SISU-105.015 F2019 blog question #12

The last blog question of the semester!

We touched on this a bit last week, but I wanted to expand on it a bit, especially in light of some of the issues raised in the simulation today and -- although you may not realize this yet, if you haven't read ahead -- in the thing I assigned for Thursday’s class. Basically, the thing I want you to wrestle a bit with is that Torodov’s three axes of alterity, the epistemic, the axiological, and the praexological, are made roughly equivalent in his account. In part Todorov is able to do this because the only “epistemic” dimension he discusses is knowledge of the other. He does not discuss knowledge of the effects of different cultural practices. The problem, or perhaps the challenge, is that knowledge of effects is, or purports to be, of a different order than questions of value hierarchy. (“Human sacrifice is wrong,” for example, is, or purports to be, a different kind of statement than, e.g., “human sacrifice is an inefficient way to organize a political system, and produces long-term instability,” precisely in that the former can't be adjudicated with evidence, but the latter can and should be.)

So, the question is: if we consider knowledge of effects, does “difference with equality” lose its moral force as an ideal? Should we be looking instead to eliminate inaccuracies in favor of better-supported empirical claims? Or is that process itself a reassertion of the kinds of hierarchies that Todorov argues that we need to call into question?

Or: can you be correct without illegitimately subordinating the other? Is there such a thing as the correct dismissal of alternatives, so to speak?


SISU-105.015 F2019 blog question #11

Short question this week, but don’t be deceived: it may be an easy question to state but it is far from an easy question to answer. As Todorov asks on p. 62, “Did the Spaniards defeat the Indians by means of signs?”


SISU-105.015 F2019 blog question #10

Hopefully after class today you have a better idea about the history of these international financial institutions, and about the centrality of economic growth to the various strategies that they have pursued over time. The question I would like you to wrestle with a bit is: should growth be as central to international economic policies as it is? The presumption of a growth-oriented approach is that if the economy grows, a variety of practical problems will be solved or resolved, because there will be more economic circulation and hence more opportunity and improvement. I’m less interested in empirical assessments of that proposition, since at this point in your education you probably don't have enough background knowledge to say with any certainty what economic growth does or does not generate. Instead, I’m interested in the set of values embedded in a focus on economic growth. Are there other ways that we ought to be running economic policy, and other goals that we ought to be pursuing? Why, or why not?


SISU-105.015 F2019 blog question #9

Our ninth weekly blog question already!

In 1952, Arnold Wolfers, one of the more prominent international studies scholars in the early days of the field, published an essay in Political Science Quarterly entitled “National Security As An Ambiguous Symbol.” In that essay, he argued that

In a very vague and general way “national interest” does suggest a direction of policy which can be distinguished from several others presenting themselves as alternatives. It indicates that the policy is designed to promote demands that are ascribed to the nation rather than to individuals, subnational groups, or mankind [sic, sexism in original] as a whole. It emphasizes that the policy subordinates other interests to those of the nation. But beyond this, it has very little meaning.

Wolfers goes on to argue that what is true of the notion of the national interest is equally true of the notion of national security: both are vague concepts, indicating a direction rather than any concrete set of policies. One consequence that follows from this observation would be that in a sense, “national security” can mean whatever one wants it to mean, and in principle anything can be an issue of national security.

Is Wolfers correct? Is the notion of “national security” more or less infinitely malleable? Can anything be a “security” issue? Should security be defined as broadly as that, or should we operate with a more narrow definition? As you ponder, please feel free to bounce off of the readings assigned for this week, all of which speak to this issue in some way.


SISU-105.015 F2019 blog question #8

Karl Deutsch once argued that power was “the capacity not to have to learn” -- in other words, the truly powerful are those who can go on as they have been going on, without having to modify their actions as a result of how things turn out. I am usually put in mind of Du Bois’ notion of the double consciousness by this remark, because in a way Du Bois could be read as arguing that those on the margins, those laboring under the burden of double consciousness from “being a problem,” have no choice but to learn how the dominant society operates so that they can try to find some place within it or at least a relationship to it. Those at the center have the luxury of not having to do so.

Does it therefore follow that those with double consciousness understand the society they are living in better than those at the center do? Do only certain kinds of double consciousness afford this epistemic privilege, or are there multiple marginal points of view...and how might we deal with that multiplicity? In a way, what I am asking here is: might there not be certain benefits, not to say advantages, or having a double consciousness? [Note that I am not asking about benefits of being marginalized and pushed down in the hierarchy, which I think is by definition a bad thing. I am instead asking about possible flowers that grow in the cracks at the side of the pavement, so to speak.]