Can Lying Ever Be Justified?

by Ayesha Azeem, October 29, 2021

As the famous philosopher Immanuel Kant once asserted, “there is nothing it is possible to think of anywhere in the world, or indeed anything at all outside it, that can be held to be good without limitation, excepting only a good will” (Kant 9). Kantianism focuses on motives rather than consequences. Kant introduces the idea of a categorical imperative, an absolute rule of conduct that cannot have any exceptions and must be followed regardless of our desires; any action against this is immoral. Kant uses the categorical imperative to support his belief that it is immoral to lie; if we lie, we make ourselves the “exception” to the universal moral law, holding ourselves in a different standard than everyone else. Though it is easy to deem an action absolutely immoral, this is impossible due to the fact that not everyone’s moral conduct is the same, and there will always be rightful exceptions to any “universal law” proposed. 

Kant supports that lying is immoral with a famous situation: if a murderer knocks on your door, asking for your friend, it is your moral duty to tell the truth and expose your friend to the murderer. Kant argues that if we choose to lie, even if it was to save a friend from murder, we would violate the categorical imperative, an immoral act. However, the morals of lying are not as black and white as Kant wants them to be. Though lying is sinful in most cultures, one needs to consider the circumstances in which lying may be better. Lying may prevent a situation from becoming worse – in Kant’s example, lying would actually help your friend survive. Rather than ruling lying as absolutely immoral, it is important to compare one’s options and determine which would be beneficial for the majority. For example, during the Holocaust, a situation similar to Kant’s famous example was experienced by many Jewish refugees and the heroes who courageously hid them from torture. If they had followed Kant’s philosophy, they would have surrendered the Jewish refugees to the Nazis, adding to the brutally inflicted crimes against humanity. The moral guilt resulting from being an accessory to murder is far worse than the guilt accompanying the decision to lie; in situations like these, lying may be more moral, and thus should not be ruled out completely. 

Though Kant is right in that we should not make exceptions for ourselves, moral decision-making is not as straightforward enough to have universal laws because one’s sense of morality may be different from another person’s. This holds true especially when one considers how influential a person’s culture is on their moral reasoning. Kant’s ethical theory of deontology is primarily concerned with one’s intentions – the actual consequences of the action don’t matter. Though lying should be considered morally wrong, exceptions should be rightfully made when the motive is genuinely benevolent. This is seen in Lulu Wang’s movie The Farewell (2019) when a family hides the truth about their grandmother’s cancer diagnosis from her to ensure that her last days are filled with only happiness. The family visits their Nai Nai, the Chinese term for grandmother, after years, with the excuse of a wedding, in order to spend their last moments together. Though Kant would argue that even a situation like this does not justify lying, it is clear that the family’s intentions are pure – they just want to prevent as much emotional pain as possible to Nai Nai. In this case, lying to Nai Nai would not have made the situation worse – she was going to die, whether she knew about it or not. Telling her the truth would not be beneficial, as it would only cause more heartache for everyone. Lying was the more morally correct choice, as Nai Nai actually lived longer than the three months the family expected. This may be because she was not emotionally burdened with her diagnosis; the family made the right choice, even though lying is morally wrong under normal circumstances. 

The Farewell depicts how our culture often influences the choices we make. The movie is mostly set in the point-of-view of Billi, a Chinese-American woman morally conflicted between two cultures, Chinese and American, each promoting different sets of values. When she travels to China to say her farewell, Billi often questions her family’s choices. In one scene, Billi asks her parents why they are keeping the diagnosis a secret. Billi, who has lived most of her life in America, does not understand how the family is so willing to lie – she worries that Nai Nai may have unfinished business that needs attending to before her death. Billi’s mother sternly says, “Chinese people have a saying: when people get cancer, they die. But it’s not the cancer that kills them, it’s the fear” (The Farewell). This is a Chinese tradition that has been passed down through generations – Nai Nai lied to her husband about his diagnosis until he was on his deathbed. The reasoning behind this was so that he would not be plagued by the worry of leaving his family behind. 

When Billi expresses her hesitancy in lying, saying that this would not be acceptable in America, her aunt reminds her that they are in China, where morals are different. In some cultures, we are taught not to question the legitimacy of traditions. For example, South Asian culture often forces “compromising,” especially on women, during a marriage. This began with the notion that the couple should communicate effectively to move their marriage forward. Over generations, however, the idea of compromising has instead led to many women suffering through domestic violence due to fear of societal backlash if they go through with a divorce. South Asian culture often blames the woman if there is a divorce between a couple, claiming that it was her fault for failing to compromise. Parents still teach their daughters to tolerate any “obstacles” (though domestic abuse should not be considered an obstacle, but a physically and physiologically scarring reason to leave) during their marriage. Mothers who have suffered through trauma throughout their marriage and fail to get a divorce tell their daughters to also “compromise.” While this has been ingrained in South Asian culture for generations, this does not mean it is morally correct. 

To establish a strong moral foundation, we must think about the moral reasoning behind our decisions, and why we believe we made the right choice, regardless of what our culture may preach. Though lying may be immoral, context is always needed before we can deem a choice to be moral, which Kant fails to account for.


References/Works Cited

The Farewell. Directed by Lulu Wang, Big Beach Films, 2019.

Kant, Immanuel, et al. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Oxford University Press, 2019.

Maybe June: A Short Story and Analysis

by Sasha Kiniova, October 27, 2021

Pre-Word from the author

When I was writing this piece, I was sitting in my backyard looking at the cherry blossoms and due to the pandemic, I was missing my love for the classical arts. However after thinking about all the years that I trained in ballet, primarily in my middle school and early high school years, I wanted to address the elephant in the room becoming a ballerina is not only hard physically, but it takes so much selfishness to become one. I still admire ballet and will be attending every performance I can, however every person in the ballet field knows that a ballerina’s world is not just surrounded by ballet, ballet becomes God to ballerinas. 

In this work, I use some profanity which in my daily life I would never use, but to understand the characters better and to keep the authenticity of the work, I decided to keep it in. As a Christian I do not suggest using this type of language in the reader’s daily life. When I wrote this piece, I was not yet a practicing Christian which may explain my comfort with such words. I do not condone the use of it and I will avoid using them in my future works. I would also like to add that my analysis of Maybe June is derived from my own personal experiences in the ballet field which should not be completely generalized. I have faith that the ballet field and environment around the world is getting better and mental health issues amongst ballerinas and performers is being addressed. Also, my Christian viewpoint is from an Orthodox Christian perspective, so therefore I cannot speak on the behalf of other denominations or divisions of Christianity.


Maybe June

I don’t understand why the cherry blossoms keep falling this year. 

I remember when they used to flutter down and twirl like a beautiful ballerina dancing on the Mariinsky stage. She would dance, float from one side of the stage to the other. Her grands jetés would go so high in the air, but her landing is what gave her grace. She does a final round of piqué turns around the whole stage, a lame-duck, and she comes to her resting place. 

This year, the ballerina just fell in the pit and is crying because she is not measuring up to her director.  

It is 10:47 in the evening and I am watching the cherry blossoms crash to the ground while laughing hysterically with my friend on her front porch. The porch light is on already and we are just having a good old time, laughing about the dumbest shit in the world.  

We are just being stupid-ass teenagers at last. All year we have to focus on work, and work, work, work work, no social life, work. I don’t understand what adults want from us these days. They tell us ‘Be happy’ and ‘Do what you can while you are still young’ but they forget that we have dumb ass schoolwork shoved down our throats.  

Our faces are both lit under the light and at this point we brought blankets outside because it was getting a little chilly. We kept wheezing like elephants on her porch though. I don’t understand how our neighbors are tolerating this, but honestly if I were an adult I wouldn’t yel- 

“IT’S ALREADY MIDNIGHT!!!! YOU GUYS ARE FUCKING RIDICULOUS! IF YOU DON’T QUIET DOWN OR MOVE YOUR ASSES AWAAAAAY FROM MY HOUSE…… I’M GONNA CALL THE COPS ON YOU TWO!!!!!!!!!!” 

The neighbor slams the door and we shut up instantly. I look at Renee and she looks at me. We know we fucked up… but that was the best thing to happen this month. I quietly say, 

“Hey dude, I’m gonna go.” 

“Yeah, that’s a good call Kate. Good night.” 

“Good night broski.” 

We both chuckle as we put the lawn chairs away. That evening I learned two things about my life.  

One is that adults are stupid. 

Two is that so am I.   

The cherry blossoms… they twirl and are able to make such beautiful shapes in the air. Why do I always look so stupid and ugly when I dance. Renee and I, we are so close. I mean… we’ve been friends since level one in the academy. We will always be friends, no matter what.  

It’s been three weeks now and Renee and I haven’t talked even for a minute. Did our neighbor actually scare us? But I mean… no… we were laughing afterwards, we thought it was funny. But… now I don’t know why I was laughing. Is that just what I do when I don’t know what to do? Is that how I express my fear? I am taking psychology this year… I don’t understand what is going on. The only reasonable explanation for this is that my neighbor is probably an actual witch that graduated from Hogwarts.  

The blossoms… they are crashing, crashing, burning. Why do they get to float and do whatever ever they want but I…I…I have to go to school, ballet, sleep and repeat. I don’t see where I excel… where I stand OUT from the others.  

But I don’t stand out and I never will because we are all just simple, delicate looking cherry blossoms in the ballet studio.  

It’s now been almost a year and Renee and I have still not talked. We see each other every day at ballet rehearsal. We pass each other and only give each other a little glance. I’ve only now understood that no matter what… Renee is secretly always going to be my competitor.  

When her feet point, water can run down them. When she poses in arabesque, her smile only becomes tenser. When she goes through her port-de-bras, the teacher always gives her a little nod.   

But the same doesn’t happen to me… 

They look so delicate and nice… but they crash easier every day. I can take one from the air and rip it in half. It will fall to its misery and nothing will help it.  

But when it comes to the ground… all that is left is red.  

“Katerina, could you please understudy Renee’s part in Don Quixote?” my ballet teacher asks, nagging me again to do the same shit every day. I pull a smile out of my gut just for her every time she asks me to understudy mother-fucking Renee.  

“Yes, of course, Ms. Linda, I will understudy the role of Kitri.”  

Renee looks at me with those intense blue eyes of hers. Why does she get fucking everything in life! I comfort her when she is sad, or at least I did. She can’t even speak to me anymore. All she does is dance, dance, dance, and she can’t even have time for me anymore!!!! She is the devil to my sin and I don’t know what to do about it.  

“Hey Renee.”

“Oh hey, Kate!” 

I don’t know what to say. Her devilish evil eyes are just looking at me, judging my weight probably.  

“Yo Renee, do you remember that time in June or something when your neighbo-”

“Got mad at us and told us to leave! Oh my god!! That was hilarious!” 

How dare she cut me off. She cut me off… what does she know. She is just a stupid blonde with nothing but privilege and wealth. I fucking hate her. Renee…Renee…Renee… I wish I could jus- 

“Hey Kate, we should meet up again. Maybe this time we don’t go to my house though so you know… we don’t get chased down by old meany pants.”

She chuckled with that thought. So do I. Was it for the same reason… I really don’t know.  

“Yeah, come to my house tomorrow. We can catch up, maybe be like real friends for once”. 

“Kate… I’m sorry I haven’t been spending so much time with you. I have been so busy with ballet! Ms. Linda is now telling me to be home-schooled, and I don’t know what I should do-“

“I was just kidding Renee.”

After the blossoms crash and burn, the trees then fill with red shiny cherries. I love eating them and finding nothing but the stupid pit that is in the cherry. Renee… she fell into the pit and is crying like always. She is the pit of the cherry and I can eat it at last. Oh…Renee… you are more beautiful than I thought. You are light as ever now, dancing in the air. I guess now you won’t need an understudy, my dude. 

I am sitting on her porch eating some red shiny cherries. They glisten in the sun but look prettier in the trees. The red juice overfills my smile and my heart.  

The ballerina has finally gracefully landed in her final resting place.  

Her ashes pass through the wind and tangle with the cherries. What I did had to be done… it’s easier to do than explain. I am just a teenager and Renee… she was just a teenager. But in ballet… you have to give up everything to achieve your dream.  

That included my friendship with dumb-ass Renee.  


Analysis

Maybe June does not only end with a metaphorical, yet gruesome ending, it tries to capture the essence of a teenage ballerina. The ideas of obsessions, vengeance, pain and sacrifice are all expressed in this short story. These words may seem very far away from the world of ballet, however true ballet people can see that these words are sadly the truth in the ballet world. Our preconceived notions of ballerinas are that they are gracious and pure people that could not do anything wrong. However, ballerinas are still people making them capable of fostering so much inside which could scare any stranger. 

Katerina or Kate, represents this type of ballerina. She will be willing to achieve her dreams of becoming a prima ballerina if it means being immoral. In the end, the reader obviously sees that her need for this title drove her to ultimately kill her rival ballerina friend Renee. As extreme as this is, I am just further expanding on immoral acts in general. In reality, ballerinas are still able to be immoral by not sharing and having an open heart to their peers, lying or not being completely truthful to their peers so that they gain an advantage, or do not call out clear bias or malpractice by ballet instructors if it benefits them.  

Renee on the other hand is a ballerina that is just trying to be her best. The fact of her being moral or immoral is not really expanded upon to not distract from Kate’s obvious immorality. If anything, I see a lot of Renee in myself when I used to train. My life was so surrounded by ballet, but as a teenager, I was still not sure what I wanted to do with my life. From personal experience, I can say that I have thought very bad things about my peers in ballet. I would also feel angry and not genuinely happy for my peers when they achieved something good in ballet. I used to always be full of envy and jealousy. I was aware that it was wrong and I only came to realization that what I was doing was so abnormal and wrong after I had stopped training rigorously in ballet. The ballet world can become so encompassing and secluded that Sarah Loch who researched ballet student’s attitudes towards ballet stated that ”

Much like Renee, she has the potential to become a professional but she is still not sure if this life is for her, or if she wants to make ballet the god of her life and sacrifice everything for it. This is not an original idea because according to Sarah Loch’s research into four ballet students’ storylines, many talented ballet students are encouraged to not continue regular schooling to pursue ballet.2 One of the participant’s in the study by the name of Andy has shifts in his language when he talks about ballet from just loving it to solidifying and focusing on it.2 Many ballet students may have this type of attitude, which may then make them likely to view ballet as their god further on in their life.

Kate had made ballet the god of her life by sacrificing everything she had for it without the context of morality. As an Orthodox Christian, I do believe in God. However, the major difference is that my sacrifice comes to following God’s will which is still in the context of morality such as abstaining from pre-marital sex. Sex is not an immoral act. It is very natural, but resisting sexual urges till marriage is a sacrifice Christians make. That is how much we love God and want to fulfill His will. Kate does not have moral distinctions given from her god. Her god just fuels her own selfishness and inability to justify her wrongdoing as wrong. 

Victoria Willard and David Lavallee wrote a paper discussing retirement issues with elite dancers. They stated that “in their pursuit of excellence, elite athletes often forego activities outside of their sporting environment. This immersion in their sport creates a limited identity composed almost entirely from this sport commitment.”1 Ballerinas often make their identity about just ballet which Willard and Lavallee state makes it harder for them to adapt and when they retire, they feel as if they had lost something irreplaceable.1 Willard and Lavallee further support my point that this feeling that retiring dancers have is very likely due to the result that they have made ballet their god and once they cannot ’worship’ their god anymore, their life feels meaningless and hopeless. Willard and Lavallee have also observed this same notion that retiring dancers have severe identity crises when they retire due to the fact that many dancers have developed their identities exclusively on ballet.1

The symbolism of the blossom and cherry is to show how as gracious as we are, we all fall down and all that is left of us is our flesh and bones, for the cherry it is the red fruity part and the pit. One thing that people seem to forget is that we are ultimately all people and specifically in the ballet world, we may try to act like something we are not. But we are human. We can work on how we feel, think or act, but at the end of the day, as a Christian would say, we are all sinners. This is a key idea to remember when looking at who is the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ character in Maybe June. We will see Renee as obviously, better; however she is not pure, and it can be seen that she may have done some wrongdoings on her part such as not reaching out to Kate as a true friend and intentionally or unintentionally ignoring her. Renee was Kate’s friend which means she should have stayed in touch with her but with Renee being so focused on ballet, she may have forgotten about Kate which may have only aided in Kate’s downwards spiral since her support system was not helping her.  

This short story brings up a taboo subject that is not just address in the ballet community, but in my experience in life in general. We as people always try to paint ourselves better than we are or we try to act like we could never do any harm. I believe we can all do harm since we do have free will. It is just a matter or using this freedom of choice to still make moral decisions since if you are forced to be moral, I then question if it is then even good anymore. A forced morality is abiding to moral rules with no higher or logical understanding, just following what is conventionally right. If people just follow something but do not understand why it is good, they then can ultimately not understand the goodness of their actions and may betray the forced morality since no transcendental or logical argument helps people understand why some good actions are good. Ultimately, Kate may have just needed true love from a friend, family or even stranger to help her deal with her internal issues since any recovery or support for a person does not come from just one person but from a community. Learning and understanding how to love and care about others and not just about our own desires and wants would have helped Kate and Renee in this story, but I think it would help every person in their life. As a Christian, there is a core understanding if how our life by itself and our wants do not matter if the people around us are not loved and taken care. We must learn to not just feed into our own egos but to love others, care for each other and perhaps have fun times like Katerina and Renee had at the beginning of Maybe


References

  1. Willard, V.C. & Lavallee, D. (2016). Retirement experiences of elite ballet dancers: Impact of self-identity and social support. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 5(3), 266–279. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/spy0000057
  2. Loch, S. (2013). Seeing futures in ballet: The storylines of four student ballet dancers. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 36(1), 53–68. https://doi.org/10.1080/01596306.2013.829658

Security vs. Free Will in Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report

by Nora Rivera-Larkin, October 26, 2021

This is an analysis of Philip K. Dick’s short story, ‘Minority Report’.

The age-old conflict of what is more valuable to a society: security or free will. In the futuristic society of the Minority Report, crimes are stopped before they begin, with a triad of machines called “precogs” predicting crimes and forming majority and minority reports based on the possible timelines and likelihood of the crime being committed. This allows the police force to put the would-be offender in a detention camp before they can commit the crime. The idea of stopping crime before it happens is idyllic and a tactic highly sought after in government and military forces. But it presents a moral ambiguity about the true guiltiness of the supposed criminal and raises the question of whether this regimented oversight is simply an abuse of power.

The idea of Precrime, the police agency that deals with stopping crimes before they happen, presents an interesting moral conflict to the reader, regarding whether or not someone is guilty of a crime they did not yet commit and how far the prosecution should go based on suspicion. In today’s society, planning out a crime or thinking about a crime is not illegal until you act in some way on the thought. But Precrime takes the calculations and predictions of machines as a guilty verdict and punishes people before they even do something wrong. This system eradicates the idea of “innocent until proven guilty” and does not even inform the person of their supposed crime beforehand, denying them the ability to even go against their predicted future and make a different choice. Even John Anderton, the head of Precrime, admits, “We claim they’re culpable. They, on the other hand, eternally claim they’re innocent. And, in a sense, they are innocent,” (Dick, 229). This system lends to the idea of a heavily controlled military state, where even supposed dissent is met with a sudden end, no matter your true innocence.

Along with the debate of suspicion of crime vs. actual crime comes the issue of abuse of power. The police, and certain army officials, are presumably the only people with definitive access or use of this technology. This raises the issue of malpractice and misuse by these people. Giving a government force complete access and power over a citizenship that has an overall blind belief — but no actual access to a technology that could imprison any one of them — is a life of fear and control, and an example of informational inequality at the expense of the people. The idea of abuse of power is further developed when Anderton is able to evade law enforcement and his supposed rightful fate in a detention center due to a prediction that he will murder someone. He has the ability to deny that the murder is in his future, and the ability to believe he is being set up, because of his powerful influence and access to the technology, a liberty that was not afforded to any of the people who had been detained prior. He directly represents the privilege of the government and of individuals with overwhelming power: the ability to question his own future and the ability to make a choice of who he wants to be and what he wants to do in his life, something not afforded to other citizens.

Precrime deprives the would-be criminals of their free will and of their choice in a criminal action. People are criminalized for something they have not yet done and are not given the true information on the system that puts them in a detention camp. The society is kept safe, by keeping its population in check with the elimination of free will and cognitive liberty. Precrime provides them with a safer community, but at what cost?


Works Cited

Dick, Philip K. “The Minority Report.” Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Pantheon Books, New York, NY, 2002, pp. 227–264.

Addiction and Brain Disease: Intertwined but Not One and the Same

by Vignesh Subramanian, October 18, 2021

Today, nearly every major medical organization in the United States defines drug addiction as a primary brain disease – a progressive, relapsing disorder driven not by choice, but rather by neural dysfunction. From patient advocacy organizations like the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine to top research organizations like the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this characterization of compulsive substance misuse is believed to effectively counter stigmatization of treatment while still accounting for biological and psychological realities. Yet if one is to evaluate other possible classifications and the present state of diagnostic protocols in fair measure, it could be reasonably asserted that a discussion is still to be had about the addict’s role in their own entrapment. The degree to which addiction may be considered a chronic illness is therefore contingent on not just the relativity of its prognosis, but also on what physicians believe to be appropriate recourse. 

The scientific tenets of addiction agreed on by psychologists, neurobiologists, and practitioners alike are key to judging the applicability of the brain disease model. Unwarranted assumptions about either the appositeness of a standard of comparison or a propensity for self-domestication can derail precedents set and determinations previously made by the discipline in question. It is fair to accept the medical discipline’s rhetoric on the need for restrictiveness in exposition, defining “chronic illness” as controllable but hitherto incurable conditions often identifiable by long periods of latency and protracted clinical course [3].

Proponents and opponents of the brain disease model also concur on the neurochemistry behind addiction. It starts with unregulated surges of the neurotransmitter dopamine in response to drug consumption occurring in the basal ganglia, the area of the brain tasked with executive functions that, among other behavior, enable learning from the ‘reward’ of brief ecstasy [5]. An affinity for a substance leading to increased use will cause neural circuits to adapt by restructuring receptors, by scaling back sensitivity to the drug’s effects – requiring more consumption to attain the same euphoric “high” – and by increasing tolerance of the substance as this subconscious demand is satisfied, completing the cycle [8]. The patient eventually develops dependence (inability to function without the substance) and dysphoria (a state of unease in the drug’s absence), fomenting cravings that prioritize reducing pain over experiencing pleasure [11]. The cycle is ultimately difficult to break, for reasons that demonstrate the true interplay of biology and behaviorism: parallel remodeling of the extended amygdala – tasked with controlling responses to stress – and the prefrontal cortex, which manages decision making, drives the user to form associations between increased consumption and decreased stress, causing inhibitory pathways to shut down as short-term reward is favored and sought after [5].

At no point in this slippery slope beyond the first ‘gateway’ use is the chemical compulsion of a drug resistible or reversible; indeed, the same reward circuits that drive addiction account for most human physiological needs, including reproductive activities [2]. In that regard, addiction is not just subconscious, but natural, solely dangerous in excess; patients of more socially sanctioned chronic illnesses – diabetes, heart disease, skin cancer – are victims of similar bet-hedging, whether it be by consumption of processed carbohydrates and meats, lack of exercise, or even sun exposure. Opponents of the brain disease model argue that the problem is initial awareness of risk: addicts must understand that intoxication is a precursor of worse to come, and addiction has a spectrum of severity, making accurate diagnosis difficult if not impossible [4]. With no physical measures of identifying mental health disorders (such as objective lab tests using biomarkers) yet deployed in medical practice, physicians must rely on neuropsychological assessments and dissociated imaging scans to compare a patient’s cognitive impairment with normal executive function and processing abilities. Such measures have found that neural changes associated with addiction matched those of “deep habits, Pavlovian learning, and prefrontal disengagement”, but did not match the “development-learning orientations” of various mental illnesses [1]. In other words, addiction stimulates synaptic pruning and neuroplasticity (the ability of neurons in the brain to change connections and reorganize) just as a conventionally developed brain does, but in atypical patterns poorly reflecting normal maturation and psychological tendencies. This information only sharpens the question of whether addiction is truly an aberration of the mind’s development or simply a collection of varying and even rectifiable effects elicited by the drug itself; to put it metaphorically, would a stabbing through the heart be considered cardiovascular illness? The concept of placing addiction on par with the likes of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease – surrounded by questions of whether all manipulated neuroplasticity is pathogenic, whether addicts can be responsible for consciously committed actions, and what even constitutes a problem with the brain – is thus far from conclusive. 

Acceptance – or lack thereof – of substance addiction as a brain disease has had and will continue to have wide-ranging implications for patient protections under law and avenues of treatment. Distinguishing between the public perceptions of users’ behavior and the intimate worldviews of addicts as shaped by their battles for recovery help sustain the idea that addiction medicine can be entirely recontextualized into being a centerpiece of public health. For example, even if addiction is not to be considered a disease of the brain, its contribution to the later development of chronic illnesses such as lung disease, stroke and HIV/AIDS makes addiction treatment itself a form of preventative medicine rather than rehabilitation alone [10]. Conversely, if classification of addiction as a brain disease remains the status quo, it might justify dependence as a ‘side effect’ of self-medication started because of lack of access to care, much the way it is for some substances with addictive potential – like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and opiates – that are used and abused as antidepressants and for pain management, respectively [2][7]. As is clearly evident, proponents and opponents of the brain disease model ultimately do not disagree on the facts of addiction, but simply emphasize different contexts that, when taken to their conclusions, have different implications for diagnosis and stigmatization; both camps have proven willing, however, to oversee an explosion of medicalization that address those biological and psychological realities [6]. Today, trained physicians can administer pharmaceutical agonists and antagonists in clinics and other outpatient settings; the importance of psychosocial therapy, monitoring and follow-up in addiction treatment has been amplified; and the establishment of drug courts and diversion and harm reduction programs attests to the idea that drug consumption is not inherently a moral failing and that natural reactions to its effects can be less painfully anticipated and controlled [9]. 

Addiction is a convoluted condition: it has an onset influenced by environmental conditions but no infection agent, has little known pathological prognosis but a tendency to run in families, and displays outward behavioral changes but is not anatomically degenerative. A disease model that assumes partial responsibility on the part of the addict but recognizes the extent to which addiction rewires the brain is perhaps the best road on which to pursue a patient freedom-centric means of battling dependency and decay.


Works Cited

  1. Lewis, Mark. “Addiction and the Brain: Development, Not Disease.” Neuroethics, vol. 10, 2017, pp. 7–18, doi:10.1007/s12152-016-9293-4.
  2. Hammer, Rachel, et al. “Addiction: Current Criticism of the Brain Disease Paradigm.” AJOB Neuroscience Journal, vol. 4, no. 3, 2013, pp. 27–32. doi:10.1080/21507740.2013.796328.
  3. “Is Addiction a Disease?” Partnership to End Addiction, July 2020, drugfree.org/article/is-addiction-a-disease.
  4. Levy, Neil. “Addiction is not a brain disease (and it matters).” Frontiers in Psychiatry, vol. 4, no. 24, 2013. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00024.
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Homophobia as Epistemic Justice in Japan

by Marie Yamamoto, October 14, 2021

While it is considered relatively safe for gay and bisexual individuals to live in compared to other East Asian countries, Japan still does not protect LGBTQ+ individuals from hate crimes on the national level, allow for same-sex marriages, recognize same-sex marriages performed abroad, or allow same-sex partners to adopt children or undergo IVF, among other refusals to recognize their human rights (“Japan”). Recently, there was an attempt to pass national legislation that would have at least granted LGBTQ+ people protection against discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender. However, the legislation was watered down to instead “promote understanding” towards this group.  The legislation was ultimately tabled in the summer of 2021 (Holmes). 

Those who are in favor of maintaining this status quo insist that homosexuality is a Western ideal imported into Asia as a result of globalization (Wong). Those within the largely conservative National Diet have also allegedly argued that protecting gay and transgender individuals is too radical of a change and would hinder the country’s growth (Holmes). However, exploring the historical stances Japan has taken towards sexual fluidity reveals how deeply-entrenched colonialist ideas are within the Diet’s outward lack of compassion towards LGBTQ+ individuals. Homophobia within Japan is a result of epistemic injustice that arose as Japan faced pressure to conform to the West during the Meiji Era, and leaders within Japan should take steps to mend it from an epistemological perspective.

Colonization can have deep, long-lasting implications for the culture being colonized due to its ability to impose outside knowledge while undermining local knowledge. After all, colonization not only involves the exploitation of the resources and labor of the colonized but also involves the destruction and warping of the colonized culture to the point that it becomes “inferiorized, marginalized, and anonymized” so that the colonizer’s treatment is viewed as “beneficial and fair” (Collste). Often, this involves the addition of foreign epistemic frameworks into the colonized culture, which can destabilize old knowledge that has worked effectively in the past. In “Cultural Pluralism and Epistemic Injustice,” Goran Collste defines an epistemic framework as a means by which one within a given culture may “interpret, understand, and categorize [one’s] impressions and experiences so that they are manageable and possible to communicate and assess” (Collste). Quoting Rajeev Bhargava, he also emphasizes that any given epistemic framework relies on “‘historically generated, collectively sustained” lenses that inform both one’s individual identity and the culture’s collective identity (Collste).

From a religious standpoint, the introduction of the Judeo-Christian concept of shame surrounding sex—and homosexuality in general—fueled the suppression of the open expression of same-sex relationships. Neither Shintoism nor Japanese Buddhism—the two major religions in Japan up until the present day—decried homosexuality. In the Kojiki, the first written compilation of mythos considered sacred in Shinto practices, homosexuality is not decried; in fact, it is not even mentioned (Koichi). While male-female sexual activity is considered more corrupting to the soul, overall, Shintoism does not engrain ideas of shame into sex (Koichi). Likewise, among Buddhist monks sworn to celibacy, male-female sexual activity has been seen as innately defiling, whereas homosexual activity is not offensive enough to be considered punishable (Koichi). Shintoism and Buddhism’s more sex-positive ideas allowed Japan to found its ideologies regarding sex as separated from morality. Because their fundamental ideals regarding these topics contrasted so starkly, encroaching Western powers looked upon this aspect of Japanese culture with surprise and disgust. Outward expressions of sexuality and male-male relationships were decried in newspapers overseas, which ultimately led to Japan’s ruling elite deeming it as something meant to be left in the past (Koichi). In this sense, Japan’s swiftly-changing moral attitudes were not a result of Japan’s free will, rather they were a result of the constant, looming threat of a loss of respect from more powerful countries. The sudden change arose as Japan was “disrespected and considered as inferior” by Western powers, which instilled in them an “enduring sense of inferiority among the adherents of the old culture.” Homophobia followed (Collste). Shame towards these aspects of Japanese culture stemmed in part from how incompatible these local and imported epistemic frameworks were. With the looming fear of colonization, sexual freedom and fluidity were increasingly pushed out of Japan’s mainstream epistemic framework in order to harmonize with its oppressors (Collste).

Likewise, the medicalization of homosexuality is one such example of the addition of an epistemic framework that warped Japan’s local knowledge and led to the “othering” of gay individuals. In practice, same-sex relationships were normalized up until the beginning of the Meiji Era in the late 19th century. Sexuality was regarded as both fluid and something that was done as opposed to something that was an innate part of oneself. Men of all classes were able to engage in nanshoku and wakashudo culture, forms of love between men, and this did not prevent them from engaging in joshoku, or love between men and women (McLelland). Wim Lunsing further indicates that it was believed that “anybody could ‘slip’ (ochiiru) into pseudo-homosexuality for a variety of reasons” (Lunsing). The concept of a fixed sexual identity, therefore, did not exist within Japan’s epistemic framework regarding sexuality. Rather, it was perceived to be a result of one’s environment or a desire to experiment in one’s youth, or simply just love (Lunsing). 

Into the early 1900s, Japanese scholars studied in the West. They took with them both the concept of homosexuality as a fixed identifier, as evinced by the creation of the words dōseiai and iseiai to embody the concept of homosexuality and heterosexuality respectively within the binary sexuality spectrum (McLelland). After World War II, they adopted the Western belief that homosexuality was a mental illness and therefore an abnormality to be studied (McLelland). Despite Japan’s long-standing cultural perspective and practices, the insertion of pseudoscientific ideals framed by Western empirical thinking into Japan’s concept of sexuality resulted in the deeming of homosexuality as inferior compared to heterosexuality (McLelland). It is more difficult to compare with cultural practices without such evidence, even though said evidence may be heavily influenced by the biases of the scholars (Mao). Since Western empiricism positions itself as absolute based on its emphasis on the need for scientific evidence, Japan’s historical lens regarding sexuality was largely discarded and replaced with one that was less suited to capture its nuances and normalcy.

As a result of the adoption of these Western ideals, gay people in Japan have a more difficult time being accepted by society, and their experiences are distorted and obscured. There lacks an adequate epistemic framework for them to make sense of their sexuality largely within the context of their own history, and there still exists a subtle prejudice against gay individuals in their lack of serious representation in mainstream media and the pressure to conform to traditional, heteronormative standards (Wong). 

It must be said that it is entirely possible to slowly mend this epistemic injustice. Especially within its cities, the Japanese public is largely supportive of LGBTQ+ rights, and there have been ongoing efforts by advocacy groups towards more legislation to protect LGBTQ+ people and addressing misconceptions regarding homosexuality (Holmes). Queer Japanese people should not only be given the opportunity and resources to reconnect with their rich culture on their own terms, but also the opportunity to productively voice their own needs and concerns. In “Reflective Encounters: Illustrating Comparative Rhetoric,” LuMing Mao suggests that groups with opposing viewpoints or cultures listen to each other with an open mind with the purpose of self-reflection and understanding. If conversations like these occur within this context, those with biases against gay people—especially those within the government—can differently understand their viewpoints regarding homosexuality with the intent of social progress. The means by which homophobic biases manifest in the everyday lives of gay people must be restricted in order for healing to occur.

It is inherently wrong to call homosexuality a Western concept; the truth is that Japan’s fear of occupation by the Western imperial powers applied immense pressure to conform to Western ideals, which included shame associated with gay relationships and sex in general. This distancing from Japan’s rich queer culture and customs has resulted in homosexuality being seen as a result of globalization as sexuality began to be defined by Western terminology. Moving forward, the Japanese public should be educated on Japanese queer history and more rights must be afforded to queer individuals. It is entirely possible for the public to reconnect with these roots in their history with an open mind and work towards justice for gay individuals.


Works Cited

Collste, Göran. “Cultural Pluralism and Epistemic Injustice.” Journal of Nationalism, Memory & Language Politics, vol.13, no.2, 2019, pp.152–163. ResearchGate, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335431712_Cultural_Pluralism_and_Epistemic_Injustice.

Holmes, Juwan J. “Japanese Politicians Refuse to Pass LGBTQ Rights Bill as Olympics Approach.” LGBTQ Nation, 25 May 2021, http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2021/05/japanese-politicians-refuse-pass-lgbtq-rights-bill-olympics-approach/.

“Japan.” Out Leadership, 21 Mar. 2019, outleadership.com/countries/japan/.

Koichi. “The Gay of the Samurai.” Tofugu, 30 Sept. 2015, http://www.tofugu.com/japan/gay-samurai/. 

Lunsing, Wim. “Discourses and Practices of Homosexuality in Japan: Recent Contributions to the Literature.” Social Science Japan Journal, vol. 4, no. 2, 2001, pp. 269–73. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30209329.

Mao, LuMing. “Reflective Encounters: Illustrating Comparative Rhetoric.” Style, vol. 37, no. 4, Penn State University Press, 2003, pp. 401–24. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/style.37.4.401.

McLelland, Mark J. “Japan’s Queer Cultures.” The Routledge Handbook of Japanese Culture and Society, edited by Theodore and Victoria Bestor, Routledge, 2011, p. 140–149. University of Wollongong Australia Digital Commons, ro.uow.edu.au/artspapers/265.

Wong, Brian. “Column: Homophobia Is Not an Asian Value.” Time, 17 Dec. 2020,  time.com/5918808/homophobia-homosexuality-lgbt-asian-values/.

The Mental Conundrum

by Ali Ahmad, October 8, 2021

We all have faced a feeling of regret at some point in our lives. Regret is a human condition that I am sure all of us have faced at least once in our lifetime. The feelings of hopelessness and regret positively reinforce each other as we look back on the past and fixate on the problems we have faced. The more we begin to fixate on these problems, the more we begin to deviate from taking action and instead begin to imagine hypotheticals in our mind. These replays of alternate scenarios in our heads induce  feelings of accomplishment and triumph where there is none to begin with. This fantasy is our mind methodology of expunging negative emotions and mutating it into something bright and positive. This at first does not sound like a problem at first, given that we normally associate feelings of positivity with fulfillment. However, I believe that the motivation that drives us to excel and learn is stifled by feelings of positive emotions that overshadow negative feelings. 

I was once at a house party and a friend of mine from high school was in attendance. They had just accepted an offer of admission from Dartmouth College, a prestigious ivy league university. I was just a junior in High School studying for a retake of the SAT exam hoping to get into a good school. Naturally, I felt that I had fallen behind in my studying and went to bed at night dreaming that I had attained a perfect score through hours of desiccated study. I instantly felt better afterwards and unfortunately I never put in the hours of studying I had initially envisioned myself doing. If I had set up initial negative feelings of having fallen behind or of feeling inferior, I might have had the push I needed to put in the hours of studying and to make a meaningful change in my life.

In a study conducted on cocaine addiction treatment success, the emotional processing of addicts was measured to see if there is any correlation between motivation and goal directed behaviors. The study found that brain areas activated in early treatment for cocaine addiction were also active during  emotional activation. These brain regions included the amygdala, accumbens, and fusiform gyrus (Contreras-Rodriguez et al.). This might sound surprising at first, considering that we all strive to cultivate positive emotions. On the contrary, we all purposefully have a built in “negativity bias,” that we actively use to create adverse scenarios to contrast against to better digest information. This bias is an evolutionary feature unique to humans. In fact the early origin of these negative emotions can be clearly observed in infants, where infants “look at angry faces for a shorter duration due a recognition of aversive stimulus,” (Vasih et al.) All of this suggests that our brains are hardwired from the beginning to attend to negative or threatening stimulus in the environment more so than happy or positive stimulus.

So what are the practical takeaways from this finding? We can first begin by redirecting our negative cognitive energy to moving forward. By grounding ourselves in the present moment we can begin to break through this mental trap and begin to take small steps towards a slightly more positive future.


Works Cited

Contreras-Rodriguez, Oren, et al. “The neural interface between negative emotion regulation and motivation for change in cocaine dependent individuals under treatment.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, vol. 208, 2020. doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.107854

Vaish, Amrisha, et al. “Not all emotions are created equal: The negativity bias in social-emotional development.” Psychological Bulletin, vol. 134, no. 3, 2013, pp. 383–403. doi.org/10.1037%2F0033-2909.134.3.383