Opinion

[transcript] philosophy behind the U.S. constitution

Today we will discuss the philosophy behind the American constitution. The American constitution didn’t come out of nowhere, it is based on the ideas the framers had about humans and human nature. Imagine you are one of the framers. It’s 1787. You’re about 25 years old and you have to write the most important legal document in American history. What would you write? How would the government be structured according to you? Would it have separate branches? Would this system include checks and balances? Are you designing a federalist system? What rights do people have in this scenario? These are all questions the framers tried to answer. A lot of concepts in the constitution seem incredibly self-evident today.

But where did the framers get their ideas from?

The most important philosopher from which the framers borrowed ideas was Locke. Locke lived from 1632 to 1704. The constitution was written and signed in 1787, long after Locke died. Thus, he never saw the constitution come to life. However, he is said to have helped write the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina in 1669.

Locke is and was a very influential philosopher that came up with wide range of ideas. He is one of the most important Enlightenment thinkers that inspired the ideology of liberalism. His ideas about natural rights, the social contract, and democracy were imperative to the creation of the American constitution. The Second Treatise of Locke’s work, which is called Two Treatises of Government was especially important to the framers. Let’s go over some of the concepts from this interesting philosophical work! I will be quoting bits and pieces from Locke’s second treatise and tie it to the American constitution.

Locke writes the following.

“Men all being naturally free, equal, and independent, no-one can be deprived of this freedom etc. and subjected to the political power of someone else, without his own consent.”

Locke starts with a premise that people are born free and that they have natural rights as a result. People possess agency over themselves. An idea that is so self-evident to us now that we almost take it for granted. Quote. “every man has a Property in his own Person”. Unquote. This means that every individual has ownership over his or her own body. The first ten amendments of the American constitution — also called the Bill of Rights  — protect people’s individual liberties and they limit the powers of the government.

However, some natural liberties disappear once people live in a civil society.

“The only way anyone can strip off his natural liberty and clothe himself in the bonds of civil society is for him to agree with other men to unite into a community, so as to live together comfortably, safely, and peaceably, in a secure enjoyment of their properties and a greater security against outsiders.”

Thus in order to make civil society possible and to protect your property, people will not be able to exercise all of their natural liberties. But this way of living ensures comfort, safety and peace for all civilians.

On property, one of the framers, Madison, said the following.

“It is sufficiently obvious, that Persons and Property, are the two great subjects on which Governments are to act: and that the rights of persons, and the rights of property are the objects for the protection of which Government was instituted. These rights cannot well be separated. The personal right to acquire property, which is a natural right, gives to property when acquired a right to protection as a social right.”

Here we can see how Madison emphasizes that property AND individual rights ought to be protected by the government, an idea that Locke wrote about a century earlier.

Locke further writes that people have to consent to be a part of this community in civil society.

“When any number of men have in this way consented to make one community or government, this immediately incorporates them, turns them into a single body politic in which the majority have a right to act on behalf of the rest and to bind them by its decisions.”

Locke upholds the idea of a democracy where the majority gets a say. Furthermore, the consent that people give implies that the government exists to serve society. This idea can be found in the very first words of the preamble of the American constitution. It starts with the famous phrase “we the people”. The constitution and the government exist for the people.

In summary what we have just learned is that government is formed through the consent of the people. The people form a political body which will uphold values such as safety and peaceful living. Men are born free and equal with natural rights. However, this does not mean that people are entirely free to do what they want to do. They have to adhere to the common laws and in return they will receive protection from the government.

There is one last quote I would like to read out to you from Locke’s Second Treatise.

“But this is only an ‘entrusted’ power to act for certain ends, so that the people retain a supreme power to remove or alter the legislature when they find it acting contrary to the trust that had been placed in it.”

Thus, the government is responsible to society. And when the government no longer serves the people, then the people get to change the government. The framers protected people from a tyrannical government by incorporating checks and balances such as holding consistent elections and through the mechanisms of federalism.

My aim of this podcast was to show you that the constitution did not come out of thin air. It is based on the philosophical works that the framers deemed as important for governing a Republic. Philosophical ideas influence how we perceive things around us and what we think the world should be like. Locke’s ideas are normal to us now – but they were definitely revolutionary during Locke’s lifetime. I hope you learned something new today. If you would like to read the transcript, please go to my website at socialscienceblog.org. Thank you for listening.

Opinion

internet bad

The emergence of the internet has paved new ways for people to communicate. As a millennial, I spent half of my early teens in chat rooms and on messaging platforms such as the late MSN. I chatted both with strangers and my in-real-life friends. Growing up with this technology, I was not fazed by it one bit. I completely embraced this lifestyle. I would come home from school, excited, to talk to my school friends, but online. There was something mystical about talking to people I know, behind a screen far away from them. And it provided to the opportunity to easily talk to people I was intimidated by — such as my crushes. After MSN became unpopular, I moved to online forums, perusing through messaging boards that discussed my niche interests. And in turn, these niche interests I would not have found without the internet. Quickly, the internet started to heavily influence the formation of my identity.

I found hobbies and interests I would have never known. They started to define me. Social media revved up my impression management skills. In everyday life we also use impression management, we try to show a side of ourselves that lines up with the situation we’re in. This means that when you’re in a job interview, you might try to impress the interviewer by demonstrating your competency. Or when you’re with friends you will behave in ways that will make them positively reinforce you. If you consider your friends to be smart, you might do your best to show your intellectual side in their presence. Social media is riddled with these kinds of impression management strategies. For instance, on Instagram or Facebook there is an incentive to showcase positive life events. This often gives a skewed vision of what individual’s lives are truly like. I would be lying if I said that I have not felt the pressure to participate in this.That is why I have decided to delete all of my social media.

However, I once welcomed such media with open arms. It especially agitated me when people from older cohorts – the non-digital natives – criticized my internet. How dare they speak ill of the greatest technological invention?! While I still might not agree with all negative views regarding social media or the internet, I have grown wary of it. Events such as Cambridge Analytica and studies linking social media to depression have changed my opinion.  I once opposed the opinions of scholars such as Sherry Turkle, that too much screen time might be detrimental to our offline communication skills. But I am starting to see where they are coming from.

I have stepped away from my alliance to technological determinism, the idea that society is entirely molded by the technology it produces. Yes, since technology is such an integral part of our everyday life that it definitely influences many of our ideas and values, but it isn’t the sole maker. There a myriad of other factors at play. I no longer embrace the internet as the solution to every problem or as the form of technology that can do no wrong. Though, just as a clarification, I do not consider the internet as a stand alone creature that we are submitted to. I look at the environment that it provides to us humans, that are slightly different from ‘real life’ situations. For instance, the anonymity of certain online spaces provide a place for people to voice their insulting opinions.

But, no, I do not belong in camp “internet bad”. I would like to say that my opinion of this technology has become more nuanced over time. Maybe my adherence to the idea that the internet is invincible had to do with my ache for rebellion in my teens. I am not sure. But I have retracted that idea. I don’t think we should completely disregard the internet either. Personally, it has helped me tremendously. It is a source of communication, entertainment, information, and support. But it isn’t everything.

Opinion

my relationship with science

zhanehunte

Part 1: pre-university

In my teens I was an avid reader of popular science books. Topics such as evolution, psychology, or philosophy were fascinating to me. I thought they were so great that I considered the books to preach absolute truth. I has no idea how research was actually conducted, and I was clueless about what the academic world looked like. I assumed that if a study was carried out, the results were automatically true. It reflected reality perfectly, it was an absolute accurate representation of the real world. I spent hours online reading about all my favorite scientific topics. I could not wait to go to university.

Part 2: university, bachelor’s

But university completely shattered the picture-perfect image I had of science. I was suddenly confronted with terms as validity and reliability. Research was subject to quality. Research was messy. Sometimes people lied and manipulated their data. Sometimes there were flaws in people’s research designs. And sometimes certain results were just not replicable. We were taught to scrutinize every detail of articles published in scholarly journals. We were also encouraged to think about where knowledge comes from and what science is. Epistemology and philosophy of science. My world was turned upside down. The way we practice science is so flawed. But! They preached statistics to us. Statistics saved science. Numbers are truth. I had faith in science again. As long as the p-values were low enough, we were going to be alright.

Part 3: university, master’s

But then I wandered into a different realm of science. One without numbers. Everything became relative. There was not one reality. No absolute truths. I was stuck in a postmodern mess. Suddenly I was paying attention to the world around me, everything was … constructed. Nothing was real anymore. Everyone lives in a different reality. Because there were no hard truths, I found myself arguing for both sides of each issue. Sometimes there were a million different sides to a story. I realized that everything was made up of structures. Structures that reproduce themselves and at times seem so arbitrary and messy. What does any of it mean? What is its significance? I was lost. Nothing made sense … but at the same time, everything did.

Part 4: philosophy

I needed answers, so I frantically started to go through the history of all philosophical ideas. I was baffled. I found that I could relate to old men who lived before Christ was born. They also struggled with the construction of reality and the fallacies of the mind. But back to practicing science. How can we say anything about the world, using science, when we cannot observe reality? I found solace in intersubjectivity. Science is a system, with rules. And if we abide these rules, we might be able to say something about the world around us.

I no longer worship science. But I am still eager to learn new things and to understand everything around me – to my best ability in this context and in this zeitgeist!

Opinion

Let’s Hypothesize: empathy, self-knowlegde

In this segment of ‘Let’s Hypothesize’ I want to argue that scoring high on empathy will also you will have more self-knowledge, which ultimately makes things easier for you to understand. With empathy, we’re able to understand what others around us are feeling. This means that we can validate feelings of those around us (we understand what they’re feeling anyway) and we can actively help them in times of need. We feel happy for those who are doing great things or we feel for those going through rough patches. We let a lady line jump us at the grocery store because she’s in a hurry to visit her sister in the hospital. Or we let our friend have half of our sandwich because they’re really hungry.

Here I want to give you my take on how self-knowledge can shape your empathetic senses. Often we hear people unable to understand why others are feeling a certain way. In turn, these people might react badly to their situation and feelings. They might tell the person to ‘just man up’ or to ‘stop exaggerating’. Or, even worse, they will come up with a story to prove that they were once in a situation much worse than them.

On top of my head, I think empathy has been linked to recognizing our own internal states. This means being able to tell when we’re feeling hungry or need sleep. This might seem like things we should all be able to do but it’s not that self-evident. For instance, some people might start to feel moody when hungry and are unable to make the connection between their moodiness and hunger. The question is why some people are able to clearly make this distinction and accurately interpret their feelings while others aren’t. Is this because people have learned to understand these feelings or is it an inherited trait? Do you need some kind of emotional intelligence in order to do so?

To be able to understand and interpret others’ feelings, naturally, you should be able to understand your own first. But not only understand the feelings in itself but also how situations can affect people. For instance, this means recognizing that people might get annoyed if you were to repeatedly kick their seat at the movies. Thus, you must understand how feelings emerge and ultimately, you must care what it does to others. Of course, there are people who can perfectly understand how someone is feeling, but it doesn’t mean they care. Because they might reason that it isn’t happening to themselves, so it doesn’t matter. All in all, the ability to empathize is affected by an array of factors.

Opinion

Let’s Hypothesize: the internet, memes and ‘new’ words

Not only does the emergence of the internet create new terms, it also redefines existing words. The internet is a new place where people exchange information and engage in social contact. The setting of social media is quite different from the setting real life interactions. For instance, we’re able to edit and correct ourselves before posting something, however, in real life, once the words are out, we can’t take them back. We’re probably also interacting with a larger diversity of people than in real life. With this diversity, it is likely easier to create new creative content.

Memes?
A very interesting part of this new creative content is memes. The term meme was coined long before people had an internet connection at home. Initially, Dawkins used it as a way to describe pieces of cultural information that are passed on between people. Memes according to him, pass on the same way as genes do. Gestures, words or rituals are spread among people and are also subject to mutations. And if we think about memes in the internet sense, the aforementioned definition still holds. Words, pop culture, specific interests, daily life situations are often spread among users of internet communities in the form of imagery or texts.

When does something become a meme?
This is a very difficult question to answer, as internet users can get quite pious in what can be labeled a meme or not. However, I believe the same principles that determine whether something becomes a meme in real life, can also be applied to the internet setting. For instance, the word “gnarly” existed long before surfer culture popularized it in the 70s.
But what exactly makes up these principles is hard to spell out. I think if this was known, businesses would gladly use this to promote their products, to make money off of this process. Sure, there have been companies that successfully, intentionally and unintentionally, used this phenomenon for brand recognition (I have seen people use Snickers’ slogan: “eat a Snickers” in online interactions). But not all companies that invest money in ‘memeing’ will achieve ‘meme status’.
Though, not only companies can earn money through memes. People and animals have become internet sensations and earned money as well (e.g. Antoine Dodson, Grumpy Cat, Ken Bone). But why do some memes catch on, while others don’t? I’m assuming timing plays a large role in this. Some attempted memes achieve virality after a few years. For example, the movie The Room was released in 2003. The first meme-like imagery was spread in 2009, while in 2010 more content was created, which kickstarted the actual meme.

Memes as words and slang
Language-wise, what is interesting, is that new definitions for existing words are created. And that the use of certain words suddenly spikes in online interactions (and gradually make its way into real life interactions as well). I recall a time when the words “I’m bored” were plastered all over my Facebook timeline. The actual meaning behind these words in that setting is fascinating. As it wasn’t just a statement of one’s internal states. With this phrase, people looked for entertainment through social interactions.
Then we had a spike in “That awkward moment…“. The internet provided the opportunity for people to open up about embarrassment they go through in daily life. Things people might not discuss in everyday face-to-face conversations, because, well, they’re embarrassing. But being able to read that you are actually quite similar to your peers takes away some of that embarrassment. Besides, a quick Google search can easily lead you to stories of people who are going through similar situations, which probably makes people less alone and ‘weird’.
Now the word “relatable” seems to be a much-used form of expression to indicate you experience similar emotions or events in your life. What is important to mention with this word is that figurative speech is imperative online. For instance, people might find a picture of a dead fish lying on the shore to be ‘relatable’. Thus, images are used to figuratively or comically express feelings.
Other, more recent slang terms are “extra“, “lit“, “dead“, and “bruh“. Much of the credit of the emergence of these new words can be given to an important online community referred to as Black Twitter. This community not only sheds light on relevant (racial) issues, such as police brutality, members of the community are also responsible for a large part of the new creative content that can be identified as memes (and slang).

Memes do not only create new ways to express emotions and create bonds between individuals, it also influences the current zeitgeist and creates discussion among groups of people (e.g. Kony 2012, #icantbreathe).

Opinion

Let’s Hypothesize: modern day responsibility

After hearing about reflexive modernization in one of my sociology classes and attending a masterclass by Theodore Dalrymple, I started to wonder about modern day accountability and responsibility. I’m gonna put several ideas forward that might already be part of contemporary theories on societies. I will argue that society’s structure can influence perceptions of responsibility.

Society’s structure
Complexity. Complex societies have existed before, there are countless examples of civilizations with hierarchical structures, institutions, and laws. However, nowadays with ongoing globalization, we have established diplomatic relations between countries. This means that decisions made by one society can affect the status quo in another society. Laws are often updated and adjusted to modern day situations, such as the emergence of a virtual space (the internet) in which regulations are also imposed. The difference between today’s societies and ancient societies is that changes are happening so quickly that modern citizens can’t even keep up with the changes. According to the law, you’re supposed to know what is allowed and what isn’t. You can’t blame ignorance. But it’s almost impossible to know every rule implemented by the government. Not knowing the rules and rights means being unaware of responsibility and accountability. Thus, the complexity of today’s societies has made it difficult to know all your responsibilities according to the law. A consequence of the law being strictly imposed on a society, people might only fulfill lawful duties and cast aside their moral duties.

Institutions. With the emergence of a myriad of laws came institutions. In bureaucratic societies, institutions exist merely to monitor other institutions. Many examples exist where the web of institutions might have had an effect in the failure of achieving a goal or unsuccessfully intercepting problems. For instance, in the Netherlands different institutions exist to aid those in problematic situations, each institution has a task in helping these individuals. Though, it’s not always possible for these institutions to effectively work together. When things end badly (e.g. children suffering domestic abused not being helped in time), it’s often the question who’s responsibility it was.

Anonymity. Moral responsibility is also harder to impose in complex societies,  such as helping out your neighbor, being empathetic towards strangers in public spaces (e.g. giving up your seat for elderly), no littering, or being inconsiderate in traffic. In several countries, you can get fined for some behaviors associated with the aforementioned examples. For instance, I have been told that there are strict regulations on littering in Singapore. But not every society has such set rules and it comes down to unwritten rules, norms. But are norms enough for people to feel responsible for their behavior? Or do need people the threat of being fined? Many studies have found evidence for social pressure being enough to either stop people from behaving a certain way or to get them do something. Though, when people live in bigger cities, this social pressure diminishes, suddenly they are anonymous for a large part of the day. In such a setting, people might not feel entirely responsible for their actions.

Individualism. Not only are people in larger societies more anonymous, but they might also be more individualized. In a structured society with many institutions to provide aid to people for their problems, and paid services to meet their daily needs, people’s ties to groups might have weakened. People still organize themselves in groups, and it can greatly help them to get things done. However, they no longer rely on these groups to provide in all of their needs. For example, I do not need to establish a relationship with the cashier at my local supermarket before she’s willing to trade food for money with me. It’s easier to not be responsible because people have less risky relationships to maintain overall.

‘Let’s Hypothesize’ is part of an article series in which I do not rely on scientific references. Instead I will speculate on topics related to consumer behavior. Plus I will include more historical facts and sociological theories.

Opinion

Let’s Hypothesize: Critical Thinking and Truth on the internet

In the first part of the ‘Let’s Hypothesize’ series, I discussed the impact of the internet, which can be read here.

I find ‘critical thinking’ a difficult topic to discuss since it seems very vague to me. What is considered to be critical? One idea that I repeatedly hear is that people that attend University are taught to think critically. However, I am not sold on this idea just yet. To me, it seems as if institutions teach you a set of rules to apply to study or understand phenomena and when these rules are actively used it is considered to be critical. And different institutions teach different rules to adhere to when, for example, handing in papers or projects. In my experience, thinking outside the box (rules) barely gets you credit. You might hear words of disapproval such as ‘you clearly didn’t understand the essence of this exercise’ or ‘no, you’re interpreting [insert writer/scientist/painter] wrong!’. I personally felt agitated when literature teachers would look for deeper meanings in famous writers’ texts. I mean, did the writer really intend to ‘add’ a deeper meaning to their texts.

Another anecdotal story is when I visited an art museum. This museum had an entire floor dedicated to medieval art. Those who have been exposed to medieval art might now that the perspective tends to be off and you can run into the occasional fish-human, or goats flying through the sky. So some of these paintings really made me laugh when studying them. However I got very dirty looks from the other museum visitors. And then I wondered, did Jeroen Bosch really want me to take his art that seriously? Or was he genuinely poking fun at the world? Why are we so serious when it comes to art and literature? Or do we have to scrutinize every single aspect of the painting and look for deeper meanings?

 Social media and politics
One of the areas I am most interested in when it comes to the use of scrutiny in regards to analyzing situations or objects, is politics. Right now news outlets spend a lot of time covering today’s happenings in politics. So the public is exposed to this information and there seems to be a demand for it as well. With the existence of spaces on the internet (e.g. social media) where people from most parts of the world can engage in discussion, not only are we exposed to information that is supposed to be factual but also others’ opinions. And this creates new and interesting phenomena when it comes to forming attitudes and critical thinking.

Am I normal?
I feel like on of the important aspects of the internet is that people who felt excluded can look actively look for others just like them. Entire communities erupted that shared the same interest, and sometimes even met up offline through conventions. Nowadays so many different hobbies and interests exist that it seems as if humans are becoming more complex in what they take pleasure in. Individuals who might have initially felt somewhat left out because of their interests can now talk to people online about their favorite topics. I recall a time on Facebook when ‘that awkward moment when…’ was a widespread discussed topic. Same goes for ‘I do this thing where I…’ to express the ‘weird’ things that they do. And what happened? A lot of people pointed out that they felt the same way. And using many online communities online, people could suddenly ask millions of people, anonymously, how to fix all sorts of issues. While before most teen magazines would cover such problems through ‘Ask [insert name]’, now it is much easier and faster to simply browse through questions asked by others.

Polarization
Being exposed to many different opinions people can also become much more polarized in their attitudes. For instance, before people would solely discuss their political beliefs at parties or family events. But now you can look for others alike and talk about your shared beliefs. Though this might become an ‘echo chamber’, where everyone just repeats the same idea over and over. And we have this tendency to start believing things if we hear them enough times. It is also easier to avoid those who have different beliefs, so it is possible to continuously ignore these opinions. So not only will those who hold extreme views start to feel ‘more normal’, they might also become even more extreme.

New online news sites and objectivity
There seems to an increase in new forms of news sites, there are sites that affiliate themselves with extreme political views. The issue with this is that authors might become more biased in order to justify their political views. There are news sites that aren’t necessarily tied to a political ideology, but it seems to be difficult to write a news article without picking a side. The question is, does objectivity really exist? I fear it does not. Whether you want to add a certain meaning to a text, people will interpret it however they want. Though, I do think it is possible to strive for some kind of objectivity. I am aware of the fact that this sounds very vague, but this is an issue of ethics. If you misinform your readers to fit your ‘agenda’ by (creatively) changing statistics, photoshopping images, or deliberately cutting a video to your liking, what are you trying to tell and sell?

Real truth, science, and philosophy
According to several individuals we have entered a time of reflexive modernization (Giddens, Beck, Lash). In this type of society we are constantly evaluating everything around us. This means that before a policy is implemented it will be scrutinized to ensure that it won’t pose any risks to anyone. We constantly want to create buffers before problems can happen. Because if they do, groups of people will be blamed and will be held responsible. An opinion I often hear from parents on scientists is: ‘with my first child I had to make sure that I positioned him like this and that in their crib, but with my second child I had to do the exact opposite! It is like scientists can’t make up their minds!’. Besides, you want to do the best you can and follow orders from your doctor,
but they cannot anticipate everything, unfortunately!
But then we reach this state where truth becomes this philosophical concept. Because when is something really true? Before you come up with a definition, I can write an essay on how our senses are fallible and that we see and hear things that aren’t even present in the ‘real world’. So when do we observe the absolute truth? Because studies have shown us time and time that we see what we want to see or are primed to see. The image above is a representation of this, why do we perceive a triangle in the top image and a sphere in the bottom image? (This is considered to be Gestalt Psychology)

Critical thinking and truth
I am curious to know whether critical thinking has always been a favorable thing, or was it considered defiance in the past? And will we move to a new phase in the cycle where such thinking will again be reprimanded. I often see the word ‘sheeple’ used as an argument when people have a different opinion in a discussion. Through a quick Google search you will find that sheeple are considered to be people who just follow the crowd and are unable to form their own opinions. But still, what is critical thinking really? Is it when you have an opinion that doesn’t match those the majority hold? Google gives me the following definition: the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement. But what is objectivity if we cannot observe the truth?

‘Let’s Hypothesize’ is part of an article series in which I do not rely on scientific references. Instead I will speculate on topics related to consumer behavior. Plus I will include more historical facts and sociological theories.