Thursday, January 27, 2005

Response to Moral Obligations Of Living In A Democratic Society

Eric Rivers
January 27, 2004
Eng 1020

I think I have been guilty of problematizing the humanity of a people. I did not do it on purpose, I thought I was basing my opinions on facts, then I realized that an opinion is always just an opinion. Opinions may vary, and often do from person to person and from culture to culture. Beauty is one of those topics that probably takes up the largest realm of opinion space. How do we really determine who is beautiful and who is not? I’ve concluded that it’s all in what you are looking for and a matter of what you personally like. Most people cater to the beautiful in some way, and look down on the less attractive in another way. There are those who are extremely beautiful in every race of people on this Earth. This is though, my opinion, based on diversity which I like. However, if one feels that no one is beautiful in a particular race, then a premise is established to view everything associated with them as less attractive, and in some way inferior. Inferior art, inferior customs, inferior architecture, inferior way of life... inferior people. When the majority of people feel that those of another race are inferior in beauty, a dangerous ideal has surfaced, particularly if the so-called inferiors have physical characteristics that are standard. (i.e. dark skin, thick lips, nappy hair). If this is the case, even the “beautiful” can be considered inferior because they will most likely have the dark skin, thick lips and nap naps like everybody else. In the past I picked on people in Uganda because to me they looked like apes. Some of them still do look like apes to me, but it’s dangerous to say everyone in the country is homely because this can lead to the questioning of their humanity. If it is the hair, lips, nose or skin color you think is the major factor of their homeliness, you could probably stretch that generalization to include all natives of southern Africa! I guess my concept of beauty has been Americanized. As a child I always thought of the “pretty girl” of having long, straight hair and a face with gentle “feminine features.” In some parts of Africa, I find it hard to tell the men from the women. I don’t think this is ever good, but it’s probably from my cultural background and my concepts of what “beautiful” people are supposed to look like. If every African person you see in the media is like the exact opposite of how you see “beautiful” people in your own culture, you may conclude that they are inferior based on their perceived physical shortcomings. The truth is a lot of African people are physically beautiful, but then again that’s my opinion.

The problematizing of people’s humanity encompasses more than just concepts of beauty however. It has a lot to do with money. People well off financially have always enjoyed a perception of “real humanity” from amongst fellow elites and the lower classes as well. It is often implied that the truly terrible things are really horrific when they happen to rich people or some kind of nobleman by birthright. Other classes of people proceed down from the height of the elite in ladder-like fashion to the plight of the untouchables. Coronel West makes the point that democracy “cuts the grain of history.” If we look back on the past we will find that most of those whom we are reading about are nobles of the elite class. The feelings, struggles, joys and hopes of the majority weren’t seen as important or as meaningful as the tales of grandeur, humor, pain and war of the rich. In a way Dr. West eludes that American society is beginning to look much like past societies which look to the wealthiest, and operates to the likes and dislikes of the few. That one percent of the population owns 48% of the wealth is just stingy, especially when so many others are struggling to get by. This trend causes a mind set in it’s citizens which undermines greatly the democratic concept and practice. Too many people are all wishing to be of the elite, and only doing things that will lead to them getting there. This leads to things like the undoing of neighborhood living, which prospered on families and community togetherness, for the favoring of seclusion and private-gated communities. If the lower classes lose their sense of unity, togetherness and systems of care, nurturing and support,they will easily be pushed by the wills and desires of the more powerful. When people look only to their self interests, a society becomes “decadent.”


Blogger matt said...

Highly insightful, again. I particularly like the problems you point toward in the end--the emerging conflict between capitalist, free-market culture and democratic ideals. As Americans, so many of us associate economic liberty with individual rights and protections. You seem to be heading in a direction that suggests this is not so. So, what do you think? Can a capitalist economy truly, morally co-exist with the ideals and obligations of a democratic society?

February 3, 2005 at 7:43 AM  

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