Monday, March 28, 2011

Interesting Connection to Tocqueville...

I was pleasantly surprised to find a connection to Tocqueville's Democracy In America in one of our readings for Wednesday about the Hudson River School, the first native school of art in the United States. When Tocqueville was in America he did not witness the "American identification with nature" (1).

In fact writer Kathleen Hogan points out,"he thought that nature was primarily a European concern, of no interest to Americans," writing that "Europeans think a lot about the wild, open spaces of America, but the Americns themselves hardly give them a thought" (1). This is an interesting idea; I hadn't thought of that.

However, Hogan says that Tocqueville's opinion is not accurate--for two glaring facts. She points out the following: "First, the Hudson River School had come into being to great critical and popular acclaim five years before Tocqueville arrived in the United States and ten years before Democracy in America was published" and second, "these images and images like them were not solely the intellectual property of the cultural elite but were widely disseminated throughout the public through their publication in newspapers, the mass production of prints and as illustrations in American novels such as the Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper, which concerned themselves, at least in part with the place of nature in the American experience" (1).

I found this an interesting read, particularly in how Hogan disagrees with Tocqueville's assessment of America, as well as the surprising ties between the reading to something we discussed in length earlier this semester.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Are All Activities Equal in Developing Social Capital?

One of the things I have been wrestling with throughout our discussion of Putnam's Social Capital is whether all activities are truly equal in their generation of social capital. Do a boy scouts group and a Facebook group promoting awareness, discussion and contributions for Hurricane Katrina damage really generate equal amounts of social capital?

I would argue no. Boy scouts promotes life-long skills, working in groups, leadership and social skills; the Facebook group for Hurricane Katrina (though very admirable and a needy cause) is a one-time thing and one which doesn't force the participant to go beyond writing a check, making a comment on the page or just joining the group. It still has a lot of merit, but cannot do as much to generate community in the real world beyond a computer screen. Afterall, "Social capital refers to the collective value of all "social networks" [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other ["norms of reciprocity"]" (Better Together 1); clearly a Facebook page can contribute to this as a social network, and fosters inclinations to help those affected by Katrina. Nonetheless, it is not doing as much as a boy scouts group, nor does it have the benefits from being a group that meets regularly like a boy scouts group.

Therefore does the difference in benefits from these activities need to be something that is discussed when we're looking at the idea of Social Capital? I'd argue yes.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Internet: Social Capital or Not?

In Bowling Alone Putnam expresses the viewpoint that social networking websites do not create social capital, a viewpoint that many teens today disagree with (myself included), since it can be a great way to organize people and spread awareness. Admittedly though I do have to say that social networking websites, though generators of social capital definitely pale in the quality of social interaction they foster. Afterall, in order to gain social skills one honestly needs the face-to-face interaction that bowling leagues, churches, boy scouts and other groups provide.

However, I found it interesting when reading the article for Friday which further defined Putnam's term of Social Capital, (linked below). On the Better Together website the organization cited "e-mail exchanges among members of a cancer support group" (1) as an example of generating social capital. I wonder if this contradicts Putnam's argument, considering its similarities to the communication found on social networking sites like Facebook. Personally, given my own ideas about Facebook being included in Social Capital I think email exchanges should be included too. This example makes one stop and think: is this social capital? Who's right?

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Democracy: Not like Jelly

According to Alinsky Democracy is "a way of life, not a formula to be 'preserved' like jelly." I agree with this quotation. I think Democracy is more a mentality, a way of living out your life. It is a dedication to freedom and equality for everyone. And as Stout says in his piece "Blessed are the Organized", one cna really only do this and exert strength and change by forming groups. Alone each of us has little say, but together our voices are much more powerful.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Democracy in America Today

"When we expect liberty and justice to appear miraculously, like fast food, without more rigorous forms of participation, definition, and sacrifice, we are like farmers who curse the dirt and pray for rain, but "want crops without plowing the ground. Yet some people are already plowing" (Stout 289-290).

This quote comes from Jeffrey Stout's book Blessed are the Organized Like so many of the authors we have been reading this semester (Putnam, Tocqueville, to name a few) Stout calls for the need for association and mobilization of the populace towards a grassroots democracy. This quote was a great analogy for me: it compared the democratic ideals we are striving for to farming, and reminded me of how it takes hard work in order to get somewhere. We cannot just expect that things will happen overnight and on an individual level we all need to put in the effort and sacrifice to see it succeed. However, first we must "plow the ground" and lay the foundation in order to see it succeed.

On a side-note this quote also seemed applicable to college. Students (myself included), want to get the best possible grades but soon learn that in order to do that a considerable amount of sustained effort is required. It doesn't just require the want to do well but the effort and motivation to do the day-to-day work and effective study habits which leads to success.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Implications for Paying Attention

The idea of paying attention can have some interesting implications. As Petra mentioned in-class, it is often so rare to find someone who, when you talk to them really pays attention to what you say. Frequently people are focused on what they plan to say next, or worrying about other things or one's surroundings. For this reason we tend to gravitate towards those who we feel really listen to what we say. Everyone loves to be heard, right?
In addition to being appreciated by others as a good listener and friend, we also can find implications for focus in other areas, too. As Bellah writes about moments of true attention in Democracy Means Paying Attention, "And even though they are moments of minimal self-consciousness and their purpose is not to maximize pleasure, it is in such moments that we are most likely to be genuinely happy" (254). Though attention's primary goal is not maximizing happiness and pleasure or ameliorating self-consciousness, these can be great by-products of effective use of one's attention span. Afterall, when we aren't worried about how we look or act to others we can focus on the tasks or people at hand and just enjoy ourselves.
However, to cultivate good focus high self-control and self-discipline are required, which is not always an easy task in the world we live in, where multi-tasking is often the norm.

Paying Attention

I really enjoyed the Democracy Means Paying Attention article. I found it to be instantly relatable to my own life, because so often I have found that when I am able to devote my attention to a task fully virtually everything becomes so much more interesting (even if it's something I find really difficult or boring, like math homework). As Bellah writes, "When we are giving our full attention to something, when we are really attending, we are calling on all our resources of intelligence, feeling, and moral sensitivity" (254).
Maybe this has something to do with it.. after all, "At such moments, we are not thinking about ourselves, because we are completely absorbed in what we are doing". In the moments when we are able to focus solely upon what's in front of us, rather than stressing about the pile of homework we have left, the fatigue from not getting enough sleep last night or the argument we had with a friend earlier we are able to fully attend to the immediate and immerse ourselves into it. Thus it makes sense why when we are able to pay attention to something fully it becomes much more interesting (and often easier) than we first assumed.