Essay Crisis Tumblr

Puerto Rico and Ethics

In our discussion last week, we talked about the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico following devastation caused by hurricanes. This crisis gives rise to an ethical problem: what is the right thing to do in this case? 

We talked about the difference between the consequentialist and Kantian approach to situations like this. In general, consequentialists are purely forward-looking: they only care about what will bring about the greatest amount of human happiness and reduce human misery as much as possible. The Kantian approach is more complex: they are interested in knowing who is responsible for human suffering and who should be held accountable for fixing it. 

So, who is responsible for the conditions on the ground in Puerto Rico at the moment? This is a complicated question that requires we know facts about history, economics and international relations. Click here to read a Kantian-style take on these questions by Lance Selfa. For Selfa, the relation between Puerto Rico and the U.S. government is a colonial one that has subordinated the interests of the Puerto Rican people to the interests of corporations based in the U.S. This relationship, he argues, is unjust and generates ethical duties to resolve the humanitarian crisis and write off the country’s debt. Compare Selfa’s analysis to the more mainstream view among U.S. commentators that the problems on the island are (almost entirely) the fault of those living on the island. 

Example Essay: “East Meets West”

This was written for the University of Michigan supplemental “community” essay prompt, then adapted for a (no longer existent) essay for Brown. The Michigan prompt reads:

Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.

Here’s the essay:

I look around my room, dimly lit by an orange light. On a desk in the left corner, a framed picture of an Asian family is beaming their smiles, buried among US history textbooks and The Great Gatsby. A Korean ballad streams from a pair of tiny computer speakers. Pamphlets of American colleges are scattered about on the floor. A cold December wind wafts a strange infusion of ramen and leftover pizza. On the wall in the far back, a Korean flag hangs besides a Led Zeppelin poster.

Do I consider myself Korean or American?

A few years back, I would have replied: “Neither.” The frustrating moments of miscommunication, the stifling homesickness, and the impossible dilemma of deciding between the Korean or American table in the dining hall, all fueled my identity crisis.

Standing in the “Foreign Passports” section at JFK, I have always felt out of place. Sure, I held a Korean passport in my hands, and I loved kimchi and Yuna Kim and knew the Korean Anthem by heart. But I also loved macaroni and cheese and LeBron and knew all the Red Hot Chili Peppers songs by heart. Deep inside, I feared that I would simply be labeled as what I am categorized at airport customs: a foreigner in all places.

This ambiguity of existence, however, has granted me the opportunity to absorb the best of both worlds. Take a look at my dorm room. This mélange of cultures in my East-meets-West room embodies the diversity that characterizes my international student life.

I have learned to accept my “ambiguity” as “diversity,” as a third-culture student embracing both identities in this diverse community that I am blessed to be a part of.

Do I consider myself Korean or American?

Now, I can proudly answer: “Both.”

3 years ago

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