At the beginning of November, Lindsay Shepherd, a graduate student at Canada’s Wilfrid Laurier University, made the fateful decision to show a video clip of a debate about pronouns to her tutorial for students in a large first-year writing class. The debate, which aired on Canadian public television a year ago, featured firebrand Jordan Peterson, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Toronto and a crusader against political correctness.
Last month, President Trump formally declared the opioid crisis a “health emergency.” Since his campaign for president, and recently in the past few months, Trump signaled his intentions to significantly combat the national epidemic. But what does it mean to declare the opioid crisis a “health emergency?”
It seemed as though everybody wanted to “be like Mike.” Children and adults alike aspired to leap from the free throw and dunk with their tongue hanging out or win six NBA Championship titles. But for those who weren’t 6’6” and drafted by the Chicago Bulls, like most people, they had to buy Michael Jordan’s shoes if they wanted to be like him. With the rise of sneaker culture came a violent side-effect: the fact that people are willing to harm and even kill others for a pair of coveted Jordan sneakers.
A recent series of articles appearing in The Chronicle of Higher Education has reopened the discussion about the nature of the digital humanities. Some scholars argue the digital humanities are a boon to humanistic inquiry and some argue they’re a detriment, but all sides seem to agree it’s worth understanding just what the scope and ambition of the digital humanities is and ought to be.
November 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution (it is alternatively called the “October Revolution,” but this is because of the mismatch between the Julian and Gregorian calendars). It is arguably the most influential event of the 20th Century, and it is celebrated by leftists worldwide. Yet strangely, Vladimir Putin himself has no intentions to host big ceremonies. His leadership may rely on Soviet nostalgia in his confrontation with the West, but in fact, he is much closer to the Czarist style of authoritarianism, and correctly sees that the revolutionary ideology of 1917 is more dangerous than valuable to him.
An October 19, 2017 article in The Scotsman reported that the Scottish Government plans to implement proposals that would “remove the defence of “justifiable assault” from Scottish law, which can currently be used by parents who use corporal punishment on their children. Late last year, France also instituted a law banning the spanking of children. This made it the 52nd country to do so.
The United States is not on that list of countries. According to an NBC News report from 2014, corporal punishment is legal in all 50 US states. State statutes generally indicate that the physical punishment must be “reasonable” or “not excessive.” In addition, 19 states still allow corporal punishment in schools, as of 2014. Public opinion in the United States also widely supports spanking. The NBC News report cited a 2013 Harris Poll which found that 81 percent of Americans say “parents spanking their children is sometimes appropriate.”
In a thought-provoking posted by CNN earlier this year, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is defined as “a brutal practice that’s inflicted on thousands of girls and women.” Female genital mutilation is the process of “intentionally altering” a female’s genital organs for various reasons. It can include partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. There are many moral reasons as to why this practice maybe considered “brutal,” but is it is ethical to portray such cultural practices in a negative light?
In the current political climate, it is hard to avoid the topic regarding sanctions. The United States has been recently revising the sanctions it has placed on different countries in the past few years, such as North Korea, Russia, and Cuba. Economic sanctions are penalties or blockades against a targeted country, and are a “foreign policy tool” used when diplomatic relations aren’t as effective as intended. These sanctions can take many forms, such as tariffs, embargos, quotas and asset freezes.
In recent seasons, television networks and original streaming programing have introduced series that feature people with autism in main roles. ABC’s The Good Doctor follows the career of Dr. Shaun Murphy, a young surgeon with autism who is excellent at his job, but struggles in his interactions with people. The Netflix original Atypical tells the story of an autistic young adult and his family. CBS’s Young Sheldon is a spinoff that focuses on the childhood of The Big Bang Theory favorite, Sheldon Cooper.
After a month of sexual assault allegations in Hollywood, alarming discoveries on Russian meddling with U.S. campaigns, and the largest mass shooting in recent history, one news story seems to have captured the impassioned outrage of young people: McDonald’s failure to provide Szechuan Sauce to its customers after promising to do so. On October 7, the fast food chain re-released a “super limited” quantity of Szechuan Sauce, a sauce McDonald’s restaurants carried in 1998 as a promotion for the Disney film, Mulan, to select stores across the nation.
This past week, a Mass was held to formally open up potential sainthood for Chief Black Elk, a Lakota chief known for his life and work as a dedicated catechist. Black Elk was born sometime between 1858 and 1866, and died in 1950. He is known for combining Native American spirituality and Christianity, making it easier for his congregations to accept the Catholic Church. Bishop Robert D. Gruss from Rapid City, South Dakota, states that “for 50 years Black Elk led others to Christ often melding his Lakota culture into his Christian life.” Bill White, a diocese and member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe on Pine Ridge Reservation, is leading Black Elk’s sainthood case.
Allegations of Louis C.K.’s sexual misconduct—as well as his published response—came out this week, hot on the heels of similar allegations concerning Kevin Spacey. Leaving aside the morality of C.K.’s actions, there is the question of the general public’s response in regard to the media he has produced. HBO has already dropped him from the Night of Too Many Stars and removed his shows from its service in order to distance itself from his work. Was this an ethically informed decision, and, if so, should audiences respond in kind? Even if HBO hadn’t pulled his shows–and considering that they are still available through other services–are fans of the comedian obligated to cease watching C.K. because of his actions? In broader terms, should the morality of an artist be taken into account in the consumption of their art?
The Republican tax plan currently under construction in the House and Senate is touted as simpler and fairer. President Trump often uses those two words, and so do House and Senate leaders. In fact, the website promoting the House version of the plan is fairandsimple.gop. Proponents of tax reform like to brag that their plan will make a tax return fit onto a postcard, the rules will be so simple. And clearly the message is not just “fair and simple.” We are being invited to believe that simplification of the tax code will make it fairer. But is a simpler tax code fairer?
Continue reading “The Republican Tax Plan: Is Simpler Always Fairer?”
Last Thursday, Senate Republicans released their tax overhaul plan that they believe will create a simpler and fairer tax system. The proposed plan caused an unsettling amount of worry for some academic institutions because of a certain endowment tax included in the tax reform. This 1.4 percent tax on investment income will affect private universities and colleges with over 500 students and endowment assets of over $100,000 per student. It will not include public institutions. What has spurred such a radical position on private institutions is the stereotype that these universities are “ivory towers” of tax havens. Unfortunately, this label may hold some truth, and a deeper analysis of the behaviors of well-endowed universities is necessary.
Hockey season has started, and with it the annual debate about the role of fighting. Watching sports is a vicarious and visceral experience, and many fans love the fights and the fighters. Players with marginal skills but big fists are folk heroes. Some fans worry that fighting detracts from the skill and grace of the sport, and drives away new or casual fans. Almost everyone is concerned about player safety.
Overturning the August 21, 2017 verdict that Johnson & Johnson must pay $417 million in compensatory and punitive damages to cancer sufferer Eva Echeverria, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge last week granted a new trial to the pharmaceutical giant, essentially concluding, contra the jury, that Echeverria didn’t adequately demonstrate Johnson & Johnson’s negligence.
Two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey was among the latest Hollywood elite to be accused of sexual assault. Anthony Rapp, most known for his role in the film Rent, accused Spacey of making sexual advances on him when Rapp was 14 years old. Rapp originally spoke out in a Buzzfeed interview which was published on October 29.
The time has come. This weekend is the Monon Bell Game, a time when DePauw and Wabash meet on the football field in an attempt to settle a rivalry that dates back to 1890. Generations of students and alumni will look on from the stands as DePauw and Wabash duke it out for the right to either take back or keep the coveted Monon Bell. But amidst the return of alumni and the big game for the Monon Bell, another “celebration” of sorts is occurring on campus. In addition to Monon being one of the biggest games for DePauw, it is also a huge party weekend for students.
General George Patton has been an enigmatic figure for many years. Robert Orlando’s recently released documentary, Silence Patton, attempts to portray him as a Cassandra-like figure who warned against the risk of Stalin and communism, and nobody would listen. Patton died under strange circumstances, and there has always been talk of a conspiracy to kill him. According to the film, there was an attempt to silence him, because he turned out to be a nuisance to the Allies’ post-war plans.
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Richard Thaler, a behavioral economist, won the Nobel Prize in economics this year. He co-authored the book, Nudge, in 2008. The theory behind “nudges” (a term he coined) changed the perspective of economics on the agents to be studied. Instead of picturing humans as rational preference satisfiers, Thaler suggests that we are susceptible to all sorts of irrational pressures and rarely do we decide to behave in ways that can be modeled on principles of rationality and our individual preferences. The “nudge” is one tool he uses in order to see one way in which we deviate from the rationalistic model of classical economics.
A “nudge” is a non-rational psychological factor that makes it more likely that someone behave in one way rather than another. Thaler himself came up with the model for behavior when he became frustrated at the speed with which he and his roommates were going through their stash of cashews. They took familiar enough means to remedy the problem – they kept the cashews out of the living rooms so that they’d have to trek to the kitchen to fill up, or started to hide them. Dieters everywhere have come up with similar solutions to reduce their intake of their favorite food – putting chips into a portioned bowl instead of eating from the bag, for instance. Taking steps like these are providing yourself with “nudges” to eat less: doing these things makes it more likely that you will exhibit self-control.
We can see intuitively why this might be. By putting food into portions, you need to exert effort to refill, and by putting the food at a distance away that also ups the effort level. Along with this extra effort expenditure comes a break in behavior: now you can’t more or less “mindlessly” continue to consume. You face a choice when your bowl is empty: get up and refill? Do you really want or need more? So there is more chance you will stop. You’re helping yourself out with these nudges.
Along these lines, we are more likely to opt for healthy food if it is at eye level when we are hungry – otherwise we’ll go for our normal junk food of choice. The arrangement of grocery stores can have an impact on the healthy choices of its customers by arranging food accordingly and making it easier to choose healthful options.
Thaler noted how irrational we are as agents. We make decisions mostly based on convenience and speed, and fall victim to irrational decision structures like sunk costs.
Perhaps the most famously effective nudges have been outside the realm of food: the presence of an insect on the bottom of a urinal raises the likelihood that people urinating make their target. There are also policies spreading worldwide that have citizens opt out of organ donation programs if they prefer not to be donors rather than opt in if they would like to be a donor. This change to policy increased participation significantly, despite the fact that according to classical economics, the method of selection should be a neutral factor: the number of people who want to be donors should end up being donors either way.
In Chicago in 2016, the ideas24 anti-gun program used the underlying psychology of Thaler’s views to develop an approach to working with incarcerated teenagers. Noting that people behave in a scripted way when under stress, teenagers were encouraged to note triggers and rewrite the scripts, with “group lessons around decision making” that take Thaler’s views to heart by focusing on things that would nudge them away from violence: “In one lesson, inmates list the people who may be affected by something they’ve done.” Nudge theories are on the horizon for use in decreasing gun crime in New York City as well as other cities in the United States. Daniel Webster, director of Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy Research, hopes that nudging people to believe that carrying a gun isn’t normal – “that their behavior is ‘out there’” – will affect change.
The key commitment behind implementing nudges in order to affect change in behavior is that the way that individuals decide what to do isn’t on the basis of deciding what they think is best and behaving accordingly. The nudge is in place based on an external determination about what is best to do – external to the agent’s decision-making process at the time. This has led to some controversy in politics: to what extent should the government be actively trying to shape the behavior of its citizens?
Recall the benighted soda tax in New York City. Though cities such as Philadelphia and Berkeley have a tax on sugary drinks, intended to dissuade people from purchasing excessive amounts of the detrimental beverages, when such a bill was proposed in New York City, it was met with public outrage.
We can ask questions beyond the legitimacy of such government policies. If our behavior can be so easily influenced by factors outside of our control, or disconnected from our preferences and commitments about what to do, then how will that affect our notions about how responsible we are for our actions?
The impact of nudges on our behavior fits with a family of psychological studies in the second half of the twentieth century that showed the significant impact of apparently irrelevant features of the environment on our moral behavior.
Intuitively, it is important to develop and cultivate a good moral personality or character. We care about having good character traits ourselves and look for good traits in one another. Traits such as honesty, compassion, bravery, humility, etc. are desirable and typically relevant for assessing the behavior we come across in the world. If we take someone to be honest, we think they will be more likely to tell the truth. This is why we value having honest friends – we take them to be more reliable in this regard. If someone we take to be honest lies on one occasion, the fact that we take them to have this trait of honesty typically allows us to chalk the lie up to a rare or one-time event. We can lean on the reliability of the trait and maintain the relationship.
The research on nudges may break the connection between character traits and behavior. For when a nudge results in a behavior, something other than the character trait was the cause of the behavior. This is in line with other psychological studies that showed trait-irrelevant factors to be better predictors of behavior than these traits that our moral practices tend to favor.
Consider a sampling of the well-known studies. The “dime experiment,” conducted in 1972 by Isen and Levin, tested the likelihood that subjects would help someone who dropped a large amount of papers on the street (the paper-dropper being a participant in the experiment). The subjects had just used a payphone, and those that found a dime left in the phone were significantly more likely to help than those that did not find a dime. In what we could call the “smell experiments,” people were more fair and generous when in a room that smelled clean. Finally, the proximity of a perceived authority figure significantly affected subjects’ willingness to cause pain to a stranger in the famous Milgram experiments. These effects did not track the moral makeup of the agents in question, yet predicted their moral behavior.
The effectiveness of nudges, and the success of the manipulation of subjects in the experiments sampled above, suggests a worry for our practices of moral evaluation. If someone acts in a certain way because of a smell, or because they found a dime, or because of a nudge, to what extent was the action their own? Would we blame or praise them to the same extent if they had acted without the external factor?
The more we learn about human agency, the more we must accept that we are influenced by a host of external factors. Thaler’s work to a large degree suggested harnessing this feature for good – using the influence-ability of our agency to direct it towards higher-order goals. This may be the direction our blame and praise practices head towards as well: how well we are managing our agency, rather than individual actions. On such a picture, we are creatures to manage and direct, responsible for driving ourselves well.
Chance the Rapper has taken the music industry by storm. From his first popular mixtape, 10 Day, to his most recent EP, Coloring Book, which won him critical acclaim and three Grammy awards, Chano has become a powerhouse in the entertainment industry. His quirky charisma, spunky beats, and clever wordplay have resonated with all kinds of listeners. But with Chance’s skyrocketing fame, there comes a price.
An upcoming case in the United States Supreme Court could have significant effects on the state of the American Labor Movement: Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. At stake is whether public sector unions can require employees who have not joined the union to pay agency fees—fees that go to exclusively cover the costs of negotiating the labor contract that covers all workers at a workplace, union members and non-members alike. If the court were to rule against the legality of required agency fees, this would overturn a previous Supreme Court decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which held that agency fees were allowable, just so long as those fees were not used for the political or ideological activities of the union.