The Importance of Accountability

Personal responsibility and accountability to the world around us is a concept we all have to believe in to some extent. Intrinsic to our understandings of ourselves is our ability to control our own affairs, to manage our impulses and desires. We understand the importance of standards, we make efforts to adhere to those standards in order to live healthy and productive lives. People for the most part want the same things. We want to live peacefully and in accordance with each other. We want to be valued and liked within our social structure. We want to avoid being hurt and doing harm to others. It’s easy to lose connection with reality and with each other in the modern world. We’re smart animals and we know what we want, to escape. In the modern world, escapism is easier to engage in and more readily accessible than it has ever been. When we escape, we avoid accountability. Accountability being a theme throughout this semester, the narratives present in the literature, and the ideas we have engaged with as a class this semester, have made me notice and think about what happens when people avoid accountability. 

Working as part of a group made me realize what I am capable of when part of a team. Because I was accountable for others beyond myself, I thought about the consequences in terms of how they would affect my team rather than just myself. It’s easy to give up when no one is depending on you, when no one cares and no one would notice but yourself if you were to stop trying. With others, I am driven forward to mind my conduct and apply my efforts in ways which will benefit those who depend on me. Through having a team, I am made accountable to something outside myself.

Throughout the course, I found myself relating and empathizing with the characters in the literature we read as a class. Their journeys and personal growths were painful and difficult at times, just as mine has been. They weren’t in control of their own lives until something shook up their passivity toward the world around them. The characters in the literature we have read and the people whose lives we have discussed all deal with the concept of control. Central to the theme of this course has been autonomy over our own affairs, the power that it can bring when utilized effectively and the chaos it can lead to when it isn’t. Unable to continue being idle, they were forced to engage in the situation they’re faced with in life. They are compelled to get up and start anew after being knocked down if they’re given the chance. By failing on my own terms, I have been taught a valuable lesson about accountability and what it takes to govern myself in healthy and helpful ways. In failing and experiencing the consequences of those failures, I am accountable to the results of poor decision making and a passive attitude toward what needs doing. Witnessing the growth of characters in the literature we read ran parallel to my own personal growth of accountability in experiencing the course.

Evidence for growth of a character I identified most closely with came with Ci in Home by Toni Morrison. Reliant on her brother and everyone to help her out, in the end she is dependent only on herself, capable of holding herself up without the need of others to be responsible for her. Her journey is one of finding strength through personal accountability. Only by confronting her dependence on others and overcoming it can she hope to live on her own in a way which allows her to be self sufficient. Her ability to take care of herself and live on her own terms comes only after great trauma and loss. Her ability to trust and care about life must be repaired after being betrayed and grievously injured. Despite the way harm is inflicted on her, she bounces back stronger and does not allow her trauma to define her.

Growth can also be observed in Alice Achitophel from Zulus by Percival Everett lives a life which is structured for her. She is forced to take control of her own life and confront dangers that she has been sheltered from. She deals with forces beyond her control and undergoes a very real and literal transformation as a result. Transformation and adaptation to difficult circumstances is something Human beings must be capable of in order to survive. I too have had to adapt and change in order to achieve what I truly want for myself and others.

During my time in this course, I did not perform as well as I had intended, but I did produce work I am proud of. This strain I am feeling at its end, the cause of it is a lesson learned. I need to balance my life in order to get what I want in it. Responsibility and self control lead to the ability to make good decisions for myself. These decisions improve my values by giving me more to appreciate in life. Regardless of whether a choice I make has a good or bad outcome, I learn something from making it. From this I can take a lesson and in the end, I am left with wisdom I did not have before. My journey ran parallel to those we read about where characters grapple with life and are put through many trials before realizing their strength. In finding that strength, our perceptions of ourselves are altered for the better. In experiencing what it is like to produce work I can be proud of, I was made intrinsically accountable to myself and my desire to feel that kind of success and pride for my own reasons.

The course was also deeply engaged in showing us the harm that can be done to others when accountability is not present in a position of power. Works such as Fortune’s Bones showed the reality of guilt and what it does to the mind of someone who has done evil to others. I never want to be forced to look back on my life and realize that I hurt anyone through irresponsible or cruel behavior. With great power comes great responsibility. People with power but no responsibility become villains. There were no shortage of villains in the literature we examined as a class. Learning about horrors such as the Tuskegee medical experiments, Nazi-era warping of medicine, and the evil deeds done by Japan’s Unit 731, have taught me about the extent of harm which can be done by those in power being unconcerned with the rights and feelings of others human beings. Through learning that history I have gained insight into accountability toward what is ethical and right for someone in a place of power over others. I will never allow myself to be a villain. These themes, connected with previous lessons I took away from the Art of Steve A. Prince, taught me about how misuse of authority granted to us can harm the people accountable to it.

Both and is the idea that ideas can be distinct and interconnected in a given stream of thought.  Personalizing our arguments and making connections to our own lives is important for producing writing of value. Likewise, the importance of reflection is not lost on me. By looking at the past, the history we share of hatred, violence, and cruelty, and apathy, we can be better than that. I can take this lesson and apply it to other aspects of my own life. When facing a barrier which needs to be overcome, or seeing wrongdoing in the world, make it personal. I will not stand idly by when something bad is happening. Though that lesson I needed came too late this semester for me to succeed in the way I had originally intended to, I am nevertheless thankful that it came. What I have now are the tools I need to do better. I will do better going forward because of this class. I will be accountable for myself and to others.

Overall, this course has greatly aided my ability to write and read in ways which will show my audience that I am competent and capable of writing well. This development has been valuable. As a result of taking the course, my knowledge of a very overlooked history has been made greater as has my ability to relay it to others in writing. I have learned a great deal in this course, not only about history and racism in medicine, but about myself and who I ought to be. I want to be an accountable person, someone who can be trusted by others. I want to be trusted not only to do what needs to be done, but to do what is right in any situation I am faced with.

Walkers, Skels, and Biters Oh My!

In reading Zone One by Colson Whitehead, I was met with a concept within horror fiction I am all too familiar with from reading other series and watching media within the zombie genre. For whatever reason, the characters in a zombie movie or a zombie novel never just call zombies zombies. Despite the zombie being one of the most popular and perhaps the most recognizable monster within horror fiction, the characters always behave as though they have no idea what’s going on when their zombie apocalypse starts up.

In every piece of zombie related fiction there’s always some dialogue which goes something like this. “Should we call them Walkers because of their slow rate of movement? Perhaps we should call them Biters because you know, they bite?” They’re zombies. You know what a zombie is! Just call them zombies!

This is important however, for the world building aspects of the zombie apocalypse, to enable the violence which will be done to these creatures. Action involving the slaughter of the shambling undead is only entertaining for a general audience once the creatures have been sufficiently dehumanized and we no longer sympathize with them. Zone One does an excellent job of diving into this and got me thinking about how the names we use take away the empathy we feel towards other groups of human beings.

It connected within my mind to an episode of the award winning psychological horror series Black Mirror titled Men Against Fire. Much like in Zone One, the story follows a military force clearing areas of biological threats, these being diseased individuals or people with genetic weaknesses. The similarity of these stories follow a theme of doing whatever it takes to survive by way of dehumanizing the enemy. Violence against the dehumanized gray horde is easier than it would be to project human characteristics onto these adversaries. However, there is a more interesting and less commonly utilized method of devaluing the enemies present to the characters in Zone One. Characters project the qualities, tendencies and personalities of the people they dislike onto the zombies. The ways characters respectively choose to go about this speaks to who they are and what their background in life has been.

Zone One is a story about rebuilding society. It is a narrative which revolves centrally on the concept of reclamation and the taking back of New York City. New York City is a place containing many different kinds of people from many different classes and backgrounds. New York city is also the place of origin for use of the term Skel.

Some characters choose to imagine the skels as the rich, people with privilege and power that they themselves never had. In doing so, they are easy to think of as villainous and deserving of the dispatching they are to receive from the hunters. Likewise, and in better accordance with the namesake of the skels, other characters imagine the infected as being criminals. They choose to think about the infected people as scum. The name they give the infected is worth paying attention to. As per it’s definition, a Skel, is a homeless, vagrant who engages in criminal activity.

This is the most interesting case I have encountered as to the naming of a zombie in fiction. It is not a simple reference to the behavior of the popular monster, but rather a comparison to an undesirable element of society. In making this the slur of choice survivors use to refer to the infected, Colson Whitehead gives weight to the mindset of his characters. In doing so, and throughout the narrative thread of the book, Zone One transcends the simple tropes of mindless zombie slaying and serves as a commentary about class and dehumanization of those whom society is pitted against.

Digging Up The Garden

Recently having read about the conditions which lead to 7,000 bodies found buried beneath University Of Mississippi Medical Center formed a connection in my mind. The connection was between the project underway to excavate these corpses and lay them to rest in a proper burial rather than their mass grave and why it is important to do so. In my last post, I wrote about the ways in which the amazing life saving medical sciences we enjoy today are based on horrible and immoral practices. This idea was solidified when I got to thinking and drawing connections between other things I have experienced in my education. Seeing Steve A Prince’s Urban Garden exhibit was a profoundly impactful experience and a formative moment in my life when I visited it. Though I didn’t fully understand the significance of what I was going through at the time, I realize now that the artwork prompted me to think deeply on injustice in the past and present. Namely, through the focus of its namesake metaphor, the metaphor of a garden.

In Zulus, a deep scar left in the earth can be seen from when a cataclysmic war had taken place. That mark was inflicted by people doing what they thought was right without regard for others. Unlike war, not all horrible things lead to a scorched and scarred Earth. Some horrible things result in a “garden”. Though a garden may be pretty on the surface, it is important to dig deeper. This is true of many similar marks we can observe in our world. A garden can be found wherever people have worked towards a goal and in the process have been willing overlook Human suffering this because of what they desire. The promise of something beautiful and wonderful justified in their minds the horrific and ugly means to that end. The garden is a metaphor for how we in modern civilization have benefited and continue to benefit from exploitation and harm. This is true whether what is being discussed is the practice of slavery and the infrastructure it built, the medical practices which keep us alive, or the ways in which the mentally ill have been kept hidden away in asylums. Where a garden we all enjoy sits, there are countless bodies fertilizing it beneath. The ways those before us have gone wring in pursuit of their “garden” should serve as a warning. We must be cautious to never make the same mistakes as our predecessors when creating gardens of our own.

Without care and compassion, men are not gardeners but beasts. Rather than growing something beautiful for the future on a foundation of love and kindness, they violently rake and carve out that foundation of misery with apathy towards what is right. The promise of a garden is what caused men of science to act like beasts when they used harmful experimentation on human beings to further their research. The promise of a garden caused wealthy men to act like beasts when they enslaved their fellow men and used their bodies for back breaking labors. The promise of a garden caused men of medicine to act like beasts when they cast aside their Hippocratic oaths in pursuit of new treatments at the expense of their patients. Like beasts, they were ignorant of the marks their claws leave in the earth, the scars they inflict for all future generations to see and feel.

Oftentimes, discussions on history of wrongdoings are dismissed with the claim that someone is wasting time by digging up the past. However, by not digging up the past, we ignore a crucial step in the process for manifesting changes in our society. We should all pursue our passions, but passion unchecked can do as much harm as good. Making a lasting difference for the better of the world we live in requires us to understand the right and the wrong way to build and move forward. Only in this way can the gardens we build be something future generations can be proud of.

Where Our Power Comes From

The gains of society which have made based on abhorrent evils are significant. I find it deeply unsettling, just how much of modern medicine is based on human experimentation and non-consensual research. Entire fields of medical study being based on research which violated the human rights of so many leads to questions about how mankind has benefitted from its capacity for evil. The accounts read on Dr. Sims and his use of enslaved women for practice before utilizing what he learned to cure Caucasian women is a story which to me, encapsulates the disturbing long term moral dilemma of unethical medical research. When research can benefit all women for generations to come and save countless lives, are we right to benefit and prosper off of them so long as we recognize their evil origins? The answer is not so simple.

No doubt we have all benefited from the evil deeds of medical practitioners like Dr. Sims. Whether directly or indirectly, a large part of male and female population alive today can chalk up their high odds of survival to the knowledge gained by Sims. I think ultimately what is important is to not excuse the horrors perpetrated in this way by lauding the men behind the knowledge. While it is important to acknowledge the sources of our knowledge and the individuals who brought about their development, we should always keep fresh in our minds the evils done by those we learn from. We should celebrate the life saving techniques we have today and use them, but vow never again to utilize the sordid methods which lead to their realization. Professor McCoy’s acknowledgment of this was something which caused me to think a great deal about ends justifying means and how this is never a mindset which we should fall into. Fortune’s bones has had me thinking of just how important it is to be intimate and not to look away from the horrors done in the name of progress.

I sincerely hope that when Doctor Porter dissected Fortune and had to look upon the damage done to his body, that he came to terms with what he did, and understood the full extent of the wrongs he had committed. When he wrote “I enter Fortune and he enters me.” I believe that the Doctor did come to understand that he had hurt a person, a father, a son, and a brother, tortured him for a lifetime and done a truly horrible thing. I believe that this kind of intimacy is important, not only for those who committed the horrible crime of slavery, but for us in the modern world for whom slavery can easily and dangerously become a distant memory bound to history books. It is important for Fortune’s Bones and the deep scars they bare to be visible in a museum. Despite being dead, Fortune’s body is a living reminder of what mankind is capable of when we abandon morality for the possibility of knowledge. We should never forget where our foundation has come from. We must always remember the evils done in the past so that we do not repeat them.

The most important thing to remember is that the legacy of harm which left its marks on Fortune’s bones is not limited to them. The legacy of racism and the racial complexities of our time are things we must always work to overcome in our personal lives. We can do this by recognizing where our power has come from and treating others with kindness and empathy.