begun to become more involved in is politics. The 2008 presidential election had the most involvement of women ever. In the forefront was presidential nominee, Hilary Clinton and vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin. Both women garnered scorn and contempt for their attempts to enter into a “man’s” world.

In “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities” it is said that we must “focus on functional abilities, not on disability- that is, on what a person can do instead of what she cannot do.” However, women are generally not given this benefit.  Traditionalists, that do not want to see women enter into a “man’s” profession, focus on what women cannot do and never acknowledge what women can do. It is also said that “disability is not the same as inability.” And while, being a woman is by no means a disability it is a difference but not a difference that makes women any less capable of political thought than men. While difference does make a difference, it does not mean that the difference has to be a negative one. In the history of the United States women were first, not allowed to participate in politics and then, discouraged from participation because it was a “man’s” role. Thus, women have not been given ample opportunity to demonstrate their abilities in a political office nor have they ever been able to demonstrate their abilities in role of presidency. Yet Mill, in “The Subjection of Women”, points out that when women are not given the opportunity to display their talents, or they are discouraged from doing so, the world cannot know what women are truly capable of. In fact, the traits and characteristics that women possess that men are lacking in could be very beneficial to a political office role. Traits like intuition and practical reasoning skills may be just the traits that the political world needs.

Another area to explore when it comes to women in politics is why Senator Clinton had more obstacles to overcome than Governor Palin. Senator Clinton was running for president while, Governor Palin was on Senator McCain’s ticket for vice president.  Senator Clinton was vying for the presidency, which would make her the first woman president. Governor Palin was on McCain’s ticket and would have been most likely a vice president without much pull over the president. The world was more willing to accept a woman in politics as long as she was still in some way subordinate to a man.  Another unfortunate reason for Governor Palin’s success over Senator Clinton was physical appearance. Governor Palin is an attractive woman and the media instantly focused their attention on this fact. Senator Clinton and Governor Palin were often compared based on their physical appearance, comparisons that did not happen between their fellow male running mates. Women, still today, are based heavily on their appearance and not on their talents or intelligence.

Despite the fact that women are becoming more and more prevalent in the political world they still must overcome unfair obstacles that their male counterparts do not. They must endure the scorn of traditionalists, they must have their unique talents suppressed and they must deal with excessive attention paid to their looks and not their talents. It will still take some time for women to be truly and fairly accepted in the political world.

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Mill and Women in Combat

After reading the first two chapters of Mill’s The Subjection of Women I cannot help but consider the strides women have made in terms of equality with men. Certainly the opportunity in the United States for women to become educated, a major concern of Mill, is equal to men. Women can now obtain the same jobs as well and discrimination against women in the workforce is declining slowly but surely.

Even so, the debate of women equality continues to exist. One current area of debate dealing with women equality is military combat. Currently, women are theoretically not allowed in combat roles in the United States army, but many people believe laws should be changed to allow women in combat roles. Below are two essays which discuss the differing viewpoints in greater detail.

http://www.cmrlink.org/CMRNotes/PCAWAF-AV.pdf (this writer is of the opinion women should not be allowed in combat roles)

http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/ksil271.pdf (this writer is of the opinion women should be allowed in combat roles)

To me, women should be allowed in the military if they can handle the physical and mental requirements of combat situations. Regardless of my personal opinion, if Mill lived today, he would advocate the equality of women in the army, or an allowance of women in combat positions.

First, foundationally Mill writes “the legal subordination of one sex to the other-is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement.”  Although this quote directly applies to women as the wife, by expanding the interpretation we notice that the legislators who oppose women in combat are simply legally subordinating women on a larger scale than husband and wife. The male is deemed greater than the female and therefore a woman is placed hypothetically under the men in combat situation.

Then, Mill claims that “what is now called the nature of women is an eminently artificial thing…” He seeks to break the barrier of assumption concerning women. It is interesting that Mill attempts to rationalize the perceptions we have about gender differences. He writes, “All women are brought up from the very earliest years in the belief that their ideal of character is the very opposite to that of men…” Here, he is claiming that all of us simply have an unnatural tendency to have skewed beliefs about gender roles due to conditioning since childhood. One could easily see Mill observing the facts or research about military women and forming a conclusion without prejudice.

Although Mill would agree with proponents of the ban on women in combat roles when he states “the inequality of rights between men and women has no other source than the law of the strongest,“ he also attests that there are examples of women who can meet the physical readiness of their male counterparts. He uses the example of female Spartans , “who…were more free in fact, and being trained to bodily exercises in the same manner with men, gave ample proof that they were not naturally disqualified for them.” If there are women that meet the standards of combat readiness, Mill would agree that they should be allowed in combat roles. “…any limitation of the field of selection deprives society of some chances of being served by the competent, without ever saving it from the incompetent.”  By banning women from combat position there is a limitation the pool of competent soldiers which Mill would dislike.

Another one of Mill’s arguments for the equality of women in general is the changing society in which we live. In stark contrast with Burke, Mill writes “…the tendencies of progressive human society, afford not only no presumption in favour of this system of inequality of rights, but a strong one against it…this relic of the past [inequality of gender] is discordant with the future, and must necessarily disappear.” One can easily assume that Mill would advocate women in combat due to the change in warfare and due to the social changes over time such as the increasing acceptance of woman in the workforce .

Last, Mill believes in opportunity for women, a chance to try what they will. “…the question rests with women themselves-to be decided by their own experience, and by the use of their own faculties. There are no means of finding what either one person or many can do, but by trying…” Mill would agree that the women should be allowed a chance to succeed in military training and eventually participate in combat duty.

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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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My modern day Mill

“Christians were cast to the lions, but the Christian church grew up a stately and spreading tree, overtopping the older and less vigorous growths, and stifling them by its shade.  [While today] our merely social intolerance kills no one, roots out no opinions, but induces men to disguise them, or to abstain from any active effort for their diffusion” (Mill, 608).

For centuries and centuries, the practice of censorship has played an exigent role in government, especially within the controversial realm of religion.  In his piece, “On Liberty”, Mill argues that it is through the persecution of opinions that we resolve to find truth- a virtue that appears to be hard to find today- and he effectively utilizes the trials and tribulations of Christianity to illustrate just that.

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor (161-180 CE) described to be “…a better Christian in all but the dogmatic sense of the word, than almost any of the ostensibly Christian sovereigns who who have sense reigned, persecuted Christianity” (IEP), (Mill, 605).  Aurelius believed that he persecuted Christians out of goodness for his people because “As a ruler of mankind, he deemed it his duty not to suffer society to fall in pieces; and saw not how, if its existing ties were removed, any others could be formed which could again knit it together” (Mill, 605).  He viewed the newfound knowledge of Christianity to be a fire starting to alight; a fire that needed to be quickly extinguished (censored) because the morality and ideas behind this religion had the qualification to humble his empire into a philosophical tumult.  But what Aurelius didn’t realize, and what Mill later points out, is that Aurelius was not stunting his people from learning the truth- or in his mind, errors- of Christianity by restricting its circulation; rather, he was making way for Christianity: “…persecution is an ordeal through which truth ought to pass, and always passes successfully, legal penalties being, in the end, powerless against truth, though sometimes beneficially effective against mischievous errors” (Mill, 605).  Although Aurelius found the persecution of Christians to be an effective way of ridding them, Christianity was a flickering moralistic and honest perspective that was not ready to be extinguished, and so, Aurelius was simply fuel to the fire.

Today, Christianity is said to be the most persecuted religion in the world.  It is probably of no surprise that for years, the communist country of North Korea has dominated the list of countries known to severely persecute Christian believers: “The only worship allowed is that of the beloved leader Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-Sung. Christians are seen as a threat, so increasing numbers have been sentenced to horrific conditions in labour camps or secretly executed. The border with China is virtually closed and Chinese authorities vigilantly pursue North Korean defectors and return them home” (Opendoors).

Through his censorship of Christianity, Aurelius delayed his people from exploring the views of Christianity.  Mill would argue that through their censorship of Christianity, North Korea is delaying their citizens from the natural right to the pursuit of truth.  It is obvious that  throughout his piece, Mill strongly advocates against this censorship: “…though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied” (618).

A wise man once said that “history repeats itself,” and although these two examples of censorship in religion would advocate this statement, over the years censorship in America is one thing that has not remained unchanging or “repeated”.  Mill wrote “On Liberty” to awaken citizens to explore opinions; not to abort people from their search for the truth.  He alluded to the history of Christianity- indirectly illustrating that history does indeed repeat itself, but that we have the ability to change that pattern, because as he says: “…the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it” (600).  In my opinion, Mill’s want has become an exuberant part of America.  We have the freedom of religion, assembly, petition, press, and speech; while the rest of the world is still floundering in their acceptance of differences.  Would you agree?

“Christian Persecution: Country Profiles.”  OpenDoors.  2009.  19 November 2009.

<http://www.opendoorsusa.org/content/view/962/21/>

Mill, J.S.  “On Liberty.”  Modern Political Thought.  David Wootton.  Indianapolis, IN.  Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.  2008.

Sellars, John.  “Marcus Aurelius.”  IEP.  4 May 2005.  19 November 2009.

<http://www.iep.utm.edu/marcus/>

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Last week in class we talked extensively on the concept of money and how it has played a crucial role in Locke’s social contract, to the extent where some political theorists argue that it is a type of social contract in its own right. At first this claim seemed a bit far-fetched to me, that our very system of government is preceded by a system of currency and influenced by societal economics. Yet after giving the idea some thought, and noticing that the most controversial issues in politics today seem to be driven by the issue of money, I have come to the conclusion that money is not just a precursor to the social contract, but instead provides the very framework from which it must function. An example of such a framework is the system of education in the United States in comparison to other parts of the world.

The opportunity for me to be going to this University and to be writing this very blog is the product of hundreds of thousands of dollars, whether it has come from my parents or from the government, that have been poured into my primary and secondary education. What motive does the government have to provide me with an education at no expense to myself (through the publics school institutions)? Hobbes would argue self-preservation and security. Locke would say it has a vested interest in keeping my property (life, land, and pursuit of happiness) intact and protected. Yet I have always felt that the motives lay in obtaining and maintaining a level of financial safety and economic security.

In an ideal world I would say that I pursue a higher education in order to pursue my academic passions and nourish my soul. But the reality of this society is that by going to a University I am seeking and creating job opportunities, a career, and ultimately, a steady paycheck. The government is vested in preserving my ability to contribute to society, strengthen the economy, and follow the law to preserve my accumulated wealth. Living in Sao Paulo, Brazil for three years revealed to me a system of government driven to cater the “security” of the wealthy and completely ignore the wellbeing of the disparaged. In a “developed” country like the United States, Americans tend to have a very limited perception of how money directly correlates to education in other parts of the world.

In most other countries, education is privatized, available to only those who can afford it. From this, a vicious cycle arises; only the wealthy send their children to school and produce wealthy graduates. Consequently, the distribution of wealth is skewed and an elite class controls a vast majority of the countries resources, swaying politics and further weakening the masses (impoverished lower-class). Even in the United States (especially with the current economic conditions) wealth can provide unfair advantages to student applying to Universities through private schools, tutors, and standardized test-prep, not to mention tuition.

Education is just one specific issue in the spectrum of money-influenced politics. Debates from healthcare, to the economy, to taxes all shed light on the fact that it is not politics that drive money, but instead it is money that drives politics.

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