The Consequences of Resentment

I’ve been considering the origins and effects of resentment for the past two weeks or so since it first came up in class regarding exclusive studying spaces on campus and hypothetical exclusive shelter privileges (when we went outside and imagined all the buildings were locked). I knew I wanted to write a blog post about it, so I went to Google to try to find some material to work with. What I came across is this article here, which pins a bunch of negative consequences as being rooted in feelings of resentment. Continue reading “The Consequences of Resentment”

Futuristic Story or “Dug Up” Journal?

After our returning discussion about last week’s class exercise of walking around campus, I remembered my first reactions to it. Though I had considered possible spots for shelter (looking for both shelter from bad weather and from watching people), I mostly noticed how it made me generally feel. Because I was looking for shelter, I was looking up more than I normally do, and I realized I tend to look down when I walk around campus. Rather than the campus, I saw the people around me differently. Continue reading “Futuristic Story or “Dug Up” Journal?”

Project Reflection

As I’m working, or more accurately–struggling–through my essay, I want to take a moment to reflect on my project. I’m having particularly hard time writing this essay, and I’m not entirely sure why that is. I’ve read all of the texts more than once, annotated, accumulated notes, outlined, revised, returned to the texts, and started many, many drafts, and for weeks I’ve been struggling with what most people would consider “writers block.” I think over the past several months, and especially in the last 6 weeks, I’ve started writing my essay, made it about 3 pages in, and realized that I’m either rambling or going about the essay the wrong way, or that I’m not talking about what I need to talk about–so I start over. I’ve done this countless times. Each time I re-read the texts, check my notes, take more notes, and try to make a more complete outline–but I’m still struggling to get my thoughts on the page. I’ve tried writing in different mediums. I’ve tried writing in MS word, the blog, in a notepad application, by hand in a notebook, on a whiteboard; I’ve even tried writing the entire essay as a powerpoint–with no success. In the past few days I managed to break through this stagnation and make some (relatively) decent progress on my essay, but I also recognize the necessity of being honest with myself: my essay isn’t going to be the epitome of undergraduate scholarship like I hoped and planned. It won’t even be the best essay I’ve written in college. But this realization yields a somewhat encouraging irony: my interest in this project stemmed from a desire to contemplate the modes of resisting the neoliberal drive to a “perfectible future”–that is, I came into this project hoping to gain insight into such questions as how we humans can understand experiences of pain and imperfection as part of the human experience, and in what ways we can (re)visit these experiences that neither make light nor accept these issues, but instead help us better understand how we can engage with these problems. This is one of many questions I’ve been thinking about as I approach my work. In my essay, this question plays a role in my examination of history and the ways we can reconsider the individual’s place in cultural memory. The irony then, is that the idea of the “perfectible future” is a point of skepticism in my essay, and I’m having a seriously difficult time producing not even a perfect essay, but simply what I consider an acceptable essay–so at this point, I’m focusing on the process of the project rather than the product. I’ve accepted that the final product isn’t going to be what I wanted it to be–I’m okay with that. I’ll do the best I can do with it now and return to it with a fresh mind after spending some time away with it. But at this moment, I want to spend some time reflecting on the process–what I learned, what challenged me, what changed me–because although the product is not yet going to be what I want it to be (and may not be for some time), I still got a lot out of this experience.

Continue reading “Project Reflection”

Sweat Equity

I’d like to draw attention to something we saw in This Old House on Friday. The show’s host used a phrase that immediately set off a ‘course themes’ alert in my brain: he told one of the participants they were about to earn some ‘sweat equity.’ According to Investopedia, sweat equity is a “contribution to a project or enterprise in the form of effort and toil. Sweat equity, in the context of real estate, refers to value-enhancing improvements made by homeowners to their properties.” When I Googled the phrase, I also found that Habitat for Humanity buys into the concept: “Habitat affiliates require only a small down payment because few low-income families can afford more than that. Instead, partner families are required to contribute sweat equity.”

I found this concept to be fascinating from several perspectives. The first thing I thought of was Locke—in the Second Treatise on Government he writes that in the state of nature, one can claim property by putting effort into it. He was writing in the context of European overaccumulation, the discovery of the New World, and the beginnings of forays into Africa, and his ideas were used to justify several centuries of imperialism and enslavement. If one goes to a new place and begins working the land, after all, one has begun to accumulate sweat equity. To Europeans, that was the beginnings of ownership, regardless of those who were already housed there.

The second place this phrase took me was Dominion. Sweat equity seems a massive understatement compared to the novel’s description of Jasper Merian’s efforts, but the idea is the same. Dominion consciously drew on the founding myth of America of the pioneer conquering the wilderness and forging a home out of it, and in this context sweat equity is portrayed heroically.

Lastly, the phrase brought me back to the first principle of Take Back the Land and the question Beth drew from it: is housing a human right? It seems to me that following the principle of sweat equity would imply that it isn’t—how can something be a right if you have to work to acquire it? Sweat equity might also exclude those who are differently abled, although an inclusive definition might ameliorate that problem. One thing is clear—sweat equity is fundamental to how we in Western cultures think about property, and seeing it erupt from a reality TV show is proof of the salience of the things we’re discussing this semester.

Space to live and credit score

At the request of an anonymous community member, I share this important post.

A heads up to all of you: Beth wasn’t kidding when she said that landlords check your credit score. A friend of mine was looking for rentals in an area with a particularly competitive housing market. It is the norm for landlords to ask for $30 to complete a credit screening. The rental application also asked for a blank check and information not just about debts owed, but also about how much money is currently in one’s checking account and savings account. This is verifiable information because the landlord now possesses the account and routing number from the blank check. Additionally, landlords sometimes ask for links to Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, and sometimes, this is explicit in the Craigslist ad.

When this friend finally received an offer, the landlord had not checked any references but only spoke to the friend and checked the friend’s credit score. The landlord said,  “Your credit score is low, but your personality is excellent.”

This friend is unspeakably lucky. This friend now has a place to live and time to improve the credit score and hopefully to obtain a positive reference from this landlord. But, this might not even matter if the next landlord only checks one’s credit score and “personality.” I imagine that not everyone is so lucky. Seriously, check your credit score and keep your utilization rates low.

What harm can innovations like AirBnB do?

I’m Facebook friends with a nun who serves in New Orleans, and it just so happens that today she posted regarding this awareness-and-action campaign about how what AirBnb whole-house rentals can do to neighborhoods, especially historically black neighborhoods targeted for gentrification in Katrina’s wake.

As it’s JazzFest time, many folks should be thinking about this. Here’s a quote:

Ok, so what’s the problem? Who cares if tourists now have more options to chose from when deciding where to stay? Because now, tourists aren’t limited to the Central Business District or French Quarter (where all the hotels are). They’re moving out of tourist-engine downtown and getting AirBnB’s in more traditional neighborhoods (Mid-City, Marigny, Lower Garden District, Bywater) and most notably, historically black neighborhoods (Seventh Ward, Sixth Ward, Central City, and St. Roch). This shift just so happens to be in line with the City’s new tourist marketing strategy [see right]. When mass amounts of tourists come into traditional neighborhoods, they have both negative short and long-term effects.

Multiple Origins of Earthseed

In response to Jes’s post inquiring into the possible role of Heraclitus in the origins of Earthseed, I would like to do a hard loop back. In the Spring 2015 section of the Octavia Butler class, I wrote a post noting the similarities between Earthseed and Daoism—the author of which, in a striking coincidence, seems to have been roughly contemporary with Heraclitus. This seems to suggest another kind of looping—Butler’s own, a looping back from the problems of the present and the future to the solutions of the ancient past. It also begs the question of whether Roach’s idea of circum-Mediterranean circulation was really as sealed off during this period as he believed. There is evidence, in fact, that the Greek philosophers were influenced by Indian philosophy—Pyrrho, the founder of skepticism was exposed to it when he traveled to India with Alexander the Great. It wasn’t too long after Heraclitus and Lao Tzu that the Silk Road began its own intercultural circulation. In my 2015 blog post I couldn’t find any evidence that she drew from any particular tradition in creating Earthseed, but the cultural currents that prefigured her writing were not as autochthonous as we sometimes imagine, and in an environment of circulation such as this there is room for multiple origins.

Walls and the “Other”

Last week while walking around campus looking for places of shelter, it was obvious that very inadequate structural spaces provide protection from the elements, and all of these are familiar to anyone who has ever seen homelessness is an urban environment; under a bridge, on the front steps of a building with giant doors, next to a heat vent, etc. I live in Rochester and see this everyday, and with our classes’ exercise and the conditions of Butler’s future America fresh in my mind, the rain last week felt heavy.

Most of us are accustomed to preconceived judgments towards homeless people or panhandlers, and when they are in abundance, especially of the latter, we are expected to ignore them. More often than not, we are to view these people as the “other”; drug-addicts, abusers, or “difficult”. I have definitely desensitized myself, as I’m sure most of us have; I am privileged to be a student, but I am not in a position to give away my student loans, and if I let these depressing sights, or the frequently-aggressive panhandling get to me, my fragile financial situation would turn into a dire one.

A city does not want its tourists or workers to experience homelessness, so most of , if not all of it, is pushed out of view. Going eastbound onto I-490 from downtown Rochester, there are dozen of tents in a fenced in area underneath a ramp; loud, smoggy, but away from the city. In my hometown Ithaca, NY, a small city but with a proportionally large heroin epidemic, the homeless live by a water inlet near the industrial parks and Wegmans, a fenced-in area near the railroad tracks that was nicknamed “The Jungle” while I was still in high school, where in recent years was subject to much scrutiny and unsolved arson and murder.

Lauren lives in her gated community, safe from the violence and drugs of from the “outsiders”, Keith’s story arc last week proved the corruptibility of the outside. Do the homeless communities in our own city experience this kind of safety in their literally “gated” communities? To reach even further, are we trapped in the boundaries that we set within a city, a state, or a country? I am interested in how the book will expand upon the people who live outside of the communities it focuses on, and if it will take an empathetic or reflective turn on what we define as “walls”, “freedom”, and “community”.

Tracing Earthseed to Heraclitus

When I was reading about Lauren’s discovery of Earthseed, the idea that God is change, I was reminded of Heraclitus (c. 500 BC). Contrary to other pre-Socratic philosophers, he sought to write his philosophy in a way that was almost paradoxical such that it would lead his reader closer to enlightenment. Many of the pre-Socratics sought to pin down a particular element that captured the essence of all things. Thales thought this was water, Anaximenes thought this was air, and Anaximander thought it was something like a primordial sort of chaos (apeiron). Canonically speaking, after these three—the Milesians— came Pythagoras and his followers, and then Heraclitus of Ephesus. Heraclitus believed that change was the only constant in life. “You could not step twice into the same river” is perhaps one of his most famous quotes. Even if one steps into a river that we would usually call the same river, Heraclitus would say this river is not the same if you are stepping into it at another time. From the very first time one steps into the river to the next time, it is a different river. To Heraclitus, this is the nature of things. Similarly, he views the human condition as characterized by strife: “All things come into being through opposition and all are in flux like a river.”

Earthseed’s principles that are governed by change and returning someday to the stars—or to the ashes—reminded me of Heraclitus immediately. One point I forgot about Heraclitus until perusing the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy was that he believe that “that fire is the ultimate reality; all things are just manifestations of fire” (SEP). He also believes that all things come from fire and return to fire. Interestingly, this makes his view seem a bit paradoxical if he identifies the world with fire—which is one thing—while also identifying it with change, which would seem not to be able to identify the world with just one thing (the view that the world is constituted primarily by one thing is called material monism).

Analysis of Heraclitus aside, I can’t help but wonder whether Earthseed can be traced to Heraclitus as a direct influence. The parallel became all the more striking to me when I realized how prevalent fire is in Parable of the Sower. Fire destroys nearly everything Lauren owns, but when Lauren is wandering on the freeway, fire also presents the opportunity for survival by looting the resources of those killed by a fire. Fire also brings Lauren, Harry, and Zahra together with the Douglas family. Fire seems to be both threatening and tempting, and Earthseed offers the promise of “our bones [mixing] with the bones and ashes of our cities,” or to return to the stars—also a fire of its own (222). I’m not sure where this connection could take us, but it is worth thinking about the roots of Earthseed (no pun intended).