President Gerald Ford was severely beaten by Democrat Jimmy Carter in the presidential elections of 1976. Carter’s hard stanching on human rights violations and his opposition to the Vietnam War during the presidency of Nixon made him popular among freedom groups. His entry to the White House on January 1977 marked a significant change in American foreign and domestic policies. Being a Democrat, Pres. Carter was committed to long-term public welfare programs, of which included a general package of expanding the so-called “unemployment benefits” and increasing the compensation paid to retired public servants. The government’s focus on public welfare had really relieved the family of its financial burdens; unemployed members were readily given compensation benefits by the Carter government.
Countries that have a long-history of human rights violations were denied specified package aid, the so-called ODA or Official Development Assistance. Loans would have to be granted only to nations who would conform to the political and social aims of the United States. The political and social aim was always grounded on the principle of human rights. The United States enjoyed these benefits during the presidency of the Republican presidents, whose ideology differs slightly from that of their Democratic “brothers” (Republicans favor increased military spending while Democrats adhere to strengthening welfare safety nets).
In Canada, the struggle between major political parties like the Progressive Conservatives and the New Democratic Party erupted into a major controversy when prominent members of those parties promised a huge debacle and street opposition to each of their proposed agenda. Many deputies of both parties smacked their peers and advised them to abstain from too much politicking of proposed legislations.
This political event in Canada was added by the some controversial issues regarding the gay movement. The Vancouver Sun refused to publicize the statements made by the GATE, a gay rights movements, since it would irritate their regular readers. The streets of Vancouver became a daily reception of protesters, usually gays and lesbians. Police force was applied to these rallies but to no avail. It only stopped when a Canadian deputy promised the protesters a legislation that would protect their rights as gays.
The Republican-Democrat showdowns and the political ramblings of parties in Canada are part of politics. Politics is defined in terms of power. Power, according to Weber (1968), is “the chance of a man or a number of them to realize their own will on a social action even against the resistance of others who are participating in the action” (212). The struggle between the two major parties in the United States, in my point of view is the pinnacle of selfish maintenance for domination. Domination is that part of political life that an individual or group of individuals directly or indirectly imposes its will on the people. It is no wonder that the two concepts were never separated nor given different senses by social thinkers from Marx to Pareto.
Herein, the individual is duly part of the society, and proposes changes for the benefit of others who are also members of the social system. The system refuses to admit the individual’s proposals, and declares the individual an opponent of the state. How do then we relate the individual’s biography with that of society and history. In order to understand one’s biography, one should analyze the historical milieu to which it is located and the society to which it is part. The assumption that one can understand one’s biography through a clear analysis of the individual’s life is an incomplete study of the individual. In a similar sense, the political events that occurred and occurring in the United States can only be understood in terms of its relations to society, biography, and society. Individuals like me who are vying for good changes in the system are committed to giving substance to policies and platforms of government; herein history and society will judge it in the appropriate time. The individual will be judged and studied based first and foremost on his work, second on his contribution to the society to which he/she was placed, and lastly on the significance of his work on history. We therefore need a quality of mind capable of understanding these political events, as I had interpreted earlier. This is called the sociological imagination. To quote Mills (1959), “the sociological imagination enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals. It enables him to take into account how individuals, in the welter of their daily experience, often become falsely conscious of their social positions” (p. 2).
Two years before the adjournment of the Second Vatican Council (the adjournment year was 1978), the Holy Roman Church was dedicated to implement it major doctrines on social freedom and dignity of the human person. While during the Middle Ages the church became the instrument of persecution of power-hungry popes, now it became the instrument of charity and love of a group of ecclesiastics. One of the implemented doctrines reads, “A sense of the dignity of the human person has been impressing itself more and more deeply on the consciousness of contemporary man,(1) and the demand is increasingly made that men should act on their own judgment, enjoying and making use of a responsible freedom, not driven by coercion but motivated by a sense of duty. The demand is likewise made that constitutional limits should be set to the powers of government, in order that there may be no encroachment on the rightful freedom of the person and of associations. This demand for freedom in human society chiefly regards the quest for the values proper to the human spirit “(DIGNITATIS HUMANAE, parag. 1). I do believe that this should be the proper response of the church to the changes that is besetting society. Human dignity and freedom is now the echo throughout the world, from war-stricken African republics to the polite halls of the British parliament. The individual now is the focus, the locus of development and change.
The church’s response is an example of a change in one part of the so-called social system. According to Parsons (1951), society is divided into four subsystems: the state, economy, law, and fiduciary institutions. All of these parts stabilize the social system, thereby preventing change (if change is to occur, it will be gradual) from happening. The present society however is geared towards change (it is not in the state of equilibrium), and therefore all institutions are bound to adapt to these changes. The church, being an institution, is also bound to change. Parsons model of society therefore has limited application in this sense, because one of the subsystems initiated a “radical” change in the system.
Now is the question of change. Does the church “new” stand on the human dignity and freedom contributes to the good? As I have stated in the earlier paragraph, the individual is now the focus of development; this is so since only in the individual can potentialities be realized. The doctrines of the church on choices and human freedom reinforced my belief that the individual can be a grounding point for love and charity. The individual in group, in church’s term, the laity, can be the starting point for a radical but genuine change in the society. When the contributions of individuals are totaled, it enlarges and becomes an entity itself, sui generis, the good magnified.
Cultural and Ethnic Events
1976 was the end of the so-called “The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China.” This event in China was initiated by Mao Zedong to castigate some of his party mates in the Chinese Communist Party of making him only a symbol of Chinese struggle against the West. This event was designed first and foremost to reinstate Mao to absolute power, and second to define the Communist Party’s position on culture and politics. The Chinese culture ought according to Mao, to be purified since influences from the West in terms of cultural and technological elements had already infiltrated Chinese culture. Necessary changes would have to be implemented by the state in order to carry out this goal.
Blood and suffering became the symbol of this revolution. Many died because of unjust accusations from the so-called “Red Guards.” Many starved to death because the projected production schedules of farms were not met. The revolution failed the Communist Party. It is hence significant that 1976 both served as the end of the revolution and the death of Mao. The revolution was a failure.
I do believe that radical change seldom become successful because many people and institutions in the society will oppose such move. It is understood that the stability of a system is directly related to the mood of the subsystem to the social environment. If a subsystem found the social environment conducive for its environment, then it will resist change. If not, then it becomes the motor for change. The French Revolution of 1789, the Revolution of 1848, and other revolutions were initiated partly by the Middle Class, some portions of the Church hierarchy, and in some parts of Europe by the monarchy. Although they became successful, its doctrines became only rooted in culture after decades of maneuvering by its proponents. The rapid call for purification of Chinese culture was a debacle for the Communist Party since the infiltration took almost 400 years (since the coming of the Portuguese in Macau). The expected period of cultural reconstruction was only an imagined and unscientific approach of the Communist Party to purify Chinese culture from Western influences (it would take a century perhaps to achieve this goal). My belief, therefore that radical change seldom becomes successful is true in the case of China.
The FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) had become an international issue in the late 1970s. Some regard this as a religious practice, some as social customs. But whatever the case, Muslims around the world debated whether FGM is acceptable to Islam or not. Some argued that it is acceptable to Mohammed. But most Islamic scholars believed that such female circumcision is not allowed in the Koran. Body restructuring according to these scholars is a way for the devil to enter the mind of the believer allowing her to disobey God’s law and fall into sin.
The social significance of FGM is far more important than the religious connotation that it carries. FGM is grounded on the belief on cultural relativism; that is, one should not view another culture by the standards of his/her culture. When we view FGM (I personally view it as not good) as barbaric, we are viewing the culture that it represents as “barbaric.” This is not the right approach to a genuine study of cultures according to anthropologists. We need to view cultures the way its members view it.
There is however a leeway in the case of FGM and a limitation to the so-called “cultural relativistic” approach. Cultural relativism is limited to study; all findings would have to be judged based on its proximity to some universal good. If an anthropologist found out that a tribe allows genocide to occur in a particular part of the world, it is the responsibility of that anthropologist to report it to the proper authorities for them to implement the proper procedure. A particular cultural trait is acceptable only once it does not impinge on the right of other groups or its members (even if the member views it as acceptable). This is not cultural bias; this is an initiation of good change. Therefore FGM should be reduced as much as possible in parts of the world where it is reported to be a usual custom.
In October 18, 1976, 150 villagers in India were shot by police during a birth-control riot (against a government sterilization program involving vasectomies of men). Two views can be grasped in this incident. One is political, the other cultural.
The state was created by men to advance their goals. For many social scientists, the state is the embodiment of the individual’s aspirations; it is the net of institutions that seek to eliminate social problems and rejuvenate the social system to which it is located. But in this case, the state did not recognize the source of its sovereignty. People were shot and many of them fell dead. Many people opposed the move of the Indian government and organized a legitimate means of expressing their opinion. To the shock of the world, the Indian police shot the people; a clear expression of the divergence of views between the people and the government. It is true then, in this case, according to Marx (1887) that the state “is the executive committee of the ruling class. It was an instrument by which one class rules another” (p. 177). The Indian government as noted is composed of elected rich merchants and politicians who have only one goal – to procure the best social and economic resources for them to stay in power. The use of the official powers of the state (the use of violence) against the people is a clear manifestation of the state’s opposition to the goals and aspirations of the Indian people. This was not a simple question of policy; it was a question of legitimacy. In my own view, the action of the Indian government amounted to a declaration of war to its source of legitimacy. The government was on the move to usurp the power of the people to affect policy changes.
There was also a cultural dimension of this issue. Most of the people in India at that time opposed the move of the government to impose birth control measures in the country. Culturally, that move of the Indian government was contradictory to the beliefs and practices of the Hindu religion which promotes rather than obstructs human reproduction. The various goddesses of the Hindu religion as well as their symbols of fertility are indicative of the sanctity attributed to Hinduism with regard to human reproduction and family planning. The proposal by the Indian government was short of cultural understanding of the people in India. They were ill-informed somehow of the real cultural implications of the move.
Social and Populist Events
In Canada, social and populist events were the mainstream expectations of the people. In 1976, the so-called Paralympics Games held in Toronto, Canada was attended by 40 countries, with athletes numbering almost 1657, 253 of whom were women. The games became controversial since many countries later withdrew from the games because of the participation of South Africa. The Canadian Organizing Committee, however, decided to continue the games since all the apparatuses of the games were already set in. In Southern Ontario, the Paralympics (sports for the handicapped) were daily viewed by almost 600, 000 people; 24, 000 people attended the race track event, and some 10, 000 were regular spectators of the event.
The Games, however, were loaded with ethnic issues. The withdrawal of several countries from the game because of the participation of South Africa was a significant event to which we can relate with ethnicity. The South African government at that time was promoting the so-called “apartheid” policy. Blacks were segregated from whites. Residential blocks were colored in order for people to differentiate black residences to white ones. This move made by the South African government was condemned throughout the world, the Canadian government included. What countries demand from the South African government was an assurance that the apartheid policy would be abolished. The response of the South African government was cold; it ordered the withdrawal of some of its athletes from the Canadian Games and declared a general conspiracy of African nations to weaken South Africa.
It was of no doubt then that the writer of the paper also believes in the sanctity of the human person; both as a political and social species. Human rights served as the point of transition of world history from barbarism into civilization. It was the pinnacle of cultural values indicated only in chosen events in world history, like the French Revolution, and the founding of the United Nations.
The period to which the author of the paper was born was a period of continued cry for social relevance of issues not addressed by the various governments of the world. Some cries may have been more significant from others but it was clear that these cries were timely. Related World events such as the kidnapping of American diplomats in the US embassy in Iran, successive hijacking of domestic airliners, the continued friction between the United States and the Soviet Union, and nuclear testing in the South Pacific magnified these cries all over the globe. It became the cries of not only the American people but of other people. The location of the individual in this series of world events can be described as influenced by the social and political atmosphere of that time and of course by the social forces like the government and freedom groups.
1976 was also a year when fluctuations were evident on the Wall Street Stock Market. Inflation was 10.5%, an inflation rate not so good for the economy (double digit numbers for inflation rates are considered dangerous for the whole economy). Many industries in the United States at that time received negative ratings from international financial institutions. Nevertheless, the increasing budget deficit of the government had thwarted its social security programs for almost a year. Such was the economic condition of the country at that time.
Economic expansion was the focus of many industrialized nations like the US, Canada, Germany, etc. This can only be achieved in two ways. First is by developing new technologies to increase its PPF (Production Possibilities Frontier). Second, is by establishing markets outside its national boundary. Both of these methods were used by the United States to expand its economy. Markets were established abroad (many local producers of these countries were eliminated in the competition) and new technologies were developed to help local manufacturers in the country achieve a high mark on production schedules.
The effect on the country was staggering. Because of overproduction, prices rose and some devaluing of the dollar followed. Investors from other countries declined to invest in the country. But one of the most destructive effects of economic downsizing was an increased unemployment rate to which millions of Americans were severely affected, included our one. Nevertheless, economic crisis are bound to disappear since they are just historical creations.
Declaration on Religious Freedom DIGNITATIS HUMANAE on the Right of the Person and of Communities to Social and Civil Freedoms in Matters Religious Promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965.
Marx, Karl. 1887. Das Kapital. Germany: Progress Publishers.
Mills, C.W. 1959. The Sociological Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Parsons, Talcott. 1951. The Social System. NJ: Prentice-Hall, p. 275.
Position paper on Female Genital Mutilation/Female = Circumcision,” Muslim Women’s League, at: http:=/www.mwlusa.org/publications/positionpapers/fgm.html
Weber, Max. 1968. Economy and Society. New York: Bedminster Press Incorporated.