Archive for the ‘Hobbes’ Category

Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)

December 19, 2016

Louis Prima – Enjoy Yourself

Few things have depressed me more this semester than reading Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Once I understood what Weber was saying about the ‘Iron Cage’ and how people are forced into doing what they must do in order to survive, it became apparent to that there are many meaningless structures of power that control my life that have little to do with my actual likes, dislikes, preferences, dreams, and fantasies, etc. The main structure around which everything else revolves is that I must find some way to create capital so that I can be a productive member of society and contribute to the good of the whole while sustaining myself. It doesn’t really matter how or what I choose to do in order to do so, but I must do it. This means that I, like many others, will need to get a job. The system does not care whether or not I like it; if I want to survive and live comfortably, it is a necessity. I find myself privileged enough that I have been given the chance to go into music, but at the end of a lifetime, I will still have worked very hard against my will for most of my life in order to sustain a baseline level of living.

To support and supply this structure, other structures of power prop up this one. School, government, taxation, social media, consumerism, health care, organized religion, and many, many more aspects of daily life have evolved in order to ensure that I enter and maintain a state of productivity to benefit the good of the whole. Together, these structures, which for the most part are arbitrary and apathetic to my existence, form Weber’s ‘Iron Cage’ mentioned earlier. At the end of the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber leaves the critique for the reader to ponder – He offers no key we may use to escape the cage.

Upon reflection, it becomes clear to me that we have two choices. We can either do nothing, or actively resist. It does not matter whether or not you accept your fate; your fate has already been decided for you. That doesn’t mean you can’t resist in futility and create meaning in vain. To me, the best way to resist meaninglessness is to find meaning in pleasure and pain. The Protestant Ethic (if it were some sort of written code of conduct) would say that one should avoid earthly pleasures as to not use your time for anything other than productivity. Nay, I say! Equating your productivity with your worth is dehumanizing and objectifying, and ultimately morally degrading. Philosophical Hedonism, in which the goal is to maximize pleasure over pain, is the key. Maybe it doesn’t free us of the cage, as we all still have to work, but it makes life inside a lot more tolerable. I’m not just talking about sex and chocolate here; there are all kinds of pleasures – watching sunsets, going on hikes, smelling flowers, holding hands with someone. If people could stop feeling so guilty for enjoying the things in their lives that made them happy, the world could be a much better place. In the words of Keely Smith, “You only think of dollar bills tied neatly in a stack – But when you kiss a dollar bill it doesn’t kiss you back!”

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Welcome, and the links for Friday’s readings

August 31, 2016

Welcome to the Eastman students taking the Concept of Power in the autumn of 2016. This blog will serve several functions. It will disseminate information to students in the course regarding class assignments; it will serve as a platform students can use to write about course-related materials (often as they connect to the goings-on in contemporary politics); and it will serve as an occasional platform that I’ll use to spout off comment on topics of interest to me.

For Friday, we begin our discussions with excerpts of Hobbes’ famous text, Leviathan. You can find the text online here. Specifically, we’ll be reading chapter 17-18 and 21. These chapters all focus on the nature and powers of the sovereign. We will also discuss the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,” which can be found here.

In both cases, our interest is in the conceptions of power at work in these documents. We’re less interested in, say, the question of whether we think Hobbes’s sovereign is too powerful, or whether the “Declaration” has articulated the proper set of rights. Rather, what we want to think about is how the authors of these documents characterize the nature and functioning of power in society, what sorts of issues these characterizations highlight, and what sorts of issues such characterizations might obscure.

Hobbes and Natural Disasters

September 9, 2014

Back in 2010, I wrote a short blog post on the role of Hobbessian assumptions in the response to the massive Haitian earthquake. Since this issue came up in class, I’m linking to the post here.

Welcome back; oh, and your assignment for Friday…

September 2, 2014

Welcome to the Eastman students taking the Concept of Power in the autumn of 2014. This blog will serve several functions. It will disseminate information to students in the course regarding class assignments; it will serve as a platform students can use to write about course-related materials (often as they connect to the goings-on in contemporary politics); and it will serve as an occasional platform that I’ll use to spout off comment on topics of interest to me.

For Friday, we begin our discussions with excerpts of Hobbes’ famous text, Leviathan. You can find the text online here. Specifically, we’ll be reading chapter 17-18 and 21. These chapters all focus on the nature and powers of the sovereign. We will also discuss the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,” which can be found here.

In both cases, our interest is in the conceptions of power at work in these documents. We’re less interested in, say, the question of whether we think Hobbes’s sovereign is too powerful, or whether the conception of legitimacy at work in the “Declaration” is adequate. Rather, what we want to think about is how the authors of these documents characterize the nature and functioning of power in society, what sorts of issues these characterizations highlight, and what sorts of issues such characterizations might obscure.

Albert Pujols would not have liked Hobbes

August 27, 2014

This is an old ESPN commercial. For those of you who don’t follow baseball, Albert Pujols is one of the games great all-time hitters. You can count on him batting .300 with 35 homeruns and 100 RBIs every year for the rest of eternity. ESPN’s reasoning behind it? Albert Pujols is a machine. Kind of like Hobbes’ description of humans. This is just a silly thing that just struck me as being kind-of sort-of relevant to some of what Hobbes is saying.

Hobbes’ Leviathan

January 17, 2012

You can find a link to Hobbes’ Leviathan online here. Recall that we are only reading chapters 17-18 and 21. The core thing to focus on, of course, is the conception of power that Hobbes is utilizing in this piece.

You can find the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen” here.

Powerlessness

April 19, 2010

The other day, after the ESSO concert, my girlfriend, a friend, and I went out to Anchor Bar to get some wings.  That part of East Ave is very crowded on Friday nights, and finding a place to park was proving to be especially challenging.  However, we did see a half-full lot a few blocks away with no blatantly obvious ‘no parking’ signs, and we took this opportunity.  Once we were done, we walked back to the lot, and my car was not there. After walking to the back corner of the lot, we found a faded sign with “North East Towing” and a number, and so I called and left my number, as the very unpleasant auto-answer machine requested. Ten minutes later a man called me back, and I asked if he had my car, which he indeed did.  I told him that I believed it was an honest mistake and that I was just a college student. I would have to draw the conclusion that empathy way not in this person’s pallet of emotions. $180 cash would be the price to get the car, and I could absolutely not get anything that was in the car unless I paid the price, “in fact you’re lucky it’s not more because you spiked the parking break for no reason, which made my job a lot harder”.  (I was parked, was I not?)

My wonderful girlfriend took out the cash from her savings and was able to contact her friend who kindly drove us to the essentially hidden address, non-metaphorically on the wrong side of the tracks. I was greeted by two most assuredly unfriendly men from behind a large fence, who gruffly asked me if I had the cash. I said yes, and requested to see my car to them to check for damage before I gave it, “because it was so ‘difficult’ for you to get it out. “No”. “What if I give you half, then look at the car then the other half?” “No”. I was getting frustrated – “you cant just steal my car like that and then tell me ‘I’m lucky that you not charge me more’ because I did something I was taught to do! This is an unfair business practice and nothing more than a lewd act of piracy!” A hand placed on a hip clearly holstering a firearm and a “stop being a smart-ass” was his reply.

In reflection, the whole thing seams like a rather reveling case of power and powerlessness. I guess that it is essentially straight up Hobbeasian power in the fact that his actions were legal, thus a manifestation of sovereign power (or doing the will of the sovereign in terms of property rights).  However, it also seemed very different than the usual wielding of this power: when I think legal enforcement, police officers and the army pop in to my head, not two men in a seemingly abandoned warehouse at 12 at night.  Further, if I had decided to take matters into my own hands, I feel that Hobbeasian power fits equally as well: his violence power holstered so bulgingly to his belt would have been more than sufficient to put me in my place.

I feel we do a lot of ripping of Hobbes, but at that end of the day, when a man with a gun is legally holding your car for ransom, it all starts to make a lot of sense.



aid vs. security

February 5, 2010

I remember watching a movie called “2012” few months ago. Movie was based on natural disaster, depicted human’s fear and selfishness but also human’s ability to cooperate and help one another. Few characters from the movie are very well categorized. one who makes the move to save everyone, one who is very selfish (wanting to save only himself and his children), and one who desires to save people but reluctant to make the move. I think, “people who is very selfish and who is reluctant to make the move” are created because their security and safety is not guaranteed. And through their action of not wanting to help others, more violence and chaos were created. “Wanting to live” is human’s basic instinct and desire and

he argues that we need security because without it, there will be social atomization and violence, but perhaps it is the other way around.  Perhaps it is the arrival of security forces that leads to the forms of helplessness and social atomization that produce violence.  Perhaps, in other words, the “securitization” of aid relief actually produces the very behaviors that make it necessary in the first place.

The function of Hobbesian ideology in the response to natural disasters

February 3, 2010

I have been reading some interesting stuff about the “securitization” of food distribution in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, and thought I’d share.  If you would kindly open up your Hobbes to chapter 13 or 17:

Hobbes tells us that without an established political authority–without “the sword”–a war of all against all is inevitable.  Humans naturally want “dominion” over others, or at the very least, want to pursue their own goals without interference.  So unless someone enforces modes of social cooperation on us, mass chaos will ensue.  This is a common assumption, and one that I rarely hear called into question.  One could go so far as to call it common sense; it’s “just obvious,” as we like to say.  And it is confirmed in the aftermath of natural disasters, as we continually hear stories about roving bands of looters, of young men stealing supplies, etc., that always emerge once a disaster has caused social order to break down. 

Indeed, this is such a widely held position that it guides our political actors in how they respond to these disasters.  After the Haiti earthquake, the U.S. military insisted that security had to be a top priority.    Before actually distributing aid, one needed to re-establish basic social order, or else the distribution of such aid would simply contribute to more chaos (perhaps, I suppose, because such distribution would give the people something to fight over).  Secretary of Defense William Gates, for example, refused calls to engage in air drops of water and food supplies saying: “It seems to me that’s a formula for contributing to chaos rather than preventing it. Without having any structure on the ground, in terms of distribution, that an air drop is simply going to lead to riots as people go after that stuff.”

But my point is not just that Hobbes is alive and well in our responses to natural disasters; rather, I want to raise the possibility that this whole story might in fact be false and/or simply a self-fulfililng prophecy.  First, I direct your attention here.  The University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center has actually done a series of investigations of the aftermath of natural disasters.  What they find is that the Hobbesian story about how the total breakdown of social order leads to mass violence is simply not true.  In the aftermath of natural disasters, there is actually a significant uptick of prosocial behavior.   People often quickly establish new forms of social organization, which in turn, generates more social trust.  They cooperate to find survivors; they establish camps to care for the wounded and distribute needed supplies; and they often find and share whatever food and water are available. 

In other words, as Russell Honore puts it in this video, in the aftermath of natural disasters (such as Hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti) the people function as their own first responders.  But rather than mobilize or utilize these networks as they emerge, security forces nearly always eliminate them.  The issue is not just that the security forces spend too much time establishing security (rather than providing needed aid), though this is a significant problem (this link refers to a now famous story in which doctors were told to abandon a medical facility out of worries about security).  Rather, the issue is also that in creating this security, they tend to eliminate the forms of social cooperation that have already emerged.  They break up existing communities in order to administer aid more efficiently, which tends to render the populace more helpless; and by replacing (rather than fostering) the nascent forms of social cooperation that emerge security forces might in fact diminish social trust and increase the forms of social atomization that lead to increased violence.

We might therefore want to say that Hobbes has gotten the issue exactly backwards: he argues that we need security because without it, there will be social atomization and violence, but perhaps it is the other way around.  Perhaps it is the arrival of security forces that leads to the forms of helplessness and social atomization that produce violence.  Perhaps, in other words, the “securitization” of aid relief actually produces the very behaviors that make it necessary in the first place. 

Thus, if this hypothesis is correct, there might be rather pernicious effects to thinking that humans are “naturally selfish” and that the only way we’ll engage in social behavior is at the point of a sword.  Not only might this idea lead us to miss or ignore important events (such as the spontaneous development of new networks of social cooperation), but it might lead to behaviors and policies that make this (violent) selfishness more likely.

Hat tip to John Protevi, who first sketched out this line of argument in this thread.

True Confessions post Leviathan

January 18, 2010

I’m embarrassed to admit my ignorance – but will take advantage of this space  to do just that.

Prior to our first assigned reading I had embedded in my brain the pictures of our founding fathers signing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.    I knew only two things – (1) we were a rag-tag group of people who didn’t want to pay taxes to England, and (2) we wanted religious freedom.  And from those two bits of information had assumed that those dedicated, intelligent men  gathered and formed a nation.   For all these years I  have held them in awe for their ability to imagine and create our society.  I never considered that there was political thought prior to their thought – never considered that they were part of a continuum of thinkers.

It was very energizing to discover differently.  That it’s not only important to trace the historical events that led us to where we are now, but to acquire an awareness of what people were thinking during those times.  And perhaps, most important of all to realize that we too are part of the continuum of thinkers.