Michael Phelan O'Toole

MEDIAted Catharsis From A Multi-Faceted Artist



ESSAY: “Interview a P.R. Specialist” (Fundamentals of Public Relations)

Michael Phelan O’Toole

CO 201 : Fundamentals of Public Relations

Project : Interview a PR Specialist


For this assignment, I interviewed Christine Ernest, head of the press department at The Planetary Group, a Boston-stationed PR firm which specializes in music artist promotion. Originally setting out for a career in journalism, Christine attended Cabrini College. Armed with a love of music, in addition to writing, while still pursuing journalism, she began working at the school’s radio station, WYBF, ultimately becoming music director. This position lead to travel to many music related conferences and trade events, such as The College Music Journal’s CMJ Music Marathon in New York, and the famed South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. As if out of a movie, it was on a plane ride back from South By Southwest that Christine was approached by someone working for the radio and music industry trade magazine FMQB. While The College Music Journal is responsible for compiling statistical chart information and publishes promotional information and reviews of up and coming artists playing on college radio stations, FMQB, or “Friday Morning Quarterback,” can be described as its larger, commercial industry counterpart. In working with FMQB, Christine initially helped compile their commercial radio chart listings, later getting the opportunity to merge her two major interests in a professional setting, in covering music news for the magazine. With her passion for the industry and impressive writing skills evident, she was soon


given part of a weekly column focusing on commercial specialty radio, which she would use to champion the college radio artists she was being exposed to through WYBF and other
college stations that she felt would be most successful on commercial radio. It is this type of passion-put-to-words in support of up and coming artists that would serve her in promotional writing for artists, and advocacy of their worth to journalists in her PR work today at Planetary. Despite where her path has lead her, she is quick to declare that her focus was always on journalistic writing itself, taking no specific PR course in college. Fearing her music-related endeavors would lead her away from writing itself, with a course load filled with journalism-geared classes, as well as English curriculum, she dove into working on her school’s newspaper; first as assistant editor and then main editor for the Arts and Entertainment section. Then it was a series of internships that cemented her print media infatuation, first in working with the daily Press of Atlantic City, then, going to school just outside of Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Business Journal. Christine stressed that some background in journalism and solid hands-on experience in the field in the form of an internship would be helpful to someone pursuing a PR position. For Christine, after an early graduation from college, while looking for work, it was a contact from her College Music Journal conference visits, impressed by her resume, that hired her at The Planetary Group. This had satisfied her desires for a dream job, placing her writing skills and experience and enthusiasm in the music realm to good use, in a team-oriented, nontraditional


environment, with like-minded people.
The Planetary Group’s press department holds a focus on getting consistent publicity for a wide-variety of music artists, both local and national, from new, unknown artists to Dave Mason of the band Traffic, who is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with artists who are signed to a record label, or self-releasing material. As head
publicist, Christine’s daily tasks at Planetary include work on crafting the promotional biography write-ups for the artist as well as the one-sheet information pertaining to their latest album, meeting with clients to make sure both she and they are updated on the current information pertaining to them, or if there are any new angles that can be approached in order to get journalists writing about them. With that, much of the time is spent writing press releases and sending them out to relevant media outlets, in addition to directly calling journalists and pitching clients and article angles or soliciting album reviews. If clients do not have a new record coming out, regardless they are encouraged to tour, as with an upcoming live performance date, it is easiest to get exposure, both in media coverage, and exposure to audiences and potential fans who will support further press. Christine emphasized that it is important for a local band to grow a foundation audience, and accrue even small, local press accolades before tackling larger forums. Planetary provides targeted campaigns for their clients, with a vast keyword-searchable electronic database to match-up artist genre with the proper media outlet. Having had working relationships with many of these press outlets allows her clients greater networking capacity, with the Planetary name holding weight in representing their efforts. Planetary embraces the PR team structure; heading up the


press department, Christine is joined by two other publicists, one working with her on national publicity, generally geared toward an artist’s album getting the most and widest spread reviews and coverage, and another publicist who focuses on tour publicity, centered on promotions of when and where a client is performing live. This is in addition to, and in conjunction with the radio promotions department, marketing department and others.
When asked what she enjoys most about her work, Christine underlined the fortunate opportunity she has in being able to appease her writing addiction in support of something she loves, in music. The most rewarding part of her work lives in being able to share in the successful meeting of her clients’ goals, and the objectives of the particular campaign. Pouring effort into providing a support system for a client’s art, and serving to help a journalist realize the value in investing the time to scribe their own piece about it, and subsequently getting the public interested, is a great joy. “The most rewarding part is just really helping clients. When I have a client, and they say
“This is what we want to achieve… This is my dream thing; I wish I could be in Spin (magazine).” We can’t do that for every artist, but if we can do it for a few, and it makes sense, it feels really great.”

Contrastly, the worst thing about her work rears its head, when the occasion comes when dedicated publicity efforts seem to hit a wall, in being ignored by journalists. Not only is it frustrating getting “white noise” in the communication channel when initial e-mails and phone calls are put out to no response, but on occasion messages will cease to be returned in mid-pitch discussions of a band or story angle, with no follow-up


explanation given. Still working as a freelance writer on the side, she knows the importance of a publicist’s pitch, and the rigors of a journalist’s deadline; having played on both sides, miscommunication or lack of follow-up stings greater. She talks of lazy journalists, and the importance of a PR person having their information together, ready to present things properly, noting that in a competitive, crowded industry like music, this appears even more essential to ensuring the likelihood of good coverage.

In focusing on what the future of music PR might be, she points out Planetary’s web-focused New Media department, which reaches out to “five hundred or more websites…From to pitch work to a one-man blog.” with a campaign, while her goal remains in getting what is primarily print publication. According to her, the state of print media is in a bad way right now, with many people being
laid off from work. This is one of the reasons why she decided to no longer pursue full-time journalism. We talk about the possibility of the internet’s open forum, while positive in opening up the floor in expressing opinion and discussion, downgrading journalistic integrity and standards. While Christine agrees that music blogs may contribute to this, she is also quick to point out that if it is positive in getting the music heard, with people seeing it, then it can ultimately be helpful. With this, she offers up this held-onto quote from author and music critic Chuck klosterman, “There are a lot of smart people writing about music, but not a lot of people who are interested in journalism writing about music.” In her work as a publicist, Ms. Ernest aims to help see this change.


In continuing our discussion, I followed up with asking if she has seen the traditionally antagonistic relationship between journalists and publicists in her own work.. “I’ll agree with that. I’ve worked in news rooms, and I’ve seen writers just hang up (the phone) on publicists.” In defense of this, she notes the possibility of that publicist pitching something that did not make sense for the journalist to cover, however, she drives home the frustrations of, working as journalist, publicists wanting a client covered in a certain way, and yet not getting back to her to help meet their needs. If, as a publicist she sees incorrect information published, citing either miscommunication or writer’s laze as a factor, she’ll speak with the journalists and ask them to run a printed correction. “A lot of writers in the music industry, especially web-type people are kind of lazy, to be honest.”

Though she has never experienced the responsibility of having to run a “damage control” campaign due to an artist’s behavior. “If (our clients) did (do something that called for a damage control campaign), I think (we’d) just come up with a plan of action that makes sense, and act on it quickly.” What she has experienced more often, has to do with Planetary campaigns so tailored to particular album release and live show dates setup in advance, on the occasion dates are switched around, it is a fast-paced media blitz in recontacting journalists and other media outlets with the updated information.

In closing, we touched worked for her on her path to PR. “I went to a liberal arts school, English and Communications was my major… In mind, I just really liked music and I really liked writing, and I just tried out as many things as possible. I had some gigs


in the music industry and I was writing some. It was great to find this job, because it was like a marriage with both of them.”

From speaking with Christine, I have gained a personal insight into Public Relations work, with an assertion to the fact that a love of writing, a journalism background, passion for your clients, a willingness to communicate, and the ability to operate in a fast-paced environment are all prime components for success in PR. It is evident in Christine’s voice that she enjoys what she does, and her thoroughness in answering my questions illustrates a level of flexibility as well as professionalism. This assignment has helped me put a voice and clear perspective on a field that, I feel is generally vaguely defined. Overall, it was a lot of fun getting inside Christine Ernest’s head a bit, and checking out the interesting world of music publicity. Her words leave me with encouragement, as we share majors in Communication, an inclination toward English course work, and a love of writing, not to mention an interest in music.

ESSAY: “Human Values, Personal Freedom, & The Arts” Final

Michael Phelan O’Toole

Human Values

Prof. Tarutis


Human Values, Personal Freedom, and The Arts

Take-Home Final

Question 1 :
The humanities explore what it means to be human. As such, they are a progressive study which looks at our past historical, artistic and intellectual pursuits. In a concrete sense, they represent the most significant stretching of the boundaries of the human condition. Within the recognized canon of our civilization, study of the humanities help us to consciously, whether symbolic or
literal, observe the trials and triumph of humanity. This semester, I have learned that the humanities as a form of knowledge endorses an unrestricted approach to how we view ourselves and what we have done and have the potential to do. It is a revolutionary for m of knowledge that is unafraid to grapple with the established guard. Whether through magnifying our society’s flaws and projecting a possible future like 1984, examining “The shock of the new” of modern industrial, and subsequently artistic revolution, or holding a microscope up to the behemoth of religious faith as does Sam Harris, the humanities are conscious, constructively critical, and daring amidst mainstream complacency. As such, to say that these texts singularly and wholly represent the span of knowledge of the humanities would be false. The humanities, even amidst an established canon of fodder, continually evolve.


They represent our great self-awareness despite the dance of the daily routine.
I have learned that for every established historical string of concrete events or established theory, there is school of thought which counters or juxtaposes with the current states of things. This is not done for its own sake, but to challenge purpose as we define it, and to break down what may be holding us back from exploring fresh and more epic things. Looking at “The Saturated Self” or “Habits of The Heart,” shows us that “self” and the nature of being in itself is
worthy of much reflection. I have learned that, evidently, the humanities as a form of knowledge, is then the most important and consistently relevant form of
knowledge, in that it explores the individual, and the scope of the world in which, as many individuals, have constructed.
Question 2 :

Modern art and literature reflects an ever growing consciousness of the human condition. Physically, it illustrates creation as a reaction to the state of society. Because of this, reviewing a culture’s art and literature is often most indicative of the broad spectrum of its ideas. In the midst of modernity, our literature and art represents that life is in a constant state of flux, though initially weighted in the past, and that, however advanced we are as a civilization, it is easier for us to observe our flaws and overall presence in hindsight. While we are able to reflect upon and dissect the nature of our society, it is a gradual process to abolish the overgrown missteps made prior. Our art and literature is no longer simply about representing our existence at face value. It becomes a free forum


for symbolic expression and open commentary on where we were, are, and could be headed. It either stands for a particular conclusion, or explores often overlooked aspects of how we interpret life, and what it means to be alive.

The human condition comes with it certain questions and issues inherent to existence, I feel. We will always be in search of something greater than ourselves, either through religious study, existential reflection, or general pursuit of knowledge through achievement. We are always looking for a broad connection of concepts in order to define our world, and more so, how we fit into the scope of it. Modernity, or post modernity does offer new challenges, however, in that we are confronted with not only organic issues of the “Why are we here?” variety, but now faced with coping with the state of our own expansion, in both order and thinking. Thanks to our own technological and scientific advancements, we are left with an entirely new set of questions. While we as humans are driven to create and problem solve, what happens when it appears we have diffused our surface issues? We are still faced with strong opposition from our fellow man when new ideas are introduced. In medical science, stem
cell research, artificial insemination, and cloning are possibilities which garner friction, and while immediately helpful to some, raise many philosophical and moral issues. In modern technology, from the industrial revolution, to the proliferation of computers with artificial intelligence, there is good and bad. While technology helps us in speed and efficiency, it has led to the building of motorized weapons which we have used to kill one another. More recently, the


use of robotics has assisted in surgical precision, but, in the case of artificial intelligence, what does it say about us if we are able to build an android with comparable intelligence to that of a human? While it is impressive and may assist us in tasks, does it truly add to our experience, or rather devalue us?

These are just a few examples of why I feel in the post modern age, we are increasingly faced with more complex issues. We are left not only consciously thinking about what it means to be human and how we can get the most out of experience, but contending with ages of advancement, as well as the documentation of past catastrophe previously unknown. We must remain aware that, in base desires we are not vastly different than those in the past.

Question 3 :

In analyzing my own learning this semester, I found it most helpful to read on my own, analyzing the specific material in the text, while consciously making connections to the greater themes of the course, as were discussed in class. Typically when I read assigned text for a course, it is a struggle to remain attentive, however, given the ever applicable material, I found it ripe for interpretation and therefore was gravitated to it not only to gain a better of understanding of established ideas, but more so to be able to take them in and apply them to my own life, or life as I know it. I felt that classroom discussion was helpful, as others’ opinions and perspectives on things gave new life to what I may have previously thought stagnant. I always find it interesting when I, or


someone else, is able to take something being studied and connect it to their own life or current events. I feel like learning and education should be palpable and “real,” and I found that this semester.

As far as difficulties, I am both in love and at war with language. I enjoy writing, and from a learning perspective, it helped me most accurately express my point of view in relevance to the course. Being that we think in language, the quality of our thoughts and ideas can only be as good as the quality of our language. Expressing a complex and complete thought in simple words is tough. However, at the same time it is easy to get lost in the words, and lose the meaning on the way through occasionally. In this way, I feel that driving home the grander meanings of the texts through class discussion was helpful. After this, it was the writing of essays that made the material feel most personal and relevant. I do think it is more stimulating reading modern works, rather than just dealing with the classics. Although works like The Iliad and The Odyssey provide insight into the structure and meaning of ancient mythology, and the universal themes that we as humans relate to, the active reading of books that critique and analyze the world in which we live allowed gateway to broader understanding of both history, and an active break down of both the psychology and philosophy of the subject. Getting more accustomed to how others think in this way cultivated and encouraged more broad minded reflection in myself. When applied to class discussion, these riveting discourses made me proud to be part of such a


relevant course that encouraged refreshing, controversial exchanges equal to the themes of the books and the goals outlined for the course.

A challenge for me is getting over the notion that it is possible to get too analytical. Getting a chance to immerse myself in “Human Values, Personal Freedom, and the Arts” has helped me embrace a more philosophically minded perspective, and realize how important it is that we remain progressive in our view of the world, understanding our past, while freeing ourselves from restraint, in order to reach personal enlightenment in this age of post modernity.

ESSAY: Persuasion in Film : “Clerks.” (English 102)

Mike Phelan O’Toole

Prof. Whalen

English 102-006
May 16th, 2008
Paper 2

Persuasion in Film : “Clerks.”

In his film “Clerks,” writer/director Kevin Smith uses examples of logic, emotion, and primarily irony, in his effort to illustrate that, in the midst of the mundane and absurd, close personal relationships and being satisfied with oneself are what matter most. The film chronicles an absurd day in the life of two convenience store clerks.

The main character, Dante represents an insecure, average Joe, who, despite being unsatisfied with his life, is afraid to risk change in order to move beyond mediocrity. Contrary to this attitude, is his best friend and co-worker Randal, who is happy-go-lucky, satisfied in the moment, and refuses to be shackled by the rules and order of society.

Throughout the film, Dante is a slave to his own lack of assertiveness in dealing with annoying customers and an inability to commit to either his present girlfriend, Veronica, or his true interest, his high school ex, Caitlin. Randal attempts to help Dante break out of his shell, by openly hazing customers and intervening in telling Veronica that Dante no longer loves her. After dealing with these events, we are presented with a depressed Dante, wondering “Why do I have this life?” This incites a verbal exchange which illustrates a breakthrough as, ever the more self-active one, Randal shifts from his typical wise-cracking, to a more direct approach in laying out all the ways in which Dante could be helping himself, rather than focus on placing all the blame on others, or eternal factors. The director assaults us with logic here, as Dante personifies the clouded view the subtle embracing of fear and negativity provides, and Randal is the harsh voice of reason, revealing a level of direct insight previously unseen. As his friend verbalizes the


currently building consequences of his inaction, Dante finally submits, and reveals the long-standing history of his indecision. Though he complains as if he has no control over the problems in his life, Randal explains that many of his problems could be avoided if he simply would not indulge in letting others abuse him.

Through a sea of absurdity, it is Dante’s relationship with Randal that is an ever present beacon of light in an otherwise chaotic realm. This is contrary to his love life; though Veronica is seemingly a fine match for him, he is frightened by her independence and urging of him to move on with his life. His pining for Caitlin represents a desire to relive a simpler time, and is symbolic of our longing for what we cannot have. Ultimately neither woman will serve to alleviate his problems. In the thick of this, Dante finds out that Randal has taken it upon himself to tell Veronica that Dante no longer cares for her. It is ironic that, it is not until Veronica leaves him over this, that he realizes how much he truly cares for her. Now focused on Caitlin, the two look to begin a relationship again, until, Caitlin, in the dark, unbeknownst to her, has sex with a corpse, who she presumes is Dante. In the vein of twisted irony, this is a customer whom Dante had let use the bathroom in the store earlier in the day. Not only does this stand for the ever increasing ridiculousness of Dante’s existence, but also serves to show how disconnected and ineffectual Caitlin is, to not have realized Dante’s absence. Consequently, she is taken to the hospital, traumatized, and Dante now left with no romantic prospects.

The key scene occurs when, upon confronting Randal about his intervention in Dante’s relationships, the two uncharacteristically come to blows in what is a battle of ideologies; Randal, holding the belief that by affecting change in Dante’s life, he is


helping him along, and Dante believing he had things under control, still hoping to salvage something of a relationship. Upon the conclusion of the fight, the two lay propped up, amidst a vast wasteland of candy and other retail items littered around the store, post-scuffle. The fight is something of a purging experience, as both exchange words, dissecting the various events that have gone on. While Dante continues to over-think the state of his circumstances, dwelling on his feelings of victimization, Randal again is driven toward a monologue which reflects upon both their faults, as he comes to the epiphany that, while they look down upon their customers, they have shown no greater initiatives that asserts their dominance over anyone else. The camera hangs on Dante, as he mulls over this, feeling the conviction in his best friend’s words.

Following this, the last scene in the film depicts the two clerks cleaning up the mess that they have made, both literally, and post-catharsis, metaphorically. They are once again easy-going toward one another, as Randal asks Dante if he needs anything else before he leaves for the night, and Dante asserts his plans to take responsibility, sorting things out with Veronica, and visiting Caitlin in the hospital. This is merely a day in the life of these two characters, and unlike conventional films, everything is not wrapped up so neatly. In the face of everything, ever a grind, the enduring factor remains the strong friendship between Randal and Dante, both staunchly different in their approach to life, yet nurturing of their similar day-to-day sensibility. Both are essentially creatures of habit, and are lost in either existentialism, or in the case of Randal, simply a devil-may-care attitude. Despite a greater focus on intellectual discussion over elements


of pop culture, and other things insignificant to the grand scheme of things, both long for change. It is evident, through their key exchanges in reaction to what both find

frustrating, either in themselves, one another, or the outside world they contend with, that all is uncertain, with the exception of their personal bond. While Dante worries what others think, pines for something greater, and buckles amid the challenges of his life, Randal validates himself by not paying mind to the nuisances of his fellow man, and convinces himself of the joys of the simple life.

Through the director’s layering of logic, irony, and varied emotion in his characters, we as the spectator symphonize with the realism of the clerks, while indulging the outlandish dimension they inhabit. The film tackles serious themes, in a search for meaning. The characters either push themselves or others to reevaluate the choices in their lives, either in work, school, love, sex, friendship, or the overall importance of the future. These themes are wrapped in a wonderful sense of humor and whimsy that at once is able to distance us from the weight of them in some instances, and in the end, endear us to the characters more. Ultimately, the conclusion of the film is true in its dedication to the main idea of the film; although this day has has brought new heights of absurdity and dysfunction to their lives, through it all, the one thing still enduring is the friendship between Dante and Randal, as there seems an iron-clad bond between them that cannot be broken, either by the pain of the past, the rigors of the present, or fear of the future.

ESSAY: “The Modern Predicament” (Human Values)

“Waiting For… Well, Something.”

Michael Phelan O’Toole

The Modern Predicament – Question 1.

Human Values, Personal Freedom, and The Arts

Professor Robert Tarutis

April 14th, 2008

After birth, there is one thing for certain in this life; death. In between that there is a whole mass of time; a series of moments that collectively add up to our tenure of existence on the planet. We have no choice but to think before we can act, and

regardless of the amount of physical distractions we engage ourselves in, eventually we come to that same sense of wonder that Aristotle proclaimed philosophy is born out of. With this wonder come basic questions like the familiar “Why are we here?” Unlike our bodies, these questions do not die, but only multiply. We exist and fill our days, ever waiting for the grander meanings to become apparent. Much like Sisyphus in The Myth of Sisyphus, we are forced to engage ourselves in meaningless labor. In the thick of this grind, we search for meaning. We wait around for something more to finally show, much like Vladimir and Estragon do for Godot in Beckett’s Waiting For Godot.

Waiting For Godot illustrates that the act of waiting carries with it an intrinsic assumption of some kind of payoff. For enduring “the wait,” or a void in action, we expect something in return. If not for the made structure of our ritualistic daily activities and categorization of information, life surely would feel as chaotic and given to happenstance as it is. Overall, if not for the distractions we create, we would greater realize, although infinitely complex in its presence, how simple life truly is; we are here until we are not, with one long waiting period in middle. And given the sometimes tumultuous challenges of our current structure, in the most spectacular sense, knowing


that our two certainties are but the current rigors of existence, and its unfamiliar, epic counterpart, death, we expect some type of salvation, given our endurance. Vladimir and Estragon, though they admit that, should the mysterious Godot arrive, they would not know him, they continually wait and hold him in high regard. The waiting itself becomes much weight to bear, and we see them begin to distract themselves through menial activity. They are consumed by the anticipation of Godot’s arrival, and to them, if this ultimate goal does not occur, existence is not worth it. Rather than relish in the simple pleasures experience, they have put all their stock in Godot, and thus cannot leave from where they assume they will meet him. It is interesting to note that, upon his continued absence, both characters contemplate suicide. As Camus notes from “An Absurd Reasoning” in The Myth of Sisyphus, the decision not to exist anymore is an inherently serious issue, as it grapples with whether or life is worth living. To truly know this, one must figure out how to evaluate worth, and whether or not the unknown of death is an option. Unable to commit suicide, the main characters of “Godot” are told the man will arrive the next day. They are continually enticed at the possibility of his arrival. The irony lies in the fact that while they speak great things of him, they do not truly know him, or when he will arrive. They hope Godot will bring them greater things in their life, however, in waiting for him, their lives become dull, they become dependant, and time is wasted.

“Godot” appears to represent a godly figure, with the story illustrating the woes of non-existential thinking; dependency on religion, general routine, or authority figures. Beyond the tangled web of religious connotation, in reality, being “saved” means many


things, and is at the core of our basic human needs and desires. With the anxiety of the unknown, in waiting, comes a sense of helplessness and vulnerability. Waiting denotes a certain anticipation for what is to come, and positive or negative, it is scarier than simply relishing in the present moment.

In looking at Sisyphus, and his ceaseless struggle to push a boulder up a hill, only to watch it fall down again once he forces it to the top, we see that he truly represents what it means to be human. Though conscious of the agony of there being no explained purpose in his circumstance, he focuses on his task, driven by the possibly of discovery through the work. When he reaches the top with the boulder, in that moment, there must be some celebration in his success. However, much like for us, success is not final, and the boulder again rolls back down. In this moment, there is anger, confusion, and surely some amount of hopelessness. Yet, again, bearing that there is no access to any other activity to engage in, in his battle with the boulder, he must feel useful, and continually motivated, in that, even if only in concept, the possibility of getting the boulder to stay at the top taunts him. Though he may be conscious of the absurdity of his actions, should he stop, he would be lost in existential misery, and betray his goals. Indeed, his greatest triumph lays in not crumbling over the absurdity before him.

Like Sisyphus, we are continually engaging ourselves in activities inconsequential to our ultimate end. Although we are concerned with leaving a legacy and building something through our actions, these are abstract concepts. Given that we are bound to


time and space, as individuals, we are powerlessly moving toward nonexistence. We are indeed rolling the proverbial rock up the hill, only to watch it fall down again. In our world of uncertainty, not only in it’s absence of overtly evident purpose, but in the fact that none of our actions are truly permanent, it is through the exhilaration of living in the moment that we can buck the absurdity contained in our organized routines.

In Camus’s dissection of what it means to truly know versus perceive, we see that in order to thrive, aware of the absurdity that static purpose and permanence is an illusion, we must be willing to embrace our own system of progressive thought. Specific philosophical questioning is a vast indulgence when compared to the importance of the acceptance of the absurdity in existence. As exemplified in Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, to lose oneself in anticipating higher purpose supplied by someone else seems as good as death. If a person does believe in a place after life, but is only driven to achieve based on the hope of later reward, they are evidently locked in the same dependence upon “tomorrow” that Camus writes of, albeit in a grander sense. Through The Myth of Sisyphus, it is shown that even in the most painstakingly, routine acts, there can be greater meaning found, if one is open to the purposelessness, and the fleeting nature of time. In Sisyphus’s one continual act, though his goal in affirming the boulder at the top of the hill may be futile, his unshakable determination in making the attempt with vigor is noble and spirited. In this way, he represents how, though without comfort of ultimate knowledge, it is through our trials and conscious experience that we live most. In “The Matrix” terminology, we are “taking the red pill,” given to freedom, and also condemned to realize that with it comes loss of total control in defining our world.

ESSAY: CO 201 Fundamentals of Public Relations Midterm

Michael Phelan O’Toole

CO 201 : Fundamentals of Public Relations

Take Home Midterm Exam


Part 1 : Summary Essays (Choose 3) :

1.Typical tasks and assignments of a PR agent revolve around getting the most through and consistent publicity for their client, via a targeted effort. Skilled writing is a heavy component, in producing press releases sent to the general media in hopes of getting a story picked up, as well as drafting copy for this and any catalogues, brochures, posters, and other supplemental materials intended for promotional distribution to the public. Editing is also essential, in revising and checking this work, and making sure that any texts of speeches, newsletters, electronic bulletins boards, or trade magazines communicate the proper message for the client.

Media relations is a very important part of a PR agents work, in pitching the client and their story to media outlets and journalists, in hopes of getting coverage in the newspaper and on TV and radio airwaves, as well as coordinating the media’s coverage of events, such as sponsored performances, openings of new programs, or any other event relevant to the client and their campaign. PR practitioners may often assist in organizing special events that the client or client organization is a part of, in hopes of attracting the media to attend and cover the event. A Public Relations agent may also act as a speaker on behalf of the client or organization, writing and delivering speeches to the public and the media, in well-communicated representation of their goals, upcoming events, or other information, in hopes of it being picked up the media, or as a


way to build their audience or public profile. They will also often be assigned to work with individual graphic designers, typesetters, editors, and producers as part of a PR team, with the goal of creating material to be distributed publicly, which best presents the client and their goals, in printed or visual form. This calculated effort is aimed to capture the attention of the public, and potential audience, and allow the client to stand out to the media.

Research can be a large part of their job, in attempting to get a handle on their client’s audience, and evaluating the current programs that are in place, as well as looking at prior media coverage of an event. They will develop surveys to distribute to their client’s audience, or potential audience, as questionnaires. Additionally, they will take into account what PR efforts have worked in the past, and what story angles could work, given the current media climate, or which media outlets or journalists are likely to pick up their story, or give the most accurate coverage. With this information, they may also be responsible for developing a direct plan of action for the client, in effort to increase and maintain good publicity. Additionally, they may serve to advise an individual or company employees on how to operate cohesively in a firm, assigning specific people of varied background to ensure the success of a campaign or program. They may also advise their clients on the proper conduct or course of action in order to allow for consistent, positive media coverage, and other promotions.


2. A PR practitioner should have outstanding skills in written and verbal communication, in that their work consists of being able to present news and information on their client, in a manner that is both clear and concise, as well as properly expressive. Given that this task must often be done in a timely manner, a good PR agent, in communicating for their client, should have the ability to harness the most coherent, inviting phrasing possible, and wordsmithing, without omission of facts, should be second nature to them. In the case of a press release, or in response to breaking news relevant to the client, a good PR practitioner is able to swiftly and accurately incorporate and react to the proper factual information, while still being a powerful wordsmith, in their ability to reflect best of their client or the situation. Verbally, they must be able to communicate clearly, whether in the case of public speaking in support of their client organization, or in effective pitching a story angle to a journalist. Generally, they should be at ease socially, as they will often be speaking with, and meeting a variety of people, whether potential clients or people in the media, with short time to get acquainted, in fast pursuit of getting the most coverage for their client, and meeting the expectations set forth in their campaign. They will need to have no qualms relevant to speaking up for their client and searching out the best resources for the campaign. The PR practitioner will also need to be comfortable with working as part of a team in adequately producing campaign material.

It is important that the PR agent have thorough background knowledge in management, business, and certainly the media, as all three of these areas play heavily into what they do, and are able to do. A grasp on how the media operates will assist


them in how and where they pitch their clients’ interests, as well as give them a clearer perspective on industry deadlines, and general operations, as PR and the media hold a symbiotic relationship in order to best function. If a PR agent is not able to understand and “make friends with” the media, their career will surely be short lived. Understanding of business practice as well as management is essential in that, a PR agent is working around the parameters of client and industry standards and deadlines, and must be able to smoothly navigate the facts, figures and expectations of their client organization and media, as well as their PR team in an efficient manner. A hold on management is important, in juggling their campaign goals; being able to maintain client goals and events of the campaign. This is in addition to their being able to manage the go-between of client, media and other involved parties, as well as include all input, whether critical or creative, provided by their PR team members in crafting the campaign, and generally keeping things on task and time.

In the fast paced, ever-changing world of PR, they must, ultimately, have no problem with functioning as either a decision-maker or problem solver. This is important, in relevance to either the quick decisions that need to made in response to negative publicity; that is, crafting a “damage campaign,” or being able to keeps things organized and rolling along, given the often set time table of a piece of news or event, and the short attention span of the media. If things, are not going according to plan, given that there could be several parties involved, or a particular individual or possible promotional outlet is holding things up, there needs to be one person clear-minded enough to be able to make the call as to what will most benefit the campaign and client. In this


instance, it is also important to not make rash decisions that could alienate the media, client, or future industry contacts overall. Personal stability and common sense are your best friends here, in that a PR worker will be under pressure, faced with the frustrations of last minute changes, time constraints, and dealing with difficult people. They will be forced to make the most thoughtful decisions, in, often a tense, short amount of time. A natural drive to satisfy intellectual curiosity will assist in collecting the most information, communicating it well, and following up with the right individuals and resources.

6. Of the ten “Be” attitudes of successful media relations, below are the five which I believe to be most important, and why :

I believe, as a PR agent, it is of the utmost importance to remain accessible, to your client, your PR team when working with one, and of course the media. As a PR practitioner dealing in media relations, it is your job to best represent your client in the face of media. In pitching to journalists or other media outlets, you must remain as open and available for them as possible, as they are the ones who are, or could potentially be covering your client. Given that the goal, typically is to receive the most coverage, and get your audience interested in your client or their organization, it is dyer that you are thorough in establishing your connection with the media, in both how you present the client in written-form, and also how you present yourself and the client verbally. You are the resource for them to gain the needed information to succeed in accurately interpreting the goals of your campaign. Embrace relying information or questions between the media and your client, or do not hesitate to gather additional information for


the media, should they need it. You cannot expect their coverage to be satisfactory if you have not given them all of the proper information they need. It would be a horrible thing for, after crafting your campaign and sweating over attempting to contact the media, a media outlet to contact you and you not following up with them, or giving them improper material to work with. Remember that PR and the media have a symbiotic relationship; one cannot truly succeed without the other. It would be a mistake to perpetuate the traditionally antagonistic dynamic seen between Public Relations people and media journalists. I believe that if you are there for them, they will be there for you. Remaining an accessible, personable resource for your client’s goals or event, with information at the ready, gives the journalist extra incentive to remain on your side and give you good coverage. Additionally, assuring accessibility will leave them no apprehension in contacting you for follow-up information, or future coverage.

As I also stated above, it is necessary that you not only remain open in your media relations, but that you are able to provide the reassurance of being a true resource for their coverage of your client. Knowing that they can contact you for all their needed information will put them at ease and open up the possibility of getting the most extensive coverage available from them. Additionally, being their go-to resource will be a timesaver for them, and allow them to ask for any follow up material as soon as possible. This will give them the most time to put their effort into the actual client coverage, rather than spending time chasing you down with questions. With that, I believe being a true advocate will assist in cultivating a personable relationship with your media outlet, and thus, receiving “personable,” accurate story angles, which may


help captivate your audience. If you are able to see the campaign goals through the eyes of your client, looking at it from a non-mechanical perspective, and emphasizing the true-to-life benefits of it, you will not only become the well-spoken voice of your client, but also the heart of what it is they hope to accomplish with media coverage. As first a good observer of your client or their product, and then outstanding communicator of its best values, I believe your coverage will increase.

It is also key that you be a strategist in your media relations, composing a targeted campaign, taking into account the focus of your information, which media outlet is likely to run your story, who your audience is already, and who they might be, and when the best time to act is. It may also be a good idea to pre-construct several different angles of your campaign, in order to receive the most exposure in a variety of media, and through promotional materials.

Lastly, it is a necessity that you act as team player, and be cooperative for successful media relations work. Not only is it the case that you need to stay open to your clients’ needs, input and campaign goals, and embrace the sounding board of your fellow campaign workers, but realize that the media is on your side. You need to see that they want to cover your story. It is a world of give and take, and in the end, a business; in order for them to be able to take an interest in your client and provide coverage, you need to work with them in supplying the most thorough and accurate information, and remain flexible to their needs and own deadlines. You cannot expect them to bend at your will, nor vice versa, in getting respectful and correctly placed


media coverage. Regarding working with your client, you need to realize that it is their campaign, and you are representing them, and allow frequent communication, checking in on any new news or developments, in order to consistently be able to give the media the most updated material to work from.

Part 2 : Essay :

Public Relations agents are referred to as practitioners, due to their natural talents with the written and spoken word, and highly skilled ability to best compose and communicate the goals and image of their client to the media, and the general public. They must be able to express breaking news and ideas swiftly and effectively, with little error, in a vast paced environment. In addition to this, they are representing their client in direct interaction with publicity outlets, and must maintain an heir of professional, as well as accessibility in coordinating a healthy relationship and understanding between them and their client. I believe PR work to truly be a versatile craft, thus these agents are not merely hired hands, but someone who is adept at getting to know you and your goals, and cleanly communicating them to others, with an ever-flowing bunch of information coming in from all sides at nearly all times. For this, I believe the title of “practitioner” to be accurate. Their skills are exhausted in a multitude of ways, gaining knowledge through evaluation and practice of the art.

In expressing and creating their campaign, they have processed much information on their client, evaluated what it is the client hopes to achieve, and subsequently analyze the media climate, in relation to where and what will allow the


client the most possible exposure. Without “spin” that incorporates any kind of deceit, a PR practitioner represents the client’s best efforts, in persuading the media as to why it is in their best interest to take the time to give them coverage. With these messages, the PR agent and client hope to achieve not only healthy coverage, but to cultivate widespread intrigued in an individual, event, story, or product. This is attempted through the PR agents carefully calculated efforts in communicating their campaign story properly and outstandingly, and pursuing a variety of targeted media stations that make sense for their message.

The client is an individual, or an organization, which believes that their efforts, event, product or position deserves, is in need of, or could benefit from an organized promotional and publicity campaign, and subsequently, media coverage. The client, in meeting with the PR practitioner, depends on them to craft the messages which communicate this desire and meet their goals of others, in the media industry agreeing on the mutual benefit coverage would provide. Whether the client is new to this general goal, or seeks increased exposure, they will present their past achievements or experience, explain what they would like to see happen, as far as what kind of media attention they would like. From here the PR agent should accumulate their client’s information and formulate promotional materials based on this, begin to agree on a plan of action with the client, as well as members of their PR team, and contact media resources which make sense for that client. The client should remain in contact with the agent, as to make sure they are up to date on any upcoming events or changes in the


goals of their decided campaign. The PR agent decidedly represents the client in all matters of communication with the media.

Media itself, in this context, exist to exhibit, and mainly persuade Armed with carefully crafted promotional media aimed to assist the client and the overall campaign goal, the PR agent approaches the media; that is the representatives or journalists in television, radio, or print, and attempts to persuade them, or, in more positive language, help them to understand why their client’s story angle or event makes sense, or is necessary to feature in their medium. The hope is that, with extensive, calculated information given to the media, the best possible publicity will result. From this, there hopes to be a positive reaction, in a higher public profile, and a raised awareness of an individual or event. Looking at it another way, one could say that simply any recognition in the media is helpful to a client, or to quote media literacy theorist Marshall McLuhan, that “the medium is the message.”

On both ends, either PR or mass media, the ultimate audience is a deciding factor. A PR agent’s work in evaluating and constructing campaigns, and conclusively where to attempt to place coverage, is based on who the client’s audience is, or could be, and with this, what angle, and what media outlet appears will work best in their favor. That is, what radio station, TV station, print publication will suit their demographic, in either simply appealing to them, or swaying their views in some fashion. For an individual deciding what to cover in their medium, they must decide, given the PR practitioner’s pitch, whether or not their desired story could work in the context of their


paper or channel, based on their own overall audience. If, despite a variety of angles, or different focuses for the story have been pitched and the journalist still feels unconvinced that the client will appeal to their audience, than the PR agent is forced to move on, and attempt to influence another outlet in support of their client.

This “influence” is what a Public Relations worker hopes for; to not lie or somehow cheat their way into the affections of media coverage, but rather succeed in convincing the powers that be of why and how this coverage would work best, and to all involved credit, and to, in the end, gain favorable coverage which gains support from the client’s audience. Influence is drawn through all combined tasks and assignments of the publicist and the PR team, or firm, as has been previously written of, as well as tackling the media which would logically heed the most results, given audience evaluations, and campaign analyzations. Lastly, it is a solid pitch and a personable PR agent, who, while multitasking and aggressively going after press, is able to realize the needed cooperation between them and the media, that serves to better influence their client getting coverage, and with good supporting information, allows them to get the most complete story out to their audience.

Philosophy In Film: “Back To The Future” and Determinism

Mike O’Toole
Philosophy In Film
Dr. Tish Allen

Determinism in the film “Back To The Future.”

In the film “Back To The Future” teenager Marty McFly has befriended
Doctor Emmet Brown, an eccentric scientist and inventor. Upon his
invention of a deloreon modified to function as a time machine, Doc
Brown summons Marty to assist him in testing the machine. After
seeing that it does indeed work, Doc prepares to make his first
official voyage through time, however before he is able, he is
accosted by terrorists, after which, he reveals to Marty that he
purchased the plutonium which runs the machine by agreeing to build a
bomb for them. With no intention of actually doing this, he created a
fake bomb, and thusly, he has been tracked down to pay for his crime.
In a sea of gunfire, Doc is murdered, after which, Marty has no other
choice but to flee in the time machine vehicle. After accidentally
being transported through time back to 1955, he runs into his teenage
would-be parents, who have yet to meet.
The film explores the concept of determinism, and causality, as,
Martyrs actions in the past, when factored into the present, prove to
create alternate circumstances, and personality traits in those he
interacts with. Indeed, the crux of the film exists when, Marty
incidentally, in the pursuit of who he realizes is his father,
interferes with the event which lead to his parents meeting and
attraction. Originally, as is told by his mother at the beginning of
the film, it was his father, who unbeknownst to her, was acting as a
peeping tom, falling from the tree in front of her house and being hit
with her father’s car that ultimately lead to him being brought into
the house and her falling for him. In this new timeline, seeing that
George, his father, is about to get hit by a car, Marty pushes him out
of the way, without thinking of the causal consequences of his
actions. With this, Marty is the one hit and knocked out by the car.
This subsequently puts his own existence at stake, as his parents
meeting must be ensured for them to ever give birth to him.
From here, Marty must mentor his socially inept father in convincing
him to approach his mother, Lorraine, and simultaneously devoid her
advances toward him, being that, as a result of he being hit with the
car, she has become infatuated with him, rather than George. She
expresses dissatisfaction with his inability to express confidence and
project himself. Additionally, George is regularly harassed by school
bully Biff. In the original timeline, as a result of this teasing, in
the present George is under confident, and still picked on by the
adult Biff. Being that his parents’ first kiss, and what cemented
their relationship commitment, took place at their high school dance,
Marty orchestrates a plan with George, wherein Marty will take
Lorraine to the dance and make advances towards her, wherein George is
to interrupt and protect her. However, what occurs is an interruption
by Biff. While Marty is disposed, Biff attempts to force himself on
Lorraine, only to be confronted by George, who, motivated by Martyrs
support and words of confidence in him, George knocks out Biff in one
punch, and saves Lorraine. The two unite and, on the dance floor,
finally do kiss. With this action introduced, the previously physically affected Martyrs odds of eventual existence in the proper timeline are ensured. After this, his mission is, under the assistance of the Doc Brown of 1955, to find his way back to the present. Though there is no additional plutonium available in the time, the two are able to time the strike of a lightening bolt, which will create enough energy to get Marty home. Before this, Marty mentions the events of the school dance, wherein his father knocks out Biff, noting that he had never stood up to him a day in his life. As Doc had previously noted how disastrous changing the outcome of future events could be, in him being able to return to the same world he knew when he left, Doc is noticeably affected by this, surely realizing that, as determinism states, every event including cognition, behavior and
action, is determined by the chain of prior occurrences. For this chain to be broken, and altered in a certain way, even if general results appear the same, it will have an affect on overall outcome.
Finally Marty attempts to tell Doc that he will be murdered in Marty’s
present, 1985. Though Doc refuses to accept the responsibility of
hearing about the future, Marty slips a note into his coat pocket,
before venturing back to his time.
This idea of determinism holds true in the film, as, as a result of
Martyrs presence in past, the present he returns is different. Based
on his early reception of inspiration by Marty, assertion of
self-confidence, and standing up to Biff, George McFly does not become
a sniveling lackey to Biff, in both a professional and personal
setting, but rather is a take-charge, published author, and Biff plays
the subordinate role, with his personality softened greatly.
Additionally his mother is in great shape and no longer an alcoholic.
Their house is in much better condition, as are Martyrs brother and
sister, who hold high level jobs and have active social lives, in
contrast to before. At the close of the film, having read Martyrs
note, though the same events transpire, Doc is equipped with a bullet
proof vest to save himself.
From a determinist perspective, all our actions and subsequent
decisions shape who we are. If this chain of everflowing results were
to be broken, it is a possibility we would see events transpire such
as those in Back To The Future. If we could change casualty,
subsequently we would change who people become, and the world in which is shaped. In the case of George McFly, he becomes a writer after
Marty encourages him that “If you put your mind to it, you can
accomplish anything.” Prior to this intervention George says that he
writes science fiction, but won’t show it to anyone, for fear of what
they might think. In the original present timeline, Marty does not
even have knowledge of George’s writing efforts, illustrating that he
either gave it up, or still hides his work, due to lack of confidence.
In his timeline which includes Marty in 1955, though George does not
recognize him, it is the coupling of encouragement, and the combined
confidence of overcoming the self-esteem lowering from Biff’s actions
that result in him becoming successful in the new 1985. Finally, this
type of logic illustrates the concept of determinism, as, every cause
incites an effect, which, in unchanging time, accumulates into how
people think, and thusly the society that is crafted. It proves beyond
our ability to change the influence of other causes and effects on us.

Philosophy In Film: “Groundhog Day” and the Nature of Free Will

Mike Phelan O’Toole
Philosophy In Film

Dr. Tish Allen


Groundhog Day and the Nature of Free Will

In the film “Groundhog Day” Pittsburgh TV reporter Phil is assigned
to cover the “Groundhog Day” event in Punxsutawny. Upon making the
drive, with his veteran cameraman, Larry, and new producer Rita, Phil
wakes up the next day to report on the groundhog. In between being
accosted by an annoying life insurance salesmen who claims to have
gone to high school with Phil, and his advances being rejected by Rita
due to his self-obsessed nature, Phil, does his job, complaining of
the mundane nature of reporting on it so many years. The groundhog
ceremony indicates that winter will continue, and subsequently,
despite wanting to leave town, the crew are stuck in a snowstorm, and
Phil has no choice but to return to his hotel and spend the night.
When Phil wakes up he gradually realizes he is living the same day
over again; that is, there is no snow on the ground, and every initial
interaction people have with Phil begins the same. He is the only one
aware of this situation Before getting a full grasp on what is
happening Phil carries on and goes to the Groundhog Day festivities
Phil finds himself trapped in the day, as it repeats itself over and
over again. With this, Phil finds himself with the luxury of acting
differently toward everyone each time, able to gage their different
reactions, and accumulate a variety of knowledge through asking
questions. In this way, the film deals with the nature of free will,
and fatalism. Not only does Phil use his predicament to attempt
several ways in which to win over Rita, but, in the thick of it, he
poses questions aloud such as “What if there were no tomorrow?” to
which the concept of there being no consequences is brought up. “We
could do whatever we wanted,” says a local man Phil talks to. Indeed,
for Phil there is no tomorrow, though, after overcoming the confusion
of existing in the circumstance, and overindulging in the positives of
zero accountability, he becomes depressed. In effort to see the length
to which his “never-ending day” can go, Phil attempts suicide several
times. After he is successful, he is simply sent back to his bed where
the same day begins again, with Phil fully aware of what’s happened,
and everyone else living that same day, with no memory of any passing
time. This concept is cemented, with the argument that this reality is
simply all in Phil’s head void, when the film illustrates both Rita
and Larry identifying Phil’s body at the morgue, before the film cuts
to Phil waking up again. This raises questions about the nature of
this reality, but in Phil being the one constant, individually
changing human being, able to make any new choice, in the midst of an
unchanging world, provides insight into the scope of free will. Free
will as an idea and an action is magnified, as Phil with identical
people, questions, and scenarios, is able to exercise multiple choices
with corresponding reactions and results. Being that free will is
exercised individually, and, as an individual, the only thing we can
control are our own opinions and actions, it is helpful for the film
to keep us focused on Phil, being that his personal choices are the
only thing not fixed.
With this, being that time is still constant for Phil, in terms of
his life and processing of information, he becomes so accustomed to
widespread events that occur, even in near simultaneous time, that he
is able to help and cater to the needs of others, and avoid non ideal
circumstances. While initially thinking of himself as a god, and
attempting to convince Rita of his problem, by showing off the
information he’s gained about total stranger, from previous go around,
he eventual shifts toward simply reaching out to others. Without the
factor of passing time and unpredictability, he is able to learn an
instrument, and generally gain knowledge, both intellectual and
trivial, becoming altruistic, and learning to listen to and appreciate
Rita, until she finally falls him, after they spend time together.
After this, Phil wakes up with Rita, the day having finally passed.
Whether or not one agrees with the “Hollywood ending” of Phil ending
up with the girl and becoming a better person, the movie communicates
the concept, that, in giving ourselves the chance to maximize what is
in our control, and having the knowledge to predict what is out of our
control, we are able to craft the type of existence we lead. Beyond
the constraints of the fated aspects of existence, we are in complete
control at any given moment. In the case of Phil, in order for him to
reach happiness, he resigned himself to the fact that he could not
control that he was stuck in the same day, and given that he had to
exist with the same people, he gave into whatever was fated, and had
the time to conclude what were the best choices that ultilzed his
time, helped himself, and others. Having the distraction of moving
time removed, he was able to realize the importance of other people,
and the casual results of the way he treated them, and himself.

“Kantian Deontology, Utilitarianism and Ethics of Care"

“Kantian Deontology, Utilitarianism and Ethics of Care:

A Comparison of Theories, and How They Defend Human Dignity”


Michael Phelan O’Toole

(Essay 2)

Mass Bay Community College

Ethics / PH 102

Professor Robert Tarutis

December 17th, 2008

In an effort to better understand what is considered “good,” it is necessary to compare what the ethical theories of utilitarianism, Kantian deontology, and the ethics of care conclude about how one acts morally, and how these different approaches exist as a defense to the concept of our having natural human rights.

Deontology is an ethical approach wherein the morality of actions is based on the motives or intentions behind the action, rather than its actual consequences. This philosophy is based around duty and principle, dealing with human rights. Immanuel Kant believed that, as human beings, we have an obligation to adhere to “the good,” in an unconditional sense. For an action to be deemed right, it must be intrinsically good, and thus should not be altered due to someone perceiving it as otherwise, or the consequence of that good act causing harm to someone or something unintentionally. Kantian deontology says that the intent to do right is what matters, as, in acting according, one is upholding the values of good. Kant argues that the effect of a well-intended action in itself cannot be the motivator for the act, as just as a right choice can lead to tangible positive consequences, there is nothing to stop a wrongfully minded act from somehow paving the way for something good. Kant’s philosophy asks one to consider the potential outcome if every action they took became a universal law. This is his categorical imperative.

The practice of good intention becomes an unwavering thing, as the obligation to always act within reason needs to be applied equally and without prejudice to be effective. The actual outcome of decisions should not be a question, as human beings embracement of “the good” should be constant, and they should see their own actions, and other people as an “end” in themselves, rather than a “means” through consequence. Conversely, with this sense of absolute moral code, Kant endorses scenarios such as a person, with the knowledge that to lie is wrong, giving away the location of a potential victim to a murderer.

This is in contrast with the theory of utilitarianism, which bases moral worth not on intentions, but exclusively the consequences. Specifically, utilitarianism is the idea that, so long as an action amounts to the greatest possible happiness, and thus, harmony among the most people, it is good. Happiness, or pleasure remains it’s main focus, and acting righteously, in order to feel good, make others feel good, and provide the basis for a flourishing society are means to this end. From this approach, in order to determine what is ultimately right, one must foresee what will happen as a result of their decisions and actions. This concludes that, whether intentions are just or foolhardy, the amount of good, or mutually beneficial effects, is what matters. While Kantian deontology grounds itself in dedication to “the good,” deriving from an internal, personal sense of unyielding virtue, regardless of result, utilitarianism is concerned with the good that is actually crafted out of action. While Kant’s theory suggests that you are obligated to do the right thing only, no matter possible pain it causes, utilitarianism is directly linked to making choices that support the functioning satisfaction of others.

Looking at the ethics of care, rather than an approach grounded in universal standard, or the pursuit of higher reasoning, human relationships are put at the forefront. This philosophy is based on nurturance, and recognizes interdependency between human beings, and thus a responsibility to protect and care for others based on real connections, and a general sense of value for human life. From this perspective, “the good” is rooted in positive treatment of our fellow human beings, without prejudice, and going out of one’s way to support the needs of those less fortunate than others. The theory puts a focus on reaching out to, and adequately addressing the individual needs of people who we recognize as important to us in relationships. The cultivation and support of our needs as humans, through unity is what matters here.

All these theories are applicable in defending the idea of human dignity, as, despite their differences in approach, regarding their placement of “the good,” they are primarily focused on constructing a way in which the well-being of all people is encouraged. When applied collectively, they illustrate that we must both govern ourselves through principles of rationality, so as to maintain overall understanding of “the good,” and act on good intention, in order to not succumb to selfishness or expect reward, as well as practice empathy, as it is necessary to put yourself in someone else’s position in realizing we are all worthy of the same things.

Kantian deontology’s intention based concept keeps in mind that we must truly desire to do good, not only for ourselves, but others as well. The application of reason allows us to decide if an action is consistent with what is truly good, and will be most beneficial to all parties. Though consequences remain out of our control, Kant’s idea that we consider what would result if all our own moral actions became universal occurrences, allows us to realize the potential impact of our decisions, and put them in the context of co-existing with other human beings, and subsequently how others actions would affect us.

While a system of standards of reason is helpful, bearing in mind that moral absolutes leave open the possibility of other people being harmed, empathy must be considered as well, as, in practice; there is always an exception to a rule. Ethics of care defend the concept of human dignity not through duty to principle, but through expressly the care and consideration of all people, simply because they are fellow humans, whom we respect. From this perspective, being that we are all similar in being born and charged with living our lives, empathy in itself is only reasonable. We all have the capacity to do right as well as wrong, but it is the ability to overlook discrimination and value another person and their unique potential and personality that is most moral. A principle of good alone should not take precedence over the uniqueness of a person or scenario, given that our existence entitles us to all encompassing rights. With that, Kantian deontology, in the absence of something like the abstract of religion governing the motivations for action, establishes that, being valuable in ourselves, it is simply our duty to not exploit each other.

From a utilitarian stance, by recognizing each person’s immediate value, we respect them enough to address their need for happiness, and thus work to come to the
best compromise which meets all of our preferences for a pleasurable life. Here, promoting the suffering or harm of another human being is wholly wrong, as there is no happiness being gained. Punishment that does not literally help to stop greater negativity does no good, as, a person, being entitled to a good life, is being shamed. If disrespect for the unconditional human rights is being employed, it ultimately advocates the growth of misery in the world. Utilitarianism defends dignity by advocating our right and desire for a pleasurable existence and by focusing on what will be most beneficial to the most people. With this, our human rights are collectively understood and attempted to be met most efficiently.

Through the idea of universal dignity, we, as humans, all deserve to be treated well, and live in a world free from chaos. These theories center on mapping out a way in which we can achieve satisfaction for ourselves, and reach our own goals while being equally considerate of others, or by setting a proper example of the duty we have to operate in favor of what is right. Ideally, one must not impend on another’s wellness, so long as it is congruent with “the good.” This should allow for a prosperous society and, the opportunity for a satisfying existence. The understanding that human life is intrinsically of great worth remains the one bond in defining and motivating the universal grasp of “the good,” regardless of which ethical theory is applied. Indeed, without it the theories of Kantian deontology, utilitarianism, and ethics of care would lose much of their meaning and purpose.

“Reason and Religion”

Michael Phelan O’Toole

The Post-Modern World – Question 3.

Human Values, Personal Freedom, and The Arts

Professor Robert Tarutis

May 7th, 2008

In his book, The End of Faith, author Sam Harris examines religious faith and its contention in a modern world in which conscious reason and progressive thought should prevail. He points out how religious faith, however, is not nurturing of simply a greater spiritual connection with the universe, but rather, is gradually stunting greater understanding, through ritualistic repetition. While life within the universe and time are constant and gradually progressive, religious texts remain unchanging, and subsequently foster intellectual stagnation and dependency.

Harris essentially lays out a case that it is not God, acting as a grand disciplinary figure, or an other-worldly battle which will cause the proverbial or literal end the world, but rather our own closed-mindedness in pointless religious disputes and extremism. Interestingly, Harris sees those believing in moderate forms of religion as dangerous as those practicing fanaticism or fascism, as they are, selectively endorsing what, in the full sense, is an antiqued system, which not only promotes ignorance of the tangible modern world, but also violence and guilt. If there was any doubt to his stance, he questions why The Bible, the current source of moral teachings by way of mythic tale, has not yet gone the way of our depiction of Zeus, and his casting lighting bolts from the sky.

Perhaps there is something inside us that wants to believe we are part of a grander system, securely monitored by a creator and protector. This being said, it is possible to experience a feeling of spiritual freedom and connection to the world without religion. Indeed, as Harris emphasizes, religion may have developed partly due to our initially limited knowledge of a grander sense of the world, coupled with our inability to understand how we build conceptualizations in our minds. Though Harris does not disagree that aspects of organized religion provide a forum for personal growth for some and that there are certain emotionally overwhelming experiences that faith can serve greater than conscious logic, he insists that we also reevaluate the negative effects. Not only is the validity of the far out, other-worldly nature of religious scripture of concern, but more so the willful ignorance, and flock mentality that accompanies the understanding that for the majority, such a blind embrace of unverifiable text denotes the shunning of the values of reason, which operate in free form, based upon available phenomena and concrete logic. That is, it is dangerous when the acceptance of an unchanging religious routine replaces questioning and cognitive reasoning, as it allows for the active examination of our world through the open exchange of ideas, and applied progressive methods like science and philosophy. However, it should be noted that, as Harris states, “reason” alone does not shun nor void the possibility of a higher order to the universe. On the contrary, it is reason, when applied equally that allows one to confidently gain a blossoming perspective on what it means to be human.

In contrast, staunch servitude to religious faith requires something even beyond what could be called “suspension of disbelief” to those dedicated to understanding as we know it, as the practice of religion requires a certain endorsement in the fantastical, represented in centuries old text. A belief should be structured around ideas grounded to the same “logical coherence.” The concept that religious belief is designated on a separate plain than the rest of human values, is a problem. Not only do the fantastic events described in scripture evidently not cohere with the post-modern world in a literal sense, but the fact that religion is not openly held to the same level of scrutiny as our studies of history, geography, politics, or any other area of human engagement in mainstream society is a red flag.

To challenge or debate anything under the banner of religion is still considered taboo in our country. Christianity and religion as a whole have become integrated in our culture. Though one would assume that a vast yet eclectic grasp and interest in concrete and applicable human values and history would be of primary concern when electing someone for political office, more often than not the question of faith arises. Whether it is strictly rhetoric or not, certain people want to know that their political representative shares the same belief in how we came to be, and where we go when we die. It is difficult to break away from this dependency on tradition and an antiqued approach to higher understanding and spiritual experience. While many people embrace the conquest of concrete information that fits into a verifiable network of belief, they also practice in religious faith. This is contradictory to the true pursuit of knowledge and self actualization, as, as has been stated, religious faith is held separate and unaccountable for its structure and bias. To willfully co-exist with this system, littered with dangerous advocacy of closed-mindedness and even violence while our current state of growth continues, never acknowledging the flaws and contradictions of faith and scripture, leaves reason in exile. Religion is an elephant in the living room of civilization. While religious faith alone may have served us adequately in some form long ago, it is a
fostered-in tradition which, as Harris states, we need to remove from a pedestal in the same fashion the Greeks did to their ancient gods and expositional texts containing accounts of fantastic figures. Harris writes of this not to forward a personal agenda, but in addressing the grander consequences of judgmental and extreme thought processes based on faith. He sees religious belief as a structure built on a primitive people’s failure to understand our inability to separate our minds’ objective versus subjective interpretations of the world. Additionally, use of mythical stories to explain creation and teach ethical values were used in many cultures before the The Bible and recorded birth of Christ. These accounts either died with a civilization, or were decidedly categorized as developed story. To say that one particular religious text is historically accurate, let alone composed by a divinity, directly or indirectly, is impossible by today’s standards of reason. The issue mainly becomes not that someone would believe that Adam and Eve existed simply by the hand of an ominous father figure, and talked with a serpent, or that Mohammed flew to heaven on a winged horse, but why and how they come to believe it.

Harris addresses the concept of a non-universal experience, in that our brains form differently, and subsequently our susceptibility to formulating what surmounts to truth is subjective. He also notes the possibility of external influence, whether through emotional experience, or mind altering substance. Also, in breaking down our thoughts which make up beliefs, we have to break down our language, as we do think in language; the quality of our thoughts and ideas can only be as clear as the quality of our language. This is to say that to “believe” in something is quite different than to “know.” To know is to be able to assert existence by way of verifiable phenomena, either by physical presence, or gradual theory based on a connection to something else time tested to be identified as true. It is purely unrealistic that religion can exist unchanging, in a world that, by its very nature, is constantly in flux. While a devoted follower can argue that events told in scripture occurred as they believe, there exists that ever widening gap, in that they simply do not occur under the same banner of logical coherence and physics as we now know. Therefore, what does it say about individuals who devote their lives to ceremony based upon a world that operated on an entirely different set of standards of physical law than the one they currently live in? Do the ethical teachings remain the same? If they do, as certainly there are noted universal feelings tied to the human experience, it seems unnecessary to bound them to a world nonexistent to those that do not believe religion to be the ultimate truth, and to those that do, it is at best a fantastic world no longer visible.

Through group-think, those of religious faith have been conditioned to not question, in fear of punishment and hope of reward, or in moderate acceptance, have succumbed to the traditions of past. In the modern world, with a network of logical coherence that defines the way our universe came to be and operates, and a greater hold on spiritual and mystic experience, as well as how the human mind works, religion is a relic which will only serve to destroy us. Not only is the promotion of intolerance and judgmental behavior of concern, but in the age of weapons of mass destruction, the “war of ideas” between faith and reason has ever presently devolved into a true siege of violence.

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