Tutor profile: Katie R.
Subject: US Government and Politics
What is a congressional committee (US Congress), and what is their purpose in government? What are the different types of committees?
Committees are smaller sub-groups of Congressional Representatives assigned to a specific issue or task, for example, the House Committee on Agriculture. A committee holds hearings on policy issues or proposed legislation (bills), considers and makes adjustments to said legislation, and reports their work to the full chamber of the House or Senate. Committees encourage representatives to focus on areas that interest them and cultivate specialized knowledge on a particular topic, with the goal of more informed decision-making. A committee may also help its members get reelected, as they may use a committee assignment to benefit their constituents, especially if the committee is on an issue important to their state or district. Committees are considered central to policy-making, the oversight of federal agencies, and public education because they hold important hearings for discussion of crucial topics. These hearings can also become an outlet of national debates and controversies. There are four main types of committees: standing committees, select/special committees, joint committees, and conference committees. Standing committees are permanent entities, meaning they continue from Congress to Congress, and are established either by law or by House/Senate rules. Most standing committees are in charge of authorization or appropriation, meaning they control the budget and funding of a particular government organization or program. Select, or special, committees exist temporarily, typically no more than two years. They supplement the standing committees by engaging issues the standing committee may not have time for, or ones that overlap multiple committees' jurisdictions. They can also be an access point for interest groups. Joint committees include members from both chambers of Congress (House and Senate), and exist for study, investigation, oversight, and routine activities. Conference Committees are for collaboration and bargaining between House and Senate before bills are sent to the President. Participants meet, debate, and engage offer-counteroffers; issues are resolved informally and then a conference ratifies the earlier decisions. Source: Davidson, Roger H., and Walter J. Oleszek. "Committees—Workshops of Congress." Congress and Its Members. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1981.
What is Robert Paul Wolff's argument and justification for philosophical anarchism? How does he view the concept of authority in regards to the state?
In “In Defense of Anarchism,” Robert Paul Wolff addresses the concern of political philosophers as to whether "the moral autonomy of the individual can be made compatible with the legitimate authority of the state" (Wolff 1). The state, defined as a body that is sovereign, lays claim to a moral authority over its citizens - a right to rule and a right to be obeyed. Wolff’s stance is that of philosophical anarchism, maintaining that the state lacks moral justification for this authority and thereby lacks legitimacy. Through a discussion of authority and autonomy, Wolff argues that these two concepts are incompatible and bases his rejection of state authority off of this principle. Wolff begins by making some distinctions about authority and power. Authority, as considered by Wolff, is the right to command and to be obeyed. An important distinction is made between the rights to authority and the ability of a state to induce obedience. Power stands distinct from authority as the “ability to compel compliance” (Wolff 4). Through this distinction, Wolff clarifies that even if a state has the ability to control its citizens, this does not necessarily mean is justified in its perceived authority over them. A distinction is also made between a state laying claim to authority or being acknowledged by its citizens as authoritative and the state actually being justified in this perceived authority. De facto authority is that which is acknowledged as having authority, while de jure is that which in fact has authority. While Wolff contends that there are certainly states with de facto authority, this acknowledgment does not provide the state with a right to claim de jure authority. Therefore, neither does a state’s capability to control nor its citizens’ acknowledgement of its status provide it with a justification for authority claims. Wolff recognizes that states exercise of power and claims to authority exist, but questions whether this authority is ever justifiable from a moral standpoint. Wolff begins to address this question from the premise that every rational adult has a moral obligation to be autonomous. This is based off of the assumption within moral philosophy that “men are responsible for their actions” (Wolff 12). Taking responsibility for an action assumes moral responsibility and also requires an attempt to determine what one ought to do (Wolff 12). Wolff deems the moral obligation to be autonomous as a maxim to live by. "Every man who possesses both free will and reason has an obligation to take responsibility for his actions” (Wolff 13). So a responsible, rational person with freedom of choice should, according to Wolff, be the sole decision maker for his or her own life. The obligation to autonomy mandates that a person perform a certain action only when and because they judge they should do so. If "the primary obligation of man is autonomy, the refusal to be ruled" (Wolff 18), then, he claims, this obligation directly contradicts with a citizen’s obligation to obey the state. A citizen’s adherence to the commands of the state does not necessarily designate an obligation to obedience. An autonomous person may follow said commands, but it is because of his or her own moral conviction. Obedience, according to Wolff, implies that the command was followed simply because it was a command, a principle that indicates a lack of autonomy. Wolff responds to this contradiction by denying a moral obligation to obey the state’s claims to authority on the grounds that these claims are illegitimate. While a person may have a prudential obligation to observe the law on the basis of rationality, Wolff negates the existence of a moral obligation on the grounds that the laws have "no objective moral basis" (Wolff 19). From this standpoint, it is determined that “all authority is equally illegitimate” (Wolff 19). Wolff, Robert Paul. In Defense of Anarchism. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.
Subject: Gender Studies
What role do biological differences between sexes play in Feminism, and what are some major views of feminist writers on the topic?
Difference has traditionally been highlighted to reflect negatively on women. Simone de Beauvior points out that men are viewed as the norm while women are seen as some ‘other.’ “Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being” (de Beauvior xxii). Anthropologically speaking, humans tend to create these distinctions between ‘self’ and ‘other’ in a great variety of circumstances. Gilligan points out that within the context of US society, separation has been an aspect for so long that it is often perceived as fact. Bem also echoes this view of what she calls an androcentric society – man is seen “as if he were some kind of universal, objective, or neutral representative of the human species, in contrast to the female, who is some kind of special case—something different, deviant, extra, or other” (Bem 9). According to this androcentrism, everything is still defined by the male standard and anything female is deviant or extra. Many examples of court cases, legal policy, and incidents in the workplace are given to assure the reader that these standards are formed only taking into account the male perspective. Gilligan and Bem both protest the focus on this question of biological difference. “This way of posing the question implies that people, women and men alike, are either genetically determined or a product of socialization—that there is no voice—and without voice, there is no possibility for resistance, for creativity, or for a change whose wellsprings are psychological” (Gilligan xix). Gilligan argues that the true differences are our tendencies to make relational errors – the lack of a women’s voice leads men to be dissociated from women and women to be dissociated from themselves. Bem says that the obsession over biological sex differences should not be the question we’re asking – “Americans need to shift the focus of their discussion of sexual inequality from biological difference to institutionalized androcentrism” (Bem 5). According to Cordelia Fine, we turn to biological difference because we view our society as increasingly egalitarian in its views of the sexes and have to find another explanation for why men and women choose different career paths and life options. Throughout history these supposed neurological explanations have constantly been revised or refuted to the point that a thorough study will lead to a lack of trust in this so-called ‘science.’ Fine suspects that these claims about difference are actually just the manipulation of scientific authority to justify majority opinion, and deems this ‘neurosexism.’ Essentially, any studies of the brain that are used to explain or justify perceived sex differences are ambiguous for the following reasons: 1. “The brain can get to the same outcome in more than one way” (Fine 143). 2. Relating structural differences to psychological function lacks any real proof because the brain is really complicated and we don’t fully understand it 3. The studies are often manipulated, insufficient for their given conclusions, or incorrectly interpreted when cited 4. In the end, male and female brains are far more similar than they are different Biological difference becomes ambiguous because “social change—or what I would rather call cultural invention—can so radically transform the situational context in which biology operates that the human organism can actually be liberated from what had earlier seemed to be its intrinsic biological limitations” (Bem 6). Every biological feature is dependent upon the environment in which it exists. Fine agrees with this, saying that the psyche consists of psychological processes that are directly shaped by its surrounding culture. Throughout history there have been certain biological limitations slowing women’s equality – lack of control over fertility, physical size, and so on. But Bem argues, “In the current sociohistorical context, however, those very same bodily differences do not need to impact people’s lives in quite the same way” (Bem 7). We have learned to preserve food, prevent disease, and fly; we have already surpassed many biological limitations and therefore the debate on biological differences between men and women becomes less and less relevant. The only thing, according to Bem, that is preventing equality is the “androcentric social structure” that is engrained in the way we live and interact. She explains how male-centered various legal and social policies are, and the only way to move towards neutrality is to shift these policies in a way that takes women into consideration as much as it always has men. These have the potential to be viewed as ‘affirmative action’ type of policies, but in actuality they are simply a shift towards fair ground. Sources: Beauvoir, Simone De. The Second Sex. Trans. H. M. Parshley. South Yarra, Vic.: Louis Braille Productions, 1989. Bem, Sandra Lipsitz. "Transforming the Debate on Sexual Inequality." Lectures on the Psychology of Women. Ed. Joan C. Chrisler, Carla Golden, and Patricia D. Rozee. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004. Fine, Cordelia. Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010.
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