Accident of Science

| February 18, 2014

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Politics of the Future First Midterm Essay
Choose one of the topics below and compose an essay that answers the set of questions asked and demonstrates that you are familiar with assigned texts, lecture materials, and topics discussed in class.
Three criteria will be used in grading these essays, which will be worth a total of 20 points: (1) Familiarity with the materials presented (worth 8 points). The essay needs to demonstrate that you are acquainted with readings and lecture topics. In other words, you need to prove that you’ve done the work. It is not important that every point and textual nuance be perfectly understood, but some evidence has to be given that these questions have been encountered and contemplated. (2) Comprehension of materials presented (8 points). Again, there is no single correct way of interpretation, but this does not mean that every interpretation is as good as the next. Do you understand what has been presented, and, just as importantly, how effectively are you able to make the connections between concepts and themes that may not always seem to fit together in some immediately obvious form? (3) Clarity of ideas presented in the essay (4 points). How effectively and precisely are you saying what you want to say? How does the essay flow? Remember that excessive mistakes in spelling, punctuation, syntax, and so on, may disrupt clarity of the essay.
It is important that your essay take a critical perspective. Key terms and concepts need to be defined and explained in the overall context of what the author is analyzing. This is a process involving not just reading the text, but engaging it. What is being said? How is it being said? What assumptions are being made in order to say it? Thinking about these kinds of questions will give your essay a strong analytic focus and a critical edge.
There are no correct or incorrect answers. However, this does not mean you are free to conclude your argument self-evidently true. The thrust of the essay should always be supported by relevant data and must anticipate counter arguments. The truth of one argument cannot be proven by claiming that other analyses are wrong.
You are expected to draw upon both readings and lectures by citing specific arguments, examples, cases, etc., where necessary. Footnotes, endnotes, or other methods of citing sources should be used where appropriate. Since there is a single textual source for this essay, citation of page numbers parenthetically is probably the easiest approach. For example: “As Virilio argues, knowledge has supported militarism and warfare for at least the past fifty years (p. 145).”
Suggested length: About five pages, typed, double-spaced (about 1250 words). It may be longer–and very likely will be–which is fine.
Date due: Thursday, 20 February, in class. Late papers will have a mandatory deduction of five points per day, with the first five points taken off immediately at the end of class (4:45 pm) on that date.
1. Paul Virilio states: “Globalization is the world becoming too small, and not too big” (p. 89). Critically and carefully analyze this, looking at the role that speed plays in how we see and experience the world, how society is defined by and responds to speed, and how the world’s shrinkage contributes to a collective desire to achieve what he calls “escape velocity.” What are we trying to escape from? Is this even possible? Where do we go then, that is, if colonization leads to globalization, what is the next step or phase, according to Virilio? What possible danger might this pose to individuals, society, or both?
2. Critically evaluate what Paul Virilio means by the “accident of science.” What has become accidental about science and scientific discovery, and what relationship do accidents have to the speed with which research and development lead to technological change? He says that, “It [science] no longer has any ethical or even any physical limit” (p.149). What is it about speed that contributes to accidents and what is it about accidents that make them inevitable as science develops new (or different) technologies? What role might accidents play in militarism and war? How does this change the parameters of war and how does it change the meanings of science? For Virilio, is the total accident—the ultimate catastrophe—unavoidable and thus inevitable? Does he offer any hope? Do you have any hope? Why or why not?
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