"God is dead," or so said Friedrich Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and in many ways the Victorian age justified this claim. During the Victorian era, Europe reached the apogee of its power and influence, creating new world empires that altered not only the political boundaries but also the cultural norms of almost every civilization. For many, this was the triumph of European values, of secularism, of scientific advancement, and of cultural superiority in the arts (or so it was thought).
Sciences such as anthropology developed not to explore human development but to justify European physical superiority, modern medicine, and psychology developed to understand the mysterious world of disease and cure them(opium was often prescribed for pregnant women to "calm the nerves"). In this fit of smugness and arrogance, Europe brought the world to heel, dragging back captives to look at and observe in world fairs (most notorious was King Leopold II of Belgium who would capture native Africans from his personal fiefdom in central Africa [the modern nation of the Congo] and bring them back to Brussels to live in a mock African village for all to see, with the predictable results of rain forest people being forced to live on the same line of latitude as Buffalo).
Almost all of Europe relished their elite status, but to achieve this position, religion fell the wayside, ethics, and morals became difficult to define; all was possible, yet just a bit elusive, but it could be conquered with just the right knowledge.
The question I have for you is, is God dead? Does religion temper our choices? Guide us to be better people? Allow us to be moral individuals, with our choices informed by a sense of right and wrong? Or was Nietzsche right? Do we no longer need religion in our lives? Have we evolved beyond it? Left it behind as a remnant of an ignorant past? Would its elimination allow us to move beyond debates on stem cell research, abortion, and same-sex marriage? And end conflicts like the "War on Terror" and our struggle with Islamic fundamentalism?
**Addition, the New York Times Magazine had an interesting article entitled "Darwin's God" and I thought it might interest some people. It has a real connection to the issues we have raised in class about genetics, anthropology, and religion. Check it out.
"The Great War." "The War to End All Wars." "The War to Make the World Safe for Democracy." World War One is known by all of these names, yet I feel none of them some it up best. While the war itself was a tragedy, I think perhaps what characterizes the war best is its aftermath, and what was not done in it. After the war we see the birth of worldwide communism with the USSR, we see the creation of the modern Middle East with the "mandates" of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon, and we see the rise of fascism in Italy. Many of the world's prescient issues stem from the decisions made at the end of the war.Would there today be an Iraq war if Britain hadn't decided to carve out a Middle East that placed Sunni Muslims and Shi'a Muslims in conflict for political power? Would we have an Arab-Israeli conflict if Britain had not issued the Balfour Declaration? Would there even be a War on Terror? If the Great Powers had chosen not to punish Germany, would there have been a Hitler and World War II?
These questions are the great guessing games of history. (Heck, I don't think there would be a History Channel or Military Channel without these wars, for what else do they show but World War Two footage?) But the bigger issue here is the law of unintended consequences. I don't think any of the people that lived during that time could have foreseen the results of their choices, but that is why it is important. We have all made choices that at once seemed like good, rational choices, but, in the end, have come back to haunt us.
So I ask you to share what you think are some good choices now, but down the road will come back to haunt us. These choices can be personal ,general, political, and/or social stories. I ask that you not make them up (keep it respectable, do not humiliate other students both in and outside of the class [as in "I heard so and so did this..."]), and really think about choices. What are good ones and what are bad ones?How do you determine them? What guides people? Money? Power?Self-interest? Fame? Love? Choices are difficult, but it is important to understand why we do (or have done) what we do.
It is quite remarkable that Japan was the only non-European nation that industrialized. Other nations around the world all fell victim to the machinations of the imperial European states, either becoming colonies or divided into spheres of influence, where Europeans gained extraterritorial rights. Japan though, did not.
The question is why? Why is it Japan that adopted and adapted to Western forms? Does this reveal a deficiency in others? Or is it that Japan simply choose to why they didn't? Why is it that some change, while others don't? Is it a function of culture? Religion? Economics? Politics? Or something else?
President's Day is coming soon, and it makes me think. What is the true meaning of nationalism? Is it supporting the President? Or is it complaining against the president? Can you be a nationalist and complain about your country?
Romanticism, an artistic and literary movement, that was both a reaction to the Enlightenment and an expression of nationalistic feelings, was wrapped in the mystique of the unknown and ethereal.
Today, we have soaring divorce rates, single-parent families, and many say romance is dead, with such developments as Match.com, Facebook, TV shows such as Rock of Love Bus (I and II), The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Catfish, Tinder, and personal ads. With celebrity couples, almost as soon as they are married, many in the media begin a countdown to their divorce, with some getting divorced in record time (Kim Kardashian). Yet, Valentine's Day cards, candy, and gifts appear on the store shelves soon after Christmas. Queen Latifah and Dr. Phil counsel us every day on how to be romantic and treat our partners, with the various magazines and pharmaceutical companies advertising their various tips and products to help us along. Children's clothing has become more suggestive, causing schools and institutions to legislate dress codes for girls (and boys, but to a lesser extent) that would have made most people uncomfortable twenty years ago to discuss in public.
Is romance dead?
The French Revolution changed France and Europe forever. The question is, was it worth it? Was the violence that ensued justified by the changes that it brought about? If not, does that mean any revolution that leads to the loss of life is not justified? If so, when is revolution justified? If ever?
One of the key ideas of this unit is a split developed between popular and elite culture in the early to mid 18th century. This split centered on such issues as entertainment, language, religion, and alcohol.
Do you think there is a similar situation today in the 21st century? Are there popular and elite cultures today (PBS vs. Honey Boo Boo)? If so, what are they? Who/ what determines which culture is elite or popular? Is it based on class, ethnicity, or some other consideration
In the 17th and 18th centuries, there was an explosion of new scientific and political ideas. Newton, Descartes, Voltarie, Montesquieu and Locke all dramatically affected the world, and their innovations still impact us today. Are we living in a comparable period? Are such people like Bill Gates, Dean Kamen (most famous for being the inventor of the Segway) Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Jr.etc. on par with these predecessors? Why or why not?
Has there been a comparable time period to the Scientific Revolution or the Enlightenment? Does the Civil Rights Era and the "Sixties" compare? Or is the Enlightenment a singular event in human history? Does it apply to all peoples and civilizations? Or just European nations, or those (such as the United States and Canada) whose civilizations are based on European culture?
The late 17th century (the late 1600s that is) saw a dichotomy developing European government. On one hand there is the massive centralization of power that occurs in France and several of the Eastern European states, while in the northwestern portion of the continent, England and the Netherlands in particular, there is further development of decentralization (as in the Netherlands) or all out war to create limited monarchies (as in England). Why do you think there is this difference between these states?
One of the key themes in this unit is that of slavery. We discuss in depth the process by which we African slaves were ripped from their families, and sold into a slave system thousands of miles from home. We witness the evolution in culture that these slaves experience as they try to cope with the horrors of their lives.
What this leads me to ask is, what do we owe their descendants? Should we apologize for it (there never has been an official apology for the slave trade)? Should we pay them reparations? If so, what do we do about Native Americans? What responsibility do we have today for yesterday's errors?