Category Archives: Essays

Guilty: Regardless of Whether You Knew It Was Wrong

At the heart of morality lies the responsibility a person has to commit or omit a particular action, which is usually defined as either right or wrong, respectively. If the person elects the right action then the action tends to be morally praiseworthy. Conversely, if the person elects the wrong action then the action tends to be morally blameworthy, and the person responsible could be subject to some form of punishment. But is it possible for an individual to both commit a wrongful act and not also be responsible for the commission of the act, and if so, under what circumstances is this possible?  For example, if all actions are determined by causes and essentially denies the existence of free-will, is the person still morally culpable for her actions? Or if the moral parameters of a particular culture are such that an immoral act is not conceived as such, does that excuse a person of his moral responsibility? Michele M. Moody-Adams considers the complications of moral responsibility across both space and time and draws the conclusion that neither absolves moral culpability[1] I believe that in regard to particular events there can be extenuating circumstances, which may potentially absolve a person of moral responsibility. However, in the absence of these extenuating circumstances, there are some things that a person can and should be held morally responsible for, regardless of whether they knew it was right or wrong at the time.

There can be no responsibility, if there is no power of choice to choose an alternative action. In other words, if a person cannot choose to do otherwise, then they cannot be held responsible for the only thing that they could have done. Moral responsibility presupposes free-will, and free-will presupposes the capability of choice. Yet, free-will is more complicated than the actual act of choice, because although a woman may will something to be, that does not mean she is capable of making it come to be. For example, she may will that she not get into a car-accident, and may even make the active choice to drive cautiously so as not to get into an accident, but beyond her will and her choice she is still involved in a collision. This however, does not absolve her free-will, because she definitely willed there not to be a collision. What is important and at the heart of the existential question, is does she have the capability of choice or is her action constrained by causes? If the former is true, then she may be morally responsible the collision, but if the latter is true, then she cannot be morally responsible for the collision.

In the discussion of determinism and free-will, as P.F Strawson[2] accurately notes in the article Freedom and Resentment, lies a metaphysical problem, i.e., whether free-will does in fact exist. On the one hand, he conceives of “optimists” as being those who believe determinism is at least not false. On the other hand, he conceives of “skeptics” as being those who believe that if determinism is true, then people cannot be held morally responsible. Strawson suggests that an optimist will promote the “efficacy of the practices of punishment,” while a skeptic will argue; “just punishment and moral condemnation imply moral guilt and guilt implies moral responsibility and moral responsibility implies freedom and freedom implies the falsity of determinism.”[3] However, what we have here are a series of implications, and arguments, but nothing definitive about the existence of free-will. The distinction that Strawson will draw is that we as people feel differently depending both upon the relationship we share with other human beings and the intentions behind the actions that affect us; or what he calls “reactive attitudes”.[4] In other words, what Strawson argues is that people hold others morally responsible for their intentions, given that they are capable of forming intentions, not their actions specifically.

Thus far the discussion has been focused on the capability of choice, but it cannot go without note that there may be constraints upon that capability which supersede the metaphysical argument. As was just shown, there are definitely differences of opinion about the existence of determinism, and it is obvious that in a line of stacked dominoes that one domino does not have a choice to push the next after the process has begun, but it is not altogether clear whether people are bound by the same constraints because of the emotional capacities we possess. Thus, without a definitive resolution to the metaphysical problem, and for the sake of argument, it will be supposed that both determinism and free-will coexist. Furthermore, it is clear that if a person is pushed by a sufficiently strong force that the person will be physically moved, but it is not clear that the person’s response to being moved is determined. For example, if the force that moves a man is another man, it is fully reasonable to suppose that the man who is the object of the push may respond with either, contempt or approval depending upon the situation and the circumstances. A major component of how that situation and those circumstances are interpreted has much to do with the socialization that the man who is the object of the push receives, and this is heavily dependent upon the culture in which the man is part of.

Moral responsibility is not an easy question to answer because it either, may presuppose that there are moral facts that universally apply across both space and time, or it may presuppose some form of moral relativism. Regarding the former assertion, not only does this present a conflict within one culture between the different moral theories of right and wrong, but it also encounters the further complication of potentially praising or blaming people for what they may not been capable of distinguishing the moral value of. In regard to the latter assertion, the issue with moral relativism is that it then becomes nearly impossible to hold any person accountable for their actions because morality becomes relative to the individual and either, all actions can be conceived of as wrong, or no actions can be conceived of as wrong. It all depends upon the individual and their own personal conception of right and wrong, which all but drains morality of its objective and non-personal components. Now it could be the case that the reason people believe there is entailed with morality and objective reality is because of the shared moral relativistic values, but that is not the general intuition regarding morality. There are some things, like murder, which is the unjustified killing of another person, that people intuitively feel to be wrong regardless of whether it happens to their person, someone their share a special relationship with, or a stranger with whom no special bonds exists. Therefore, for the sake of this argument, moral relativism can be rejected, which leaves us with moral facts.

This however, does not absolve us of problems, because we now have to determine whether moral facts can be applied across both space and time, and for this we will return to Moody-Adams’ argument in Culture, Responsibility, and Affected Ignorance. In the beginning of her argument, it is suggested that there is “a crucial connection between culture and agency,”[5] which means that the capability of choice is dependent on culture. The argument tracks what Moody-Adams calls “moral ignorance” and she argues that cultural limitations can be the cause of this ignorance.[6] This moral ignorance may either take place within one’s own culture, which may have an inability to critically analyze its own practices, or between cultures there may be a bar to understanding each other’s practices. Moody-Adams rejects that either of these conditions absolves a person of responsibility, regardless of space and time.

The first major point that Moody-Adams makes to support the claim that moral responsibility applies across both space and time is the rejection of what she termed the “inability thesis”.[7] The thesis suggests that a person’s culture can potentially render them “unable to know that certain actions are wrong” because it inhibits the ability of the person to critically analyze their culture and practices.[8] In rejecting the inability thesis, Moody-Adams asserts that it is not so much that their culture has imposed upon them a “blindness” of sorts, but rather, that the actor is unwilling to consider the wrongfulness of their practices.[9] In other words, regardless of the person’s culture, they are capable of the choice to consider the rightness or wrongness of an action. Now, this would seem to be a leap in logic, or at least a presumption, except that the assertion is based on the concept of the transmission of culture. The relevant characteristics of culture to this argument are the “normative expectations about emotion, thought, and action,” that become social and legal rules, and are supported by the “nonlegal sources” of the group or society.[10] This support tends to come from those who desire to “protect the life of the group” and who internalize these rules, but also who accept the demands of the culture and are capable of criticizing their own conformity with the rules. So therefore, they are not unable, but rather, choose “not to know what one can and should know,” which is what Moody-Adams calls “affected ignorance.”[11]

The second major point Moody-Adams makes concerns “affected ignorance and the banality of wrongdoing,” i.e., the common occurrence of actively choosing not to know what one could and should know and continuing to do wrong. Moody-Adams argues that affected ignorance takes several forms, but highlights four forms that are particularly relevant: (1) “linguistic deceptions,” or codes used to conceal the truth of the wrongfulness of an action from even ourselves; (2) “the wish to ‘know nothing,'” of how wrong the means were to achieve a particular end so as to avoid responsibility; (3) “ask no questions,”  to avoid the responsibility of either stopping or preventing a wrong from occurring; and (4) “to avoid knowledge of our human fallibility,” the failure to acknowledge that our “deeply held convictions may be wrong.”[12] These four forms of affected ignorance are methods in which people use to express and display an unwillingness to take responsibility for their actions, or to consider alternatives. Moody-Adams further argues that these four forms are outgrowths of the “banality of wrongdoing,” that is denied for two principle reasons, an unwillingness to conceive of our “cultural predecessors” as having “perpetuated a practice embodying culpable moral ignorance,” and the common and philosophical perception that there are “only two responses to behavior we may want to condemn.”[13] The first perception is what she calls “a rigorously moralistic model” that blames without forgiveness and the second perception, is the “therapeutic model” that forgives without attributing blame.[14] Moody-Adams is not satisfied with these two perceptions though, and offers a third, the “forgiving moralist’s model,” that connects the banality of wrongdoing with affected ignorance (in its many forms), that acknowledges; “the serious effort required to adopt an appropriately critical stance toward potentially problematic cultural assumptions,” the first perception lacks.[15] This third model permits us to hold people morally responsible across space and time because while it acknowledges the cultural constraints upon an individual, it also acknowledges the agency or capability of an individual to analyze critically the practices of their culture for his or herself.

So far, the argument has been mostly about asserting the capability of a person to choose to analyze critically their cultural practices, thus attributing moral responsibility to people across both space and time, none of which I believe Strawson would disagree with. However, Moody-Adams’ next point focuses on insanity and how it relates to moral responsibility, which I think Strawson might find contentious. The reason that insanity becomes a point of contention in these arguments about moral responsibility is because it directly conflicts with the assertion that all people have the capability to know what they can and should know, and to think critically about their cultural practices. As mentioned above, Strawson asserts that “reactive attitudes,” or the responses that people have to the actions of others are dependent upon the intentions of the initiators of the action. If for instance, the person is either, insane, or incapable of critical analysis or being aware of the normative cultural expectations of emotion, thought, and action then they cannot, or should not, be held morally responsible. Furthermore, that most people would generally not hold them responsible. An example that should flesh this concept out is that a child who is not traditionally considered to be morally culpable yet, say under four years of age, hits their parent in the eye irreversibly damaging it. The reactive attitude, and thus the attribution of moral responsibility would be much different if the child of the parent was twenty years of age when this happened, given that they were not insane at the time of the incident. Whereas the four year old would most likely not have his intentions scrutinized, the twenty year old most likely would. This is the distinction that Strawson draws in his argument about insanity and attributes to those who are considered insane the same level of excusableness as a young child.

Moody-Adams on the other hand, while admitting that it is possible for a person to be insane, this attribution should not be applied to a person simply because they are a member of a subculture that appears to posses different normative expectations. In fact, she argues that to do this either, to a subculture, or to another culture all-together, whether across space or time, or both, is to deny that the person has their humanity and their agency; and is a “misguided cultural relativism,” of sorts.[16] Furthermore, it is to deny that all persons are capable of critical analysis, which has already been shown to be inaccurate. Thus, to bring the argument full circle, it is possible for an individual to both commit a wrongful act and to also not be responsible for the commission of the act, if an only if, the individual is either insane or incapable of critical analysis; and his is true regardless of space or time. However, this principle holds only insofar as the supposition that determinism and free-will coexist together holds, because this entire argument is founded on the individual being capable to choose, given that some things that exist are determined.

[1] Moody-Adams, Michaele M. “Culture, Responsibility, and Affected Ignorance.” Ethics, Vol. 104. No. 2 (January 1994) pp. 291-309.

[2] Strawson, P.F. Freedom and Resentment (1962)

[3] Strawson, p. 72

[4] Strawson, p. 80

[5] Moody-Adams, p. 291

[6] Moody-Adams, p. 292

[7] Moody-Adams, p. 293

[8] Moody-Adams, p. 293-294

[9] Moody-Adams, p. 294

[10] Moody-Adams, p. 295

[11] Moody-Adams, p. 296

[12] Moody-Adams, p. 301

[13] Moody-Adams, p. 302

[14] Moody-Adams, p. 303

[15] Moody-Adams, p. 303

[16] Moody-Adams, p. 308

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The Importance of a Name: A Hypothesis about local Graffiti

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Graffiti:

I have been doing a lot of thinking about graffiti lately,  especially since viewing the graffiti in the Middle East that started hitting the walls during the Arab Spring.

Many of the images were political in nature, attacking a regime or ideology, or were likenesses of martyrs. In essense, it was one of the methods in which an active and disatisfied sub-culture who lacked access to mainstream media and who were dealing with the suppression of their ideas,  utilized to propogate messages. And when I saw this collective and active revolt against the system wherein, the suppression of ideas was not tolerated, I thought it was beautiful and inspiring.

Then, I looked around Seattle for those same types of messages, but mostly all I found were names, tags, monikers and so forth, unless they were sanctioned by some business or institution. And at first, I was dissapointed because I was looking for what I saw in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. But then I asked why all I was seeing were names, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

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The society in the United States is a credential society, that is, without documentation like a bachelor’s degree or higher, this society disregards our credibility. Entailed in that classicist ideology is the profound impact of a name: Kendrick Lamar, Jerry Springer, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, BarakObama, Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Halle Berry, and so on. Microsoft, Google, Wells Fargo, Chase, Levi, Ross, Nike, etc.  It seems readily apparent how important it is to have a popular name.

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Another phenomenon that is entailed in both the credential and nomenclature society is alienation. Without credentials, and without a name a person may grow to feel less than average and dislocated from their  fellow citizens. Most importantly, people in this group are often ignored by mainstream society and lack any real means to be noticed by society at large.
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I think all this reveals something, although not asimmediately apparent as with the Arab Spring, but nonetheless, simarlarly profound in its own yet, different way. What we observed about the graffiti in the Middle East, was it was a means to overcome the suppression of a message. And I am suggesting that the repeated and reiterated tagging of one’s name is just that; a revolt against society as a whole and battling against the suppression, battling against not mattering, of being forgotten. The tagging of their names on as many walls and in as many places as they can find is an active protest against society treating them as insignificant and sending the message that their name and by extension, they themselves, the graph-artist, do matter.

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Feudal Privilege and Global Apartheid

“Citizens in Western liberal democracies is the modern equivalent of feudal privilege–an inherited status that greatly enhances one’s life chances. Like feudal birthright privileges, restrictive citizenship is hard to justify when one thinks about it closely.”

~Joseph Carens (Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders, 1987, p. 252)

There is a sharp divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots” and it is morally arbitrary, in that there is nothing that people do before they are born that entitles them to the life-chances that they have after they are born. Such as, education, employment, and access to fresh food and clean water.

Is it just to deny people access to these essential needs solely based on the consideration of where they were born, the caste they were born into (which is typically based on skin-color), or the class they were born into? I do not think it is just in any definition of the word.

However, that is precisely what is going on with this feudal privilege. What has essentially been created is a “city on a hill,” that is not only protected by walls, but a vast military institution that cuts down and shreds those who attempt to gain access to what we in America consider basic #needs and #rights. In effect, what this is, is #GlobalApartheid, the forced segregation of vast portions of our civilization, which is exacerbated by the treatment these people receive for attempting to improve their life-chances

These are precisely the types of issues that I will be confronting during my research this summer during my JSIS/Hellenic Studies program focused on #Diaspora and#Apartheid. Please share, and consider contributing whatever you believe that you can afford, so that together we can ensure that #HumanRights are being protected.

 

Global Government: A Remedy to Collective Action Problems

All the states and all the individuals on the earth share one planet, with one finite pool of resources that everyone depends upon, yet there is no ultimate authority which has the jurisdiction and enforcement power to manage that finite pool of resources. Currently the world is composed of sovereign states that claim to have jurisdiction and enforcement power over their citizens and their territories, and they expect other states to honor the principle of non-intervention, thereby leaving each state to act autonomously in its own interest. However, I believe that each individual on this planet has an obligation to more than just the citizens of the state they happen to be from precisely because we all share a finite pool of resources, so each individual is responsible for how they use those resources because they directly affect everyone’s ability to use those resources. However, as will be shown, if states are allowed to remain autonomous, then there is greater incentive for each state to act in its own interests as oppose to cooperating with the other states to manage our finite pool of resources. For these reasons, I believe that we have a moral obligation to create a governing institution that has jurisdiction and enforcement power for the entire globe because there does not seem to be another way to manage our resources effectively.

The planet and all of its citizens are faced with problems that supersede the jurisdiction and enforcement power of any individual state or group of states, and currently there is no governmental agency or entity with the authority to mitigate these problems. According to David Held, since the signing of the Westphalia treaty in 1648, states have operated on two principles; sovereignty and non-intervention.[1] Held also goes through great effort to establish the point of globalization by showing that as states have expanded, populations have grown, and new technologies have emerged; that the decisions and actions now made and taken have impacts that increasingly cross borders  and affect more than just the citizens of a self-contained, sovereign state and its citizens.[2] The easiest example and perhaps the least refutable example of this phenomenon that can be made, is in the case of pollution, or environmental effects. Peter Singer notes in his chapter One Atmosphere,  “that Britain’s Sellafield nuclear power  plant is emitting radioactive wastes that are reaching the Norwegian coastline,”[3] which although is just one example, should serve to establish that the actions of one state can and often do affect other states. Yet, while Singer uses this example to show that there is an international law which allows suits to be brought against states for affecting other states, there still remains yet to be over-arching jurisdiction and enforcement power to stop such actions from happening in the first place. The current situation between states resembles a Prisoner’s Dilemma, and I think the problem is the structure of the system because when every individual and state is in competition for limited resources (land, fuel, energy, potable water, clean air, food, etc…), even though the best outcome for all is to be found in cooperation, there is no reason to trust that the other agents will not defect and “free-ride” on the efforts of the rest.[4]

The most practical and imaginable form of world government in the current political environment of the 21st Century, is a federation of states, or as Held called it, a “cosmopolitan community,” a democratic community of democratic communities.[5] States should exercise jurisdiction and enforcement power over the territory and the citizens they represent, and the federation should have jurisdiction and enforcement power to regulate the interaction between states and any action that may either, be taken by a state or the citizens of a state, that will have an impact beyond the state’s immediate jurisdiction. The closest contemporary example of what this federation could look like is the European Union, which has an EU council (representing states) and an EU parliament (representing citizens), but the states also retain absolute veto power.[6] At all levels of the federation, the federation would operate by democratic principles, wherein representatives are elected by the group they are directly responsible to.  And policy decisions would made by what Peter Singer called the principle of “subsidiarity,” whereby issues are managed “at the lowest level capable of dealing with the problem.”[7] Such an institution would thus have democratic accountability and the authority to address and mitigate the collective action problems individual sovereign states are now faced with.

However, there are obvious moral problems with forcing states and the citizens of those states to become a democratic society because it supersedes their right to plan their own future; their right to self-determination.  And as John Rawls, in The Law of Peoples (1993) identifies, there is the capacity for states to develop as “a well-ordered hierarchical society,” or in other words, not as a liberal society wherein all people are free and equal, but are not expansionists and the government derives its legitimacy from its citizenry.[8] The point Rawls made with the discussion of “well-ordered hierarchical societies” is that there are forms of government and society that do not fit the democratic model, but no less deserve to have their rights to self-determination respected. After the end of World War One, the British and French Mandate systems established at the Sam Remo Conference of 1920 were imposed on the Middle Eastern countries of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. Under the guise of Wilsonian “Self-Determination” and a civilizing mission, Britain and France claimed to be assisting these Middle Eastern countries to become self-sufficient democratic societies, but did not anticipate the severity of opposition from the people in these diverse countries. The mandate system drew arbitrary borders and set up unequal systems of representation that did not represent the population, so, not only were people forced into political debate with others they had previously not debated with, but they also felt the pains of an unequal distribution of power that was primarily located in the hands of a minority population. Essentially, the problem was that the mandate system created a series of governments that had not achieved legitimacy because the people themselves neither selected the systems of government, nor the representatives. The imposition of Western forms democratic government upon hierarchical societies, was a recipe for disaster and led to a series of revolutions and counter revolutions in many of the countries that left thousands dead and futures uncertain.[9] Yet, my concern here is not how to influence or encourage non-democratic governments and societies to become democratic societies, it is to derive whether we have a moral obligation to form a global government. So, for the sake of argument, I will assume that societies and governments have not been coercively forced to become democratic, but have rather chosen of their own free-will as agents who have exercised their right to plan their own futures to become democratic societies.

Most proponents who believe that human rights and justice are important also believe that a democratic form of government is necessary to achieve those ends however they may differ in opinion in regard to the structure that government should assume. Some like, Will Kymlicka, while acknowledging that globalization is occurring, challenges the conception of a cosmopolitan citizenship by suggesting that although, “a new civil society” is emerging,” it has not yet produced anything that we can recognize as transnational citizenship.”[10]  The hinge-point of Kymlicka’s argument rest on his assertion that “democracy is not just a formula for aggregating votes, but is also a system of collective deliberation and legitimation,”[11] and since he believes that people decide to deliberate and share the “blessings and burdens”[12] of those political deliberations with people who share similar histories and circumstances, a cosmopolitan citizenship is not practical at this time because people will either choose not to participate or will be incapable of deliberating  on that broad of a scale. If this is true, then the system will fail to meet the necessary conditions of a democratic society of free and equal persons contributing to deliberations because only those who could communicate in a broad range of languages and felt comfortable enough to debate political issues would be party to the decisions made, and as such would not be just Kymlicka believes that making individuals citizens of a world government before they are ready to form one would undermine and potentially ruin the democratic process, which would entail not achieving the objectives of human rights and justice. Kymlicka does however assert that we should, as a civilization, be progressing toward a more cosmopolitan citizenship, especially in terms of the “principles of human rights, democracy, and environmental protection,” but does not believe it is achievable in our life –time.[13] He argues that although a greater territorial range of voters may influence a global government in some way, that the government “would cease to be accountable to citizens through their national legislatures,”[14] where democracy is “more genuinely participatory,”[15] it would essentially, form a tyranny of the majority over the minority. Kymlicka argues that the citizens who cannot take part in the cosmopolitan debate only have their local governments to appeal to, but if that local government’s authority is undermined and superseded by a transnational vote, then they lose the only agent capable of representing their interests internationally. Thus, unlike Held who argues in favor of a “cosmopolitan citizenship,” Kymlicka believes in a parochial democratic institution of government because states are not only responsible for, but are also accountable to and are thus responsive to their citizens’ needs. Whereas, a global government cannot be because the system has the inherent flaw of denying minority populations a voice in the decision making process, which would have the unintended effect of making the system unjust.

Kymlicka’s argument has merit and it is founded on a keen observation of human behavior and the desire to invoke the right to freedom of association. Perhaps the most pressing moral justification for individual states retaining autonomy, as opposed to a world government, is the concept of “Communities of Fate,” first presented by Held and furthered by Kymlicka. According to Kymlicka, “[p]eople belong to the same community of fate if they feel some sense of responsibility for one another’s fate, and so want to deliberate together about how to respond collectively to the challenges facing the community.”[16] Kymlicka draws the conclusion that it is impractical, and potentially impossible to expect individuals to be citizens of a global democracy because of the factors which constitute a “community of fate,” and because of the requirements for full democratic participation. The most compelling argument that he makes concerning the factors of a “community of fate” is about the language that people share, of which he argues that average people prefer to deliberate democratically in their native tongue and will opt out of multilingual transnational democratic deliberation.[17] This being the case, then the state, or as Kymlicka puts it, the “nation,” would feel the obligation of a special social contract with its citizens that it does not with the citizens of other states and as such, would be the most appropriate authority to have immediate jurisdiction and enforcement power.

Kymlicka concludes his argument by stating; “our democratic citizenship is, and will remain for the foreseeable future, national in scope,”[18] suggesting that a global government is unjustifiable because it is impractical at this time. However, even Peter Singer, who is a huge proponent of a global government with jurisdiction and enforcement power, agrees that we should not rush into federalism and instead suggests “a pragmatic, step-by-step approach to greater global governance.”[19] So, while Kymlicka successfully argues the point that “democratic politics is the politics in the vernacular,”[20] wherein citizens debate in the self-interest of their own nations and states, with those who speak their language, and without undermining the state’s accountability to its citizens; by drawing from his redefinition of “community of fate,” it can be shown that people within one state are more likely to feel a sense of obligation to citizens of their own state as oppose to another because they share a common identity, and I also think it serves to bolster Held’s concept of “multiple citizenship” within a “cosmopolitan model of democracy.”[21] Because if the global government was structured to operate on the principle of subsidiarity that Singer promotes, then citizens would still debate in the vernacular in parochial democratic bodies, and  function as democratic members of the cosmopolitan community managing issues greater than the states’ jurisdiction. Thus, it does appear that a practical and responsive global government can be conceived, and to potentially be structured to function in a way that responds to Kymlicka’s very serious and relevant concerns. What remains is to establish what obligation we as citizens of this planet have in terms of a global government.

Kymlicka astutely asserts that people in a community of fate feel a unique obligation to one another that they do not share with people of other communities of fate. However, entailed within that assertion is the implicit claim that there is not currently a global community of fate, and I disagree with that assumption because I believe it can be shown that we do. It would nonetheless be foolish to assume that we feel the same obligation to people that we have never met as we do with residents of our neighborhood. Yet, although a person living in Tripoli would not be obligated to prevent or promote the construction of a road in Denver, or vice-versa, because the construction of a single road is of little consequence to the other party, promoting or preventing total world annihilation, say from nuclear war, is quite a different story because the consequence of such an event is of great consequence to both parties. This makes intuitive sense because people tend to acknowledge that we as citizens of the planet have an obligation not to unjustly deprive people of their right to life. So, while Kymlicka is correct in asserting that parochial communities of fate share certain obligations, it is also the case that there are varying degrees of obligation depending on the circumstance in question. Thus, when issues have global ramifications and something can be done to prevent that which we share obligations to prevent; those who have a choice in the prevention of it also have the responsibility to prevent it.

If my argument has thus far been sound, then it follows that we as citizens of the planet have a responsibility to prevent the types of collective action problems that pose a threat to the entire globe. If that is the case, then we are responsible for the creation and implementation of some type of institution that can adequately prevent those collective action problems. While it is the case that states as sovereign entities do have the capacity to adequately address certain types of collective action problems, as has been shown, states also fall victim to the prisoner’s dilemma and have more incentive to defect than to cooperate and as such, are inadequate for addressing problems that pose a threat to the entire globe. That being the case, then the most practical alternative is to create a world government that has jurisdiction and enforcement power over states to address the types of collective action problems that pose a threat to the entire globe. An objection may be made here, one which appeals to transnational institutions, but transnational institutions have historically lacked the jurisdiction and enforcement power necessary to address these threats because states have been reluctant to relinquish their autonomy. Thus, unless we as a global community of fate decide to enhance the jurisdiction and enforcement power of “neutral third-party” transnational institutions, the only other viable option at this time to meet with our obligation is the creation of a world government composed of a federation of states, or as Held called it, a “cosmopolitan democracy.”

 

[1] Held, David. The Transformation of Political Community: Rethinking Democracy in the Context of Globalization, 87.

[2] Held, 92.

[3] Singer, Peter. One World: The Ethics of Globalization (One Atmosphere), 20.

[4] Gardiner, Steven M. A Perfect Moral Storm: Climate Change, Intergenerational Ethics and the Problem of Moral Corruption, 399.

[5] Held, 106

[6] European Union. (http://europa.eu/eu-law/decision-making/procedures/index_en.htm)

[7] Singer, Peter. One World: The Ethics of Globalization, (A Better World), 200.

[8] Rawls, John. The Law of Peoples (1993), 530.

[9] Cleveland, William L. and Martin Bunton. A History of the Modern Middle East. (Westview Press, 2013), chapters 9-13.

[10] Kymlicka, Will, 125.

[11] Kymlicka, Will, 119.

[12] Kymlicka, Will, 115.

[13] Kymlicka, Will, 125.

[14] Kymlicka, Will, 124.

[15] Kymlicka, 120.

[16] Kymlicka, Will, 115.

[17] Kymlick, 121

[18] Kymlicka, 125.

[19] Singer, Peter. One World: The Ethics of Globalization, (A Better World), 200.

[20] Kymlicka, 121.

[21] Held, 107

The Saint’s Lamp: A Critique of the Liberal Experiment in Egypt (1940’s)

Yahya Haqqi, the author of The Saints Lamp and Other Stories, originally published in 1944, was an Egyptian who wrote a novella that can be interpreted as a symbolic criticism of the Liberal Experiment in Egypt that followed World War I and, a comparison-contrast of the Wafd Party and the Muslim Brotherhood.[1] Haqqi presents the argument that the East and the West can and should be reconciled and he does this through his use of the less politically volatile examples of science and religion of an eye doctor in a small community, as oppose to political parties and Islamic religion at the level of the state and society. Furthermore, The Saint’s Lamp can be read as a criticism of the Liberal Experiment because Ismail, the protagonist of the story, struggles to reconcile the European education and values he brought back to Egypt after studying abroad with the Islamic traditions and values of his homeland.

It is difficult to place the exact time of the The Saint’s Lamp because many of the characteristics and patterns Haqqi notes existed in both the 19th and 20th Centuries, but the setting is not as important as its contextual meaning. It mentions that Ismail’s father, the narrator’s grandfather, moved to Cairo after the establishment of the Ministry of Public Works in the mid-late 19th Century, of trains and crowded ship yards, and mass migrations, which all point to a mid-20th Century setting. Thus, given the literary convention of utilizing similar events and symbols to provide commentary on contemporary circumstances, and given that The Saint’s Lamp was published in 1944, this suggests that Haqqi was critiquing the interwar period of Egypt wherein the Liberal Experiment was taking shape and both the Wafd Party (est. 1918-1924) and the Muslim Brotherhood (est. 1928) became primary actors in Egypt.[2]

The name of the protagonist, Ismail, is significant both because of its ties to Haqqi’s past and its relevance in 1944. Isma’il the Magnificent was a secular reformist in Egypt during the Tanzimat era of the mid-late 19th Century and his primary objective was the complete Europeanization of Egypt at the cost of subjugating Islamic traditions.[3] Similarly, Haqqi’s Ismail, after returning to Egypt from Europe to find it the victim of “ignorance, poverty, disease and age-long oppression,”[4] who saw Egyptians as a backward people who had forgotten their historical greatness, “was determined to deal to ignorance and superstition a mortal blow, even if that should cost him his life.”[5] However, the outcome of Isma’il the Magnificent’s reforms and infrastructural improvements led him to borrow substantial sums from foreign entities, then to a huge debt that led to the Urabi Revolt (1879-1882), and essentially to the British occupation of Egypt that utterly changed the state.[6] And Haqqi’s Ismail, returned to Egypt as an eye specialist to witness his mother treating his fiancé, Fatima’s diseased eyes in the (backward) traditional way with oil from the Saint, Umm Hashim’s Lamp.[7]  He exploded and revolted against both his family and the mosque that protected the lamp and was subsequently mauled by a mob for his revolt.[8] After which he decided to use the European method to fix her, but only succeeded in destroying her vision.[9] The name of the protagonist coupled with the historical relevance of Isma’il the Magnificent would potentially have had a resounding impact on the Egyptian people because it conveyed the conclusion Ismail draws; “There can be no science without faith,”[10] or more to the point that any Europeanization in Egypt without Islamic values guiding it was destined for failure. The name Ismail, had recent historical relevance that could have been seen to apply to the Liberal Experiment.

The prominent actor in Egypt in 1944 who exemplified the image of the destructive impact of Europeanization on Egyptian society is the Wafd Party. The leader of the Wafd Party, Sa’d Zaghlul, had a “European-style education” and the party was instrumental in the institution of an imported Western-style, secular democratic-parliamentary government, in 1924. [11] Because the Wafd Party championed the symbolic independence of Egypt the people voted them into office, but their support was short lived because they distanced themselves from the population by asserting that European civilization was superior to Egyptian civilization.[12] Reminiscent of Isma’il the Magnificent, the Wafd Party sought to supplant European Values for Islamic values, but instead of creating an independent and prosperous state, Egypt remained a pawn of Britain and furthered the divide between rich and poor. For these reasons, it seems probable that if Haqqi was a critiquing a contemporary actor, then it was the Wafd Party because they imported and set in juxtaposition the East and West as oppose to reconciling them.

On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood emerged as a prominent actor in response to the secularization of the country, and operated on the premise that in order for there to be political and social regeneration Islam had to be restored.[13] However, for them that did not mean the dissolution of Western influence in Egypt, but rather, a fusion of the technological and scientific advancements of the West with Islamic values. Haqqi agreed with their assertion, as was evinced by the transition he brings Ismail through unto the point that “[h]e return[s] to his science and medicine, but this time fortified by faith,” who was not only successful in restoring Fatima’s eye sight, but in healing many others because “[h]e relied first upon God, and secondly on his learning and the skill of his hands.”[14] In stark contrast to the Wafd Party who is symbolized by the Ismail who is reminiscent of Isma’il the Magnificent; the Muslim Brotherhood is symbolized by the Ismail who reclaimed his traditional values. The Muslim Brotherhood advocated that God should be the director of Egypt’s development, while implementing what they thought was useful to their society from the West. Thus, it seems clear that Haqqi believed the Muslim Brotherhood would be the actor who would lead the Egyptian people to the future they sought and heal the nation.

The Saint’s Lamp shows that both religion and science have their purposes, and also that neither is sufficient for Egyptians alone, but rather, that they must be implemented together to achieve their greatest potential. Yet, Haqqi is also warning his fellow Egyptians that if they learn science and technical skills from Europeans, then they risk losing their faith and trust in Islam while being indoctrinated with European values. However, the significance of the The Saint’s Lamp, or rather, Islamic values for Haqqi, is that they provide an understanding, which allows the Egyptian people to perceive how to successfully employ and reconcile science with religion, and further to reconcile government with the goals of an Egyptian society while maintaining those values.


[1] Yahya Haqqi, “The Saint’s Lamp” (1944, English trans. 1973), 1-38.

[2] Cleveland, William L., and Martin Bunton. A History of the Modern Middle East. (Boulder: Westview Press, 2013), 180-185.

[3] Cleveland, 88.

[4] Yahya Haqqi, 22.

[5] Yahya Haqqi, 27.

[6] Cleveland, 88-93.

[7] Yahya Haqqi, 25.

[8] Yahya Haqqi, 26-30.

[9] Yahya Haqqi, 31-32.

[10] Yahya Haqqi, 36.

[11] Cleveland, 180-182.

[12] Cleveland, 184.

[13] Cleveland, 185.

[14] Yahya Haqqi, 37.

The Significance of “Black Friday”

One of the coolest gifts of being in school is that I get to learn about our world, what we have done, what we are doing, and what we have the capacity to do as human beings. I think one of the freshest aspects of studying history is that I have the opportunity to learn facts and concepts that have shaped our civilization. And then as a cap to all of that, I have been granted the privilege to evaluate that information and those assertions with my studies of philosophy, whereby I am learning how to use and design moral frameworks from which I can evaluate the implications of what has been done and what “should” be done in the future in terms of what is justified and what is obligated of human beings; and I can base my interpretations in historical fact.

Last night I came across term Black Friday in my history textbook; “A History of the Modern Middle East” (William L. Cleveland, 2013), and it was a tragic scene in Iranian history. And before I make it seem like this is to present a negative perspective of Iran, or any Middle Eastern country, what I am going to tell you about this event has occurred in some fashion in every culture, nation, state and society that I have studied so far. As it turns out “Black Friday” was a term used to describe the response of Muhammad Reza Shah’s regime to a large mass of unarmed students, workers and other civilians protesting the actions of the regime. On Friday, September 8, 1978 Reza Shah’s regime marched tanks, helicopter gunships, and army into the crowds and killed hundreds of unarmed civilians to quell the protesters and silence them.

After reading that, I questioned when the term “Black Friday” was coined and why because as I am sure most of you are aware of it is associated with the Friday that follows the American holiday Thanksgiving, that occurs on the fourth Thursday of November. (The point of this post is not to call into question the moral implications of that holiday, that will be for a later post.) The contemporary meaning of Black Friday, according to blackfriday.com, since 1924 and the Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade, has marked the beginning of the holiday shopping season wherein companies move from the “Red into the Black” a term used to signify an end to making a loss and earning a profit.

I fact-checked those claims with snopes.com and found that the term was coined in 1951, in reference to employees calling in sick to work the Friday after Thanksgiving Day. The site further notes that in the early 1960s in Philadelphia the police termed the traffic problems related to the shopping in the metropolitan district as “Black Friday”. Snopes.com also confirmed the usage of the term that blackfriday.com mentioned in regard to it being the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Snopes.com however, discredited the claim that “Black Friday” was a term coined to descibe a special business day for the selling of slaves in the 19th Century.

However, in all of this research, I did not see any reference to what occurred in Iran in 1978 under the rule of Reza Shah of the Pahlavi Dynasty. My initial concern was that here in America we could have transmitted a term used to define an atrocity to mean something different, that is actually celebrated and rewarded annually. The transition in the meaning of terms is not something that is unheard of. Many of us in the United States are either familiar with or use the term “A Rule of Thumb,” to mean a general rule of operation, or in other words a maxim, but most of us do not know where it comes from. Nonetheless, the “Rule of Thumb” refers to the legal rule that if a stick was not wider than the diameter of the husband’s thumb, that he was legally justified in beating his wife with it. This was the grounds for my concern and what motivated my research into the etymology of the term. And I have been able to clear up, that the usage of the term to describe the initiation of the holiday shopping season predates the atrocity in Tehran, Iran by more than ten years.

Before leaving you all, I would like to briefly comment on the significance of the 1978 event, wherein the regime utilized the military to suppress the voices of the people who were expressing discontent. As I mentioned earlier, this is not something that is contained only to Iran, or the Middle East. We have to only peer into U.S. history and we will be acquainted with the suppression of African Americans during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, who were voicing dissent and the police riot guards were called in to suppress them. Or more recently, when the protesters participating in the Occupy movement were suppressed to start to form an idea that suppression of dissent is not something that only happens outside of the United States, or is contained to the distant past.

As citizens of this world, no matter what country we live in, whether it is a democratic state or it is hierarchical, or its state government is based on the observance of religion, or a monarch; the consistent pattern is that when the voice of dissent is suppressed it lead to outcomes in that nation or state that are undesirable to population as a whole. Sometime suppression is more implicit than armed forces marching into the metropolitan area of a city and murdering hundreds of civilians. One type of power concerns the control of the agenda. This is important because even in a democratic society wherein the people are “allowed” to have a voice, if the agenda of what they can voice an opinion about is constrained, then those in power with the motivation to protect that power can situation that agenda to ensure that the issues that most threaten their position are never brought up to vote upon.

The United States is largely a consumer society that bases much of identity in Spending Power or the prestige that comes from possessing such power. Furthermore, in a society wherein Conspicuous Consumption, which signifies that status symbols (clothes, cars, watches, etc..) are used to delineate social class and thus power, the citizens of such a society have a vulnerability that can be exploited by those in power. To connect this to the previous ideas of the suppression of dissenting voices and controlling the agenda, when the elites can focus the populace’s attention on consumerism, attaching their self-worth to how much they can buy (Social Trappings), they can effectively control the agenda. If this line of reasoning is accurate, then the citizens of the United States are systematically having their dissenting voices suppressed by consumerism.

So, while it may not the case that the term “Black Friday” was explicitly designed and coined to represent the oppression of people and the suppression of dissenting voices, it is nonetheless clear that an argument can be made to support the claim our voice of dissent can be suppressed by such means.

And to think, that all of this thought came from one paragraph in my history textbook… Yeah, I love school. I decided to go to school to get an education and what has occurred is that it has changed the way I think about the world. I am now being armed with the skills and the knowledge to evaluate the world we live in. And this is precisely the reason that I decided to go to school.

http://blackfriday.com/pages/black-friday-history

http://www.snopes.com/holidays/thanksgiving/blackfriday.asp

“A History The Modern Middle East” by William L. Cleveland; 2013

Is Equal Fair? Is it Just?

People are not equal. And even though we would like to perceive ourselves as such, that is simply not the case. What we have is a hierarchical system based on classes; a class system. Second, we have drafted laws and formed expectations that are, in theory, supposedly universal and to be applied “fairly” to all citizens equally. Yet, the reality is that the laws and the expectations for people are not applied equally to all people. So, neither are people in this society equal, nor are the laws and expectation that are applied to them done so equally. Most people have problems with this.

Should we have universal laws and expectations? Does a millionaire have the same obligations and constraints that someone who is at or below poverty level have? No. Does a middle-class “white male” college student have the same obligations and constraints that a middle-class “black female” college student has? No. So then why are the laws written in such a way as to pretend that they are?

Furthermore, why do we pretend that different classes of people have the same moral obligations, when it is clear that we do not? How can it be that people with access to different resources are expected to do the exact same? Either one is being under-taxed, or one is being over-taxed, but either way the system is not just and I think that this is a great place to begin the revisions.

The Relevance of Philosophy in Both Global and Domestic Debates

People quietly dismiss the relevance of Philosophy but proceed to complain about the state of the world and the state of our relationships with each other because we tend to hold others or feel that people share or “should” have some form of moral responsibility to others.

One argument against philosophy as a discipline for defining our moral responsibilities is for religion’s capacity to perform that function. Yet, with all of the contradictions found not only in one religion but between the religions of the world that becomes an exceedingly difficult argument to justify and support.

This however, would still prove to be of great benefit if we were not confronted with globalization wherein groups interact. In that type of situation the moral obligations of individual groups tend to conflict with one another, which is why there is so much tension of what people or nations are morally responsible to do or to abstain from doing.

Philosophy, at least as much as I understand it thus far, when it is concerned with morality and ethics seeks to define an over-arching ethical framework that transcends those boundaries. And is why I believe that Philosophy should not just simply be dismissed, aside from the fact that we all seem to practice and respect the fact that moral responsibility is important.

Goals: They Are What Drive Us Forward

My goal in life is to write and implement an entirely new socio-economic system for the entire planet. My plan is to design a sustainable, environmentally sound system that transcends the stratification of nation-states and takes into account the fact that we all share one pool of resources. To accomplish this I have begun my journey by double majoring in history and philosophy at the University of Washington, whereby I hope to learn the strengths and weaknesses of previous civilizations and their socio-economic systems, as well as the ethical frameworks that sustained them. After earning a bachelor’s degree I plan to earn a law degree because the system I am designing will have to be negotiated, written into law and accepted internationally for it to have legitimate and binding authority. And given the delicate nature of those negotiations and the networking that will be necessary to accomplish my goal, my plan is to work for, with and through the United Nations because it is the most respected international institution in existence, which shares objectives similar to my own. There is nothing easy or contrite about my goal in life or the path that I have chosen, but because I have the capacity and the courage to make a difference, I also believe I have the duty to do so. Furthermore, it is this sense of duty which has been the impetus for my overcoming past obstacles and for my perseverance against the struggles that both I and we face.

Oppositional Identity

Rappers = Nerds
Rappers = Nerds

 

“Oppositional Identity,” (O.I.), a theory suggested by both Signithi Fordham and John Ogbu, about the behavior of young African Americans (or other minority groups), who create an identity that is counter to the mainstream identity. According to Beverly Daniel (1997) in the book; Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria?, this O.I. is the result of the “anger and resentment adolescents feel in response to their growing awareness of the systematic exclusion of Black people from full participation in U.S. society leads to the development of an oppositional social identity” (60). This O.I. is a powerful social identity that conveys the message that it is not ok to be Black and intelligent because that means you are “White” and not “Black,” which has often led to the social sanctions of being ridiculed and even ostracized. The theory suggests that these adolescents will shirk their scholastic responsibilities and academic achievements, and act antithetical of the dominant culture. One of the major characteristics of this theory is that those in the minority group who have formed this O.I., will internalize the negative stereotypes held by the majority group, which for African Americans also implies being unsuccessful, confrontational and even criminal.

We need more role models to step forward and to shatter these false preconceptions because:

Minority women, men and adolescents are intelligent and do deserve to attend universities

Minorities have been, are, and will continue to be successful at whatever we set our minds to; not just sports and music, but as doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, beauticians, astronauts, presidents, CEO’s, parents, etc…
It is cool to be a nerd and to love to read and learn; as a rap artist that is how I spend much of my free time.

Just to be clear: RAPPERS = NERDS and most rappers are pretty Fresh!