Table of Contents
- Semester’s Reflection
- Revised Response Paper 5
- Revised Response Paper 7
- Evidence for Reference
The impact that FYS had on my argumentative writing was evident from the outset of the course. Most notably, the format of our response papers initially baffled my high school essay-trained mind. The focus of the papers was less on structure and more on the development of ideas with evidence. I attempted to utilize the intro-body-conclusion format that had been drilled into my brain for my initial response papers (See RP1 and RP2), and my grade suffered as a result. It wasn’t until RP3 that I began to shed the conclusions from my response papers in favor of one sentence summarizing my argument. I made this change as a result of both the comments on my response papers and suggestions made by Professor Watts during class, as I found that other students were suffering from the same conclusion. As I began to focus more on the goal of developing an argument rather than confining an argument within structural rules I found it easier to identify things that were getting in the way of my goal, and abbreviating my conclusions, something which I’ve always found to be the most unnecessary part of a paper. Once I began writing Response Paper 4, I found myself dealing with much more advanced philosophical ideas and decided to eliminate an introduction as well, as the question I was attempting to answer didn’t seem to require one and doing so allowed me to utilize the entire 500 words to wrestle with this complex argument source. I continued with that format the remainder of my Response Papers, and it was after this transition that I began to really appreciate the informal nature of the responses. It allowed for a more fluid development of my arguments and I feel served as a real introduction to college writing, which I’ve found focuses more on developing ideas and furthering understanding than creating structurally homogeneous essays governed by sets of rules.
Another point of growth that I have seen in my argumentative writing as a result of FYS is my mastery of using evidence in my arguments. Prior to Social Utopias, I believed I should seek wherever possible to summarize the ideas of the text and insert about one quote per paragraph that agreed with my point. Because of this, I found that the most notable flaw in my writing for the first half of the course was a lack of evidence to support my otherwise well thought out ideas. This was evident in Professor Watts’s comments on my Response Papers: “I would have liked to see more direct evidence from the text,” (See RP2, page 2) “Make sure you are pointing to the text,” (See RP3, page 2) and, “The ideas are excellent. The use of evidence is very sloppy.” (See RP5, page 2) I found that using evidence wasn’t necessarily a difficult task – I was basing my arguments on the text already – I just needed to work on incorporating quotes seamlessly into my arguments. It was a learning process, as Yasmine well knows, having edited my draft of Paper 1, which included many long quotes which she advised me to shorten or cut out (See Essay 1 Draft, pages 1 and 2). By paper 2, I realized how to split up long quotes and integrate them with analysis or summary throughout. (See Essay 2, tops of pages 2, 3 and 4) Not only did my ability to support my arguments with quotes improve between Essay 1 and Essay 2, the frequency of quotes improved as well, with many of my paragraphs in Essay 2 based firmly in the text. (See Essay 2, paragraphs 2,3,4 and 7) This is a skill that I look to build on further in the coming semesters.
Social Utopias was the first real philosophy class I’ve ever taken, and thus the requirements of critical reading were different from what I was used to. In the upper level English classes I took in high school, I learned to read a text closely for symbolism and uncover themes within a book. When it came to philosophy readings, these were somewhat useless skills. Rather than looking for symbolism, critical reading and thinking in FYS required me to seek to understand an author’s viewpoint and then contextualize it. What I mean by contextualize is to look at the author’s ideas in relation to the social and political occurrences at the time he or she was writing, as well as possibly comparing the work to other’s by the same author. We did this when we analyzed both the argument source “More on Utopia” by Brendan Bradshaw and the exhibit source “Two Swords: Heresy and Just War” by More in order to better understand Thomas More’s Utopia. Bradshaw’s piece opened my eyes to various scholarly interpretations of the book and their implications, while “Two Swords” provided a clearer, non-fiction display of More’s ideology. Critical analysis was especially important when it came to Utopia, because it isn’t clarified in the book if More (the author) agrees with the radical ideas of Rafael Hythloday and is just hiding behind his character. Thus, “Two Swords” was instrumental in my analysis in that it unveiled his views.
In addition to making strides in critical analysis, I also improved my oral communication skills this semester. One of my more prominent takeaways from both observing and delivering oral presentations throughout the year was the need to engage the listener in more ways than one. I found that it is possible to organize your ideas perfectly and present them clearly, but still not deliver a superb oral presentation if the listener is not considered in the preparation of the presentation. While I had already delivered a few short oral presentations with my group, The Genevans, I didn’t begin to realize this until after our November 22nd presentation of discussion questions for a particular chapter of Flora Tristan’s Utopian Feminist. Our group created a lengthy Google Doc on which we compiled 4 pages of quotes, analysis, and possible discussion questions to use in orchestrating the class discussion. Feeling extremely prepared, we took control of the class the day of the discussion, rattling off quotes and presenting our combined analysis of the chapter before presenting open-ended questions that had come up in our analysis. Despite this, many of our classmates seemed hesitant to answer or confused by our questions, and it wasn’t until I reflected on our oral presentation that I realized why. We had presented our analysis bluntly while quickly referencing quotes only to support our findings and then asked our classmates to answer questions based on the analysis we had provided. This was a flawed approach. In retrospect, it would have been more conducive to discussion if we had posed our questions first, and then provided our evidence as sources for the class to develop their own opinions, or even asked the class to suggest quotes of their own. For example, I posed the question, “If the subject of this book is feminism, why does Tristan spend so much time addressing other underprivileged denominations?” after having presented a basic overview and selected quotes regarding Tristan’s focus in the chapter. Had I asked the question first, and then, with the class, carefully analyzed the quotes I picked as a group, it would have not only allowed them to focus on the quotes in the context of the question, but also to form their own opinions based on the text that likely would have led to a more involved discussion. The theme I’m getting at is that great oral presentation should engage the listener and incorporate their ideas beyond just presenting your own biased viewpoint as I did in my leading of the group discussion.
Having made this connection after our late November group effort, I focused on engaging the listener in preparing my December 3rd intentional community presentation on Jonestown. I assumed that most students would use a PowerPoint presentation to back up their oral report. I realized that the way in which students tend to use (or misuse) PowerPoint actually fails to engage the audience in more ways than one. What I mean by this is students tend to fill their presentations with bullet points that basically reiterate exactly what they’re saying, and sometimes go as far as to read directly from their PowerPoints. I ended up being correct in this assumption, as I saw many of my fellow classmates doing exactly when they presented. The direction asked me to “continuously engage the audience, including the use of appropriate technology,” which stood out to me as goal of this FYS assignment directly aligning with the oral communication skill I was attempting to develop. I wanted to give the viewer an opportunity to immerse themself in the Jonestown culture through my technological aid, just as I had during my research. Thus I opted to create a slideshow depicting various famous images from the People’s Temple accompanied by quotes from Reverend Jones himself in an attempt to set the tone for my presentation. I hoped this would allow me to both engage the viewer visually and draw additional interest in my topic. In addition, although I presented my own conclusions in the presentation of my research, I sought to present both sides of any viewpoint so that the audience could come to their own conclusions and possibly challenge my own. The purpose of oral communication when it comes to philosophy or college academics in general is not to impart ideas onto others, but to prompt a discussion which can lead to further learning, and that is the most important thing I’ve learned in FYS.
Revised Response Paper 5
“How does this exhibit source provide evidence that helps me better understand More’s critique of sixteenth century society and politics?”
The Two Swords: Heresy & Just War provided a clearer version of Thomas More’s beliefs than is available in Utopia, which in turn allowed me to better understand Utopia’s purpose. It is easy to believe, as J.H. Hexter did, that Utopia represents a society that More wishes to implement in real life. The Two Swords provides evidence that contradicts this, such as More’s advocating for the use of violence to suppress disruptive heretics. While he presents an argument for the morality of this practice, it seems to contrast with the accepting attitude of Utopia.
More begins Two Swords by agreeing that “Christ so much abhorred all violence that he did not wish any of his flock to fight in any way, neither in the defense of themselves nor anyone else”, yet spends the remainder of the paper supporting the belief that “heresy well deserves to be punished as severly as any other sin, since there is no sin that more offends God.” (Swords, 282, 283). While it could be argued that More only advocates execution for non-Catholics with violent tendencies, he often references Luther and Tyndale as “seditious” (Swords, 281) heretics, although neither employed violent tactics. While he seems to preach moral piety through the actions Utopians, who “loathe war as positively bestial” and respond forgivingly “when the injury is [only] against themselves”, the opinions he expresses in Two Swords seem almost immature. (Utopia 105, 106) His main argument for the necessity of violence in religious conflict is basically that ‘they’re being violent so that means we should too.’ In this vein, More states, “They never in fact would have resorted so heavily to force and violence against heretics if the violent cruelty first used by the heretics themselves against good Catholic folk had not driven good princes to it.” (Swords, 282) Beyond this, he even declares that because some heretics do not allow the word of Christ to be preached freely among them, any Christian who does not seek to punish and destroy all heretics is an enemy to God. “Those who would now allow the religion to be preached and taught among Christians, and not punish and destroy the doers of that preaching and teaching, are plainly enemies to Christ, since they would be content to allow Christ to lose his worship in many souls on this side, without anyone being won from the other side to take their place.” (Swords, 283) The imagery of ‘winning’ heretics to take the place of lost Christian souls, seemingly a plea to kill heretics for the sake of revenge, is frightening in its lack or morality and maturity. The basis for Thomas More’s argument is one that would be expected from a child on the playground, and one that I would expect an accomplished philosopher such as More to scoff at.
Having shown that More’s beliefs about what’s best for 16th century Europe contrast with the ideology of the Utopians, it can be determined that he did not intend Utopia to be an outline for a society he wished to see. The interpretation that seems better suited is the idea that Utopia exists merely to critique the social norms of his society, not to propose a solution. This can be seen in Utopia on pages 129-134, in which More uses the completed description of Utopia as a point of reference to compare to the aspects of societies in his time that cause him grievance. Along with this is the idea of More intending the reader to pick and choose the aspects of Utopia’s society that they find plausible while disregarding the ones deemed ‘outlandish’. For this purpose, More’s character in the novel often challenges Hythloday’s statements but seems to agree with many of his ideals. The most clear example of this is the character More’s quote at the end of Utopia, when in reflecting on the story Hythloday has told, More concludes: “Meanwhile, just as I can hardly agree with all the points he made (even though he is a person of unquestionable learning and wide experience of human affairs), so too I readily confess that in the Utopian commonwealth there are very many features which in our societies I would wish rather than expect to see.” The key to this is the emphasis on wish versus expect, which can be interpreted to outline More’s desire for the Utopian commonwealth to serve as an ideal rather than a proposal for a real society.
A more general way that the source provides evidence that helps to understand Utopia is that it provides context into More’s world and what prompts him to write it. In Swords, More references the killing of sixty thousand German citizens killed in 1525 for religious reasons. (Swords, 281) It is only through such harrowing examples of religious strife that the reader can fully understand More’s motivations for writing Utopia. He is living in a world where dissent from the church goes beyond speaking out- to levels of horrible violence for which More seeks a solution. While he is able to imagine this problem solved peacefully through his theoretical Utopia, the plausible solution he sees is unfortunately execution.
“I pledge that I have neither received nor given any unauthorized assistance during the completion of this work.
James David Steen.”
More, Thomas, “Two Swords: Heresy and Just War” in A Thomas More Source Book. Edited by Gerard B. Wegemer and Stephen W. Smith. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2004, pp. 281-290.
More, Thomas. Utopia. Translated by Clarence H. Miller. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.
Revised Response Paper 7
Answer a question that you have generated from your independent research on a communal society. Focus your question on your exhibit source, responding with evidence from that source.
One of the more intriguing focuses of Jonestown research is the persona of the man himself, Reverend Jim Jones, and how it affected his development of a utopian society. Basic reading into the people’s temple will paint a picture of him as a drug-fueled lunatic who somehow managed to brainwash thousands of people. I wondered if this was an unjust generalization of a man who somehow managed to capture the attention of thousands of people during a time of American turmoil. While I didn’t doubt that many of his methods were unsavory, I was skeptical of the brainwash theory. In searching for an answer to the question of what kind of man Jim Jones was and exactly made him tick, I found exhibit sources to be the most illuminating.
I began examining the qualities that drew followers to Jones. It is important to first state that I have found that it was not a well-developed ideology or a particularly enticing grasp on utopian philosophy, but rather his unique charisma that drew people in. What surprised me most in reading first hand accounts from my exhibit source, Leigh Fondakowski’s Stories from Jonestown, was that these people were not predominately the unintelligent group with an inclination to follow that I expected. The majority of the interviews came from well-educated members of society who were capable of analyzing the nature of Jones and his organization, and still chose to join the ranks. Many of these survivors describe him as a man with a remarkable knack for connecting with any individual he spoke to, which seems paramount to his ability to build the Jonestown society, as its membership was made up a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Former Stanford student and Jonestown defector Gary Lambrev touches on this when recounting his accidental first meeting with Jones as an outsider at a Temple party: “we got into a conversation very easily that went from the most mundane to the most esoteric and most profound, and then hopped, skipped, and jumped throughout the universes in the most extraordinary conversation I had ever had with another human being or ever since had with another human being. Finally, I sort of broke through and said, ‘Excuse me, I didn’t get your name. I’m Garry.’ He said, ‘Oh, I’m Jim.’” (Fondakowski, 34) Later, Lambrev explains, “Jim knew precisely how to approach any new person in terms of their own world, their own reality, even in terms of their own language.” (Fondakowski, 34)
Despite this ability to engage people through his persona, Jones saw fit to employ some of the dishonest tactics that he observed during his early years as a pastor in Indiana. He often performed ‘healings’ during his services, in which he would invite sick men and women on stage in order to spiritually rid them of their illness, and of course evidence suggests that these ‘supernatural’ events were either staged or only successful through placebo effect. Jones occasionally professed to have some form of psychic powers, and would amaze people with his ability to guess mundane things such as their bedspread color or a piece of mail they received recently. This information was actually gathered through the seemingly ridiculous practice of sending church members out to people’s houses to secretly collect this information. One can probably attribute the belief among some that Jones was some form of God to these behaviors. Despite the dishonesty in some of his tactics, there is no evidence to suggest that his strong belief in racial equality was fabricated, and it was this part of his ideology that drew many underprivileged African Americans to his cause. On this topic, his son Stephan Jones recalls, “imagine what that hug meant to black people coming into the Temple. My dad was always ready to hug and plant a kiss on an elderly black woman. He empathized with them, with their pain.” (Fondakowski, 9)
Next, I will seek to understand Jones’s personality. In particular, how the rise of his utopia led to the deterioration of his mental health subsequently his pure utopian vision. One of the most important aspects of Jones’s personality as it relates to his leadership abilities was his addictive tendency. According to Stephan Jones, “My Dad was a raging addict. And I don’t just mean chemicals. I mean, he was an addict personality. He was into power, sex, food, drugs, whatever he needed to fill that hole, he was using. But most of all he was addicted to adulation.” (Fondakowski, 9) In addition, Jones seemed to posses an unwarranted sense of paranoia from the outset in the mid 1960’s, going to extreme lengths, such as threatening local journalists (Fondakowski, 115, 137), to shield himself and his community from outside criticism. John and Barbara Moore recounted their meetings with Jim Jones: “They did have their enemies. It wasn’t all paranoia. That was a part of the problem. But they had secrets, and people with secrets are always vulnerable to being paranoid.” (Fondakowski, 56)
While these character flaws seemed rather contained until the move to Jonestown – which itself was prompted by Jones’s fear of criticism in the U.S. – something changed in him that caused them to take over his personality in the years leading up to his death. Said former Temple member Hugh Fortson, “I think at one time, maybe in the earlier days, he may have been very sincere. But I think that by the time I got there, something had happened that made him bitter. He wanted this power.” (Fondakowski, 68) Phil Tracy, the reporter who first criticized Jones and his temple, agrees, “Look, I don’t think Jones started out as a bad man…Jim Jones started out as a twenty-five-year-old Disciples of Christ preacher in Indianapolis, Indiana [where he] set up an integrationist congregation, an extraordinarily brave act for which he was beaten up a couple of times.” (Fondakowski, 109) Many firsthand witnesses believe it was his heavy drug use that triggered this change. Jonestown survivor Neva Sly reports, “Jones got into his drugs and everything went awry. He wanted everything from cocaine, heroin. I think speed was the other one.” (Fondakowski, 64) Reporter Phil Tracy reiterates this, stating “The problem was that he came to believe that he had to have amphetamine in order to keep the hours he was doing because he was so important for the cause… That’s how he became the monster he became.” (Fondakowski, 115) Another likely cause of Jones’s increasing paranoia was the Peoples Temple’s growing membership and eventual emergence on the national stage, which was sure to be stressful for the man at the center of it all. Despite all of this, many interviewees places the blame on the collective group for their reliance on Jones. Among those who believe that a certain relinquishment of collective responsibility led to the downfall of Jones and his utopia was Laura Kohl, who said“It’s the human condition. We asked Jim Jones to be something. We played into it. We asked him for something a person cannot be.” (Fondakowski, 298) Maybe the reason Jonestown failed as a community was that its members put their belief solely in Jim Jones rather than any concrete utopian ideal.
“I pledge that I have neither received nor given any unauthorized assistance during the completion of this work.
James David Steen.”
Fondakowski, Leigh. 2013. Stories from Jonestown.
Evidence For Reference
Nov. 22 Group Google Doc: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1MKOPw2OW83CIwdtS8n4WL20xNy1SjT96yG1anHNsi88/edit
Graded Response Papers: