Has Covid-19 effected Universal Basic Income?

Universal Basic Income is a progressive program that offers adults a consistent basic income in order to cover their costs of living. Universal Basic Income, also known as UBI, is proposed as a way to help alleviate poverty, reduce bureaucracy, and most importantly, provide a safety net for people who may be facing economic uncertainty and change from automation. Universal Basic Income provides funds without regulating how people choose to spend their money. A person can use their income on food, to reduce their number of work hours, relaxation, or anything else they desire. In recent times, with the rise of Andrew Yang’s campaign for presidency, increased praise from Silicon Valley, and a pandemic that has highlighted problems with our economic system, Universal Basic Income has become more popular. Throughout my essay, I will argue that Universal Basic Income has become especially important through our discoveries during the recent pandemic, and how different media sources and forms of media argue for UBI in different ways, in order to cater to their specific audiences and perspectives. Traditional news media sources and forms of media, such as CBC News and The New York Times, tends to maintain a traditional form of expressing their ideas, carrying a high level of seriousness, as well as idolizing public figures and valuing their perspectives most highly. Newer forms of media and media sources, such as memes and articles containing memes and podcasts, often reflect the perspectives of a younger generation, often more liberal, and carry different conventions with fewer formalities.

CBC News Article on Universal Basic Income and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Figure 1: CBC News Article Screenshot

CBC News is a publicly owned news service and is the largest news broadcaster in Canada. In their article, they discuss Universal Basic Income as an idea that was previously unrealistic, but has gained more merit and traction as a result of problems associated with the recent pandemic. With analogies comparing the pandemic to wartime, and images emphasizing the needs of businesses and politicians, the article does not focus on what Universal Basic Income is, who it could help, and how it could help, but instead focuses primarily on highlighting the opinions of public figures, economists, politicians, business-people, and governments. With quotes consisting of what appears to be at least half of the article, they feature prominent figures such as Andrew Yang, the Pope and Jagmeet Singh. The article never once features a low-wage earner, a student, nor someone who lives in poverty. The intentions of CBC News, through their article, seems to be to generate more discussion of Universal Basic Income from the perspective of upper-middle-class people, business-people and those who work in government. The article, however, does not cater to the interests or experiences of people currently living in poverty, on welfare, or suffering as a result of the pandemic. Rather than focusing on the experiences of people who survive paycheck to paycheck and would benefit the most from UBI, the article remains focused on the thoughts and opinions of prominent public figures. This differs from other forms of media that explores Universal Basic Income from the perspective of low-wage earners, single parents, young people, and those who would benefit more from UBI. The consequences of an article like this is that it continues to perpetuate the dangerous idea that prominent public figures and politicians are the most important voices to highlight, most knowledgeable, and people that we should turn to in order to better understand complex issues and potential solutions such as Universal Basic Income. In effect, CBC News uses a fallacy, an appeal to authority, in order to share its perspective and entertain its readers.

The New York Times News Article on Universal Basic Income and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Figure 2: The New York Times Article Screenshot

The New York Times offers a slightly different perspective to CBC News, providing more empathy to people suffering as a result of the pandemic, and focusing more on how Universal Basic Income can be a solution to prevent temporary economic collapse. The article offers a beacon of hope for people who are currently struggling, and highlights how Andrew Yang’s ideas to overcome economic uncertainty as a result of automation are now successfully being used to help during the pandemic. Rather than focusing on public figures themselves and addressing the needs of business-people, The New York Times caters more towards what individual Americans might be experiencing, and how Universal Basic Income can help them. Despite this, their interviews and quotes remain focused on the ideas of politicians and economists, as opposed to the people who would actually benefit from UBI. The intentions of this article seems to be to highlight that despite being dismissed by most of the country only several months ago, Andrew Yang and his ideas have now become a solution and essential for the survival of the American people and economy.

Vox Article on Universal Basic Income and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Figure 3: Vox Article Screenshot

Taking a different approach and appealing to a younger audience, Vox presents Andrew Yang as a personable,  young, startup entrepreneur whose success is driving Universal Basic Income’s recent popularity. With the writing much more relaxed and informal, throughout the article, Vox shares popular slang such as, “Yang Gang” (Matthews, 2019) and “Yangsters” ( Matthews, 2019), refers to Universal Basic Income as Yang’s, “Freedom Dividend” (Matthews, 2019), notes how Andrew Yang has been a part of several popular podcasts, including The Joe Rogan Experience and Sam Harris’s show, and incorporates memes into their article to add a layer of comedy. Alongside its appeal to a younger audience more familiar with internet culture, the article explores controversies, such as recent admiration from communities associated with the alt-right and white supremacy. It does note, however, that Yang is quick to denounce their praise, condemn racism, and rejects their support, even as voters. Vox also shares a post from Wikileaks, which is an organization broadly considered anti-establishment by many traditional-thinking and conservative people. Vox is a news website founded by journalists and entrepreneurs in 2014. As a younger, independent organization, Vox provides news on its own web platform, via Youtube, podcasts, and even has a show on Netflix. As such, it caters its information and stories to younger audiences as opposed to traditional business-people and politicians such as on CBC News. The consequences of their article and content medium may be that instead of alienating younger people, it alienates older generations who are less familiar with internet culture, and prefer traditional ways of writing and expressing ideas.

Vice Article on Universal Basic Income and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Figure 4: Vice Article Screenshot

With a provocative and click-bait title, Vice’s article approaches Universal Basic Income from a progressive standpoint while examining both sides of the debate. They highlight problems within the current system, different strategies that have been used, and note different reasons why Universal Basic Income could be a solution. In addition, they point out many concerns of UBI that are missing in articles from other news sources, while still arguing that the pandemic has proven UBI’s necessity in the modern economy. Vice even challenges the current establishment by arguing that the cost of UBI could be similar to the cost of bailing banks out during the financial crisis, only with UBI, it would be helping individuals and small businesses. Lastly, Vice’s article focuses more on the debt crisis and wealth inequality, which are problems that are most commonly explored amongst progressive liberals. The intentions of Vice in their article is to promote Universal Basic Income as a viable and helpful solution to move forward in the economy. It challenges current ideas of the role of government and uses UBI’s success during the pandemic to back up its claims. Similar to Vox’s article, Vice explores a serious topic while maintaining a degree of informality.

Drake Meme on Universal Basic Income
Figure 5: Drake UBI Meme

In contrast to articles written by formal news organizations and journalists, memes are generally created by individuals and reflect their ideas and experiences more broadly. While news articles navigate biases and preferences from their writers, editors, collaborators, and organizations, meme creation has no structured hierarchy and can be created much more quickly, reflecting the ideas and biases of the individuals creating them. In this meme, the creator points out the hypocrisy of the US government for staunchly dismissing Universal Basic Income, while later embracing monthly stimulus checks. Interestingly, Universal Basic Income and monthly stimulus checks are effectively the same thing. Because memes do not have the ability to share as much background information, nor to explain themselves, many are much more open for interpretation. Memes, like articles, carry many assumptions, biases, and unspoken ideas. This meme, in particular, suggests that the US government and population are either somewhat delusional, does not understand that UBI and stimulus checks are effectively the same thing, or that narratives play a strong role in how the US decides to adopt its policies. From a different perspective, however, someone could interpret this meme as the US government starting to adopt and appreciate Universal Basic Income’s core ideology and approach.

Universal Basic Income and AI Meme
Figure 6: UBI and AI Meme

While memes are often considered less calculated and thoughtful than traditional news media sources, this is not necessarily true. This example displays how fearful people are of what a future could look like if Universal Basic Income is not adopted. In this meme, the creator identifies different power structures, and how people who lose their jobs to automation and artificial intelligence could end up desperate, lacking opportunity, and at the whims of elite billionaires and medical researchers. In many ways, this meme, as well as others, are used as a form of activism to express the ideas of its creators. Memes are especially useful as a form of activism because they are short, easily consumed, and easily shared. Memes often circulate on social media, where they are reposted by friends and acquaintances, and as such, the people viewing the memes are often already familiar with the topics. Additionally, memes are most commonly created by younger people who have grown up with the internet and internet culture. As a result, there is a different culture that has different expectations and conventions on how to express oneself and one’s ideas.

Universal Basic Income is a relatively new idea and program that offers individuals a consistent basic income in order to help them survive. It provides a safety net to people during times of economic uncertainty and economic change. Universal Basic Income has successfully been used during the 2020 pandemic in order to avert economic collapse and support people in need. Every organization, form of media, and media source has its own biases, perspectives and unwritten ideas. While traditional forms of media and media sources gravitate towards quotes and sharing the perspectives of politicians and prominent public figures, newer forms of media tends to come from and therefore represent the ideas and perspectives of average people who have been left out of the conversation.

 

 

References

 

Dyer, E. (2020, April 19). From pipe dream to prospect: the pandemic is making a case for a universal basic income. CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/universal-basic-income-covid-coronavirus-pandemic-1.5536144

Stevens, M., & Paz, I. G. (2020, March 18). Andrew Yang’s $1,000-a-Month Idea May Have Seemed Absurd Before. Not Now. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/us/politics/universal-basic-income-andrew-yang.html

Matthews, D. (2019, June 15). Andrew Yang, the 2020 long-shot candidate running on a universal basic income, explained. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/2019/3/11/18256198/andrew-yang-gang-presidential-policies-universal-basic-income-joe-rogan

Harrison, A. (2020, April 10). It’s Time to Give Everyone Free Money. VICE. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en/article/dygbvw/why-universal-basic-income-makes-sense

Anderson, A [Digital Image]. (2020, April 20). Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10157980816130435

Universal Basic Income AI [Digital Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://awwmemes.com/i/21590783

 

 

 

Helping is a Moral Obligation

Peter Singer is correct that we are morally obligated to give large sums of time, money, and resources to help other people in dire need of aid. If, as a moral agent, we have the ability to prevent something bad from happening without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, then we are morally obligated to do so. As a result, people who are not experiencing immediate suffering ought to try and prevent the suffering of others who are experiencing it from preventable struggles such as lack of adequate food, shelter and medical care. In my essay, I will first explain Singer’s argument and how privileged people are morally obligated to help end the suffering of people who are experiencing preventable adversity from lack of food, shelter and medical care. Next, I will put forth objections to the argument, including that it is too demanding, will result in burn out, that a person cannot fulfill the task of ending the suffering of millions of people, that there is always more to do, and that “comparable” moral importance is ambiguous and incalculable. I will argue that these objections are insufficient by highlighting the importance of having flexibility in one’s life, that the scope of a problem is irrelevant to moral obligation, and that subjective comparable moral importance is an advantage. Lastly, I will argue that the history of colonization and our economic structures play a role in causing preventable famine, lack of shelter and medical care, and how this places further obligation on affluent countries and people in positions of privilege to help.

There is no shortage of problems and suffering in the world, and there are countless people in dire need of aid. People across the world live without adequate food, suffer from curable diseases, and do not have a safe home that protects them from the natural environment. In contrast, many people (particularly in affluent countries) have money and resources that are beyond necessary for survival. They shop for clothes and goods that they do not need, own multiple properties, and engage in activities to flaunt wealth. Singer argues that if we have the power and ability to prevent something bad from happening without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, then we are morally obligated to help. This means that people who have resources beyond necessary for their own survival ought to provide help to end the preventable suffering and death of others around the world. This includes everyone from politicians in the Global South, to upper middle class people in Canada. In addition, the kinds of help that can be offered is limitless. Help, without sacrificing anything of comparable moral value, can include time, money, emotional support, or any other resource. An example of helping someone without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, is saving a drowning child in a pond. If a child is drowning in a shallow pond, it would pose no risk, and very little effort to most adults to save that child. One could easily walk up, pull the child out of the pond, and continue with one’s day. Even if saving the child would make a person late to work, or miss the beginning of a partner going into labour, the effort and moral importance required is still incomparable. Saving a child at minimal cost and without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance is a moral obligation. Situations like this, in different contexts, however, happen everyday on a global scale. People suffer and die from preventable diseases and famine all the time. With little cost and effort to a person with resources beyond necessary for survival, whether through donating, volunteering time, lobbying governments, they could actively help save and reduce the suffering of many people globally.

Objections to this argument include that it is too demanding, and with millions of people suffering around the world, it seems nearly impossible to ever fulfill the task of helping and ending the suffering of everyone around us. While it is true, that a moral obligation to help others who are experiencing preventable suffering is demanding, it is not, however, too demanding. Humans have a lot of time and energy to expend on different tasks and goals throughout their day and life. A person who is not experiencing immediate trauma or suffering could spend significantly more time on helping others, as opposed to spending money on consumer goods, playing video games, or watching television. Additionally, the scope of the problem and the number of cases is not relevant to moral obligation unless (or until) it starts to effect one’s own ability to sacrifice something of comparable moral value. Regardless of whether one or twenty children is drowning a pond, we are still morally obligated to help save those children if we are not sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance. Given the amount of resources, food, and medical aid, it may in fact be possible to fulfill the task of helping all people who are experiencing suffering as a result of preventable adversities such as lack of adequate food, shelter and medical care. Even if it is not possible, however, we are still obligated to help. From a perspective based around empathy and personal experience, if the people who were experiencing suffering were close family members and we had the resources to help, most people would help without question. From a philosophical point of view, we live in a global community where everyone’s life is of equal moral value. In this global community, it is our moral duty to help uplift and end the suffering of others, even if we do not have the energy or capacity to help every single person. We ought to help until we are sacrificing something of comparable moral value. This leads to the most important objection to Singer’s argument, which is that there is no objective way to compare moral value and importance. While it is true that there is no mathematical formula or definition to compare moral value, harm, and importance, this is actually an advantage and necessary, because of how complex and unique human experiences are. Rather than having objective comparisons, it leaves the flexibility upon the individual to make relative judgements. Relative moral importance is necessary because it allows people to self-regulate in order to avoid burn out, take care of their fluctuating mental health, and humans require a certain amount of flexibility and freedom in order to explore ourselves and our goals which is equally important in avoiding our own suffering. The ability to evaluate moral importance subjectively gives us the flexibility to adapt to different environments, and to avoid saving another drowning child in a pond, if saving that last child would have caused us to pass out and potentially harm ourselves in the process. It also allows us to pay for guitar lessons instead of donating all of our excess money to charity, because learning guitar can be helpful for our own mental health and well-being, which in turn allows us to continue to help others long-term. Our moral obligations should not become counter-productive in the long-term because we have the flexibility to scale back and determine what would be most productive and effective. Thus, Singer’s argument that we are morally obligated to help prevent the suffering of people who are experiencing preventable hardships such as a lack of adequate food, shelter and medical care is not too demanding nor too drastic of a revision to ordinary morality. It would require more time, investment, and commitment from people who are able to help, however it should not become too overwhelming.

The history of colonization, our current economic structures, and climate change all play a large role in causing suffering to people around the world. Colonization has left countries with fractured governments, exploited resources, and broken economic systems to reestablish themselves in a global economy. As a result, there is increased poverty, famine and climate degradation. Oftentimes, the suffering experienced in foreign countries is specifically a result of colonization. Under other moral frameworks as well, including Narveson’s social contract view (Narveson, 2003), and Noggle’s moderate approach (Noggle, 2009), If we have wronged others, then we have further moral duty to help. Under Narveson’s social contract view, our obligations are based on our own self-interest and mutual insurance scheme. If, however, we have harmed others, then we are morally obligated to help (Narveson, 2003). Under Noggle’s moderate approach, we have perfect and imperfect obligations generated by Kant’s formula of humanity (Noggle, 2009). Even without accepting imperfect obligations as a moral framework, the perfect obligations declare that we must not treat another person simply as a means. As such, we cannot violate non-interference, which many colonizing countries have done. This places further moral obligation on affluent countries that have taken part in colonization, and people who have benefited from colonization to help resolve many of the struggles and suffering that happens globally. Our actions have unintended consequences, yet we are still morally obligated to help.

People living in comfortable situations with excess resources beyond necessary for own survival ought to put more time and effort into helping end the suffering of others around the globe. If we have the capacity to help prevent suffering without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, then we ought to do so. This does not mean that we can never explore or enjoy our own lives and that we must focus solely on ending the suffering of others, because comparable moral importance is subjective which gives us the flexibility to avoid burn out, self-regulate, and ensure our own thriving as well. Whether we have a lot of money and resources to give, or just our excess time, then we still ought to help people around the world.

References

Singer, P. (2006, December 17). What Should a Billionaire Give – and What Should You? The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/17/magazine/17charity.t.html?_r=1&ex=157680000&en=f93281b678aaba14&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink&oref=slogin

Singer, P. (2006, December 24). Questions for Peter Singer. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/24/magazine/24singerqa.html?ex=157680000&en=b78058460052a625&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

Gross-Loh, C. (2013, December 2). Giving 101: The Princeton Class That Teaches Students To Be Less Selfish. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/12/giving-101-the-princeton-class-that-teaches-students-to-be-less-selfish/281820/

Singer, P. (2013, May). The why and how of effective altruism [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/peter_singer_the_why_and_how_of_effective_altruism?language=en

Kravinsky, Z. (2013, January). How to give away $45 million [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvUcbcUMtXw

Narveson, J. (2003). We Don’t Owe Them a Thing! A Tough-minded but Soft-hearted View of Aid to the Faraway Needy. The Monist, 86(3), 419-433. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/27903833

Noggle, R. (2009). Give Till It Hurts? Beneficence, Imperfect Duties, and a Moderate Response to the Aid Question. Journal of Social Philosophy, 40(1), 1-16. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9833.2009.01435.x

Anti-Black Racism in Canada

Anti-Black racism is prevalent and ubiquitous throughout Canadian society and history. While anti-Black racism is most often associated with the United States, Blacks in Canada have always faced similar struggles and injustices since the beginning of colonization in the early 1600s. Throughout Canadian history, Blacks have been subject to slavery, segregation, mass incarceration, police killings, targeted laws, deportation, and many other forms of overt and covert racism and restrictions. Anti-Black racism occurs in many different forms. Most commonly in Canada, it occurs through structural and propaganda-based means. Over time, these ideologies and values have become embedded into Canadian culture and society in ways that are much more concealed, and harder to reverse. In Policing Black Lives (Maynard, 2017), Robyn Maynard, a Black feminist writer and activist, explores the deep-rooted racist history that Blacks have experienced in Canada.

Structural anti-Black racism has been so pervasive in Canada, that even the UN has affirmed inequities across different areas including income, housing, access to education, healthcare, application of drug laws, and more. In order to understand modern structural racism, however, it is important to explore its foundations. The first documented slave in Canada was Olivier Le Jeune, a Black Canadian in 1628. For over 200 years, slavery was practised on approximately 4000 Black and Indigenous peoples by primarily White politicians, businessmen, and other citizens (Maynard, 2017). Because of Canada’s cold climate and limited geography for plantations, there were fewer slaves in Canada than in the United States. Despite this, slavery was still widespread, and conditions for slaves were still brutal and inhumane. Additionally, because of the limited populations of slaves, escape was even more difficult. In exchange for fighting in war and promises of land, British elites offered liberation to slaves. Centuries later, most slaves (and their ancestors) have still never received any of the lands that they had fought for and were promised. Following slavery, further structural racism occurred through segregation, targeted laws and restrictions. Segregation was implemented in most aspects of daily living. Blacks were segregated in schools, denied property sales, faced “sundown laws” as curfews, jobs were restricted, paid less, and Black women could only work as domestics (Maynard, 2017). Laws such as the Act of Union in 1840, and Common Schools Act in 1850 unfairly affected members of Black communities. As Blacks transitioned out of formal slavery, their identities remained under attack as they were considered legally and biologically inferior. Blacks were subject to the “White Gaze” (Fanon, 1952/1986). They went from being seen as “slaves”, to being identified as “black”, different, and criminalized. Less than 40 years ago, in 1983, the last segregated school was closed in Canada. Structural anti-Black racism from the Canadian government has also unfairly affected Black migrants travelling to Canada. In 1896, the Canadian government hired immigration agents to prevent Black migrants from entering the country, while simultaneously allowing Europeans to enter and travel more freely. The corruption was so deep that the government paid medical examiners to reject Blacks on a medical basis. (Maynard, 2017) Later, in the 1970s, Canada deported almost 1500 Haitians back to their country. Many of these Haitians, however, came to Canada as a result of the Canadian government interfering with their politics and destabilizing their country. Canada’s influences crossed borders as it supported the Duvalier dictatorship, and later helped to overthrow Aristide in 2004. Haiti was improving during the Aristide government (partially as a result of investments in social programs), and fleeing to Canada and other neighbouring countries had decreased. Recently, in July 2019, Trump ended protections from deportation for Haitians living in the US, which resulted in many of them attempting to come to Canada. Following Trump’s announcement, around 5500 Haitians crossed the border into Canada. As a result of the “Safe Third Country” agreement, an agreement that manages the flow of refugees in the United States and Canada, there is no safe path for citizenship for Haitians entering from the United States. As a result, approximately half of Haitians who entered Canada during this time were also deported. This was coupled with serious propaganda from the Canadian government to impede Haitians from entering in the first place. Thus, the Canadian government not only caused problems and destabilized Haiti, but they also prevented its refugees from seeking asylum in Canada.

Black communities have played an integral role in developing Canadian society and culture. Despite this, their contributions and experiences have largely been written out of Canadian history and continues to be ignored and disregarded in schools and by the state. Canada puts itself forth as a multicultural, tolerant, diverse, and benevolent society, and yet it has a deeply rooted racist history that it fails to acknowledge. Since the beginning of colonization, Canada has maintained an outward reputation of being racially tolerant, helping Blacks escape from the US through the Underground Railroad, and that it is a welcoming place for immigrants, refugees, and people from all backgrounds. Critical to the foundation of the country, however, has been white supremacist ideals, and propaganda-based anti-Black racism. Propaganda-based anti-Black racism is the misinformation and promotion of racist ideologies and biases that people are taught to believe about Blacks. Most commonly, this is performed by state-run-media and schools. As Blacks began trying to escape from slavery, their identities started to become associated with criminality and shamefulness. Following slavery, Black men started being depicted as dangerous rapists, particularly against White women, and people who ought to be feared. Due to propaganda in the media and culture, Black women were humiliated and seen as sexually shameful and undeserving. The Canadian government put out additional propaganda suggesting that Blacks are unable to manage and endure Canada’s cold climate. In recent years, Anti-Black racist propaganda has been distinctly harmful against Haitian refugees as the Canadian government has been promoting the idea that the nation should belong to Whites. While attempting to maintain the facade that Canada is an open and welcoming country, the Trudeau government took no responsibility for its wrongdoings, advertised a campaign to prevent Haitians from entering, placed responsibility on them, and still deported many of those who arrived. In script, they will claim to support you, but in practice, they oppress and reject you.

Canadian culture has been equally effected overtime by anti-Black racist injustices. Within the past 100 years, there has been an active presence of the Klu Klux Klan, with a gathering in the Western Wing in 1920 involving over 25,000 members (Maynard, 2017). The Pride Parade has slowly lost its roots in solidarity with Black freedom and history, and continues to be overrun with corporate sponsorships, police attendees, and increasingly White focused.

Canada has kept its anti-Black racist history well-hidden as it continues to promote ideas of diversity and racial tolerance. It fails to acknowledge its racism in schools, state media, and fails to collect statistics so that people can better understand these conditions. From slavery and segregation to modern-day police brutality, Canada’s structural and propaganda-based racism has deep effects that are incalculable. Canadian culture is a concoction of all of the stories, histories, and establishments over time. Whether positive or negative, it is important to acknowledge both.

References

Maynard, R. (2017). Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present. Fernwood Publishing.

Fanon, F. (1986). Black Skin, White Masks (C. L. Markmann, Trans.). Pluto Press. (Original work published 1952).

Technology has hidden consequences

Technology is fascinating because it has become so advanced that it often feels nearly indistinguishable from magic. Modern technologies have helped humans cure diseases, fly across the planet, provide instant access to nearly infinite information online, and allows us to study in university during a global pandemic. While technology is often described synonymously with human development, it has also brought a lot of new problems that should not be overlooked or free from criticism. Modern technologies (from urban landscapes to social media) have been overwhelmingly destructive for the environment, problematic for people’s mental health, has increased inequality, and produced more waste than the earth can handle. Humans should continue to research, build, and explore, but it should be done with increased empathy, caution, and mindfulness. Every new technology has the potential to bring new, unintended negative consequences. If we fail to recognize that new technologies and developments come with unforeseen consequences, and we fail to take these problems into serious consideration, then we risk creating a destructive future that we cannot return from.

Social Media and Instagram
Figure 1: Social Media

Amidst a global pandemic that has affected nearly every person in every region of the earth, we have been forced to stay indoors, education has moved online, and oftentimes, connecting with friends and family has only become possible through social media. Social media has allowed us to stay connected through video calls, text messages, photos, and other mediums. This can be done regardless of whether a person lives thousands of miles away. While this is a great benefit of social media, it has also brought a lot of new, unanticipated consequences. Over the past decade, as social media use has increased, reports of mental health problems have also increased dramatically. Addiction to social media, depression, and feelings of low self-esteem have all become heavily correlated with the increased use of social media (Sharma, John, Sahu, 2020). As humans continue to value the ability to connect with friends and family digitally, we should remain equally aware of the new problems that social media brings.

Civic Center in San Francisco
Figure 2: Civic Center

San Francisco is an intriguing place for anyone who has visited. The Civic Center is located in downtown San Francisco next to several large technology companies (including Twitter headquarters, and Dolby Laboratories). Within a few blocks of the Civic Center, we can find some of the largest and most apparent wealth inequalities in the US. While people inside the Twitter building enjoy free food, dual-monitors, heating, 100k+ salaries, and fancy clothes, right outside of the building there are dozens of homeless people living on the streets and in tents, often begging for change. Over the past several years, Twitter has started to pay private security to demand that homeless people leave the sidewalk. It is mind-blowing that such transparent inequality can exist today with such little action or conversation on how to improve the situation. A single person working for Twitter to move pixels on a screen makes significantly more money and lives with many more luxuries than an entire group of people living right outside of their front door.

Macbook Air Laptop
Figure 3: Laptop

Technology has also been very destructive for the environment. Producing a single laptop requires mining for minerals and resources (such as cobalt) in foreign countries, which is often performed by children and child slaves. Mining for various resources requires the earth to be destroyed, causes serious pollution, and destruction of the natural ecosystem. Pollution from mining in different regions of Africa has caused severe health problems and population decline both in humans, fish, plants, and other animals (Fayiga, Ipinmoroti, Chirenje, 2018). When we look at a brand new Macbook, we often admire its beauty and consider it a piece of functional art. However, missing from the image, is the destruction of the natural environment, displacement of humans, severe pollution, and sometimes even child slaves. There is a story behind every piece of technology, and oftentimes, these sad and lost stories belong to people far away and far removed from the people enjoying the comforts of a new laptop.

Waste and Recycling
Figure 4: Waste and Recycling

In addition to mining for resources required to build new technologies, packaging also has negative impacts on the environment. With every new piece of technology sold, more trees are being cut down, more wood being processed, more plastic being produced, and more waste being piled up and entering the oceans. For nearly every product purchased in Walmart, or order conveniently placed on Amazon, there is more unnecessary waste and destruction of the environment to serve consumption. Single-use plastics are common with most purchases, and the only alternatives in many ‘developed’ countries are often paper alternatives. Rather than appreciating the conveniences of plastic packaging and cardboard boxes full of new products arriving with convenient shipping times, we should focus more on building new sustainable packaging alternatives.

Construction by the Ocean
Figure 5: Construction

Lack of green space and population density is also a problem in many cities and urban environments. Not only has green space and nature been removed from many urban settings to support increased population growth, but the nature that has been left faces its own problems including pollution and loss of biodiversity. Humans are not immune to the problems that arise from population density either. Andrade and colleagues found that people living in the highly populated city of Sau Paulo had a significant risk to develop a mental disorder at some point in the last twelve months. These mental disorders were highly correlated with increased exposure to crime, which is often much higher in cities. In addition, living in an urban environment was correlated with increased social withdrawal and substance abuse (Andrade, Wang, Andreoni, Silveira, Alexandrino-Silva, Siu, Nishimura, Anthony, Gattaz, Kessler, Viana, 2012).

Among Us Video Game Addiction
Figure 6: Video Game

Video game addiction is very prevalent, especially among male youth. As technology has continued to advance, video games have also become even more addicting. Enormous amounts of research has been put into creating games that offer a specific amount of randomness, stimuli, and rewards to keep users active, addicted, and online. Unfortunately, video game addiction has led to mental health decline and increased risk of developing depression and anxiety. Additionally, video game addiction is highly correlated with anti-social behaviors, and social isolation. (Stockdale, Coyne, 2018)

While modern technology offers many conveniences and comforts, it has also brought a lot of new problems that humans have never experienced before. Widespread mental health problems, mass inequality, environmental destruction, and excessive waste affect people from every part of the world. It’s easy to look at different technologies in isolation, and to negate their negative impacts because of their tremendous benefits, however, when these problems become irreversible, then we will have permanently changed our planet and our human culture in ways that we may not desire.

References:

Sharma, Manoj Kumar, John, Nisha and Sahu, Maya. (2020). “Influence of social media on mental health: a systematic review”. Current opinion in psychiatry. 33(5): 467-475.

Fayiga, Abioye, Ipinmoroti, Mabel and Chirenje, Tait. (2018). “Environmental pollution in Africa”. Environment, development and sustainability. 33(1): 41-73.

Andrade, Laura Helena, Wang, Yuan-Pang, Andreoni, Solange, Magalhães Silveira, Camila, Alexandrino-Silva, Clovis, Rosanna Siu, Erica, Nishimura, Raphael, Anthony, James C, Gattaz, Wagner Farid, Kessler, Ronald C, Viana, Maria Carmen. (2012). “Mental disorders in megacities: findings from the São Paulo megacity mental health survey, Brazil.” PLoS one. 7(2): 1-11

Stockdale, Laura and Coyne, Sarah M. (2018). “Video game addiction in emerging adulthood: Cross-sectional evidence of pathology in video game addicts as compared to matched healthy controls”. Journal of affective disorders, 225: 265-272.

Abstract:

For my photo essay, I explore how new technologies and developments have unintended negative consequences. While technology is often thought of synonymously with human development, it is rarely questioned as a large source of problems. I chose social media in my abstract to illustrate this problem because it is easy to relate to, and becoming increasingly criticized in the mainstream. Social media is just one of many technologies that provides enormous benefits, but also brings a lot new problems that are beginning to appear larger and more serious than we ever conceived. Another example that I included in my paper is how laptops are created. In order to build an elegant Macbook that many people appreciate and view as art, it requires the mining and destruction of the natural environment overseas (specifically in Africa in this case). Sadly, the people who live in these destroyed environments are also rarely the people who also get to enjoy these new technologies.

What kind of effect is covid-19 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?