Adventures in Ethics and Science

Some quick thoughts in response to the session led by PropterDoc and Sciencewoman.

In some sense, this is really just an extension of the problem of managing your public persona as you go through transitions in life.

Maybe it’s something even deeper than that. Maybe it’s a piece of the project of deciding who you are and what kind of person to be.

How we present ourselves to other people leaves traces. Our interactions with others create components of the environments that other people live in and respond to. Our words have consequences, and so do the moments where we are silent.

Now, we may think of ourselves as being a particular kind of person on the inside, but from the point of view of the world we share, it’s hard for me to believe that we aren’t largely constituted by the stuff be bring out of ourselves. And I don’t think that there’s a principled difference between the stuff we bring out of ourselves in a three-dimensional conversation transmitted by sound waves and the stuff we bring out of ourselves in a blog post. Both are instances of communication that give others at least circumstantial evidence about what kind of person we are.

Is it fair to hold people accountable for what kinds of people they are?

Living our lives online, of course, means that some of the stages of becoming ourselves that we’d rather forget are preserved for later examination by others. Our conversations that feel private (because they are conducted against the noisy background of a gazillion such online conversations) can become more public. Our safe spaces can fall prey to the scrutiny of the classmates, advisors, bosses, family members, or whoever else was creating the non-safe space from which we were seeking relief.

We might have actually stated a position strongly and then, later, changed our minds.

Our past is out there on the internets. But testimony about our past would be available even in the absence of the internet (unless, once the recommendations are signed and sent, you’ve arranged for the speedy demise of all those who mentored you — something against which I recommend in no uncertain terms). Opting out of leaving an online footprint is not going to give you full authority to tell the story of who it is you are and how it is you came to be that way. Your “authorial intent” in living your life matters, but the lives your life touches give their own testimony, and sometimes the story takes a turn you neither expected nor intended.

The big issue, perhaps, is to figure out how much we think it matters where people have been, rather than where, and who, they are now.

Comments

  1. #1 thomas robey
    January 18, 2009

    Right on Dr. Free-Ride!

    It’s also important to note how expressions on-line can facilitate life transitions, especially as life on-line is respected as a legitimate expression of self in the off-line world.

  2. #2 Nathan Hollis Brown
    January 19, 2009

    Thanks for joining us. We were glad to have you. Nice baseball tees, too!

  3. #3 $0.01
    January 19, 2009

    Believe you me, documentation of this era is so wildly different and monstrously voluminous that archivists and historians are both dismayed and delighted. How I wish that everyone could be as introspective as you about The Life Reprsented but then again, it is weirdly wonderful to be able to access the day-to-day thoughts of millions of people. May you live in interesting times, indeed! And may you have a good filter for what goes in as well as what comes out. Posterity, ho!

  4. #4 Pat
    January 22, 2009

    I love to be around people who have their public persona well in hand. But if I see they have accomplished that at the expense of passion, love, truth, creativity, humanness, simple-minded cache, I will quickly turn away even if they look like a movie star. Rare is the person who can keep all this going with gentleness, compassion, truthfulness, wisdom and live a full life. And a certain amount of tolerance should come peoples’ way based on their wisdom, behavior, and care for important issues we must solve.
    The measure of a gentlemen or gentlewoman is appropriateness. Sometimes it is appropriate to get angry, to forget political correctness, and even gentleness. Our new President did a beautiful job with his treatment of Bush/Cheney. He thanked them politely and proceeded to firmly say, however you were wrong and we are going to change all that. It was a great example for us all.
    We should all stop with the politically correctness and examine that idea more carefully. There are people who do not deserve respect, and ideas that do not deserve respect.
    There is no need for anyone to grow away from being black, red, handicapped, elderly and I can think of many more and so can you. But there is a need for people to evolve away from ignorance that affects us all. You do no one a favor when you patronize them.
    It has been good that we have rooted out the KU KLUX KLAN language from our language. Now we need to start to be more discerning about those we tolerate who do not deserve our tolerance. Bush and his base of people who tried to shred our Constitution, turn American into a theocracy, and gain control of our powerful military to force us and the rest of the world to be just like them are not simply about Democracy, no simply arrogant, they do not deserve our tolerance. We should never have tolerated them. It has been a hard and costly mistake and has left our World in ruins. It may yet cause the extinction of the human species and the planet.
    We must learn to educate ourselves in meaningful ways even if appearances suffer. We must start to discern who has and who has not earned our tolerance and learn to say no to the unworthy. Let that start now with this new President. We need to offer opportunities for everyone’s growth and to insist on humility instead of arrogance, good citizenship and lawful behavior, and tolerate only where it is appropriate.
    In regard to reproduction, there is one hugh question we should each get straight in our own heads before we try to help or teach others and before we complete our own persona. That is: Does anyone have an unquestionable right to reproduce? Where does it say that anywhere? Science has the answers but we have been forbidden to look at all this clearly. Our reproduction affects our whole planet and it is vital that we face the facts involved. You have to decide for yourselves, while you still can, am I reproducing because I am indoctrinated to do so? Then explore that question bravely and thoroughly before you worry about completing making the answer a part of yourself, and before embarking on reproduction. You may find, like so many others before you who have realized too late, that you are not parent material and it would be wonderful for the rest of the world if you make a new kind of life that is fulfilling and wonderful for yourself and the rest of us.
    Thanks for your time.

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