Monday, July 21, 2014

Intergenerational Arguments about Climate Change

The consequences of climate change have become more prominent, but many of the harsher, more extreme consequences will not be felt by this generation. Part of the difficulty in crafting persuasive climate change arguments is about "jumping" the inter-generational gap. An intergenerational argument encourages people to act not in their own interest, but in the interest of future generations. Though most of us alive today will likely avoid most of the harshest effects of climate change, our children and certainly our grandchildren, will not be as lucky. People tend to be fickle, however. They are many things vying for our attention, pulling us in different directions, so anything further off than right NOW seems too far off to be worthy of our time. As Burke noted in Permanence and Change: “A philosopher, if he has a toothache, is more likely to be interested in dentistry than in mathematical symbolism. Communication cannot be satisfactory unless the matter discussed bears in some notable respect upon the interests of the auditor” (p. 37).

Retrieved from this site
How do we get people to care for youth? For animals? For anyone but ourselves? It is not simply a matter of narcissism or selfishness; it is just far easier for people to react based on their immediate surroundings. Thinking ahead requires much more energy than simple observation, putting oneself in a different mindset is difficult, and there can be other, conflicting loyalties that stop one from accepting long-term arguments. One of these arguments is economic: short-term business and profits may suffer when making long-term environmentally friendly decisions. Another complicating factor may be religious beliefs about human's dominion over the earth. Or, it might simply be a political affiliation that often denies science and climate arguments in deliberative spaces (Gauchat, 2012).

Author and activist Zadie Smith. Retrieved from this site
One of the ways to spread intergenerational messages is online. When public spaces may be held to standards of balance or may receive denialist backlash, the internet can serve as a location for the expression of information. A recent article by author Zadie Smith called, "Elegy for a Country's Seasons" addresses the current apathy in the climate change debate and how she might explain our inaction to her granddaughter. This excerpt from the piece is particularly important as the excuses given seem to pale in comparison to the burden that we will leave this young girl and all children as we bicker over money and politics.

"This will no doubt look very peculiar to my seven-year-old granddaughter. I don’t expect she will forgive me, but it might be useful for her to get a glimpse into the mindset, if only for the purposes of comprehension. What shall I tell her? Her teachers will already have explained that what was happening to the weather, in 2014, was an inconvenient truth, financially, politically—but that’s perfectly obvious, even now. A global movement of the people might have forced it onto the political agenda, no matter the cost. What she will want to know is why this movement took so long to materialize. So I might say to her, look: the thing you have to appreciate is that we’d just been through a century of relativism and deconstruction, in which we were informed that most of our fondest-held principles were either uncertain or simple wishful thinking, and in many areas of our lives we had already been asked to accept that nothing is essential and everything changes—and this had taken the fight out of us somewhat" Smith, para. 11.

Written articles may take time to read through and may not offer direct and easy consumption of information (however beautiful and engaging Smith's article is). Another potential solution is to create videos that craft intergenerational arguments. This video is from the Australian Coal Mining Company that has a unique intergenerational plan for halting the effects of climate change.

This humorous video has an important point. It mirrors the argument by Smith about passing the buck onto future generations when we could have done something about it. When we stand back and look at the potential consequences, what are our excuses? Is it really enough to look at dollar signs or listen to denialists when we are faced with the guilt of harming all future life? Dramatic? Maybe. Accurate? Certainly. These arguments are not always successful, but people should try to become more attuned to them. Focusing on the current effects now can be an entryway in to discussing how it will only get worse, and our children will suffer for it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Selfie: Self-Love and Object-Love

There has been an influx of attention on the phenomenon of "the selfie." I know that I am perhaps a little late to this discussion, partly because it is far outside my typical realm of interest. A small epiphany regarding them, however, has prompted me to address what I think is an overlooked but important aspect of the selfie: the Freudian divide between self-love and object-love. The selfie is the perfect integration of our love for technology and our love for ourselves. To illustrate this union, I will first describe the myths of Narcissus and Pygmalion on which Freud based the two extreme disorders of love: ego-libido and object-libido.

Retrieved from this site.
Narcissus was a Greek youth that was captivated by his beauty reflected in the river. He wasted away and finally died being unable to leave his mirror and break his own gaze. The basic version often excludes the presence of Echo, the nymph who falls for Narcissus but is unable to warn him of the danger. She can only repeat the words of others and represents the love that others felt for Narcissus that was not returned. Instead, Narcissus turned his love inward and loved only himself (and specifically, only his aesthetics and beauty). The myth of Narcissus has inspired the phrase "narcissistic personality disorder" or Freud's ego-libido, which links a physical and emotional desire for oneself over others or objects. This is also associated with megalomania, or the idea that oneself is more important or better than others. Before summarizing the tale of Pygmalion, it is easy to note how narcissistic themes can be seen in today's individualized society.

Narcissus discovering his reflection. Retrieved from this site.
Pygmalion was a Greek artist who built a statue so beautiful that he fell in love with it. Appealing to the gods for reprieve from his unrequited love, his statue Galatea was brought to life by Aphrodite. They married and Pygmalion was able to spend his life with his creation. Many variations, plays and films, have emerged from this myth, where different variations on "brought to life" have emerged. A notable one might be the recent film, Her, where Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with the operating system in his phone. His phone, as an object, came to life with a personalized, teachable, intelligent female voice. In a brilliant dualism, Phoenix even has a sexual experience with Samantha less creepy than phone sex he previously performed with an actual person. Pygmalion is the myth of object-love, in opposition to Narcissus as the myth of self-love. Physical and emotional eros is directed as certain people and objects that epitomize how people can love.

Pygmalion discovers that Galatea is now human.  Image retrieved from this site.
Currently on display in The Lourve, Paris.
The two forms of libido and love: inward and outward come together in the selfie. This new trend in photo-taking simultaneously emphasizes the importance and singularity of the individual and glorifies the technology that allows the self to be captured and spread so easily and prolifically. This is particularly apparent in images that also show the camera in a mirror as opposed to a front facing camera shot. The phone is immortalized in partnership with the individual, a perfect union of self- and object-love. We love ourselves, so we wish to capture our image and likeness. We love our technology, so we capitalize on its capabilities to connect ourselves with the world. As in Narcissus and Pygmalion, the love is often an aesthetic, physical love for appearances, than a deeper emotional love as is lauded in Plato's Symposium.

What Would Jesus Post? Retrieved from this site.
To worship ourselves, we fall into the phone's lens which collapses Narcissus's river. Our phone becomes our partner, come to life in its utility, friendship, and closeness. People cannot be without their technology, phones at their sides or in their hands, preferring the reflective screen to the faces of people around them. Some may say that like Narcissus, we will waste away focused on ourselves, individuality, and narcissism that restricts us from progressing or experiencing the world. Some may say that like Pygmalion, we are too emotionally and physically involved in our technology that we miss the beauty of the world around us in favor of a Google search for its likeness. In my cursory experience with selfies, I take very few and have posted even fewer, I see many positives and negatives to the phenomenon.

Comic by The Oatmeal about the negatives of selfies
Undoubtedly, it has taken news media by storm. The selfie of Obama and Biden made headline news and people were discussing the Oscar selfie (which was potentially a contrived Samsung advertisement) almost as much as the award winners. I'm not sure about the wide appeal of other people's selfies (in the immortal words of Mallory Archer: why would anyone want a picture of someone else's food?), but as a personal expression of self-worth, confidence, and creativity, selfies do have an important role in the rhetoric of identification. Especially considering that some people may not always find themselves presented in media (or they are expressed negatively), online, or in safe spaces, selfies could help establish an online presence and carve out spaces for open discussion about personal identification, labels, and communities. Selfies create visibility, are unapologetic, and bluntly express one's visual appearance, identity, and existence as important and worthy of appreciation. Even if it is produced for personal consumption, it necessary sharing (often on social media sites) encourages a reflection of how it may influence a larger public. The physical presentation of the body demands attention, space, and gaze onto individual, their stories, and potential arguments. The selfie also glamorizes the power of technology, to turn what would have taken many hours of labor to produce a self-portrait can be accomplished in seconds and sent around the world instantaneously.

I hear the cries on both sides about the narcissism and objectification that is implicit in the selfie. But, I see the selfie as merely an offshoot of these larger cultural changes than a root cause or responsible for them. There are innovative potentials in how the selfie could carve out rhetorical communities, enhance identities, and change norms of personal expression. Though I can imagine Kenneth Burke terrified by the reliance on technology that he warned against, I hope that he might appreciate the rhetorical opportunities for identification, mimicry, and understanding between people that may otherwise never have met. And, the rhetorical opportunities for personal expression and control over how one defines themselves and their relation to the world.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Case: Business is People!

Many bloggers have been commenting on the recent Supreme Court ruling on for-profit businesses and the availability of birth control for employees. There are many directions this post could take, and each of those could be an entire post long. In favor of breadth over depth (and in deference to others who have done the details better justice than I could), I will list a few points regarding this ruling.

Retrieved from this site
I have been abroad for an argumentation conference, so the news of the Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby came as a NYT update on my phone. At first, I was absolutely shocked, then heartbroken to hear that the ruling was 5-4. I could hear the chanting in my head: Hobby Lobby is people! Hobby Lobby is people! Businesses were given the rights of humans, where a non-human is ascribed the rights guaranteed to citizens and people in American law, while the rights of females are destroyed.

1) This only impacts for-profit businesses: specifically religious non-profits were already exempt from the Obamacare mandate. Now, all businesses and industries can impose religious beliefs despite the nature of the company. One could make the argument that choosing or accepting employment at a religious organization may require adherence with certain religious rules. But, these expectations have now been extending to employment at a Chick-Fil-A or Hobby Lobby or any business that decided birth control was immoral.

2) Pro-choice and pro-reproductive freedom does not mean support for abortion or birth control: I hear the conflation quite frequently that because people are pro-choice that they support abortion or want women to have abortions. Likewise, to be pro-birth control means that all women should always be taken some kind of birth control. The support is for choice. The support is for females as rational, decision-makers to decide for themselves what is best for their own bodies.

Cartoon retrieved from this site
3) Businesses are not people: Though Citizens United and this Supreme Court case have stated otherwise, I firmly argue that businesses are not and cannot be people. People have the freedom of speech, the freedom of religious expression, the freedom to protest, etc. Businesses are non-human, economic networks that are organized around profit. Businesses are made up of people, but a business itself is not capable of free speech, protest, or religious expression. Simply put: how could a business be religious? Do Hobby Lobby stores attend mass? Do they pray? Do they get baptized, confirmed, or search for vocations?

4) Birth control is not just for reproduction regulation: Although this is obviously the most important and contested use, there are other non-reproductive reasons (such as regulating periods and estrogen levels) for the use of birth control. Providing the opportunity for businesses to deny birth control for "moral" reasons also allow for the denial of its purely medical uses. Though I dislike slippery slope arguments, I feel the need here to make a short one. If anything and everything can be subsumed under the idea of "violating religious expression," then anything from wearing a headscarf, getting divorced, wearing a cross, or any "religious whim" could result in firing.

Retrieved from this site
There will certainly be many subsequent cases that unfold from this important decision. I hope that courts will stop rolling back the rights of females and move away from valuing businesses over actual human beings. This decision was certainly a disappointment for women's rights and the pro-choice movement. It is important, however, to acknowledge that despite the negative consequences of this ruling, people do have reasonable, legitimate reasons for their religious views and how they choose to express them. What is not acceptable is having these personal religious views interfere with and impose on the lives of others.