In late October and early November, the opening rounds of the 2020-2021 Bowl took place. For the quarter, semi and final matches, students and their teams will study, prepare and discuss these 8 new cases.
Case 1: Are Multi-party Democracies Necessarily a Better alternative to Two-party Democracies?
Canada has a long history (dating back over a century) of significant contributions to the political process federally -- and even more so provincially -- by 'third' parties distinct from the two major political parties in Canada (the Liberals and the Conservatives). This has meant that voters have elected one party to power but in a ‘minority government’, meaning that the winning party did elect more members than any other single party but not enough to form a majority of the seats in the legislature. In Canada, as in other countries with multiparty systems, many national governments have been formed in coalition with 3rd and 4th place parties holding the balance of power (meaning these parties’ seats are just enough to provide the governing party with a majority of votes when laws are debated and voted on). In addition, these same second-tier national parties have formed majority governments in most Canadian provinces.
Some see a system in which these parties have a reasonable chance at winning elected office as better than a two-party system,because it can encourage the participation of voters who do not see themselves reflected in either of the two dominant political parties, and who would otherwise become disengaged from the democratic process. Some evidence for this is that turnout in Canadian federal elections, historically, has been about 73%, while in the United States, voter turnout has averaged at less than 50% over the past 50 years (Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1096299/voter-turnout-presidential-e... ). However, some feel there is merit in having two main parties dominate the political process almost to the exclusion of minor parties, since it encourages compromise -- a 'big tent' approach to policy-making.
Some ethical challenges raised in a discussion of the “multi-party” versus “two-party” democratic system include the issue of strategic voting -- the practice by many voters in multiparty democracies wherein a voter will sacrifice voting for their favourite candidate because they perceive that candidate as having little chance of winning against their least favourite candidate, so instead will vote for a third candidate (not their favourite), who they feel stands a better chance of preventing their least favourite candidate from winning. This practice raises a number of questions in political and moral philosophy.
Special note: The 2020 Canadian National Ethics Bowl champions and students from École secondaire Kelvin High School received a special invitation from the Michigan High School Ethics Bowl organizers to submit case studies for the 2021 Bowl after participating in the first Six Feet/Two Metres Apart Virtual Symposium with Michigan HS Bowlers from Saline High School in May, 2020.
Case 2: Philoctetes
Philoctetes had ventured into the sacred temple of Athena where it was forbidden to trespass. As a result, he was bitten by a serpent. The wound from that bite festered and gave off a dreadful odor and gave great pain to Philoctetes. He moaned, often cried out with blasphemies against the gods, fell into fits of anguish, causing discomfort for the Greeks with whom he was sailing to Troy, making it impossible for them to carry out their prayers to the gods and perform the rites due them. The Greeks, advised by Odysseus, abandoned Philoctetes along with his bow on a deserted island in the Aegean. He suffered there for ten years and his anger – especially against Odysseus – festered along with his wound from the serpent’s bite.
In Troy, the Greeks fought for ten years without success. But they received a prophecy that they would win the war only if they had Philoctetes and his bow with them. The army would be spared many more years of fighting and the troops could return home – but only if they could bring Philoctetes to Troy.
So Odysseus led an embassy from the Greeks back to the island where they had abandoned Philoctetes, to bring him and his bow back to Troy. Included among the embassy was the young Neoptolemus, son of Achilles.
Odysseus, recognizing Philoctetes’ hatred towards him, knows that he would be unable to persuade Philoctetes to give him the bow. Instead, he tells Neoptolemus to use any form of deception – including a pretend hatred for Odysseus – to get Philoctetes and his bow onto the ships that will bring them back to Troy. Odysseus emphasizes to young Neoptolemus that he will serve the common good and earn great honor if he succeeds – and cause great harm to his fellow Greeks if he fails.
Initially, Neoptolemus resists Odysseus’ request that he deceive Philoctetes, saying that to obey this order goes against his noble character. But eventually, Odysseus persuades him to obey by emphasizing the nobility of serving the public good of his fellow Greeks for whom and with whom his father had fought so valiantly.
When Neoptolemus comes to Philoctetes, he lies, telling him that he will bring Philoctetes back to Greece where doctors will heal his wound. Philoctetes is delighted and prepares to leave. But before they depart for the ships that Philoctetes believes will return him home – but where, in reality, Odysseus awaits to take him to Troy – Philoctetes falls into one of his fits. These fits end only when he is in a deep sleep. Philoctetes’ screams of pain in this fit make Neoptolemus vividly aware of Philoctetes’ extreme suffering.
Once Philoctetes is eventually asleep, Neoptolemus takes his bow. When Philoctetes awakes and sees Odysseus, and is told that he and his bow are necessary for the Greek victory and that he is not heading home but rather going to join the Greeks in Troy, he is devastated and pleads with Neoptolemus not to give the bow to Odysseus, and not to take him to Troy. Neoptolemus, recalling Philoctetes’ suffering and his own sense of what is noble, relents and refuses to give the bow to Odysseus and instead plans to take Philoctetes back to Greece, leaving his fellow Greeks at Troy to be destroyed by the Trojans.
Author Bio: Arlene W. Saxonhouse is the Caroline Robbins Collegiate Professor of Political Science Emerita at the University of Michigan, where she taught political theory for almost 50 years. She is the author of several books including: Women in the History of Political Thought: Ancient Greece to Machiavelli; Fear of Diversity: The Birth of Political Science in Ancient Greek Thought; Athenian Democracy: Modern Mythmakers and Ancient Theorists (1996); Free Speech and Democracy in Ancient Athens; and of numerous journal articles and book chapters on ancient and early modern political thought. Her three children all graduated from Greenhills School, a founding member of the Michigan HS Ethics Bowl League.
Case 3: Every Word a Messenger*
Billie had an all too familiar sinking feeling when her debit card was declined at her grocery store’s self-checkout kiosk. Opening her mobile banking app, she saw several charges to Rockwealth Ministries. Her nearly-invalided father Percy had drained her account by feeding his addiction to cable channel televangelism. How’d he get into her account? She’d used up her monthly food stamps, and she had to figure out what she was going to give her daughter Harper for dinner before leaving for her evening shift at the nursing home where she worked as a direct care aide. Billie was tapped out. She’d been in dire situations before. She’d figure this one out, too. “Better suck it up,” she told herself. Right now, she’d just get back to the car where Percy and Harper waited. Putting her debit card back in her wallet, she looked out through the store’s front window to see Percy struggling to get his folding walker out of the passenger-side backseat, pulling it with quick jerks across the seat where she’d left Harper buckled in. Harper! Where was Harper? Billie was out of the store in a flash. Bolting across the parking lot, she barely remembered to check for traffic. Harper was nowhere to be seen. Percy had lost his hearing aids long ago. It’d be futile to yell to him from across the parking lot. “Harper! Harper Jean!,” Billie shouted as she ran. Wild thoughts scrambled with terrible emotions, and she heard herself say, “If anything happened to my baby, I’ll kill that old man.” Reaching the car, she turned Percy around by his shoulders so that he could face her. Holding his face in her hands she yelled “where’s Harper?” Just then, she saw movement on the floor of the car behind the driver’s seat, and she heard her daughter’s voice, “here I am, Mama.”
“Will”—only his “Oma” had called him “Willem” in her lilting Dutch accent—rarely had time to think about his grandmother since the pandemic hit. As Operations Manager at Local’D, Will was constantly messaging his delivery crew via the Slack app, and senior management barraged him with texts and emails. Like Amazon, Local’D was an essential service during the pandemic. Will had built a good crew, and he felt responsible for their safety. But it was Oma’s Covid-related death at the nursing home where she lived, that infected his sense of responsibility with corrosive anxiety.
Skipping lunch was Will’s routine, but he’d resolved to grab a sandwich today. The grocery store was just a five-minute walk. He snagged a ready-made tuna-on-rye, and bee-lined to the self-checkout kiosk. His phone pinged with a message about a big delivery. Looking up, Will saw that just a single kiosk was working. It was the turn of a young woman just ahead of him in line. After two tries, she raised her phone, tapped its screen, and froze. Suddenly reanimated, she dashed to the door and was gone. Will made quick work of his purchase. Exiting the store, he saw the young woman in the center of the parking lot by an old guy who was pulling at something in the backseat. With his phone still pinging, Will strode toward the car. Getting closer, he could hear the young woman shouting as she held the old guy’s face cupped between her hands. It looked like elder abuse to Will. He raised his phone and began to record. He was just ready to call out when the scene suddenly changed, and the young woman got the old guy into the front passenger seat. Will continued filming as the car drove away. He was conflicted about what to do. Getting home late that Friday night, Will thought about the episode in the parking lot. As he reviewed the video, the woman now seemed almost gentle as she guided the old man into the front passenger seat. Thoughts of Oma visited his quarantined solitude. But Oma was gone. No funeral. Not even a “goodbye.” His only consolation came from his FaceBook Messenger group. They’d been so supportive during Oma’s decline. Perhaps they could help. He would ask their advice. He posted the video along with the message, “How can we protect our seniors from abuse? What would you do if you saw this?” He was absolutely gutted. He turned off his phone and went to bed.
Social Norm Enforcers
Will’s FB Messenger friends had been busy. From FB Messenger, the video was posted on NextDoor and a short article posted on The Patch. From those hyper-local news sources, the video migrated to Twitter, where it went viral. Successive Tweets were freighted with more and more emotional language. Vicious and hateful name-calling evolved into threats of bodily harm. By the end of the day, the video showed up on a national eldercare watchdog blog, and by Sunday afternoon, the young woman had been doxed. (Her license plate was caught on camera.) Within 48 hours, Billie Hopkins was out of a job, and within weeks, fears for personal safety forced her to move.
*“Every Word is a Messenger,” is a quote from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Sand Dabs, Six,” as it appears in her collection, “Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems.” The full quote reads, “Every word is a messenger. Some have wings; some are filled with fire; some are filled with death.”
Will wants to use FaceBook responsibly, but he needs your help.
Although not everyone agrees with him, he’s decided that Billie’s punishment was too harsh. He’s deeply troubled by the storm of hateful comments and the threats of physical violence. Will has taken a break from participating in his Messenger group. He misses his FB “friends,” but he has lost his trust in social media. On the other hand, he’s grateful for his Messenger group’s words of support after his grandmother died. He’s pretty sure he’ll never post another spontaneously recorded video, but he feels he needs to know more so that he can more wisely use social media, and he has read a number of articles (links below). Word choice, emotions, and reputation are among the issues that Will has been thinking about as he weighs the value of social media against its destructive forces. Feel free to use any or all of the articles linked below as you think about ways to help guide Will.
Articles That Will Has Read:
Hudson, L. (2013, July). Why you should think twice before shaming anyone on social media. Wired. https://www.wired.com/2013/07/ap-argshaming/
Koenig, S. (2018, May 15) How social media exploits our moral emotions, Nautilus. http://nautil.us/blog/how-social-media-exploits-our-moral-emotions
Cruickshank, S. (2019, September 25) Moral outrage overload? How social media may be changing our brains, Hub, Johns Hopkins Magazine. https://hub.jhu.edu/2019/09/25/molly-crockett-social-media-outrage/
Brady, W.J. et al. (2017). Emotion shapes the diffusion of moralized content in social networks. PNAS 114 (28) 7313-7318; first published June 26, 2017 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1618923114
Ronson, J. (2015, February 12) How one stupid Tweet blew up Justine Sacco’s life. The New York Times Magazine. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/magazine/how-one-stupid-tweet-ruined-justine-saccos-life.html
Goldberg, M. (2013, December 23) Sympathy for Justine Sacco: Justine Sacco’s Tweet was outrageous. So was the online mob campaign that turned her into the most vilified woman in the world, The Nation. https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/sympathy-justine-sacco/
Gantman, A.P., Brady, W.J., & Van Bavel, J. (2019, August 20). Why moral emotions go viral online: A study of Twitter demonstrates the attentional power of certain words, Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-moral-emotions-go-viral-online/
Henig, S. (2005, July 7) The tale of dog poop girl is not so funny after all, Columbia Journalism Review. https://archives.cjr.org/behind_the_news/the_tale_of_dog_poop_girl_is_n.php
Author Bio: Peg Eby-Jager is a former science & medical librarian (A.M.L.S., University of Michigan), who also worked in newspaper and public libraries. Her love affair with books and reading started at the Dorsch Memorial Library in Monroe, Michigan, eventually leading to U-M’s wondrous Hatcher Graduate Library. During her travels in France, Italy, England, and Japan, she has visited national and regional libraries. She is an ardent believer in the work of A2Ethics and national civility projects, beginning with the work of Prof. P.M. Forni.
Case 4: Parasports and Athletes with Non-Apparent Disabilities
Parasport organizations such as The Special Olympics and The Paralympics offer sport opportunities for athletes with disabilities. These sports may include events such as wheelchair basketball, sprints with a guide for those who are visually impaired, and track and field events for athletes with cognitive disabilities and those who wear prosthetics.
The International Paralympic Committee, IPC, in 2015, reconfigured their eligibility requirements and determined only 10 disabilities fit into athlete qualification criteria. Some of these disabilities include impaired muscle power from spinal cord injury, limb length differences, short stature, and visual impairments.
A possible reason for the IPC’s criteria change is to prevent the least impaired athlete from always winning. The IPC’s goal is to group athletes according to the amount of limitations the disability places on the body. The intention is to even the playing field.
Taken to a personal level, however, the new qualifications have a specific impact on a singular, current parasport athlete who participates in wheelchair competition. New parasport criteria for athlete participation qualification determines the athlete who uses a wheelchair no longer fits the criteria since the athlete has chronic pain. Chronic pain is a non-apparent disability but requires this athlete to use a wheelchair as they are unable to stand without experiencing pain.
Parasport competition is a large part of the wheelchair athlete’s identity. Sports competition gives them drive, purpose, and social inclusion. The desire to continue participating in parasports has an athlete considering a foot amputation since they will not be able to participate within new qualifying athlete criteria.
Note: 1 in 10 people live with a disability. People with non-apparent disabilities, which are not represented physically, may often not disclose their disability status. Please keep this in mind when discussing non-apparent disabilities with anyone. This discussion does not require anyone to reveal their disability status. https://www.paralympic.org/ipc/who-we-are
Author Bio: Lisa M. Gawel obtained her undergraduate degree in philosophy with a minor in women’s and gender studies from The University of Michigan-Flint. She is a philosophy graduate student/assistant at Eastern Michigan University. After working for over a quarter of a century in the fitness industry, Lisa investigates the combination of sport and disability through a philosophical lens. Under the name Lisa M. Wolfe, she is the author of six fitness books and numerous health and wellness articles. Ms. Gawel is also an editor for the philosophical publications of The Center for Cognition and Neuroethics at the University of Michigan-Flint.
Case 5: A Physician's Tough Decision
Degenerative neurological disorders are devastating. A type of neurological disease called a “prion disease” is particularly devastating. Prions are types of misfolded proteins which accumulate in brain tissue causing damage. The human body cannot remove them, and over time, they can cause progressive neurological degeneration. Some forms of this disease will cause a rapidly progressing early dementia, where people in their 50s will start to forget their family members, how to function, and eventually how to eat. Other forms of disease will present with persistent insomnia resulting in psychosis, mood changes, and eventually death. The disease is currently untreatable and there is no vaccine.
Dr Abrams is a neurologist working in a rural part of your state, and he sees a family with this disorder. Dr. Abrams treats Bradley’s father and grandfather, both of whom are diagnosed with this rare disease. When Bradley was a child, he saw how his grandfather started deteriorating. He saw that at first, his grandfather became more irritable than usual, then he started to develop memory issues and mood changes. His grandfather would still have his good days, but as the weeks progressed, he started to develop involuntary muscle movements and then he could no longer fall asleep or stay asleep. The family knew that this was a sign of the impending end, and in the next few months his grandfather developed violent psychoses, lashing out even at his children.
Bradley’s grandfather had the foresight to anticipate that his disease would get this bad, since he knew that his mother--Bradley’s great grandmother--had the same issues. Bradley’s grandfather saw that his mother’s death caused significant family suffering and ultimately ended in a terrible death without much dignity. Given this, he saved up many different types of sedating pills (narcotics, hypnotics, and benzodiazepines) from his doctors. When Bradley's grandfather's symptoms became significant, he instructed his relatives to give him all his sleeping and pain pills. The family agreed, said their goodbyes, and in the morning, Bradley's grandfather had died peacefully.
Today, Bradley presents to Dr. Abram's office because he wanted his prescription of sleeping pills filled. These pills were the very same hypnotics that Dr. Abrams had prescribed to Bradley's grandfather, who took his own life with a cocktail of pills. Abrams wonders if he should comply with Bradley’s request for sleeping pills as he could be hoarding them for a future date. The patient had used these sleeping pills appropriately for many years, and in any other circumstance, it would be appropriate for him to prescribe such pills.
When Dr. Abrams asks Bradley about this behavior, Bradley says that his family has been dealing with their disease for generations now. Bradley says that his father has been showing signs of neurologic degeneration, and he believes that he could possibly suffer the same fate as his grandfather. Dr. Abrams then leaves the room to discuss this case with his medical student, and he pulls out his prescription pad…
Author Bio: Elton Li is a first year Family Medicine Resident at Ascension Health and graduate of Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. He is also an Alumni of the University of Michigan Ethics Bowl Team 2009-2012. He has a personal interest in bioethics, and is always interested in applying his knowledge to providing the best care for patients. He has served on the Ethics committee of MidMichigan Health, judged for collegiate and high school ethics bowls, and is currently serving as a board member of A2Ethics.
Case Six: No More Teachers, No More Books
As the summer of 2020 drew to a close, parents, teachers, and students across the nation wondered what schooling would look like in the fall given the continued impacts of COVID-19. A primary question was if and when schools would open for face-to-face instruction. It was clear that, no matter what decision was made, some individuals and groups would experience significant hardship. While many schools opted for a virtual start to the semester, many also decided to begin their school year in person.
Many parents were and continue to be concerned about the health and safety of their children. In response to these concerns, people often claim that spread of the virus to and from children is rare. They point to studies which seem to support the conclusion that children are at low risk.  The sample sizes in such studies are often small, and evidence running counter to this conclusion abounds in the U.S. In multiple states, for example, summer camps had to shut down because an overwhelming number of campers tested positive for coronavirus.   While many international reports suggest that coronavirus has not killed any children, this is unfortunately untrue of the United States. Even if deaths are rare among children, we do know that it is possible for them to suffer severe organ damage, including brain damage.  Moreover, some viruses have symptoms that only show themselves much later in life (e.g., childhood chickenpox producing shingles cases). Coronavirus cases might appear mild in children, but we don’t yet know enough about this virus to know what might happen down the road. Furthermore, even if parents grant that children are at low risk, the fact remains that COVID-19 clearly can be spread between adults who can suffer and die from it. Bringing children back to school in the fall doesn’t just involve packing children into small buildings together, it involves packing adults together in close quarters too. In many cases, teachers and staff have been given no choice regarding their educational delivery method in the fall.  This includes teachers who are immunocompromised or those who have immunocompromised loved ones for whom they care. Continued employment, especially during a recession, is a compelling force. Many people can’t afford to quit their jobs.
On the other hand, there is a recognized need for children to have formal education. Some argue that students have already experienced a developmental setback when classes transitioned online this past March.  This burden has fallen especially on the shoulders of already vulnerable populations, such as BIPOC students and students with special needs. Additionally, in many cases, parents can’t constantly be the full-time caregivers for their children. Some jobs can’t be done from home, and parents who work those jobs need a place for their children to go where they will be safe and fed. Many of these people are already suffering financial hardship, and they pay taxes to fund schools.
 FOX13 Memphis, "Coronavirus outbreak at Missouri summer camp infects at least 82 campers, counselors, staff"
Authors: This case was written by the 2020-2021 NHSEB Regional Case Set Committee Members.
Case Seven: Dating After Prison
Recently, Antoine and Jack sat down with a few other men to talk about what dating might be like, now that they’ve been released from prison.
Antoine went to prison when he was 18 for a crime he didn’t commit. He wasn’t able to afford a good lawyer, and the court-appointed one did a terrible job at defending him. Antoine had a couple of casual relationships in high school before coming to prison, but he’s never had a serious sexual or romantic relationship. He is now 26 years old and eager to start dating.
Jack is 45 years old now. He was also 18 when he was convicted of murdering someone. Jack freely admits to committing the crime he was charged with, but feels like he is a completely different person now. He was young then and he didn’t know himself; his tough childhood didn’t leave him with a lot of coping mechanisms aside from alcohol. His sense of belonging came from a gang he was part of, which provided him with support, friendships, food, and a roof over his head. But it also got him in trouble. After 27 years in prison, over two decades of being sober, a lot of self reflection, learning, therapy, and maturing, he doesn’t even feel like he is the same person as the young Jack who committed that crime.
As Antoine and Jack sit down with some friends to talk about what life might be like after prison, dating quickly came up. While dating is difficult and confusing under any circumstances, dating for the formerly incarcerated has an extra layer of complexity. They both agree that it is important to be open to the people they date about the time they served. But when should they disclose this information? On a first date? That seems like the most honest approach, but it’s unlikely to lead to a second date. Could they wait a bit? After all, nobody ever reveals that much on a first date; people rarely talk about having problems with addiction, financial difficulties, or mental health issues. And Antoine and Jack certainly don’t consider their incarceration a defining part of their identities. So, could Antoine and Jack also wait to talk about the time they served in prison? If they wait, how long can they wait?
Authors: This case was written by the 2020-2021 NHSEB Regional Case Set Committee Members.
Case Eight: Harper's Bizarre
In its July 2020 issue, Harper’s Magazine published an open letter, cautioning that “the free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted” by a set of “moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.”  Harper’s “Letter on Justice and Open Debate” was signed by 153 public figures and leaders from various sectors and walks of life. Among them were such varied signatories as journalist Fareed Zakaria, dystopian novelist Margaret Atwood, popular historian Malcolm Gladwell, early feminist icon Gloria Steinem, and J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. The letter condemns the rise of a social climate characterized, according to the writer Thomas Chatterton Williams, by the stifling of dissenting voices, the suppression of unpopular ideas, and social ostracism “for perceived transgressions of speech and thought.”
Worries about so-called “callout” or “cancel culture” are not new to American social and political life. Treatments of the issue have seemingly emerged from all political quarters in the last few years. Rolling Stone editor Matt Taibbi, New York Magazine columnist Andrew Sullivan, and The Atlantic’s Yascha Mounk have all recently penned statements expressing similar worries. The premise is a reasonable one on its face, given unprecedented attacks on the free press in the U.S., the proliferation of anti-democratic autocracy around the world, and the persistence of a convoluted information environment filled with fake news and conspiracy theories. Signatories of the Harper’s letter contend that free speech, thought, and expression are the cornerstone of a democratic society and its professed aims, going as far to suggest that the restriction of unbridled debate will only harm those who would seek to bring about justice, and undermine democratic participation for all. In a contemporary deployment of John Stuart Mill’s views on the freedom of speech , they argue that no-holds-barred debate is a key tool in defeating ideas which threaten human dignity and equality. Others worry about the practical effects of “cancellation” for those who are targeted for their purportedly divergent views: from online shaming and abuse  to social ostracism, to lost followers, business, and careers. 
On the other hand, some argue that there are ideas which are so wrong or harmful that they should never be voiced. If and when they are, such an argument might go, the consequences for doing so should be so severe as to deter their continued expression. Calling out these ideas and addressing their criticism accordingly, some argue, is central to changing social and political norms.  As one writer puts it, such a culture “might seem harsh, especially to those who have fallen foul of it, but it's a necessary part of creating the best possible spaces we can.”  Others worry that ‘absolutist’ defenses of free speech and expression often emerge where those in power seek to shield themselves against criticism and the consequences of real-life harms their speech may cause. It is no accident, they say, that signatories of the Harper’s letter are among the most powerful and advantaged in their respective fields.
Authors: This case was written by the 2020-2021 NHSEB Regional Case Set Committee Members.