Day 2 Spring 2003 Jan. 9
1. Names. Thanks for
responses; for next time, group B, and we’ll start into Missing Peace.
Sign-up for WORTH Center/UMADAOP projects.
Issues from last
time, slightly rearranged:
War and Peace Economics Social
market declines Health
(North and South) Corporate
Homeland Security Unemployment Education
Civil liberties Wages Minority
Global warming/environmental issues (?)
What about these lists? Things are present here in highly
abstract and reduced ways, right? To trace out the realities of these brief
terms could take us a lifetime; we could list many sub-headings and questions
under many of these terms.
Here’s a piece by Thomas Friedman that discusses one set of
And one by Robert Fisk, an overview of the current
To me it’s startling to think back to two years ago, when
Bush was inaugurated, and remember what was going on then. The biggest topic
was still his “election,” with a minority of votes from the minority of
American voters who bother to vote at all, secured only with the aid of his
brother the governor of Florida
and a Supreme Court decision that was unabashedly partisan.
If such a process had happened in Russia
American pundits would have skewered it as astonishingly undemocratic . . .
here, it seems to have faded entirely from the memory of most Americans, just
as most of us seem unworried about yielding up our most basic civil liberties
to preserve our “security” and quite reconciled to invading Iraq on the grounds
that it might someday be a threat to us . . . what is going on?
2. From Zinn
(Declarations of Independence, 1991):
First reactions? What did you find
most striking or unexpected here? what most exciting
or doubtful? What about what he says about “freedom” and pluralism in America?
What does he mean by “ideology”?
So, what about all this? Do you accept these ideas? If not,
which ones would you question?
What about the idea that “this is the way things are” and
they will never change very much? What might history tell us about that? Have
things always been this way? Have small groups of determined people ever
changed the world before?
“A close look at
this [American] pluralism shows that it is very limited. We have the kinds of
choices that are given in multiple-choice tests, where you can choose a, b, c,
or d. But e, f, g, and h are not even listed.
And so we have
the Democratic and Republican parties (choose a or b ),
but no others are really tolerated or encouraged or financed. Indeed, there is
a law limiting the nationally televised presidential debates to the two major
We have a
"free press," but big money dominates it; you can choose among Time,
Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report. On television, you can choose among
NBC, CBS, and ABC. There is a dissident press, but it does not have the capital
of the great media chains and cannot get the rich corporate advertising, and so
it must strain to reach small numbers of people. There is public television,
which is occasionally daring, but also impoverished and most often cautious.
We have three
branches of government, with "checks and balances," as we were taught
in junior high school. But one branch of government (the presidency) gets us
into wars and the other two (Congress and the Supreme Court) go sheepishly
There is the
same limited choice in public policy. During the Vietnam War, the argument for
a long time was between those who wanted a total bombing of Indochina and those who wanted a
limited bombing. The choice of withdrawing from Vietnam altogether was not
offered. Daniel Ellsberg, working for Henry Kissinger in 1969, was given the
job of drawing a list of alternative policies on Vietnam. As one possibility on
his long list he suggested total withdrawal from the war. Kissinger looked at
the possibilities and crossed that one off before giving the list to President
In debates on
the military budget there are heated arguments about whether to spend 5300
billion or $290 billion. A proposal to spend $100 billion (thus making $200
billion available for human needs) is like the e or f in a multiple-choice
test-it is missing. To propose zero billion makes you a candidate for a mental
[ . . . . . . . . . ]
Thus we grow up
in a society where our choice of ideas is limited and where certain ideas
dominate: We hear them from our parents, in the schools, in the churches, in
the newspapers, and on radio and television. They have been in the air ever
since we learned to walk and talk. They constitute an American ideology-that
is, a dominant pattern of ideas. Most people accept them, and if we do, too, we
are less likely to get into trouble.
The dominance of
these ideas is not the product of a conspiratorial group that has devilishly
plotted to implant on society a particular point of view. Nor is it an
accident, an innocent result of people thinking freely. There is a process of
natural (or, rather unnatural ) selection, in which certain orthodox ideas are
encouraged, financed, and pushed forward by the most powerful mechanisms of our
culture. These ideas are preferred because they are safe; they don't threaten
established wealth or power.
realistic; this is the way things are; there's no point thinking about how
things should be. "
teach or write or report the news should be objective; they should not try to
advance their own opinions."
unjust wars, but also just wars."
disobey the law, even for a good cause, you should accept your
work hard enough, you'll make a good living. If you are poor, you have only
yourself to blame."
speech is desirable, but not when it threatens national security."
equality is desirable, but we've gone far enough in that direction."
Constitution is our greatest guarantee of liberty and justice."
"The United States must intervene from time
to time in various parts of the world with military power to stop communism and
want to get things changed, the only way is to go through the proper
nuclear weapons to prevent war."
much injustice in the world but there is nothing that ordinary people, without
wealth or power, can do about it."
These ideas are
not accepted by all Americans. But they are believed widely enough and strongly
enough to dominate our thinking. And as long as they do, those who hold wealth
and power in our society will remain secure in their control.”
3. Needleman: what is his vision of “the American soul”?
Where does he say the
greatness of George Washington lay? Jefferson?
The last paragraphs
of this piece are the most important, I think:
What about “humility
and remorse” as new and necessary responses to the American story?
What do you think
about this emphasis on both “inner greatness” and “profound weakness”?
How does this vision
differ from the usual ways we think about America? Do we tend to either idolatry or
contempt? “This is the greatest country ever” vs. “The Evil Empire”?
When we accept these truths about ourselves—both our
triumphs and our failures—how will the story of America
change? Will our heroes no longer be heroes? Our triumphs no longer triumphs? Not at all. Instead, something entirely new and necessary
will fill every limb and cell of the story of America,
and that “something” has a very precise designation—humility and remorse.
I seek neither to revile nor to romanticize the actions
and actors of America’s past. The cultural hero of the present age is no longer
the Warrior or the Savior or the Adventurer, the Lover, or the Wise Man. It is
the Seeker. Our heroes will remain heroes, but now more clearly heroes of both
the inner and the outer worlds of history.
We ask for a vision of America
that can help us see more clearly what we actually are and what we can work to
become. This is the same kind of vision that we need as individuals struggling
for self-knowledge and moral power. Like America
itself, we must discover how to look impartially at both our inner greatness
and our profound weaknesses—self-deception, arrogance, and betrayal.
an original expression of ideas that have always been part of the great web of
Truth. Explicitly and implicitly, the idea of America
has resonated with this ancient, timeless wisdom and has allowed something of
its power to touch the heart and mind of humanity. We must recover this
resonance, this relationship, however tenuous and partial, between the
teachings of wisdom and the idea of America.
readings were certainly refreshing for me, since I have been frustrated with
the self-deception of the population of the US and I haven’t seen much self-criticism
from many people of the country since 9-11, which doesn’t make much sense to
me. It certainly was a horrendous tragedy, and I was deeply moved by it,
but I would hope that instead of the event silencing the public to criticizing
the government, we should be digging deep into the problems that create such
However, the first reading by Howard Zinn I didn’t
agree with completely. It compared the democracy of the US to a multi-part monarchy or
dictatorship or some other strongly controlling government. I agree
mostly that the government of the US certainly seems to have far more
independent judgment on action than it was meant to have, yet I don’t see much
advantage to having a completely free, thousands of choices society.
Besides, obviously there are thousands of choices and opinions,
however, we cannot deliberate all of them in the governmental bodies. It
seems like that would only lead to chaos. Zinn
talked about that not all Americans believe the same, and some don’t take the
word of the government as gospel truth, or accept one of there decisions
anyway; but isn’t a democracy run by the majority? Since that is how the
public functions, even if we think the majority to be ignorant and lead on by
the government, are they still not the majority? Therefore ultimately
democracy serves it’s purpose, no matter if a small percentage of the
populations understands that what the government thinks is right, isn’t always
right. I just have a difficult time picturing the country escaping
narrow-mindedness when the people are willing to give up their sovereignty for
the “safety” and increase of power and wealth of the nation that controls their
lives more and more.
In American Ideology, I do
agree that people get treated differently. No matter the skin color or the
wealth that they might have. I feel that there is always going to be a level of
people and that's how society is going to see that. Everyone is equal in the
world and that's how it should be. I feel that even people higher up such as
the presidency had that authority over people and it should not be that the
president should just do what he wants, such as wars. But he should ask the
American people what they feel should be done. Today, in America it's basically controlled by how
much money people have or how much power you have and that shouldn't be right.
I thought that America was about having freedom of speech
and many times past and present we still don't have that right. I feel many
times American people say one thing and do something else totally different. I
think right now America has to change and not look at the
color of skin or how much money someone has. People should all be at the same
level in America and think of important things in life.
In Founding America, there
were many great men that started out to make America a great place to live. The
Peacemaker wanted the other tribes to have peace and free their mind of the
wars against the other tribes. George Washington, he wanted to have a new
president after him and he thought it would be the best for the people. This is
why he decided to not be a king or a dictator. Jefferson, he just wanted the freedom for the
people so that's why he added the Bill of Rights to the Constitution. He just
wanted the people to be happy and have freedom of speech and religion. Fredrick
Douglass, he was a brave man and he had to have courage to leave his slavemaster at the age of 16 years old and to speak out and
tell other people how he felt about certain issues. These were 4 great men and
they did so much for our country.
I found both articles,
"American Ideology" and "Founding America" very interesting
and i agreed with both of them. On one hand,
"founding America" showed one side of view where
America can be a place for people to improve their lives,
through the triumphs of our four fathers and the ever precedent
constitution. The article does an excellent job outlining how America has
the foundation of laws, liberties, etc. for citizens to get an education,
practice religion, voice their opinion, etc.;however,
as the other article points out these rights are overrun by power and wealth,
and that only the strongest survive and benefit from these justices. Also,
in "Founding America" the story that Needleman tells of the great
peacemaker of the world, is nice, but how can one believe that? no one in the story questions the peacemaker intentions
they just except the fact that someone has come to offer peace. now, me, if there was that much war going on in the land, i would question ones intentions on why they came to my
tribe and are offering peace.
The second article,
"America ideology" also makes some
valid points that America is not a country that offers
protection and structure as the other article states, but only to those that
hold power. Why is it that our founding fathers questioned what england was doing to them (taxes with out
representation), but a great majority of the population today accepts the
governments ways? All the points that the article makes-free press,
checks and balances, is right to an extent. i feel this way because i
have gotten in trouble for voicing my opinion at this school, and i was punished for it and was told that it was no
appropriate behavior...now is that freedom of speech? a
lot of views that the author makes are very interesting and i
agree with a lot of them, including: "if you work hard enough, you'll make
a good living. if you are poor, you only have
yourself to blame," that's not true, but people in America believe that. And i feel that people think this way because America has brainwashed people into
believing that America only produces opportunities and
wealth that everyone can obtain, but that is not true in the least bit. those statistics clearly point that out, wow those were
Howard Zinn's article from The
American Ideology seemed well thought out, but also repeating a lot
similar sentiment that's been going around the past year or so, and sevearl sentiments that have lasted decades. It certainly takes an intelligent
man to point out the not so obvious problems in our country, but it takes
someone of true intelligemce to derive a solution for
them. Zinn offered few solutions to the problems he
presented and the article as a whole seemed to be an enormous complaint list of
things wrong with our country. All well and good, but I've
heard more of the same before and this just seems to be the usual fair.
Of course our government and the media use their positions of power to try and
control opinion; that's how large governments stay in power, they sway public
opinion. If our government was bad at swaying public opinion, the political
system would be shambles and our economy would be worse off than it is now. I'm
not saying it's a good thing so many people's opinions are being maipulated day by day by the government and media, I'm just
saying it shouldn't be so much of a shocker that it's going on.
Needleman's exerpt from Founding America actually hit
home with me on a certain level. While I can't really relate to having grown up
in a time where patriotism was more widespread, I can agree whole heartedly
that is not too late to take back up the ideals that founded our country in
days past in order to help improve its current condition. Our founding fathers
were incredible men who sacrificed much to make the dream of a truly free
country come true. And while we have lost a great deal of the original
integrity that founded America, an ideal cannot be
destroyed or lost, merely ignored or forgotten. Change and reform is always
possible, and it never hurts to have pride in one's country, even when the
country is far from perfect.
I did not like the American ideology. I didn;t feel there was any point to the messafe it was just a bunch of opinions and facts randomly
put down. It is true however that we are stuck in believing all the safe ways
the system says it is in the list. I did not agree with the statment
of being nuetral. Because i am. As bad as this sound i
don't care. I hate politics and reading about them. This course i s going to be challenging for me becasue
i have tor read it for assimgnents. I know i can't
change anything so i'm not gonna
be loud and voice my opionions if its not gonna change anything. I don't vote or watch the news or
read about politcs or even current events. I know
that sounds bad but i'm content in my own littlw world not having to worry about what politician said
what and got elected and were in some war.
on a different note, fouding
was more pleasant to read. i
likes the part about the peace maker, i reaminded me of jesus as gods
gift to save the world. Yeah these are tough to respond to i
din';t like the american idlology, it got me heated up and founding america seemd more tolerabt to me, i felt more peace
as i read it because is was about our origins and origianl presedents not all the
things going wrong today. thats
all. I'll try my best to force myself to like politics for a semeseter, maybe i will benefit fromj this course.
In the article "Founding America" by Needleman, he says something
to the point that it is because of America's
greatness that its evil is made so clear. I hadn't thought about the 'evil's' of America
like this before. If America
wouldn't draw attention to the homeless for example, would we look at
homelessness as a problem. Although I don't think that
doing half of what could be done for the homeless is it because we have the
opportunity to help them that we think that we aren't doing enough. Do we see
the lack of what is being done for the homeless or people in poverty as an evil
today? It is an evil but would I think that it was an evil if there never had
been anything offered to aid the homeless in the first place?
Zinn did a good job of illustrating America's
democracy. We think that we have different options with the different magizines and t.v. stations but
who is influencing our options? It makes you think about the
American media and the situations in other countries. It is intersting to find out who is telling the story.
With conflict in the Middle East for
example, are we hearing the Isreali side,
influenced by Americans or are we hearing what the Palestinians would say?
In this situation specifically I think that it is sad to see how the American
media has show the story.
“If those in
charge of our society-politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press
and television-can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They
will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves.”
This thought is particularly disturbing, in response to the
first reading. I think I, and we, as a surprisingly trusting culture, wants to
believe, and do believe, that the people at the “top” know what is right, and
will do for us what is right, including giving us the correct and important
news, using the media as an example, or making the most helpful and
people-serving laws as appropriate to the needs of the people, thinking of
politicians for example. It is sometimes confusing and almost scary to think
the people with the most power may deceive us, as the American public, at times
to do just that: control our ideas. Call me naïve. Give us what we are supposed
to think and believe in order to have a civil society, one which in the most
extreme case, prevents us from needing soldiers in the
streets. I don’t think we like to think about ways we do not and cannot control
ourselves, or our ideas, at least. It takes a lot of work to think against the
grain of American society when you are a part of it everyday, and going with
the grain is the thing to do in the “most powerful” country. Right?
But at the same time, it is important to consider along with our American
–ideology, the ideologies of other countries and why ours may be different,
lacking, or good in comparison. Countries like the Netherlands
have so many freedoms and so many un-laws that their ideology becomes one that
is not as controlling as what this article suggests America
to be. And any dictatorship is certainly not something we want to be a part of,
right? We want our freedoms. However, the Netherlands
is far from not having its problems, so where do you find a happy medium? That
is, between dictatorship and complete liberalism? Isn’t this where America
does fall in? And what is exactly good? Aren’t some controls/securities helpful
in the way we are able to function? As the author suggested, we do go by
certain “checks and balances” and continuous efforts keep our rights in check,
but how much freedom do we have? And if we knew, would we want to? Would we
seriously try to do anything in efforts to change it, if we accept the ideas of
those in power?
Needleman’s article was more hopeful of America,
in a way, reminding us of how we came to be where we are today. I especially
liked the notes on those founders who were passionate and had a vision for the
common good, including the young slave, Douglass. Needleman reminding us of his
word, “Look at what you are and measure it against what you imagine you are and
what your conscience tells you must be,” is a statement to challenge America
today, holding on a bit to what we are good at, but always thinking of what
could be better, and especially for the common good.
The title of this course, "Issues in Modern America", scares me. I
do not like political "stuff" as I usually call it, but it is a
required course. Of course then, I was a little apprehensive when checking out
these sites. After doing so though, I was surprised that I actually enjoyed
their content. Instead of what I assumed would be the usual boring views, I
found questions being asked that I myself might wonder. Even better though, their were some points of views that I had never even
considered before. The first article, "The American Ideology", is the
article I found most intriguing. The authors
exploration of what could be referred to as the "other side" of our
"democracy" is what captured me. I have always put the U.S.
on a pedestal with no questions asked. I now feel that it is my lack of
knowledge and or interest on political "stuff" that places me in this
category. The multiple choice analogy made me realize this. I really have
always thought that we can do whatever we want in our great land. The multiple
choice analogy shows though that there really isn’t an x, y, or z in our
choices. Sure, we can choose either a or b, but,
beyond that is nearly impossible. This minor glimpse into political
"stuff" will hopefully encourage me to use a more legitimate term
when referring to items having to do with politics.