Category Archives: Civility and Disobedience

Center for the Ethics Program, 2014-2015

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” -Nelson Mandela // “Can the U.S. Lead on Human Rights in the 21st Century?”

On Monday, October 27, 2014, Caroll Bogert spoke at Muhlenberg College about human rights around the world and the organization she works for, “Human Rights Watch.” I found her to be informative and surprisingly engaging, given that I was expecting a dull lecture-style environment. Bogert’s lack of a prepared PowerPoint both shocked and compelled me. She spoke incredibly passionately about the defending human rights; and that struck me.

I found the information about Human Rights Watch fascinating. Their detailed procedure for investigating with extensive interviews and eyewitness accounts shocked me. I always thought that the people who did that sort of work were with the government, and they only did a subpar job. But the fact that an organization outside of the government (all their funds are privately raised!) was working on improving global human rights definitely made me look at the issue with a different perspective. The intensity of the research that goes into the research was also astounding – how can they possibly tell apart the liars and exaggerators from the truth? And who specifically is responsible for the crimes committed? The exposition process also intrigued me. I figured that Human Rights Watch would want to get the story out everywhere, regardless of the anticipated audience. However, Bogert’s explanation of how they go about getting the information in the hands of people at the government was eye-opening. Finally, the change process: using the information to charge persecutors.

By mentioning specific recent examples of human rights violations across the world, she gave the discussion to a contemporary feel. Instead of talking about age-old crimes such as those in Iraq and Bosnia, she mentioned lesser-known, more recent abuses to emphasize the point that few of us know about these things…and that’s a problem. From the Central African Republic to Bahrain, the US has actively made a decision to either help or not, but how many of these involvements has the average American heard about on the “world” news? My bet is very few because they’re all too worried about contracting Ebola.

Bogert quickly shifted gears to talk about human rights violations on a domestic scale – including immigration and torture of prisoners. I was glad that she didn’t praise the United States for setting a glowing example for the rest of the world, because that’s just not true. America has blood on its hands too, and if it continues denying it, things will only get worse. The first step in making the United States a leader in human rights in the 21st century is admitting to our crimes and taking the necessary cleansing precautions (i.e. firing the higher up government officials that approved torture on Guantanamo Bay prisoners) that every other country would take. Just because we’re one of the most powerful countries in the world doesn’t mean we’re exempt from international laws and treaties. Then, and only then, will the United States be a leader and set a proper example for the rest of the world in their struggle to abide by human rights laws.

“There is but one blasphemy, and that is injustice.” // “She Said”

On Saturday, October 11, 2014, Ursula Rucker gave a live performance at Muhlenberg College. I had high expectations for the performance after hearing her introduction by members of the Muhlenberg faculty. However, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was missing something during her performance.

Her lyrics were often clever, but repeated too often for my liking (or that might just be an aspect of slam poetry, but I don’t know). Her accompanying guitarist, Tim, played beautiful chords that rung throughout Baker Theatre. Her comments between songs made me chuckle and appreciate her personality, but I still struggled to understand the meaning behind her lyrics. This is probably because I have no background in the type of art she was exhibiting, so I failed to appreciate it as much as it is worth.

One of her songs I enjoyed and understood was “Feel Me.” Our generation’s increasing dependence on modern technology is both useful and increasingly depressing. While walking down academic row, people don’t make eye contact as they walk past; they just continue scrolling through their phones. Her criticism of this aspect of our society is something that I relate to as I witness it on a daily basis. The part that jarred me the most was “retrieve your thought process and subareal conscience / From the death grip of the mainframe.”

All in all, Ursula Rucker’s soulful interpretations of racism, sexism, and social injustice were entertaining, but I don’t think that I had the reflective and introspective personality that was required to thoroughly enjoy her words.

“Do You Hear the People Sing?” // “Silencing Protest: On the Ethics and Politics of Social Theory”

On Tuesday, September 2, 2014, Barbara Cruikshank spoke at Muhlenberg College; she focused her talk on protest, its ethics, and how it relates to social theory. While it was rather riveting, the language she used was demanding and taxing; after the talk, I heard that many other students felt the same – it would have hit closer to home if she had she used more informal speech.

Regardless, the talk itself was captivating – especially (for someone my age) given the recent young adult infatuation with insurgency and rebellion, both on paper and on screen; some examples include The Hunger Games, The Giver, Matched, Legend, and Divergent. Barbara Cruikshank’s statements about the ongoing and continuous nature of protest was shocking; probably because the “world news” chooses to focus on few protests every year, making each one seem more radical and inexplicable than the next while crowning this time period as the “age of revolution.” While smirking at these overplayed remarks, she provided clear evidence to support her case about the incessant and ongoing nature of rebellion – there’s no way we could record them all. Hell, even the Wikipedia article she referred to contains a disclaimer: “This is an incomplete list that may never be able to satisfy particular standards for completeness.

Her discussions about the various metaphors used by the news made an uncomfortable amount of sense – the weather comparisons make protests seem discrete and intruding, and the disease images allude that revolt is a contagion.

Furthermore, Barbara Cruikshank spent a sizeable amount of time discussing how both politicians and protesters agree (albeit incorrectly) that protests are “not political.” Politicians want to deny that what is happening has anything to do with them, and protesters think their case is moral, emotional, and personal – it cannot possibly be political. What really surprised me was that this trivializes demonstrations in a profound way – by saying they are “not political” (when politics means “how power expresses itself in daily life”), protesters accept that they cannot make a difference. By saying protests are “not political,” protesters shun the negative connotation of “politics,” but pay an even greater price. By saying protests are “not political,” protesters accept defeat.