Us vs Them: A Masked Society

When reading our class assignments for this week I found myself especially interested in The Mask, by Kimlyn Bender. I found its overarching idea, that by putting on a mask we can more readily circumvent our own ethical standards, resonated with me. I think in today’s day and age our closets are filled with masks and we often display them when we go online. I admit I am not the biggest fan of social media; through it I routinely see fighting, bickering, and shortsightedness that represents the worst society has to offer.

I think one of the largest problems with social media is that it provides an audience and a stage with which we emphasize the masks we commonly associate with (whether they be political, religious, etc). The disconnection that online comments and forums provide allow the loyalty that we have for our masks to often overpower our civility. In the modern social media age, I feel like we too commonly see ourselves only as the masks we wear, and any discourse quickly devolves into a us vs them mentality. I feel that people like their masks, and they want others to only wear the masks they wear while asserting that everyone else is wrong. This mentality is especially dangerous, and it is exasperated by the ability for people to surround themselves with exclusively likeminded individuals – allowing for reinforced misconceptions and misinformation to run rampant. The us vs them mentality leaves little room for conversation, or compromise and, in my opinion, is creating massive holes in our social fabric.

If “we cannot expect ethical behavior from a society which is motivated purely by incentives and expediency; ethical conduct is not always profitable or practical” what can we do to ethically counteract the ‘me first’ and consumeristic society that is taking hold in the modern age?

A Financial Attack on Graduate Education

For this week’s blog I wanted to bring light to [what I consider] an important and distressing issue regarding the proposed GOP tax bill. For those of you who are unaware, the proposed GOP tax bill removes a few tax provisions that were geared to limiting education related taxes. One key provision allowed nontaxable tuition waivers/credits to be given to both undergraduate and graduate students. For graduate students especially, this provision is a significant tax break and in its absent students will be on the hook for substantially more taxes.

Here are some links to various news report (there are plenty to find from a number of outlets)

The council of graduate schools (first link) provided some examples about what taxing tuition waivers will mean for graduate students, seen below.

As a current graduate student I find this distressing for a number of reasons. Obviously, the stipends we receive are generally skirting the edge of a living wage anyway, add in additional taxes on money we (as students) never see and you are quickly approaching a situation where it is financially unsustainable to attend graduate school. Personally, I feel that the pros and cons to life as a graduate student are already razor thin, and that the sacrifices students already make are commonly taken for granted. At what point does graduate school no longer become an option for the majority of the small minority willing to do it under the current system (especially in STEM fields were jobs [and financial stability] are bountiful on the other side)?

Do not get me wrong, I enjoy being a graduate student and wholeheartedly see the benefits that my research (and others like it) bring to the world, but in a system were applicants are already limited can it sustain an even more pervasive financial barrier to entry? I think not. As a son of a single mother who regularly worries about the financially stability of my own and family’s life, not being able to afford attending graduate school is a serious concern.

How many qualified individuals will this bill (if passed) prevent from contributing to meaningful research and education? What are the overarching impacts on brain drain and creating an education system that no longer welcomes the highest level of academic excellence? Are the benefits of (what I imagine are minuscule) the increased tax revenue worth the potential loss of highly educated workers?

I do not have tangible answers, but I anticipate them to be negative with far reaching implications. There may be benefits of some educational tax changes, but I personally do not feel like aggressively removing tax breaks for graduate students is one.

Based on a True(ish?) Story?

I recently attended a watch party for the Flint Lifetime movie with some of my friends that I work with, and it got me thinking. I am going abstain from giving my opinions about the movie itself, but it brought me to think about the larger idea of how Hollywood and other media outlets typically base their productions ‘on a true story’.

What does that even mean? Based on a true story?

I think originally it was supposed to mean that the movie or show, or novel was rooted in the factual account of a particular happening. Today, I think most people just ignore it, or laugh it off, and it almost implies a level of make believe.

I admit, some movies are actually based on true accounts, and do their diligence to (as accurately as possible) portray the story as truthfully as possible, but at what point does the finished product no longer deserve to bear the title? I feel that there should be a level of accuracy that must be met to be based on a true story, as it should imply a level of authenticity. However, I find the liberties that producers typical take blurs the line between fact and fiction and makes it difficult to know what is true and what isn’t.

I do not think the blame fully lies on the producer, as distinguishing between fact, fiction, and hyperbole is likely extremely difficult, especially with firsthand accounts. Take for instance a subjective story where two major characters have conflicting views about what happened, who did what, and the impacts they created. How do you incorporate their conflicting views into a show? How do you know what account is the ‘accurate’ account? I am not sure it is easy (or even possible) to do.

For me, this world is scary. The gray areas allow misinformation to disguise itself as fact. I enjoyed math as a kid because there was always a ‘right answer’ and at the most a couple ways to get there. When things become subjective they get messy, and I think there are few things messier than ethics.