Steubenville High School Rape &, ‘Anonymous’

I have been asked by a few folks why I have yet to post about, or talk about the Steubenville High School Rape investigation, and the participation from the “group” Anonymous.  To be honest, this particular story just hit too close to home. It’s taken me a little bit of time to digest, and even be willing to watch much of the media on the story – it’s a little like ripping off a bandaid. You know you gotta do it, but you avoid it as well.

As I disclose in Writing the Diaphragm Blues and Other Sexual Cacophonies, I have been raped and sexually assaulted at different times in my life.  One sexual assault happened while I was in 7th Grade at Orange Grove Jr. High.  I was attacked by some of my cross country teammates, and I am convinced I would have been raped if my mom had not shown up when she did.  Worse than the attack was how the administration and the local justice authorities handled things at the time. I was slut shamed and victim blamed when asked by police and the administration whether I was wearing a bra or underwear under my track uniform at the time – as if a negative answer to those questions could justify the act of molestation. The boys, well they got a slap on the wrist. Me, I was left with a complex for the rest my life – if I don’t dress the right way, I am asking to be attacked because I deserve it. Today when I decide to go out into public without a bra on, I consider it an act of protest – a reflection back to when I was a bra-less child being held down by several boys, my body probed by their unforgiving hands.

What upset me the most was how these boys were coddled not only by the justice system, but by the administration of the school at the time (I can’t imagine the same folks run the school today). The justification? They were boys. Boys will be boys, after all. It wasn’t so much that the school or the justice system were saying they did no wrong, but it was their effort to explain why they did wrong, and how I, apparently, helped them do wrong (not being old enough to have Mom’s permission to wear a bra), that stuck with me.  Further, a few of the boys came from affluent families – we wouldn’t want to tarnish those families … Would we?  That would be wrong!  Unthinkable!  Afterall, boys will be boys… Let’s give the boys a good scare, and close the book. As for the young girl, let’s give her an “end of the school year” award, and call it a day.

What fucking bullshit. The award given to me was called the “citizenship” award, but we all knew exactly what that award was really for. As a scholar today, and a scholar on the idea of citizenship, I now find the award rather laughable. To defined citizenship as silence – an agreement to the way things are.

If I sound bitter, I am. Bitter, but it is important to know that I have forgiven the boys that attacked me and the school I attended. Yet I cannot justify and encourage a system that defends and justifies acts of violence under the “boys will be boys,” or slut-shaming/victim blaming rationale. Our society is filled with this kind of bullshit justification. Think about it, banks are too big to fail. Football teams are too important to let a few bad eggs bring them down. Families are too important to tarnish.  This philosophy has done great harm in our society, not only from a personal point of view, but a collective point of view: economically, socially, politically, and philosophically.

The case at Steubenville is heightened by the fact that Anonymous has leaked videos showing the girl being attacked.  Showing the boys laughing at her, carrying her around and partying with her seemingly dead, lifeless body. The investigators being protested for their slow and crude investigation say that we can’t let social media try this case. But the boys that raped and killed this girl placed their own trial on social media, in effect asking for a public debate.  Indeed, on the night in question, they bragged and advertised their night of party and rape.  Example twitter posts included: “The song of the night is definitely Rape Me by Nirvana,” and “Drunk girl – rape.” They advertised their actions on Facebook as well – they made this public!

I am not sure how I feel about Anonymous generally – there are times I have celebrated their actions, and other times I have sat there disturbed.  But I must admit, I wish Anonymous was there to out the people “investigating” my ordeal in Jr. High.  Maybe justice would have been done.

This brings me to the next question, is the discourse about this particular rape, and the information leaked hindering justice or helping justice? In my opinion it is helping justice, and it is also helping to challenge wide and long standing justifications of rape and sexual assault. Much of our justice system is silent on rape.  We see this in the US and globally.  With this case, Justice has moved rather slowly when the evidence appears plentiful, there for the taking. I wait to be proven wrong.  Of course, I have no interest for justice to move so quickly that the gathering of evidence, and the arresting of guilty parties are done sloppily, not able to hold up in a court of law.  But if these boys were ever worried about getting a fair public trial, without a jury prejudicial to their actions, they should not have tweeted about what they were doing nor should they have put Facebook posts out there. In the end, these boys ruined their own chance at an impartial jury.

For good or bad, I’m rather glad this rape case is being tried in “the public,” as well as “social media.” It is time to make the issue of rape and sexual assult a public issue. We must talk about it. We must discuss how for centuries we have justified the act of rape through various means: women are objects, women are things to be owned, children are things to be owned, he or she deserve it, he or she asked for, look at how he or she dressed, she really wanted it.  She looks dead, maybe it was her last wish, we are just fulfilling her last wish (watch the video above).  We rarely blame the person who has committed the act, or if we blame the attacker(s), we justify their actions …. “it was wrong, but if the girl didn’t drink, this wouldn’t have happened.” The public must see these videos. Yes, they’re hard to watch … excruciating, and heartbreaking. I sat there with my palms sweating. My stomach turning … teeth grinding.  My heart pounded as I ran to the bathroom to eject my breakfast.  The drunk boy, sitting on his rocking chair, laughing and giggling at her dead body, “maybe it was her last wish, to be raped.” How funny is that… Even drunk… How humorous. But I watched because someone, all of us should be witnesses to her death.  Her death is for nothing if we do not bring meaning to it.

Aceh city to ban women from straddling motorbikes | The Jakarta Post

Aceh city to ban women from straddling motorbikes | The Jakarta Post.

The administration of Lhokseumawe, Aceh, is planning to issue a bylaw banning women from straddling motorcycles, arguing that the practice is “improper” in a province governed by Islamic law. Lhokseumawe Mayor Suaidi Yahya said that women should sit sideways on motorcycles, with their legs dangling off to one side. …. 

According to Yusuf, straddling a motorcycle could make the curves of a woman’s body visibly clearer. “Showing the curves of a woman’s body is against Sharia,” Yusuf said.


So the feeling is that woman look more like men when they straddle a motorbike, and this is against Islamic Law – women looking like men.  The solution?  Make women ride the bike sidesaddle.  I cannot help but wonder if such a technique will now be required for men and women having sex – I mean …. some straddling happens there too, and I would not want the men of Aceh city to fall under the illusion that they are having sex with other men as their partner does some straddling. I highly suspect homosexuality is also illegal in Aceh city!  Of couse, there are other sexual positions, but you can see how ridiculous this law is.


Birth Control and the Gates Foundation

Wikipedia Commons
my book, Writing the Diaphragm Blues,
I discuss the need for a male version of the birth control pill. I also discuss
how research and technology is available and ready to offer the world a male
version of birth control pill, but unfortunately the world is not all that
interested in it. How can we tell? 
Funding. Just as funding is available by the truckload for new “Viagra”
like medications, there are few trucks loaded and ready with finances to test
new methods of birth control for men. 
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the few organizations substantially
backing this effort. 
there is reluctance for this direction in birth control research. Indeed, many
men object to the idea of subjecting their body to hormonal forces that impact
their body negatively. Ironic enough, many of these same men do not seem to
worry about asking their female partners to subject their body to hormonal
drugs, but the line is drawn once the tables are turned. Yet I would argue that
it is not unreasonable to object to putting medications into your body that
would cause you some kind of harm. It is actually a very reasonable objection.
That is why research is now attempting to find a solution to the male birth
control conundrum, which does not include doses of hormones – but this research
is just in its infancy. Regardless, until a solution can be found, birth
control continues to be an issue that impacts women more directly, mostly
remaining a non-issue for men.
this past election cycle, the issue of birth control has shown its ugly little
head again (pun intended). It really should be a non-issue, and indeed it has
been a non-issue for centuries. It is quite ridiculous to suggest that the use
of birth control, and the need for birth control, is a rather new and modern debate.
The pill … yes, but birth control has existed for centuries, from the use of
natural herbs, to the intestines of animals that were used as a type of a
condom.  Why is birth control an issue now?  It
is an issue because people feel birth control is a form of population control
and a simple abortant.  It is also
an issue because it gives people the ability to control the social roles played
by the different genders in society. However, I have commented on the second
point a great deal in this blog, let me reflect a little on the first point.
Melinda Gates suggests below, the argument and the fear regarding the
widespread use of birth control is fear regarding purposeful population
control. This population point it’s not so much of a side issue as Melinda
Gates suggests in her discussion, but Gates is correct when she states that the
bottom line regarding birth control is this: people should have a right to
decide whether or not they are ready to bring a child into this world, and
whether they can care for that child. Birth control is indeed a personal,
egoist concept and “I,” and “my needs” are prominent in
this formula.  However, the utilitarian position, or the “we”
position is also dominate. So yes, population control is at issue as well. This
doesn’t mean I want or that I suggest we need to adopt a policy, such as is
seen in China, limiting how many children we bring into this world. 
However, there is something to be said about famine, a lack of resources, and
our inability to care for children that we bring into this world. It is simple irresponsible
to suggest through rhetoric or practice that humans have the right to bring
children into this world, but we don’t necessarily have to take responsibility
for caring for those children/people throughout their lives. The philosopher
Peter Singer brought up this discussion in ’72 with his well argued article “Famine, Affluence,
and Morality” in Philosophy and Public Affairs (1:1
). Although dated,
I cannot help but feel we should all revisit this discussion again.
I would agree that creating a general rule for the good of the majority is not
always a sound idea – frankly, it can be disastrous. Mandatory use of birth
control is as bad as an idea as is limited the amount of children a couple can
have in a society where the male child is valued over the female –
China has a mess on their hands because of this.
  Although I am a
utilitarian at heart, I’m also a pragmatist. I like to look at situations as
they, individually, occur and then weigh the consequences of potential
reactions to that situation before I act. It’s a process and I am a huge
supporter of focusing on the process rather than a particular, singular,
outcome. People and situations are unique, and they must be approached
uniquely. It is this approach toward birth control that is needed
does this mean in the end?  It means that we must have open access to
birth control throughout the world. It also means that men must have more open
access to different forms of birth control as well, and they must be encouraged
to make it part of their personal regiment, just as women do. It also means we
must educate the world on the use of birth control, and the responsibility that
comes with the use of birth control. We must teach people about sex, the
consequences of sex, the consequences of sexual assault, and… yes… the
consequences of overpopulation. The problem is that most talking heads are
making this issue in either or issue rather than looking at the consequences,
the wide affecting consequences, of a world without birth control. Enough.

Melinda Gates TED talk on Birth Control.

The Ethics of Birth Control

Justice Should be Blind, Not Stupid
Erin Solaro over at the Seattle PI’s Civic Feminism blog wrote
a delightful post about the
Politics of Contraception
.  I
left a comment there, thanking her for her fantastic post and also posing this
Why are these people (those who want to take birth control away from
woman) only concerned with the moment, the act of potential procreation and not
the consequences resulting from that moment?
What worries me terribly is the simple fact that these men
(and they are almost all men) working to deny women access to birth control
never bother to look at the potential consequences of what happens when we deny women access to birth control (Yes women, men have historically been given clear access to birth control, but women denied).  All these politicians and pundits are concerned with is the act of potential procreation. This is the ethics of short-term egoism
that refuses to look at long-term consequences of this action: Birth control
denial.  This short-term ethic set is downright
irresponsible of lawmakers, and certainly an
example of why many citizens no longer trust of hold hope in their political
(consider this, recession is simply a result of short term
rationale of fast profit that had devastating consequences for the US and
globally as well). This is a huge problem not only with politics, but with our
society today: short-term satisfaction and, ironic enough, birth
control is not about short term satisfaction, no matter how much Rush Limbaugh
and others like him wish to frame the issue with such misguided rhetoric: give a woman birth control and she will screw anyone, anywhere, anytime.
Here are some long-term consequential considerations we must
consider before denying women birth control:
  • What happens to women that have been raped?
  • What happens to women who need birth control for general
    health reasons related to hormonal imbalances?
  • What happens to a market place devoid of cheap female labor (the more children a woman has, the more likely she will have to leave the market place)?
  • What happens to a home’s economics when it loses ½ of its income making members once she leaves the market places and becomes a homemaker. 
    • (I am not putting down the life of the homemaker. However, many homes need both adults
      working to survive. If we have no birth control, the average family could have
      up to 4-5 children, making it important for one parent to stay home to care for
      the children. If history has demonstrated anything, it will likely be the woman who stays home.  where will the money come in this world today to feed and care for a such a family well?)
  • What happens to all the unwanted children in this world? The
    “disposable” children abandoned, lost, and not cared for?
  • What happens to women’s rights generally and how society
    views women?
  • What happens when the death rate of women skyrocket as more
    births occur and as more women die during child birth?
  • What about over population in relation to famine and a frightfully
    shrinking natural resource pool in this earth?
These few consequential considerations are only the tip of
the iceberg regarding potential problems and dramatic socialist structural changes as a result of such a drastic act as
denying easy access to birth control. To make things more clear, let’s take a case study: Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries.  As I wrote in my
comment on the PI:
Taken in an Irish Laundry: Location Unknown
In Ireland (and globally but Ireland becomes the case study
par excellence), hundreds of thousands of women were placed in Laundries and
forced to become nothing more than slave labor for the state and church of
Ireland. Major targets? Single mothers and any woman deemed amoral as compared
to her society’s spiritual temperament. These women had no choice, as law
regarding their bodies were clear: A woman’s body was not their own.  Their body was their fathers, their
brothers, their husband, the church or the state, but there was no true
anonymity. And the children, ripped from these Magdalene Laundresses? Either
they were shipped out of Ireland, adopted to foreign Catholic parents, or
placed in workhouses; horrific state run institutions of abuse (Read the Commission to Inquire into child abuse).
Birth control plays a huge role in this travesty, because
here was a society that denied birth control to women and, at the same time,
did not consider any of the consequences of this so called moral action.   We are headed there if we do not
stop this nonsense now.  Denying
women birth control is wide raging consequences, consequences that must be
addressed and seriously debated. Otherwise, we are simply caving to egoistic,
short sighted, and misguided proclamations that will harm all of our society,
not simply the women it’s trying to control.

A Highway to Me

I wanted to write a quick blog post about the problem of search engines and advertisers targeting ads, and search result information specifically to each of our individual needs. I wrote about this in an earlier post about Google’s privacy policies, policies that went into effect yesterday.

Anyway, this morning I woke up to a friend complaining about Facebook’s algorithm regarding the posts we see on our news feeds. Now, people complain about Facebook.  It’s like breathing; you’re not alive unless you’re taking a little bit of time out of your day to bitch about Facebook changes. Facebook could change one color, on one letter, which would show up on one place on your Facebook wall, and somebody would complain about. But I honestly feel the complaint I read today is valid: 

so what I really want to know is… Why Facebook needs to prioritize
my wall based on it’s perceived notion of what I want to see. I’ve got
my sort set to “Most Recent,” and STILL the first post is from an hour
ago and the second is from 9 minutes ago. Thinking about boycotting FB

Part of the problem is that the information we are now being exposed to daily on the Internet is being narrowed to target OUR INDIVIDUAL interests. This is happening at Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and elsewhere.

(Please prepare for a Second Person Dream Sequence, putting YOU in the driver’s seat) 

Consider this, you are someone who likes to use the Internet occasionally for Porn (I used this example simply because the musical Avenue Q is hilarious, and it gives me an opportunity to post this video).
Now let’s pretend you spent time daily reading the casual meet-ups over at Craigslist, just five minutes with your afternoon coffee on your phone, or you search for adult sites at home, alone with your computer. You might even enjoy Avenue Q and watch the “Internet is for Porn” musical number, and follow that up with a funny condom commercial your FB friend posted the other day.

Your next interest might be video games and blogs on video games: “Laura Craft is hot,” you once wrote on a blog.

Now consider this, algorithms have now identified you as someone who enjoys pornography, hot virtual chicks, hot puppet chicks, adult night clubs, and video games.  Hum the picture becomes … well questionable.  Now let’s say you want to search for results on a topic regarding our prison system for a paper that’s due for school. You put in your search parameters: “men versus women behind bars,” because you’re researching about the ratio of men to women within the prison system. What you think your search might bring back? Probably a series of webpages that not only cater to pornography, but adult entertainment sites, people who do odd things with stuffed animals, and maybe a video game or two in the same category. Maybe you’re going to be sent to that swingers bar down the street.

The bottom line is this, your information has now been narrowed, and the moment you have changed your interest, that narrow view of this algorithm, or that algorithm has about you has made grand assumptions about you want to see on your computer screen. 

Now, the opposing argument might be this: the more my algorithm knows about you, and all the searches you do every year, every day, every minute, and all the places you visit on the internet, the better it will be able to return information for you, personally, as a special individual.

But this type of information gathering and returns deceives the audience member seeking  information. For example, I have no idea what is been filtered out of that information or the search returns, and I am now living in a sort of a bubble where my Internet experience is kind of like having a personal “yes-man,” someone who will only agree with my interests, and never challenge me.

In this particular world, if I am a conservative individual, I will only get search results that will reinforce my conservative nature. The same goes for the liberal searching for information. Once this divide becomes established, how can the conservative ever truly reach out to liberal and Vice versa?

I hate being alarmist, and I love my Internet, but I must ask: what will this do for communications and knowledge in the real world? Do we really want algorithms to become the new gatekeepers of information?

What do you think?

A quick update!  A friend just pointed me to the book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You by Eli Pariser. I have never read this text, but it does look it examines this problem in depth!  If you are interested in this issue, consider this text.  R

It’s About Inequality in Everything – duh!

Last week I posted on the motivation for Occupy Wall Street and explained, or attempted to explain, to the talking heads the motivation of the protesters. Now that this movement has gone global, and more media is being focused on the global protest, I am hearing even more talking heads either marginalize the points being made by the protesters, or arguing the point that asking for fairness is not the issues because: “fair” and “what is fair economically” is so vague – What is fair? after all: what is fair to me, is not fair to you ….. (spoken by a guest on the Diane Rehn show this morning).

Driving to work this morning, I was listening to the Diane Rehn Show and the discussion on the global “Occupy” movement.  I hovered over the radio dial, contemplating changing it to some nice FM radio station because I knew my anger would likely flare – and it did. Speakers from the American Enterprise Institute tend to make me angry, and that is because the speakers I have hear sees only numbers. Economics baked in a number cake where the social element removed is dangerous. It is nothing less then theorizing in a vacuum. Regardless, this morning on the Diane Rehn show, I heard how economists are not in the business of politics, not in the business of ethics (the fair comment above), and not in the business of social policy.  And yet …. the economic factor challenges, colors, and changes each: politics, ethics, and social arrangements.

With that said, the thing I have noticed about this new media focus on the Occupy movement is that either the media is still suggesting that they don’t understand the demands of the protesters, or the media marginalizes the demands to a simple argument: the protesters want to tax the rich.  Really, that is not it folks, it is far more complicated than that. 

It is not simply about taxing the rich; those who have over a million dollars in the bank.  Many of the protesters may want that, but if you spend some time listening to the protesters, they want a fair society with safeguards in place for potential economic break down, many want a return to the unions, many are looking for jobs, for corporations to get out of politics and start paying the taxes they are getting out of because of tax breaks and other “tricks” that allow a skirting of the law.  They want their retirement back. The young want to work.  The older, 50+ group, would like to be hired again and not viewed as obsolete workers.  they need to hired again – many have lost everything.

What the 99% want is to see substantial fairness in economics, politics, and social life.  You should not have to be rich to run for office – and yet that is the actuality now. The retirement we worked for should be there for us. The unemployment we paid into should be there for us. It is not simply about taxing the rich, it is about changing an entire paradigm that has crippled the 99% of people in this WORLD who have been made the scapegoat by a system that could care less about them.  That is the point.  Listen to what this one protester, Kyli Rhoads a 26 year old college graduate working toward a master’s degree, in Seattle had to say to local KING 5 news about why she was protesting and pitching a tent, against city laws, in Downtown Seattle:

It means we’re here to stay, we’re not going anywhere. … This is not something that’s going to settle down, we’re not going to be quiet. We’re going to do this until somebody listens. I’m not lazy, I’m a very motivated person,  … and I feel like having to go through these obstacles and wind up in debt and work a ridiculous amount of hours a week in order to accomplish happiness and what you want in life is ridiculous. It shouldn’t be this way.

Rhoads is not alone in her anger regarding being called lazy.  Indeed, at the protest there are many older protesters, 50+ and older, who lost their retirement, lost their jobs and now lost any chance of a financially good end of life. Does this turn of events make them lazy?  No.  Yet I have heard, time and again from mostly conservative political heads that these people are lazy: You can’t get a job?  Relying on public assistance?  Your are lazy and not taking responsibility for your self. Hump! Public goods and benefits are cut and so these folks will not even have that to rely on.  It is a problem. We are going to have hundreds of thousands of people living in tents very soon if we do not do something NOW. 

But that something, I fear, will not come fast enough. I also hear chants around the world for wide justice, and against an extreme capitalism. Capitalism does not care about the average person, after all, it only cares about profit and the mechanism in place for making profit – not creating jobs, health care, or any social benefit. As such we are now hearing a new chant:  Revolution.

As for the success for the current movement, I think Immamual Wallerstein (a social economist theorists) did a good job at projecting:

As to the future, it could be that the movement goes from strength to strength. It might be able to do two things: force short-term restructuring of what the government will actually do to minimize the pain that people are obviously feeling acutely; and bring about long-term transformation of how large segments of the American population think about the realities of the structural crisis of capitalism and the major geopolitical transformations that are occurring because we are now living in a multipolar world.


I have been thinking on Aristotle tonight and happiness. Happiness and its relation to faith have been on my mind lately, as I try to understand what might bring me and my family a more real form of sustainable happiness. For Aristotle, happiness is found in living well. What constitutes living well is up for grabs really.

In ethics, we say that happiness is the “end” and living well is the “means” to this end. The means can be found in many ways: egoism (living and acting for self interest), utilitarianism (living and acting in the interest of the majority [sorry minority, you get the short end here]), altruism (living for the well being of others), duty ethics (good ol’ Kant and his rules for how to live ethically), and divine ethics (living to appease a god or goddess).

When I consider these modes of ethics, I cannot help but also consider the relationship between faith and ethics and happiness. I am not sure if I understand “faith” entirely on a personal or emotional level. My mom once announced this to me and I categorically denied it, but I suspect she is right-I do not function on faith. I am a pragmatic person and I tend to spend a good deal of time questioning most things from happiness, to goals, to faith. But it seems to me that if you are seeking happiness, and relying on one mode of ethical thinking to do so, you need to have faith in your decision that the chosen mode of action will bring happiness. Otherwise, why bother? But how on earth can we know this to be true? Even when we live for pure self interest, there is no guarantee that we will find happiness. There is a good chance that my self interest will collide with that of my husband’s or sister’s or another loved one, and their hurt will then be my hurt – counseling out happiness.

And then there is happiness we associate with obtaining and owning things. And yet things bring only a fleeting happiness, after which we get bored and we look to the next new shinny toy or thing we think will offer fulfillment. And yet this culture most of us live in the United States, the culture of consumerism, lives by a faith that a thing will bring us happiness. But it is an unfulfilling happiness at best – not unlike when a horse trainer dangles an apple in-front of the horse to make him or her go. We travel the merry-go-round seeking, but finding no true exit to happiness.

Then there is the idea that happiness comes in great tasks. Our culture also encourages this idea: anyone can be president, anyone can become a millionaire in the US, and anyone can write the great American novel. To be an American is to have faith in this absolute potential for greatness. This is the great Enlightenment lie we still hold onto today: that we are all born equal and rational and if allowed to roam the free market place of economics, ideas, knowledge, and even of faith – we will find happiness. But I also must question this formula for living well. We are not all born equal, and we are rarely taught to be rational thinkers (if we were, advertising would not work on us). Rather, some of us are born rich, and some poor. Some people are born with stronger DNA, and some with defective DNA. Some are born in areas where there are wonderful public resources, and others are born in areas where there are gang shootings weekly. We are not born equal. And as for being rational creatures, how we conduct political elections and how advertisers play on our faith in consumerism should be enough to put the rational myth to bed. Most of us are emotional creatures that make decision on emotional drive and not a rational thought process. This is why the “just say no” approach to sexual education is not a success. I do not mean to sound like a determinist here, but how many truly rational teens have you known in your life? Regardless, we hold faith on the “equal” and “rational” line of living well.

So I am left with the question of whether faith is needed for happiness? When I say faith, I mean it not only in a spiritual since (such as the faith of Christianity), but in its more generic definition: belief in, devotion to, or trust in somebody or something, especially without logical proof. Is true, sustaining happiness possible without faith? Somehow I suspect it is not. or, maybe sustainable happiness is also a myth. Maybe there is only fleeting moments of happiness?

What do you think?

Ethical Frames

Please find below a blog article I wrote for my ethics department at Kaplan:

Understanding our Ethical Organizational Frames: Directing Students towards Purposeful Action rather than Simple Motion.

Rebecca Lea McCarthy

We have had some great articles on the pedagogical approach to teaching and philosophy. But I wanted to explore how I am working at bridging my research on ethics with communication and sociological framing theory. Since ethics for me is not only the study of morality but of action and critical thinking, I would like to explore a pragmatic approach where the three areas of inquiry intersect. Further, if we can teach our students to learn how to negotiate the more difficult ethical topics in a rational and open way, and to avoid either/or ethical frames of argument in their public as well as private lives, we have given them life and civic skills that will lead to better understanding.

Considering many ethical topics, and certainly the ones we ask our students to consider, ethics is ripe for either/or frames of argument that hinders communication and community debate on topics of interest. For example, topics such as cloning, abortion, and same sex marriages are typically framed in this either/or formula where the “good guys” are pitted against the “bad guys” (good and bad being subjected to which side of the either/or argument you are on). Kenneth Burke in Attitudes Towards History, suggests that we must break free of polarizing argument frames in order to transcend to a space of agreement or identification. Specifically, Burke suggests that absolute opposing options of either “A” or “B” offer no room for a meeting place. To obtain transcendence, Burke suggests “adopting” another point of view from which “A” and “B” “cease to be opposites” (336). In Burke’s example, “A” and “B” represent polarizing frames that reinforce their opposing positions. A frame, then, is a word, phrase or concept that evokes a “conceptual structure used in thinking” (Lakoff, Simple Framing 2006, para. 1, Tarrow 2005, 61)that helps us identify with an idea, concept, stereotype, and so on (for example: I am a Facebook user vs. I am a MySpace User; I am a Mac vs. I am a PC). The cognitive linguist George Lakoff states that frames consist of four morals: (1) “Every word evokes a frame.” (2) “Words defined within a frame evoke the frame.” (3) “Negating a frame evokes the frame,” and (4) “evoking a frame reinforces that frame” (“Simple Framing,” para. 1). Thus, if you were told not to “think of an elephant,” you would find the task impossible since the word “elephant” reinforces the conceptual image of an elephant. You cannot, for example, immediately envision a monkey, because, using a soft determinism point of view, “every time a neural circuit is activated [in the brain], it is strengthened” (para. 1).

It is vital to note that Lakoff’s insistence of neural circuit activation implies that “deep frames” are rooted in our values and principles (para. 13), and work on an unconscious reaction (intuition) level in the same way that ideology is said to sway individuals. According to this view, the neural circuit activation is responsible for our unquestioning loyalty to a political party or a product, or even values we hold to be true (such as spiritual or national allegiances). To this end, Goffman (1974) states that most of us are unaware of our organizational frames and would be “unable to describe the framework with any completeness if asked” (21). As such, the study of ethics and the different types of consequential and non-consequential reasoning becomes vital to our critical thinking and action process, because such investigation works to unveil our organizational frames – and encourages us to engage in purposeful and ethical action. From a Burkean (Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives 1969) point of view, we must be aware that deep frames (also referred to as a primary or master frame) can reduce action to motion, creating “a kind of inverted transcendence” (10) or sheer motion, because an individual is no longer “in conscious or purposive motion” (14). Considering ethics, this is where our nonconsequential understanding of intuition comes into play as a valid mode for conducting ethical actions. Here, reactions without thought and pure “intuition” take over any critical thinking processes—indeed we move from a soft determinist to a complete determinist framework. Indeed, many employers of deep frames rely on the fact that humans will simply react to the frame used instead of critically questioning or responding to the assumptions upholding the deep frame. This often occurs with polarizing frames that rely on an appeal to pathos. For example, this is seen when politicians resort to fear tactics to get your vote. Or even when our parents threatened: “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of this world as well.”

The difference here between deep frames and reaction/motion is one of critical thinking. When we act with purpose, we are critically thinking. When we do not act with purpose, we are being moved by reaction or intuition. As Burke explains, purposeful action, dramatically considered, is defined as “the human body in conscious or purposive motion” (Burke 1969, 14). Sheer motion, on the other hand, occurs when the human body is being acted upon and is lacking conscious will. For Burke (1978), the action-motion pair constitutes a basic polarity – not unlike a type of either/or frame (809). However, whereas sheer motion, does not require symbolic action for its existence, Burke states that “there could be no symbolic action unless it was grounded in the realm of motion” (811). This distinction is vital because there are times when humans react, and these reactions are sometimes conscious reactions, and, in other moments, habitual reactions that take on the characteristics of sheer motion. For example, a conscious reaction might be when we apply non-consequential divine ethics – we follow the 10 commandments as a reaction but as a conscious reaction. We chose to be moved by the 10 commandments!

Finally, to pursue Burke’s point, it is important to realize that once a polarizing frame is introduced, one that causes only motion but not conscious action, any reference to one frame immediately brings to mind the contrasting frame not mentioned and reinforces the polar opposing energy between the two frames—often setting up a dialectical opposition where one frame is placed in direct conceptual opposition, or antithesis, to another frame (1969, 34). Thus, when I say the word “democrats,” you are likely to immediately think “republicans.” I say “pro-life” the audience things “pro-choice.” This is where the mythical good versus bad, or “god” versus “devil,” competition arises. As polar frames compete for a winning place, each conceptual frame works to discredit its competition by frequently employing a technique called scapegoating. Scapegoating works through a “god” and “devil,” or an “I say” versus “they say,” framework. In this case, the dialectical framework “represents the principle of division,” where a projected “devil” competing frame (democrats or republican – depending on where you stand on the issue), social collective, or individual becomes the “sacrificial vessel” for a so-called “god” frame (Burke, 1969, 406). As a symbolic sacrifice for a cause or for the greater good, the scapegoat or sacrificial vessel must be killed so that purification can occur and the “good” frame can reign supreme: “For one must remember that a scapegoat cannot be ‘curative’ except insofar as it represents the iniquities of those who would be cured by attacking it” (406).

However prominent the scapegoat may be in ethics, from a communication point of view, such tactics are not really moral. Further, such an approach to transcending ethical disagreements relies on fear and the use of motion rather than critical thinking. As such, it is important to remember that the use of frames also occurs on the level of purposive action. As Lakoff (2004) states in Don’t think of an elephant!, “reframing is social change” because reframing changes “the way the public sees the world. It is changing what counts as common sense” (xv). In the end, it is this social action, the active understanding of our organizational and ethical frames that we wish to offer to our students. Such knowledge will help them avoid the either/or pitfalls that halt communication processes and the ability to negotiate ethical normative standards in our local and natural communities.

Works Cited
Burke, Kenneth. “(nonsymbolic) Motion/ (Symbolic) Action.” Critical Inquiry (The University of Chicago Press) 4, no. 4 (1978): pp. 809-838.
—. A Grammar of Motives. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.
—. A Rhetoric of Motives. California Ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, Ltd., 1969.
—. Attitudes toward History. 3rd. California: University of California Press, Ltd., 1959.
Goffman, Erving. Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974.
Lakoff, George. Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004.
—. “Simple Framing.” Rockridge Institute. Feb. 14, 2006. (accessed Dec. 18, 2008).
Lakoff, George, and John Halpin. “Framing Katrina.” The American Prospect. Oct. 7, 2005.
/web/page.ww?section=rootandname=ViewWebandarticleId=10391 (accessed Dec. 18, 2008).
Tarrow, Sidney. The New Transnational Activism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.


It occurred to me, not long ago, why monks can be so forgiving, understanding and “godly”- they deal with the outside world rarely! If they had to deal with people all the time, the entire range of messy life, I am not sure that monks would be as focused as they are. Now, you might be thinking the following-

Reader: “Duh!! Like that just occurred to you?”
Me: “ah, yes. ‘fraid so.”

For me this was a Eureka moment as I was driving on a very busy road, with many impatient people, some of which were weaving in and out of lanes just to get that much closer, faster, or . . . I am not sure what. As these things normally go, I was late for an appointment, in a rather negative mood—being depressed and stressed. And then it hit me—“only monks.”

Musing on this thought, I also recalled just explaining to my students about the concept of altruism and whether it is really possible to live an altruistic life. One student had used Mother Teresa as an example of altruism and I had asked the following:

Can you be altruistic if you recognize that you are being so? Does recognition then led to congratulations? If you or someone else congratulates you on your altruistic action, can you still be altruistic? Even Mother Teresa had doubts and struggled with depression – was this why? Because she could not be entirely altruistic? Like Jesus? Entirely turning the other cheek? Had day-to-day life just make this absolute forgiveness of humanity and their foibles impossible?

Rethinking these thoughts in my car, and avoiding an accident from poor drivers, I said out loud:

Ah-ha! It is impossible. Unless you are a monk, and sequestered from everyday life and stress – it is easy to forgive humanity their foibles if you do not have to get your hands dirty in the process.*

I struggle with forgiveness of myself and, at times, others. Interesting, I find it easier to forgive others than myself. I find that most of the problem of our ability to forgive stems from a lack of communication – either feeling like you cannot be totally honest in a situation or with a person. Feeling you must keep certain facts hidden so that you do not create more harm or hurt. Wanting to be honest, but knowing you cannot. And then, being angry that you cannot say what likely should be said. or maybe should not be said…

Editing can be a bitch.

But we all do it because we feel we must. Talking with the same group of students I mentioned above, in one unit we discussed lying and cheating and whether it was ethical to do either under certain circumstances. The ideal is normally spouted in class:

Many in class: NO! Never!

Me: if your family is starving and bread is sitting on the window ledge of a wealthy household, is it still wrong?

Many in class: Wrong in all cases. Under all circumstances.

Me: Offering white lies to avoid unnecessary harm and pain to a loved one, friend, or another person?

Many in my class: NO! You should never lie. It is not ethical.

Me: But we do – all the time. We lie, we cheat, and we do so to help others as well as ourselves. We do it a lot and all the time. You have done it. I have done it. So-called innocent children do it a lot. If it is sooo unethical and sooo wrong under all circumstances, then why do we do it?

Silence I think is a type of lie and a form of cheating. When we edit out information and facts in order to save face or save the feelings of another person, it is still a type of lie and a type of theft. Withholding facts is not unlike stealing because we are not disclosing. Not being transparent. Is this ethical if we do it all the time? For the right reasons? Because we want to cause no additional harm or pain?

I do not know, nor do I have the answer. For me, there is not an absolute in this formula, and this is why I often cannot forgive myself easily–I want to do the right thing, the ideal of action, but at times must decide not to. I try to do the right thing in life, like we all do, but at times that means to do the perceived “right” thing or action, we must do something wrong – be silent and or edit ourselves to maximize the good.

And sometimes, I am starting to learn, it is best to simply walk away. I hate this option because it is against my general ethical belief system, but there are times when honest and transparent communication is rather impossible for many reasons. There are times when the effort of apologizing and explaining simply fails–and the more you try, the more you screw things up. Where facts or points of view become useless because they are not wanted by all parties. And so the only way to avoid more pain or anger is to walk away.

This was a pensive post, one that did not feature worms in ankles 🙂 What do you think?

*this is not to say that monks do not get dirty or get their hands in the think of things. This is entirely not true, and if we look at many Buddhist monks, we find they are active in the community and life. I use “monks” here as a metaphor and reflecting back to the good old Middle Ages where monks were held up in remote spaces, meditating, eating little and talking to no one. Not unlike the myth of Mary Magdalene where she was said to retire to a cave to contemplate her sins and pray before leaving this world. So please take this “monk” reference as a reflection of the old time myths about monks in caves, being godlike.

Moral Status of Animals, Factory Farming and Ethics

Currently, I am working with my students on a unit regarding the moral status of animals and factory farming. It is always hard for me to teach this unit, because I struggle with finding a way to explain that the discussion is not about a person’s preference for eating meat, but whether we have a moral obligation to treat animals better. But I tend to fail in this aim because people feel (often) that I am questioning their right to eat meat. I get responses such as “squeal, squeal goes my dinner,” or “don’t you think a celery stock has a right to live,” or as a friend recently posted, “for every animal a vegan doesn’t eat, I’m going to eat three.” I adore my friend and my students, but the point is being missed.

The point I try to make is a simple one: Animals, being sentient beings that are capable of feelings, needs, wants and of creating a family, should be given moral consideration. I personally try to give them full moral consideration, but I understand that humans eat animals and so society tends to have a different relationship with the “potential” food.

Here is my problem, I know many people who are horrified regarding puppy mills, angry at the sacrificing of animals for religious purposes, and outraged at the athlete Michael Vick for his running a dog-fighting ring for five years where he personally killed and abused several animals. But these same people (again not all but many I have spoken to over the years) do not have a problem with factory farms. Why? Is it a form of speciesism where moral worth is assigned according to one’s perceived notion of intelligence for a species (a dog or monkey deserves more moral worth over a cow)? Is it because it is ok to have a personal relationship with a dog or a cat but not with our food? Or is it simply easier to ignore the realities of food production?

Factory farming started in the 1920s and owes a great deal of thanks to Henry Ford and his approach to building cars. In order to maximize the amount of product and profit, minimize the use of land and cost, factory farms keep the animals in small cages and pens where the animals are not allowed to move or roam freely. They quite literally often go to the bathroom (for lack of a nice way to say it) on themselves and stand in the filth. Because there is such a risk of health problems in factory farms, the animals are shot up with a great deal of antibiotics besides other lovely things such as growth hormones, and “vitamins,” and later salt-water (like those chicken commercials).

For me, there are two major considerations on the table (pun intended): 1) Our moral responsibility towards the earth and our fellow animals. 2) Our moral responsibility concerning our own health and well-being over the profit motive of corporations that practice factory farming.

Our moral responsibility towards the earth and our fellow animals: For this area of consideration, I use two forms of consequential reasoning–egoism and act-utilitarianism. Egoism because I am part of this earth, I live here with other people, animals, and nature and I want clean water to drink, food to eat, and a nice place to live. This means that I in turn must treat my environment kindly in order to get out of it what will take care of my own self-interest. Egoists often forget that self-interest should be considered from the long term rather than the short term point of view—I am thinking long term here. From an act-utilitarian point of view, I want to maximize the good for us all (people, nature, animals), because I love life. To do this, I must make choices that encourage a respectful interconnection of all things on earth. This trumps the profit motive for me because if we abuse our earth and its creatures, eventually we will not have what we need to make a profit (again, long term over short term satisfaction). If you REALLY want to satisfy your own self-interest in an Ayn Rand fashion, you have to take care of those around you (it is a catch 22 situation).

Our moral responsibility concerning our own health and well-being over the profit motive of corporations that practice factory farming: unless you were starving, would you eat a bruised piece of fruit or vegetable? Likely, no. Would you eat a vegetable grown with chemicals? Likely no. Why would you not take the same view with the meat you put in your mouth? I do not want a chicken that has been beaten, neglected, left alone to live in its own filthy and or pumped up with chemicals, growth hormones and antibiotics. Healthy meat is tastier and better for you. Let the animal pasteurize, run, and breathe. Further, there is proof that diseases, including the swine flu, are nurtured in factory farm environments, which is why antibiotics and other large quantities of medicines are needed on factory farms. Here I take an egoism point of view – I like my body and I want it to be healthy and so I would rather know what the hell is going into it, and I hope it is not a substance that has the potential to make me sick.

Consider this, in a different world, animals were mostly pasteurized or hunted. We had a relationship with our food outside of the plastic separating us from the beef we are eying. We knew often how the animal was treated before slaughter and we also knew that they were killed quickly and humanely. Can we say that today? Is it really better to keep our eyes closed when important factors such as our health, as well as the animal’s moral worth, are being ignored? I do not eat meat because I have decided that I cannot support factory farming conditions, and I am no longer certain what I am putting into my mouth when it comes to food (transparency become less of interest over the years). I also give animals, all of them, full moral worth. With this said, I try to eat only organic food when I can get my hands on it, because I want to be healthy. Since I stopped eating meat and started eating organic fruits, vegetables and grains, I now remember my dreams (not always a good thing), sleep better on average, have a healthier looking skin color and feel stronger in general. Oh yeah, in two years of not eating meat and going organic, I have only gotten terribly sick once. Percentage before? At least 3-4 times every 6 months. I find this interesting.