Thursday, December 11, 2014

Analytical Essay 1: Image of God

Zya Houston
Mr. Comer
Honors U.S. Government

Image of God

What does it mean to be made in the image of God? In Genesis 1 of the Bible, verse 26 says, “…[l]et us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” From this it can be deduced that God is a ruler, since he made man ruler over the formerly created things. Man is a reflection of God in that he is premier over earth. Ephesians 4:24 says that man is “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Man mirrors God in that man is, or has the capacity to be, righteous and holy. Finally, Matthew 5:48 commands man to “[b]e perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” From this verse and the entire passage it can be gathered that man has been created like God to be perfect in his dealings with his fellow creatures; that man has the capacity to ‘love his enemy’ and live communally among other men despite any enmity that may between them. Thus, it may be said that to be made in the image of God is to reign over the earth, to be righteous and holy, and to be perfect in a communal sense. From this definition of being made in the image of God, it is clear that between philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, Locke would agree most with it, as he espoused the idea of man being proprietor of the earth, asserts that man should be upstanding in his dealings with others, and holds that man is capable of living in concord with his fellow men. 

Locke declares in the Of Property chapter of his essay “Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government”, from his work Two Treatises of Government, that God “gave the world to men in common,” as well as “reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life and convenience.” (115). Further, he adds that “[t]he earth and all that is therein is given to men for the support and comfort of their being,” a view which directly aligns with one of the characteristics of man as described by God in the Bible (ibid). Locke views the earth as a prism through which man is able express his nature of sovereignty and construct a comfortable life and community. Similarly, God expresses his own sovereign nature through His dominion over His creation. 

The Biblical teaching that man should be righteous and holy aligns with Locke as well. He declares that “no one ought to harm another… for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent” cannot be supposed to have the authority to “destroy one another” (106). As all men were created equal by the same “infinitely wise maker” and are “[H]is property,” it would be unduly indecent for a man to bring harm to these beings. Locke also contends that “truth and keeping of faith belongs to men, as men,” not solely as members of society (111). In other words, men uphold their word because they are good, not because they are compelled by society to do so. Righteousness and holiness, otherwise called goodness, is part of man’s nature. Pacts made between men are to be kept, honored, and regarded as sacred whether or not these men live in a society or not, because the call be honorable is imbued within. As reflectors of God, men can be benevolent, and Locke’s ideas agree with this.

The beginning of Locke’s chapter entitled Of the Beginning of Political Societies describes the natural state of man as being one of perfect freedom, but such a way of life that man finds more convenience in joining with other men to create a society. Any man who unites into a community out of the state of nature “must be understood to give up all the power, necessary to the ends for which they unite into society” (147). This is not to say that upon joining a society men loose their freedom or rights, but rather that they come together and shed some of their individual prerogatives in order to coexist harmoniously. In fact the beginning of a society “depends upon the consent of the individuals, to join into, and make one society” (150). Within the state of nature and society, Locke calls upon man to, when he can, “preserve the rest of mankind,” and directs that no man should “take away… impair the life… liberty, health, limb, or goods of another,” and thus restrict his own perfect freedom so as not to infringe upon the freedom of another (107). Mankind has the capacity to live as God created it, with respect toward one another. Locke’s ideology does not extend as far as God’s however. He has specific instructions for how to handle cases where a man infringes upon the rights or property of another, including the use of punishment and reparation. This is a departure from the ‘love thy enemy’ or ‘turn the other cheek’ stance that God takes. While it is possible for man to forgive and forget without seeking justice, Locke does not see this course of action as the primary method of dealing with transgressions. 

From what is known and observed of man, he is a creature that neither rules perfectly, is totally righteous and holy, nor lives in constant harmony with his fellow men. It is in this that we see that to be made in the image of God now implies that man is not an exact reflection of God, but a more distorted one. Man likely mirrored God during the time in which he was a perfect creation, unhindered by sin. But because of the fall of mankind, man can only hope to express the traits he shares with God in the same perfect way God expresses these traits.  Locke’s philosophy perfectly encompasses the crippled state of humanity. Yes man is made in His image, and can have dominion, be benevolent, and live compatibly with others. But he always falls short of the highest fulfillment of these traits, which is why Locke prescribes society, mandates for the treatment of fellow men, and government to fill the gap. 

Analytical Essay 2: Johnson

Zya Houston
Mr. Comer
Honors U.S. Government

President Johnson

In contrast to Tompkin’s assertion that Johnson was "not a poor president," Nathan Miller quotes Eric Forner, a “preeminent modern historian of Reconstruction”, as observing that the post-Civil War presidency “required tact, flexibility, and sensitivity to the nuances of public opinion,” qualities Johnson “lacked” (131). Tompkins’ statement is in fact woefully false; Andrew Johnson was certainly not “a good man during a bad time,” but more accurately, a petulant person ill-equipped for the presidency. This is evidenced by the fact that by the end of his term he was spurned by moderates, despised by Northerners, and his greatest legacy was the perpetuation of racism and intolerance.

Johnson, though entering office under the confidence established by Lincoln, soon proved himself to be stubborn and lacking in self-control. In fact, when he embarked on his first whistle-stop campaign from Washington to New York to Missouri and back, he was mainly greeted by hecklers whom “the hot-tempered, impulsive president could not ignore” (146). Johnson often yelled back, turning his speeches into “shouting matches” and “near riots” (ibid). Johnson had many instances like this, where he proved himself to be prone to tantrums and stubbornness — characteristics which shined through during the Reconstruction era.

President Johnson repeatedly took a stand against racial progress, and consequently, exacerbated and prolonged the issue of Reconstruction. Initially, most Republicans, being moderates, were willing to work with the president to modify his “flawed” Reconstruction plan (144). Johnson “would have been wise to accommodate the moderates,” but ignored “congressional and popular opinion,” prompting moderates to support Radical investigations of conditions in the South (145). Viewing all opposition as a personal attack, Johnson showed himself to be not a moderate, but a vindictive man who subscribed to my-way-or-the-highway policies of operation. Relations deteriorated when a bill was passed — “by an overwhelming majority of both houses of Congress” — extending the life of the Freedmen’s Bureau and a civil rights bill, and Johnson vetoed it, “insist[ing] that… blacks did not deserve citizenship” (145). Moderates were appalled at his decision and began to regard him as a “major obstacle to restoring loyalty in the Southern states” (ibid). Johnson’s immaturity and irrationality lost him an important ally. 

Radical Republicans and Northerners viewed Johnson the most bitterly. His first blunder in garnering Republican support was in publicly holding that the South was a faction which had not committed treason or any crime in its rebellion. Northerners were “shocked by his leniency” toward the confederates, as he “demanded neither black suffrage nor any other change in the Southern political or social order” and never held treason trials (142). Johnson had forgiven the South as one might forgive an untrained puppy who had simply peed on the rug. Republicans were so unhappy with his plan for reconstruction that they took control of Congress and pushed through their own Reconstruction plan. Later, when the Radical Republican congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment, Johnson “egged on the Southern states to reject the amendment,” a move which was immature and irresponsible. This action “convinced most Northerners that he was no longer a credible leader whom they could trust to reconstruct the Union” (146). 

Johnson’s lasting legacy after office was not a result of his ill-temper or impatience, but his characteristic of being an “uncompromising racist” (132). His political ineptitude and staunch position on the inferiority of blacks found him “assist[ing] materially in blocking the reconciliation of the North and South” and undermining the work of Radical Republicans by inspiring resistance in the South (149). By doing this, he “left a legacy of racial oppression… that troubled America for generations to come” (150). Little of what Johnson attempted to do as president endured, but his meddling effect in the work of reconstruction has been stuck like King Arthur’s sword in the stone of history. 

Johnson was a poor president because the nation had no confidence in him. The radicals despised him, and the moderates he was supposed to be aligned with disavowed him. His only supporters were those in the South, whose rebellious actions had created the very climate of dissension which thwarted his executive authority and he therefore could not aid. Worst of all, his term actually resulted in the extension of Northern and Southern tensions and discord and the continuation of the oppression of blacks.

Analytical Essay 3: Pierce and Buchanan

Zya Houston
Mr. Comer
Honors U.S. Government

Pierce and Buchanan

America’s misfortunes under the Pierce administration evolved into full blown catastrophe under President Buchanan’s leadership, due to his societal density, corruption and inaction. However, both former presidents owe their failures to ill—or better, non—use of their authority. 

James Buchanan entered the presidency during a climate of fracture and discord between North and South, caused in part by former President Franklin Pierce who had “rekindled the animosities between the sections” (171). Though Buchanan had expansive political experience, he was a weak and “bumbling” man who endorsed “one-sided pro-Southern policies” as his predecessor had (174). He was “emotionally isolated from the antislavery fervor sweeping the country;” totally blind to the change in tide of the American people (176). In ignoring and even rejecting the growing call of the Northern abolitionists, as well as fueling their ire with several corrupt laws, he managed to stoke the flames of succession until they burned white hot. By “secretly influenc[ing] the Supreme Court’s controversial Dred Scott decision,” he showed “an appalling ignorance by assuming that this ruling would be acceptable to the North” (177, 184). Buchanan never once licked his finger to test the winds of public opinion, instead proceeding with his misconduct and dimwitted opposition to the ever powerful gusts of the North. Worse, his administration was overrun with corruption. He led one of the most fraudulent ministries in history; it is now known that he was “[u]nder the influence of a cabinet that included several scheming secessionists,” and was involved in bribery in the Lecompton constitution vs. Kansas-Nebraska Act showdown (189). Most abysmal however, was his reputation as a “lame-duck president” (177). Buchanan undercut his own position through his “indecisiveness and… denial of his own authority to coerce a state to remain in the Union” (ibid). This was a man who was simply not made for positions of power, as he lacked the will to use it. The tensions of the time called for a leader who would strong arm both sides into agreement and shove both sections together like nearly matching puzzle pieces. Instead, he claimed that he’d had “no power under the Constitution to use force against the seceding Southern states” and hoped, with trepidation, that secession would not take place until Lincoln took office (187, 189). Buchanan repeatedly pushed the nation into fracture through his flippant anti-North stance and blatant corruption, then sat on his hands when it began to happen. 

The botching of Pierce and Buchanan’s presidencies can be attributed to the fact that both allowed their authority to be governed and overruled by others. Pierce was more than indecisive — he was careless in all he did; with whom he gave appointments to and what he promised and to who. A “bland, conciliatory, and yielding” people pleaser, he found himself with a cabinet composed of “an ill-assorted body of… highly incompatible men” who had been picked based upon the wishes of others (164, 165). Buchanan similarly lacked the “iron nerve… and ability to bend men to his will” necessary for a highly functioning administration and country (174). His cabinet was “dominated by Southerners” who used his refusal to act to their advantage (176). Always having refrained from any steps to hold the Union together, he watched sadly as it fell apart. The Civil War was not inevitable; Pierce’s lap dog mentality and Buchanan’s firm belief in his own powerlessness are to blame. 

While Pierce’s inability to commit to any of his responsibilities as president served to further the eventual fracture of the country, Buchanan’s failure to act was its ultimate downfall. Buchanan stood stubbornly on the side of the South in the few times he did speak up, which only rallied the North. Both men were woeful examples of leadership and brought about tragedy to the American people. 

Analytical Essay 4: TPOH

Zya Houston
Mr. Comer
Honors U.S. Government

The Pursuit of Happiness

The pursuit of happiness is incomplete without justice and equality. If the pursuit is indeed an inalienable right, then all people should be able to experience the vital components of justice and equality on an individual, communal, and societal level. 

Happiness without justice or equality is no happiness. A man can have no joy if he is never vindicated when wronged, or treated in the same way as his fellow human beings. If two men enter a party, and one is treated with deference and cordiality, while the other is regarded as a lowly servant, the latter man will certainly feel the difference. The sting of partiality will impede his happiness. Justice on the individual plane is the right to an even playing field. If one has a physical handicap, their just due would be to be able to navigate the world via handicap accessible modes of travel or attend schools which cater to their specific disability. Without such accommodations to make up for their disadvantages, such a persons path to happiness is full of obstacles. This definition of justice aligns with St. Thomas Aquinas’ philosophies, particularly those espoused in his Summa Theologica. He says that “justice is the same as rectitude”, though on the individual level justice is a concern between few people, or a “mutual dealing between two persons” (Aquinas Article 1 pg. 1, pg. 8). However, equality takes on a more Rawlsian definition. Individual equality is the equanimity that should exist between every man. Philosopher John Rawls, in his essay “Justice as Fairness”, holds that equality and justice are one in the same, and therefore equality “is about assuring the protection of equal access to liberties, rights, and opportunities…” (Rawls 1). One of Rawls biggest points is that every person should have an equal opportunity to become unequal; that is, “inequalities are acceptable if every person in society has a reasonable chance of obtaining the positions that lead to the inequalities” (Rawls 5). Justice combined with equality means that not only is every individual starting from the same position for the race, but each person has been provided with whatever is necessary to make each runner equal as competitors. 

On the communal level, the same definitions apply, but are expanded to encompass a larger group of people. Justice for a community would be compensation for the areas in which it lacks. If one community suffers from under-representation in general society, it is the duty of justice to bring about better, if not equal, representation to ensure this groups happiness. Aquinas defines this type of justice as “distributive justice”, which “distributes common goods proportionately” (Aquinas Article 1 pg. 8). What community of people, on seeing that they are under-served or live life disproportionately worse than another, can be truly happy? It is up to justice to address their imbalance and tip the scales back to equity. In terms of equality groups of people are as deserving of equal protection of freedoms, rights, and opportunities as an individual is. As a community is made up of individuals, this is inherently true. Communities themselves and those living within them must receive a “fair distribution of each of the capacities needed ‘to be normal and fully cooperating members of society…’” (Rawls 3, 4). There are many marginalized groups in society, and for them to escape from oppression, they must be given their due justice and treated with equality. 

Society is a much larger scale on which to measure justice and equality. Societies are typically made up of millions of people within a territory, country or continent. Justice in society means that all people within it, and every society on the world stage, receive their fair redress for whatever ways in which they are unequal. The need for justice as part of the pursuit of happiness is exemplified in the times one may see the jealousy and hurt in a child’s eyes when their sibling receives a better present. If the child’s parents are supposed to love both children the same, why did one receive a gift which far out-shined the others? Such a situation is an injustice, and the child would be unhappy about it until it was made up for. Justice in a society means that every person receives their due “common goods” from every other society (Aquinas Article 1 pg. 8). By the same token, equality means that every society should view and treat all other societies equally. Rawls advocates for equality within the “basic structures of society,” and “institutions and associations,” so that this principle can come into practice (Rawls 2). Most importantly, since individuals make up the whole of society, it is important to ensure justice and equality on every level of human life as a guarantee for the pursuit of happiness.

The pursuit of happiness is empty without both justice and equality. One or the other will not suffice. For the pursuit to truly be an inalienable right, a person's rights must be guaranteed in every aspect of life through justice and equality. Without these two pillars, the dream of happiness collapses. 

US retail workers need a new bill of rights - Summary 10

In her December 10th article, "US retail workers need a new bill of rights", from Al Jazeera's opinion section, author Amy Dean posits that minimum wage jobs are no longer the "life-sustaining endeavour[s]" the once were, but are "abusive" (Paragraph 3, 4). She calls out employers like Walmart, McDonald's, and Barnes & Noble for their poor treatment of employees. As a stand against such abuse, retail workers have concluded that "they need a new form of protection: a bill of rights" (Paragraph 9). She gives an example of such a bill passed in San Francisco, which is expected to provide "much needed stability and flexibility" to over 400,000 workers (ibid). Dean argues that employers have failed to keep up with the times, but notes that municipal powers have been picking up slack where America has failed federally to provide for minimum wage workers. She calls on Congress to get its act together, and Americans to "support the efforts of those who are working long hours to make our season bright" (Paragraph 14, 15).

Why on earth is the City Council trying to ban GMO crops in L.A.? - Summary 9

The Times Editorial Board, in its opinion piece "Why on earth is the City Council trying to ban GMO crops in L.A.?", from The LA Times op-ed section, claims that the proposal to ban the growth of GMO crops in LA is puzzling because "no one grows them in L.A.," and "no one has any plan to do so" (Paragraph 1). They condemn the ban as being "largely symbolic -- in addition to being irrational and unscientific," since research has found no evidence that "genetically engineered food is less wholesome" than naturally grown crops (Paragraph 2, 4). The Board is outraged by the law because it views it as useless. The Board claims that this law would stand in place of educating citizens about the use of pesticides and how to grow sustainable foods. The authors end with a final zinger, calling out the ban as being "akin to banning childhood vaccines to appease people who fear them despite the scientific evidence that they do not cause autism," and hopes that the proposed ban disappears back into irrelevance (Paragraph 6).

In 2014, rape rage drove feminism's 'third wave' - Summary 8

In her recent article, "In 2014, rape rage drove feminism's 'third wave'," from CNN's opinion section, author Nina Burleigh posits that "[h]istorians could look back on this year as the beginning of feminism's third wave" (Paragraph 1). Burleigh asserts that this year was the year of feminism, as "[f]or the first time, rape victims and their supporters emerged from the shadows in significant numbers and started naming names" like Bill Cosby, and people associated with the NFL and collegiate institutions (Paragraph 2, 3). She alludes to women like the Cosby accusers and Emma Sulkowicz. She attributes the spike in awareness and call-to-action to social media, claiming that it has emboldened victims to speak out, and now even "men are starting to get it" (Paragraph 10). Burleigh asserts that "rape culture holds all women down," and she is proud of an in awe of the young women who are standing up against it today (Paragraph 14, 15). She hopes that this 3rd wave feminism will educate and eradicate until the problem is no more. 

Despite progress on racism, the uncomfortable truth is that work remains - Summary 7

Author Euguene Robinson, in his opinion essay "Despite progress on racism, the uncomfortable truth is that work remains," from The Washington Post's opinion section, declares that America has a long way to go before becoming a post-racial society. He opens with impactful rhetoric, dismissing Obama's statement that racism is "deeply rooted" in the U.S. as an "understatement", asserting that racism is as "American as the 4th of July", and finally alluding to The Declaration of independence in proclaiming that the truth that racism still exists is "self evident" (Paragraph 1, 2). Throughout the essay he analyzes the statistics that say that most Americans feel that race relations have deteriorated under Obama (Paragraph 9). To him, this indicates that something is lacking in Obama's leadership. He also condemns Obama for continuing to spout the obvious about American society rather than speaking out against the blatant oppressive actions being taken against black Americans. He implores Obama to "speak from the heart" and "tell the truth uncomfortable truth" about race so that America can begin to make real, further progress (Paragraph 15). He holds that unless Obama gets real, and moves away from the vague, conciliatory speeches, race relations and authority relations will not improve.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The rights of sex workers - Summary 6

Sonja Dolinsek, blogger and human rights activist, in her opinion article "The rights of sex workers", from Al Jazeera's opinion section, declares that "democracies [need] to include sex workers in policy-making processes" and craft laws which give such workers stronger "human and constitutional rights" (Paragraph 17, 2). Dolinsek holds that there are several examples worldwide for democracies like Canada to follow, where "courts have upheld sex workers' human rights and questioned existing prostitution laws or filled legal grey areas" (Paragraph 5). She discusses New Zealand, "where sex work is decriminalized," Germany and Austria, where "court rulings abolished the notion of prostitution as being 'immoral'," and The European Court of Justice, which "has repeatedly ruled that 'prostitution' is an 'economic activity'" (Paragraph 6). By contrast, many other countries view sex workers as "dangerous to society and as victims to be forcefully protected from their own choices" (Paragraph 16). Dolinsek moves for the decriminalization of sex work and a stronger push for equal rights as seen in more progressive countries. 

Supreme Court should affirm the rights of pregnant workers - Summary 5

The Times Editorial Board, in their article "Supreme Court should affirm the rights of pregnant workers", from the LA Times opinion section, posits that the Supreme Court should side with petitioner Peggy Young in the Young v United Parcel Service case. They explain that in 2006, Ms. Young was forced to take an un-paid leave of absence after her workplace refused to accommodate her physical limitations as mandated by her doctor due to pregnancy. The authors insist that "women should not be penalized or forced out of the workplace simply because they become pregnant" (Paragraph 5). They concede that many companies, including the United Parcel Service, have changed their policies regarding pregnant workers, but still demand that the court rules that "pregnant women deserve to be treated as well as workers who are injured on the job", and begin the work of "craft[ing] fresh legislation" which makes this point clear (Paragraph 6). The Board's article is short and to the point -- that policy must shift toward treating women with more deference and accommodation towards pregnancy. 

Charles Barkley, wrong on race, Ferguson and Garner - Summary 4

Author Jason Johnson, in his opinion piece "Charles Barkley, wrong on race, Ferguson and Garner," from CNN's opinion section, asserts that Charles Barkley is "an uninformed rich guy who is given way more credibility than he deserves when discussing racial and political issues in America" (Paragraph 3). Johnson condemns Barkley's statements that "we as black people, we have a lot of crooks," and "[t]here is a reason that they racially profile us in the way they do" as being misleading and inaccurately shifting responsibility from the racist system to those oppressed by it (Paragraph 5). He says that Barkley and other people of his standing are too far removed from the issues of most people to accurately comment on happenings. Barkley's comments are indeed far from true and far from the point. Johnson gives examples of other celebrities making similarly uninformed comments, like "Serena Williams on rape... or Luke Scott on Obama" (Paragraph 21). Johnson gets straight to the point, declaring that if Barkley -- or any other high profile and privileged members of society -- want to add their two cents into the "world of politics about Ferguson," then [they] need to get more informed, more prepared and more connected to what [they're] talking about" (Paragraph 23).