Monday, May 16, 2011

Ethics: Review for the Final Exam

The Final Exam will consist of 20 Multiple Choice questions (2 points each) and 2 Short Essays (30 points each) at least two pages each in length. The Multiple Choice questions will cover points in the lectures and readings. The Short Essays are personal responses to and comparisons of the concepts that demonstrate your own thinking. The essay topics are listed at the end of this review. If you wish to write another sort of essay, please tell me and I will likely let you write it.

Theft, Possession & Zinn
We can see that the ape can come to possess as ‘mine not yours’, and come to forget this possessing (‘neither mine nor yours’). Today, we use Chinese style paper bank notes, backed by the government, just like in China after 500 CE or so. The culture which includes the device of money has advantages over the culture of mere barter. Money as a device is very simple, simple the ways that numbers are simple for much the same purpose. Money is good (and bad) because it is very easy to gather/amass and divide/distribute, much more than any other object or substance. There are, however, two great disadvantages to the culture of money use: First, theft, like trade, becomes easier! Second, the desire for money becomes quite intense.

The Ethical question we must ask is: Is theft ever justified? We can use our Ethical concepts we have studied to give various answers to this question. Kant, of course, would say NEVER. According to the concept of virtue, theft is fully justified as long as the individual is virtuous or becomes virtuous through the act of theft. In a very similar way, Utilitarians and Consequentialists would argue that theft is justified if in the long term it results in good and justice, much happiness and prevention of harm (like Robin Hood). The concept of balance draws our attention not only to the duality of stealing and not stealing but also to the duality of possessing and forgetting about possession, grasping and letting go. If one stores up wealth, one brings theft to one’s doorstep. Is it in one’s self interest to steal from everyone? Not if everyone has large sticks and helmets haven’t been invented yet. We watched the first half of the corporation in class, showing us that the corporation is an “externalizing machine” which puts the stock price before all else, and that this device has allowed America to become very rich but at great social costs.

Lies, Propaganda & Chomsky
Individuals and groups manipulate the truth to serve their own ends, in a conscious/unconscious way that often resembles denial. We focused on the historical background of American propaganda and censorship. Recalling the story of the baboon giving the false leopard call, apes have been seen lying to their fellow apes. The Assyrians were masters of propaganda, using the OLD propaganda model: “This is the king/state, we know best”. We have failed to have a real discussion about censorship and bias in America. This means ‘THEY’ are simply biased and put forth propaganda, and WE would never do something like that. This is not only the basic human frame as before, but Americans and British got set in this in a particular way through WWI and II. In WWI, Propaganda is something the Germans do, not the Belgians, British or Americans. In WWII, the Germans and Japanese do propaganda, and in the cold war the Russians. The British and Americans, however, would never do ‘propaganda’ by name, as they are the champions of liberty, democracy and freedom from tyranny (even as Britain and then America plundered and sought empire in the same way that the Germans, Russians did). We do ‘education’, ‘information’, ‘public relations’, ‘human relations’, and in time of war we may engage in psychological warfare, but we never do ‘propaganda’. Bernays invented the committee of Doctors who tell you to eat eggs and bacon for a ‘hearty’ breakfast, saying old way is ‘Eat Bacon!’, new way: ‘Drs say, ‘Eat bacon’’. This is ‘free expert’ style of British/American propaganda.

Post WWII, the French and Russians had largely convinced everyone that America has no culture, only cheap commercialism, and America talks a lot about Freedom, but look at how they treat black people. The US wanted to fight the ‘French Flu’ and push European intellectuals away from Marxism as liberation towards free market capitalism as liberation. Both US and Soviets fought over who liberates and who oppresses. In 1956, the ‘Melting Pot’ became a slogan for the US. In films, token black people began appearing well before the civil rights movement. Documents of agents who worked with studios on scripts say, ‘took out a drunk, added a black person’.

Violence, War & Grossman
Violence, like sex, was a part of life since childhood in the beginning. As Grossman says, in Victorian England sex became something shameful and best kept out of sight, and similarly with the butcher and refrigeration violence became something out of sight. Consider David Foster Wallace’s FX Porn article about T2 and Jurassic park. Sex and killing are specialized spectacles, quite unrealistic and pieced together with bad dialogue. We all have violent thoughts, but very few humans will be violent, no matter what culture or ethnicity or gender. Normally, there is a safety catch in the human mind that prevents us from being violent. However, in certain situations with particular factors, most everyone becomes capable of violence. 2% of the population have an aggressive personality, potentially psychosis (these individuals are often, Grossman says, drafted into the hardcore units, the marine spearhead squads dropped behind enemy lines or the frontal advance groups). American media is quite gifted with the myth of the easy kill, for both the hero and villain. What this myth conceals: there are far greater chance of being a psychological casualty of conflict then there are of being killed or wounded. What factors increase or decrease the justification and the enabling of violence? Absolution by Distance, Absolution by Authority, and Group Absolution. Both soldiers and gang members find themselves having nightmares where those who have been killed come back to haunt them and ask why. It is as if killing a being does not kill the presence, that the negated presence comes back. This is likely why people believed in evil ghosts for so long across all cultures. Stages of Killing: Combat High, Remorse, Rationalization (wrestling with the contradiction of positive/negative, self/other).

Environment, Consumption & Carson
We have done so well as a species that we have become quite unbalanced with nature. While many cultures have spoken of being in balance (Egyptian Wisdom for instance), it was only with the growth of mechanization and technology that Islamic scholars first wrote consciously of the impact that humans had systematically on the environment. As we see in The Corporation, in the 1940s and 1950s, just as US became the wealthiest nation, petroleum products were used to make huge varieties of products. Wood and metal gave way to plastic. What has happened: we are in a culture that can give us immediate things according to our intentions, but such that we ignore the long and complicated process of nature. Nature can sift things out, but not as fast as we can synthesize just what we want while externalizing the unneeded and then ignoring it until it snowballs up into our face. Cancer rates, birth defect rates, and other problems are evidence of the environmental impact. Wilderness: Does one consider best use in the long term to be using everything, or do we leave things unused for long term. Sustainability: Nature and economy must both be preserved, or both will collapse. Environmental Justice: Who gets benefits and who gets harm of processes in the culture? One fifth of world consumes four fifths of resources.

Class, Power & Karp
Class is a very important issue for Americans today. From propaganda week, we know that A, we are systematically taught that ‘there is no class in America because it is a freedom place’, and B, ‘class is something that OTHER cultures are brutal with, but we are free of that problem’. This was what we said about the Soviets, and they said about us. There are two types of class status, ascribed (born with it) and achieved (gained in time). The common indicators of ascribed class status are ethnicity (race and tribe), family (royal lineage), gender (male, female or other), and culture (religion, language). The common indicators of achieved class status are position (job or role in society), wealth (property which includes money), ability (skills, education and experience), and fame (honor, success, celebrity). The two positions are privileged on the top and marginalized on the bottom. On top in society are those who have enough that if they hold on to it they do not need to work. On the bottom are those who have so little that if they do not work then they have nothing at all. In the middle are those who are using all sorts of strategies to get employed and gain property. In America today, in spite of ditching the British noble heraldry, the top 1% are ‘super-rich’ upper class (who earn over $350,000 a year or get that in returns on investments), the next 5% are ‘rich’ upper class (over $100,000 a year), the 44% are middle class (over $40,000), and the remaining 50% are ‘working-class’ and lower class (under $40,000). This means that the lowest upper class members earn just under 9 times what the lowest middle class members earn.

In the first short article I gave you from the Race, Class & Gender reader, Class & Inequality, Sklar puts together interesting statistics on wealth and poverty in America. All gains in household income since 1975 essentially went to the top 20%. Since 2000, the US has gained 76 billionaires (putting the number at 374) and 5 million additional people below the poverty line (to make 37 million, the population of the East Coast). Our infant mortality rates, especially for inner city impoverished people, rival rates in Malaysia and India.

In the second article, Media Magic, Mantsios argues that the media (TV and movies in particular) make class disappear from America. Poverty is increasing at twice the population growth rate, yet less than 1 in 500 articles in the NY Times is on poverty (and ask Chomsky, they set the nations news). Welfare cheats and aggressive pan handlers take up a sizable portion of the space given to the impoverished in print.

In Indispensable Enemies Karp starts by noting that in American politics there is always a powerful ‘other’ to blame for not getting what one’s group wants, but no group seems to be able to get what it wants for itself. Karp argues that the basic assumption that parties are trying to win elections needs to be questioned. We need to rather ask what the two parties have done in the last 150 years (the time in which America has risen to be the wealthiest nation). When you look at it this way, we see that the two parties have controlled 50% of the country split down the middle since the civil war polarized the country. A landslide in American elections is 60-40, and neither party seems to push lasting popular legislation. Most states stay blue or red for decades, if they ever change at all. This means that, through all of the changes that Zinn, Grossman, Chomsky, Carson and the Corporation have been talking about, the two political parties have remained exactly the same. Karp argues that, when we realize that the two parties are trying to maintain control over their 50%, we can see many things. This is the thesis of the book. We can see that anyone too left or right of center is sabotaged by the party. A party would rather see the other side win a district for a while then see someone who is intent on pushing forward real change. You must prove your loyalty and centrality to be big and get elected. If you show any independence or disloyalty the party will kill your campaign with the help of the other party and wait for the next election, concentrating on keeping a tight and simple lock on the 50%, not on pushing forward a program. Thus Karp charges that we have one party, with two wings, not two parties at all. The upper class pay and play for both sides and further the interests of American power (which is held in particular American hands). The common people are set against each other and told that because the other side is as free as they are nothing can get done. In other words, it is all a game of good cop, bad cop, similar also to Operation Margerine.

Sexism, Gender & De Beauvoir
Distinction of overt vs. covert prejudice: explicit vs. hidden.
The myth is that women are docile, non-violent, unconfident, incompetent, and emotional. Women are capable of violence and even rape, though our society does not recognize this yet. Women are not unconfident or emotional compared to men. There are two dynamics of psychology in which women differ from men. First, men tend to seek power through NOT being social, isolating themselves and their opinions, whereas women tend to seek power through BEING social, interacting with others. Second, in sexuality, men like to watch women and women like to be watched, as one author has said, to watch themselves being watched. In apes and the most ancient nomadic and tribal societies, there is evidence that women often had status and leadership positions. As people began to collect into city states, we can see patriarchy increase. When we look at the cultures of the world and their historical development, we can see that all cultures have taken part in a similar oppression of women, but at the same time women have had increasing power in society and new movements have to appeal to women to take off. Women are 51% of the population (technically the MAJORITY of the population), do 66% of the work, get 10% of the income, and worldwide own 1% of the property. Thus, sexism (overt AND covert) is quite alive, in spite of counter claims.

Feminism is the movement in reaction to sexism and prejudice against women. The basic idea is that women should have the same status as men in society, or “women are people too”. The first wave was the women’s suffrage movement of the 1920s in America and Britain. The second wave was the civil rights movement, the late 60s and early 70s which is also called the women’s liberation movement or ‘women’s lib’. Simone De Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex in France in 1953, arguing that women had been marginalized as ‘The OTHER’ by men using Hegel’s idea of the master-slave dialectic. The Feminine Mystique (1963) by Betty Friedan was another big book of the time (much more published in America than Marxist De Beauvoir’s), arguing that women were not feeling fulfilled as homemakers and mothers, and they needed an identity for themselves as individuals beyond the identity of the family. The third wave was after the 80s backlash against the 60s progressive movements that began in the early 90s and continues today. The third wave tried to not only pay attention to black women, Latina women, third world women, but also to break down the idea of women as essentially different from men but equal. The two big issues, which are still being fought out today, are 1) Is gender a subjective construct (in the mind) or social reality (in the world)? And 2) Did feminism accomplish what it set out to achieve, or did it in part hurt its own efforts in telling women that sex makes them oppressed? (anti-pornography feminism vs. ‘pro-sex’ feminism)

Racism, Ethnicity & Hannaford
If you are marginalized and you point out covert racism, you are often accused of overt racism by privileged people. Great evidence against Racism: Piaget’s studies of Child development stages, and African kids using laptops experiment and the surprise that there is no lag time compared to Western kids. Race seems obvious today, a ‘fact’ of biology. There seem to be distinct ethnic groups that are easily divisible into recognizable races. Hannaford argues that in fact racism rose with science and modernity in the rise of Europe since the 1600s. There was, of course, always ethnocentrism (my tribe is familiar, your tribe over the hill is scary) that correspond to self-centered thinking on an individual level, but ‘black’ and ‘white’ people did not always exist. ‘Race’ comes into European languages by the 1500s. In English, ‘ras’ meant a course or current. The word did not mean a fully separate category of people until after 1700, as Europeans got wealthy beyond everyone and very successful with sciences (phrenology in India example). Today, however, research on genetics shows that there is no definable or divisible races that can be fully separated. Rather, there is a tangle of genetic material that is mostly common to a people.


The short essays are personal responses to and comparisons of the concepts that demonstrate your own thinking. Make sure to write clearly, stick to the subject and use examples from the lectures and readings or your own to support your point. For each of the two essays, write a two page reflection on a topic of your choice. If you prefer, you can select a topic from the options below, but you are also welcome to write on any matter that interests you as long as you focus on the issue, argue well and use good examples. When you are done, it is a good idea to go back over your answer to make sure you have answered the question.

Option 1: What is the ethical conception you think best prevents theft, and why?

Option 2: Must all societies lie? Is the American and British style of propaganda better or worse than the older methods of the past?

Option 3: Are Grossman’s findings on human violence comforting or disturbing? Why?

Option 4: How is environmental sustainability possible in the shadow of the corporation?

Option 5: Karp argues that American two party politics is a deceptive device.
Does he make a good case?

Option 6: Is covert prejudice more or less difficult to fight than overt prejudice?

Option 7: Against some ‘second wave’ feminists, third wave ‘pro-sex’ feminists say that women can be sexy without helping to oppress themselves. What is your thinking?

Option 8: Is racism a permanent condition, or can it be dismantled? How?