Friday, February 21, 2014

Your turn #4

We discussed too many things for me to remember them all. Here is what I remember (and you know who said what).

1- Mill's defense of a democratic citizen. Only when citizens have the opportunity for choice do they develop into true thinkers and moral agents. Why? Because of participation and inclusion. Here the discussion started. One could argue that there is a difference between authentic deliberation and mere voting. With the advent of the politicization and polarization of the media and lobbying groups, political issues of importance get pretty slanted --as we've seen time and again. For a democratic decision to be legitimate, one could argue, it must be preceded by authentic deliberation & not merely the aggregation of preferences that occurs in voting. Now, what counts for true deliberation? Deliberation amongs amongst decision-makers that is free from distortions & interest groups.

Is this possible? Of  course it is, but we must be vigilant.

2- Our epistemological approach to political issues. How do we know how people (groups) become politically motivated? It cannot just be "I think so," or "the people I know", or "so and so channel says." We need reliable methods (polls) and data. Where to find it? Well, here it pays to put aside political bias for a second. Example, Last elections Romney was led to believe (because of political bias) that he will win the elections, only to find out he was loosing by a wide margin. Lesson: self-deceit is the worse thing. Polls can be potentially inaccurate. Here are some intrinsic problems:

a) response bias (the answers given by respondents do not reflect their true beliefs),
b) non-response bias (the characteristics of those who agree to be interviewed may be markedly different from those who decline).
c) presentation of questions (wording of the questions, the order in which they are asked and the number and form of alternative answers offered can influence results of polls),
d) coverage bias (the use of samples that are not representative of the population as a consequence of the methodology used). 

Is this not enough to curb hasty inferences and rash generalizations?

3- Thursday the issue indiscriminate government power came up (NSA and its civil ramifications). Of course the opinions varied.

The issue here is how much do you protect individual freedoms. Remember that the government is an abstract hierarchy, with bureaucratic interests, some of which may be in the shadows. Should you not suspect a bit more from you government just to cover your bases from such a huge and all-pervasive power? This is the argument from the liberal & the libertarian side.

4- Trickle down economics. The basic idea is that capital accumulation and economic progress depend on saving and innovation and that these in turn depend on the freedom to make high profits and accumulate great wealth. The problem is that unrestricted this promise ends up (as the 2009 crisis showed) in the futile attempt of some men gaining at the expense of others by means of looting and plundering.

So what to do? The discussion comes back to the distinction between liberty & equality. Philosophers take a look at arguments and balance. How do you balance these two? Well, need freedom to talk about individual rights (i.e., rights from non-interference), private property, civil liberties, business deals, etc. We need equality to address issues of justice: equal opportunity,  fair distribution of wealth (the Rawlsian "before" and "after" moments we discussed in class). There is reliable data to support that in the US we're going through a phase of unprecedented inequality.

If there is anything else you want to talk about go ahead. Later I'll post the take-home exam. Now, let's do this.

Nota bene: I commend you for the level of discussion in the class. I see that we have different points of view in the class but feel in a family discussing it. We don't stop saying what we feel we have to say but we're mindful of civil standards of discussion. Today this is a rarity.    


  1. “(Mill’s defense of the democratic citizen) [...] For a democratic decision to be legitimate, one could argue, it must be preceded by authentic deliberation and not merely the aggregation of preferences that occurs in voting.”

    Here I would like to address the problem of the democratic citizen as a challenge to a robust egalitarian society on any ground. The art to partake in political affairs intelligently has hitherto been discussed particularly in one of the readings I enjoyed the most thus this course‘s progression: Plato, in the Republic, draws a parallel to a society governed without accounting the discernment of selected individuals, as he eloquently depicts the chaos of a ship being oriented by the premature preparedness of the crew. Now, a few classes ahead, upon perusing Carole Pateman’s Participatory Democracy, I find problematic her assertion that “the more individuals participate [in any electoral voting system], the better able they become to do so.
    Who am I to problematize CAROLE PATEMAN? Yet the very extreme end of this participatory spectrum leaves me with Plato, questioning the legitimacy of substantial participatory democracy.
    The reason I pose that robust direct participation may neglect the proper functioning of some sector of a society is illustrated by a current, more practical example: the Swiss referendum, though undoubtedly admirable in theory, attempted to further advance a rather non-democratic legislation. Swiss voters’ decision to curb immigration not just contradicts with very fundamental principles of international law, but also neglects economic growth: “This should be a considerable drag on potential growth,” said Manuel Andersch, an analyst at Bayerische Landesbank in Munich. “The full effect will only be visible once the concrete immigration rules are known. The stricter the quota, in particular for high-skilled workers, the larger the drag.”

    It is not in my place to refute that the concept for participatory democracy may create the so-sought egalitarian effect -- I did spend my summer protesting on Brazilian streets.
    Yet, I will be more faithful to the motive I enrolled in this class: not to let complacency rule.

    Should the ship be ruled by the crew? I don’t think so.

  2. I mentioned trickledown economics, because it looked to me that it was what John Brawl’s Difference principle is. “Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions:

    a. They are to be attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity;
    b they are to be to the greatest benefit of the least-advantaged members of society (the difference principle)"

    And I just wanted to prove the point that maybe that this can be very dangerous if not handled properly. Some economists proclaim that the troubles we're enduring now is due to the failure of Trickle down economics, or as Reganomics as it is widely known today. I am not dismissing Rawls theory completely. His theory, though would not work in our society, it might work in other societies. In his negative thesis on Justice and Fairness, he gives an example: “the fact that a citizen was born rich, white, and male provides no reason in itself for this citizen to be either favored or disfavored by social institutions." In our society (and by that I mean the U.S), Social institutions do favor or disfavor race, gender, and ethnic background. Let's assume that a celebrity has committed a very serious crime that celebrity will walk out with nothing but a slap on the wrist. If it were a non-celebrity, the person would surely be sentenced to prison. Even if a rich person is convicted they would just go to a fancy prison for white-collar criminals. On the flip side, Schools like Harvard, Stanford, University Chicago, are accepting the minority group to their colleges instead of the rich white kids. Rawls does have very interesting ideas.

    Another topic I wish that it be covered and discussed in class is Bureaucracy, and how it effects us.

    Max Weber is certainly right when he says that a bureaucracy is a rational way for a nation to organize due to the fact of population growth. Yet, I am skeptical as to how efficient a bureaucracy really is. Modern bureaucracy has grown complex and inefficient in our social institutions.

  3. I have realized that the active participants in Ukraine and Venezuela are citizens who realize that organizing engaged and cooperative communities is very important to influencing government. This is of course done by people reaching out to others in their communities in several different ways. By organizing meetings, contacting workers and unions, giving out flyers, pamphlets, and social networks online. To my belief citizens should respectfully present facts and arguments that show how the current destructive system works, and present alternative ideas of how we could organize society. Attempting to explain how the politics can be influenced does vary from country to country. It depends on the specific circumstances and the political landscape. If there is a party in a country or community that’s dedicated to working for more economic equality, less hierarchies, workers’ rights and a sustainable environment, I think it could play a role in changing the society -- at least in the beginning and middle stages. However, I think a big part of the struggle for a free and democratic society must be done outside party politics, especially in countries with very poor functioning political systems, where the elections are more or less run by the elites.

    In the article;

    I found it interesting how it stated "No one is born into the world with rights. Societies decide what rights it will give citizens and what powers it will give government. Rights can be taken away and governmental powers can grow beyond reasonable limits unless citizens are watchful. The core of democracy "assumes that our rights and liberties do not come for free, that unless we assume the responsibilities of citizens we will not be able to preserve them" (Barber, 1998, p. 195)."

  4. It would seem to me that we either always have the choice to participate/protest or we never have it. Since there are definitely people who have the opportunity for choice but are not active citizens or moral agents. To me pluralistic ignorance is the culprit behind many complacency in todays society. This leaks over into numerous issues such as NSA observation. When people seem unsure of the abuse they look to each other, since they also do not seem to be in immediate distress then "Why not let the government watch us". The underlying issue here would be the ever prevailing issue of only being concerned with what is immediately tangible. This is also experienced in the government through the lack of considering the implications continuous use of renewable energy. Simply choices are not always presented to us in a simple decisions such as eggs or toast for breakfast, however This should not denote the lack of choice that can be handed to the impoverished and uneducated. Still however something has to be said about our tendency towards ignorance.
    The next step after having an active citizen in my mind is how to best gain recognition for my perspective. This is the true nature of the democratic citizen.
    I think Ushaia was wise to comment on the issue of the "Circumstances and Political Landscape" in regards to the effectiveness of each individual active citizen. This then leads us to the issue of analyzing the political structures similarly as the would be business owner analyzes the market. "What business would be most effective? How can I best advertise my product?" Politics are in a sense the same and different ideas will take on more power at different times.

  5. The balance between liberty and equality are essential for a stable governing body because it is obvious that you cannot have both in the same quantities. I believe that one’s view of the state of nature of man could supplement their stance on where the balance would lie. If one were to take a Hobbesian point of view, where man was brutish by nature, they would enforce equality over personal liberty. If one took a Rousseauian perspective on the state of nature of man, their inclinations would favor compromising equality for personal liberty.
    In regards to the balance between liberty and equality, it is sufficient to say that that current political atmosphere in the United States reflects that we have neither liberty nor equality. The characteristics of a leftist government would compromise some liberty for equality while those on the right would compromise equality for liberty. Concerning the class discussion over NSA surveillance, it is apparent that our government has rapaciously tread on our liberties in which Benjamin Franklin has proposed to this type of situation, “They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” It is evident through the widening income inequality and corporate insatiability for capitol wealth that the liberties being sacrificed lead to no avail for equality. Moreover, the environmental, societal, and global inefficiencies caused by corporate negligence or self-indulgence (BP Oil Spill, Outsourcing, Sweat-Shops) is a clear indicator that the price of personal liberty is sought at the expense of those with no political power or any direct influence. If one wanted to agree with the Hobbesian approach of the state of nature of man, they would correspond to believe that those with political power are brutishly abusing their personal liberty which is why equality would need to be instilled; because man cannot be trusted to enforce egalitarianism out of whim.
    Furthermore, those in power are the solely interested in maintaining their wealth and status which becomes relevant to the discussion on democratic citizens. Those in power are the ones who own corporations, thus they control the media, the food supply, and any commodity available to the masses. It is not in their favor that people become informed because they will support equality and therefore diminishing the power of those who own the means of production. A democratic citizen is one is aware of absolutely everything in his environment, socially, politically, environmentally, and so forth. Only then could one make a balanced decision regarding their political standpoint. Being that the present atmosphere is provided with ill-informed citizens who tend to be too distracted to participate in politics, the inequality will continue to increase.

  6. I agree with Mill that to be a democratic citizen, voting is simply not enough. The act of voting only shows a preference between one thing or another. For me, there is also a difference between voting and what it takes to be a true democratic citizen in terms of the effort being put. There are some who vote with little or no information about the candidate they're voting for. Many of these same people never feel the obligation of participating politically let alone discuss political matters with their peers. Only voting does not take the amount of energy and time which it takes to be be a democratic citizen. It just doesn't take the amount of involvement needed.

    It is very difficult to conduct polls in order to see what the masses truly believe. This should be taken into consideration before taking the information given from a poll as fact. Many people take statistics as hard fact without taking into consideration the many levels of biased that can occur. Although it is a bit difficult to propose questions in a poll without sounding biased, it is harder to be exactly sure that the participants are answering truthfully, not matter how anonymous you make it. People just have a tendency to lie, even to themselves. Even the time in which the poll was conducted has to be taken into consideration when making judgement about it. Too many variables take place which cannot allow polls to be considered as completely reliable.

    ~Katherine Davila

  7. I personally don't believe that trickle-down economics works, at least not in the US and not in this day and age. Yes, the richer part of the population are freer to re-invest their wealth in the selfish attempt of growing it and expanding their influence, but does this mean that they re-invest into the local (national) economy? Not necessarily. Why invest in the your local area, where the workers demand such high compensation (high wages, healthcare, overtime, etc) when you can invest it in other places where labor so happens to be cheaper? National pride? Na.
    In my opinion, Reaganomics is in part responsible for the ever increasing gap b/w rich and poor in the US and the rest of the world. I got nothing against a guy/gal trying to earn a buck (even though I think he/she's treating their employees in the Far East and South and Central America like complete crap....ok, I do have something against that), but what really ticks me off, is the lies that politicians and other persons in favor of trickle-down economics give: it'll stimulate the local economy, it's create jobs, better in the private circuit than the public. Don't get me wrong, I'm not for taxing the rich to the point of death, but they should be made to pay a little more in taxes. Just saying, they can afford it. I think. -Manny Alonso