There are many ways to die, but the public concern tends to focus on whatever is illuminated in the media spotlight. 2012 saw considerable focus on guns and some modest attention on a somewhat unexpected and perhaps ironic killer, namely pain medication. In the United States, about 20,000 people die each year (about one every 19 minutes) due to pain medication. This typically occurs from what is called “stacking”: a person will take multiple pain medications and sometimes add alcohol to the mix resulting in death. While some people might elect to use this as a method of suicide, most of the deaths appear to be accidental—that is, the person had no intention of ending his life.
The number of deaths is so high in part because of the volume of painkillers being consumed in the United States. Americans consume 80% of the world’s painkillers and the consumption jumped 600% from 1997 to 2007. Of course, one rather important matter is the reasons why there is such an excessive consumption of pain pills.
One reason is that doctors have been complicit in the increased use of pain medications. While there have been some efforts to cut back on prescribing pain medication, medical professionals were generally willing to write prescriptions for pain medication even in cases when such medicine was not medically necessary. This is similar to the over-prescribing of antibiotics that has come back to haunt us with drug resistant strains of bacteria. In some cases doctors no doubt simply prescribed the drugs to appease patients. In other cases profit was perhaps a motive. Fortunately, there have been serious efforts to address this matter in the medical community.
A second reason is that pharmaceutical companies did a good job selling their pain medications and encouraged doctors to prescribe them and patients to use them. While the industry had no intention of killing its customers, the pushing of pain medication has had that effect.
Of course, the doctors and pharmaceutical companies do not bear the main blame. While the companies supplied the product and the doctors provided the prescriptions, the patients had to want the drugs and use the drugs in order for this problem to reach the level of an epidemic.
The main causal factor would seem to be that the American attitude towards pain changed and resulted in the above mentioned 600% increase in the consumption of pain killers. In the past, Americans seemed more willing to tolerate pain and less willing to use heavy duty pain medications to treat relatively minor pains. These attitudes changed and now Americans are generally less willing to tolerate pain and more willing to turn to prescription pain killers. I regard this as a moral failing on the part of Americans.
As an athlete, I am no stranger to pain. I have suffered the usual assortment of injuries that go along with being a competitive runner and a martial artist. I also received some advanced education in pain when a fall tore my quadriceps tendon. As might be imagined, I have received numerous prescriptions for pain medication. However, I have used pain medications incredibly sparingly and if I do get a prescription filled, I usually end up properly disposing of the vast majority of the medication. I do admit that I did make use of pain medication when recovering from my tendon tear—the surgery involved a seven inch incision in my leg that cut down until the tendon was exposed. The doctor had to retrieve the tendon, drill holes through my knee cap to re-attach the tendon and then close the incision. As might be imagined, this was a source of considerable pain. However, I only used the pain medicine when I needed to sleep at night—I found that the pain tended to keep me awake at first. Some people did ask me if I had any problem resisting the lure of the pain medication (and a few people, jokingly I hope, asked for my extras). I had no trouble at all. Naturally, given that so many people are abusing pain medication, I did wonder about the differences between myself and my fellows who are hooked on pain medication—sometimes to the point of death.
A key part of the explanation is my system of values. When I was a kid, I was rather weak in regards to pain. I infer this is true of most people. However, my father and others endeavored to teach me that a boy should be tough in the face of pain. When I started running, I learned a lot about pain (I first started running in basketball shoes and got huge, bleeding blisters). My main lesson was that an athlete did not let pain defeat him and certainly did not let down the team just because something hurt. When I started martial arts, I learned a lot more about pain and how to endure it. This training instilled me with the belief that one should endure pain and that to give in to it would be dishonorable and wrong. This also includes the idea that the use of painkillers is undesirable. This was balanced by the accompanying belief, namely that a person should not needlessly injure his body. As might be suspected, I learned to distinguish between mere pain and actual damage occurring to my body.
Of course, the above just explains why I believe what I do—it does not serve to provide a moral argument for enduring pain and resisting the abuse of pain medication. What is wanted are reasons to think that my view is morally commendable and that the alternative is to be condemned. Not surprisingly, I will turn to Aristotle here.
Following Aristotle, one becomes better able to endure pain by habituation. In my case, running and martial arts built my tolerance for pain, allowing me to handle the pain ever more effectively, both mentally and physically. Because of this, when I fell from my roof and tore my quadriceps tendon, I was able to drive myself to the doctor—I had one working leg, which is all I needed. This ability to endure pain also serves me well in lesser situations, such as racing, enduring committee meetings and grading papers.
This, of course, provides a practical reason to learn to endure pain—a person is much more capable of facing problems involving pain when she is properly trained in the matter. Someone who lacks this training and ability will be at a disadvantage when facing situations involving pain and this could prove harmful or even fatal. Naturally, a person who relies on pain medication to deal with pain will not be training themselves to endure. Rather, she will be training herself to give in to pain and become dependent on medication that will become increasingly ineffective. In fact, some people end up becoming even more sensitive to pain because of their pain medication.
From a moral standpoint, a person who does not learn to endure pain properly and instead turns unnecessarily to pain medication is doing harm to himself and this can even lead to an untimely death. Naturally, as Aristotle would argue, there is also an excess when it comes to dealing with pain: a person who forces herself to endure pain beyond her limits or when doing so causes actually damage is not acting wisely or virtuously, but self-destructively. This can be used in a utilitarian argument to establish the wrongness of relying on pain medication unnecessarily as well as the wrongness of enduring pain stupidly. Obviously, it can also be used in the context of virtue theory: a person who turns to medication too quickly is defective in terms of deficiency; one who harms herself by suffering beyond the point of reason is defective in terms of excess.
Currently, Americans are, in general, suffering from a moral deficiency in regards to the matter of pain tolerance and it is killing us at an alarming rate. As might be suspected, there have been attempts to address the matter through laws and regulations regarding pain medication prescriptions. This supplies people with a will surrogate—if a person cannot get pain medication, then she will have to endure the pain. Of course, people are rather adept at getting drugs illegally and hence such laws and regulations are of limited effectiveness.
What is also needed is a change in values. As noted above, Americans are generally less willing to tolerate even minor pains and are generally willing to turn towards powerful pain medication. Since this was not always the case, it seems clear that this could be changed via proper training and values. What people need is, as discussed in an earlier essay, training of the will to endure pain that should be endured and resist the easy fix of medication.
In closing, I am obligated to add that there are cases in which the use of pain medication is legitimate. After all, the body and will are not limitless in their capacities and there are times when pain should be killed rather than endured. Obvious cases include severe injuries and illnesses. The challenge then, is sorting out what pain should be endured and what should not. Since I am a crazy runner, I tend to err on the side of enduring pain—sometimes foolishly so. As such, I would probably not be the best person to address this matter.
As the 2012 election approaches, the two opposing camps have been stepping up their attack ads and deploying their minions, spinions, surrogates and proxies to do their dirty work.
One of the stock attack tactics in politics is to lie. Naturally, there are various types of lies. For example, one way to lie is to engage in intentional distortion of a person’s position, as was done with Obama’s remarks about building businesses. There is also the option of just saying something that is an outright falsehood, as Obama did regarding Romney’s position on abortion.
This sort of deceit (or error, if one wants to be excessively kind) would make some sort of sense if the candidates did not have plenty of legitimate grounds on which to criticize or attack each other, thus leading me to wonder (once again) why people lie in such matters when the truth should suffice.
Romney could have restricted himself to legitimately and truthfully go after Obama about the weak economy, morally dubious drone strikes and so on. Likewise, Obama had plenty of legitimate points to bring up about Romney (mining the Republican attacks on Romney would have provided him with plenty of material).
I suspect that one reason why such lies are told (as opposed to mere errors) is that they are essentially attempts to use the straw man fallacy that slide from being mere distortions to actual lies. The appeal is, of course, that the straw man works quite well as a rhetorical device and a lie that is a distortion would inherit this persuasive power.
Another reason such lies are told is that they are easy. After all, while politicians will make gaffes, getting a good one is often a matter of luck. As such, making one by distortion or just making one up is far more reliable. Since people are rather inclined to consume appealing lies hook, line and sinker and ignore unappealing truths, such deceit can generally be conducted safely. Weirdly, while politicians seem to have a ticket to lie, if a company is misleading about the health value of a chocolate spread, then they can be forced to pay a settlement. This suggests that, just perhaps, politicians lie because they can.
I also suspect that some of the lies are told because the person actually believes what they are saying. As such, they are saying something untrue, yet think it is accurate because of their political bias. That is, it feels true to them so they assume that it is. As I have discussed in other posts, people tend to suspend their rational faculties when it comes to politics-they feel their way rather than thinking their way.
Another possibility is what could be called the story-teller effect. When people get talking and telling stories, they have, (as Aristotle noted in the Poetics) a natural tendency to embellish the story to make it more pleasing to the audience. Also, (as Hobbes noted) people like to speak well of themselves and poorly of their competition and this leads to a natural tendency towards exaggeration of one’s virtues and the other person’s vices. These tendencies seem to be so natural that people probably do not even realize that they moving away from the truth, especially when they get caught up in the emotions they are trying to inspire in the audience.
As I mentioned in a previous essay, I recently started watching HBO’s Game of Thrones. In addition to noticing the predominance of evil, I also noticed that the show apparently had a budget for boobs (a large budget, as a friend of mine commented on Facebook). When talking about the show, I jokingly claimed that HBO stood for wHores, Boobs and Obscenity but a bit of reflection on shows like True Blood and Game of Thrones revealed that that this was rather dead on. Of course, the display of breasts in not limited to Game of Thrones. As a fan of science fiction and fantasy, I am well aware that the breast is a standard guest in many works of the genre.
While I was dismayed by the evil in Game of Thrones, I was also somewhat dismayed by the amount of nudity. To be honest, my reaction was somewhat split. As a straight male, I am reasonably confident that I am hardwired to be very much in favor of boobs and accept that, in general, the more boobs the better. There is no doubt a circuit in the male brain says “if boobs, then yay!” Of course, this is a fairly base reaction and is not a matter of reflection. There is, not surprisingly, clearly an interesting issue here.
In terms of objecting to the display of nudity (specifically boobs) in such aesthetic works as Game of Thrones there seems to be to main avenues of approach. The first is ethical and the second is aesthetical.
In regards to ethics, one stock moral objection to nudity is that nudity is something inherently wrong and is something dirty or filthy. This view is typically grounded on a religious foundation which casts nudity as something shameful. Not surprisingly, this is commonly based in the story of Adam and Eve in which the pair learn to be ashamed of their nudity and this seems to set the stage for a puritanical view of the human form that persists to this day. There is, of course, a strong tendency to cast female nudity as being especially bad—there is an abundance of feminist literature addressing this point and hence I will not expand on this here.
Some people take a somewhat different view, claiming that it is men that are the problem and the moral weakness of men entails that women must always be covered. However, the result tends to be a similar view: female nudity is a moral threat.
While this sort of view is popular, it is not one I subscribe to. As far as the religious foundation, there are two obvious replies. The first is that the burden of proof rests on those who make such an argument—they need to prove that God exists and that God is okay with the idea that the human form is “dirty” and should be covered in shame. That is, God’s own handiwork is a shameful thing. The second is that the human form does not seem to be dirty and although some people might stand some more time working out, there does seem to be a beauty to the human body—as the ancient Greeks and others clearly believed. Thus, while the shame argument is not without merit, I do not find it convincing and it is certainly not the foundation of my dismay at gratuitous nudity.
A second stock moral objection to nudity is from Plato, namely that the portrayal of lustful behavior will corrupt the viewer because the viewer will not be on guard against said corruption. On this view, it is not that the nudity itself is bad; rather it would be the lustful behavior that is typically associated with said nudity. As such, the concern about nudity would be secondary, although the display of nudity would presumably augment the alleged corrupting power of the art.
This argument does have some appeal. After all, what people experience (even fictional experiences) does help shape how people think and behave. Hence, exposure to nudity and lustful behavior in art could shape people in negative ways. This is similar to a common argument against pornography. Of course, the nudity in science fiction and fantasy is supposed to not be of primary concern whereas pornography is supposed to be focused primarily on the nudity and sex.
While this argument does seem reasonable, the corrupting power of the occasional breast or other nudity in science fiction or fantasy works seems rather limited. To use an analogy to radiation, the amount of exposure does generally not seem enough to provide a dangerous dose of boob (and this assumes there is a dangerous dose). As such, the corruption argument does not really motivate my dismay at the typical nudity in such works.
A third moral argument is a specific variation on the corruption argument and is one that is commonly presented by feminist thinkers in regards to female nudity. The idea is that the use of female nudity in this way demeans women by using them as mere sexual objects. This is harmful to both females (who are demeaned and objectified) and males (who learn to demean and objectify) and hence wrong.
This argument does have some appeal. After all, looking at the demographic target for science fiction and fantasy that includes nudity (usually boys and nerdy men) it seems very likely that the nudity is there to attract and titillate the male viewers. That is, the women are being exploited as objects for the amusement of men. This does work—I recall, as a young guy, people talking about seeing certain movies specifically for the nude scenes.
Even then, this struck me as a bit odd—I recall asking a friend why he just did not get a Penthouse or Playboy if he wanted to see nudity (this was long before the internet). These days, of course, the internet is chock full of all the nudity and sex anyone could want and this seems to make gratuitous nudity make even less sense. My suspicion is that the situation is rather like with the way it was with Playboy. People used to say that they got Playboy for the articles and perhaps people do the same thing with science-fiction and fantasy works that feature nudity—they can say they are watching it for the story and that the nudity just happens to be there. Presumably this works in a way similar to the psychology that allows a person to feel that they are dieting when they have a diet soda with their megameal.
Getting back to the main subject, this line of argumentation does have merit—most cases of nudity in such works occurs simply to appeal to the target demographic and clearly seems to be objectifying and demeaning women. This does not, of course, even take into account women being cast as sexual victims (prostitutes, rape victims and so on) in such works.
That said, there is a reasonable concern that this sort of argument can bring one into the moral territory of the other two moral arguments. After all, if it is claimed that nudity demeans a woman and presents her as a mere object, then this would seem to entail that there is something wrong about the female body, which seems somewhat problematic from many feminist perspectives. The easy reply is, of course, that it is not the woman’s body that is wrong, but rather the way the woman is being treated and the specific context. This seems like a reasonable reply.
In my own case, I do admit that this is part of the reason that I often feel dismay at such nudity. It is not so much the nudity itself, but the way it is used and the context, which is often demeaning. However, the moral aspects of the matter do not exhaust the issue and there remains the aesthetic aspect.
When it comes to aesthetics, I am something of a traditionalist. To be specific, I draw much of my aesthetic theory from thinkers like Plato and Aristotle. While I have already mentioned Plato’s argument, I will now borrow a bit from Aristotle.
When I teach my students how to write the paper for my classes, I discuss the matter of deciding what should and should not be in the paper. I base this discussion on Aristotle’s view that a work should be a complete whole as defined by the purpose of the work. I tell my students that there is a simple test to decide whether something should be left in or left out, namely to leave it out and see whether this improves, worsens or leaves the work the same. Obviously, if leaving it out makes the work worse relative to its purpose, then it should be retained. Otherwise it should be removed. This same sort of principle can be applied to nudity in works of science fiction and fantasy.
While a discussion of the purposes of science fiction and fantasy would go beyond the limited scope of this essay, it does seem reasonable to accept that their primary purpose is not to serve as a platform for displaying boobs to men. That is, of course, the purpose of pornography. As works of fiction, their main purpose is to present a story (at least as Aristotle would argue) and that should be the main focus. Sticking with Aristotle, the display of nudity would typically seem to be part of the spectacle rather than part of the story. That is to say, that the nudity does not (in almost all cases) advance the plot in a way that is probably or necessary in order to achieve the purpose of the work.
What is hardly surprising is that science-fiction and fantasy have a long tradition of gratuitous nudity that has no connection at all to the plot. For example, in Moontrap there is a completely gratuitous stripper scene that has nothing to do with the plot (what little plot there was). As far as why I used that example, the image of Chekov (Walter Koenig) in a strip joint stuck in my mind. Obviously, gratuitous nudity by its nature lacks an aesthetic justification.
Interestingly, some movies and shows have attempted to merge plot and sex, creating what Myles McNutt called “sexposition”, which is when characters present exposition while having sex.
Not surprisingly, this attempt to merge sex/nudity and exposition seems to be an aesthetic failure. First, it seems to be rather odd to have people engaged in lengthy exposition during sex. While I am not an expert on sex, it seems that is not something that people would do. As such, this makes the scenes less in accord with what is probable. Second, the nudity still seems to add nothing to the plot—the exposition is doing all that and hence the nudity is gratuitous and would seem to have no aesthetic justification.
In addition to not adding anything to the story, the use of gratuitous nudity seems to have two other flaws. The first is that it can be seen as an insult to the audience—that they need to be thrown a boob or two in order to retain interest in the work. Of course, this might be true of some people. Second, it would seem to show a lack of talent on the part of those creating the work. After all, if they cannot sustain interest through aesthetic means and need to throw in nudity to keep people interested or to fill the visual space while characters are engaged in lengthy exposition, then they would seem to be lacking in their craft. Of course, it is fair to keep in mind that a show or film is subject to many influences and creators and that the nudity stuck into a work might not be the idea of the writer or director and hence should not be held against them. For example, some of the nudity and sexposition in the Game of Thrones need not be what Martin envisioned and what was added to his work is not his fault.
These arguments do not exclude all nudity. After all, there can be cases in which the nudity is warranted on aesthetic grounds. For example, the nudity in a scene might be required for realism and the scene might be an important part of the plot. That is, removing the scene or the nudity would result in an inferior aesthetic result. I am sure that there are such cases, but none come to mind.
As another example, the nudity might actually be an important part of the experience the work is supposed to create. For example, From Dusk Till Dawn can be seen as intentionally embracing the stereotypes of the genre which must, of necessity, include gratuitous nudity. As such, the nudity does serve a legitimate aesthetic purpose in that work. Maybe.
While I am a fan of the fantasy genre, I only recently saw the first few episodes of Game of Thrones. One reason for this is purely practical—I am not willing to add to my already ridiculous cable bill by adding a premium channel, so I waited for it to become available via Netflix. A more substantial reason is that when my friends who watched it spoke of the series, they gushed about the grittiness and enthused over the evil of most of the characters. The plot also struck me as a bit like Desperate Housewives, only with swords and dire wolves. However, the appalling lack of fantasy and sci-fi content on television drove me watch the series. It was pretty much as I had expected, given the extensive descriptions provided by my friends.
Naturally, I am well-aware that aesthetic taste is similar in many ways to one’s taste in food: what one finds too bland, another finds too spicy. I am also mature enough to recognize that what I dislike might be liked (even loved) by others and that there might be merit in such things. Of course, I do not subscribe to an aesthetic subjectivism so I do not accept that aesthetic discussions end after one has expressed one’s like or dislike. As such, I will endeavor to present a rough discussion of fantasy and evil.
To set the stage a bit in regards to my own biases, my love of fantasy was shaped primarily by writers like Tolkien and by games like AD&D. Roughly put, my views have been shaped by heroic fantasy. While such fantasy worlds do contain evil (such as Sauron and Orcus), the evil is of a rather different sort than that of Game of Thrones. In Game of Thrones, the evil of classic fantasy is wedded to (or raped by) perversion, depravity and other such horrors that are seen as making evil “gritty and real.” This is, of course, not limited to this series. The idea of presenting evil characters in this manner is rather common, and occurs in other HBO series (such as True Blood) and fiction.
One problem, as I see it, is that Game of Thrones breaks the rules of the fantasy genre by presenting and seemingly glorying in this sort of evil. This, as I noted above, was one reason I resisted watching the series (and reading the books).
There are two easy and obvious replies to this alleged problem. First, heroic fantasy is but one of the many legitimate sub-genres within the fantasy genre. While the genre does require fantasy elements to be present (one cannot have a fantasy work without at least some minimal elements of magic), it can be argued that there is no moral requirement in regards to a work being a proper fantasy work. Obviously, this series is not heroic fantasy, but it seems sensible to say that it is still quite legitimately fantasy. After all, it does include the seemingly supernatural others/white walkers (unless they are actually non-magical aliens or something) and the technology is at the sword and bow level.
Second, the evil portrayed in the series is obviously taken from the real world. As such, the work does nicely meet Aristotle’s view that the characters and actions should be such that they conform to what is probable. As Aristotle argued, what has occurred is obviously possible. It could even be argued that this series and others that embrace gritty realism are better than the more classic works because they are more realistic. This could form the basis of a counter attack, namely that heroic fantasy is defective because presents the characters (humans, at least) in a way that is improbable (that is, being mostly heroic and good rather than mostly depraved and evil).
One response to this argument is that fantasy works by their very nature need to break with reality. After all, if they were strictly realistic, they would cease to be fantasy. As such, by presenting humans in what is taken to be “gritty and real”, a work is failing to be a work of fantasy and instead is realism, only with a monster or two thrown in to create the appearance of fantasy.
This raises the obvious concern about what sort of realism a fantasy work should include and what it should reject. While traditional fantasy typically rejects much of the reality of evil, it can be argued that this merely defines that sort of sub-genre rather than defining the entire genre. As such, a work can be very realistic in some ways, provided that it contains at least the necessary conditions for being a work of fantasy. In the case of Game of Thrones, it can wallow in evil while also being legitimate fantasy.
While I obviously prefer my fantasy with less evil (or at least with less of the sorts of evil in the series), I must concede that the inclusion of such evil is obviously compatible with the fantasy genre, though obviously not with the traditional heroic fantasy. Interestingly, I have been told that my own preference for classic heroic fantasy shows that I am lacking in maturity and adult sensibilities. That is, it is a defect on my part to not prefer the gritty realism and evil of Game of Thrones to works like The Lord of the Rings. My own self-righteous reply is that I have a preference for good over evil, which brings me to a second point, namely the matter of corruption.
In Book X of the Republic Plato argues that art presents a terrible danger because it appeals to the emotions and encourages people to give in, in harmful ways, to these emotions. For example, someone who watches works filled with lust and violence might become more inclined to yield to lust and violence in real life because of the corrupting power of art. This is, of course, the foundation for most censorship arguments. Lest anyone think I favor censorship, I do not.
While I have known about Plato’s arguments for years, I found them unconvincing until I happened to play Grand Theft Auto III. Unlike the usual violent games I had played, GTA III casts the player as a bad person doing bad things for bad reasons. I am not sure how many police cars I had burning in the street or how many hookers I had killed before I could actually feel the corrupting influence of the game. I dropped the controller, popped out the disk and never played that sort of game again. I did, however, continue to play violent video games.
When thinking about Game of Thrones and similar works in the context of my old GTA III experience, I knew that it was not the violence that bothered me. After all, I enjoy violent video games, I play Pathfinder and I like fantasy novels that are replete with battle. In the case of Game of Thrones (GT), my analysis is roughly the same as that I made of GTA III.
In heroic fantasy, the heroes are trying to save the world by fighting evil. There is, as such, a clear moral purpose, even though violence is the usual means to the moral end. In the case of Game of Thrones, there is considerable focus on characters doing bad things for their own selfish ends, or (in some cases) simply because they are psychotically evil. So, in heroic fantasy, the heroes are acting in the right way towards the right persons for the right reasons. In the “gritty and realistic” works, the characters typically act in the wrong way towards the wrong people for the wrong reasons. As one might gather, I find this overabundance of evil unappealing and I am concerned that exposure to such material can (as Plato argued) have a corrupting influence on people. After all, what people watch and experience shapes their cogitative processes and being exposed to an unrelenting tide of virtual evil would seem to have an impact on people. Interestingly, Katharine Llyod makes a similar argument regarding the corrupting influences of Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray.
Since I am a proponent of freedom of expression, I always feel rather odd arguing against authors doing as they wish in terms of the ethics they present in their works. However, I have never held that artists are exempt from morality (which, I am sure, would be vigorously argued against by someone like Oscar Wilde). I do, as might be suspected, agree with Aristotle that “things are censured either as impossible, irrational, morally hurtful, contradictory, or contrary to artistic correctness.” But, Game of Thrones is currently the only game in town, so I watch, though I probably should not.
My university, Florida A&M University (FAMU), recently adopted a dress code (or, to be more technical the trustees approved new dress standards). This code allows professors to prevent students from attending classes (or other functions) if the students are not dress appropriately. Previously only the school of business had a dress code.
There seem to be three main reasons for this code. The first is that it is taken as educational. That is, it is supposed to teach students what sort of dress will serve them best professionally and socially. The second relates to classroom order, namely it is intended to deter students from wearing clothing to class that could disrupt the class. The third is a matter of image, specifically that it is aimed at preventing students from wearing clothing that will make FAMU look bad.
While I have not (as of this writing) been supplied with a list of banned attire, it does include “do-rags”, hoods, and the infamous underwear revealing “saggy pants.” Rumor also has it that tube tops and t-shirts with inflammatory language will also be banned.
As might be imagined, I am somewhat divided on this matter. However, I will endeavor to sort through the matter from a philosophical and professorial perspective. I will do so by looking at the reasons behind the code.
The first reason nicely matches Aristotle’s views of education. When discussing moral education, Aristotle notes that young people do not find a temperate life to be particularly appealing, so it is necessary to condition them to such a life. Doing so, he argues, will make it less irksome and hence it will be all the easier to ensure that they follow the right path throughout life. As might be imagined, many college students would prefer to not dress like professionals and prefer to be rather more casual. Also, some college students clearly prefer the now forbidden styles. As might be imagined, the job creators who will hire the students when the graduate will expect their employees to dress in appropriate ways. As such, the university would merely be extending its mission of conditioning students for the workplace by adding in control over their modes of dress. After all, the American education system has been training students to follow schedules, do boring work at the behest of others, obey petty authorities, stand in lines, and so on. What, it might be asked, is the problem with adding a conformity of costume to the curriculum of conditioning?
The obvious problem is, of course, that such an imposition seems to violate the liberty of the students. Since they are adults, there is a presumption in favor of their right to dress as they choose. Naturally, this should match the laws regarding public indecency (although those could be challenged as well). However, provided the students are not violating such laws, it would seem reasonable to not impose on their liberty. Unless, of course, the harm done by specific attire would morally warrant imposing on the liberty of the students. This takes me to the second reason.
The second reason does have some appeal. While I have never had a class actually disrupted by someone’s choice of attire, it does seem possible for this to happen-provided that the clothing was such that it would create a significant and lasting impact on the class. In all my years of teaching, about the most extreme reactions I have seen is having some students stare briefly at another student because of his/her choice of clothing. This has sometimes been followed by some whispering. However, this sort of “disruption” is nothing compared with the disruptive influence of personal electronics and people talking to each other in class. Naturally, students coming to class partially or fully naked would probably have a significant impact-but that is already covered, I think, by existing laws regarding public nudity. Because of this, I have never really considered improper attire a threat to my classroom-but my experience might be unusual. There is also the possibility that I am blind to the damage it has been doing in my classes. If other professors’ classes (and mine) are, in fact, being disrupted by improper attire, then the code would make sense on this ground. After all, the disruption of class would harm the other students and thus warrant imposing on the liberty of the student whose attire is causing the disruption.
Of course, it could be countered that there are cases in which the student cannot be reasonably held accountable for the reaction of others. To use the obvious analogy to free speech, if a student says something that annoys, offends or otherwise bothers other students, this does not automatically entail that the student should be compelled to be silent. For example, if a student presents an argument in favor of God’s existence that really annoys some atheists in a religion class, it would hardly be right to silence the student because of this.
The obvious counter to this is to argue that the clothing being banned is not the clothing equivalent of a rational argument that bothers those who disagree. Rather, the clothing is on par with someone shouting vulgarities in class. If this is so, the code would seem sensible.
The third reason also has some appeal. While philosophers are supposed to be concerned with wisdom rather than with the “sights and sounds”, I recognize the importance of appearances when it comes to matters such as recruitment and reputation. For example, if prospective students and their parents see FAMU students dressed inappropriately for higher education, this might impact their decision to attend FAMU (although our enrollment has been at record levels). As another example, photos of the university that feature inappropriately attired students could also do damage to the school’s reputation. After all, reputation is often more about appearance than substance. Naturally, it might be countered that people should be more concerned with the substance than with the appearance, but that idea seems quaintly out of touch in a time when people assert that “perception is reality.” In any case, if the damage done to the university by the inappropriate attire exceeded the damage done to the students by imposing on their liberty, then the imposition of the code would thus seem morally warranted.