Tuesday, November 18, 2008

312; Class; Video; Thesis

This is a video which is being posted for English 312. It is in response to an assignment where each student must post a video and a thesis with that video.

Secular humanists preach that humanity has morally improved over its existence, yet humans are flawed. Humanity's basic, yet morally corrupt instinct to kill still thrives. From the Communist Manifesto to 1984, violence and power even dominates literature. Due to its portrayal of the negative aspects of the human condition, that humanity eventually result to violence to solve its problems, the five minutes which best capture that condition occur when Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp, and Doc Holiday, face off against outlaws at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

312 Response Paper; My Country, A Dystopia

This is an essay that I wrote for an English class. Constructive comments are welcome.

All rights are reserved. No publishing, reproducing, altering, or distributing any portion of this without the author's permission.

My Country, 'tis of who?

The United States of America was founded on the principles of equality and liberty. These principals have guided this country into a period in history where gender and racial prejudices have disintegrated to the point where anyone from any race or gender can become leader of this country. However, despite these advances, this country has not achieved its goal of a "more perfect union," rather it shows signs that it is becoming less perfect every day. Due to the erosion of individual liberties, an increase a dramatic increase in surveillance, and an ever –widening disparity between two classes, the United States of America is devolving from a nation of freedom into a nation of fear, threatening to tear apart the country socially and economically; The United States' of America isn't becoming a dystopia, it is a dystopia.

Like a dystopic novel, the United States' increase in surveillance puts fear into the hearts of its people. For example, in novel 1984, the government of Oceania uses the pervasive television screen to spy on people. This is no different from the modern day security officer, overlooking the constant influx of surveillance footage and reporting anything suspicious. In fact, this is Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon personified (Foucalt "Panopticism"). However, unlike the Panopticon, the modern day surveillance system is ripe for abuse. Whereas Foucalt's panopticism describes a perfect system where everyone, including the jailer, is under surveillance, those in charge of modern day surveillance are left to their own discretion. Oversight is done through visits, not through constant viewing of actions. As such, the utopia envisioned by Foucalt where the jailers are equal to the imprisoned is never realized. Instead, the United States' continues that path toward a dystopia by giving power to some and none to others. The citizen and his or her liberties are at the mercy of the police system.

Similar to a dystopia, American citizens have in the last eight years lost several liberties, specifically, the right to a public trial by jury. Similar to 1984, where the government can detain and torture a citizen of Oceania, the United States' government can now knock on a citizen's door and detain that citizen for an indefinite amount of time, all under the guise of the citizen being a possible "terrorist." This is done, allegedly, to protect the people of the United States', fulfilling that important part of the Constitution's Preamble which charges the government with insuring "domestic tranquility" and "providing for the common defense." There is no doubt that the government must protect its citizens, but the line between the terrorist and the advocate is too blurred to allow this to be the definition that permits a violation of the constitutional right to a public trial by a jury.

Some might argue that the United States' is simply doing what is necessary to protect the country until the threat of terrorism has passed. These people would argue that the powers granted to the government are temporary, and are a necessary means to achieve a necessary end, the safety of the citizens it is charged with protecting. However, there is no indicator that the government will ever abdicate their new powers. Instead, it embraces them and does so without apology. This causes one to pause, and wonder, is power the goal of the government?

This goal of power is dystopic for several reasons. For example, in
the movie 1984, there is a scene where the main character Winston is being tortured by the character O'Brian. O'Brian tells Winston that real power is to make someone believe that two equals five. Similarly, the goal of the American government appears to be the gaining of power to make its citizens into worker bees and robots who go about their daily life, working and buying. Similar to Marx's Communist Manifesto (though this author is no supporter of communism), the United States' government seems to care less for its peoples' happiness (unless their unhappiness undermines the governments own power), but is more concerned with keeping its citizens on the train of consumerism, stopping at every shopping center and convenience store to spend their hard earned wages. This dystopic vision is the opposite of a utopia, where class systems have been abolished, but is more similar to the concept that citizens are a means of production, both the production of capital and of goods. Similar to Altusser's scheme of production and reproduction in his essay, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus's," the United States' requires the production and reproduction of their citizen's consumer action.

This goes hand-in-hand with the government's desire to keep peace through surveillance because, in order to assure frequent consumer spending (as opposed to theft of goods), more surveillance must be employed. More surveillance equals more power to the state. The state then uses that power to keep its citizens under control. If a citizen is abnormal in his or her behavior, the government technically has the right to detain the citizen. Hence, it can be seen here that the government and spending are united. Also, a result of this symbiotic relationship, anyone who goes against this system becomes part of a separate class of citizen, even in the eyes of other citizens. For example, just as the outer party is separate from the inner party in 1984, so also are frequent, traditional consumers and property owners separated from those who are not. One only needs to look at the disparity between the homeless and home owners to see the difference. The homeless citizen is more often the victim of discrimination by the police apparatus, whereas a clean-cut citizen in a suit is looked upon with admiration. Despite this visual disparity and the alleged class distinctions, the police apparatus can be no more assured that the suited citizen is anymore or any less a danger to the local citizenry than the homeless. The dystopic vision of America continues. Similarly, the suited citizen is often wary of the homeless citizen because of the homeless citizen's appearance, that is, the quality of his clothes are less and his rituals for cleanliness are different (but perceived as less). Besides the obvious class distinctions, there is an even deeper dystopic relation between the homeless citizen, the suited citizen, and the American government.

The United States' of America fails to make use of the homeless person's productive and reproductive potential. For example, the homeless person, at best, is given a little aid and is often ignored by the government and its well-off citizens. This leaves the homeless citizenry, a major source of production, out of the labor force. One might argue that this is because the capitalist environment does not necessitate the homeless citizen's employment and would only cause an overproduction in goods. However, this neglects the homeless citizen's ability to become a productive citizen in his or her own right; the homeless citizen, once he or she has obtained enough capital, becomes a consumer. Unfortunately, this solution only highlights America's dystopic problems with class distinctions.

Despite their apparent love and ability to customize, Americans live in a dystopic society. Similar to both the novel and the movie 1984, citizens are under almost constant surveillance and fear a departure from the norm. These fears have been realized through the arrest and detaining of several citizen outside of constitutional boundaries. Also, American citizens are broken up into two classes, the haves and the have-nots, those with property and those without. Citizens then become the means of production and reproduction of consumer activity. As a result, equality and liberty have become bywords, slogans for first the government, second, the home owners and frequent consumers, and third, those who hope to become home owners and frequent consumers.

Works Cited

1984. Dir. Michael Radford. Perfs: John Hurt, Richard Burton.Atlantic Releasing

Corporation. 1984

Altusser, Louise. "Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses." 1970.

Foucalt, Michael. Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison. "Panopticism." 195-

228. 2nd ed. New York: New York. Vintage Books. 1995.

Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1988.

Orwell, George. 1984. New York: New York. New American Library. 1961.

The United States Constitution.


All rights are reserved. No publishing, reproducing, altering, or distributing any portion of this without the author's permission.