Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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I’m here, I’m queer, and Fox News can go to hell. (Jordan Chambers)

I can’t really say that ethics was a weird unit for me because what unit isn’t a weird unit for me but let me tell you. Ethics was a weird unit for me. I’ve been weirdly busy since winter break ended so a lot of the time I was too preoccupied to be fully present in class which sucked because I’m sure I would have had a lot of thoughts during discussions but I could pay enough attention to discern some things.

So for personal definitions, utilitarianism is like doing things because they will make you and the people around you happy and the definitions I was given make it seem like actions are good as long as they increase pleasure. On the other hand, the categorical imperative is doing things because they are the right thing to do and carries the belief that actions are only moral if they are done without selfish motivations. So the example I used when I explained all of this to my costume crew (these poor grade nines I work with deal with so much) was that if you see your friend is about to be shot and you jump in the path of the bullet, under utilitarianism this is an ethically good action because your friend will be happy they are not dead and (assuming you survive) you will be happy because your friend is not dead but under the categorical imperative your action is only ethical if your motivation to take the bullet for your friend didn’t take into account your personal feelings (I took the bullet because it is my duty to prevent people from being killed vs. I took the bullet because I would be sad if my friend died).

It’s really hard to try and define your personal ethical perspective using other peoples words because to me it seems like “oh these things are right or wrong because they just are” but theres underlying reasons obviously and trying to justify and explain those is just really hard (A lot of my conclusions relate back to things are perceived differently due to personal background and that comes into play a lot in ethics. Like your ethical perspective is determined by who you are and how you were raised and in what kind of society, etc…). So as best I can figure it, my ethical perspective is mostly utilitarianism but obviously not strictly utilitarianism because that’s just a little ridiculous to think that any person can only do things out of a sense of duty. I agree with some aspects of the categorical imperative though, like there are obviously things I want to do that I don’t out of a sense of duty or because they have been determined ‘wrong’ by society and I think thats okay but also some things are okay to do for selfish reasons if they increase happiness for others (for example I want gender neutral bathrooms to be more commonplace because yes, I’m trans and want a place to feel safe and thats a little selfish, but also because other people who are also trans deserve the same thing because humans should have a right to feel safe). So really I don’t mind things being done for selfish reasons as long as they also increase pleasure for the other people involved.

A problem of ethics that comes to my attention a lot is when advertising companies and brands and artists use the representation of LGBT people (and people of colour but it’s not really my place to talk about that) as a way to further interest in their brands and increase their own wealth. The most recent example that comes to mind is the National Geographic cover that features trans people. Basically, NatGeo ran a piece on transgender people for their january 2017 edition entitled “the gender revolution” and the cover(s) feature photographs of transgender people. How is that an ethical dilemma? Well two things really, National Geographic was just bought by Fox News (yknow, the one with astoundingly conservative bias) and they didn’t actually… compensate their models for the time taken to do the photoshoot. So we have a magazine, owned by a racist and homophobic news source, running a piece that they will profit off of, but not paying their models (trans people, who are overwhelmingly in poverty anyway). Lots of people have varying problems with this cover and so do I but personally I feel like this kind of representation isn’t what some people are calling it, exploitation. When a magazine allows trans people (including a nine-year-old trans girl) to tell their stories in their own way, thats important. It’s selfish of NatGeo to not pay their models, yes, and that may be slightly unethical considering their new affiliations with Fox News but the stories they are telling and the visibility that they are providing the trans community with is potentially lifesaving (The ‘Summary of Reccomendations’ section of this report relates to my point). While it is unlikely that anyone under the age or 16 will actually read a NatGeo magazine, there’s the chance that a young trans kid could see this cover and think ‘maybe I’m not alone’, I know I would’ve liked something like this article when I was younger. To sum up, I don’t think it was unethical for Fox News to use NatGeo to profit off of trans folk, because it does increase happiness of both the people at NatGeo and trans folk/allies, even if it was a little selfish of them.

 

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To Pee, Or Not To Pee: That Is The Question – Urinetown The Musical

Now, I don’t know if you, the reader, have ever had the pleasure of seeing or hearing of a musical by the name of Urinetown (I applaud you if you have), but I think it brings up an interesting moral dilemma that begs to be discussed.

For those unfamiliar with this show (don’t lie to me, you probably are), Urinetown is set in a time of drought that has lasted a long twenty years, and shows no signs of stopping. The town in the show has put in place a system to regulate water usage, the story highlighting one particular aspect of it: toilet regulation. Those in charge can’t let people have private household toilets, and they also can’t have people urinating in the streets, so the Urine Good Company (UGC) sets up public amenities where people need to pay a hefty fee to use the toilets there. And to combat the people’s desire to ignore the public urination laws instead of using the amenities, the penalty for getting caught doing your business anywhere but a public amenity is being sent to the mysterious “Urinetown.”

The story follows those who frequent amenity #9 as they rebel against the UGC by refusing to pay the fee, and using the washroom whenever they want. Of course, this causes conflict with the UGC, but they are eventually overthrown by the revolutionaries. It is revealed throughout the story that the UGC is buying off the legislature so they can do whatever they want and not run into the law. This includes raising amenity fines, the profits, of which, they are using to become fabulously rich, since they have given up on actually trying to find a scientific solution years ago. Furthermore, they have also paid off the police force, which is responsible for sending people to “Urinetown,” but in the words of one of the cops, “there is no Urinetown; we just kill people!”

So, the people of amenity #9 had good reason to take the UGC down, and as the show is coming to a close, things look like they’re going to be good for all in the town. This is soooooooo not the case. The hard truth is that they chose to live good and die fast, using up what little resources they had left in a short period of time, ending the show dead on the stage from dehydration and sickness. Their brief happiness ensured everyone’s death, and the viewer, despite their hate for the UGC, is forced to revaluate the positives of the company and the regime it formed. It is mentioned in a line during the closing number that the UGC was very effective in regulating water consumption, and was able to supply its employees with healthy salaries and good lives that would have lasted for quite a while if not for the revolutionaries. And even though there were people suffering, they were alive, weren’t they?

Herein lies our dilemma, dear reader (if you’re still there), because one is forced to confront two options: Have everyone be happy for a short amount of time (then suffer and die), or have the people suffer a bearable, yet constant amount for a long time and be happy rarely, and experience happiness of a lesser strength than the first option. Otherwise known throughout the show as side “what of today” and “what of tomorrow.”

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Kant and Mill’s Love Child

There are varying viewpoints and ways to approach the topics of ethics and morals. This is due to everyone’s individualized  perceptions as to what as viewed as “right” and “wrong” and/or “good” and “bad”. Typically, each persons values and morals can fit under the umbrella of utilitarianism or categorical imperative or a little bit of both. To further my personal thoughts and views on morals and ethics, I will first try and define what I comprehended from the reading given in class.

Utilitarianism: Basically what I got from this concept of morals is that something is right and/or good if one gains the most amount of pleasure with the least amount of pain. However, as we discussed in class, if this were the sole principal of utilitarianism, our society wouldn’t be productive and it would eventually turn into anarchy. This principal alone is very vague and broad. Mill shares how his definition of utilitarianism isn’t  to just take levels and quantities of happiness into consideration, but the quality of the pleasure as well. He states that even if something may cause pain, the end result can produce a much higher quality of pleasure will supersede the pain felt leading up to the end.Utilitarian ethics are essentially based on what classifies actions as right or wrong, good or bad based upon the outcome or end. I don’t really agree with the idea that it doesn’t matter how someone gains their pleasure/happiness as long as the end is happiness. This principal works in terms but really can’t be like a rule for every situation. Mill continues to narrow his definition by including answers to questions such as: Who’s happiness? To which his response is, the majority’s. This is where the appeal of utilitarianism sort of falls apart for me. Yes, the majority’s happiness, but what about the minority’s? Because current-day western society is heavily based on democracy, the majority’s happiness is the most practical thing to pursue. That being said, this leads to many of our current societal conflicts. For example, just because there are statistically more straight cis people in Canada doesn’t mean that the LGBTQ communities shouldn’t get their say and/or potential happinesses.

Categorical Imperative: This ethical standpoint  brought up by Immanuel Kant is what I perceive to be a widely accepted concept by the majority of people. Kant’s very optimistic views about doing the right thing solely because it’s the right thing to do, whether it benefits your own self-interests or not just doesn’t seem feasible. I say this mainly because society functions a lot based off of the self-interests of a select-few people. I do however agree with his theory of do as you wish others to also do. I also like the general concept behind Kant’s reasoning behind what makes an action moral(good) or not. Basically anything that one does out of duty, whether pleasurable or not is seen as moral. Anything else has some sort of deep-rooted selfish pursuit.

Okay, so now that I have expressed some of my opinions about the main two ethical standpoints we discussed, I would say I agree mostly with Kant’s views and some of Mill’s ideas. Hypothetically, utilitarianism sounds like a great time. You know, unless you’re stuck in the minority group, in which case, good luck. But I do like the hypothetical idea that happiness and pleasure should be an end. However, to contradict myself, I also believe strongly that one should do the right thing because it’s the right thing, whether or not they like to do it. However where I feel these two ideas could be synthesized, is where the accomplishment of a ‘moral’ obligation/duty allows one to access a different altruistic kind of pleasure/happiness; the trust and respect of others. A sense of control and dependability tends to lead others to positively receive one who upholds moral values as understood by the majority. Leading to the idea of honour and nobility being assigned to such an individual, and as much as many will argue otherwise, humans are social beings, and social status/apperception matters greatly in how we perceive/love ourselves. Hence Kant’s and Mill’s theories can work together to create a foundation to strive for utopic interventions.

A current day issue in which my moral standpoint could be possibly be beneficial is the many cases of racism. Now I believe that everyone holds an equal value and should share the same freedoms and opportunities as everyone else (Hey Rawls, didn’t see you there). I feel that if everyone had a sense of duty to be moral, whilst wanting others to follow in their actions, racism, along with a plethora of other conflicts within society would disappear. Plus, I believe that by solving said conflicts, most people would be subsequently happy, and appreciative of those who attempt to transcend arbitrary barriers to expose the misguided fear that cloaks as racism and to abolish it with this moral knowledge.

Gif from:

http://www.reactiongifs.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/tim-and-eric-mind-blown.gif

 

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categorical utilitarianism

Utilitarianism on google is described as “the doctrine that actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority.” I agree that the definition of utilitarianism is whatever benefits the greater good.

Categorical imperative is defined as “an unconditional moral obligation that is binding in all circumstances and is not dependent on a person’s inclination or purpose.” To me, categorical imperative is doing good things not for any benefits, solely because it’s the right thing to do. It’s essentially the same definition but it sounds better to me.

Personally I’m a little biased towards Kant, so I agree with the categorical imperative. I think cheating is wrong no matter what, on a test, on your SO, no matter how you try and justify it, it will be wrong. The definition of categorical imperative where “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law” is really important to me. I think it’s super important that we treat others the way you want to be treated. The only real hiccup I can see in categorical imperative is in the case of self defense. If someone tried to kill you and your body enters fight or flight response, and you end up killing them, are you in the wrong? I believe Kant would say that it is wrong because it is regardless of your situation. Personally I think it’s okay that you killed them which is why I also don’t think I’m 100% categorical imperative. If you can prove that you literally had no other choice, then murder is right in that situation. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe in “an eye for an eye.”  I don’t believe these are the only two moral philosophies one can have. A combination of both would describe me since I can’t commit entirely to one.

A personal issue that I have encountered that relates to my moral philosophy is the Good Samaritan act. In Canada, “a person who renders emergency medical services or aid to an ill, injured or unconscious person, at the immediate scene of an accident or emergency that has caused the illness, injury or unconsciousness, is not liable for damages for injury to or death of that person caused by the person’s act or omission in rendering the medical services or aid unless that person is grossly negligent.” Basically, if you try and help someone but end up harming them more/killing them, you cannot be sued unless you were consciously disregarding their need for care. Categorical imperative would say that although you had good intent, you killed them anyways which is wrong. Utilitarianism would say that you tried to do something for the greater good (help them) but you ended up killing them in the end which is okay. As a civilian, I am protected under the good Samaritan act since it is my MORAL obligation to help people, but as a lifeguard, I am not because it is my LEGAL obligation to help as opposed to moral. The law has seemed to lean towards a utilitarianism way of looking at things.

However if you look at it from a different angle, the Good Samaritan act will allow people to “do the right thing because it is the right thing to do” without worrying about repercussions it could have which supports categorical imperative. On the other end, helping the weak doesn’t benefit the greater good because you’re wasting our tax dollars on their health bill, might as well let them die because the tax dollars can then be put towards the greater good. Though this sounds rather extreme, I think it is a true, valid and sound argument.

I don’t believe in the death penalty. I don’t believe in imprisoning people for the sake of keeping them segregated but rather to rehabilitate them. I DO believe that people should be allowed to do the right thing without thinking about the consequences to helping others. There are flaws in both systems of utilitarianism and categorical imperative. A combination of both together used in balance would have the greatest benefits. Being black or white sometimes is the right answer, but arguing for the right to have the grey areas is what allows us to even have morals in the first place.

 

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Utilitarianism vs Categorical Imperative: Of JC Penney, Blowing Up Cities, & Plane Safety

 

I want to incorporate the mentality of doing things because you want that intention to become a universal law. Sometimes I find when helping others or in doing tasks people ask me to, I’m hesitant and annoyed but end up doing it anyway. I’m still unsure as to whether or not this would be morally creditable by categorical standards, because though I’m doing it out of some sense of duty I’m not very happy about doing it. But I find the concept of it and people following that kind of moral code admirable. I feel like wanting to help people and having good intentions is part of being a good person, but the categorical imperative doesn’t really stress results. Like a certain proverb once said, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That’s pretty much the big thing that bothers me about categorical imperative, the only other one being it wouldn’t really work unless everyone decided to all adopt this way of thinking at once. What comes to mind is what happened to JC Penney, where they decided to be honest with customers and do away with sales (because a lot of the time when clothing is put on sale it’s what was considered the standard retail value. When you buy something not on sale, it’s a markup). Though in a humanitarian sense this is great, it didn’t work out because though it worked better for the customer it didn’t feel better. In a year’s time they lost an estimated 700 million dollars. I think that a good intention to be required to some extent though, because people doing charitable things to make themselves feel better or improve their status sounds pretty questionable.

As for utilitarianism, I think it’d be great to consider the happiness as everyone as your own happiness. Before starting this unit, that’s pretty much what I considered a really good person to be like. It was kind of a combination of the two, where from utilitarianism I had the concept of putting before anything the happiness of everyone and good intentions from the categorical imperative. I’d like to be able to incorporate that into my own morality, but I don’t care about everyone and can only find it admirable when someone does. When approached with the problem of destroying a city or saving a best friend, I’d pick to save my friend. Though I find a lot of concepts admirable, I’d say I’m pretty average in that most of the time I just follow what feels like the right thing to do. I don’t exactly do anything extraordinary, but react to situations presented to me. It’s something I feel as if I should improve by seeking out justice, but I don’t really have the determination for it. Given a moral problem, I’m pretty objective until you throw something or someone important to me in it. Thankfully, I’ve never had the choice of destroying a city or saving a friend. If I were presented with figuring out whether or not gender neutral bathrooms should be made available for example, I’d probably check what benefits/harm they present, weigh it out, and see which option is better. That’s still an issue I’m not very informed on and fail to see the big problem with just having them. If they make people more comfortable, isn’t that enough? In that sense I’m probably more on the utilitarianism side since I’m not passionate about the issue. But on something like airplane companies not spending money to make flights safer because it’d be less expensive to have an airplane crash once in a while, that’s a little more concerning to me. Maybe it’s the threat of a lot of death, or because I don’t know the perspective of the person who has to decide on putting extra resources in safety, but somehow this seems more pressing. I think it’s something people should be notified of at least. Maybe it’s just different perspectives, but I wonder if it weighs on the people that have to make that kind of decision, and if it’d be solved if they considered themselves in a crashing plane that they could’ve survived. Categorical imperative assuming that as thinking beings we’d all come to the same conclusion isn’t really great in that aspect, considering the number of views people can have. Maybe some people are alright with the risk of a plane crashing as it is, considering it’s pretty low right now anyway.

People being ruled by pleasure and pain is something I considered natural and true, but I always figured going against that to help others good. From the biological standpoint, your DNA basically programs you to survive and to preserve yourself and pass on your DNA at whatever means possible. But if you can put that aside and rub it in your DNA’s face by -for instance- sacrificing yourself so 5 strangers can live, I consider that to be pretty admirable.

More on JC Penney

 

 

 

 

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Moral imperative

In utilitarianism, the outcome of our actions matters most. Our intention to serve the greater good and strive for happiness transcends our moral obligation to discern right from wrong in our actions, providing an excuse for abusing society’s traditional moral system or values that we learn through our experiences and our education.

In Kant’s moral philosophy, a categorical imperative promotes a more optimistic society as it encourages us to act the way we would want others to act in similar circumstances, clearly defining moral duty and separating good from bad, an unconditional command of conscience.

“Act only on that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.”

In my own morality, the categorical imperative philosophy appeals to me because it is hopeful for a fair society by eliminating exceptions for anyone who may choose to act selfishly and lack consideration for those who might be affected by their actions. However, I think this moral philosophy would only function effectively to a certain extent, depending on the importance of the situation and the nature of the potential consequences. For example, for most situations that give us a choice to either follow the moral code that Kant presents or to dismiss these principles, we usually make general predictions about the potential outcomes of our choices but we are still unable to guarantee the consequences of our actions which suggests that either option has a seemingly relative equal chance of leading to negative consequences, but that it is more morally acceptable to “do the right thing”, as opposed to taking a risk. In my own morality, my choices are sometimes directed by my fear of negative consequences, but I’ve realized that although I like to think I’m in control of myself and the result of my actions, sometimes I’m not, because just like positive consequences, negative consequences are still possible and I would like to improve my approach to these consequences in a more rational way.

In our class discussion we talked about moral worth and the challenge of truly acting unselfishly. I recently saw a (seemingly staged) video on facebook of a man filming himself as he left some money with a homeless man sleeping on a bench, who woke up and found it and saw no one around who might have given it to him. I processed this video with the ideas that came up in class about the authenticity of acting for the good, because the person who donated his money to the homeless man might have felt good about himself and satisfied with his act of kindness, but his genuine consideration for the homeless man might have been questionable because of his decision to film himself, losing all moral worth and turning his charitable act into a selfish one for publicity, according to categorical imperative philosophy. I personally think that although this was intended to be a positive message for the public to encourage kindness and compassion, it also brought attention to the possible impure intention and desire for recognition through these actions, which dissolves all moral worth. I think this would be an example of utilitarianism moral philosophy because it would justify these actions with the idea that the outcome is most important – that spreading this valuable act of kindness (whether it was staged or not) and its message of compassion transcends the actual process of achieving its desired outcome, and this made me feel unsure about how I feel about this but I still feel more inclined towards the categorical imperative approach because I would prefer a more genuine consideration and pure intention towards acting in kindness even if it would be a challenge to truly act unselfishly.

 

 

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Rise of The Philosophy Discussions: the Squeakuel: origins.

Consider this a really tiny volume of memoirs, wherein I discuss only the events that took place in my life at some point probably within the last 14 days. Very specific memoirs.

I was told to have a discussion. So I had discussions.

My discussions were with Mathew Goeslingsonsmithchard( or some name like that. Sounds like gosling but I think that spelled wrong) and Yury lastname.

With Mathew, my explanation and discussions helped make me realize that I don’t really know much about my topic. The field of Artificial Intelligence is impossible to make decisions in, at this time, because its entirely hypothetical. There are no machines lurking on the edge of personhood to discuss as examples, all we have is fiction and concepts.
Mathew questioned our criteria of personhood, and we agreed that neither of us knew in any certainty what made a person, and that we were not qualified to form that opinion.

With Yury, the discussion was different. Yury is a literal chap, and doesn’t much fancy hypotheticals. Our discussion helped reaffirm by beliefs in the right of the person.
I don’t believe that a program regulating timing for mustard dispensers in factories deserves any rights or dignity, but I do think that anything capable of understanding rights, what they are, how they’re valuable and necessary would deserve rights.

Yury’s topic was on afterlife. Afterlife tends to include the soul and a power within.  This brings an interesting point to the question of Artificial Intelligence. Can a machine have a soul? Do androids dream of electric sheep? Is there a power within a person made by hand rather than coitus?

More or less: Whats the dealy-o, huh?

As a little hypothetical imaginatorium tour, do you think the pope will ever sit down with programmers and talk about this? Would every leader of every religion have this discussion, or would some immediately agree or disagree without learning about this?

 

Okay moving on

this about wraps it up I guess. For the discussions at least.

Ive noted that the posts with gifs tend to get more attention so Image result for A I gifImage result for A I gif

 

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The Thing That I Did That One Time I Was Told To – Aiden

What were my questions

My base questions were: Is it murder to remove power to a self aware machine

What is a machine

What is self aware

How does the ability to return power affect the machine/

My Plan

My plan was to just sit down and devote all mental faculties to the questions. I would write down all thoughts as they occured. I would perhaps use artificial intelligences in fiction as examples, or basis for thought.

Essentially sit in a dark room with a keyboard  and silence, a small list of A.I’s in mind and write down everything I knew, every idea I had, every hypothetical and metaphor and question I could think of for an hour or more, as ideas occurred to me.

What happened

The plan worked. I sat with a glass of lukewarm water and the Wikipedia list of fictional artificial characters. To start with, my brother interrupted me somewhat, so I put on noise cancelling earmuffs. Dark room, silence, hydration and input machine.

I started out cranking out questions that I posed, that others have posed and anything I can think of. After a while, my eyes started to glaze over and my typing accuracy began to plummet. I got through my opinions of what death is, using the dictionary definition as well. I explained my view on whether or not its murder(yes it is) to turn off an electric brain. Some ideas I had to start with I never got to discuss, because instead of accelerating and coming up with new ideas, after about 50 minutes my mind started slowing down. I attribute this to the flu that kept me from school today. To begin with, I was going to discuss death and its difference from sleep, but move onto what I think the future of artificial intelligences might be, the answers I assume to commonly asked questions; i.e RoboPrison? RoboTaxes? RoboHouses? to which the answer is I doubt there will be enough artificial intelligences around to warrant that, not built to be personal servants. I actually have a lot to say on this, I should include it somewhere else. I was going to discuss the nature of the soul, whether or not something made by man could have one if they in fact exist. If machines can have souls, could someone be reincarnated as one? from one? The difference between a baby and a newly made mind. I was going to discuss if a brain needs to be indistinguishable from a human to deserve rights. Why something cannot act differently from us and still deserve some basic respect. I was going to consider the differences between the death of an individual mind versus a single branch of a mind, a mind hosted on one machine, but inhabits many others. I was going to discuss if we consider ourselves higher life forms than animals, and why its always best to let a bird die to save the life of a  human, and why we’re different, can a machine be considered a higher life form than humans. More emotion, more thought capabilities, more senses, more sensations etc.

There were a lot of ideas in my mind at the start which I have thought about since then, as a result of this hour of thought, but what actually happened was a gradual rise in blah-bad-idea-get-smarter-aiden.

Findings discoveries artefacts questions

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Ja30Z3Stp_DGlNSTfnxXmzJZBOAyLp26drpl6aPlkW0/edit?usp=sharing

I had thought I was getting bored with the topic after a week or more of it, but after this, just thinking of what I could have written about, what I should have said, more questions occurred to me and more opinions formed.

Some ideas I had to start with I never got to discuss, because instead of accelerating and coming up with new ideas, after about 50 minutes my mind started slowing down. I attribute this to the flu that kept me from school today. To begin with, I was going to discuss death and its difference from sleep, but move onto what I think the future of artificial intelligences might be, the answers I assume to commonly asked questions; i.e RoboPrison? RoboTaxes? RoboHouses? to which the answer is I doubt there will be enough artificial intelligences around to warrant that, not built to be personal servants. I actually have a lot to say on this, I should include it somewhere else. I was going to discuss the nature of the soul, whether or not something made by man could have one if they in fact exist. If machines can have souls, could someone be reincarnated as one? from one? The difference between a baby and a newly made mind. I was going to discuss if a brain needs to be indistinguishable from a human to deserve rights. Why something cannot act differently from us and still deserve some basic respect. I was going to consider the differences between the death of an individual mind versus a single branch of a mind, a mind hosted on one machine, but inhabits many others. I was going to discuss if we consider ourselves higher life forms than animals, and why its always best to let a bird die to save the life of a  human, and why we’re different, can a machine be considered a higher life form than humans. More emotion, more thought capabilities, more senses, more sensations etc.

Another thing I got out of this was the realization that any ideas I have could be extraordinarily inaccurate. They’re what I think are good ideas and what could happen. They could be as immature as those several hundred people in Vancouver who believe in anarchy. They could be as foolish as the writers of Max Headroom thinking that might be the future.

There’s a good chance all the ideas and opinions I formed are silly and wrong, but I wont be able to tell till I’m a crotchety old man.

 

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Plato’s Cave: How I Learned That I Was a Capitalist Snake- Emma Field

In the most stressful of situations, it is easy to believe that we will act with heroism, ethical integrity, and a general sense of the PLUR (the flower power of the 21st century).

Courtesy of insomniac.com

However, this is the story of how I learned that our own (my own?) ethical constructs are more fluid and more subject to influence than I had ever believed. And this fluidity or even abandonment of moral standards (in a modeled setting) is amplified by a mob mentality.

Now this may sound pretty intense; I would like to preface this by saying I realized that I had the potential to be capitalist snake in a closed, modeled activity that involved no crimes against humanity. This past summer I participated in a summer program called SHAD, where I lived on campus at one of the host universities (in my case, University of New Brunswick) for four weeks with a group of almost 70 Canadian students from all over the country. The program was mainly focused on empowering youth by providing a variety of experiences in areas of science, business, leadership, and entrepreneurship. Nearing the end of my month on the East Coast, our group took part in an activity that brought with it some major discovery, but not without the undertone of some shame as well.

To make this story a little easier to understand, please bear with me as I explain the activity. The parameters of the activity itself, and our roles within it, were meant to model the roles of people and corporations through the processes of industry: processing, marketing, etc. The 70 of us were assigned one of 4 roles, and we began our duties with a small sum of Monopoly money to complete our tasks.

  • Extractors: used their money to buy ‘raw materials’ (rectangular pieces of paper) that represented metal, paper, and wood (blue, green, yellow)
  • Processors: bought their materials from the extractors to process the raw materials into refined forms (triangles, squares, circles)
  • Manufacturers (that was me!): bought materials from processors and used the materials to create various products with the help of paper clips.
  • Consumers: bought ready-made products from manufacturers through a barter system.

The activity was played in rounds, where the room exploded into chaos as we bought, sold, and traded materials and products, frantically trying to increase the heft of our Monopoly cash wads. The mediators of the game would announce the changing preferences of the consumers throughout the activity (ie. “Blue squares are very ‘in’ right now!”, “Consumers are avoiding circles as a recent study has proven they are choking hazards”, etc. etc), and as a manufacturer, I scrambled to meet their needs. It seemed to me that the activity would prove to be a simple exercise in supply and demand, and within the first minutes of the activity, everybody was settling into their roles. By the first half-hour, however, everyone had tunnel-vision.

I was in manufacturing overload. I sought to buy my materials quickly and efficiently, for the lowest price, regardless the quality. I bartered with the suppliers relentlessly, and slapped together paper and paper clips to present to my consumers. My cash doubled easily in the first round. My mind was locked in the cycle of output, output, output.

As the rounds past, all the players were operating with a similar, focused mentality. Patents were introduced and people began applying for the right to tax other players on using certain materials, the right to charge people for wasted material, etc. Many people were searching for ways to generate profit by restricting other players’ powers, and the intensity of the game was amplified. Players would dump their waster on other players’ desks to avoid environmental fines, and soon those who left their money out in the open were subject to theft. The pile of products bought and discarded  by consumers was growing, reminiscent of a landfill behind them.

The mediators continued to periodically announce information to the group. It turned out that triangle products were considered radioactive. Blue was now unfashionable. We all seemed to pay less and less attention to the announcements if it did not give us information on how to sell more. As the game came to a close, our materials were depleted, all the paper clips used up. Handfuls of patent-holders were circling the room, demanding money for the most absurd infringements.The game to a close, and one play had gathered more than $19,000, starting from a few hundred bucks. The room was littered with paper, and there was even seemed to be some grudges forming among us, the people who had grown and bonded so strongly throughout the last couple of weeks.

The mediators addressed us all. They reminded us that at no point in time had they said that the object of the activity was to collect as much money as possible. In fact, turns out our negligence of the radioactive triangle problem killed us all. As we were all pre-occupied with our own tasks, we failed to address a problem that, in this model, was the most destructive thing of all. Perhaps we figured someone else would do something about it- and yet all 70 of us didn’t. It might seem that this whole activity was a cheap trick to get us to feel bad, but I think it goes a bit deeper than that.

Courtesy of i.imgflip.com

To use the allegory of Plato’s Cave, I would say that before the activity, I, at least, was shackled to the idea that moral goodness was a sort of a default. And yet in the model, I acted with the classic kind of corporate greed, self-interest, and disdain for the environment which we usually deem to be objectively bad. These are actions that I would criticize others for, and yet  I embodied them. This experience led me out of the cave, allowing me not to realize a greater wealth of knowledge on the outside (as in the original allegory), but allowing to realize a capability I didn’t know existed, a way of being I couldn’t fathom completely. I learned that ‘moral goodness’ takes will and conscious decision. What we call ‘corporate monsters’ in the real world aren’t born capitalist snakes, we all simply have the ability to make immoral decisions, but what sometimes is harder is to curb them.

If I were to return to the cave, I believe I would have difficulty convincing my fellow cave-mates of such an experience, as they too would probably like to believe that my own described behaviors would be simply uncharacteristic for a ‘good, moral person’. And yet, as the ‘enlightened’ cave person, it is impossible for me now to not consider the ramifications that these types of actions would have in the real world. I’m not convinced now that I’ve been raised a monster and will corrupt the world with my newfound abilities, but the experience has allowed me to step out of my normal setting of thinking, to take a look at what is frightening possible. If it’s possible in a model, why not in the real world?

And that’s a bit of a scary thought.

 

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Aesthetic Experience

What did I do? I do hikes most weekend with friends and my dog and we usually go to different places around Vancouver so I decided to go and do the Dias Vistas hike at Buntzen Lake with one of my friends and our dogs. This was what I was going to do for my experience because I find that going outdoors and just taking in the beauty of nature to be one of the things I like to spend my time doing on the weekends. We planned on waking up bright and early to get an early start on our hike.

Initial Thoughts? Since I had already done this hike numerous times before, I didn’t really have to worry about getting lost or not knowing which trail to go on so I could actually enjoy the beauty of nature. I was really excited to just hang out and explore the trails becuase I think that since I was just taking everything in, I could enjoy everything more.

Outcome: Although dias vistas is a really hard trail to actually hike and sort of takes all day ( if your dog is as lazy as mine and needs to take breaks every. 5. seconds..) It was really fun and I feel like I enjoyed it more becuase I wasn’t on my phone or focusing on any electronics or stressing about school, I found that I appreciated the beauty of the outdoors much more than if I had a million things on my mind. I think that even though I had done this specific hike multiple times, this was the first time I had really submerged myself into the world and overall this was a great aesthetic experience!

 
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