Siri's Corner is my forum to express my thoughts on social, political, and economic justice issues. It is named after Siri, the girl whose story changed my life. At the age of 12, she was sold into a Thai brothel, used, and discarded. In the beginning of my journey, I hoped someday I might meet her. Now I know I can never stop working for social justice until I am certain I will never meet her, because there are no more Siris left in the world.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ads on Feet

Washington DC, the capitol of the United States. The seat of government. The site of the historical and art museums. But the new reputation DC is developing, is that of The Promised Land of Advertising. There are many reasons I love the proliferation of corporate advertising in the District. First, the Red Line was delayed for a good two weeks as construction was finished on the walls of the metro tunnel to allow ads to be played in train windows. This will give public transport passengers a valuable way to pass time during the morning commute, without wasting energy on pointless activities like reading the newspaper or conversing with other human beings. It also ensures that those not resourceful enough to bring a book or an ipod will never have to face 30 long minutes alone with their own thoughts in a state of rest and contemplation. The only passengers this ingenious new ad campaign might not reach are those with the portable dvd players or video game consuls which tune out all light and sound from the outside world.

But the great minds behind the Metro ad program couldn’t stop there. Sure, they were successfully encouraging an unfettered consumerist-driven culture among city dwellers, but how to reach the suburbs? Ads on Wheels! They circle the streets of Herndon and Fairfax, each side of the truck covered with a television screen, rolling through ads. My favorite is the one advertises Curves Fitness for Women, Popeye’s Fried Chicken, and Cosmo. So just from the ads on a single truck, a woman can eat fried chicken and gain weight, buy Cosmo and learn to hate her body, and then join Curves to try to lose that weight. Another pass by Ads on Wheels, and she can start the whole cycle over again. What a wonderful economic stimulus!

Sadly, some of us have been so inundated with flat advertising such as that which can be found on train windows and truck sides, we hardly take note of the new items we desperately need to buy. Step in Ads on Feet. Now this program I love the most, because it turns living human beings into walking advertisements. Men and women are now standing at Metro stations, wearing flat screen tvs and announcing the products which they represent. These dedicated employees are so persistent they’ll even accost you on your way to a recycling bin! Their work ethic is that of a scared young worker being abused and threatened by an awesome economic power able to destroy his family in a single fiscal sweep. There is some beauty in this quiet desperation.

In the capitol city of this country, we have turned human beings literally into walking advertisements. Has this consumerist drive taken over all so completely we are willing to accept people as nothing but corporate extensions? Are we ready to accept being bombarded with advertisement telling us we are not good enough, rich enough, thin enough, and happy enough to live another day without this product? Some would say this attitude is very American, but I for one am not willing to admit it. I prefer to sit along the banks of the Potomac and listen. To the sounds of the city and the sounds of the river. To the sounds of history I can hear, when the river was the life-blood of this nation. When I am at the river, I am home.

At least, until they start advertising on it.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Richard Gere Postulate: Too Sexy for Society's Good

I believe that the lack of public knowledge of prostitution in America can be blamed on one man: Richard Gere. I know Richard may not be aware of this indiscretion, nor can he control it. He is simply too sexy for society’s good.

I recently had a conversation with someone I know about this issue, and why I was attacking pimps and johns and considering prostituted women as victims.

“Don’t you think women have a right to be sex workers if that’s what they want to do?” she asked.

“Well,” I explained. “The vast majority of women who are prostitutes either don’t want to be at all, or would choose something else if there was another option to make money available to them. Even those who originally entered into prostitution voluntarily are controlled by pimps. The self-sufficient, empowered, independent prostitute is largely a myth ”

“Are you saying there are no women out there who would choose prostitution? Maybe they like having sex and are good at it.” She replied.

“Well, women who like having sex can have plenty of it without making a profession out of it. Besides, I don’t think even nymphomaniacs would sign up for the abuses that go along with being prostituted if they had a better option.”

“What do you mean abuses? I thought you said most johns were married, average guys.”

“Yes, and do you think they’re visiting prostitutes to have the kind of sex they can have with their wives, or something a little worse?”

She remained perplexed as I tried to explain the logic that married men would most likely visit a prostitute to get something they could not get from their marriage: a younger woman, someone ethnically different, or “specialized services” which often involved abuse. She could not grasp this concept and it suddenly occurred to me why: Richard Gere.

Think back to the movie Pretty Woman. In this film, Julia Roberts is a beautiful, well-spoken prostitute. Richard Gere becomes her john. He buys her flowers and champagne, treats her to a shopping spree, and gives her thousands of dollars for her services. Eventually, he falls in love with her, and supposedly they live happily ever after in wealth and schmoopy love. A whole generation of people have grown up with this being the only image of the prostitute/john relationship they are exposed to.

And Pretty Woman isn’t the only example. In L.A. Confidential, prostitute Lynn Braken is a Veronica Lake look-alike who falls in love with a detective played by Russell Crowe. In the end, the two literally drive off into the sunset together. The high-class call girls in Working Girls are all wealthy and attractive, enjoying numerous material benefits from their work. Similarly, Risky Business presents the prostitute/john relationship as a harmless, fun party in which everyone walks away smiling. The “Hollywood Hooker” lives happily ever after far more often than the real one does.

What is popular culture saying about prostitution? Prostitutes are beautiful, charming, and wealthy. They usually end up falling in love with men like Richard Gere and Russell Crowe. And the worst that happens is that a Faberge egg gets broken, but everyone laughs it off in the end.

How far can this possibly be from the truth? According to recent studies by Judith Lewis Herman, most women who have been prostitutes exhibit signs of physical and emotional abuse, traumatic stress, social anxiety, and neurological problems. Those who study prostitution from a clinical standpoint believe prostitution is always harmful to women on some level. Most suffer from substance addictions used to numb the pain of their profession, mild to severe depression, and suicidal thoughts. Prostitution is bad for women.

It’s difficult to convince people of the reality of prostitution- abuse, rape, and denial of basic human rights- when the image presented in pop culture is a fairy tale ending with a hunky millionaire. It’s not Richard Gere’s fault his suave rescue of Julia Roberts has contributed to the mainstream perception that prostitution is just like any other profession. However, we as a society must begin to deal with the implications of this perception. We must understand that Pretty Woman and L.A. Confidential are not reality for prostitutes.

We need more public awareness campaigns by organizations showing the true nature of prostitution. We need to form a growing social opinion that prostitution is innately harmful to women. We also need Hollywood to begin showing prostitutes in a truer light. Because Richard Gere may be getting older, but he’s still too sexy for society’s good.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Nights of Black Snow

The snow falls black in Tomsk. When it’s dark in this Ukranian steel town, the inhabitants can feel the cold flakes on their faces, but they are almost impossible to see against the starless night sky. During the few daylight hours, they can see the billowing pillars of smoke issuing from the steel factories. They can smell the chemicals saturating the air. They can taste the pollution contaminating the crops. However, a child who has grown up in Tomsk has never seen, smelled, or tasted the beauty that is pure white snow falling against a star-lit night backdrop.

Here in America, our snow falls white. With the exception of the gray sludge which builds in mounds along highways, our children know snow as white flakes that dance on their eyelashes, and days off of school perfect for sledding. The black snow of Tomsk seems a frightening story from a book, easily closed before beds are snuggled into and sleep consumes us. Perhaps, though, Tomsk is not as far away as we might think.

Tomsk is surely an environmental nightmare if ever one existed. Years of unregulated factory production have yielded enough chemical waste to utterly poison the air and water there. Yet the United States is experiencing many of the same danger signs Tomsk experienced decades ago. Corporate air pollution levels are poorly regulated, allowing carbon monoxide to be expelled by the tons. Acid run-off into streams depletes clean water and food supplies. Vast toxic landfills the size of some states cover the American West, highly dangerous explosives begging to be targets of terrorist attacks. If we look far enough ahead, black snow is a possible conclusion to our current course of action.

However, it is easy white winter fantasy to ignore the problems which lay before us. It isn’t too late for us to hear the story Tomsk has to tell us. The United States has made incredible developments in recent years with regards to environmental regulations, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and legislation concerning global warming, toxic waste, and nature conservation. We are creating the right kind of solutions, we are simply not creating them quickly enough. The threat of Tomsk still hangs present in our peripheral vision, but together we can ensure the children of America never witness nights of black snow.

American Rice

“The tomato bisque is world famous,” says the native
North Floridian guru, omniscience of tans, sandy
floods, local restaurants, etc.
but it’s 81 degrees outside so I order
a vegetarian sandwich and we
sit, she raves about the bisque I reach
for the salt
(self-proclaimed sodiumphile since 1997)
and it’s full of rice.
“Why?” I shake the shaker in her face and
ask the native Floridian, knowledgeable about
migrant-picked oranges, halter tops, skin
cancer, and lazy liquid sex crossing
the courtyard like sweat drops between my shoulders.
“Keeps the salt from clumping,” she
replies though a spoonful of international fame.
What an innovation!
How the salt flows unclogged onto
my bland foccacia thanks
to this rice, the same grain and texture
from my childhood margarine-tub maracas
that even in its plenty could not feed Mao’s China
that somewhere Lindsey and Steve’s love is immortally painted on
that was once covered in American blood in Vietnam
that still covers American bombs in Laos
that Sarah Sanders once puked up (along with
Mongolian Beef) all over my blue Addias on her 21st birthday
that is paid for by WIC and welfare at most area grocery stores
that kills the unsuspecting pigeons who swoop down on wedding parties
that saved starving Somalis at UN relief centers in 1993
that keeps my warm Florida salt from clumping
and dumping onto my vegetables
transforming tomatoes into sodium
nitrate deathtraps to strangle my arteries right
there in the restaurant, so
I don’t die on glamorous Fox News like
those emaciated Asians or in the hearts
of a millions activists like
those poor dumb pigeons but
a quiet American death in the Florida sunshine
from a lack of rice.

Utopia Revisted

In his celebrated book Utopia Sir Thomas More recounts a conversation he had with Raphael regarding the ethical practices of the ideal community. Raphael tells him he believes people in an ideal society would treat one another as brothers and freedom and equality would reign as the supreme law. More suggests that one could acquire a great deal of personal wealth in such a society by manipulating those people. “Should I make myself prosperous by the road I find repulsive?” Raphael asks in reply. It is Raphael’s attitude which best embodies the spirit of utopian system. It shows a genuine concern for the welfare of mankind and draws an excellent blueprint for the realization of an ethically perfect world. An ideal community must be based on an honest desire to maximize freedom and equality for all people, and an ethic of care which embodies a spirit of fraternity.

The maximization of both personal and communal liberty and equality has been a subject many social theorists and philosophers have struggled with. While many different economic and social systems have tried to rationalize these seemingly incongruous concepts, one has yet to succeed. This is because the best way to maximize freedom is through of market socialism an economic system that has yet to be appropriately implemented in a country. In a market socialist system, the economic structure is still based on free enterprise, but the government has the power to redistribute a large portion of wealth through taxation. For example, a minimum and maximum income level would be codified into law. Those individuals who fall under the minimum would be compensated through a system of negative income tax.
This kind of redistribution of financial resources has the effect of creating the greatest amount of real liberty for the most people. To appreciate this concept, one must first reconsider the paradigmatic conception of liberty. Traditionally, freedom has been understood as the absence of hindrance. In other words, a person is free to eat lunch as long as no one is holding him at gunpoint telling him not to, and eating is not an activity for which he’ll be imprisoned. However, even if both those conditions are met, a homeless man unable to afford food is still not free to eat lunch. Therefore, the understanding of freedom must change from the absence of hindrance to include the presence of options. Market socialism embraces this expanded definition of freedom as its redistributive function encourages the increased presence of options for the largest possible number of people.

Such a system not only maximizes personal liberty, but also equality. In a capitalist structure, individuals are often adversely affected by issues outside their control. A child in a lower-income family rarely receives the same level of education and nutrition as a wealthy child, factors which greatly affect her chances of economic success as an adult. People are also often caught up in spirals of poverty, racism, sexism, and other institutionalized problems which are difficult to escape from. The redistribution of resources helps to minimize the effects of these social institutions by mitigating the causes.

In fact, market socialism is the only economic system which maximizes equality without sacrificing freedom or vice versa. In a libertarian capitalist system, neither freedom as the presence of options nor equality is preserved because the unhindered market supports a spiral of protection for the corporate aristocracy alone. A social welfare system protects freedom to a degree by offering some redistribution, but does not address the issues of institutional inequality. A system of pure communism sacrifices freedom for equality by rejecting the entire concept of property and desert, thus limiting options and hindering choices for everyone. Market socialism, on the other hand, promotes both liberty and equality in balance.

In addition to a market socialist economy, which protects liberty and equality, an ideal society would be governed by those embracing an ethic of care, as opposed to one of justice. While the idea of valuing relationships above autonomy and forgiveness above justice may sound revolutionary in regards to governance, it would alleviate a lot of problems political leaders face. For example, if presidents and prime ministers were to consider productive and friendly relationships with other nations crucial to their country’s safety and success and autonomy a nice extra, there would be fewer international wars. They would be just as reluctant to sacrifice their good relations for a little bit of autonomy as leaders today are to forgo autonomy for friendship. Were justice to be less important than forgiveness, thousand-year-old disputes and military retaliation would be rare. The care ethic would create a more peaceful international society.

An ethic of care would also improve domestic relations, directly affected by the market socialist structure of the economy. The redistribution of resources would not be viewed as an imposition on entitlement, the way taxation in a capitalist structure is often presented, but rather as a positive opportunity for the betterment of society as a whole. The view of individuals as relational beings that the care ethic embraces encourages the sentiment of fraternity which a democratic and successful socialist system requires. For example, the businessman looking through a justice lens sees his extra $1000 going to a homeless man as theft. The same man looking through a care lens sees that his $1000 does his homeless brother infinitely more good than himself, and therefore gives it willingly. Even if he were purely self-interested, he would choose to give the money because it fosters better relationships, the most important aspect of life in the care ethic.

The conditions of freedom, equality, and care may not be the only elements necessary to make Sir Thomas More’s Utopia a reality, but they must be present in any depiction of an ideal society. After presenting Raphael with his personal plan for Utopia, More asks his learned friend to give his opinion. Raphael claims there are parts he agrees with and other parts he thinks would not benefit a society or be ethical practices. He goes on to tell his friend that even the agreeable parts would be nearly impossible to implement. “… I readily admit that in the republic of Utopia, there are very many things that I would pray would come to our cities rather than hope they might be expected,” replies More. His answer indicates the probability of such a community ever existing. After all, he named it with the Latin word for “nowhere”.

Aristocratic Linguistics and the Perpetuation of Economic Myth

Not too long ago in this country, women were defined by their titles Miss or Mrs., as either married or unmarried. Because of this, women often understood themselves and one another in terms of their relationships with men. Then came the women’s liberation movement. Feminists began to see the detrimental effect these titles were having on their independence and decided they no longer wanted to be defined in terms of men and marriage but rather as themselves. To help facilitate this change, they developed a new title, Ms., which could refer to either a married or unmarried woman.

Language is a pervasive part of society. It is woven into specific narratives that tell stories about people, institutions, cultures, and every other aspect of society. The narrative of American economics is no exception. It is comprised of language that tells a narrative of stockholder ownership and primacy and employees as disposable assets. It both reflects and affects our views of the economic system. This narrative, however, while written into law is not written in stone.

One of the most basic ways language shapes our understanding of economics is in the treatment of the people involved. For example, when stockholders buy and sell shares, hoping the market will favor their current holdings, the process is referred to as “trading” or “playing the market”, instead of gambling. However, one takes the same risk “playing the market” as one would playing at a roulette table. We have another word for this specific type of gambling: investment. Therefore, stockholders and traders have become investors, indicating they supply the system with some of the necessary resources it needs to operate. Yet, statistics from the Federal Reserve refute that assumption, indicating that since the mid-80s, the productivity of stockholders has actually been less than 0%. In other words, instead of providing and investing capital, they are extracting resources from the system. Perhaps this is why corporations use the phrase “employee productivity” much more than the phrase “stockholder productivity”. This language is important because it becomes more difficult for a corporation to justify the behavior of the “gamblers and resources drainers” it keeps on payroll than its “investors.”

The language used for employees is very different. They are often referred to as human capital, or assets to the corporation, as opposed to owners and investors. Since the stockholders reap the residual benefits of company profits, lowering employee cost becomes an important part of raising those profits. Employees in fact contribute far more to the company than stockholders, who are a net drain. They are responsible for the input of time, labor, and ideas. Privately owned companies and small businesses are a good example of the fact that a company can exist without stockholders, but not without employees. However, they reap almost no additional benefits from their contribution because they are paid the same wage regardless of how the company prospers. One CEO even wrote a book in which he compared employees to cows and described the best way to “milk them”. It is this sort of language that maintains the skewed perspective many people have on the actual function of employees and stockholders in the economic system.

Were this language is merely part of the daily lexicon, the problem would be prolific enough. However, much of this language has also been codified into law. Article 1 of the Constitution states that no state shall make any laws “impairing the obligation of contracts”. This means that action, which proves displeasing to those directly engaged in the contracts, such as the stockholders and board of trustees, is unconstitutional. Such a law is useful and necessary in the case of, say, a baker selling his pies, but corporations are comprised not only of material capital but also human beings. Lawyers and legal documents set to preserve this status quo often refer to the terms “free enterprise” and “free market economy” to invoke the idea that a revolution in the economic sector would somehow mean the death of liberty. In fact, the current narrative of “free enterprise” severely limits the economic freedom of employees who cannot enjoy the residual profits of their labors. However, this limitation of freedom is rarely included in legal discussions.

No matter what form these verbal deceptions take, they all center around the meaning and connotation of the magic word of market economics: ownership. Coming from a long tradition of use in regards to the landed aristocracy of Western Europe, the word ownership has many connotations: control, power, privilege, possession. If someone owns a car, for example, he can sell it, paint it, destroy it, basically put it to use in any way he sees fit. By using the word ownership to describe the stockholders’ relationships with their company, it indicates the stockholder has these privileges as well. The difference is that while a car feels no pain when it is deprived of gasoline, an employee feels pain when his wages are lowered, when the company “downsizes,” or when his employer is unreasonable or abusive. The fact that human beings are a part of the corporations makes the issue of ownership problematic, and from the issue of ownership stems similar issues of stockholder primacy and employee inferiority.

The largest problem with this language of economics is that it does more than reveal our attitudes about the issues at hand; it often causes them. Many people, will admit that language reveals unconscious about the aspects of society it describes. However, the language of economics does more than that; it contributes to many of these attitudes. Just like the titles of Miss and Mrs. influenced the way women understood themselves before the feminist awakening, stockholders are so often referred to as “owners” that they believe it is natural to act as such. Since no one questions their entitlement to the residual profit, and since it is codified into law, these attitudes continue to escalate. The language of economics makes changing the status quo a difficult problem, although the mere act of recognizing this lexicon is the first step to reinventing it.

The Development of Morality and Abstract Right

“The subject matter of the philosophical science of right is the Idea of right- the concept of right in its actualization (25).” This sentence serves not only as the opening line to the introduction of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, but also as the primary guideline for the development of his work and the eventual realization of the ethical life. Hegel follows the Idea of right along two developmental paths: the path of the Idea of the individual and the path of existence. The methodology he uses is a logical dialectic technique within the framework of the scientific method. For Hegel, all human development is the development of the consciousness of freedom of the will. Therefore, the scientifically logical map he creates of that process leads to his ultimate end. Through his description of the stages of development of the individual, existence, and morality, he creates a system by which individual desire and general morality are not opposed, but rather synthesized together to create something greater than either: the ethical life.

Hegel begins tracing development of freedom of consciousness on two separate tracks: the Idea of the individual and existence. First, he demonstrates the stages, or moments, by which a will becomes the Idea, or concept in its concrete actualization, of the individual. He initially introduces his readers to the will as “pure indeterminacy”, in other words as merely an abstract concept of a will. At this stage in development, the will exists only in the realm of the universal and has no qualities, thus no concrete particularities. The individual begins here as abstracted Idea, and will eventually end as Idea in a very different form (Hegel 37-38). However, even in that first stage the will is given the quality of indeterminacy, which makes it particular. Thus, the will immediately moves into the second stage of development where it is determinate and particular. At this moment, the will does not just will in general as it did before, but rather it wills something particular. That particularity will later develop the will into a personality (40). Once the will has become determined, it is able to will specifically; the will wills freedom. To realize this freedom and become complete, the will must determine itself in order to become the synthesis between reason and desire. The will cannot achieve its desire for freedom before that moment because it lacks either the universal element of reason (in the purely indeterminate “I”) or the particular element of desire (in the purely determinate “I”) (42). This third and synthesis stage of the development of the self prevents the will from being shackled wholly to either reason of desire, and thus demonstrates Hegel’s concept of freedom, in that freedom cannot exist without limitations.

An excellent example of Hegel’s conception of will and its relation to freedom lies in habitual cigarette smokers. When a smoker has gone for a certain period of time without a cigarette, he desires one. This is an example of a basic desire of the arbitrary will, seeking to satiate its hunger for nicotine. However, even stronger than his desire for a cigarette is his desire to no longer desire a cigarette. These two desires in one way can be fulfilled by the same activity, smoking a cigarette, but in another way contradict each other. A smoker desires to no longer desire a cigarette, which can best be achieved by quitting smoking. It is at this point when reason begins to bear upon the arbitrary will. The smoker reasons he will be able to fulfill his second desire, no longer wanting to smoke, by quitting. However that action will not fulfill his first desire, the cigarette itself. The smoker is, by definition of his addiction, a slave of his desires. Only when he enters into the synthesis of his arbitrary will and reason will he be able to seek freedom from the habit.

Once a will has self-determined by the aforementioned means, and thus become conscious of itself, it becomes a person (67). It is not at this point, though, an individual. The will becomes an individual when it self-reflects and incorporates the universal element of right into its actions. In the smoker analogy, this is the phase in which the addict realizes his addiction and reflects on how he can best satisfy his urges and be done with it. The synthesis of the person and this reflection creates an individual, because will has now determined itself as an object as well as a subject (68). Still, the will is not yet a personality, the highest form of the will, because it has no means of differentiating itself from the countless other individuals. To do this, the personality must establish itself as a subject, thus differentiating itself from objects and other subjects. It asserts this subjectivity by exercising the absolute right of appropriation, in other words by claiming property (74). This external expression of power constitutes possession. In the final phase of development, the personality is both universal in its nature and has established itself as a subject. At this point, Hegel has developed the individual as Idea, according to Hegel’s definition of Idea as universal (76).

The point at which an individual becomes as such by gaining property is also the point at which existence comes into being. Existence, according to Hegel is the point at which the world announces itself in the form of external things. In his dialectic, it is the synthesis of the abstract indeterminate will and the determined concrete will. How then, does existence manifest? Existence becomes real for the individual when the will places itself in something external and therefore becomes subjective. Property allows the will to differentiate itself, making it both a true individual and a true existence in both the universal and concrete senses (73). Why is this subjective differentiation important? Because only by virtue of difference can we claim to know anything. The smoker knows what brand of cigarettes he likes to buy because they are differentiated from other cigarette brands by taste, labels, and packaging. Without being able to differentiate between the two, he cannot know the nature of either. Thus, without difference there can be no truth and no universal ethical life as Hegel is designing.

Property in Hegel’s sense however, does not necessarily mean plots of land or cars. Each individual owns, if nothing else, their will and their body. Without the will being able to exercise ownership over itself and the body in which it is contained, it couldn’t exist as a person. The will needs to own the body in order to connect with the concrete world, which is required for existence. Hegel does not distinguish between those individuals that own only their bodies and will and those like kings who have immeasurable wealth. Possessions can only be quantified by value. The important part of ownership, he claims, is not the value of the externalities one owns, but the fact that they’re presence as possessions makes existence possible and unite it with the Idea of the individual (77). This is how path of the individual and existence eventually exist together as one moment, and as the springboard for the development of ethical life.

If the two concepts of existence and idea eventually exist in the same moment does Hegel bother to separate them in the first place? He does so because the separation follows a very important step of the scientific method. He begins according to the scientific method by accepting as truth an idea that cannot be doubted. In this case, he takes Descartes’ famous thesis “I think therefore I am” as proof of the existence of one’s own self and the basis of his system. He then divides the aspects of that consciousness, Idea of an individual and existence, and then further divides those into the stages that go into creating them. He then rebuilds the fabric of those concepts according to an ordered principle, in this case logic by the dialectic method. He creates the state in the manifestation of ethical life according to that logical principle. The final step of the scientific process, remeasuring, occurs in the existence of the ethical life. His use of the scientific method explains why Hegel divides different aspects of the ethical life into pieces only to rebuild it later.

Hegel has, as indicated above, demonstrated the development of the will in terms of the Idea of the individual, and in terms of its manifestation in existence. He also traces the development of morality in its relation to the human will. Morality, by Hegel’s definition, is a system of social mores which posits a limit to the will. Morality comes into being when the subjective will, defined as such by appropriation in property, begins to address other subjective wills. Why must the will move into the moral realm at all? The individual will must make this move because without the limitations morality provides, there is no freedom. Freedom is the ultimate object of the will (42). Unless the individual can choose between his desires and something else, he has no choice and thus no freedom (135).

The movement into morality is necessary for freedom, but more importantly is the cultivation of the ground ethical life is eventually planted in once the Idea attains true nature as both subjective and correspondingly objective. How, then, does a will move into the realm of morality? First the will must become objective as well as subjective. Objectivity is necessary because only once a will is able to see itself as more than just subjective will it be able to see external wills as more than merely objects to appropriate, and thus to take on the interests of the whole. Once the will is subjective-objective, it has become the will in and for itself and superseded its previous individual subjectivity. This then translates into external subjectivity, or the universalization of the subjective. External subjectivity exists when the personal will becomes the common will. All wills do not necessarily will the same ends, but the will comes to understand the concept of the other as a subject with desires, particularities, etc. Only once this is achieved is the will able to address the wills of others, which is the first step in morality (139).

For example, the smoker’s will which moves from the realm of abstract right where he was merely trying to best satiate his desires both to smoke and no longer smoke now finds himself addressing the wills of others in the moral realm. He examines the relative social mores of the wills surrounding him. Are they adverse to the second-hand smoke he’s producing? Are they tobacco farmers? Which will serve the community better, his continuance or cessation of his habit? Now, the smoker has a true choice: should he follow his desires or the desires of the community as a whole? Can he find a way to satisfy both? It is at this moment in his development of consciousness that the smoker reaches true freedom of choice. The synthesis of these two options, or in Hegel’s dialectic the realms of abstract right and morality, is the ethical life.

However, Hegel cannot end the development of the ethical life with morality and the true freedom of choice because morality is, by nature, relative. A moral system is derived from social mores, conventions, and norms, which vary from place to place and time to time. Morality determines the rules of contract in a society. Society then creates civic laws to organize the ways in which individuals contract with one another, and are dictated by the social mores. These laws and contracts inevitably vary according to particularities of community. For example, if second-hand smoke is a big health concern in the community of the smoker, he should quit to best serve the group. However, if the economy thrives on the tobacco industry, he should continue his patronage and stimulate the job market. The smoker, therefore, has relative guidelines to dictate his actions in terms of a specific and immediate community, but he has no universal ones by which he should live regardless of particularity. This is why Hegel says, “In morality, self-determination should be thought of as sheer restless activity which cannot yet arrive at something that is (137)”. One cannot live only in the moral realm of being because it is only relative, and one must have a choice between the universal and the relative or particular in order to have true freedom. Hence the synthesis of relative morality with universal abstract right is necessary to become the ethical life.

If the will needs morality to be free, what then does Hegel mean when he says the will has a right to morality? He does not mean, as that phrasing of the word right usually connotes, a political right; he assumes individuals understand that they have natural rights by virtue of being human in the way John Locke described. Nor does right really mean obligation, because by the time the ethical life is reached, the will does not feel obliged to be moral in the way culture today understands obligation. He means that the will has a right to choose the best with its freedom of options found in morality, which is the ethical life. The choice to be moral is made because it is a step in that direction. The will is then free to choose the ethical life given that is has already made both abstract right and morality part of its content.

In conclusion, through his scientific use of the dialectic and tracing the development of the individual, existence, and morality, Hegel builds the basis for the ethical life he is trying to achieve. One must keep in mind when reading Hegel, however, that he is trying to teach thinking and comportment, but not necessarily what those concepts require to become concrete manifestations of theory. This is why his dialectic takes place entirely in the realm of abstract logic, so he doesn’t mix his universal ethical system with relative things from a certain place or time. The analogy of the smoker, for example, is only useful in so far as it helps people understand his very abstract description. For Hegel, the important part is the learning process. In due course, he asks his readers to learn that freedom requires limits, and that only when the will is affected by both morality and subjective desire can there be true choices. His theory ultimately is not possible, but gives readers a framework to patterns themselves after.

To Those Who Are Concerned

To Those Who are Concerned:
These are harsh times for many of us Americans. They are harsh for those of us who believed that the American people, though bombarded with lies and deceit, would see through the façade. They are painful for those of us who support civil rights for all people, regardless of race, sexual orientation, or class. They are worrisome for those of us who wish to raise children in a world with a healthy environment.

I know many of us fought hard to compel the nation to rid itself of the stain of an unnecessary war. We fought to make the nation see how many people have lost their jobs and live in poverty. We fought for people to ask why so many children every day are still left behind in school. Thank you for fighting.

The hardest fight, though, is just beginning. Now is not the time to run away to Canada or curl up into a ball and resign ourselves to a life of corporate slavery. Now is not the time to declare ourselves no longer American.

Despite the fact that we are angry with the injustices our government has perpetrated, we are still, at our core, American. This nation has created us. In her we have our homes, our families, and our friends. We eat her food and drink her water. She has given many of us an education. We are, ourselves, American, whether we love it, hate it, or remain conflicted.

Now, America needs us more than ever before. Will we abandon her in her greatest need? Will we stand together and say we will not allow anyone to destroy the ideals of liberty, equality, and justice our nation holds so dear? Will we allow her to become an oppressor, an environment-destroyer, a cultural imperialist, a radical fundamentalist, or a warmonger?

America needs those of us who are concerned to never lose hope. She needs us to believe in another future, a better way. We have, among us, the strength, resources, and capacity to create an America, which thrives as an organic community, all citizens united into a single body. We can and will see that freedom, justice, compassion and integrity become the ideals defining America, and us as proud Americans.

Always yours,

A Dedicated Patriot

My Mother Had No Delicious Pancakes

“He is a very gifted cinematographer.” You say over
pancakes at the student film festival
Image: Pedro walking back-to-camera carrying two
jugs of water slung on shoulders and nothing else to
cross the desert into freedom called Tucson.
Moving. I blink twice.
“If only I, all Americans, could be that
brave to forge the desert with clothes, water, hope, God-
no pancakes”, you say.
How can they cross with no delicious pancakes?
I curl the sweet bread upward to catch falling syrup.

I tell you my mother, one muggy Tuesday in June packed
me in the second-hand Care Bear carrier packed
all the empty vodka bottles into the trash-
Camel Menthols, empty blunt wrappers, grime, mildew- packed
all into the trash.
She emptied the secret envelope under the vacuum where he
never looked 88 dollars, enough to buy clothes, water
hope, and God for the crossing.
My mother had no delicious pancakes.

You raise your lip and flip your dyed-black hipster hair,
“Do not deride the immigrants plight with your trite analogies.
Your mother had a safety net of government programs
shining welfare, WIC, handouts and hand ups. It is an
imperfect correlation.”
I nod. Imperfect.
Your mother, love-stoned and Lexus-drunk is an imperfect
Your father wrote her sonnets.
You never saw her ache.
She never watered the milk or explained Santa Clause’s
predisposition to Sarah Sanders and her lawyer father.
She is a figment. She is a soap character.
Her feet are so soft she sinks through them.

My mother made me pancakes in the American desert without flour
and without milk.
With 88 dollars.
If only I, all Americans could be that brave.