Author: William Reynolds

No Modernity?

Keith Peterson discussed the intricacies of revolutions in his lecture, and prompted the question of why humans want to revolt in the first place, if at all. Peterson used Latour’s theory that essentially claims being revolutionary is merely a ‘myth of modernity’. In light of Peterson’s astute commentary on these dense philosophical matters, I found that looking at the concept of revolutions through a feminist lens allows us to clearly see how revolutions are actually executed. The progress of women’s rights in the past century has demonstrated human’s capacity to overcome structural barriers which harbor prejudice and preserve the inequality in our society. I wanted to investigate the origins of such revolutionary currents, what circumstances instantiate revolutions? It seems that an underlying cause for revolutions, or a contributing causal factor, is the a presence of a deep inequality between groups, which in turn produces prejudice and misrepresentation of social groups. There is friction that arises out of the divide between groups; between the oppressed and their oppressors. This friction is a driving force, and pushes people for the need to revolt, evolve, and reshape the unjust hierarchy.

For example, if we look at the trajectory of women’s place in society, and the progress they’ve made; it was ultimately driven by the oppression they face (and still face today). John Stuart Mill wrote that women’s roles are essentially just an artificial construct; “ “What is now called the nature of women is an eminently artificial thing- the result of forced repression in some directions, unnatural stimulation in others…for the benefit and pleasure of their masters”. This oppression is the bounded nature of These thoughts emerge due to the persistent stereotypes and cultural phenomena that are shoved down girls throats starting with their pink blankets as a child, continuing through their growing their hair long, wearing dresses, playing with dolls, wearing makeup, and taking a man’s name at marriage, and possibly staying at home to raise children. The stereotypes that are ever present in society, and social media, sustain sexism in our culture and work to keep women in their place as inferior to men. The idea that women are helpless, incapable, weak, and incompetent are seen as “truly feminine” qualities. Regardless if one agrees with the validity of this statement, the idea of ‘helpless women’ is completely present and continually perpetuated through simple tasks that go unnoticed, such as opening a door for a woman. No matter how unrealistic or irrelevant a stereotype like this may seem in 2016, they sustain the barriers that are placed around women by creating unattainable ideals that keep men in the dominant position. This structural oppression makes a revolution necessary, in order to break free from the bounded social roles and hierarchies.

A Revolution: Darwin

The Darwinian Revolution answered a lot of questions about the origins of our species. Through an ongoing process of natural selection, species evolve into more advanced states. All animals, humans included, are at the whim of this process. Though unseen, adaptation and natural selection occur throughout the world in order to create the state of society. There has been complicated questions and consequences of this radical new worldview. Professor Stone criticized some of these consequences. First, Darwinism equates evolution with progress. The notion that progress is linear and forward moving causes people to assume that the society we live in is the best possible state. The kind of typological thinking at work here distracts modern man from historical memory: the things we can learn from the past. We are the idealized type. The end or ultimate level of evolution. This kind of thinking ignores or glorifies our humble origins in order to show progression of man: we were apes and now we are humans. I think this ignores the creative destruction brought on the world: 99% of species that have ever existed are now extinct. This reasoning has caused economists to validate a notion of creative destruction that has been detrimental to our society: the notion that companies, jobs, and people must be destroyed in the name of progress. To make space for new ideas and companies, old ones must die. Regardless of whether or not you agree with Darwin or Professor Stone, the machinations of evolutionary progress continue even in modern man.

However, societies and nations have progressed to the point where the weak no longer die. We have elevated above the state of nature in order to create government and institutions that negate the most destructive aspects of the state of nature. Darwin’s ideas have been less powerful in human societies precisely for this reason: the rate of change is much less now that it has ever been in human societies because the level of danger has decreased. Now, even the most vulnerable of people have the ability to survive due to the abundance of food, money, and laws. I think we can consider this progress. We have allowed for differences between people, even protecting them in our institutions through laws for the weak, disabled, marginalized. I think this can be used as evidence against Professor Stone’s contention that the typographical notions of evolution have necessitated types and also perfect types. Humans will not be the last forms of evolution but we have gained many tools in which to protect our own species from extinction. With that, we have also created the tools of our own destruction through nuclear weapons and warfare: evidence of our humble warlike tribal origins, no doubt.

The Eruption that Changed the World

At this time In nature, our world is engaged in fighting one of the most important battles it has seen, the battle to save our planet from the dangers we as a society have been inflicting upon ourselves for centuries. While the level of this danger is constantly debated, the most fatal mistake we can make is to not adequately prepare for the worst. Although Tambora was a natural event, and no preparation could be done, the societal changes in much of Europe after the event were not significant and disaster struck.

In his presentation, Gillen D’Arcy Wood spoke of how the social ramifications of the Tambora eruption were so large they could be classified as revolutionary. The extent of its effects reached societal, economic and cultural levels. This eruption affected global temperatures, more specifically cooled them, which in turn helped lead to harvest failures which devastated societies, including many European ones whose land could not sustain crops. The French Revolution was caused by peasant revolts which stemmed from this climatic period, as crop production dropped to extreme levels.

It is when we step back and stop looking events as individual occurrences that we can fully appreciate the interconnectedness of so much of the world. Effects in certain realms of study are linked to phenomena in others and studying with an interdisciplinary approach in mind can help us reach new conclusions. Just as how the eruption of tambora affected so many people on the other side of the world. Focusing on the global, overarching effects that this eruption had, like a Revolution, we can find clues in the climate change our world is facing which can help us fight it better. We can prevent errors of the past with a developed understanding of the present and with this, environmental catastrophes like that seen with the Tambora eruption will no longer be an imminent threat to the survival of our planet. Unlike Tambora, we are aware of potential risks of our future and it would be foolish not to address them globally.

Before this presentation, I was not aware of the Tambora eruption and nowhere nearly aware of the environmental effects it had on our planet. But what a liberal arts education has taught me is to view things with an open mind, and I am fortunate enough to be in an environment where I can question what surrounds me to a receptive environment. People learned from Tambora and instituted programs to help deal with the aftermath. We are learning today, and hopefully we will be able to use this knowledge to continue to make a difference. While we learn, we can connect dots and view incidences as not independent but all connected. I hope the future brings wide spread knowledge of how our every interaction with the climate can have significant long term effects on people around the world.

Revolutions in Climate

Curiosity on the magic of life itself has always been a driving force towards discoveries in the scientific field of study. Revolutions, by nature, shatter the existing order of whatever it is they are ‘revolutionizing’ and lay the groundwork for a new paradigm and understanding. In her lecture, Dr. Kerry Emanuel spoke of how this pertained to one of history’s largest, most important and currently ongoing revolutions: the Climate revolution. As humans, we question and we search for answers, and this has given birth to some of the most interesting fields of study out there.

It is important to note that revolutions do not appear out of nowhere rather they have a source that fuels them. Questioning natural elements has led scientists and experts of other related fields of study to discover their answers and through this, humans understanding of our climate has drastically advanced. For instance, decades ago when climate research was still in its early stages, discoveries of large ice sheets led to questions and a new understanding of what caused the Earth’s surface temperatures to shift – this, in turn, helped lead to our understanding of greenhouse gasses. Beyond that figure, it has been over the past two-hundred years that small steps have gradually been taken to understanding the field of science. It is small steps that carry big ideas, and our understanding of such big ideas evolve over time deductively becoming comprehensive.

Climate change is in a current crisis and it has been curiosity about our natural elements that has evolved over time and gotten us to our current state. We are more aware than ever of the challenges facing our planet and because of the knowledge which we have accumulated over time, we are in a technological position where we are able to fight such dangers. Alternative energy courses, for instance, have been a rising industry and countries are becoming more united to pass multilateral legislation.

Every revolution, by nature, comes with an opposing force and the climate revolution is no exception to such rule. Legislative actions are stuck in gridlock as climate change opponents continue to block efforts at taking action. Our society has a greater understanding than ever of the world around us and we now need to embark on the next step to save our planet. Revolutions come from a series of small steps, no matter how small or how large, and our current understanding of climate change has taught us that the planet is in danger and needs saving.

What It Means to be a Revolutionary

Marcos Perez’s, a professor of Sociology ended the semester by discussing what it means to be a part of a revolution. Throughout the semester, we have heavily discussed what it means for a paradigm to end in a revolution. If you are to live through a period we would consider to be a revolution, it can be hard to identify these radical changes, as humans are inherently forward looking. So we live on and many ignore that such a revolution has happened, and even if they took part, they may not know what it means to be a part of a revolution and to be a revolutionary. What is the impact on people involved in a revolution on an individual scale? What must be sacrificed in order to see the revolution to its fruition? How do individuals involved in revolutions maintain the energy to continually be involved? As we learned about revolutions in history through out the semester, many of these questions have not been directly answered. However professor Perez’s lecture greatly exposed them. In some cases of revolution people will have to sacrifice their lives: be it physically, financially, or socially, and a life span through this struggle even with progress may not show the nature of the paradigm shift. However, these revolutionaries are having a lasting impact on society—an impact they may never know. Much like the anonymous Greek proverb: “societies grow great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in,” these martyrs of revolutions are making lasting impacts on the social norms of societies. They are not living how most humans live: maximizing personal pleasure and avoiding pain, instead they are acting in disregard to their personal lives, in other words they are acting in terms of the greater good of future societies. The creation of there history gives insight into the nature of avoiding disaster for future generations.

The defining traits of many of these people involved in revolutions is their undying devotion to the cause. From Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr., people have given their entire lives to causes that they have believed in. Although when we look back at revolutions in retrospect we realize how pivotal they are for the greater good of society, in their own context, revolutions are marked because they go so heavily against the status quo. Gandhi was imprisoned, Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, but without these two brave individuals and many others like them, we would not have progressed as a society to the advanced point we are at now. As I reflect on this class and the semester and read current news that is released almost by the hour, I am left with more questions to ponder. Although we have come a long way as a society: there is still a potential for the human race to evolve for millions of years into the universe. What revolutions are going on around me right now? Are there any I feel so passionately about that I will get involved? How long will these revolutions last?  Ultimately, although this class has answered some questions about revolutions, I feel as though I am left with a more questioning mindset about my role as an individual and my role in society.

The Malleability in the Social Media Age

Listening to Professor Hanlon, Assistant English Professor here at Colby,  speak about the dangers of misrepresenting data and the need to prioritize collecting valid data, and representing it as such, I found myself thinking immediately of the recent political events in the country.  Furthermore, Professor Hanlon’s discussion of data sourcing, and the lack of focus on disseminating data from reliable sources resonated with me as I thought about the cost of false media in the 2016 Election. Growing up in an urban area, especially as a student in the 21st century, I have been exposed to the pinnacle of technology, interaction, and conveyance of information about events in our country.  On a daily basis, I hear discussion amongst my peers that mention Twitter articles they saw retweeted hundreds of thousands of times, and I find myself wondering how on Earth one would know if President Obama had made a final checklist of dogs to adopt as his family’s second pet?

Professor Hanlon makes it a point to stress the weight and influence that data can have on any person’s opinion or stance on a person, topic, or event.  Take the fact that millions of Americans watch Fox News every night, and that following the shooting in Orlando, I remember seeing a stat that disappeared later (for inaccuracy) suggesting 13% of Muslims supported radical Islam.  After the lecture, I found myself thinking how many Americans had believed this about Muslims, as millions of viewers could have been changed by that completely outlandish, incorrect stat showed one night on Fox. As I think about more recent, concrete events that have consumed not just my generation or Colby College campus, but essentially the entire country.  More specifically, I remember reading a Buzzfeed piece- not exactly a reliable journal, but with citations- that proved Facebook had featured fake news articles that reached over 10 million people in the worst cases. Days before the election I read an article stating that Hilary Clinton was finally put on trial, and that she would not be participating in the election; this is simply the epitome of what Professor Hanlon warns against. Although at age 19 I know such an outlandish article is fake, I created my Facebook account when I was in 7th grade and a younger audience could certainly take this as truth.

Having not taken a political science class at Colby, and not being particularly interested in politics in my free time, I find myself more susceptible to this political dogma. However after professor Hanlon’s talk, and my reconciliation of his words with past events, I find myself understanding, and appreciating the importance of good data more than I have in the past.  As I continue my academics, but more importantly continue as a millennial, I think making an effort to consume, and more importantly promulgate data that is valid, well-supported, and influential is important for me and my peers.

New Perspectives on Monuments

Monuments have always served as one of the most prominent and well-known fixtures for commemoration. Their existence can be traced back thousands of years, and serve as some of the most iconic pieces of art and history all over the world. Yet, many people tend to focus on monuments sheer size and intricate design, rather than on its origin. Who do these monuments represent? What do they stand for? These are the questions I now find myself asking after Harvard Professor Jeffrey Schnapps’ lecture, which encouraged us to examine monuments more closely, and within the context of their time.

Certainly, monuments are important to remembering our past, as they stand as massive, unforgettable reminders of previous achievements, legendary heroes, or, in some cases, notorious villains. As Professor Schnapp discusses in his lecture, many monuments can be viewed as unsavory, depending on what or whom they represent. Schnapp notes that there are many countries, unfortunately, who face this problem, as large monuments can represent darker, less pleasant historical references and reminders of their country. Yet, the answer cannot simply be to remove these monuments, eliminating the history that it represents. Instead, Schnapps argues, it is much more beneficial to learn from these monuments, even regrettable ones, in order to prevent history from repeating itself.

One example that Schnapp’s cites is the Victory Monument in Bolzano, Italy. This monument was created under Italy’s fascist regime, and commissioned by Benito Mussolini himself in 1926. Constructed as a way of celebrating Italy’s victory in WWI over the Austrians and Germans, this monument created some tension amongst the Italian population. Having been constructed in Northern Italy, who’s population felt connected, both in proximity and culture to Austrians/Germans, this monument was viewed as offensive and provocative.  Rather than simply remove this monument, however, Schnapp and his team wanted to create a documentation center, one that was dedicated to creating a realm of experience relative to Italy during WWI and WII.  Their main objective was to change the experience and meaning of the monument, and shift its purpose from honoring the Fascist regime to honoring the Italian people. In order to do so, Schnapp and his team made a number of renovations to the monument. Most notably, they added an LED ring around one the columns. These columns, which had previously marked the victory of the fascists, were now altered and modernized to show the public that times, and Italy itself, had changed. Then, inside the atrium and crypt of the Victory Monument, Schnapps made a number of other alterations. At the center, Schnapp focused on telling the story of the monument and its history. On the windows and peripheral of the crypt, however, Schnapp decided to tell the story of the region, and about its culture and people at this time. In a sense, Schnapp created a macro and micro historical framework, which was able to tell both sides of the story, and change the purpose of the monument, allowing for people to learn from its history.

I thought this was a interesting lecture, and it will give me a new perspective on monuments. Previously, I had only looked at them as objects of the past, many as attempts for old leaders to immortalize themselves. After this lecture, I see how they can have deeper meanings, and cause tensions like those of the Victory Monument. However, I have also seen how monuments can be changed and altered, to serve a greater purpose than merely a memory. Now, I see that monuments are important beyond their historical value, but also in their educational value. As many have said, one must study the past to define the future.

The Necessity and Identity of Social Revolutions

As we have spent months focusing on the theme of Revolutions, I have thought back to countless history classes detailing the revolutions of developed nations worldwide.  However, as the semester went on, and I as listened to Professor Popkin’s lecture, I recognized the degree to which Western schooling marginalizes and suppresses the narrative of non-white revolutions, such as that which occurred in Haiti.  This post will explore why Western learning ignores the stories of oppressed non-white populations, and why the Haitian revolution has meaning and context today.

“He only listens to the suffering of his own people.”  I remember as a young learner in middle school, my 8th grade American History teacher opened our course with an aphorism that was meant to guide and contextualize our learning for the year.  In his mind, history was indeed a story told by the victorious, that the suffering, the subjugated, and the seriously underdeveloped were, in the annals of history, the voiceless.  My teacher wanted us to acknowledge that suffering was not a path to having your story told in a favorable, or empathetic manner: instead, suffering almost guaranteed your story would not be told at all.  Indeed, in conflicts amongst the greatest political bodies, there are losers, too.  However, the Napoleonic Wars that produced the Vienna Conference, which established balance of power politics as the governing ideology in international relations, did not produce a loser that for decades after would suffer from complete government instability and widespread disillusionment in the population.   The point here is that when the dust settled from the Battle of Ticonderoga, or when the streets were finally filled again after the Battle of Trafalgar, no state was left considering whether the structure of their country would prevail, whether their ideals would find their way to the next generation, and most importantly, whether it was safe enough to engender a next generation. 

Enter here the story of the Haitian Revolution, the largest slave rebellion in world history, and a tale of grassroots collaboration and the fight against colonialism that not only saw the little guy emerge victorious, but managed to be hid under the volumes of textbook readings that would rather discuss the “enlightening” and “democratic” French revolution.  The Haitians fought tooth over nail for 12 years to gain their independence from a country that was at that point, growing disinterested in the daily proceedings of their colony (France), but was nonetheless unwilling to slight their pride by giving the Haitians independence.  In this incredible irony, that France did not care but cared enough to protect pride, we see a major struggle of oppressed groups.  Only when the dominating, first world power grows tired of expending resources does an uprising become an option, and even still, if that option becomes a victory, the story will not be told, for it is a dangerous precedent in the mind of the colonizer to let the colonized win, and even more costly to let them spread the tale of freedom to other subjugated groups.  This is why we see the tale of history ignore the various Latin American revolutions that gave independence to millions and a hero to a country, such as with Simon Bolivar.  Because for those countries that will always be on top, letting the little guy get the notion that somewhere in the distance, after the battlefields and funerals, freedom lays in the form of a revolution, is paramount to passing around “get out of jail free” cards in the international arena.

How to Spread Idea’s

Facebook is changing the way humans receive news. As the new generation grows up in the internet age, and forms habits based on current technologies, Facebook becomes the base camp of internet information consumption. This change comes from Facebook’s specialized feed of information, which is made up mostly of friends photos and specialized media. This specialized media is made up of articles and videos posted by friends from credible and non-credible news sources. because of the variety of the Facebook’s news feed, it easily becomes the most efficient and enjoyable news source. Due to the fact that everyone uses Facebook and it is extremely easy to share with friends, the platform becomes an amazing way for activists like Khalid Albaih to spread there word of reform. The visually based feed always for Khalid to share his cartoons with thousands of friends instantly, or even share them to a group full of people from certain locations. All it takes is one captivating cartoon until the user has clicked on it and is  learning about the social movement Khalid is pushing for.

Although Facebook’s sharing power is amazing for positive social movements like Khalid’s, and a relaxing time online, it can also be a bad thing, giving people false/bias perspectives. Most of the news that comes up on your Facebook feed is not from the sources that you “like” or follow, but from other people who shared the information. Everyone has friends that want to be or are activists, and so many of these people are sharing information about controversial issues that people are aware of. Therefor the information that is posted is not intended to spread word of this issue but to force an opinion on it, and often, a very biased opinion. Personally my Facebook feed is infested with biased opinions on controversial issues. These sources often seem to quiet official and always have the intent of hooking a young Facebook reader, when the bias is so great Fox news and CNN might as well be the same. One could say that Khalid’s posts are one sided, however the intensions behind the posts are deep with the intent to make the world a better place, and the majority of the world will always support him as he marches forward to bring more freedom to the world. Facebook is amazing way to share idea’s for the masses, however we must be careful in recognizing what is important and what is not.

Does a Another Paradigm Shift lie Ahead?

The Scientific Revolution was a monumental time period for the advancement of human kind. Not only did the discoveries of the time make us rethink our place in the universe, but the Scientific Revolution initiated a paradigm shift that would change the way of thought for future generations.

One of the fundamental inventions of the revolution was The Scientific Method. Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes helped innovate this idea. The idea was a step by step method for conducting experiments which emphasized gathering data and doubting all assumptions until evidence says otherwise. The Scientific Method was only one of many inventions of the time that allowed for this paradigm shift. Some of the other important creations of the time were the microscope, barometer and the telescope. Most notably, the telescope which was invented by a dutch priest in the early 1600’s, and refined by Galileo later on, allowed astronomers to see further into the cosmos. This extended human capability allowed Galileo to see discover Jupiters largest moons, many new stars but most importantly it allowed him to confirm Copernicus’s model of an heliocentric Solar System. By being able to observe the sunspots on the sun, he confirmed that the sun rotated and that the planets orbited it. Without these innovations in experimentation and observation the paradigm shift that was The Scientific Revolution would not have happened.

As the human kind enters the most dramatic time of technological change our species has ever endured, I wonder if another paradigm shift lays ahead. The advancements in information technology have provided humans with a platform to observe the knowledge of human kind with ease, and preform calculations that are virtually instantaneous. In some ways the internet has already created a paradigm shift of mind. People have started to no longer make bold assumptions or claims about past knowledge before accessing the internet to see if the rest of humankind agrees. Some futurists believe that this access to big data and future technologies will cause a paradigm shift that could affect our every thought. As our world continues to integrate with technology every thought we have could be checked or added to with technological aids. It may be that rational experimental and scientific thought is no longer trusted or helpful without the aid of artificially intelligent brain integrated systems. A human with extended brain power may be able to answer our species greatest questions such as the nature of our existence, and the mystery of life in the universe. A new scientific revolution may be just around the corner.