Friday, November 20, 2009

Rise and Significance of Western Ideologies

The 19th and 20th century opened the flood gates of Western culture to new ideological propositions. The rapid reconstitution of society demanded a contemporary pantheon of political theory to absorb the disillusionment of the Modern Age. Each new idea proposed to espouse the philosophical salvation of civilization. Such theories seemed to take on an air of secular divinity, arousing intense devotion to an idea rather than to God or country. The dissemination of various ideologies, and the devotion led people to redefine themselves collectively, as well as individually.

Liberalism was born out of the Enlightenment, and provided the foundation of a nation apart from Europe, whose national ideals would inspire people across the globe, for more than two hundred years. Nationalism excited great conflict in the West, even as it compelled people throughout the undeveloped world to throw off oppressive colonial regimes. Socialism and Marxism took various forms of which none seemed to provide the utopian society people had hoped for. Romanticism represented a reaction to “the cult of rational thought,” and the classical order. Romanticism promoted the eternal mystery of the soul, even as society seemed perched on the verge of unraveling such a mystery. As Romanticism longed to return to a more ‘natural’ state Modernism rushed forward into the 20th century. Modernism created a radically different vision of the future which seemed to lack boundaries. The uncertainty of the Modern Age, and the multiplicity of conflicting ideologies aroused fear in people throughout the world. Causing a return to near monarchial control in a number of nations under Totalitarianism.

Each political theory responded to the disintegration of another. Western ideology builds itself upon the foundations of all that came before it. Each ideology imposed itself upon the fashioning of our collective history and so suffuse itself into the fabric of our society. In the progression of civilization each concept will be reincarnated, thus their reverberations will go on inevitably to redefine us collectively, as well as individually.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Brief History of Doughnuts

"On October 19th 1917 The first doughnut is fried by Salvation Army volunteer women for American troops in France during World War I."—This Day in History

The above statement falls under some degree of suspicion as cultures around the world have practiced frying pastries for centuries. Making the origin of the idea nearly impossible to trace. Regardless, the Salvation Army can take a great deal of credit—as they do on their website—for popularizing the doughnut among Americans. Following the Great War doughnuts gained near iconic popularity in the United States. Doughnuts became associated with all facets of American society as they began to appear at church functions, office meetings, and social gatherings of all kinds. Shops sprang up across the country to provide for Americans appetite for the soft, sugary treat.

Almost a hundred years since the “first” doughnut was fried Americans relationship with food has changed dramatically. The American diet developed based upon a highly agrarian -and then later industrial- society. The demands of physical labor lead to a diet rich in fat, sugar, protein, and high in calories. As an increasingly large percentage of the population now hold white-collar jobs, the American diet is progressively in conflict with the sedentary lifestyle of most modern Americans.

In addition the very nature of how our food is prepared, packaged, and delivered has changed. During the 1950s commercial manufactures of doughnuts began to emerge, replacing independent bakers. The mass production of these soft, sugary, pastries posed logistical problems for commercial distribution. In order to create a product with a longer “shelf-life,” that could withstand shipping to newly established grocery chains, manufactures began to use hydrogenated vegetable oils. The process of hydrogenation creates fat solids, which helps fried breads retain their shape, and lasts substantially longer than unhydrogenated oils. Fat solids created in this way have been linked to heart disease, high cholesterol, and obesity. So the very composition of what we eat has been altered, although it appears largely the same.

In December, 2006 New York City Board of Health voted to phase out artificial trans fats from New York City Restaurants. The response was mixed. Some applauded the measure. Others begrudge the new regulations. To spite this, years later the move has been hailed as a success and other areas of the country have followed suit. The decision of the board represented a shift in the nations conscious, sending ripple effects through the food service industry. Corporations began to espouse their commitment to the public's well being, and promised to change their recipes.

Despite much posturing little has really changed. A simple glazed doughnut at Krispy Kreme has 200 calories. Dunkin’ Donuts glazed doughnut contains 220 calories. Starbucks website states boldly that you the customer will “be happy to know that your favorite Starbucks foods not only taste better, they are better. We’ve taken out artificial ingredients to leave room for more real goodness. Our new recipes contain, no artificial flavors, no artificial trans fats, no artificial dyes, [and] no high-fructose corn syrup.” Implying that their products are substantially better for you than those of their competitors. According to the nutrition information the company provides, Starbucks glazed doughnut contains a whopping 420 calories.

The doughnut is of course not wholly responsible for such things as increased cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The doughnut is merely a symbolic component of the broader American struggle to understand our own cravings and patterns of consumption. The doughnut is as inextricably entangled with the future of Americans' health and well-being as it has been to its history, at home and overseas. The events which will play out over the coming decades will redefine the next generations relationship to this iconic American sweet.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Defining Violence: Part II

In the last century the moral composition of much of the world has changed dramatically. What we are willing to tolerate as global citizens has come to bear on such critical issues as corporal punishment, women’s rights, and treatment of minority groups. But these truths which we hold to be self evident today were not always recognized by our predecessors. We are, I believe, bound by all such truths to define violence as the violation thereof and in doing so, acknowledged the inadequacies and inconstancies of our forbearers in this discussion.

The information provided was indeed very compelling and deeply upsetting. It is disconcerting to see how so many innocent people can be eradicated because of their race, sex, orientation, religious beliefs or simply to further the interest of the ruling political party. The notion that, to spite all the advancements of civilization, genocide and other atrocities still go on through out much of the world is truly frighting. Unfortunately such things are no new development nor have they reached any new level of barbarism within the last century. Countries, kings, even the forces of nature, have driven the people they govern to do inconceivably cruel things. The Holly Wars, the 30 Years War, the Reformation, the Inquisition, the Revolutionary War, the Napoleonic Wars, this nation’s Civil War, the Spanish Civil War, the American Border Wars, the Trail of Tears, as well as countless other events bear testament to this.

Public executions were carried out in Europe in order to discourage disobedience more then to enact justice, which was somewhat distorted to support the absolute authority of the monarchy. Bodies of “criminals” were often hung throughout the city, and about palaces, and prisons. Many times men would be hanged before they were put on display to the public, but other times they where hoisted up in iron cages where they would hang immobile before the public in their own blood, sweat, and defecation to die slowly of starvation and exposure. Prior to the twentieth century people suffering from disease and deformities where pushed to the fringes of society, viewed as “dangerous and morally corrupt,” and forced to fend for them selves. Those suffering from various mental conditions were often treated the same or else confined to asylums which resembled prisons more then hospitals. Those confined to such establishments were subjected to such “treatments” as dunking (a form of simulated drowning) designed to “shock them out of their condition,” as well as a number of other “experimental medical procedures.” During the winter of 1609-1610 early American colonialists compelled by starvation began to cannibalizing one another to stay alive. Diseases brought to the Americas by Europeans intentionally or unintentionally killed or crippled Native Americans all along the Eastern shores during the 1700s. Natives in South America were drafted into forced labor by their Spanish and Portuguese conquerors and were killed in such great number that in less in a hundred years Europeans began to import slaves from Africa to support their economic enterprises in the Americans. Slavery was yet another cruel and inhuman evil, which plagued most of the world up until the twentieth century. Puritans viewed the mortification of the flesh an integral part of the salvation of the soul and carried out public floggings, as well as more unique forms of punishment, on those they believed transgressed upon the faith. For most of modern history man’s “right” to beat his wife and children, was not only protected under the law, it was often encouraged by authorities as a way to “maintain order in the household.” During the Industrial Revolution men, women, and children labored under appalling conditions in factories through out the developed world. Many contracted crippling illnesses because of the poor work environment. Others -often children- were crushed, or mutilated by the machines they worked on. All in the interest of producing wealth for a small minority.

These things can not be classified as genocide -in the widely excepted sense- nor did they occur during or because of a war. They happen -they were allowed to happen- because the publics’ moral composition was very different then our own. That being the case such things have been rendered no less violent by the passage of time for being condoned during their occurrence. I believe that in saying that the brutality of life in earlier modern times bears great weight on this discussion, for it represents no small part of what violence humanity has inflicted upon itself prior to the twentieth century.