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The Oran Government

The Oran government is a subject of controversy within The Plague. The citizens blame the government for not responding quickly enough to the plague, but how much blame can be put on the government, what could have the government actually done?

The city of Oran had a populace of 200,000 people and, from the looks of things, was a prosperous port city which would have had influx of all sorts of cultures, people, and ailments. Looking at the numbers, you had 11 deaths in 48 hours (page 41). Likely these first deaths were elderly patients who often times prove more susceptible to illness than others in the population. The next day, a worrisome doctor is trying to call the illness a plague and saying the city should be shut down.

 The plague, which wiped out a third of Europe, carries with it a panic inducing fear. Rumor of a plague in a city of 200,000 could not only devastate the local and regional economy, but could cause a serious breakdown in public order to the extent of rioting, looting and anarchy. It is easy to understand why the public officials are so worried about a plague false alarm.

 However, with that being said, the city did just have thousands of rats randomly die of a strange sickness, which to any semi-intelligent individual could tell is a bad sign. It seems like basic common sense would follow that a disease that struck a large rodent population in a dense urban area would soon infect human victims. Yet no one seems to make this connect! Not the people, not the doctors, and not the government.

 The government handles the situation by posting small letter of notice in a few parts of the city talking about how there have been cases of fever and it has caused a few deaths. They leave it at that and do little more to prevent the situation from growing. In reading it you almost have to wonder if this is more to help the populace, or if it is more to keep themselves from being liable in case of an outbreak. Either way, the news bulletins go largely unnoticed.

More action could have been taken by the government to spread a warning about an epidemic, or a possible epidemic, but what else could they have done. Could they have effectively quarantined the disease at the time they released the statement? I don’t think they could, this is a plague after all.

Even if the government could have immediately quarantined the plague and its victims, would the government actually have the right to hold them? The idea seems very utilitarian, but most of us would agree to that course of action. The action of quarantining an individual without their consent and without due process screams oppression, but should the rest of the populace be put at risk to maintain this one individual’s rights?


Vote King Henry?

Sorry guys, I kind of posted this a little bit last week on Nick’s wall, but I figured that It would be an interesting conversation for the group as a whole.

Would you vote for/want King Henry for a ruler?

In the last few weeks we have gone back and forth both criticizing and praising Henry, to some he may be a sociopath, to others he may be a great charismatic leader who puts his people and his country before all else. Who do you think he is?

Henry has a lot going for him. He is obviously smart, cunning, charismatic and decisive, all of which are great leadership traits.  He knows how to play the game of politics and he plays it well which is a necessary skill for any successful leader.  One can clearly see his skill when discussing terms of France’s surrender, which leaves a majority of the kingdom intact and seems to do little that would hurt French infrastructure. Most leaders of the time would simply sack the kingdom and imposed harsh, imposing governments to control the captured regions. But Henry is different.

He appears to look out for the welfare of his people, and it seems that he actually cares about them. The evidence from this comes from his childhood exploits, to his rousing speeches, to the conversations with Williams. It can also be seen in his dealing with Harfleur in his preventing it from being sacked and looted, and his negotiations with the King of France after the battle of Agincourt has been won.  Henry does seem to be able to connect to the populace so much that he is able to unite, to some fashion, the various parts of “England” together, or at least focus them in fighting a common enemy.  

King Henry also has a lot of negatives. The most disconcerting negative to many people is his lack of proper justification in going to war. His practice in waging war, from threatening children to killing prisoners, also presents serious flaws in Henry’s character and his moral compass (or lack thereof). People are also thrown off by how he manipulates people and really uses them as a means to an end, this goes from Captain Fluellen to Jack Falstaff. These character flaws are seriously troubling and represent real concerns in having King Henry as a ruler.

 So, in your opinion, do the flaws out weight the positives, or would you want him as your leader?

On King Henry’s Honor

We discussed in class how King Henry refused to offer a ransom to spare his life during and after the battle. King Henry respond’s valiantly saying how he would rather die, than have his life spared by the French. Those are strong and noble words, that, in the context of the play, we assume inspired his men and allowed him to win the battle of Agincourt. However, let us look at Henry’s motivations. After a while one may believe that Henry chose to refuse giving a ransom for personal reasons, and the motivation for his men was an added bonus.

                One could look at the refusal by Henry to give a ransom as a matter of honor. It could be that King Henry would rather die than face defeat. At least in death he would not have to bear the same of being bested in battle by any foe, particularly the French. What would be the point in living if he lost his honor?

                This is not a question unique to King Henry. In a time where the war hero is greater above all else, you can imagine his motivation for this. Look to the Iliad, Achilles was given the option of honor and a short life, or a peaceful long life. We know that Achilles chose the path of honor and death; could not King Henry have made this same choice?

                Look at the famous St. Crispin’s speech. The speech is all about the proud few who stood together, and were able to share the honor of victory over those who chose to stay at home. To Henry this honor seems to be greater than all else. After all, his motivating factor to go to war was the fact that the Dauphin sent him tennis balls instead of treating King Henry as a legitimate ruler. Henry goes to war for honor, but this isn’t the first time.

                Dr. Maloney talked in class about how in Henry IV, then Prince Harry (King Henry V to avoid confusions of the Kings) went to valiantly save his father in order to prove that the way that Prince Harry lived his life was not meant as an insult to his father. He had to prove that in times of need, he could be trusted. He had to prove that he had honor.

                While this is a very cynical view of King Henry V, it is a realistic one. King Henry may have had other motivations for war, and may have had other motivations in his refusal of ransom, but it should be acknowledged that King Henry does have at least some motivation in his honor. It may have been that he refused ransom to prove that he was an Englishman, just like his men who would not be able to give a ransom, or it could be that he would not care to live anyways as he could not bear the dishonor of defeat. After all, honor was a big part of medieval life, and a life without honor, was no life at all.

My thoughts on war…

Dr. Maloney talked on Tuesday about how Shakespeare thinks that people don’t actually believe in just war theory. That they go to war for other means, and use just war theory as an excuse to given to others go to war. I have to say I really disagree with this.

                I think that you can go to war because you honestly believe it’s the right thing to do, and that it is justified. Not only do I believe that it can happen, I believe it does happen. I believe that the American Revolution was a just war. I believe that WWII was a just war after we were attacked at Pearl Harbor. I even believe that Korea and Vietnam were just wars. We went in to help a free democratic people defend their country against invaders who wished to take away their liberties and way of life. Were there political implications to all these things, of course there were! But at the end of the day I believe we went in because it was the right thing to do.

                The funny thing is, when there are not ulterior motives, or at least extra benefits for waging war the American citizenry tend to not support the conflict. In my opinion you can look at Vietnam as an example. Sure we were helping out the South Vietnamese, but what is in it for us asked the American people. For a more recent example, look at Operation Restore Hope and Operation United Shield in Somalia in 1993 (the famous Black Hawk Down incident). We went in to help the Somali people for a government and get rid of a local tyrant, but as soon as we took casualties, the American people lost their stomach for the war. Ironically, the same people who preach for just war theory back out as soon as there are not personal motivations for them. Don’t believe me? Look at the Save Darfur campaigns! As soon as we go in, most everyone who said “let’s go into Darfur” will back out as soon as the first American is killed, and the American people realize we are in for a real fight.

                Now again, with all that being said, there are people who do truly go to war to help out others and because it is the right thing to do.  Those people are the ones that the other citizens should look to. And, when push comes to shove, when people feel personally threatened, they do look to the moral ones for guidance, but often it is only when they themselves are threatened.

 I believe that at its center, the Jasmine revolutions are occurring because people feel that it is morally justified and that it is the right thing to go to war. I believe those true moral people are right in what they are doing. I admit I would do the same in their position. And we should ask ourselves, would you? I say that it is as great of an injustice in refusing to go into a just war to help others, as going to war for unjust and selfish reasons. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”-Edmund Burke

                The key to preventing unjust war is for the populace of a nation to hold themselves and their leaders accountable. If a war is unjust, they must not support it. If it is just, they should support it. If the citizenry fails to do this, then the country is surely doomed.

                My thoughts on war: If the other guy starts it, you finish it. If you have exhausted all options, and you feel your people are in danger, the best defense is a good offense so make a preemptive strike if need be. When waging war, realize who the enemy is, sometimes it’s the enemies’ government, sometimes it’s the entire nation.  War is ugly, war is hell, war is kill or be killed and if you show up for a fair fight, you are unprepared. The quicker, swifter, and more decisively you defeat your enemy, the greater chance you have at winning.  In the end war is a necessary evil:

“If you want peace, prepare for war”-Flavius Vegetius Renatus (Roman Military Strategist)

My rant on welfare…

Government is inefficient and painfully bureaucratic. This couldn’t be more obvious when dealing with social welfare. Nozick comes up with some great arguments, and I absolutely agree with the idea that the distribution of wealth should be done on an individual basis. I would like to expand on some of Nozick’s ideas and point out some of the practical advantages of his ideas and some of the flaws of a broad government controlled distribution.

In a counter to Rawl’s idea that the wealth needs to be indiscriminately distributed throughout the lower class I would like to bring up some of the examples of the individuals receiving welfare. Many of us know people on welfare who drink away their government given money.  How many on welfare do you see smoking? Does it make sense that I have to pay for this individual’s addiction, and then pay for their medical treatment too because they can’t afford either? I sure don’t think so! Nor do I think my hard earned money should be given to someone so they can buy drugs, or gamble my money away.  That’s the cost of indiscriminately distributing money. It gets wasted.

All of my tax dollars that go to booze, tobacco, or who knows what else, could be donated to someone who actually has a chance, and wants to succeed in life! Why shouldn’t I be put in charge of my own money, so I can help those who I think really need and deserve help? With all this, I’m going to bring up a question that nobody wants to ask. Are there people who just can’t be helped? And if they can’t be helped, should we really spend the limited resources we have trying to help them?

Some of you won’t believe that there are people who can’t be helped. If they smoke, drink or do drugs, they are addicted. You’ll say that they don’t have a choice. You argue that we “push criminals to the edge so they have no other choice.” I say that’s absolutely ridiculous, for how many others have not turned to crime?  But if that is still your stance then I ask you, what would you say about a least advantaged individual who receives a gift or inheritance of a nice home, or car, and then ends up completely wrecking it in a short amount of time? They were given something nicer than the state could ever provide and they threw it in the trash. Or how about the least advantaged who finally lands a promising job, and then throws it away by always coming in late, never following direction, or by straight up quitting? How much more can be provided for these individuals?

If you still hold that all people can be helped, and that all people can be helped out of their unfavorable position, then I ask; should everyone receive the same amount of help?  Should the gambler, alcoholic, or the drug user, people who made their own destiny, be given the same amount of money as the kid who grew up in a single parent home and is trying to raise money to go to college so he can get out of his neighborhood and make something of himself? If you truly believe that we are in a system in which our placement is determined by luck, then shouldn’t the child be given that much more help?

In the end, the government is not going to be able to determine who needs what more and it’s ludicrous to even think so. Things need to be solved at the lowest level, on the smallest basis. That’s why a church charity or a local volunteer center is so much more efficient and helpful than a government that indiscriminately throws money at people and expects the problem to be solved.   Localized, specific and individualized help that is distributed on an individual basis is the most effective.  This is what Nozick talks about: Individualized help. My tax dollars can be better spent helping people, and I know I can give it to organizations that do it far better than any government ever can.  In the end, people need to be able to help themselves, and to empower and assist those people to who need help in their journey, you need to know them, and that’s something a government can’t do.

“Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he can eat for a life time.”- Ancient Chinese proverb.

Right now we are just giving people the fish. Why don’t we really help them and teach them to fish?


How Just is Fairness?

Rawls’ book, Justice as Fairness insinuates that the concepts of justice and fairness are equal and compatible, but are they as close as Rawls makes them out to be?

Justice and fairness are not the same. While the two are similar in what they hold, one would find their common definitions and descriptions to be quite different when one looks at the connotation and the magnitude of what they include. Fairness seems, in many ways, small and secondary when compared to the importance and emphasis that is put on Justice. While Rawls system of distributing goods seems fair, it is not quite just. After all, is it just to take on man’s possessions to give to another because he has little? No, it is not! However, it is fair to split up resources in order for everyone to have an equal, balanced share of wealth.

The American way supports the theory of Justice over Fairness. After all, we try to give everyone an equal foundation to start upon, and from there, the individual makes choices that affect his or her outcome in life. If you truly believe that all men are created equal, then don’t all men have the same capacity for prosperity and greatness? If you say they do not, then all men are not equal, are they?

This of course goes against general liberal (lower case “L”) thinking. All men should have the same rights, all men are equal, and no man is better than one another. If this is true, a society that provides a solid foundation of natural freedoms and liberties and allows a man to pursue his own course of actions is a just society. And if this is the definition of a just society, comprised of free men, than any one man’s prosperity is a feet achievable by all man.

In this society, the only correct system of determining a free citizen’s level of prosperity and achievement is to let each and every one of them strive to earn it for themselves. Any shortcomings are then the result of the individual, and not the society. This does not mean that one should not help out his fellow man through voluntary charity, for the unexpected does happen in life, but it does mean  that it is not just for the accomplished and prosperous citizen to be forced to give up his hard earned wages in order for a “fair” distribution of wealth. It’s a shame Rawls doesn’t seem to understand that.

In the end it’s important to remember that fairness is not justice.  Justice is God-given, natural idea, that all man can stand behind, while this context of fairness hinders the prosperity and potential of free men everywhere. Life isn’t fair, but we can strive to make it just.

Original Position and the Veil of Ignorance from a child’s perspective

According to Rawls if we were put in a position of complete ignorance to our future status in society, we would agree to three things. First, we would agree to all persons being considered free and equal. Second, we would all agree to efficient justice. Lastly, we would agree to the equal distribution of resources to all persons. While I completely agree to the first two points, the last point I am more than hesitant to believe.

 A friend of mine teaches social studies at a local middle school where 70-80% of the students live below the poverty line. Many join local gangs to make a living, and for some, just to stay alive. Students in 7th grade regularly get caught dealing drugs and having students arrested is just a part of the routine. These children, as far as the US is concerned, live the lowest of lives, and yet they have the most optimistic, determined and fair outlooks even from their unfortunate position in the Social hierarchy.

When given a survey asking whether or not they felt that a progressive tax, where the upper class is taxed a higher percentage than the lower class, should be put into place the students answered with a resounding no! They said it wasn’t fair that just because individuals made more than everyone else, doesn’t mean they should be punished for that fact. They thought that an even tax across the board was much fairer, even though they knew very well that they would be the beneficiaries of that increased tax. Most all of us would agree that children look at the world with the veil of ignorance yet here were children who were aware of their position and still stated that the equal distribution of wealth would not be the just right and fair thing to do.

Another problem with this notion is its application on a global scale. At a national level the idea of an even distribution of wealth is better understood, but would this transfer to a global scale? Countries have different resources than one another, along with different climates and populations. Theoretically should a rich country distribute its raw resources to other less fortunate countries? Should a country who has been blessed with oil, gold or some other resource give an equal percentage of the resource to every single other country on the planet? Does the distribution of resources change with the population size or percentages? How about the population density? The idea of a global wealth and resource distribution doesn’t seem to make much sense, but yet, we agree that the first two theories should, and more importantly could, actually be employed on the international level. It seems that truths that are universally true should be able to be applied to all groups, be it a family or planet.

 The answer to this seems to be a fair and just society is based in large part upon the first two theories of free and equal persons and efficient justice, and if a fair and just society is in fact created, the even distribution of resources is replaced by the distribution of opportunity for advancement and self-driven success through ingenuity and hard work. This seems a far more fair system over an even distribution of resources for we all have different abilities, skills and characteristics. Only we can know what we need and how to truly take advantage of our full potential.