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Yu Jie Wu (M, 27)
Guangzhou, CN
Immortal since Jan 19, 2008
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    While this is a departure from the nomadism project I've been posting up here, I thought it would be all right to share this essay I just finished, on the ethics of community service.

    The Ethics of Service
    Y.J. Wu, 2009

    Abstract

    The aim is to demonstrate that the fundamentals of community service, as distinct from those of other forms of beneficence and helpfulness, make it necessary to understand that act as unethical. By drawing various distinctions to arrive at a definition of community service, and from that definition following a line of inquiry that explores the elements of community service, the paper demonstrates how service could be understood as unethical. From these statements then formulating a path towards an ethical form of community service, concluding with the necessity of recognizing community service as unethical.

    Preface

    The main idea of this paper, that community service initiatives are unethical, was first presented to a class in the United World College of Southeast Asia in late 2009. It was met with hostility—-not surprising as much of the school's ethos are built on the foundation of community service, a foundation this idea threatened to shake. However, in retrospect, the presentation was unorganized, and it is no wonder that my classmates reacted the way they did. After all, even as I sought to show how community service is unethical, I was not out to destroy that spirit. Rather, the ``denouncement" of service as unethical was just one step towards affirming the benefits of such acts.

    Here, in this paper, I shall make another attempt at explaining my position. By first outlining the conditions under which community service is different from other forms of beneficence and general helpfulness, then exploring the ideas and foundations of community service, I hope to demonstrate that community service is unethical, while at the same time arguing that the benefits of service can be ``saved" or reclaimed from such a conclusion. This is not an attack on community service, but an exposition of this idea and a roadmap towards bettering community service initiatives.

    Distinguishing Community Service

    In this exposition, the term ``community service", abbreviated CS, will be restricted to activities which require interaction between an actor (the ``servicer") and another human being, hence referred to as the ``beneficiary" or ``client". CS is distinct from volunteerism in that it is not merely an altruistic act of offering a benefit to others, but is mandatory either explicitly or implicitly. This paper focuses on the community service required of students or adults, requirements that are either explicit (as in the case of graduation credits) or implicit (as in the case of university admissions, where CS is seen as a ``necessity" for entrance into prestigious schools). The term ``community service" is then slightly misleading, but will be kept as it is how these activities are still referred to.

    A distinction has to be drawn between the performance of acts and services in common society and the performance of the same acts and services in the context of CS. For example, a student who helps a classmate in the classroom is acting in a different capacity from the same act of tutoring in the context of CS. This distinction lies in the difference in motives. Although certain ethicists will that motives are inconsequential, it is a distinction that has to be made. This difference in motives undoubtedly has an effect on the outcome of the action, and on the action itself. One cannot remove the intention from the act, for then the act collapses into itself with nothing to act against its inertia, and if intention is always tied inextricably with the act, a change in intention is then a change in the act as well. There is also a difference in the form of interaction between the two parties in each case. In the former, continuing with the example stated, it is an interaction between two parties in close standing. In the latter, there is a clear difference in the positions of the two parties involved. This idea of ``position" or ``status" will be a major factor in the demonstration that CS is unethical and as such has to be pointed out while distinguishing the form of CS that will be the focus of the demonstration.

    This form of CS is distinct in that it is not a significant dedication of time to a party of beneficiaries. There is, of course, not objective scale which determines the number of hours per week, let's say, before one form of service is distinguished from another. However, there is a clear difference between being immersed among the beneficiaries for extended periods of time and interacting with the beneficiaries only for a few hours a week. The former would require an involvement with the daily lives of the beneficiaries, forcing the actor to feel and experience reality as they do. The latter, which characterizes the form of CS the paper deals with, does not require this at all, and the actors are allowed to live oblivious to the beneficiaries except for the duration of the service each week. It is not my position to criticize or place judgments—-this is merely a distinction that has to be made for the following exposition to be valid.

    How Community Service is Unethical

    With the above distinctions in mind, it becomes clear that CS is inherently unethical. But it is not enough to state that such a conclusion is obvious, for these are rather dangerous waters that we are treading. This section, then, will be dedicated to demonstrating that the concept of CS as distinguished above is unethical.

    I will begin first by exposing the foundations of community service. Taking the definition of an unethical act to be indiscernible with objectivity, that is to say, taking the idea of an unethical act to be for each human being a different manifestation of a larger, ambiguous moral law, I cannot hope to give one such encompassing definition without having to delve into moral philosophy, which I am not qualified to do. Hence, it is a pragmatic choice to merely expose the act of CS in a way that facilitates the judgment of readers, so that a conclusion in accord with my statement may be reached without the troubling route of philosophical inquiry.

    Beginning with the idea that the act of community service requires the subordination of one party under another. That is, one party always has to be of a lower position or status than the other, even if such positioning is merely a means of convenience. Even if such a difference in position were a minor matter, it will be the emphasis of all future interaction if the act is to be deemed an act of CS. This idea is not merely an assumption, but a requirement of the term. It is inherent within the very definition of CS explained in the previous section that one party always has to be of a higher position than the other. Even if the term ``service" implies that the one in the ``service" of the beneficiary is inferior, this state of interaction is only a result of the subordination at the outset of the act of CS. Hence, it can be stated with certainty that community service initiatives require the treatment of the ``beneficiary" as an inferior as opposed to the actor who has to be perceived as being in a position above the beneficiary in order to be effectively called upon for such an act of service.

    Following this, it is clear that such a subordination causes the creation of a gulf between the actor and the beneficiary. As the very act of service requires such a subordination, the subordination in turn requires the distinction between two parties. One party, the actors, has to be seen in such a capacity and the other, the beneficiaries, are also trapped in their position. The actors are nothing more than actors, the beneficiaries are nothing more than beneficiaries. This distinction, a necessity, is the gulf that arises necessarily from the act of CS. And in fact, this is an irreconcilable gulf—-it is logically necessary so to overcome it will negate the very act of service in itself. With this gulf, the other party (for there will always be the Other party in such a situation) is unreachable, is inhuman and merely an object on the far side. From the other end, the situation is the same. For if the gulf cannot be negotiated, regardless of the true nature of those on the other side, they become nothing more than objects. Even if the aim of service (the ideal aim, it has to be said) is to help the others, and even if it may succeed, such an aim can only be carried out in the form of aid to a foreign object separate from the reality of the actor.

    This next statement is unique to community service as I have defined it in the previous section. As CS in this paper refers to acts of service required explicitly or implicitly, the motives of the actors have to be questioned. Even if such motives are not exclusive, as in, the acts of CS could be motivated by actual altruistic feelings, my definition of CS in this paper requires the existence of such explicit and implicit requirements as outlined before. Such requirements mean that the beneficiaries are not the ends in themselves, that they are merely the means towards the accomplishment of certain ends the actors themselves are aware of. That awareness on the part of the actors is key. If the actors understand their motivations, then their actions within the CS will be affected by them. The effect is exacerbated by the notion that the motivations exist. The very engagement in CS by the actors, in the form of CS this paper is concerned with, is the recognition of these motivations and requirements, which in turn have an effect on the act itself, much like a circle that continually causes the effects of, and affects the causes of, its own existence.

    From this recognition of the effects that motivations have on actions, one can conclude that the motivations which treat the beneficiaries as means and not as ends affect the actions in a way that inevitably reflects this. This is, then, a disrespecting of the beneficiaries who are not treated as beneficiaries for their own status as human beings (although a previous statement already precludes this possibility) but as beneficiaries for their status as ends towards accomplishing a goal. As already discussed, this definition of CS does not in any way negate certain purer motivations. Even if an actor performs the service with the best of all altruistic intentions, the very act of performing the service under the CS as defined earlier, with the recognition of certain explicit or implicit requirements set by other parties, causes this gulf and this treatment of the beneficiaries.

    The aim of community service is to promote, to act on, to work towards the rights of the beneficiaries. Services that promote healthcare work on their rights to a good life, services that promote education work on their rights to education and opportunity, and so on. However, I see the act of CS to require a trespassing on the dignity of the beneficiaries. To provide for these rights, it is necessary, as shown previously, to subordinate the beneficiaries, which is an infringement of their dignity. Dignity and rights are mutually exclusive in the case of CS. One cannot promote the rights of the beneficiaries without trespassing on their dignity; one cannot respect their dignity without not acting on their rights. So, then, CS, which acts on their rights, has to infringe on their dignity, a necessary conclusion that can be drawn from the nature of CS as defined previously.

    Towards an Ethical Form of Community Service

    In the ``Preface", I stated that it is not my intention to launch an attack on community service and its ideals, rather, I wish to expose the limitations on the ethics of community service. Exposing the possible sources of unethical aspects of CS allows us to see where it is possible to promote these very ethics, to move towards an ethical form of community service.

    A clearest route towards this ethical form is to offset these ethical problems with tangible benefits gained for the beneficiaries by the actors. The unethical aspects of CS as outlined are at their worst when the act of CS does nothing for the beneficiaries, for then such compromises with ethics and morality do not lead to any ends for the beneficiaries. That is, the beneficiaries are treated as ends when, and only when, the service is of benefit to them. If not, they are treated only as means towards accomplishing the requirements that predicate this form of service—-this treatment of the beneficiaries as means and not as ends is one of the worst of all ethical transgressions. The gulf that requires one party to view the other as objects is a necessity, but its obviously unethical nature can be overcome if the others are helped in some way; if the Other is helped, the objectification of this other is justified and does not need to be seen as completely unethical. In short, CS is only completely unethical if it is in itself an ends—-it can only be ethical if the unethical aspects of this act are means towards the obviously ethical ends of beneficence and helpfulness. Even as CS is distinct from these ethical forms of beneficence, it can be used as a means towards such forms, so that the inherent unethical nature of CS is justified and becomes a necessary tool towards an ethical treatment of the beneficiaries.

    Conclusion

    This paper, not meant to be ground-breaking in any way, is simply an explanation of my stance on community service and ethics. An exposition of this sort aims not to convert all readers to this point of view, but to open the possibility of drawing distinctions within such an issue that facilitates further investigations. With community service becoming such a social phenomenon in recent years, it is important to consider the ethics of such an act for the very reason that such consideration is a necessary step towards bettering community service initiatives. As all rational human beings strive to achieve within the moral and ethical laws, by exposing the reasoning behind the ethical importance of effectivecommunity service, it is my hope that community service efforts will become more self-aware and work towards such an ethical form, for the betterment of the beneficiaries and society.
    Sat, Dec 19, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: Ethics, society
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    The most pressing issue is offering a system of living which provides the same physical comfort and safety as a home does. Shelter, heating/cooling, sanitation, cooking and storage facilities, and sleeping quarters are the main aspects that need to be covered.

    The solution is to create a network of dorms, motels, hotels and various living spaces that offer temporary abodes for modern nomads. Unlike the existing hotels, motels and dorms, the period in which the nomads stay is not pre-determined, instead, they can, if they choose to, leave and enter whenever they want, considering that there is enough space. These abodes must be sanitized and comfortable, although not to the level of luxury (to maintain economic viability). There is no need, in this solution, to create spaces that are dedicated to modern nomads. Instead, existing spaces are simply put in a different system and context for this alternative lifestyle. Most of these places will have the proper facilities for cooking or hygiene, and will be well-maintained by the nomads themselves, who will also have to pay for a “membership” that can be used to cover rent in any abode within the network.

    How about storage, then? It is clear that when being a nomad, there is a need to reduce the number of personal possessions, to allow for maximum flexibility. However, it is also clear that in this modern world, there is still a need for physical possessions like books, pens, notebooks and the like, all of which can never be replaced by the computer (at least, not viably at the time of writing). For this reason, a separate storage facility, conveniently located in an approximate neighborhood, has to be created, where modern nomads can store clothes, books, and any possessions they do not need that day. Whenever they need anything, they can simply walk to the facility, and access their personal storage unit through finger-printing technology, or any other biometric system (when it becomes viable and widely implemented). To create such storage facilities, communes of nomads will have to work together to find locations that suit everybody, possibly through mathematical means, in a way subverting the city and re-making it how the nomads see fit.

    But exactly how viable is this living condition? Families will have trouble adjusting to the new lifestyle, so will any group with senior citizens or young kids. Anybody less comfortable with the idea of moving will have trouble. Who, then, is this targeted to? The key target group will be those from the ages of 18 to 30, studying or working, not tied down completely and still experimental and flexible. It is possible to maintain a healthy romantic relationship, and even get married, within this lifestyle, but when children come into play, the situation does change. Although the initial movement will not aim to include people with children, provisions have to be made, as detailed below.

    Child-care centers. Easy as that. For modern nomads, living in a temporary living space would mean not having a place where children (or senior citizens) can stay. The abodes planned will not be large enough to hold any active child, so childcare centers will have to be included in the network that allow for a convenient place for toddlers to play. The same goes for senior citizens, they have the freedom to move wherever they wish, and if they wish to, there will be special centers dedicated to offering them safe and comfortable places to rest during the day. No disrespect is intended here, it is merely necessary to tackle these issue at an early stage in the movement’s development.

    Detailed above is the preliminary plan for the physical aspect of the modern nomad movement, and it covers the basic issues that need to be tackled. Overall, the solution is viable only with community participation. Dorms, motels and other living spaces need to be willing to offer living spaces, in exchange for money of course, and nomads have to be willing to maintain the living spaces and work together to create convenient locations for storage facilities. Without a doubt, the nomad movement will force people to engage even more with others and interact at a deeper level than our society currently offers.


    ...

    To be written: Psychological needs fulfilled by human interaction, possible problems, advantages and disadvantages, possible social and humanitarian applications.
    Sun, Jul 12, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: nomadism, society, future
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    Just the first few paragraphs of the paper.

    Leaving it up here for archive and for comments! :-)

    In a time where physical possessions begin to lose their once-crucial roles, where more and more live in multiple countries and spend much of their time traveling, where identity is becoming less rooted to a physical form and more to an intellectual, ideological and social basis, it seems to be a logical move for humans to begin detaching themselves from permanent dwellings and begin living as “modern nomads”. Being a modern nomad is not to become homeless or to abandon civilization, but to move towards a new form of living, based on social interactions instead of attachment to a place. This paper will attempt to elaborate on the concept of modern nomadism, offer viable plans for such a lifestyle by working to replace various roles of the “home”, determine the advantages and disadvantages of such a lifestyle and share possible social and humanitarian applications of the system.

    What does it mean to be a modern nomad? A nomad, in the traditional sense, is defined as “1. A member of a group of people who have no fixed home and move according to the seasons from place to place in search of food, water, and grazing land; 2. A person with no fixed residence who roams about; a wanderer” by the American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Edition. While searching for this definition, something grabbed my attention. On Dictionary.com, when one searches for a word, a list of synonyms appears in the left-most column. When “nomad” was queried, the list of synonyms included were “hobo”, “rover”, “vagabond”, “wanderer” among others. Not all of them had negative connotations, but many did. Although this is simply a script, not necessarily what the social perception of “nomad” is, it is true that many have a negative view of nomadism in general; its ties to barbarianism, homelessness and the struggle against nature seems to go against everything that civilization has worked towards. But the concept to be expounded in this paper is not that. It is necessary to remove all preconceptions of nomads, to wipe clean the slate and create a new perception of the term.

    Being a modern nomad is to have no permanent home, moving around according to need or to desire. Unlike the traditional nomads, modern nomads are not governed by nature completely, they do not have to search for food, or condition their lives around their herds. Modern nomads have jobs, they earn a living through any means necessary. They can be artists, businessmen or politicians, as long as they can support themselves and not fall into the trap of extreme poverty. Modern nomads are conditioned by technology, they have access to computers, modern food, modern facilities and everything that a “normal” person is entitled to. The logistics of such a lifestyle will be tackled later in the paper, but suffice to say, the modern nomad is an otherwise “normal” person living off social interactions, without a permanent home, but with adequate facilities to lead a fulfilling life. Modern nomadism can be seen as a cohesive movement, due to the complicated logistics, as communities are set up to support these modern nomads, much like planned communes from the 1960s onwards.

    Being a modern nomad is not to be homeless, not to be a vagrant, not to be simply a wanderer. Modern nomads are fully functioning members of society, contributing through their jobs or community service opportunities. Modern nomads are not drug addicts, or hippies trying to escape the pressures of the world (although that is one of the aims of the movement). Like mentioned, modern nomads are normal members of society who simply choose to live in an alternative manner.

    Before addressing the issue of leaving the concept of a permanent housing location behind, it is important to first understand the roles of a home and the needs that it fulfills, in order to construct a system which provides for these needs and offer a lifestyle that is viable as a replacement to the current living model. The blindingly obvious needs a home fulfills are the physical aspects of shelter and hygiene. A home offers a place protected from extreme heat and extreme cold, a shelter from natural occurrences like storms, snow or disasters, and sanitary, cooking and resting facilities. If we were to look at a home purely from this physical standpoint, it seems that it would be easy enough to replace the permanent home with temporary shelter-spaces with the necessary facilities. But that is not to be. Not only does the home provide these physical comforts, a home has a psychological and sociological significance as well.

    A permanent home is a place where one always belongs, where one meets people and where one becomes the “lord” of the domain. The concept of belonging is a key aspect of the psychology of homes, as the ownership of a physical location where one sets the rules, and where one can be with oneself, is held as an important achievement by many. This leads on to another psychological need the home completes, ownership. Ownership, the act of having control over a certain object, is a desire held by a majority. Any time people say, “I want…”, they are expressing this desire. And the desire to own a physical plot of land, a house, a home, is a strong desire of ownership conditioned by decades of social interaction and perhaps a more primal instinct.

    Another aspect of the home is a sense of accomplishment, a sense of pride, that can come from having a home worth showing off. A big house is a signal of success and much like a car, the home is part of the complicated social system of recognition and interaction, where it acts as a mark of social and economic well-being. That seems shallow, but is true for many. The opposite is true as well, the lack of a home is seen as a mark of failure, as society looks down upon the homeless. Of course, society disregards the homeless for a variety of reasons, from drug addiction to violence, but a key part of society’s perception of the homeless lies in their lack of a permanent home.

    The home, in a physical and psychological sense, also acts as a point of contact for family and friends, a place where people connected closely can come together in a safe environment for celebration, mourning or any sort of emotional bonding. The place is a facilitator, meaning that the home is merely a conduit for this interaction, allowing it to take place because of the privacy and the familiar environment that is conducive to this sort of meeting. Think of the common holidays, many of them are celebrated in the homes of family or friends. Christmas is one almost ubiquitous example of a holiday that is celebrated at a close friend’s or family’s home. And to balance it out, the Chinese New Year holiday maintains a tradition where family and friends visit each others’ homes to bainian, to visit and wish well. As can be seen, the home is a vital point of contact in human interaction, that fulfills many psychological and physical needs at once.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the home is a place where personal privacy can be attained. Many might argue that with modern technology, there is no such thing as privacy, but for many, the home is a final refuge from human interaction and the outside. The home is where the most private things can be done and that is a necessary physical and psychological need that the home fulfills (although some believe that this is about to change drastically).

    With the needs of the home defined, the next step is to define how the needs can be met in a situation where a permanent home does not exist. The basis of all this is the belief that social interactions trump any connection to a physical place, the belief that it is possible to maintain the same level of satisfaction and personal achievement simply by belonging to a group of like-minded individuals, not belonging to any physical location.


    Fri, Jun 19, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: nomadism
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    Here is a detailed outline of my inquiry into the concept of New/Modern Nomadism.

    Please offer any criticism that you might have, this is the first time I'm embarking on such a journey.

    To view the original pdf on Issuu.com, please visit http://issuu.com/yujie/docs/n_outline




    Thank you, and again, I look forward to comments and criticism.
    Fri, Jun 5, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: nomadism
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    Apologies for the poor visibility of words.
    Will type up soon, this is just a dumping ground for certain thoughts/images.

    Tue, Jun 2, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: nomadism
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    Hello all,

    So, I haven't been around here as much as I would have liked, not because I've been busy, but because I've been afraid that what I write may not be deemed interesting or worthy.

    Lately, however, I've been thinking a lot regarding the future of our lifestyles, and I finally feel that I've gotten enough of a whisper of an idea to finally write something for my personal cargo.

    From here on, I will try to develop my ideas in various blog entries. The idea revolves around being a modern nomad. Note: This idea is somewhat related to the "Digital Nomads" movement, but taking it to a whole new level. This is not some gimmicky post about how technology and social media are changing our lives (which I'm pretty sure everyone knows anyway), but a look into how we live as human beings, and where we are headed.

    First, in order to develop more ideas on living without a permanent home, it is first essential to define what a home is.

    A home is a place of residence or refuge and comfort.[1] It is usually a place in which an individual or a family can rest and be able to store personal property. Most modern-day households contain sanitary facilities and a means of preparing food.


    Of course, that is the broad definition, I ask everyone, what is the definition of a home for you?

    Second, a definition is all fine and good, but the function of a "home" is more pertinent to the discussion. Here is a list of what I believe a home provides.

    • Offers protection from nature/other people.

    • Allows for storage

    • Provides sanitary facilities, cooking/eating facilities

    • Acts as a grounding base, a point of contact for intimate relationships

    • Allows for sentimentality

    • A place to play, to recreate (referring to land outside the building as well)

    • A sense of security and ownership



    These are just some of my ideas, please feel free to add to the list.
    What are these things good for? Can other things satisfy these needs?

    A home offers intangible and tangible benefits, everyone can agree. But can these benefits be satisfied by other structures/interactions/lifestyles? Can a person truly live without a home and feel comfortable, safe and 'made' in our modern world? Nomads have existed for at least tens of thousands of years (thinking only in terms of their relationship with settled peoples); what is stopping the rise of a new group of modern nomads?

    The key question may be: Are human interactions more important than a sense of physical being? As in, is it possible to replace the security that people feel when having a permanent home with a security derived from personal relationships?

    Or has media, our culture and a whole host of other factors made that impossible?

    What is the viability of this sort of lifestyle for those with families, young children or aging parents? What age group would be most likely to become temporary nomads? Is this something that can be done on college campuses to increase productivity? Will it increase productivity or intellectual stimulation? What can come of this?

    So many questions, very few answers.
    I will hopefully answer a few in the months/years to come.

    To do:
    Research nomadic groups of ancient history
    Research nomadic groups in modern times
    Research the psychology behind homes
    Interview the homeless (?)
    Develop a theoretical system of rotating living areas that can be shared, and which provide the flexibility of nomadism
    Others?

    Tue, Jun 2, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: nomadism, future, society, life
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