Category Archives: Sharp Things

Can Anything Be A Weapon?

One of the most striking things for me after reading Cine's article "What is a Machete, Anyway?" and considering the prompt is that, when it comes down to it, pretty much anything can be considered a weapon. For example, the prompt reminded me of an incident a few weeks ago where I got home late at night and had to walk back from the Underground Atlanta parking garage to my building downtown--and realized that I forgot my tazer. As a general rule, I do not walk around downtown Atlanta at three o'clock in the morning by myself, but in this case it was happening. So, as I looked around my car for some device that could serve as a rudimentary form of protection just in case I found my eye linger one one possible candidate: a box cutter. While not inherently dangerous or even made for the most gentle of combat, an object like a box cutter does have certain dangerous properties. It has a sharp blade and can easily be wielded with one hand due to its small size. So, after reading Cline's article I found myself wondering what is the difference, really, between:

and

Assuming that the differences in dimensions, weight, and aesthetic are pretty self-apparent, it is difficult to really differentiate the two objects in terms of utility. Obviously the machete is larger and meant for different tasks, but both of these utility-based objects have the same capacity for being viewed as something dangerous. A machete is made to be a tool for hacking through various brush and vegetation and the box cutter is meant for slicing through tough material as well- albeit on a small scale. However, a machete has a striking resemblance to a sword or scimitar and a box cutter to a modern knife with a safety handle. So what is it really that separates them from their more vicious counterparts to us? Is it simply the knowledge that they are constructed for a different purpose in the same way that an assault rifle carries a different connotation from a hunting rifle? Or is it the aesthetic of a box cutter that somehow makes its potential for violence less grisly than, say, a butterfly knife?

To be completely honest, I really don't know.

To that end, what separates the potential of a cell phone from a machete? This is where I think the question gets particularly hairy, as the immediate answer seems obvious: you can't physically hack at something with a cell phone. But, you can hack information with a cell phone or send instructions that could lead to a physical hacking. I suppose what ends up being the main factor for me in determining if an object is a weapon or just is a tool is accepting that almost all objects are both. While I do not necessarily subscribe to the idea of a gun being dangerous not because of its inherent properties, but because of the individual holding it, I do think that human intent and interaction with objects can alter their perceived state. My conclusion is that all objects can possess a capacity for danger, but that people can either increase or decrease that capacity.

Chemical X : Danger

Is it possible to argue these two pieces of writing are more about the power objects have over us, than they are about any power we might have over them? And if so, if we really don't ultimately exercise much control over our things, does that make all that uncontrollable stuff inherently dangerous.

 

As i began reading "What is a Machete Anyway?" by John Cline, I started to understand that tools and weapons are far more similar than they are different. Any object taken from its original nature can deviate from its prescribed usage and be transformed into a means to harm and damage others. The first thing that popped into my mind was Batman: The Dark knight with actor Heath Ledger. He manipulated the situation as he spoke with other criminals and used a simple pencil as a mechanism to murder someone during the verbal exchange. This can be shown at the link:

 

 

Given the writings of many historians, we all know a pencil to be the gateway to writing and other forms of communication. It has also advanced technologically given we no longer write from feather ink pens or reed pens.

reed

 

 

 

This formed the basis of my understanding that objects serve a usage that is contingent upon time and history. However, these objects can change and taken out of its original context to be used with malicious intent. Although an object is founded on a basic premise, it can always turn inherently dangerous as the question above states due to the action of malicious intent regardless of its historical meaning.

An item that comes to mind is my own experience with a shaded lightbulb in my living room. I had just moved into my first apartment and was thrilled to set it up and decorate it given my own imagination of sorts. I was determined to clean up due to the roach infestation. I perhaps applied too much force to the light shade, so it burst into pieces- one of which slashed my knuckle that still remains to be a scar till this day. A shade that was only meant to diminish the brightness of a room had been turned so quickly into a dangerous object even by means of mistake. This can be said about many household appliances as i read, "Dangerous Tools" by the Handy Guys, i noted the most important statement which is , "it is sometimes the more common tools around the house that will draw the most blood. "

This drew my final analysis that objects have more power over us given the complexities of not knowing the future. For instance, with my incident with the light shade or the Titanic that was alleged to be "indestructible”, I learned that some things are unpredictable and therefore objects have the power of unpredictability. Another feature is the contingency we, as human beings, have for objects. We, by convention, have drawn more and more susceptible to dependency on the objects we desire or need on a daily basis. This retracts from previous assessments of objects as means for ideas and goes more along the lines of objects as a means for a diverse array of ideas that coexist at the same point in time, or synchronically.

 

Objects Off the Chain

In his essay for The Atlantic, John Cline illustrates the flexibility of some objects, and the powers that they can hold. His example of the machete as not only a tool, but a weapon and a political symbol demonstrates how objects can occupy different spheres, whether we like to them to or not. While objects are often man-made, and their subjective meanings are placed on them by us humans, those meanings we place on them grant power that we cannot remove. Once an idea enters the zeitgeist, we lose some of the control we once had over said object.

One of my favorite YouTube channels, PBS Idea Channel, made a video called “How Powerful Are Algorithms?” In this video, the host, Mike Rugnetta, discusses algorithms and their rise to importance in our everyday life. Not only does he highlight the power they hold in completing myriad tasks, from Google searches, to more globally influential research based computations, he also brings up how little control we can exercise over these through Eli Periser's “filter bubble.” This states that as search algorithms refine your experience down to a personalization, you are excluded from information you may otherwise have been exposed to. For instance, I have noticed over the years that my Facebook News Feed predominantly shows me articles that relate to my political beliefs, for instance feminism or racial equality. While I am aware that I am friends with many people from high school that may be posting, say, articles from FoxNews.com, their appearances on my feed are few and far between—thus limiting my world-view in a small, but significant way.

While the world of algorithms is one mostly existing in the digital ether, these lines of code are as much objects as Fahrenheit 451 or The Bible. Both of these texts may have once served a single purpose in their creation, but now, even their names have gathered associations and messages that cannot be contained. Cline asks his reader if they believe an iPhone could be considered a weapon in the way that a machete can be considered one. Using his own article, I would answer yes, arguing two points.

First, it depends on who is observing the object. To my eyes, a machete holds only a blurry image of political symbolism, while for a member of the Boricua Popular Army, it may be the strongest symbol of power imaginable. Likewise, to someone who uses an iPhone daily for altogether mild and civil purposes, it may be difficult to appear as a weapon. However, to a luddite (say, for instance, my co-worker at the salon I work at), the iPhone may represent the demise of not only a generation, but all future generations for the rest of civilization. Secondly, I would argue that, while at the moment, an iPhone may not be a weapon of physical violence, it has certainly become one of cultural and societal violence. How these develops down the line could shift this even further into our perception in a Albert Nobel-lian way.

Blog Post #5: Sharp Things

Why are the most useful objects so often also among the most dangerous? Some objects, such as knives, fire, or chemotherapy drugs have inherent properties that make them hazardous to our health. In other objects, though, the danger stems not from the object's properties (it's sharp, it's hot, or it's toxic) but from how it is used. For example, one might argue (and some do) that there is nothing inherently dangerous about a gun; guns only become dangerous through the operation of human agency, through intentional use of a gun to cause harm or mishandling that results in unintended injury. How do we tell the difference between a tool and weapon, between poison and panacea?

In his essay, "What Is a Machete, Anyway?," John Cline implies the tendency of any object to oscillate between useful tool and dangerous weapon may be a function of its inherent characteristics, rather than the end to which it is employed by human actors:

What contemporary object can be both a tool and a weapon, like the machete? Communication technologies like cell phones might serve as one candidate, especially in light of their application during the “Arab Spring.” But can the iPhone ever bear the same gravitas as the machete? Is silicon the new steel? Information has been a part of every arsenal, revolutionary or otherwise. Still, it’s hard to imagine driving a smartphone into a body “down to the Apple.”

By contrasting the iPhone with the "gravitas" of the machete, Cline suggests that, although an iPhone might be used as a weapon, it's not--unlike the machete--a weapon per se. Does that, though, mean that an iPhone is any less dangerous? The iPhone manufacturing process is detrimental to the environment, and iPhones themselves become environmental pollution when they are discarded. The environmental degradation caused by iPhones over their entire life cycle may ultimately far outweigh the benefits we derive from them during the relatively brief period during that life cycle when they are useful to us.

In "The Collector" and "Unpacking My Library," two essays that we'll read and discuss in more depth later in the semester, Walter Benjamin explores how individual identity is constituted through subject/object relationships. For Benjamin, the act of collecting--which transforms the commodity into the collected object--can be a significant act of resistance in part because collectors don't fit easy, familiar categories such as "consumers" or "producers" of exchange and use value. The object itself, however, presumably remains unaffected by that transaction. Is it possible to argue these two pieces of writing are more about the power objects have over us, than they are about any power we might have over them? And if so, if we really don't ultimately exercise much control over our things, does that make all that uncontrollable stuff inherently dangerous?

An image of a ceramic deer collection, including one blue and one green deer.
Image credit: "Deeries" by Katie Nicosia on Flickr.
While on their surface, such questions might seem too abstract to be worth much consideration, history is full of examples that demonstrate how human failure to consider adequately or understand completely what objects are and what they do has resulted in substantial harm. Early cosmetics contained heavy metals such as lead that slowly poisoned those who manufactured and used them. During the early nineteenth century, a fad for a particular shade of green dye resulted in what might be viewed as an "epidemic" of arsenic poisoning. Our inability to understand the long-term effects of industrialization and an ever-increasing dependence on fossil fuels was arguably a direct cause of climate change

Carefully read Cline's essay, and use that piece and some of the resources linked in this prompt as a starting point for some quick research. Combine a web search with a search of the library's eJournals, looking for resources that might help us understand more about the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which objects exert their influence in the world regardless of the steps we take to control them. Craft a post that summarizes the results of your research and provides links or citations to useful resources.

Posting: Group 1

Commenting: Group 2

Category: Sharp Things

In your Blog #5 post, you should do more than offer a list of source summaries. Rather, you should frame the summary of your research, as a cohesive response to a research question that is posed or suggested by this prompt. Please carefully read and follow the guidelines and posting information for this blog as they've been outlined in the Blog Project Description.

Feature Image: "Danger of Falling" by Minchioletta on Flickr.