On November 18, 2011, an Occupy movement demonstration at the University of California, Davis became a focal point of national news when a group of peacefully seated protesters were asked to leave. Shortly after, UC Davis police officers began pepper spraying the demonstrators, an incident which was caught on video and in photographs, and led to nation-wide attention, outrage, and even numerous Internet memes. Although it has been several years since this incident, the notoriety of the pepper spray incident remains in the public’s memory and as a stain on the reputation of UC Davis.
Obama administration urges states to curb use of solitary confinement (Guardian)
by Ed Pilkington
“This year Barack Obama announced far-reaching reforms that would dramatically reduce the use of solitary, or ‘restrictive housing’, within the federal prison system. He said the practice of placing inmates in tiny cells with virtually no human contact was overused and an ‘affront to our common humanity’.”
War In The Time of Selfies (Guernica Magazine)
by Nicholas Miriello
“The crudely staged terror-porn of Abu Ghraib has evolved into the highly stylized and sun-kissed wartime selfie.”
How to persuade rich people to pay more in taxes: remind them how lucky they are (Vox)
by Robert H. Frank
“Hatred of taxes by the wealthy has had real consequences. Due in part to lobbying efforts on the part of high earners, for example, top marginal tax rates around the world have gone down dramatically since the 1970s. Rich people paying lower taxes means there’s less money for public investment in infrastructure and education. And less public investment is bad for everyone, including rich people.”
Shut Up About Harvard (FiveThirtyEight)
by Ben Casselman
“It’s college admissions season, which means it’s time once again for the annual flood of stories that badly misrepresent what higher education looks like for most American students — and skew the public debate over everything from student debt to the purpose of college in the process.”
Video: Empathy Doesn’t Make You a Good Person (Atlantic)
Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a new bill that “[p]rohibits a person from performing an abortion if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because of: (1) the race, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex of the fetus; or (2) a diagnosis or potential diagnosis of the fetus having Down syndrome or any other disability.” After discovering through genetic testing that their unborn child may have a “disability,” women will be unable to receive an abortion legally. Pence referred to the law as “a comprehensive pro-life measure that affirms the value of all human life.” Continue reading “Indiana’s New Abortion Law: An Ethical, Medical, or Legal Concern?”
In a recent piece entitled Unnatural Selection published in the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert writes of the challenges confronting conservation as the world moves into a new, warmer, more acidic equilibrium as a result of human-induced climate change. In her piece, Kolbert profiles two ongoing efforts to genetically-modify wild species for the purpose of regenerating natural populations. Should humans assist evolution in an attempt to fix the detrimental effects of climate change?
New Prindle Reading Courses
Beginning in Fall 2016, the Prindle Institute will sponsor a small number of 1/4 credit reading courses on special topics in ethics.
Each course will allow faculty members and their students to read and discuss a single work that enhances their understanding of the field of ethics or some ethical issue. Our goal is to provide a compelling way for students to incorporate an ethics component into their curricular goals.
DePauw students will have the opportunity to take multiple (different) sections of this course and be challenged to grapple with ethical issues throughout their time at DePauw.
Classes will be held the first eight Thursdays of the Fall 2016 semester from 7-8:30PM. Transportation to and from Prindle will be provided.
Sign up today on e-services!
The Prindle Institute is excited to announce the winners of the second annual High School Ethics Essay Contest! Over 200 high school students responded to the prompt “Does the United States have a moral responsibility to intervene in countries where human rights violations are occurring?” The five winners received a cash prize of $300. Excerpts from the five winning essays are featured below.
Emily Crafton, Greenfield-Central High School- Humanitarian Intervention
“Not only is it a moral choice, but as Jennifer Welsh, from the R2P program explains, intervention can also promote resilience. Intervening in other countries strengthens those countries politically, ultimately preventing future atrocities. While it may seem unjust to interfere with the sovereignty of other countries, the definition of sovereignty is evolving.” Click here to read more of this essay.
Lourdes Latasa, Carondelet High School– The United States’ Responsibility to Protect
“There is never an end to the controversy over whether the United States has a moral responsibility to intervene in countries where human rights violations occur. Sovereignty and human rights are crucial ideas that contradict one another in terms of whether the United States has the responsibility to use humanitarian intervention. Sovereignty in a state allows the state to be independent and to handle its affairs. It does not allow other countries to interfere in the state’s affairs.” Click here to read more of this essay.
Alec Sandberg, West Bloomfield High School– A Move Toward Intervention
“Having world peace would be ideal. However, the United States understands that this state is unrealistic unless something is done to help curb human rights violations. To promote its political agenda and social views throughout the world, the United States needs to unify countries that are willing to cooperate with each other. Countries that do not agree with the United States on how citizens should be treated would have a difficult time maintaining any type of relationship with the United States.” Click here to read more of this essay.
Regan Vander Tuin, Catholic Central High School– A Moral Dilemma: Armed Intervention
“Those who oppose intervention fear that it may lead to greater harm, but when specific guidelines are enforced to prevent under- or over-use of intervention, humanitarian aid is beneficial. The United States should ultimately intervene when citizens of other countries are unable to protect themselves.” Click here to read more of this essay.
Karmyn Von Ehr, Catholic Central High School– A Collective Responsibility
“The United States is currently a large global power that assumes a large portion of the responsibility to protect. Although many would argue that the United States should have the moral responsibility to intervene in situations of human rights violations, the United States government does not currently act upon or maintain a moral responsibility. In ways that the government does not have a moral responsibility, the citizens do. There are numerous organizations and orders that can freely act based on moral responsibility, whereas the government has restrictions.” Click here to read more of this essay.
Issues of race and discrimination transcend social interactions and permeate important institutions in the U.S., and the field of medicine is no exception. Recently, concerns about how patients of color may be receiving treatment differently, and less effectively, than white patients have become more frequently studied. Medical schools have implemented diversity initiatives in cultural sensitivity and awareness of subconscious bias to combat these issues and decrease the prevalence of racism in the medical field. However, according to Jennifer Adaeze, medical school student and writer for Stat News, these initiatives are not enough .
Last week, I spoke with an elderly couple. They’re both in the sixties now, but when they married each other, he was seventeen and she was eighteen. Sounds crazy, right? Furthermore, they were both virgins when they put the rings on each other’s fingers. A situation like this is nearly unheard of today—especially for millennials. On college campuses across America, casual sex has become the norm, and long-term relationships and marriage are generally regarded as an endeavor to undertake far in the future.
This piece originally appeared on September 9, 2015.
The start of another academic year is cause to reflect on the aims of education and the fact that 19 states in the U.S. still use corporal punishment in public schools. Many have yet to learn the counterproductive and harmful effects of disciplining kids with violence. Nowhere is the mistake more troubling than in our public schools.
I have argued elsewhere against school corporal punishment on grounds of the right to security of person and given the Platonic warning that “nothing taught by force stays in the soul.” The aims of education offer a further, crucial reason why we ought to end the use of corporal punishment in public schools.
What is school for? Somewhere at the heart of the answer should be the idea of educating people to be critical thinkers. John Dewey once argued that such a goal is implicit in the “supreme intellectual obligation.” That obligation calls for empowering all citizens with the scientific attitudes and intellectual habits of mind necessary to appreciate wisdom and to put it to use. Expert scientists must push the envelope of knowledge, but if intellectuals are to benefit humanity, the masses of people need to be sufficiently critical thinkers to benefit from scientific innovations.
Critical thinking involves the development of a skeptical attitude, one which expects or hopes to uncover justification or evidence. It appreciates well-founded authorities, understanding authority as a relationship of trust based on good reasons for it. For schools to cultivate critical thinking in young people, kids need to be comfortable questioning their teachers, administrators, and parents. In public schools, we need safe environments in which intellects are allowed and enabled to experiment, to be creative, and to learn whether and why some authorities are warranted, when they are.
Corporal punishment in public schools inhibits the cultivation of critical thinking. It teaches one that a justifiable means to one’s ends is violence. It impedes the development of “scientific attitudes and intellectual habits of mind.” A kid is understandably less inclined to question an authority that beats him or her, especially with the sanction of public policy.
Consider the kind of environment created in 2009-2010 in the South Panola School District in Mississippi, where corporal punishment was recorded 2,572 times in a 180-day school year. That averages out to the use of physical violence every 20-30 minutes each day. Such environments impede the development of critical thinking, rather than encouraging it.
What do young people learn when they are struck? It is true that studies show an immediate though very short-lived change in young people’s behavior after corporal punishment. They also show, however, that students who are subjected to violence do not develop better long-term habits. In fact, school- and in-home corporal punishments are associated with higher levels of depression, anxiety, drug use, crime, and other unfortunate consequences, as well as mental disorders. In school settings, then, corporal punishment fails to teach kids what it purports and is doing them educational harm.
The common refrain heard in response is that if you spare the rod, you’ll spoil the child. A priest pointed out to me, however, that this is a reference to the shepherd’s rod. Shepherds steer and redirect sheep with a tap or nudge of the rod. A tap or a push gives redirection and disciplines a herd. A beating does not. It makes the animal flee when it can get away.
In poor southern states still using corporal punishment, when young people reach the age at which they can leave school, flocks of them do.
Rather than teaching young people not to question authorities, we should strive to cultivate understanding of scientific and moral authority. We can teach respect for truth, good reasoning, good faith, and good will. Teaching kids that if they go out of line they will be struck tells them that if they think differently, they will be met with pain and shown the extent to which they are unsuited for education.
We can do better. There are nonviolent and effective forms of discipline. We should be teaching kids to explore ideas, to test authorities for the sake of learning, and to feel welcome and safe in educational environments. Corporal punishment has the opposite effects. Our schools could and should inspire and empower kids, nurturing them as critical thinkers. Those are aims to which meaningful education is rightly directed. A vital step forward must be, therefore, to abolish corporal punishment in our public schools.
A current, controversial area of medical, legal, and ethical concern in America is the distribution of anti-psychotic drugs to nursing home patients as a method of chemical restraint. According to the Code of Federal Regulations for Public Health, a nursing home “resident has the right to be free from any physical or chemical restraints imposed for purposes of discipline or convenience, and not required to treat the resident’s medical symptoms.” State laws reinforce the federal regulations and delve into further detail about defining and administering anti-psychotic drugs. An example from Indiana’s regulations includes requiring an “order for chemical restraints [to] specify the dosage and the interval of and reasons for the use of chemical restraint.”
Last week, the New York Times reported that, thanks to a set of fairy tales creatively recreated by the National Rifle Association, children can now read their favorite fairy tales from the perspective of if the characters had guns.
In the retelling, Little Red Riding hood confidently tromps through the forest with a rifle across her back, and Hansel and Gretel hold the wicked witch off at gunpoint. Even the Grandma, the unfortunate first casualty of the traditional Little Red Riding Hood story, now has a shotgun she makes use of to hold the wolf at bay.
From April 14-16, The Prindle Institute is holding our 9th Annual Undergraduate Ethics Symposium. Keynote addresses for the symposium are open to the public. Our theme is “Text, Tweet, Trigger: The Ethics of Communication.” Below is this year’s speaker line-up for the public series.
The issue of gun violence is pervasive in American society. Mass shootings are reported regularly; our phones buzz with news notifications of mass shootings so regularly that it’s not surprising to most people anymore. Gun violence claims 30,000 lives per year – enough that if it were a disease, it would be considered a huge threat to public health. Yet the Central for Disease Control no longer researches gun violence as they do other public health issues, and hasn’t for nearly two decades.
An election season that was already dramatic enough has recently become even more interesting with the rash of violence that has been breaking out at rallies for colorful Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. There has been much debate about whether Trump is to blame for these riots. Here is a brief recap of the recent violence that has occurred on the Trump campaign trail:
‘Tis the season for politics, once again, in the United States of America. And while some surprising new topics, like the size of candidates’ hands, have cropped up in this cycle, some of the mainstays of American political rhetoric are also at the rendez-vous.
Take Donald Trump, for instance.
In January, one of his campaign rallies featured the following performance:
While it features somewhat dated nationalist lyrics (including verses like “Come on boys, take them down!”), slightly updated for promoting Mr. Trump’s bid in the 2016 presidential contest, it also highlights a theme that is about as central to American political rhetoric as apple pie is to American cooking: freedom.
Whether freedom has been invoked as an empty rhetorical trope, as in this case, or whether it has been used more substantitvely, it has so completely permeated electoral discourse as to become inescapable.
Whether they have talked about government regulation, trade, national security, tax reform, education, abortion, or immigration, freedom has been Republican candidates’ preferred frame of reference.
Meanwhile, on the left of the political spectrum, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have been quite as single-minded. While Clinton has spent a great deal of her time trying to square away her commitments to free trade and to an equalitarian progressive politics, Sanders has explained his commitment to democratic socialism as meaning “that we must create a vibrant democracy based on the principle of one person one vote.” “True freedom” according to Sanders, “does not occur without economic security. People are not free, they are not truly free, when they are unable to feed their family.”
And yet, these invocations are largely based on outdated conceptions of what freedom is. The idea at the back of Sanders’ viewpoint, that economic independence is the necessary precondition for democratic citizenship harks back to Thomas Jefferson’s glorification of the yeoman farmer, as historian Eric Foner was already noting in his book, The History of American Freedom. And as sociologists have been observing since the 1950s, such an ideal of economic independence is woefully inadequate to the corporate economy in which we live.
But it is just as true that the thesis that deregulation of international trade or of the labor market will result in greater individual freedom is based on the idea, first defended by classical liberals like John Stuart Mill, that government power threatens individual liberty. Mill’s disciples in the twentieth century, intellectuals like Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman, argued that the crux of liberal freedom consists in the absence of coercion of the individual, either by private monopolies or by government power, so that the smaller the size of the government is and the less active it is in citizens’ lives, the greater will their freedom be.
But as early as the 1960s, the American social psychologist Stanley Milgram actually found, in a series of now famous experiments, that most people do not need to be coerced into doing things they don’t want to do, including engaging in actions which they are convinced will most likely result in the death of an innocent person: they will do these things of their own free will – a situation that suggests that “free will” and freedom may not be the same things after all.
In fact, a growing body of evidence has been produced in the human sciences over the past 40 years that suggests that the notion of a free-willing individual, who can make decisions independently of social and cultural contexts is a figment of our imagination. What this research reveals is that it is not the absence of context that enables individuals to act freely (whether it be the absence of a monopoly or the absence of a state bureaucracy), but on the contrary the presence of one.
This scientific research reveals several very surprising things about human nature that directly contradict the vision of human beings as rational, egoistic individuals, driven by an unquenchable lust for pleasure, money, or power, which we inherited from classical liberalism. The most recent of the great apes, it turns out, is a hypersocial being, whose subjective experience of the world is profoundly shaped by its empathetic openness to others, an openness that is not premised on any sort of fundamental or primitive goodness, but rather on the evolutionary mechanics of communication. Social psychologists, for instance, have discovered that in order to understand what someone else is saying we have to imitate the motion of their vocal chords (though in a much reduced fashion). We have to, in other words, become them. Neuroscientists have also found a specific type of neuron which corresponds to this process in the brain itself, the so-called “mirror neuron.”
Our identities, and therefore our desires, are profoundly affected by our cultural, social, and political contexts. To be free thus necessitates participating in the formation of the communicational contexts that affects and form us all. Freedom requires not only the freedom of expression cherished by classical liberals, but a certain freedom of connection – the power to shape the contexts in which this free expression happens. The freedom of choice advocated by classical liberals and their twentieth century followers confuses the fruit of freedom, the will, with its root. Likewise, those social liberals and socialists who emphasize economic independence while ignoring the other complex dimensions and processes involved in the creation of a free personality seem to be missing a significant component of the reality of the process of freedom.
This conception of freedom, if we examine it closely, suggests that democracy is not just a matter of elections or of constitutional rights (though it undoubtedly includes those concerns). Nor is the issue that of how “big” government bureaucracy will be. More fundamentally, political freedom consists in individuals and communities having the power to mutually affect each other and form each other. Democracy, understood from this perspective becomes a way of life rather than a formal mode of government, one that has consequences not only for the way in which ownership of the media of mass communication is organized for instance (a frequent complaint of the Sanders campaign is that this ownership structure is creating a bias in its coverage of politics), but also for every aspect of our lives, from the workplace to the bedroom, its fundamental principle being “equality of participation.” The aim of a “politics of freedom” in this context would be neither decreased regulation of the economy or increased government intervention but the creation of increased opportunities for participation by all members of society in both economic and political decision-making, regardless of their wealth or income level. Beyond the public funding of elections, one might imagine this agenda including decreased mediation of the mechanisms of political representation. Currently, for instance, the average ratio of representatives to represented in the US House of Representatives is something like 1: 290,000, making it extremely difficult for any but the most powerful interests to gain a hearing, regardless of the way elections are funded. And yet, there seem to be few technical impediments to cutting that ratio in half for instance. Any number of other reforms could be proposed that would enable greater citizen participation in the polity, from making congressional office-holders into recallable delegates in order to increase accountability, to instituting worker and consumer co-management councils in private corporations, legally entitled to raise concerns about the social and environmental consequences of business policies (corporations being legal entities to begin with, there seems to be little weight in the argument that this would be “undue government interference”).
Now, wouldn’t the transformation of everyday life from the standpoint of such a principle of “equality of participation” be the basis for a genuine “political revolution”?
In an age of frequent technological developments and innovation, experimentation with artificial intelligence (AI) has become a much-explored realm for corporations like Microsoft. In March 2016, the company launched an AI chatbot on Twitter named Tay with the handle of TayTweets (@TayandYou). Her Twitter description read: “The official account of Tay, Microsoft’s A.I. fam from the Internet that’s got zero chill! The more you talk the smarter Tay gets.” Tay was designed as an experiment in “conversational understanding” –– the more people communicated with Tay, the smarter she would get, learning to engage Twitter users through “casual and playful conversation.”
Bernie Sanders’ campaign has brought free higher education for all Americans back into the political debate mix, voicing concerns of overwhelming student debt, decreasing government contribution to state education, and growing rates of poverty and unemployment.
Addressing American families, Howard Gardner, an education professor at Harvard, suggested to “‘[l]earn from Finland, which has the most effective schools and which does just about the opposite of what we are doing in the United States.’” William Doyle, writer for the Los Angeles Times, abided by Gardner’s advice and enrolled his seven-year-old son in a Finnish school. Doyle got an inside look at the higher education system as well when he became a professor in a Finnish University. Reflecting fondly on his family’s five months there, he refers to the school system as “stunningly stress-free” while being “stunningly good.” Doyle recalls, “Finns put into practice cultural mantras I heard over and over: ‘Let children be children,’ ‘The work of a child is to play,’ and “Children learn best through play.’” These values contrast greatly with America’s mentality of teaching for the standardized test.
The Shocking Sexualization of Female Politicians in Porn (The Establishment)
by Soraya Chemaly
“Arguably, these sexist words and images are part of a long history of political satire employing sexualization. However, while male politicians have been and are sometimes skewered in similar ways, it happens relatively rarely and with very different outcomes in terms of potential voter perceptions.”
Teaching Men to be Emotionally Honest (New York Times)
by Andrew Reiner
“Despite the emergence of the metrosexual and an increase in stay-at-home dads, tough-guy stereotypes die hard. As men continue to fall behind women in college, while outpacing them four to one in the suicide rate, some colleges are waking up to the fact that men may need to be taught to think beyond their own stereotypes.”
The disturbing reason some African American patients may be undertreated for pain (Washington Post)
by Sandhya Somashekhar
“Researchers who study health disparities have said that unconscious stereotypes about African Americans likely contribute to this problem, as well as physicians’ difficulty empathizing with patients whose experiences differ from theirs.”
A Free-Speech Debate Devoid of Facts (Atlantic)
by Vann R. Newkirk II
“The apparent gulf between student viewpoints and commentary could have a deeper cause: Some American students may have novel conceptualizations of the appropriate boundaries of free speech.”
Social constructs of parenting and childrearing norms change over time as the idea of the “right” or “best” way to raise a child is continually debated, such as the social acceptability of spanking. A recent article in The Atlantic titled, “Welcome to Parent College,” explores this notion and the ethical dilemmas surrounding an increasing number of classes across the U.S. that teach parents how to be parents, a little-explored corner of the healthcare realm. Triple P, the Positive Parenting Program, is the curriculum behind the parenting class at the San Francisco center. The class includes parents who have been proven or suspected of committing child abuse and have been referred by social workers, as well as those who are simply at the ends of their ropes, like those who have acknowledged their own tempers and waning patience with unruly children.
A car bomb exploded in the Turkish capital of Ankara on March 13, leaving at least 37 people dead. This is not the first attack of this nature on Ankara; the attack was the third bombing on the capital since October, each of which left many people dead. Despite the bloody attacks, however, there has been no international outpouring of support in the way that France experienced in November after the attacks on Paris or Brussels did this past week after the March 22 bombings. No Facebook profile picture filters appeared in support, no hashtags emerged like #PrayforParis, no extensive media coverage in the United States – no “je suis” moment, as Liz Cookman calls it in her op-ed in The Guardian. James Taylor declares in a viral Facebook post: “You were Charlie, you were Paris. Will you be Ankara?”
My first year on campus, I wrote a column that took a critical look at misogyny in Interfraternity Council (IFC) recruitment. At the time, I had also just joined a house. I was confident that, despite the attitudes displayed by some during recruitment, the system was sound as a whole. I thought, or perhaps hoped, that it was the case of a few bad apples with too much liquor and too little common decency. Continue reading “Fraternity Culture at DePauw, Revisited”