What kind of effect is covid19 having?

There seems to be a clear divide between people who are extremely fearful, unwilling to get sunlight in their front yard without a mask, and people who are having picnics on the beach and treating the situation like an extended holiday. There are real concerns regarding economic uncertainty, health consequences, food shortage, and much more. It is interesting, however, that the general population and media place so much focus on fearmongering and negatives, as opposed to giving hope and offering recognition for the many positives that have come from the situation. We have seen the best and worst of humanity. To counter the overwhelming pessimism, communities have started to come together, people are supporting each other more than ever, the government has stepped in to provide additional support, and we realize how much can be accomplished when working together. Quarantine, while not ideal for many people, provides us with time to reconsider our personal values, cultural values, and reminds us of what is important in life. In the absence of largely meaningless work and the blind pursuit of money, perhaps people will realize that their families, relationships, mental health, and happiness are much more important. As a society, we have a lot to learn. In contrast, there has been a dramatic rise in hate-crimes and racist events towards Asian people. Racism is an ideology that believes that particular races are inferior or superior to others. It is the opposite of believing that all people are equal, regardless of skin color, race, gender, etc. People are prejudging Asians as being more likely to carry the novel coronavirus, suggesting that they are acting selfishly for being outdoors, hoarding essentials, and assuming that wearing masks (which is culturally normal across Asia regardless of a pandemic) means that they might be dangerous and carrying the virus. This is an example of people holding a prejudice towards Asians, which means that they have a negative prejudgment towards them before actually meeting them. I have even heard an Asian friend scoff at another Asian for carrying toilet paper on the bus, suggesting that they are selfish for purchasing all of the toilet paper. Perhaps they just needed to buy toilet paper. Prejudice is not based on evidence or fact, but rather on ideas that we have been told or created about other people. Discrimination is providing different treatment to people because of their involvement or being apart of a particular group. Prejudice goes hand in hand with discrimination because prejudice leads people to act and treat others differently based on their assumptions. Beyond Trump’s comments and ignorant hate across social media, examples of discrimination that Asians have been experiencing is the refusal to enter and order food at restaurants, travel on airplanes, beat up in the streets, and being disrespected because of their ethnicity. While sad and negative, discrimination is fascinating because it highlights how much humans are actually affected by our socialization and propaganda. In the Western media, it portrays China and Chinese people with masks as having started this pandemic. As a result, east Asian people (people who look ethnically similar to Chinese) have experienced increased discrimination. It does not matter that an Asian family may have been living in North America for several generations, nor that there are more cases of coronavirus in parts of Europe and even the USA. Regardless, many people across the globe are still choosing to be disrespectful and intolerant towards Asians because they have been told that these people are the supposed carriers and perpetrators of the virus.

Can individuals have a significant impact on climate change?

Deep ecology is the belief that people must feel like they coexist with and recognize environmental issues as their own issues in order to make any significant, positive change. Deep ecology was initially explored by a Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess, who argued that people must recognize their interconnectedness with all living things around us to combat environmental problems. If people are unwilling and unable to see how to rest of the environment fits into their lives, then they will be unable and unwilling to solve these problems. It won’t feel like an important problem for them. Naess focused on the difference between a “shallow” and a “deep” approach to environmental deterioration. Naess’s “deep” approach argues for a high level of personal self-reflection and self-realization. He argues that people must identify with the world beyond our own experiences, to empathize with other living beings and creatures, and take on an ecocentric view of the world as an effective strategy. The video, “What YOU can do about climate change” by Our Changing Climate explores the discussion around what actions can be taken by individuals vs the collective. Our Changing Climate argues that focusing on the question of what individuals can do to resolve the climate crisis is flawed and prevents us from thinking and acting collectively. He argues that focusing on the individual is flawed because it will never be sufficient to fully resolve the problem. Environmental destruction is a global crisis, and therefore needs larger powers such as governments, cooperations and collective groups to take action. Our Changing Climate also points out that the idea that individuals can solve this problem is largely cultural and stems from neoliberal thought. Neoliberalism makes people think of individuals as self-reliant consumers, as opposed to apart of a collective. While individual action is important, it is limited and distracts us from much larger, more effective and long-term solutions. Instead, we should focus on changing government policies and corporations; who cause the vast majority of climate destruction. There needs to be enough public outcry as a collective to cause these changes. Connecting back to deep ecology, public outcry will only come when people recognize the severity, feel connected with the situation, and realize that it is their global problem to solve. People must feel like it is too important to simply shrug off, negate and let others deal with. This needs to become an everyday discussion within our society. There are many similarities between environmental destruction and the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. is a recognizable individual who made a tremendous impact on the civil rights movement through his ideas and individual actions. More importantly, he prompted an even larger discussion within society and prompted the creation of a collective voice. Individual action from people like Martin Luther King Jr. (and Our Changing Climate) is vital for creating dialogue, education, and forming a collective force. It is the collective, however, that sparks changes within the fabric of our society. It is the public outcry, daily dialogue, and inability to ignore our problems that creates a revolution and changes society. We can only start to change once people recognize that they are both part of the problem, solution, as well as a larger voice for social change. Like most things in life, this problem is non-binary. Individuals can create positive results (often by gathering large groups of people and educating for social change), and collective groups make the problems so apparent that they become impossible to ignore. Similar to the civil rights movement, it is not sufficient to “not see color” (or pretend like environmental destruction is not a problem), but rather to recognize that skin color exists, has an effect on people, and take action to solve these problems.

What do Functionalists think about Artificial Intelligence?

Functionalists argue that mass media embodies and exemplifies our values, ideals, and beliefs while serving four primary functions within society. Functionalists would explain artificial intelligence as a technology that is based upon and amplifies its creators’ values to accomplish different tasks. Artificial intelligence works in tandem with humans, learning from our values, the ways we program it, and interact with it, to solve the goals that we ask for. Eventually, artificial intelligence may advocate its own goals. Functionalists would argue that artificial intelligence serves four primary functions in unique ways to fill human desires within society. The socialization function refers to the role of passing on values, beliefs and traditions through generations. Artificial intelligence would support this function because it is already trained and contains the values, beliefs and traditions that we have instructed it to learn (whether consciously or not). Further, every action and decision of artificial intelligence is a reflection of the values and beliefs of itself (and therefore its creators). Counter to popular opinion that artificial intelligence can think for itself, it must first learn through its creators and therefore take on some of its values. Effectively, like a human child, artificial intelligence is first socialized through its creators, carries out those values in its decisions, and will further amplify these values and pass them on through every decision that it makes. Secondly, artificial intelligence will conform to the surveillance function, which refers to the role of gathering and distributing data to people. Artificial intelligence is already doing this and will get even better at this because it works by gathering large amounts of data, finding patterns within that data and then making decisions. This is one of the areas it will excel the most. For example, it can gather data on a person from their social media and habits on the internet to determine a person’s desires, interests and what they might be willing to purchase. Further, it can find similarities across large populations of people and figure out how to best provide engaging information (or propagandize). Breaches of data will be an enormous problem for artificial intelligence because it also creates a honey pot for hackers to discover and access confidential information. The correlation function refers to the role of media in filtering and clarifying information so that it can easily be consumed by the general public. Artificial intelligence will serve the correlation function because it can easily synthesize data. Lastly, it serves the function of entertainment because it can be used to enhance all forms of entertainment including art, music and TV shows. A primary use case being shared in the video was artificial intelligence’s influence on the music industry. It can even create its own songs that reflect the artists that programmed it. Artificial intelligence will be great for entertainment because it can find patterns among popular songs and videos, highlight what makes those special, and create similar but unique content. I believe that while artificial intelligence is meant to serve and enhance all humans, it will inevitably reflect the values of its creators. I am very concerned about its potential to further amplify cultural, gender, and racial values (and possibly even go unnoticed). I believe that programmers and creators need to be especially aware of their values, narratives, ideas about the world, and differences among people (whether race, gender, socioeconomic or culturally related) because otherwise, we risk artificial intelligence furthering western, white values (who make up the majority of people in the field). It is similar to raising a child, only with artificial intelligence, we don’t know what the potential impacts may be. Beyond this, even the desire for technology to be so connected with humans, to enhance our nature, and the various use cases for artificial intelligence stems predominantly from a western culture that constantly desires more and assumes we are not good enough. I am concerned that artificial intelligence may play an even stronger role in reinforcing white western values across the world. I am not convinced that this is necessarily a good thing.

The Medical Industry is not Immune to Corruption – “The Voices in my Head” by Eleanor Longden

“The voices in my head” by Eleanor Longden is a Ted Talk that explores Longden’s experiences of hearing voices, how it impacted her life, and encourages us to think differently about mental health struggles.

When Longden started college, despite appearing happy, she was deeply depressed, insecure, fearful, and empty. Shortly after the second semester began, Longden started hearing voices that would narrate her experiences in 3rd person. Longden believed that these voices were a reflection of something much deeper and existed to communicate something to her. Unfortunately, her friend, doctors and society did not feel the same way. Longden was admitted to a hospital and diagnosed with schizophrenia. As a result, her symptoms worsened and she became more vulnerable. She started experiencing even worse humiliation, hopelessness, as well as even further discrimination, verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Longden felt so alone and rejected by society that she felt like the voices were her biggest perpetrators, as well as her only companions. Slowly, Longden began recognizing that the voices were a response to meaningful life events and a source of insight for emotional problems. She started to change her attitude and perspective and started to thank them for helping her recognize her problems and fears. She also started to assert herself and communicate back with them to try and understand and support each other. She found that each voice was closely related to emotions that she had not yet processed or resolved. Longden eventually graduated with a degree in psychology and published successful work in the field. She highlights that a key question in psychiatry should not be what is wrong with a patient, but rather what has happened to them. In addition, she stresses that we should focus on understanding ourselves, and less on what society tells us.

Medicalization is the increasing influence and power of the medical profession on defining what is normal and healthy. Medicalization has deep effects on society and often leads to discrimination and further problems for individuals who fall outside of what is deemed “normal” and “healthy”. Interestingly, medicalization is deeply rooted in cultural norms and standards. These differences in standards across cultures further exemplifies why it is so problematic to trust and believe so deeply in the values of our particular medical establishment. In the west, we value science, often idealizing what is measurable and “knowable” within our reality. In contrast, other cultures, such as in many Southeast Asian countries, people believe in ghosts, spirits, and openly discuss encounters with these beings. While it is considered normal in Thailand to see and interact with ghosts, in the western world, if a person claimed to talk to spirits and interact with ghosts, they would might be institutionalized and ostracized for being crazy. Medicalization also affects physical health and beauty standards. A clear example of this is the difference between ideals of youthfulness and good health in Asian vs western countries. In Longden’s case, because the voices were outside of what is considered normal and healthy, she was labeled a schizophrenic, ostracized, and faced institutionalization that worsened her experiences. Prior to sharing her experiences with her friend and psychiatrist, despite the struggle, she was never violent, harmful, or put anyone else in danger. Her symptoms and experiences got much worse after beginning traditional “treatment”. This is an example of iatrogenesis, which is the further sickness and injury that is caused by the health care system. The health care system fails to view normality on a spectrum, and therefore fails to help “capable” people who are somewhat “abnormal”. Instead, they deem Longden to be crazy, unhealthy, and incapable of controlling key aspects of her own life. Agency is the idea that people can control and change aspects of their socially constructed lives. It is similar to possessing free will. The medical industry believes that if Longden is hearing voices, then she does not deserve, nor is she capable of possessing free will and agency. They argue that she must be drugged, removed from society, and effectively lose all freedom. By controlling standards of health and normality, the medical establishment takes away control and agency from individuals by having them rely further on a system to help them achieve “ideal” standards. The medical establishment first defines what is normal, and then offers solutions to make people fall in line with these standards.

There is no objective and ideal standard of health, beauty and normality. Similar to gender, it is all on a spectrum. It is interesting to explore this topic during a time of a global pandemic. Because of coronavirus, we are forced to rely even more heavily on health care workers and medical professionals. While we should support, respect and appreciate medical workers for everything they are doing, it is equally important to respect people from other backgrounds, and those who remain vulnerable and fall victim to the medical industry. There are problems within our culture of romanticizing science, medicalization, and the reliance on the medical industry. Health and normality are on a spectrum. The medical industry is not immune to corruption.

Are you in control of yourself?

Like Dobby the house-elf from Harry Potter who was freed from his master and became able to recognize his own power and independence from his master, I am in control of myself and my actions but have been led to believe that I was being controlled by external influences. 

Dobby was never truly controlled by his master. Despite being ordered not to, Dobby disobeys his master and tried to warn Harry not to go to Hogwarts. In addition to this, immediately after being “freed” from the illusion of control, he uses his power to once again protect Harry and even attack his master. As children, we are heavily influenced by our families, friends, culture, and environments. As we grow up, we gain knowledge and experience that leads to us uncovering the truth that we were never really controlled by these factors. While we often choose to conform to these influences, we recognize that we have an equal amount of power to overstep and violate these expectations. 

An objection to this argument is that both Dobby and I are never really outside of the control of our masters and external experiences/influences. While Dobby may have acted in ways that he felt was of his own free will, those actions were largely determined by the experiences he has had, while being under the control of his master. Even when Dobby is “released” and “freed”, he is only acting in ways that he understands and that makes sense to him. He may be defiant and resist previously acceptable behavior, but these new behaviors are a product of those experiences. So, it seems that Dobby is still under the control of his master like the way that I am still the influenced by the beliefs of my parents and culture. This idea implies that we are always being controlled by our past, which would suggest that determinism is true. To counter this objection, however, even though Dobby is influenced by his past experiences, he is still able to change, grow, and act independently. As Dobby grows more mature, he gains independence from his past experiences and is able to act in ways that better suit his own desires.

While events occur around us that suggest the world is deterministic, according to Dennet, this does not necessarily mean we are being controlled. It is true that our environment plays a role in shaping and influencing us, but it does not actively control us. The environment does not have its own desires or intellectual capacity to make decisions or know what will happen next. We are in control of our own actions.

Please note: This writing was discussed and co-written with Erica and Finley for a philosophy assignment at UVic 🙂

I tried dancing for the first time!

I have always been fascinated with dance because the combination of presence in the moment, control over one’s body, and artistic flow that seeps out during movements can be breathtaking. Interested in dance as someone who has admired it but never tried, I decided to participate in a swing dance class. I believe that experiencing dance both as a spectator and a dancer was important for providing unique insight and appreciation to the art form.

Dance is not only creative in the ways that a person moves their body, but equally in the relationship with a dance partner, to the music, the mood of the environment, and culture. Participating in the dance class, I was able to recognize how easy it would be to get lost in the flow of movements, relationships, and experience.

Dance is also interesting because of the many genres and their relationship to culture and history. While I participated in a swing dance class, there are many other forms of dance, each carrying their own unique mood, ambiance, history, and culture.

Following my experience, I am even more interested in individual dance as an art form. I believe that individual dance would have its own unique challenges. During swing dance, I found that the relationship with another person helped me to remain present in the moment and move in a state of flow (receiving constant, direct and immediate feedback from my partner). Dance is attractive to me in the ways that it allows people to tell stories in unique ways, express emotions, and share cultural history. I am excited to continue pursuing dance classes and explore other forms of dance. Salsa anyone?

Does Epicurus have the cure?

One of my strongest desires is to travel, live abroad, and experience new cultures. Epicurus would argue that this desire is an unnecessary luxury and will not likely lead to a happy and pleasurable life. Epicurus argues that to live a happy life we must learn to be content with as little as possible and not have strong, unnecessary desires. He argues that pursuing unnecessary desires will lead to anxiety, suffering, and disappointment. While I generally agree with this and aim to live accordingly, some desires and pursuits (such as travel and higher education) are worthwhile because they provide long term, consistent happiness and tranquility, that far outweighs any short-term pains and discomforts. In my experience, travel has led to significant pain and discomfort. I worked overtime for many months, did not eat healthy foods to save money, became anxious about traveling to foreign countries, slept in uncomfortable hostels, and got very sick while abroad. Despite this, travel has led to a tremendous amount of personal growth, wisdom, unwavering gratitude for life and opportunities, provided insight into new cultures, philosophies, long term friendships, and helped me learn to enjoy each moment. Effectively, travel has led to wisdom that I could not have developed anywhere else, more comfort in the life that I have, and taught me how to live with more tranquility. The benefits of travel have far outweighed any drawbacks that have come from it. While more tranquility may have been possible without the strong desire and pursuit of travel, following this advice would have led me to live with more ignorance, less wisdom, less empathy, and less curiosity. Additionally, these values may be equally as important as happiness, and long-term tranquility/happiness may not be possible without them. While I agree that it would be wise to eliminate strong, unnecessary desires for material success and most things in life, values such as travel, pursuing philosophy, and learning have benefits that far outweigh the negative consequences. If Epicurus had followed his own advice, he may have pursued his passionate desire to write and educate the world about philosophy.

Does art and culture separate humans from other animals?

Arts and culture are deeply human, and arguably one of the only forms of expression that differentiates us from other animals. Many animals create tools and technology to further their survival, develop complex means of communication, and express emotion in reaction to their environments. What they all seem to lack, in contrast to humans, however, is the ability to create art and abstract forms of work that carry meaning beyond solely practical value. For humans, art carries emotion, stories, culture, wisdom, and meaning. Art is used to share values through generations, has been used to fight against wars, create social change, assist in curing depression, provide insight into past societies, educate people, and much more. In many ways, I believe that arts and culture are more foundational to favorable human progress than technological advancements.

Do we have an ethical duty to be agnostic about the existence of Zeus?

Clifford would argue that we have an ethical duty to investigate the existence of Zeus because without evidence, believing in Zeus leaves us open to creating mistruth. People should be agnostic (or even go further to be atheist) about Zeus because of the lack of supporting and contradictory evidence to his existence. It is said that Zeus rules and lives on Mount Olympus in Greece. The fact that Mount Olympus is a real mountain means that we should be able to go to verify that he actually lived there. Since we have yet to verify any proof of his existence on Mount Olympus, it raises a question for concern. Zeus is said to control lightning which we know is not the case and is caused by other environmental factors. If we believe in Zeus, then we must also believe in the other gods that he interacts with in the many Greek mythology stories. We should have even more evidence to support the fact that all those gods exist, but we do not. And modern science has disproved many claims of their existence. By being believing Zeus’ existence, it leaves us open to being biased about other aspects of life which opens the door to judging people around us without solid evidence. If we easily believe in claims such as Zeus is real, we easily give people power to fabricate misinformation. We fuel liars to spread fallacious claims because we believe anything that gives reassurance to our immediate comfort. Because there is insufficient evidence to support his existence and we can verifiably deny claims about his abilities, it is our duty to be agnostic about the existence of Zeus.

James would argue that it is not necessarily an ethical duty to be agnostic about the existence of Zeus because there is no concrete evidence against his existence. If there is no evidence that means that we must use our passional nature to decide whether or not to believe in the existence of Zeus. Similar to how we can’t dismiss the existence of a Christian God, and that a person may receive positive upshot from believing, Zeus is no different. If a person receives benefit, whether happiness, sense of direction in life, comfort or community support from this belief, then it is justified. In the case that we do not have solid evidence, then it is up to each individual to decide for themselves. In addition, although Zeus may not currently live on Mount Olympus, that does not mean that he never did and that we don’t have proof. By assuming that evidence does not exist, we are closing ourselves off to possible future evidence.

What is Personal Identity?

Although we often imagine our own identities as our bodies and thoughts, Miller makes a strong case that, despite this, our bodies are not the same as our personal identities. Miller explains that we are able to judge our personal identities without having to examine or judge our bodies. We are able to close our eyes, remain fully conscious, and remain aware of all of our thoughts and everything that exists around our identities. If we can judge our personal identities without examining our bodies, then our personal identities and bodies must exist separately. If they exist separately, then there is no correlation between the two and thus they are not the same. Miller’s argument is valid, because if all of the premises are true, then the conclusion is also true. The soundness of Miller’s argument could come into question by examining whether our bodies and personal identities do in fact exist separately. One could make the case that because our bodies (our brains) are the actors that create our identities, then the two cannot be separated. While this is an interesting point of discussion, we often use our bodies to create things that exist outside of ourselves. We can build houses, write novels, and plant trees. All of those externalities do not become apart of us. Therefore, it is equally possible that our identity exists as a creation of our bodies, and are not our bodies themselves.