Tuesday, May 3, 2011
I think everyone picked really interesting film topics, and the ones I’ve seen thus far have turned out really well. It amazes me after a semester of studying human rights just how flawed and insensitive people’s views can be toward the subject. I cannot believe, for instance, that churches, the alleged moral backbone of society, still condemn homosexuality. I can’t believe the gross human rights violations my country shamelessly commits on other countries. This class has opened my eyes to the vast amount of real problems plaguing our society. I look forward to addressing and overcoming these issues as we strive toward a better tomorrow.
Many interests were portrayed through the documentaries that were made for our final. I really enjoyed how we could view everyone’s work, rather than just turning in a paper or taking a final. I think that through having to research a topic that we are interested in our work was significantly stronger than if a topic had been assigned to us. Also, we were able to bring to light many issues that may not have been discussed in class.
Through our discussions and through our readings a lot of my perspective on many issues has been altered. There are very few classes that I can say this about or that have made an impact on my worldview, but I definitely think this class has made me more aware and concerned with the world around me. This can be attributed to the students who helped to create a classroom where their opinions will be respected, but also questioned, which forces us beyond our comfort zone. We have to search to find our voice when it is being questioned. This class has forced to me find a perspective and an opinion based on something more than just my thoughts about it. Thank you for a great semester!
In dealing with human rights violations closely (re: the denial of homosexuals the right to marry), I was able to more clearly realize how involved I can and in fact should be. In creating a documentary film about these violations, I was forced to dive deep into human rights issues—why they exist, how people are really affected, and how other humans can step in to right these violations. Overall, the experience with becoming personally acquainted with real issues in real time helped me develop my personal views and morals more solidly. I have never been more awake to the issues of our world than today. I may not have all of the answers, but I certainly can point to places where we can begin to improve our world to become founded on a more humanly oriented principle.
As a closing blog-post for a humanism and human rights class, it would be hard not to bring up the recent, and undeniably controversial, dealings of the U.S. within Pakistan, specifically the killing of Osama bin Laden. While the ultimate symbolic meaning of bin Laden’s death is up for interpretation, it seems to me that, at least with my current understanding of the situation, there are certain issues relevant to human rights that need discussing. Chief of those issues are the invasion by U.S. forces of Pakistani borders as well as the assassination itself (in addition to the killing of five others). While there is no doubt to me that the world without Osama bin Laden is a better place, I am still unsure as to how much better. In addition, the breeching of borders will need to be addressed, and so will the reactions to the assassination. In my opinion, there is a difference between celebrating one’s death and celebrating the relief that one’s death brings. Seeing the reactions on the streets, college campuses, in front of the White House, and on various social media networks reminded me too much of the celebrations that were seen in parts of the Middle East when the twin towers collapsed in 2001 (as many have already pointed out). Perhaps I am bringing in too much perspective here, and not committing myself to the full meaning of bin Laden’s death, but that, to me, comes from my training in humanism—my training to do what it takes to grant humans the right to be human.
What really struck me about the class, however, was how open everyone was to talking about these issues, debating these issues, in a non-confrontational and respectful way. I think that many of the topics that we covered were topics that easily flare tempers, and it was reassuring to see that our small class community could talk about things without coming to blows. Now, I understand that our classroom community is one that does not represent the majority of people in today's society. But if we can come together as a small unit, even, and begin to create change, then I think there is opportunity for the masses to follow.
Overall, I think this Humanism and Human Rights class was a brilliant mind-opening experience for myself, and I hope that I can take the values that the class seems to have come to accept, and use them in the future to create change. Now that I have been fully informed on so many of today's controversial issues, I feel that I can look back to the class, and the UDHR to better understand my own personal value system.
I think everyone picked really interesting film topics, and the ones I’ve seen thus far have turned out really well. It amazes me after a semester of studying human rights just how flawed and insensitive people’s views can be toward the subject. I cannot believe, for instance, that churches, the alleged moral backbone of society, still condemn homosexuality. I can’t believe the gross human rights violations perpetrated on other countries’ people by my own country. This class has opened my eyes to the vast amount of real problems plaguing our society. I look forward to addressing and overcoming these issues as we strive toward a better tomorrow.
Monday, May 2, 2011
Although the quality of American housing surpasses the quality of housing in most parts of the world, available low-income housing in the United States is mainly located in poor areas that are isolated from opportunity and jobs. Gilderbloom explains that, even though there has been a sharp reduction in “the number of units that are overcrowded, lack plumbing and sanitation, or show signs of structural dilapidation” in the last two decades, low-income families in the United States are still faced with overcrowding in homes and higher transportation expenses (Gilderbloom 17). The U.S. Census Bureau defines overcrowding as “any housing unit that has more than one person per room” (Gilderbloom 26). Unfortunately, the rate of overcrowding increased by 5.7 percent between 1990 and 2000, an estimated increase of 6 million housing units. Gilderbloom explains that the rise of housing and rent costs in the past decade has also had a detrimental impact on family formation. The Federal Reserve Board found that the price of housing for married couples with children rose 79 percent between 1983 and 1998, nearly three times as much as it did for couples without children (Gilderbloom 29). Many young couples are presently choosing to either limit the size of their families or to not have children at all. James Surowiecki, a journalist for the New Yorker, argues that the cost of having children has risen much faster than the cost of being childless; the increasing burden of offspring is “attributable to housing and education costs (Gilderbloom 29).
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Let it be known that this class has helped remove several veils that covered me before taking this class. First and most importantly I believe that human rights while extremely important are a losing battle when I look at the way not only the American government but other have specifically limited the fair treatment of all citizens and non-citizens in their own country. Even in America we continue to scape goat multiple groups inlcluding MUSLIM-americans, who only represent 0.8% to 2.6%, something compribale to the jewish-american population. Still they are a complex group consisting of the following ethnic backgrounds: (Below is from WIKI on Islam in the United States)--->
" Native-born American Muslims are mainly African Americans who make up 24% of the total Muslim population. Many of these have converted to Islam during the last seventy years. Conversion to Islam in prison, and in large urban areas has also contributed to its growth over the years. South Asian immigrants (from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) make up 26% of the Muslim population, and Arabs make up 26% of the population. The remaining 24% percent is from other groups."
SO we have to understand that when we scapegoat a religion we are actually attacking numerous ethnic groups, religious and economic classes and a mix of Americans who have been here for a 100 years or a 100 weeks. Either way, the post 9-11 world, has shown human rights of Muslims in the World and in this country have not been Protected.
SECONDLY, the lecture and preceding Q and A with Dan Savage was also deeply moving and in some ways saddening. I have been depressed on and off due to my procrastination in school, my visual injury, my general lack of a future before and after going through rhodes, but never to the extent that I would contemplate suicide. I moved a lot growing up as well and I got picked on so I could relate to that as well. But for 15 and 16 gay boys and lesbian girls to actually feel that their futures were not worth continued living made me realize that this society has lost its love of community and of the good other. When did we as americans really accept people for being different you might SAY, and I would respond that the fact that most immigrants have been accepted as American is a good sign, and most people accept your religion it be Buddhism or Judaism, still it is sad that my gay brothers and sisters have been given the short end of the civil rights stick, when all they want to do is have marriage and kids like the rest of America. SO my first solution, we make it easier for gay couples and infertile couples to adopts --- maybe a 2 page form and a cover letter, then someone talks with them and within a year they can get a child if its a good match.
Lastly, I have learned that documentary film is a tool and a form of academic expression that can easily be disseminated and convince others of the need for either addressing social injustice or positing potential policy solutions.
My last thing to say is thank you to all my peers and Professors for sometimes putting up with this crazy scholar here. I hope that someday whatever issue or idea we privledge above the rest can help get fixed or we can create more awareness and education in the next generations. Hopefully I will be teaching someone in Memphis Next school year and I hope to stay in touch with you all.
Jon Schwartz - Scholar at Large.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Monday, April 18, 2011
A couple of weeks ago, Ben wrote a blog post concerning sweatshops and an economic defense of their existence and continued support. I began to formulate a comment in response to the post, but as I typed out my observations and counter-arguments, I came across some questions—big quesitons. Thinking about it further, I felt as if these questions were integral to our study of human rights, and merited a post of their own, thus…
One of the most convincing arguments in support of the defense of sweatshops is the claim that it is misguided and ignorant to hold businesses in the developing world to the same standards as those in the developed world. With this in mind, it is nearly impossible to define aspects of labor such as low wages and unsatisfactory working conditions in countries that are incredibly different from our own. Low wages and unsatisfactory conditions by American standards, although they may be troubling to us, do not necessarily translate into low wages and unsatisfactory conditions in the host country. Like Powell mentions in his article, sweatshops offer a considerable improvement from the state of abject poverty and/or unsteady, unreliable employment. He notes that sweatshop wages are more than double the national average in Cambodia, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Honduras. When I hear this quantitative, measureable evidence as to the benefits of sweatshops, I find it hard to convince myself to support the upholding of so-called human rights in place of increased incomes for poor people (although I may still disagree with Powell's argument that sweatshops actually lead to overall development, but that's another conversation). The fact that sweatshop labor may actually be a step up from destitution merely solidifies what we should already know: the world is not fair. Although we're not often brought face-to-face with this fact, none of us should be surprised by this. If you live in the US, you are immeasurably "better off" than those born in any number of other countries. Opposing sweatshops by boycotting companies that employ sweatshop labor translates into a denial of increased incomes for desperately poor people for the sake of an idealized moral or philosophical standard— namely, the fact that you are personally uncomfortable with the idea of workers being paid what you consider to be low wages and working in what you consider to be unsatisfactory conditions to make your Nike kicks. Yes; wages and conditions in sweatshops can be considered "bad". But boycotting those companies may be worse. Although we feel better about retracting our support from companies who engage in this "bad" practice, I would argue that it is our true social responsibility to think through our actions all the way to their final outcome and the real-world implications of that outcome. In fact, some of you may agree with me in saying that it is not just our social responsibility, but our moral duty as well.
In spite of Powell's cogent argument in defense of sweatshops (and the supplemental case that I just finished arguing in the last two paragraphs), I have to recognize the fact that I fail to be philosophically, morally or socially satisfied by this approach. It seems to me that neither reaction to sweatshops (boycott such companies or increase support for them) goes far enough to redeem the dignity of the sweatshop laborers. Do I believe that the low compensation and poor working conditions of many sweatshops are an affront to human dignity and a violation of what I consider to be a human's inherent rights? Yes. I don't know whether or not underdeveloped economies would be better off without sweatshops, but I do know that the lesser-of-two-evils argument that defends sweatshops strikes me as pitiful and maybe even immoral. As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, and our interactions—both economic and social—become more complicated, I still find it necessary to maintain our principles. We cannot sacrifice our conviction on the altar of economics or utility. But here's the trick: we must seek to maintain our principles in a socially responsible way instead of blindly appeasing our own consciences. If what mollifies our conscience leads to the calculable "worsening-off" of the very person we seek to help, I can't see how we've done any good at all.
All this talk brings me to my final question, and I think it's a good one. I think that Patrick hit the nail on the head when he suggested (in his comment to Ben's original post) that within the context of human rights discourse, there exists the notion of a "Wouldn't it be nice if…" world. This question has been gnawing at the back of my mind all semester, and I think it's time to ask: Is our definition of human right overly idealistic, so much so that it is not applicable to the world in which we live? By canonizing our conceptualization of human rights in the UDHR and other international norms, it seems to me that we are funneled into treating the world as if it were the world we think it ought to be, instead of the world that it truly is. Is there any country, state, or community in which the rights of the UDHR are fully upheld? How useful is this criteria, then, if even the model societies of the world cannot meet its standards? And further, how can we then expect to apply it to the parts of the world that fall so, immeasurably short of its idyllic ambitions? In a world with such vastly different societies, cultures, religions, traditions, socio-economic levels, ideologies, and politics, how helpful is it—really—to support human rights with one-size-fits all approach (credit, again, goes to Patrick for this phrase)? The difficulty of the sweatshop question highlights this inadequacy. I don't intend to pessimistically suggest that human rights discourse is entirely impracticable, but I think that if we ever want to extend the notion of human rights beyond the philosophy classroom and into the real world—a world of underdeveloped nations, sweatshops, and economists— then this must be seriously addressed. I must admit that I haven't yet found a satisfactory answer myself, so I'm hoping that one of you will have one.