Why Kant Would Love Blogs

This semester I read Immanuel Kant for the first time, and boy was that fun.  It wasn’t Critique of Pure Reason or anything, I’ve heard many people groan and complain trying to untangle the information from that happy little book.  No, I read a small essay called “Was ist Auflaklarung?” (What is Enlightenment?) and it has pervaded every thought in my mind since early January.  One of the most famous quotes said from this essay is “sapere aude!” which is “dare to know!”  If you’re able to weed through his convoluted sentences, you actually discover he’s quite the optimist saying that every man has the ability to reason and to make this world great if only he could learn the proper use of his abilities.  To him, the individual is capable of great things through the proper use of his own reasoning.  Notice I said his OWN reasoning and not somebody else’s.  To able to form one’s own opinion over a certain subject was Kant’s hope for people.  It can still be said that a large majority of the people in this day and age are lazy and do not like to think for themselves.  I always wonder what would make a person behave in such a way, but then I realized: people are afraid of responsibility.  Kant remarks that these people are reduced to “domestic cattle” by the “guardians” of society, who could include politicians, church leaders, corporations, authoritative members in general.  Think about it, how many times have you seen a commercial telling you to buy a certain kind of phone over another?  How many people have heard say “believe in this and not that faith!”  Chances are, unless you’re a hermit that lives in Antarctica, that number is a lot.

That’s why people are stunned to see such independent thinking.  Let’s do an example:

  • I actually do not think the Mona Lisa is that great of a painting.  It’s pretty and all, but quite honestly it just can’t compare to Caravaggio’s “The Cardsharps (I Bari)”.  I mean, the dramatic lighting, the beautiful expressions of the players, and the arrangement is stunning!
  • Now you might be outraged by that, thinking,” Good Lord, who does this writer think she is anyway?  How can anyone NOT like the Mona Lisa? It’s preposterous and absurd!  EVERYONE likes the Mona Lisa.  You must be an absolute madwoman!

You see?  By the outburst itself, I am taunted, made to feel embarrassed, and am subtly influenced to rejoin the herd of the masses that are told that the Mona Lisa is the best piece of art on the face of the earth.  To a large majority of people, I’m wrong in my opinion which to them is a failure of my intellect.  Kant says though,” Actually, however, this danger is not so great, for by falling a few times they would finally learn to walk alone.”  Christopher Nolan’s Batman Series comes to mind an equivalent quote: “Why do we fall down, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.”  And let’s face it, being wrong is nobody’s favorite pastime.  It kinda sucks to be honest.  But if we can learn to rise above it, and still think for ourselves, we can achieve greatness.

In this little essay of his is what can be identified as the Kantian being, which is a person that is able to function as both a citizen and a scholar within his society.  To clarify: a scholar in this instance is someone who exercises his opinion about life, politics, religion, etc. in a formal way typically through writing that does not conflict with his duty as a citizen of a place, which is to obey the law.

At the core of this Kantian being is a duality between the citizen and the scholar.  As a scholar, you may question the laws and customs of those in charge, but as a citizen, you must keep up the established order so that chaos does not ensue.  So basically a citizen cannot go against the laws the city has set up because it would disrupt the natural order of things, so what’s a guy to do?  Write about it!  If a citizen wrote up in a formal proposal something he did not agree with in society, then he could share it with others, who, weighing their opinion on the proposal, could help potentially change public policies to make the city a better place to live in.  It’s really not all that different than some of the things Socrates said actually about the citizen having the power to improve the polis.  Through civility can the individual have the freedom to think for oneself while serving his duty to keep his surroundings relatively in order.

So what does this have to do with blogging? Well, plenty I think.  Kant would probably be thrilled with the concept of blogging because blogs are practically opinion pieces on just about anything.  Kant would see the world of WordPress, as a world of scholars that put aside their citizenship to write in his idea of scholars.  The multitude of opinions in this ideascape of the blogosphere might make his head spin, but he’d be proud nevertheless because the exchanging of viewpoints are not just between countrymen, but between all people around the world.  People on opposite ends of the world could argue about ethics, if poetry is a valid art form, whether or not the Mona Lisa should be considered the greatest painting in the world, or even if Ben Affleck will make a decent Batman.  We as a people have come of an age where communication is infinite and we’ve decided to no longer keep our opinions to ourselves.

But remember, as Kant would warn, we must think for ourselves.  We must be careful about becoming too carried away from the pretty words of others as the Harlequin did in Heart of Darkness.  If we read the words of others, we cannot simply let them become our voice if we agree with them.  That, I believe, is a quintessential problem with most people, namely, that they are so hasty to agree with the words of another person because they are too scared to come fore ward themselves.  This needs to stop.  So my fellow bloggers and readers alike, let us express our opinions.  Let us become scholars.  Let us unleash our opinions upon the world and “finally learn to walk alone”.

 

 

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The Voice of Graffiti

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I think most people can agree that graffiti is a messy topic when it comes to really defining it.  It’s so diverse that some people would call it art, vandalism, propaganda, gang-related territorial markings, and so on depending on your background and point of view.  I personally love the grey-area concept of street art, it makes it a great topic of controversy (not to mention I myself am a novice yarn-bomber).  Argue as much as you want concerning it’s artistic merit or its legality issues, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that graffiti is one of the major forms of cultural/counter-cultural free speech.  I mean think about it, images and pictures either positively or negatively depicting a social issue or such is probably an opinion by the creator of the piece.

Modern graffiti as we have today really took off in the 1960s where instead of images and pictures, graffiti writers were concerned with “the Name”.  To them, the Name was like a logo, telling the world who you were and that you existed.  From the 1970s graffiti wars of New York to today, graffiti has evolved to the strange dilemma of being treasured and also hated.  Graffiti culture has lost its edge in a way actually.  Where before it was supposed to piss people off and be rebellious, now in some places walls are being torn down to preserve and auction off works by Banksy or Shepard Fairey.  In America, graffiti has become a part of the culture, influencing the styles of clothes we wear, commercials, spiral notebook covers, shoes, etc.

Now I’m not saying that all graffiti has been reduced to what may be called “kitsch”.  To be quite honest, I always think the religious icons are some of the most interesting sub-genres within the graffiti culture.  Images of the Virgin Mary or the Dalai Llama are always some of the most interesting I think, especially if they’re controversial.

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Okay…….so maybe Surfing Madonna isn’t the best example of controversy, but you should understand what I mean.  So anyway, people have used these religious icons as a part of their intention to say something.  Could this be a suggestion for more moral behavior in interaction with others?  Religious images on public walls, like most other kinds of graffiti, demand the attention of the public as they pass by.  There has been one group that has taken advantage of this concept and that is the Gospel Graffiti Crew.  This is a Christian Based group that spreads the word and love of Jesus Christ by tagging moral messages on….legally allowed areas.  I’m sure graffiti purists at this point may be clutching their computer screens or tablets screaming, “NO! IT DOES NOT COUNT AS GRAFFITI IF IT’S ON LEGAL WALLS!!”  But if looks like graffiti and is on walls like graffiti, the public will just assume it’s graffiti regardless of the ramifications.  But a part of me wonders, at what point does this become propaganda?

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I mean, street art also makes an impact in other countries in looking for change in their government.  Look no further than the Berlin Wall, where most of the graffiti was on the western side describing the need for freedom in East Berlin from the U.S.S.R.   Graffiti has become a very common form of protesting against authority, especially in the Middle East.  In Egypt, the large youth-driven populace began to protest against the ruling military regime that ran the country, mainly by tagging city walls.  This enabled citizens to be aware of political ideologies within the country.  In Tehran, graffiti has been attributed to the youth underground that has to hide itself.  Under the rule of Ahmadinejad, the religious police have been under strict control to rid the city of youth rebellion.  In all of these cases, it seems with the right words, any piece of graffiti can instantly become a piece of propaganda to influence the minds and hearts of the people.

So say what you will about street art.  It’s a medium that is utterly confusing to understand yet makes complete sense to those that make it.  Try as you might though, it will never be suppressed for very long; Mayor Lindsay tried, Ahmadinejad tried, governments all over the world tried but every time they fail to destroy the graffiti movement.  It is the voice of the people in times of change.  It may embody what we fear to give actual voice to.  Whether we like it or not, graffiti will never go away completely, not as long as something need to be said.

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Education Crisis

I’m still continuing  to further comprehend the extent of the scope of power that the establishment clause of the first amendment possesses.  It emphasizes that government should not establish a national religion and favor one religion over another.  One of the biggest hot topics that this includes is the presence of religion in public schools.  Now I’ll admit I’m a little biased because I went to a private Christian school but I’ve observed students that left over the years to go to public school and their performances there, not to mention the overall performances of public schools across the nation.  I may be completely wrong in this, but a lot of people, if they are able to afford it, are putting their children in private schools, regardless of their religion, because private schools are providing better educational opportunities than public schools.  Is it possible that the people that do put their children in public school care more about the child’s religious freedom rather than their education?  It just seems there is an overwhelming theme of “should we have prayer in public schools” rather than being concerned if our students can do basic arithmetic or read.

Even now, there are controversies here in Texas on teaching creationism or intelligent design in public schools so that students won’t feel discriminated against because of the theory of evolution, which I actually think is really stupid.  This sounds like the government giving preference to a specific kind of religion which is in direct contrast with the first amendment.  In many ways, Texas politicians seem to think that the only children that go to public school are Christians which is presumptuous on their part.  The point of public schools are that regardless of religion, they are supposed to provide a foundation of education that will enable them to survive in the workforce and society at large.  With the way public education is nowadays, there is no challenge or a motivation for students.  Besides, rather than teaching students to do well and actually retain knowledge, they teach to the TAKS test (or another version of the test depending on what state you’re in).  Most of the students that slacked off and got lousy grades in my private school went to public school and got straight A’s.  That tells me something.  There are loads of other issues going on as well that may contribute to this.  There is a great documentary called “Waiting for Superman” that goes further into the dilemma of the educational system in America.  Among the problems are the teacher’s union and cutting of funds that go toward public education.  I also like to think that the the lawsuits concerning religious disputes in the schools are another issue that drains further funds from the schools as well.

Private schools on the other hand have an established religion and are typically not funded by the state (there have been exceptions in history to this) but they have the initiative to actually educate students and send them off to college.  More and more people are realizing this and are sending their children to private schools because they want their children to be more successful in their careers and in dealing with the world.  It didn’t really matter what religion you were.  It was an Episcopal School, but a lot of the classmates in my high school were Baptist, Jewish, Islamic, even some Atheists.  They tolerated the Episcopalian overtones knowing that they were getting a better education.  Also, we were never taught Creationism.  No, we were taught Evolution because they did not want us to close our mind from other viewpoints.  We are rapidly approaching the fact that we as a species are growing into a global community.   The rest of the world is superior to us in education and that’s a problem to us as people.  From a lack of education do people do terrible things that endanger both them and make the world into the cesspool that it already is.  I know that sounds pessimistic, but if we are not able to amend the religious and educational issues going on within our public education system, a large majority of people are going to cripple their own lives and the lives of others.

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Government Restrictions on Religion

In my religion and politics class, I have recently come across a statistic in my textbook that concerns the public’s view of the government and the relationships between church and state.  Apparently in 2007, the same number of people that approved of the FBI to keep a watch on cults (nearly 57% of the population) were similar to the number of people that wished restrictions on Krishnas and satanists.  The first thing I thought was “okay, why Krishnas and Satanists specifically?”  Why not Wiccans or Scientologists?  Those groups are so different from one another on a religious spectrum.  Then I took another look and saw the wish to restrict satanists was actually lower than Krishnas (maybe 3% lower).  By this viewpoint, it sounds like American’s have more issues with Krishnas than Satanists which blows my mind.

I am no expert on either religion, but Krishnas do not strike me a particularly dangerous and Satanists are more Atheistic.  If you go to their respective religious homepages  iskcon.org and churchofsatan.com, you can see that they are not inherently evil religions, yet they receive a bad reputation as cults perhaps due to the fact that they are minority religions in the U.S.  People seem to think that Krishnas are trying to brainwash others to join their religion through their literature.  I think it’s true that they are an evangelical religion and like other evangelicals of other faiths, they enthusiastically want to share their faith with others because it holds a truth that has improved their own lives.  Satanists are a little different because they don’t really reveal themselves in the public eye like the Krishnas do and therefore are more mysterious and likewise potentially dangerous to the majority religions.

Perhaps the statistic I saw only used Krishnas and Satanists as an example of the relationship of the inherent mistrust that larger, well accepted religions feel about smaller obscure ones.  Take Catholicism for example.  Even though the Catholic church was the original form of Christianity which all other denominations stem from, Catholics were largely regarded early on in America and even to today as a cult and called “Mary-worshippers”.  The first amendment of the constitution obviously states free speech but also freedom of religion.  In the free-exercise clause it clearly states that the government will not prohibit one from practicing the faith one possesses.  If the government did this, it would be favoring a specific religion, and make them hypocrites, liars, and an un-reliable system of democracy (regardless that they may be already).  The free-exercise clause ensures that minorities have a chance to participate and actually survive in this nation.  Going back to the statistic, if more than 50% of the population wants restrictions on these groups, regardless of the ideas of whether or not they may be cults, how is that not the government favoring certain kinds of religions over others.  It sounds like a violation of the free-exercise clause.  If you put a restriction on a religion, ANY religion for that matter,  is it really freedom of religion or free speech at that point?

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