Now I know that there’s a certain degree of irony attached to this post. Just now you read my question on why people don’t read anymore. I’m not really talking about reading in the the sense of skimming the occasional article online, though. Before anyone tries to point it out- yeah, I’m aware that the medium for communication has shifted a lot since video is now accessible to pretty much everyone.
I’m talking about books, people. When did we stop reading books?
I would go bankrupt buying books with gifs for illustrations…
I can’t count how many times I’ve been reading a book in public and people act as if I’ve started cleaning a black-powder musket.
As this Sunday draws to a close, I’m bracing myself for the inevitable chorus of “So… what did you do over the weekend?” I’ll be encountering at work. I’ll be giving the same answer I always give:
Well, that’s not entirely true. I slept in, did a little reading, cleaned up my house, shopped for groceries, and surfed the web a bit. Barring the occasional oil change on my car, that’s pretty much all I do.
And for some reason, people take issue with that. I really and truly can’t count the number of times I’ve been called “old.” “You’re the oldest 22 year old I know.” “Your idea of fun… it’s like a 50 year old’s.” “You’re like an old man.”
I’m writing these words in the last hours of what has been a quiet May Day.
For me, at least.
Elsewhere in the world, red and black flags are being proudly waved as people march through the streets, chanting and singing. In Greece, a nation-wide strike is being carried out in defiance of massive lay-offs enacted by the government. In Bangladesh, thousands are protesting after the collapse of a sweatshop resulted in the death and injury of hundreds of workers. Similar protests have broken out in the Philippines as nearly 10,000 workers march in Manila. Youth in Spain are raging against the nearly 30% unemployment rate. Korea, Cambodia, Turkey, Indonesia- just to name a handful- are witnessing similar turnouts.
Our blatant disregard for the poor. Our willful ignorance in the information age. Our hypocritical sense of morality. Capitalism. People who have perfect eyesight but wear glasses for “fashion.”
Worst. People. Ever.
But for all of that, I genuinely do think we’re making some (small) progress as a culture. Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe that beneath every person’s thin veneer of civilization lies a seething volcano of barbarism, cannibalism, and baby-punching-ism waiting to be unleashed at any minute. There’s no changing that.
Nevertheless, we are getting better in some regards. Specifically, I’m thinking about an image I saw not too long ago.
You can’t really argue with that. When something is wrong, it’s wrong. “Injustice anywhere is…”
Well, you get the idea.
Now this guy deserves some applause on his own, but it’s really the bigger picture I want to direct the spotlight to. It’s the simple belief that there’s a basic set of expectations for human behavior. Being morally outraged not simply when the news is covering one story, or during a particularly heinous scandal- but for every act of injustice out there.
Let me break it down a bit.
Chances are, you’ve run into some post on Facebook or any other social networking site in which someone attempts to make a supposedly bold or heroic stand, voicing their support for gay rights or the body positive movement, or something of that nature. While this doesn’t typically happen on any of my feeds, when I do see it, I’m usually pretty underwhelmed. Wow, _____ is coming out in support of gay rights? Brave move, next thing you’ll know he’ll be speaking out against segregation!
I know that sounds needlessly harsh, but more often than not, I feel proclamations and manifestos of that nature are looking for applause more than anything else, and that’s the whole problem. Is it good to be a tolerant, passionate, socially, and environmentally conscious person?
Yes, it is.
What do you want, a cookie?
There’s a 1994 movie by the name of Quiz Show, a drama based off of the true story of a rigged gameshow in the 1950s. While I only ever saw the tail end of the movie (and that was years ago), there’s a scene that stuck in my head. The character who had been cheating at the game is called before congress to testify. Standing up, he offers an eloquent “soul-searching” speech on how he struggled to reclaim his integrity and self-respect after having been a pawn in this entire sordid affair. The congressmen congratulate him on giving such a moving speech- all but one. A congressman by the name of Derounian leans forward and states states that he doesn’t see why the contestant should be commended for simply having told the truth.
And it makes sense, doesn’t it?
We’re patting each other (and more than that, ourselves) on the backs for what? Decrying injustice? Raging against waste and greed? Supporting equality? Should we be praised for this? For briefly rising out of ignorance and selfishness to meet the minimum requirements for human decency?
Seriously, do you think you should feel a sense of pride over not being a racist? Should we applaud ourselves for not clubbing a baby seal to death?
I don’t think so.
And it seems like people are finally starting to get it. Moral outrage for the purposes of fashion are being attacked. Not, perhaps, on a grand and noticeable scale (barring, perhaps, Jon Stewart), but quietly; with caustic jabs like that picture up above. And it’s about time, too.
Best movie of all time.
And yes, I’m fully aware of the hypocrisy of commending basic human decency not being commended. Consider this more of a public service announcement, if you must.
A few days ago, a client at the nonprofit where I work heard that I was from the Middle East.
The conversation went as it usually does, beginning with some surprise, followed by a few questions like “why on earth were over there?” and “How did you learn to speak English?”
You get used to questions like that.
Then came the inevitable comments on the ongoing violence in my adopted homeland of Syria. Those comments are always pretty vague- existing as a result of having to say something so as to not appear ignorant while being ambiguous enough to avoid proving that you are ignorant. In this case it was a theatrical, sad shake of the head, followed by the statement “Well that’s a shame. But y’know? There always has been fighting over there and there probably will be to the end of time.”
I’ve always hated that statement.
In all fairness, that’s true as well…
First and foremost, it’s a complete lie: “There’s always been war in the Middle East?”
No, there hasn’t. For centuries, the Arab world was the shinning pinnacle of human civilization. Even in its decline, the Middle East was still a relatively peaceful place- especially when compared with the rest of the world. Look at European History in the 19th and 20th centuries and compare its body count with that of the Middle East in the same time period.
Secondly, there’s a deeply racist implication in the statement that “there will always be war in the Middle East.”
Because of the way the borders are drawn? Because there’s oil in certain parts of the desert?
Or is it because the Arabs are simply and inherently angry, violent people?
That statement is on par with saying “Africa will always be poor.” Why?
Because, you know… Africans?
This is some ol’ bull. “Africans are capable of nothing but starving, as they always have done and always will do, and Arabs are capable of nothing but fighting- always have and always will”?
Starting with the self-immolation of 26-year-old street vendor in Tunisia, ripples of protest spread out across the Arab world, building in power and momentum until they evolved into revolutions against some of the most brutal and dictators and entrenched bureaucracies in modern history. Egypt, in particular, stands out as a shining example, with thousands of young, unarmed Egyptians doing in 18 days what the US and all her allies couldn’t do for Iraq in nearly 10 years.
And no, in case you’re wondering, that had nothing to do with either Facebook or Twitter. I recall during the weeks following the victory of the Egyptian revolutionaries, pundits in the West were desperately fishing for some way to co-opt the accomplishments of the young Arabs and paint them as somehow being ultimately rooted in the bounty and decency of America. Facebook and Twitter were cited as essential tools, without which there would surely be no free Egypt. Again, any sane person is going to call bull on this. Twitter never set itself on fire. Facebook didn’t dodge gas canisters or face-off with riot police and tanks. Again, as a result of the American media’s desire to scare you without actually showing you any blood or gore, grasping the full scope of what many of these young protesters were up against is difficult, if not impossible.
You’ve got to see the casualties of battle to really and truly understand the courage and sacrifice of those going into the maw. Perhaps its for that reason that westerners often look to social media to take a slice of a glory (though my bet is still on jealousy).
And what’s even more impressive isn’t simply that the Arab people have faced off with their governments in the past, it’s that they’re still doing it.
You might think “Hey- we came, we saw, we conquered. Insert-dictator-here is dead and/or gone, let’s all go home and take a much deserved and well earned break.”
Across the Arab world, in the face of vicious repression, the Arab people are fighting on. Through their perseverance and valor, this generation of Arabs is changing the image of the Middle East from a place that “always has been violent and always will be” to something soon to be synonymous with democratic revolution, collaboration, and freedom. There’s certainly still a long way to go, but time and time again the young Arabs have proven that they’re on the right path and they’re not taking one step backwards.
EVAN: This week on E> we take a break from scrutinizing film to look back about seven or so months to a different time of our lives: college. Now that we’ve both graduated we find ourselves in a different stage of life, and it begs the question of what those four years did for us, and whether or not that’s what we wanted or expected.
GORDON: Throughout my college career, especially towards the end, I heard a recurring argument:
“College is a scam,” they said, “It’s a trap or, at very best, a waste of money. You don’t learn anything you can actually translate into a job, so either drop out while you can or don’t sweat the grades and party your buns off.”
EVAN: Wait, who is the “they” that was saying this?
GORDON: I’ve read it in various Cracked articles, I’ve seen it covered in webcomics and in comments, I’ve heard it on the radio. Not always the same tone, but it always boiled down to that essential idea. “College doesn’t teach you what you really need to know, it just puts you in debt and wastes your time.”
EVAN: Well, I guess that really begs the question of “What is it that we’re really supposed to know?” If college is the great institution to prepare us for our lives, what should it have taught us?
GORDON: Some would argue that technical and vocational skills are what we really need. Stuff that’s meant to train us for jobs. Wrenches, not Whitman.
EVAN: Which is the sort of thing you see advertised on television late at night or in the middle of the day; schools for electricians and dental assistants and plumbers and what have you.
GORDON: Which always come across as propaganda films from a dystopic alternate timeline. They can claim to be breaking the mold all they want- I’ll still always just see Orwellian Factory-Schools designed train the subservient masses for laboring in name of supreme leader and glorious fatherland.
EVAN: Heh heh.
The contrast to this idea you brought up when first introducing this topic, that the two sides could be seen as college prepping us for our careers or making us more well-rounded individuals.
There’s obviously more to it than that, but how would you boil the latter option down to its essence?
GORDON: I’d probably cite our own alma mater’s (for me more just “mater”) slogan of “global mindedness.” The idea is to create people who are, first and foremost, thinkers. Logical and critically minded thinkers with strong creative abilities and appreciation for art and wonder. A noble enough sentiment to be sure.
EVAN: To really engage with this topic I feel like we should have equal footing, and I’ll have to give our readers a little bit of context-
I’m currently unemployed, and chose to live the latter part of 2012 living with and taking care of my grandfather, whose wife [my grandmother] passed away in September. My job hunt has only very recently started up again.
I say that because as it stands one of us is currently working and knows how his education has aided him and the other is not.
GORDON: I, unlike my Canadian counter-part, am currently employed, having worked two jobs simultaneously for a while there. Having vainly searched for a job the entire summer and most of the fall, I am now working a job helping unemployed people find work, the irony of which is not lost on me.
EVAN: And did you, my Employed-American friend, find that a degree helped you in your search for work?
GORDON: In all honesty, I’m not sure.
On one hand, I can say that certain classes I brought definitely assisted me in securing a job, but those classes really more on the whole “applied” spectrum of education. I definitely didn’t need to go to a top 3% college. People, it turns out, don’t give a crap about where you went.
EVAN: Again, I can’t comment from experience, but I’d like to say that it depends on the job.
GORDON: This is probably true. However, if you were looking for a job, which is gonna look better on a resume? Four years of college, or four years of experience in that field? From everything that I’ve seen, I’d take experience every time.
EVAN: And I agree with that entirely. I can’t count the number of want ads I’ve seen [and this is for stuff like janitorial work, and dishwasher] that require “minimum 2 years work experience.”
It’s like, heck, what was I doing in school when I could’ve been out working this whole time?
GORDON: But of course, that brings up the first question: what’s the point of college? Are we expected to choose a career path and be trained like the mindless, dehumanized proles that we are?
EVAN: Well, for me personally my career goals were more tailored to an academic setting. My personal interest in writing and editing is definitely something that can and is fostered in that environment.
That being said, if I had skipped my four years of college to simply freelance as hard as I could out there in the real world, would I be a better writer today? I honestly couldn’t tell you.
GORDON: The problem is that both sides have really, really big flaws.
On the one hand, turning college into a simple vocational training course does truly rip the soul right out of academia. It makes it just the place you go to get a desk job instead of a manual one.
On the other hand, college as it is now, while fostering intellect and creativity, is as unhelpful as it is expensive. Why put yourself over a hundred thousand dollars in debt to not get employment?
EVAN: I guess in the bigger picture, what is it that we want to do with our lives?
There are plenty of jobs out there that don’t require a college education, and that certainly benefit from hard work at an early stage.
On the flip-side, there are jobs that you simply can’t get without a degree.
GORDON: We also can’t imagine that we can simply get any job we want to begin with. It’s all a gamble. I can get a degree in biology, but that doesn’t at all mean I’m gonna get a job in biology- heck, I’d probably be lucky if I got something even close!
EVAN: Like a janitor in a pharmaceutical company. Or the guy who delivers mail to a biology professor’s house.
GORDON: Exactly. So is that it, then? It’s the whole dang system?
EVAN: I mean, yeah. I feel like more often than not that’s all it really boils down to.
GORDON: So let’s talk about an ideal universe. Or at least one that ain’t quite so screwed up. What’s college look like? Give me your take.
This does not count as an ideal college…
EVAN: It’s tricky, man- Because I would like everyone to be well-read individuals who think about the media that they access and have a fuller understanding of what makes us who and what we are as a culture, I mean, that’s the dream-
But at the same time I acknowledge that there are people who don’t care a whit about any or all of that.
And with so many people who enjoy poetry and the arts, while those are debatably important parts of society, what happens when they need to find work? How many playwrights can any single country sustain?
GORDON: My response would be “how many playwrights are there actually out there?”
EVAN: I think there’s a difference between the actual number, and how many individuals would actually like to be a part of that number.
GORDON: Touché, but we can blame certain jobs being glorified and others suffering from unwarranted contempt.
But let’s move on. College. Your college- what’s it look like?
EVAN: A thorough exploration of the ideas that created Western civilization, the one most of us live in today, because it’s extremely important to observe our origins before we can look at our present and then ahead, after that.
A strong emphasis on writing with the reason that without the ability to properly communicate our thoughts how can we even really fully think them to begin with.
GORDON: Sounds to me that you’re still leaning more towards the side of academia.
EVAN: Well, like we’ve discussed, I have a slight bias. And I suppose we haven’t really defined the question as far as the purpose of college.
GORDON: My take would a combination of both sides, with the end goal being application. We’re talking about the study of English for the purposes of applying the principles in same, either in writing or screenplays or entertainment or communication of some kind.
I feel this would allow for all the creative and academic elements while keeping the whole process grounded. No ivory towers.
EVAN: I don’t think my take discounts the possibility of lining up with what you said, but that’s a really good description of how college could and maybe should be.
That being said, we are actually overtime.
GORDON: You wanna talk about drugs and culture next time?
EVAN: I think at some point we could hand this back to the viewers, actually. We’ve really gotten a handle on this whole E>. I’m just not sure when or how to do so.
GORDON: The readers are slack-jawed cattle who would eat their own shoes if we told them to.
EVAN: I should probably edit that out of the final post.
GORDON: Nah, we can let ’em vote. My subject would be Drugs and Culture.
EVAN: Mine would be . . . um . . . huh. About SNL. How to fix SNL.
GORDON: Nice. Let it be so.
EVAN: Tell the nice people to have a good Wednesday, Gordon.
GORDON: Have a good Wednesday, Gordon.
EVAN: And don’t forget to vote, readers! Thanks for putting up with my co-writer!
““Do we want to be good, or do we just want to look good?”
GORDON: I’m not entirely sure I can come up with any swift dismissal of this possibility, I mean- look at the world we live in. Do we believe in being environmentally and socially conscious? Absolutely. But to what extent? I mean, we’ll chuck our soda cans in the recycling, but are we gonna picket Monsanto?
Are we really just observing these “little” things because they’re expected of us? Do we actually care one way or another?
EVAN: As far as recycling goes, we do that in Canada because it’s the law. Looking good only has so much to do with it.
If we want to go with the example of, say, giving a few dollars towards an environmental organization [or maybe because the fundraiser was cute], that works a little more maybe. It at least contrasts with picketing/protesting. I think we care, but maybe not enough? That’s if we’re quantifying “care” now by the actions that it results in.
GORDON: Is it, perhaps, that we’re cynical? Do we as a generation ultimately despair of the effectiveness of any method of change? Is the reason we’re unable to really go the distance when it comes to our causes because we think it’s all just in vain?
EVAN: Do we think it’s all futile? I mean, we’re certainly led to believe that to some extent. To focus on environmentalism, the extent of the destruction to this earth is growing ever closer to irreversible, and we’re made aware of this.
As far as documentaries and the like go, however, we are told over and over that what we do does indeed matter. Being conscious about how we spend our money and that sort of thing.
GORDON: That’s what we’re told, but then again, the creators of such documentaries are overwhelmingly members of older generations.
Look at the Occupy Movement, for example.
People were there from all demographics, but more than anyone else it was the youth- our generation. Despite massive popularity, that venture ultimately met its death under the boot heels of riot cops and a fog of pepper spray.
It’s been about a year since it all started, and the situation is the same, yet there’s really no push for any resurrection of the movement or even for any major protest at all. Have we given up? We’re all the same people- we have all the same drives and values- have we simply despaired of peaceful protest?
That aside, maybe you can explain what exactly happened as the movement petered out. It’s somewhat well-known that the weather was a large contributor to those occupying various streets and cities, but what else led to its collapse. Was it simply fatigue?
GORDON: I’d blame massive crackdowns on the part of the mayors of the occupied cities- let’s not forget that mayor Jean Quan pretty much turned Oakland into a warzone. Injured a protesting war vet so badly most folks thought he was going to become the first casualty of the movement (he pulled through, fortunately).
EVAN: This sort of all falls back to a point I made in relation to apathy our first attempt at this topic. That people care, but simply don’t feel like stepping outside their comfort zones. I realize that this may seem like a ludicrous thing to say in the face of the Occupy Movement, but I feel that the vast majority of youth, our generation, don’t want to do what it takes.
They, we, value comfort too much.
GORDON: I’m gonna have to second that theory.
I remember back when I was in college, going door-to-door trying to get students to boycott various unethical companies [Coca-Cola, Nike] doing business on campus. I was amazed at how many people would nod their heads and smile and agree with each and every word out of my mouth until I called on ’em to stop buying those companies’ products.
Guts. We got none. Difficulty with the concept of actual sacrifice, you know?
EVAN: And the refreshing taste of Coca-Cola is the very basest of comforts. If we can’t part with a caffeinated beverage we’re into, then what can we do?
I’ve joined in your personal boycott of the company, and although it can be a little difficult, it’s certainly nothing compared to being beaten by batons as I march on Parliament.
GORDON: Is that it then? Are our values just skewed ever so slightly in favor of immediate gratification? Do we prefer keeping our skulls in once piece over bread and freedom?
EVAN: History would say: yes. At least until things reach a certain point. Until we realize that being comfortable doesn’t outweigh what we put up with to get that comfort.
GORDON: So what’s the word for this?
EVAN: To put it simply would be “laziness,” and we both know it’s more than that.
GORDON: “Over-Attachment,” perhaps?
GORDON: “Hesitation”? “Looking back towards Sodom”?
EVAN: Looking back towards Sodom assumes that they’re actually doing something.
GORDON: It’s a fear- a very specific kind of fear. The kind where you “choke” just before doing something major.
EVAN: I’m going to say there’s probably something in French or German for that, but since we’re writing this in English we’re pretty limited in our options.
GORDON: Can we make one up?
EVAN: Heh. I don’t see why not.
How about . . . “Statusquophilia.”
EVAN: Haha, I like how we went different directions with our Greek roots.
GORDON: As do I. Shall we have the readers vote?
EVAN: Sounds good to me, and we should be wrapping things up anyway. Want to summarize how we got here?
GORDON: Ultimately, o readers, it all comes down to this. The great and terrible flaw of our generation- from what we’ve discussed- is not a sin of commission. We are not entitled, we are not lazy, we are not without our values. Our fault is in what we lack the guts to be good, the balls to be bad. In short, the unwillingness to part with what we have for the chance to attain something more. We’re trapped in a dance with the devil we know.
EVAN: Vote for the terminology you like more. “Statusquophilia,” meaning a love for things as they are, or “Fluxophobia,” meaning, in this case, a fear of sacrifice.
GORDON: For next week’s topic, we’ve got: Zombies- Are We Beating a Dead Horse At This Point?
EVAN: Or what is going on with all the wars on television? I’m referring to programs like “Storage Wars” and the like. Real wars are happening, I realize this.
GORDON: And with that, people of the interwebs, we are out of time- make sure to vote for your preferred word as well as the topic for next week, and be sure to check out our new “Fame/Shame Day” feature!