Apr 042018
 
 April 4, 2018

On March 23, the Rethinking Regulation program hosted a book workshop for Professor Matthew Adler’s new book project, Measuring Social Welfare: An Introduction. The book introduces the theory and application of the social welfare function (SWF), a powerful tool for assessing governmental policy. Measuring Social Welfare, under contract with Oxford University Press, is intended to serve as an accessible introduction to the SWF approach.

Distinguished guests from the Duke community and outside institutions were welcomed by Suzanne Shanahan, director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and Lori Bennear and Jonathan B. Wiener, co-directors of the Rethinking Regulation Program.

Apr 042018
 
 April 4, 2018

Last week, the student-led Honor Council organized a series of events to mark Integrity Week and its own 25th anniversary. A March 30th talk by former United States Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Sarah Bloom Raskin was the culminating event. Raskin is a KIE Rubenstein Fellow working closely with the Rethinking Regulation program.

The Integrity Week events were part of a year-long series of ethics-themed programs focusing on ethical issues in higher education, business, and in the community. Read more.

 

 

Feb 192018
 
 February 19, 2018

After thinking about the “So you want to be a (good) attorney” discussion panel last week, I realized that one way in which attorneys can strive to be “good” is to address their implicit biases.  This week, I attended a lecture given by Professor Latonia Keith, the Director of Clinical Education at the Concordia School of Law, regarding her research about the effect implicit gender bias may have both in the legal profession and in the courtroom. Although there has been gender parity in law school classes for the past twenty years, using research gathered by the National Association for Law Placement, Keith claimed that firm partners are overwhelmingly white men. Indeed, less than 20% of equity partners at multi-tier firms are women.  She attributed this inequality between the genders to multiple factors, such as sexual harassment in the workplace and lack of parental support policies, all stemming from implicit gender bias.  At the conclusion of her presentation, Keith recommended that all law schools mandate a “cultural competency course”.

During her lecture, Keith mentioned that some women carry an even greater implicit gender bias than men.  I wondered if women can combat their own implicit biases by resisting a culture in which they are much too often pitted against one another and instead cultivate one characterized by support and mentorship.  Recounting a comment made about her female colleague’s disheveled appearance, Keith admitted to holding an implicit gender bias.  Since Keith claimed that men are not held to the same standards of appearance, she stated that in retrospect she would have never made this comment to a male colleague.  In an interview with Bibi Gnagno I conducted this week, she stressed the importance of mentorship to “break glass ceilings.”  She explained that paths other women entrepreneurs had cleared and barriers they had broken were integral to the success of her own company.

I think that the importance of female support was a predominant theme in this week’s meeting at Brogden, featuring Durham County prosecutors, Ameshia Cooper and Patricia Flood, as the guest speakers.  Throughout the discussion, both attorneys continuously expressed their reliance upon one another for either legal advice or emotional support both in and out of the courtroom. Furthermore, since Cooper has been practicing longer than her, Flood explained that Cooper’s expertise has greatly helped her career.  After the meeting, the girls eagerly asked Cooper and Flood if they could observe a trial and even inquired about possible volunteer opportunities at the courthouse.

I think that this week’s meeting not only made some of the eighth-grade young women realize that law school is very well within their reach, but may have also made them more aware of the crucial role supportive relationships with other women play in enabling success.  Through connecting younger women with older women in their community, I wondered if my project helps to develop these supportive relationships among women and simultaneously counteracts some of the detrimental effects implicit gender bias has for female achievement.

Jan 242018
 
 January 24, 2018

There are two major opportunities for Summer 2018 in pursuing a project under Facing the Anthropocene: the 2018 Farm Fellowship and Graduate Summer Research Grants.

 

2018 Farm Fellows

2018 Farm Fellows:

Facing the Anthropocene is a project led by Norman Wirzba and Jedediah Purdy, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, and housed at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. For the 2018 summer term, we are offering two fellowships in collaboration with the Duke Campus Farm. The fellowships are open to Duke graduate students.

The anthropocene marks the unprecedented moment when humanity becomes a dominant force in planetary history, responsible for widespread alterations of the world’s land, ocean, and atmospheric ecosystems. Facing the Anthropocene considers humanity’s place in the world and what it means for social, political, and institutional change.

The Farm Fellows will work alongside other farm interns, faculty and staff and will engage in archival and field research on the history of land use and habitation on the Farm, and, where appropriate, in the surrounding region. They will focus especially on the Farm’s history and the history of the surrounding area as a site of native land use and enslaved labor and on the question of what sort of historical memory must inform deliberations about future land use. They may also engage other issues, such as the nineteenth century tobacco boom, environmental justice, sustainable agriculture past or present, food systems, etc.

Fellows will receive a stipend of $5000. They are expected to attend a dinner with other fellows early in the summer term, to publish a piece on their research on the project website, and to give a 15 minutes presentation in the 2018 fall term on how their work at the Farm has affected their research projects at Duke.

Duke University is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer committed to providing employment opportunity without regard to an individual’s age, color, disability, genetic information, gender, gender expression, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status. Essential Physical Job Functions: Certain jobs at Duke University and Duke University Health System may include essential job functions that require specific physical and/or mental abilities. Additional information and provision for requests for reasonable accommodation will be provided by each hiring department.

To apply, please send a 1-2 page c.v. and a completed application (see questions below) to mari.jorstad@duke.edu (subject line “Anthropocene Farm Fellows”), no later than March 15th, 2018. For further information, please see our website or contact mari.jorstad@duke.edu.

 

Application: Facing the Anthropocene Farm Fellow, Summer 2018

Your Name:

Your Department/Program:

Which year will you entering in Fall 2018?:

Please answer the following questions in a sentence or short paragraph:

  1. What is the topic of your current research project? How does this fellowship relate to or further your research project?
  2. What experience do you have in archival and field research?
  3. What do you hope to get out of this fellowship?

 

Graduate Summer Research Grants

Graduate Summer Research Grants:

Facing the Anthropocene is a project led by Norman Wirzba and Jedediah Purdy, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, and housed at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. For the 2018 summer term, we are offering three research grants, open to Duke doctorate students who seek to incorporate the anthropocene into their research. The ideal candidate is pre- or early dissertation stage.

The anthropocene marks the unprecedented moment when humanity becomes a dominant force in planetary history, responsible for widespread alterations of the world’s land, ocean, and atmospheric ecosystems. Facing the Anthropocene considers humanity’s place in the world and what it means for social, political, and institutional change.

Grant recipients will receive a stipend of $6000. They are expected to attend a dinner with other fellows early in the summer term, to publish a piece on how the anthropocene influences their their research on the project website, and to give a 15 minutes presentation in the 2018 fall term on how investigations of anthropocene themes have affected their work and future research plans.

Duke University is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer committed to providing employment opportunity without regard to an individual’s age, color, disability, genetic information, gender, gender expression, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status. Essential Physical Job Functions: Certain jobs at Duke University and Duke University Health System may include essential job functions that require specific physical and/or mental abilities. Additional information and provision for requests for reasonable accommodation will be provided by each hiring department.

To apply, please send a 1-2 page c.v. and a completed application form to mari.jorstad@duke.edu (subject line “Anthropocene Graduate Research Grant”), no later than March 15th, 2018. For further information, please see our website or contact mari.jorstad@duke.edu.

 

Application

Facing the Anthropocene Graduate Research Grant, Summer 2018

Your Name:

Your Department/Program:

Which year will you entering in Fall 2018?:

Please answer the following questions in a sentence or short paragraph:

  1. What is the topic of your current research project? How do you imagine incorporating the anthropocene?
  2. In your opinion, in what ways (if any) does the anthropocene push your particular discipline to rethink key questions and methodologies?

 

 

Jan 232018
 
 January 23, 2018

Author and David B. Truman Professor of Environmental studies at Mount Holyoke, Lauret Savoy presented the 2018 Spring Katz Family lecture and the Facing the Anthropocene lecture.
A video of the lecture can be viewed here.

A woman of African American, Euro-American, and Native American heritage, Dr. Savoy writes about the stories we tell of the American land’s origins and the stories we tell of ourselves in this land. In her book Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Landscape, Dr. Savoy explores how the country’s still unfolding history and ideas of “race” have marked her and the land. from twisted terrain within the San Andreas Fault zone to a South Carolina plantation, from national parks to burial grounds, from “Indian Territory” and the U.S.-Mexico Border to the U.S. capital, Trace grapples with a searing national history to reveal the often unvoiced presence of the past.

Dr. Savoy was also interviewed on WUNC’s The State of Things. The interview is available here.

 

This event is sponsored by The Katz Family Women, Ethics, and Leadership Fund, and is in collaboration with the Luce Anthropocene Project and the Power Plant Gallery.

Jan 222018
 
 January 22, 2018

A few weeks back, I was encouraged to visit the Hirshhorn Sculpture Museum while I was visiting the DC area. Chinese artist and famous dissident Ai Weiwei’s most recent exhibit Trace was recently opened to the public and my cousin was eager to go. Ai Weiwei has long been a vocal critic of the state of human rights and free speech in China, and his art often reflects political themes and commentary. A lavish design with interlacing symbols of both expression and control (Twitter birds, chains, surveillance cameras) covered the walls. 176 LEGO portraits of activists and dissidents who have been imprisoned for their beliefs, 38 of which hail from China, covered the floor.

From Ai’s perspective, those depicted in his portraits are “heroes of our time.” Yet many people in China have never heard of these names, at least according to my cousin. She grew up in China and came to the US to attend college, but is not so keen to the idea that censorship could be morally legitimate because it is in the name of protecting the regime; it’s too convenient an excuse that allows for too many abuses of power. One of her friends, also an international student from China, espoused a similarly liberal viewpoint as the student speaker for the University of Maryland College Park Class of 2017 commencement. In what turned out to be a controversial speech on Chinese social media, she related freedom of speech to fresh air, expressing her appreciation for an environment where her voice is not censored when discussing controversial issues, and where she as an individual is free to define what she believes to be true:

I was convinced that only authorities own the narrative, only authorities could define the truth.

However, the opportunity to immerse myself in the diverse community at the University of Maryland exposed me to various, many different perspectives on truth.

I soon realized that here I have the opportunity to speak freely.

My voice matters.

[Applause]

Your voice matters.

Our voices matter.

[Applause]

This speech that was received with applause from classmates at UMD was met with violent criticism from the more nationalist parts of the Chinese web. She propagates the narrative of China that we in the US are used to hearing, a narrative that is popular because it supports the moral superiority of Western liberalism. And while it’s important to understand the ways in which censorship is used to oppress minority voices and legitimate grievances, censorship does serve purposes beyond maintaining political power.

According to one Harvard study, “Contrary to previous understandings, posts with negative, even vitriolic, criticism of the state, its leaders, and its policies are not more likely to be censored. Instead, we show that the censorship program is aimed at curtailing collective action by silencing comments that represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilization, regardless of content.” This guiding principle can apply to expressions that call for the fall of the regime, but also something within the realm of rumors that threaten public health, including one particularly ridiculous one that prompted hordes of Chinese to buy salt as a way to ward off possible nuclear poisoning. In the first scenario, the government is censoring as a precaution to threats to its legitimacy. In the second, it is censoring false information that would be harmful to citizen’s physical and mental health. What the Chinese government fears most is mass mobilization in any form; preventing collective actions in both cases maintains the stability of the country and the preservation of tradition.

Because collective action is so valued as a part of democratic processes, Western liberals are more likely to view the silence of collective expression above all else as evidence that censorship can exclusively be a tool to keep a one-party state in power against the will of its citizens. With my cousin as an example, I initially believed Chinese students studying in Western democracies would be more likely to adopt this attitude rather than exhibit the attitudes of acceptance and justification I saw at DKU. But the way that someone thinks, which develops as one grows up within a culture, is not easily negated after a few years in a new country. They are presented with new arguments, but they continue to approach problems with a mindset influenced by their cultural upbringing. The conclusions they come to are influenced by their personal experiences, and are thus diverse.

For Tom*, a Duke student from China, the problem with censorship is not so much the suppression of rights but of creativity. He told me that censorship has been high in the past ten years, but not so much as to stifle innovation too much. But within two years of Xi Jinping coming to power, the situation started going downhill. One place he says this can be seen is the annual CCTV New Year’s Gala broadcast on Chinese New Year’s, which in the past two years has become almost unbearable to watch because it is so filled with state propaganda. Outside of entertainment, we know that the internet restrictions also become restrictions on trade and economic development.

So there is general consensus that there is too much censorship. It’s just that for those more persuaded by Western liberal philosophy like Ai Weiwei, the (relative lack of) free speech in China is a problem because of conflicting ideologies. For many Chinese students at Duke and DKU, it is a problem of practicality. For me, this is a pretty good analogy for how the cultural mindsets of East and West differ.

There is always a tradeoff between freedom and stability, and societies collectively determine their own balance. In both China and Western democracies, the balance tends to continuously shift, and for different reasons. The most important lesson I want to impart is that it doesn’t make sense to talk about a country within an ethical framework that has little basis in that country’s culture and history. To debate the faults and merits of its systems and practices, to really understand China, should require stepping into a more Chinese perspective. And as this summer comes to a close, I look forward to continuing to deepen this understanding.

 

*name changed for anonymity

Jan 222018
 
 January 22, 2018

Big news this week: China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has announced an initiative that orders China’s three biggest state-run telecommunications firms to bar all mobile customers from accessing personal VPN services by Feb 2018. This is in addition to the initiative announced this past January aimed at eliminating any unauthorized VPN services. Already, the popular China-based GreenVPN was forced to shut down at the beginning of this month after receiving notice from “the higher authorities”. The crackdown is supposed to last through March, by which time more penalties may kick in for any remaining unauthorized services.

VPN’s are used widely to avoid geographic restrictions by routing web traffic through servers in other countries or locations, so I’m not sure how familiar most people (as in, those not regularly traveling to China) are with the service. When they aren’t being used to jump firewalls, they are used for business purposes like connecting traveling employees to the company’s home network. Duke actually offers its own VPN service to access the Duke network from off-campus, but students at DKU have been using it to get around China’s censorship laws and access things like Google Scholar and academic articles.

The first question I wanted to ask was whether I will still be able to use the US-based VPN services I subscribe to for every trip to China, as it is unclear whether this new development will only affect China-based services. But unlike me, the greatest worry of those studying and working in China is not the ability to access Facebook. Though the ministry claims that it will allow use of VPN’s for business purposes, foreign companies in China have long been feeling the strain of doing business under China’s severe internet regulations. The Cybersecurity Law implemented in June gives “government unprecedented access to foreign companies’ technology, as it bolsters control of the collection and movement of data. With the new ban, companies can only use VPN’s after obtaining permission and registration, and “In the past, any effort to cut off internal corporate VPNs has been enough to make a company think about closing or reducing operations in China. It’s that big a deal.” Last year, the office of the US Trade Representative listed Chinese Internet censorship as a trade barrier.

VPN’s have always been in a legal gray area, but individuals have never had to worry about being prosecuted for using them, only about their service being shut down. With a significant party meeting coming up this fall, perhaps the new initiatives constitute a more comprehensive version of the kind of short-term tightening of security that usually happens around times of political sensitivity. Censorship spikes around controversial political events like the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, and it is sure to spike when Beijing hosts the 19th Communist Party Congress, a meeting that happens every 5 years to announce leadership reshuffles, and one that experts believe will consolidate President Xi Jinping’s power in the next five years. If only meant as a short-term damper on public political engagement during a sensitive time, then the ban confirms what we already know about how little confidence the government has in its people to make decisions in their own interests, but it is also a pretty explicit tool for silencing dissenting opinions.

If this new ban will also extend into the long term, then I am compelled to question the validity of the conclusions I drew from my first interviews in China. That is, according to the more educated parts of society and more importantly the Communist party, the severity to which speech is restricted online is needed because those who are less educated are less likely to have the necessary rational to process what they see online in a thoughtful, responsible way. At the same time, VPN’s make it easy for the more educated, who are trusted to consume media from the extranet, to easily bypass Chinese restrictions. Apparently, not anymore.

But, surely it is not in a country’s interest to prevent its scholars from accessing the global network of ideas. Surely it is not in a country’s economic interest to make it harder for foreign companies to do business while also making it harder for its own companies to become more global enterprises. Why is the Communist party so willing to risk economic development when they have been able to sacrifice even human rights for that very goal?

Censorship serves a lot of purposes, and it definitely serves a role in protecting the legitimacy of Chinese-style political meritocracy, or what political philosopher Daniel Bell calls the China Model. In his book by the same name, Bell explains that the China model has roots in imperial China (dating back as far as the 6th century) and ideally seeks to select and promote leaders on based on ability and virtue. Becoming a top leader means passing examinations of intellect, acquiring expansive administrative experience, and rigorous evaluations at every step. Pros: leaders plan for the long term, are not as vulnerable to lobbying by special interests and campaigns. Cons: a system where leaders are not held accountable by the people but by the system itself is prone to corruption, and a regime that is sensitive to dissent can resort to political repression (say, through tighter controls on online expression) deemed necessary.

The Party’s often violent suppression of calls for pro-democracy reform, or censorship of even something as trivial as Winnie the Pooh, are indicative of just how paranoid the regime is. Hard to see what they’re so scared of when surveys consistently show that an overwhelming majority of Chinese support their system of political meritocracy and “guardian discourse” over procedural democracy. Except, trends in Chinese attitudes reveal an equally strong demand for “‘Western’ values such as freedom of speech, government transparency, and rule of law, and these demands will only grow stronger as China modernizes.” The question is, is it possible to protect the Chinese tradition of governance, improving upon the advantages of political meritocracy, while also meeting demands for adopting more liberal ideals

Jan 222018
 
 January 22, 2018

I arrived in Washington DC just in time for the Fourth of July celebrations. On my Instagram feed, I see a friend’s recent post with the caption “proud to live in a country where I have the right to say ‘f*ck you’ to the President.” It’s a great day to celebrate the degree to which we enjoy our right to free speech, something that is still relatively modern even in American history.

I’ve spent the past weeks trying to better understand what censorship in China entails and implies in order to assess Western criticisms against Chinese violations of human rights. This week, I’m trying to get a firmer grasp on the Western historical context that has influenced my perception of free speech, as someone who has grown up in the US. That’s where my friend Alex Zrenner comes in. She was one of the first people I met as an incoming freshman, and just happened to have also done a Kenan Summer Fellow project related to online free speech.

At the core of her project’s ethical framework was this notion of “the marketplace ideas” in which expression of ideas exists in a marketplace of debate and argument that ultimately produces the best idea, the same way market forces produce the market’s true price. But if the problem in China is too many limits on speech, then the US faces its own dilemmas because of its efforts to protect speech at all costs. The failure of the marketplace begins to occur when the right to free speech is abused, like when anonymous users fling death and rape threats at female journalists via Twitter, or when fake news from both sides of the political spectrum is proliferated on Facebook. There exists an unresolved tension between limiting and protecting speech. Who becomes responsible for determining the correct balance?

There is no question that in China, the answer is the Party. But in the US, it is up to individual parties, or more likely, individual businesses. According to Alex, “there is a fundamental distrust in government and more trust in business. And I’m not saying that’s a left or right thing, that is an American thing.” Americans don’t necessarily trust Facebook to police speech, but we do trust the market, and we trust consumers to pressure companies like Facebook to police speech appropriately. If enough people don’t like the way Facebook operates, they will move to Twitter, for example. Developing the right rules for speech are closely tied to a media platform’s business interests.

Sometimes, this means censorship is the price of conducting business. In fact it was recently revealed that the algorithms Facebook uses to differentiate between legitimate political speech and hate speech protects broad categories equally but not subsets of those categories, i.e. Muslims but not “radicalized” Muslims. This “color-blind” approach to policing hate speech tends to favor “elites and governments over grassroots activists and racial minorities,” making it easier to “serve the business interests of the global company, which relies on national governments not to block its service to their citizens.”

This doesn’t translate well to users back home. Reddit, which has long tried to keep speech as unregulated as possible, wanted to cut down on hate speech but faced backlash from users for what was perceived as a move towards too much policing.  Alex wrote two years ago, “What do you do when so many are abusing the freedom of speech? We are afraid to censor them because of our history; it appears we are afraid of this slippery slope from censoring harassment to censoring criticism.” It’s a valid concern, and one that has already played out in China. The main purpose of censorship is supposed to be to prevent the irresponsible spread of false information, but having such a precedence for state-sponsored censorship makes it just as easy to also prevent criticism of government or of those in positions of power in general. Still, the Chinese Communist Party has no qualms with carrying out censorship without especially clear criteria or explanation.

We shouldn’t find the Chinese attitude towards censorship surprising. As a Leninist-type communist party, the Chinese Communist Party is inherently a party of the elite, not of the masses. Only intellectuals and elites are granted prestigious membership into the party, and thus the Party is best suited to serve as a guardian and leader to society. The Party is not a party of the people, and it’s not by the people (in the sense of direct elections), but it is supposed to be for the people, like your nagging mother that is just looking out for your best interest, even if you hate when she limits your internet access.

Meanwhile, Americans have been fighting over whether government should have more or less power to regulate anything since this country was founded. The fundamental difference between American liberals and conservatives is that conservatives trust the people and liberals trust the government. The first parties to form in the US, the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans led by Hamilton and Jefferson respectively, represented this ideological divide. Yet such tension is not present in China. Or as Alex put it quite nicely “China doesn’t have a Jefferson.” There is no liberal or conservative party; there is one party and organized dissent is not allowed.

In a marketplace of ideas, deleting dissenting voices corrupts the market, making it hard for people to make informed choices in their own interests, thus undermining democracy at a fundamental level. But the Chinese government doesn’t have nearly enough confidence in its people to make those informed choices, so it makes choices about its citizens’ interests for them. It almost looks like the relationship between government and people is not too far from what it was in imperial China.

The Chinese conception of good governance will always be hard for the West to accept, and maybe it deserves some more consideration if it has cultural and historical roots. But another key component of the Chinese defense of its own conception of human rights is its prioritization of economic development. With something like the one-child policy, the connection between sacrificing human rights for economic development goals is obvious. The connection with censorship is less clear. It’s hard to see censorship in China as something more than mostly political, but I need to delve into the question of whether it is economically sound before I move forward with the question of whether it is ethically sound.

Dec 212017
 
 December 21, 2017

Join us for a conversation with:

  • Thomas Jackson (UNC Greensboro, Department of History), “The Gandhi in King: Hidden Dimensions of Nonviolence”
  • Nico Slate (Carnegie Mellon University, Department of History), “Race, Caste, and Inequality: Martin Luther King and the Untouchable”
  • Discussants: Sucheta Mazumdar and Vasant Kaiwar (Duke University, Department of History)

This event is part of the on-going discussion series Conversations in Human Rights, bringing together panelists from other institutions and Duke faculty to engage with their research on hot-button international human rights issues. The series draws together the social sciences, humanities, law, and policy.

To RSVP for the event, email Deirdre White at deirdre.white@duke.edu by noon Feb 5th,

The event will be held on Thursday, Feb. 8 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in Room 101 (Ahmadieh Family Conference Room) West Duke.

This event is co-sponsored by the Duke India Initiative.