Sunday, August 29, 2010

Glenn Beck: The ideological inheritor of the civil rights movement?

The (in)famous Glenn Beck led a rally yesterday at the National Mall on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial under the name of “Restoring Honor” along with Sarah Palin, among other guests, and it just so happened that the date of this rally happened to be the anniversary of the 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” at which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of the most well known and oft-quoted “I have a Dream” speech. Beck has claimed that the date shared by the two events is simply a coincidence however this hasn't stopped him from claiming that his rally is a continuation of the ideals and intentions for which the civil rights marchers fought and of which Dr. King spoke on that day forty-seven years ago. He claims that the civil rights movement has been hijacked by radicals away from the ideals of its progenitors and that Beck and other conservatives are reclaiming it and restoring it to its original intent.

It doesn't take a historian to figure out that Beck is full of it but the large gathering of people at the event (conservative estimates put the attendance at around 200,000 while the event organizers themselves give a number of 500,000) and the rhetoric used by both those supporting and opposed to yesterday's march have me convinced that the 1963 march on Washington and the civil rights movement itself are not widely understood by the American public today. This poses a serious problem for the future of this nation, as if we do not correctly understand what the civil rights struggle was about we cannot understand how successful it was in obtaining its goals. Our praise of Dr. King and the other civil rights leaders become hollow and devoid of meaning without understanding their intentions or the ways in which they wanted their ideals to be fulfilled.

One thing that really gets to me is the way in which the civil rights movement has been packaged into a nice neat little bundle that is easy to swallow and completely lacking in controversy. It has become a snippet of Dr. King's speech in which children are taught that the civil rights movement was about people not being, “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” This alternate history that nearly every student across the United States learns today discounts the radical nature of the civil rights movement and even Dr. King himself, turning them into bland and uninteresting caricatures. The truth is that these people were radicals, they were fighting for radical ideals, and many of those ideals that they fought for are still considered radical by today's standards. The twisted history that is taught today says that these men and women were moderate voices, that the radicals were organizations such as SNCC and the Black Panther Party, yet when one looks at the facts nothing can be further from the truth. I can guarantee that Dr. King and Beck would not have seen eye to eye on much of anything if they were to meet, Beck would call King a radical, a socialist and a man too dangerous to “American ideals” to follow.

Part of the goals of the civil rights movement was certainly what is talked about today, in ending the racial violence that ruled this country for nearly its entire existence, in ending segregation, and in putting an end to the rule of Jim Crow across the South. But this was not the entirety of the movement, only a small portion of it. Look at the signs from the 1963 march. Look at the name of the march itself. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. One of the largest goals of King and his colleagues was to end poverty, not only for those of his own race but for all. King said on that day, speaking about the legacy of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, “One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.” King was partially speaking of segregation, but also speaking of the economic conditions of black Americans throughout the nation, a situation that has remained difficult for black Americans today. King did not want a "color-blind" society as most Americans seem to believe, he wanted instead an equitable America. With African American college graduates twice as likely to be out of work as white college graduates, if King had lived he would come to the conclusion that government needs to play a bigger role in solving this inequality that continues today, not a smaller role as suggested by Beck or any of the other conservative (and many liberal) voices out there. In marching to end poverty on this and many other occasions King wasn't suggesting tax cuts for the wealthy and wasn't suggesting that the government played too large a roll in people's economic activities. At the rally yesterday Sarah Palin said, “We must not fundamentally transform America as some would want; we must restore America and restore her honor.” The civil rights movement was a movement intended for exactly the opposite, to transform America and to bring the nation into honor and out of the horror that it had been for millions of people throughout its history. The honor that Palin and Beck wish to restore was not seen as honor to those in the civil rights movement, it was seen as oppression and a system which was stacked against them.

The terrifying thing to me is that Glenn Beck's interpretation of history isn't a new or extreme interpretation, it is the way that many Americans see the civil rights movement, both on the left and the right of the American political spectrum, and the way in which many students across the nation are taught about this part of our history. They see the implementation of “color-blind” legislation as a laudable goal that continues the success of the civil rights movement and has created a post-racial America, in which racism is no longer a major problem for our society. An America in which cab drivers are under the threat of being stabbed for being Muslim, in which black and Latino drivers are far more likely than whites to be searched at a traffic stop while whites are far more likely to be guilty when searched, in which African Americans are far more likely to be unemployed and looking for work, and in which African American women are even discriminated against in the dating world; this is not a post-racial America. The concept of “color-blindness” only benefits those who have nothing to worry about in regards to the color of their skin. For those who have been, and continue to be, discriminated against systemically, this color-blindness will only make their struggle invisible rather than ignored as it is now.

Let's not kid ourselves, the civil rights movement has not achieved its goals and Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are not attempting to achieve civil rights for anyone.

Busy is as busy does: excuses

So as anyone who may have glanced at the date on the last post of this blog in contrast to this one may be able to discern, my plan to write three times a week did not pan out as anticipated. Everyone knows that life sneaks up on a person and things never go the way that we had planned. Things have settled down momentarily so I hope to be able to write more often than I have been, I'm guessing it'll probably end up being about 1-2 posts a week for now.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mission Statement

As the first official post of this blog (all of the previous posts are copy/pasted from Facebook and other such places) I feel that I should make a statement as to the purpose of this blog. Unlike most of the blogs that litter the internet the purpose of this blog is not to obtain readership. Though gathering a populace who enjoy reading my writing is certainly not something I will work against the true purpose of this blog is rather to continue writing and hone the skills for which I will be paying for the next few decades. As such, though it is desired, readership is a secondary concern in this endeavor and won't be actively sought. That said, if you do enjoy any of my articles please feel free to link it to others, just ensure that you attribute the content to its proper source. I plan to post regularly, at minimum three times a week but may post more often if I am so inclined.

I spent a considerable amount of time pondering whether or not a blog was something that was of interest to me and, if it was, what the focus of the blog would be. Fortunately, since my purpose is not readership, I have the freedom to expand my focus beyond a single subject and discuss any topic that is to my liking. Though I cling to this freedom an entire lack of focus would create an unreadable pile of filth without purpose that I will inevitably tire of and abandon. Therefore the main topic of discussion will be current events (most likely related to politics), though I would not be surprised whatsoever if I was to venture into topics such as history, civil rights, video games, literature, comic books, things I despise, and Kelsey Grammer...

okay, probably not Kelsey Grammer...

but definitely David Hyde Pierce...

okay probably not him either...

but I'll definitely make outdated references to hasbeen actors.

What is certain is that I desire this to be a place of debate in which open discussion can occur without the name-calling, accusatory, flaming, generally unfavorably common internet behavior that is found elsewhere. For the time being I have comment moderation off because I do not foresee gathering a readership that debases themselves in this way (or any readership at all), however if it becomes a problem I may change that in the future. Or I'll just mail you a cereal box full of thumbtacks, whichever method is more effective.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Creating a New View of Reality

History is truly a discipline unlike any other. History is simultaneously limited by it's exclusive attention to the past and unlimited in its use of, and application to, every other discipline. Though it is unique in this way, history is a discipline that shares much in common with others in purpose and methodology, making ample use of the similarities and differences alike, allowing historians to create a comprehensive picture of the past. John Lewis Gaddis said, “We know the future only by the past we project into it. History, in this sense, is all we know.”1 Only through history can society gain the perspective needed in order to make informed decisions about the future.

History shares much in purpose with other disciplines, its defining purpose being it's exclusive dealing with the past. One of the main purposes of history is shared with the field of geography in its representative qualities. “History, like cartography, is necessarily a representation of reality. It's not reality itself.”2 While geographers represent places in space through the use of maps and other geographical tools, historians represent events in time using generalizations and narratives. Anthropology shares this purpose with history as well in that, “They act as mediators between different worlds, seeking to do justice to the other world while speaking to their own, much as historians do.”3 Like historians do not recreate the past, the anthropologist's job is not to recreate the societies and peoples that they study, but instead to give a thorough representation of them.

History also shares a purpose with many other disciplines in creating accounts of existence, giving the field a direct tie to that of philosophy. “Since philosophy explicates thought processes, it has a great deal to say about how historians fashion arguments, the sorts of explanations they offer, their assumptions about how the past can be known, their models of causality, and so on... Like sociology and anthropology, philosophy offers general accounts of human existence.”4 While philosophy is an attempt at explaining a range of subjects, history attempts to create an explanation of the past. Social Science shares in this explanatory purpose in its attempts to explain the structures and behavior of societies, “Marx continues to be of interest, less so because of his failed predictions than for his analysis of the structure of power in capitalist societies and his comprehensive view of the close interrelationship of economic class dominance, political power, and ideology.”5 Anthropology also finds common purpose in its attempts to explain human activity. Clifford Geertz created his own account of human existence in his attempt to explain Balinese society through the lens of the cock-fight, saying, “As much of America surfaces in a ball park, on a golf links, at a race track, or around a poker table, much of Bali surfaces in a cock ring. For it is only apparently cocks that are fighting there. Actually it is men.”6

In addition to these roles, “Part of the historian's task is... to demonstrate that what is was not always so in the past and therefore need not be so in the future. The historian must be, in this sense, a social critic.”7 W.E.B. DuBois is a perfect display of this purpose in the field of Social Science, “In keeping with the reformist ethos of the time, DuBois believed in the utility of scientific research in the solution of outstanding social problems.”8 This purpose is also apparent in economics as shown by Joseph E. Stiglitz in Making Globalization Work as he asked, “How can we take the economic forces of globalization – which have so far been injurious to the environment – and make them work to preserve it?”9 Geography too may play the role of social critic at times as shown by David Harvey, who worried that, “The geographical ignorance that arises out of the fetishism of commodities is in itself cause for concern. The spacial range of our own individual experience of procuring commodities in the market place bears no relationship to the spatial range over which the commodities themselves are produced.”10

In addition to purpose, history also shares many of its methods with other disciplines. One of the key historical methods is the use of theories from many other fields in explaining a historical event. “History is eclectic, hence the range of its debts and the complexity of its relations with other disciplines. Sometimes these are to be understood in terms of the use of theories; indeed 'theory' can be a useful concept for clarifying relations between disciplines.”11 No field shares this trait with history as much as geography does, as it is also, “Rather eclectic, and to the extent it has theories, these are shared with other fields, such as climatology, economics and other social sciences.”12 History also shares with geography the ability to distort space and time to suit the purposes of understanding. Just as geographers can compare different landscapes of their choice, “Historians have the capacity for selectivity, simultaneity, and the shifting of scale: they can select from the cacophony of events what they think is really important; they can be in several times and places at once; and they can zoom in and out between macroscopic and microscopic levels of analysis.”13

When there is no way to reproduce a scientific experiment in a lab setting the only tool left is one that historians have always had to make use of, deductive reasoning. “It's here that the methods of historians and scientists – at least those scientists for whom reproducibility cannot take place in the laboratory – rough coincide. For historians too start with surviving structures, whether they be archives, artifacts, or even memories. They then deduce the processes that produced them.”14 History also benefits from other tools that many disciplines commonly make use of, the most obvious of these being the creation of theory and generalizations. In the process of writing narratives historians cannot but help making generalizations, while theory can be extremely useful in providing an explanation for the causes of historical events. Many sociological theories, such as Marx's theory about the mode of production,15 Weber's iron cage,16 or DuBois' Veil,17 are directly applicable to historical events largely because the authors of these theories were using a historical approach, bringing together varying interdependent variables from the past to explain the social structures of their times.

With all of the tools that history shares with other disciplines there is one that is completely unavailable to historians, that being hands-on research. The historian's subject lies in the past, ensuring that they may never experience it first-hand as W.E.B. DuBois could with his. “Without research assistants, DuBois conducted a door-to-door survey to get at the facts about the economic , social, religious, and familial life of the inhabitants of the Seventh Ward, in the hope of dispelling the myths and fantasies that circulated in the white community.”18 Historians cannot walk among the people they study as Geertz and his wife had, “On the established anthropological principle, When in Rome, my wife and I decided, only slightly less instantaneously than everyone else, that the thing to do was run too.”19 Historians are instead forced to piece together an account of the past with the remnants that are left behind.

There remains one difference in methodology that becomes clear when comparing the methods of social scientists and historians. “It is, most fundamentally, the distinction between a reductionist and an ecological view of reality.”20 Social scientists, for the purpose of forecasting, attempt to reduce a complex event to simplicity, as dealing with an uncountable number of interdependent variables makes such forecasting impossible. “In sociology such a theory would be applied to a number of cases, but a sociologist would be less likely to start with the case study and then apply a mixture of theoretical devices to it, which is precisely what many historians do... They are more likely to look for the rigorous application of a theory, and to find eclecticism sloppy and intellectually unacceptable.”21 The fact that historians avoid forecasting what might happen in the future frees them from the burden of reductionism. They can instead take an ecological approach and apply as many theories with as many interdependent variables to a single event as is necessary to explain it.

Because history is such an eclectic discipline, historians are able to borrow the theories of any other discipline that fit with the event being studied. From the social scientist a historian might borrow, “A Marxian approach to society (which) contained a number of ideas, theories and concepts that could be applied to a wide range of historical cases, as indeed Marx himself applied them. In particular, the analysis of modes of production and their implications, class oppression, revolution, ideology and imperialism were taken up by historians.”22 From political science historians may borrow the case study by Bejarno and Segura, which makes clear the continuing problem of race in the United States through the example of the 2003 race for Louisiana governor.23 One of the most useful fields from which historians have borrowed recently is Anthropology. “Anthropologists developed a number of ideas and concepts that can be used by historians. Ritual, fetish, kinship, magic, possession, symbol, shaman and the gift relationship would all be obvious examples where, even if the concept were not exclusive to anthropology, that field endowed them with a rich significance upon which historians could draw.”24 Our diversity of methods to draw upon is an infinitely useful tool that makes the gathering of historical data that was previously unobtainable possible.

History is a versatile discipline that is at once both unique and applicable to all other fields. Through the study of the past historians reach for many of the same goals as other disciplines while also borrowing many of their tools for its own ends. History combines with the other disciplines in the endless pursuit to explain where the future might take us by providing the answer of where we came from. As different as they all may think of themselves, the practitioners of each discipline all share one basic desire regardless of their field of study. “This is what paleontologists, tailors, and cartographers as well as historians hope for – the product may move those who encounter it to revise their own views so that a new basis for critical judgment emerges, perhaps even a new view of reality itself.”25

The Straw Man

I received an e-mail a couple of days ago with the following story asking me my opinion of it. I thought it may be useful for the purpose of discourse to talk about it here instead of confining my answer to the eyes of a single person.

An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had once failed an entire class. That class had insisted that Obama's socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer..
The professor then said, "OK, we will have an experiment in this class on Obama's plan". All grades would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade so no one would fail and no one would receive an A...
After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy.
As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little. The second test average was a D!
No one was happy.
When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F. The scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else.
All failed, to their great surprise, and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed.

Could not be any simpler than that.

I'll be very up front and blunt about my feelings on this story. It is plainly the most ridiculous piece of mindless propaganda that I've seen. Really. It is that bad.

I'll start at the easiest place here, which is the obvious fact that the story is fiction. I doubt anyone seriously considered that the story could have really taken place just as I doubt that the author really expected anyone to think that. It's pretty clear that the author was trying to make a political point of which the means of delivery was secondary.
The problem with this is that his point is completely nullified by the far-fetched scenario in which the point is clothed. There are socialist students on college campuses. Yep, it's a fact. But to suggest that somehow this professor got an entire room full of socialist students in an economics class is laughable. Please give me a somewhat plausible premise.
The idea of the college campus as breeding ground for socialist indoctrination is one of those myths that conservative talk radio just can't let go of. I've got quite a bit to say as far as debunking this myth but that may distract from the point so I'll leave it for another time.

Now for the important part, the point the author is trying to make. The argument is threefold:
Obama's presidential policies are socialist

The grading policy used by the "economics professor" is an example of socialist policy

The socialist principles that Obama's policies are based upon (and displayed in the professor's exercise) don't work

The big problem with this tale is that two of the three premises of the author's argument are blatantly false and the other is irrelevant because of the falsehood of the other two.

I'll start off with the second part of the author's argument because it's the easiest to debunk. The idea that a socialist government just passes out equal rewards regardless of input of effort just doesn't hold up to reality. That kind of policy has existed but it is generally known better as communism, and even then it is an incredibly flawed and simplified example of it. The confusion of communism with socialism is an easy error to make given their history of working with one another but that hardly means that they are the same thing.
The basic idea behind the modern socialist ideology is that food, shelter & medical care are human rights that should not be dependent upon a person's income and that these basic necessities of life are to be provided to the public by the government. Under such a system the economy still functions much as it does in any other capitalist nation with the exception that these necessities are to be exempt and provided without cost. In such a system there is still a great deal of variance in the levels of income among the public, the distance between the richest and poorest citizens just isn't so great and the poorest aren't homeless/dying of curable disease/starving to death.
It isn't my intention to argue that this system of government works or does not work, there are a multitude of valid arguments for and against it and that isn't my point. My point is that the exercise used by this "economics professor" isn't an example of socialism at all, any economics professor (or student for that matter) could tell you that. This alone makes the point of the story worthless but it doesn't contradict the idea that Obama's policies have been "socialist".

This part of the argument is a little harder to combat because of the wide range of things that people can consider socialistic and also because it relies heavily upon the idea of intent, and the only person who could tell us that with any amount of authority is Obama himself. Even without getting in his head though, I am extremely comfortable in saying that Obama is anything but a socialist.
The big scare of socialism is most prominently used in the fight against Obama's health care proposal but as much as one looks at the actual proposal this idea of a socialist takeover of the medical system just doesn't match reality. The largest part that even remotely resembled socialism, and is used as an example of socialism, is the now abandoned proposal for a government insurance program.
The problem with the view that this is a somehow socialistic program is that it is restricted to a very small percentage of the public and that the overall system of non-governmental insurance programs would continue to not only exist, but continue to rake in consumer money hand over fist.
The most extreme among proposals was to create a government insurance program that would compete with other private insurance companies on the open market to establish a very basic coverage for those who were unable to afford healthcare elsewhere. I would like to see an explanation for how a government competing with private business on the market is socialism. It's not a socialism I've ever seen before.

The other area in which Obama has had the accusation of socialism hurled in his direction is in regards to his stimulus program. It really doesn't take a history major to see that such a program has been used before and has proved to work relatively well in helping to restore a functioning economy through the creation of jobs.
The theory behind it was based upon the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes, among other economists of his time, and was first put to the test in the United States during the Great Depression. According to Keynes the best way to counteract a recession within the economy was to increase government spending for the purpose of job creation.
I won't go any deeper into his theories but he had written several books on the subject and has had incredible influence on the way in which modern economists view the world and economic developments, so much so that, "Milton Friedman, the nation's leading conservative economist, who was Presidential Candidate Barry Goldwater's adviser on economics," said, "'We are all Keynesians now.'" (Click Here to read the article from which this is quoted, it is an interesting read for anyone interested in American economic history.) For those of you who don't know who Milton Friedman is, he is best known as the man behind Ronald Reagan's "trickle-down economics."
My point here is that the policy of stimulus programs is based upon economic theory that has garnered the support of some of the most conservative (and non-socialistic) economists in our country and is anything but socialistic. The entire purpose of such a project is to return the capitalistic economic system back to a healthy recovery.
Even if such theory was considered socialistic, it hardly applies to the exercise undertaken in the story above. Nowhere in such a policy is it ever suggested that everyone obtains equal rewards for unequal work.

I don't especially feel the need to even address the third part of the author's argument as I've already shown why the assumptions it is based upon are false. It's extremely clear that the type of example given by the author of this tale has very little to do with anything Obama has proposed.

TLDR (Too Long Didn't Read) version:
The story isn't an accurate description of socialism

Even if it was, Obama's policies are not socialistic

Even if Obama's policies were socialist, the story relates to them in no way whatsoever

The story uses a commonly used logical fallacy known as a "straw man." In such an argument one describes their opponent's philosophy in a simplistic and inaccurate manner for the purpose of knocking it over with ease as a display of the power of their own argument. Of course it was easy to show that Obama's policies in the story won't work, they have no basis in reality whatsoever.

As always, don't take this as approval for Obama. He's done plenty to make me unhappy with his presidency thus far as well, I just choose to use some form of reality for the basis of my criticism rather than arguing against some fictional existence.

Of Sports and History

"To achieve proficiency in basketball, baseball, or even bridge, you have to know the rules og the game, and you have to practice. But these rules, together with what your coach can teach you about applying them, are nothing more than a distillation of accumulated experience: they serve the same function that Machiavelli intended The Prince to serve for Lorenzo de'Medici. They're generalizations: compressions and distillations of the past in order to make it usable in the future.

Each game you play, however, will have its own characteristics: the skill of your opponent, the adequacy of your own preparation, the circumstances in which the competition takes place. No competent coach would lay out a plan to be mechanically followed throughout the game: you have to leave a lot to the discretion - and the good judgment - of the individual players. The fascination of sports resides in the intersection of the general with the particular. The practice of life is much the same.

Studying the past is no sure guide to predicting the future. What it does do, though, is to prepare you for the future by expanding experience, so that you can increase your skills, your stamina - and, if all goes well, your wisdom."

-John Lewis Gaddis

A Truer State of Nature

Throughout human history the most advanced minds have occupied themselves with questions about the human condition. Despite the fact that we all continuously live and experience this condition through our waking time on earth, answers to these questions have remained evasive even for the greatest thinkers amongst us. One of the most debated questions along this line of thinking is the question of how to go about creating the best possible human society. Many great human societies have existed throughout our history, however every one of them has been wrought with internal and external problems that have caused a great deal of pain and conflict. The German philosopher, Hegel, described the history of these societies as, “The slaughter-bench at which the happiness of peoples, the wisdom of states, and the virtue of individuals have been sacrificed.” (Hegel, 27) In this discussion many different ways of addressing the question have been attempted however none has accomplished its goal of creating a perfect human society. The largest reason for this failure is a lack of understanding of the state of nature and it's application to our own human nature. The creation of a comprehensive theoretical view of human nature is an important part of building a functioning society however this theory must be based upon the state of nature that has existed in the real world and not a theoretical state of nature as seen by Thomas Hobbes or John Locke. Perhaps once this task has been accomplished the great thinkers of the world can go about creating a more perfect society.

In order to create a more perfect society it is imperative that we understand the concept of human nature, the rules that govern the behaviors of men. Without an understanding of this concept any application of government or attempt at structure is merely arbitrary and without purpose. To implement a structured society one must understand how a subject will be likely to react under such a situation and adjust it to become acceptable to those who will be part of the society. Furthermore, to understand human nature it is equally important to understand how human beings exist in a state of nature. There are differing views on exactly what a state of nature is, however for now we will use the understanding of men such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. The latter of these two men described the state of nature as, “A state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.” (Locke, 8) To describe a state of nature that both men would agree upon one would have to remove from Locke's description the notion of possessions due to Hobbes' insistence on the idea that such could not exist in such a state, yet their basic concept of what a state of nature is remains very similar.

Both men went to great lengths to understand the state of nature from a theoretical viewpoint, as it was not especially possible at the time of their writings for them to observe such a situation firsthand. Though their approach was similar, their outcomes in concept were vastly different. In describing the state of nature, Thomas Hobbes said, “In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Hobbes, 186) In contrast to this view, Locke saw the state of nature in a more positive light with, “Men living together according to reason, without a common superior on earth, with authority to judge between them, is properly the state of nature.” (Locke, 15)

Both Hobbes and Locke worked under the supposition that human nature was not a pliable concept, our nature was fixed in one range of possible behaviors and that range could not be changed through any means. Thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Hegel differ from Hobbes and Locke in that they viewed human nature as a changing characteristic of man that was evolving over time. Because human nature changed with time and situation, neither of these men spent a great deal of time discussing the state of nature because it simply did not apply to the current state of human nature. Rousseau said of this that, “The passing from the state of nature to the civil society produces a remarkable change in man; it puts justice as a rule of conduct in the place of instinct, and gives his actions the moral quality they previously lacked. It is only then, when the voice of duty has taken the place of physical impulse, and right that of desire, that man, who has hitherto thought only of himself, finds himself compelled to act on other principles, and to consult his reason rather than study his inclinations.” (Rousseau, 64) On Hegel's part, he felt that human beings were merely agents of a greater force, the Idea, and thus our nature is no more than a manifestation of that. “One may indeed question whether those manifestations of vitality on the part of individuals and peoples in which they seek and satisfy their own purposes are, at the same time, the means and tools of a higher and broader purpose of which they know nothing, which they realize unconsciously.” (Hegel, 31) For these men the state of nature was an inconsequential thing of the past that was no longer important, human beings are no longer affected by it.

Though sharing a view with Hegel that the state of nature was a matter of history, Karl Marx felt that it was necessary to describe that state as a starting point of history. He felt that the state of nature could be looked at as a real event in time and one could learn about the forces that have caused human beings to act in the way we have and bring us to our current situation. As one can imagine his conception of the state of nature was remarkably different from that of Hobbes and Locke, as it was not a theoretical state of being, but instead a historical event. Marx described his contempt of these theoretical concepts saying, “When reality is depicted, philosophy as an independent branch of knowledge loses its medium of existence. At the best its place can only be taken by a summing-up of the most general results, abstractions which arise from the observation of the historical development of men. Viewed apart from real history, these abstractions have in themselves no value whatsoever.” (Marx, 48) Marx's view of the state of nature, if thought about appropriately, has a greater value than perhaps even Marx himself considered.

Much in the vein of Marx's thinking, the concept of the state of nature must be redefined, not as a theoretical view of how man would exist without government, but instead how man has lived in the real world with the most minimal amount of government and society possible. Hobbes said of the state of nature, “It may peradventure be thought, there was never such a time, nor condition of warre as this; and I believe it was never generally so, over all the world: but there are many places, where they live so now. For the savage people in many places of America, except the government of small Families, the concord whereof dependeth on naturall lust, have no government at all; and live at this day in that brutish manner, as I said before.” (Hobbes, 187) Since the time of Hobbes the knowledge of such “savage people” has grown to the point where we understand what their daily lives were composed of and we now know that the simple view that Hobbes had of these groups of people was false. Native Americans, and other groups of supposedly “savage people” often have very complicated social structures that can and have involved many people over large geographical areas. Even ignoring Hobbes' lack of understanding of Native American culture, Hobbes and Locke failed in one very important way in their assumptions about a state of nature.

Through many facets of science, most notably the field of anthropology, it has become possible to obtain a very accurate view of the way that people of the past have lived. One of the things that can be gained from this study is the behavior and lifestyles of our own distant ancestors and that of species close to our own. A characteristic of our primate family of apes is that every species, humans and their ancestors included, live in social groups and that these social groups are composed of individuals who are not directly genetically related to one another. As human beings our social nature is a defining characteristic of our species, without which we could not be called human. Government comes as a natural part of our social nature as well, as Hobbes correctly put it, “Again, men have no pleasure, (but on the contrary a great deale of griefe) in keeping company, where there is no power able to over-awe them all. For every man looketh that his companion should value him, at the same rate he sets upon himselfe.” (Hobbes, 185) Within groups of people there always arises either a leader whom they will follow or an agreement upon which decisions can be made communally. Whether that takes the form of a tribal chieftain, monarch, council, senate, assembly, etc., government is part of what makes us human.

Because of these facts, it is impossible to separate the human condition from our social nature. Whenever such is done a person's mental state suffers greatly in that it is associated with certain psychological disorders. To attempt to view human beings in a state of nature in which society and government do not exist is to view human beings in a state in which they are not human beings at all. Therefore we must accept that both society and government exist in a state of nature and perhaps that the most appropriate way to view said state of nature is in historical terms as Marx had done.

In addition to the scientific work that must alter the way that we think about the state of nature, the in-depth study of history that has occurred has given us a view of human history in which we are able to get a fairly accurate depiction of the behavior of humans of nearly every culture across the globe. In looking at this accumulation of historical accounts it becomes clear that there is a certain pattern of behavior throughout our history, a certain range of human motivations, desires, and behaviors that have remained the same across all cultures in all parts of the world. Everywhere in all times people are largely motivated by the same things, such as fear, duty, lust, and love. With acquired knowledge of science the range of human capability has changed greatly, however our nature has largely remained the same. It would be wrong to suggest that human nature is static, as it is largely dependent on the society and culture that a person lives in, however the variances in human nature are more geographically and culturally driven rather than a progression to some endpoint. Because of this abundant evidence of our non-linear nature, the works of Rousseau and Hegel, depending on a progressive human nature, must garner a certain amount of skepticism. It would be foolhardy to discount their ideas completely, however their work lacks a level of empirical evidence that should be required for something as important as determining how people should live their lives and exist with one another.

With this new understanding of what should be accounted for in a state of nature many of the conclusions arrived upon by thinkers such as Hobbes and Locke may have been very different, though the value of such focus on the state of nature must be looked at in an appropriate context. The state of nature is merely a simplification whereupon generalizations about our nature can be formulated, however the world we live in is much more complicated than any of these generalizations can account for and when making these generalizations we face the danger of ethnocentric thinking. As important as it is to create a more comprehensive theoretical view of human nature such simplifications can sometimes be misleading and should only be viewed in a larger context. Used in such a context, however, a new exhaustive study into human nature, as Hobbes had done, using the information that we now know about the true state of nature may be the way to creating a more perfect society.

Making Fairness Happen

In the United States we tend to have a somewhat paradoxical view of the concept of fairness. On one hand, one of the most basic beliefs that the country is built upon is that America is a country in which anyone, no matter what their background, has as fair a chance as anyone else to become successful if they are willing to put in the work to achieve it. On the other hand, Americans as a group are very willing to overlook the advantages of some, wealth, health, social support and political power, and disadvantages of others, poverty, social ostracization, disconnects with the dominant culture, illness and disabilities. Taking these factors into account it would be impossible to think of American society as fair, some people simply have a large head start on their path to success than others despite the myth of fairness that dominates our own political rhetoric.

Fairness and equality have many different meanings in our culture. For some people it might suggest an equity in the opportunities that are afforded to each person, yet the situation described earlier shows that this notion of fairness has great flaws in it. For some people fairness is a balancing of outcomes, in which every person is has an equal right to the benefits of human civilization regardless of their input. It really isn't difficult to see the flaws in this idea, mostly motivational factors for doing the work that is considered undesirable. The seventeenth century philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, said on the subject of equality, “Nature hath made men so equall, in the faculties of body, and mind; as that though there bee found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body, or of quicker mind then another; yet when all is reckoned together, the difference between man, and man, is not so considerable, as that one man can thereupon claim to himselfe any benefit, to which another may not pretend, as well as he. For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others, that are in the same danger with himselfe.”1 In his mind equality was not a moral decision but instead a natural matter of fact. For the purpose of this essay equality is somewhat similar to the description given by Hobbes. Equality means that no person is worth any more or less than any other person, regardless of their cultural background, gender, genetic makeup, or physical and mental condition. Fairness in the educational field is applying that equality and affording all children with an education because each individual student has their own value, and children with disabilities are no different than any other child in this manner.

Because each student has their own value, fairness is an incredibly important concept for every teacher to understand. Each student we teach has a potential for learning and contributing to our society in the future as long as we are willing to give them the time and effort that is required. In the case of children with disabilities it can at times be more difficult to discover that potential, but that doesn't make educating that child any less important than any other. Children with disabilities are as much a part of our future as another child without. In providing children with disabilities an education it not only enriches our own society but also those individual's lives, helping them to socialize with other people and lead fulfilling lives that they can enjoy without being looked down upon, pitied, or forgotten.

If we are to keep fairness in mind though, simply educating children with disabilities is not enough. We must afford them educations as thorough as any other child, including them in classrooms with children without disabilities to learn socialization as well as school lessons. Other children can learn as much as these children can about one another, discovering that in spite of an appearance of separation, they are not really as different as one might imagine. If we were to educate children with disabilities separately from those without this interaction would never occur and both children would be worse off for it because neither would have the opportunity to learn from one another. In addition to this, our own American history has shown us that a “separate but equal” education is never truly equal. If we are to give these children the education that they deserve we must make all efforts possible to educate them in regular classrooms with everyone else.

Saying that this fairness should occur and implementing it are two different things. Making fairness happen is a process that will take a teacher's entire career to achieve; it is a task that will never end. The first step in making fairness happen is an internal step within the teacher themselves. The teacher must take the step to be willing to work with children with disabilities and not push that responsibility on to another. If we are not willing to give these children an education ourselves who will? Understanding that it will be a difficult and challenging process, we must be willing to take children with disabilities into our own classrooms and make them a part of the class like any other child. Putting the child into the classroom still isn't enough though. We must work to be inclusive, integrating the child into the classroom where they can work with other children and participate in the class regardless of their disability.

The next step to making fairness happen is to understand that we as teachers are not expected to do this alone and that the resources to assist us are there if we're willing to ask for them. There are a plethora of other professionals who are willing and able to assist teachers who have included children with disabilities into their classrooms ranging from special educators, paraprofessionals and assistive technology specialists among others. These are all people whose job it is to help teachers who have taken children with disabilities into their classrooms and who can help to make that child's inclusion into the classroom as easy as possible. Other professionals are not the only resource available though. It is important to remember that the student themselves and their parents can both provide a teacher with some of the knowledge that is needed to provide the child with an appropriate education.

Another thing to remember in making fairness happen is to remember that a teacher's job is to teach children, not lessons. The subject matter of the course is important however, it is more important to ensure that each student is receiving a lesson that is appropriate for their own current level of capability. If a child with a disability is not ready for an algebra lesson it is the teacher's job to make sure that the student is receiving an education that corresponds with what is expected by the student's IEP instead of trying to shift the responsibility of educating that student on to another teacher. We as teachers need to be willing to be flexible in our teaching to make our class beneficial for all of our students, adjusting lessons when necessary to improve accessibility. Different children will have different learning needs and if we are not willing to differentiate our lessons and methods of teaching in many cases we will not be educating these children, but instead ensuring their failure.

Though fairness can be a complicated issue in American politics, it doesn't have to be so in the classroom. We have an obligation to give each child, disabled or not, an education and to prepare them for the world that they live in. There are no fairness paradoxes in educating children with disabilities, either we are providing them with the educations that they need or we are failing them and taking away from their potential. As teachers fairness is not a choice, but an obligation.

The American Experiment

Most people living inside the United States feel that they are living in a special country unlike any other on earth but most don't have much of an understanding as to why their country is special.
Some would cite our economic success as a nation as our claim to uniqueness, but we're just the current example of this success in a long line of nations who have also achieved unprecedented economic success.
The most common reason that people feel that the United States has a special status is our "freedom". Not many people can really explain what this means and to a large degree in the modern world this isn't really unique either. What are we free to do here in the United States that can't be done in a multitude of other countries around the world? Anyone who can give me one example of a unique freedom we have that can't be found elsewhere gets a free cookie.

Here's the thing. The United States of America most definitely IS special and unique in several ways that we often forget.

First, the United States is unique in that it was not established because of common culture or geographic convenience as has every other country on the planet before it. We have never had a singular common background that has held us together. The foundation of this country was not an accident and it wasn't formed over time. We didn't form a nation in order to fend off the Turks, the British, the French, the Spanish or anyone else. This nation was established on an ideal. (I'll come back to this in a bit)
For this reason it has been possible over the last two and a quarter centuries for people to flock here from around the world and establish a life that they could call their own. They were a part of American culture because American culture was whatever they made it. Though Americans haven't always liked it, an immigrant is able to come to the United States without being an outsider. As soon as they gain citizenship they are as American as anyone else here, regardless of race, culture, or language.

Our second trait that establishes the United States as a truly unique place on earth is that it was established as an experiment of a new kind of political thought. In the 17th and 18th century a flurry of new political ideas appeared in response to a new view of the world that resulted from the scientific revolution. This period of history gave men a new found confidence that they could change the world around them and use science and knowledge to make the world a better place for humankind. I am of course speaking of the Enlightenment, when the great minds of the time felt that they had emerged from the darkness of ignorance and stepped into the light, and through a scientific lens were able to see the world as it really was for the first time.
As exciting as this time was, in which concepts like free will, individual liberty, a social contract for government and very nearly everything else we take for granted in the modern world were first formed, there was very little room for this new liberal ideology to be tested. It remained mostly theory.
The founding fathers of the United States changed that. As educated men, many of them had spent countless hours studying the works of John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Hobbes among others, and with the rebellion against the British government complete they were finally provided with an opportunity to put the ideas of these great minds to test. Constitutional limits on government, checks and balances, equality, and basic inalienable human rights were all ideals that had never been tested before.

The third, and possibly most important, part of the United States that establishes our uniqueness is the source of our rights. According to the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Our rights are the natural, some would say God-given, rights that belong to all men of the world, though throughout human history have been restricted unjustly by governments. By definition our rights are beyond the scope of the government, they come from a higher source and no government could ever have the right to take them from us.
No government before had been established as such; a secular government created for the secular matters of men yet, through its own founding documents, bound by the natural rights given to human beings by a higher power. For the first time the people did not derive permission for their freedoms from the government that ruled them, their rights came from a higher source and the government derived permission to act from those that it governed.

Our uniqueness comes from this experiment. As much as we as Americans have fallen short of our own ideals, those ideals have always been there to guide us along the way, something that no other country before us ever had. The very founding documents of the United States, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as well as the document that established our separation from European rule, the Declaration of Independence, have served as a means to constantly examine ourselves and our society so that we may continue to better ourselves and perhaps one day live up to the ideals that we had so boldly set out for.
The American experiment had never been tried before and continues to this very day. We live it every day, and that is what makes us special.

Statistics to keep in mind in the healthcare debate

These statistics are readily available through the World Health Organization and easily the most reliable data on the subject that exist.These are the most recent statistics available through the organization. I did not get these figures from any sort of activist organization, I looked them up myself with the sole intention of educating myself and those I care about. These are not opinions, they are facts.

-In 2006 the United States spent $6714 per person on health care, more than any other country in the world.

-In 2006 the United States probability of dying between 15 to 60 years of age was ranked behind 42 other countries, just behind Panama and the Czech Republic.

-As of 2006 the United States Life expectancy at birth was 78, 32nd in the world.

-As of 2003 the United States Healthy life expectancy was 69, 30th in the world.

-As of 2005 the United States Maternal Mortality rate was ranked behind 33 other countries.

-As of 2004 the United States Neonatal Mortality rate was behind 31 other countries.

-As of 2006 the United States Under-5 Mortality rate was behind 37 other countries.

-In 2006 the United States Infant Mortality rate, the most accurate measure of the quality of health care in a society, was ranked behind 38 other countries, including Cuba, Croatia, Estonia, Poland, Hungary and Belarus and behind ALL other developed nations in the world.

After reading these figures I would hope that it has become clear that the debate in this country should not be whether or not we should change our health care system, but how we should change our health care system. We are not getting our money's worth here. As a die-hard free-market enthusiast I know it is hard to hear, but our reliance on nothing but the free market to take care of our health care needs has failed us. It's pretty clear to me that it is time to consider something else.

Why would we not look to other countries who are doing better by every measure available and see why it is working so well for them? No scary rhetoric, no propaganda, lets look at facts.