Susan Fawcett, Bronx Community College
Susan Fawcett is the author of two market-leading college composition textbooks: Evergreen: A Guide to Writing (11th Edition) and Grassroots: The Writer's Workbook (12th Edition). Both texts have won the peer-juried McGuffey Award for sustained excellence, presented by the Text & Academic Authors Association. With degrees in English literature from Ohio University and Columbia University, New York, Ms. Fawcett’s honors include a Fulbright Fellowship to Birkbeck College, University of London, and a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. She found her calling as a professor of English and Director of the Writing Lab at Bronx Community College, City University of New York, where, dismayed that existing textbooks didn’t help her students learn, she began creating her own worksheets that soon became Grassroots. Ms. Fawcett gave up her tenure to write fulltime--textbooks, poetry, and articles on education and health. She has led faculty workshops throughout the United States and in South Africa.
"How One Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco's Life" in NYTimes
“The Flip Side of Internet Fame” by Jessica Bennet
One. What is scary about a video, Facebook message, or tweet about you going viral?
For one, the information may be inaccurate.
For two, the information may be taken out of context.
For three, the infraction may be minor, so that the punishment is disproportionate to the infraction.
For four, a person may have manipulated or tricked you into “going public.”
For five, ubiquitous smart phones leave you vulnerable to be videotaped when you are unaware.
For six, you may have an enemy who enjoys cowardly hiding behind the anonymity of the web to lie about you, and if your enemy is clever enough his lie can gain traction and smear your reputation.
For seven, if you are a shaming victim, you will find you have little or no legal recourse. You would have to subpoena an anonymous IP address for starters. And cunning enemies can slip out of one IP address to another.
For eight, there is a new environment for shaming; it's called social media, and the social media community acts like a mob and too often goes into a feeding frenzy when it smells blood in the water.
For nine, it's easy to be a self-righteous lazy activist on Twitter since tweeting does not take an investment of time or energy.
For ten, tweeting can be impulsive with no filters and even if the accuser has regrets later, it's too late.
But even with all of the above conditions met, a viral video becomes a frenzied false kind of “truth” that defies reality.
This frenzied false kind of “truth” destroys your reputation, incites others to harass you, blacklists you from job opportunities, stigmatizes you in areas of romance, and generally paints you as a demon homunculus who may be forever incapable of redemption.
In the digital age, people are so eager to find connection through viral videos and tweets that they discard the moral component, empathy, to the target of the frenzy.
The speed of which this demonization can occur has no historical precedent. In less than a day, a life can be ruined.
Two. “The Flip Side of Internet Fame” has many things in common with Ty Burr’s “The Faces in the Mirror.” Identify some of those commonalities.
Both essays address the disparity between a real person and the public persona.
Both essays address our preference for public persona over reality.
Both essays suggest that there is something morally bankrupt and perhaps even insane about a culture that obsesses over false images at the expense of preserving the humanity of real people.
Both essays suggest that a certain kind of loneliness, disconnection, and lack of empathy inform the sick obsession with public or fake personas over reality.
Both essays tap into the toxic energy from the "mobocracy." A mobocracy is a mob that is so desperate for connection and unity that they will resort to irrational hatred of a scapegoat to achieve their goal.
Compare our obsession with celebrity and our obsession with viral videos. What common pathologies can you identify that fuel these obsessions?
Both essays show that the mobocracy is a pathological juggernaut evidenced by ____________, ____________, _____________, and _______________.
What is the connection between how we view ourselves and how others view us? How does the Internet alter this dynamic?
Social media encourages what David Brooks calls "The Big Me," a state of self-aggrandizement that results in solipsism, narcissism, bipolar moodiness, and depression.
Defend, refute, or complicate the notion that online shaming is so catastrophic and prevalent that we need to add free speech restrictions that would discourage online shaming. What would those restrictions be? How would we enforce those restrictions? Would those restrictions be justified? Explain.
While I agree with those who point out the catastrophes that ensue from online shaming, it would be impractical to draw free speech boundaries on the Internet because _____________, _____________, _______________, and _________________.
Write a causal analysis of public shaming in the context of "The Flip Side of Internet Fame."
Whenever an instructor gives you a causal analysis assignment, she is asking you to analyze the causes for something. For example, a causal analysis of California's water shortage would focus on global warming, carbon emission, and lackluster water-saving measures.
When an instructor gives you causal analysis essay, either typed or in-class, you want to develop a clear strategy to explore the topic.
According to The St. Martin's Handbook, you need to match a series of questions for the type of essay you've been asked to write.
We read, "Originally developed by Aristotle, the following questions can help you explore a topic by carefully and systematically describing it:"
What is it? Public shaming
What caused it? Social media
What is it like or unlike? Public shaming moves so quickly that we have no cultural precedent.
What larger system is the topic a part of? Public shaming is part of a larger social pathology: bullying, cowardice (hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet), and the hunger for power ("look what I can do!").
What do people say about it? Many feel safe, but others, with good reason, feel vulnerable. Public shaming could happen to anyone.
When your instructor asks you to write an argumentative essay, you ask a series of different questions:
What claim are you making about your topic?
What good reasons support your claim?
What valid underlying assumptions support the reasons for your claim? In argument, the assumption is the logic you use to connect your support to your claim.
What backup evidence can you find for your claim?
What refutations of your claim should you anticipate?
In what ways should you qualify your claim? When you qualify a claim, you set conditions.
“Unspeakable Conversations” by Harriet McBryde Johnson
One. How does Johnson effectively get our attention in her essay’s introduction?
“He insists he doesn’t want to kill me.”
Two. What kind of hubris (excessive pride) and arrogance inform Singer’s philosophy to kill deformed babies?
He seems to know that the “suffering” disabled babies go through, and the parents’ suffering, justifies killing them.
Is there a definitive suffering scale, and even if there were, would such a scale justify the killing of certain kinds of babies?
Additionally, Singer argues that “individuals with cognitive impairments so severe that he doesn’t consider them persons” should not live.
Again, how do we definitively measure such perceived impairments, and even if such a measurement were available, could we justify this practice of killing people?
Again, his insanely mathematical formula used to justify infanticide is an oversimplification. As HMJ writes, “the presence or absence of a disability doesn’t predict quality of life.” Her brother Mac who is not disabled has flaws and gifts “that cannot be measured on the same scale.”
For Singer, a disabled baby is “worse off” than a healthy baby so the disabled baby should be killed. But what does it mean to say someone is “worse off”? What about a healthy baby who as a toddler proves that he is a sociopath who tortures cats and dogs? He gets to live?
At another point of debate, Singer says healthy children can have fun at the beach but disabled children cannot and therefore they should be put to death. Does this make sense? “You, child, are unable to have fun. Now die.”
I’m less shocked by the stupidity and evil of the argument (because there will always be madmen spewing made theories) than by the fact that Singer is a venerated philosopher who is a hired professor at Princeton.
Three. How does HBJ's appearance present challenges, some of which are for her insufferable?
People assume she needs pity.
They assume her life is horrible.
They assume she is in immense pain.
They assume she needs to be treated like a child or patronized like a slow person.
They don’t see her. They see stereotypes based on her appearance.
Lexicon of Terms Pertinent to Peter Singer’s Moral Philosophy.
One. Utilitarianism, the philosophy that we should sacrifice the individual for the greater good of the collective whole.
From Economy: Definition: Utilitarianism is a moral philosophy, generally operating on the principle that the utility (happiness or satisfaction) of different people can not only be measured but also meaningfully summed over people and that utility comparisons between people are meaningful. That makes it possible to achieve a well-defined societal optimum in allocations, production, and other decisions, and achieve the goal utilitarian British philosopher Jeremy Bentham described as "the greatest good for the greatest number."
This form of utilitarianism is thought of as extreme, now, partly because it is widely believed that there exists no generally acceptable way of summing utilities across people and comparing between them.
Two. “quality of life” argument: human life is only valuable if a certain “quality” can be achieved; otherwise life is better off destroyed.
Three. “normal children”: They can achieve a “quality of life” and should take priority over “abnormal children” who should be euthanized.
Four. “infants are replaceable”: we should replace abnormal infants with normal ones for the “greater good.” The moral imperative is that we are reducing suffering and adding more productive citizens to society as opposed to citizens who put a burden on society.
Five. Eugenicist, one who defends the idea that we should select what humans are desirable based on genetics and which ones should be replaced, that is euthanized, for the betterment of society. The eugenicist also develops the criteria for making these choices.
Six. Nebulous definition of “personhood.” The ability to imagine the future. What does that mean?
Seven. Intrinsic value of human life, called the sanctity of life vs. conditional value of human life based on “quality of life.”
Eight. Apologist for eugenics. An apologist takes controversial or unpopular ideas and makes them appealing by defending their validity and showing why those views are correct.
Nine. Peter Singer is an advocate for genetic re-engineering.
Ten. Market-driven and peer-pressure-driven forces for genetic re-engineering. The result will be a loss of diversity. Most women will like Salma Hayek and Beyonce while most men will look like Will Smith and Brad Pitt. See the New Eugenics.
Part Two. Peter Singer’s Major Arguments
One. Peter Singer’s quality of life argument for infanticide:
His stated reason, rather, is that such children have diminished prospects of eventually enjoying an adequate "quality of life", in his words, and to allow them to live would take away resources from what Singer calls "normal" children. He therefore advocates killing "disabled" infants, if the parents so choose, and replacing them with "normal" ones. The terminology of "replacement" is Singer's own; his philosophy "treats infants as replaceable", in his words (Practical Ethics p. 186).
Why, then, does Singer argue that infants born with this condition can justly be killed? Because they are "abnormal" and do not have "good prospects" (Rethinking p. 214).
This notion of "prospects" runs like a mantra through Singer's discussion of Down syndrome children: "the future prospects of life may be so bleak" (211), "the prospects are clouded" (213), and so forth. But what sort of prospects does he have in mind? On p. 213 of Rethinking he lists several activities which a person with Down syndrome will supposedly never be capable of: "to play the guitar, to develop an appreciation of science fiction, to learn a foreign language, to chat with us about the latest Woody Allen movie, or to be a respectable athlete, basketball player or tennis player."
This list reads like a parody of bourgeois myths of achievement, success, and respectability. To Singer, however, these are legitimate reasons for killing a newborn. After all, if you can't do your own financial planning, why should you be allowed to live?
Two. Peter Singer’s utilitarian argument for infanticide:
What counts as a "severe disability" for Singer? He intentionally leaves the term vague to allow for a broad range of parental discretion, but he has discussed a number of specific examples, both hypothetical as well as actual cases.
The conditions he has explicitly named as sufficient justification for active infanticide include Down syndrome, spina bifida, and hemophilia. Here is Singer's reasoning on the latter condition, taken from his popular textbook Practical Ethics (P. 186): "Suppose a woman planning to have two children has one normal child, then gives birth to a haemophiliac child. The burden of caring for that child may make it impossible for her to cope with a third child; but if the disabled child were to die, she would have another. . . . When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him."
Three. Peter Singer’s definition of a “person” or someone who is worthy of the label “personhood”:
a conscious being, a creature who has the capacity to imagine the future. This definition can apply to humans, animals, and creatures. A “person” should not be killed, but a human baby suffering severe retardation or some other handicap is not a “person.”
Four. Utilitarian Slippery Slope:
If we agree that we should aim for the greatest good for the greatest amount of people and that handicapped people burden the “greatest good,” at what point do we stop at defining who constitutes a “burden”? Smokers, the obese, criminals, the handicapped, the autistic? Where do we stop?
Five. Peter Singer’s “Worse Off” Argument:
Disability makes a person worse off and therefore that person should be killed. And Peter Singer is comfortable judging who’s “worse off” and who’s not, a very subjective condition. See page 97 and page 106 top.
Six. Peter Singer’s Eugenicist Position:
The eugenicist position endorses selection according to desirable and undesirable genetic traits, and favors the elimination of the latter. Singer's argument sorts people into two categories, "normal" and "abnormal", and declares the ostensibly abnormal ones fair game at birth. He doesn't even bother to try to provide "objective" grounds on which to classify some human physical or mental conditions as "defective" (a term he used in earlier editions of Practical Ethics) and contrast them with "healthy" ones. Instead he simply welcomes whatever arbitrary social norms happen to prevail, thus turning his argument into a vehicle for prejudice. But of course there is no perfect, flawless version of the human form against which putatively "inferior" specimens could be measured.
Seven. Harriet McBryde Johnson’s quality of life argument:
Studies show that the public underestimates the quality of life for most handicapped people based on stereotypes.
Defend or refute Peter Singer’s position that there are moral grounds for infanticide or “mercy killings.” Here is how the assignment looks for a 4-page essay:
Write a 4-page critique of Peter Singer’s philosophy as rendered in “Unspeakable Conversation” (92). In your first page, explain Peter Singer’s philosophy and the methods he uses to defend it. Then in your next page, begin a thesis paragraph that defends or refutes Singer. You must use a Works Cited page that has no fewer than 3 sources.
Refutation of Peter Singer: Thesis One:
While Singer’s argument for infanticide is consistent with his utilitarian worldview, his position collapses under the close eye of scrutiny in which we detect huge holes or flaws in his reasoning. These flaws include __________________________, ___________________________, ____________________________, and __________________________.
Refutation of Peter Singer: Thesis Two:
If we accept Peter Singer's utilitarian argument as a just rationale for infanticide, then we are paving the way for genetic re-engineering as a tool to create a Super Baby that all parents will be forced to breed. This forced breeding of the Super Baby will result from ______________________, __________________________, ______________________, and ____________________________________.
Defense of Peter Singer: Thesis Three:
McMahon has treated Peter Singer’s infanticide argument with gross unfairness. While McMahon is correct that Singer needs to tidy up some of his vague definitions, Singer’s general argument can be ethically defended as actually helping the human race when we consider _________________________, _______________________, ___________________________, and _______________________________.
Some Salient Titles
Must I Conform to Peter Singer's Definition of Happiness So I Can Live?
Be Happy Singer's Way . . . Or Die
Let Go of the Stale Past and Become New and Improved, Peter Singer Style
We Limit Ourselves By Dismissing Peter Singer So Quickly
McMahon Commentary on “Unspeakable Conversations”
Peter Singer’s theories of “selective infanticide” insulate him from the reality of flesh and blood:
His theories are abstractions and as he percolates his ideas behind the university walls, he loses touch with reality. Specifically, Singer does not see the human face of “disability” and this human face is Harriet McBryde Johnson. According to Singer’s theory of eugenics, HBJ’s parents had the right to kill her since someone with her disabilities could not lead a “quality of life” and as such she doesn’t deserve the title of “person.” Nor does she possess, to use Singer’s term, “personhood.”
To the contrary, HMJ has a lot of richness in her life that defies the stereotypes too many people have about people with disabilities. Part of HMJ’s gifted life is her intellect, which allows her to see the “bone-chilling” theories of Peter Singer for what they are: monstrous. For example, Singer believes in “selective infanticide” under the guise of “preference utilitarianism” (96), which states that disabled babies are disposable and that is preferable to replace them with healthy babies who have a better change for a flourishing existence.
One of the horrifying qualities of Peter Singer is that during his debate with HMJ he remains affable, lucid, and logical. We can infer that Singer has succumbed to his abstractions so fully that he has lost his humanity and his sanity. He is clearly an congenial monster, polite on the outside, roiling with his murder doctrine on the inside.
One of the striking inadequacies of Singer’s theory, we read on page 97, is his belief that someone like HMJ is “worse off” (106) as he projects condescending pity for the disabled based on his ignorance and stereotypical beliefs (104).
Avoid Dangling Modifiers
Rewrite the following sentences to correct the dangling modifiers:
1. Larded with greasy fries, the waiter served me a burnt steak.
2. Mr. McMahon returned her essay with a wide grin.
3. To finish by the 4 P.M. deadline, the computer keyboard blazed with the student's fast typing fingers.
4. Chocolate frosted with caramel sauce, John devoured the cupcakes.
5. Tapping the desk with his fingers, the school clock's hands moved too slowly before recess.
6. Showering the onion rings with garlic salt, his sodium count spiked.
7. The girl walked her poodle in high heels.
8. Struggling with the tight jeans, the fabric ripped and made an embarrassing sound.
9. Turning off the bedroom lights, the long, hard day finally came to an end.
10. Piled high above the wash machine, I decided I had better do a load of laundry.
11. Standing on the hotel balcony, the ocean view was stunning.
12. Running across the floor, the rug slipped and I collapsed.
13. Writing anxiously, the essay looked littered with errors.
14. Mortified by my loss to my opponents, my baseball uniform sagged.
15. Hungry after a day of football, the stack of peanut butter sandwiches on the table quickly disappeared.
Subordination and Coordination (Complex and Compound Sentences)
A complex sentence has two clauses. One clause is dependent or subordinate; the other clause is independent, that is to say, the independent clause is the complete sentence.
While I was tanning in Hermosa Beach, I noticed the clouds were playing hide and seek.
Because I have a tendency to eat entire pizzas, inhaling them within seconds, I must avoid that fattening food.
Whenever I’m driving my car and I see people texting while driving, I stop my car on the side of the road.
I have to workout every day because I am addicted to exercise-induced dopamine.
I feel overcome with a combination of romantic melancholy and giddy excitement whenever there is a thunderstorm.
We use subordination to show cause and effect. To create subordinate clauses, we must use a subordinate conjunction:
The essential ingredient in a complex sentence is the subordinate conjunction:
I workout too much. I have tenderness in my elbow.
Because I workout too much, I suffer tenderness in my elbow.
My elbow hurts. I’m working out.
Even though my elbow hurts, I’m working out.
We use coordination to show equal rank of ideas. To combine sentences with coordination we use FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)
The calculus class has been cancelled. We will have to do something else.
The calculus class has been cancelled, so we will have to do something else.
I want more pecan pie. They only have apple pie.
I want more pecan pie, but they only have apple pie.
Using FANBOYS creates compound sentences
Angelo loves to buy a new radio every week, but his wife doesn’t like it.
You have high cholesterol, so you have to take statins.
I am tempted to eat all the rocky road ice cream, yet I will force myself to nibble on carrots and celery.
I want to go to the Middle Eastern restaurant today, and I want to see a movie afterwards.
I really like the comfort of elastic-waist pants, but wearing them makes me feel like an old man.
Both subordination and coordination combine sentences into smoother, clearer sentences.
The following four sentences are made smoother and clearer with the help of subordination:
McMahon felt gluttonous. He inhaled five pizzas. He felt his waist press against his denim waistband in a cruel, unforgiving fashion. He felt an acute ache in his stomach.
Because McMahon felt gluttonous, he inhaled five pizzas upon which he felt his waist press against his denim waistband resulting in an acute stomachache.
Joe ate too much heavily salted popcorn. The saltiness made him thirsty. He consumed several gallons of water before bedtime. He was up going to the bathroom all night. He got a bad night’s sleep. He performed terribly during his job interview.
Due to his foolish consumption of salted popcorn, Joe was so thirsty he drank several gallons of water before bedtime, which caused him to go to the bathroom all night, interfering with his night’s sleep and causing him to do terribly on his job interview.
Bob dropped his peanut butter sandwich in the tiger’s enclosure. He leaned over the fence to reach for his sandwich. He fell over the fence. A tiger approached Bob. The zookeeper ran between the stupid zoo customer and the wild beast. The zookeeper tore his rotator cuff.
After Bob dropped his peanut butter sandwich in the tiger’s enclosure, he leaned over the fence to recover his sandwich and fell into the enclosure during which time he was approached by a hungry tiger, forcing the nearby zookeeper to run between Bob and wild beast. During the struggle, the zookeeper tore his rotator cuff.
Don’t Do Subordination Overkill
After Bob dropped his peanut butter sandwich in the tiger’s enclosure, he leaned over the fence to recover his sandwich and fell into the enclosure during which time he was approached by a hungry tiger forcing the nearby zookeeper to run between Bob and the wild beast in such a manner that the zookeeper tore his rotator cuff, which resulted in a prolonged disability leave and the loss of his job, a crisis that compelled the zookeeper to file a lawsuit against Bob for financial damages.