This year UC Berkeley undergrads had a new opportunity to express their opinions on matters of personal integrity and values. Through the new Berkeley Center for the Study of Value Prize in Personal Integrity essay contest, students were posed questions that caused them to think critically about what is a current social phenomenon: truthiness. If truthiness is the “easy” version of truth (the one that we feel better about even if it’s not supported by facts), then why maintain a commitment to a deeper, yet possibly harder, version of the truth? How does an adherence to the truth impact us personally, as a society, and even here in our University?
The Berkeley Center for the Study of Value Prize in Personal Integrity was established in 2012 by longtime supporters of UC Berkeley. The aim of the prize is to offer Berkeley undergrads an opportunity to explore a topic or theme related to the notion of integrity. The broader intention is to motivate students to think about the tools and practices required to maintain integrity--both personally and as a society--and to consider what kind of personal and public values are necessary to sustain a vibrant democracy. The hope is to both inspire students to engage in this discussion and offer them a viable avenue to voice their opinions on the subject.
In addition, the Berkeley Center for the Study of Value champions the notion that the humanities—the arts, literature, philosophy, history—should once again be a vital voice in public discourse about personal and societal values, as it has been in previous eras. This year many Cal undergrads seized the opportunity to exercise that voice. The three prize winners, Arden Koehler, Aaron Kaufman and Anna Dimitruk, explored such issues as “the American Dream,” the impact of research methodology on a democracy, and eating disorders.
First prize winner, Arden Koehler, a junior majoring in Philosophy, asserts that truthiness is one piece of our society’s willingness to accept income inequality. She begins by asking “how can we as a society make peace with massive income inequality if it’s not somehow the fault of the have-nots that they don’t have? If we accept that fortune is largely by the circumstance of one’s birth (which is totally out of one’s control), the wealth gap would surely start to keep all of us, rich and poor, up at night.” She goes on to discuss the ramifications of drawing an easy conclusion about these disparities: “Though it may keep us content and aspirational, this nugget of truthiness ultimately keeps us from designing a good system for optimizing social and economic gain, since it convinces us that if people in inner city school districts and rural towns were capable, they wouldn’t still be where they are.”
Second prize winner Aaron Kaufman, a senior Political Science major, discusses the truthiness inherent in some political and social science research methodology, and the inevitable influence this has on a democratic society. He begins by describing a research study completed at the Haas School of Business in which researchers proved with accepted methodology that listening to music made participants younger. The study was undertaken to underscore the flaws in certain research practices. Kaufman goes on to examine the relationship between faulty research data and how it affects the public’s ability to make informed decisions. He states that “the substitution of truthiness for truth strains the relationship between academics and policymakers, and reveals subtle flaws which separate voters and policymakers from proper information.” He concludes that “[t]he least we can do is make informed decisions, and never sacrifice truth on the altar of expedience.”
Finally, third place winner Anna Dimitruk, a sophomore Nutrition Science major, explores truthiness in relation to a deeply personal issue, that of body image and her resulting battle with an eating disorder. “Truthiness may make us feel better about the truth, but only for the moment. To live in truthiness means to live in a world of instant gratification…This aspect of truthiness fueled my eating disorder. My actions made me feel better about my body and my life for brief time periods, but in the long run these actions only made me more depressed.”
The Berkeley Center for the Study of Value invites Berkeley undergraduates to lend their voices to this open discussion on integrity and value. The subject of next year’s Berkeley Center for the Study of Value Prize in Personal Integrity will be announced in Fall 2012, and applications will be accepted thereafter. Prizes are $5000, $2500 and $1000 for 1st through 3rd prizes respectively. For details, visit the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office website: http://students.berkeley.edu/finaid/undergraduates/prizeintegrity.htm.