A Word on Classical Realism

In the eyes of Hans Morgenthau and Thucydides, arguably the founding fathers of Classical Realism in the field of International Relations, humanity has one defining adversary with the potential to crush all that it has accomplished: ourselves. The flaws of homo sapiens, our greed, lust, sloth, arrogance, and—perhaps our greatest shortcoming of all—irrationality, and so on could one day end each and everything we have worked, and are still striving for. Our accomplishments, essentially, are hanging by a thread, one sown by the ‘Human Condition’.

The view held by the found fathers are not far off the mark. How close had we come to nuclear annihilation in the Cold War era? How many lives, homes, ways of living have we burned down throughout the World Wars we waged? And in our personal lives, how many of our acquaintances, friends, brethren have we harmed with out words and actions? And now we face perhaps an inevitable calamity, also another result of our own actions. I am of course speaking about the catastrophic changes we’ve introduced to our one and only planet, most commonly referred to as Global Warming; wherein we and our children could witness a future of an earth flooded, with the notions of countries and cities being nothing but abstract relics of a time long gone. It is sobering, to say the least, to see how far we could ruin the future of our species by our hands alone.

Irrationality seems to have plagued us as a species ever since the time of our advent. This shortcoming could after all explain why we’d end the lives of our kin on such massive scales, endanger the sustainability of the one planet we’ve inhabited in all the years we’ve existed, made possible days that will never come because we had let our perversions sway us away from rationality—from cooperation, alliances, cultivation, tolerance, et cetera/ Hence, how should we tackle this challenge brought about by our most threatening imperfection? How, in other words, do we defeat this utterly base part of our psyche? In the eyes of Morgenthau and Thucydides, there two means which hold the potential to bring rationality into the forefront of our minds.

How does one unify a population chockfull of disparate peoples? The simplest method, as demonstrated by the archaeological records left behind by our ancestors (Fukuyama, 2011), would be by introducing an ideology acceptable to the members of said diverse population. A code of norms, ethics, beliefs, that each of them can harbor and operate by, would result in a communal bond. Unity via similarity is the method suggested by the two great thinkers.

Such an approach is indeed somewhat feasible. Religion was one of the methods used by tribal societies to unify themselves. Worship of the same gods, carrying out likewise rituals, and other traditions that are all basically within the boundaries of said beliefs done by ourselves creates a sort of bond; one birthed by the human instinct to befriend those who speak, act, and think in the same manner as we do. Which, is contradictorily exemplified by humanity’s penchant for assaulting those perceived as different, as in the cases of racism, sexism, bigotry, religious—ideological—extremism, alongside equally horrific habits of our species.

But of course, even if an entire population is somehow swindled into completely adhering  to one single ideology, it is unlikely that all other peoples across the globe would produce the same, or even a corresponding code of conduct. Simply glance at the diaspora of religions currently present: Buddhism, Catholicism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, the multiple interpretations birthed by them, and countless more less prominent belief systems. Now how should we, deriving from the wisdoms of Morgenthau and Thucydides, urge these myriads to unite as a species? The answer, comes as a bit of a disappointment. Mainly due to the lack of concrete examples that manage to illustrate ‘ideological unity’. This is a point for criticism, one which we will discuss further down the text.

Although neither Morgenthau nor Thucydides to concoct a concrete guide for unifying humanity under a particular banner—since what they hope for is nearly impossible—the other solution may lie in the judgment of the former.  Morgenthau believed in what he termed a “supranational authority.” An entity capable of transcending human boundaries, accomplish deeds previously unimaginable to us, and ultimately join us not as a nation nor a community, but as a species. Should it sound like I’m writing in rather vague terms, I have to concede to that point and apologize. For Morgenthau’s vision has not yet been realized, thus I am unable to concretely convey how a “supranational authority” would possibly manifest itself.

Now we have reached the point where both Morgenthau’s and Thucydides’ unification methods have been succinctly reiterated. Hence, this is also where we would be able to examine them more closely, and root out the flaws that exist behind them.

Returning to ideological unity, there is another limit to its unifying potential. Not only are there simply too many ideologies to count, they can further be interpreted in more ways than one; Sunni and Shia Muslims, Protestant and Adventist Christian, Moderate and Anarchic Liberals, so on and so forth. History shows us that no matter what ideology stands in prominence at its time, it will inevitably fragment, and at worst crushed by the boots of newer, more powerful  teachings (Marr, 2012). This disintegration of conducts is a major obstacle for achieving ideological unity, one that was sort of overlooked by both Morgenthau and Thucydides. Yet, if there could be a “supranational authority” one day, we may well be able to prevail over the wall of ideological disunity. For now though, we must still deal with the irrationality of humankind.

Have we finally found the trump card with which we could hold back the baser instincts of our minds? Unfortunately, I have to say that we haven’t found said card, as of yet anyway. Wars, terrorism, zealotry, all things counterintuitive to unity and cooperation are still being done today. And as I write this passage, automobiles—mine included—factories, mines, other nature-destroying actions continue to operate with only rare hints of slowing their activities. Yet do these facts condemn us to a course of irrationality? Not necessarily, as the multiple instances instances of recent history can tell us.

Centuries ago, a woman could be roasted alive at a stake for being accused of obviously unprovable witchcraft. In recent decades, Atheists were shun and thought to be devil-worshippers even in the most developed of countries—a trend that has fortunately lessened in these days, for instance, I can proclaim my Atheism inside campus grounds, within Indonesia, without fear of persecution. Furthermore, Indonesia’s Christmas seasons are no longer days of bombing churches, as was the case in my childhood, becoming just another red color on the calendar. Clearest of them all, witchcraft has ceased to be an acceptable reason for execution and torture.

Mother Nature, whom we’ve wrecked without relief for centuries and debatably millennia, has finally been given a helping hand in recent years. Governments, the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations, have compelled the enactment of laws and agreements with the sole purpose of preserving our planet. Reduction of carbons emissions, budgets limiting the amount of pollution a nation may produce in a given year, growing research in the field of clean and renewable energy, and more (Yergin, 2011). The battle for nature is slow and long, but it does illustrate how rationality is crawling through the more destructive desires of our species. In the form of preserving for long term gains, instead of immediate ones.

Yet for myself personally, the unmistakable victory of reason over insanity happened during the days of the Cold War. In those times, humankind laid on the brink of nuclear war and possible annihilation. A conflict which could result in the deaths of hundreds of millions, and if the doom-sayers were correct, of humanity itself. And the ones who wielded the nuclear weapons capable of ushering the extinction of humankind were a mere two nations. The leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union held the fate of humanity in their hands. Both sides eager to assault one another for the goal of becoming the unchallenged superpower of the globe. Such an end could be reached by preemptively annihilating the opposition, i.e. by launching a barrage of missiles and dropping bombs with payloads measuring in the megatons (Hoffman, 2009). A first strike could breed the desired outcome of ascending to the throne of Earth’s monarchy. Hence, what did either one do? Nothing.

Neither the US nor the USSR launched their nukes. Two parties lying on distinctly opposite camps as defined by their respective ideologies, in some way, agreed to not use their most powerful armaments. Why? Because the risk of annihilation, of humanity’s extinction, of setting a precedent in the utilization of nuclear weapons were too terrifying for either of the two to consider. Nevertheless make them realities. These two adversaries collectively averted nuclear holocaust, although both wished for the other’s utter destruction (Dobbs, 2008). The Cold War, is an excellent example of how much of a role rationality holds over us. It is a demonstration of our capacity to reason, and not be bogged down by our more absurd urges. Without the need for a supranational authority or ideological unity.

Thus, as with any other paradigm, Classical Realism has its virtues and limitations. It is useful and correct in deducing how we humans truly are imperfect, and that our imperfections could lead to our eventual downfall. Moreover, ideologies are wondrous tools for unifying diverse groups of individuals. Few would dare say that a common code of conduct hasn’t played in forging the multiple societies present in the world today.

However, a paradigm can only see so much. It has missed the significance of ideological fragmentation. How one formerly singular ideology could be interpreted and modified into various forms. At times clashing with its predecessor, as we’ve witnessed in the long-past war between the Catholics and Christians, plus contemporary conflicts between Sunni and Shia Muslims as signified by the waves emerging from the Middle East—to name but a few cases.

Additionally, even without a “supranational authority” humanity has in a number of instances, surpassed its desires. Or at the very least are working on finding ways to subvert them. Religious tolerance, conservation of nature, halting nuclear war as it stood on our doorstep, are but a few accomplishments humankind’s rationality have made possible.

Still we should not discredit the discoveries and words of Morgenthau and Thucydides. Through their works, imperfect as they may be, we have been granted illumination on the countless aspects of our nature. They have, essentially, built us a mirror with which we could see ourselves in honesty. What remains for us is to continue their endeavors, and reinforce the parts they have overlooked.
______________________________________________________________________________Reference

Dobbs, M. (2008). One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Kruschev and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War.

Hoffman, D. (2009). The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy.

Yergin, D. (2011). The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World.

Fukuyama, F. ( 2011). The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution.

Marr, A. (2012). A History of the World.

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An Argument for Smaller Classrooms

For the sake of the privacy and public image of the universities discussed in this text, I will not refer to them by name. As my words could easily be taken as a direct assault on the organizations that have the potential to complicate the progression of my education.

In recent years, I’ve had the rather odd pleasure of having been a student at two different universities. Both of them employ drastically different methods in teaching, specifically when it comes to the sizes of the classes they respectively have. The first one I attended had rooms that could fit no more than twenty to thirty students, whilst in my current campus it’s quite commonplace to see units filled with more than fifty students at once. Moreover, at the latter’s “seminar hall,” there are enough seats to accommodate hundreds of pupils at once. There is something important regarding this difference in size, and it’s not just a matter of aesthetics. Rather, I would argue that the expansiveness or compactness of a classroom has significant effects on the effectiveness of teaching.

Although I now more often find myself seated in larger classrooms, I bear a longing for the smaller ones I used to have, for a few but important reasons. The most obvious being that order is much easier to maintain when a teacher has less individuals to fuss over. I.e. they can immediately reorient the wavering attentions of those who are daydreaming, or are generally disrupting the flow of the lesson, vice-versa a student could more easily turn the focus of their lecturers should they have questions about the subject matter. And with a minuscule number of individuals, class discussions could actually be organized, instead of being opportunities to slack off and gossip that I see today (though I do have to admit that I enjoy any and all opportunities to relax and blather away on insignificant subjects). Secondly, compactness allows for lecturers to pay closer attention to detail, about their students, the goings on around them, and even the relationship formed between their pupils. Of course, these points might seem to be debatable, but I would explain further down the text why I still stand as a firm believer that less is more when it comes to class sizes.

The first thing that struck me as I entered the halls of my current university, is how differently my now lecturers view their students. A great number of these educators struggle to remember the names of pupils who they’ve spent the last year teaching, testing, and evaluating. Even if said student scored a remarkably high number during finals—perhaps the highest amongst that individual’s contemporaries—I found one case where the teacher basically could not recall the name or face of said person. This is made more jarring by the fact that when I witnessed this instance, the boy was discussing how proud and shocked he was that he achieved such a high grade to his mentor, only for the professor to ask for his name, student ID number, and what score he managed to attain. This incident does sound minor, yet its implication is disturbing to ponder.

A student and a teacher should have one common goal in mind: To have the student perform as best as he can, so that he may one day find greater successes after his graduation. A task such as this is clearly not an easy one. And it demands a great degree of commitment from both parties involved. To be able to reach their goal, they would have to be cooperating with one another, essentially working together in close tandem. How could an intimate, mutually beneficial relationship be realized if a lecturer cannot even recall the face of one of his brightest  apprentices? The high-ranking pupil I mentioned earlier might be able to escape the pitfalls of the professional world, yet what of those whose performances are plainly unsatisfactory? My old university had a solution for this problem, an answer that basically amounts to pouring ever greater amounts of care to problematic individuals.

In classes where the students only barely number in the twenties, a certain level of intimacy is to be expected. After all, how difficult could it be to remember a mere twenty individuals who we see nearly everyday and are compelled to communicate with in most situations? From what I saw, the degree of difficulty was practically nonexistent, as each member of the class and their teachers easily picked up on the specific traits, talents, and behaviors of one another after a relatively short period of one semester. Educators learned the strengths and weaknesses of their pupils quickly, and concocted methods suited to teaching individuals who needed special attention.

The result of teaching at a nearly individualistic level was profound. Students whose GPAs were only in the one’s and two’s on their first semester increased that number consistently—some slower than others, but nearly none of them suffered from slipping grades. I personally am especially grateful to my old “Performance Strategy” lecturer, who realized that I am a deeply anxious person who could barely speak during a presentation, but somehow found a way to induce a sense of ecstatic willingness to act, even sing, in front of rows of peoples. How he did it remains a mystery to me, though I could remember the times he spent talking to me outside of the classroom, to the extent that we almost daily chatted away the hours over a few pints of beers. This treatment was not exclusive to myself, as he commonly did so with my former peers, similarly encouraging those who suffered from stage fright to remain confident amidst prying eyes, and he succeeded, with all of them. Such an approach was applied to subjects that surround themselves with theories as well.

Another notable lecturer was the woman who formerly taught “Creative Writing” and “Communications Theories.” Her classes were mired with summaries, reviews, research proposals and reports, basically a plethora of writing and reading. Obviously, not everyone she taught had the same level of skill and talent when it comes to the matter of dabbling with the pen and paper. Many of old contemporaries found themselves struggling, at first, to keep up with her rigorous standards. I was once extremely surprised to find out that a paper that I had worked on day and night be marked with a D. Fortunately, she realized that my class of 2012 were not literary geniuses. Hence, she took a closer look at our works and gave incredibly useful instructions and advices, in various forms.

With every essay handed back to us, would be a lost of suggested corrections. She would underline the mistakes we’d made, propose more suitable alternatives, clarify where exactly we went wrong in the pages, and wrap up all her constructive criticisms in a short paragraph at the bottom of our papers. Every now and then, the best articles would be discussed with the rest of the class, with her clarifying why exactly said composition deserves to be praised, and how others could follow in its steps. These critiques and public analyses applied to all students, even to those who could consistently score A’s. In her eyes, there was always room for improvement, and she was committed to show to her pupils how to reach the level of perfection she envisioned. Furthermore, whenever we needed her advice, she would eagerly offer them, both inside and outside of class—through talks, text messages, and emails. Even though I am far from being a remarkable wielder of the pen, I can confidently say that my writings would be incomprehensible rambling had I not met her.

Now, with an admittedly heavy heart I must criticize many of the lecturers I am taught by in my present-day university. To be completely frank, very few of them give any sort of necessary attention to struggling students. When one of their pupils clearly need a lesson in public speaking, they would simply let the frightened, stammering young adult up the podium, to deliver a message that is incredibly difficult to understand due to their stammers or low voices. Perhaps they even tolerate this inability to perform what is a crucial component of being functional in everyday society, by letting the students read from their notes, cell phones, and anything else that would allow them to avoid actually needing to “speak.” When a presentation’s finished, the lecturers rarely offer useful pointers, most often brushing away what just happened by jotting down a mark on their notes. Callous, is how I would best describe their responses.

And when it comes to academic writing, plenty of differences can be found between my old and current campuses. In these days, my papers are handed back to me with a simple number symbolizing how well I’d performed, with no further notes to help me better the quality of my texts. At times, when students are fortunate enough to find a lecturer who could muster up the patience to scrupulously read the works of their students, there are perhaps a mere handful of footnotes. Far from the detailed, and very useful criticisms I had the pleasure of learning from in the past. Again, although this callousness sounds gentler in nature, it lacks the depth found in  my first university’s courses and educators.

At the root of the problem lies the difference in class sizes. My old university’s lecturers could afford to be excessively detailed in their teaching methods, as they had only a handful of students to handle at a time. Yet within my current system, teachers are forced to deal with numbers that could range in the hundreds at times, coercing them to be more apathetic to the performances of their pupils. In other words, because of the massive—in the numerical sense—undertakings they have to tackle, a compromise was made either consciously or otherwise, to prioritize efficiency, and not precision in their classrooms.

A crucial choice is put forward to anyone seeking to establish educational institutions. Whether they would concentrate on the individual success of each of their students, or pump out as many graduates as they can while hoping that at least most of them would be competent professionals one day. I cannot say for certain which of these approaches would work best for a student’s future. However, I do have some words regarding the effectiveness of both approaches when it comes to the issue at hand.

Hopefully, I have managed to showcase the merits of conducting small-sized classes. They allow for order, opportunities for asking questions, to the extent of a well-regulated,  class-wide discussion. A level of detail unaffordable to expansive classrooms could also be found, as teachers are given the opportunity to base their teaching methods on the individual needs of each student. For myself personally, these are reasons enough to encourage the construction of classes that permit lecturers to build a close, mutually beneficial with their students. Strictly for the sake of ensuring that all the graduates of a course, and of the university, be as competent or better as their fellow graduates—be they from the same institution or otherwise.