Sunday, December 27, 2009

Saving Lives

How's this for a culture that uses technology to vital purpose and engages every day with questions of rhetorical silencing: nursing. In Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us all at Risk, Sandy Summers (RN, MSN, MPH) and Harry Jacobs Summers show that, indeed, the media's portrayal of nurses is unfair--to say the least.

As a former member of the media, though, I recognized myself in some of their critiques. And my automatic response is to critique right back. I could easily have been one of the reporters who writes that "doctors put the victim back together." But my argument is that such a use of the term doctor does not refer exclusively to MDs. Doctor is a broad term. It can refer to PhDs and dentists. Of course, it refers to MDs, but it can also be used to reference any medical practitioner--nurses included.

(In a similar vein, Summers and Summers critique instances when people who are not nurses are referred to as such; it seems to me that we are encountering a problematic conflation of general and specific terms. After all, one who nurses is a nurse, whether or not they are a CNA or LPN, just as one who doctors--including nurses--can be broadly referred to as doctors. The resistance to this seems to be an issue of hierarchy, or professional class.)

So why does my counter-argument fall flat, thus meriting this post? Because of two things: 1) not all journalists think like me, a fact largely due to the fact that I've always had one foot in academia and, more importantly 2) any decent rhetorician (journalists included) knows that intention doesn't make a lick of difference. The public doesn't read doctor and think that includes nurses. The Summers' book isn't so much about what journalists write ... it's about how the public perceives what journalists write. And there are a lot of misconceptions out there about nurses, including the idea that they're all women and that all doctors are men. There is work to be done here on the part of journalists, the public, and nurses themselves. And, happily, this is exactly what Summers and Summers propose, asking that nurses take a role in altering their public image and, in Chapter 11, providing a sort of how-to manual for a variety of professionals to create more ethical portrayals of nurses. I would add to this that the most basic of solutions is for us all to be more aware of the rhetoric we use and how intention differs from perception.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On "All Our Relations"

One book that I had hoped to read for a recent research project--but didn't because I ran out of time--was Winona LaDuke's All Our Relations. Luckily, I did have time to do some reading in this text before returning it to the library, and I was stunned at reading of the Mothers' Milk Project.

LaDuke's first chapter chronicles the struggles of the Mohawk Indians who live in the northeastern U.S. near a large General Motors plant. The plant dumped toxic chemicals in "SuperFund" sites, and those chemicals found their way into the water supply. LaDuke follows Mohawk activist Katsi Cook, who tries to involve women in activism.

"The fact is that women are the first environment," according to Cook. "We accumulate tocix chemicals like PCBs, DDT, Mirex, HCBs, etc., dumped into the waters by various industries. They are stored in our body fat and are excreted primarily through breast milk" (18). In fact, a study found a 200 percent greater concentration of PCBs in mothers who ate fish from the St. Lawrence River.

Now, I don't want to come off as the stereotypical tree-hugging academic liberal. (And, truth be told, I don't actually have a lot in common with that stereotype.) I have family that has worked for GM, and while the company has been less than generous (or even fair?) to its employees in recent years, it did provide millions of solid jobs for millions of people who would not otherwise have been nearly so well paid over several decades. I do not want to vilify GM. However, it does appear that the company has been less than ethical and responsible in many of its actions pertaining to the environment. Perhaps the more informative question is one of motive. Did GM shirk its responsibilities because of ignorance, costs, or just because it could get away with it?

In 1996, Chief Scientist to the World Wildlife Fund Theo Colburn gave an address at the State of the World Forum in which he said: "Every one of you sitting here today is carrying at least 500 measurable chemicals in your body that were never in anyone's body before the 1920s" (21). Colburn said 2,500 new chemicals are developed every year. How is anyone supposed to keep up with that much new information, let alone figure out how each of those chemicals might affect the human body?

Can we hold a company like GM responsible for being up to date on all chemicals they use? (That's not a rhetorical questions. I'm not sure of the answer.)

The one surety? Things are always changing, and this presents a challenge for native populations and cultures. But other cultures can make a difference by doing as little harm as possible.

In LaDuke's final chapter, she discusses the U.S. takeover of Hawai'i, and some bits are stunning in their demonstration of the ignorance of dominant cultures in the area: "The final eviction threat was fulfilled February 14, 1997, when the [National Park Service], hell-bent on its park of historic Hawaiian culture, evicted the Hawaiians" (168). Brilliant, eh?

But there is hope.

I was particularly struck by LaDuke's account of the island of Kaho'o'lawe, which the U.S. took martial control of the day after the Pearl Harbor bombing. Since that time, it was used as a test site for weaponry ... until 1990, when then-President George Bush ended pratice bombing there and returned the island to Hawaiians.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Slight Change in Direction

Well, perhaps the title "a change in direction" is actually misleading.

This blog was originally created for a graduate level course studying race (which I renamed culture early on), rhetoric, and technology. The description of this blog (to the right) says exactly that, and I plan to leave that information up. But the class has ended (sadly, because it was wonderful) and I'm not ready to let the blog die. I plan to continue to post whenever I run across something that seems to fit the criteria set forth by the class (and, admittedly, when I have time).

I'll probably also continue to widen the criteria in order to be able to post things that perhaps don't quite seem to fit. I'm not really sure on that count yet, but the topics of race/culture, rhetoric, and technology provide a pretty broad umbrella. We'll see what happens.