Archive for the ‘U.S. politics’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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In her essay, “The Uses of Disaster”, Rebecca Solnit extensively outlines the degree to which people respond positively and admirably to disasters. She asserts that catastrophic events have the capacity to unify the populace, inspire civility, and bring about “good sense”. While she points to multiple examples and quotes credible sources, I believe that she presents too narrow a view of disasters and expresses too much faith in people.

However, I do not mean to say that Solnit ignored the truth. In fact, the major example that serves to disprove her thesis had not even happened at the time that her essay was published. So it is through a more-informed lens that I consider and reject her findings. Surely one can point to disasters such as earthquakes and terrorist attacks and find instances of “solidarity” eclipsing suffering. But while this result is evident in these less significant events, it is virtually non-existent in the greatest disaster of modern times, the Bush administration.

You can say what you want about how ‘compassionate’ his conservatism was, but you simply cannot deny that the indisputable peace and prosperity that he inherited slowly but surely evaporated over the past eight years. As a matter of fact, ‘slowly but surely’ is an inaccurate characterization of two terms that undid decades worth of American good. The dishonesty, corruption, profiteering, negligence, greed, irresponsibility, hubris, and ignorance so prevalent under Bush and Cheney was of catastrophic proportions and led to the political, economic, and social disaster we are currently living through.

Between the global financial crisis, the multiple unwinnable wars in which we are engaged, our tarnished international reputation, and a plethora of other fiascos, this is undeniably a disaster. Yet while the problem “is clearly identifiable”, why isn’t the “necessary response”? Why doesn’t America seem “peculiarly hopeful”?

The fact is, disasters of this extent transcend the relatively temporary glitches in every day life that are earthquakes and hijackers. Perhaps if the problem could be solved overnight, people would put on a happy face and pretend to feel selfless for twenty-four hours. But that would only be an act. Look around today and see the panic in peoples’ eyes. Look at “tea parties” and then decide if, in disasters, people rarely “stampede”, as Solnit claimed.

Try to claim that, in disasters, people do not “engage in…acts of opportunism” as Glenn Beck makes millions off of books and rhetorical diatribes that do nothing more than arouse the most spiteful sentiment in citizens in their most volatile, fearful, and impressionable state. Or try to claim that, in disasters, “citizens begin to demand justice, accountability, and respect” when the body politic is too disorganized, discouraged, and debilitated to pursue the prosecution of senior members of an administration that ordered the violation of both domestic and international laws forbidding torture. Consider the findings of sociologist, Charles Fritz, who asserts that “large scale disasters produce…mentally healthy conditions” [1] along side the opposing findings that correlate rising suicide rates with the economic crisis which Bush ushered in, unregulated [2].

As much as it might hurt us to admit it, the “Hobbesian true human nature” in which “people trample one another to flee, or loot and pillage, or they haplessly await rescue” referred to by Solnit is the reality we face today. Rather than disaster disrupting “self-absorption”, our politics have become increasingly partisan. If disaster “speeds the process of decision making” then why are we still without a plan to repair our broken healthcare system? And if disaster “facilitates the acceptance of change” [3] then why does a bigot like Rush Limbaugh, who hopes our first African-American president fails, have more than twenty-million listeners a week [4]?

The political landscape is more divided than ever. Fear and anger appear to play a role in the formation of every opinion, the expression of every idea, and the consideration of every course of action. We are perhaps less united than we have ever been and there is no sign that either side is prepared to change this. Unlike the examples discussed by Solnit, it seems that this disaster did not bring out the best in us. In a New York City electrical blackout, one might offer a stranger a helping hand. But in our current disaster driven by hate, dissent, and irrationality, we’re probably more likely to deny strangers of our charity, or to frown upon them for being too gay, or too uppity, or too Muslim-looking, or to send them off to the middle east to die in a war that was never worth fighting.

Of course, George W. Bush is not entirely to blame for the hostile environment that America has become. While he caused the disaster, the cause for our collective response must be attributed to the “Hobbesian true human nature” mentioned by Solnit. Human beings react selfishly and out of fear. Perhaps this disaster is America’s state of nature. Witness the war of all against all. 

Works Cited

[1] Charles Fritz, as quoted by Rebecca Solnit

[2] “Economic crisis pushing more people to the brink – Health – SignOnSanDiego.com.” SignOnSanDiego.com | The San Diego Union-Tribune | San Diego news, California and national news. Web. 15 Dec. 2009. <http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/mar/02/1n2mental214548-economic-crisis-pushing-more-peopl/&gt;.

[3] See [1]

[4] “Rush Limbaugh Signs $400 Million Radio Deal – washingtonpost.com.”

Washingtonpost.com – nation, world, technology and Washington area news and headlines. Web. 15 Dec. 2009.


[5] All other quoted phrases: Solnit, Rebecca. “The Uses of Disaster”

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NBA/WNBA Merger?

Recently in my discussion class, my classmates were arguing about the merits and limitations of integrating women into classically male institutional sports (such as the NBA) and into more gender diverse sports (such as running, swimming, etc.) in the context of Mill’s ideals about gender equality. While thinking about how women would fare if such integration were forced to occur, I kept thinking about Professor Leveque-Monty’s use of the phrase “meaningful competition” (p. 143)[1] While he argues that everyone has a chance to succeed, whether because of natural gifts or amount practice time, I tend to disagree with that theory.  Sure, one can successfully argue that the world’s fastest woman could beat virtually every man alive in a race since she most very well can.  However, there are physical limitations that will not allow her to beat the fastest small percentage of men, no matter how hard she practices and trains.  Times for male sprinters and swimmers are much faster then those of their female counterparts.  There are some people that cannot do what others can.  I am not saying that this is fair or the way it should be.  However, I am arguing that in general, the way sports institutions are currently configured (with no integration of gender), is the best possible system that we can have for the most competitive sports. I agree with the fundamentals of Mill’s views on women.  However, I do not think they are applicable in the world of professional male sports and women’s place in them.  If there was forceful integration of gender into the male leagues it could dilute the competitiveness of the sports.  I will address the effects of hypothetical gender integration of sports situation in two different ways—one for gender diverse sports and the other for classically male oriented sports.

If Olympic sports were forced to integrate men and women into the same competitions for sports how would this turn out?

This certainly would be the most fair of gender integration.  Women and men compete in nearly all of the same Olympic events.  They have all trained equally and for the same amount of time as any other person, since the Olympics are a gender diverse sport.  There is definitely the chance for “meaningful competition” of men and women to succeed in these sports.  However, I conclude that this integration would be harmful to women rather than empower them. If woman want to be known as “the best sprinter” rather than the “best woman sprinter” they would have to adhere to the same rules as the men would have. If we suppose the events were based off of pure performance, and would not have to fill out gender quotas of a 50-50 distribution, women may not be represented at the Olympics at all.  Of course some would win in some events and they would probably win those events.  However, more classic events, such as running and swimming would surely be male dominated.  The women may not even be able to qualify for the Olympics.  So what would they rather have: a gender divided sport in which they are only considered the best woman sprinter (rather than best sprinter) or not even be able to compete at all?  I believe it’s the former.  The current system gives women recognition they deserve.  Creating the divide allows for more press and praise of women then if they would not even participate.  Of course some women could climb to the top and surprise everyone, but the small percentage of those women who succeed would undermine al of the other potential woman athletes that cannot be recognized because they could not qualify.  I will now discuss the effects of a mandatory quota system in gender integrated sports leagues.

What if the NBA and the WNBA were forced to integrate?  My supposition includes the mandatory quota of a 50-50 gender distributed team in which 2 women must play at all times.  How would the concept of meaningful competition play out in this situation?  A lot of girl basketball players are very good- as they excel in the WNBA.  They have natural abilities such as shooting that cold be used efficiently in the NBA.  However, the average heights in the WNBA are roughly between 5’11” and 6’0” and they weighed an average of 167.90 pounds [2] In the NBA the average height fluctuates between 6’6” and 6’8” and the average weight is around 224 pounds.[3] In a physical game, such as basketball, size matters.  And simply put, WNBA players pale in comparison to the sizes of the NBA players.  They would not be able to be effective on a floor with a lot of men because of their size.  If they were forced to play, it would dilute the playing level of the game.  When the athletes best suited to play against each other cannot, the game experience suffers.  Women may be ostracized because they would not be able to compete meaningfully with the men, thus creating a weaker game overall.

I do agree that women sports should be promoted more.  People would respect and have more interest in women’s sports if they were advertised better.  A typical Sportscenter has around 5 out of its 60 minutes devoted to women’s sports.  I believe this statistic needs to change so the women’s leagues could e promoted more.  The only problem with that is ESPN is a business and it shows what s demanded to its target audience.  This audience is almost exclusively males who are interested in male sports.  However, if they could find some way to integrate women’s sports in a creative way, it could spur interest.  A problem with women’s leagues is that most of the leagues also compete during the off seasons of the male leagues, meaning people have little interest in that particular sport when they are playing it.  If the WNBA and NBA played at the same time (women and men sharing the home courts while the other team is on a road trip) it could create some genuine interest.  However, integrating these sports leagues would hurt the respective leagues in a large manner.  People want to see the best product they possibly can and that is not a diluted league.  If women want to try out for the men’s leagues, I would say that they absolutely should.  If they are good enough to make an NBA roster then they should be able to compete.  However, I think that forcing men and women to compete together is a wrong approach to help the women’s interests.

[1] Lavaque-Manty, Mika.   “The Playing Fields of Eton: Equality and Excellence in Modern Meritocracy.” (Ann, Arbor: University of Michigan Press)

[2] http://www.wnba.com/statistics/survey_height_2003.html

[3] http://www.nba.com/news/survey_height_2004.html

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In the Federalist papers, the Federalists seem to be most concerned with the Legislative branch exercising too much power. Today, people are more concerned with the Executive branch abusing its power, which seems easier to do. The power of the Executive branch is consolidated to one person, making it easier to act quickly. Furthermore, the checks and balances process is often carried out too slowly for a practice on behalf of the president to be checked immediately.

The Federalists were most concerned with the Legislative branch overreaching its power because they believed it was the most powerful of the three branches. They stated that the Legislative branch “derives a superiority” (553) because its constitutional powers are “more extensive,” (553) less susceptible to limits, and because the Legislative branch has access to the “pockets of the people” (553) through taxation. They did not fear the power of the Executive branch because it was “restrained to a narrower compass” and was “more simple in its nature” (553).

Today, citizens are more concerned with the overreaching power of the Executive branch because, in the past, the president has overstepped his boundaries. One example of this is Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War. The Executive branch is not explicitly given the power to suspend habeas corpus, but Lincoln used his wartime powers to do so. A more recent example is the implementation of Guantanamo Bay by the Bush administration to prevent terrorism. In Boumediene v. Bush, the Supreme Court declared the SCR Tribunals in replacement of habeas corpus to be unconstitutional, but the practice had existed since 2001 and the decision was not made until 2008.

Congressional and judicial checks on the Executive branch exist to prevent the executive from overstepping its constitutional authority, but it often works too slowly to prevent the executive from making unconstitutional decisions. In the case of Guantanamo Bay, it took about 7 years before the Supreme Court was able to check the executive power and deem the practice unconstitutional. Therefore, while the Judicial branch may eventually stop unconstitutional practices, it is difficult to prevent them because court cases can take years to resolve.

The Executive branch is more easily able to exceed its limits because the power is consolidated to one individual, making it easier to act quickly. In Congress, a law must first pass through the House of Representatives, then the Senate, totaling 535 people that must vote on the bill before it goes to the president for approval. If he vetoes it, it must return to Congress for another vote requiring 2/3 of the vote to become a law. Furthermore, the broad constitutional power that the president must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” (Article 2, Section 3) does not describe the way in which they are to do so, and in turn many presidents adopted the practice of suspending the writ of habeas corpus. Article One of the Constitution provides that the writ cannot be suspended unless “the public safety may require it” (Section 9) but this exists under the Congressional section of The Constitution. Therefore, even though suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is not an explicit power of the president, the duty to make sure laws are executed causes presidents to use this clause to justify actions beyond their constitutional scope of power.

Overall, the system of checks and balances has worked fairly well, but it seems as if the Federalists underestimated the power of the Executive branch in surpassing its constitutional authority. They focused primarily on the Legislative branch because it had extensive powers, few limitations, and the “power of the purse,” but the lengthy process involved to make laws and the amount of people involved help to prevent the abuse of power.

“Boumediene v. Bush, U.S. Supreme Court Case Summary & Oral Argument.”

The Oyez Project | Build 6. Web. 15 Dec. 2009. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2007/2007_06_1195&gt;.

Madison, James. “Federalist No. 48.” Modern Political Thought. Ed. David Wootton.

Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2008. 335. Print

United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 9

United States Constitution, Article 2, Section 3

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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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Recently, I stumbled upon an article in the Michigan Daily called “Moderate this” by Chris Koslowski. Intrigued by the title, I read further and realized it was describing the reasons for the downfall of the Republican Party—post-Reagan—and the increasingly popular liberal ideology. After reading over his various explanations, I realized his solution could not have been any more brilliant: a revamping of the party is not necessary, but returning to its roots is.

The definition of “conservatism” is the belief in minimal and gradual change, valuing history and realism over idealism (Britannica). Unarguably, there are very distinct sets of Republicans. There is the typical conservative—beliefs rooted in religion, seen as too traditional for modern-day society and there are the centrist moderates, attempting to use bipartisanship as a way to keep the party afloat. How can two completely different sets of thinking constitute one party?

Undoubtedly, the party system has some resemblance to the class system. Karl Marx once said in regard to classes:

“…within this class one part appears as the thinkers of the class (its active, conceptive ideologists who make perfecting the illusion of this class about itself their main source of livelihood), while the others’ attitude toward these ideas and illusions is more passive and receptive because they are really the active members of this class and have less time to make up illusions and ideas about themselves.”

Is this not the perfect description of the Republican Party? When asked, a true Republican has a specific stance on abortion, on healthcare, on affirmative action. But who is a true Republican? He is not someone who wavers somewhere in the middle, not truly believing in what he is advocating. He will not surrender or compromise his true beliefs merely to bring the Party to the left, thinking by this sacrifice all its problems will be solved and the Party will sustain. A true Republican is a person firm in his beliefs and will not back down on his stances. Is this not exactly what the Democratic Party has done? “When arguing core beliefs, rarely will a liberal submit to moderation. […] Compromise on these issues would be in direct violation of what they believe is right” (Koslowski). This most recent Presidential election in 2008 proves exactly the same point. The Republican Party nominated the incredibly moderate John McCain, with his mantra of bipartisanship, who most Republicans could barely stomach. He was obliterated in the election by less moderate Democrat Barack Obama, who promised more compromise to attain solutions. What has resulted in compromise, though? The biggest item on the President’s agenda is the healthcare bill, and with a Democratic Congress it could pass. Even when the more moderately-leaning Democrats including Michigan Representative Bart Stupak proposed an amendment, not allowing federal money to finance abortions, he and his fellow supporters were heavily scrutinized for even contemplating such an idea (New York Times). The Democrats will not compromise, so why should the Republicans?

Marx said, “Within this class this split can even develop into opposition and hostility between the two parts, which disappears however, in the case of a practical collision where the class itself is in danger”. Even over small things, such as a bill, the Democratic Party stands united, and therefore gets what it wants. What the Republican Party needs to realize is that it is in danger. People do not know where the Party stands on many issues because every “conservative” seems to have a different stance. Without returning to its core, rooted in tradition, the right-winged party may soon be lost.

Works Cited

“conservatism.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 11 Dec. 2009 .

Herszenhorn, David M., and Jackie Calmes. “Abortion Was at Heart of Wrangling.” The New York Times 8 Nov. 2009: A24. The New York TImes. 7 Nov. 2009. Web. 11 Dec. 2009.

Koslowski, Chris. “Moderate this.” Michigan Daily [Ann Arbor] 18 Nov. 2009. Michigan Daily. 18 Nov. 2009. Web. 11 Dec. 2009.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. “The German Ideology.” Modern Political Thought Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. 2nd ed. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Company, Inc., 2008. 787. Print.

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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.


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

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


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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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The President of the United States, Barak Obama, recently proposed another program in his attempt to stimulate our economy. This program alone, would reimburse homeowners for energy-efficient appliances and insulation, meaning things they have to use that require energy. It was said that one homeowner alone could receive up to twelve thousand dollars in rebates. This of course also includes money for small businesses, renewable energy manufacturing, and infrastructure. The plan would allow private contractors to conduct homeowners to be reimburse for purchasing things as simple as air conditioners, heating systems, washing machines, and refrigerators; director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Steve Nadel, stated windows and installation would also be covered, including the price of the equipment as well as the installation cost. So a household that spent up to twenty-four thousand dollars on upgrades could receive up to half of that money back. The cost for this program is in the range of ten billion dollars. As of  right now, there is no income restriction, they don’t know who would be eligible, however, it is expected that people in the higher social class might not be eligible, as many weren’t in the first attempt to stimulate the economy.

Machiavelli is not afraid to tell someone that they are wrong, he is a harsh individual; it wouldn’t be a surprise if he bluntly told the President, “no, let these people live the way they are, should you would help them when they’ve put themselves in this position?” With Machiavelli being this strong believer in Virtu, he would more than likely oppose this proposition. Machiavelli would expect these people to handle any problems on their own and if they weren’t able to, it was because they didn’t have the ability to, they didn’t acquire the necessary strength and skill to do so; consequences exist in his eyes, and should be inevitable; they aren’t seeing consequences if they are constantly being helped. He would not applaud President Obama on his virtuous behavior, instead he would frown upon it; his theory of Fortuna would force him to believe that these people are suppose to be where they are; if they were not at the level the president wanted them to be at, so be it, he can not help them, this is destiny, and therefore it is out of his control. Those people who probably won’t be eligible, who are not in need of this assistance, only are not in need of it because they’ve worked their way there, furthermore they deserve to be there; he should be doing is awarding them. Machiavelli has a “Destroy the losers” sense of attitude, as discussed in section. If these people are destroying or hurting the economy because of their lack of stableness, you rid the economy of them, in an attempt to “establish a new”, instead of stimulating the economy, you should create a new economy. He would encourage Obama to be more decisive, to just decide one thing instead of trying to fix things.

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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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