Questions to ponder on fear

1. What do you fear and why?
2. Is knowing what others fear a matter of privacy? What about other emotions? Will emotional/mental states ever be sufficiently measured by human beings?
3. Describing fear as a bodily response to a threat, Quirk (2015) describes the flight or flight response as a combination of increased breathing rate, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, decreased pain sensitivity, etc., i.e., fear as a physiological function. Sometimes altered physiological functions allow performance in extreme conditions. For example, a soldier on the battlefield may perform their duty better when scared (or when not). Would the U.S. Military be justified in using fear as a motivator (or suppressing it entirely) for its soldiers? Would it be justified in using fear as a tool of war?
4. Quirk notes that the brain mechanism of fear learning is conserved across species with the amygdala, a subcortical region located in the medial temporal lobe, crucial as a node in fear circuitry. Why do you think, given nature’s variety, that its response to fear is so largely self similar?
5. Do you have phobophilia? The love of fear? Do you enjoy scary stories, haunted houses, darkened woods? Why would someone like fear in certain contexts?
6. Duke et al (1993) end by stating “[b]ecause fear resides within the individual, a manager must project beyond personal opinion about what fear issues are important and develop perspectives similar to those of other stakeholders to properly evaluate the effects of a fear appeal.” How can we develop (empathetic) perspectives for those whose fears we might never understand?
7. On the eve of the 2018 midterm elections, comedian Chelsea Handler remarked, “I think that fear works on both sides: […] I’m doing more than I’ve ever wanted to do in my entire life because I’m fucking scared shitless.”
8. Danis et al (2007) conclude that “[f]ear of retaliation from seeking ethics consultation is common among nurses and social workers, nonetheless this fear is not associated with reduced requests for ethics consultations.” Why does the fear for “doing the right thing” exist? 
9. “Fear,” Fairchild et al. (2018) tell us, “is now commonly used in public health campaigns” going on to examine how fear campaigns against the tobacco industry and HIV/AIDS epidemic began, evolved, and affected those involved. If fear can be used to improve the health of the populace, should the populace live in fear?
10. Should we be afraid?
11. “Professor Nobody” says that “Once awareness of the human predicament was achieved, we immediately took off in two directions, splitting ourselves down the middle. One half became dedicated to apologetics, even celebration, of our new toy of consciousness. The other half condemned and occasionally launched direct assaults on this gift.” Do you think that human predicament described – the “[m]adness, chaos, bone-deep mayhem, devastation of innumerable souls–while we scream and perish, History licks a finger and turns the page” of it all – has caused some fundamental shift in human consciousness?
12. “Fiction, unable to compete with the world for vividness of pain and lasting effects of fear, compensates in its own way. How? By inventing more bizarre means to outrageous ends.” Are their limits to which we should allow our art to induce fear?

Questions to ponder on (dis)(ability)

  1. Who are you and are you enabled to (fully) be your “self”?
  2. Generally, there two models of disability: a “medical model” that stresses the physical limitations inherent to disability, taking as its norm a self-sufficient, non-disabled body and a “social difference model” that defines disability primarily as a social condition resulting from society’s failure to accommodate physical differences of the disabled. Is there one we ought to prioritize over the other? Which and why?
  3. Where should we place the emphasis when thinking about dis/abilities?
  4. Given the ever-increasing capability to prenatally screen unborn children, should conditions that would “disable” a child be looked for (by parents, by physicians)? If found, what, if anything, should be done about such conditions?
  5. In some recent popular culture representations, autism (spectrum disorder) has been portrayed as advantageous, quite possibly “the next stage in human evolution”. How should this be viewed? Is this a misrepresentation of a developmental disorder? A glorification of human variety? Exploitation of the disabled? Awareness building?
  6. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018 “jobless rates for persons with a disability were higher than those for persons without a disability” with “[p]ersons who are neither employed nor unemployed […] with a disability [equal to] about 8 in 10.” Given those facts, should more people with disabilities be encouraged to enter the workforce? How could this be accomplished in practice?
  7. Introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer in the Senate and Representative F. James Sensenbrenner in the House the “Disability Integration Act of 2019” (S. 117 and H.R. 555) is one of 10,071 bills before the 116th Congress. Of the total, 949 bills currently standing before Congress address disability in some way. Do you believe the lives of the disabled will be improved by the federal government in the foreseeable future? Why or why not? What could be done to improve their lives.
  8. Analyzing incidents of people killed by police (from 2013 to 2015), the Ruderman Family Foundation found that “[d]isabled individuals make up a third to half of all people killed by law enforcement officers.” While media coverage often focuses on issues of race in police brutality, this can obscure how disability also factors into police interactions. Why do marginalized groups suffer more at the hands of police? What can be done to prevent such adverse interactions?
  9. Since about the late 1970s, psychologists have identified individuals with “apotemnophilia” – a condition characterized by an intense, long-standing desire for amputation of a (specific) limb. Such individuals can be thought of as challenging stigmas of disability by literally wishing to embody alternative conceptions of “bodily integrity”. They may also be thought of as experiencing a type of body dismorphic disorder in which (physical) self-identity is pathologically warped. Should an individual be allowed to remove a body part for non-medical reasons? Can we lop off a nose, pluck out an eye, hack off a limb for no clear medical benefit?
  10. Is the University of Michigan a sufficiently accessible place for all?
  11. “The last mile” – the distance between an individual’s residence and their transit – can be particularly long for people with disabilities. In what ways can we shorten it?

Questions to ponder on body art

  1. Are you who you present yourself to be? Does your body constitute your identity?
  2. Often our culture is thought of as “consumerist”, as it is by Sweetman (1999). With regards to artistic expression(s) of the body, what (if anything) is being “consumed”? Are there risks in commodifying our corporeal identity? For example, “tattooing and piercing [have been] previously ‘classed’, ‘raced’ and gendered practices, associated with specific marginal and subcultural groups [that] have now become so ‘mainstream’ as to almost be considered ‘passé’.” Is this something to guard against?
  3. “Body art” can vary from make-up to plastic surgery, encompassing both the fashionable and the beautiful, the temporary and the permanent. Given these spectra, how should “the body” be viewed by modern audiences?
  4. Is pain a necessary/sufficient condition of art?
  5. Whose, if anybody’s, rights were violated when prisoners (or homeless people or psychiatric patients) are/were used for anatomical displays? What about displays of (unborn) fetuses? What is it that gives us pause in using corpses/cadavers for art?
  6. As van Dijck (2001) and Barilan (2006) relay, in plastinated cadavers, a large quantity of the original organic matter is replaced by a plastic surrogate (about 80% plastic and 20% organic material). That being the case, are we really looking at a “body” when we go to BodyWorlds? What about figures made only of muscles? Only blood vessels? When all that’s left is bones?
  7. To what extent is a “modified” body an “authentic” body?
  8. If we look at a cadaver without a head, are we looking at “someone”? What about a body cut in half? Just a hand or a foot? A torso? What about a full body assembled from multiple individuals?
  9. What should we make of taxidermy?
  10. Much of anatomical science (and art) has its origins in grave robbing. To what extent should this be atoned for?
  11. Should organ donation (after death, i.e., from cadavers) be an opt-out or an opt-in system? Would it be wrong to pay someone during their life for their body or some subset of it (e.g., their organs) after their death?
  12. Washington state recently legalized “recomposition” – “the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil” – as a method of disposing of human bodies. Would you ever wish to have your body converted to fertilizer?
  13. An extraordinarily accurate anatomical atlas (“Pernkopf’s Atlas”) was created by an ardent Nazi who (might have) used victims of the Nazis’ tyranny to arrive at the data. Should we use it? How so? Why?
  14. Can art be separated from its artist? From its medium of expression?
  15. Who are you and can it be expressed (sufficiently) artistically?

Questions to ponder on body modification

  1. Body modification includes the deliberate altering of one’s anatomy and/or physical appearance and can include explicit ornamentation (piercings, tattoos, transdermal implants), surgical augmentation (breast implants, circumcision), and physical alteration (foot binding, scarification, branding). Should we endeavor to prevent any of these methods of body modification from being done (commonly)? Why?
  2. One of the most common forms of body modification practiced at scale is the circumcision of babies/children, yet often the alteration of genitals later in life (piercing, removal, “enhancement”, etc.) is met with opprobrium from (polite) society. What accounts for this difference?
  3. Featherstone (1999) notes that “[n]ormally to be a self is to be distinguished from [] other[s]” but that the “body form of conjoin[ed] twins challenges both the distinction between mind and body and body and body.” Ought the medical establishment treat as its mandate the separation of conjoined twins?
  4. In the early 1980s, it was found that administering a constant level of GnRH “desensitizes” an individual’s pituitary, leading to a decrease in secretion of luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone. A child can be prevented from going from the gonadarche stage to the somatic growth spurt during puberty, in essence having their puberty “suppressed” and thereby not becoming a gender with which they do not (self-)identify. What should a parent do if their child (has gender dysphoria and) wishes to have their puberty suppressed?
  5. Self-cutting, anorexia, and many other “pathological” forms of body modification seem to manifest during our teenage years. Why do you think that is?
  6. Bridy (2004) relays stories of individuals with “apotemnophilia” – a condition characterized by an intense, long-standing desire for amputation of a (specific) limb. Should an individual be allowed to remove a body part for non-medical reasons? Can we lop off a nose, pluck out an eye, hack off a limb for no clear medical benefit?
  7. Schramme (2007) contends that “the case of extreme body modification is an ultimate test-case for liberal bioethics. It directly confronts two characteristics of a liberal attitude, namely to accept competent decisions even where they seem to be clearly unwise (antipaternalism) and not to impose particular conceptions of the good on other people (neutrality).” How ought the balance between (anti)paternalism and neutrality be struck in the case of body modification?
  8. Schramme presents five possible arguments against voluntary body mutilation (modification): “i) Self-mutilation is never really voluntary, but is caused by pathological beliefs and desires, or is a side-effect of mental disorder; ii) it violates moral duties to oneself; iii) it violates moral duties to others or harms other people; iv) it contravenes nature’s purposes; v) it is unreasonable or irrational.” Do you subscribe to any of these arguments against body modification?
  9. Is our body distinct from our “self”?