Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Revisiting "Torture and Democracy": Rejali wins major award

One of our most popular interviews is the one done with international torture expert, Darius Rejali. His monumental book (literally, it is over 800 pages long!), won a major award this year. The American Political Science Association gave Torture and Democracy its Best Book in Human Rights Award for 2008.

You can listen to the interview with Rejali at the new Engage site here.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Behind the Veil and the Pole: Transgressive Feminism and Democratic Citizens?

In this commentary, Naomi Wolf makes the point that the veiled Muslim woman is not necessarily a repressed victim of patriarchy. Many in the West, Wolf writes, take the veil as a sign of oppression, the mark of a culture that thinks that women are sources of sensual sin that need to be hidden under layers of clothes, away from the eyes of men. But this is not necessarily so, she argues. For many Muslim women, the veil can be a liberating shield, allowing women to have a sense of release from objectification by men in public settings. Wolf talks about her own experience covering up in Morocco and says she felt free not being glared at by men for her body.

In her book, The Rights of Others, Seyla Benhabib makes a related point: we should not be so quick to dismiss women who veil themselves in European countries as simply brainwashed individuals in the thrall of patriarchy. For some immigrant women, the veil is not so much a sign of fidelity to patriarchal norms, but a badge of honor that represents the women's pride in her cultural specificity. Benhabib thinks we ought to see some of these women as engaging in projects of democratic rejuvenation, trying to transform the liberal notion of citizenship to encompass recognition of difference against governments that wish to maintain the homogeneity of subjects under the law.

There is something to these ideas, and yet...how easy, or effective, is it for individuals to confront and change patriarchal or cultural norms through transgressive dress and behavior? After all, these norms are built on beliefs held by the community. Just because a woman puts on a veil and says she does it to challenge the French understanding of religious worship does not mean that she is not taken by others as a woman submissive to patriarchy.

This point seems clearer when we think of a different phenomena in the U.S.: women who think they are doing something feminist by learning to pole dance like strippers. Some of these women think that they are learning to tap into some kind of sensuality by learning this set of skill and "empowering" themselves as strong women.

There is a very interesting satire of this done on the Colbert Report:

The joke, of course, is that they are just learning to act like strippers. Can putting on the veil, as a transgressive and transformative gesture, be different?

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Cost of the American Dream?: Deaths along the Mexican border soar in 2007.

Via luchador@s:

The number of people who have died along the U.S./Mexico border has surpassed the number of American soliders killed in Iraq. Since 1995, 4,827 people have died trying to cross the desert wasteland. In August, 2008, the number of soldiers killed reached 4,138.

Last year, then, almost two people died each day. By the first part of 2008, 275 have died so far.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

New way to listen to Engage: Conversations in Philosophy

As many of you know, Engage began as a project to bring podcasts of conversations of engaged philosophy to the public. We have done several podcasts so far.

I'm beginning a new Tumblr site that will allow us to post conversations on the internet more quickly and easily. Hopefully that means you will be able to listen more quickly and easily, too.

I'm beginning the new audio blog with one of our most popular conversations, "What is Diversity?" with Dr. Lani Roberts. Go give it a listen here. And look forward to new podcasts very soon.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Peace Sells, But Who's Buying?: America Now the Largest Arms Dealer in the World

The United States now accounts for more than half of all arms and military equipment sold in the world today (about 52% of the world market in arms sales). This amounts to about $32 billion in arms profits, up from just about $12 billion, only 3 years ago.

The U.S. government claims this is done in the name of security and the promotion of peace. Peace through strength and force of arms is captured by the idea of "negative peace" (described here by one of the founders of peace studies, Johann Galtung). Negative Peace usually means the absence of fighting or outright aggression. Thus, the U.S. is hoping that by arming the world, there might be more negative peace in the world as nations will be less likely to pick fights with heavily armed neighbors.

It's the same logic that motivates school districts in Texas to allow staff to carry guns--if school shooters know that teachers are packing heat, they will be less likely to go on rampages. Or if they do begin to rampage, then they are more likely to be taken down in a fire fight with armed teachers, hopefully sparing the lives of more innocent students (so the story goes)

But Galtung notes there is another notion of peace--positive peace. This means the presence of political, economic, and social conditions that make it less likely that conflict will devolve into force and violence. Martin Luther King, Jr. usually said this involved the "presence of justice" in the world. The question might become then: how much aid is the U.S. offering the world to try to create conditions of positive peace?

It seems not as much as it spends selling arms. Figures suggest that, in 2007, the U.S. gave out about $21 billion in non-military foreign aid, which is about less than 1% of its gross national income. Sounds like a lot until you consider that in 1998 we spent about $8 billion just on cosmetics and the Europeans spent about $50 on alcohol (and probably spend more now, some 10 years later).

Are we more secure in a world awash in weapons? Is it better that the world use our weapons rather than someone else's?

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bookstore Hall of Fame: Best Place to get your philosophy fix?

A list of the 10 best bookstores in North America? Certainly some of the best places to go to augment your philosophy collection:

1) Tattered Cover--Denver, Colorado

2) Powell's Books--Portland, Oregon

3) Title Wave--Anchorage, Alaska

4) Mcnally Robinson Booksellers--Winnipeg, Canada

5) Harvard Book Store--Cambridge, Mass.

6) Clues Unlimited--Tucson, Arizona

7) Elliot Bay Book Company--Seattle, Washington

8) Kramerbooks and Afterward--Washington, D.C.

9) City Lights--San Francisco, California

10) Book People--Austin, Texas

I can proudly say I've been to 40% of these landmarks, but I'd be hard pressed to say whether I love Powell's or City Lights more.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Does Following the Money Make us Mean and Lonely? Money and American Political Life

"Money, its a crime.
Share it fairly but don't take a slice of my pie.

Money, so they say
Is the root of all evil today.

But if you ask for a raise its no surprise that they're
Giving none away."

It turns out Pink Floyd may have had it right about money. Peter Singer writes that the psychological effects of money on us may have some profound ramifications for political and ethical deliberation. Recent studies suggest that when people are cued to think about money itself (such as with pictures of cash, or of play money), they tend to become more isolated, more narrowly self-interested, and less helpful to others.

So think about how one might be solicited for money in regard to all sorts of moral and political issues. It seems each day I get several letters from the ACLU, Amnesty International, Barack Obama's campaign, the local food bank etc, asking me for a donation. Singer believes that such efforts might actually be counter productive in some cases--for those groups that want to foster some sense of community or group responsibility, the emphasis on money might tend to make people feel less interested in assisting others. "Money consciousness" might be disempowering.

So what happens to our politics when issues get infused the language of economics?

Bill Clinton was famous in his first presidential campaign for cutting through political smoke and mirrors when he announced: "It's the economy, stupid."--implying that what Americans really cared about were bread and butter issues concerning their livelihoods. It is not uncommon today to point to experience in business, or as a CEO, as a qualification for political leadership.

Yet, Aristotle, and more recently, Hannah Arendt, both seperate economics (dealing with issues of simply reproducing life) from politics (dealing with issues of acting together to achieve ideals or actualize values). Perhaps the recent turn in American life that collapse politics into economics (resulting, perhaps, in a rise of money consciousness) leads to a fragmented citizenry that has a hard time thinking of what it means to accomplish grand projects together?

Enjoy some classic rock (but don't expect to feel good about it afterwards):

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Is Your City Male or Female?

One of my favorite theorists of modern life is Jane Jacobs, author of "The Death and Life of Great American Cities". Jacobs is famous for her critique of urban renewal projects that essentially eviscerated inner city areas in the United States post WWII. Her view is that mixed use neighborhoods, those that combine rather than separate residential, commercial, and industrial uses, are more vibrant, safe, and amenable to democratic social life than suburban or exurban neighborhoods.

A new study by Cambridge University adds another interesting dimension to this critique. The study found that urban renewal projects tend to cater to the urban needs and interests of men more so than to women.

For instance, public transportation (which is used by more women than men) is usually arranged alone straight routes from point to point. Women usually are making various trips for different purposes when they go out; men usually go from work to home. Public transport tend to favor masculine habits.

Another: urban renewal tends to focus on creating as many open green spaces as possible, usually with big playing fields. Again, the study found this caters more to men who want to play sports than it does to women, who want smaller areas, closer to home, with mixed use potential.

Finally, the lack of public toilets is something that separates men and women's needs, according to the study. The folks at Cambridge suggest that urban projects should follow a more mixed use model if they want to include the needs and interests of women.

When I think of the civic architecture of Corvallis, I have to conclude, using the variables of this study, that it is a city that caters to masculine needs. In what other ways might our public spaces--neighborhoods, workplaces, etc.--be gendered?

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