March 30, 2007

Immoral Geographies

In her provocative paper "A Pornography of Birth: Crossing the Moral Boundaries", New Zealand geography professor Robyn Longhurst asserts that "The moral boundary between what is considered ‘normal’ and what is
considered ‘perverse’ is constantly struggled over and is temporally and spatially specific. [U]nderstanding sexualized acts and spaces is multifaceted and contradictory since (hetero)sexuality does not stand alone but is entangled with gender, race, ethnicity, social class, age and so on." I am intrigued by philosophy and geography intersecting in a converation about the role of space in our epistemologies, and the impact that very understanding may have on our moral claims and subsequent (un)ethical behaviour.

We often talk about "Other" as a conceptual term, but it appears that we really see "Other" as a physicality as well. I think this helps explain how it is that our control of our behaviour in our day-to-day spaces becomes affected when we are in Other-space, such as a "red light" district. I do not have any statistics but I wonder how many adulterous affairs occur in hotel rooms, those anonymous spaces outside of our typical lived-space. Similarly, I wonder if it is the case that the men charged with sexual exploitation of children in foreign countries probably do not engage in such illicit and illegal behaviour in their home countries.

What it is about Other-space that affects our moral behaviour? What is it that allows us to give ourselves permission to act in either immoral, illegal, or exessive ways? Even the supposedly benign Spring Break culture of places like Tijuana and Daytona Beach illustrate this phenomenon. Surely the thousands of teenagers descending upon these places would not typically engage in such behaviours on the same scale back in their home-space. Perhaps the "Break" should correctly be seen as a verb; as a departure from moral norms.

There is indeed a sense that we cross into "immoral" space and place upon the inhabitants of these spaces the mark associated with that immorality. Once we cross into this space we also absolve ourselves of our ethical parameters. Thus the respectable businessman cruises for trade in the spaces of his city he knows to be so-sullied. He travels to Thailand where, apparently, children do not have the same inherent value as children in Canada. And so we are drawn to the away-spaces where we peel off our moral fabric and swim in deliberate delusions.

March 19, 2007

It's not logical, Captain...

In June 2002, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield delivered the following speech to a crowd of reporters who were asking about the progress of the war on terrorism:

"The message is that there are no 'knowns'. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also known unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that's basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of these known unknowns...There's another way to phrase that and that is that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence".

History now affords us the truth behind Rumsfield's sophistry; that the WMDs of Iraq were imagined and that the so-called "war on terror" is a futile task. Yet, as someone who earned a degree in philosophy, I cannot help but marvel at Rumsfield's astonishing grasp of rhetoric and his cunning use if illogic logic to make his point. As Lewis Lapham commented, it was "a speech worthy of the riddling fool in one of Shakespear's enchanted forests". It should be required reading in all American high school civics classes, as a portent of the abuse of logic for nefarious purposes.

March 5, 2007

It was 20 years ago today...

March 9 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of U2's iconic album "The Joshua Tree". The album stood out among its peers for its imagery, lyrical allusions (hope remains yet in the moral, spiritual, and economic desert of America) and for its singular sound. Amidst the banality of 1980s synthezised pop this album yearned to mean something more.
In a 2001 VH-1 poll of 40,000 voters, "The Joshua Tree" was named the top all-time greatest album, beating out some outstanding work from the usual competition such as The Beatles, Radiohead, Oasis, Stevie Wonder, and Nirvana. A lovely tribute to the staying power of what is for me a very special album. And just this week, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame released its list of 200 essential rock albums, and "The Joshua Tree" came in at #5 (after "Sgt Pepper", "Dark Side of the Moon", "Thriller", and "Led Zeppelin IV").
A longtime U2 fan, I do consider "The Joshua Tree" to be U2's greatest album. Note I did not say "best". Without question their best album is "Achtung Baby" (1991)--it's their finest studio craftwork and it deserves all that much more praise for breaking the juggernaut that was their post-"Joshua Tree" image. But art is more than production. In terms of its scope, its cinematic ability to take you to a place you may not have yet imagined, and its vision of hope, "The Joshua Tree" is U2 reaching as far as they can with big sound and even bigger dreams. [Image: Anton Corbin]