Thursday, February 02, 2012 10:47 AM
Honesty has ceased to be seen as a virtue, and with its decline “our society risks a future of moral numbness,” writes William Damon in Defining Ideas, a journal published by the Hoover Institution at Harvard University. Damon is well aware that the little deception is sometimes morally justifiable, but he posits that “a basic intent to be truthful, along with an assumption that people can be generally taken at their word, is required for all sustained civilized dealings.”
And that’s not what he’s seeing out there in our schools, businesses, and institutions. Writes Damon in “The Death of Honesty”:
Although truthfulness is essential for good human relationships and personal integrity, it is often abandoned in pursuit of other life priorities.
Indeed, there may be a perception in many key areas of contemporary life—law, business, politics, among others—that expecting honesty on a regular basis is a naïve and foolish attitude, a “loser’s” way of operating. Such a perception is practically a mandate for personal dishonesty and a concession to interpersonal distrust. When we no longer assume that those who communicate with us are at least trying to tell the truth, we give up on them as trustworthy persons and deal with them only in a strictly instrumental manner. The bounds of mutual moral obligation dissolve, and the laws of the jungle reemerge.
Damon singles out schools, with their laxness toward cheating, as a large part of the problem behind slipping ethics. But he makes no specific mention of the legions of business leaders whose base dishonesty led to the spectacular financial collapse and ongoing recession that has plagued the country for several years. Maybe it’s because Damon is too humble to suggest that they didn’t read his 2004 book: The Moral Advantage: How to Succeed in Business by Doing the Right Thing.
Source: Defining Ideas
Friday, April 08, 2011 5:25 PM
In Canada’s tar sands, oil is extracted from the earth in a destructive, laborious, energy-sucking process that makes the end product one of the dirtiest forms of oil. It leaves behind a denuded landscape and is blamed for a host of ills, including cancer, in local people. The industry also employs many people and fills a need: Our insatiable thirst for energy.
Earth Island Journal editor Jason Mark journeys to the heart of tar sands country in Northern Alberta, wrestles with thorny ethical dilemmas, and comes away with a stark insight:
In the simplest language, the debate over the morality of the tar sands comes down to a plain choice of who and what we are willing to destroy.
Mark reveals that we may end up destroying people like Marlene and Mike Orr, two residents of the mostly indigenous residents of Fort McKay, Alberta, who became whistleblowers when they spoke out against a dangerous mining waste disposal pond—and now fear the consequences of doing so. For as Mark points out, “There is not a person [in Fort McKay] who doesn’t understand that without the multibillion-dollar oil sands industry they would likely would have no likelihood at all.”
Marlene Orr describes to Mark some of the contradictions in play:
“What people outside of here need to understand when you’re talking about the impacts of oil sands, it’s not black and white. Everybody gets the health concerns, the traffic problems, the light pollution. But people are unwilling to speak out because this community is 100 percent dependent on the oil sands. There’s not a job here that’s not connected to the oil sands. Every one of us here in this community has ambivalent feelings—the health impacts, the cultural impacts, the impacts on band governance. But what do you do? Bite the hand that feeds you?”
In his editor’s note in the same issue, “Don’t Blame Canada,” Mark takes issue with environmental groups that aim to cripple the mighty tar sands machine, and notes that there’s plenty of blame to go around, even to you and me:
Convinced that they can slow the razing of the boreal forest if they can only plug the oil outflow, environmental groups in the U.S. and Canada have set their sites on stopping the expansion of cross border pipelines, halting the retrofitting of American refineries, and preventing the shipment of mining technologies. The basic idea seems to be that by squeezing supply we can increase the price of fossil fuels—and discourage their use. …
Environmental campaigners can do all the blaming and shaming of Canadian oil tycoons and financiers that they like. The fact is, there’s no way to halt the tar sands at the source. The only way to shut down the mines is to make them obsolete. And that will require finally getting over our addiction to oil. Given that more than half of the tar sands petroleum is consumed in the United States, the responsibility for the destruction up north lies with those of us who live south of the 49th parallel.
Source: Earth Island Journal
Panel image by sbamueller, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, March 02, 2011 11:49 AM
Scientists who study wild animals have long faced a dilemma: In order to study their subjects, they must get very close to the animals, sometimes even capturing or tranquilizing them to do diagnostics or attach a tag or radio transmitter. And this can harm the animal.
Many of these measures yield valuable information. For instance, tagging birds with leg bands is a long established tool in assessing and tracking bird populations, and radio telemetry and satellite tracking are turning up rich data on all sorts of sea and land animals. But sometimes the scientists’ interventions can significantly affect the animals—even killing them—and there’s long been tension between animal advocates and wildlife researchers over the ethics of this type of research. Sometimes there’s even disagreement among scientists themselves.
Last month, for instance, a scientist announced that his long-running study found that flipper bands, widely used to study all sorts of penguins, are harmful to king penguins. Penguins wearing the bands produced fewer chicks and were more likely to die than were penguins with no bands, reports Science magazine.
The scientist who did the study, Yvon la Maho, was prompted by long-standing concerns in the science community about the flipper bands’ effects, as well as a host of inconclusive or contradictory studies on the subject. His finding has only strengthened his view that scientists should use an alternative: tiny RFID tags that are injected under the animals’ skin.
I imagine that some animal advocates find this an unsatisfactory alternative: After all, you’re still catching, restraining, and forcibly injecting a man-made object into the bird’s body. And one marine ecologist tells Science that RFID chips can’t do everything that banding can do. But perhaps a few researchers who can move to RFID tags will do so, thus sparing some king penguins the most unroyal indignity of suffering and even dying for science.
Meanwhile, ethical dilemmas will only grow as technology allows more ways to tap animals in to our data-driven world. See Science News for a striking photo of an elephant seal with a satellite transmitter or “tag” glued to its head with epoxy. As the story points out, scientists are thrilled that these transmitters are helping them to map the ocean floor—but I don’t suspect this creature is particularly excited to be a part of the project. The researchers behind the seal-tagging tell the Santa Cruz Sentinel that the devices will be shed along with the animal’s fur during annual molting.
For a scientists’-eye view of how tagged ocean predators—including elephant seals—are helping us learn more about sea life, see the website of TOPP, Tagging of Pacific Predators.
Science, Science News, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Tagging of Pacific Predators
Public domain image from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association photo library, Ends of the Earth collection.
Tuesday, January 04, 2011 2:15 PM
In a recent post, Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman highlighted the increasingly popular occurrence of “canned hunts,” a pay-to-shoot experience, where hunters kill tame animals in enclosed areas. The practice is disturbing to anyone who knows hunters who have respect for the act of hunting and for the animals they kill. Writing for Vermont’s Local Banquet, Robert F. Smith counts himself among such hunters. His exploration into why he hunts is reverent and voices like his are important when you see videos like the one Keith posted, where pseudo-hunters get some sort of thrill out of killing what amount to large pets. “[W]hy hunt?” Smith asks,
Hunting is often portrayed as barbaric and cruel, and hunters are presented as ignorant yahoos with a blood lust… . Some of the televised hunting shows do little to help that image, with their canned hunts on fenced-in game ranches where hunters are driven to a stand and then pick and shoot one of dozens of trophy bucks that are drawn in to special feeding stations. I don’t know that kind of hunting… .
A hunter taps into the very core of what we are as a species. We’re the product of 2 million years of evolution as a genus, a branch off the australopithicenes, and about 400,000 years as the distinct species homo sapiens. We evolved as hunters, and have become the most effective, most adaptable and successful predators on the planet.
Hunters like Smith are of the type I grew up with, so his logic and reasoning are familiar to me. He does take the discussion a step further, though, arguing that the hunter/gatherer system that predated agriculture led to equality, while the farms and labor it takes to keep them up has led us to the class system we find today:
Hunting a deer or antelope or harvesting wild berries or nuts is only a few hours of intensive work for several days’ worth of food, while raising, feeding, watering, and protecting a herd of sheep or goats, or planting, cultivating, and harvesting a field of grain, is unending labor. While the tribal system of hunter/gatherers led to equality and leisure time, agriculture brought in slavery, religion, caste and class systems, and the plight of poor peasants and field workers that continues today around the world.
Ultimately, though, the answer to the question “Why hunt” is elemental for Smith. It’s who we are; it’s part of what makes us human: “Hunting is an ancient dance as old as life itself, written into the very core of what we are as humans.”
Source: Vermont’s Local Banquet
Image by Benimoto, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010 12:04 PM
If hunting is largely about the thrill of the chase, “canned hunts” don’t offer much opportunity for thrill: In these increasingly popular pay-to-shoot events, hunters kill tame or semi-tame animals that have been put in enclosures. Audubon columnist Ted Williams describes the phenomenon in “Real Hunters Don’t Shoot Pets” in the magazine’s November-December issue:
Canned hunts are great for folks on tight schedules or who lack energy or outdoor skills. Microchip transponder implants for game not immediately visible are available for the [game farm] proprietor whose clients are on really tight schedules. And because trophies are plied with drugs, minerals, vitamins, specially processed feeds, and sometimes growth hormones, they are way bigger than anything available in the wild. Often the animals have names, and you pay in advance for the one you’d like to kill, selecting your trophy from a photo or directly from its cage.
Canned hunts are hardly new. Williams first wrote about them for Audubon in 1992, but he notes that they have grown more popular, and their critics increasingly include not just animal-rights advocates but also ethical hunters who consider fair chase essential to the sport and its reputation.
Because the general public has scant understanding of canned hunting, it frequently doesn’t differentiate it from real hunting. “If we don’t protect our image, we may not have a heritage,” says the Colorado Wildlife Federation’s treasurer and board member, Kent Ingram, a leader in the recent well-fought but failed battle to ban canned hunts in the state.
Other states have banned them, namely Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. In 2009, Vermont and Tennessee banned new canned mammal hunts but allowed existing ones to keep operating. In November, North Dakotans voted down a proposed law to ban canned mammal hunts.
Of course, bans without firm enforcement and prosecution don’t mean much, as one Minnesota incident demonstrates. Troy Gentry of the country duo Montgomery Gentry shot a docile captive bear named Cubby at the Minnesota Wildlife Connection game farm in 2004, and as the online activist platform Change.org reports:
Gentry was charged with a felony but pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of falsely registering the tag from the hunt. He was fined $15,000 and not allowed to hunt in Minnesota for five years. The taxidermied body of Cubby and the bow used to kill Cubby were taken from Gentry.
This isn’t the first time Minnesota Wildlife Connection’s owner Lee Greenly has been in trouble with the law. He has several previous felony charges for wildlife-related crimes under his belt, but avoided convictions. For his role in Cubby’s death, Greenly pleaded guilty to two felony charges—yet somehow walked away with only probation.
To see what canned hunting looks like, check out the following two-part video of Gentry’s bear kill. It was posted on YouTube last month after being obtained by the animal-rights group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness in a three-year lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The narrator’s snide tone is understandable but unnecessary, since the images pretty clearly speak for themselves:
Wednesday, November 24, 2010 5:41 PM
The holidays just wouldn’t be the same without the slowly simmering tension between people who eat meat and those who don’t. Vegetarians brace themselves for uncomfortable questions about their motivations, while carnivores are certain that they’re being seen as bloodthirsty murderers by the veggies as they gnaw on their turkey drumsticks.
I’m a meat eater, but increasingly I’m a conscientious carnivore, eating meat sparingly and when I can be assured the animal was treated with respect and compassion. That’s why I was powerfully moved by a new video released just before Thanksgiving by the Humane Society of the United States that starkly reinforced an uncomfortable truth: Mass-produced turkeys lead grim lives of discomfort, cruelty, and outright abuse.
The footage, obtained by an undercover employee at the Willmar Poultry Company in Willmar, Minnesota, shows young turkeys, or poults, being mistreated at the megaplant, where they tumble off conveyor belts, are grabbed by the handful, and have their beaks lasered off in a grotesque spinning machine that dangles them by their heads. It’s a bizarre, highly mechanized, and, yes, inhumane place.
Here’s the kicker: The plant is so huge that according to the Humane Society, it supplies 50 percent of the turkeys sold in the nation. That means there’s a very good chance your family’s megafarm turkey came from the very place shown in the video.
When a story about the turkey video was posted by the Minneapolis newspaper the Star Tribune, comments ran into the hundreds. Many broke down along predictable lines, with unrepentant carnivores and self-righteous veggies staking out their polarized ground. The interesting responses came from people who were truly shocked at how turkeys are treated and reconsidering their holiday main-course options.
To me, it all adds up to one thing: squash lasagna. Happy holidays.
Source: Humane Society of the United States
D. Sharon Pruitt
, licensed under
Wednesday, November 03, 2010 2:59 PM
Have you ever been sipping on a glass of merlot, thinking to yourself with vague anxiety, “God, I wonder if this wine was filtered with tropical fish bladders?” Sure you have. Now, thanks to Ethical Consumer, you can find out whether or not your favorite winery uses isinglass—a fining agent derived from fish swim bladders used to remove organic compounds in wine—along with various other ethical lapses committed by dozens of beer, wine, and spirit brands.
The survey depends on a rigorous rating system of 19 categories complete with charts so packed with information they kind of make your head spin: environmental impact, workers’ rights, animal testing, and irresponsible marketing are just a few of the factors taken into account to produce the given brand's overall Ethiscore.
Not surprisingly, the better-known brands tended to receive a lower Ethiscore than the more obscure ones: Guinness, Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, and ASDA (Wal-mart’s brand of wine…gross) all scored at the bottom of their respective categories. Steller wine, Tennents beer, and Highland Harvest whiskey boasted the top rankings.
While this latest report requires a subscription to access, Ethical Consumer’s website offers free buyers’ guides on tons of brands of alcohol to ease your mind this holiday season and help you get your extended family liquored up while simultaneously saving the whales. Or something.
Source: Ethical Consumer(subscription required)
Image by Tommy Gooch, licensed under Creative Commons
Friday, June 11, 2010 11:53 AM
Wild cats, in case you hadn’t heard, are quite elusive. But researchers studying jaguars and other big cats in the wild have a found a scent that the animals find nearly irresistible: Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men.
The Wall Street Journal reports that animal specialists ranging from zookeepers at the Bronx zoo to a jaguar researcher in Guatemala have deployed Obsession to attract and distract big cats. The researcher, Roan Balas McNab, initially worried about revealing the secret because poachers might steal the technique, “but he decided that spreading the word to other scientists outweighed the potential risk, particularly since poachers already use their own effective bait—dead animals—a tactic researchers’ ethics forbid.”
My favorite part of the Journal article is when they bring in the scent maker to describe Obsession’s appeal in language that would do any wine taster proud:
Ann Gottlieb, the “nose” who helped create Obsession for Men, thinks there could be a number of factors in the fragrance that wild animals might find irresistible.
“It’s a combination of this lickable vanilla heart married to this fresh green top note—it creates tension,” she says. The cologne also has synthetic “animal” notes like civet, a musky substance secreted by the cat of the same name, giving it particular sex appeal, she adds. “It sparks curiosity with humans and, apparently, animals.”
I’ve blogged about “nature” photographers who cross ethical lines when they photograph captive animals at game farms—but this puts a new nose-wrinkle in the debate. Would it be unethical for photographers to lure wild cats with a cologne developed to drive people to make sexy time, as Borat might say? I suppose it’s better than imprisoning the cats for life just so they can be furry supermodels.
(See the Journal’s video about Obsession-obsessed big cats here.)
Wall Street Journal
Friday, May 14, 2010 12:58 PM
I don’t forage often for wild food—yet. But I’m eagerly reading Samuel Thayer’s new guide, Nature’s Garden, which is fantastic, and I was delighted to find a great in-depth essay called “The Value of Wild Plants” in the latest issue of The Art of Eating.
Writer Melissa Pasanen heads out on the hunt with Les Hook and Nova Kim, a pair of professional wild food foragers in Vermont. If you want to read the whole story, you’ll have to get your paws on a print copy—a luxurious, lovely print copy—of The Art of Eating. The piece is so packed with interesting observations, however, that I wanted to share a few of my favorites here:
Hook and Kim’s philosophy includes dining on invasive species—using them “out of existence” instead of killing or poisoning them. “One spring vegetable they have been doggedly marking is something they call red asparagus,” Pasanen writes. “Actually, it’s Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), an invasive species that threatens to choke our native plants along river and stream banks.” (In this particular case, Pasanen is not a fan of the flavor, describing it as “the bastard child of rhubarb and okra”.)
Also intriguing: “Much of what we consider wild today was brought here by European settlers and is more accurately called ‘escaped,’ ” Pasanen writes. Some of the most recognizable “wild” foods, such as watercress and daylilies, fall into this category.
And, finally, the essay provides a fascinating peek into the stewardship of professional foragers—as compared to that of moonlighters, often in it for the money. Hook and Kim take only what they need, harvest so as to not harm plants, and always leave some food behind. They charge a correspondingly premium price for their foods.
As Hook quips to Pasanen: “I tell chefs: ‘You’re not paying for the mushrooms we bring you, but for the mushrooms we leave in the woods.’ ”
Source: The Art of Eating
Thursday, April 08, 2010 2:14 PM
Does the WikiLeaks video released this week, showing U.S. Blackhawk helicopter crew members boasting and congratulating each other as they gun down unarmed journalists and children, reveal that U.S. military personnel take glee in killing?
Well, if it doesn’t, these bumper stickers spotted on the Cherry Point and Camp Lejeune Marine bases in North Carolina—and posted on the right-wing blog One Man’s Thoughts—will help anyone with doubts round out the picture. If you don’t live near an armed forces base or socialize with soldiers, this is the noble and morally conscious military culture you’re missing out on:
“Waterboarding Is Out So Kill Them All!”
“Interrogators Can’t Waterboard Dead Guys”
“U.S. Marines—Travel Agents to Allah”
“When in Doubt, Empty the Magazine”
“The Marine Corps—When It Absolutely, Positively Has to Be Destroyed Overnight”
“Marines—Providing Enemies of America an Opportunity to Die for their Country Since 1775”
“Happiness Is a Belt-Fed Weapon”
“Artillery Brings Dignity to What Would Otherwise Be Just a Vulgar Brawl”
“A Dead Enemy Is a Peaceful Enemy—Blessed Be the Peacemakers”
“Marine Sniper—You Can Run, But You’ll Just Die Tired!”
“What Do I Feel When I Kill a Terrorist? A Little Recoil”
Let me be clear: I know people who serve in the U.S. military. I admire their resolve, their courage, and their sense of duty. They do not have stickers like this on their vehicles.
Source: One Man’s Thoughts
Tuesday, February 16, 2010 1:49 PM
Scientists are currently hard at work sequencing the genome of a Neanderthal woman who died some 30,000 years ago. Soon, Archaeology magazine reports, scientists believe they’ll be able to clone that Neanderthal, effectively bringing the long-extinct humans back to life. Paleoanthropologist John Hawks told Archaeology, "we are going to have a cloned Neanderthal, I'm just sure of it."
If, or when, the scientists succeed, a host of ethical and legal questions come into play. Would the Neanderthals be considered human? Would they have human rights? If scientists were to clone just one, he or she would lack any social structure, and could face fear and danger from humans. Archeology sums up the problems:
The ultimate goal of studying human evolution is to better understand the human race. The opportunity to meet a Neanderthal and see firsthand our common but separate humanity seems, on the surface, too good to pass up. But what if the thing we learned from cloning a Neanderthal is that our curiosity is greater than our compassion? Would there be enough scientific benefit to make it worth the risks?
UPDATE: Neanderthals were mistakenly identified as a human "ancestor," and that reference was deleted from this post.
Friday, February 12, 2010 5:21 PM
The lines between fiction and nonfiction are blurring and giving rise to a new form “that we might call ‘true fiction,’” writes Alissa Quart in Columbia Journalism Review. Quart sees examples of this phenomenon all around, including Dave Eggers’ brilliant book What Is the What, which tells but also takes a few liberties with the tale of a Sudanese “Lost Boy”; the forthcoming graphic novel A.D. by Josh Neufeld, which depicts post-Katrina New Orleans; and even The Hurt Locker, the war film that is presented as fiction but is based on an original nonfiction magazine article.
Quart is quick to acknowledge that the fiction-nonfiction hybrid isn’t all that new, but she contends that writers well known for mixing the two, like Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, “imagined their work to be a certain kind of journalism.” Members of the newer breed, she notes, “seem to be backing away from categorizing things as ‘true,’ even as they are also rethinking what nonfiction is and can be.”
The new anthology The Lost Origins of the Essay, Quart writes, even makes the case “that some works long considered fiction are actually closer to this hybrid form,” and she quotes from a piece by the anthology’s editor, John D’Agata: “Do we read nonfiction in order to receive information, or do we read it to experience art?”
Coincidentally, it was a recent story by D’Agata in The Believer that left me confused about what was information and what was art. In “What Happens There,” D’Agata traces the final moments of Levi Presley, a 16-year-old who killed himself by jumping from the top of the 1,149-foot-high Stratosphere Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
The writer does several things at once: In the guise of a reporter, he attempts to penetrate the wall of silence surrounding suicide in Las Vegas, which has the highest suicide rate in the nation year after year. Wearing a memoirist’s hat, he interweaves his own experiences in the city, where he briefly lived to care for his mother. And as a facile prose stylist, he attempts to vividly convey the sights, sounds, and smells that Presley might have encountered as he walked toward his deadly jump through the sprawling casino complex.
I was immediately drawn in by D’Agata’s deft, artful writing, and yet as the tale unfolded I was stopped cold at several junctures, mostly because as a journalist I had certain expectations about what I perceived as, first and foremost, a piece of journalism. To wit:
• The story begins with the glaringly vague time reference “one summer,” yet anyone with Google at his fingertips can learn that Presley committed suicide in 2002. Why not place the story’s main event in time for the reader? When is one of the six key story components in classic news journalism—components that are, ironically, the organizing principle of D’Agata’s new book About a Mountain, which includes the suicide tale.
• After meeting with Presley’s parents to discuss their son’s death, he writes, “At some point, it came clear while I was visiting the Presleys that in fact I had not spoken to their son the night he died.” I first read this as a jarringly understated admission, delivered almost as an aside, that he had misrepresented himself to the parents in order to meet with them. Ethical red flags were flying all over the place before I figured out elsewhere—via his book’s jacket notes—that D’Agata himself had believed he might have spoken with Presley on that fateful night. Maybe fans of the new “true fiction” will read right past this, but for me this was a major stumbling block.
• D’Agata pays a private investigator $400 for “vital information” about Presley that he’s unable to ferret out himself, and rather than praising the investigator’s ability to dig up these details, he feels compelled to coyly note that she “had a smoker’s voice, a barking dog and screaming kids and Jeopardy on in the background” when he called her. Yeah, and she probably was overweight and wearing ridiculous slippers and sucking on a Bud Lite. D’Agata clearly has a keen eye for detail, but extending it to someone who’s basically helping him report the story, with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge dose of classist disapproval, gave me a shudder of discomfort.
• D’Agata is able to get only one local official to go on the record about the suicide, county coroner Ron Flud. The coroner seems like a pretty straight-up guy—“a finder of facts,” he calls himself—who invites D’Agata into his office and expounds insightfully on the taboo of talking about suicide. But apparently this still isn’t enough for D’Agata. He calls Flud out for not answering a question about whether a suicide jumper is likely to lose consciousness in a fall, then proceeds to relay, in a self-serving writerly flourish, several things that Flud did not say.
• Someone who knew Presley hangs up on D’Agata when he asks personal questions about the deceased. But we don’t know who because the writer doesn’t tell us. The conversation is transmitted as a terse, paraphrased exchange with no context or explanation. Literary, yes, but mystifying.
• Finally, D’Agata appears to have never visited the suicide victim’s memorial website, which has been online since 2005. Here he could have gleaned several intimate details about Levi Presley—details not mentioned in the article—from reminiscences written by friends and family, and he could have learned the names of several sources to pursue for his allegedly hard-to-find interviews. He also would have learned from the entry by “Mom” that Presley’s mother called him her “precious Boomer”—from “baby Boomer”—not “Booper,” as D’Agata writes.
In the end, the story seems to be a case in which a creative writer took on a semi-journalistic task, in the process taking liberties that some audiences may enjoy (James Wolcott of Vanity Fair certainly did, calling the story a “show stopper”) and that others may find confusing, distracting, or journalistically dubious.
If we are indeed entering a new world of hybrid literary journalism—one in which, Quart writes, “we are seeing nonfiction freed from its rigid constraints”—I for one hope we remember that some subjects, like a teenager’s suicide, seem to demand a deep and abiding respect for facts and clarity. At first impression D’Agata appears to be honoring the memory of Levi Presley by speaking the unspeakable—yet by the story’s end, at least to this reader, he appears to have done just the opposite.
Source: Columbia Journalism Review, The Believer (subscription required), Vanity Fair
Image by Marcin Wichary, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, October 09, 2009 4:39 PM
Writing for The American Prospect, Arlie Hochschild tenderly unpacks a burgeoning field of medical tourism: international surrogacy. The practice has blown up in recent years—since India made surrogacy legal in 2002, for example, over 350 clinics have opened to serve domestic and foreign clients—and with it comes a host of perplexing legal and ethical questions.
Global inconsistencies in regulation currently make surrogacy a “highly complex legal patchwork,” Hochschild writes. “Observers fear that a lack of regulation could spark a price war . . . with countries slowly undercutting fees and legal protections for surrogates along the way.”
Legal issues in mind, however, it’s the trend toward “increasingly personal” global service work—and its ramifications—that Hochschild throws into the starkest relief. “Person to person, family to family, the First World is linked to the Third World through the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the care we receive,” she writes.
“That Filipina nanny who cares for an American child leaves her own children in the care of her mother and another nanny. In turn, that nanny leaves her younger children in the care of an eldest daughter. First World genetic parents pay a Third World woman to carry their embryo. The surrogate’s husband cares for their older children. The worlds of rich and poor are invisibly bound through chains of care.”
Source: The American Prospect
Tuesday, July 07, 2009 4:17 PM
Eight years of scientific repression under the Bush administration gave progressives an overly idealized view of science. President Obama was hailed after issuing an order promising that his administration would “base our public policies on the soundest science.” Taken to an extreme, Marcy Darnovsky writes for Democracy Journal, that the subjugation of policy to science threatens progressive ethics. Biomedical advancements from cloning to sex selection, racially targeted drugs to commercial surrogacy, demand ethical and political discussion and consideration.
Progressives were right to fight against the Bush administration’s suppression of environmental research and the undue influence that fundamentalist Christians had over the public policy, Darnovsky writes. The problem is that eight years of fighting against those policies has left progressives with a kind of dangerous reflexive libertarianism that, according to Darnovsky, has the tendency to “discount the importance of regulation and oversight of scientific practice and application.”
The idealization of science, and the discounting of moral and ethical dilemmas inherent in biomedical advances, also gives fodder to progressivism’s opponents. According to the conservative journal The New Atlantis, “Obama never articulates any moral principle other than the absolute sovereignty of scientific activity.” The journal attacks Obama’s politics as “a kind of techno-aristocracy—hypereducated elites with specialized politico-scientific expertise are singled out to manage the benighted rest of us.”
The United States, in fact, remains an outlier for its lack of oversight for genetic modification, assisted reproduction, and other biomedical technologies, according to Darnovsky. Such medical advances could yield benefits, but ethical considerations should come into play. Instead of insulating science from politics, Darnovsky writes that progressives should seek out an ideology that “welcomes the benefits of human biotechnologies while opposing their harmful, excessive, and unprogressive uses.”
(article not available online), The New Atlantis
Tuesday, May 26, 2009 11:51 AM
You can—but should you? In 2007 the global ecotourism industry ferried 55 million U.S. vacationers around the world on better, greener holidays. And every one of them should have been asking themselves that question. The editor in chief of Women’s Adventure, Michelle Theall, eloquently broaches ecotourism’s ethical dilemma in a candid, even haunting editorial.
“The polar bear alongside the boat makes a low chuffing sound,” Theall writes. “He dives to escape us. Each time he surfaces, he moves farther into open water, farther from land. A few passengers ask our guide, Wally, if we’re stressing the bear. I don’t hear his answer. I’m too busy kneeling low on the deck with my Canon. I stretch out one hand. The bear swims just beneath it, and he’s magnificent. . . .Only after I’ve clicked off about 100 images does it occur to me that Wally might be chasing this bear because of me. I’m with a travel magazine. I’m worse than global warming. I’m a journalist.”
“Guilt’s a heavy souvenir,” writes Theall, who last saw the polar bear, confused and agitated, swimming out toward open water. Although Wally later reassures her that the bear most likely made it back to land, she finds a sobering ecotourism parable in the experience—what is legal is not always what is right.
Source: Women’s Adventure
Image by suneko, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, May 14, 2009 7:25 PM
Let’s go out on a limb, but not too far, and assume that most people want to behave ethically. Bringing those ethical intentions to fruition is more difficult than you might anticipate, reports The Chronicle Review (subscription required). “To do good, individuals must go through a series of steps, and unless all of those steps are completed, people are not likely to behave ethically, regardless of the ethics training or moral education they have received,” writes psychologist and educator Robert J. Sternberg.
Sternberg’s steps include stages such as recognizing that there is an event to react to, defining the event as having an ethical dimension, and then deciding that the ethical dimension is significant. From there, it’s a matter of taking responsibility, seeking an ethical solution, and, of course, acting on it. There are pitfalls at every phase: finding a way, for example, to avoid taking responsibility (it’s not really my business), or rationalizing away the significance of unethical conduct (it was only a few dollars).
In other news: The Chronicle Review is part of the splendid Chronicle of Higher Education, a 2009 Utne Independent Press Award nominee for best writing.
Source: The Chronicle Review
Wednesday, January 28, 2009 9:18 AM
I am forever in awe of William T. Vollmann's ability to drill to the dark centers of humanity and emerge clear-thinking despite the "slimy, filthy grief" he experiences there. He's done it again in the latest issue of Book Forum, where he manages to articulate the most fundamental horror of the holocaust while writing his way through a sharp essay on the ethics of photography. I could feed you an excerpt here but I'm going to resist the temptation. You ought to read and wrestle with the entire piece. Snack if you must, but don't say I encouraged you in that wrongheaded endeavor.
Monday, October 06, 2008 12:25 PM
Forget Oktoberfest, here comes Octoberfish: a month-long celebration of sustainable seafood from the consumer group Food & Water Watch. The international nonprofit has put together a calendar of events, including simple direct actions (such as sending an e-mail against fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico) and sustainable seafood menus.
To read about why eating seafood ethically is environmentally essential, visit our Sustainable Seafood Special Online Project, which includes an illuminating excerpt from Taras Grescoe’s book Bottomfeeder. Stay tuned, too. Next week, we’ll post an exclusive sustainable seafood recipe from chef Phil Werst, general manager at Minneapolis’ locavore haunt, Common Roots Café.
Image by tarotastic, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, February 18, 2008 5:08 PM
Philosophers. Sort of.
Why? Because they haven’t equipped us with the kind of thinking that would help us wrap our minds around the problem and devise a way to stop it. That is to say, they haven't taught us how to change the way we live in the world.
To do that, we’d need a wholly different kind of academic inquiry, writes Nicholas Maxwell, author of the recently revised From Knowledge to Wisdom, in the latest issue of Philosophy Now (subscription required):
Global warming is the outcome of the way we live, and in order to arrest it we need to change the way we live... Having a kind of academic inquiry that gave intellectual priority to articulating, and working out how to tackle, problems of living, would have helped enormously with alerting the public to the problem of global warming, and to what needs to be done in response to it.
But we have not had, and still do not have, academic inquiry of this type—devoted to helping humanity learn how to tackle its problems in increasingly rationally cooperative ways. Instead we have science—this long tradition of inquiry devoted to improving knowledge and technological know-how.
Take that, science.
In fact, Maxwell isn’t railing against science per se, but rather “science without wisdom.” And this wisdom comes from a sense of purpose: Knowledge should not be an end in itself, but rather a means toward resolving a problem.
So what would this living-oriented academic inquiry look like? Maxwell elaborates in a short piece for the New Statesman:
Academic inquiry as a whole would become a kind of people’s civil service, doing openly for the public what actual civil services are supposed to do in secret for governments. Academia would actively seek to educate, rather than simply study, the public.
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