Archive for October, 2014

Civil Disobedience

October 30, 2014

In this post, I would like to engage in the post on civil disobedience in Hong Kong and analyze the movement in reference to Arendt’s article on civil disobedience.


The atmosphere in Hong Kong is quite unstable, because the downtown area is occupied by people protesting against the government, and indirectly against the PRC government, for not providing a democratic election method for the election of the Hong Kong chief governor in 2017.


It is interesting to see that this disobedience movement is unique in its own way, and it actually differs a little from the definitions and descriptions provided by Arendt. This is due to the unique status of Hong Kong and the unprecedented situation it faces now.


First of all, the demand of the protesters is not the demand of minority group. The demand for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, I suppose, is basically willed by the majority of the Hong Kong people who participate in politics (others who do not participate in politics do not care about this issue and do not have a stance). This is different from the type analyzed by Arendt, and the one lead by M.L. King. This cannot be said as the minority view of the Hong Kong people inside the bigger China, because this is totally Hong Kong’s own affair. Moreover, most people in other parts of China do not know well about this movement, because the media in China is heavily censored.


This obedience movement is essentially the protest against an unjust government, be it the Hong Kong government or the higher PRC government. The officials in these two bodies of government are not democratically elected, and Hong Kong people are resentful towards their government (in other part of China many people do not even know that their government can be bad). Note that the basic law of Hong Kong (the mini constitution of Hong Kong), which states things that could potentially hinder the development of universal suffrage, is not a law that is designed or willed by Hong Kong people themselves. The PRC government simply promulgated the law coercively. There is no such bonding and association that the law could bring to people.


The whole situation is basically about the coercive power being acted unwillingly upon a group of people, and the two parties, the power and the coerced, are not bonded on any mutual ground. This is different from the kind of disobedience Arendt describes.


Weber’s Traditionalist in Portlandia

October 30, 2014

Thinking back to Weber for a bit, I’d like to point out a pretty interesting thing I found in one of my favorite shows that relates to some things he’s talked about.

A Weberian traditionalist believes that they will work until they can achieve the things they want. When they reach their goal, they stop working and enjoy the life that they have made for themselves. Many will also rationalize their time – plan out every aspect of their life and figure out what they need to do and when they need to do it in order to reach their goals and aspirations.

A satirical demonstration of this kind of traditionalism can be found in the second season of Portlandia.  In the very beginning of the episode, Brandon and Michelle Marston stand in the kitchen of their home and present posters and charts to their young son, Grover, about his academic life and success. They are applying for a special pre school that they believe will create the perfect life for him. To demonstrate this, they present charts and explain to him what can happen to him if he gets in, as well as if he doesn’t. Their ultimate belief is that if their son Grover is accepted to the Shooting Star Preschool, eventually he will be successful enough to buy his own Ferrari and whatever else he wants. However, if Grover is not accepted, he will set himself up for a life of failure.

view the clip here

The traditionalist idea here: If we get a credible education, we can succeed in whatever we want and maintain a comfortable life, and as a result, work until we achieve these goals and spend the rest of our life enjoying the life we’ve created for ourselves. This clip can be seen as an over-the-top example of Weber’s traditionalist “rationalization of time”. Grover’s parents also go as far as making a promotional video for their son to bring to the pre school’s interview. I’m sure that a lot of parents may have visions of what their child can achieve, but few would go to the lengths that Brandon and Michelle Marston did.  Reading Weber’s ideas on traditionalism and rationalization of time, along with watching this particular episode of Portlandia, helped me better understand his explanations of these concepts. It was also entertaining to see this idea demonstrated in such a ridiculous and satirical fashion.

With that said, I present two questions to you:
-Do you think that the education system in our country, by creating options like attending private pre schools, instill this idea in our parents and in our youth?

-Additionally, do you think the American dream was founded on traditionalist principles like this, and as a result, could that be why some of us find this clip especially funny?

Between capitalism and communism

October 23, 2014

In this post, I would like to engage in the discussion of the views that position between capitalism and communism.


As we have all learned, capitalism is the form of social organization that emerged centuries ago and have perpetuated. It promotes competition, innovation and freedom of economic gain, while at the same time leads to other critical problems. One major problem would be the inequality of the distribution of wealth and exploitation on the working class. From here, communism emerges as an ideology, with its aims to abolish the capitalism system altogether and set up a new form of organization that has no class difference and economic inequality.


These two systems seem to be two extremes. Absolute equality is manifested in communism and the opposite is manifested in capitalism. Now, we would naturally come to question about if there is anything we could do that compromises. This directs us to the consideration of all those ideas related to welfare state, welfare capitalism, mixed economy and the embedded ideology of social democracy.


I think these related ideas are the “middle way” between capitalism and communism because interestingly, we could see criticisms that are advocating for opposite directions. It is interesting to see that some would say the idea of welfare state is too much like capitalism, while others say this is too close to communism in which everybody is equal economically. Basically, there are ideologies that branched out from the socialist thinking which advocates for gradual reforms on the current capitalist system instead of the radical, revolutionary type like communism. These position between the two opposite forms.


Speaking of the welfare state, one would definitely mention the kind of system that is exemplified by the Nordic models. It is interesting to see how those Nordic countries organize their economy in the welfare systems that suit them. The relatively low property rate and the small gap between the wealth and the poor maybe something that appeal to Marxists.

Other sorts of criticisms against the system of welfare state include reduced incentive to work hard and inefficiency in production. Since the government collect progressive tax to aid the poor substantially, poor people could become lazy and not willing to work hard. People can also get discouraged when large part of their income is taken to serve other people. Generally, welfare state is still essentially a capitalist economy, production can be less effective because of the loosened competitive environment that drives a capitalist society.


Welfare is certainly necessary in a society, and the key thing is how welfare system should be structured according to the society’s needs. The above criticisms stands true, but in Sweden’s case, despite being a so-called welfare state, it remains to be one of the richest country in Europe and is praised for being one of the countries with the highest standard of living in the world. They have arguably structured a welfare system that works for their country. I think each country has its own welfare system that works for it, and the system can be altered. Sweden has change its direction several times from a free market to more socialistic and back to market economy. A lot of things could be done to welfare.


There is also the idea of distributing the means of production more evenly in a society so that it is not concentrated in one or two hands. This could also help. Anyway, this type of “middle way” is something worth discussing when we see the extreme of capitalism and communism.

MLK and Malcolm X Readings

October 14, 2014

You can find a transcript of Malcolm X’s speech here. However, I also recommend that you listen to an audio version of it, which I’ve posted below:

Please note that the audio recording here diverges from the transcript I linked to above (this is because he gave the speech to different audiences and varied the presentation somewhat; the content is basically the same). I do recommend listening to the audio. Listening to the audio, I think, gives a bit of the flavor of Malcolm X’s rhetoric and the audience’s response to it. This, in turn, provides a bit more insight into why Malcolm X was such a frightening figure to white folks at the time.

Anyway, you can find Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” here. This version of the text has some annotations and explanations at the bottom of the letter. You can read them if you’d like but they are not explicitly required (which is to say, there won’t be quiz questions on the annotations unless I talk about them directly in class).

Gamifying the World- The Link Between Gamification and Capitalism

October 13, 2014

In recent modern day society there has been a peculiar new obsession with gamifying each aspect of our lives;  Classrooms, sales, small businesses…  Gamification is growing and becoming imbedded into the more practical aspects of life.  It’s an unusual phenomenon.  In this blog post I want to relate what we have talked about in class to gamification, providing a viewpoint of why this might be happening and a couple different perspectives as to what this means.

So what exactly is Gamification?  Essentially, it is turning everyday activities into games.  Gamification usually involves a point system.  That is, doing good work will earn you more points and doing sub-satisfactory will earn you less.  It might reward a student in a class for achieving a certain pre-set goal (the same structure as our “Concept of Power” class).  It also incorporates competition,  Using co-workers and colleagues as measurements of ones own success. Competition has always been an inherent part of both human nature and games.  Having employees or teams compete creates a drive and a passion for higher performance. The overall result from gamification is a heightened work ethic.  People become more passionate, efficient, and work harder.

In Chattanooga, TN,  a young up and coming company has already hopped on this idea.  Ambition, also known as “fantasy football for sales teams,” helps other companies “Gamify” their workspace.  Using their computer and phone software, companies are given the customized lay-out needed to effectively turn work into a game, and ultimately create a more efficient work-force.  They use peer competition, scores,  teams, and a leader board  system. Ambition has found much success in this industry as well.  They have won awards, and also secured some pretty substantial clients.  You can learn more about Ambition on their website here.

What is it about this concept of gamification that is so appealing and effective?  In a world where work has become monotonous, industrious, and autonomous, one could say that gamifying people’s lives returns a lost sense of accomplishment.  People need a relevant goal to achieve in order to feel passionate about what they do, and games help inspire that.  However, In Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism, the author uses “the machine” as a unique analogy that might serve as an excuse to why people prefer games over work.

The “machine” as Weber describes it arose from asceticism– with its radical view on efficiency and productivity.  As time passed, however, the spirit of asceticism left, while its ethos did not.  The religious drive that helped this lifestyle become complete and balanced has disappeared with time.  What society is left with is the machine– an unstoppable, inescapable influence over mankind which forces those born into it to adjust with the ways in which society is run.  The hard-working, profit-producing spirit of capitalism still remains, as Weber states “‘doing ones job’ cannot be directly linked to the highest spiritual and cultural values.” (Weber 121).

From this viewpoint, we can see how gamifying might be a coping mechanism for one’s lack of purpose in society.  Humans are trapped in this mechanical society, but no longer are able to make work a part of their inherent values.  As a result, working loses its meaning, and people begin to half-heartedly do their jobs.  Gamification returns the meaning to work by giving work a more relevant factor.  Through achievement and competition, gamifying peoples lives makes them feel in control and effectively battles the machine which Weber describes.

Another interesting, somewhat funny, viewpoint that should be considered is from that of a Marxist.  This is a pretty obvious point, but not one people may think about often; that a company like Ambition serves only the bourgeoisie by re-sparking the good little capitalist in all the proletarians of society; all for the sole purpose of making more profit for themselves. The illusion that gamification’s purpose is to make our lives more pleasant is only a front for an opportunity to make large corporations more money.  I mean….. the slogan of Ambition IS “Ambition makes companies more money.”  Moreover, not only is Ambition serving the bourgeoisie, but they themselves are making a huge profit off of their business, creating a classic, ironic circle of bourgeoisie winningness.

Personally, I chose to write about this because I feel gamification, on some level truly does have a connection to the trapped state in which lower working classes are found. Obviously my thoughts are up to interpretation.  Whether gamification is a coping mechanism to deal with the way in which society is run, or simply another economic tool to benefit the bourgeoisie, or both, there is something about the relation between gamifying work and our society as a whole that is relevant to us and fascinating.  Please comment and share your own opinions of this subject!