Author: srkohli

Whose America? Revolution to Whom?

In our penultimate lecture, Professor Keith Peterson, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Colby, spoke on modernity and feminist philosophy. Although at times dense, and somewhat intimidating due to (maybe my poor understanding of philosophy) the complexity of his work, Professor Peterson addressed an issue that had yet to truly be brought up in the previous ten weeks – why do we want to be revolutionary, if at all?

Professor Peterson specifies that differentiating oneself qualifies as being revolutionary, and that often, modern revolutions create cultural divides. However, he also noted that, why are we able to credit our work as “revolutionary?” (Our, being the preceding Americans and global citizens). Professor Peterson raises an important question that we have not really explored, and that often goes unnoticed in our daily lives and in discussion? What justifies past Revolutions as actually being revolutionary, and does it matter whether or not they were revolutionary? This discussion is quite relevant and reminiscent to an ongoing conversation, related to President Trump. Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again,” received backlash (for a slew of reasons, but I’ll only focus on two) throughout his campaign, for why is America not great now? American patriots and “country lovers” fought this statement, for it assumes that the people existing in it currently do not make it great. However, the greater backlash, particularly from communities who did not support President-elect Trump, resulted from the claim that “America was never great.” While of course extremely subjective, this claim falls in line with Professor Peterson’s question of whether or not “revolutions” in the past were even revolutionary? Under whose authority can we deem past revolutions as revolutions, and from whose perspective was America great? In the American revolution, European settlers arrived in the United States, free from British rule and able to create their own nation! How glorious! However, how can we immediately forget the native populations that were displaced, wronged, and even killed in the process? Is it likely these populations existing today excitingly and willfully refer to this period as “The Great American Revolution” as it is so popularly romanticized today? Similarly, do minority groups of African Americans, gays, Jews, and a number of others look to previous times in supposedly prosperous America (think late 1800’s, mid 1900’s) as America being a “great” nation? To whom was America great, and does this phrase truly deserve its place in our society today? Professor Peterson’s lecture was so valuable because it gave a perspective revolving around modernity, one that is rarely placed on the word “revolution.” This modern perspective is so important as it is impossible to understand 1776 America the same way as 2016 America, with completely different populations, standards, and even shifting values. Whose America is it, and where does revolution fit in? This is of course a question with an ever-changing answer, one that will really never have a specific answer due to varying perspectives. However, it is a question we must keep in mind when understanding revolution and subjectivity.

I am a Revolutionary!

In series, whether of sports games, movies, or lectures, the final piece should tie the previous sections together by bringing together old ideas and proposing new questions to walk away with. Professor Marcos Perez, a Professor in Sociology here at Colby, did just that. Professor Perez’s lecture brought us back to our first lecture, from Colby Philosophy Professor Dan Cohen who attacked some very similar questions – what is a revolution? What is a revolution defined? What are the necessary components of a revolution? Stemming even further from Professor Cohen’s lecture, Professor Perez turned his lecture onto the audience – what defines a revolutionary? Perez’s words particularly hit home for myself, and as I imagine with a number of other students, given the current state of political affairs in our own homes, at Colby, and ultimately, in our shared country. Placed in positions of extreme disagreement and emotional unrest, us Colby students must understand this question and know how to properly answer it in order to respond appropriately. Perez explored potential downfalls of becoming part of a revolution – financial, physical, and emotional, thus explaining the difficulties associated with identifying as a revolutionary. It is likely more students would identify as “revolutionaries” than the number of those actually taking part in making difference on a revolutionary level. While this may be the case, I do not write this condescendingly, as I am likely one of those vocal yet inactive students. Professor Perez does not necessarily condemn those not involved, but rather urged us to truly understand, what is a social revolution? In part with the difficulties he addressed, he also mentioned the difficulty of even finding a revolution to be a part of. Being a revolutionary involves a mental understanding and awareness, however it is not as easy as simply claiming “I am a revolutionary!” Nevertheless, revolutions are so powerful because they can occur at any level. Like the American Revolution, they can occur on a global level with impact to many countries worldwide. However, revolutions can also occur on an interpersonal level, or even within one’s own mind. Revolutions do not require thousands of slain men nor ships across seas, but “simply” great change. This term’s revolutionary lectures all provided a new perspective on revolution, and how they occur, throughout history, biology, and into the future. Professor Perez did a phenomenal job of wrapping up this series but prompting us to go forward with our new knowledge and serve as revolutionaries in some capacity or another, acting as catalysts of change. A revolution is impossible without revolutionaries behind it, and with the past 12 weeks behind us, I hope I am able to take my knowledge and become an effective revolutionary!

Analyzing, Celebrating, and Critiquing the Haitian Revolution

Despite having attended a boarding school that claims to be one of the leading high schools in the United States and world (I say this not as a brag, but as a critique), I had never come across the Haitian Revolution until this lecture. However, this does not diminish the severity or significance of this Revolution in the slightest, and in fact causes further intrigue for its lack of acknowledgement in education. Furthermore, Professor Jeremy T. Popkin compared the Haitian Revolution to that of the American Revolution, and French Revolution, two of the most (objectively) covered and studied revolutions in global history. While I am now aware of the event, an important question to ask in response to this, is why wasn’t I before? If the Revolution had such profound effects, surely I should have learned about it? Professor Popkin spoke to this, sharing that those who take curiosity in the event are primarily African-American, allowing for the event to quickly dissipate from the minds of the eurocentric, white world. I fully stand with Professor Popkin in this regard, as this slave rebellion in Haiti marks an astounding moment in Haitian, and global history. Popkin also notes its negligence is potentially a result of how astounding a feat it truly was – one that may be deemed greater than the American Revolution, with slaves overtaking the ever-powerful, white, governmental leaders. In a form of censorship, are we washing away the successes of others to avoid being perceived as vulnerable? This continued, Euro-centric perspective is dangerous as it assumes a lack of inequality and the presence of a social hierarchy, one that the Haitian slaves worked so hard to remove. Seemingly, this is a revolution that should be acknowledge to an equal significance as the American revolution, if not greater. Despite not being an American victory, this revolution precisely stands for (what I believe are) the American values of equality and justice. The breaking down of social hierarchies, power structures, and racial inequalities are the exact example which the present-day United States could use, showing how truly forward-thinking and progressive this revolution was. This lack of acknowledgement of history is negatively indicative of our appreciation for international justice, potentially questioning our very values at home. However, it is also impossible to recognize the historic event, without acknowledging its downfalls. While the liberation was not as widespread as anticipated, this still serves as a moment of recognition, one that must be analyzed, celebrated, AND critiqued all at a much greater depth.

Monumental Revolutions

On Monday night, Professor Schnapp spoke regarding the value of monuments and their roles in revolution – not only during their time of establishment, but also establishment and through history. Do monuments really matter? Should they be left standing even if public values pertaining to the monument change? It is true that monuments often mark significant moments in history, such as the Marine Corps Memorial of Iwo Jima, or commemorate lost ones for their service, such as the Vietnam War Memorial – however, often monuments are taken down after a community changes their overall perception in values, such as taking down Joe Paterno’s monument after discovery of his wrongdoings. While we may no longer want to recognize one’s inappropriate actions, does taking down a historic monument speak equally to our values? By removing something we once stood for, we are pretending that it never existed, which is a obvious falsification, creating gaps in history. While a monument may no longer serve with the purpose of commemoration, I do not support the removal of monuments when there has been a change in values, as we must still recognize history to acknowledge when we, as a community (of whatever size), may be at fault. In modernity, should there be a method to alter an existing monument, if values change regarding the said monument – if so, whose liberty is it to change the monument, and how can it be changed? It is an incredibly valuable not to necessarily remove a monument, but rather acknowledge, and understand where faults with it may lie. Given that monuments are dependent on the time in which they are created, it is likely that a number of monuments will be erected during, and related to the presidency of Donald Trump. With a country so heavily divided, on whose authority should pertaining monuments be built, and if they don’t accurately represent the majority of views in such a large nation (which is impossible given a population of 300 million), how do we appease everyone? If a wall is built separating the United States and Mexico, per Donald Trump’s hopes, must be use this as a marker of our nation, and one representative of our views as a whole? Surely not, however does this mean it should not be acknowledge as a monument? There is also another layer with this example, as this monument serves a major purpose, and not one strictly of decoration and/or commemoration. It becomes much harder for those not in support, to turn a blind eye given the clear role of this monument. Monuments are important in understanding a community’s views at a very moment in time, however they mustn’t be taken as the values of an entire population.

The Data Dilemma

Every four out of five dentists recommend Crest toothpaste. Every four out of five dentists also recommend Colgate toothpaste. How is this possible? Data is extremely easy to manipulate, alter, and use out of context to paint two completely different pictures. While data can convey meaning without words, it can also convey multiple different meanings depending how it is interpreted. In Professor Aaron Hanlon’s lecture on the revolution of data, he stressed the importance of understanding how to interpret data properly, as “properly” varies entirely on context. Data of course stands such significant importance, given it is used in nearly every industry imaginable, allowing individuals to make decisions based off of gathered data in any which direction. However, the value of big data does not necessarily lie in “what is being done” or “how many of x products are being purchased,” but rather why certain things are being done or purchased – big data allows for entry into the mind of the individual and consumer. Large quantities of data are not necessarily a solution to all problems however, as data on its own does not accomplish anything. We must thank Robert Hooke for introducing the idea of data, with his work Micrographia cataloguing images which had been seen under a microscope, along with descriptions, to share his findings with the world. Images served much more effectively for colleagues, friends, peers, and even those entirely not in the science world, to better understand his research. Detailed images of insects showed the world for the first time a new representation of the very world in which they lived, in an easily visualized form. Allowing scientists to recognize patterns and trends, data was born. With the various revolutions in humanity, data has become ever present, serving as visual representations of information (generally) allowing for people to better understand the world around us. Data, while extremely valuable, becomes dangerous as it can be completely non-indicative of what it is perceived to be. In this year’s election, data consistently showed President-elect Trump as the loser of the election, no matter how various factors changed. However, this data clearly proved to be inaccurate, as millions of voters who were not polled, or polled differently than their vote, voted for Trump, resulting in an election that shocked the world. There were enormous amounts of data, with polls on numerous different populations taken at numerous different times, all resulting in the same decision – one that proved to be wildly incorrect. It is undeniable that data is vital to our understandings of many industries and humans as a whole, however it is dangerous to take data as truth – as we witnessed, data only paints one picture, one that may be inaccurate despite having lots of it.

Dangers of Darwin

Evolution, a staple topic in Biology, is widely regarded as one of the most crucial pieces of understanding human, plant, and animal physiology, and their relationships with the Earth. Professor Judy Stone explored in her talk the misconceptions brought by explanation of evolution, particularly with the common and iconic image of evolution, portrayed in in general media and society – an ape quickly transitioning into a “modern” human, with only a few steps of transition separating the two stages. One major contention with this model, is the particular labeling of “modern” human. Humans are constantly transforming, growing, never reaching an endpoint defining current humanity, despite a silhouetted picture of a muscular-seeming man. The issues of equating evolution to steps on a staircase, lie in the lack of transitional description that defines evolutions. In between each hypothetical step is a hundred of other steps, with thousands of steps in between those steps, and so on. Evolution is dependent on gradual development, as there is no beginning, middle or end – it is an idea, not a list of actions.  Additionally, Darwin’s evolution was built on the basis of branching, not direct growth. The silhouetted model depicts a single line of growth, while in reality, it has much greater resemblance to a patch of trees, where each species is a branch on one of several trees, having stemmed from a similar, or entirely different base species. Evolution is a never-ending, ever present process. Thanks to Darwin’s phenomenal work, this is all made clear, even when muddled by societal interpretations of evolution.

Does this really matter though? Why are we still talking about Darwin and evolution? This issue of typological thinking promotes the abnormality of abnormality, that variation is an issue. Unfortunately, this is so often reinforced negatively today, with scenarios such as President elect Donald Trump. With a campaign built entirely on hate and the opposition to difference, this typological perspective is perpetuated into the American people. Citizens of different race (assuming straight, white, male as normative) are admonished, distrusted, and even disregarded as “proper” Americans, creating significant divide in the American people. This is of course very dangerous, as it introduces the idea that genetic variation is responsible for creating a social hierarchy dependent on factors such as skin color, despite this having no factual basis. This ability to manipulate information, while not at all stemming from Darwin, can be falsely associated with the misinterpretation of Darwin’s evolution model, creating for unhealthy human perspectives.

Coastal Living

It’s not often you read a short biography on a man whose interests include meteorology, climate, and hurricane physics, and whose lecture intro also includes a story of his participation in beer pong while visiting Colby. However, Kerry Emanuel is not your average climate scientist. One of the most renowned and prominent in his field, Emanuel takes particular interest in hurricanes and their patterns, with a faculty position at MIT and countless scientific paper publications and several books. However Emanuel’s skills are not limited to his impressive knowledge of climate science and hurricanes – he also maintains an engaging ability for public speaking, laced with humor and personal anecdotes. One anecdote included his vivid descriptions of flying into the eyes of hurricanes and the tranquility associated with such an unforgiving beast. Such an environmental paradox remains beautiful yet confusing, much like another point Professor Emanuel spoke on – the constant rebuilding of coastal destruction.

Having touched on the coastal havoc which hurricanes wreak, Emanuel received the following question from a student. “Why do we keep building in coastal regions such as New Orleans and Florida for them to be consequently destroyed?”. Emanuel shared that “culture subsides on coasts, which thus leads to lots of dangerous and risky building,” a vicious, unavoidable cycle of “death” and “rebirth” with no room for growth. But having experienced the unthinkable damage caused by hurricanes and natural disasters, why haven’t we developed more reactive and responsive infrastructure, able to withstand the perils of natural disasters? Stuck in the constant cycle of destruction and rebuilding, there lacks a growth factor due to the consistency of Mother Nature’s damage. Is our inability to respond appropriately due to the sheer strength and magnitude of hurricanes and necessity for coastal access?

In part, this is dependent on the strength of forecasting, another topic of discussion for Professor Emanuel. Coincidentally, Professor Emanuel was able to use Hurricane Matthew as an example, with Matthew’s unpredictability being such a defining mark of its pattern. While some hurricanes are much more difficult to predict, some (like Matthew) deviate from any preconceived path, or follow as they “are expected to” on one of any number of routes. A true scientific revolution would be increased storm forecasting, which would at least allow for more ample preparation if not more responsive and appropriate infrastructure. With an increase in natural disasters as a result of human contribution to unstable weather and climate, we will hopefully be able to gather a more comprehensive and predictive understanding of dangerous weather patterns, though unfortunately at the likely expense of extreme damage. Hopefully, this occurs before the threat of Emanuel’s hypothesized ‘hypercane’ becomes legitimate!

A Social (Media) Revolution

The Arab Spring was a violent, frightening, yet uplifting period of revolution in The Arab world that lasted for more than a year. Filled with numerous civil wars and protests, civilians participated in extreme demonstrations of their frustration, such as Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in attempts to show the governmental intrusion and affliction he faced. This action carried across multiple Arab nations over a short period of time, with multiple Arab civilians following suit with similar actions. However, this period of revolution is so notably remarkably for another reason – the amazing and innovative way in which social media was used as a news network, connectivity platform, and artistic platform for expression to effect change across Arab states and globally. Artist Khalid Albaih does exactly this, using his political engagement and creative ability to produce works of art that create global waves.

        “Revolutions take time, especially with a population that’s already broken,” said Albaih, referring to the various Arab nations in 2010 who prompted revolution. Dependent on the youth, revolutions are born from educated intellectuals fighting within the system and rebelling against an existing power structure. In extremely politically established states such as Tunisia, revolutions are such a rarity due to the fear and danger of governmental response. “If you start a political group under a dictator, you’re either with them or completely crazy.” In this case, many Arabs were “completely crazy,” revolting against long-established power. The work by Albaih is so innovative because of the non-violent, individualistic yet far-reaching power of his pieces. The messages transmitted through his work were not only felt in the first-degree by Arab protesters, but also by global entities like the US and Europe, free from the chokehold of dictatorship. “Social media is the newest dangerous weapon,” says Albaih, as with such a majority of global youth being so present on social media, the weapon of revolution is not limited to those in the country in which change occurs.

One piece of Albaih’s talk that stuck out to me, in particular, was his discussion as an artist with work “going viral.” As a photographer myself, having covered journalistic topics whether it be news or music, I have seen a few pieces of my work “go viral” and then quickly die down days or weeks later. Albaih shared how this can be dangerous to artists specifically, as it quickly gives the artist a lot of power and over a short period of time, however equally quickly dissipates. Albaih’s goal as an artist to make long-lasting work, with global reach and impact is one that resonates with me personally, as social media does truly offer a platform with unlimited scope and possibility.  

An Unthinkable Eruption

Think back to 1815 – what global events marked the year with particular importance? Political turmoil afflicted the globe with the Battle of Waterloo, and global rule was questioned with the defeat and overturn of French leader Napoleon Bonaparte. Does anything else come to mind? Unfortunately for most, the answer is no. But it is impossible to ignore the global effects of the eruption of the volcano Tambora in present-day Indonesia. Although the world has faced other volcanic eruptions in its history, there are none comparable to Tambora. As an environmental and epochal event, it is crucial to recognize and study the effects of Tambora environmentally, politically, and culturally.

 

“Hunger is their only thought, their only preoccupation” wrote Mary Shelley about the population of Switzerland after the eruption of Tambora. With 100,000 of the world’s 1 billion population having been killed by the far-reaching effects of the smoke and dust clouds, what was previously a natural disaster became a global environmental narrative with human natural impact. Often described as the “year with no summer”, or the “coldest summer in global history,” 1816 was truly a visualization of this. The nearly 5o C temperature decline and unrelenting rain left the already poor growth region of Switzerland even more disadvantaged. Europe struggled with food and water shortages, raising crop prices and sparking outrage and riots in many communities with food processes completely devastated. Mary Shelley writes of bakeries being looted and burned down by locals from outrage due to the lack of bread and high prices. Morality was in question as the rate of infanticide skyrocketed when mothers were forced to decide between killing their children or having them starve to death. This was a cross-cultural phenomenon experienced by culture globally, finding a strange commonality in a time of such crisis. This large-scale famine was not limited to Europe, nor was it limited to a food shortage. Epidemics and revolt plagued countries globally, and for the first time, national government responsibilities extended to citizens’ welfare, particularly in times of crisis. Previously this idea had yet to exist, especially in countries of British rule, but these calamities were too great for governments to leave their populations helpless. These crises: political, environmental, and economic, left the world in complete disarray – however it also promoted diversity and geographic shift (for better, or worse?) Populations without any resources, decimated by the impact of Tambora, migrated elsewhere in search of suitable life. While a large portion of the global population was eliminated, the genetic diversity was incredibly promoted through the mixing of a wide range of populations. Tambora was a world-changing event whose effects are unimaginable in the 21st century.

The Relativity of TSR

How scientific was the Scientific Revolution? Was it scientific at all, was it even a revolution, or was it just a period sometime in the 16th and 17th centuries that has been given a name for the sake of naming? Of course, such a subjective question has an equally subjective answer, however there are a number of factors to take into account when exploring the answer. Was it a transitionary period, or one marked by a single effect? Was it riddled with philosophical confusion that has carried through the 21st century? Why are we still discussing it today? The endless list of questions nevertheless marks an important period in global history, worthy of examination by all who study it.

 

Basil Willey has been quoted claiming that the 17th century began with medieval and modern society, but ended with a triumph of the modern. However, it’s important to address here that by “modern,” Willey is actually pointing to the definition of classical. Again, riddled with subjectivity (“what do medieval and modern respectively entail?”), Willey’s claim also matches the philosophical shift that occurred so notably. Although predating the Scientific Revolution a significant number of years, Aristotle’s “seemingly-outlandish-outlook-at-his-time” viewpoint reflected one of continuous learning and growth – the same perspective that marked the shift in thinking representative of the Scientific Revolution. “All people by nature desire to know,” said Aristotle, a thought process reflected with the Scientific Revolution’s shift to a more experimentally based culture. Other factors labeling the shift such as science being defined as “mathematically precise,” and a radical break from the “medieval mind” question the very fact that many of the “revolutionary” changes during the Scientific Revolution weren’t in fact scientific at all, and many of the scientific discoveries weren’t much of a revolution. We can further question the definition of “scientific” and “revolution” by looking at such feats in modern times. A number of “non-scientific changes” which occurred during the Scientific Revolution are unlikely to be recognized as “non-scientific” now, though David Wootton is credited with stating that “Modern Science” was invented in 1572-1704. Would the science that was considered to be modern at the time, be considered modern now? Should we change what is called “The Scientific Revolution” to “A Scientific Revolution?” We must look at the feats and global transformations of the 16th and 17th centuries relatively, for it is truly impossible to define and compare “modern science” or even “modern revolutions” with those considered great in our past.