Category: McCoy 101 Fall 2017

Change Is Needed

I thoroughly appreciated the article “The Painful Truth About Teeth”. It meant a lot to me as someone who is pursuing a career in the dental field. Currently working as a dental assistant I have witnessed many of the frustrations and struggles that patients like Dee Matello are forced to undergo. Read more

A Controversial Issue

Like others in class, I have also been thinking about the morality of killing the skels and stragglers, human beings who have been completely changed by a horrible and seemingly incurable disease. What bothers me most about them, and the idea of a “zombie” in general, is that they are human beings that need to be killed if anyone not infected wants a chance to live. Read more

My Opinion about Zone One

Before we even started to read Zone One by Colson Whitehead, I had a negatively biased opinion about the book. Personally, I’m not a fan of the zombie apocalyptic genre, so I assumed that I wouldn’t enjoy reading this. All I know about the living dead is that their main goal in “life” is to satisfy their hunger by eating brains or flesh. When I first started to read the book, I honestly hated it and it wasn’t because of the zombies (shocking)! Fortunately like the other books we’ve read in class, I’ve learned to appreciate the literature for the message it was trying to evoke. Read more

The Modern Display of Cadavers

Our reading of Fortune’s Bones by Marilyn Nelson, as well as our ensuing class discussion, raised important questions regarding the morality of using the bodies of non-consenting humans as anatomical models for the purposes of medical academia. As we know, Marilyn Nelson used a series of poems to describe the story of Fortune, whose slave owner used his corpse for anatomical research, and whose bones have been displayed publically for over 200 years. As we discussed in class, the United States has a dark history of using the bodies of former slaves for the purposes of dissection for medical research. It wasn’t until recently that I began to consider our modern-day system for obtaining human bodies for these purposes.

A 2006 NPR article written by Neda Ulaby discusses a traveling exhibition called Body Worlds, which exhibits dissected bodies that have been preserved through plastination, a process invented by Gunther von Hagens, a German anatomist. (Ulaby, 2006) According to the FAQ on the exhibition’s website, (Link) the bodies being displayed have all been donated by consenting organ donors. However, Neda Ulaby’s article provided evidence for the contrary. According to her, U.S. customs officers seized over 200 brain samples and 56 bodies being sent to Gunther von Hagens’ laboratory from the Novosibirsk Medical Academy in 2001. The remains were traced back to a medical examiner based in Russia, who had previously been convicted of illegally selling the remains of prisoners and the homeless. Von Hagens never received criminal charges, and maintains that the bodies were legally obtained.

While Body Worlds still claims to only use the corpses of consenting donors, the same cannot be said for their competitor, BODIES: The Exhibition. Ulaby’s article states that Roy Glover, the spokesman for the exhibition, has publicly stated that it receives its bodies from China from unwilling prisoners. In fact, a public disclaimer on its website states that the exhibition “relies solely on the representations of its Chinese partners and cannot independently verify that they do not belong to persons executed while incarcerated in Chinese prisons”, with respect to their dissected bodies, organs, and fetuses. (Link)

I found myself shocked when I first read of this, as these exhibits still display bodies across the U.S. today and have been highly regarded by medical professionals and academics as an incredibly useful teaching tool, according to Ulaby. As a current anatomy student, I certainly understand the value of using cadavers and dissected models as a resource for students to understand the underlying parts of the body. While this is true, I cannot imagine myself feeling comfortable inspecting the corpses of non-consenting donors, who may or may not have been executed in Chinese prisons as a political dissident, as Ulaby asserts that human-rights groups based in China have claimed that this is a possibility.

It was the two exhibits that caused me to reflect upon our prior reading of Fortunes Bones. In Nelson’s first poem of the story, Dinah’s Lament, Fortune’s wife was portrayed as having been forced to broom and clean around her husband’s remains. (Nelson, 2004)  As I read about modern traveling exhibitions of dissected bodies with questionable origins, it has reminded me of Nelson’s description of Fortune in the preface, as a man who was stripped of his flesh as well as his name and story. In the context of the theme of our class, this story acted as a reflection of the inhumane acts that occurred over 200 years ago. Just as Fortune’s name and story had been stripped away from him by his owner, these modern exhibitions still display bodies of non-consenting persons, without any publicly available records or documentation regarding the body’s origins. Until these records are available, I believe these present-day exhibits are raising serious moral questions, which strongly parallel those raised in Fortune’s Bones. Does any person have the right to mutilate and display the body of someone who hasn’t consented? Before reading of these exhibits, I believed the common consensus amongst the U.S. population would be a “no” to this question.

Defining Vocabulary or a Deeper Understanding

After Wednesday’s class activity, I couldn’t help but wonder why Professor McCoy had the class share the definition of words we didn’t know. Although you should look up words you don’t know the definition to, I doubt that Professor McCoy’s exercise was to teach us that. I believe that the purpose of the exercise was to indirectly discuss different elements of Zone One by Colson Whitehead without directly addressing specific parts of the novel. Read more

Colson Whitehead: Brilliant Writer

I have been thinking about the language Colson Whitehead uses in Zone One ever since I began reading it. It’s complex. Overly-descriptive. Lyrical. Eloquent. Frustrating. Muddy. Inflated. But I love it.

I didn’t think it would be worth writing a blog post about, but Wednesday’s class made me change my mind. By the end of class time, there were about forty plus previously unfamiliar words written on the board. And I’m sure we could have come up with plenty of more. Zone One is a complex novel through and through.

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Zone One & Morality

As I read Zone One and learn more about the Stragglers, I am faced with the morality of killing them. There are three groups in this novel; the humans, the Stragglers, and the Skels. The Skels are the zombies who act against the human population, searching for any bit of flesh they can sink their rotted teeth into. The humans are the remaining bit of the species that have yet to be infected by the plague, fighting to survive the hunt of the Skels. Finally, there are the Stragglers, who aren’t alive, but they don’t show the hunger for flesh like the Skels. Instead, they are seen standing amongst store aisles or sitting on park benches, unmoving and unaffected by the world around them. Like animals looking for a final resting place, Stragglers choose the places they linger because that specific room or restaurant might have been associated with comfort in their previous lives. They don’t have prey to hunt or predators to fight off, instead they rot in their own worlds captured by a freeze-frame of a memory, so they’re just sort of there.

I am constantly uneasy every time I read about the deforming or defacing of Stragglers, which appears to be Whitehead’s intention. By giving them the habit of lingering where they’re comfortable, Whitehead humanizes them and makes us face the question of if it is okay to kill something that is doing no harm. I believe that it is, without a doubt, necessary to kill the Stragglers; the city must be cleared for new inhabitants and there is also a sort of mercy in releasing the Stragglers from the illusion of death. Each character in Mark Spitz’s unit deals with the killing of previous humans, Stragglers and Skels alike, by placing the negative or less appealing variety of human to them. For Gary, there were those who were able to conform to society’s rules in the way he couldn’t. For Kaitlyn they were the opposite, those who strayed from the order she lived her own life by. For Mark, they all possessed the same mediocrity he saw in himself, “Middling talents who got by, barnacles on humanity’s hull, survivors who had not yet been extinguished.” (Whitehead 267) It is the only way for them to find comfort in killing, by giving themselves the false sense of ridding the new world of the blemishes of the old.

As discussed in Ashley’s blog post, Humanity in Death, and Taha’s blog post, Rest in Peace, Mark believes he is releasing the undead from their toil between life and death, but I believe what ultimately helps him to be able to pull the trigger is the illusion he paints for himself.

Race as a False Construct Maintained due to the “Backfire Effect”

In the final of three episodes on the “Backfire Effect” by the “You Are Not so Smart” podcast, renowned cognitive psychologist based at the University of Bristol, U.K, Steven Lewandowsky introduces the concept of “motivated skepticism.” He found that people were slow to update their memories after deeply held false beliefs were corrected. People cling to beliefs about war, politics, climate change, the media and “group identity”  even after contrary evidence is presented. The threshold percentage “tipping point” that leads one to change their opinions varies but after studying the latest Presidential Election, Lewandowsky found that 40% consistently lead people to change their opinions. The amount of negativity on both sides of the election was a problem. However, “fake news” and propaganda isn’t the problem according to Lewandowsky, but it is instead control in that people choose what they hear. If a media source continually goes against your beliefs, people will walk away in favor of one that capitulates to your views.This phenomena is not necessarily unique to the United States but Lewandowsky found that Australians and Germans generally change their opinions after a belief is proven false. Whether it be climate change, race relations or anything else, little progress can be made if people cannot even agree on what information is factual and what is not, especially in a democracy.

At one point in the episode, Lewandowsky explains that “Science is smarter than scientists” and that scientists listen to science. However, as we’ve seen in class, scientists and medical clinicians have their own biases learned from society over time. As detailed throughout Medical Apartheid, these types of professionals have historically treated blacks unequally in practice. In Toni Morrison’s Home Cee admires Dr. Scott for apparently treating sick black and poor people when others would not. However, in reality, he systematically sterilized blacks exclusively, including Cee, without their consent. In the podcast episode, partisanship is the key factor in deciding what information people accept, reject, or seek out. Lewandowsky refers to partisanship as a drug or a lens that changes people’s perspective. In saying that people are partisan, he refers to synonyms “tribe, party, team and ingroup” which in relating to this class, could include race.

In American society, there is an emphasis put on race, ultimately stemming from slavery. While people may be bigots and racists behind closed doors, there is still a general consensus that all races are equal. However, even so there is still a general belief that all races are different. In reality, as we learned earlier in the semester while watching “Race: The Power of an Illusion,” there is actually no trait, characteristic, or gene inherent in people that distinguishes race. There is in fact great genetic diversity within races and there are often more commonality between people of other races than their might be within. While one could point to examples like the Sickle Cell Anemia being present in a lot of people with African ancestry, this is actually a misconception. In class we learned that the gene variant for sickle cell disease is actually related to malaria, not race or skin pigmentation.

Therefore, the concept of dividing people into races is factually wrong. However, so many people believe that race exists that it is a social fact, and therefore does. The amount of scientific information it would take to convince all people that race does not actually exist could never be conveyed because the people would walk away before even hearing it all. For this reason, voices in the black community must be very proactive in conveying their desire for equality under the law as well as to be genuinely perceived as being equal, and specifically not inferior. However, while this increased flow of information changes some people’s opinions and perceptions, the “backfire effect” leads too many bigoted or insensitive white people to get annoyed. This annoyance resulting from the dissonance between what some people believe and what they are being told can actually reinforce the false beliefs. Unfortunately, if science and reason cannot change people’s minds, protests could (and in some cases have) become riots.

Voluntourism Firsthand

In numerous classes, we discussed the controversial idea of “voluntourism”. As the world becomes more global, it is imperative to address “voluntourism” in greater depth. At first glance, it may seem simple and innocent: Fortunate people travel to other countries to help those less fortunate. In reality, “voluntourism” is much more complex. Who truly has the right to declare one less fortunate from another? Those who disagree with voluntourism use the argument that the “help” given to those who receive it, is ultimately useless. They also believe that those who take part in abroad volunteering trips are doing it for the wrong reason. Read more