Free «Final Response Paper» Essay Sample

Final Response Paper

The article “Human Values and the Market: The Case of Life Insurance and Death in the 19th-Century America” by Zelizer is a 1978 classic study on the insurance industry from a sociological perspective. In particular, the article seeks to explain how the life insurance industry was considered by the society to be morally reprehensible as it tried to quantify in monetary terms what many considered to be beyond monetary value i.e. life and death. The current essay seeks to analyze the aspects of life insurance that many found to be morally reprehensible and how it changed over time. In addition, it provides an example of an industry that many now find morally questionable and how culture might affect the industry’s organization.

In the first place, the author notes that market exchange, although it is compatible with the values of equality and efficiency, also conflicts with the human values as it leads to an impersonal, rational and monetizing influence (Zelizer 352). Human life was perceived as sacrosanct and accordingly the society thought that it should not be subject to market forces (Zelizer 597). The author gives an example of the commercial blood donation, which is not only inefficient but also morally unacceptable and dangerous (Zelizer 352). Furthermore, the life insurance industry viewed death as a financial episode thus materializing what could not be materialized (Zelizer 594). As a result, it was culturally offensive to many.

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Like most things in the social and economic sphere, the cultural acceptability of life insurance evolved with time. The “economic value” of death became more acceptable which culturally and socially legitimated the insurance of life (Zelizer 594). However, rather than desacralize life and death, money, including funeral expenses assumed a more ritual sense (Zelizer 598; 602). The cultural change of what was to be considered a "good death" from dying spiritual one to one in which the husband/father did not leave the children and wife destitute also helped transom the cultural acceptability of the life insurance industry (Zelizer 602). The changing theological outlook of the issue as more religious people began to see the good, rather than the offensive in life insurance was also a factor.

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In the modern world, there are several industries that are considered morally reprehensible. One of the most common, and most contentious is the issue of the donation of human eggs and sperm. The issues are divisive to such extent that some social scientists like Rene Almeling see it as a "commodification," a term which he has repeatedly used in the negative in his paper “Selling Genes, Selling Gender: Egg Agencies, Sperm Banks, and the Medical Market in Genetic Material.” The main gist of the paper is that the norms of gender that the society projects on one depending on his/her gender extend to his sperms and eggs during the recruitment, screening, marketing and compensation of a donor men and women (Almeling 319). This aspect together with the commodification of the process make the industry morally reprehensible.

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Many consider “selling” eggs or sperm morally reprehensible. Thus, in most cases, the industry has been organized in such a way so that to provide complete anonymity to both the donor and the recipient unless the two want to meet, especially in the case of sperm donors (Almeling 324). However, while this provides anonymity, it also leads to an impersonal interaction. It is possible that in future, culture and social norms will evolve to allow the interaction between the donor and the recipient. As a result, it will lead to the general acceptance of the donation process not as a monetary transaction, but as an altruistic action in which money is the by-product and not the main intention.

In conclusion, the essay sought to analyze the aspects of life insurance that the society considered to be morally reprehensible and how this changed over time. Furthermore, it has used the current sperm/egg donor system as an example of such an industry today and portrayed how it might change over time due to the impact of culture. Just like the insurance industry was legitimated over several decades by the change in cultural factors, like dying a “good death,” and the perspective of the industry to an altruistic, and necessary service, the sperm/egg donation industry will evolve as cultural norms change. While the society will never perceive getting a child from a purely economic perspective, sperm/egg donation is likely to be seen as an altruistic mission to assist people to get children who will change its organization.