Posts Tagged ‘Politics’


What do we want from our government, anyway?

June 25, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

This will probably be the final installment in this series of posts about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. One major question that has been brought to the fore by the various responses to the disaster is, what do we want the role of the government to be? People booth sides of the debate have been making arguments in this regard. Those who favor smaller government (often, but not always, people who would be categorized as politically conservative) have argued that the government should not be involved, that the free market will take care of things (and presumably that BP will get it cleaned up in due time). Those who favor greater governmental involvement (more likely to be in the liberal end of the political spectrum) have argued that the government has not done enough both to prevent the spill and to aid in the cleanup efforts, whether that takes the form of doing e cleanup itself or forcing BP’s hand.

The Obama administration has responded to these two opposing forces in a number of different ways. They have said that BP is in charge of the cleanup, not least because the federal government simply does not have the equipment necessary to carry it out. At the same time, however, the President has made several tripos to the Gulf Coast to show that the administration cares and is involved.

  Most interesting, however, is the way that the American public has reacted to President Obama’s response to the disaster. Numerous people have said that he hasn’t been “angry enough”. In response to this, the President went on national TV and tried to make the point that he WAS fired up about the situation, that he knew “whose ass to kick”. The question that this makes me ask, though, is what exactly do we want from our President in a situation like this?

What SHOULD be the government’s role be in a man made disaster of this sort? And what is the appropriate role for the nation’s leaders in such a situation?


Why do we care about gay marriage?

May 2, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

The gay marriage debate casts a light on a wide variety of issues that are relevant to the sociology student.

Fundamentally, this is a debate about our values, about the role of religion and government in our society, and about definitions of family.  Where you come down on the question of gay marriage depends on how you look at each of these issues.

  • Proponents of gay marriage frame the issue in terms of equal rights.  They argue that to exclude gay couples from the legal benefits of marriage is a violation of civil rights; they argue that allowing religious groups to control what couples may or may not get married violates the separation of church and state.
  • Opponents of gay marriage frame the issue in terms of religion and traditional family structures.  They argue that within Judeo-Christian tradition, homosexuality is a sin and marriage is defined as a union between one man and one woman.  Some also add that marriage is the creation of a family and that a family means parents and their children; since it is biologically impossible for a gay couple to have children (that get their genetic material from those two parents) there’s no reason for them to get married.

And therein lies the challenge.  Gay marriage exposes the seams in our society, seams around what constitutes a family and who gets to decide on that definition; seams around the importance of equality and around the role of religion in American culture.  All of these conflicts revolve around things that many people hold so dear, it’s no wonder this has become such a divisive issue.

Can the gay marriage debate be resolved in a way that’s satisfying to everyone?  Or does one of these sides have to lose the fight?


A New Religion?

April 26, 2009

christWhat constitutes a religion? Some sociologists would say that basic characteristics such as dogma, ritual, virtues, and a moral community would be indicators of a religious organization. Let’s quickly go over some dangerously short definitions! Dogma is rules based upon virtues you can’t question. Virtues are what you think are good or righteous. Ritual is a pattern of behavior that is taught to you so you can learn dogma and virtues. A moral community is a group that has the same religious understandings you do and supports your faith and religious behavior.

So if a social institution has characteristics that function as dogma, ritual, and virtues, and generates a moral community—is that a type of religion? Some sociologists say yes! But, what if the institution doesn’t identify itself as a religion? An example of this for some people might be political parties.

Political party platforms are based on values. The party supports laws that enforce and protect these values. Political parties have rituals—conventions, rallies, elections, voter drives, run-offs, debates, and protests. The party itself can be considered a community based on shared values and beliefs among the members and the political support members afford each other. Some sociologists call certain political parties (and things like them) a “secular” or “civil” religion.

What do you think about this topic? Do you want to express your opinion? If you do, post a response to one of the topics below:

1. Do you think politics can function like a religion? Why?

2. Regardless of whether you think political parties function like churches, do you think other secular institutions have taken over some of the traditional functions of religion? If so, give some examples.

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