Author Archives: anthonyj

Nan Keohane

I liked Nan Keohane’s talk on “behind-the-scenes” leadership. What I appreciated the most was her statement that one could not codify “behind-the scenes” leadership, and that it would only exist as an idea, or a framework, but not an individual theory. It’s difficult trying to filter through all of the various theories & models of leadership, especially when a lot of them have very similar components and some of the time, it seems very arbitrary that new theories are different enough to stand as their own theory.

Another interesting point that I think is worth mentioning was the study that Princeton did on undergraduate females at the university. I found it surprising that the study found that most females preferred behind-the-scenes jobs. Perhaps the Richmond environment fosters strong independent woman, or that’s just the kind of women that I was surrounded by as a grew up, but most conversations about gender and leadership revolve around the idea that women are discriminated against, not that they choose to have lesser roles.

Finally, I found it very insightful that Nan brought to light the fundamental idea that leaders are essential to any kind of social movement. In fact, leaders are essential to society, They provide vision and direction when anarchy would persist otherwise. Behind-the-scenes leadership has its value, but there comes a time when that behind-the-scenes leader needs to step into the limelight and assume his or her proper role as leader.

“An Open Letter” Response

For someone who expounds on the lack of authentic fact presented by Skloot’s narrative, Rebecca Kumar offers a very emotionally driven response. There were a few key things that Kumar was specifically upset, namely the idea the Skloot’s work is too easily accepted as fact, that there was not enough self-reflection proposed by Skloot, the typeface approach to the description of African-American culture, and Skloot’s own exploitation of Henrietta Lacks for profit. While I agree with some of Kumar’s accusations of Skloot, especially her criticism of the “non-fiction” claim, I do find issue with her argument that Skloot’s work perpetuates racism. Not that she is wrong, but I do not think that she offers enough evidence to make that kind of claim, especially considering that she had just spent considerable effort explaining her issues with Skloot’s work.

I believe that Kumar would be a lot more comfortable with Skloot’s work if Skloot did not claim that her work is entirely non-fiction. The implicit question that Kumar raises is this: what is non-fiction? According to Kumar, it is eye-witness¬†testimony. Truth is evidently lost in translation. But if that stance is taken, can there be any truth that isn’t dramatized or changed through the lens of other people?

Finally, I would like re-emphasize Kumar’s point that some extra self-reflection on behalf of Skloot herself would have done some good (perhaps). It is truly beneficial to gain an understanding of someone else’s epiphanies and realizations to better understand and grasp our own, when they happen. We are supposed to trust Skloot to easily, and that is not fair, neither to us, or to Henrietta Lacks or her family.

Stop & Think

Although obvious, I believe it is still worth noting that “society” begins and ends with the human condition: nobody is perfect; hence, no society will be perfect. Take this hypothetical: you are the leader of a group of people. You have discovered a new island, unbeknown to man, and must set up a brand new society so as to sustain life for conceivably ever. Regardless of how meticulously one can approach this situation, no system established will account for every random variable that could potentially arise. There is always a chance. There is no ultimate control over nature. As Dr. Malcolm sufficiently articulated in Jurassic Park, “Nature finds a way.”

People today have the extreme advantage of history. We have access to knowledge that past societies never had. We now know the benefits and damages of using natural resources like trees and oil for human purposes directed at not merely survival, but enhanced comfort. And therein lies the problem. (In my humble opinion) Society has become too wrapped up in efficiency and comfort that it has failed, and is still failing, to realize the real problem. The real problem with society is that we demand more than nature can give us. These are relatively vast generalizations, but they hold true for the modern First World. Capitalism ingrains in the people the desire to want the best. The biggest houses. The fastest cars. The brightest lights. Couple that with a growing laziness that gets passed from generation to generation (because technology is making it easier to be lazy. Computers do more for people now than ever before and that is a growing trend). Demand for natural resources to supply these functions (new technologies, growing laziness) is increasing while the supply of those resources (like oil) are dwindling. Capitalism dictates that happiness is found in monetary wealth, which it’s not. What it is found in perhaps cannot be articulated with words, but it is definitely not found in any kind of physical object.

It would do the world some good if we all stopped what we were doing for a minute and thought about what really mattered to us.

The Scientific Method & Principles Not Formally Recognized

I am no expert of the scientific method, but this is not the first time that I have read up on it. I guess the first thing that I find interesting concerning the scientific method is that there really isn’t one, universal approach. The multiple accepted breakdowns of the scientific are all very similar though, understandably, so I guess the fact there is no universal scientific method is not that profound. I just think that it is worth noting considering that it is the primary form of data gathering.

I found the case study pretty fascinating not because of the actual case (although that was pretty cool) but because of the five principles not formally recognized by scientific methods as described by B.F. Skinner. My experience with the scientific method approach is that it is a tool implemented for specific purposes to attain specific information. While this holds true for specific experiments, it is interesting to think about it in a more general way. Skinner’s case study helped to humanize the scientific method for me. People apply the scientific method everyday. We analyze situations, predict what would happen given different paths of action, we reason, and then we act and find out if we were right or wrong. The five principles not formally recognized as described by Skinner are just as important as the accepted principles. These are important mostly because it humanizes the scientific method. Although experiments and samples are all about control, (as is society in general), there is no perfect anything. All people are flawed, and therefore, all things that people do have an element of flaw to it.

Fallacious Reasoning and Ethics

Being self-aware at all times should be a primary goal of all people in society. Understanding (and accepting) who we are as individuals is paramount in gaining our own personal understanding of the world around us. If I can’t give reason to the things that I believe in, and be able to explain why I believe in those things, than I have no credibility and more importantly those things that are important to me and matter to me have no credibility. Take my religious faith and my self-proclaimed pseudo-skepticism for example. I have a strong faith in Christ, but I also hardly ever blindly believe people when they tell me “facts” about miscellaneous things. Yet, isn’t the foundation of my religion “blind-faith?” Kind of. Although faith, by nature its own nature, does not require factual evidence in order to believe, I have had experiences in my own life that lead me to believe that my God is real. The thing about faith is that it is (almost exclusively) a private practice (if you will). It’s within the public sphere that fallacies and ethics have a larger impact on people.

A lot of the fallacious reasoning that is discussed in chapters 3 and 4 can be avoided when particular attention is focused on being morally and ethically sound.¬†In my opinion, I find it extremely difficult to trust politicians. For one (and this is exclusively concerning Presidential elections), the difference that exists between my voting power and the power of electoral voter is exponential. Take the last election for example. Even before the total public vote was tallied (and the total electorate vote for that matter), it was determined that Obama would win. Yet how does this process work? Out of all the voters that vote, I would feel safe claiming that less than 50% of that population have a thorough enough understanding of how Presidents are elected. So the system itself is almost like an appeal to authority. Furthermore, my opinion is that politicians care primarily about being voted. Insert slippery slope arguments, appeal to ignorance and inconsistency (among many others), and you have “political strategy.” Is the public supposed to just accept that or do something about? More importantly, in a society driven by political apathy and selfishness, can society do something about it?

If, by some miracle, political leaders strived to be men and women of morality, a lot of these devious strategies would be avoided. In a utopian society, ethics drives politics. Sadly, utopian society can never be achieved being that no person is perfect. But the strive to be the best person ethically should be the goal of every person. I better holistic society would be the result.