Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Logic: Stephen Harper is a Terrorist

For my logic post i have decided to examine the nature of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s stance on “terrorism” and the actions he has taken, allegedly in order to combat what he seems to think is a major threat to Canada.

The definition of “terrorism” is:” the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”. Many definitions include “threat of violence” though i suppose that would fall under “intimidation”

We could narrow this definition down to the more concise “the use of terror (fear) to further political agendas.” Which i think fits better with the name “terrorism” and is entirely accurate.

Therefore my logic example is:

1.Terrorism is the use of terror (fear) to further political agendas
2.Stephen Harper uses the external threat of terrorism to propogate fear in order to further his political agendas
3. Therefore Stephen Harper is a terrorist

If 1. Is true and 2. Is true then 3. Is true.

3. Is directly tied to 1. And 2. Therefore it is a valid logical
argument.

For some background information, recently Harper has been playing on the fears of the Canadian people in regards to Islamic extremism to garner support for the Conservative Party and push through multiple bills such as Bill C-51 and Bill C-24 which severely restrict the rights of Canadians and turn many Canadians into second class citizens. Bill C-51 essentially gives government security agencies such as CSIS (the Canadian CIA) and the RCMP ( the Canadian equivalent of the FBI) to indiscriminately spy on Canadian citizens and access their online information without a warrant and share Canadian’s personal information between agencies, also without a warrant. Bill C-24 gives the government the authority to revoke Canadian citizenship from people who have or are eligible for a second citizenship if they have been charged with a major crime, such as terrorism. Bill C-51 also greatly expands the parameters regarding what is considered “terrorism”, essentially giving the government the authority to arrest and charge peaceful protestors, among others, with being terrorists. C-51 also allows the police to detain suspects for 7 days without a warrant or probable cause and denying them access to a lawyer, phone calls, or visitors. The Harper government has garnered support for these bills by exaggerating the threat of Islamic extremism to Canadian citizens, using examples such as ISIS, the two isolated incidents of lone perpetrators with no connection to each other or to extremist organizations who killed a couple soldiers last year in Quebec and at parliament hill, and in some cases outright fabricating terrorist plots to foil by using undercover police offers to target mentally ill Muslims Canadians and manipulate them into attempting terrorist attacks so that the RCMP can swoop in and save the day. Additionally, The conservative party, in an attempt to recover from their drop in the polls has begun to pander to racists and xenophobes,trying to push through policies to ban cultural and religious clothing in the name of “strengthening Canadian identity”. In short, Harper is propogating racism, xenophobia, and especially islamaphobia in order to garner support and push through bills that strengthen the powers of the government at the expense of the rights and freedoms of Canadians.

 

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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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Ethics Discussion Threads on the Go

Metaphysicians

Peace, Joel.

To bring together the various threads of discussion and dialogue we’ve been engaged in as we work through our initial introductions to the principles of moral reasoning put forth by John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant and John Rawls, I’ve collected links to many of the prompts and posts from the unit below. Follow the links in the headings through to the original posts and share your thoughts on the questions and comments emerging in these various discussions.

The Morality of Murder 

  • Do we have certain fundamental rights? (Follow up: What are they? Why can we assume that they exist?)
  • Does a fair procedure justify any result?
  • What is the moral work of consent? In other words, Why does/can consent make the amoral moral?

Part of the Problem: Talking about Systemic Oppression

Is it possible to benefit from the oppression of [racial minorities, other genders, classes, regions, religions] and not be deemed responsible for such oppression? If it is possible to be ‘innocent’ in such a case, under what conditions does such innocence exist?

Colonialism and Reconciliation in Canada

…who bears the responsibility to reduce the amount of discrimination and oppression experienced by [indigenous] groups? Should it fall to the oppressed to liberate themselves from a pervasive society of oppression? Or are we all responsible?

Iowa rules Legal to Fire Woman for being “Too Attractive”

“The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday stood by its ruling that a dentist acted legally when he fired an assistant because he found her too attractive and worried he would try to start an affair.

“Coming to the same conclusion as it did in December, the all-male court found that bosses can fire employees they see as threats to their marriages, even if the subordinates have not engaged in flirtatious or other inappropriate behavior. The court said such firings do not count as illegal sex discrimination because they are motivated by feelings, not gender.”

Systemic Misogyny or Over-Sensitivity? 

  • What do you feel are the merits of these two arguments?
  • Similarly, where do you feel that either of the arguments is vulnerable or weakly articulated?
  • Have you seen others make either case better?
  • Are there further perspectives that these two essays may be leaving out?

Beyond a Formal Acknowledgement

  • How might each of these three moral philosophers (Kant, Mill, Rawls) approach these recent events?
  • Are there ways in which they might agree?
  • Where do you see their thoughts on indigenous land claims diverging?

Rawls and What is a Fair Start? 

  • First of all, what are your impressions of Rawls’ theory next to concepts of Utilitarianism and/or notions of the Categorical Imperative?
  • Second, do you agree that everyone should have the same basic liberties, whether they are a man or a woman, young or old, rich or poor, part of the minority or part of the majority? And if you do, what basic liberties should everyone have?
  • And third, how do you see Rawls’ theory applying to the discussions we have had around systemic oppression in the last week or so? What insights might the theory offer for those looking to combat a misogynistic or racially discriminating culture? Are there other groups or conditions to which Rawls’ insights may oppose?
 

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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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Part of the Problem: Talking about Systemic Oppression

Cartoon via Amptoons.com

Yesterday I shared the following quote with the face-to-face Philosophy 12 group:

Relationships between groups and relationships between groups and social categories, should not be confused with the oppressive behaviour of individuals. A white man may not himself actively participate in oppressive behaviour directed at blacks or women, for example, but he nonetheless benefits from the general oppression of black and women simply because he is a white man. In this sense, all members of dominant and subordinate categories participate in social oppression regardless of their individual attitudes or behaviour. Social oppression becomes institutionalized when its enforcement is so of social life that it is not easily identified as oppression and does not require conscious prejudice or overt acts of discrimination.

As we have recently begun to define the notion of Justice in class as the pursuit of a society that seeks to eliminate discrimination, the above definition provides a troubling circumstance to extricate ourselves from as a society, whether we find ourselves as part of the oppressor or oppressed class. A question resulting from our reading and discussion yesterday that deserves further reflection during our unit may be

Is it possible to benefit from the oppression of [racial minorities, other genders, classes, regions, religions] and not be deemed responsible for such oppression? If it is possible to be ‘innocent’ in such a case, under what conditions does such innocence exist?

These are difficult questions to confront, perhaps even moreso in an affluent suburb with many of the advantages that we enjoy here in North America. However, as events involving police brutality in the United States (something some would argue that we have little right to feel smug about in Canada), or recent revelations about CBC darling Jian Ghomeshi, or at Dalhousie University’s dental school may attest, we can be seen to exist within a violently oppressive culture.

This is a contentious point to make, I realize, and smacks something of the question of how does one convince a fish that it is swimming in water if it is all the fish has ever known? But I would hope that these recent events, and the provocative questions raised by reflecting on institutional oppression create a space to debate and discuss the ramifications of these realities, supposing we can accept that these are in fact realities.

To that end, do you (participant, commenter, or reader of this blog and post) feel that this is in fact a reality? Why or why not?

If you do see this/these events as part of a system of oppression and violence, how ought we proceed toward that “just” life? And is it possible for the beneficiaries of various forms of oppression to fight for not only their own innocence, but the equality and freedom from discrimination of all peoples?

For your further consideration, the original definition of institutional oppression comes from a  longer piece rebutting the contention that “not all men” are responsible for violent manifestations of the patriarchy, by Michael Laxer. You can read that article here.

 

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Diversity in Philosophy

We’ve spoken a little in #Philosophy12 this semester about the propensity of texts and teachers to rely on the roots of Western (and often male-centric) philosophers to form the basis of our understanding on the subject of knowledge, something we will likely address as we move toward epistemology this semester. However, the discussion has come about in our classroom in years past with respect to the search for female metaphysicians:

This tweet [to the left] started a ball rolling that saw me sending a late-at-night email to MIT Philosophy professor Sally Haslanger about why there weren’t any female Metaphysicians listed on Wikipedia’s List of Metaphysicists [Note: the page has since been updated to reflect our question.]. Sally was gracious enough to email me back the following morning, asking if she might “share your question with some of my female metaphysician friends?”

Which gave way to a conversation that began in room 111 – and on #ds106radio – showing up on this blog, moderated at least in part by Berit Brogaard:

Bryan Jackson recently wrote to Sally Haslanger to ask why there were no women on the list of metaphysicians on wikipedia. Sally shared this very good question with a few philosophers who have been interested in similar questions. After some discussion via email Sally started revising the entry. I have no idea how to revise wiki entries or what the rules are for making revisions, but I strongly encourage wiki-tech-y people to make further improvements to the list.

This week, GNA rekindled this conversation by passing along this essay by Concordia professor Justin E. H. Smith on “Philosophy’s Western Bias“:

The goal of reflecting the diversity of our own society by expanding the curriculum to include non-European traditions has so far been a tremendous failure. And it has failed for at least two reasons. One is that non-Western philosophy is typically represented in philosophy curricula in a merely token way. Western philosophy is always the unmarked category, the standard in relation to which non-Western philosophy provides a useful contrast. Non-Western philosophy is not approached on its own terms, and thus philosophy remains, implicitly and by default, Western. Second, non-Western philosophy, when it does appear in curricula, is treated in a methodologically and philosophically unsound way: it is crudely supposed to be wholly indigenous to the cultures that produce it and to be fundamentally different than Western philosophy in areas like its valuation of reason or its dependence on myth and religion.  In this way, non-Western philosophy remains fundamentally “other.”

It is my hope that in our current semester of philosophical inquiry, we move beyond this inclination toward ‘tokenism,’ and delve into different traditions of knowing beyond those dominant here on the western shores of North America.

I am curious though:

  • How have others confronted this problem of modern philosophy?
  • Are there in-born limitations in trying to comprehend cultural norms too far outside of our own?
  • What attitudes, approaches or processes might help challenge us to move beyond our own cultural perspectives?

 

 
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