Only Seeking Comfortable Truths

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go allows readers to deeply consider the relationship between truth and its accompanying discomforts. The scene in which the children at Hailsham test for Madame’s reaction to seek the truth and are consequently hit with an uncomfortable reality of being viewed in a negative light largely sets a precedent in how the children “seek truth” in the latter half of the novel. Many situations in this book demonstrate the curiosity Kathy and her friends have towards uncovering truth but also illuminate the reservations that present themselves when discomforting possibilities are considered.

Kathy herself demonstrates the difficulty in allowing oneself to find the complete truth in her friendship with Ruth. The two of them find themselves in an unfavorable place in their relationship when they take stabs at each other’s sore spots in a passive aggressive argument. In this scenario, as Ruth asks, “We’re still friends, aren’t we?”, Kathy is prompted to consider how her friendship with Ruth truly works (125). Kathy reflects that “there were two quite separate Ruths,” one that she liked, and one that she disliked (129). However, just as Kathy begins to truly reflect on the difference between these two Ruths and begins to realize that sometimes the Ruth she confides in “merges” with the Ruth that puts on airs, she stops delving deeper into the implications of the merging of the two Ruths. Kathy does not pursue further her reflection because she fears losing her closest confident; thus, she simply returns to the comfort of having the “typical evening sessions,” despite her gradual understanding that doing so has accompanying risks. Kathy also does not even consider Ruth’s point of view that “[she] had been the one to first violate an understanding” after the argument until the present (129). She only comes to see this truth in the present rather than at the time of the event because the barrier of hindsight removes her from the discomfort of considering Ruth’s viewpoint. At the time of the argument, considering Ruth’s point of view would have made Kathy feel that she herself was in the wrong, which would have been a difficult truth to swallow.

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Even more evidence of the kids of Hailsham avoiding uncomfortable truths is the situation surrounding the discussion of “possibles”. The children knew about the idea that were made as copies of “normal” people out in the real world, known as their “possibles”. Many of them came up with theories as to what could be learned from their “possibles”, such as the idea that “when you saw the person you were copied from, you’d get some insight into who you were deep down, and maybe too, you’d see something of what your life held in store” (140). This speculation and the other speculations that they discuss all contain rather positive outlooks. However, with all the speculation they had surrounding their “possibles”, one blaring conclusion that they fail to draw is that their “possibles” may be related to their donations. The idea that these “possibles” could be the very people that the children are intended to donate their organs to is absent from their discussion. Any particularly uncomfortable theories are unmentioned, and when “[they] were near terriotory [they] didn’t want to enter, the arguments would fizzle out” (139). If they instead considered such negative theories, the idea of searching for their “possibles” would probably not be such an exciting prospect.

Kathy and her friends often enjoy speculating about truths to satisfy their curiosity surrounding certain mysteries. However, when they seem to sense discomfort that could accompany a possible conclusion, they seem to avoid these possibilities in favor of retaining the comfort of ignorance. Ultimately, the children of Hailsham only seek truth under condition that they maintain what is comfortable for themselves.

Reversing the Control

Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing. (Atwood 135)

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood “speculates” a society in which the structure of freedom rights is reversed from what America accepts today. If our society is structured to emphasize the freedom for citizens to act how they wish with less concern for the consequences of one’s actions, Atwood’s depicted society is structured against citizens acting however they wish in order to provide a “freedom” from the worry of the consequences of one’s actions. In order to accomplish such a structure, Atwood’s society diminishes much of women’s freedom of choice and seems to place most of the power in the hands of the men, creating a hierarchy of power. In the passage above, Offred has a moment of reflection in which she forms a conclusion that goes against the structure of the society illustrated by Atwood as a way to fight internally against the basis of the society she lives in.

Offred first defines that what she is reflecting about is the power dynamic exchanged between two individuals. She considers both those with power, “who can own… who can do,” and those without power, who are owned or acted upon. The relationship between the two is shown through the use of symmetric sentence structure in this passage. The short sentences in the beginning and end and the two parallel sentences in the middle with “[m]aybe it isn’t” show an exchange. However, this seemingly symmetric structure is interrupted when Offred interjects with what “it is about,” making a symbolic break in society’s hierarchy structure.

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An exchange between those with power and those without power

One of the most obvious devices of this excerpt is the repetition of the word “maybe” at the beginning of each sentence. This word is intimately related to the action of speculation. In this short reflection, Offred is speculating a different society than the one she lives in, without the hierarchy of control. By speculating this different society, she tries to create a new world for herself in which perhaps she is in control.

This passage as a whole begins by arguing against the fact that control is what defines Offred’s society. Offred lists examples of what society “isn’t about,” all of which depict a comparison between those with power, who perform actions, and those without control that are acted upon. By dismissing this comparison between those with power and those without, she again defies the basic structure of power in society. Near the end of this reflection, she chooses to put importance in action of forgiveness. Forgiveness opposes the idea of “get[ting] away with it,” which defines her current society. Her decision to put importance on forgiveness brings power to those “without power” because only those “acted upon” can forgive others, while those “acting upon others” must receive forgiveness. Thus, the role of those acting and those acted upon, in this case, are reversed, effectively creating a society with a reversed power dynamic in Offred’s own world.

 

Image source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/vveUXPW3VZQ/maxresdefault.jpg

Regulation and Research: The Case Study of the Artificial Heart

The Artificial Heart archive contains a variety newspaper articles, photographs, and videos all surrounding the development and first transplantation of the artificial heart. The archive presents these two sides of the artificial heart’s initial development by following both Dr. Michael DeBakey, who was the official principle investigator of the artificial heart research program, and Dr. Denton Cooley, who became the first to transplant the artificial heart. Using the drama surrounding Dr. Cooley’s controversial transplantation of the first artificial heart as a case study, our group hopes to examine the role policy and regulation play in both medical procedures and research and to speculate what happens when one follows these regulations and when one defies them.

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DeBakey and Cooley and the Artificial Heart

Specifically, our project will explore Dr. Cooley’s decisions, relating them to how his actions were perceived both back then and how they would be perceived today. Doing so would open many avenues of exploration, such as whether his decision to transplant the artificial heart and ignore regulations advanced research or whether his decision to do so was unethical. Alternatively, we could explore how his decision to compete with DeBakey for the completion of the artificial heart rather than cooperate with him could have made an artificial that was not optimal and how that compares to the competitive/cooperative environment of medical research today. (We will probably choose to focus on only one of these avenues of exploration).

We will need to do further research about the regulations and ethics of the healthcare environment back then and today to fully gain the understanding necessary to relate the two. We hope to find the information necessary through the Fondren database, Google, newspaper websites, and interviewing professors, researchers, and physicians.

We plan to develop our teaching module to best inform undergraduate students studying or interested in health policy in order to give them a better idea of how to best shape health policy to accommodate both research and actual treatment in the future. We plan to make a website in which students can begin by exploring the background of the artificial heart and Cooley’s decision, then consider the many implications that this event had in terms of medical research advances and ethics, and finally relate these implications to the dynamic of medical regulation, research, and ethics today. We hope that by presenting them with a sequential and informative website, they will develop policies that would not be overly stringent as to stunt the advance of research, yet not so lax as to ignore ethical implications.

Picture source: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/27/health/27docs.html?_r=0

Do Not Just Survive – Overcome

To overcome an enemy or to overcome a force, which would be easier to tackle? When considering the zombie conflict, one could either draw the line between humans and zombies or between humanity and an epidemic. But to fight against an enemy is easier to comprehend and plan for than trying to prevent against an intangible infection. One suggests a two-sided fight, while the other suggests a one-sided attempt at survival. As a head of state, I would vote to go on the offensive during the Honolulu Conference in order to label this conflict as a war against zombies rather than a survival against disease to maintain the ethical considerations that defines humanity as well as to actuate my people effectively.

 

The Redeker plan is compared to “inhumane” events of history, such as Nazism because of its social elitist elements of saving some, while sacrificing the rest. On the other hand, if the WWII comparison is extended, the plan discussed at the Honolulu Conference is reminiscent of the celebrated D-Day. This comparison is drawn from the motivation to fight for the “human spirit” incorporated in this plan. This “human spirit” is one the few factors in differentiating humans from zombies, helping humans view this fight as a battle against enemies rather than against previous loved ones and victims. With this plan, humans attempt to save those they had previously abandoned, which is a demonstration of elements of the humanity, such as cooperation and care – ideas that zombies, who just act for survival, lack. Giving the population this reconnection with the “human spirit,” would allow them to more easily trust me, which is another important characteristic of humanity.

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Cooperation is part of the “human spirit”

To implement the plan just for ethical reasons is a foolish decision for a leader. But one of the biggest benefits of going on the offensive and seeing this conflict as a war, is providing a conceivable end goal for the population. Having a tangible goal gives greater motivation. Going back to the WWII comparison, leaders who were able to tap into the morale of their population were able to more effectively motivate the population. Comparing purely the strength and economy of Germany to the US, one would say that the US was vastly superior during the time. However, the fervor of Germany’s population compared to the apathy of America’s population led to Germany making a huge impact in World War II, largely as a result of Germany mobilizing and cooperating as a whole country, illustrating the importance of morale. Although sending a limited number of soldiers against “[t]wo hundred million zombies” seems like “a very gloomy prospect for victory,” (Brooks, 271), it is still surmountable obstacle that can be overcome by chipping away the number. In comparison, an untouchable virus that could only be prevented against and not won against is demoralizing. Thus, to be able to inspire the population to act would perhaps yield better results than just having them wait until the “enemy simply rot[s] away,” (Brooks, 265).

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Morale can impact the war

One could say that humans are most powerful when they are motivated by ideas that transcends simple survival and movements that transcends themselves. Only by transcending our own numbers could we even hope to overcome all odds to win this war.

Scary Business

“Fear,” he used to say, “fear is the most valuable commodity in the universe.” That blew me away. “Turn on the TV,” he’d say. “What are you seeing? People selling their products? No. People selling the fear of you having to live without their products.” Fuckin’ A, was he right. Fear of aging, fear of loneliness, fear of poverty, fear of failure. Fear is the most basic emotion we have. Fear is primal. Fear sells. That was my mantra. “Fear sells.” (Brooks 55).

On the surface, World War Z is a story about a world-wide conflict due to a viral outbreak. When looking for perpetrators of this conflict, it is quite simple to blame those that were infected, those that helped spread the infection, or the virus itself. However, as readers learn more about the war through the stories in this book, we realize that there are many unseen forces that are more difficult to perceive. In this passage, readers are introduced to one of these unseen forces by Breckinridge “Breck” Scott. Scott can easily be named a perpetrator who immorally ended up causing chaos because of his phony vaccine. However, in this passage, through repetitive, structural, rhetorical, metaphorical, and descriptive devices, he expands readers’ perspective by introducing us to an important vector of conflict – fear.

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Scott emphasizes the power of fear by teaching readers his mantra and the various roles that fear plays. He uses the word, “fear,” eleven times in a span of six lines. This repetition serves the purpose of indoctrinating readers that fear is impactful, almost like marketing a television advertisement through forcing an idea by repeating a word. He adds even more emphasis to this pitch by using fragments, periodic sentences, and hard periods that make his ideas straight to the point. When he quotes the professor, he chooses to quote the rhetorical question, “What are you seeing? People selling their products?” followed by the answer, “No. People selling the fear of you having to live without their products.” Doing so makes people see fear the way he wants them to – as a commodity. Suddenly, fear becomes a somewhat tangible object. Further down, he declares fear an emotion that everyone has. “Fear is primal.” In making these metaphors, fear’s presence becomes even more noticeable and pervasive. Interestingly, Scott ends the paragraph with a reversal of people selling fear: “Fear sells.” Now, fear is personified. Fear can now be seen as another enemy. This striking idea adds another layer to the oral history. The virus and the people are not the only reasons for the war. We learn more about how fear creates and destroys beliefs that lead to the Great Panic.

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Depiction of the Great Panic

Readers can confirm with the narrator’s introduction that fear is a deeper problem that continues to impact people even when the war has ended and the virus has been contained. Finally, as one contemplates the idea that “fear sells,” then one also begins to ponder, “Who buys?”

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Sources for pictures:

 

A Collection of Thoughts

When I heard that we were taking a field trip to the McGovern Historical Center, a medical archive, I was excited but had low expectations. I was looking forward to exploring a resource devoted to medical studies outside of Rice. However, woefully inept at reading medical literature, I was unenthusiastic about seeing ancient encyclopedias, journals, and textbooks that would probably be difficult to access, let alone understand. Upon arriving, my impression of archives hit an all-time low as I only saw a remote building with a very limited amount of bookshelves in sight.

Fortunately, Sandra Yates, archivist of the McGovern Historical Center, gradually changed my perspective over the course of our visit. She began our tour by teaching us that archives offer primary sources that are indispensable as evidence in scholarly research. This made me draw a comparison between archives and online databases: Both are used in academic research except archives seemed more hands-on. This was ironic considering Sandra told us that each source in the archive was completely unique making me terrified of even contaminating the air with my breath.

She then introduced us to the vast assortment of primary sources contained within an archive. I instantly discovered that archives contained more than meets the eye. From material such as audiovisual floppy disks, VHS tapes, and cassettes that could be uploaded online to a life-size Vesalius anatomy board, the archive housed much more than just books and journals.

At the very end of the tour, Sandra destroyed my final false preconception of archives when she allowed us into the storage area of the archive to see the myriad of shelves contained within and to touch and interact with archive items. I grasped surgical tools that could have been displayed in museums and flipped through German anatomy books from another century. But what I was most drawn to were the various articles and photos of artificial heart procedures performed secretly back in the day. Although I believe that these journals could have been more easily accessed than perhaps the surgical tools and old German books, I could imagine the difficulty one would have in finding that those articles even existed in the vast sea of journals in the archive. I greedily took pictures of all the material relating to artificial hearts knowing that these articles would be an important part of my final project in this class. By the end of the trip, I realized that the things contained in an archive are not just supplemental but integral.

What is Public Health?

When I hear the words, “public health”, the accompanying word “crisis” immediately comes to mind. I envision world-wide health threats such as Ebola and Zika that I have seen headline CNN and BBC during their respective outbreaks. I remember reading reports about public health officials from all over the world making their way to West Africa and Brazil to assess these epidemics and make efforts to prevent their spread. However, in reality, I realize that this “definition” of public health is only a subset of the complete picture. Public health is a massive subject area with focuses in healthcare, medical treatment policy, and outreach for better educating the public, not simply epidemiology (the study of diseases). I have to thank my sister for helping me paint this more complete picture of what public health really is with her six years of education in public health. Many people develop a misconception of public health simply because of the attention that public health receives in the news at the time of epidemics. Additionally, the lack of attention public health officials receive when attempting to push for reform in equally pressing issues such as health care further this peninsular definition. In my opinion, public health is just as important on a local scale as on a global scale. It is perhaps in even greater need of attention on a small scale, as outreach efforts made in the community are frequently easier to execute and often times more effective than the large scale crisis responses efforts. With many problems in America alone, such as a “broken healthcare system” and the lack of an accompanying universal medical record system, public health is ever important to keep lines of communication open to inform the public. Organizations such as the WHO are always vital in the globalized world today that is constantly threatened by the spread of disease; however, small public health efforts are just as important in spreading ways to stay healthy to everyone.