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Abigail C. Keane

Abigail C. Keane ROOTS - MAR/APR 2019

A Life Missed Out On

Written by Abigail C. Keane

The year was 2075. It’s been twenty years since the creation of the TreeO2 tank – a significant day for many, helpful for few. Jackie saw some teachers putting up posters commemorating the event when she entered school that morning.

As she walked through the halls to her locker, she thought back to her early encounter with some demonstrators on the way to school. They were sharing a tank and coarsely chanting “Give us air! Give us air!” one after the other. One of them feebly threw a shoe toward her with a “damn the bourgeois!”

That was a close one.

Luckily, most days the smog detectors indicated a toxicity level way too high for any tankless poor sod to set foot unto the streets, though maybe a larger man could jog a block or two before passing out.

Jackie trudged into class and sat at her regular seat by the window. She deposited her tank in the circular hold on her left and took her notebook from her satchel. Mr. Peterson, a skinny, frail-looking guy of about 40, commenced the class with a regular “Ahem. Good morning everyone.”

The sky was lilac grey, with hints of yellow and orange glowing from the city lights.

Mr. Peterson pointed at the map on the board and began explaining The Transcendence, a revolutionary period that lasted from the 2040s to the 60s. “Does anyone know what about this period is revolutionary?” he asked. After a short silence, he sighed and continued, “As you may know, the 40s and 50s were a, um, climatically tumultuous period… But!” he picked up, “humanity re-built. And that’s why we are lucky enough to have oxygenated buildings, sand-proof suits, and, of course, the TreeO2’s.”

Jackie thought back to the poor airless group, her conscience feeling unease, her face betraying nothing.

I guess that’s just what it means to have bad luck.

Suffice to say, Jackie knew there was no God, no system, no meaning. Things just happened because they happened – an unappealing philosophy, but one that had been central to the rise of Moved Manhattan, Second Shanghai, and Nuevo Miami, among other rebirths.

Jackie’s attention was set back on track when Mr. Peterson tapped his stick on the map. “And can anyone show us how big the Sahara was before the 50s?”

Finally, something I know.

She walked up to the board and silently traced an outline – the figure seemed tiny compared to the giant that now took up over half of Africa. “Very good,” Mr. Peterson was pleased, “before you go back to your seat, could you please tell the class why the Sahara grew so much?”

Jackie frowned. It was an odd question to ask. “Well,” she began, “It’s hard to say. I mean, there could be a million different reasons why it changed… I don’t suppose it’s related to all the wildfires that burned down most of the world’s forests?”

“Oh no, no-no-no,” Mr. Peterson shook his head. “You were right the first time, we don’t know! That was a trick question class.” Jackie sighed in relief as she approached her desk. The teacher continued, “Once again class, we really can’t determine why anything happens. So there’s no use in dwelling on it.”

He sounds a bit too chipper.

Most of the records predating 2045 had been lost. According to old news reports, internet servers went down, erasing everything that was being stored digitally. No one she knew was really sure how that worked, or what any of the technical explanations meant. And she knew, as she had always been told, that there’s no use in dwelling on the past, or in questioning the present.

After all, there’s nothing we can do about it now.

Jackie spent the rest of that class thinking about how lucky she was to have a full family and an oxygenated house she didn’t have to share. She thought of her TV, and of course, her companion and ticket outside – the TreeO2.

Abigail C. Keane Article MICRO CHANGES - JAN/FEB 2019

When Fake News Creeps Up on You

Written by Abigail C. Keane

With the emergence of new media, that is, the Internet and all its glorious new forms of communication, the way individuals obtain and spread information has undergone changes beyond what was imaginable a few decades ago. An especially concerning issue is the way we now receive news – if in the past, it was mostly through well-known credible traditional news sources or somewhat questionable gossip, these days, there are millions of unvetted websites uploading and posting news stories that aren’t always 100% truthful (if at all). However, the real problem lies in the fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate what constitutes a credible source and reliable information. It has gotten to the point where even known news sites, such as the BBC, are publishing articles on how to spot fake news.

A Brief History of Journalism

The evolution of modern day journalism essentially hinges of the 1947 Commission on Freedom of the Press, also known as the Hutchins Commission, because that was a key step to forming standardized journalistic practices and principles of ethics. After World War II, it became apparent that the freedom of the press was at risk as it was susceptible to the influence of the government and economic power; influence manifests itself in the form of propaganda or advertising.

The main reason changes needed to be implemented, according to the Commission, was to invigorate the press to act as a watchdog and present relatively unbiased news that could criticize the state or other major stakeholders. This idea, calling the media the Fourth Estate, ultimately aimed to protect democracy by preventing external powers from affecting what gets into the news and what doesn’t, how it is presented, etc. Overall, it was a way to ensure that civil society had a voice and that balanced political discourse could persevere.

The point: let truthfulness and accuracy reign in the media.

Photo by Thomas Charters

Regulation and the New Media

This was all well and good while traditional media worked relatively independently and with the established principles of ethics in mind. For instance, in the UK, the vast majority of publication houses (including the media giant Immediate Media Co) are regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). Thus, if there are accuracy issues, privacy breaches and such, these problems are addressed by IPSO, and media companies are held accountable.

While it may be true that such regulating practices have their limits, the new media landscape, especially social media, seems to lack such regulation altogether. At the moment, regulation is mainly restricted to matters of hate speech and (age) inappropriate content – even then, not all posts get flagged down.

So, what happens to all the fake news being posted online? Well, mostly nothing. It may get shot down by reasonable individuals commenting under such posts, but removing such information from social media has much broader and complicated implications. Ultimately, regulation policies and codes of ethics are lagging behind the rapid changes occurring in the news and media, changes we haven’t really noticed or paid enough attention to until recently.

The Irony of Democracy

Currently, the main debate taking place is: should we censor fake news? While some countries, such as Egypt, address that question head-on by saying “YES,” other states are in chaos, not knowing how to deal with the problem. The reason fake news censorship is considered so dangerous is that it gives the government, or some other regulatory body, the power to decide what constitutes true and false information. Taken to the worst case scenario, that could imply tyrannical control over speech – a big no-no for democracy.

Thus, we are now at a point where many of us want change, but we are afraid of it – and rightly so.

The concerns being brought up by free speech advocates and lobby groups, though often self-serving, are by no means blown out of proportion. The means through which governments would try to protect democracy, that is, through censorship, could fundamentally undermine democracy itself.

Photo by Randy Colas

Power to the People

There seem to be two paths leading forward: let states censor fake news or let fake news run loose. What many don’t realize is that there’s at least one more option – let the people take action.

Social media doesn’t abide by the rules of traditional media and presents challenges that are seemingly impossible to tackle in tandem with democratic values. Maybe social media, in its current form and with all its flaws, holds the key. Instead of relying on some authority to solve the problem, individuals can call out and denounce fake news posts and sources by themselves. For instance, we can report posts that contain false information – an action many are already taking.

What is more important, and necessary, to correctly identify fake news stories is to critically evaluate them and stop believing everything you read on the Internet. Instead of just blindly trusting whatever information is thrown your way and re-posting that shit, take a minute, do some more research – get your facts straight!

Until states and other regulatory bodies figure out how to deal with fake news (if that time will ever come), people can catch up to the rapid media changes of our time and adjust their mentality. It’s time to stop the trend of deceit, if not by reporting fake news, then at least by thinking about what you’re reading.

Abigail C. Keane Article TRANSFORMATIVE TECHNOCRATS - December 2018

Influencing Our Ideas, Infecting Our Values

Written by Abi C. Keane

I think the time has come to talk about one of the most absurd recently emerged internet phenomena: social media influencers. The question that puzzles me the most on this topic is why the !@*# can someone get away with making money for doing nothing?

Before you chew me out, listen to what I have to say. I know that not all “influencers” are stupid or terrible people – that is not the issue. The issue is the concept of an influencer itself. How do you even define that? What is an influencer?

When I try to answer that question on my own, I think “Well, it’s someone trying to influence you to do something, duh.” But what are these people trying to influence you to do? They post pictures of themselves doing cool activities, going to cool places, and wearing cool things. Though it may seem that they’re just rubbing their “better”, “richer” lives in your face, they’re actually doing so much more – they’re trying to sell you their life.

The way I see it, that happens in several different ways. First, you need to convince others that you’re interesting enough for others to be interested in you. Once you accomplish that, you need to convince others that you’re important enough to keep paying attention to. So what is really happening here is the promotion of a certain lifestyle.

However, that is by no means the end of it. The next step, the thing that really makes someone an “influencer” is making money. The ultimate purpose of being an influencer is to market the products of different companies through social media (and make money off it). If you ask me, that’s the epitome of consumerism.

So once again, what is an influencer? So far, it seems all they influence one to do is buy new stuff.

Photo by Jake Weirick

I’m going to take that a step forward and say: they influence us to perpetuate the overbearing presence of advertising and to distort our value system, with the latter being more of a side-effect, rather than a deliberate ploy.

The first part of that assertion is quite intuitive – after all, it’s near impossible to avoid ads these days, whether it’s on billboards, TV, Spotify, Facebook, or Instagram. With that list being only the tip of the iceberg, it’s hard to understand why people would further cultivate this trend by supporting (following) these “influencers.” I think the reason lies in the second point I made: a distorted value system. Not only do these “influencers” appeal to the masses through their style and glamour, they entice impressionable young people with the possibility of leading such lives themselves. If other random, previously unknown individuals can gain popularity and wealth through the Internet, then why can’t I? In a sense, this is quite similar to the 7-year-old “I wanna be a Youtuber” phenomenon.

Photo by Mliu92

This leads into a cycle whereby these pseudo-jobs are lauded over regular hard work. While it is true that not all individuals buy into this American Dream-esque fantasy, it is astonishing how many people support “influencers” and want to become “influencers” themselves. So to answer the original question of how these people get away with making so much money by doing nothing, I say: it’s their followers who are at fault.

The sad truth is, as long as people blindly follow and worship “influencers,” without questioning what they stand for or acknowledging what their real purpose is, the field of influencer marketing will continue to grow.

I guess what I really want is for people to start thinking more deeply about who or what they want to support. You need to decide for yourself whether you want to be one of the sheep who blindly buy into consumerism or one of the conscious individuals who refuses to fall into the new marketing trap.

Abigail C. Keane Article Contributing Creators THE BODY AS A PRISON - November 2018

Your Body My Choice

Written by Abigail Ceban Keane with Kimmberly Taylor

The topic of abortion, however worn out it may be, still incites fervent debate – a debate that’s drifted further from the truth. For Americans, the nomination, then confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court relit the long-standing desire of conservatives to overturn Roe v. Wade.

US Abortion debates often rope in the well-known provider of a wide variety of reproductive services. Planned Parenthood. They were targeted in 2015 by an anti-abortion group that secretly filmed executives while posing as a company looking to conduct research with fetal tissue. That footage was then edited to make it appear like Planned Parenthood was profiting from selling aborted fetuses.

“Evidence” that Planned Parenthood should be shut down now, is based purely on the allegation that another company is using aborted fetuses in their creams. The company in question, Neocutis, actually harvested protein cells from a privately donated aborted fetus to create an experimental cream to heal severe dermatological issues. For instance, they researched the healing potential of fetal cells to accelerate “the repair process and reduce scarring in severe burns and wounds.”

To be clear, as described here, the procedure is a gross oversimplification. Where “fetus cells” actually means “proteins derived from cultured skin cells”, and the fetus should be replaced with “a terminated pregnancy that could not survive to term and was deemed medically necessary by the attending physicians.” It’s a bit lengthy, but you get it. What should further be considered is the number of people such research could help in the future.

Now what is demonstrated through these extensive qualifications is that the issue of “donating fetuses” is more complicated than just that, not only is it ethically and morally confusing, but also scientifically.

Yet somehow, the “real” experts don’t know how to back down.

The Morality Angle

Once you get past the initial thread of misinformation, you get to the ideological opinions. First, on abortion: is it murder? And if so, can it be justified? Whether or not abortion is considered murder is more a matter of perspective, and that matter won’t be touched upon in this piece. However, the question of justification is a difficult and pertinent one.

To the claim that women should know better than to have sex without taking birth-control, that with common sense they can foresee the outcome and should be prepared, the sarcastic voice of reason replies, “Force her to have a kid she can’t feed, clothe, educate, house or protect while cutting every program that exists to help her, while absolving men of any responsibility for their role in the situation, including rape…I’d call them pro-birthers, not pro-lifers.”

Note that the argument still speaks of two lives, or at least of a life and the potential for another life. If this potential life is calculated to be extremely unfavourable (presumably with the same common sense that urges one to use contraception), then is it not reasonable for a mother to want to prevent the future misery, deprivation, or possible death that could come after carrying out a pregnancy? To be clear, this is not a suggestion that women should get abortions whenever faced with uncertainty. However, personal health and the future wellbeing of a newborn, or the lack thereof, are considerations some women have to face, especially when it comes to unplanned pregnancy, be it an accident in spite of precautions or the result of rape.

Photo by Mihai Surdu

The Tax Angle

Thus, setting aside a lengthy philosophical debate on the notion of life, it’s preservation, and the prevention of harm (assuming there is no truly correct answer), the question then becomes: who decides on when abortion is justified, or whether it is justified at all? This is where the second contention lies: taxes.

Sure, this isn’t the most intuitive way to think about stakeholders, but just as pacifists condemn the use of taxpayers’ money for supporting military interventions, so are others opposed to inadvertently funding a cause that contradicts their beliefs.

In the context of the US, discussing the issue of taxes funding abortions is mostly irrelevant because abortions are not part of the public health services provided by the state, and out of the only 2 programs that do cover the sexual health of women (Title X and Medicaid), only one provides coverage for abortions. Furthermore, of the 32 states where Medicaid provides coverage for abortions, it is generally restricted to cases of rape, incest, and the endangerment of the woman’s health. Essentially, this entire discussion is just the result of more misinformation and oversimplification.

However, if we were to continue this discussion under the false assumption that Planned Parenthood is funded by taxpayers’ money, the vast majority of the services provided by the organization aren’t abortions. Instead, most of their services cover the testing and treatment of STIs and contraception. So guess what, if Planned Parenthood ceased to exist, not only would millions of people suffer from an undetected STI, but significantly more lower-class women would get pregnant due to an inability to afford contraceptives, or due to a lack of knowledge regarding sexual health and contraception to begin with.

Some may then rise in protest: “Well hang on, that’s still our money being spent on abortions!” The reply to that is 1) that is statistically likely to be factually incorrect, and 2) if it were true, please suggest a better alternative.

Weighing Your Values

Now given that this debate is mainly centered around the United States, the discussion of values will mainly apply to the US situation in particular. Notably, the US is built on principles of liberty, according to which people should be free to choose how to spend their lives and what decisions to make without judgement or legal prohibition as long as it does not harm others – abortion is no exception. Thus, we come to the final point of dispute: liberalism.

Though most interpret liberty in the way described above, a few people feel that the classical interpretation is a bit broad and that freedom can be exercised, as long as it’s not funded by others. Essentially, this comes back to the argument of “why should my taxes go to abortion if I don’t agree with it?”

Setting liberalism aside for a minute, another important factor that enters the discussion is the idea of helping others. Specifically, when it comes to Planned Parenthood, one of the central reasons the organization is often defended is the fact that it helps the less fortunate by providing the sexual health services they need for free or at an affordable price – something the US social security services don’t cover. Interestingly enough, according to a 2018 poll by Reuters, many Americans feel that Medicare should be expanded to operate similarly to the universal healthcare programs found in Europe. This demonstrates that many US citizens value a system that provides for the less fortunate (at least when it comes to medical care).

So, the resulting three key values that at the core of the abortion argument are personal beliefs, helping others, and freedom. Realistically, all three of these can’t be compatible in the case of abortion if one holds on to traditional values. Now the following segment is a thought experiment that will outline the three main options that can result from a weighing of those values.

You can only have two.

What are the options?

There’s an old rule that projects want to be good, fast, and cheap, but can only have two of the three qualities. Let’s assume the same goes for the three key values.

The first option is to forget freedom, but have an effective social security system that complies with your personal beliefs. It isn’t a stretch to say that this system is impossible if it were to be based on everyone’s ideologies.

The second possibility is to screw the less fortunate, but maintain the principles of freedom and personal beliefs. If a majority were to choose an extreme version of this option, just imagine the hell we’d live in: there’d be no taxes, and therefore no public education, no public services, no social security – in sum, no public goods that we take for granted every day.

Finally, there is the case of endorsing freedom and care for others, while putting your personal beliefs aside. This may be the most optimistic option, but it is also the highest chance of coming true since 59% of US Adults believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 70% of Americans support universal health care.

So What?

Given the arguments outlined above, it is easy to understand why the discussion on abortion rights hasn’t been settled. In the end, it is often an issue of conflicting beliefs and general misinformation. What is important for us, as an audience, is to look at information critically, and to form our opinions based on careful considerations of real facts, as well as on our weighing of what beliefs and values we want to hold dearest in our society.