Sunday, July 1, 2012

EDUC504 Class #1 Look-back: The Purpose of Government...Live Long and Prosper?

Class #1 Blog – July 1st, 2012

EDUC 504 “Teaching with Technology” Class #1 is in the books.  Some great discussion happened on a variety of topics. 

Admittedly, the flow of the class was not what I expected in a "Teaching with Technology" class, but it was quite enjoyable to spend a couple hours pontificating on the ramifications of technology usage in the classroom and even ethical issues surrounding its use.

The most interesting part of the first class for me was the group discussion.  For most of the class Dr. Stanzler facilitated the interaction.  When one of the topics clearly evoked a more emotional response from the class, Ms. Fontichiaro suggested allowing ten minutes for individual group discussion.  And what a discussion we had...

*Disclaimer* This is just a blog…not a fully developed thought out paper…I am just putting down thoughts as they come out of my head for consideration.

The discussion centered around the legitimacy of the potential NYC ban on large soft drinks.  The tone of the class seemed to be against the ban (a conjecture admittedly).  Having not made up my opinion yet on the matter, I was able to discuss it with Lisa who seemed to be leaning for the ban.  She brought a very interesting angle to the discussion that I had not considered before.  I still have not made up my mind yet, but appreciated seeing the issue from a view I had not previously thought about.

Lisa’s view was that the issue was not about having a ban for the sake of the ban, but about helping people make better decisions.  She brought up the valid point that if someone still wanted a 44oz soda, nothing would stop them from buying two 22oz drinks.  Instead, by banning a 44oz soda, the opportunity to make a better decision is provided.  She said the ban would create a “pause” moment in which a consumer would be forced into making a more conscious decision to either consume more soda or choose another alternative.

Admittedly I am still chewing on Lisa’s idea, but it is a valid point and one that has given me “pause.”  So let’s see if we can make some short objective arguments for Lisa’s idea…

From my readings of Aristotle, Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Smith, etc. my belief is that the purpose of government is, “to protect the people”; more specifically, to protect “me from you.”  The question remains, how much authority does the government have to protect “me from me”?  Since we are a democracy, I believe the answer is, “As much authority as we give it.”  While likely the correct answer, this is just a piece of the puzzle.

A second consideration for Lisa’s argument could be that the purpose of government is to protect the “whole” of the people from which it derives its authority.  The argument could be made that by protecting “me from me” on an individual level, the government is making an attempt to protect the whole.  It’s like the voting model: my individual vote does not mean much, but when added to the whole “us” is an extremely powerful voice.  So too preventing one individual from drinking a 44oz soda does not mean much, but when applied across a city, it could lead to an overall healthier city.  If we take it as an assumption that our individual goals are to “live long and prosper” then this ban (by the government we elected) does facilitate this!

Of course, the root of any controversial topic always comes back to the definition of terms: what does it mean to “prosper”?  What does “freedom” mean?  What does the "social contract" mean?  Do I have the right to harm myself regardless of my social obligation to the society I have agreed to be a part of?

Such big questions!  I love this stuff!  Thank you Lisa for your additive thoughts.  And still “chewing” on it… 


  1. I really love this blog posting, and it would take quite a long time to respond satisfactorily. But I have to meet my mentor at 10:00! So I'll just say a few things and get back with you. First off, I loved: "pontificating on the ramifications of technology"! There is some great Latin embedded in there. Anyway, your focus on the role of government is great, and you really pinpoint the essential question of government itself. "Protection" is at the heart of the matter. My own general approach is that teaching, as Ritchhart would say, for intellect, is a role of government, of public education. And self-protection--even from oneself--is part of that learning. But restricting self-destructive behavior is not teaching. A great challenge of living in a "free" country is being able to handle all of this freedom. So I would call for public money spent on public awareness campaigns about the hazards of sugar, rather than an (if partial) prohibition.

  2. Thanks for the feedback! Good stuff. If you put a gun to my head I would probably be against the law, but my discussion with Lisa was intriguing. In the spirit of debate and objective thinking, I tried to see if I could make an argument for Lisa's stance. The mental journey led me to some places I had not thought about before....which is always fun and enlightening!

    I do lean towards freedom as opposed to implementing more laws, but I also perceive a deteriorating mindset toward personal responsibility in our culture (just a conjecture...I have no research to back it up). If my perception is true, I am not sure yet how this deteriorating sense of personal responsibility plays out with respect to the role of government. Is this how nation-states rise and fall?

  3. I will say one thing: I wholeheartedly endorse your speculative approach to this problem. Lisa, too, seems to have been entertaining the notion that the ban gives us pause, which might be a good thing, or maybe not. At the end of the day, what we are learning to do is to help our students analyze problems, which involves seeing a problem from multiple angles, and weigh possible conclusions against each other in something like a cost-benefit analysis. The spirit with which we approach this is very important, and instrumental. Maybe the best thing we can do is model the same spirit of intelligent, analytical open-mindedness that you demonstrate. As long as we do not, however, promote indecision.

    1. I always agree with thinking for yourself, well said!

  4. Uh-oh, here we go lol…my two cents…

    The purpose of government is not about protecting people from themselves, but allowing them to live with one another in a peaceful manner; not at war with one another as is a common theme is political philosophy. Human nature would have us t odds with one another if we did not have laws for the common good. However, where does the personal liberty of one person stop and that of another person begin…really, banning large size sodas, lol…If this was truly about protecting all of the population, then why are people still allowed to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol? Why is it you can buy as many smaller sodas as you want, you just can not have the larger one? This is about control, you will do what I say because I have told you so…oh and my reason, because it is good for you.

    My choice when I do have sodas is a small one and only one. That is what I have taught my children and what I hope they will do as we move forward. The only parents I need are the ones who gave me life. The only parents my children need are the ones who gave them life.

    If a person infringes on the personal liberty of another then yes, we need laws to make sure we can in fact live in a shared society. But telling me what I can and can not do when the only person affected is me is not a pause moment, but in fact a Don’t Tread On Me moment! We elect our officials to represent what we want not what they want!

    Phew, ok, now breathe, wait, is that breath too long, am I using too much oxygen or perhaps I am expelling to much CO2…is that a law…YET!?!

    1. Your long-winded exhalation of carbon dioxide is infringing upon my freedom to breathe clean air while I comment on this blog! :P

  5. I have a great deal of respect for this blog posting for several reasons but the most compelling of which is that you discussed multiple perspectives on a controversial topic and you admitted to still being in the process of mulling over your thoughts. However, I find it interesting that you consider this to be an obvious example of protecting "me from me" when, on the contrary, I believe this soda ban could be an example of protecting consumers from corporations. I know, I know, people make their own decisions and should have the right to do so but on the other hand, the soda companies and fast food industries aren't going out of their way to promote healthy life styles (despite contrived appearances to be striving toward this). Sodas typically contain high fructose corn syrup, which gives the same sweet taste as sugar but without filling you up so that you can drink MORE soda. Most sodas contain caffeine which has addictive properties, creating what some might consider a dependency on soda (or other caffeinated beverages) in order to remain perky and attentive throughout the day. Maybe this ban serves no better purpose than simply drawing awareness to the idea that there may be a downside to soda. I guess my point is that perhaps it's not an issue of protecting "me from me" since the "me" in this example may not have the knowledge to make an informed decision or even be aware that an issue exists AND, on top of that, there is an entity that is actively encouraging "me" to consume unhealthy amounts of their product. Just food for thought.

  6. This is what is so great about good discussion with intelligent people! This is a third way to look at this (and there are undoubtedly more). Many on the right wing assume (as is their right) that the consumer is an intelligent being, capable of knowing all their is to know about every product on the market. Since we know this isn't true, we set up things like the FDA which act as a governing body to make sure the food that is supplied to us 300 million Americans isn't going to kill us. So we could say we already have precedent for this type of law (and our whole judicial system works off of precedence)! Some would argue that the precedent is for food content, not for food quantity, but that's just another debate we can have. Good ideas!

  7. Look at all the good intellectual work that your ideas have wrought, Ryan. That's a fine day's work, eh?
    Your cogent final comment raises the question for me of whether the rights orientation, which is passionately invoked by so many (and we all understand and appreciate it) is all there is to the picture. Perhaps we can all agree that it isn't, but if we then bring another idea into the picture--call it "responsibilities"--how do we account for that, especially as we (ostensibly) try to maximize both the good of the individual and that of the larger society. Thus, we allow cigarette smoking but we ban television advertising and we tax its use heavily, and we allow laws restricting where it can be done. Overly restrictive? An attempt to make room for individual rights and the common good?
    I should take one of Lisa's pauses and simply say that, among other things, you model an admirable intellectual stance, Ryan, by extending yourself to form an argument for a "side" of the argument that you're less inclined to embrace. As we connect back to ideas for how to connect the ban with the classroom, I think that you're on to a very useful strategy for structuring a task...