Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Racial equality?! I’m not so sure

For years now it is a common misconception that racial discrimination has been either abolished or is somewhere near that low a level of racism. But that is most definately not the case. Racial inequality is still at the forfront of any social encounters in the present. And the issues run deeper than just simply trying to treat people better! And exactly what does that even mean?! “Be nicer!” “Treat everyone equally?!” It’s easier said than done.

Issue:
The issues of discrimination against black men, women and children run deeper than the odd racial slur here and there. These racial issues range from racial slurs to police brutality, and also on an economic front as well, not to mention the way many people still think of a black person as any different from you or me. One of the major nagging issues is just that, thinking of someone in a way that depicts them as “different.” The first issue is that many people will still think of a black person as “a black person”, and not just simply as another person. That’s where social equality begins…I’m a person, you’re a person, why should we allow skin colour to determine how we feel about each other. And that’s the point, it doesn’t matter. The thought process is where the root of the issues on a social level lay, and it branches into “harmless” cracks or jokes at one another, and that is not ok. The social issue is really the root of all issues. The sooner we just see each other as another person, and nothing more than that we can move past much of the inappropriate behaviour towards black people.

The next issue is also a social issue. Police brutality has been an issue for a long time and still is to this day. It seems no innocent black man or woman can be in a possibly suspicious situation (and when I say suspicious I mean some kind of police related situation) and get the benefit of the doubt from a cop. It seems as though cops are told to be more suspicious of blacks than they should be of whites. The fact of the matter is that police brutality is no myth,it is a growing concern amongst all of us. The attacks seem to surround young black men in particular, as they are seen as “misfits” to police. It is no coincidence that young black men are being killed by cops on the spot without much hesitation. I mean, what happened to being innocent before proven guilty?! I guess when it comes to young black men you can toss that rule out the window. And every time these killings or assaults happen, the white cop that has done the dirty deed seems to get off easy or without any issue. Take for instance the case involving Eric Garner, a young black man who was choked to death by an NYPD cop. An illegal choke hold was used, and CPR was not performed at the scene. The medical examiner ruled his death to be a homicide yet the cop was never indited for his crime. Another good example would be the case of Micheal Brown in Ferguson. And it all comes back to the benefit of the doubt not being given, which just leads back to the root of the problem, the thinking process that we are somehow “different.”

Not only does the black community endure awful social injustices, but the issues go to the bank too. There is a major wealth gap between white and black. The average black man only earns 70 cents to a white mans dollar in the middle class. Poverty is also a major issue. Black people make up 27.4% of poverty in the US, compared to 9.9% white. The staggering number is also higher than Asian and Hispanic. The problem really starts in schools. Lower school funding in largely black communities has led too poorer education in those areas which really puts them behind from the beginning. It seems as though they always have to play from behind, they are always playing catch up. Black people also hold the highest poverty rate in chronic poverty (poverty lasting up to 36 months) and second highest in episodic poverty (less than 36 months), and median poverty (highest average time spent in poverty). The rate of episodic poverty is 2 times as high as whites. They also have the highest unemployment rate at 16%, and the lowest home ownership rates at 44.5%. Now here’s a real kicker…black people make up make up 12.6% of the U.S. population and make up 38% of the prison population. Whites only make up 34% of the prison population yet they make up 63.7% of the countries population. Black males are imprisoned at 6.5 times higher than white males. All I can say is WOW!!! I hope people can see clearly now that this is no coincidence…but that they see it for what it is…systemic racism.

The biggest issue is how to approach the issue of inequality. Well really, anything is easily said but it is an issue that will take decades to solve. You see, it’s a cycle. The inequality starts in schools with funding which puts black kids behind in their education and then it follows them to adulthood. In their adult years they are forced to play catch up and work twice as hard to earn 70% as much as a white guy does. And then there is no benefit of the doubt in any police situation which seems to put them in prison at a much quicker rate. And this cycle just keeps spinning. For any progress to be made the cycle must be broken, which again, is easier said than done. The first thing that must be abolished is the social thought process that I spoke of before, and then, maybe, just maybe we can go from there. So next time you think that equality Has been achieved in the modern era, think again.

 

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The Road to Murder

 

Before reading the entirety of the post, keep one thing in mind: We are limited to the amount of ‘free will’ we have (or maybe we don’t have free will at all, depending on what you think) and it traps us. This plays a huge role in our topic.

Social Factors:

  • Friends
  • School
  • Culture
  • Religion
  • Social stigma/discrimination

Personal Factors:

  • Parents
  • Adoption
  • Family
  • Needs/wants/desires/goals/dreams
  • Philosophy/ideology
  • Influences
  • Boredom
  • Neglect

Mental Factors:

  • Genetics
  • Mental Illness
  • Pressure/Stress

All of the factors listed above play a part in the road to murder. Society tacitly condones murder by having these factors. An example is boredom; when an individual is bored, and seeks to quell that boredom through murder, society punishes them for doing so. We forget that everyone is different, so naturally, what pleases certain individuals may not please you. We are brought up to think of murder as bad, but it could very well be just like any other interest. Many of us like to listen to music, watch movies, play video games, play sports and the like, so why is murder any different? Isn’t it because we were made to think that way?

Society conditions a certain group of individuals into being the weak; for example, the blacks, the Jews, and First Nations are conditioned to be thought of as the weak. Society conditions Muslims, men, and terrorists in general to be thought of as the strong, because we fear these people and what they are capable of doing.

Society can be categorized into three groups: the weak, the average, and the strong. Using a scale as an example, the weak and the strong are at the ends of the scale, while the average are at the middle. The weak and strong would be categorized at outliers, while the average are categorized as the majority. The strong category would include those with mental capacity and strength that is above average; physical strength; innovative and creative; influential and charismatic; those with interesting and unique ideas; and those with dreams that they are willing to sacrifice everything for to achieve. The weak include those who drop out of school; lose their jobs and homes (homeless); those who are considered “failures” in life by society; those who have no motivation or drive in life to achieve anything; those who are dependent on others even though they have full capability to be independent; those who are socially oppressed against their own will; and those who are physically or mentally disabled.

Society seeks to prolong the survival of the average, the middle class which has the highest chance of survival. It ostracizes the weak and the strong, which leads to these two outliers feeling despair, and thus raising the chances of these two outliers committing acts of violence. These outliers are driven to taking revenge against the average for what society has done against them, in order to give them a sense of purpose which will encourage them to continue living. Society, in doing so, causing itself harm: if it did not ostracize these two outliers, it would not have to deal with the troubles caused by them. Remember, our ‘free will’ is limited or otherwise non-existent (depending on your belief), and therefore, the weak have no opportunities to bring themselves to power and the strong are typically alienated against their will.

Thinking more in-depth about it, there have been numerous pieces of evidence that back our points up. Numerous studies agree that gifted children are more emotional than the average person; blacks and Jews have been kicked around for a good chunk of history; people of different sexual orientations are still being discriminated today.

Some proofs that hit closer to home include: when we bear expectations of our hardworking peers and continuously praise them for their good marks, not knowing that it puts pressure on them; when some parents overlook the good and can only see the bad in you; when you have no say over anything because you’re just a child; when being gifted or being good at something automatically means other people can call you super smart and the fear of disappointing others overtakes you; when you are a certain religion, skin color, nationality, heritage, body size, etc. and you can’t do anything about it, but the media only brings the spotlight to men with “hot” bodies and skinny and tall women. Things like that drive us into a hole, and sometimes, it causes people to crack- to kill, even- and sometimes, the victim of this harm is ourselves.

Therefore, in the interest of the greater good or benefit, society would benefit itself by caring for the two outlier groups in order to maximize the happiness of the average. John Stuart Mill, an extremely important British philosopher who lived in the 19th century put forth the Principle of Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle: “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness”. In this case, society would be justified in judging the two outliers, in order to promote the greatest happiness of the majority. Even though these two outliers would undergo the opposite of happiness (pain), the majority of the average would benefit, therefore justifying these actions.

However, through the lens of Kant’s Categorical Imperative, every human being should be treated as an end in itself. Therefore, society should treat each person in a way that benefits their inherent dignity as a human, and be given help to prevent them from sinking down to a level of violence. This view disagrees with that of Utilitarianism, because it does not condone using people as means. By treating everyone fairly, we would prevent a lot of the trouble that the justice and social system has to deal with.

Is murder justified after being presented with the evidence above? This includes:

  • Murdering for fun (keeping in mind about our points in the first two paragraphs)
  • Murdering because people have cracked under the pressure (keeping in mind about our points in the second to fifth paragraphs)
  • Murdering for the greater good (Mill & Kant paragraphs)

Anything not mentioned on the list above can be posted about, but please don’t direct arguments or discussions towards those points.

 

 

 

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Colonialism and Reconciliation in Canada

Image courtesy of the CBC

In returning to a guiding question in our investigation into systemic oppression, we have spoken in class here and there about Canada’s relationship with its indigenous populations. If there are those who are negatively effected by discrimination and oppression, there are those who benefit from this oppression; and with respect to Canadian First Nations, the dominant culture represented by our affluent suburban public school ought consider the question:

Is it possible to benefit from the oppression of others and not be responsible for the perpetuation of that oppression? And if it is, how?

Before reflecting on the ways in which we might approach this most pressing of Canadian problems, Ottawa Citizen columnist Terry Glavin’s contrasting of indigenous Canadians’ plight against that of their African American neighbours deserves consideration, where he admits that “the conditions that torment Aboriginal Canadians to this day are no less a disgrace than the dead-end impoundments so many African-Americans find themselves within today.”

Aboriginal Canadians and African-Americans suffer from a nearly identical suite of maladies: high rates of cancer, of heart disease, mental illness, suicide, spousal abuse, drug addiction, alcoholism, fetal alcohol syndrome and tuberculosis.

The median income of African-American men is about $31,000. Among white American men it’s $42,000. In Canada, the median annual income for Aboriginal people living off-reserve is $22,500 (among those living on Indian reserves it’s $14,000); the average annual income for Canadian wage workers in general is about $48,000.

The unemployment rate among working-age Aboriginal people in Canada is 13 per cent – more than twice the general jobless rate among working-age Canadians. This is every bit as wide a gap as between African-American men and white American men.

Comparing welfare rates makes Canada look far worse. Slightly more than 10 per cent of African-Americans are on welfare, but in Canada, roughly a third of Aboriginal people are on welfare or some other form of income assistance.

Canada looks worse again when we look inside the prisons. African-Americans make up only about 12 per cent of the U.S. population, but 40 per cent of the U.S. prison population is African-American. A mere four per cent of Canadians are Aboriginal, but more than 23 per cent of the inmate population in federal institutions are Aboriginal people – an incarceration rate 10 times higher than among non-Aboriginal people.

Things are going downhill, too. Over the past decade, the Aboriginal population in federal prisons has grown by more than 50 per cent. In Western Canada, two-thirds of the inmates in federal and provincial institutions are Aboriginal people.

That this scenario exists at all is a tragedy of the first order, to be sure. Yet that it exists in a country which has enshrined in its laws the promotion of “the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society and […] the elimination of any barrier to that participation” is tragically ironic. Though it is not without broad complicity that such a state of affairs is allowed to continue, as Amanda Gebhard highlights in an essay on how “The over-incarceration of Indigenous people is not an unassail­able reality.” Rather, she writes that

It is a violent, colonial project that requires the co-operation and complicity of countless people. Unmaking the situation will require the same sustained and concerted effort. Learning how we are all invited to participate in the colonial project of Aboriginal over-incarceration – and then refusing to do so – is the first step in demolishing the pipeline to prison for Aboriginal youth in Canada.

As Jess highlights in a comment here, with regards to gender discrimination, “the only percentage that matters is that 100% of women have experienced some form of ‘minor’ sexual harassment.” So too do 100% of aboriginal Canadians exist in a country which discriminates against them. In either case it is important to ask: who bears the responsibility to reduce the amount of discrimination and oppression experienced by these groups? Should it fall to the oppressed to liberate themselves from a pervasive society of oppression? Or are we all responsible?

Is it possible for non-indigenous Canadians to benefit from this historical (and continued) discrimination and not be responsible for its perpetuation? By what moral reasoning might they be absolved from acting to end this cycle?

Or must they act?

In a new book Canadian philosopher and author John Ralston Saul notes that “sympathy toward aboriginal people from outsiders is the new form of racism.”

It allows many of us to feel good about discounting their importance and the richness of their civilizations. Sympathy is a way to deny our shared reality. Our shared responsibility. Sympathy obscures the central importance of rights.

The other day the idea was raised that both oppressors and the oppressed are trapped within a society reliant on systemic oppression, and yet we still find ourselves seeking a means by which the beneficiaries of that discrimination might be absolved. Given the realities of our past and future as a nation which contains multitudes, and which prides itself on the “full and equitable participation” of those multitudes, isn’t it our shared responsibility to fight for a system and a society other than the one passed down to us?

These might seem rhetorical questions, but I pose them with the hope that they provoke critical thoughts about a scenario that envelopes us as Canadians whether we like it or not. As Michael Sandel observes, moral philosophy challenges us to make the familiar distant, and in so doing come to understand our reality in new and profound ways.

“Once the familiar turns strange, it’s never quite the same again. Self-knowledge is like lost innocence: however unsettling we find it, it can never be un-thought, or un-known.”

Now that it has become known, if we can agree that it has, how do we move forward, together?

 

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Logic Assignment Introduction

Logic Lane, Oxford

Photo of Logic Lane at Oxford by Andy Hough on Flickr.

As we move into our unit on logic, the face-to-face participants in Philosophy 12 have been reading about the Basic Concepts of Logic (pdf), which may be defined as “the science of reasoning.” Delving into statements, premises, propositions, as well as truth, validity and soundness, our hope is to greet the weekend with a host of blogged examples of logical arguments in their natural habitat. In past years, the tasks around logic have involved a similar feat of strength, and participants have generated multiple examples of logical arguments and tested them for form and content. Occasionally this has sparked interesting discussions of both the merits of this or that argument, the cultural implications (or origins) of such thinking, and by amending the unit assignment this week hopefully we will see more of this type of discourse emerging around our logical examples.

The Assignment 

  • Summarize and describe an example of a logical argument you have uncovered in a variety of settings: current events, popular media, personal anecdotes or hypothetical thought experiments. Be sure to include enough back-story for people unfamiliar with the milieu of your example to digest the logic at work, and provide links, video, or attached materials so that your audience can follow up or extend their inquiry into your example with ease.
  • Dissect the argument and its form by representing it as a syllogism.
  • Evaluate the argument for Truth, Validity and Soundness and explain your judgements.
  • Reflect upon the origins or implications of your selected argument. Where does it (or others like it) come from (in society, culture, etc)? What are the consequences of the conclusion drawn, or from the argument being framed in this way?

Post your example on the class site no later than Tuesday morning, and be sure to include the proper Category: Logic and Scientific Philosophy.

For your reference and preparation, here is an example of a response to this assignment:

Prime Ministerial Logic 

Image via Transitions, an Advocate for Sociological Inquiry

Following the discovery of Tina Fontaine’s murdered body in the Red River, in August, Prime Minister Stephen Harper faced reinvigorated calls to launch a federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada. On the heels of reports from the special rapporteur to the United Nations, as well as the RCMP, which each discovered that aboriginal women in Canada face significantly higher rates of violence than non-aboriginals, Harper’s federal Conservative Government continued to reject pressure to better understand the root causes of this trend. The Prime Minister himself stated that “we should not view this as a sociological phenomenon. We should view it as a crime.”

The Prime Minister’s statement might be seen as an argument broken down to the following premises and conclusion:

Premise 1: The murder or abduction of aboriginal women is a crime.

Premise 2: Crime is not a sociological phenomenon.

Premise 3: A federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women would rely on sociological practices of inquiry.

Conclusion: Therefore, a federal inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women would not address crimes against aboriginal women.

By evaluating the various premises’ truth and/or accuracy, we might be able to reveal the soundness of the Prime Minister’s argument.

  • Premise 1 can easily be accepted as true.
  • Premise 2 can be more easily contested, as the study of criminology itself is a branch of sociological inquiry. While it is the government’s prerogative to define and combat crime in terms it was elected to uphold, practitioners in the fields of both sociology and criminology would likely contest the Prime Minister’s assertion that “crime is not a sociological phenomenon.”
  • Premise 3 can be seen to be true, as an inquiry into the trend of murdered and missing aboriginal women would “study social behaviour, its origins, development, organization, and institutions,” which Wikipedia defines as sociology.

As we can see, the flaw in the Prime Minister’s argument is contained in Premise number two, and damages the conclusion reached. While the argument’s form may be valid, an error in its content damages both the truth of its premises and the soundness of the conclusion.

The origins of the Prime Minister’s logic are difficult to trace, though they might be seen in the political ideology of Neoliberalism. Writing in the Toronto Star, Jakeet Singh noted that the Prime Minister’s remarks were

“clearly trumpeting a standard component of neo-liberal ideology: that there are no social phenomena, only individual incidents. (This ideology traces back to Margaret Thatcher’s famous claim that “there is no such thing as society.”) Neo-liberalism paints all social problems as individual problems.”

The effects of this logic being brought to bear on crime and punishment in Canada can be similarly difficult to witness (somewhat ironically even, as the evidence to be found would reside within the sorts of sociological inquiries the Prime Minister is denying). However, Singh’s article describes the casualties of Mr. Harper’s ideology as our societal ability to perceive and confront injustice. “You see,” he writes, “Sociologists often differentiate between “personal injustices” and “systemic” or “structural injustices.” Personal injustices can be traced back to concrete actions of particular individuals (perpetrators). These actions are often willful, and have a relatively isolated victim.”

Structural injustices, on the other hand, are produced by a social structure or system. They are often hard to trace back to the actions of specific individuals, are usually not explicitly intended by anyone, and have collective, rather than isolated, victims. Structural injustices are a result of the unintended actions of many individuals participating in a social system together, usually without knowing what each other is doing. Whereas personal injustices are traced back to the harmful actions (or inactions) of individuals, structural injustices are identified by differential societal outcomes among groups. Sociologists call these “social inequalities.”

By refusing to view crime as a sociological phenomenon, those accepting the Prime Minister’s argument do so within a broader context which should trouble those who believe in our collective responsibility for one another’s well-being. “When we paint all social problems as individual problems with individual solutions,” Singh writes, “we also lose any sense of the social responsibility, rather than personal responsibility, that we need to address them.”

 

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Ethics Discussion: Euthanasia, Capital Punishment & Safe Injection Sites 12.06.13

Here is the second Ethics discussion from our unit, concerning the questions of Euthanasia, Capital Punishment & Safe Injection Sites. You can read more about each of these topics on their introductory posts:

 
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