Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Smith on Sexual Violence

While her argument was far ranging and a bit free wheeling, I nonetheless found Smith's argument convincing. Especially insightful was her equation of sexual violation with the violation of land claims of Native Americans (424). While one must be cautious about making claims with a direct form of causality such as this, the denying of legal rights and violating land sovereignty in the name of "true rights" and manifest destiny seem very correspond quite clearly with the creation of a Native American who is not quite human, not quite pure. The purity of the white race is thus contrasted with the filth of the natives and their supposed sexual animal nature. Native American men and Black men (not to mention, currently, Hispanic men) are targeted as criminals who prey on "real" Americans, being defined as white, middle class individuals who are heterosexual. Women of "ethnicity" are ignored as subjects of crimes, as is rather apparent here in Alaska. Indeed, the problems within the Native communities are defined as Native "problems" and it is difficult to live in close proximity to Native American communities without hearing totalizing claims about their culture, rarely in complimentary terms. Thus, while Smith paints a (likely exaggerated) rosy picture of what life was for Native Americans prior to domination and marginalization, her argument about what the process of colonization means in the present was very insightful and poignant, especially her consideration of the various examples of resentment for the mere existence of Native Americans with needs. Here, I think especially of the claim that "the Canadian government could boost health care funding for 'real people in real towns' by cutting the bureaucracy that serves only native peoples" (424).

And yet, the range of her discussion suggests that sexual violence against women is not as simple as she suggests: it is not merely a tool, a method of control, or an entirely intended consequence. When non-Natives cannot be prosecuted for crimes committed on a reservation, it is also an issue of sovereignty, of funding and political interest. When the question of rape is considered relative to Native American cultures, it is also an issue of cultural relativism, tribal sovereignty, and marginalization. Thus, while her treatment of the issue is illuminating, the question of what to do is not made to appear simple; while this is realistic, it also ultimately makes action much more complex.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Nietzsche's Perfectionism

Perfectionism, as described by Hurka, is a moral perspective which "values human excellences regardless of how much a person enjoys or wants them" (10). This sort of conception is especially salient in terms of Nietzsche's perfectionism: excellence, in Nietzsche's understanding of it, is not concomitant with with pleasure, and is not necessarily a natural inclination (13-14). In his rejection of a teleological or pleasurable account of excellence, Nietzsche is unique among perfectionists (14). Beyond this broad perfectionism, Nietzsche is also interpreted by Hurka as being a narrow perfectionist, defined as one who values human excellences because they express some facet of human nature which is essential to humans. Here, Hurka (quite predictably) considers Nietzsche's will to power as expressing this sort of belief (12).

One must always be concerned whenever a philosopher attempts to utilize the will to power to justify any sort of an interpretation of Nietzsche, as they usually attempt to suggest that power is the motivating drive which guides moral action. Certainly, Nietzsche is quite interested in the expression of power within the moral sense, but his account is robbed of its nuance when all contradictions are removed in the attempt to make his account coherent. This much said, Hurka does not seem to fall into this as much as others, if only because he does not merely base his account on an oversimplified view of the will to power but also considers hierarchy and what he describes as Nietzsche's "maximax principle" (18). While others try to suggest that Nietzsche's is a personal account and use this as an excuse to ignore Nietzsche's antidemocratic principles in putting forth some sort of universal morality which has little basis in Nietzsche's thought, Hurka explicitly draws the conclusion that a morality based on Nietzschean principles would necessarily require others to ignore their own well being and focus only on the perfection of a few great individuals (20-21). This much said in favor of Hurka's argument, it seems unclear what exactly it means to value power in this sense; maximum power perhaps does not mean what it would imply. There is not only power over but power against. As suggested in the prior reading, overcoming requires obstacles and power requires its equal. Respect among equals is not a state in which one power bears over another but instead a state in which power sees its equal and accepts this, stands not in anger or conflict but respect. In this sense, Nietzsche's perfectionism is not so much a maximization of power as finding the power relation which accords with one's own, dominating the lesser to the extent that is needed but also recognizing the equal.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Mohanty’s article was rather illuminating, if a bet dense. I found her use of specific examples a particularly astute example of how a feminist can maintain a non-essentialist viewpoint while still believing in some form of globalized feminism. While some of the things she specifically said about the New World Order and the reproduction of patriarchy in the globalization of capitalism sometimes stretched credulity, her points were well taken and found a counter-model for the creation of a global feminism. Just as the capitalist effort succeeds in a foreign society by implementing a specific tactic (i.e.: producing food, products, etc.) by tailoring their methods according to the society, and foreign companies target consumers by not simply attempting to import their products wholesale but instead adapting them to the environment, so the feminist movement needs to adapt itself to specific circumstances, to take a pragmatic approach that attempts to understand the choices made by individuals in specific situations and the possibilities which they are able to consider. A prime example of this is found in her discussion of immigrant women working in the United States: the association of labor unions with white, working class American men has served to sour the image of the union to immigrant women, leading them to organize through church groups. Their alternative choice might seem questionable to the American feminist, inasmuch as churches seem to be yet another reflection of the very patriarchy that the women must hope to escape. Yet, practical choices must be made by these women, and organizing themselves in struggles allows them to claim it as their own, to gain consciousness of their position as a worker who is being exploited. Ultimately, different means are needed for each group of exploited workers, inasmuch as each situation is different; however, the struggle against oppression and the lack of recognition of the value of their work is one thing that all these women share in common, and the exchange of ideas, as long as it is not based on a hegemonic relationship, can do more good than harm and should be encouraged.

Genealogy of Morals 3

Both the ascetic ideal and the scientific ideal represent a turning away from appearance. Thus, the ascetic says “no” to the surface appearance, turns away from the body, and posits an ideal, a substratum behind things or some other essential element which can be found in all things. So follows science: an attempt is made to reach a perspective which is beyond perspective, an objective eye which is not corrupted by being embodied with a perspective, one which is pure and true. Thus, both search for “truth” and engage in the “will to truth”. And whence the will to truth? Here, it is illuminating to note that Nietzsche formulates the problem of the desire for truth as a “will to”, much as his will to power; it seems clear that the will to truth is a ruse, it is a move which is contains more than it says, it is a symptom of another sort of illness, a will to power, but one which does not necessarily lead to what is best for the creature. The value of truth is negative; the will to truth is the will to an illusion, but a dishonest one. It searches for origins where there are none, searches for objectivity and objective facts which are merely perspectives that have been given a greater standing than others and have been incorrectly universalized. The will to truth and the ascetic ideal stand for a turning away from the “truth” of reality (we must surely put the word in quotes when we are to use it thus) and its inherently perspectival and superficial nature; the will to truth is a will towards and unconscious self deception, a pacification of the self. Thus, the contrast for the ascetic ideal is art, the acceptance of pure artifice, of interpretation and creation, of the acceptance of will, of an excitation of the senses.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Feminist Philosophy - Mill

What Mill wants for the individual is freedom within society. This means, for Mill, that the dissenting opinion is respected as much as the opinion which accords with the majority. Law was once the codification of the prejudices of the ruling class, whether the Spartans, princes, nobles, etc. With the advent of popular rule, the risk becomes not just the tyranny of one over another, but the tyranny of the majority over the dissenting individual through the codification of popular prejudice as law. Mill believes that this owes to an lack of rationality, an inability to put aside one's own personal preferences and consider what is most useful for society. In his view, the only legitimate reason to limit the freedom of an individual is the case in which they would do another harm or have harm result due to their inaction. This serves to maximize liberty, because it allows for a great amount of individual liberty while also ensuring that the liberty of others is protected against actions of others which might serve to compromise their liberty.

The largest apparent threat to the individual, in this essay, would therefore seem to be the limiting of liberty without legitimate cause, which results in an inability to live one's life as one would see fit; while coercion seem implicit in this, other forms of limitation of the individual life which are more indirect would likely also be considered threats to individual liberty. The limiting agent, society at large, therefore also appears as a dire threat, inasmuch as large groups of like minded individuals are capable of suppression of dissent and, hence, great injustice through the limitation of individual liberty.

Cruelty and Morality, Guilt and Punishment

For Nietzsche, morality is a reversal of instincts, that it is a "will to self-tormenting" as a "repressed cruelty" which has emerged as a response to the civilization and enclosure within walls of humankind (section 22, p. 528). This stands in general accord with Nietzsche's conception of adaptation and the effect of accident: what was once an adaptation becomes, when it is no longer a necessity for survival, a sublimated instinct which is reassessed, reinterpreted, and realigned in a way which does not necessarily show its origins. Especially tied to this is the creation of the concept of guilt; here, Nietzsche clearly stands as a precursor for future philosophers (here, Foucault is obvious) in his historical analysis of a seemingly absolute phenomenon in terms of historical factors. Guilt, for Nietzsche, emerged from the very real relations between creditor and debtor; ultimately, through accident, reinterpretation, and changing conditions, guilt moved from a state between individuals to a state between the individual and society. Eventually, this relation became one between the state and individual. The purpose of punishment changes from a recompense in a more monetary sense to one in which power is vented, in which one becomes master over the other (section 12, p. 513). And here, the tie between punishment and guilt ties to cruelty and morality; guilt is the creation of the conquerors, those who would make laws and exert their master over others. Through guilt, they exercise their cruelty over others, in a celebratory fashion, binding others to laws and, hence, to civilization. Morality, in this sense, stands somewhat as an internalization of guilt, a creation which arose from the origins of law, an internalized reaction to external laws (section 17).

This results in a further turn, however, one which Nietzsche laments: guilt becomes internalized and turned back against those who were originally creditors. Hence, slave morality becomes endemic (for there can be no doubt that the debtor is the slave, and hence, a reactive type) and ressentiment becomes the order of the day (section 21).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Nietzsche and Hegel, Slave Morality

Nietzsche's conception of the contrast of the Slave-Master morality contrast stands as just that, a contrast between two different but not necessarily fundamentally incompatible forms of morality. The contrast between the two is not that they value different and opposing ideals, but rather that master morality is an active morality, while slave morality is a reactive morality (here, especially section 10 of the Genealogy). The slave says "no" to life, to suggest that the instinct is something controllable and, hence, to apply morality to all one's ability to control one's urges, to circumvent the activity of one's power. Slave morality borrowed the distinction of "good" and "bad" and created "good" and "evil" as opposites. Thus, Nietzsche would class Hegel's Master-Slave morality as a sort of slave morality (this, even ignoring Hegel's claim that the slave class becomes stronger and triumphs) because it contrasts the Master and Slave morals as mirroring one another. Taken in Hegel's sense, Master morality and Slave morality stand in contradiction and require some kind of resolution if one is not to overtake and dominate the other, hence, the dialectical process. For Hegel, the historical circumstance of the domination of Master morality is no more than the domination of one side of the dialectical contrast which inevitably shall be eventually cease when the Master grows too weak and is overthrown by the Slave. This should also be contrasted with Nietzsche conception of the reason for the overthrowing of the Master: rather than being too weak, the Master remains strong and is only curbed from expressing their power, through the subversive strength of Slave morality, which demands that they say "no" to themselves.

It is this requirement of opposing position that likely creates Nietzsche's animosity to the dialectic; for Nietzsche, we are not speaking of good or bad in morality except as it relates to other aspects of existence (survival, improvement, culture, etc.). As he states again and again, the very question of morality is to be considered, and here he considers the primary method by which the world is classed within morality and contrasts it with other historical examples. Whereas Hegel takes the Master-Slave connection to be one which leads to some sort of historically inevitable conclusion, Nietzsche would not support any such conception (let alone Hegel's apparent belief in a form of socialism establishing the conclusion of the Master-Slave conflict).