Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Zone of Indiscernibility

Hi guys, Im writing this blog because I wanted to get other opinions on what we discussed a little bit in class today; Ranciere’s “Zone of Indiscernibility."

First of all, lets talk vocab. When something is "indiscernable," it is difficult or impossible to perceive. So when Ranciere mentions this "Zone of Indiscernibility," he is simply making a category of things that he feels cannot be completely perceived. A few examples we had on the board today include: children, comatose patients, people with mental disorders, and immigrants. Some of these examples have a more obvious reason to be placed in Ranciere's zone, such as refugees. They flee their home country for safety, so it is hard to determine what rights, if any, apply to them (their rights are difficult to perceive). Children also have a fair reason to be placed in this category, as they do not have enough knowledge nor experience to make decisions on their own, therefore making their rights hard to be perceived as well. If a child commits a murder, are they tried as an adult or as a child? These thin lines are exactly what causes Ranciere's Zone of Indiscernibility.

I would like to know how all of you feel about the more difficult examples, such as comatose patients and people with mental disorders. In the case of comatose patients, you might want to reference Agamben on page 4 of Ranciere's Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man. Take note what he says about "sacred life."
Also, if you can think of any other subjects that should be placed in the Zone of Indiscernibility, feel free to mention those as well.


Thanks guys!!
(250 words)

Humanitarian Invasion - An Abuse of Power?

Having read Ranciere’s “Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man?” multiple times now, I find that fully comprehending the ideas and assertions of the essay is rather complex and confusing. Personally, I was completely hung up on the statement which Ranciere uses (albeit halfway through his essay) as the foundation for his arguments: “the Rights of Man are the rights of those who have not the rights that they have and have the rights they have not” (5). What? I had hoped that class today would clarify this but it seems to have baffled the majority of us. Ranciere explains that according to Arendt, rights are “Either a void or a tautology” (5). However, he believes there is a third assumption which is ignored in Arendt’s arguments and that is what brings us to the previously stated and extremely complicated sentence. Essentially, what comes out of his musings are two things: first, that rights are written inscriptions for society, and second that they are the rights of those who use and verify the validity of their rights.

Since Andrea already posted a very thorough blog on the arguments of Ranciere, I’d like to focus on the conclusion that Ranciere draws from his new third assumption. He traces the progression of the Rights of Man from being the rights of those with certain civic rights to becoming Human Rights and eventually the new right to “humanitarian interference.” By his account, Rights of Man were essentially the “rights of the rightless” (1), which lead to the obligation of society to uphold those rights for them. In modern, western society, humanitarian aide is generally considered one of the highest goods a person or nation can do. However, Ranciere uses curiously negative language in his description of this phenomenon and I wonder what he may be implying when he describes the right to humanitarian interference as “the right to invasion” (1)?

Historically, many wars have occurred over what seems to be Human Rights. World War II is best remembered for victory over Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. The War in Iraq is said to have began in order to free the Iraqis from their tyrannical leader. The Civil War is remembered best as the war in which the Yankees freed the slaves. However, is this really why the wars began or have we simply started using this new right to humanitarian interference as an excuse for personal gain? In my opinion, nations have abused this new right as both an excuse to conquer and a way to rally its subjects. It seems that as a nation, we only act when we are either provoked or it is to our advantage. Because of this, defending the rights of the rightless has become the byproduct of something much less noble – invasion.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Rights of the Rightless?

Those who trudged through the long reading of Rancière on “Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man”: Congratulations! In all seriousness, it was not an easy reading. Rancière takes a backwards approach to his essay by stating the conclusion first with, “And the Rights of Man turned out to be the rights of the rightless,” (297) and he slowly works forward with evidence from other philosophers.

What exactly is Rancière implying with the “rights of the rightless”? One of his stronger arguments was when he broke down his statement, “The Rights of Man are the rights of those who have not the rights that they have and have the rights that they have not,” (Rancière , 303). Confused? He clarifies his idea by stating that the two forms of existence—written rights and the rights of those who make something of the written rights—are brought together by the subject of rights. Bringing his ideas back to Arendt, he agrees with the German philosopher that humans only obtain rights through a nation. People are rightless until they are identified in a group in which rights are established and protected by a state. Therefore, the Rights of Man (assuming man in his natural state, without establishment) are actually the rights of humans who don’t have rights. A little wordy, but it seems plausible. However, because people are rightless, does that make them not worthy of rights? I think the term “rights” is thrown around too often. Rancière makes a point to say only citizens have rights, not natural man. Since rights are established within a community, they could vary from group to group. So perhaps being “rightless” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Like the saying “you never know what you have until it’s gone,” maybe natural man isn’t compelled to seek equal rights because it’s not something he was seeking. A right doesn’t become a right until someone takes it away from another; only then is it a privelage to be treated a certain way.

Rancière goes on to talk about politics and democracy. He states that unlike many perceive it to be, democracy is not the power of poor. Instead, it is the power of the people who are powerless. It’s supplementary in politics. While I believe this is true—that democracy serves to try to spread the power amongst the citizens—I was confused about his stance on qualification. He says, “Democracy is the power of those who have no specific qualification for ruling, except the fact of having no qualification,” (Rancière, 305). I agree that you do not have to be qualified to have power in a democracy, but does that mean that each person is not “qualified” to have power? What exactly is this qualification; what traits does a person need to be qualified to have power? I do agree with Rancière’s opinion that politics separate the community. Politics divide humans into parts, whether it is between nations, political parties, opinions on issues, etc. By forming a community of people with different ideals, it is inevitable to have some sort of separation between opinions and ideas.

A part that caught my attention was Rancière’s view about Wrong. First off, by writing “Wrong” with a capitalized “W,” Rancière implies that there is only one collective unit that consists of all “wrong.” He says that rethinking Wrong is the key to Human Rights in a humanitarian circumstance. He then uses Lyotard’s concept of Inhuman to justify his thoughts. Lyotard says what we call “inhuman” behavior is, in fact, part of human nature. Humans act inhumane when they are betrayed by another Inhuman; it is an uncontrollable part of human nature. However, by using this example, is Rancière implying that certain “Wrongs” should be dismissed because sometimes a human’s reaction is part of the unconscious? In that case, how would Wrongs be regulated? How can someone distinguish Right from Wrong? While Rancière pretty accurately covers most topics on the Rights of Man, some points could have been clarified one step further.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Blast to the Past? (Butler)

In Indefinite Detention, Butler uses the actions of the U.S government towards detainees as a platform to voice her concerns on “indefinite detention”. Here, it’s used to describe detainees held by the U.S who are denied even recognition and solid standards for convicting evidence and trials. She believes it doesn’t have a ground in law and is based on the judgment of a select few who determine the fate and lives of people. However, is it because that indefinite detention is based on people’s judgment that it is outside the sphere of law? Or is it the other way around? And is she implying that those who make heavily consequential decisions are dumb? Indefinite detention plays a constant role on detainees because in government policies because people’s definition of terrorism is limitless; people see terrorism in everything, and so their detention will never end. She shoots down the excuse that extreme measures are necessary in a state of emergency by pointing out that the definition of “state of emergency” is also indefinite, and that there is no set period for it. What I found interesting was the notion that indefinite detention “not only carries implications for when and where law will be suspended but for determining the limit and scope of legal jurisdiction itself”. (Butler 51). Is she saying that those who implement indefinite detention become the law or the sovereign?

Something that really confused me was the idea that getting rid of the traditional thought of sovereignty (as in how people got power through social status, etc.) would cause sovereignty to rise again as an “anachronism” (an error in chronology). My interpretation of this is that sovereignty could potentially rise again as something it wasn’t supposed to be, and so the new sovereignty would be a mistake. But does she mean an error in what was already past, and what counts as an error in time?

Butler beings up two forms of government power: sovereignty and governmentality. Governmentality cannot be reduced to law and “legitimizes the state” (as in it allows the state to do what it deems to those it governs). The state cannot exist without governmentality, and in order for governmentality to exist, the traditional sovereignty has to be dropped. So how do countries with sovereign-like governments survive today? And does she see a difference between the traditional sovereignty and the governmentality now? Because it’s the government now that is keeping the detainees from basic rights and living conditions that she believes everyone should have and that’s loosening the standards for evidence and trials. Could we be living in a monarchy right now without knowing it?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Run! The Stateless are coming!!


“Before this, what we must call a ‘human right’ today would have been thought of as a general characteristic of the human condition which no tyrant could take away” (Arendt 297). Aristotle thought of those people part of a political community as “political animals” (297). But what happens when the political is taken out of the term “political animal.” Those once considered “political animals” just become animals or what equivalent to a “savage” or stateless person who attains human rights by nature. Arendt presents a valid argument on the existence of human rights. It is hard to believe that a slave and a criminal in political society have more rights than an innocent refugee who abandons their nationality for their basic rights. Arendt brings about an interesting conclusion to the idea of the growth of a stateless people when she states “their ever-increasing numbers threaten our political life [and] our human artifice [similar to the way] wild elements of nature once threatened the existence of man-made cities and countrysides” (302).
If the stateless people one day grow to have a population almost as large as the amount in civil society, should civil society take those “just humans” back so that civilized society does not face any danger from the stateless community?
If yes, civilized society would be admitting the “savages” that were let go in the first place. It beats having a confrontation with the stateless society. Also, where do the stateless people go to live? They no longer have right to land or a nation to call home.
Would they live a life of travel like the gypsies who are constantly migrating or live somewhat like the Native Americans who have specific land granted to them by the government?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Questioning, of the Jewish Question

This literature was by no means easy to grasp upon first glance. I was reading over it, and my initial reaction was that it was anti-semitism preaching at its pinnacle. However after further prodding of the work i started to interpret it very differently. Marx was not alienating the Jewish people, (well he was actually) but he was using their history as an example in civil society. The jewish people have always been comprised of contradictory requests in the endeavors of their practice. Bauer pointed out that Jewish people wanted emancipation both religiously and politically, however they were emancipating themselves from everyone else, so where do we stand to emancipate ourselves from them and their practice? He looked at it as the jews wanting to have their cake and eat it to. He would clearly have been a man to think that these contradictions are what led to almost every major conflict/war in human history. However, in our postmodern society, this thinking is highly frowned upon and regarded as terribly unenlightened. Our chapter of modern civil society would look more to Marx's idealism in regards to religion as opposed to those of Bauer's.
Marx takes it beyond the scapegoating of the jewish people, and takes it to the question of religion and religious obligation in the state. He claims that the only way for a society to function at 100% efficiency is to be entirely devoid of religious affiliation, but not to outlaw it altogether, albeit families can follow the tenants of their respective religious disciplines in absolute privacy of the state. This allows for a secular society that can have religious following within it, but removed from guiding it behind closed doors. He uses north america as an example of this working at high efficiency where the culture of the society is entirely politically emancipated and religious practice is allowed in free expression, with regards to secularity from the state and office. So is it to say that society would be better off without religion entirely? or does the U.S. government have the end all be all solution to this question? In my belief as someone being raised religiously i do understand that religious strife causes much political tension across the globe, especially in the hotbed of turmoil that has been the middle east for ages now. However, i have been raised to believe in being righteous, and doing good things, and spreading the good word. Most religions are based around the concept of being a good person, and being a proud member of the community and country in which you belong to. So yes there is the pledging yourself to a god or higher power, but their is the utmost respect for civil law and legislation within civilized society. So maybe it should not come down to who is right about God, and whose God is the right one, but how we can live harmoniously together with our religions coinciding with one another. He goes as far as to say that in civil society we reduce every man we encounter to their means and nothing more, therefore we have grounds in which to judge them entirely upon our initial meeting of them. He continues this with a note that we too reduce ourselves to our means to know our place within the social construction of society and communicate effectively with these other civilized beings. Our status as command beings within the political community serves spiritually to our civil society as heaven does to earth. "Men living within civil society exist as an imaginary member of an imaginary sovereignty. We are removed from individual life and reality and given an unreal universality."(p.36) So do i agree with Marx? no, i feel that he is an idealist who seeks an impossible utopia through pragmatic ideals, but do i understand his reasoning behind his work and where his intentions are coming from? yes i do. Our society is so dependent on fiscal association and class affiliation that we are losing sight of our humanity by the day, and whether an answer to this issue will ever come about is beyond me, as i am merely a student attempting to interpret this very cryptic, critical way of putting the world we ve come to know. The "Jewish Question" and the question of religious emancipation from the entire world has yet to be answered in a clear and coherent fashion, maybe one day religion will evolve and adapt along with the society now that seems to be almost fashioning it as an archaic and dated idea.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Jewish Problem

Bruno Bauer introduces a commonly disputed topic in history – the Jewish Problem. The words “liberty, human rights, and emancipation” are often thrown around regarding the Jewish struggle(187). As I’m sure many of us have learned about numerous conflicts in history class pertaining to Jews these words were thrown around. In order to reach a completely unbiased conclusion on this matter I agree with Bauer in saying, we should refrain from using them in our research.

            The problem greatly deals with the criticism of Jews. They are subject to a lot of criticism. Are they deserving of it? Many would say, as we learned in high school world history, that they deserved to follow their religion without persecution or ridicule. This problem has become such a sensitive subject that and minute criticism of the Jewish man results in an “outcry”(187). Are some of these criticisms not legitimate? It is absolutely true that some of these criticisms have been brought upon themselves. In some aspects they may have excluded themselves from society rather than society out casting them. “The will of history is evolution new forms and progress change.(190)” It is quite evident that the Jewish man is opposed to anything that brings him from what he is. We can give them honor for suffering oppression that they brought upon themselves.  But this honor, and opposition against the system has excluded them. The problem Bruno provides for us is that thos who suffered from oppression did so because of their lack of ability to develop within history. Those who migrated to the Americas, or France did not keep their pure identity. Thus, they were successful in their flee from oppression.

            I feel almost uncomfortable talking about this topic because we are all brought up based upon the US Constitution, which grants freedom of religion, voice, etc. Indirectly, most of us choose not to voice and small for of question or ridicule of other’s religion. But Bruno’s argument on his first page is absolutely true. It seems that Jews can target criticisms of Christians without a “human rights” issue being raised while if the opposite happens all hell breaks loose. Right now I want to comment saying that what I am saying is in no way shape or form anti-Semitic, but just rereading my text it is absolutely neutral. For the first time I can confront this subject with which I always feel I am walking on eggshells. The reality of the “Jewish Problem is that both religions have been affected by the other, yet neither could over come the other(197). Christianity was created as a trail of Judaism, while Jewish critiques of Christianity would not have been made possible had it not been for Christian Scholarship. Thus the only way to liberate Jews from oppression is for there to be a free world; one which there is no longer prejudice; that prejudice for which the Jews themselves are responsible.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Discourse on the Origin on Inequality

Rousseau, a major critic of civilization shows that a major problem in modern man is inequality. The main concern of said inequality is civil, political, and social inequality clearly existent in society today. What does this inequality root from? Has inequality always existed? Rousseau answers this complex question by using conclusions about the past. He explains that through studying ourselves as human beings we become farther away from how we were as original human beings. But, we must have some notion or concept of the past to know the present. By this philosophy, Rousseau can make theories about the past; specifically the change in natural man, and the possible of inequality in natural man.
A major advancement in Rousseau’s Discourse on the origin of Inequality is the understanding of man in his natural state. Man was guided by one thing…impulses. He lived for, and just enough time (similar to animals) for self-preservation; specifically, food, sex, and rest. Because of these basic needs, man had one tool, his necessary robust senses. He had everything he needed to survive. Rousseau states, “In instinct alone, man had everything he needed in order to live in the state of nature; in a cultivated reason, he has only what he needs to live in society” (34). Without these, he would not be fit enough to advance in life and reproduce. According to Rousseau, natural man does not have reason (37). Reason is something we learned or acquired. Thus, the knowledge of man is through perception and experiences. Natural man was significantly stronger than modern man because of the sheer lack of reliance on technology associated with modern man. Original man was prepared for any task because all he needed were his own forces, not tools (20). Natural man according to Rousseau was harmless. He, unlike the competitive civil man, is “gentle.” Rousseau writes, “When placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civil man….he is restrained by natural pity from needlessly harming anyone himself, even if he has been harmed” (50).
In respect with the existence of inequality, it has not always existed. Descartes essentially blames inequality on the existence of society. Man in his natural state, was completely different from the modern man in many aspects. Modern man according to Descartes is flawed. We have gone through “revolutions” as became farther from natural freedoms of man. As men developed, and changed from natural original man, he began to depend on many more things; namely, other people. The change first started in mans acquisition of pride. When one man is stronger than another in any aspect, he develops pride. This is all a result of unequal association. Eventually mankind became settled. A direct result of this, are laws of justice. Without these laws, clearly man free from any higher power, and is the judge of himself. Thus, in this state man is more free. Eventually, the establishment of the artificial institution of family came (47). Family is like a small society. Unlike original man, modern man in this society is now dependent on other people, and tools and different technology. Thus, original man was more free in a sense that he did not rely on anything but the tools that he was born with. He did not concern himself with anything besides self preservation which he spent all of his time doing. The ultimate move toward perfection of an individual seems to be great. Although according to Rousseau, is it “the decay of the species” (50).
Man was clearly free in his natural state. On the contrary, modern man has far less freedoms, one constraint is law. According to Rousseau, with the rid of law and the state, man would return to a state of natural freedom. The ultimate and direct cause of inequality, which is the predominant problem with society, is society itself. Rousseau uses an example with a blacksmith and a farmer both, who do an equal amount of work, one rendered far better off than the other (53) Thus, Rousseau concludes that, “it is natural inequality imperceptibly manifests itself together with inequality occasioned by the socialization process” (53). Therefore all problems such as thefts, poverty, violence, is a result of socialization in the eyes of Rousseau. And the major flaw of modernity; inequality, is legitimized and secured, with the establishment of property and its laws associated as a direct result (71). The existence of inequality was nonexistent in original natural man.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Society: The Origin of Inequality

In Part two of Rousseau's Discourse on the origin of inequality, Rousseau gives evidence that inequality was started once societies were formed. He begins by giving the example of a man claiming land as his own, when in fact it does not belong to him. From this, he goes further back to find out when this idea of property came into being (44).
Eventually Rousseau gets to the point in history when man starts forming society. Men started settling together and forming nations, united by characteristic features rather than regulations and laws (49). Within these settlements, public esteem became a value. When this happened, "the one who sang or danced the best, the handsomest, the strongest, the most adroit or the most eloquent" were the ones who were held up high in public esteem (49). This is where jealousy and competition can be rooted to. According to Rousseau, "this was the first step toward inequality and toward vice." (49).
This desire to be highly regarded by others became a danger to happiness and innocence. Many philosophers state that it was in man's nature to be cruel, but Rousseau argues the opposite. He says that once men began to value one another, each man wanted to be the best, and terrible things such as jealousy and revenge came into being. It is because of this that men became "bloodthirsty and cruel." (50). He also says that there is nothing as gentle as a man in his primitive state, when he lived for self preservation. When men lived with only self preservation, they did not interfere with or harm others. At this point he praises the words once said by Locke, "where there is no property, there is no injury."(50). Rousseau uses Locke's statement to strengthen his argument against those that say men are naturally cruel, and that civilization is needed in order to soften him.
All of these factors, mainly the creation of society, together form the basis for inequality among humans. The desire to be highly regarded by others causes jealousy which then leads to violence. If society had not been formed, there would not be any competition among men, and therefore there would be no cruelty because without society, everyone is equal.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Back to Basics: Understanding Man in his Natural State

Is it possible for the modern man to ever truly know the human being as it was in its primitive state? This is precisely the question that Jean-Jacques Rousseau explores in his "Discourse on the Origin of Inequality".

In order to learn of the "specifics" of a subject, one must first have a thorough understanding of the "subject" in its most basic concepts. Here, we can see that this "specific" is the question of inequality, as it relates to the subject of the human being. And thus, it is the human being that we must fully understand before delving into anything relating directly to mankind's inequalities.

Much like Rene Descartes had begun from the "ground" and worked his way up in order to make his points, Rousseau also philosophizes in a similar way, as be wants to start at the very beginning of mankind. He sought to understand man, not in his current state, but instead, in his most primitive state - before reason, knowledge, science, and civilization fueled man's decline, as he believed it to have done.

Rousseau believes that the most we apply our knowledge and reason to understand the primitive, natural man, the further we travel from the truths we are seeking to find. We cannot use the modern, civilized tools (reason) that has been instilled in us over the ages to explore primitive man; to try and use modern ways of thinking to understand concepts from man's natural, uncivilized days of existence would be like trying to fix a metal nail into a wall by using a hammer made of soft clay - utterly useless, and the mere notion of it concludes a great falsity.

At this point, Descartes had come to mind once more, as he distinguished between objects and perceptions, realizing that we cannot use one (perception), to understand the other (object) because of their complete lack of relativity. Similar to this, Rousseau claims that we cannot thoroughly examine and understand man in his natural state through the use of our modern reasoning and science. We must instead examine solely the natural laws; those laws that "speak directly by the voice of nature" (13). Abiding only to the natural laws by which primal man existed, Rousseau identified what we thought to be the two most simple operations of the human soul" (14): primarily, well-being and our self-preservation, and secondly, our natural repugnance toward seeing other being, especially humans, suffer. With only these two aspects of the natural, primal human soul, Rousseau believes we had little to no inner conflict. Reason was the element, that once introduced, smothered the true, harmonious, natural laws of man.

A great irony in regards to Rousseau's claim that the use of reason is that which hinders us from understanding mankind's natural state, is that he uses exactly this kind of modern and civilized reasoning throughout his entire essay. It makes me wonder if the use of reason was, indeed, a primal, natural aspect of the human being; if it was never learned, but ingrained in us from the very beginning. Maybe Rousseau is using his reasoning in such an overt way that he does not even realize the naturalness of himself using it, even when trying to focus on subjects he claims that reason can't understand. How can one philosophize about subjects that they claim cannot be understood by reason, when philosophizing is, in itself, using reason to make conclusions - it is a complete paradox.