The Enlightenment of America

How might Lynn Hunt’s treatment of the 18th-century change of opinion on torture apply to the still festering question in the U.S. of the ethical legitimacy of capital punishment? Is this country heading in the direction of abolishing the death penalty—as the Enlightenment was heading in the direction of abolishing torture (and, after that, slavery)?

On one hand, I believe this country is heading in the direction of eventually abolishing the death penalty— just as the Enlightenment was heading in the direction of abolishing torture (and, after that, slavery). Attitudes about torture of prisoners for example, or rather enhanced interrogation techniques, have changed since the Bush administration and all of the public fear mongering that went along with it, during that time.

However, the pessimist in me tends to think that unfortunately America will not abolish the death penalty any time soon. Enlightenment took place during an enormous rise in literacy; unfortunately, literacy and education seem to be on a decline. Even politicians who occasionally speak of education only focus on the importance of technological education, such as vocational schools. In my view, a proper comprehensive humanist education that is grounded in humanities and literature is absolutely necessary, if a society wants its people to enjoy a sense of social awareness and empathy for those who are less fortunate.

Unfortunately, empathy is on the decline in America. A recent study found that empathy levels have been declining over the last 30 years, and that the decline in empathy has been particularly steep since the year 2000. For example, it found “college students today show 40% less empathy vs. students in the 1980s and 1990s.” As a result, I do not feel optimistic about the likelihood that America will reevaluate its position regarding capital punishment.

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-06-08-empathyresearch08_st_N.htm

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=what-me-care

HUNT 2 – General Question

What, in your view, is the next stage of human rights development? Will we now (and ought we now?) to strive beyond adult human rights to rights for other people and/or creatures?

In my view, the next stage of human rights development in America should be those rights that people in Europe currently enjoy. People are entitled to life thus guns should be heavily regulated, especially those that are used to kill people. The prison system should be reformed (private prisons should be outlawed) and sentences should not be so long. Capital punishment should be outlawed. People should not be able to hit or assault their children and call that “teaching them a lesson,” just as adults are not allowed to legally assault other adults in order to teach them a lesson. People should be entitled to know what is in their food, whether it is genetically modified or filled with preservatives that probably cause cancer and other defects. And the animals that we eat should be treated humanely, at least as humanely as possible. It is without doubt that we can treat them more humanely and still eat them because there are countries that are currently doing so. There are a million other human right issues that should also be addressed and reformed (right to a living wage, right to free or almost free healthcare, rights of people in America and other countries to not be exploited for our companies’ profits) but these are just some off the top of my head. Unfortunately, just as we were about sixty years behind abolishing slavery, I don’t think any of these changes will come to America anytime soon. As I have stated in my other post, ideas about human rights require empathy and empathy is on the decline.

A recent study found that empathy levels have been declining over the last 30 years, and that the decline in empathy has been particularly steep since the year 2000. For example, it found “college students today show 40% less empathy vs. students in the 1980s and 1990s.” As a result, I do not feel optimistic about the likelihood that America embarking upon the next stage in developing more comprehensive human and animal rights.

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-06-08-empathyresearch08_st_N.htm

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=what-me-care

True or false (or mostly true or most false); Thomas Paine is a much more characteristic “Enlightenment” thinker than Edmund Burke is. Defend your position with reasons based on material in the texts.

Yes, Thomas Paine is a much more characteristic “Enlightenment” thinker than Edmund Burke is. Burke is much more conservative. He wants to prevent “the evils of inconstancy and versatility,” which, to him, are “ten thousand times worse than those of obstinacy and the blindest prejudice” (Williams 519). Paine’s vision of government is a lot more idealistic than Burke’s. Paine believes in social unrest and revolution if it is for a good cause. Burke does not. Burke argues for safety and security. As a result, Paint appears to be much more of a typical Enlightenment thinker than Burke does.

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