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Author Archives: catherine1cat

The Rhetoric of Democracy

Recently, we have been studying democracy in Comparative Politics, and what enables a democracy to exist. In this study, terms such as “civil society” have come up in our reading. The term “civil society” is defined as: “the elements such as freedom of speech, an independent judiciary, etc, that make up a democratic society” (World English Dictionary). The word “civil” holds a connotation of positive, ordered life in which people can thrive happily. Wouldn’t we all prefer a “civil society” to a “disorderly society”? Already, we see the rhetoric power of democracy at work. Earlier in the year for my Language and Composition course, we did a unit focusing on the rhetoric used by the presidential candidates during their debates. In this blog post, I plan to explore the rhetoric of democracy and how it is used to influence politicians and citizens.

Returning to the “civil society,” I will be discussing the definition found here:  http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/civil+society.  The first entry is the most common usage, which specifies a democratic society. By association of terms, civil society—a peaceful and orderly society—comes to mean a democratic society. The rhetoric here implies, through hasty generalization (a form of logical fallacy), that all democratic societies are civil, and all civil societies (separating this from the definition used above and referring to a peaceful society) are democratic. Someone who does not recognize the logical fallacy here could easily come to the conclusion that in order to have a peaceful and orderly society, they must attain democracy. This is the point that so far has been made in our class: Democracy is the best.

As I have repeatedly pointed out during our discussions, democracy is not the best form of government for everyone. In fact, the United States—where the colonists held the ideal beliefs for a democratic society—isn’t a democracy. We are a republic by definition, since our country features representatives voted into office by the people, rather than direct representation in government. In other places, though, where cultural ideals and behavior do not foster democracy, we push democracy the hardest.

Take the recent visit by our Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, to Afghanistan. In a subtle use of rhetoric, the New York Times  journalist Thom Shanker implies that the president of Afghanistan—President Hamid Karzai—is not a true president. In newspapers, titles are very important in how the subject of the article is perceived. Our presidents are almost always called “President” as their official title, and other important officials of the government are also referred to by their title. Many unpopular figures in the media, such as Hilary Clinton, however are referred to in subtly different terms. Clinton was never named as the Secretary of State in articles, unless it was strictly necessary. She was instead referred to as “Mrs. Clinton,” which gives her name less weight and makes her seem less important. In this article, Shanker once lists President Karzai as the president, before referring to him as Mr. Karzai for the duration of the article.

A subtle difference, to say the least, but important. This use of title rhetoric creates the idea that President Karzai is not as important, and one reason why: He is not a democratic president in the views of the US. To the US, Afghanistan remains under the power of a tyrant with little regard for the safety of the people. Granted, this may not be far from the truth considering the current state of things in Afghanistan. But the point of the matter is: US journalists, politicians, and others are inclined to use democratic rhetoric to make their points, which creates a heavy democratic mindset for readers and debaters of politics.

I am not saying that democracy is a poor form of government, or that it doesn’t work where it has been previously established. But the idea that the US is required to bring democracy to other countries, who are lost little sheep waiting for their shepherd, is inaccurate. It is not up to the US government to decide what countries need democracy, and how best to introduce democratic society into their country. Our current attempts have been suffering greatly, in fact, which should serve as an indication that the US is not the ultimate decision maker for the rest of the world. The general idea in the US that we need to take democracy to the rest of the world and save them from their own tyrannical government is created primarily by the democratic rhetoric used in our news that encourages us to feel both nationalistic and imperialistic about our government. 

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2013 in Default

 

Glinda the Good Witch

Warning: The topic of this post is religion related and controversial. The views in this post are entirely my own and to be attributed to no one else. 

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As we approach the election, and Romney appears to gain more and more support, one topic that is very important to me seems to be overlooked: Religion. Now, I believe that candidates should be judged on their politics, no their personal lives. That does not negate the fact, however, that Romney is a conservative Mormon. I have nothing against Mormons, in fact, my father and I attended the Mormon church for a few years in my childhood and in fact, I appreciate the Mormon faith more than most people I know. That does not change the fact that some of Romney’s early campaigning techniques involved conservative Christian values.

I take free advantage of our freedom of religion amendment. I am part of a minority Pagan religion called Wicca that few people are informed about. As far as I can see from Romney’s proposals, he is prepared to allow for religious freedom… In Christianity. There have been many cases in the past where religious discrimination against minority religions has been overlooked. There was a case in Oklahoma in which a girl was suspected of practicing Wicca and the public school she attended banned her from wearing non-Christian symbols. When she was expelled for suspicion of having caused a teacher to get sick by a spell, her parents sued the school and lost. The court ruled that there had been no wrongful religious discrimination.

In Wicca, some practitioners consider themselves witches, as I do. At my Christian school, students are not allowed to dress as witches for Halloween. Though I understand the viewpoint, and I know that my school is free to create this rule, I still believe that religious discrimination is being overlooked in many places. Recently, anti-Muslim posters were put in New York subways after the creators of the posters sued the subway officials who banned the posters. A similar case occurred previously in the San Francisco BART trains. The fact that such discrimination is considered protected is disgusting.

In my opinion, education is the best way to end religious discrimination. If classes teaching differences in cultures and religions were required in schools and workplaces, then more people would be able to practice tolerance. The start of all intolerance is ignorance. I knew someone who was actually debating the Mormon faith with my father and flat out said that all Wiccans worship the devil. What few people know is that Wicca has no devil. We have no evil deity, and therefore cannot worship one. If more people could understand the Islam faith, the Wiccan faith, and their origins, then perhaps religious discrimination would be less prevalent in America. 

It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or one god. – Thomas Jefferson 

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2012 in Default

 

Freedom of Speech (So long as…)

ImageThis week, as we’ve been learning about civil liberties and rights, I’ve done a lot of thinking about one of the most important rights of Americans: The freedom of speech. This right is the reason the revolutionaries of the eighteenth century were able to justify criticizing the king of England, an integral part in the establishment of the United States. To this day, all Americans are perfectly free to criticize our government. However, a commonly asked question is: how do these rights apply to minors? The Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence don’t mention how rights apply to legal minors.

During our research on different court cases, I learned the details of the case Tinker v Des Moines School District (1968). This case explored the rights of minors to free speech in public schools. Essentially, the students in the case wore black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War, and were suspended from school until the protest ended. In the ruling, the Supreme Court classified the armbands as freedom of expression, and since they weren’t disruptive to the running of the school, it was within the rights of the students to wear them. This ruling set a precedence of freedom of speech for minors. Judging by later limitations set on the case ruling, it has been established that minors have the rights to free speech and expression so long as they are not indecent or disruptive during school functions.

So what about other rights? Are minors entitled to freedom of press? According to another case, not quite. Schools have the right over students to censor newspaper publications, screening for appropriate topics and the like. This case makes it clear that no, minors do not have the true freedom of press the way the Bill of Rights outlines it. And despite Tinker v Des Moines, minors don’t have the full freedom of speech. It appears that the rights of the American citizen do not apply to minors, and are instead limited by higher authority (such as school officials and guardians).

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My thought is that minors need to know their rights. There are various protective acts that outline things that can’t be done to minors, or what can be done in certain situations concerning minors. I propose that an amendment, law, or act be created with the purpose of outlining the individual rights of minors in regards to the rights of an American citizen. Not many average high school students will be able to reference Tinker v Des Moines when faced with their school principal. IF all that minors have to go by are court cases, then how are they supposed to know their rights? This law, amendment, or act would provide a comparison of full adult rights to those of minors, letting everyone know what minors can and can’t do. The benefits of such an outline would be great. It would provide schools and parents with a concept of laws as they apply to children, and it would give minors knowledge of the full extent of their power.

As of right now, I’m still not sure what rights I am entitled to as a minor. Am I granted the right to petition? Am I granted the right to assembly? I’m not even sure what the proceedings are for search warrants granting search and seizure rights to the police. It’s a little scary, knowing the freedoms that are granted to Americans but not knowing how many of them you hold. So my thought is that minors should be educated in their government classes not only about how government was established and how it works, but also about what that means for them before they are adult citizens of the United States.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

 
 

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