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Genetic Testing: A Right Not to Know

The other day I picked up an article from The Wall Street Journal that caught my attention for many reasons. I have always personally struggled with the concept of genetic testing. On the one hand, I think it is an amazing feat. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis would grant me the ability to check and make sure my kids are born healthy. Personally, that is something that greatly tempts me, because I would never want my child to have to suffer through anything that I could have potentially prevented. However, on the other hand, I am a strong believer in “everything happens for a reason.” My mother has instilled in me the belief that, “in life, you will only be granted what you can handle, so there is no need to worry.” With these moral principles ingrained in my being since the beginning, I face a personal ethical dilemma. Thankfully, I do not have to make these kinds of decisions in my life just yet. However, I found this article very interesting and a step in the right direction for the future of genetic testing. Continue reading “Genetic Testing: A Right Not to Know”

Philanthropy on Campus: Are we genuinely helping?

Philanthropy is a huge part of the average DePauw student’s life. Between Greek organizations, Relay for Life, Dance Marathon, Timmy Global Health, Civic Fellows and volunteering in the Putnam County community, it’s hard to find a weekend that does not consist of some kind of philanthropic effort. While I believe these philanthropic events teach DePauw students to be active members of the community and learn to work together to achieve a goal, I don’t believe the philanthropy we promote is doing as much good as we are taught to think, or as much good as it could be doing.

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#ThanksMichelleObama: Ethics and School Lunches

A photo of a school lunch.

School lunches have never been popular. Culturally, school lunches are something often complained about by students for being bland and unappetizing, and by parents as being unhealthy and processed. Michelle Obama’s attempt to make school lunches healthier through her “Let’s Move” campaign has left some students angry, expressing their annoyance with pictures of their school lunches on Twitter, with the hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama.

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It’s Time for an Open Social Web

Imagine if you could only talk on the phone to people who used the same wireless service provider. Imagine people on Verizon could only call other Verizon customers. Imagine you could only email someone who used the same email service as you. Imagine Gmail users could only email other Gmail users. This is a nightmare communication scenario. It’s bad, and fortunately things are not like that for phone and email.

Unfortunately, this is exactly how things actually are for social networks, and it’s time for that to change.

Last month Ello stepped in as a Facebook challenger, largely motivated by people dissatisfied with Facebook’s policy that requires the user to use their real legal name. People are so dissatisfied with Twitter and Facebook that Mashable featured 10 social networks to keep an eye on.

But before we all jump ship to the next company offering us a better social web experience, we ought to pause and think carefully about what we want the social web landscape to look like. Social networks have grown from a novelty space where college students waste time and virtually flirt with each other to an incredibly important and efficient communication tool.  Social networks are increasingly a go-to source for news. A study last year suggests that 70% of parents turn to Facebook or Twitter to have conversations with their children. Revolutions now get organized on Twitter.

Social networks are too important to rest in the hands of any one person or company. We need a social network landscape with open protocols and standards much like the way email or the internet itself currently operates. The internet exists as it does today because the early pioneers of the internet got together and and developed a set of communications standards that they all agreed to just adopt. No one owns these standards, and now anyone is free to develop services that communicate freely with other people on the internet because of open standards. This yields an internet free from the constraints of the bottom line of any one company, and companies can compete with each other to provide users a better end experience – the way that various email service and telephone providers currently compete.

This is what social networking should be like. Instead of having all of your friends locked into one company’s service, you should be free to jump around from different social network providers and your friends wouldn’t need to follow you there. You would have access to your friends’ status updates, photos, etc. in the new service you signed up for, because that service and the service you left would be able to communicate with each other. It would be like switching from Hotmail to Gmail and importing all of your contacts.

Here are some simple things that can be done to try and move towards a decentralized social network experience:.

1. Educate People About Open Standards
People need to want their social networks to adhere to open communication standards. Before that, they need to understand what that means. More people need to know about how open standards make better communication possible. This video is a good primer on open standards for the internet. Skip to 5:10 for the most important bits.

2. Explore Alternatives
Once you understand what open standards are and have decided you want them, you need to start exploring alternatives. Unfortunately, there aren’t many available yet. Diaspora is showing new signs of life with the recent fallout over Ello. I’m hopeful something like Diaspora can succeed. Learn more about Diaspora here. Consumer demand for open standards social networks needs to increase, and that won’t be evident until people start exploring and using these alternatives.

3. Competing Networks need to Shift Gears
Instead of trying to be the next Facebook, would be Facebook-killers should ally around a set of open-standards. I’d love to see Ello and the multitude of would-be Facebook competitors ally around a set of open standards, perhaps along the lines of those suggested here.

The most important thing is to understand as a consumer what it means to have a social network landscape that adheres to open standards and start to more seriously explore our options.

Prindle Intern Spotlight: Colleen Whiting

Colleen is a junior intern from Indianapolis, Indiana. She studies Political Science at DePauw.

  1. Tell us about an ethics/social justice issue that is particularly important to you.

One social justice issue that is particularly important to me is the idea of equality in law. I am currently taking a Philosophy of Law course and the linguistic as well as moral dilemmas surrounding equality really intrigue me.

  1. What has been your favorite Prindle event so far this semester?

I have loved Conflict Kitchen because I liked how they used a comfortable medium, i.e. food, to discuss uncomfortable topics. I am really looking forward to the Act of Killing screening coming up as well.

  1. Which class(es) at DePauw has most challenged and expanded your worldview?

I would have to say that my Intercultural Conflict class with Rebecca Goldberg and my International Ethics as well as International Security with Deepa Prakash are the top three classes at DePauw that have challenged and expanded my worldview. Political science classes in general have truly forced me to analytically look at the world around me, which will benefit me in the long run.

  1. Tell us about the coolest thing you’ve heard about in the past week. This could be something you read, listened to, watched, talked about, etc.

The coolest thing that I have heard about in the past week was a Ted talk called “How painting can transform communities”. It’s all about how a group of people in Rio painted the favelas, or the slums of Rio, in beautiful designs. These buildings took up the entirety of the favelas, which was so cool. The murals became a way for the favelas to turn into communities of dignity and beauty. They also did murals in North Philly, which is one of the poorest regions in the U.S. I just think it’s so cool how little things like painting a house can turn a community into something beautiful and amazing.

Read more about Colleen here.

 

 

The Trouble with Unpaid Internships

As any college student knows too well, cold winter weather signals the beginning of an annual rat race that permeates the university experience – brace yourselves…it’s internship application season. Over the next few months, students across the nation will be scrambling to land a job for the summer. They will plea for nepotism from friends and family, search the web for any morsel of opportunity, or cold call alumni in a last ditch email barrage of desperation; all of this in an attempt to lockdown the all-important internship offer. Continue reading “The Trouble with Unpaid Internships”

Should the Identities of Execution Drug Manufacturers Be Secret?

Members of the Ohio legislature are currently fast-tracking a bill that would shield the names of pharmaceutical companies who sell Ohio execution drugs. Ohio has an interest in this shield because they are having difficulty finding people to provide them with drugs they need to execute persons sentenced to death. Lawmakers also claim that they need this protection to shield the makers of the drugs from threats. The Attorney General argues that there have been no such threats.

But this raises interesting competing interests. One might think that the death penalty and the procedures behind it ought to be as transparent as possible. Furthermore, you might think that consumers have the right to vote with their dollars and elect not to purchase from providers of execution drugs. This isn’t possible if the information is shielded from consumers. This also raises questions about to what extent other companies should be entitled to have their identities shielded from the public for dealing in goods that some people find morally abhorrent.

What do you think? Should the government shield the identities of pharmaceutical companies that sell them execution drugs, or should this information be publicly available?

 

Technology and Police Brutality

When someone is being recorded, one is more aware of their actions; this applies to even police officers. With many cases of police brutality occurring throughout America, from Ferguson to the recorded death of Eric Garner to the beating of Luis Paulino in 2012, the question of technology and its role in decreasing police brutality emerges. Is it possible for technology, specifically cell phone cameras, to end police brutality?

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Is Envy Always Malicious? (Part One)

This post originally appeared on November 18, 2014

Imagine you check your email and find a congratulatory message from your boss announcing that your colleague has just been promoted. This colleague joined the company at approximately the same time as you did, and works in your sector. You were in line for the same promotion and were anxiously waiting for the outcome. How do you feel?

It’s reasonable to suppose that you might feel a burning, intense, painful bout of an emotion hard to confess even to yourself: envy. It doesn’t matter that you like this person, that she works hard, that she is brilliant and competent, and that she fully deserves this honor. If anything, being fully aware of her merits is likely to make you feel worse. Even if you acknowledge that it is an objectively just outcome, you can’t help but ask “Why not me?!”

Let me assure you that you are in good company: envy can be found in all ages, with all genders, and in all strata of the society. According to anthropologists (Foster 1972, Lindholm 2008), it is panhuman phenomenon, whose disquieting traces can be found everywhere in human history and culture. The Bible, the sacred text for Jews and Christians, is filled with stories of envy, most notably Cain and Abel. The fall of Adam and Eve, Satan’s rebellion against God, and Christ’s crucifixion have all been interpreted as caused by envy (Acquaro 2004, Schimmel 2008). All main human religions condemn envy, and most peasant and tribal societies share the superstition of the evil eye, a destructive power emanating—usually involuntarily—from the look of an envious person. Many publicized crimes and intergroup conflicts have been attributed to envy (Schoeck 1969, Beck 1999). Young children are warned about the evils of envy when hearing the fables of Cinderella, Snow White, and many others. There are countless literary tales of envy and the misdeeds it provokes, but we do not need to look into fictions to see what envy looks like. As advertisers, economists, and psychoanalysts all know, envy populates our daily interactions. (Beck 2008, Vidaillet 2008, Zizzo 2008).

Notwithstanding its ubiquitousness, envy may be the only “deadly sin” that is still considered unforgivable and difficult to confess openly and straightforwardly. As Francois de la Rochefoucauld vividly put it: “We can often be vain of our passions, even the guiltiest ones; but envy is so sneaking and shameful that we never dare confess it.” (Maxims) Even though it may be not framed in moral terms for everybody, feeling and expressing envy is still stigmatized and seen as a social taboo. And yet, feeling and acting on envy is as widespread as ever, as the popularity of novels, self-help books, and editorials that deal with the topic shows. This is unsurprising: class inequality has not only not disappeared, but it has possibly increased in some affluent societies, like the United States. Furthermore, there will always be scarcity of some goods, such as honor and “coolness,” and hence competition for them, and envy for those who succeed in securing them.

Envy thus has an important positive signaling value: it reveals to us what we care about, what we feel we lack, and what we are prepared to do to get it. But is it otherwise always bad? In my work I argue that while envy undoubtedly shows a dark side of human nature—our tendency to covet the possessions and talents of our neighbors, cast an evil eye on them, and rejoice of their misfortune—it also presents a more luminous one: our tendency to work hard in order to reach and surpass those neighbors, and strive for excellence.

Furthermore, I don’t believe that envy necessarily involves hostility and aggression toward the envied. Social psychologists and philosophers are divided about whether a non-malicious emotion can be appropriately categorized as envy. I defend the view that what I call “emulative envy”, while being a kind of envy proper, is neither morally nor prudentially bad. In my next post I am going to describe what this emotion looks like. In the mean time, what do you think about this: is envy always malicious? Have you ever felt a “benign” kind of envy?

Citations
Aquaro, G. R.A. 2004, Death by envy: The evil eye and envy in the Christian tradition, Lincoln, NB: Universe.
Beck, A. 1999, Prisoners of hate: The cognitive basis of anger, hostility, and violence, New York: HarperCollins.
Belk, R. W. 2008, “Marketing and Envy,” in Smith, R. H. (ed.), 211–226. Foster, G. M. 1972, “The anatomy of envy: A study in symbolic behavior,” Current Anthropology, 13: 165–202.
Lindholm, C. 2008, “Culture and Envy,” in Smith, R. H. (ed.), 227–244.
Schimmel, S. 1997, The Seven Deadly Sins: Jewish, Christian, and Classical Reflections on Human Psychology, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Schimmel, S. 2008, “Envy in Jewish Though and Literature,” in Smith, R. H. (ed.), 16–38.
Schoeck, H. 1969, Envy: A theory of social behaviour, San Diego: Harcourt, Brace & World.
Smith, R. H. (ed.) 2008, Envy: Theory and Research, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Vidaillet, B. 2008, “Psychoanalytic Contributions to Understanding Envy: Classical and Contemporary Perspectives,” in Smith, R. H. (ed.), 267–289.
Zizzo, D. J. 2008, “The Cognitive and Behavioral Economics of Envy,” in Smith, R. H. (ed.), 190–210.

Watch Cute Alpacas Teach You About Income Inequality

The above video was recently featured in an article for CNNMoney. This cute, animated short describes the crucial economic state of the last 40 years. As quoted from an adorable alpaca in the video,  “The system has become rigged. Government has been favoring the rich at the expense of the poor. The rich pay lower tax rates than ever but minimum wage hasn’t kept up with inflation.”

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Dr. Sharon Crary on the Ebola Outbreak

Dr. Sharon Crary, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at DePauw, has studied Ebola virus extensively and was part of the Center for Disease Control’s response team during the Ebola outbreak in Uganda in 2000. In this video, Dr. Crary discusses the Ebola virus as well as key pieces of advice that we should all know concerning the current Ebola outbreak. Prindle Intern Amy Brown worked with Dr. Crary and other DePauw Faculty members to conduct an open panel discussion that took place October 31st.  To recap the panel discussion, Dr. Crary highlights ethical quandaries evoked by the current Ebola outbreak, such as quarantine precautions, while also clarifying common misconceptions pertaining to the Ebola spread. Learn more about Dr. Crary’s research on Ebola here.

Study Guide Ethics

Continuing my discussions of the ethics of various educational practices, this post finds its focus in what might be the only part students like about test-taking: study guides.  Study guides are an educator’s way to review material pertinent to the test, direct students in what to study for evaluation, and to provide assurance that studying for examinations is worthwhile.  Problems arise, however, when an unmentioned topic appears on the test, or when an exam becomes the exact replica of the distributed information to study.  Is the use of study guides ethical?

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Look Inside: The Moral Implications of Personal Choice

Back when Microsoft Windows XP and Intel’s Pentium 4 Processor were technology du jour, not much was known about the origins of the raw minerals integral to the technology we depend on daily or about the horrendous labors that made possible the innovations of the day. Ethical concepts of blame and praise did not make a lot of sense to the consumer faced with no choice but to buy electronic devices manufactured by laborers cheated out of a living wage and f rom raw materials that fuel atrocities in the eastern remote province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This is based on the understanding that one cannot be held morally accountable for something they have no control over.

The complexities of the ongoing conflict in eastern DRC, and the role of student activism in addressing the role of conflict minerals in the deadly conflict have been well documented here, here, and here. Fast forward to 2014, with Intel CEO’s announcement that all Intel microprocessor chips manufactured from this year will not contain raw materials originating from mines that bankroll atrocities in eastern DRC and neither will every Intel product by the year 2016. Consumers are now faced with a choice. As the global market for commodities becomes increasingly competitive, consumers are inundated with choices, most of which present tough ethical challenges. For example, whether or not to buy the warm sweatshirt that robs factory workers of safe working conditions, or the chocolate bar whose cocoa ingredient was harvested through child labor in West Africa.  Even more familiar to the everyday American consumer is the choice between organic or conventionally grown produce. For me, it’s the choice between picking a Styrofoam cup or bringing my own re-usable coffee mug to the office each morning. These choices are personal, but our free will to act upon them implies a moral responsibility.

However, such choices are neither simple nor removed from other moral imperatives. To be fair, Intel’s efforts to manufacture “conflict-free” products highlighted in the short video above are commendable and praiseworthy, but to be sure, a reform at one point of a product’s manufacturing supply chain does not guarantee that the product becomes conflict free. To put this into perspective, imagine technology products manufactured from ethically sourced raw materials but through unfair labor practices, or in factories powered by mountain-top removal coal. Many are the challenges we face in today’s world of ever increasing global demands. Faced with this reality and with the holiday shopping season fast approaching, do we have a real ethical choice over what we buy? What choices do we have? As consumers, how do our personal choices affect the lives of millions of people across the world and around us, and are we morally culpable? Weigh in your comments below.

Ebola: Deconstructing Racist Narratives

As the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa continues to make headlines in world news, and while  health workers from across the world unite to contain and treat the disease, CBS’s award winning chief foreign affairs correspondent, Lara Logan, traveled to Liberia to report on Americans working on the frontline of the Ebola outbreak. In her 60 Minutes episode on “The Ebola Hot Zone”, she highlights the trauma of the epidemic and challenges towards averting it. However, her account of what is happening on the ground in Liberia has not been well-received among certain circles circumspect of naughty western reporting of events occurring in parts of the African continent.

In a series of tweets alluding to the absence of a single African voice, be it a patient, volunteer, or doctor in Ms. Logan’s story, Howard French, an associate professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism contends that Logan’s narrative is a story of Africa without Africans. He argues that “a story about Ebola in Liberia without speaking Liberians is of a piece with a long history of racism. It’s the same thing that allows 350,000 Africans to be recruited to fight for Britain in WWII, but almost never to represent this in film. It’s the erasure of Africans from history, in this case their own history, and to reserve meaningful thought and agency to whites.”

Is Lara Logan’s coverage of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia a fair representation of events occurring in Liberia and of the brave and kind acts of American aid workers amidst the crisis, or is it an artifact of congenitally embedded cultural ignorance and supremacy? Are the objections to Lara Logan’s reporting on the Ebola outbreak merely sentimental? Weigh in your comments below.

#DearDePauw: What’s it All About?

For those in the DePauw community, the hashtag, “#DearDepauw” has been appearing everywhere. Some may have seen lengthy testimonials being posted to social media under the hashtag, while others have participated in the heated Facebook and Twitter debates associated with the posts. So what are the motivations behind this hashtag and the students contributing to it?

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A Free and Open Internet

On Monday, President Obama announced that “a free and open Internet was as critical to Americans’ lives as electricity and telephone service” and should be regulated as such. This approach, called net neutrality, will prevent companies from slowing down certain content and allowing companies to pay for a fast lane to get data to consumers. If a fast lane is used, that means that only certain types of websites with large funds will be easily accessible to the public. The debate over net neutrality and an open Internet could be about whether Internet access is considered a necessary service.

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