Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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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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Systemic Misogyny or Over-sensitivity?

Screenshot courtesy of the Halifax Journal

Noted copy-paste journalist Margaret Wente has an article this week delving into recent events at Dalhousie’s Dental School, allowing us to return to our discussion from last Friday. Wente takes aim at the notion of “rape culture,” and puts the onus for progress squarely on women’s perceived sense of threat:

How did that happen? How did we create an entire class of highly privileged, mostly affluent young women who feel unsafe on campus, microaggressed at every turn, utterly unable to cope with the garden-variety misdemeanours of boys and men, who have been behaving badly since time began despite our many efforts (most quite successful) to civilize them?

Well, you know the answer. The universities are hothouses for a grievance culture that sees racism, sexism and misogyny under every rug. Many of the faculty derive their livelihoods from it. These institutions have constructed increasingly elaborate codes of conduct and large administrative apparatuses to detect and uproot these evils, however subtle and invisible they may be to ordinary people.

In Macleans, Anne Kingston musters a brief but thorough critique of Wente’s dismissal:

Protecting those accused of abusive behaviour is a hallmark of rape culture. So is dismissal of those subject to abuse. We saw it in the hand-wringing after the 2013 conviction  of two teenagers for brutally raping a young girl in Steubenville, Ohio.CNN, for one, fretted how the young men “had such promising futures, star football players, very good students,” not for a moment considering how the assaults might affect the victim’s future. In a similar vein, Wente praised the dentistry students who joked about drugging and sexually assaulting women as “decent people.” If she had a daughter in the class, she writes, the first thing she’d ask her was: “What are these guys like in person? Are they disrespectful pigs or are they decent people? (The answer, evidently, is that they are decent people.)” What evidence she marshalled to conclude the group is anything but “disrespectful pigs” is unclear. The fact they’re enrolled in a professional school? The fact they knew their posts were offensive, and then scrambled to cover up when they were about to be exposed? Equally unclear is why their actions in private shouldn’t be a more significant marker of character than their public personae—a lesson learned in the Jian Ghomeshi scandal.  If these students were decent people, they would come forward with an abject apology. They haven’t. Which means that if anyone needs a retrograde lecture on how to “man up,” it’s them.

Whether you are swayed by either of the pieces, they can be seen to broadly sketch out two fundamental planks of the argument over systemic misogyny and the ‘rape culture’ we discussed last week.

Based on the above readings, a few questions:

  • 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?

As ever, I’d be curious to hear from you in the comments.

 

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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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Political Animals

Following from some of the work Kelsey and Jeff have been doing, this New York Times Opinionator post may lead us into interesting discussions of social and political philosophy:

Homo sapiens has long sought to set itself apart from animals — that is, apart from every other living species. One of the most enduring attempts to define humanity in a way that distances us from the rest of animal life was Aristotle’s description of the human being as a “political animal.” By this he meant that human beings are the only species that live in the “polis” or city-state, though the term has often been understood to include villages, communes, and other organized social units. Implicit in this definition is the idea that all other animals are not political, that they live altogether outside of internally governed social units.

This supposed freedom from political strictures has motivated some, such as the 19th-century anarchist aristocrat Piotr Kropotkin, to take nonhuman animals as a model for human society. But for the most part the ostensibly nonpolitical character of animal life has functioned simply to exclude animals from human consideration as beings with interests of their own.

What might we be missing when we cut animals off in this way from political consideration? For one thing, we are neglecting a great number of solid scientific facts.This supposed freedom from political strictures has motivated some, such as the 19th-century anarchist aristocrat Piotr Kropotkin, to take nonhuman animals as a model for human society. But for the most part the ostensibly nonpolitical character of animal life has functioned simply to exclude animals from human consideration as beings with interests of their own.

 

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Ethics Discussion: Eating Pork & Animal Testing 12.05.13

Screen shot 2013-12-05 at 12.47.04 PM

Board notes from the discussion.

Here is our first ethical discussion, led by Katherine, Jessica, Heather and Kristina on the ethics of eating pork and animal testing. You can find their original posts here on the blog:

 

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The Evolving Social Contract

Bonnie Stewart has written eloquently this week about the idea of the social contract in online spheres:

The idea of the social contract originates with political philosophy. Philosophy’s finer points aren’t exactly experiencing what you’d call a cultural heyday, at the moment, but suffice to say the idea’s a relic of the Enlightenment, with earlier origins in the Biblical covenant and in Greece and Rome. It connotes the relationship we all have to the structures of power and order in our societies.

The social contract, at its simplest, is about what we expect from others and ourselves: the deal we believe we’re in regarding the give and take of rights, freedoms, and responsibilities. Most forms of the social contract, historically, argue for the giving over of certain freedoms – though what these are and how they are expressed can vary – in exchange for protections of the state or the civilizing influence of society.

We used to, in short, make those deals with some kind of monolithic power – a God or a state or what have you. That was the old school social contract. At some level, most of us are still kind of inclined or trained in this direction, and the divide between God and state – or least interpretations of what ‘state’ means and what rights and freedoms are involved – may serve to explain the increasing partisanship and vitriol in contemporary postmodern politics. Red states and blue states aren’t necessarily in the same social contract.

But it’s even more complex than that. We now live in some crazy kind of incarnation of McLuhan’s global village: the world’s biggest small town. Most of us are wired into some kind of relationship with our capitalist, consumerist, media society, by our bank cards and our status as citizens of postmodern globalized nation states. Our society operates – as do an increasing number of us at the individual level – more on network logic than on the one-to-many logic of hierarchical monoliths like religion and the state.

So we are, in our day to day interactions as humans in the 21st century, constantly trying to establish and operate within the terms of unspoken and often hugely divergent social contracts. We are no longer just entering into an implicit deal with the powers-that-be. We are each others’ powers-that-be.

And we need to learn to navigate those negotiations openly and explicitly; to own the power we have and not wait for the big and mighty to make it all better for us.

What struck me about Bonnie’s post is not only the future-application of the discussion to our philosophy class’ Social & Political Philosophy unit, but also what it lends us in attempting to address the recent tragic death of Coquitlam resident Amanda Todd. As local, national and international media has focused largely on the cyber-bullying aspect of the story, I have been reluctant to ascribe to this lens that seems to view our online and physical environments as distinct separate spaces. Bonnie says it better:

Make no mistake, Amanda Todd was cyber-bullied. Her network of peers appear to have contributed to her shaming via Facebook. But if a kid were stalked by a pimp on a school playground and the pimp then manipulated the playground gang into participating in the abuse, we wouldn’t frame the story as a bullying story, first and foremost.

This is a story about abuse of the power of the internet, first and foremost. It’s about the ways in which anonymity enables people to prey on the vulnerable, and about the ways in which our social contract has not yet worked out the lines between the right to free speech and the ways in which anonymous speech *can* bring out the absolute worst in those who want to exercise more power than their embodied lives necessarily afford them.

Not only do the online and physical interact, they are facets of the same reality. “We are all bodies somewhere,” Bonnie says. Indeed, and wherever it occurs, a hurt is a hurt is a hurt.

As I mentioned, we will be addressing the idea of the social contract as we move through our ethics, social and political philosophy units, but I wanted to share Bonnie’s post with you lest more time pass between what is in the transitional phase – for us especially here in Coquitlam – between a raw and open personal wound in our community and a more global political, journalistic and cultural spectacle (another hallmark of the Internet era). Because for those of you taking this course – face to face, especially, but those of you in our wider circle as well – we are exploring this online terrain and applying our philosophical lens to the nature of knowledge and the communities we can create together, and I am curious to hear your thoughts as inhabitants of this/these worlds who likely don’t feel that they are altogether separate.

I’m chiefly interested (though this list isn’t exhaustive) in:

  • How does the anonymity of the Internet create a challenge for our existing idea(s) of the Social Contract?
  • How might we address the problems created by an anonymous web that maintains our sense of freedom that not only created the Internet, but which it was created to enable?
  • Will events like these create the necessity that begets the articulation of an evolved Social Contract that is able more explicitly to make “this giant small town where we all live” more livable?

While we might not get ‘there’ in the curriculum for another few weeks, consider these questions and Bonnie’s post, as open for discussion in the meantime. I don’t expect us to reach much in the way of a concrete understanding. But I do heartily believe that this discussion is one of the first steps toward creating that place where we all might belong.

 
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