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.

The Illusion of Dichotomy

There’s a call-out post about organic produce that made me hopping mad, but it took me a few days to articulate why.

It wasn’t that it was challenging a lot of what I value (though it did).

It was because it made a false dichotomy.

It listed all the ways in which eating farm to table was cutting out urban jobs or how wearing organic fabrics was money you could spend donating…

and it erased the fact that we can choose both.


American culture borrows this love of considering things mutually exclusive from other older cultures all the way back to at least the Hellenic expansion. The Greeks loved to divide things up. One of the more devastating ways we still buy into this is in the idea that body and spirit are unrelated–it is best to live in the mind and suborn the body.

Because we seem to love to sort things neatly into good or bad, we still are trying to shed this idea that the mind or spirit is higher, while the body is just low biology.

The more we learn about the wholeness of the body with emotions and thoughts (and the more we learn how damaging our disregard of our bodies’ natural processes is) the more urgent it gets that we reintegrate.

We need to shed the dichotomy.

A Problem of Perception

The problem with the post wasn’t that it was pointing out ways that were more helpful to spend your money to benefit the economy or others. It was the standpoint it took–if you spend money on organics, you are stealing from others.

The false dichotomy here is: if you spend money on one thing, you cannot spend it on another.

One of the examples was buying organic sheets. So yeah, that seems a little over-the-top. I can only think of a few kinds of people who would do that: people who have lots of money…and people with the kind of life-altering allergies or sensitivities that mean buying the special version of everything.

If your person is the former, they can both donate to a cause AND buy their sheets organic.

In both cases, the dichotomy is more about anger at a perception of how other people spend their money than about realistically asking people to make change.

The No-Lose Alternative

My family has been buying purified water from a small local business, unpasteurized milk from a nearby dairy, and organic produce for about a decade now. A lot of these behaviors came from a paradigm shift where a health crisis changed the way we did EVERYTHING.

Sometimes you have to spend money on yourself first, to save your life.

My mom now owns a wellness business with an income that allows her to help out family and neighbors, provide jobs to several people (including one insolvent daughter), and also help facilitate others getting healthier.

She’s helping them live better and be more financially stable by first helping them heal. And donating to causes she believes in.

The underlying assumption of the article was that because it’s not immediately for the common good, it shouldn’t be done. (There was also a rather overt trust in the most click-bait-y of research results tearing up the Internet to prove organic isn’t better. Hint: that’s not really what nuanced, careful research shows.)

It’s not true, and it’s also just heartbreaking.

It’s OK to Make Contextual Choices

I am aware that buying bottled water comes with a ecological impact, so I try not to do it. My family gets purified tap water from our own area, and have our own filter. I even drink tap sometimes!

If I was stranded out in the desert (or even downtown Suburbia) and needed water, I would be OK with buying a bottled water from a store or vending machine. No amount of me not drinking that water is going to actually put the bottle back, though it’s good to be conscious of the impact of our small choices.

I can believe in supporting local farms, and also contribute to food pantries. I can pick out ugly vegetables in my grocery store, and also have a co-op that give me pretty stuff.

Every day is a web of choices that need to be made in balance.

The modern culture of the Internet is fond of villainizing and heroizing–but it’s OK to hold a balance. No one thing is the answer to all needs. The real thing we need in life is to be making conscious choices with the information we have, and make a space for discomfort, to give others what they need.

This is Not A Response Call-Out Post

Bringing it back, be wary of dichotomies. I don’t want to challenge that specific writer as wrong (though I will continue to speak my mind about the lack of nuance) but I do want to point out that it doesn’t serve anyone.

Sure, it gets some hearty amens from people who don’t see what it’s like on the other side. For someone to seem to be allergic to everything, hoping that buying non-fragrance detergent is going to help them sleep at night.

It appeals to our idea that there are easy rights or wrongs–and that we can feel good about ourselves if we are in line with them.

Both sides of that dichotomous article? Are right.

Pod-Blast 2: When “The Better Way” Is Too Uncomfortable

One of the most fascinating things about people is how they can know things (either personally or collectively) that they completely ignore.

This isn’t the first episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History (and they’re all worth listening to) but this one melds the kind of light trivia (ways to shoot penalties in basketball) with bigger ideas about humanity.

Check out The Big Man Can’t Shoot either here at the podcast website, or on iTunes.

This episode has stuck with me–since my brother plays hockey, the sports connections resurface. Really, though, my paradigm shifted enough I don’t need to hear the word “draft” (listen and you’ll get why) to think about the terrifying revelation in this podcast.

Which is that even if people know, even if they EXPERIENCE better, they will go back to the old but less uncomfortable ways.

It’s terrifying, because we’ve probably done it. And this is why we need to get a group of people around us who want to make the same changes–and up our resilience or threshold for standing out.

If this podcast tickled your brain (or shifted your whole world), the rest of the Revisionist History episodes will, too. I’ll be continuing to highlight my favorites in this series!

Pod-Blast 1: Magic Lessons Ep. 1

Boundaries are tough. They’re also vital. Brene Brown defines vulnerability as connection and intimacy within boundaries. Without boundaries, sharing things personal and vulnerable for you is reckless–and does not build connection.

I’ve been thinking about the importance of modeling boundaries. If I won’t say no, because the people around me don’t, then how can any of us start building good fences and become good neighbors?

Modeling is also vital in creativity. That’s what it’s all about in today’s first podcast blast where I share top mind-altering podcasts I’ve loved.

I’m a relative newcomer to podcasts. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons are what really sold me on how much they had to offer, starting last year. So let’s launch with HER launching episode!

Episode 1: Do What Ignites Your Soul

This episode answers a writing mom’s inquiry into why she feels stuck. She knows it’s partly guilt–guilt that if she’s not 100% devoted to her children and only them, she’s taking something from them.

This is far from the truth. Moms model for kids what it is to be a person–and this includes boundaries and behaviors toward your own well-being and dreams.


Image taken from the blog of the mom in question, Erin Janda Rawling

Check it out!

Magic Lessons by Elizabeth Gilbert – Episode 1 (Season 1)