Archives for the month of: December, 2011

In his study on metaphysics Aristotle introduces a distinction between matter and form[1]. This distinction is enacted in the definition of matter as potentiality or dunamis and form as actuality or energaia[2]. Aristotle states that actuality is to potentiality as ‘someone awake is to someone asleep’ or as ‘that which has been shaped out of some matter to the matter from which it is shaped’[3]. Something is always potentially the thing that comes after it. However, ‘if there is a first thing which is no longer called after something else, and said to be of it, this is prime matter’[4]. For Aristotle, actuality is really real and potentiality is only half real[5]. Aristotle also stated that actuality has a priority over potentiality because it is capable of being[6]. His argument for this priority has two subarguments. First, is that logically the actual is not defined by the potential but the potential by the actual[7]. For example, ‘visible’ means capable of being seen[8]. His second temporal reason is that only an actual substance can actually physically produce something[9]. The potential does not have the power to produce anything[10]. For example the seed, or potential substance, must have been preceded by an adult or actual substance[11]. For Aristotle, the potential is created by the actual therefore actuality precedes potentiality[12].


[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4] Aristotle. “Metaphysics: Book Theta (IX) (extract)” in The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation , Barnes, Jonathan; Aristotle , 1984, p.1657

[5] Deranty Dr. J, Lecture 9, Aristotle, in “Mind, Meaning and Metaphysics”, PHI130, Macquarie University 2011ysic

[6] Aristotle, Metaphysics, p.1657

[7] Deranty Dr. J. Lecture 9

[9] Deranty, Dr. J., Lecture 9

[10] ibid

[12] Aristotle, Metaphysics, p.1655

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qfo7TjwRwXI&feature=youtu.be

‘The world’s inequality is due to capitalism. Not to capitalism having made certain groups poor, but to its making its practitioners wealthy.’ (Johan Norberg)

Johan Norberg began the decade of 2000-2010 cheering the ability of capitalism to cure global inequality in his book “In Defence of Global Capitalism” (2003) and ended the decade trying to explain why capitalism had gone so terribly wrong in his book “The Financial Fiasco” (2009) . In the quote above he asserts that capitalism does not make people poor but makes people wealthy and this is the only cause of disparity in income inequality between people. It is the manifesto of laissez-faire capitalism that the ability to be able to earn money and keep it is fundamental to a human’s freedom. It is through the use of their own ingenuity and rationalism that human’s can thrive and buy property enabling them to establish wealth. Norberg argues that it is the regulation of this wealth through the state’s interference that causes financial crises, not the greed or ruthless fraud of a few who are wealthy and influentially connected. This essay will argue that Norberg is wrong in his reasoning. Although liberalism and its counterpart capitalism are great engines for human growth and civilization, it is the corruption of these systems through monopolies, subsidies and fraudulent trade practice that bring these systems down. With the collapse of these systems the wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few and it is taken from the effort of all those that support or connect to those systems, leaving them poor. I will use the collapse of Enron Corporation and the growth of global agribusinesses as examples to argue my conclusion, and begin by attempting to establish what the ideals of liberal-capitalism are through looking at the work of one of its greatest advocates, Ayn Rand.

Ayn Rand, a precursor to neo-liberalists such as Johan Norberg and Milton Friedman, stated in her 1967 essay “What is Capitalism?” the essential characteristic of humans is rational thought. The human mind is the basic means of survival through the acquisition of knowledge . This enormously complex process of identification and integration is something only an individual brain can perform. The concept of a collective brain is a fallacy as humans can learn from one another and can cooperate to gain new knowledge but this process requires the independent exercise of each individual’s rational faculty . For Immanuel Kant, a liberal philosopher, humans are not only individualised and rationalised they are also ‘capable of appreciating the moral equality of all individuals as ends rather than means’ What binds all individuals is that all means of survival depend upon the degree to which rationality is able to be applied; in Rand’s words ‘men prosper or fail, survive or perish in proportion to their degree of rationality’ . For a rational mind to think, freedom is a fundamental requirement . A rational mind cannot work under compulsion, it cannot be controlled by others; it cannot give up its knowledge or its perception of the truth. That principle of rational action is what all humans, no matter their ability or achievement, owe for their survival. Irrational action will be to their self-destruction . It is the connection between reason and survival that gives us the concept of individual rights .

This liberal view of individual rights is important to the tenets of capitalism because it is only the system of capitalism that recognises individual rights, including the right to property . In capitalist societies human associations are free and voluntary . The objective theory of value underlies the structure of the capitalist system. What is implied by recognising the rights of the individual is that the concept of the good is not an ideal but a concept based in the reality of every human life, such as the right to pursue happiness. It also implies that the concept of what is good cannot be held separate from its beneficiaries. It cannot be that one human or group of humans can achieve good at the price of others . Most capitalism that is alleged to be practiced today is really that which can be defined as a mixed economy. True capitalism is not compatible with government control as its innovators do not rely upon government assistance or interference, or coercion .

Corporate capitalists seek to avoid the anarchy of the marketplace by managerial coordination within firms. It is based upon the rational of economic activity rather than reliance upon market coordination . For the economist Max Weber, economic organization holds together through a system of authority . For a complex organization such as a corporation this requires an impersonal set of rules of conduct . This is the process of rationalization according to rules and structures, and it is this corporate structure upon which I will base my argument that is susceptible to corrupting the liberal capitalist system.

The economic theorist Adam Smith provided an insight into the workings of capitalism through the integration and coordination of markets with the actions of millions of people manipulating the supply and demand system . It is markets that establish values of goods and services rather than them having any innate value .This assumes, however, that there is such a thing as market equilibrium . But this denies that market equilibrium can be brought about by distorted markets. Examples of this are when goods are produced by slaves or forced labour, when there are speculative bubbles brought about by excessive leverage which allows buyers to unsustainably distort the system of demand and supply or when depression or economic stagnation deflates demand more than the amount a country can produce . For market equilibrium to be a reality, values must reflect true social cost and demand must be sustainable without undue financial leverage . If not, an oligarchy develops where significant political power is vested in the economic system and is not held to account by anyone . One of the most classic examples of this process of distortion in capital markets is the manipulation of Californian energy supplies by Enron Corporation in the late 1990s as documented by the film Enron: The Smartest Guys on the Room (2005).

In fifteen years Enron Corporation grew from a small concept company of founder Kenneth Lay to be the seventh largest company in the USA with 21000 employees in 40 countries, a true example of the globalized economy . In the late 1990s California was hit by a rolling series of power cuts organised by the monopoly energy supplier, Enron. Although California had plenty of power to meet their demands the controllers of the power grid blacked-out the northern half of the state using a series of controlled outages which were implemented in order to enact pricing fluctuations from which Enron was able to profit . This was enabled by the deregulation of California’s electricity legislation in 1996 after pressure applied by energy companies such as Enron. California State Senator, Joseph Dunn, stated that California was selected by Enron as the place “to experiment with this new concept of deregulated electricity” . The CEO of Enron at the time, Jeffrey Skilling, stated: “Reducing electricity cost is only one benefit from choice and competition” . Enron used these new rules to profiteer and gain control of the California market. In the midst of California’s energy shortages Enron began to export energy out of the state and when prices soared they brought it back in . Soon Enron was shutting down power plants to create artificial shortages to push prices even higher . In short, it was a process of extortion perpetrated by a monopolised corporation.

Enron made about $2 billion from their manipulation of the Californian energy markets, even though energy is the lifeblood of an advanced society . Instead of the average price per kilowatt hour being $35-$45 it was $1000. Enron did not behave ethically, it did not behave in its best long-term interests thus it did not behave rationally. Eventually it collapsed in 2001 amidst allegations of fraud, insider trading and political scandal over its close associations with the US president George Bush and his family . However, although many of its top associates were able to abscond with their profits intact, the millions of Enron employees, investors and pension funds went for next to nothing, leaving those people vastly poorer for their efforts .

The actions of the executive of Enron were a threat to the liberal capitalist system through its arrogant greed, fraud, and political and market manipulation. Its advocacy of the ‘free market’ brought the financial system to its knees in 2001 . This contradicts the argument made by Johan Norberg and Ayn Rand , who argue that it is government regulation that causes speculative bubbles and financial crises. The economist Milton Friedman also posits the theory that liberal capitalism organized through private enterprise operating through the free market is a system of economic freedom and is essential for political freedom . He argues that concentrated power is a threat to freedom and political authority is a threat to economic power. However, Friedman assumes that only political power can act as a restraint on a free market. In that, he disregards the fact that large corporations can be a threat to the freedom of individuals, employees and smaller companies . For Friedman to disregard this power imbalance brought about by large and powerful corporations like Enron is disingenuous and an oversimplification . By oversimplifying economic power Friedman negates the meaning of freedom to those members of society with little economic power . It allows those with great wealth to grow even stronger and the weak to be left to pick up the pieces.

In his 2003 book “In Defence of Global Capitalism” Norberg contends that instead of the world becoming increasingly more unequal, that it is in fact becoming more equal . He argues that the wealthy have become wealthier and that absolute poverty has diminished in places like Asia, where most of the world’s population lived in abject poverty only a few decades ago . This may have been the case in 2003 but since the global financial crises of 2008-2010 the level of world hunger has increased beyond the levels seen forty years ago . This is because of the globalization and corporatization of the global food supply. In December 2010 the UN Food and Agricultural Organization announced that its Food Index had hit an all-time high. This spike in commodity prices has not been caused by weather events as in the past but by trends in the supply/demand ratios for food. There is demand caused by population growth, rising affluence and the use of grain to fuel cars. The supply is affected by the loss of cropland to non-farm uses . Other causes are the cumulative effect of three decades of neo-liberal free-trade agreements where the national food production systems in most countries around the world have been dismantled and replaced by a system of agroexports which are stimulated by government subsidies to agribusiness . By forcing governments to sell off their grain reserves, the World Bank and the IMF have created ‘the tightest margins in recent history between food reserves and demand’ . These countries are now dependent upon food imports which generate greater demand and results in skyrocketing food prices.

The most important cause of the global food crisis is the entry into the commodity market of speculative financial capital in the way of global hedge funds that have invested heavily in the food market on the proviso that food prices will rise . These hedge funds have also invested in the crop-fuel industry which results in governments being pressured to designate agricultural land being used for agrofuel crops . This seems much like the energy crisis developed by Enron in the late 1990s and results in those with investments in these hedge funds and agribusinesses becoming wealthier at the expense of the world’s poor.

The liberal concepts advocated by economists such as Norberg and Milton Friedman and philosophers like Ayn Rand are based upon the theories of philosophers as John Locke, Immanel Kant and Adam Smith. The concepts that these philosophers put forward were a belief in reason and the possibility of progress; that the individual was at the heart of moral value; that human beings are ends not means and that ethical principle be paramount over the pursuit of power . These corporations that have been mentioned above are not applying these principles at all. They are benefitting from the advocacy of free markets and manipulating the financial system so that ethical principles are no longer their concern and power and money are everything. The human beings affected by their greed and manipulation are used as the means to their ends. These corporations and their supporting international institutions advocate liberalism and demand that countries cede sovereignty so that they can increase the profits of a few at the terrible expense of hunger and poverty to the many. Therefore, although persuasive and personable, Norberg’s assertion that he makes in the quote above is a fallacy. The world’s inequality is due to corporate capitalism making many poor so that a few can be wealthy.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. A Mystery in Which Everyone is Guilty- Johan Norberg on his book “Financial Fiasco” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svY3uyODAqU Retrieved 6/10/2011

2. Brown L. 2011 “The Great Food Crisis of 2011” in Foreign Policy http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/01/10/the_great_food_crisis_of_2011

3. Enron Scandal At- A-Glance, 2002, BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/1780075.stm Retrieved: 9/10/2011

4. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, 2005, film, HDNet Films, Written and directed by Alex Gibney, http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/view/831811 Retrieved: 8/10/2011

5. Doyle, M.W., 1986, “Liberalism and World Politics”, in The American Political Science Review, Vol. 80, No. 4 (Dec. 1986)

6. Independent Lens – Enron Timeline, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/enron/timeline2001.html Retrieved: 12 October, 2011

7. Kegley, C.W., Blanton, S.L., 2011, World Politics- Trend and Transformation, Wadsworth, pp. 37-45

8. Langlois R., 2007, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler and The New Economy, Routledge Press- http://web.uconn.edu/ciom/Graz.pdf Retrieved 25.09.2011

9. Norberg, J., 2009, Financial Fiasco: How America’s Infatuation with Homeownership and Easy Money Created the Economic Crisis, Cato Institute

10. Norberg, J., 2003, In Defence of Global Capitalism, Cato Institute

11. Rand A., 1967, “What is Capitalism?” in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand with Nathaniel Brandon, Alan Greenspan and Robert Hessen, Signet Book

12. Rosset P., “Food Sovereignty and the Contemporary Food Crisis” in Development, 2008, 51(4), p. 460 http://www.mtholyoke.edu/global/docs/global/RossetDEVfoodcrisis.pdf

13. Scott B.R., 2009, The Concept of Capitalism, Springer, http://books.google.com.au/books?id=7bjpSwjrmY8C&pg=PA13&lpg=PA13&dq=9.+The+Concept+of+Capitalism+Bruce+R.+Scott&source=bl&ots=Lz2vQSdTIw&sig=FClYNjByWlk3C11w5kqUVOw_39I&hl=en&ei=1oR1ToqsNOnbmAXc08TNDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CCcQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false Retreived: 28 September 2011

14. World Hunger Education Service, 2011 World Hunger and Poverty Statistics, Washington D.C., http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm Retrieved: 5th October 2011

Affluent developed nations hold 14.9% of the world’s population but 79.7% of its aggregate global income[1]. Global inequalities are greater today than they were 50 to100 years ago even though the world has become more connected through globalisation[2] . This gap will continue to grow because of political and financial power[3]. Socioeconomic rights such as a standard of living that is adequate to provide health and well being for an individual and their family would require only a barely noticeable shift in the distribution of global income[4]. This is attributed to a Western ‘double standard’ by the political philosopher Thomas W. Pogge[5]. This essay will assert through the exploring some of Pogge’s work, and the theories of  his supporters and detractors, why a “double-standard” arises in regard to global justice and contend that those who live in such wealthy nations cannot justify the perpetuation of such a double-standard.

 Liberal political philosophy believes that all human beings are morally equal. These moral principles thus become moral benefits and burdens to all, formulated so as not to arbitrarily disadvantage or privilege certain persons or groups[6]. However, traditional liberal moral philosophy has held that equal treatment of individuals only pertains to the small nation state of which they are citizens, rather than the equality of the entire world population[7]. The justification of a domestic focus for moral equality has three forms. First it states that we must look after our own, which is a concept that originates in human affiliation and community ties[8]. Secondly, it argues that only nations can determine the administration of justice, and thirdly that the principles of distribution cannot work as well internationally as they can domestically[9].

The British philosopher Alaisdair MacIntyre argues that the morality of impartialism, which is the basis for global justice, runs counter to the morality of patriotism which generates moral reasons to be partial to one’s fellow citizens[10]. However, this argument even goes so far as to state that in a conflict over scarce resources that one’s community’s interests can be paramount over the interests of another community. The Israeli academic and politician Yael Tamir, argues that nationality is important for personal identity and self-understanding and needs a shared public space in which its culture can flourish and be protected[11]. However, the global liberalist, Michael Ignatieff, contends with this by stating that this type of ideal results in the least well-off having no meaningful right to any moral obligation merely because of their disenfranchisement [12]. Neither of these arguments establishes that a nation’s or a culture’s importance is paramount to the survival of other nations or cultures.

The American political philosopher, John Rawls, objects to global justice on the grounds that it is unacceptable for one people to bear certain costs of decisions made by another- such as decisions on industrialization or birth rate[13]. However, Pogge asserts that Rawls does not explain why this does not analogously relate to national societies as well[14]. Secondly, Rawls objects to the global application of liberal standards because there is a need to accommodate certain non-liberal societies[15]. Pogge counters this by stating that non-liberal societies and their populations tend to be poor but willing to cooperate in reforms that would bring global economic order ‘closer to meeting a liberal standard of economic justice’[16].

Pogge argues that people coexist through a system of global economics that aggravates great inequalities which demand global justice[17]. But the question then becomes should the same or different principles of justice apply on both national and international levels[18]? The fortune of where one is born should not entitle one to hold oneself distinct for equivalent moral treatment[19]. Pogge states that moral universalism, being equal moral status for all, is only applicable if it subjects all people to the same system of moral principles[20].

Although moral principles assign fundamental moral benefits and burdens to all, assertion of a ‘double standard’ refers to the contention that most people in affluent countries think that the global economic order is just- even though it does not meet the minimal requirements that we place on national economic order[21]. The first of these minimal requirements is that, allowing for justice, social rules should be free to peaceful change by the large majority on whom they are imposed[22].  Pogge states that the global economic order relies upon stability imposed by a non-elected state whose minority control the rules and depend upon the security of great military power[23].

In his book Global Justice (2001) Pogge states that wealthy societies contribute through the imposition of their own policies and the global economic institutions that they control, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to the denial of human rights in developing countries[24]. Pogge advocates that it is these wealthy nations’ responsibility to stop imposing a detrimental global economic order and to mitigate the harms caused by them[25]. To assert that it is a charity or a humanitarian need denies the fact that it is demand of justice and a moral duty that affluent nations are obligated to assist the human rights of the impoverished[26]

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realised”[27]. Because of this it can be argued that wealthy countries violate the rights of the poor in underdeveloped nations by collaborating with existing illegitimate governments and aggravating poverty, through protectionism, land and resource grabs, and denial of agricultural and medical technology[28]. The resource base upon which all economies of the world depend give wealthy nations benefits which poorer nations are excluded from. These inequalities are perpetuated by a global system that still reflects the basis of colonialism[29].

The legitimacy of the social system goes to the heart of the ideals of liberal justice, therefore a global society requires an examination of the means of global morality, such as the form and nature that such a society would take[30]. Rawls argues for two principles that should govern the formation of a just society: a) the principle of equal liberty where each person has an equal right to liberty and b) the difference principle where socio-economic inequalities are arranged so that they are both a benefit to the least advantaged and give equality of opportunity to all instruments of power[31]. Pogge argues that if the difference principle was applied on a global level, it would imply that global inequalities are unjust[32].

Pogge argues that economic, trade and cultural links between the individuals of various nations are enough to form a system of global cooperation[33]. Pogge, in particular, argues that there are sufficient institutional relationships of trade and law to allow a single global system of trade and justice[34]. He states that what follows from the application of such a system is an ‘international pluralism’ which allows respect for other states’ methods of economic organisation[35]. The application of a difference principle could then be applied internationally to allow a just maximization for the expectation of the global poor[36]. Pogge propositions that a system of federal globalism could be possible whereby a state may favour its own citizens as long as it acts under an international jurisdiction and that both international and  national institutions can work together to produce a just, economic order[37].

A system of global justice is not only a necessity but it is also a priority. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed at the United Nations by all wealthy developed nations in 1948[38]. Since that time the essential articles of that Declaration have been ignored and global inequality has grown.  The Declaration was based on the liberal ideal that all humans are morally equal and that one’s nationality or race should not hold one distinct for unfair or beneficial treatment. Despite this, the wealthy nations of the world continue to oppose a harsh economic order upon the global poor so that their own positions of power will be maintained. The double standard is that while Western wealthy nations think that the global economic order is just, it does not even meet the minimum standards of their own national concept of moral equality. This can be addressed through the global cooperative systems that are in place today and need only the desire of wealthy nations to mitigate the damage that they have perpetrated by ceding a small portion of their sovereignty to a federal global system that can build a fair and just economic order.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Beitz, C. (2001). ‘Does Global Inequality Matter?’ Metaphilosophy 32 (1/2), pp. 95-112.
  2. Pogge, T. (2002). World Poverty and Human Rights. Oxford, Blackwell, pp. 91-2; 94-101;108-117.
  1. Blake, Michael, “International Justice”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2008/entries/international-justice/&gt;  Retrieved: 2 August 2011
  2. Mackenzie C., 2011, Lecture 19, Philosophy, Morality and Society, Macquarie University, Sydney
  3. Pogge T. W., (2001), “Priorities of Global Justice”, Global Justice, Ed. Thomas Pogge, Blackwell Publishing Oxford pp.6-23
  1. Pogge T., (2007), “Poverty and Human Rights”, http://www2.ohchr.org/ Retrieved: 2 August 2011
  2. Universal Declaration Of Human Rights- http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/ Retrieved: 10 August 2011
  3. Walker M. Dr., 2011, Lecture 20, Philosophy, Morality and Society, Macquarie University, Sydney

[1] Mackenzie C., 2011, Lecture 19, Philosophy, Morality and Society, Macquarie University

[2] Beitz, C. (2001). ‘Does Global Inequality Matter?’ Metaphilosophy 32 (1/2), p.95

[3] ibid

[4] Pogge, T. (2002). World Poverty and Human Rights. Oxford, Blackwell, p.92

[5] ibid

[6] ibid:93

[9] ibid

[10] ibid

[11] ibid

[12]ibid

[13] Pogge, T. (2002). World Poverty and Human Rights p.105

[14] ibid

[15] ibid:106

[16]Pogge, T. (2002). World Poverty and Human Rights p.107

[17] Pogge, T.W., (2001), “Priorities of Global Justice”, Global Justice, Wiley-Blackwell, p.14

[18] Walker M. Dr., Lecture 20,  2011, Philosophy, Morality and Society, Macquarie University

[20] Pogge, T., (2002), World Poverty and Human Rights p.93

[21] Pogge, T. (2002). World Poverty and Human Rights p.96

[22] Pogge, T. (2002). World Poverty and Human Rights p.96

[23] Pogge, T. (2002). World Poverty and Human Rights p.96

[24] Pogge, T.W., (2001) “Priorities of Global Justice”, Global Justice, Wiley-Blackwell, p.12

[25] ibid:22

[26] Pogge T., (2007), “Poverty and Human Rights”, http://www2.ohchr.org/

[27] ibid

[28] Pogge T., (2007), “Poverty and Human Rights”, http://www2.ohchr.org/

[29] ibid

[31] Walker M. Dr., 2011, Philosophy, Morality and Society

[32] ibid

[35]ibid 

[36] ibid

[37] ibid

 

This essay will attempt to explain why the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), thought that it is wrong to lie even to an enquiring murderer. To do this the essay will explain Kant’s theory of a Categorical Imperative which is a source of all universalized moral laws and how he applied it to the challenge of his theory by the Swiss philosopher Benjamin Constant. The essay will then discuss whether Kant is right in asserting the correct moral answer through the use of the Categorical Imperative.

Kant advocated a moral principle that, “It is a duty to tell the truth”[1].  He asserted that it would even be wrong to lie to a murderer who inquired as to the whereabouts of our friend so that he could harm our friend[2]. This is because the formal duty of being truthful is something that is owed by an individual to everyone[3]. By making a false statement we commit a wrong against our general duty to be truthful[4]. If we could be alleviated from this obligation, all of our contractual rights would be void and there would be no security in relations between humans[5]. This would harm the good of all mankind because it would corrupt the origin of law itself[6]. For Kant, honesty was an absolute and sacred imperative for all declarations, and could not be limited by other contingent factors[7].

The absolute and sacred imperative that Kant describes in his explanation of the importance of truthfulness became known as the Categorical Imperative. A Categorical Imperative is a universal law that is derived from reason alone[8]. The concept of the Categorical Imperative was developed in Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) and the central question for the development of this concept was, “What ought I to do?”[9]. By identifying fundamental principles, or maxims, he does away with all previous philosophical assertions or references to what is supposedly good for humans[10]. All his principles for what is good for humans are derived from a rational process only[11] and his quest for what our moral obligations are begins with a rejection of all principles that cannot be universalized[12].

Kant’s whole process in the development of his moral laws, or Categorical Imperatives, was based upon the keystone demand: “Act only on the maxim through which you can at the same time will that it be a universal law”[13]. Kant contends that if moral laws hold for every rational being a genuine practice of moral principles will be implanted into the human mind for the highest good[14]. Objective principles derived through reason alone become a form of command which is called an imperative[15].

Not only does Kant formulate a basis for assessing the reliability of all Categorical Imperatives but he states that they can be drawn down to the single Categorical Imperative[16]. to act only on the maxim that is able to be universalized and only in a way through which our treatment of humanity is not a means to an end but an end in itself[17]. When the philosopher, Constant, challenged Kant’s proposition of such a Categorical Imperative, he stated that as truthfulness must be a universalizable maxim according to Kant’s assertions then one would have to be truthful to a murderer who was trying to locate a victim[18]. It is useful to note that Constant’s example does not leave one the ability to refuse to give the information, only to lie to protect the victim[19]. Constant then posited that although it is a duty to tell the truth , a duty is a right and if the other person had no right to that duty he has no right to truthfulness[20]. In the case of the enquiring murderer Constant stated that a maxim should apply in which ‘no one as a right to a truth that injures others’[21].

Kant objects to this challenge by stating that we must tell the truth to everyone even if they are an enquiring murderer. Kant reaffirms that it is a formal duty of every individual to tell the truth to everyone even if this puts that individual at a disadvantage[22]. This is because the individual also relies upon the truthfulness of others[23]. Further he states that by telling a lie to protect someone the individual leaves itself open to the responsibility of the consequences of such a lie[24]. Also, Kant argues, that we cannot know the consequences of such an action as telling a benevolent lie and that the truth must prevail so as to allow consequences to be what they may[25].

One of the difficulties with such an absolute moral maxim is that it is counterintuitive to human behaviour[26]. Many people would find that it would be a moral imperative to try and save the murderer’s victim. The philosopher William David Ross (1877-1971) argued that, contrary to Kant’s assertion that it would be an uncertain world where we could not rely upon truthtelling, that a world in which everybody made false promises would be just as effective and reliable[27]. Another objection to Kant’s assertion that we cannot know the consequences of our actions is that we can a have justifiable belief in such consequences as what the victim would suffer at the hands of the murderer[28]. Also, if there is a negative consequence of lying it can also be posited that there is a negative consequence of telling the truth[29].  So there appears to be a contradiction in Kant’s two proposed maxims 1) not to lie and 2) not to do anyone harm.

It is in the idea of the conflicting maxims that a further solution to the challenge posed by Constant can be applied. Through his maxims Kant intended to influence human volition so that it would have the greatest good for all. When there are contradicting maxims as the ones above it could be argued that the maxim that applies to the greatest good for all must have priority over any other conflicting maxim. In this case the greatest good would be one that did no one any harm. By lying to the murderer, one is doing him the greatest good by not allowing him to harm and doing the victim good through not allowing him to be harmed. The only one to be harmed by lying would be the individual.

Kant asserted that it would be wrong to lie even to an enquiring murderer because it would cause  harm to all mankind through the uncertainty caused by the breach of the Categorical Imperative for truthfulness. The Categorical Imperative is a universalized moral law that works for all rational beings. The philosopher Constant challenged such an absolute view by stating that a murderer has no right to expect the truth. However, Kant refutes this by stating that everyone has a right to the truth and that we cannot determine the consequences our actions by using lies as a contingency. Therefore, considering that there is a Categorical Imperative not to harm others or oneself, it can be argued that when there are two moral laws that conflict with each other, the one that applies to the greatest good for all must prevail.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Constant B. “On Political Reactions” in France Part VI, No.1 (1797)
  2. http://hercules.gcsu.edu/~hedmonds/lecture%20notes/kant%20lecture%20notes.htm Retrieved 16/07/2011
  3. Kant, I. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals Trans. Mary Gregor, Harvard University, 
  4. Kant, I. (1785), The Philosophy of Immanuel Kant, trans. L.W. Beck, (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1949), 346-9 in Oxford Ethics (1994) Ed. Peter Singer
  5. http://legacy.lclark.edu/~jay/Immanuel%20Kant.pdf Retrieved 16/07/2011
  6. O’Neill O. Kantian Ethics in “A Companion to Ethics” Ed. Peter Singer


[1] Constant B. “On Political Reactions” in France Part VI, No.1 (1797) p.123

[2] Ibid

[3] Kant, I. (1785), The Philosophy of Immanuel Kant, trans. L.W. Beck, (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1949), 346-9 in Oxford Ethics (1994) Ed. Peter Singer, p. 280

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Inid

[8] O’Neill O. Kantian Ethics in “A Companion to Ethics” Ed. Peter Singer p.vii

[9] Ibid. p.176

[10] O’Neill O. Kantian Ethics p. 177

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

[14] Kant, I. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals Trans. Mary Gregor, Harvard University,  4.412

[15] Ibid: 4.413

[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid

[20] Constant B. “On Political Reactions” (1797) p.123

[21] Ibid

[22] Kant, I. (1785), The Philosophy of Immanuel Kant, in Oxford Ethics (1994) Ed. Peter Singer

[23] Ibid

[24] Ibid

[27] Ibid

[29] Ibid

When Réne Descartes (1596-1650) made his pronouncement “cognito ergo sum” he asserted that there was one thing of which he was certain and indubitable and that was that the mind is better known than the body and, therefore, must be distinct from the body[1]. Descartes argued that the body is an ‘automaton’ which, with sufficient knowlege, even its complex behavioural responses could be explained in purely mechanical terms.[2] However, he went on to say that what could not be explained mechanistically was the human capacity for thought[3]. Therefore, he compounded the nature of humanity into two distinct substances, ‘an incorporeal spirit and a purely mechanical body’[4].  This essay will attempt to answer why Descartes thought that we must understand the mind and the body as different substances and whether his argument was valid in relation to the later physicalist account of the mind and body.

Descartes decided that one of the first steps of metaphysics was ‘to lead the brain away from the senses’ so that innate reason would allow us to ‘penetrate the secrets of the most recondite sciences’[5]. So he goes on to supposing that he possesses no senses in order to ascertain what is certain and indubitable[6]. Descartes determined that there was a singular part of reality that could not be accounted for. As a result, he theorised that all other matter is essentially a substance that has an extension in space but this other reality was a different substance that had no extension and whose essential feature was thought[7].

A substance, according to Descartes, is something that requires nothing else in order for it to exist and the substance of the mind is defined as the mind’s ideas[8]. For Descartes the mind was a substance that is whole and indivisible[9]. It does not receive impressions from other parts of the body but only through the brain[10]. Descartes rationalised that the essential feature of the mind is that it is a thinking thing[11]. This thinking thing doubts, understands, conceives, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, imagines, and perceives[12]. He added that the human mind is not extended in length, breadth or depth and does not participate in the properties of the body[13]. Therefore, the substance of the mind is thought and as a thinking, unextended thing it is distinct from the body which is a non-thinking, extended thing[14].

Descartes wanted to know whether the mind is so dependent upon the substance of the body that it could not exist without it[15]. Defining the substance of the body, Descartes described it as something that can be terminated by a certain figure, comprised in a certain place and able to fill a certain space so as to exclude all other bodies from that space. The body can be perceived by its senses, can be moved in different ways but not within itself[16]. When considering whether the mind is different from the corporeal nature of the body[17], he stated that the mind turns upon itself to contemplate an idea and it turns towards the body to contemplate an object[18]. Descartes concluded that the body is closely conjoined with the mind but is distinct from it because it is an extended and unthinking thing. Furthermore, the mind is so distinct from the body that it can exist without it[19].

Descartes argued that the mind can exist without the body because these two substances are opposite from one another and can be understood independently[20]. This notion of the mind and body being distinct from each other created what is known as the mind-body problem. This is the dilemma created by the notion that the mind only has modes of understanding, such as will and sensation, while the body has modes such as shape or motion, yet neither has the modes of the other. This then raised the question of how the two different substances causally related[21]. However, Descartes, in his final writing Passions of the Soul[22], argued that the mind and body can be considered whole through the ‘primitive notion of the union of body and soul’[23].

Descartes’ argument that the substance of the mind was indivisible is disproven by modern scientific methods. The mind is the electron activity within the brain. Electrons are bits of matter that have no extension or spatial position[24]. As the activity of the mind can be traced using these electrons, it would be reasonable to assert that after death these electrons would disperse as there would be no body activity to keep them organised. Additionally, his defence of the mind-body causality problem is vague and therefore uncertain, yet it would be unlikely that he considered that the two substances would not act in conjunction.

In comparison to Descartes’ distinction between the substances of the body and the mind, physicalists believe that only the physical world exists and can only be studied through objective science.  The theory relates to mental states as a system of causes, such as pain through hurting one’s body. Thomas Nagel notes that although this appears to be reality, physical reality and mental reality are quite different things[25]. Paul Churchland turns to what is called the substance dualism of Descartes, explaining that Descartes, in trying to account for the conscious reason of humanity, proposed what Churchland calls ‘a radically different kind of substance that has no spatial extension or spatial positioning whatever’[26]. Churchland states that the problem with Descartes ‘mind-stuff’ is that being an immaterial substance it could have no causal effect upon the body[27].  Also, Descartes principle of divisibility of matter no longer holds with contemporary physics. Churchland gives the example of electrons, which are a point particles with no extension whatsoever[28].  However, physicalism’s main problem is that although it can explain how an organism functions it cannot explain its consciousness[29].

Over time different explanations have been made by dualists who uphold Descartes’mind-body distinction. Popular dualism which claims that the mind can interact with the brain in some way not yet understood[30] is called popular because it adheres to the theory that the mind can survive death, however there is no empirical evidence of this[31]. Property dualists  claim that mental properties are irreducible and not just organised features of physical matter[32]. However these claims are weakened by the case for evolutionary emergence, the evolution of the mind by the organisation of matter into large physical systems that have a complex internal organisation. Therefore, the mind would not have fundamental properties or could be said to be irreducible[33].

The physicalist rejection of dualism lies in the evolution of our species. For the physicalist there is no need for nonphysical substances within ourselves.  We are made of matter and that is all[34]. It must be acknowledged that the fact of the presence of electrons within the brain performing the functions of the mind does contradict the argument for the indivisibility or irreducibility of Descartes’ mind substance. Also, the result of such dualistic thinking is the privilege of the mind over the body[35]. This makes the body just a vessel that holds the mind, inviting the body to be constructed in negative terms and leading to the position of ‘biological determinism’[36].

Descartes has left  physicalists with the dilemma of not being able to account for the brain’s consciousness, its qualifiable activities or whether it survives death. However, dualism still leaves the problem of being unable to account for the interaction between the mind and the body. It becomes obvious that both the body and mind do not have privilege over the other, or are even able to act separately in any apparent way. Thus it must be stated, from his own account, that the mind-body distinction argued by Descartes is something that is neither certain or indubitable.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Anderson, Nicole, “Bodies and Embodiment” in Cultural Theory in Everyday Practice, Oxford University Press, (2008), pp. 7-13
  2. Churchland, Paul M. “The ontological problem (the mind-body problem)” in Matter and Consciousness: A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind, (1988), pp.7-22
  3. Cottingham, John, “Backgound (extract)” in The Rationalists (1988), pp.1-17
  4. Descartes, Réne. “Meditation II: Of the nature of the human mind, and that it is more easily known than the body” in The Meditations of Descartes (1962), pp.29-41
  5. Descartes, Réne, “Meditations I – VI”, Trans. Jon Veitsch, (1901) http://www.wright.edu/cola/descartes/meditation1.html (2005)  Retrieved: 18. 4. 2011
  6. Nagel, Thomas, “The mind-body problem” in What Does It All Mean?” A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy,  (1987), pp.27-37
  7. Skirry, Justin. “Réne Descartes: An Overview”, (http://www.iep.utm.edu/descarte/#H7) (2008) Retrieved: 21. 4. 2011
  8. Townley, Dr. Cynthia, Lecture 11 , “The Cartesian Revolution” in Mind, Meaning and Metaphysics, PHI130, Macquarie University, (2011)

[1] Townley, Dr. Cynthia, Lecture 11 , “The Cartesian Revolution” (2011)

[2] Cottingham, John, “Backgound (extract)” in The Rationalists (1988): 15

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid: 17

[5] Ibid: 4

[6] Descartes, Réne. “Meditation II: Of the nature of the human mind, and that it is more easily known than the body” in The Meditations of Descartes (1962): 29

[7] Churchland, Paul M. “The ontological problem (the mind-body problem)” in Matter and Consciousness: A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind, (1988): 8

[8] Skirry, Justin. “Réne Descartes: An Overview”, (http://www.iep.utm.edu/descarte/#H7) (2008)

[9] Descartes, Réne, “Meditations VI”, Trans. Jon Veitsch, (1901)

[10] Ibid: 20

[11] Descartes, Réne. “Meditation II” (1962): 33

[12] Ibid: 35

[13] Descartes, Réne, “Meditations IIII”, (1901):1

[14] Descartes, Réne, “Meditations VI ”,((1901):9

[15] Descartes, Réne. “Meditation II” (1962): 30

[16] Descartes, Réne. “Meditation II” (1962): 32

[17] Descartes, Réne, “Meditations IIII ”, (1901):10

[18] Descartes, Réne, “Meditations V ”, (1901):3

[19] Ibid:9

[20] Skirry, Justin. “Réne Descartes: An Overview”, (2008)

[21] Ibid.

[22]Cottingham, John, (1988): 15

[23] Ibid.

[24] Churchland, Paul M. (1988): 9

[25] Nagel, Thomas, “The mind-body problem” in What Does It All Mean?” A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy,  (1987): 35

[26] Ibid: 8

[27] Ibid.

[28] Churchland Paul, M. (1988) :9

[29] Ibid: 36

[30] Ibid

[31] Ibid: 10

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid: 13

[34] Churchland Paul, M. (1988) : 21

[35] Anderson, Nicole, “Bodies and Embodiment” (2008): 4

[36] Ibid.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nicholas Georgouras, “Help” (2008)

Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes — men who despise you — enslave you — who regiment your lives — tell you what to do — what to think or what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder.

Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men — machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle!

You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate — the unloved and the unnatural!

Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the 17th Chapter of St. Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” — not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you!

You, the people have the power — the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.”

Charles Chaplin, “The Great Dictator” (1939)

“In a world that is really turned upside down, the true is a moment of the false.”

Guy Debord 1968

Visual culture is defined as the way visual texts can be understood and deployed, especially in the Western tradition of art (Schirato & Webb, 2004: 105). Consumer culture is one of the ‘symbolic embodied and experiential aspects of acquisition behaviour’ (Arnold & Thompson, 2005:871). Both cultures work together within the global advertising industry to create an environment that is false and fragmented (Debord, 2002: 6). This essay will discuss the argument that visual culture is consumer culture by referring to two visual texts that are based upon specific commodity signs. The first is a work of art created for the Reebok Corporation that reifies the Reebok running shoe. The second is a work of art created as a foil for such commodity signification. With these texts I contend that consumer culture uses visual culture to authorize itself as an embodiment of power.

Research into consumer culture shows that many people’s lives in consumer society are constructed around multiple realities, and consumption is used to experience these realities which are linked to fantasies, invocative desires and aesthetics (Arnold & Thompson, 2005: 875).The process of reification in consumer culture is where a commodity is attributed with human qualities, becoming an entity that ‘thinks’, ‘is sexy’, or ‘alive’ (Pugliese, 2011). This is important when advertising a product’s life enhancing qualities, the message being that if you consume the product you will improve your life (Pugliese, 2011). Reebok’s uses fantasy and reification to advertise its latest running shoe range advertising it as pioneering and ‘whose graphic, crenelated sole not only reduces muscle fatigue but transfers energy back into the runner’s stride…’ (Wallpaper Magazine, 2011). They are referred to as ‘eye catching’ and supposedly have inspired an exhibition of artworks (2011).

 http://www.wallpaper.com//bespoke/reebok

Capitalism celebrates the individual through an illusion created by advertising (Pugliese, 2011). This illusion of individualism relies upon the contradictory mass production and distribution of goods rather than the individual and handmade. From the nineteenth century, where shopping became a recreation, to the late twentieth century where shopping promised self-fulfilment and self-realisation, it is this ‘therapeutic ethos’ to which advertisers appeal (Pugliese, 2011). They do this by promising glamour, wealth, prestige and allure (Pugliese, 2011). Art provides a means for this type of advertising because it provides the associated authority of high culture (Schirato and Webb, 2004:107) . Contemporary art as opposed to advertising has a tendency for obscurity that implies a required knowledge or literacy to understand it (2004:107). To combine the two visual cultures together, as Reebok has done, implies the exclusivity and elitism not of a top athlete but of an international contemporary artist, thereby creating the illusion for the consumer of individual accomplishment and self-realisation.

Advertising does not need to sell the image of a product or even mention the company name as long as a well-recognised logo is attached to the advertisement (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001:239). These logos are called commodity signs or signifiers. They do not sell the consumer the products functionality or quality, they sell the products style (2001: 239). These commodity signs infer the value of the commodity until this signifying value becomes more important than the commodity itself (Pugliese, 2011). Brand logos, such as Reebok designer running shoes or Apple computers and phones, compete with other similar commodities for their signs to be recognised across the globe (Pugliese, 2011). The commodity signs become hierarchical within themselves with Reebok running shoe inferring more social value than another generic or cheaper brand (Pugliese, 2011).

In the “Society of the Spectacle” Guy Debord argues that the global economy has degraded social life into one of having not being (Debord, 2002:8). The notion of social value being inferred by a commodity sign goes to the heart of Guy Debord’s notion of the ‘spectacle’, which is the visual deception that creates a world view produced by the technologies of mass media (2002: 6). The images of the Spectacle create a visually deceptive culture that provide the motivations for hypnotic behaviour (2002: 8). Jean Baudrillard continues this notion by asserting that consumer culture has become a form of simulation (Sturken & Cartwright 2001: 153). Baudrillard’s notion of simulation is when signs of the real are substituted for the real (Felluga, 2011). He states that this has caused the contemporary consumer society to be unable to discriminate between nature and artifice, or what is real and what is unreal or simulated (Felluga, 2011).

For Karl Marx, commodity became associated with class structure with the commodity itself being alienated from its system of production (Noble, 2008:101). Marx described this as ‘commodity fetishism’ where the commodity is just an object in a shop rather than having any association with its means if production (2008:101). Through this objectification there is no longer any means to see the system of exploitation that has gone into the product (2008:101). The advent of an increasingly globalised world has meant that the exploitation of many workers remains hidden in poor nations and through the commodity this exploitation becomes part of everyday life (2008:102). By being alienated from its means of production, commodity fetishism is able to infer value upon a product through conferring value and prestige upon the consumer (Pugliese, 2011). This is done through the elitism of expense, if only a few can possess it this signifies affluence, good taste and refinement (Pugliese, 2011).

The commodity signification of hierarchical branding is shown at its zenith when a brand name seeks to equate itself with something that is considered high culture and elitist. This is seen in the recent collaboration of Reebok with various contemporary international artists. Reebok invited various contemporary designers, architects and artists to come up with concepts that would create one-off artworks inspired by the Reebok design (Wallpaper-Reebok Exhibition, 2011). This lends to Reebok the authority of contemporary art and lends to the various participants the global notoriety of the Reebok brand. The pictured work is one by the French artist Ora Ito who took the imprint of the base of a Reebok shoe and created a wall-mounted sculpture made from “Hi-Macs”, an acrylic material made from wood chips and toxic resin. This infers upon the running shoe images of the consumer being socially-influential and trend setting. The sculpture’s clean whiteness completely erases any connection of the product with the production of the shoe by a third world workforce. Commodity fetishism, as Marx called it, eliminates any responsibility between the product and the producer (Debord, 2002:9).

 http://www.wallpaper.com/fashion/Wallpaper-Reebok-exhibition-London/5382

The products of the spectacle, from computers and shoes to cars, are designed to isolate and create the ‘lonely crowd’ (Debord, 2002:10). Spectators are only linked by their vision of the spectacle which keeps them from each other (2002:10). The more the spectator views the spectacle the more they are alienated, the less they live and the more they need. Their gestures become the puppet gestures of the spectacle (2002: 30). The economy of the globalised world has totally subjugated humanity to itself and the spectacle which sustains it (2002: 7). This global economy has degraded social life into one of having not being (2002:7). No longer is it sufficient to be someone, but to be fulfilled through having possessions. This idea of possessions has then shifted from having to appearing so that prestige comes from appearance (2002:7). The appearance of the commodity sign, such as the Reebok logo, gives the elitism of expense and exclusivity which signifies ‘affluence, good taste and refinement’ (Pugliese, 2011). The prestige of appearance inferred by the commodity sign is one of the dominant modes of visuality (Pugliese, 2011).

 

Nicholas Georgouras, Stick People, 2007

 The dominant mode of visuality is one that occupies a position of cultural power and authority, such as the media or a corporation. Through this, a power attempts to control meanings related to an object or image (Pugliese, 2011).  However, these visual meanings can be contested and changed (Pugliese, 2011). Through the targeting of commodity fetishism and commodity signs consumer culture can be subverted. This is called ‘culture jamming’ (Pugliese, 2011). Culture jamming sabotages advertising campaigns and parodies logos to expose the exploitation of the commodity’s producers and ridicule its promises (Pugliese, 2011). The artist Nicholas Georgouras’ group sculpture of Stick People (2007) attempts to emphasise how commodity signs become more important than the product. Being made of recycled wood and plastic tags, each of the sculptures is alienated from the other and focussed on their position in the spectacle. Each of their positions is a puppet gesture parodying the modelling gestures for each product for which the plastic tag is the commodity sign. Consumers of such products become mere extensions of the product, something to which the product can attach itself. This process of dehumanisation is what Debord calls the commodification of society (Debord, 2002: 12).

Visual culture encompasses all forms of visual media in the postmodern world (Irvine, 2011). Advertising agencies use visual culture as a communication device in all its forms. In capitalist societies, advertising is ubiquitous and pervasive. Consumer culture is veracious in its use of visual culture to establish and authorise its commodity signs and commodity fetishism. However, to state that visual culture is consumer culture would deny all the forms of visual culture that deny a capitalist society its consumer. To deny the effect of culture jamming, the effect of art forms done without thought for power or money is to deny visual culture its own legitimacy. Consumer culture is a dominant mode of visuality but it is not visual culture. Therefore, visual culture is not consumer culture.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Arnould E. J., Thompson C. J., 2005, “Consumer Culture Theory (CCT); Twenty Two Years of Consumer Research”, Journal of Consumer Research; Mar 2005; 31, 4; ABI/INFORM Global, pp. 868-877,  Retrieved from: ftp://ftp.cba.uri.edu/classes/r_dholakia/CB%20-%20Dholakia/wk%203%20gender%20consumption/Arnould_Consumer_Culture_Theory.pdf  on 3 August 2011
  2. Debord G., 1968, “Society of the Spectacle”, Trans. Ken Knabb, 2002, Treason Press, Canberra, Retrieved from: http://libcom.org/files/Society%20of%20the%20Spectacle2.pdf  on 1 August 2011
  3.  Felluga, Dino. “Modules on Baudrillard: On Simulation.” Introductory Guide to Critical          Theory. Jan 31 2011, Purdue University, Retrieved from: http://www.purdue.edu/guidetotheory/postmodernism/modules/baudrillardsimulation.html on 14 August 2011
  4. Irvine M., 2011, “Introducing Visual Culture: Ways at Looking at All Things Visual”, Retrieved from: http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/visualarts/intro-visualculture.html , on 14 August 2011
  5. Noble G., 2008 “living with things: consumption, material culture and everyday life” in Cultural Theory in Everyday Practice, Ed. Nicole Anderson & Katrina Schlunke, Oxford University Press Melbourne, pp. 98-113
  6. Pugliese Assoc. Professor J., 2011, Lecture 13- “Visual Culture, Consumer Culture: Fetishism and Commodity Signs”, Vision, Visuality and Everyday Life CLT120, Macquarie University
  7. Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa. “Postmodernism and popular culture (part 1 of 2)” in Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture , Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa , 2001 , 237-261
  8. Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa. “Postmodernism and popular culture (part 2 of 2)” in Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture , Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa , 2001 , 262-277
  9. Schirato T., Webb J., 2004, “Visual Art & Visual Culture”, in Reading the Visual, Allen and Unwin, pp. 105-130
  10. Schirato T., Webb J., 2004, “Selling the Visual”, in Reading the Visual, Allen and Unwin, pp.151-168
  11. Wallpaper Magazine Editorial: Reebok- Great Leap, Retrieved from: http://www.wallpaper.com//bespoke/reebok , on 12 August 2011
  12. Wallpaper Magazine – Reebok Exhibition, Retrieved from: http://www.wallpaper.com/fashion/Wallpaper-Reebok-exhibition-London/5382  , on 8 August 2011

 

 

                   I am what I desire; and I desire what I gaze upon.

                                             Sigmund Freud (1905)

Power relationships within our societies are image-based (Sturken & Cartwright 2001). Jacques Lacan, the French psychoanalyst, asserted that humans imagine themselves as individuals within the social constructs of Western capitalism (Sturken & Cartwright 2001). An example of this is the advertising campaign known as The Champion Family. The Champions are the hyperreal, simulated family who feature in a set of advertisements directed at shoppers who shop at the various shopping malls owned by the multinational corporation known as AMP (Facebook: The Champion Family 2010). Their images are displayed throughout these shopping malls in the act of consuming products. This essay will focus on this family as it analyses how this advertising campaign affects the target audience through the technologies of visualisation and evaluates it effectiveness as a normalising process of vision.

 The Champion family are depicted as the average Australian family ‘flaws and all’: Anglo-Saxon, youthful, attractive, and comfortably wealthy. The mother, Mrs Sarah Champion, is represented as the centre of the household being in the centre of the picture. She is referred to in the advertising campaign as someone who ‘manages to juggle the demands of the household while keeping the family together’ (Facebook: The Champion Family, 2010). Mr Paul Champion is described as a ‘doting husband’ (Facebook: The Champion Family, 2010); this is represented by his close proximity to Mrs Champion with his body leaning into to her and his arm protectively around her. The older son, Will Champion, is also represented as a small version of his father. He is well-dressed in casual white shirt and beige pants with his arm also protectively and lovingly draped around his mother. The older daughter, Chloe Champion, is also represented as a reflection of her mother. Both have blonde hair, are dressed in casual white dresses with an emphasis on their smooth-skinned arms and legs. The younger children are the ‘mischievous’ twins Charlie and Annabel, representing the younger consumer. The image’s whiteness is reinforced by the repetition of the colour beige throughout the subjects’ clothing and the furnishings of the room. Even the dog, Millie, and the flowers are white.

The organisational properties of the image group the family together as a whole. In such group photographs the identity of the individual is dissolved into the identity of the group (Schirato and Webb 2004). The conformity of the Champion family’s smiling faces denotes compliance and contentment (Schirato & Webb 2004). The interior design which surrounds this group in the photography can also be deciphered through the value that it places upon the group (Communicating the Visual). As the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss posited, much can be learned by analysing the clothes people wear, and the colours, lines and textures with which they decorate their home (Schirato & Webb 2004). The cultural theorist Stuart Hall goes on to state that this displayed visuality tells us how valuable these people are within their society and how powerful they (Schirato & Webb 2004). The simulated Champion family has a name that denotes success within society. The advertising campaign tells us that, ‘when it comes to shopping, they’re champions’ (Facebook: The Champion Family 2010).

The advertising campaign tells us that this campaign is relevant to all consumers at these shopping malls because of the ‘unique and endearing characteristics of the individuals that make up the Champion family’ (Facebook: The Champion Family, 2010). ‘Templates of normality’ are used by capitalism to promote consumption by advocating the transformation of people so that they can be assessed by others as normal (Schirato & Webb 2004). The role models used become an interactive way of seeing through which the audience plays out its relationship with them and it perpetuates through the audiences evaluation of the people that surround them to create a ‘normal’ way of seeing the world (Schirato & Webb, 2004). Paradoxically, one of the most important notions of this way of seeing is that the role models are depicted as individuals.

To individualise the campaign the story of the family is then broken into its individual segments. For example, Sarah is described as a ‘fun-loving caring mother’ and the heart of the family (Knox Shopping Centre, 2010). Her job is to organise the household’s needs and, being 39 years old, we are told that she is at the age when she can enjoy spending time with her girlfriends, shopping for the latest fashions and pampering herself (Knox Shopping Centre, 2010). The shopping mall is the centre of her life because it solves all the family’s problems (Knox Shopping Centre, 2004). By individualising the family the campaign is imitating reality. This imagery represents an ideal and it is this trick of advertising that can convince the eye into thinking about the aspiration of the ideal (Schirato & Webb 2004). It mimics reality by reflecting a family moment and representing such ideals of marriage, family and happiness (Schirato & Webb 2004).

In modern Western culture such visual imagery has come to control and influence people’s perception of reality (Schirato & Webb, 2004). People are seen by institutional powers through their ability to contribute to the state. They are contextualised and evaluated through normalising processes just as selective breeding programs occur on farms (Schirato & Webb, 2004). People are trained from an early age to lead non-reflective ‘normal’ lives with reality being decided by the rules of society (Schirato & Webb, 2004). Therefore people relate themselves in the everyday context to what is seen as normal which is evaluated through such things as people’s appearance, clothes, sexuality and work (Schirato & Webb, 2004). In the Champion family the two older children are depicted as normal because Chloe loves ‘shopping, texting, facebooking and thinking about guys’, while Will likes ‘surfing, skate-boarding and eating fast-food (Knox Shopping Centre, 2010). 

In order to produce a population that is pliable, productive and reliable the logic of what is normal prevails. As the seventeenth- century French philosopher Blaise Pascal was quoted by Pierre Bourdieu: “Custom is the source of our strongest and believed proofs” (Schirato & Webb, 2004). As Judith Butler, the gender theorist, argues that there are sites in society where we can assess whether we measure up to the normalised standard by their imagery of what are considered normal, healthy, desirable subjects (Schirato & Webb, 2004), the advertising campaign of the simulated Champion family does this work upon consumers that attend the shopping malls of AMP. The relationship of the consumer within this advertising campaign is one that plays upon what Jacques Lacan refers to as the gaze or le regard (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001). This imagery has the power to articulate desire for the consumer, an ability to shop without consequence. It is an opportunity to see themselves in the role of this family; to achieve happiness through shopping. However, the integral function of this advertising campaign is to activate the latent desires of the consumers relative to their social circumstances (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001).

The simulated Champion family works its effect upon the consumers attending these shopping malls by presenting themselves as the average Australian family. They are something to which the advertising executives want people to aspire: white, youthful, well-off, and happy. By trying to convince consumers that it is desirable to conform to such standards and that through being compliant they will achieve happiness, the advertisers present their shopping mall as the place where this achievement can take place. They have given the consumer individual role models that cover all aspects of the consumers that they wish to encourage by convincing them that to be like the Champions is the expected societal ideal.  Thus the world becomes shaped by such fictitious and normalised visual ideals.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Champion-Family/140330556023037?v=info
  2. http://www.knoxshoppingcentre.com.au/News—Events/News/Meet-the-new-faces-of-Knox-Shopping-Centre!.aspx
  3. Schirato, Tony; Webb, Jen. “Normalising Vision (extract)” in Reading the Visual, Schirato Tony; Webb Jen, 2004, 131-150
  4. Schirato, Tony; Webb, Jen. “Communicating and the Visual (extract)” in Reading the Visual, Schirato Tony; Webb Jen, 2004, 57-80
  5. Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa. “Spectatorship, power, and knowledge (extract)” in Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture , Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa , 2001 , 72-84

 “Hip-hop speaks true. It is all of us. Where we go, this is where hip-hop goes.”

  (BBC World Service 2011)

Hip-hop or rap music has become global. There is scarcely a country in the world where it does not feature. It has been transformed and globalized by the music industry, although its African-American origins survive through its transformation into re-localized cultural inflections. The sonic organisation of its poetics and beat is profoundly implicated in its cultural workings and the formation of identities  (Krims 2000). Hip-hop culture reveals how marginalised cultural practices can be used to challenge a dominant discourse such as globalization whilst using its techniques to proliferate.  This essay will attempt to analyse the culture of rap music and its relationship to globalisation and the Euro-American Empire.

Rap music is a good example of postmodern social theory, with its perceived resistance reflecting an African-American vernacular culture which persists as a challenge to dominant forces (Krims 2000). A music form was created from an African culture of call and response chants, the jazz rhyming of Cal Calloway in America in the 1930s, the love raps of Isaac Hayes and Barry White, as well as the militant style rapping of Malcolm X and Minister Louis Farrakhan (Parker 1999). Naturally rappers invent and reinvent their vernacular adjusting it to their own conventions and cultural style. Notably the evolution of message-oriented poetry set to a beat was formulated by the group The Last Poets in the 1970s (Parker 1999). This version of the Black Power movement invoked an accessible form of cultural message word-play set to a conga-drum which was a resistant discourse against racism and Eurocentric cultural dominance (Parker 1999).

This Eurocentric cultural dominance is prevalent in an English language dominated globalized world. This has produced a particular environment of raced individuals, mediascapes and economic environments (Schlunke 2008). Stuart Hall states that the hybridities and synchronicities that globalization has brought now reflect the contact zones of previously existing colonialism (Schlunke 2008). It has also brought new meanings to racial and ethnic identities through technologies such as the internet and world distribution of commodities which allows geographical and national boundaries to blur (Schlunke 2008). This allows oppositional cultures to American cultural domination to arise using similar resistance movements as those found in the United States (Schlunke 2008). In this particular case rap music reinforces these new cultural identities.

In his text Rap Music and the Poetics of Identity, Adam Krim states that the association of rap music with marginalized or aggrieved groups virtually guarantees its presence as a culturally identifying force in the ethnicized and gendered world of popular music  (Krim 2000). In November 2009 a show at the Yemeni Culture House in Sanaa, which fused a display of break-dancing with traditional Yemeni dagger dancing, was sold-out to Yemeni youth. The rapper Hagage Masaed, an American of Yemeni descent said: “Yemen is hungry for hip-hop. All the problems youth are facing in Yemen- there is no work- this is a way for them to release, an outlet (Kasinof 2010).  In November 2010, according to the UK’s Observer newspaper, a young Tunisian rapper or emcee by the name of El Général was the first to gain international attention for his raps related to the political unrest in his country. The lyrics of his Rais Le Bled stated: “My president, your country is dead / People eat garbage / Look at what is happening / Misery everywhere / Nowhere to sleep / I’m speaking for the people who suffer”, and were distributed across globalised media platforms such as You Tube (Fukishima 2011). 

This globalized process allows a cultural dominance of Eurocentric and American hegemony but simultaneously distributes the means in which resistance to this and other authorities are possible. This process was first brought to my attention when I listened to an interview with a young American photographer, Adam Sjoberg, who was doing a photo essay on hip-hop culture in places as politically and culturally diverse as Somalia, Uganda, Cambodia, Brazil and Korea (Sjoberg 2011). The stated aim of the projects that Sjoberg documents such as Breakdance Uganda, is to empower youth and break down social, tribal, religious and racial divisions (Breakdance Project Uganda 2010). The position of these young people is being from the immobile classes, one of the characteristics of the globalised world (Schlunke 2008). They are committed to their geography through familiar ties, traditional relationships and, most of all, the inability to move anywhere else because of their economic position (Schlunke 2008). However, the culture of rap or hip-hop transcends these geographical boundaries and allows these young people, not to just observe, but to reinforce their identities through the creation of their own rap cultures.

Each rap or hip-hop culture has its particular characteristics. These characteristics are based upon globalized racial dynamics and social/political contexts within nation states (Krim 2000). For example hip-hop culture in Yemen, which is an extremely conservative traditional society, shows a unique aspect through youth being seen to rebel against their traditional upbringing. In Uganda, most of the youth involved in hip-hop culture are poor and orphaned. They are deeply connected to the roots of hip-hop, and their raps are concerned with social injustice rather than an expression of youthful rebelliousness through break dancing (BBC World Service 2011). For the academic Karin Heim, hip-hop may have the ability to ease decades of social conflict. Her paper Beats not Bombs: Hip-Hop to create peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict investigates how artists use rap as a tool to help the people of Israel find common ground in the conflict.

Heim found that Middle East hip-hop artists — like the musician Subliminal, who has been described as Israel’s Eminem, and the Arab-Israeli group DAM — are using music to condemn violence, a notion that appeals to young Jewish-Israelis, Arab-Israelis, and Palestinians. Like the artists themselves, Heim found these youths use hip-hop to define their religious, ethnic, and social group identities (northeastern.edu 2011).  

Krim explains how rap musical poetics change according to local requirements although retaining its original reference to its African-American origins (Krim 2000). In Edmonton, Alberta the native Cree population use rap music to articulate location and identity through its musical poetics (Krim 2000). Therefore rap or hip-hop culture is interconnected globally and locally and intersects through its history of the musical poetics of rap.

However, even though dispersed across the globe, these localized forms of rap music are structurally dependent on a world music system based upon a centralized and commercialized form which emanates from the United States through dominant ‘musical utterances’ but also contingent musical responses. It becomes a musical theory that informs the identities of other cultures (Krim 2000). The basis for this musical theory is based upon the politics of race. It is not within the parameters of ‘white’ contexts that rap music generally lies. It is a musical genre based upon racial inequality, unlike more popular forms of music that have emanated from the United States and Britain in the latter half of the twentieth century.  As Katrina Shlunke states:”… globalisation is not a single force that overwhelms us but an environment that we are all within and in which we act (Schlunke, 2008, p.185).”  For Edward Said, power is organised through ways of showing difference (Schlunke 2008). Globalised rap culture shows ways that difference can be used to empower diverse forms and be readied to turn back upon the very hegemonic powers that used globalised means to reinforce their power.

Dilip Gaonkar and Elizabeth Povinelli suggest that circulation is important to allow a matrix within which such social forms as rap culture emerge and become newly recognisable (Osuri 2008). These matrixes are made up of compatible elements with which they are linked (Osuri 2008). The dominant compatible element of rap culture is, as Edward Said describes it, being of the status of the ‘other’ (Pugilese 2008). Even in diverse societies its musicology equates it with social inequality, racism, and oppression. Said also describes the history of the lynching of black men in the United States and its associated sexual mutilation as ‘male-defined loss’ (Pugilese 2008). He equates this practice with the rape and torture by US soldiers of Arab prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (Pugliese 2008). It is the reaction to this disempowerment; this asserted impotence that rap culture alludes to in its poetics. Elements such as the hooded youth, the menacing lyrics, the drum beat, the freedom of movement within it’s ‘breakdance’ empower its followers and allow them to reidentify themselves as individuals within their societies.

Globalisation and empires effect one’s embodiment through race and gender (Nicoll 2008). In the case of rap culture these processes also provide tools through which these meanings are challenged and disrupted (Nicoll 2008). An adverse view of rap culture uses a stereotyping of its elements in which to denigrate its form. Krim asserts that these views are usually driven by the cultural ignorance of those who wish to villainize rap based upon cultural misconceptions and racialised discourses (Krim 2000). In the chapter of her book entitled Voices from the Margins, the academic Tricia Rose states that news media attention on rap focuses on violence at concerts, gangsta rap and black nationalist lyrics (Rose 1994). Although some of these views are perpetuated through the actions of rappers themselves, rap music as a discourse brings together complex social, political and cultural issues (Rose 1994). From its beginnings rap music has articulated the pleasures and problems of black urban life in contemporary American society (Rose 1994). This life is affected by the persisting ideological, gendered system of power that works to assert and protect the interests of white people as members of a racialised society (Nicoll 2008). Cheryl Harris explains that it is through relations to property and possessions that we can understand how whiteness builds upon the policies and practices of white racism (Nicoll 2008, p.189). This discourse persists within the globalised world; it has been exported and distributed as part of the hegemonic power of European and North American nations. Just as American rappers craft stories that reflect the fantasies, perspectives and experiences of racial marginality on America (Rose 1994), so too do the array of rappers from such diverse places as indigenous Australian rural communities, Cambodian refugee camps, and Palestinian refugee camps.

The relationship of rap music within this globalised world reflects a postmodern cultural text that represents a challenge to dominant forces. Such an environment has produced a white Euro-American dominated economic, racialised discourse, but to achieve such a discourse has also led to the distribution of a means of resistance to its dominance. Marginal or socially aggrieved groups across the globe find a means of culturally reidentifying themselves through rap culture which includes poetry, art, music and dance. It empowers disenfranchised youth and breaks down social, racial and religious divisions through the transcendence and intersection of geographical boundaries and the representation of their own stories. Therefore, the interpolation of global rap gives voice to these marginalised communities in the dominant vernacular of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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