Ezra Schwarcz Rethinking Ethics In the pre-historical era, or in survivalist cultures, one only needed to be aware and responsible for one’s own needs. Eventually humans began to see that by banding together, they were not only able to survive, but also to live with meaning. Even so, as the world has evolved into the fast paced global context in which we live today, public thinkers have felt compelled to question our new ethical responsibilities as global citizens. In Globalization and its Discontents by Richard Locke, Compassion and Terror by Martha C.
Nussbaum and The Sweatshop Sublime by Bruce Robbins he authors challenge us to rethink what it means to be ethical in a global order. I agree with these readings that make the claim for revising our understanding of key ethical and intertwined concepts of loyalty, and recognition, and action and applying their contemporary implications to the reality of todays globalized world. The above thinkers do not ask us to abandon the local, or even privilege the global over the local. The local, after all, is the source of identity formation and community empowerment.
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Rather, we must confront and overcome our tendencies towards our yopia and to recognize the vast interconnected and interdependent frameworks so that we can understand the impact of our footprint on other peoples, on animals and on Earth. Although tradition and culture may be coexistent with postmodernity, living in the 20th century mandates that we are not only loyal to ourselves, our cultures, our traditions, our communities and our nations, but also to the world and its citizens.
At times, the local has obscured the global, as we rely on our neighborhoods for our most basic needs. However, these needs harken back to the ethos of primitive urvivalist culture. To live fully today, ethically and with meaning, we must confront the implications of several overlapping concepts including globalization, allegiance, geopolitical awareness, political action and activism. The first concept that requires rethinking is globalization. Globalization refers to the interconnectedness of worldwide economics, politics, and culture.
Richard Locke writes in Globalization and its Discontents that it can be seen as something magical and even sacred. Globalization indeed can be infinitely propitious in its promise of global diffusion of nowledge, of “economic and political collaboration” and of “democratic unity in diversity” (Locke, 1). Globalization affords people in developing countries to have a greater chance to succeed economically with the help of existing technologies and foreign aid. It entails the awareness and cooperation of multiple governments to participate in the achievement mutual goals.
Globalization also engenders exposure to various cultures with an almost infinite access to foreign films, clothing, and food: culture. Put simply, Globalization can mean more economic opportunities and local hoices for people who have few of them. Despite the positive aspects of globalization, it inevitably puts few in power and leaves others weakened and exploited. Locke writes, the Globalization “has come to be seen as something magic or and cultural fragmentation that both invites and resists what is perceived as coercive imperial conformity” (Locke, 1).
The “Hobbessian conflict” refers to the controversial conclusion of the 17th century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, that “we ought to submit to the authority of an absolute????”undivided and unlimited????”sovereign power ” (Lloyd, Sharon A. nd Sreedhar, Susanne, “Hobbes’s Moral and Political Philosophy’). Locke argues that the globalization-induced Hobbessian conflict causes disintegration and power struggles among people – ironically, the exact opposite of effect of its “magical” promise of global cooperation and collaboration.
For example, a multinational corporation setting up in a poor countrys capital might cause a rapid migration from a rural location, splintering families and creating strife through excessive competition. It might also create a shortage in housing in those cities, driving up prices for the locals. In this case, and in most cases, globalization benefits only the people who are bonded together by power and cultural majority: the Hobbessian absolute authority. Martha C.
Nussbaum would argue that the people in power benefit because of the “sports-fan mentality’ of “‘them’ against the ‘us” (Nussbaum, 17). Meaning, the absolute authority unites by placing tremendous importance on themselves, the ‘us’, and whoever is not ‘us’ is an opponent of ‘us’. Nussbaum further develops in Compassion and Terror that “Compassion begins from where we are, from the circle of our cares and concerns. It will be felt only towards hose things and persons we see as important… ” (Nussbaum, 16).
This idea of self- centeredness is supported by Aristotle, Rosseau and other philosophers when they suggest that “we have compassion only insofar as we believe that the suffering person shares vulnerabilities and possibilities with us” (Nussbaum, 15). Returning to the above example to illustrate, the multi-national corporation will have no compassion for the local people whose lives they have impacted because they are ethnically different. Similarly, we will not reflect on the conditions that created our sneakers for the same reasons.
Falling back on the ideal of human dignity is no substitute for authentic compassion, according to Nussbaum. She writes, We always risk error in bringing the distant person close to us; we ignore differences of language and of cultural context, and the manifold ways in which these differences shape one’s inner world. But there are dangers in any act of imagining, and we should not let these particular dangers cause us to admit defeat prematurely, surrendering before an allegedly insuperable barrier of otherness” (Nussbaum, 26).
In other words, there is no real way for a stripper to fully appreciate the subject ositionality of an astronaut, and vice versa, especially when those differences need to surmount the barriers of race, ethnicity, gender and class. Complicating this is “one’s inner world” to use Nussbaum’s phrase that often defies how one identifies in the world. That said, I agree with Nussbaum that the argument of human dignity is lesser than one of compassion. I also agree with Nussbaum when she claims Now it must be admitted that human dignity is not an altogether clear notion.
In what does it consist? Why should we think that all human life has it? The minute the Stoic radition tries to answer such questions, problems arise. In particular, the answer language, moral capacity – all these are seen as worth of respect and awe at least in part because the beasts, so-called, don’t have them, because they make us better than others (Nussbaum, 18). This view, that humans are superior to animals is a form of human aggrandizement with political implications. It is also flawed. The ancient philosophers were clearly working in the Western tradition.
But we need a global context for truth today. With over 300 million indigenous citizens of this earth, their perspectives must be included as well. Most Native American tribes, for example, do not see humans as superior to animals. They see them in partnership and kinship – as well as with the universe as a whole. They are related to the four-legged, the two-legged, the six and eight legged, the finned and the flying. Moreover, this notion of dominance seems related to the violence and aggression towards indigenous people as well as nature.
In short, the reason why globalization doesn’t work is because people are naturally egoistic and choose to pursue selfish fulfillment at others’ expense. Bruce Robbins highlights the problem in The Sweatshop Sublime, arguing that when we uy a T-shirt at Wal-Mart, we neglect concern for “young women in Bangladesh forced to work from 7:30 a. m. To 8:30 p. m. , seven days a week, paid Just 9 cents to 20 cents an hour… ” (Robbins, 87). Suddenly the concept of political and cultural fragmentation doesn’t seem so foreign. In fact, in American culture we are proud to buy things that are cheap, regardless of why theyre cheap.
Some would make the extreme argument that we experience schadenfreude when we note our ability to exploit other countries. Perhaps, the debatable single most known symbol of globalization, E Pluribus Unum, written on the American dollar, which means “out of any, one” would be more appropriately written, E Unum Ruinae, or “from one, catastrophe. ” The catastrophe, whether ecological, economical or apocalyptic is unavoidable with the mentality of mindless consumption. By revising our understandings of allegiance, from only ourselves, our neighborhoods, to the whole world, we may avert catastrophe.
Milton. R. Konvitz, a Cornell University professor, writing in the Encyclopedia of the History of Ideas, states that “the objects of loyalty encompass principles, causes, ideas, ideals, religions, ideologies, nations, governments, parties, leaders, families, friends, regions, racial groups, and indeed anyone or anything to which one’s heart can become attached or devoted. ” Loyalty is undoubtedly crucial to society because it allows people to have support, security and friendship from their peers who share similar loyalties.
Robbins takes sectarian loyalty even further and argues that “global commitments can emerge more or less organically and continuously only from local, personal, familial commitment” (Robbins, 91). In other words, the narrow-minded loyalty Nussbaum uses to describe sports fandom, according to Robbins, is the foundation for global commitments, which have enormous implications on billions of people. Through this assessment of loyaltys repercussions, it becomes apparent that one of its casualties is globalization.
In other words, loyalty is the reason why globalization fails to advance society, despite its infinite potential. Specifically it is because sectarian loyalty results in a zeitgeist, in which the people in power get the “eudaimonistic people who deserve it; or, neglect concern for things of great weight and true importance. A third concept in need of reevaluation is awareness, as Robbins refers to it, “a moment of consciousness”, which leads to a “feeling of the inadequacy f [the] imagination for presenting the ideas of a whole… ” (Kant); or the “sublime. ” Robbins discusses the gap between awareness and action.
For instance, regarding recognition Robbins depicts a scenario in which you either do or do not examine the label on your shirt. He continues: If you do, you either do or do not realize the conditions of life under which this shirt was, or perhaps was not, produced: the pitiful inadequate wages, not to speak of the locked fire exits, the arbitrary harassments and firings, the refusal of genuine union representation, and so on. (Robbins, 85) But regardless of your recognition the result is always the same: you still put on the shirt as if you had never even seen the label. In this way insight is “strangely powerless” (Robbins, 85).
Robbins highlights a paradoxical component of the issue: that despite your access to the global scale, it is not access to an equal power of action on the global scale. Discussing action, Robbins argues that all too often, words like “action” and “activism” are inappropriately matched with words like “culture”, “intellectual” and “art”, each of which is afforded the privilege of “transcending the ivision of labor” (Robbins, 89). This stands to suggest that action has come to imply elevated powers that magically resolve social contradictions, cure cultural and political fragmentation and resolve impossible, global predicaments.
The problem with this reasoning is that it, in a way, Justifies us doing nothing, because action is just too out of reach. Robbins refutes this understanding of action: ” … it is no such thing, possesses no such impossible powers, has less to do with art than with politics, politics in the de-idealized, messy sense” (Robbins, 90). He rather contends that ction and activism imply a “singular good fortune to live, a fusion of high moral principles with the universal need to make a living, a fusion that ordinary people hardly dare dream of” (Robbins, 93).
This fusion has always been imperative since Socrates proclaimed the unexamined life is not worth living. In the Jewish tradition, for example, people are commanded to perform acts of loving-kindness and to be custodians of the animal kingdom and to improve the physical world. However, any ethical person might arrive at the same standards by helping someone who is physically impaired, adopting a pet from a shelter, or recycling packaging. Even so, Robbins has a cynical outlook as to the response to calls for genuine action and activism.
He contends that because of action and activism’s reputation, people will likely perceive them as forms of elitism. Meaning, calls for action and activism have been too often the select methods for self-aggrandizement. For instance, when President Bush called for Congress to “leave no child behind,” it is questionable that his intentions were to help disadvantaged students. It is rather contended that the No Child Left Behind Act was an attempt to boost the president’s image as a caring resident, but its main motivation was economically oriented.
The No Child Left Behind Act privatized the multi-million dollar standardized test industry as well as interests that supported the president’s election campaign: a quid pro quo, if you will. Narcissistic self-interest is unethical in the 21st century; our conduct and consumer choices affect peoples, places and things of which we are not readily aware. Because of this inadvertent symbiosis, a rethinking of what is ethical is required. Nussbaum, while firmly grounded in the Western paradigm, goes beyond classical thinkers when she argues for compassion as a loadstar.
Robbins goes on to critique the way capital is used so that one group of people benefit at the expense of another, rendering even the quotidian objects of our lives fraught with political and ethical implications. Finally, Locke points out the fallacy of geopolitical isolation as he illustrates the interconnectivity and interdependence at work in Globalization. Clearly, a rethinking of concepts that betray the fallacy of independence such as loyalty, recognition and action complicated American notions of self and country, and challenge us to become more compassionate, aware, and politically active. Works Cited 1.
Locke, Richard. “Globalization and its Discontents. ” Columbia University School of the Arts. N. p. , n. d. Web. 11 Dec. 2012. 2. Nussbaum, Martha C. “Compassion and Terror. ” N. p. , n. d. Web. 11 Dec. 2012. 3. Robbins, Bruce. “The Sweatshop Sublime. ” Bruce Robbins I Columba University I Department of English & Comparative Literature. N. p. , n. d. Web. 11 Dec. 2012 4. Loyd, Sharon A. , and Susanne Sreedhar. “Hobbes’s Moral and Political Philosophy. ” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). N. p. , n. d. Web. 11 Dec. 2012. 5. Konvitz, Milton R. Encyclopedia of the History of Ideas. N. p. : Cornell University, n. d. Print