Archive for May, 2010

Arendt and the Grapes of Wrath

May 10, 2010

Post by John Driscoll

I was recently having a discussion with my father, a former farmer, about the dust bowl. Of course, I was inclined to bring up some of the things we had talked about at the beginning of the year, but afterwards I began thinking about the Grapes of Wrath from an Arendtian perspective. In regards to her ideas about authority, I would say the Bank, in the context of Chapter 5, displayed both of the behaviors Arendt identifies as authority-reducing. When comparing her discussion of the abusive parent to the Bank, it is easy to see how this abuse of power caused the farmers to completely lose respect for the Bank.

            In her discussion, Arendt points out that there are two primary ways in which a parent can lose authority over their child. First, the parent could argue with the child, thus giving the child power in its words and actions. Second, the parent could beat the child, which would automatically show that there is no reason the child should obey other than the fear of physical suffering. In both cases, the child would lose respect for the parent first, which then leads to a loss of authority on the parents behalf. As mentioned in class earlier, respect and authority are married; one cannot maintain authority without the respect of his or her subjects.

            In the case of the Grapes of Wrath, the Bank showed a shining example of how violence, or in this case, legal power with the threat of violence, caused the farmers to completely lose whatever small amount of respect they had for the Bank. By completely controlling the physical actions of the farmers through various policies (e.g. ordering which crops to be harvested, when, and by what means,) the Bank was relying on a subdued form of violence to maintain control over the tenants. They then went on to continue this form of abuse by forcing the tenants off their land. All the while, one can see the specter of Arendt shaking her head in disapproval of the Banks abuse of power and subsequent loss of authority. The sad truth about all this is that none of the suffering, either from the tenants or employees of the bank, was necessary. It is only because of the collective failure of everyone involved to even attempt to challenge the authorities. Because no one believed they had the strength, or as a group, the power to affect change, the cycle continued.

            I guess in the end, the only changes that are ever made come from the belief that it is possible. No matter what amount of strength or power any individual or group of people possess, they will never implement change without first realizing it is a possibility. From this perspective, our imaginations are our only real limitation, it seems…


Banality of Evil

May 8, 2010

When we studied Hannah Arendt, the concept of “the banality of evil” was brought up. The quote comes from Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem and was used to describe Adolph Eichmann’s role in the Nazi concentration camps as an administrator of the concentration camps. Arendt, applying the concept of “the banality of evil” to Eichmann’s role, claims that Eichmann was “just doing his job” and was being a good bureaucrat. In order to carry out his job, Eichmann had to ignore the evil that was involved with his job. The idea of ignoring evil so that one can go about life describes the concept of “the banality of evil”.
I became interested in “the banality of evil” because I have just finished reading the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and I felt that what I read in the book directly related to Arendt’s quote. The book was published last fall and describes the author’s experiences with vegetarianism, animal rights, and most of all, today’s meat industry. Throughout the book the author tells how he visited factory farms across the United States and describes the horrors that he witnessed. However, I do not feel that in doing so the author wished that he would convert his readers into vegetarians. Rather, I interpreted the author’s message as a warning or that he is alerting us to something about ourselves. I feel that his goal is to get the readers to think about what we eat and where it comes from, instead of ignoring it.
There were many instances mentioned in the book where workers had to ignore what they were witnessing in order to do their job. Some examples that I can think of off the top of my head are: the amount of space given to factory farm animals, a large amount of animals cannot move their bodies because their genetics have been altered to the point where their skeletons cannot support themselves, some animals can no longer sexually reproduce due to the poor conditions, factory farms animals live off medicine and antibiotics, etc. Jonathan Safran Foer also tells of health inspectors inspecting these farms and their tolerance of these conditions. It seems to me that on many levels, people are ignoring these animal abuses so that meat can be produced and money can be made. Also, I do not believe that this animal abuse is news to the public. There has been a good amount of media coverage of factory farms, yet no one is taking any action to stop what is happening. On a personal level, I admit that I too am participating in ignoring what is happening and continues to happen. I feel that what I can do to help fight these evils is to either stop buying meat or to buy meat that is produced on family farms- where animals are treated much better than on factory farms. However, I have read this book and I continue to purchase factory-farmed meat. I suppose that it at least good that more word is being spread about the conditions of the meat industry and I am starting to think about what I eat. I think that atleast it is somewhere to start from.

repressive hypothesis in Asian countries.

May 7, 2010

When we had a discussion about repressive hypothesis, most of the students in the class agreed that discourses about sexuality are silenced and well-refined, here in United States. Foucault asserts that the western society is based on confessions of Victorian Era, not from Bourgeois society of the seventeenth century. These confessions motivated people to confess about things from their misconduct on sexual activities to even having thoughts about sexuality. Eventually, these confessions became the made people think that sex is bad and secretive and cause of repressive hypothesis. Yes. This is understandable reason for western society to have repressive hypothesis.

What about all the other countries where sex is repressed? For example, most of Asians are not comfortable talking about sex publically and definitely not comfortable dealing with it with easy manner. I talk to many friends who born, spent most of their childhood in Asia and came to America for college educations. Apparently, growing up in Asia and moving to USA with very opened and liberated culture, they experience extreme confusion. I personally lived in Korea till seventh grade and got middle school and high school education in America. But I remember the initial shock I got from such a different culture and I do still get a shock from certain aspect of the culture; especially, aspects on sexuality.  Many Asian parents refuse showing love for each other, some parents even refuse to hold hand in front of people. Those parents work consciously not to show affections for each other in front of people, especially their kids. I think because the power that is operating on the society forces the image that kid should not be aware of anything that is “close” to sex and it is parent’s responsibility to hide it well.

This phenomenon is very similar to repressive hypothesis in western societies. However, Asian countries adopted catholic not long ago and are not used to whole “confession” yet. Most people have religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, that are far from catholic and Christianity. Then what are the causes of repression of sexuality in Asian countries? I am not sure the causes of this but it is definitely different kind of power (confession) that operates in the Western society.

Moreover, Repressive hypothesis insist that people should talk about it more openly and frequently to challenge the repressiveness (However, Foucault disagrees with the idea). However, I do not think Asian countries are even aware that the sex is repressed. Therefore, they are not even thinking about making any action or resolution for this phenomenon. (I think they are quite comfortable of their life style) Is it really necessary for the society, for both Asian and western, to realize the power and challenge it? That should be the points we should think about.

The monthly installment

May 7, 2010

Post by Conrad Smith

Many of you, who live in the dormitory, cannot help but notice the monthly installment of “The Monthly Installment.” It is posted there by RA’s and printed by the UHS. While these postings provide helpful information about many aspects of life at Eastman/ the University of Rochester, the most clearly target the topic of sex and sexuality. This seemingly innocent attempt to offer important information is in face riddled with forms of power described by Foucault. Are these publications helpful to students or are they creating new structures of power to control students?

The most recent April publication was themed “get yourself tested.” It was filled with statistics of people who are sexually active and people who are infected with Sexually Transmitted Infections. The publication quietly hinted that there is no safe sex, and then quickly began decribing STI’s, treatments and places students could go to get tested and treatment.

The UHS intention to diminish STI’s may seem innocent but in fact it could be argued to be counter productive. The publication immediately assumes certain things that create a system of power over students reading the publication. It forms pressure on the student to evaluate his or her sex life. The publication speaks as though all students are having sex. It gives students who are having sex the idea that they are doing something dangerous that needs to be fixed. They clearly paint sexual intercourse negatively by putting pictures of bombs next to “High-Risk activities.”

Instead of eliminating or at least reducing it’s prominence, the UHS has flooded the thoughts of students with sexuality and STI’s. Through these publications they are reforming the thoughts and actions of students. A form of “bio power,” as described by Foucault as a power to reform life, is creating personalities as the sexual deviant and the sexual ideal person. From these personalities, structures of power are developed that divide people. This divide is manifest through judgement between students over who is sexually active or not, or who may have an STI. Sexuality then becomes a major factor in someone’s character and personality. As the publication describes, many STI’s are curable or at least treatable, but according the power structure created by the publication, people with STI’s engaged in dangerous acts and are sexual deviants. As soon as the distinction is made between whether or not a person is a sexual deviant or not, the human race naturally tries to detain or change that person.

Is the Monthly Installment helping students find the help they need? Perhaps, but it is also creating forms of power over students and limiting their freedom. This attempt to give students the help they need is also flooding the society with sexuality. This flood is pushing students who aren’t in sexual relationships to think about it, and evaluate their sexual activity, and even write blog posts about sexuality. Thus the Monthly Installment seems to create more insecurity than it does security.

Foucault, biopower, and education

May 7, 2010

Post by John Driscoll

I was thinking recently about sexual education in the public school system, particularly focused on my experience in the fifth grade. I distinctly remember the day we began our two-week “family living” section. They split up all the male and female students in our team, and sent us either to the cafeteria or the auditorium for these special classes. During these classes we (boys) were educated about male sexuality and human reproduction. I remember that there was a considerable amount of confusion surrounding this series of classes. The confusion stemmed from two main things: First, this was the only time we ever saw our teachers become flustered or uncomfortable in the classroom. It was apparent that this particular topic had an effect on the way the teachers related to the students, and we really didn’t understand why. The second was that there was a great amount of avoidance of the main topic of the classes. I was surprised, even as a ten year old, that though we were supposed to be learning about sexuality and reproduction, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of discussions about either of those things.

The way I remember it, (and yes, this a little fuzzy because it was over a decade ago,) it took us about 20 minutes of the first class to figure out what the heck “family living” was even supposed to refer to. The teachers never seemed to enjoy running the classes, and would often take turns speaking about the subjects because of this discomfort. Any time particularly detailed discussions would emerge in the text or during Q and A, they would talk quickly and sort of gloss over the important details.

So how does this relate to our recent discussions of Foucault? Well, it seems to me that situations like these tend to perpetuate the understanding that in our society, sex is not something that should be discussed openly, first of all, and any education on the matter is strictly obligatory and not something to be enjoyed, though the reasons for this obligatory nature are somewhat unclear. In response to the veiling of this topic, some people ‘liberate’ themselves by openly speaking about sex or behave promiscuously to spite of the stigma surrounding the issue. Foucault would argue, that this sort of behavior tends to reinforce the understandings we have as a society, and it merely servers to reinforce the power involved with this sexual discourse.

But if this way of relating to and understanding sexuality is reinforced either way, then how can it be possible for us to actually free ourselves from this strange, pervasive and restrictive way of thinking? Well, think of Arendt. She tells us that a parent can lose authority in two ways: By either beating or arguing with their child. So if this whole topic of sexuality is actually inhibiting our freedom in regards to thought and action, then we might actually be able to free ourselves, not by arguing it or challenging it through physical action (e.g. sexual promiscuity), but by conceptualizing it as a misguided notion that is actually intended to enhance our wellbeing. By asking ourselves what it actually means to us as an individual, rather than operating under the standard assumptions that our society provides for us, we are in a way free. In short, the restrictive nature of the discourse on sexuality exists only if we give it credence.  It only exists through us and our thoughts and actions, not the other way around.

Terrorism and biopower

May 7, 2010

Post by Gabe Condon

Recently, a suspect of the Times Square bombing attempt was apprehended while trying to leave the country from John F. Kennedy airport.  I thought that his arrest and confession tied very well into Foucault’s philosophy on power, particularly biopower.

After Faisal Shahzad’s arrest, there was not only investigation on the crime itself, but also on what made him attempt to commit this crime.  People want to know: “what was wrong with this guy’s mind that made him do this?”  The investigation continues as a sort of psychoanalysis of Shahzad going all the way back to his childhood.  Strangely enough, he was born in Conneticut.  The article I found, entitled “Confessed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad’s hatred stemmed from personal failure, war on terror”, expounds how his anger slowly build up and came to the point where he could not take any more.  It describes how he went from being a “normal”, middle class man to a terrorist.  There seems to be a discrepancy between his life before and after he was radicalized.  How could he change this drastically so quickly?  The answer in the article points to the fact that he may have been dissatisfied with his own success in America. He,  therefore, decided to side with his home country, Pakistan.  I believe that this answer might also be a function of the way that our minds have been shaped by the society we are in.  While I am not claiming that it is right to bomb Times Square,  I believe that Shahzad may have recognized some very real evils that the United States is committing against people in Iraq and Afganistan, and he was rightly outraged.  I would guess that there will be some attempt to reform his mind into the “American concept” while he is in prison, as Foucault suggests.

North Korea

May 2, 2010

In March 26th, 2010, a dramatic “accident” happened in South Korea which pushed everyone into deep sadness and madness. One of the 1200 ton Navy-vessel called “Chun-an Ham” sank and killed 46 young-navy soldiers. A huge hole in the bottom divided the vessel into two pieces and ultimately caused the vessel to sink slowly. Residents in the near land did hear loud explosion, but they thought it was mere practices navies do. 58 out of 104 soldiers escaped before the vessel sank and last 46 soldiers who failed to escape were labeled as “missing”. But soon as vessel was pulled up, rescuers found death bodies of all 46 soldiers. Not knowing the detailed causes of the accident, citizens initially displayed their sadness for the death of 46 innocent soldiers. However, citizen’s sadness slowly changed to madness and anger as investigation went on. Looking at the cuts and how metal of the vessel is rolled up from the bottom, numerous scientists assert that a strong missile must have hit the bottom of the vessel. Political leaders think that North Korean carried an attack. Although, nothing is for sure and no clear evidences advocate scientists and political leaders claim, it was enough to put everyone into madness.
This accident put me into some thought. Let’s just assume that North Korea did attack South Korea, even willing to engage on a war. I started to think, was it really necessary for North Korea to make a violent movement? To achieve a short-term politic goal? What would be that be? Then I realized that this incident clearly demonstrates Arendt’s points about a pure violence caused by human’s desire for dominance over the other (p. 36.) Various countries including USA and South Korea gave enormous attentions and helps to North Korea, yet the government of North Korea did not create any open and easy relationship with any other countries. Rather, they decide to stand against to all the nations and to display the extreme form of violence where one is against all (p.42). It was possible with the instrument as Arendt asserted; with small armed navy, North Korea was able to not only pull down a large vessel but impact everyone in South Korea.
Moreover, North Korea possesses few characteristics of a corrupt country that cannot function right according to Arendt. He claims that “Power is never the property of an individual” meaning a person cannot hold the power infinitely, but it must move from one to the other. A tyranny president, Jung-Ill Kim remained in the full control over the country for nearly 20 years and brought terror (the form of government that comes into being when violence, having destroyed all power, does not abdicate but on the contrary, remains in full control [p.55]). Knowing the circumstances of North Korea where majority of the citizens are dying with hunger and their freedom is suppressed, the dictatorship and the violence caused by the current government must end to bring the peace to not only in North Korea but to all the nations.