Unit 6 Post 2; Snow – Basil Wiering

! I found Snow’s point on pages 3/4 that our intellectual and practical lives cannot be distinguished interesting. I would absolutely agree; it stood out to me because of a discussion we had recently in section where people were concerned with gratuitous  use of over-reading when consuming and interpreting art/media/communications etc. Snow seems to believe that a lot of our practical life is enveloped in our intellectual life; our intellectual life may define the avenues and arenas of our personal pursuits. E.g. the poet whose colleagues are equally considered friends, who particularly concerns him/herself with broad philosophical musings, who uses their conclusions of said musings to structure their worldview and perspective in life. I don’t think there should be a distinction between the two.

? On page 14, Snow states, “[Literary intellectuals] still like to pretend that the traditional culture is the whole of ‘culture’, as though the natural order didn’t exist. As though the exploration of the natural order was of no interest either in its own value or its consequences.”

I have never regarded the scientific sphere as critical drivers or components of ‘culture’; I suppose that plants me firmly in the pole of literary intellectuals. I wonder if there is a significant subculture, within the scientific pole or otherwise, that would naturally group the natural order and scientific achievement under the conceptual umbrella of culture? To me, these do feel like distinct worlds. However, I somewhat sympathized with this perspective after reading further into Snow’s argument: “As though the scientific edifice of the physical world was not, in its intellectual depth, complexity and articulation, the most beautiful and wonderful collective work of the mind of man.” I found this compelling; I then googled the definition of culture. As defined by Oxford, culture is “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” To answer my own question, it would seem based on this definition that scientific achievement is absolutely culture. That is, to the extent that it is regarded collectively… Our collective lack of knowledge around the 10 most consequential theories and experiments seem to suggest otherwise.

I recognized 4 experiments and 5 theories.

Basil Wiering Unit 4 Assignment 2

I chose the two-page spread on pages 80-81. It is one of three such spreads where one panel or scene covers the spread from edge to edge, the other two being the first attack on the Freedom Riders on pages 44-45 and Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream speech on pages 172-173. The scene on pages 80-81 is one of several depicting the inauguration and presidency of Barack Obama. Unlike the aforementioned spreads, this one contains smaller frames scattered around. While the main event being depicted is Aretha Franklin’s performance at the inauguration, the scattered frames contrast it by showing the aftermath of the beating endured by the Freedom Riders in Montgomery. The dominating image is an expression of freedom and progress, with the words of My Country Tis of Thee floating across the pages. The three main components of the spread are interwoven: the image of Aretha Franklin and the US capital and crowd behind her, the lyrics of the song, and the small images from Montgomery. The images are vignettes of a struggle for freedom, including beaten bodies, passive policemen, and grinning racists. This provides the context for understanding why the inauguration of Obama felt so inspiring and significant, set against a history of pain and perseverance. This feeling of inspiration is captured in Franklin’s posture and expression, as well as the song lyrics. The text boxes for the lyrics are some of the largest in the book and begin on page 79 and continue into page 82, denoting the continuation of the struggle for freedom. The final words of the song shown on page 82 are clouded by the smoke of a molotov cocktail thrown at a church, which brings us back to the harsh reality of Montgomery in 1961, the same place the floating lyrics began. The imagery on page 82 is an empty blackness aside from a hand throwing the homemade explosive and the words, “Let freedom ring!”, pitting the two ideologies against each other, highlighting the methods of each and contrasting the time periods in which they occurred.

Basil Wiering Unit 4 Assignment 1

Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell were both influential thinkers, writers, and leaders of the civil rights movement. While they have much in common, there are a few notable differences, particularly in their backgrounds. MCT’s family was part of the elite black class of Memphis; Ida B. Wells was born into slavery before eventually being freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Both lived much of their early life in Memphis, though Wells moved following the mobbed destruction of her newspaper offices. Wells co-owned the local newspaper, focusing on racial inequality in her writings, which were nationally renowned. While Terrell was not officially a writer by trade, she wrote throughout her life, culminating in an autobiography. Terrell was one of the first African-American women to attend college and continued working in higher education, and education generally, for much of her life. She was a member on a number of boards, and founded several other organizations including the National Association of Colored Women and the National Association of College Women. Both women were religiously affiliated–Wells operated her newspaper out of a Baptist church, and Terrell’s work in education was often affiliated with the Methodist church. Both of the assigned readings, excerpts of Wells’ Southern Horrors and Terrell’s speech, “What It Means to be Colored in the Capital of the United States”, confront the plague of racial discrimination and prosecution. Terrell explains how the color of her skin affects her experience in DC, highlighting a uniform and institutional manifestation of racism, citing particular instances in business, schools, and public services. Wells focuses on the “unwritten law” of lynching, which is malicious and lawless. Both writings underscore the wide social acceptance of both the calculated coldness of institutions and the reckless hatred of the mobs, and call for society to remedy this position. The majority white United States was not hesitant to excuse the racist actions in either context–the discrimination found in stores was seen as the necessary reality, and lynching was argued as a defense of white women. This functions under the assumption that black men and communities are dangerous, unpredictable, and lawless, an assumption that in turn fuels its own dangerous and lawless behavior at the expense of thousands of lives.

Basil Wiering Unit 3 Assignment 3

There are a lot of connections between the texts, but the most poignant in the selected sections is the analysis (Sontag) and illustration (Gourevitch) of the irreconcilable rift between the acknowledgment of suffering and the fight against it. Sontag muses, what is the power of protest? Most depictions of war, as she notes, do not even commonly elicit such a response. More likely, they prompt the consumer to consider the horrors of war, but only as something distantly removed from their own lives. To those affected, however, no such privilege exists. Images of their fallen families are a reality, and graphic representation allows them no refuge from that reality. Gourevitch explores this all through his understanding of the Rwandan genocide. Acknowledgment of the fact that it was a genocide was widely avoided for the majority of the events, because it was assumed that to acknowledge it was to harbor a responsibility to take action. After all, this was specifically outlined in the Genocide Convention of 1948. On the heels of the Nazi regime, we wanted to ensure that no atrocities of the same nature and scale could ever be perpetuated again. Finally, when the international community was finally ready to call it for what it was, a reinterpretation of the Convention was allowed: that qualifying it as a genocide simply allowed preventative action, rather than requiring it. As Gourevitch writes to conclude the chapter, “denouncing evil is a far cry from doing good.” Perhaps they are not always so alien, but if they are not, it is not an inherent connection. The weight lies on the witness to bring acknowledgment into actuality, into concrete and decisive action. And more often than not, the witness chooses first to consume, then to look the other way.

Basil Wiering, Unit 2 Assignment 3

  1. Any belief, however unlikely it may appear, can be saved from refutation if you’re willing to make enough secondary elaborations.” I believe this is true, but only as long the secondary elaborations maintain consistency with the conceptual scheme from which they are born. It’s also important to note that this claim only states that the belief can be “saved from refutation” rather than be proven as absolute, or even true simply within its own conceptual scheme. This, therefore, is a form of weak cognitive relativism. A theory can rely on the assertions of its conceptual scheme, and can be rationalized through secondary elaborations within that scheme. As Appiah pointed out, it would not make sense to make judgments on a belief that is reliant on a conceptual scheme A by evaluating it against the norms and standards of conceptual scheme B.
  2. What’s the most effective way to reduce the amount of bullshit in contemporary discourse? Accountability. Take the common example of politics, a realm overly familiar with the application of bullshit. Elected officials depend on the support of their constituents to continue their job, and if we maintain that actively striving for truth is a priority, those who do not align with this will lose public support. However, in the same way that society can affect the political sphere, the political sphere can affect society. A politician who insists on bullshitting may normalize the practice, and those who are otherwise supportive may be wary to break rank and criticize, in order not to undermine the ultimate goal of reelection and political influence. I also believe we must destigmatize ignorance, because that is the best way to reduce it. People will not claim ignorance in a society that doesn’t tolerate it, which instead forces them to maintain that their own beliefs are not as a result of ignorance but instead a different understanding, even if the facts are clearly not in their favor. This creates an atmosphere where people are more keen to be perceived as ‘right’ than they are concerned with whether or not they actually are.

Basil Wiering Unit 2 Assignment 2

  1. Translators have an incredible amount of responsibility in representing literary excerpts and works as accurately as possible. I’m curious what safeguards exist to prevent mistranslation, or even more dangerous, translation designed to resemble the source but that differs in small but potentially consequential ways. It seems to me that the majority of translations are attributed to a single person. Are institutions or other individuals keeping that person accountable for their work? One example of translation that has extraordinary consequences is the Bible. There are 450 unique translations in the English language alone. The methodology of translation varies from version to version: some are seeking objective and precise translation while some are focused more intently on preserving the tone and “spirit of the law” in the writing. A prominent example of the latter is The Message, translated by Eugene H. Peterson, which seeks to bring the Bible into contemporary language. Another prominent translation, the King James Version, was translated by 47 different men. While this may provide more accountability, does this risk sacrificing continuity throughout the work? Reading these two texts, The Message and KJV, it is hard to imagine that they stem from the same source. Are such divergences controversial in the translating world, and is it possible to have such different interpretations without a loss of precision on either end? (Since publication, both versions have been subject to widespread praise and criticism alike).
  2. While I do believe the Allegory of the Cave is a useful demonstration on blind belief and contentedly ignorant rationale, there is one glaring problem that stands out to me. According to AotC, the prisoners assume that the shadows do not merely represent reality, or are a product of it, but that they are reality itself. However, I believe this wouldn’t be the case. They are not living in complete darkness, meaning that there would be concrete examples of other shadows as a mere representation or product of reality. The wall that they lean against would cast a shadow, and they themselves would produce moving shadows much like those on the wall in front of them. Would they then not be able to reason that, much like their own, the shadows of the wall have a cause behind it? We make assumptions of the macro world based on our micro experiences. Therefore, I believe they would understand the shadows on the wall as an extension of something from the external world based on their observations that align with this understanding of shadows in their immediate experience.

Basil Wiering Unit 2 Assignment 1

Q1: Evaluate Principe’s closing remarks about the disconnect between modern science and the wider culture (see the bottom of p. 134). Is his pessimism exaggerated? What is the role of the humanities, if any, in fixing the problem?

A1: I do not think Principe is misplaced in his pessimism. Though we have “an astonishing level of material and intellectual wealth” in the age of information, more is not always better. Science today seems more driven by monetary motivations than it is by genuine curiosity. The role of humanities is integral in restoring this because of its interdisciplinary nature. It allows us to examine history and progress with a wide lens, and often multiple lenses. We also have lost much of the influence of arts in the sciences. Scientific models and mappings during the scientific revolution were artistically represented, and some of the thought leaders at the time were artists themselves, most notably Leonardo Da Vinci. We have forgotten that beauty and precision are not mutually exclusive. Science is truly deserving of awe and benefits from the integration of the arts in realizing its true majesty

2. In the scientific revolution, we see a contrast of approaches. Some scientists sought to popularize their models to the point of mainstream acceptance while some bodies of work and schools of thought worked to keep their discoveries secret or exclusive, like alchemy. In science today, have we seen an increase in the privatization of science, or does it remain largely in the public realm? Perhaps it floats somewhere in-between, like in the case of Purdue Pharma, where the fruits of scientific inquiry were publicly available, but at a cost: both literally financial and abstractly societal.


Basil Wiering, Unit 1 Assignment 3, Fanon

I am interested in Frantz Fanon’s claims on language and culture, primarily how to assume a certain language is to “support the weight of a civilization”. I find this interesting for a number of reasons, partially because it invokes my own experience: by this logic, I am shouldering a massive burden by drafting this response alone. Of course, to speak (and consequently support) the English language and civilization is not a unique position. By most estimates, it is the second most widely spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese. 137 countries claim it as a national language, followed by French at 54. It has amassed such numbers through a variety of methods: through the mass distribution of western literature and media, through immigration and travel, and through slavery, cultural suppression, and colonization. 

Fanon is concerned with the dynamics of the latter. Language assimilation is a key component of colonization because it forces the colonized to accept the norms of a foreign culture, and to alienate themselves and their own heritage, effectively erasing that identity. He references a quote, which states that every language is a method of thinking. The colonizing world, however, is not accepting of divergent methods of thought. There is only one truth, one commonality which we are bound under, being reason. Thus, subscribing to a different language, a different approach to speech and thought, can subject one to dehumanization on the terms of the majority. There are more than enough examples. I chose this idea, and the implications it has, because I have witnessed it manifest in a variety of ways in the places I have lived. Its relevancy is ubiquitous, from the social capital placed on English fluency in India, to the lack of structural support for Spanish speakers in LAUSD, to the Christian mission schools on the Zuni reservation, a community still reaping the results of the motivations and methods of the colonizing world.

I would ask Fanon, Adichie, and Marx:

  1. Adichie talks of others creating an identity for us, while Marx and Fanon detail it being stolen or cast off as a means of survival or success. Is it possible to fully reclaim an identity? How can we begin that process?
  2. Two of these three authors talk about our separation, or lack thereof, from the beasts of the earth. Are we that really that different? Why/why not? What characteristics are most important in determining our humanness?
  3. What role does language play in identity, and how should we engage with it? Another way of asking: What is the role of language, both as a means of personal and cultural development?

Basil Wiering, Deserving of Death, John Locke

  1. John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, Essay Two, Section IV, Paragraph 22

“This freedom from absolute, arbitrary power is so necessary to, and closely joined with, a man’s preservation, that he cannot part with it but by what forfeits his preservation and life together. For a man, not having the power of his own life, cannot by compact or his own consent enslave himself to any one, nor put himself under the absolute, arbitrary power of another to take away his life when he pleases… Indeed, having by his fault forfeited his own life by some act that deserves death, he to whom he has forfeited it may, when he has him in his power, delay to take it, and make use of him to his own service; and he does him no injury by it.”

2. I selected Locke’s writing on slavery because when I first read it, it felt contradictory to itself. I didn’t understand how the passage could begin with the assertion that “freedom… is so necessary to, and closely joined with, a man’s preservation, that he cannot part with it”, and end by explaining how one can do exactly that. Even more, he claims that he who has been denied his right to freedom has been done no “injury”. Locke considers it Natural Law that all are free from “superior power”, and even states that no man is even powerful enough to give consent to slavery, so what allows the exception?

A closer reading revealed what I’d missed: The second part of the same sentence that establishes necessary freedom, which goes on to say that “he cannot part with it but by what forfeits his preservation and life together.” What could one do to forfeit life? Locke explains that it is forfeited by “some act that deserves death.”

3. To further understand the passage and connect it to the rest of Locke’s reasoning that informs it, I referred back to Section III of Essay Two, “Of the State of War”, to identify what Locke determines as an act deserving of death. There are many things, most reasonably among them is someone’s initial threat upon another’s life, thus justifying death as retaliation. However, it gets increasingly vague and resultantly dangerous. He eventually states that “one may destroy a man… for the same reason that he may kill a wolf or a lion, because they are not under the ties of the common law of reason”.

Whether or not it is intentional, the implications of these passages together are colossal. If one diverges from the established, or “common” law of reason, they may be subjected to slavery, and as a comforting and uninjurious alternative, death.

4. Who determines the common law of reason?

Unit 1 Assignment 1 by Basil Wiering

Group B

What is the solution to humanity’s divisions, and what role does identity play in this process?

Agree:

Context is invaluable, authentic empathy leads to reconciliation, and assumptions of identity are unnecessary and dangerous. Brooks takes it a step farther on the prior, asserting that even rooting too deeply down in one’s own identity, or at least isolating yourself within it, is equally dangerous.

Disagree:

The authors would disagree on the role of hope. One is literally focused on the relationship between hope and redemption, while Morrison denies the rationality of hoping. She cites our tumultuous history in regards to nuanced thought and inclusive action promoting diversity and combating hate and ignorance. However, she addresses the presence and importance of the grace, beauty, and harmony available to everyone, which to me signifies some acknowledgment of the importance of hope.