Fairness and Ethics in Comp II

As I enter a standard classroom for what could count as the first time, it’s been intriguing to both evaluate where my education has been a little shoddy, and note what I’m more knowledgable about than many of my classmates. It’s also really interesting to compare my worldview on things where I wouldn’t have thought I was an outlier.

In my Composition II class we read up on several social psychology experiments last week, including reading an excerpt from Asch’s “Perils of Obedience” and the Stanford Prison experiment.

Asch did the experiment where actors were hired to simulate being electrically shocked while the subjects thought they were participating in a study on the effects of punishment on learning. They and the person being shocked were supposedly a pair of participants. Really, the study was to see whether they would go along with electrocuting people who seemed to be suffering when so directed.

The results were completely opposite of what people in the field expected: they thought most would resist. Most, instead, were obedient, even if uncomfortable.

Last week one of our prompts to post on was “were these experiments ethical?”

I turned out to be perhaps the only one who felt Asch’s experiment was ethical. This puzzled me–the findings were that people acted unethically, but why would this seemingly very important study strike people the same way as the much more controversial Stanford Prison Experiment?

As I read the other posts, it slowly emerged: it was because the participants were tricked about what the experiment was.

Not everyone stated the same reason (one was knowledgeable enough to cite rules about ethics standards in psychology experiments, though I believe they significantly misread the passage they considered to indicate a breach) but a lot of them said: The participants were lied to, so the study is unethical.

From my point of view, you sign up to be part of a psychology experiment, how could you not expect to maybe not know the extent of the study?

I think it comes down to this: they’re equating “fair” with “ethical”. We’re kind of obsessed with things being fair in American society, though basically nowhere in life are things actually fair.

Is it unethical to lie? Probably. But I’m curious how you’d design a study to test actual ethical behavior in an unbiased setting for actual data while also revealing the point of the test.

The finding are troubling. The test was unfair. Therefore it’s easier to say it was unethical, and try to forget it.

Except our next assignment is to use one of the experiments as a point of comparison with a specific violation of human rights. I’m doing mine on Asch’s obedience study and the Holocaust, because both of those things speak to issues on my mind today.

I wish my classmates weren’t missing this. I hope they’re not. But I’m afraid they are.

I have been buying notebooks a little compulsively lately. I mean, considering how much I use them, not in a hoarder fashion, but usually when I need to buy a notebook it’s because a new book or project is ready to start. Once I get one, or choose one, it’s fine.

I’ve been buying them, instead of buying IT.

Today I’ve realized that in a bid for validation and to double-down on a goal more perfectionist than I realized, I’ve been shelving writing for first business-building, and then studying.

I’m going to have to start buying notebooks and start readjusting my priorities.

A poster on Tumblr says wisely:

The phrase “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” can apply to terrible things too. You may not realize the amount of pain, depression, or abuse you are living through until you experience what life can be without it

 Every recovery story is probably different.
I’ve been thinking lately about the tiny little things that are so much better in my life. Even when I’m sad or anxious, my overall life is so much more bright and joyous, and it comes from a collection of little things that I’ve been able to shed.
I no longer:
– have to sleep with my face to the door, and back to the wall
(lest I give you the wrong impression: nothing has actually come for me through a door or window, it was just a possibility)
– compulsively lock the bathroom door in my own house
(seriously, life will not shatter if someone walks in on me)
these are just tiny signs. But they mean a lot to me.
Because they mean I am experiencing the world, for all it’s ups and downs, as a less terrifying place.
And I am glad.

I sit on the brink.

I wonder if my professor knows how many value statements she makes in every class.

When she’s talking about how there’s no argument for child pornography or abuse, so therefore you couldn’t write a paper against it, I get what she’s saying. I also feel a little uncomfortable–there are men I don’t know in the room. She assumes they’ve never been complicit.

And I don’t feel as secure in that idea.

Because it’s an entry level class, her examples are generalized, broad. She wants to shock, to make sure she has peoples’ attention in a potentially boring class, so she reads essays on abortion, on embalming. She tells stories about students, including one who cried when he was telling her his father died, and that’s why he’d missed class, then apologized.

“Why would he say ‘sorry for being such a girl’, just because he cried? He was grieving!”

She doesn’t know how harshly men are trained to not show emotion. She doesn’t consider whether an essay on abortion might trigger anyone in the room, other than as a conservative who is against it–though she does skip uncomfortable parts.

Being white, monocultural, and not highly sensitive to others sounds so relaxing.

I’m reading in another class about the definitions of terms I’ve been familiar with all my life, in relation to culture and society. Most of them I learned in relation to being jarred out of my own culture and set in a totally alien one.

It was a good experience. And it destroyed my chances of ever not thinking about whether other people are experiencing something different from me. It’s not a virtue I have, though I think pursuing that understanding is a choice I’ve made.

It is uncomfortable.

Sitting in a lower-level college class is tough not because I already know the material and am bored, or because I am struggling–it’s because I am sitting on the brink of that culture, looking in.

Watching a white intellectual defending African tribal customs of early American slaves that led to vaccines…while still emphasizing their lack of education.

It’s hard for me to bite my tongue. (A bit of a cultural dissonance.) I’ve been trained all my life as a countercultural outlier to analyze how people are communicating, their biases that come through. And I’m starting to understand why I read shocking stories of supposed allies to the minorities who can’t tolerate being challenged.

I already can sense how unwelcome it would be to ask what tribe it was, since “African” isn’t an identity–whether she thought maybe deduction had as much to do with the ritual as superstition–whether we could discuss whether the white woman who decided to try inoculating her children also advocated for it to the less-privileged or only white slaveowners’ families.

This class is not about that. I’m not sure there is a class about that here. I’m hoping maybe my sociology class will keep going that direction, though. They are at least talking about what ethnocentrism is.

Pod-Blast 4: Vulnerable Creation

So, I’m a Brene Brown junkie, so when I see her talking on something, I listen.

The Beautiful Writers podcast has some great guest on it, so even though the vibe doesn’t 100% work for me, I have a couple of episodes I like–and this conversation is a great balance of Brene’s perspective on creativity and being real about making stuff.

Ironically, the strength of this conversation is that it’s not just Brene talking. And it’s about the way these three are IN their practice of writing as professionals.

Beautiful Writers – Daring to Create Greatly with Brene Brown

Warning: it involves a tale of remaindering. It isn’t pretty. Everyone survives.


Pod-Blast 3: A Solution Problem

Apparently I am an American after all.

When asked, at the beginning of this episode, “Are there problems that shouldn’t be solved?” I had a visceral reaction to the idea of leaving something unfixed.

But that emotional reaction is actually the meat of what this episode of the incredible Invisibilia show is about.

The Problem With The Solution – INVISIBILIA Season 2 Episode 2

The American “We Can Fix It!” attitude has given rise to our empire’s greatest accomplishments–and some of our worst flaws.

We’ve created an infrastructure for easy transport of goods over long distances, which made the US a world power. It also made it easier for us to unscrupulously take too much from the environment, on our own land and on others’. It made productivity seem only held back by human need for rest.

(Which we solved by creating graveyard shifts, and overtime. Not necessarily for the better.)

This episode starts with a jarring idea: that maybe people are not meant to be fixed.

Can this be true?

Listen here. And let me know what you end up thinking–because by the end of it *I* had a completely different idea of problems and solutions in mental health, as well as the American Fix-It impulse.

Fat Girl, Judging

It all starts when she walks into the cardio room.

Her leg muscles shimmy in unnaturally trapezoidal shapes, soft-edged only enough to be more irritatingly cute. For a moment I only noticed that she has the kind of thigh gap teen magazines weep over, but then I see she is also only about 5 foot.

And the (internal) litany begins.

“What are you, 16?* Sure it’s easy to look like that when you’ve only been eating solid food for like a decade.** We’ll see when you’re 30 and have a real life.***”

*At 16 I was skinnier, too. **I still was not tiny at 16. ***In fact, I never saw the inside of a gym until my late 20s, and I still don’t have a real life…

But you get the picture. When a girl comes into the gym who has clearly been using it well, I resent that. Why are they there? They already are perfect, and surely if they look that good it’s easier for them. The gym is for me, the fat kid!

“See, I have other priorities in life besides how I look.”

What a hypocrite. The only reason you are in a gym is because you hate being pudgy.

I mean, there’s another side of me chirping back– “Isn’t it sad that she’s being forced to fit the mold of female beauty? That having gym toned muscles is how modern people try to attain a natural form we’d have if we lived more active lives and ate fewer refined foods?”

And yet another part chimes in, “I wonder if she’s insecure, and that’s why she’s working so hard to look perfect.”

(A better question: how many women exist who are not insecure about how they look? Especially at 16? {She was probably older than that, I am exaggerating.})

The worst part is that I know my judgment is just part of the vicious cycle of women judging others’ use of time and resources. And I don’t philosophically agree with the ugly things my mind is saying.

It’s OK for me to be in the gym because I’ve let myself go, but I get to judge girls who have maintained their musculature, or maybe (heaven forbid) enjoy exercising?

I want to protect myself from the internal judgment I feel, so I turn it outward. I congratulate myself on running a paltry few minutes when she gets off the treadmill after a light walk, though I know it’s either because she was warming up, or because it’s a light day.

“Or because you’re so obnoxious to watch running, hefting all that deadweight around, she wants to wait until you leave.”

See, it’s so much easier to think in snappy one-liners that push away my discomfort with someone else’s success. With being where I don’t feel like I should be, because I don’t love being here or even look like I’ve been going there at all.

But this isn’t license to judge. And my confession here is also a reminder–body positivity can’t actually live in the same space as shaming others.

Ugh, this stuff is hard.