Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ 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!”

Re: Some Thoughts on Facebook and Society

October 31, 2016

The growth of social media, especially in the last decade, has detrimentally affected the way that humans with internet access interact with one another. As mentioned here, the negative effects of the normalization of social media are far reaching, and include the trivialization of human relationships, the collection and publication of private information, the increase in reliance on social media for entertainment and distraction, an increase in vapid and vain self-interest, and an overall loss of meaning and purpose in everyday life. This is the result of the destruction of the meaning of social media over time, much in the same way that Weber described the protestant work ethic lost its god and replaced it with money over the course of several generations. Whereas social media was originally created to bring people together and keep them connected, over time it has resulted in the inhibition of real life interaction, leaving a meaningless structure that many people feel incapable of escaping. How many times have you walked down the street and seen people of all ages staring silently at their screens, not looking where they’re going, and not being present in the world around them?

Although I myself am sometimes guilty of the act that I just described, I aim to combat these negative effects in my life without abandoning the social media on which I rely. To do so, I have decided to follow a set of rules that I’ve come up with to dictate how I act on and in what capacity I will use the social media platforms of Instagram and Facebook.

To start with, Instagram: I have only one account which is set to private mode. This means that everyone who wishes to see my content must request my permission in order to see and comment on what I post. I allow anyone that I know in real life to follow me if they so choose, but no one else; there are countless spam accounts littering Instagram that will try to follow me in order to collect my information. I am very picky with whom I follow on Instagram; I only follow close friends or acquaintances with which I feel that I share a particular artistic aesthetic. To that end, I also am very particular with what I post. It must fit in with my personal brand image (my labor is a commodity after all) and it must be somewhat professional as a matter of personal taste and safety.

As far as Facebook goes, I am very strict. I have ‘unfollowed’ the vast majority of the 800-some ‘friends’ that I have on Facebook, (a lengthy process that ended up being worth it) as well as all of the pages that I’ve ‘liked.’ I choose only to follow the few people who are closest to me, as they are the only people that I genuinely care about hearing what they have to say on a regular basis. If I feel the urge to check up on a distant acquaintance that I met in Wisconsin in 2009, I can do so by simply searching their name and seeing their profile, but I don’t need to know their boring intimate details in real time on a daily basis. As for the content that I post, I try to keep it as professional and relevant as possible. I use Facebook nowadays primarily as a professional networking tool and also as a way for my family to keep tabs on me when I am away from home. This means that if I wouldn’t say it to my grandmother or to a professor, (or to a potential employer) I definitely wouldn’t say it on Facebook.

I find that these methods have allowed me to regain some semblance of control over how much I rely on social media by allowing me to separate my private life from my public online persona. In other words, I don’t feel that I must use my phone in order to connect with others. Although I am still very much reliant on social media, it is now for maintaining professional contacts and interactions (in conjunction with good old fashioned email) and keeping in touch with geographically distant family members, rather than providing for the bulk of all of my social interactions. Call me a traditionalist, but I believe that real human interactions are more valuable than artificial cyber ones.

Link for the “Communist Manifesto”

September 17, 2016

Hi all. For next week, we’re reading the “Communist Manifesto.” You can find the text here.

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.


Readings and Reading Questions for Thursday, January 14

January 11, 2010

For Thursday, we will be reading and discussing excerpts of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, as well as the famous document from the French Revolution, the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.”   You can find a link to Hobbes here.  We’re reading chapters 17-18, and 21.  They concern the nature and origin of society (chapter 17), the powers that the sovereign must have in order to keep society functioning (chapter 18), and the liberties that subjects retain (chapter 19.  You can find the “Rights of Man” link here.

Here are some basic thoughts and questions that might be helpful to you as you do these readings:

Always keep in mind the big questions.  This is a class on the concept of power, so we are interested in how the authors we are reading understand what power is, where it is located in society (including who if anyone possesses it), where it comes from,  the sorts of effects it produces, and how it produces them.  The complexity here is that the authors we are reading for Thursday tend not to address these sorts of issues explicitly.  So in order to get at the big questions,  consider these smaller ones:

(1) In chapter 17, Hobbes famously argues that society has its origins in a social contract: who participates in this contract?  What do they agree to do?  What sort of power operates in an agreement?

(2) Why does Hobbes say that we need a sovereign?

(3)  What are some of the main powers the sovereign has?  What sort of power underlies these specific powers?  In other words, what is it that allows the sovereign to keep the peace and unite society?

(4)  How does Hobbes define liberty? 

(5) What sorts of liberties do the subjects retain?

(6) What is the relation between the subject’s liberties and the sovereign’s power?

(7) Try to think about an image or picture that could capture the essence of how Hobbes thinks about society and social order.  You might want to draw it if you can.

(8) In terms of governmental authority and the rights of the citizen, what differences are there between Hobbes’ position and the one we see in the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen”?   Does the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen” adopt a different understanding of power than Hobbes does?