How much do we value our freedom?

Benjamin_Franklin (1)For some reason that I am not even aware of anymore, I believed that countries who spy on their citizens are not democratic ones but only those which are governed by a dictator who suffers from an understandable fear of the people he is actually governing. Apparently I was obviously very wrong about that. Edward Snowden, the US ex-NSA (National Security Agency) technician, turned whistleblower on the government, has showed to all of us, that for the US, spying, and not only on its citizens but also on the citizens in many other countries, seems to be quite a normal procedure. (Even though the NSA now states that it mainly spies on people in other countries. Somehow, for me living in Germany, that does not make it on bid better.) Snowden revealed that the NSA has a system called Prism that is designed to track phone and internet connections, and is able to reveal every information about its use and the attached user. It is supposed to work with big companies like Google and Facebook, Microsoft and Apple. “The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.” Says Edward Snowden in an interview with the Guardian that was conducted Monday the 10th of June in Hong Kong. Since then Snowden has checked out of the hotel and is believed to be hiding in Hong Kong.
James Clapper, Chief of the NSA has said that the system was not a snooping device to spy on people outside the US but an internal system of the government that is only used to counter terrorism. Unfortunately, even this leaves a lot of room for interpretation and can be widely used if the NSA deems it appropriate. So, the public does not really know how Prism functions, nor what it is actually targeting. Does a red flag on some system come up when I write the word “bomb” three times? Does a red flag come up as soon as I publish this blog because I voice criticism towards the NSA and the US government? Do I have to be afraid now? Even if I would be, and let me say, I am not, I would write and publish my criticism. It is unbelievable how our personal freedom and our liberties are treated since 9/11. As well as I can understand the fear, the way we are behaving, the terrorists have already won, because they have struck perpetual terror in our minds. And they use our fear very cleverly, because now someone like Edward Snowden cannot voice his opinions anymore without having to fear, not some terrorists, but his fellow countrymen who want to prosecute him for saying the truth and for explaining to the public how it is treated by those who claim that they have a claim and a right to protect us. And even though I can imagine that Snowden was probably sworn to secrecy when he was accepted as a NSA employee, it must be possible for each and every individual to follow their conscience and to stand up and speak out. I cannot give you a good answer as to where to draw the line between liberty and security. But I can quote Benjamin Franklin “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” And to end with a thought of my own, I am deeply unhappy that this wisdom is still not adhered to. How many more liberties and freedoms do we have to lose to understand that this is not worth all the security in the world?

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Pussy Riot – or what is (religious) freedom to you?

ImageFor months and months the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot has dominated the news in various ways. Pussy Riot is an all-female band based in Moscow. The members all wear balaclavas when they are performing, because they are protesting against the Kremlin and against the Putin-led government and were and are afraid of the police arresting them. On March 4th, it has happened. The group performed, on February 21st early in the morning, in the Orthodox Cathedral in Moscow, Christ the Savior, and three members were subsequently arrested. Maria Alyokhina,24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova,22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich,29, spent the last seven and a half month in a prison in Moscow being tried for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. Yekaterina Samutsevich was released on appeal, while her two band mates were convicted and sentenced to two years of prison camp respectively. Putin claims that the sentencing was not politically motivated and that he had no voice in the sentencing process. He even goes so far as to claim that he had no knowledge of the group before the video shoot in the Cathedral. This claim seems hardly to be believable. Putin normally knows pretty well what is going on in his country and especially in Moscow and most especially if it involves an entire group of young people, most of them in their twenties and maybe thirties, who are consistently protesting against the government. Continue reading “Pussy Riot – or what is (religious) freedom to you?”

Do we need adjusting or can we deal?

The latest movie I’ve seen is The Adjustment Bureau. Moving past the cliched love story, it circles around the concepts of Determinism and Free Will. The movie is a an interesting adaptation of Philip K. Dick short story infused with suspense and imagination. Let’s start with the line I consider to be defining:

Thompson : We actually tried free will before. After taking you from hunting and gathering to the height of the Roman empire, we stepped back to see how you’d do on your own. You gave us the Dark Ages for five centuries until finally we decided we should come back in. The Chairman thought that maybe we just needed to do a better job with teaching you how to ride a bike before taking the training wheels off again. So we gave you raised hopes, Enlightenment, scientific revolution. For six hundred years we taught you to control your impulses with reason. Then in nineteen ten, we stepped back. Within fifty years you’d brought us World War One, The Depression, Fascism, The Holocaust and capped it off by bringing the entire planet to the brink of destruction in the Cuba missile crisis. At that point the decision was taken to step back in again before you did something that even we couldn’t fix.

Atrack and don’t deviate. They are the helpers of a Chairman (we might assume this is another name for God). So, this rekindles the problem of Free Will vs. Determinism that has puzzled philosophers for thousands of years. On the level of conscience, liberty can be defined as the possibility to choose. The principles used in the movie can basically be found in Leibniz’s doctrine: God predetermined broadly all the actions of the human beings, but leaves them with the choice of little things such as what to wear, what to eat, etc.  He believes that the universe is created by God according to a divine plan and that freedom and determinism are compatible with each other. People have  freedom, but they are  limited by their imperfection and passions.

Using the idea of freedom as spontaneity, Leibniz argues that our reliance on voluntary action by a chain of causes does not exclude a wonderful spontaneity. To exercise one’s free will means to act under one’s own wishes and inclinations, regardless of outside influences. Since the divine order prescribes classes of acts and not particular acts, we is free. However, this freedom of action manifests itself on God’s predetermined territory.

Deviating a little from Leibniz, but in the same area of subject: Did you knew that if people are told that free will doesn’t exist, their brains will follow?

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Free Nietzsche Virtual Issue

The European Journal of Philosophy is delighted to bring you this Virtual Issue on the theme of Nietzsche. Please click on the articles below to read for free, along with the introduction by Robert Pippin from the University of Chicago.

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.Introduction, Robert Pippin

Section One: Nietzsche and First Philosophy
Nietzsche’s Positivism, Nadeem J.Z. Hussein
Nietzsche’s Post-Positivism, Maudmarie Clark and David Dudrick
Nietzsche on Truth Illusion and Redemption, R. Lanier Anderson
Nietzsche’s Theory of Mind, Paul Katsafanas
Nietzsche and Amor Fati, Beatrice Han-Pile
Nietzsche’s Metaethics, Brian Leiter

Section Two: Nietzsche and the Philosophical Tradition
Nietzsche’s Critiques: The Kantian Foundations of His Thought, R. Kevin Hill
Nietzsche and the Transcendental Tradition, Tsarina Doyle
Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Death and Salvation, Julian Young
Nietzsche’s Illustration of the Art of Exegesis, Christopher Janaway

Section Three: Genealogy and Morality
Nietzsche, Revaluation and the Turn to Genealogy, David Owen
Nietzsche and Genealogy, Raymond Geuss
Nietzsche and Morality, Raymond Geuss
Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology, Bernard Williams
The Second Treatise in the Genealogy of Morals: Nietzsche on the Origin of Bad Conscience, Mathias Risse
Nietzsche on Freedom, Robert Guay

Section Four: Nietzsche and Art
Nietzsche’s Metaphysics in The Birth of Tragedy, Beatrice Han-Pile
Nietzsche on Art and Freedom, Aaron Ridley
The Genealogy of Aesthetics, Dabney Townsend

Is Access to Social Networking a Measure of a Society’s Freedom?

In responding to the political demonstrations, the Egyptian government has disrupted internet service and mobile phone services, in the obvious hopes of (a) reducing the volume of testimonies and videos being communicated outside of the country and (b) to disrupt the capacity of the protesters to remain organised and to communicate their progress to the greater population.

The BBC reports that both Facebook and Twitter— relied upon by protest organisers— have responded to the attacks in order to maintain service in these countries.  The Atlantic, meanwhile, offers some thoughts on whether Continue reading “Is Access to Social Networking a Measure of a Society’s Freedom?”

Peer pressure and a steady mind

Sociologist Dr Nicholas Christakis has a new book in which he argues that we are subject to a process of ‘social contagion.’ What we do is to a great extent determined by the company we keep. In some cases this is obvious: the clothes they wear, the music they like, and so on. But not just that. Christakis claims that things such as whether you know someone (who knows someone who knows someone) who is obese, influences whether you are likely to become obese. Ditto kinds of sexual activity, smoking, whether or not you vote, happiness, and other things.

The study that is supposed to support this claim is Continue reading “Peer pressure and a steady mind”

Reading the criminal mind

Besides its surprisingly good action cinematography, ‘Minority Report’ owes its huge success to the deep discomfort it created in viewers. The movie constructs a future world where law enforcement makes use of ‘Pre-Cogs’ — humans who have been given the gift of foresight through genetic modification, so that they can see crimes before they happen. When a crime is predicted, the purported criminal is promptly apprehended and the crime prevented. The movie forces the viewer to confront a host of questions that have troubled philosophers for millennia.

If the future is predetermined, in what sense can we be said to be free? Central to our commonsense conception of freedom is the inherent possibility of doing otherwise. If the future is closed to alternate possibilities, then there is no sense in which a murderer could have acted differently and then it seems that  the act of murder is not a free act. Relatedly, if a person cannot do otherwise, is there a sense in which the person is morally responsible for the action? Hume, most famously, articulated the seemingly essential relationship between the notion of moral responsibility and the possibility of freely choosing your actions. ‘Ought implies can,’ he said. One is morally obligated to act in a certain way only if one can in fact act in such a way. If the future is predetermined, then in a clear sense the murderer could not have failed to murder. But then what sense is there to the claim that the murderer ought not to murder? And if there is no sense to be given in response to this question, there is little reason to hold the murderer morally responsible. The murderer is no different from a person who happens to slip on a banana, land on an innocent bystander, and accidentally snap his neck. The person is causally responsible for the unfortunate killing, but, since the person could not have done otherwise, is not morally responsible for it.

Continue reading “Reading the criminal mind”