Saturday, May 31, 2008

Is Getting Married Like Being a Racist? (For Faris)

Its old news now that the California Surpreme Court has ruled that same sex couples can get married there. My colleague, Michael Faris has some original thoughts on that legal development.

I was recently introduced to this series, The Pinky Show, on YouTube by some students in my Ethnic Studies course. Through the use of animated cats, the creators explore social justice issues in a very sophisticated way (including illegal immigration, globalization, nuclear policy, and war).

But this episode is interesting from an ethics standpoint:

As long as marriage is an exclusionary institution, are married individuals morally culpable for participating in an unethical practice?

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Why Ethics Might be an Impossible Task

Via Cracked (yes, the humor magazine--so expect some adolescent rantings): The Five Psychological Experiments that Prove Humanity is Doomed.

Among these are the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, the Milgram experiments, and more recent Good Samaritan experiments. All of them show that we are very given to abuse one another if given the authority to do so, are told to do so by an authority figure, or simply think we are to busy to care about the abuse someone has suffered.

I don't tend to believe that these experiments display anything in particular about human nature (whatever that means) other than we are social animals. Indeed, several of these experiments suggest that our tendency to abuse one another is situational, not inherent in some kind of hard wiring of our being ( a topic of a recent post). If put in certain situations, we are likely to act out in certain ways. I'm not sure this is the same as saying that human beings are naturally violent, etc.

These experiments do suggest, however, that even though we might know what the right thing to do is, we are likely to try to avoid doing it. Is that a characteristic that suggests we're doomed?


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

You Say It Likes It's a Bad Thing: Anarchy in the USA

Last night I had a conversation with two young women who are interns with the Obama for President campaign here in Oregon. Obama won big here and they were ecstatic about the possiblity of him going on to win in the general election. They spoke about how much good they thought he was going to be able to do, bringing change to government.

Today I read this interview with Howard Zinn "Anarchism Shouldn't be a Dirty Word" and saw him say this:

"If you work through the existing structures you are going to be corrupted. By working through political system that poisons the atmosphere, even the progressive organizations, you can see it even now in the US, where people on the "Left" are all caught in the electoral campaign and get into fierce arguments about should we support this third party candidate or that third party candidate. This is a sort of little piece of evidence that suggests that when you get into working through electoral politics you begin to corrupt your ideals. So I think a way to behave is to think not in terms of representative government, not in terms of voting, not in terms of electoral politics, but thinking in terms of organizing social movements, organizing in the work place, organizing in the neighborhood, organizing collectives that can become strong enough to eventually take over -- first to become strong enough to resist what has been done to them by authority, and second, later, to become strong enough to actually take over the institutions."

It is wonderful to see young people excited about politics. But Zinn makes us wonder whether this energy and talent couldn't be put to better use in the service of social change for justice.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

The Politics of Pirates (Should Johnny Depp be a Founding Father?)

"No honor among thieves" the old saying goes, suggesting that those labeled by society as criminals have an inability to work together. Cooperation, as Thomas Hobbes indicates to us, is a feature of developed human civilization as it binds us into webs of mutuality and trust. Outside of those ties, human beings will quickly turn on each other to achieve their selfish purposes. Without law, we are animals preying on one another.

This view, so deeply ingrained in modern democratic theory and the basis of liberal democratic thought, may be pure ideology. A new book by Peter Leeson, The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates, argues that we might look to pirate ships for more interesting models of working democratic practice.

It turns out that pirate crews of the 17th and 18th century are not entirely best described as lawless bands of cutthroats. These pirates developed various ways of working together that might be seen as social democratic: worker's compensation and health care for injury during service, kinds of checks and balances among pirate officers to keep tyrannical behavior to a minimum, and jury trials for deciding the fate of captured sailors.

Works like this suggest that perhaps we need to stop looking deeper into the legacies of Pericles, or reading more Hobbes, Locke and Mill, for new and interesting understandings of democratic politics. Looking to the margins of society, or to societies that are out of view of major metropolitan, First World, perspectives might bring fresher comprehension of the nature of the state, political power, and control over tyranny. This is part of the argument by anarchist scholar David Graeber in his essay "Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology". (You can dowload the entire essay from there.)

An interesting question might be: where else can we look for examples of this kind of marginalized democratic practice?

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

May Day: Hopes and Fears

Happy May Day! Billy Bragg reminds us here about the hopes and dreams of worker solidarity--what ordinary people could accomplish by cooperating together against those small groups who fight to maintiain their privileges:

(I always did like that tune!)

But Orwell reminds us that the need for solidarity, the sense of needing to belong to a larger whole, can easily be manipulated by the privileged. It disconcerting to hear how the filmmakers of 1984 turned the IngSoc (English Socialism) anthem into a version of the Internationale:

It makes you wonder whether its possible to dream for a utopia anymore.

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