Archive for October, 2010
After seeing the movie, I’m very interested to hear what the reaction is.
Part of it is going to center around sorting out the facts of the matter. It’s hard to tell just from watching it how much of the movie was an excellent simplification of complex issues, and how much was an over-simplification. The rebuttals are starting to come in and it’s going to get messy. My personal guess is that the story the movie tells is accurate at a mile-high view and much messier near the ground, which in part explains how something like this can happen in the first place. In the middle of it, it’s a lot harder to see.
One of those mile-high truths is that the finance sector, by and large, doesn’t have a strong moral compass, stretching from the CEOs down to the analysts. It’s particularly bad in finance because there’s so much opportunity, but in my personal experience it is very easy to graduate from a top university without learning a thing about ethics and morals, which leads to a bunch of bright young people entering the real world without any societal inoculation against that kind of corruption.
I got lucky — I was raised by parents who weren’t complete moral degenerates, and then my tenure in finance was spent working for a firm whose business model is to profit off of long-term integrity. One of the things I learned there, actually, is that integrity is practical — it’s not a matter of real world gains vs nebulous ethical consequences, it’s a matter of short-term gains vs long-term suffering. But I’m not sure how many people entering the workforce have been taught to see it that way.
What I really want to see is some form of secular moral education. Traditional moral education has been pretty much systematically eradicated from the educational system, for some good reasons: it tended to be dogmatic, close-minded, and logically dependent on unprovable suppositions (i.e., the truth of the bible). But there’s a gap where it used to be, and I think the intellectual tools exist to fill the gap with something that makes sense. I.e., some kind of open-minded, dialogue-based, rational discourse about really what it means to be an effective, ethical member of society.
To be clear, I don’t want more pop-philosophy lectures about pushing a fat person in front of a train. For this to be at all useful, getting an ‘A’ can’t be dependent on things like an intellectual understanding of Rawls’ theories, or an agreement with group / teacher sentiment. Rather, it needs to reward genuine, open-minded, personal wrestling with real issues. It’s hard, but I think we can do this. I believe that as a secular, rational society, there are things we can still agree on in terms of integrity and other values to form the curriculum. And in terms of creatively teaching it, I think there are possibilities.
[This is a half-written story. Not quite sure how I want to finish it. If you have thoughts, let me know.]
Claire huddled in her chair, pulling her blanket around her, to shut off both the cold and the screaming next door. An itching in her throat made her spit a few drops of saliva onto her rumpled nightgown. In the bed next to her, Henry moaned gently in his sleep. It was 4 am, and Claire compulsively scratched her arm where the doctors had injected her with the serum yesterday. Could she feel it working inside her or was it just her imagination? She shivered, not completely sure herself whether it was from the cold, the anticipation, or an unaccountable fear.
Claire had consented to the treatment, her aging muscles barely cooperating with pen as it scritched her name on the forms, but it was really just a formality: recent judicial decisions had mandated treatment for those too far gone to decide in their own rights, and no one in the homes consciously decided to forgo it. Claire watched the news, on the days the nurses left the little TV set she could see from her bed to the right station, and she knew that there were others out there who, admidst some political controversy, voluntarily rejected their right to life, but they seemed to live in a different world. A world where affluent relatives tearfully surrounding their bedsides, as gentle breezes blew through the open windows of their bedrooms. True, the breezes carried the distant echo of protestor’s shouts, but even those blended in with the peaceful spring air that lulled the beds’ occupants towards a permanent nap. Claire shook herself, turning off her imagination before before loneliness and pain could shut her down. In the real world it was fall outside.
The next few days passed by with Claire drifting in and out of consciousness, her dreamy musings interrupted only by the occasional cups of mushed vegetables and medical jello the nurses brought at random intervals. She ate, more to keep her mind occupied than for anything else, and waited.
She awoke one morning with the unusually firm conviction that it was Tuesday. Yawning, she stretched her bones a little and tried to account for the strange sensation she felt in her head. It was only until after the other residents had woken up that she placed it: the absence of a headache. She closed her eyes quickly, shaking her head back and forth until the flash of strange emotion faded away. Heart still pounding faster than usual, she took to her Sudoku with concentration, going through puzzle after puzzle without losing steam. She ate an extra large helping of the white-meat entree that night.
On Wed, a volunteer for the Elderly Rehabilitation Association came by with an info kit and some forms to fill out. Claire pretended to be more out of it than she was to avoid conversation, and pushed the kit aside, not wanting to think about it. Later, two nurses helped her out of her bed and rolled her down the hall to the examination room, where a harried visiting doctor shined a light in her eyes, probed her arm muscles, tested her saliva, and then made some curt notes before sending her on her way. On the way back to her room, she passed the next old person being wheeled to their examination, and, perking her head up, she noticed an unusual buzz of activity: more wailing, more muttering, some nurses moving around with an unusual briskness while others seemed to be slumping despondantly. Even the most dimly conscious of the eldery stirred more than usual as if they could tell through their haze that something was in the air. Raised voices on the telephone went back and forth in an indistinct argument, and it looked like someone had cleaned the usually musty linoleoum floors and counters, although the folders and pieces of medical equipment were unusually scattered. Claire returned to her room and watched some TV.
By Fri morning, Claire could no longer ignore the fact that she was feeling better than she had in years. Throughout the day, the nurses, who had obviously just been trained on this themselves, came by to assist her with various leg and arm excercises, almost completely atrophied muscles slowly and painfully waking up. Although the skin on her arms was still blotched and saggy, it seemed to be pinker instead of its usual sallow yellow, and next to her, Henry surprised her by uttering a complete sentence, something about the television show that was playing in the background. Although it had been months since the last time Claire joined the communal activities in the group room, today she had the nurses wheel her over, and as she haltingly interacted with her fellow residents she picked up an undercurrent that — bizarrely out of context as it seemed — could only be described as excitement.
When she took her first halting steps into the sunlight — real, honest-to-god sunlight — Claire felt a buzzing numbness over her entire body. Her heart, beating at a rate that would have killed her a week ago, hyperventilated with a rush of sensations that shifted too quickly for her to give names to. She walked slowly forward, a step at a time, not sure where she was going or why, dimly clutching onto the phone number and address she’d removed from the ERA info kit.
[Not sure where to go from here. I’m kinda toying having her get hit by a car in a minute and ending the story, but that feels a little cheap. What I really want to do is zoom out and look at this whole thing from a much bigger panaromic view, really explore some of the interesting consequences, but I’m not quite sure how to do that.]