“Someday, somewhere – anywhere, unfailingly, you’ll find yourself, and that, and only that, can be the happiest or bitterest hour of your life.” – Pablo Neruda
“The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Everyone of them wore chains…some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together.” (Charles Dickens, The Christmas Carol)
Flipping through a recent issue of Ethics & International Affairs trying to find something for a last minute project, I happened on a piece by Toni Erskine that posited the difficulty of punishing institutions like the state without causing undue harm to individuals. For him, institutions are corporate identities that can be held moral accountable as moral agents that deserve moral praise or blame for their actions. While there are cases where it is more appropriate to hold morally accountable only a responsible few leaders instead of the entire institution’s personnel, there are other cases where the institution itself independent
The problem with holding institutions morally accountable is that they are not subject to harm in the same way as individuals are and they often get harmed in the process of punishing the institution, impairing the ability of an institution to fulfill its duties to individuals. Can one “jail” a multinational corporation for underpaying its labourers in another country? Can one “convict” the World Bank for development programs that impoverish rather than enrich the livelihoods of the people it is supposed to help? Are fines, wars, sanctions really appropriate or effective punishments for institutional entities? I disagree and Erskine has his own skepticisms of wars of punishment as exemplified by Iraq and Afghanistan
On my part (in addition to Erskine’s proposals) dissolution of a “delinquent” institution may also be suggested as a radical alternative punishment. Also replacing the upper echelons of the institution or giving it back to the people may also be more humane, but radical ways of punishment that relegate responsibility directly to individuals (public ownership) who may have more control over moral responsibility than a corporate entity. Of course, such solutions are problematic within the current structure, but restructuring is already required in light of the fact that the decline of the nation-state signals that the state as a mechanism of rule is no longer adequate to address postmodern issues of political, economic, and social developments such as Agamben’s state of exception. Will the state erode under stricter moral responsibilities? What institutions will remain after such moral constraints are demanded? If the institution’s constitution or founding principles (that is, its structure) was already riddled with moral loopholes or poor interpretations then systemic moral “delinquency” is remediated only by my proposed solutions.
One last point of view: what if “delinquency” were an abuse of the privilege of institutions to be free of reproach? Here we may recall Aristotle in his Politics that a community is more virtuous than the individual due to the sum of its parts. In theory, institutions themselves are set up with virtuous intent and are virtuous or good in themselves, but certain individuals or groups within them can corrupt them and bypass virtue for self interests. This would override Erskine’s idea that institutions are subjective as moral agents because institutions would be objectively good. It is the corrupt few who are the moral agents and therefore targets of moral praise or blame, reward or punishment. This would, of course, ignore bureaucratic practices in institutions which would create systemic and consistent moral delinquency, but again, it is best to assume that the original intent behind the institution held merit otherwise the institution would not have lasted. Unfortunately, institutions are also often kept alive by power politics and serving particular interests. Therefore, it is important to hold the institution accountable to its original principles when considering punishment and the moral responsibility of such entities.
Convict me of the crime of having loved deeply for I shall plead guilty to reckless passion.
Convict me of blasphemy for having adored the object of all my hopes and desires.
Convict me of theft for I have openly tried to steal his kisses and claim that he belongs to me.
Condemn me, Your Honour, but no chains can contain the tender memories of a wounded heart.
On the great stage of our lives, the theme of tragedy is not merely reserved for superfluous theatre productions and chick flicks. There are characteristics of the real tragedy that distinguish it from other sad or evil human episodes, such as revenge or karma. There is usually the involvement of one or more innocent persons who are subject to a catastrophe, of synthetic or natural origins, such that the suddenness or (in Arendtian terms) “banality of evil” present in the catatrophe (Tolkien, would call it a dystrophe) creates a state of shock and unspeakable grief. An added element is the fact that the protagonist or hero or the self has exerted considerable effort in preventing such a catastrophe (if possible) or appears undeserving of such a dystrophe due to the merits of his or her character. In the movies, most characters have the fortune to experience a eucatastrophe after the devastation of a tragedy. In real life, most people do not have such luck.
Perhaps the most striking thing about such occurrences is how humans deal with tragedy. Though tragedy normally occurs to “innocents”, we must also consider the “flawed” nature of human beings, as posited in my previous entries. That is, individuals may approach the tragedy with a sort of resilience and willingness to push forward out of the pit into which Fortune or Evil Intent has placed them. Others may be broken by the shock of the dystrophe and lapse into vice that, in most cases, is contrary to their “original” self-created nature if it exists. Tragedy may be a further support of Freudian social determinism, but this would ignore the fact that individuals are presented with a choice of reaction to their misfortune, that is free will. This stance is decisively existentialist and supports Nietzschean-forged identity through the choice of positive or negative exercises of power within the constraints of our social environment. Tragedy is self-constructing as much as it it self-destructing.
Politics is the continuation of war by other means. – Michel Foucault
I should be writing my research proposal, but I suppose this is the moment of insanity in the night where I believe everything is pointless. In any case, I will attempt to use this time as constructively possible in this blog.
I’ve been recently introduced to the work of Michel Foucault, reading “Society Must Be Defended: The Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976” and of course, I am acquainted with his power/knowledge structure. I am always wary of postmodernist theories due to their pure critical nature and nothing constructive (thus, deconstruction), but I have found little disagreement in what I have read thus far from the Frenchman.The theory of the domination of ideology is nothing new (Marx), but the conception of power struggles and the discourse of perpetual war can have ready application to a hegemonic world.
I’ve also found the work of Giorgio Agamben to be particularly interesting, if only being impressed that some of his language can turn circles around me. I find his concept of the state of exception only a mere elaboration and theoretical nicety added to the work of Hannah Arendt, who pioneered much of this citizen/man dichotomy. The question then becomes: Do we break down the power structures that create the citizen or do we raise the biopolitical man out of his state of exception by extending the rights of subjugation and security? Where is my Cosmopolitik?
Quite impressed with Derrida’s recently published work “Rogues” which is a deconstructivist perspective of the post 9/11 world. I suppose there is some dark Nietzschean element lurking behind all these theories, as none of them are optimistic. In any case, I don’t see myself becoming a postmodernist anytime soon, unless a new phase of philosophical thinking develops that is more complete or viable with this train of thought. I’m sorry, Freud, I just don’t think man is reducible to perverted sexual desire and ego repression. Call me a post-postmodernist, if you will, but I intend to renovate these philosophies.
Reading through “Disciplining Democracy” by Rita Abrahamsen, I am enlightened of the fact that voter apathy is considered a good sign by Western democracies. She notes how it implies that a low voter turnout is an implication to governments that the people are happy with the ways things are and that whichever leader is chosen, they will reflect (at least in basic principle) that which is best for the general population. She even goes so far to say that Western countries are looking to cultivate voter apathy in Africa as a sign that the West need no longer be concerned with their “white man’s burden” if the African people appear contented with their stable governments, rather than considering that democracy may not represent an African interest in active and dynamic political participation in the determination of their country’s future.
Capitalist regimes (especially in richer countries) adopt democracy out of convenience, relegating authority to more interested men, while they carry on their daily business. The daily business being more important and containing more power in terms of wealth for those of us who couldn’t be bothered with the values and philosophy that goes into a regime devoted to the benefit of the people. It is the perfect form of mass control, slaves to profits and ignorant of political change. As a democracy (which represent social welfare and justice in many philosophical texts) attains capitalist wealth, there is a reduction in concern for the poor or the widening gaps between them and the rich. There is less emphasis on equality of opportunity and more emphasis on exclusion and bracketing off undesirable or ‘outside’ members such as the poor, immigrants, working families, etc. There is no longer an interest in keeping a middle class but in creating a ‘tyranny of the market’ and disregarding basic human security of a considerable chunk of the population. Can anyone (fore)see the regression into a neoserfdom?
“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: The Blessed Sacrament…There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
*Note: There is something compelling about this statement. Does the knowledge of our mortality lend greater importance and meaning to those immaterial things that should matter in our life? If we believe that the screen goes blank after death, what is our purpose? Does it profit more to take a Kierkegaardian leap of faith or to allow ourselves to become Nietzschean nihilists? Does reason liberate us from these questions or produce intellectual despair? Ah, what a piece of work is man!