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.

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.

meta-cowardice

I’ve been thinking about blogging quite a bit lately.

This may seem meta, but in a very real way, blogging may be the only way I can really communicate this–to others and to myself.

I’m stuck as a blogger.

It’s a familiar sensation. I feel like I don’t really have ideas–or the energy to create the post when I do have them. I feel an ennui that, if I think about it, is a little strange, as I’ve pretty much compulsively blogged since introduced to the form.

Oh, I think. I am a blocked artist in this area.

Why?

It’s pretty clear that other social media flows for me. (Well. Not Facebook, exactly. It’s the party that I don’t quite want to be at.)

But I know, from my experience of being blocked as a writer. Not some blank-page cartoon of writer’s block, but the one where slowly your joy is leaching out of you, and you keep writing because it’s who you are.

ANYWAY

blogging is as serious to me. But I do know that whatever it is, I’m probably being stopped mainly by fear.

Sure there’s a little bit of a sense that blogging is a dying form of communication. (I’m totally open to being proven wrong about this, but really: we have to wait a decade to see.)

But mainly, I’m worried I’ll be found out. Seen.

I write posts, and then only link to the ones I think are valuable.

What if the imaginary audience I don’t want to reach YET sees that I’m not a shiny perfect professional? What if I write something I truly mean and think is true and get net-lynched for it? What if I get haters?

What if I deserve it?

In an intersection of things that make you vulnerable on the internet, I sit closer to the middle of the Venn Diagram than most people. The fact that I know people who are even closer in the cross-hairs doesn’t encourage me–their horror stories are the things my heart latches onto, saying, “See? We’re a coward for a reason.”

And als0, “You don’t write anything that’s meaningful enough to be hated for anyway, what are you so self-important about.”

The truth is–I want to. I want to write about being a practicing Christian in a way that bucks both agnostic American norms and institutional Christian norms. (Not in cool ways, just in doesn’t-fit-in ways.) I want to write about being single at 30 in every way the culture lampoons, and feeling fine with it, despite not being sold on it.

I want to talk about saving lives, even if it’s absurd to claim anything I might do could do that.

I don’t know what will fix this block, but I’m hoping just posting this, despite it’s lack of thematic cohesion, and the possibility I’ll want to delete it later, might help.

Discworld Democracy

Terry Pratchett’s fantasy is so British, that alone makes me smile, even aside from the multitude of funny ways that is so apparent. Now, I may not be the best judge–while I was raised on a lot of British literature, I still have yet to go England.

Still. It’s not exactly a hidden feature.

Lately I’ve fallen in love with listening to the audiobooks of the Discworld novels. Like with Harry Potter, the audiobook versions may be even more delightful than the mere text. There’s a great narrator, and the book gains something by being performed.

I’m a very fast reader, so with audiobooks I also can slow down and think about things that are happening even as I listen.

Something that has been striking me, stronger and stronger, is how democratic Terry Pratchett’s world is.

Which, if I was a monocultural American, might also strike me as funny. But it’s not.

An American couldn’t write the kind of democracy he writes, I think. One where there are kings and faerie queens and witches who know very well they rule by merit of their peoples’ tolerance.

Granny Weatherwax isn’t the Head Witch, because there is no such thing among witches, but everyone knows she’s the one who would be the head witch–and she’s treated as such.

And she even has the power to appoint who follows her into that role.

American democracy is a loud tenet of “it’s a free country, and I can do what I want”–rather than a development that follows generations of transition.

Granny wouldn’t hold with people electing their leaders, because they don’t know what’s best for them. (This is true. She wouldn’t hold with a Head Witch choosing one either, though.)

In a way, it’s comforting to read a fantasy that draws so strongly on the absurdities of a culture to build a fake world that reflects humanity so well–even if some of the specifics don’t match with my experience.

(As a small-town girl, street food jokes miss me, whether they’re raised in New York or London.)

It’s not the first time the world has changed, The Shepherd’s Crown whispers to me, as Tiffany fills a role that can’t be Granny Weatherwax shaped now she’s in it. And it won’t be the last.

There is a sense of optimism alongside the parody in Discworld, with the massively bureaucratic Wizards College that in it’s own way bumbles into egalitarianism. With the madness of crowds and poisonous thought conquered by hard work, and only as much magic to solve it as magic caused the problem in the first place.

In the quiet way it introduces a male witch, who may not go by that exact title (I haven’t finished the book yet, I don’t know) but who sees the problems of the local men with as much deftness as Tiffany and her witch network attend to the households from the side of the women.

It makes me feel like there may be something to the idea of democracy, even if I don’t know exactly how it’s supposed to work. And maybe someday American culture will have taken a few more knocks and have mellowed into being able to poke fun at itself, the way Terry Pratchett can poke fun at his own.

the honesty of the body

I’ve been having a struggle with my body lately.*

*lately could mean anything from “last few months” to “last several years” to “since I was born”, in varying levels**

**I think it’s telling that when I learned to spell stomach it made sense there was an “ache” on the end and therefore I miswrite it as stomache to this day

 

ANYWAY.

I’ve felt that despite my desire to love & accept my body, I also have to respect the alert signals my body is sending up.

I’ve done some harder exercise to test out whether I’m just not active enough.

I’ve done some cleansing, to see if I’m just eating the wrong things.

And I’ve tried to do a lot of self-care and get better to see if lowering levels of stress would help.***

***in a broad sense, stress is what life is made of. This is not a “mission complete” kind of experiment, but I have done a lot of stress-reduction.

 

A couple of days ago, I thought for the first time to ask myself, what do I think my body is meant to look like?

Not in terms of beauty standards or even of old Botticelli’s, but in a really practical “I know this about my family heritage and my own peak [so far] form” way.

I can rule out a flat belly. (It’s pretty much not natural for a woman, anyway: literally have more guts than men do.) However, my belly right now is quite clearly bloated.

I can rule out being skinny since I tend to be muscular when I’m fit, rather than lean–however, I know that I am carrying some pudge that probably has to do with clogged lymph and guts.

When I really get to down to what is my body signaling to me–I already know. I’ve known for a while. I have used caffeine for energy, and sugar for a mood-pickup.

While having a little of that occasionally might be okay for some people, it’s pretty clear that I’m not doing well with it.

The question really is: why can’t I commit to having the body I should? Not in terms of shape, but in terms of gut health, sleep regularity, cell-level health and reducing inflammation.

Maybe I’m afraid, not of being fit, but of finding out that all this time I could have been better off without coffee, without those sweet desserts every once in a while. That I knew the secret to being better, but was too stubborn about short-term perks to give myself a long-term gift.

This stuff isn’t easy.

But today I had some cocoa instead of another cup of coffee. And when I get a withdrawal headache tomorrow, I’ll think about the “stomache” I won’t have the day after.

The worst that can happen is that I’ll fail and try again. The best is that I’ll succeed and start repairing a body that knows it’s not quite right, even if it’s not sure what quite right is, since we’ve never really seen it together.

It’s possible my ideal body is just a figment of my imagination. Or that after I quit coffee for real, I’ll discover I still need to clear some foods out of my diet to bring down the chaos in my gut.

I can’t be sure, though, until I try to be honest with my body the way it’s honest with me.

Bone Deep Beauty

My friend Emily wrote a beautiful post on self-care that challenges the soft sound of it–partly inspired by Bone Deep! But mainly inspired because she is awesome.

Read.

see the sparrow

Most unhappy people need to learn just one lesson: how to see themselves through the lens of genuine compassion and treat themselves accordingly.  — Martha Beck

I have spent the last year feeling ugly. Not skin-ugly but soul-ugly. Dorothy Parker wrote, “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.” And I some way I felt this characterized me.

Sometime in the spring of last year I stopped writing because I feared the things that would come out would be ugly, angry and dark. Those were the things that were coming out in my relationships.  I felt overwhelmed by fear and anxiety and I felt completely abandoned. That feeling of abandonment turned to anger, and anger turned to resentment. It was a deeply painful time and writing about it felt like spoon-feeding people my pain.

I’m a pupil of the likes of Julia Cameron and Laura Doyle, so I thought the answer was better self-care. I…

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