Archive for August, 2013

Reexamining Manifest Destiny

Sunday, August 25th, 2013


Manifest Destiny has been used to justify U.S. actions in numerous instances.  Is Manifest Destiny simply an excuse for imperialistic expansion or the right of a people on the brink of greatness?  Does the idea of divine right have any place in the 21st century?




With the 1839 publication of “The Great Nation of Futurity” in the Democratic Review John L. O’Sullivan laid the groundwork for the concept of Manifest Destiny.  The article is a lofty portrayal of the uniqueness of the young United States.  Within the article O’Sullivan frames the “great nation of futurity” as “destined to manifest to mankind excellence of divine principles; to establish on earth the noblest temple ever dedicated to the worship of the Most High – the Sacred and the True.”  This concept of prioritizing the U.S. destiny over other nations in the hemisphere would play a vital role in future events. 


Following the Texas Revolution of 1836 there was mounting pressure from the media, members of congress, and other portions of the U.S. population to annex Texas.  Many of these sentiments are expressed in John O’Sullivan’s article “Annexation,” also published in the Democratic Review in 1845 where the term “Manifest Destiny” was coined.  In the article O’Sullivan admonishes any nations that dare to impede the divine authority of the United States thus “limiting our greatness and checking the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” 



To O’Sullivan’s delight Texas was annexed in 1845, setting the stage for the bloody Mexican-American War, which claimed the lives of 14% of U.S. troops deployed making it the highest fatality rate of any war in the Nation’s history.  Many public officials viewed the war as imperialistic and unjust.  The final President of Texas, Anson James rebuked celebrated General Zachary Taylor and President Polk for trying “to induce me to aid them in their unholy and execrable design of manufacturing war with Mexico.”  This sentiment was later echoed by Ulysses S. Grant who viewed the war as “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.”  The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the struggle in 1848, ceding the modern states of New Mexico, California, Nevada and portions of Arizona, Utah and contested areas of Texas to the United States.  If the Monroe Doctrine (1823) established the U.S. as hegemon of the region then the Mexican-American War transformed the United States into an imperialist nation.  The underlying concept of Manifest Destiny would be evoked time and again to legitimize the extension of U.S. territory quelling the outcries from a population that had been historically squeamish about imperialism, a natural impulse given its colonial roots.[1] 





But have we changed our views since?  Or are there still seeds of Manifest Destiny in our most recent rash of wars and conflicts?  The concept of Manifest Destiny hinges on the idea of superiority by divine right.  The idea of divine right guiding U.S. actions was parodied in Bob Dylan’s “With God on our Side.”  Surely one cannot still consider a nation’s wars of expansion as something ordained by God. 


Belief that God ordains armed conflict for territorial expansion is extreme.  However, a similar certitude, albeit for different reasons, can be seen in Muslim terrorists who have struck in the name of Allah.  How can we reconcile righteousness on both sides? 


U.S. foreign policy was built upon the base of Manifest Destiny and it has been evoked in the name of annexation in such places as Alaska and Hawaii.  The term Manifest Destiny may have an old fashioned ring to it but strains of that thought can be seen in the nation-building that we have attempted in Afghanistan and Iraq, trying to “bring democracy” to these foreign lands.  But where does this right come from?  The desire by man to find a way to rationalize what he wants to attain can have no limits.  Manifest Destiny is an inventive reason for expansion.



UNTOLD HISTORY IV: Pakistan, Microcephaly, and the Rat Kids

Sunday, August 18th, 2013


Homelessness, poverty, and misfortune have been long-standing facets of the civilized world and can be defined differently based upon where you visit.  For example, the impoverished citizens of the United States might be pleading for loose change at a busy interstate junction, or playing a guitar at a subway stop.  Yet halfway across the globe, this concept of begging is drastically different due, in part, to a genetic defect commonly found in one region of Pakistan.  Microcephaly is classified as a neuro-developmental disorder in which the afflicted skulls are noticeably smaller, and oddly shaped, in comparison to a standard human skull.  The disorder inhibits mental and motor skills, which results in a human being unfit to care for themselves.   In Pakistan children with this debilitating disease have been sold to traveling beggar gangs as a means to procure more money based on the empathetic response of average citizens.

For the last 100 years or so, historians claim that children born with microcephaly in Pakistan have been abandoned at the shrine of Shua Dulah.  It is here that these gangs or “Chua-Masters” pick up these deformed children, and care for them with the hopes of accumulating mass profit.  From here the master will lead the rat kid across Pakistan, attending several of the biggest festivals of the calendar year, where they can hope to obtain a sizable purse from the generosity and superstition of citizens.  The people of India believe the idea that handicapped people are closer to the gods, thus incurring the belief that donations to the rat kids will benefit their karmic outcome.   On one hand you have society stepping up and finding a way to care for a mentally disabled and physically deformed human being, but at the heart of this charitable act is the sole purpose of trying to make money.  Would you be more apt to donate some money to a person on the street if they were accompanied by a disabled person, maybe in a wheelchair?  Perhaps you would, but out of what instinct does that surface?  Is it the feeling of guilt that motivates us to be charitable, or the suspicion of some otherworldly spirit, which seems to be the prevailing case in Pakistan?  The somber story of these children is but a hidden bit of history that touches upon several notions of what humanity is truly capable of.  Certain members of the human race can be considerate and caring, while still using manipulation as a means to accrue wealth.




Humanity has mastered the process of manipulating those unfortunate souls at a physical or mental disadvantage.  The United States, and almost any other country in the world, has had a despicable past of abuses towards the mentally challenged and impaired.  Think of the deplorable conditions in mental hospitals, where electric shock and lobotomies were frequently used.  Much like the microcephaly children in Pakistan, a systematic rubric for abuse and exploitation is far too common.  Take for example Ota Benga, a Mbuti Pygmy who went on display at the Bronx zoo in the early 1900s.  We’ve long been told to view with open eyes, or withhold judgment, on those who may not appear as the rest of us do, but this practice can only go so far.  Social discrimination has been used for centuries as a means to exploit a “lower” race or group of individuals.  The rat kids of Pakistan are but another sad example of this practice, and reflect that  in the less-civilized parts of the world these traditions still continue.

The bizarre case of the Rat Children in Pakistan does not simply end with beggars, gangs, and mystical shrines.  There are also reports of long-standing cruel and unusual disfigurement of healthy babies born to poor families who simply cannot take care of themselves.  It is rumored that healthy babies are intentionally disfigured with heavy iron rings that restrict normal skull development and they are then sold into this culture of begging for a tremendous profit.  There are no limits to the deceptive nature of humankind, especially when money is at stake.  Pakistani doctors have repeatedly spoken out against the possibilities of this genetic disorder becoming so prevalent in one area.  However physicians also proclaim that the practices described to intentionally mutate a child would more often result in death than a deformity.  There is no way to look at this and not feel a hopeless despair for these children, already born into a life of poverty and hardship—manipulated into a gross money-machine for gangs.





-Spencer James-

Start Looking Up: Lose Yourself in the Cosmic Perspective

Monday, August 12th, 2013

 (Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson breaks down your ego and the universe.)


As we each develop our individual perspectives of the world, sometimes we can fall into a trap.  Everyone is molded and conditioned by what is around them.  Political parties, emotional responses, religious affiliations, economic considerations, and cultural divisions are the tools that we use to think about the world around us, but are they the right tools?  I believe that the boundaries which constrict everyday worldviews are perilously small and inconsequential when we consider a cosmic perspective of everything.  We live in a universe of untold majesty and boundless possibilities, yet our thoughts are perpetually bogged down with any number of irrelevant considerations.


Just take a moment and think about some of the conversations that you had today, what were they about and why did you have them?  What troubles me is that the shallowness that dominates most people’s perspectives is contagious and self-reinforcing.  The majority of us grow up in a world that restricts broad awareness of our place in the universe.  Petty things like bad television and social quarrels are the issues that all too often dominate our thinking.  Prevailing narcissistic interests have become a serious cultural problem that is beginning to threaten posterity.  Our prolific civilization is becoming crippled by narrow-minded egoism.  What we desperately need to think about is a point raised by Carl Sagan: “the visions we offer our children shape the future.  It matters what those visions are.  Often they become self-fulfilling prophecies.”  It is our duty as an intelligent species to widen our gaze, not diminish it to the point of nothingness.


In the very short amount of time that we have been able to physically reach out into the cosmos, a curious phenomenon has been observed.  Many of the people who have had the privilege of an extraterrestrial view of the world have experienced a strange and compelling psychological shift.  This occurrence has been referred to as the overview effect, or cosmic awe.  Essentially these terms were created to define the feeling that commonly overwhelms astronauts when they first glimpse the world from above.  We have all seen pictures from space that are brilliant and insightful, but it is clear that something different happens upon actually seeing our planet from above.  Upon witnessing the earth from a cosmic perspective, astronauts are often inundated with a feeling of empathy and global awareness.  The enlightenment has in fact been compared to revelations achieved by those who practice Zen Buddhism.  Entering into space appears to flood the human mind with an understanding of our fragile and defenseless place in the world.   War’s, religions, tyrants and saints often fade away following just a mere glimpse at our infinitely small place in the universe.


I do not believe that there is anything more important to the future of humanity than the encouragement of this perspective.  Think of the laundry list of problems that could be addressed if this was the viewpoint our species chose to promote.  The reason that things like environmental devastation and mass violence continue to plague the world is because of our tendency for inward-thinking.  The cosmic perspective is the vaccine to this disease that we have been stricken with.  We may not all be able to catch a ride into space anytime soon, but that does not mean that we are unable to attain this higher level of appreciation and insight.  I urge you to take a minute and step outside during your next free night (leave the city if necessary).  All it takes is a moment of sincerely looking up at the night sky with no phone, no distractions, and no caustic affectations.  Everything that you see is real, and is larger and more exciting than anyone can comprehend.  I believe that if more people are able to do this and let go of their own small worlds, that we can have some hope for the coming future. 



-J.A. Young

Challenging Progress: Russia, Scott Lively, and Gay Rights

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

This June Vladimir Putin signed two bills that vary greatly from the noticeable shift in global mentality towards gay rights.  The bills make it illegal for homosexual couples in foreign countries to adopt Russian children, and allow for “pro-gay” foreigners to be detained in Russia for up to two weeks.  Not only this, but these laws make it illegal to present the concept of “nontraditional” marriages to children.  Putin is effectively trying to eradicate any mention of homosexuality in Russia.  Although these laws are obviously irrational, they are nothing compared to the actions taken by Russian Neo-Nazi groups against the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community. While the violent reactions in Russia are ghastly, they are not the only place this type of sentiment is present.  American Evangelical priest Scott Lively has been a staunch opponent to progressive gay rights, and has been persecuted on Human Rights violations from his antigay activity in Uganda.



The group known only as Format 18, is a Russian Neo-Nazi organization run by Maxim Martsinkevich, who is a dastardly figure with a long history of violence and hate.  The article from the Post states that Format 18 is using a Facebook-esque website to post same sex ads with the hopes of luring homosexuals to certain locations.  When these men arrive they are immediately cornered by Format 18 and tortured, beaten, mocked, and violated on videotape.  The Spectrum Human Rights Group, who specialize in LGBT rights in Eastern Europe, claim that many of these victims have either committed suicide or are too emotionally distraught that they retreat into isolation.  The violent videos can be easily viewed on YouTube, and are extremely disturbing.  What is even more distressing is that these Neo-Nazi organizations are operating under the belief that they are acting on behalf of their country, and the will of Vladimir Putin.  There is no question that Russia will soon find itself embroiled in an international debate over their “antigay” policies, as they represent a significant political move that encourages violence and bigotry.



We’ve already discussed the infamous hate group Westboro Baptist Church on Can the Man, and their prejudice pales in comparison to that of evangelist Scott Lively.  Lively has advocated his support of the Uganda “Kill the Gays” campaign, however the proposed legislation has failed in Uganda congress.  The original plans were to execute any homosexual diagnosed with AIDS as well as anyone involved in a “same-sex” rape case.  Although Lively was reluctant to support the death penalty in such cases, he did back several other parts of legislation that were equally as disgusting.  Albeit Lively’s activity in Uganda is abhorrent, it is hardly the most illogical campaign he has made against homosexuality.  In 1995 Lively co-authored The Pink Swastika, which erroneously claimed that the Third Reich and the Nazi party were closeted homosexuals operating on a secret agenda.  In addition to this, Lively has made one of the strangest claims  ever lobbied against President Barack Obama.  According to Lively’s “sources” he claims that Obama is a homosexual, and that he used to frequent the Chicago bathhouse scene while serving in the Illinois Senate.  Lively’s sheer detest for homosexuals is ridiculous, and has no place in modern society—much like the new laws and actions directed at homosexuals in Russia.



Hatred and oppression are as much a part of human history as love and acceptance, and some would argue even greater.  The world rests upon the precipice of several revolutionary and progressive ideas, including that of universal gay rights across the globe.  Some of the most intense examples of hatred are taking place in Russia, as well as right here in our own country.  Although we have made strides towards legalizing gay marriage in numerous states, there is still much ground left to cover.  We as a global society have a fight ahead of us, and we are not out of the woods yet.  However to condone “antigay” behavior, and initiate legislation against such, acts only as a further detriment to the whole of society.




-Spencer James-