Isn’t it weird that no one is really talking about the incest on Game of Thrones? I mean, yes, among the fellow inhabitants of Westeros, sure, there are the insinuations and the snickers, the threats from the faithful, and the apparent manifestation of its awfulness in Joffrey. And sure, incest has been mentioned in articles about the show and it’s a core driver of several plot points and emotional arcs for our protagonists. It’s not completely glossed over.
But incest is supposed to be awful. Like as bad as rape. Even most anti-abortionists make two exceptions beyond sparing the mother’s life: rape and incest. A lot of pixels have been spent on the nature, narrative use (or misuse), impact, and meaning of rape in Game of Thrones. Yet there just isn’t a lot out there on the incestuous relationship between Jamie and Cercei that so central to the show. Moreover, none of the normal tropes we associate with incest are present in their relationship (contrast that with the tropes surrounding rape which are seemingly ever-present). This treatment of the Lannisters’ incest by the show, in and of itself, is fascinating. It takes on a further layer of curiosity as we move into the trials of Cercei for incest (this time with Lancel) and the Tyrells for engaging in (and then lying about) homosexuality, not to mention the associated attitudes towards homosexual behavior (both critiquing and condoning it) among those in Westeros. There is something curious about how the show is paralleling the two issues. What I’m getting at is there are some good reasons to write about the incest in Game of Thrones, yet very few folks are doing it. (This was the only real piece I could find)
Why not? Well, it’s hard to write about something that makes you really uncomfortable when it isn’t portrayed as unambiguously bad.
You may not realize it, but Game of Thrones has the most positive portrayal of incest ever presented in popular media. Not only that, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that regardless of what else happens in the show, is not possible to make a compelling argument that Jamie and Cercei’s incest is immoral in and of itself.
Before I actually defend this point, I need to clarify a few things. First, no where in this piece am not equating homosexuality and incest, even among consensual adults. Not by a long shot. At a couple points, I’m equating the way in which arguments against those behaviors are portrayed in fiction and made in reality. They are not analogous forms of sexuality, nor is their moral status connected (though that belief is held erroneously by many moralizers out there). Second, I am not arguing that Game of Thrones settles all debate and proves consensual adult sibling incest is, in fact, moral. Far from it. What I am claiming is that Jamie and Cercei present a version of incest that challenges the major arguments against incest and forces us to move the discussion to a different place. Third, we are talking about consensual incest between two adult siblings. Almost any other form of incest involves some sort of power dynamic that calls into question the possibility of true consent (most other forms of incest, such as Craster and the horrible plight of his wifes/daughters, are immoral precisely because consent is either not possible or not given). The fact that Jamie and Cercei are twins, and thus the exact same age, mitigates this issue further. To be really clear here: any sexual act that is not between consenting adult people is immoral.
OK, so why should we care about the Lannister’s incest in the first place? Well, Game of Thrones is a huge cultural phenomenon. When it chooses to address an issue – be it violence, rape, torture, revenge, honor, love, whatever – people talk about it. Out of all the well-known media that deals with incest that Wikipedia lists (and there is a lot of it) very few portray incest in anything resembling a positive light. I would argue that none of the shows, movies, books, or games that portray incest in a neutral or positive tone have anything even remotely resembling the current cultural cache of Game of Thrones. Meaning that whatever Game of Thrones has to say about incest, it’s saying it to a lot of people who are listening closely.
We don’t really think about Jamie and Cercei’s incest because they are both are kind of terrible human beings. Jamie casually pushed Bran, a child, out a window with hopes of killing him (ah, you forgot about that one, didn’t you?). Cercei has done more awful things than most of us can keep track of anymore. Their eldest son, Joffrey, was a monster. Their father was a Machiavellian statesman who cast the entire family in a pallor of win-at-all-costs zeal. Incest seems to fit. Of course a family of scheming, merciless, hateful people would only, perhaps could only, love themselves. It’s a natural conclusion that Jamie and Cercei would commit incest.
What isn’t a natural conclusion is that the Lannister’s incestuous relationship is not in and of itself immoral. Of all the grotesque and demented things Jamie and Cercei have done, engaging in intercourse and having children is not one of them.
To give my argument some back up, I want to talk about confabulation for a minute. Jonathan Haidt, a professor of Ethical Leadership (what a cool title) at NYU’s Stern School of Business, has a fascinating philosophy experiment related to incest and why we find it morally reprehensible. He presents a scenario in which an adult brother and sister have consensual sex. Haidt then asks test subjects if the scenario is morally wrong and why. Here’s a synopsis from a hilariously titled Psychology Today article:
“Julie and Mark are brother and sister. They are traveling together in France on summer vacation from college. One night they are staying alone in a cabin near the beach. They decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. At the very least, it would be a new experience for each of them. Julie was already taking birth control pills, but Mark uses a condom too, just to be safe. They both enjoy making love, but they decide never to do it again. They keep that night as a special secret, which makes them feel even closer to each other. What do you think about that? Was it ok for them to make love?”
If you’re like most people, your response is “absolutely not,” but you’ll find it more difficult than you think to come up with a justification. “Genetic defects from inbreeding.” Yes, but they were using two forms of birth control. (And in the vanishingly small chance of pregnancy, Julie can get an abortion.) “It will mess them up emotionally.” On the contrary, they enjoyed the act and it brought them closer together. “It’s illegal.” Not in France. “It’s disgusting.” For you, maybe, but not for them (obviously). Do you really want to say that private acts are morally wrong just because a lot of people find those acts disgusting? And so on.
The scenario of course is designed to ward off the most common moral objections to incest, and in doing so demonstrate that much of moral reasoning is a post-hoc affair [aka confabulation] – a way of justifying judgments that you’ve already reached though an emotional gut response to a situation. Although we like to think of ourselves as arriving at our moral judgments after painstaking rational deliberation, or at least some kind of deliberation anyhow, Haidt’s model – the “social intuitionist model” – sees the process as just the reverse. We judge and then we reason. Reason is the press secretary of the emotions, as Haidt is fond of saying, the ex post facto spin doctor of beliefs we’ve arrived at through a largely intuitive process.
Alright. So now you know what your brain is trying to do when you think about incest. It’s grossed out and wants to explain itself by any means necessary. Now answer the question: “What is morally objectionable about Jamie and Cercei’s incest?” I can think of a few pretty good arguments beyond those addressed by Haidt’s scenario:
1. “It’s wrong because they had kids. Incest can lead to birth defects. They put their children’s quality of life at risk.”
This is the first and most obvious, so lets get it out of the way.
This is certainly true. But, of course, none of the kids have birth defects (beating the odds!). You might argue Joffrey is a psychopath thanks to incest, but then again that doesn’t explain why a huge number of other characters – such as The Mountain or Ramsey Bolton – are as well. And nurture (or whatever you call the environment that Joffrey grew up in) could easily be blamed as well. Myrcella and Tommen seem fine. So there is no harmful consequence to the kids in the form of birth defects.
Perhaps, instead, you claim that merely committing an act that could result in birth defects is immoral, even if that doesn’t happen.
I grant that, and think there is some moral failure here. However, I don’t think either Lannister intended to commit incest in order to increase the risk of their children having birth defects. They committed incest because they loved one another and, moreover, desired to extend the Lannister bloodline over the Baratheon line. Given that Tyrion was, at the time of their incest, a self-destructive libertine, it is not inconceivable that no true heir would be born to the Lannisters. In a world in which hereditary power is almost as important as real monetary or military power, risking birth defects for a continuation of the Lannister line seems a fair trade.
In the full context, the fact that Jamie and Cercei had children as a result of their incest does not make the incest immoral.
2. “It’s wrong because it was adultery against Robert Baratheon.”
Please. Adultery is adultery. It doesn’t matter who you are having sex with. No one argues hotels are immoral because people use them to have affairs.
3. “It’s wrong because it is against the religion of the Seven.”
First, remember the religion of the Seven also thinks “buggery” is immoral, so ask yourself if you think Loras did something immoral.
Second, neither Jamie nor Cercei strike me as particularly devout. While I do accept the argument that going against the teachings of a religion to which one has committed oneself is a significant moral failing (unless one has a compelling reason to believe those teachings are misinterpretations or contradict a greater, more central tenet of the religion), I don’t think that applies to either party here.
4. “It requires lying and deception.”
That’s only because the broader culture doesn’t accept it as moral. We wouldn’t argue that Loras Tyrell’s homosexuality is immoral for the same reason, would we?
5. “Look at how unhappy Jamie and Cercei are. Their relationship is in tatters.”
I’ll say it again. Jamie and Cercei are not nice people. Their lives are in a bad place because of many, many other bad decisions and poor behaviors. Jamie’s unrelenting selfishness and Cercei’s near universal malevolence are probably a bigger reasons for their current strife.
6. “Cercei is breaking the bloodline of the Baratheons, which is basically treason.”
While I agree this is a serious transgression in the world where true-born heirs are essential for governance, I’m skeptical of it as an argument against incest. Like the decision to have children at all, it does tarnish the decision to commit incest. However, Cercei could have decided to have some children with Robert and some with Jamie. Her choosing not to is a moral violation of her commitment to Robert as a queen, her commitment to her family as a mechanism of uniting houses, and her commitment to her marriage vows (which, whether or not she fully believes them, have some validity).
What I love about this argument is that it a) is set beautifully within the values and motives of Westeros and b) perfectly illustrates almost every confabulated argument against incest. The moral violation here is that Cercei did not give Robert an heir, not that she and Jamie slept together and progeny resulted. If nothing else changed save that no incest happened, Cercei would still be guilty of breaking the bloodline.
To complete the argument, one has to look at all the moral failings that seem connected to the act of incest and then attribute the innate failings of those behaviors to the act of incest. You can never directly argue the incest itself is wrong.
There you have it. After it’s all said and done, the worst thing we can say about Jamie and Cercei’s incest is, “It probably wasn’t their best moment, but wasn’t really that terrible either.” One could argue Robb Stark marrying Talisa was worse (though Walder Fray’s reaction was still grossly disproportionate). What we’re left with is an act that is ostensibly repugnant, yet on calm examination, hardly registers as a moral failing (particularly when compared with the other atrocities we’ve seen throughout the Seven Kingdoms).
What is astounding is that the show, in effect, forces us to see the persecution of Loras’ homosexuality as equal to Cercei’s persecution for incest. The snide remarks and aphorisms, the secrecy, the persecution: both are treated nearly identically within the world of Game of Thrones. Philosophically, the Lannisters’ incest is, like Loras’ having sex with men, merely a sexual act between two consenting adults. Like any consensual sexual encounter, there are risks, complications, and social norms to be navigated, but nothing insurmountable. We, as watchers of Game of Thrones are forced to ask: of all the crimes of which Jamie and Cercei are guilty, is incest one of them?
While I don’t know that any of us can answer that question just yet, Game of Thrones has made the discussion much, much more interesting.
The observers become part of the text. Criticism of the text exposes intertextual connections and undermines the intent of the author. Nothing in the text is treated with reverence, the forth wall is constantly broken, and reference to the film as a film while also taking its constructed reality at face value. Two of the observers are ostensibly robots whose existence as puppets is constantly referenced.
Even the theme song calls out the inability of the text to hold together under scrutiny, so you should really just relax.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 is the perfect embodiment of postmodernism. Discuss.
When it comes to telling big, epic, awesome, mythopoetic stories, our world is boring. It is boring because it is known. We can google any spot on the planet and get a complete breakdown of that place’s ecology, politics, history, industries, and turn-by-turn directions on how to get there. Not only that, most of us feel like we kind of know where the future is headed. A.I., rockets to space, self-driving cars, and replicators no longer seem a matter of chance, merely a matter of time. Wait around long enough and the future we’ve all imagined will get here. The now cliché “Where’s my jetpack” is said with the foot-tapping frustration of culture that believes technological progress is not merely inevitable but, in a way, owed. Not only is the future known territory, getting there feels more like a commute than a journey.
Yet a huge amount of what we love about story-telling, particularly the big “stand the test of time” style stories is a sense of wonder. So how do we inject wonder into our world?
Three major strains of narrative – sci-fi, fantasy, and mythology – are all about wonder. Whether it’s Star Trek, Game of Thrones, or the Aeneid, we as readers are drawn in to unbelievable locales, spectacular individuals, and encounter unexpected forces. Yet all of these stories also often feel disconnected from our world. The voyages of the starship Enterprise take place almost entirely off Earth. Game of Thrones exists in an alternate, slightly magical version of Europe and the Aeneid from so far in the past we hardly recognize it. Some of the greatest modern stories, such as the Star Wars trilogy (and by greatest I’m speaking to cultural resonance, not just critical quality), are a blend of all three and feel that many steps more removed from our own reality. Whole new worlds must be built to allow for wonder to exist.
George Miller’s Mad Max series, recently reinvigorated with the supremely enjoyable and brilliant Mad Max: Fury Road, gives us some insight into another way to return us to a state of wonder with the world: deny us our expected future. The core premise of Max’s world is that, somewhere along the way, progress fails. It’s hard to know how far along we get beyond today, but that doesn’t matter – the only things that survive the end of progress are analog technologies. Communication technologies in particular take a beating as the world falls to wasteland leaving only disconnected islands of bare humanity left to states of isolated survival. The result is a new world, totally unknown to us, built on top of the world and the technologies we know and recognize every day.
The veil that is lifted in this particular apocalypse is that of progress itself. Humanity backslides into feudal barbarism, disease, and violence. It’s the Middle Ages with monster trucks. Of course, the Middle Ages are packed with wonder. Nearly all of fantasy is set within some modified form of Medieval Europe, and for good reason. The world was unmapped and the parts that were had the qualifiers of “here be dragons.” Even the known was wondrous then.
While there are so many moments within any given Mad Max film that may leave over-analyzing (why, o why do they build gas-guzzling monstrosities in a world wanting for every drop of fuel), the much broader sense of “I understand this world and yet know nothing about it” creates a deeply disturbing experience. Miller is able to tell a tremendous amount of story with very little exposition. We understand why a warlord would have oxygen tanks for his deformed progeny (and why those progeny would be deformed), why his psychotic minions would understand that O-negative donors are valuable in war, and why being a blackthumb is as valuable, perhaps more so, than having one of the green variety. The echoes of current existence are easy to see and understand without explanation because, not-so-secretly, we’re all to aware of how quickly it could all go away.
The joy of post-apocalypse is that it also carries with it the remnants of cultural progress. A huge amount of fantasy also borrows from the cultural trappings of the Medieval Eras the genre relies upon. Post-apocalyptic worlds don’t have to figure out which pieces of cultural history need to be folded in. All that we know already exists and is then challenged to survive along with everything else. If we think of culture as just another technology (as I am inclined to do) that allows for better social organization and shared objectives, then it too must come to terms with which pieces maintain their value in the face of annihilation.
Furiosa and the brides she helps liberate represent this cultural memory luminously. Like Max, Furiosa is driven by a single idea; though hers – redemption – is a bit higher on Maslow’s hierarchy than Max’s basic instinct to survive. Neither the film nor the characters ever question that a woman with a truncated limb could be an imperator (note, not imperatrix, the proper feminine form). Further, despite being captives for what was likely most of their lives, the escaped brides (one of whom, Splendid, is literally barefoot and pregnant) have tremendous agency and drive. It’s revealed that the escape was Splendid’s idea and, at several critical moments, it is Splendid and her fellow brides who take the action necessary to keep themselves alive and on a path to escape. Both Immortan Joe’s (and his army’s) uncommented upon recognition of Furiosa as an Imperator and the brides’ sense of agency and self-worth are reflective of the cultural trappings of our time. It’s not just that we understand and expect that they’d behave this way, it’s that the characters in the world do as well. And therein lies the awesomeness of the post-apocalyptic world.
When we are trying to tell stories of grand scale and with epic stakes, we have to build a world beyond our own. Our options are often to look to the far-flung past or distant future, or perhaps an alternate world, seeking unknown territory into which our heroes can journey. With that distance, however, comes an implicit change in cultural values. The entire world becomes somewhat alien, harder for us to identify with. Post-apocalypse offers us something different. It takes our world and strains it past the breaking point and asks us “what survives of today in the shattered world of tomorrow.” Like technology, culture is forced to survive, cobbling itself together out of scraps and salvage to build something new and, in ways, more impressive than the safe, familiar wholes we experience in our normal lives. The post-apocalypse lets us look wondrously at our own world and remember the future really is an unknown country.
A same-sex marriage decision is due from the Supreme Court June. Given it has been almost exactly a decade since I changed my position on same-sex marriage, I figure now is a good time to reflect on the nature of that change.
Until about my sophomore year of college I was against same-sex marriage. Moreover I opposed same-sex rights and found homosexuality in general to be immoral. I’m not particularly proud of those views but I think there is something instructive in understanding why I held them and how I changed them.
My views changed for a variety of reasons: arguments with friends, meeting lots of real people who weren’t heterosexual, and investigating the core ethical arguments being made on both sides. My path is not unique. A majority of the country opposed same-sex marriage up until just a few years ago. When I was growing up in the 90s most of the country opposed gay marriage.
It is extremely important to remember that anti-same-sex laws like DOMA were not the result of some theocratic minority. They weren’t even the result of Republicans. Those laws were a clear reflection of honest opinions held by the majority of Americans at the time. What is more important to remember is that most of those people changed their mind just like I did over the past 20 years.
If we accept any sort of ethical truth as existing, we need to acknowledge that most of us were on the wrong side of this argument and were so for a long long time. Many of us voted for laws and politicians who openly opposed or quietly denied equal rights for same-sex marriage. Yet very few of us talk about changing our minds or our conversion experience. I’m willing to bet many of you do not even remember thinking differently than you do now. But work at it, think back, remember.
My question to all of you, and the answers I’d love to hear emailed and tweeted: “When did you realize same-sex marriage was ethical?”
Enhancement is weird. It seems objectively obvious what is better and what isn’t. But then context goes and screws everything up.
The New York Times recently featured a debate series entitled Adderall in the Office (h/t James Hughes) in which a few thinkers (including two of my favorite bioethicists Savulescu and Parens) discussed the merits of using A.D.H.D. drugs for increasing productivity in the workplace. As I read, I found myself seriously questioning whether or not the type of “productivity” drugs like Adderall create is the type needed in the modern workplace.
I work in exactly the kind of environment where it would seem an obvious choice to take Adderall or Ritalin or Provigil to stay alert, focused, and productive. However, one of the things I’ve learned is that getting shit done often requires not putting your head down and grinding away at some task, but instead lifting your head up and talking to those around you. Teamwork, people management, and emotional intelligence seem to have as much an impact, if not more so on my “productivity” than pure output. Given that A.D.H.D. drugs often flatten people’s emotions, there is a serious question as to whether or not they might improve individual productivity but dramatically decrease the productivity of teams or companies.
I’ve taken Ritalin in the past to write papers (Yes, papers about bioethics. In fact, papers about human enhancement. Yes, I recognize the irony). What always stood out is how terrible Ritalin was for helping me develop the ideas and arguments for the papers. What I had to do was get in a very creative place (good tunes, fun environment) do some mind mapping and outlining, sketch the big ideas and goals and then take the Ritalin and crank out the paper.
I think what I’m getting at here is that the whole argument about “smart drugs in the work place” is kind of silly. Will people eventually take drugs that help them adjust to the task at hand? Probably. But those drugs will be different for different teams and for different projects. Managers might take drugs that improve empathy while designers take drugs that foster creativity while customer service reps take drugs that reduce stress responses. We need to start thinking of drugs as tools that help us get to the right state of mind for specific types of work, instead of as these weird super-powered universally effective potions that can generate something as ill defined as “productivity.”
Sometimes I wonder if the people writing this stuff have ever worked in the stereotypical office they are so often pontificating about.
Mark Wilson over at Fast Company discusses “Chef Watson” and it’s many unusual recipes. Wilson focuses on a particularly disappointing burrito and how it came to be for most of the article. When setting up how Watson works, Wilson says:
Chef Watson—IBM’s Jeopardy-robot-gone-algorithmic-recipe engine—has released his first cookbook.
Chef Watson creates unexpected, but delicious food pairings by nature. (Read more how he does it here.) That’s in fact the software’s value—to suggest ideas we wouldn’t think of on our own.
Wilson seems to be deliberately using the male pronoun to refer to the AI. It is a distinct decision in that Watson was often referred to as “it” in most articles about battling Ken Jennings at Jeopardy.
I’ve long thought that true Turing tests would require more complex forms of expression than just conversation. Ratatouille makes a very strong case that cooking is something nearing a complete encapsulation of personhood traits.
Now, of course, the follow up question: why is Watson a he?
Each post this week serves a dual purpose: an exploration of the topic at hand as well as a re-introduction to big ideas this blog will be grappling with.
My Polish grandmother (aka Babci) regularly sends me cards on the holidays. Often there is a check in there with instructions for me to “get myself a nice dinner” or “have fun with friends.”
Recently, she’s started including my partner, Sara, and sending her a card and check as well. This is adorable and hugely generous of Babci for two reasons. First because the additional card and money is unnecessary: it should be obvious I’ll spend the money on the two of us, not just myself. Second, because Sara and I aren’t married and don’t plan to be. My grandmother was married to my grandfather for *fifty years* and is still reasonably Catholic. Let’s be honest, we’re all a bit surprised she’s quite so accommodating. The fact remains that she is so accommodating and understanding.
My parents’ generation dealt with the scorn of “living in sin.” What’s bizarre is that though my parents and Sara’s parents are nothing but loving, accepting, and supportive of the two of us, they are also a bit weirded out by us not being married. We’ve been together nearly a decade, longer than most our married friends, but it’s still a bit odd.
The question I have been asking myself is “Do I owe Babci an explanation?”
The feminist-gender-queer critical theorist in me says “hell no! I don’t answer to your heteronormative standards.” The guy who appreciates that his parents and grandparents pretty much rolled just accepted things as they were and never made the whole thing an issue even though it bugged them says, “maybe I do need to explain this.” The part of me that wants to understand how people go from believing something is bad to something is tolerable-but-not-for-them to something is normal and a-ok says, “what does she actually think about the whole thing?”
I’m not about to explain why Sara and I aren’t and probably won’t get married in this post. That’s not the point. The issue at hand is if I should sit down with Babci and explain it to her – the answer isn’t obvious. There is a kind of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell vibe to the whole thing. Babci doesn’t ask and I don’t tell. But we all know how well that policy went.
The bigger piece here is respect for Babci. She is up there in years and has some kooky theories (lord help me if I’m 80+ and don’t) but she isn’t an idiot. Moreover, she has already made the decision to accept how I express love, it’s only fair to share why.
I bring all this up because things are changing fast. We have new broadly accepted ways of living and loving that were unpopular 15 years ago and unacceptable 30 years ago. Those who love us but don’t understand and aren’t necessarily thrilled by these changes have earned a discussion on the topic.
Why? Because we might be missing out on something. I want to talk to my parents and to Babci not to explain my way of life but to investigate theirs and, in the process, find my blind spots. Our generation has reaped huge benefits from the work of those before us who pushed the envelope of personal liberty. It’s now our responsibility to make sure we aren’t losing traditions and values just because they came in out of date packaging. A lot of countries and generations modernized without abandoning essential parts of their culture.
If I can get Babci to understand, chances are pretty good I can convince a few other people too.
Each post this week serves a dual purpose: an exploration of the topic at hand as well as a re-introduction to big ideas this blog will be grappling with.
Whether or not I should buy an Apple Watch doesn’t seem to be a question of ethics, right? It’s a question about a little computer I strap to my wrist so I don’t have to take my phone out every time it buzzes.
Now, that seems like a minor benefit, but the fear of phones taking over our lives is a common theme among the tech anxious. We spend hours looking at our phones, checking them upwards of a hundred or more times per day, and perceive them vibrating even when they are not. Glowing screens are among the first and last thing we see every day.
Phones interrupt our social lives. Going to the movies, sitting at dinner, chatting with friends, among many others, are activities forever changed by the phone. We disconnect from our immediate social circle to connect with a wider one.
We have also, of course, gained social connections thru these devices. Perhaps an interrupting text is from a mutual friend who cannot attend, or a notification of an event relevant to everyone. More importantly, perhaps it is a communication from a friend who is lost or hurt. Partners and spouses can easily send little updates when the two are apart.
My partner and I use texts and the “Find My Friend” app to make sure the other is ok if one of us is out late with friends. I use FaceTime to see my parents and grandmother between trips and on holidays. I often tweet at and with a fellow ethicist from the other side of the planet.
The worst aspects of my phone are that I check it needlessly and it draws me away from intimate interactions, yet for the rare cases where I needed that notification it dramatically improves my life. If there was a way for me to stay in the moment more easily, and yet be notified of something important that would allow me to be a more engaged friend. I am aware of my bad habits and how they negatively affect those I care about. If there was a device that could help me curb or minimize these behaviors, it might (might) let me be a fractionally better person.
Kant’s “ought implies can” formula is simple: if we are morally obliged or compelled to do something, it is implicit that we can do that thing. Otherwise, it would be pretty unfair to consider it a moral failing for you to not do something that is literally impossible for you.
But what happens to ought when new abilities, new “can”s come along? Do our moral obligations shift with technology? Or is ethics a baseline and its relation to technology merely an extrapolation? Or is the extrapolation to these new cans the actual basis of ethics?
Technology is changing how we behave and, in turn, our ethics. Minor technologies may not modify our lives significantly, but huge society shaping innovations like the light bulb and antibiotics and cellphones and self-driving cars have profound implications.
This blog aims to investigate those implications of everyday things. Are we obliged to keep up with technology as it drives new social norms? What does it mean to reject new modes of interaction and intimacy?
So, should I buy an Apple Watch? And more importantly how does the answer to that question change if smartwatches become as popular as smartphones?
Almost 3 years ago I took a break from blogging. Well now I’m back.
I started PopBioethics for a simple reason: all these obscure, difficult ethical principles kept showing up in my day-to-day life. I couldn’t play a video game or watch a movie without bioethics showing up somehow.
Bioethics is still everywhere. If anything, it’s somehow more pervasive. Two of the biggest hashtags of the year were #BlackLivesMatter and #GamerGate. The Affordable Care Act became reality and we had a measles outbreak in DisneyLand. I feel like I could write a whole book just on the ethical issues illustrated in HBO’s Sunday night lineup.
There are no shortage of articles on these topics, but there is a shortage of discussion. One of the biggest failings of the Internet is that we have yet to come up with anything resembling a good system for discourse. Twitter is too short. Comment threads are too long, oddly managed, and either require a log in or full anonymity. Almost anything can be taken out of context and shared globally in an instant. Trolls, abuse, and lazy writing are everywhere. It’s time to up our game.
To that end, PopBioethics will be rebooted with three main goals:
- Highlight and elevate interesting topics, voices, and perspectives in bioethics and culture
- Create a space for discussion and debate
- Continually seek out biases, fallacies, assumptions, and generalizations
I have some ideas as to how to make those a reality, but the whole thing is a work in progress.
For now, here are some things you can expect:
- No comment section – got something to say? Email me popbioethics at gmail dot com. Good stuff will get reposted anonymously.
- A short, daily post, with some longer posts once a week and something resembling an essay once a month.
- Regular changes and experimentation.
Blogs are meant to be part of the larger, daily conversation. One of the great failures of conversation is, of course, simply waiting for your turn to speak. I’ve found myself listening recently and not quite sure what to say next. For the moment, Pop Bioethics is on pause.
For those of you who’ve found my writing interesting or engaging I highly recommend the following:
My twitter feed @popbioethics will remain active and is the best place to continue to engage with me in conversation.
Bioethics is controversial.
No one endorses the ideas or concepts explored here, not even me.
You will develop a strong opinion about something you find here. I want to hear it. Philosophy is a conversation.
popbioethics [at] gmail [dot] com
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