How should religious opinions be expressed in Carleton classrooms?
- April 25, 2013
- November 5, 2012
Should Politicians Lie?
Welcome to the fourth installment of The Question at Carleton College. Our Question for this term is "Should Politicians Lie?" and our EthIC associates are kicking things off with their reflections on the topic.
We encourage you to join the discussion with comments or questions of your own. This question invites meditation on themes such as truth, accountability, representation, and morality, so we hope you join in with a thought related to any thread of the debate! Also, there are various events happening this term, and early next term, related to The Question, so be sure to look out for those. Also, check us out on Facebook!
Henry Neuwirth '13
Once in office, I think there are plenty of things that most of us believe politicians should lie about (or at the very least lie by omission about). However, when a politician is a candidate, there are many less situations that necessitate insincerity. I don’t entirely disagree with an ‘ends justify the means’ justification for lying -- that a candidate’s lies are truths if they help realize certain true outcomes. Most of us don’t want our candidates to shoot themselves in the foot, and in a pinch would probably rather that they avoid a question than answer it head on. Nevertheless, it’s worth wondering how productive lying is as a general tactic. I’d be interested in hearing what people had to say about this. Let’s say at a debate one candidate attacks the other’s tax policy and wildly exaggerates the negative effects of the opponent’s policy? With all the fact-checking website and online resources available, is this exaggeration actually helping that candidate win?
Anna Morrison '13
Though there are certainly exceptions to the rule, ultimately I believe politicians should strive for truth at all times. Let’s start with the campaigns. Throughout the 2012 presidential campaign both parties have see-sawed between lying and fact-checking, leading to egregious abstractions of actual opinion and utter voter confusion. These lies, often told for rhetorical purposes in debates or television ads, do not even seem to accomplish the task at hand—convincing undecided voters. Rather, they induce a public distrust of politicians that discourages thoughtful voters and inflames ignorant ones. Ultimately though, they are off the hook because they are just playing the game and typically rely on bolder, less central players to carry out these lies for them (i.e. Super PACs).
Now let’s focus on the elected politicians. I believe politicians face many situations in which telling the truth necessarily endangers the security of the country, their leadership, or their lives. These lies are important, but are ultimately similar to the ones we all must tell to save our own skin. However, many political lies are told to morph their own moral positions into ones palatable to a public reason (think “weapons of mass destruction” or the Gulf of Tonkin). Many claim this is because of the sensationalist media or the uniformed citizenry that would misrepresent and misunderstand these complicated political moves, but this raises the question of where to draw the line. If we are unable to understand the complex workings of the American government, why put on the façade of popular representation at all? If politicians do not trust their constituents, how can we trust them to lead in our best interests?
Also, are there any topics out of bounds for lying? Is fact-checking effective? When?
Leave a comment below (less than 300 words please) to join the conversation (Carleton login required).^
- February 8, 2012
Is access to healthcare a human right?
Welcome to the third installment of The Question: "Is access to healthcare a human right?"
This time around, we kick things off with posts from Simone Childs-Walker ('12), Rachel Levit-Ades ('13), and a joint post by Professor Amna Khalid (history) and Professor Paul Petzschmann (European Studies).
We encourage you to join the discussion with comments or questions of your own. There are various events happening this term, and early next term, related to The Question, including Convocation on May 11th with Carleton Alum, and prominent bioethicist, Peter Ubel. Be sure to check out the EthIC calendar and consider "liking" us on Facebook in order to stay abreast of all EthIC events.
Simone Childs-Walker ('12)
To me, The Question immediately elicits another question: what is a human right? To answer The Question, we need a definition of “human right,” something that “access to healthcare” is or is not. Philosophers and political philosophers have given various definitions and some deny that there are such things as human rights at all. Unfortunately, I just don’t know what a human right is or whether “access to healthcare” is one.
From a practical, local, perspective, however, I am comfortable giving an answer. Should all members of, for example, the Northfield community (citizens, non-citizens, children, elderly, the unemployed) have access to medical resources to help them overcome illness and stay well in the first place? Absolutely. Were I in any other person’s shoes, I could not but hope and expect to have the same access to health care that I do now. To deny that every member of the Northfield community should have that access would contradict my recognition of myself as a member of that community.
Also, in the US, access to education is generally considered a “right” (whatever that actually means). As I understand things, health is prior to education. Without access to healthcare, access to education may be meaningless; you can’t go to school (or at least, you can’t learn very well) if you’re sick. If we, as a country, value education and make it available to everyone, we should value healthcare and make it available to everyone too.
Rachel Levit-Ades ('13)
When we talk about whether healthcare is a human right, it seems we’re asking whether people, just because they’re people, are entitled to receive healthcare. Rights are tricky because they deal with the idea of desert; it seems clear that if I save up and legally buy a car, I have the right to that car. “Human rights” are especially difficult to discuss because they attempt to define what we are owed just because we happen to exist.
We enter the world with bodies—in fact, this seems a big part of being “human.” It seems we have the right to our will/soul/mind, if we have the right to anything upon first entering the world. At the very least, bodies are the devices through which our will/soul/mind exists and we experience the world. In this way at least, bodies define a big part of what it is to be “human.” So if there are any rights that ought to conferred just because you are a “human,” rights that have to do with preserving your body, especially from circumstances outside of your control, fit the bill.
How this right ought to be considered on a political level is an entirely different issue. We may have certain rights, but those rights are restricted by the rights of others; any right I have to swing my arm, for instance, ends when my arm reaches your face. Because providing healthcare involves limited resources, we must assess whether there are therefore competing rights at play; if so, the question then becomes how my right to healthcare compares to someone else's right to her full income.
Furthermore, it can seem odd to say an institution ought to make judgments about the value of the bodies of individuals, and we can ask interesting questions about whether presumed rights can be "cashed out" (e.g. if I decline healthcare in a universal system, am I entitled to the monetary value of my potential care?).
Amna Khalid (History) and Paul Petzschmann (European Studies)
Article 25 or the Declaration of Human Rights states, "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including … medical care."
Having lived in Pakistan where the healthcare provided by the state is as good as not; in England where the National Health Service provides healthcare for all free at the point of access (from general taxation); in Germany where universal health care works in tandem with private insurance (a mixed model); and now in the US where the debate about universal healthcare is at the top of the political agenda (especially with the upcoming elections), provides a number of different perspectives on how states have chosen to take the obligations arising from the enshrining of health care as a human right.
So the question arises whether it is meaningful to speak of the universal right to healthcare outside the context individual states who are at differencing levels of economic development and have different spending priorities. For example is it reasonable to demand such an expensive public good in Pakistan which is faced with a myriad challenges to its integrity and viability as a state? Should individual states have the right to determine their own priorities? For instance if the US electorate decided that universal healthcare was not a priority for them then can we delegitimize that choice?
So the question is: Is it meaningful to talk of a universal human right to healthcare in the absence of any discussion of corresponding obligations to provide it?
Leave a comment below (less than 300 words please) to join the conversation (Carleton login required).^
Links of Interest
- September 4, 2011
Is Meat Immoral?
Welcome to the second installment of The Question at Carleton College. Our Question for this term is "Is Meat Immoral"? and we've asked our EthIC's associates to kick-off the discussion with their reflections on this question, which invites reflection on animal suffering, the nature of predation, food policy and health-related issues.
We encourage you to join the discussion with comments or questions of your own. There are various events happening this term, and early next term, related to The Question, and food ethics more generally. Be sure to check out the EthIC calendar and consider "liking" us on Facebook.
Max Bearak ('12)
About a year ago I was watching a documentary on primates narrated by Sir David Attenborough. He described how most primates were naturally vegetarian, but some scavenged meat if the opportunity arose, or if other food was particularly scarce. The film then switched to a clip of a gang of chimpanzees who he described as not needing to eat meat, but engaging in a hunt as a bonding ritual and as a show of power. In the context of evolution, I see this type of behaviour as a key juncture, if not the key juncture in the development of what we vaguely refer to as "human nature."
What I mean by that is that we take because we can. The question "Is meat immoral?" stretches beyond your choice of food – it touches on consumerism, materialism and excess in general. Do we need meat to survive? Clearly not, as millions of vegetarians and vegans can attest to. Do most Americans need half of the things in their houses to survive? No, again, and the slippery slope I'm sliding down here ends with each one of us living the utmost minimalistic life in which we only consume what we need. Barring minor examples, isn't that what the rest of the animal kingdom does, though? To me, meat isn't immoral to the Inuit family that, without meat, has little or nothing to subsist on. But I know that I eat copious amounts of bacon for instance, even though I know that the pigs I'm eating were processed in a manner that deeply offends my moral conscience. That's immoral -- so in other words I do immoral things and continue living my life without hesitation.
Perhaps meat is just one of many – thousands probably – immoral indulgences that I partake in almost every day. But we're embedded inextricably in a society that is moving toward a moral consensus that assures us that consumerism and materialism and excess are human rights and the trademark of development. In my heart of hearts, all of that is immoral in some way. We're all hoarding, and sometimes it makes us happy, and many of us believe that happiness is what this life is all about. Three cheers to our utilitarian methods at reaching satisfaction! If it’s a bit unethical, or immoral, well who cares, we're manufacturing happiness, right? But when someone goes off and lives that minimalistic life and is just as happy if not happier – others will probably see that person as either poor, depressed, or even crazy. Prove me wrong, or keep strolling with me down the path of willful immorality.
I do not believe that meat is generally immoral. To ask this question is a luxury; by that I mean that it is a luxury to be able to choose what food we eat. Where I grew up, there are many people who cannot afford to eat what I would consider “moral meat,” meat that has been killed or prepared humanely. We have enough food that we are able to choose what we eat, and not only what we eat, but to consider other factors like food production in the food we choose. Because it is a privilege to be able to ask a question like this, I do not think it is immoral to eat meat; we live in a reality where many people are only able to survive by eating meat.
Almost all of the meat that I eat is immoral. Whether I'm at the supermarket, on a Sayles sofa, or at my kitchen table, I almost never conceptualize the animals I'm eating. Unquestionably, my inability to face reality enables a terrible process. The animals I eat are usually factory farmed and raised under terrible conditions. The farms that raise them probably pay their workers almost nothing and create enormous pollution. Much of the meat I consume probably also travels long distances to get to me -- I'm sure the meat I eat in a given week is responsible for many tons of greenhouse gas emissions. I haven't taken any considerable steps towards understanding America's meat industry, but I do know that with every bite of chicken I have people and animals suffer.
So the meat I eat is immoral. Therefore, meat can be immoral. But the EthIC prompt really asks if all meat is immoral. Most of us think that if you are going to kill an animal it is good to eat it. The deer hunter that kills, and then uses, a deer is better than the deer hunter who kills for a thrill and then leaves the deer to die. And so, in a way, we are really asking if it is ever okay to kill an animal. Pretty much everyone has killed an animal at one point or another. Most of us eat meat. Even if we don't most of us will occasionally kill a mosquito. And even if we don't do that, we probably use a non-recyclable straw that ends up choking a fish somewhere. And even if we don't do that we've definitely been in a car or a plane that has indirectly contributed to the death of a polar bear, or another animal that has died from climate change. It is impossible to be a member of contemporary American society without killing animals. For those people that do care about animal's lives, some animal murders are more okay than others. It is usually considered better to kill an animal accidently than purposefully. A person on an airplane kills more ethically than the boy with the magnifying glass on the anthill. It is also usually considered better to take a small life than a big one. Killing an mosquito is not as bad as killing a lion. Our dependence on killing animals does not prove that eating meat is okay; just because everyone is doing it doesn't mean it's right. However, it does suggest that vilifying meat eating is beside the point. The true problem is not that we kill animals, but that we don't respect them. Instead of being scared to conceptualize the animals I eat, I should know where they came from (perhaps kill them myself) and think of them with love.
Leave a comment (less than 300 words please) to join the conversation (Carleton login required).^ Engaging in ethical reflection is its own reward. But we're sweetening the pot: we'll give a $20 gift certificate to the Carleton bookstore to one lucky commenter (based on a random drawing). So join in!
Links of Interest
- January 10, 2011
The first installment of The Question has drawn to a close. Thank you to everyone who participated over the past few months. Our inaugural question, "How rich is too rich?" sparked an energetic discussion on this website, and it continued into a book club discussion of Peter Singer's The Life You Can Save (audio of that discussion is available here). EthIC and the Philosophy Department sponsored a debate inspired by this discussion on the proposition "There is no so such thing as too rich." The debate was well-attended and very spirited -- look for clips from the video on this website in the near future! If you would like a copy of the video of the full debate, please contact Daniel Groll.
As promised, one lucky participant in the on-line discussion was chosen at random to receive a $25 gift certificate to the Carleton Bookstore. The winner of the drawing for the gift certificate is Peter Berg!
We'll be back with a new question, and a new series of events related to it, next fall. In the meantime, we'll continue to update the EthIC Facebook Page with links to interesting ethical issues in the news, EthIC events and anything else that EthIC-related. So join us on Facebook!
Last year, we replaced our TV. We didn’t get anything fancy – a smallish, flat screen TV. We didn’t need another TV. We already had one. But it was boxy and simply didn’t work in our living room. A reasonable purchase, right? Or does the fact that we had money to spend on a new TV mean that we have too much at our disposal? That we should have given that money to people that really needed it?
There are astonishing income disparities in the United States and between the United States and the world as a whole. According to Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, in 2007 the top decile of American earners made 49.7 percent of total wages, a level that's "higher than any other year since 1917 and even surpasses 1928, the peak of stock market bubble in the 'roaring' 1920s."* Most of us within the Carleton community probably do not think of ourselves as rich. When we think of rich people, we think of the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, LeBron James or Oprah Winfrey. And there’s no doubt that these people really are very rich. We are not like Gates, James or Winfrey. We are, however, people who upgrade their TVs to better suit their living rooms, or to be able to watch the NFL in HD.
Now take a moment to consider your income in relation to the rest of the world (or, if you don’t have an income yet, what you see yourself earning in 10 years). Suppose your gross annual income is $40 000 in your first job after college. According to this site, you will be amongst the richest 1% of people in the world and earn more than 36 times the median world income. Even if you gave 10% of your income to charity or other causes you deem worthy, you would still have earnings in the top 1.3% of the world, earning 33 times more than the median world income.
In light of these figures, doesn’t it make sense to say that we are indeed rich? And does it also suggest that we may have too much money if giving away 10% of our income barely affects our standing in the world? Do we have an obligation to give away some of our wealth? By some standards, we are not rich. But by others, we are very rich. And so we want to know:
How rich is too rich?
Leave a comment to join the conversation (Carleton login required).^ Engaging in ethical reflection is its own reward. But we're sweetening the pot: we'll give a $20 gift certificate to the Carleton bookstore to one lucky commenter (based on a random drawing). So join in!
Other Links of Interest
post by Daniel Groll
- May 2, 2011
We might not always realize it but we engage in ethical reflection on a daily basis: our decisions, small and large, express what we value most. Questions about what ultimately matters often come to the surface in our dealings with others, both those who are like-minded and as often as not those who are not. Rarely, however, do we have the chance to come together as a community to explicitly reflect on questions of fundamental ethical importance.
The Question aims to provide such an opportunity by posing questions of fundamental importance to living well to the Carleton community and then giving them a chance to discuss it. In the process of engaging with the questions, one learns that easy answers are not forthcoming; that conclusions one thought were obvious, are anything but; and that reasonable people might disagree when it comes to fundamental commitments.
Once in the Fall and once in the Winter, we'll pose a question to the Carleton community. We invite all members of the community to weigh in the comments section below each post.* And stay tuned for EthIC events related to The Question.