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.