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Cultural Differences in Moral Reasoning

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

Cultural differences in moral reasoning are driven by various influences — history, leadership, religious belief, experiences with peace and warfare, available resources and the strategies for extracting and distributing those resources. These cultural differences are not limited to the scale of nations. There can also be differences in the culture and moral reasoning between schools, communities, companies, even families. Moral reasoning has a way of adapting to or being shaped by people’s needs and perceptions.

Absolutes vs. Relativism
There’s an ongoing, cross-cultural debate on whether moral values are absolute or relative. Are there universal morals that apply to all regardless of culture, or are moral values a negotiation between the environment, natural selection and social conditions? It’s a hotly debated topic, but clearly moral reasoning diverges among cultures. In some areas, gay marriage is accepted and not in others. Some countries permit personal firearm ownership, in others you can be jailed. The same is true for possession of certain plants.

National Differences
Overpopulation has led China to impose some restrictions on family size. Today it has over 1.35 billion people and most Chinese live with an average density of 326 people per square mile. People living at that density calls for, and perhaps requires, a moral system that emphasizes cooperation and harmony — exactly what Confucianism teaches. In China, conditions and moral reasoning lead to limits on family size.

In Russia, conditions and moral reasoning lead to an opposite conclusion. Russia’s population density is slightly below 14 people per square mile, with about 143 million total population. Government policy encourages families to have as many children as they can (which also requires cooperation and harmony).

Japan’s situation is complex. They face a rapidly aging population and steep decline in fertility, in part because strong Confucian values demand marriage before children, but marriage rates are dismally low. Japan is caught between cultural values and an inevitable economic decline unless fertility and immigration increase; thus Japanese moral reasoning is now forced to resolve this conflict to maintain national prosperity.

Economic Differences
Consider a simplified example of conflicting interests between a factory owner and a farmer. To remain in business, the factory owner must balance costs and expenses. This may mean discharging pollutants in the atmosphere because it is the lowest-cost way to eliminate wastes. If costs are not well-controlled, the factory could fail and people would lose jobs. From this perspective, cost control is a moral good.

From a farmer’s perspective, if crops are contaminated by mercury particulates from the factory, the moral good of cost control becomes the evil of food poisoning. Similarly, an agricultural society will have a different moral perspective on some issues than an industrial society. Cultural values — morals — tend to dovetail with practical needs.

On the issue of global warming, there’s a clear clash between the view in academic culture, which is driven by several lines of evidence pointing toward anthropogenic climate change, and the views of fossil fuel and other industries, a culture that tends to combat any conclusion that will affect profits. When scientific facts and self-interest diverge, the effect on moral reasoning is illuminating.

Humanitarian Differences
Cultures vary in how they value others in their midst. Slavery is a stark example, and had its advocates. It is now widely condemned, yet persists in the form of human trafficking, or sex slavery. Sexual slavery victims tend to flow from economically insecure areas to regions of relative stability. When times are hard, the young women who comprise the majority of victims can be manipulated and entrapped with promises of phony jobs. Some locales, most famously Bangkok and Amsterdam, tolerate the sex trade by reasoning that it’s a matter between consenting adults. This blurs the line between consent and coercion and complicates enforcement against human trafficking.

Social Stratification
Other forms of devaluation persist, cutting across lines of ethnicity, gender, age and disability, resulting in societies stratified by economic class (U.S.), social castes (India, Pakistan) and ethnicity (U.S, Japan). Social stratification is inherently hierarchical, a pre-rational behavioral pattern, and proactive moral reasoning is working to reduce it through affirmative action programs in the U.S. and India.

Moral reasoning varies by culture in accordance with what the culture values. As noted American author Robert A. Heinlein pointed out, “Man is not a rational animal. He is a rationalizing animal.” It’s clear that moral values are relative in practice. If there are also absolute universal moral values, no clear consensus has yet emerged that identifies them.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 3:20 am

Why Parents Shouldn’t Be Able to Refuse Medical Treatment for an Ill Child

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Legally, refusal to provide or access medical care for children can be termed medical neglect. According to the latest available national statistics, documented child abuse and neglect in 2011 affected more than 675,000 children, or nearly 1 in a 100 kids. On average, 3 percent was stemmed from medical neglect in 41 reporting states. Some states average higher. Arkansas’ medical neglect rate is 7.5 percent, while the District of Columbia, Georgia, New York and Puerto Rico all average about 5 percent. The lowest rates are in Delaware and Utah at 0.04 percent and 0.02 percent respectively, plus both Wisconsin and Nebraska at 0.01 percent.

Medical neglect can have several causes, including economic hardship, lack of access to care or health insurance, family chaos and disorganization, lack of awareness, knowledge or skills, lack of trust in health care workers, impairment of caregivers, caregivers’ beliefs and children’s behavior, according to a 2007 article in the journal “Pediatrics.” Of these causes, two can involve active refusal of care: caregivers’ belief systems and children’s behavior.

Legal Exceptions
In most instances, medical neglect is legally actionable. The exception is faith-based exemptions, which are written into law in most states, according to These exemptions vary in scope. Forty-eight states permit exemption from immunization programs. Most states permit exemption from metabolic testing of newborns that can detect developmental problems, including some that can be prevented with treatment. Ten states have religious exemptions for eyedrops that can help prevent blindness in children who contact a venereal disease carried by their mothers. Seventeen states have religious exemptions to felony crimes against children.

A study titled “Child Fatalities from Religion-Motivated Medical Neglect” in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal found that of 172 cases of child fatalities attributed to faith-based medical neglect, 140 had excellent (90 percent positive) prognosis with standard treatment. Many of the remaining 32 children were treatable, with good outcomes likely. The consequences of not participating in immunization programs can be widespread. In 1991, “The New York Times” reported on an outbreak of 492 measles cases in Philadelphia that led to the deaths of six children, two of them unrelated to the Faith Tabernacle and First Century Gospel churches at the center of the outbreak. A later check of the Faith Tabernacle school found 201 of the children in attendance had never seen a doctor.

Most faith-based cases of medical neglect leading to illness and death are preventable. The nonprofit educational charity Children’s Health Care Is a Legal Duty lists other treatable conditions that resulted in the deaths of children in the care of Christian Science parents between 1974 and 1994; five by meningitis, three of pneumonia, two of appendicitis, five of diabetes, two of diphtheria, one of measles, one of septicemia, one of a kidney infection, one of a bowel obstruction, and one of heart disease. In the Philadelphia outbreak, three children were hospitalized under court order to ensure treatment. However, as long as religious exemptions remain in place, the justice system has legal limits on what they can do.

American Academy of Pediatrics: Religious Objections to Medical Care
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Familes: Child Maltreatment 2011 report
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Familes: Child Neglect: A Guide for Intervention
American Academy of Pediatrics: Recognizing and Responding to Medical Neglect
American Medical Association: Miracle vs. Medicine: When Faith Puts Care at Risk

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 3:11 am

Globalization & Religious Violence

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Even as the world population has grown, globalization has made our planet shrink. Travel options have expanded, more people are living in cities, and the products we use daily are increasingly made and distributed by multinational corporations. Mass production and its economic advantages have been expanded to nearly all corners of the world, to the point where one can find familiar food, clothing, tools and services wherever people gather in large numbers. Change, such as the worldwide use of mobile smartphones, now spreads with amazing speed. For people of faith who live in accordance with established traditions, the velocity of change can feel threatening and provoke violent backlash in defense.

Resistance to Change
Venerated social values are resistant to change. The dominant religious traditions today — Christianity, Islam and Hinduism — have existed for centuries, their core tenants preserved and passed on through generations. When rapid change ripples outward, it generates friction as it collides with deeply held religious beliefs. Occasionally this friction flares into violence.

In September 2005, a stark example began in Denmark, where the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten broke an Islamic taboo by publishing mocking images of the prophet Muhammad. The images quickly appeared in other newspapers around the world, sparking widespread riots. This violent reaction also became a global phenomenon. Buildings burned and an estimated 200 people died soon after publication because news is now globalized through the internet.

Elements of Conflict
In his book “Religious Violence in the Age of Globalization”, Hans G. Kippenberg observes that conflict is never caused by religion alone. Rather, violence results from the complex interaction of economic interests, political division, cultural discord and social upheaval. Sometimes tensions with a surface appearance of religious or ethnic strife may mask more basic disagreements.

An example is the ongoing conflict in Iraqi Kurdistan, which has been blamed on differences between ethnic Sunni Kurds, Turkish forces and Iraqi Shi’a Muslims. However, the region is rich with oil, and this has been another major focus of contention. Much to Baghdad’s consternation, the semi-autonomous Kurds have done oil survey and extraction deals with several multinational firms. Thus, it may be misleading to simply attribute conflict to ‘religious violence’, as it is likely that more than just religious faith is involved.

Cultural Hegemony
The most casual study of history shows conquest has often been accomplished by violence. Empires have subjugated, enslaved and annihilated peoples, cultures and faiths. But trade has played a role as well. It can have the effect of normalizing cultural exchange, and globalized trade has delivered many benefits. But it has also prompted accusations of cultural hegemony — cultural domination by economically powerful nations — as Western influence expands in tandem with the growth and spread of market economies. The primarily Western members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development account for 59 percent of global gross domestic product.

Incoming trade and migrants can expose people to conflicting values, and the secular decoupling of religion and government in the West is anathema to some cultures. Resistance to this perceived hegemony is another factor that has motivated religious fundamentalists to commit horrendous acts of aggression — witness the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

Globalization of Violence
The globalization of information and travel has provided radical militants and smaller, less-developed nations with new levels of agility and lethality. The weaponization of biology is becoming increasingly feasible, and the potential for small groups of religious fundamentalists to instigate a nuclear and/or biological attack against nations in response to real or perceived injustice is aided by these developments.

Embassy attacks, seemingly-routine roadside and suicide bombings, and other violence — some of which has a religious component — has shaken parts of the Middle East, Africa and other regions over the decades. Those attacks provide abundant reason to believe that globalized technologies can be leveraged by small angry groups, both religious and secular, in any part of the world. No place on earth is invulnerable to that possibility.

Violence is sparked by conflict. Trade requires cooperation. For better or worse, both conflict and cooperation are now globalized. Humanity’s future depends on how we manage these opposing influences.

Written by Influential Prose

June 25, 2015 at 11:03 pm

Basketball Camps for Teens in Washington, DC

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Basketball has been an American sport for more than a century and has grown to become a global phenomenon. Although simple in concept, mastering the necessary skills, speed and coordinated teamwork required to win consistently demands regular practice and dedication. In an age of video games, it still lures teens out of the house and onto the court.

Most basketball programs for DC-area teens operate during the summer, with some offered in fall and winter. Fees vary widely, so it pays to shop around. You’ll find boys’, girls’ and coed programs throughout the DC metro area, with many leagues playing in local schools and gyms. Chances are good you’ll be using familiar facilities close to your home.

Washington, DC
The nonprofit Metropolitan Basketball League, more popularly known as Metroball, serves more than 500 players each year. The highlight is Metroball’s signature summer event, the two-month New York Avenue Summer Streetball Tournament. There’s also a year-round schedule of after-school programs and Amateur Athletic Union teams.

The Georgetown University Men’s Basketball Camp hosts annual four-day summer sessions for boys 8-18. These include a Day Camp session, a residential Overnight Camp with all meals provided, and a Commuter Camp scheduled to make it easier for working parents. Games are held in two air-conditioned gyms and the focus is on defensive and offensive fundamentals.

Outdoor fall ball is available for 13-year-old boys and girls at the Kendall Elementary School on the campus of Gallaudet University in Northeast DC. This program includes practices, team play and an end-of-season league tournament.

In partnership with the NBA Wizards and WNBA Mystics, the DC Department of Parks and Recreation operates a youth basketball program for ages 13 to 18 each winter. The emphasis is on building speed, coordination and strength, while developing bonds with teammates.

Montgomery County
Instructors offer One on One summer basketball clinics weekly, each running for four days and highlighting a skill or fundamental technique. Kids are treated to ongoing development of existing skills with instruction and fun drills.

The Washington Mystics team provides three four-day basketball summer camps for players 8 to 17. The focus of these sessions includes ball handling, passing,
shooting, rebounding and defense.

The four-day Maryland Sports Summer Basketball Clinic for ages 6 to 17 features both skills and strategic training — shooting, ball handling, one on one moves, post moves, using and setting screens plus pick and roll play.

Prince Georges County
PG County offers a month of one-hour basketball classes and three 90-minute clinics during the summer for teens 13 to 17 years old. These programs teach shooting techniques by developing accuracy, consistency and repeatability while shooting with correct form.

There’s also a summer skills clinic for 12- to 15-year-olds that focuses on the fundamentals of basketball — ball handling, defense, rebounding, shooting and warming up properly.

Arlington County
The Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation offers the Just Hoops Saturday summer program for teen boys. In winter, House League play begins for the 7th to 8th Grade League. The 9th to 12th Grade League starts after New Year’s. From spring to mid-summer, the Late Night Basketball League holds evening coed games for grades 9 to 12. All Arlington programs offer discounts for qualified applicants.

Fairfax County
Fairfax County Youth Basketball is a large league, with 26 registered member youth clubs and recreation centers. Tryouts and games for grade 8 boys and girls begin in each fall and run through winter. To register, contact your local club or center.

Written by Influential Prose

June 25, 2015 at 10:54 pm

What Factors Might Be Influencing Religious Trends?

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

The character of religion in the U.S. has undergone many changes since the country’s founding, and today change remains a constant. Three contemporary trends stand out. First, affiliation with traditional institutions is loosening and declining, while belief in God holds steady. Second, views on social issues are liberalizing, as increasing acceptance of gay marriage has made clear. Third, shifting demographics are altering convictions. Members of the Baby Boom generation (people born from 1946 through 1964) are entering their 60s, and historically older populations increasingly turn toward religion. But Millennials – people who came of age in 2000 – show far less commitment to organized faith.

Declining affiliation
Church attendance figures, confidence levels and generational change all contribute toward a trajectory of decline in religious affiliation. In polls, 40% of Americans consistently say they regularly attend church. Clergy report actual weekly attendance figures are now closer to 20% and attribute the gap to the “halo effect” – what pollsters call a well-known tendency among poll respondents to mildly exaggerate culturally favored behaviors, such as voting and church attendance, while minimizing unsavory behavior such as excess drinking.

Scandals have shaken the faithful, with polls showing confidence in organized religion falling during periods of crisis. The biggest impact came from the late 1980s scandals regarding televangelists Jimmy Swaggert and Jim Bakker, followed by the 2002 child molestation cases involving Catholic clergy in Massachusetts.
Younger Americans are not attending church at the same rates as their elders, and church attendance has not kept pace with population growth. Younger churchgoers who still attend are favoring “contemporary” worship services not offered by more traditional churches.

Continuing belief
Despite the drop in religious affiliation, majority belief in God has remained consistent despite economic and political change over the past 24 years. From 1987 to 2012, between 60% – 72% completely agree with the statement “I never doubt the existence of God” – the highest rate of any Western nation.

The intensity of belief varies with geography and political affiliation. The number of people who feel religion is very important in their lives runs from a low of 36% in the New England states to a high of 82% in the deep South. The national average is 56%.
Pew Research finds Republicans are most strongly invested in faith, followed by Democrats and Independents. Evangelical political activism has affected public perception of both religion and politics since presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan declared a “cultural war” at the 1992 Republican National Convention.

Social values
As belief in God has held steady, the character of faith and attitudes toward values associated with belief are changing. Views on social issues of importance to evangelicals — birth control, homosexuality, marriage, censorship – have all become increasingly progressive. Animus toward nonbelievers is softening, as signified by a papal declaration that even atheists are redeemed.

Public opinion on guns and drugs are in flux following high-profile events — the legalization of marijuana in some states and support for background checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. The role of women in society garnered more attention following a series of gaffes by conservative lawmakers during the 2012 presidential campaign.

Demographic change
It has long been true that older generations tend to be more devout than youth. The Millennials maintain the pattern of less devotion to faith than their elders, but with an important difference: they are even less involved with organized religion than previous generations were at their age.

Immigration does not have a significant impact on these numbers. Second-generation immigrants are consistently less devout than their parents.Twenty-five percent of Millennials are not affiliated with any faith. Among GenX (those born after 1964 through the early 1980s) that number at the same age was 20%. Among Boomers, it was 13%. As Boomers enter their final decades, it remains to be seen if their involvement with religion follows the historical pattern and rises.

Written by Influential Prose

June 22, 2015 at 9:27 pm