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One aspect of The Plague that I would like to focus on is Rieux and his relations with the bureaucracies of the medical association and the local government. It is essential to point out that the people of Oran are extremely self-centered. They do not care about the plague; they think it is the government’s job to take care of the problem. The people of Oran are only interested in their own lives; they even think that their situations regarding the plague are unique when in reality the whole town faces the same problems. They take virtually no action to combat the plague and wait for the government to act instead.

In Part I, we see Rieux having to put up with the inefficient bureaucracies of the medical association and the local government. For example, the medical association, at the beginning of the spread of the disease, wasted time debating over if to call the disease “a plague” or not instead of figuring out how to solve an impending crisis. In this situation Rieux showed that he was a realist because he did not care if the public would become alarmed if the disease had been called a plague or not. Rieux did not need to see any more people die so they could conduct more tests to determine if it really was a plague. What mattered to Rieux is that they save as many lives as possible and that they should all be well prepared for the plague to become worse (reasonable vs rational). Perhaps this part of the book shows Camus’ own views on bureaucracy: that they often times slow down what should be done with speed.

Another instance of Rieux having to deal with a bureaucracy is when the city government starts putting up posters in small numbers in less traveled portions of the town warning of the plague. This angers Rieux because he has an all or nothing approach to stopping the plague. While the government does as little as possible (remember that its’ remembers are also self-centered and is generally accustomed to doing nothing), Rieux believes that the city government should do everything it can in order to stop the spread of the disease; namely to shut off the city, to put out more and better posters, and to encourage people to help out. The city government eventually shuts off the city heeding Rieux’s advice (only after a few days pass wasting even more valuable time). It seems towards the end of Part I and Part II with not letting Rambert and any other people leaving the town that the government seems intent on its actions and starts to do a better job. I believe the government initially did not give a whole-hearted response but eventually started doing a better job. It took the government time to break with the status quo of becoming inactive which it is generally accustomed to doing nothing.

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In Albert Camus’ The Plague, the character Tarrou introduced in Part One instantly reminded me of Mersault in The Stranger. When Tarrou was introduced on pages 23-24 of The Plague I knew instantly that him and Mersault were comparable. It states on page 24 that “he (Tarrou) seemed an addict of all normal pleasures without being their slave.” It also talks about that Tarrou enjoys the beach, was good-humored, always had a smile on his face. He was also fond of the Spanish dancers. The line in the text that connects Tarrou to Mersault is that “obviously we may deplore his curious kink in his character and suspect in him a lack of proper feeling (pg. 24).” Mersault, in the The Stranger, exhibited the same traits. Mersault was more interested in the physical world than he was about deep questions in regards to philosophy. He delighted in going to the beach, sex, and sitting on his patio. The unique thing about Mersault is that he thought of things in a different light, with a removed aspect, similar to Tarrou. Another exchange during Tarrou’s role as the narrator in Part One. Another exchange that links these two characters is when Tarrou talks to the hotel manager on page 29:

“I told him it was all the same to me.

” ‘Ah, I understand, sir. You’re like me,  you’re a fatalist.’

“I had said nothing of the kind and, what’s more, am not a fatalist. I told him so…”

This reminds me of when Mersault in The Stranger is indifferent towards both the death of his mother and his feelings toward his girlfriend. It is this detachment from the world, void of feeling, that connects both of these characters. It will be interesting to draw more comparisons between the two in the latter parts of the book.

Thursday’s class definitely made me think about the character of King Henry in more depth. I agree with Dr. Maloney that King Henry is tough is nails and knows what he is doing even though the odds are against him. This is one guy that I would never want to mess with; he is entirely unpredictable. I thought for sure that King Henry would be defeated at the Battle of Agincourt. The French had troops numbering around 36,000 people while he only had 6,000. However, the man knew what he was doing. He was able to employ the English Longbow against the French which turned the tide of the battle in his favor. At times, I cannot stand the character of King Henry and want him to fail. He is sometimes cocky and arrogant. One instance where I was hoping he would fail is when he decided against putting a ransom on himself so he could be bailed out if he lost. The man was crazy not to even if he believed that he would be victorious, especially at the odds he faced. I guess that would be a wise move if he really wanted to motivate his troops.  He seeks the French throne to increase his power and wealth; motives I definitely do not agree with in declaring war. One quality that I appreciate in King Henry is that he is an opportunist. If he sees a way in which he can further his agenda as well as his nation’s, he takes it. An example of this was in the timing he picked in attacking the French. He was ready to launch an attack and knew that the French were weak. He didn’t care if his reasons for declaring war was just or not, he saw on opportunity and took it. I agree with Dr. Maloney’s statement of “fighting is best when you can win versus when it is justified.” This is a prime example of realpolitik. King Henry’s decision to attack the French at his own discretion reminds me of President Nixon’s foreign policy towards China in the 1970s. The Soviet Union and China had not been getting along and President Nixon saw this as an opportunity to befriend China, a prime way of getting back at  the U.S.S.R in the Cold War.

In Political Thought 275 we have shifted our attention to Shakespeare’s Henry V. After reading the first two acts, we continue to analyze Henry’s motives for going to war and if those motives match with those of the Just War Theory (just cause in going to war, practicing war, and concluding the war). The class came up with a consensus that his motives were not aligned with the Just War Theory because one reason that Henry launches an attack against the French is because the Dauphin humiliated him by giving him tennis balls and dismissing him as a threat. This outrages Henry and he demands that the Dauphin to be punished. Another reason why Henry attacks France is because he believes he has the right to the French throne which is barely a legitimate claim.

A  question that must be asked is if Henry is performing his role as King well. In class we have talked about how people do not generally vote for people who would be great leaders but have a good personality.  I agree with this claim. In our country’s history I believe there a quite a few instances of us picking personality before potentially great leaders. This also ties in with the popular notion that it is better to be feared than loved. What we strive for is a balance between the two. I believe that Henry V demonstrates a leader who is more feared that loved. He is decisive and confident in his actions and people do not question him.  At least in the first part of the play he seems like a capable leader. He is confident in his regards towards the French even though his reasons for war might be foolish. He also arouses patriotism in the people and demands respect. He is clearly a revered figure. He would not be of such high stature if he was loved over being feared. It is evident that this approach works for Henry.

This past week in Political Thought we shifted from Rawls to his chief opponent Robert Nozick. Nozick states that you can only acquire things through labor or as a gift. Any other methods of acquiring goods would be invalid. This would make redistributing wealth by the state to be an illegitimate way of transfer. He also believes that taxes are on par with forced labor. I agree with most of what Nozick has to say but am in the center between both Rawls and Nozick. I agree that the only legitimate way to transfer goods are to acquire it yourself or as a gift. I think that Nozick goes too far though in saying that taxes are on par with forced labor. I can understand where he comes from though. If you were to work x amount of hours, and you were taxed 20% of the wages you made in x hours, you would owe the state some of your labor. Since 20% of the wages you make would belong to the state, you would have to work more to make up for the loss. I am more inclined to agree with Rawls in that you owe society for some of your own success, and this means paying taxes. I do agree with Nozick in his questioning of what makes the state a legitimate body to take money from you and to give it to others. Personally, I would rather donate money than leave it up to the government to redistribute it. According to Nozick, donating would be a just way to give away your money. I also appreciated, in Nozick’s society, you could be either a Rawlsian or a Nozickian. However, in Rawls’ society, you could only be a Rawlsian. Also, I agree with Nozick that it’s not unfair to make people be fair.

“A basic structure satisfying the difference principle rewards people, not for their place in that distribution, but for training and educating their endowments, and for putting them to work so as to contribute to others’ good as well as their own” – John Rawls, Justice as Fairness pg. 75

An interesting concept that John Rawls brings to light is his second principle of his two principles of social justice. The second principle states that we should divide resources so that the least advantaged are as well off as possible (without disincentivizing the upper class). In Rawls’ view, you cannot prove that you deserve anything in society, even your own standing. Some of Rawls’ views are hard for me to swallow. I agree that we should try to help the least advantaged but disagree with him on to what extent and that I do not deserve my place in society.

First of all, I am thankful for being a member of the middle class and glad that this was where I was born into (speaking of Rawls’ theory of the “genetic lottery”). I do believe that I deserve everything that I have accomplished so far in my life. My parents have taught me that a strong work ethic would get me places. I have taken this advice to heart and put lots of work into high school sports, high school classes, colleges classes, and work two jobs (nearly 60 hours a week during the summer) trying to cover the cost of attending St. Thomas. I want a college education so that I can hopefully get a good paying job someday. I want to better myself and believe that my hard work will pay off. Likewise, it would be highly unprobable that I would say that someone in the lower class deserves to be there. I agree with Rawls that we need to help the people who have fallen through the cracks. Being a member of society, I pay my taxes and know that I need to help pay for the public institutions that have helped me get where I am and give the same opportunities to others. Rawls states that “you am not only the one that has had a part in your success” and I agree with him. The part that in which I do disagree with Rawls is in how much we need to help these people. I do believe that what I pay in taxes is already adequate for this. However, taxes are being raised constantly to pay for new entitlement programs when wages do not rise. How is this fair to me? How much should I be required to pay? There is a point when enough is enough. I also do not agree with Rawls when he puts his faith in government institutions instead of human morality to redistribute wealth. What makes this moral? I would rather put money into charities that I support rather than to see a mammoth bureaucracy distribute it. I guess I put more in the faith of human morality than Rawls does. If I were born to a family in poverty I would try my hardest to get out of my predicament. Also, if I were ever to make large amounts of money you bet that I would give more than my share to various charities and the less advantaged as Rawls encourages to do. I hope that the rest of humankind would do the same.

“Those who suppose their judgments are always consistent are unreflective or dogmatic; not uncommonly they are ideologues and zealots” – John Rawls, Justice as Fairness pg. 130

This week in Political Thought 275 we turned our attention to John Rawls’ Justice as Fairness. Rawls describes what a “well-ordered society” should look like and states that humans share a similar view on what justice as fairness means (can agree about it on some degree). A central component or “basic structure” to Rawls’  “well-ordered society” is the fact that people are free and equal. I found Rawls’ “Reflective Equilibrium” to be extremely useful advice for maintaining our democracy here in the United States.

I took John Rawls’ “Reflective Equilibrium” to mean that we should listen to the opinions of others even though we might not agree with their point of view. The quote at the top of my post highlights this view. If you always think you are right and never listen to the viewpoints of others, you are usually either an ideologue or a zealot. I agree with Rawls completely and I believe that this is a problem in our political system here in the United States. The current two-party system has created a negative atmosphere were both ideologues and zealots get the most media attention. Members from both parties alike, Democrats and Republicans, never want to listen to each other’s viewpoints and treat every issue as if it is black or white. Rawls, and I agree, that there is room in the middle for compromise. More or less, Democrats and Republicans have more in common than what you would think. They both want to serve America in its best interests; they just have different methods of going about this. Rawls encourages us to “narrow disagreement at least regarding the more divisive controversies, and in particular those that involve the constitutional essentials.” Of course Rawls knows that there will be disagreement but he encourages us to work on compromise. He knows that in the end we will figure out divisive issues and figure out what is best for our country.

In Political Thought 275 we have been continuing our focus on John Locke and his Second Treatise of Government. Thursday’s class lecture focused on the most important parts of Locke’s Second Treatise: Consent, Legislative Power, and Dissolution of Government. I found the section on Legislative Power to be especially stimulating.

Thoughts on Locke’s Legislative Power: I believe that “public goods” lead to the formation of a legislature. Public goods are things that society as a whole needs and are provided by the state through the use of tax dollars. You pay for these goods even if you do not use them so that people who do not pay for them are still subject to the same laws that you are held to. For example you pay taxes to fund the police department even if you live in a relatively safe neighborhood. Another good example is that you pay for a municipally funded court system even if you never end up in court. You may ask, “why do I need to pay for these if I never use them?” The reason you pay for these is because in the event that you do need their services, they are readily available. If you were in danger, the police department would be there to protect you. In the event that you have a dispute with your neighbor and end up in court, you have a neutral third-party to help you sort out the conflict. This highlights the importance of a legislature. A legislature must create laws that protect its citizens. They are responsible for making laws for the common good. In order to be effective, they need to have the threat of being fired so that they are held accountable for their actions. If they create laws that are not parallel to the public interest, they could be removed from office and be replaced with someone who promises to do so. I believe that the accountability of legislators in the United States Congress is slipping. Are legislators really serving us in their best interests? I doubt it. Politics in Washington have become a game of who can thwart the plans of the other party; a competition for who has to be always right. I’m sure that both Democrats and Republicans have policy choices that would be best for our nation, but the other side of the argument would never agree even if they knew they were wrong. Do they even really know what is right for us? Locke would be disturbed to see if they were not serving in our interest; he would encourage us to “dissolve” our government and start over.

This week in Political Thought we were assigned to read John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. Originally I thought that it would be an uninteresting read but after reading I found some of the subject matter to be quite entertaining. Here are some of my thoughts on Locke’s State of Nature, State of War, and his views on property. I agree with most of Locke had to say so far.

State of Nature – In Locke’s State of Nature every man is created equal. According to Locke, man should not be bound to the laws of a government but instead to the Laws of Nature. The Laws of Nature enforce respect of property, right to self-defense, and executive power for everyone. I agree with what Locke has to say. However, I do believe that a government can include the Laws of Nature into its own constitution. I feel that the Laws of Nature are present in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. I do not think that a government has to tell someone to respect someone else’s property, to defend themselves, and that everyone is created equal. I believe that we all have a basic understanding of these rights to begin with and they don’t need to be forced upon us. I found Locke’s view of slavery as being a violation of the Laws of Nature to be extremely interesting. After thinking about it, the highest person of authority we have to answer to is ourselves. Our rights cannot be taken by someone because there is nobody above ourselves.

State of War –  Locke believes that a “State of War” is present when someone is planning your demise. According to Locke, a State of War ends in one of two ways: either you negotiate peace or the one side of the conflict was beaten. I found this segment on the State of War to be relevant today. However, I believe that a State of War is difficult to justify. For example, we were at a “State of War” against Iraq until combat operations recently ended there. Was our motive for invading Iraq justified because they allegedly had “Weapons of Mass Destruction?” If a country poses a threat do you have the right to call for preemptive attack? This question is a difficult one. People will have different views of what constitutes an attack or counterattack. We could see a question such as this one appear in only a few short years if Iran succeeds in creating a nuclear arsenal. Iran is an outspoken critic of Israel and has stated that the Holocaust is a “hoax.” Would this give Israel the right for a preemptive strike? Locke’s State of War ties in with his State of Nature because it mentions “self-defense.” Israel could easily claim its preemptive strike to be one of self defense. These two examples highlight how important it is to understand the concept of a State of War.

This week for Political Thought we were to read the play Antigone, written by Sophocles, the last chronologically of the three Theban plays. There are three main ideas that I found interesting in the story: the relationship between sisters Antigone and Ismene as well as their differences, the feud between Polynices and Eteocles along with Polynices’ burial rights, and the conflict between Antigone and Creon regarding just and unjust laws.

First of all, I found the relationship between Antigone and Ismene to be striking. I was surprised how different the personalities were between the two sisters. I believe that Antigone values family and honor much more than Ismene did. I believe that Antigone was correct when she called her sister a coward (even though she tries to admit to Creon later that she helped with the burial). I would definitely want to give a family member of mine a decent burial even if they had committed something wrong in the eyes of the state. Antigone, plain and simply, wanted to make sure that both of her brothers were given a proper burial regardless of political affiliation and the law. Ismene on the other hand does care for her brothers but will not risk anything to bury her brother Polynices because she could receive the death penalty for her actions. If I were given the choice between the law and my family I would choose my family just as Antigone did.

Secondly, I believe that Polynices should receive a proper burial even if he did turn against Thebes and attack his own brother’s army. Polynices had justification for attacking Thebes; Eteocles did not obey they power sharing contract that they created where one brother would serve a year as King of Thebes and then take a year off. Perhaps this is a hidden motif in the play, that power sharing seldom works. Creon should have allowed Antigone to at least bury her brother and not have a nearly as elaborate funeral for him as for Eteocles.

Finally, I found it interesting to view the differences between what Antigone and Creon thought of the law. Antigone was not willing to give up her sovereignty to bury her brother because the state told her she could not. Creon on the other hand believes that all laws of the state should be followed and punishment should be given out for those who disobey. I will give Creon a break because he just now picking up the pieces from the Battle of Thebes and it is only his first day on the job and law and order is needed to preserve order. It is apparent that Creon favors government, the rule of law, and authority while Antigone favors family and honor. It just never occurs to Creon but is visible to Antigone that there could be a such thing as an unjust law. I clearly believe that the edict that Creon put out pertaining to Polynices burial rights is unjust. Creon reminds me of a dictator similar to Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and Saddam; all of which were power-hungry tyrants and sought control to preserve their power.