In Spring 2020, I taught “Expulsion and the Housing Crisis,” a SUNY Geneseo literature course contemplating narratives flowing into and out of the 2008 global financial crisis.
Students read William Shakespeare’s King Lear, Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House, Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, and Calvin Baker’s Dominion. They watched The Old Man and the Storm, Inside Job, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, and they experienced a guest lecture by Pulitzer Prize winner David Cay Johnston, who spoke about money laundering.
As we interpreted literature, we engaged key course concepts: credit, bonds, fraud, moral hazard, trust, accountability, performance, effigy, and liquidity. We engaged practical matters from checkbooks to toxins to credit scores.
When COVID-19 scattered us into the digital world, the students persevered in that project, helping each other to build the essays that follow below.
Although I don’t live in L.A., L.A. Podcast allows me to bring the expulsion in Parable of the Sower closer to home and both past, current, and future circumstances have felt more personal due to these connections. Expulsion is more than the loss of a shelter, but the devastating loss of lives and livelihood mirrors the environment they fall under. An underlying realization that runs through both texts is that there is an experience of new normalcy accompanied by trauma that surrounds the old normal and a solution involving empathy is in our control yet seemingly unreachable.
A correlation that hadn’t occurred to me right away between both the texts, the housing crisis, and the current events are the effects on racial minorities. There is already a race discrepancy between socio-economic classes, and this leads to a discrepancy in the effects of expulsion as well. In the “I Wanna Lord Your Land,” the hosts talked about this correlation resulting in a higher housing loss and deaths. We saw this in the housing crisis of 2008 and are expecting to see it during the current epidemic. Although there’s a temporary hold on evictions, it’s not going to go away, and once the pause is over then there will be a spike in evictions and the supports, as unstable and few as there are, may crumble completely. However, regulations on policies during and after this time of uncertainty are difficult to judge, and even despite the devastation of the housing crisis, there was an act of returning to normal. While hearing the candidate’s campaign speeches in Parable of the Sower, Lauren raises a question that many people wonder today: “…worker protection laws for those employers willing to take on homeless employees and provide them with training and adequate room and board. What’s adequate, I wonder” (27). I find myself also wanting to push for security for those who need housing and those who provide it, but also wondering how any policies would be regulated or enforced to ensure that it would be successful in the long run. Unfortunately pauses on evictions are temporary and the money offered by the government isn’t enough to be self-sufficient. This was discussed in the “I Wanna Lord Your Land” episode as well. Landlords feel left out of government support and when things go back to “normal,” we may see even more housing failures. There was an obscene amount of evictions during the housing crisis yet support ended soon after and things were pushed to return to normalcy as soon as possible. I hope that during these times of uncertainty, however, there will be sufficient support for those who need support not only now but going forward when the situation starts to improve.
During the episode “Hotel It on the Mountain,” the hosts of the L.A. Podcast discussed how this new way of living which was so foreign a few months ago has become the new normal. Actions such as social distancing and wearing masks in public when leaving the house have become a habit and there is an almost trauma and sense of terror concerning the old normal of going without either of those things. The readers catch glimpses of the old normal through Lauren’s parents in Parable of the Sower and although this natural disaster is relatively recent, Lauren cannot imagine anything except her current reality. In the episode “SoCal Distancing” the hosts brought up a both/and about fear being used as a tool of manipulation. At first listen, I had an initial opposition to fear being used against people, yet I began to think of the positive outcomes. On one hand, I don’t condone fear mongering, but on the other hand, I wonder what would happen if this fear was used as a tool to save lives. Do the intentions behind the actions overrule the action itself? When people’s lives are at stake or the necessities in which they need to survive are threatened, where is the line in enforcing safety? In Parable of the Sower, conditions have become so dire that trust becomes a double-edged sword, and violence against others is normal just to ensure the survival of oneself. However, even a weapon to defend oneself is a luxury many cannot afford, and in terms of the housing crisis, thousands of people were left without any support to survive, some more than others.
Although the circumstances in Parable of the Sower are more direly exaggerated, people even during those extremes are not heading towards improvement, as stated by Bankole, “You know, as bad as things are, we haven’t even hit bottom yet” (328). The parts that people are in control of are offering no solution because results won’t yield if people don’t work together. Both the Parable of the Sower and the “Hotel It on the Mountain” episode talk about empathy as a possible solution. Hotels could create revenue by decreasing cases if they opened their rooms to those who don’t have shelter if they set aside their pride. If those in charge looked into the consequences for others rather than the instant benefits for them, then maybe the effects of the housing crisis could’ve been lessened. In Parable of the Sower, Lauren views her hyper-empathy as a weakness and although it can be burdensome during the travel, it also allows her to save lives. Lauren is careful with her trust but extends it to save people she meets on her journey and these people become a part of Acorn. In the L.A. Podcast episode “Hotel It on the Mountain,” the hosts also discuss the need for an increase in empathy with those around you and how it has potential to contribute to the solution of unnecessary expulsion. This empathy extends to all citizens when it comes to wearing masks and washing hands to save others if you have the resources and making these resources available for those who don’t. For those without homes, establishments such as hotels have been considered to open for the homeless during this time of crisis while receiving a small revenue from the government. However, many don’t find the money earned to be worth it and some are worried about a decline in their reputation if they agree. Nowadays an increase in empathy by providing for those in positions of less privilege can cause a positive rippling effect and I hope that when choices have to be made that we, as a society, have the strength to choose the greater good.
After listening to the L.A. Podcast for the past few months, and reading Parable of the Sower with the context of the 2008 housing crisis in mind, the term risk continuously haunts me. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the L.A. Podcast has focused mainly on social and economic issues along with some potential government solutions to these issues in relation to COVID-19. Project Roomkey, as discussed in some of the most recent episodes of the L.A. Podcast by Hayes, Scott, and Alissa, specifically stuck out to me. Project Roomkey, as described by the County of Los Angeles, is a collaborative effort not only with L.A. city and county but also with the state of California, and it is an attempt to secure hotel and motel rooms for individuals experiencing homelessness in order to protect these high-risk individuals against the spread of COVID-19. Listening to news from any source, high-risk is a term that you hear very often. Media uses high-risk to describe individuals who are immunocompromised, or are in areas where COVID-19 is more prevalent. L.A. Podcast discusses the county/ state goal of filling 15,000 rooms with individuals who are homeless, as well as rumors from high-end hotels finding risk to their reputation in partaking in this project. The “Karma’s a Beach” episode of the podcast gives a recent update of Project Roomkey and discusses that the number of rooms available to individuals experiencing homelessness have actually gone down over time instead of up. A major issue that hotels are running into with Project Roomkey is maintaining their insurance. Hotels are also arguing that it is dangerous to their business to allow individuals who are homeless to stay in their rooms. Their real argument is based on risk, they believe that the homeless individuals in L.A. are a risk to their rooms, and businesses.
Octavia Butler also grapples with the concept of risk through Lauren. Not only is Lauren attempting to start a new religion (Earthseed) which is a risk, but she also continuously puts the rest of her group at risk by bringing new individuals into the group and informing them of her Hypersensitivity syndrome. I also found Lauren’s shift in thinking interesting as she went further and further along her journey. At first she and Zahra berated Harry, telling him that he could be putting them at risk when he wanted to let the man use their coals to cook his potato. Towards the middle and end of the book, however, Lauren lets her guard down and it becomes Harry who is telling her that she could be putting the group at risk. This shift is noted on page 207 when Lauren discusses with Harry and Zahra about bringing Travis, Natividad and baby Dominic into the group. This defensive wall of risk, first displayed by Lauren and Zahra and displayed later in the novel by Harry is similar to the defensive wall of risk that the hotels are putting up against the individuals who are homeless. Hopefully Lauren’s shift in attitude of wanting to help people will happen with the hotels as well.
There are many similarities with Parable of the Sower, the 2008 housing crisis, and COVID-19 as discussed on the L.A. Podcast, especially in the discussion of risk. One of the main causes of the 2008 housing crisis was the creation of moral hazards in which banks would underwrite loans with the expectation that another party would bear the risk of default. As discussed by Investopedia, market participants took part in risky behaviors which put the financial system on the brink of collapse. The moral hazard that existed as a result of the banks’ behavior in 2008 is comparable to the moral hazard that exists with the partnership of Motel 6 and the state of California. Motel 6 is partnering with the state of California under the assumption that the state of California will bear the cost in the event of an unfavorable outcome from Project Roomkey. Understanding risk and how it relates to our current situation is important in that we take risks every time we leave the house, and have to also trust other individuals to follow precautions so they do not infect others. The risks that Lauren took in Parable of the Sower ended up being beneficial for the entire group, and she was lucky. The risks that banks took in underwriting loans expecting that another party would bear the risk of default did not have as great of an outcome. Being aware of the risks before going into a situation is important and as discussed in L.A. Podcast with Project Roomkey, hotels are wary of taking any risks by giving up rooms for individuals experiencing homelessness, but as long as the risks are ultimately for the good of everyone and damaging, they will hopefully have a good outcome.
As I listened to Hayes, Scott, and Alissa on L.A. Podcast the last few weeks, I’ve noticed their conversations being wrapped around the corruption of LA’s local government, more specifically the city council and how it has poorly addressed citizen concerns during this COVID-19 pandemic. While I was listening to the hosts’ interesting points about their city’s disorganized efforts, I couldn’t help but relate their topics to Octavia Butler’s fictional novel Parable of the Sower. Butler’s novel is from the perspective of an African American young woman, Lauren Olamina. Lauren writes about her experiences from 2024 to 2027 as she travels North, away from the corruption in California that ultimately led to the burning of her gated-community and deceased family members. The book takes place during a global climate change and economic crises causing a mass amount of homeless people in CA, or as Lauren refers to them as squatters, thieves, or painted faces. Throughout the novel, Lauren addresses the lack of support and involvement of the government to help the citizens. Here is where I made the connection between Parable of the Sower and L.A. Podcast. Both forms of entertainment discuss the corruption of government in relation to a global crisis, but more narrowly focuses on California’s fragmented government. Furthermore, the lack of government efforts addressed in L.A. Podcast and Parable of the Sower circulate back to my college course–Expulsion and the Housing Crisis. The lack of sufficient government oversight and involvement in the financial markets is what transformed into a global financial crisis in 2008. Another crisis indeed!–So how many global crises can I mention in one sitting? Well, we have the 2008 housing and financial crisis (past), the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic crisis (present), and a fictional (but possible) 2024 global climate change and economic crisis (future). All of these past, present, and future crises are connected to a corrupt government as I’ve noticed through course work, Parable of the Sower, and L.A. Podcast.
It only feels right to address our current crisis first. Almost everything in our daily lives surrounds the topic of COVID-19, making sense of the podcast’s concentration on how Los Angeles is reacting to this deadly virus. Additionally, being an east coaster, it is interesting to hear how a city among the west coast is trying to handle the current situation. The hosts discuss events leading to their conclusion that they are currently dealing with a fragmented government. For example, the “While My Qatar Gently Weeps” episode discusses the L.A. City Council’s decision to not pass tenant protections, claiming fraudulent activities among the city council in accordance with the rent freeze that the city didn’t have the authority to authorize. Adding on, the hosts discuss how the city is frequently doing things that end up being determined, if not illegal, unconstitutional. In the following episode, “Karma’s a Beach,” there’s discussion on how half of Los Angeles county is without a job, yet the city budget that was just put out only includes programs for police officers, serving no other function to other residents. It seems that the L.A. city council and the state of California are having a difficult time prioritizing their residents in a way that will positively impact the most affected people of the current financial crisis, causing distrust and confusion among the city’s residents. This trend is surely happening in state government’s around our nation, and clearly at the local level too. What is even more interesting is how Octavia Butler evidently includes this fragmentation of government as discussed in L.A. Podcast into her novel.
Parable of the Sower takes the corruption of government to the next level as it displays a fictional time when the government minimally, if any, helps the residents of California. However, it is interesting how the branch of employment that seems to be making off okay during the economic crisis is law enforcement. Lauren Olamina questions why people older than her even rely on the police when they’ve never seemed to help. For example, Bankole finds the skulls and bones of his family members and immediately wants to call the local cops to see if they know what happened to his family. Bankole is a widowed 57-year-old African American doctor who becomes Lauren Olamina’s lover. Lauren begs Bankole to not call the cops and writes, “I wonder what you have to do to become a cop. I wonder what a badge is, other than a license to steal. What did it used to be to make people Bankole’s age want to trust it?” Lauren is perplexed that Bankole would ever trust the police and wonders what they used to be like such that people Bankole’s age keep going to them. It is interesting how during this novel’s crisis almost everything else has fallen apart besides law enforcement. This relates to L.A. Podcast as the hosts discussed in the “ICE Budget Challenge” episode the mayor’s claim of needing money for law enforcement during our current crisis lacks validity. They continue by mentioning how there was no correlation between police staff hours and crime during the last financial crisis (2008), in fact, crime went down. It makes me wonder that if our whole world were to end up like the one in Butler’s book, would law enforcement be the only ones to come out on top? Because that’s how it would appear based on the L.A. Podcasts conversation on their ‘untouched police force’. The LA Police Department is able because of the government and taxpayers. Therefore, the police force being okay while the other L.A. residents are struggling demonstrates the government’s fragmentation.
The L.A. Podcast hosts are clever to reference the 2008 financial crisis and compare it to our current financial crisis. Parable of the Sower and The L.A. Podcasts helped me realize that the government is most likely to protect law enforcement before all others during a crisis. Governments’ corrupt decisions on protecting their law enforcement before residents is frustrating to understand. The government displayed fragmentation during the 2008 housing crisis as it failed to protect citizens from corrupt mortgages. Based on Parable of the Sower, the 2008 housing crisis, and our current financial crisis, there is a clear theme of a corrupt government leading to a corrupt society.
When I consider the various ways in which Parable of the Sower grapples with issues surrounding expulsion and the housing crisis, I find myself confronting some of the parallels between the crises found in Butler’s novel and some of the issues that plague war torn countries like Syria. I noticed this connection when Lauren talks about the importance of relying on each other to survive and exchanging services for the betterment of the community: “We might also provide education plus reading and writing service to adult illiterates. There might be a market for that kind of thing. So many people, children and adults, are illiterate these days… We might be able to do it – grow our own food, grow ourselves and our neighbors into something brand new” (Butler 224). Lauren’s note on the high rate of illiteracy seems to have been brought on by external factors like climate change and various manifestations of greed that occur on both the individual and the societal levels. This prompted my connection to the Syrian crisis primarily because of the fact that an entire generation of Syrian civilians are indeed, illiterate and living in identical circumstances as the characters in Butler’s texts whose homes have also been destroyed as a result of heinous war crimes and rampant violations of human rights. Consequently, Syrian inhabitants appear to be suffering from their own version of a housing crisis as that of which appears in Butler’s text.
Although this connection is particularly clear for those who have been following the Syrian crisis, there are also connections to be made to L.A. Podcast and their documentation of the tenant protections (or lack thereof) and Butler’s text. In their podcast from April 26, 2020 titled “While My Qatar Gently Weeps,” the hosts of the L.A Podcast highlights some of the debate around the pressing urge to combat the increasing homeless population. They reference LA’s ban on sleeping on the street: “the city would become lawless if they were forced to provide shelter for everybody sleeping on the street.” Clearly, the debate on what constitutes valid housing protections in a rising pandemic seem to correlate with the realities of Butler’s text and the hardships her characters find themselves in when they can no longer benefit from housing and tenant protections.
While the Syrian crisis and the homelessness debate appear to be connections to Butler’s world, one thing I’ve noticed after having the chance to read some of the posts of my fellow peers is that concepts like risks, trust, and otherization have a significant role in understanding and also grappling with expulsions of groups of people. When I refer to otherization, I am following the Cambridge Dictionary‘s definition of the verb as the act of: “making a person or group of people seem different, or to consider them to be different.” Whether it might be Syrian’s fleeing their country and seeking refuge elsewhere or the homeless in L.A forced off the streets, both groups are made to seem different from the majority. Oftentimes, being different can be synonymous with dangerous, as we see demonstrated in Butler’s text.
Indeed, it appears that the risks involved for those who are currently homeless or seeking refuge both in real life and in Butler’s fiction are centered around trusting one another, being able to depend on one another. The homeless population are forced to depend on and trust their government to protect them from the pandemic by providing social protections and syrian refugees are forced to depend on the aid offered by their host countries and/or humanitarian agencies, in the same way that Lauren and her group must rely and trust each other to survive. Consider the following quote from Lauren after risking her life and the life of her group to save Allie and Jill: “You don’t owe us anything for that. It isn’t something you could buy from us. But if you travel with us, and there’s trouble, you stand by us, stand with us” (238). Lauren clearly recognises the risks involved in keeping Allie and Jill along, but she also knows that they are stronger together than apart and must take the risk in trusting each other, in order to solidify their chances of surviving. Ultimately, the trials that Lauren and her group encounter appear to be in direct correlation with the risks that Syrian refugees and the homeless population in LA must have inevitably encountered in their own journey and paths to survival.
After reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower while simultaneously listening to the L.A Podcast for an extended period of time, it’s become clear that our current world has the potential to evolve into something very similar to Butler’s fictional, dystopian world if people continue to ignore pressing issues like climate change, homelessness, and unemployment. As the L.A Podcast explains, our current world has plenty of homelessness, unemployment, and crime. If we continue to overlook these pressing issues, our world could become incapable of repair. In order to save our society, we must fear the future that our current path is leading us to and make the necessary changes to mend our path. All of this being said, our world most definitely has the potential to adjust its direction and make changes in time for the better.
In the L.A Podcast episode “SoCal Distancing,” the hosts, Hayes Davenport, Scott Frazier, and Alissa Walker all spoke about the use of fear in conversation with the Coronavirus. While fear can be used to manipulate people in a negative way, fear can also push people to follow rules and, in our modern world’s case, understand the impact of the Covid-19. Some of the hosts argued (and I agreed) that a healthy level of fear could be preached in order to convey the severity of the Coronavirus. Similar to our current world, Butler’s fictional world in Parable of the Sower also grapples with using fear as incentive (this is an awesome phrase that Lara coined in a Google Hangout session). In the novel, fear drives Lauren to pack a backpack full of important items so that if escape is necessary, she is ready. Lauren explains the need to prepare for survival outside of the community to her friend stating, “We can get ready. That’s what we’ve got to do now. Get ready for what’s going to happen, get ready to survive it, get ready to make life afterward” (55). Fear of the future pushes Lauren to prepare and ultimately helps her survive. As Sandra reminded me in her comment, Lauren’s father also notes that fear as incentive can have a negative effect. Simply put, fear can cause people to panic. Lauren’s father states, “I know you think you’re right, but you’re not doing anyone any good. You’re just panicking people'” (63). Like Lauren’s father, it is important to consider how sharing information and educating people may be used as incentive over fear. Educating people seems like the stronger and safer way to go about conveying the severity of the Coronavirus in our current world.
In a more recent L.A Podcast episode, “While My Qatar Gently Weeps,” a couple points stuck out to me that connected perfectly to Parable of the Sower. The hosts highlighted that 39% of positive Coronavirus cases are coming from institutions. When I first heard this statistic, I immediately thought of assisted living centers, for elderly people. However, that extremely high 39% also included institutions like prisons and homeless shelters. By bringing up this statistic and analyzing it, the L.A. Podcast hosts beautifully shed light on the fact that people who do not have adequate housing are more vulnerable to the virus. The hosts pointed out that homeless people are more at risk because they cannot practice the same protective strategies of staying inside. In the comments below, Stephanie brought up the risks involved in using public hand washing stations. Recently, a needle was found at a hand washing station and stabbed someone attempting to wash their hands. This is just one example of how not having shelter makes it harder to practice protective strategies. Increased vulnerability as a homeless person is also a major theme in Parable of the Sower. By choosing to make the narrator of the book a young girl who experiences living both inside a sheltered community and outside without a home, Butler also allows her readers to get a sense of the differences between the two paths of living, and the risks involved with being homeless. Early into their survival outside of the community, Lauren reminds of the dangers of the outdoors stating, “You think you can take care of yourself out here, and maybe you can. But think what a stab wound or a broken bone would mean out here: Disablement, slow death from infection or starvation, no medical care, nothing” (181). Similar to how homeless people in the current world are more at risk to get sick with the Coronavirus, Lauren and her Earthseed crew are more vulnerable to violent attacks, robbery, and death after being expelled from their old home, and the luxuries that came with their community.
One last connection between both the L.A. Podcast and Parable of the Sower that I think is worth noting is our human desire for a return to normalcy that may not unravel the way we expect it to. While our everyday lives are rapidly changing due to covid-19, everyday we look forward to the day that we will resume our normal activities. However, both L.A Podcast and Parable of the Sower hint that there might have to be a new normal. In “While My Qatar Gently Weeps” Alissa Walker mentioned that she filed a work order for a sidewalk she saw that needed fixing on her socially distant walk. However, she later received an email noting that services to fix small things, like the sidewalk she saw, were put on pause for the time being, given the state of our world. After sharing this story, Walker brought up the question of when things will return to normal so that small issues, like sidewalks, can be fixed again. While I am not saying that sidewalks will never be fixed again, I do think that our world will forever be impacted by this pandemic, and that a new normal will surface from these events. It will take time and adjustment to get back to a similar society. In Parable of the Sower, the following conversation is shared between Lauren and her friend: “‘Things are bad. My mother is hoping this new guy, President Donner, will start to get us back to normal.’ ‘Normal,’ I muttered. ‘I wonder what that is’” (54). Lauren, like many of us in modern society, questions what “normal” is. I by no means am trying to convey that our world is doomed and will never be the same, but I do think, similar to Lauren, that we are going to see a new normal coming out of this pandemic. Who knows, that new normal could be just what the world needs.
After reading Parable of the Sower and listening to L.A Podcast two connections I made were how people were affected by the circumstances they were in and more so, how those in positions of power were doing nothing to help. In an episode called “I Wanna Lord Your Land,” one quote that really struck out to me was “eviction equals homelessness.” In Parable of the Sower, Lauren and Bankole were both expelled from their gated community because it was ravaged, losing their family as a result. Additionally, this “wave of evictions” as mentioned in the podcast is spoken about like a universal experience much like in Lauren’s community, with the exception of the rich. Every person she encounters on her journey were also expelled from their homes for different reasons. Emery and Grayson were both fleeing from “debt slavery” (161) escaping with their children. Lauren’s exposure to the outside world forced her to understand that the way people acted and the things they had to do was a result of circumstances they did not have control over and their need for survival. As Elena mentioned in her comment, this idea of an “economic pack mentality” is shown through Lauren’s realization that the only way they can survive is to trust in others and help one another.
The economic collapse along with the increasing amount of drug use and sheer desperation for more basic necessities was further perpetrated by the lack of government interference to protect its people. In the podcast called “Ice Budget Challenge,” they bring up the idea of depersonalization and how it is important to look past numbers and death rate statistics and instead focus on the people- “who they were, the lives they have lived and the way society has treated them throughout their lives.” As mentioned in L.A Podcast, the very people in the city attorney’s office that were supposed to be advocating for the city were doing the opposite by proposing a memo that went against tenant protections. The city attorneys and police forces were instead getting a raise while others were left unemployed and many other jobs like street cleaning were cut from the budget. The raise was disguised as a way to “keep our streets safe,” but it yielded no positive results. The lack of regulation from the government is highlighted in the discussion of corporations such as KSF, an example of how greed plays into the housing crisis. They are actively gaining money from the crisis by holding a monopoly over food and water. People are leaving their homes for the hope of a better future when in reality, they are all doomed to a similar fate. Another form of corruption ties into the mistrust between government services and the people. As Butler says, “We must find the rest of what we need within ourselves, in one another” (138). The rich have the privilege to fly out in helicopters to seek refuge and to enlist the help of police because they can afford their services. However, the privatization of government services such as the police and firefighters made it so that it went against the interest for those in Lauren’s circle to ask for outside help, further perpetuating this divide and mutual mistrust.
The lack of care for the poor and the homeless is a trend that plays out in both the novel and issues discussed in the podcast despite the fact that they are the two most vulnerable populations. What shocked me the most when listening to “Hotel It on the Mountain” was the conditions in which the government and corporations treated the homeless. They were put in hygiene centers as a way to mediate some of the tensions except the stations were not given water replenishment rendering it ineffective. It was the community, not government services, that came together to replace water and hand sanitizers. Hotels are another part of this issue. Some refused to let homeless people stay in their vacant rooms for the fear of ruining their reputation in the future. There are current and pressing petitions for the L.A. government to seize hotels given that over 60,000 are without housing. As Melissa states in her post, we need to ask ourselves what we can do in our own positions of privilege to help those less fortunate. As a community, we need to establish trust that we will do what is morally and lawfully just. Even in places where we reside, in Geneseo and in our hometown, it is imperative that we think about how our actions will affect those around us.
When I think about housing, I think back to one of the discussion forums our class had on Dominion. Our prompt was: “What is necessary for housing to have?” Instead of listing material items, I said that, aside from the basic walls of the shelter, housing also ideally requires a (positive) human relationship element. I wasn’t the only one to point this out; a few of my classmates also supported the idea of relationships being an important part of housing and the home. This idea was tested when I started examining relationships within Parable of the Sower. Specifically, I looked at housing as related to Lauren’s half-brother Keith and Keith’s relationship to his father (for whom he harbored a lot of resentment). Early in the book, Keith is punished by his father who forces him to publicly apologize to the community for losing the key to the community’s gate outside (Butler 93). Lauren, when watching her brother apologize, comments she could see Keith “keeping [his anger] inside, holding it down, choking on it” (Butler 93). Keith later runs away from his house and sets off to live alone; his animosity for his father is likely why he leaves, for he tells his mother: “I don’t need him [his father] hitting me and telling me what to do” (Butler 99). Keith’s relationship with his father made me question my ideas about housing and human connection: How important is human relationship to housing? Can you be considered expelled if you have physical shelter but no emotional belonging?
Expulsion when it comes to Keith is interesting because, from the narrative Lauren tells us, he chooses to leave the household (“self-expels” himself, perhaps). However I wonder if Keith doesn’t so much self-expel himself but is rather already emotionally expelled even before he leaves the house because of his volatile relationship with his father. If human connection is an important part of housing, then perhaps one can be considered expelled even before they are physically out of the house when people stop caring about them (or, in Keith’s case, when he believes his father stops caring about him). If Keith had already stopped viewing the Olmaina household as a home, then perhaps he was expelled long before he chose to physically leave the house. This is interesting because it means there’s an extra layer to expulsion, that expulsion aside from an absence of shelter also includes an absence of care. As Stephanie points out in her comments on my post, this is something important to consider as we’re going through the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders: What do you do when the environment you’re in is harming you but you can’t leave? How do you live in quarantine with people who have emotionally expelled you? It’s a difficult question to answer.
The extra “layer” of expulsion I talked about reminded me of something I heard in the “Karma’s a Beach” episode of L.A Podcast. Around 41:30, L.A Podcast mentions that a lot of local initiatives (in LA) seem to be a “middle of the road strategy” in the sense that they’re shutting down areas to protect people yet not putting in “financial protections” that people also need. As an example of “financial protections,” L.A Podcast points out that Denmark is “paying for everyone to keep their jobs.” Much like what L.A Podcast points out here, when tackling an issue, one has to tackle all layers of the issue for the problem to begin to be solved. As Macaire points out in her comment on my post, L.A Podcasthas talked about how there is an initiative for the unhoused to be sheltered in empty hotel rooms during the pandemic. Although this helps, as Molly indicates in her reply to me, there’s still a question about what to do in the aftermath of the pandemic in regards to housing. Namely, what’s going to happen to the individuals in the hotel rooms after the pandemic? Are they going to be kicked out? How can we prevent that when the hotel is going to return to business? How can we continue to provide housing for the unhoused after the pandemic ends? These are all questions that need attention and answers. When dealing with expulsion, more needs to be done than just giving shelter; it needs to be evident that we care, and this means going beyond the shelter route and imposing other necessary measures such as financial stability initiatives.
One of the most prevalent examples of the idea of expulsion in Parable of the Sower is the way main character Lauren is expelled from her community due to the fire that destroys not only it, but her family as well. She’s left without what she’s called home her whole life, much like the victims of the 2008 housing crisis, who lost everything they knew to be home when they lost their houses due to taking out shady loans they were scammed into without the ability to pay them back.
Fire is the most prominent force of destruction in the novel, and was an interesting symbol to me in the context of expulsion. All over the country, communities are destroyed by fires—including, eventually, Lauren’s neighborhood. This is reminiscent of the wide-spread panic and destruction caused by the financial crash, because its effects are detrimental and cause people to lose everything. Part of the significance of fire is that it can be both a natural and man-made force; this translates into the housing crisis because poverty and expulsion can be a natural force in some cases – people can be born into poverty, or be discriminated against based on things out of their control such as their sexual orientation, race, etc., giving them less opportunities for prosperity – or it can be man-made, like the 2008 crash was by the greed of Wall Street CEOs.
Before that, though, the first half of the book takes place within Lauren’s gated community, and this brings to mind the expulsion of the terrible state of things outside the community from within its walls. As the United States becomes increasingly brutal and apocalyptic, people are more and more desperate to close themselves off from the violence and destruction taking over the country, meaning they try to shut themselves away and expel it from their lives and minds. This obviously isn’t a permanent solution since the neighborhood eventually goes up in flames, however it brings forth a different type of expulsion we didn’t think about as much, which is keeping something out rather than being expelled out of somewhere.
My classmate Andrew brought up a great connection to L.A Podcast and specifically their discussion about hotels being potential places of refuge for unhoused individuals during this pandemic. One of the most notable things being that the hotels don’t want to be associated with housing these individuals out of a fear for their reputation being damaged and viewed as less “premium”. From a publicity standpoint, releasing the charitable actions of the hotel to the public would create a humanitarian reputation for them, so trying to hide the fact that they’re helping these people doesn’t make much sense to me. Either way, it’s an interesting connection to my point about not only how expulsion affects individuals, but also how individuals expel other people and forces from their lives; which in Lauren’s neighborhood’s case is through the use of walls and a nightly watch, and in the hotel’s case, expelling the media from gaining coverage of their housing of expulsed individuals.
There are a lot of factors in life that can cause us trouble, sometimes those factors are completely out of our control: our surroundings, how we grew up, the current social climate, all of these can contribute to making life more difficult. A common hardship we deal with is loss. Loss is a both interesting and difficult topic to discuss; on the one hand, it can be an extremely sensitive subject. If someone loses a family member, pet, or family friend for example, it would be difficult for them to relay their feelings and explain it to others even if they wanted to do it because of the deeply personal nature of such events. Yet I think it is the opposite side of the metaphorical spectrum that makes loss an interesting topic. While some forms of loss are very personalized and mostly private, there are forms of loss that are public. Some examples of public loss include events of September 11th, the housing crisis of 2008, and more recently, the pandemic outbreak of the Coronavirus. One major difference between private and public loss is that, because they tend to be on a much bigger scale and therefore affect many more people, You are far more likely to hear the stories of how people survived the ordeal. For the sake of simplicity I am labeling the type of loss discussed here, specifically large scale catastrophes, as public loss.
Every single person reacts to a situation differently. I believe this to be a solid fact that does not change because of public loss events, in fact I think it becomes reinforced by them. What I find interesting about loss, as a whole, is how you can take a group of people, put them into a scenario, and see what the different reactions appear. Let’s use Geneseo and the Coronavirus as an example. Keep in mind, this comes from personal experience. To break this up chronologically I will explain what I saw in three stages. Stage one begins at the beginning of March and lasts until March 18th, people have heard of Coronavirus and begin to take precautions by practicing social distancing and washing their hands more often, flatten the curve is introduced. Stage two begins near the end of Spring break and when Governor Andrew Cuomo announces that classes will move to remote-learning and that NYC will enact a stay-at-home order for the coming months, the quarantine officially begins. Stage three is with the quarantine in full effect. Most businesses deemed non-essential, or a business in which the virus could spread quickly, have nearly all shut down. All of New York has been ordered into a voluntary stay-at-home order for all non-essential workers. While I am fortunate enough to have an off campus apartment, many of my fellow undergraduates were left scrambling to figure out their living situations. Many of them were forced to go home which, unfortunately for some, meant going home to areas with infected patients. For a few of my friends, even that was not an option, and if the college did not allow a few students to stay on campus, they would be entirely homeless. And, of course, all of us who worked on campus were now out of a job.
I believe it’s important that I bring in my own personal experiences because of how similar it seems to be in connection to what is happening to people in other parts in the US, with one such place being Los Angeles. Listening to L.A Podcast gave me an odd sense of comradery; despite being on the opposite side of the continent, there were people who had been experiencing the same ordeals as me. Not quite the same, obviously, but similar enough to make me think we shared the same burden. Some specific instances of news that made me feel this way was the constant struggle of homelessness, rent forgiveness, legislation and employment. On the subject of rent I believe the podcast mentioned that there was a looming lose-lose situation for tenants. If anti-eviction laws were passed, laws that help out those affected by the Coronavirus, landlords could increase rent rates, which would hurt tenants long after the virus was dealt with. The other side is that if the laws weren’t passed, people could get evicted from their apartments due to reasons related to Covid-19 such as, not being able to pay rent due to job loss or having unauthorized guests who themselves had lost their home due to the pandemic.
In addition to L.A Podcast, I found parallels to current events in the novel Parable of the Sower. One of the parallels within the novel that we can draw to current events, is how easy it can be for everyday life to change. In the novel, Lauren Olamina and her family live in a gated neighborhood. She spends most of her childhood learning skills she would need to survive in the event of her community being destroyed by an outside force, be it a wildfire, thieves, or fearsome painted people. Lauren was ridiculed and considered a pessimist by members of her community due to her dedication to learning survival, not too dissimilar to how doomsday preppers are treated. Eventually, however, her community does get attacked and is subsequently destroyed along with most of its members. Similar to LA and here in Geneseo, Lauren and her surviving community members experience a sense of public loss with the destruction of our average lifestyles. There is one notable difference between our reality and the world within Octavia Butler’s novel, and that is the theme of change. A large portion of the novel is Lauren monologuing about believing in God, and that God is change. She is focused on what is ahead, adapting and surviving. For us, however, it seems we are more willing to revert to the life that existed before the pandemic.
The 2008 economic crisis expelled so many working class Americans from their jobs and homes. Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower deals quite a bit with the theme of expulsion. Right away we see this as Lauren, and her family, and her neighbors all live in a gated community, separated from the outside world.
We see the issues and dangers of expulsion in violent resentment from those excluded from the community inside the gates. Something struck me was when Lauren was discussing the pyro addicts attacking her neighborhood, “Some kind of insane burn-the-rich movement, Keith had said. We’ve never been rich, but to the desperate, we looked rich. We were surviving and we had our wall. Did our community die so that addicts could make a help-the-poor political statement?” (Butler 163). This got me thinking a lot about something I hear a lot of people my age joking about on Twitter and other social media platforms which is “Eat The Rich”. Especially in light of all of the struggles attached to the COVID-19 pandemic, many are posting about it like it’s some kind of form of retaliation against the Government, or the jobs they’ve lost, or the landlords who aren’t being very lenient with bills in these hard times. This also had me thinking about how Lauren’s community was not rich, but to those on the outside of the wall, they looked that way. Lauren’s community was doing what they thought was best for their survival, and yet it still left some people behind. I found this similar in some ways to the government intervention in the 2008 housing crisis. Although their intentions were to help, the bailout programs were more helpful to corporate America than the working class. The household median income stayed below where it was in 2007 ($60,985) until 2016 ($61,779).
L.A Podcast aired the episode, “Karma’s A Beach” on May 5, 2020. This episode discussed Project Roomkey, in which the idea is to help homeless individuals move into vacant hotel rooms to help protect them from the spread of COVID-19. A homeless man by the name of Devan Brown asked for a tour of The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Los Angeles. Once shown a room, he and members of Street Watch L.A. seized the vacant hotel room with the intentions of creating more available hotel rooms for Project Roomkey. This made me think about one of the robberies that took place in Lauren’s community, “Three guys came over the wall and crowbarred their way into the Cruz house. The Cruz family, of course, has loud burglar alarms, barred windows, and security gates at all the doors just like the rest of us, but that doesn’t seem to matter. When people want to come in, they come in” (Butler 116). This had me thinking about how many view the homeless as weak and powerless, yet in the podcast we see how that isn’t always the case, and how “when people want to come in, they come in” (Butler 116). Obviously, the story of Devan Brown and Project Roomkey is different from the attempted robbery at the Cruz house, but I think it shows how when people are excluded from basic necessities like shelter and safety, they will do what they deem necessary to survive.
The housing crisis that Lauren’s Robledo is facing in Parable of the Sower appears a far off reality from the state I currently know, but upon listening to L.A Podcast I begin to understand where Octavia Butler may have gotten some of her inspiration. In Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Robledo is a town full of homeless people trying to get in and people in gated communities trying to keep them out. The scarcity of resources, persistence of illness and poor living conditions in general push people to fight for their lives regardless of what it takes. While the world that Butler has created in her novel is crawling with fictitious drugs that make people want to set things ablaze, extreme shortages of water and things of the like, the violence she writes about is not unfounded in my mind because people have killed for less than survival.
One of the largest issues in the novel is not being exposed, to the elements and to others. Lauren was lucky enough to be born into a family that had a home in a part of a gated community and to enjoy that veil of protection for the first 18 years of her life but many others in her town were not so lucky. This take on the housing crisis with houses both working for and against people is very interesting and relevant to the current and past housing crisis that have taken hold of the U.S. For example, houses inside gated communities present an interesting dichotomy in that they keep dangers/ unwanted people out, but they also keep people trapped inside. This can be seen when Lauren first starts to vocalize her true feelings about the community to Joanne, basically indicating that their walls give a false sense of security and in a way trap their ability to think and plan. It is easy to be ignorant to the things that you don’t have to see, which in the case of the people living in Lauren’s gated community rings true since they don’t often have to see how bad things are outside. So, they may not feel the urge to plan outside of their immediate present.
I found this dichotomy of houses protecting and simultaneously trapping people to be relevant when listening to the April 20th L.A Podcastthat discussed grappling with tenant protection bills. Public interest attorneys have illuminated that there’s a need for tenant protection because landlords and the city are legally able to do many things that can leave tenants vulnerable and at risk. This partially shows how houses, and particularly leases, can trap you and how, oftentimes, those in power are not looking out for tenants. The city’s retort to the request for tenant protections was that it would end up costing the city more money if it ended in a lawsuit and consequently hurt the people more than adding the tenant protections would help, which I find to be rather mind boggling. I feel as if this is similar to what we’ve learned about with the 2008 housing crisis in how the individual citizen is seldom protected, like with when people who fell victim to subprime mortgage loans were made out to be greedy and the cause of the problem rather than blaming the corrupt system that allowed for those loans to happen. Houses, and the payments, papers and laws that go along with them can have sort of imprisoning effects.
The May 4th episode, “Karma’s a Beach” also struck me, especially in regard to Parable of the Sower. This episode discussed how the pandemic is affecting prison populations disproportionately and how the living standards are not conducive to maintaining the spread of the virus. They quoted a police official saying something along the lines of, there need to be more arrests at this time and that there’s a need to “round people up”. This statement reminded me a lot of what’s happening with ICE right now in how there are continual raids despite social distance rules, and that internment facilities where children and families are being brought are breeding grounds for the spread of the virus (aside from the fact that ICE is not an essential job and internment facilities are horrible). While I’m not negating the need for law enforcement (in regard to L.A Podcast) there’s these unnecessary detainments that are occurring regardless of the state of public health. This reminded me a lot of the role of the police in Parable of the Sower and how it’s shown over and over again that the police are not to be relied upon. For example, after the earthquake when Natividad stated she wished they could contact the police about the fires and raids, Lauren says, “It wouldn’t do any good…Even if the cops came today instead of tomorrow they would only add to the death toll.” (pg. 229). This statement, while it isn’t the only one condemning the cops in the novel, is particularly interesting to me in the way it suggests the timeline cops operate under. Lauren saying, “if they came today instead of tomorrow” insinuates that cops take too long to respond to calls, whether it be days or weeks. This isn’t that off-base from the state we’re currently living in. For many people, particularly members of minority communities, calling the cops seldom results in speedy arrivals and can make a bad situation worse. In this dystopian world where current issues are exacerbated, it is not surprising that the police do not protect people. They take money from Bankole and they are often working for their own personal motives. I thought this was related to what was being discussed in the LA Podcast because with the pandemic, it’s being seen that there’s seemingly little care for the people in the care of police. The death rates in prisons have been publicized much less, and conditions are very seldom reported upon.
All in all, the LA Podcast tied in really well to my reading of Parable of the Sower. Getting better look into the goings on in the place that most likely inspired Butler, even if 20 years after it was written, was very beneficial. The politics and housing laws did not seem so different from where I’m from but gaining a different perspective on how similar issues affect different places was very informative.
One idea that strikes me when listening to L.A Podcast and thinking about Parable of the Sower is how everyone is supposed to stay inside as of right now and stay isolated in small groups and how as a community that was required of the people of Robledo for survival from danger. In the podcast, they discuss how the meatpacking facilities, along with medical care institutions are being hit hard by the Coronavirus. The idea of everyone having to be isolated is brought up in a broader fashion in the Parable of the Sower as the community having to be gated to keep out. We see a glimpse of why when a little girl named Amy Dunn gets shot through the gate. The residents of the town come together and practice shooting targets in order to prepare for any type of invasion from the robbers and drug addicts outside of the communities’ homes. Instead of this, we are combating using social distancing with the Coronavirus.
The community can be seen as an institutional setting, meaning that there is a limited amount of space within it. In L.A Podcast it is said that the people within these institutions have limited means of mobility, limited means of personal mobility, limited means to isolate. With the Coronavirus, the virus is spreading through all kinds of places that have a limited amount of space but house a lot of people. This makes them vulnerable for an attack from the virus because if one person brings it in it will spread like wildfire. One institution that has been affected in Los Angeles is a terminal island prison. According to L.A Podcast on May 4th in the 117th episode, “Karma’s a Beach”, it is said that the cases at this prison account for 620 of the 1,926 total cases seen in prisons in the United States. This is because of the limited amount of space given within the prison which is also seen with other institutions where the rapid spread of the virus is being seen in. This concern of being too close to each other can be seen within the community of Parable of the Sower. This is in the sense of being trapped if anything bad is to happen. For people in the institutions, they are essentially trapped because of the living conditions they are subject to; while the community is trapped because of the increasing threat from outside. Within the Parable of the Sower, there is an immense loss that the main character Lauren experiences including her family, and boyfriend at the time, Curtis, but the prison on terminal island has only had 5 deaths from the virus thus far.
Another thought that is brought up is the idea of fraud, this can be seen both in the housing crisis, the coronavirus that was discussed by L.A Podcast, and Parable of the Sower. Investopedia.com defines fraud as, “an intentionally deceptive action designed to provide the perpetrator with an unlawful gain or to deny a right to a victim.” With the coronavirus in full swing in the United States, there have been multiple ads to warn people to watch out for people attempting to commit fraud. They warn saying that often they will say their family member is sick and they are trying to get medicine which makes a time when a virus is spreading very susceptible to people attempting to scheme money from someone. This is essentially performing a deceptive action to better themselves or fraud, by keeping money for themselves when they said it was for something else.
Fraud can be seen within the housing crisis as well. In 2008, the housing market was led by corrupt bankers who were signing Triple-A loans on mortgages that they knew were going to fail. They would then go to Wall Street and bet on the failure of the mortgages that they already knew were going to fail. This, in turn, led to banking and investment companies making millions of dollars in fraud as they were betting when they already knew the outcome. This caused the American population to fall into debt as people had been given loans where the interest 2 to 3 years later rose to 6 percent. In turn, the recipient of the loan would not be able to pay it off making it a successful bet for the banker.
Fraud is also seen within the community of Robledo in the sense of robbery. In the novel, drug addicts and robbers begin to break into the gated community to steal from the people from within. The main goal in this is to receive an unlawful gain from their actions. The outside community can be seen through Lauren’s brother Keith who keeps venturing beyond the gate and gets into mischief. Keith is eventually killed outside the gated community of Robledo showing how rough the outside is. With the breakdown of the community, the robber and drug addicts take away the community member’s right to freedom and peace, forcing Lauren and others to move out. The fraudulent nature of the drug addicts and robbers, therefore, causes the breakdown of the community
Within the Parable of the Sower, L.A Podcast, and the housing crisis there are multiple ideas that are brought up. The Coronavirus and community both present a trap but have two different means of defense. As for the community, it’s defense is becoming more intelligent with the way they would defend their community; for everyone dealing with the Coronavirus it is social distancing. Fraud is also presented within each of these as the Parable of the Sower shows robber and drug addicts attempting to better themselves off by hurting and stealing from people within the community. A similar situation presents itself in the lives of many people today dealing with the Coronavirus as there is a constant threat of possibly being scammed because someone is taking advantage of a global disaster. The housing crisis bankers also committed fraud by knowing what was going to happen with loans that they were giving out and taking advantage of the fact that people of the American public would not be able to successfully pay them off. As seen, the unification of a community or the globe is essential when combatting a common enemy that threatens your home.
One of the most striking connections between Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and the 2008 housing crisis that churned in the back of my mind throughout the narrative was the noteworthy contrast between extreme apathy and extreme empathy seen in the different characters. In fact, all three situations in question, those being Parable of the Sower, the 2008 housing crisis, and the past few episodes of the L.A. Podcast regarding the coronavirus outbreak highlight the importance of empathy and expose what can occur if those in power act in their own interests. It is important to recognize how these three situations, although different in nature, all depict the crumbling of society and the complete apathy that allowed these disasters to occur.
The contrast between extreme empathy and apathy is most apparent in Butler’s Parable of the Sower, where Lauren suffers from a hyper empathy disorder. Her extreme sensitivity to others’ pain forces her to be consciously aware of others’ experiences and pushes her to avoid hurt at all costs. Lauren’s hyper empathy almost reminds me of a double-edged sword; and while she can more easily empathize with others and help them avoid pain, the disease also leaves her in a more vulnerable position than most others in society. When Bankole suggests that “it might not be so bad a thing if most people had to endure all the pain they caused”, Lauren reminds him that the disease can ultimately be a weakness (278). On the other hand, we get a short glimpse into Keith’s life as well, who leans toward the opposite side of the spectrum and is considered a sociopath by his sister. Considering the striking contrast between Lauren’s hyper empathy and the rest of the world’s (including Keith’s) apathy, we can begin to understand the significance of empathy in a world where society is falling apart. Keith’s eventual downfall and Lauren’s determination to survive highlights the necessity for empathy to ease conflict and reunite members of society.
The stark contrast between hyper empathy and apathy in the fictional Parable of the Sower truly reflects on the real world situations highlighted in the 2008 housing crisis and the coronavirus pandemic discussed in L.A Podcast over the past two months. In both situations, certain aspects of the government have acted with complete apathy for the suffering members of society and instead acted only in interest for their own profit. L.A Podcast details multiple situations in which the government and those in power have acted with complete apathy for the general public in both economic and humanitarian aspects. In the episode titled “I Wanna Lord Your Land”, they discuss the concepts of a “rent holiday” and the eviction moratorium that is currently in place in Los Angeles. While at the surface level it may seem as though the government is acting with empathy toward its citizens, a closer look at the policy reveals that the situation may end in tragedy when, in a few months, tenants still cannot pay rent to their landlords. Alissa Walker goes as far to suggest that after the moratorium halts, landlords will be looking for any reason to evict their tenants in search of a higher profit. The episode titled “Hotel It on the Mountain” touches on the homeless population in Los Angeles and how they have been forced out of tents and into more unsafe living conditions that were meant to shelter and protect individuals from COVID-19. In some cases, the state government is trying to push the homeless population into unoccupied hotel rooms, but have run into some trouble when trying to actually enforce this policy. Although the hotels would actually be receiving a rate between $80-90 per day for these homeless individuals to be housed in their rooms, hotel managers are hesitant to allow this in fear of a bad reputation to higher-end clients. Additionally, a more recent episode titled “While My Qatar Gently Weeps”, the hosts touch on the statistics of coronavirus cases in institutional settings, which has risen to 39%. The idea that individuals who are meant to be under the protection of a federal institution are actually at an exponentially higher risk for illness highlights the complete disregard and apathy towards the most vulnerable populations in society. I find myself thinking back to the very ending of Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, where Steve Eisman and Porter Collins sat on the cathedral steps and thought “it was like the world stopped. We’re looking at all these people and saying, ‘These people are either ruined or about to be ruined” (187). This scene mirrors the thoughts of those in power during these two situations in which society and the economy has completely shut down. The hardships faced by the general public are truly not felt by those in power, which often leads them to make apathetic decisions that are detrimental to society’s well-being.
It is comforting to note that throughout these periods of uncertainty and disaster, there are individuals or groups that act with empathy and try to bring aid to the situation. L.A Podcast highlights a few of these individuals with their “Miss Cov-geniality Awards” each week, where they bring light to those who are fighting for the rights of the general public. In the recent episode titled “While My Qatar Gently Weeps”, a list of public interest lawyers are credited with “[fighting] very hard and with a great deal of integrity to try and stop the city from waffling on its’ commitment to tenants”. In short, a group of public interest attorneys in Los Angeles have compiled a legal memorandum in support for tenant protections and have forced the moral integrity of the state government into question. In addition, Lauren brings empathy into Parable of the Sower by educating and spreading her thoughts about Earthseed to those who will listen. Both of these parties bring positivity to their situations and showcase the benefits of empathy to a society where many seem to severely lack the trait.
In Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower we get a protagonist full of hope and perseverance amid a crisis of failing government that has left herself and the general population without safe housing. She maintains her optimism and a fighting spirit through her religion called Earthseed. The Earthseed principles seem simple, just like Bankole asserted, for an Earthseed follower must “learn to shape god with forethought, care, and work; to educate and benefit their community, their family, and themselves; and to contribute to the fulfillment of the destiny” (261). The emphasis on a shared destiny is important, and probably foreign to most of the characters and to some readers. Lauren is only able to have hope through this religion: “what I am now, all that I am now is Earthseed” (262). Lauren’s commitment to Earthseed is special because she has become a devoted leader. Strong leadership is vital to religious and governmental operations. Poor presidential leadership can bring a whole nation down, as it has in Lauren’s world. Although Lauren’s dad was going to cast a ballot in the presidential election, Lauren reveals to us morale dissolving among her community residents, “he’s the only person I know who’s going to vote at all. Most people have given up on politicians…[who] have been promising to return us to the glory, wealth, and order to the twentieth-century” (20). Good leadership can be determined by the presence of ethos, pathos, and logos espoused by an individual, which are essential to revolutionary leaders such as Lauren.
L.A Podcast grapples with community grievances with local government through a perseverance and hope for change similar to Lauren’s theological principles. L.A Podcast hosts discuss topics such as the city’s budget, the unhoused population, and, more recently, the city’s preparedness for the Coronavirus pandemic. Underlying a majority of their discussion topics is the urgency to spread information to initiate change. In their episode “Hotel it On the Mount”, they discussed the city’s proposals and slow reaction to protect the most vulnerable population, those who are unhoused, from the effects of the Coronavirus. Flattening the curve must involve all the citizens to follow any mandates issued by governors, but it is far much easier for those who have a house to wait this storm out than for those without housing. In this episode, they discussed how the unhoused would be vulnerable to this virus because of sanitation access concerns and health concerns. The proposed solutions to address these concerns were brought up by county health officials who came up with the idea to implement sanitation stations. In this article by the LA Times, the hygiene stations could be taken away after a company employee was injured on the job by a needle. From the perspective of the company, the risk in upkeeping the stations, as shown by that incident, may not outweigh the benefits to the community. How can these hygiene stations not be seen as an investment for the community, especially when lives and the healthcare system would be affected?
The hygiene stations pit stops sound eerily like an invention in Octavia Butler’s novel, Parable of the Sower. Lauren, the daughter of a preacher, who lived in a walled-in cul-de-sac community has been expelled from her hometown of “Robeldo-20 miles from Los Angeles” (10). The hygiene stations of LA are called water stations in the novel. The water stations in the novel are important to Lauren and other unhoused travelers for their livelihood. Lauren’s father told her to never use them; rather, if she needed water, she should try with all her might to return home. That advice does not hold up once their community is burned to the ground. Lauren observes, though, that her dad’s advice is accurate, for water is valuable to “beggars and thieves who hang around such places” (201). The short supply of water makes it a commodity. Lauren and her traveling clan do not have the luxury, for the most part, to go elsewhere for water. They become familiar with the “commercial stations [that] let you draw whatever you pay for-and not a drop more- right out of their taps” (201). These water stations are more sophisticated than the sanitation stations in Los Angeles because these ones are permanent features to the landscape. Not to mention, the upkeep of the water stations in the novel are maintained. The fictional water stations have shower stalls, thus allowing Lauren to get a tub of water to rinse off. This, besides natural water features like lakes, gave her the only opportunity to bathe herself. Lauren recognizes the value of water, so when she observes a couple struggling with thieves, she intercedes on their behalf. The need to preserve herself is overridden in the moment, thus making her sense of common humanity stronger for herself and those around her. This is an instance when pathos is communicated to readers.
The need for the hygiene stations in the novel is to such a degree that police guards have to provide a watch for consumers. The presence of the police allowed Lauren and her clan to bathe and fill their water supply, but not all police officers create a safe atmosphere for the citizens. The police do not come to help Lauren’s community when it was set afire and ransacked. When Bankole discovers that his sister’s family was killed and her family’s home burned down, Lauren is reluctant to let him report the incident to the police. When Lauren relented and let him go, he had to be “careful to carry only what he thought would be enough to keep them sweet-tempered, but not enough to make them suspicious or greedier than they already were” (Butler 316). The distrust in the police to protect their safety extends to all areas of the characters’ lives. The high amount of crime shows how dysfunctional the society is. The high crime is unmitigated by the police force. When Lauren and her crew need to resupply at a store the guards on duty have their guns aimed at them as they shopped. Taking notice of their threatening position, the guards react first with laughter and then by remarking, “buy something or get the fuck out” (Butler 241). The police guard’s demeanor and actions are modeling the recklessness rampaging the city. These leaders of safety do not exemplify any traits that would show ethos, pathos, or logos.
Interestingly, L.A Podcast addresses issues they have noticed about the LA police department. In their episode, “While My Qatar Gently Weeps” they address the mayor’s proposed budget cuts. The new budget has city employees being dealt a ten percent furlough, that is except the LAPD. The departments receiving the cuts, as the host points out, are departments that need to be running at optimum efficiency given the crisis of a pandemic. In the novel, the nation and Los Angeles are dealing with a crisis itself with similar hardships that could manifest in our own time. Departments that are having to make cuts includes the department of aging, the department of workforce development, and the department of housing and investment. The LA police department, meanwhile, are not getting cuts. Crime rates are not usually down during recessions, and during this time the crime rate has gone down. Therefore, there is no justification in not cutting their salaries, or at least holding off raises until a better time. It is unfortunate that investment is not happening where it should be placed. The LA police department’s main job is not to care for the unhoused peoples or those who are unemployed, which is a major concern right now. The lack of foresight and sense of community trust seems to be rather weak when looking at this budget.
During their discussion on the budget, one of the hosts makes a disheartening, but probable point. The host stated and the others agreed that they sense there will be no pushback against the LAPD’s budget. Military force, or police force strength is discussed in Locke’s writings. In Octavia Butler’s novel, her content is applicable to Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. The similarities between the two texts makes it easy to have the two be in conversation with one another. First of all, Locke believes that man has natural reason, and that this natural reason manifests in citizenship rights and protections guaranteed by the government. The two main principles of natural reason are that it “aims at the peace and preservation of all mankind.” Locke’s section on absolute monarchies is intriguing in analyzing any form of government because of a topic he broached-policing and military strength. In this section, his prominent concern is for people’s safety at times when they may need to defend their natural rights. In this concern, he is asking if the military or police are there to really ensure the citizens safety or if they are there to subdue their wills. He states this predicament with a resonant statement, “subjects can appeal to the law and have judges to decide disputes and restrain violence among the subjects. Everyone thinks this to be necessary, and believes that anyone who threatens it should be thought a declared enemy to society and mankind.”
Locke’s cautionary thinking enabled him to understand that there is potential for police forces, or armed forces to become destructive to human nature. Another implied statement he makes is that sometimes the justice system and the police force fail the people, as it most often does for minorities. Lauren is a black woman, which are two things that endanger her. She attempts to disguise herself as a man to better secure her safety from predators. Not everyone feels protected or has trust in the police even to this day. People of color are also the ones who are more vulnerable to being unhoused disproportionately. The unhoused are not a bunch of criminals. Although L.A Podcast hosts joke about this absurd misconception, the fact that this misconception does exist is problematic.
This harmful misconception about unhoused individuals is challenged in Butler’s book, primarily through the main character. In the book, Lauren starts making the Eathseed community, which could have the potential to become a political community. Before Lauren’s group found land to settle on legally, they were unhoused and were squatters. The depictions of the unhoused before Lauren’s own expulsion, were plagued by misconceptions. One could think that all the unhoused were shameless thieves and murderers, but through Lauren’s perspective we turn these misconceptions on its head. This is done through Butler’s use of the modes of persuasion. Last week we had class postings on how trust is found in Butler’s novel, and Kelly P. brought into conversation something very interesting. In Kelly’s thought-provoking post, she proposed that readers can find trust in characters by applying the three modes of persuasion. These three tools include, ethos, pathos, and logos. Lauren’s character is able to fulfill each three modes of persuasion on her own, which makes her an appealing leader. Lauren’s character overwhelmingly supplies us with pathos through her hyperempathy syndrome. Ethos is fulfilled by Lauren’s satisfied qualifications as a religious leader, or any leader. Lauren’s past experience supporting her dad as a priest allowed her to gather insights and practice in leadership roles. Lastly, she is a good leader of the traveling group because she educated herself on surviving in the wilderness, which fulfills the logos requirement. The trust readers are able to develop with Lauren is special. People who are unhoused are in a vulnerable position, and without trust they would get nowhere. Our journey with Lauren provided us with tools to sympathize with those who are unhoused and expelled.
In the May 4th Episode of L.A Podcast, titled “Karma’s a Beach,” I found the section regarding the “slow street” efforts to relate to Parable of the Sower. A neighborhood community has decided that the implementation of a traffic restriction project would allow more space for walking which has become more popular during COVID-19. It would create a safer environment for those walking to avoid being within six feet of others along with staying out of the street which has cars driving on it. The effort is proposed by a wealthier neighborhood community for their own community.
In Parable of the Sower, Lauren’s community is not rich, but is definitely more well off than a lot of people during this chaos. They are privileged enough to have a wall around their community and enough sense of community to have a neighborhood council. The “Slow Streets” project was put on hold for the community with Mayor Garcetti of L.A. saying that he wants to wait until he can implement it city/county-wide.
I think that during pandemics and other crises it is important to check your privilege in a sense. It is easy to think vainly and focus on what you can do for yourself during these times versus doing things for other people. Other neighborhoods in L.A. without a neighborhood council or a gated community have less of a chance of advocating for their communities. It is not as easy for them to come together, especially during a time where trust is constantly questioned, to determine what can help their own community.
The point was made that perhaps so what if the wealthier neighborhood does this first; they can be more of a test to see how it can be for other neighborhoods without causing issues by implementing the program too quickly in all neighborhoods county-wide. In Parable of the Sower, we see this kind of implementation. Lauren’s father and the neighborhood council create their community. They used and obtained the resources they had to create it and run it. When she feels as though she has learned from their mistakes and their successes, Lauren leaves and slowly creates her own community with others who may not have survived. I have not read Parable of the Talents, but I can only assume it depicts how she leads Acorn.
L.A Podcast brings up the points that we need to question during the implementation of “Slow Streets” and other projects: Why are we doing this? And who are we doing this for? When Lauren’s father was leading the community, he was focused on keeping themselves safe. He did not worry about the people outside of the community. Lauren, on the other hand, was cautious but felt others’ pain and struggles. In my opinion, there is no one correct answer for implementing the “Slow Streets” project in an equitable sense. We need to constantly question “Why are we doing this?” and “Who are we doing this for?” to keep ourselves honest and check our privilege. I think we also need to ask ourselves when we do things to help ourselves whether we could help others in the process.
Parable of the Sower is about the seeds of a new life. In a world torn apart by climate change, economic crisis, and all but entire government failure, the novel ends with Lauren Olamina and the rest of Earthseed beginning Acorn, a home and a place for the future. However, just as Lauren and her companions sow the seeds of a good future, the seeds of a bad future can also be sown. Unfortunately, we can see the potential for that future today.
When we first began reading this novel, I pointed out how frighteningly familiar the text felt: the talk of going to school online and the fear of leaving the home felt like quarantine. However, even without the global crisis, Lauren’s dystopia seems more and more plausible. Dr. McCoy said that each time a class reads this book, they grow increasingly concerned about this being our future. And I think listening to the L.A Podcast has helped me to see the seeds of that bad future being sown even now.
The most obvious way that that is the case concerns the housing crisis in Los Angeles. I’ll be honest: I didn’t know that homelessness was such a big issue in L.A., and when the hosts brought it up the first week I listened, I thought, “Wow, that’s awesome; they happen to be talking about what my course is about!” The second time they brought it up, I thought, “Wait, is this podcast about specifically homeless issues?” And the third time I realized that homelessness was just that bad in L.A. that it was relevant every single week. Parable of the Sower asks how might a global catastrophe affect a world already plagued by housing insecure people? Unfortunately, the past few weeks have partially answered that question. Homeless people have been moved out of their tent cities “where they probably were six feet apart anyways,” one host quipped, and placed in temporary shelters. There is the potential for homeless people to move into the many, many empty hotel and motel rooms, but many hotel owners don’t want homeless people living there, for it would ruin the prestige of their establishments. Now, even as that program–Project Roomkey–has begun to be implemented, there is still a supposed lack of people to place in rooms, even as the hosts insist that they themselves can find many people who would like to be housed. Why doesn’t the city government just come in and seize those rooms, the hosts ask. The hosts have also mentioned Skid Row, the place where a lot of homeless people live; the idea that there is a spatial boundary between where there is homelessness and where there isn’t reminds me of the separation between Lauren’s community and the outside world.
Another way we can see the seeds of Lauren’s world being sown is in the LAPD. Now, I’d like to hope that the police are not as blatantly corrupt as they are in Parable of the Sower (though I suppose your answer to that depends on the color of your skin and your neighborhood’s average income); however, L.A Podcast still discusses where and if the police are helpful. For example, the most recent episode went into a lot of detail about how a lot of city workers are getting furloughed, but the LAPD’s overtime budget has increased. The idea is that there will be “cops on every corner to protect us.” Apparently, the Chief of Police said that when crime is up that it’s because the LAPD’s budget isn’t high enough and therefore they should get more money and that when crime is down it’s because that money is working and so they should get more. However, the hosts of L.A Podcast call attention to how incorrect some of these ideas are. For example, crime is massively down now, as it is in most global recessions.
Finally, though, the last idea I want to discuss is a kind of positive one. One thing readers saw a lot of in Parable of the Sower is the threatening elements of nature: both earthquakes and wildfires loom over the characters. They loom over Californians as well; in one episode, the hosts quipped that there’s probably going to be an earthquake this year based on the absolute nightmare of the year so far. In Parable of the Sower, the fear of fire is further exacerbated by the scarcity of water. However, luckily, that doesn’t seem to be a problem in California this year. Precipitation is up, so “maybe everything won’t be on fire this year.” Not to mention, my New York-based understanding of California is of a place mired by drought so much so that people can’t water their lawns or wash their cars. But gardening and washing your car were both on the list of recommended outdoor activities, so apparently, California isn’t facing quite the same degree of climate threat as Lauren and her companions are. So that’s good. Maybe this year has seen all its disasters, and things will get better.
As Earthseed begins and the future looks better for Lauren, I hope that a good seed is sown in real life too. I hope that the world doesn’t become the dystopia of Parable of the Sower. I hope homelessness is decreased in L.A. and around the world, and I hope people stay inside so coronavirus can cease infecting and killing. But each of those seeds take cultivation to grow, and I hope that the people responsible–whether police officers, landlords, city councillors, governors, mayors, or everyday citizens–have some empathy and do what is right by one another.
Parable of the Sower ties into various aspects of the LA podcast episodes that I listened to. The mere fact that the timeline within the novel almost runs parallel with the current timeline we are experiencing right now is eerie enough, but it’s pushed a step further when we as readers examine the events happening in Sower, and realize they are not too far off from what’s happening/could happen. ReferencingL.A Podcast from May 4th: Karma’s a Beach, the beginning of the talk revolves a lot around the prison system/other kinds of institutions and how they are being affected by COVID-19. Along with mentioning the detrimental effects the pandemic is having on a space that’s highly enclosed such as a prison, it also mentions the importance that the judicial system is putting on the continuation of constant incarceration to large degrees, even amongst everything that’s happening. “We need to put people away, and if they lose their lives well, too bad” (L.A Podcastmaking reference to the judicial system). It’s no secret that the prison system is designed to embody a rigid, and unyielding structure that lacks rehabilitation, and targets certain demographics of people. This is mirrored throughout Parable, as we see the aspects of this society Butler created unfold, and the suffocating feeling that Lauren has when she thinks about the slim chances of escaping the destiny attached to the life given to her.
When it comes to expulsion, in relation to Parable of the Sower, it seems to carry with it a different feeling than the one it has when we relate it to the past novels we have read. Lauren wants to expel herself from the situation that she has grown up with her whole life and she wants to expel her mind of everything she grew up knowing in order to create room for the ever growing ideas she has about earthseed. Yet, this all proves to be quite difficult. Leaving Lauren’s physical lifestyle is almost a reflection of trying to break the prison systems mentioned in L.A Podcast; it is the rigid structure used to cage people in for multiple reasons, because to those doing the caging these people’s lives are of less value than their own. “Embrace diversity. Unite- or be divided, robbed, ruled, killed. By those who see you as prey. Embrace diversity or be destroyed” (196). When it comes to Lauren’s wishes to expel her mind from ideas that she grew up with, ones that she feels she can no longer receive clarity from, this is also hindered by an unmoving structure of sorts. Her community heavily relies on certain religious practices and beliefs, sometimes there is nothing wrong with that, but Lauren sees these beliefs and practices as things that have become stagnant and provide people a level of comfort that is ultimately inhibiting them to dodge growth.
Butler highlights painful concepts within Parable of the Sower, as does L.A Podcast. It hurts to hear them and it hurts to know that our world works like this. However, a lack of exposure to these concepts only feeds the machine that plays off the benefits it gains from our ignorance. Like the big bankers in The Big Short using their knowledge of their clients lack of knowledge, this power dynamic occurs in many areas of life. To expel our world of hatred, we must first fill our minds with the awareness that it occurs, has been occuring, and will keep occuring unless we shape the mindset of us as a unified people. It is an arduous task, and like we have seen through many of our readings, people like The Turner family, Florens, Sorrow, and various characters in Parable of the Sower, are targeted so strongly and are seen as disposable and replaceable. Throughout our readings expulsion has been associated with people being forced from their homes, expelled from the ability to reach equal status; yet we must flip this connotation with expulsion. We must expel old ideas, just as Lauren is, that drag society down allowing the ego-driven beast to prevail, which ultimately prevents love from being the primary source of all action. We must expel hatred, superiority, and a feeling that precious things are merely detached from our own personal lives, thus deeming them disposable.
Reading Parable of the Sower and listening to L.A Podcast at the same time often felt like I was gaining perspective on the same world through two different media. The homelessness crisis in Los Angeles compounded by COVID-19 bears striking similarities to the post-apocalyptic California we read about in Butler’s novel. I was particularly interested in portrayals of the poor and homeless, the search for a sustainable home, and the power of elites.
As Lauren Oya Olamina’s neighborhood burns and her life changes forever, we face a pandemic crisis unparalleled in recent decades. Los Angeles and Sower-America are both in times of catastrophe. Unemployment, homelessness and poverty are all present in both settings. We tend to demonize the poor, to avoid them. In the beginning of the novel the neighbors of Olamina’s gated community do the same. I recall the passage when the children leave the walls to have their communions, and how Lauren distrusts those outside her community. Olamina gains more understanding and empathy throughout her journey. Parable of the Sower shows what humans might be capable of when pushed into the most extreme survival situations. Olamina and her tribe encounter the weak, helpless, evil, violent, greedy, kind, and loyal. L.A.’s politicians are enacting policies that make being poor and vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis harder. Consider the inmates at Terminal Island, mentioned during the “Karma’s a Beach” episode. Six hundred prisoners contracted COVID-19 because of inability to social distance. America has an obsession with “earning it,” and homelessness is often pointed to as evidence of laziness or inferiority. But as we can see in both Parable and in L.A., you are never entirely in control of your situation. God is change. The only thing we can do when faced with crises is determine how we react, and even this does not guarantee us safety or happiness.
Along the way, Olamina seems to constantly be defining what is necessary to call something a home. Community, security, access to water, ability to grow sufficient and healthy food, all are things gained when you have a home. More than that, homes are like anchors, providing stability and peace of mind. Throughout the book Olamina and her companions make many shelters, but they finally find a home when they can carve out a space for themselves, free from threats. A recurring subject on L.A Podcast was the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles. People deserve a home, more importantly a sustainable home. This means equitable access to resources like water, food, and energy. All three are hot commodities in the apocalypse, because of their necessity.
In both L.A Podcast and Parable, elites are mentioned. People with power, ability to affect change. I felt my stomach drop during “ICE Budget Challenge” when the hosts brought up the police and fire unions being the two most powerful unions in L.A., or any city for that matter. Because of the COVID-19 virus, government employees are getting laid off and taking pay cuts, except for the police and firefighters, who have gotten raises and received no budget cuts. Policing is then used in L.A. to target homeless and poor, and there happen to be a lot of them now. The hosts point out, there is no correlation between increased policing hours and crime reduction. The politicians too, in L.A., don’t seem to care at all about responding to this crisis at all, which presents an opportunity to expose the flaws in our system and rethink social welfare and city planning. Now look at those with power in Parable. Towns like Olivar, which restrict families to small apartments and retain sole control over security forces. President Donnar, encouraging people to become indentured servants to factories. The police and fire brigades, never actually solving crimes or saving houses from fires, instead taking advantage of the helpless.
Sometimes I would read Parable while having the podcast on in the background, and I swear themes would align all the time. I’d be reading about an earthquake resulting in massive riots and violence and then listening to stories about how COVID-19 is destroying people’s lives across the country. What kind of system perpetuates its own power at the expense of its constituents? These are upsetting times, but moments of connection brighten the mood. The community surrounding Olamina of good people reminded me of the importance of friends and family during extreme events. Olamina’s drive to live by her own rules, to be responsible for both herself, her environment, and her family inspires me. I’ve always liked stories where people return to living off the land. When I was little I’d read books like Swiss Family Robinson and My Side of the Mountain. Lately, along with reading this book, I’ve been watching videos on transforming vans or buses into mobile homes, or people making their own off-the-grid tiny homes and growing their food and collecting their own water and dealing with their own waste. Admittedly it’s an increasingly appealing lifestyle as graduation approaches.
When homing in on the course concepts for this class, as well as L.A Podcast, the connections that can be drawn to Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower becomes quite clear. One of the immediate connections I made to the course concept of expulsion was in the interpretation of the people who live outside the wall of Lauren’s community. Despite the inherently negative connotation associated with these individuals, looking beyond the narrator’s point of view, it is best to try and draw upon Lauren’s hyper empathy in our understandings and perspectives of these individuals. Although it is easy to equate them as thieves and murderers, their main drive for their actions is due to the fact that they have been expelled from the community. If we take on a different perspective of these characters, it may be important to redefine our interpretation and look upon these individuals as people in search and desire for refuge. In relation to L.A Podcast, it may be important to reflect upon the perspectives of the homeless as well, as they are sometimes equated to these labels. Although these individuals are acting out in this manner, it may be important to reflect upon what drives their actions to do so. Also looking at L.A Podcast and the novel, it may also be important to focus on Olivar, the community developed for refuge in the novel.
In the novel, the new community for refuge, Olivar, is extremely controversial. Some individuals, such as Lauren’s friends Joanne and her family support such movements as the center offers safety and a place for refuge; however, others view it as the opposite. Lauren, her father, as well as Harry, are just some of the few who develop this negative connotation towards Olivar. Giving up their personal freedom to live in Olivar for these character’s would equate to slavery in their eyes. Reflecting on this belief, there are connections to be made about today’s current state of the world as many of us give up personal freedom for safety. Although many are reacting in a positive manner, as seen in the news and discussed in L.A Podcast, many are protesting against such actions, and the give and take for personal safety becomes questionable. In our world today, we can, therefore, see how the course concept of trust arises in response to the expulsion of these liberties.
Looking at a different vantage point of Olivar in the novel, I think there are also connections to be made between Olivar and the modern world. As discussed in L.A Podcast, Project Roomkey is becoming an important movement in Los Angeles. This movement offers free hotel room space in Los Angeles as a place for refuge for the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Olivar is set up for individuals who are more well-off in the novel, it is interesting to draw a connection towards their similarities as both offer a sense of security and homage as well as both places also being run by those above whether it be corporations or the government. Similar to Olivar, there are controversies over the Project Roomkey movement and also their ability to house in response to the demand. It is interesting to see the competition and accessibility of these hotel rooms be equated towards the competition for rooms in the fictional community and how expulsion and the housing crisis serve as a connecting point between these.
While listening to L.A Podcast, there is also a question of expulsion and housing crisis in regards to the response of landlords during COVID-19. The inherent inability to trust that individuals will be able to pay their rent during the crisis is pushing for movements to put a pause on these demands at the moment. With this security net, individuals will be offered safety and refuge during this time. If not, there will be an influx of issues that arise as a result, including empty properties and the chaos to have access to essentials, such as running water and paying for food. In comparison to Lauren’s community, these arising issues are quite similar to what we see the individuals in the novel struggle with. It would be interesting to see how the application of Lauren’s hyperempathy would adjust perspectives of landlords if they could understand their renter’s feelings.
After reading the novel Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, the course concept of expulsion is more evident than ever. It was a brilliant idea to end this course with reading Parable of the Sower because we leave with the idea that expelling people out of their homes has the potential of creating a complete dystopian society. This was a very possible ending to the housing crisis of 2008, which should be a rude awakening for the world in which we live in. In 2008, families were forced out of their homes as their world figuratively blew up in flames. Bankers, mortgage dealers, and CEO’s are the pyromaniacs and addicts in Parable of the Sower. These bankers, mortgage dealers and CEO’S became so addicted to making money despite the crime they were convinced that expelling innocent families from their homes and robbing them of everything that they own did not matter. These pyromaniacs in the novel are just like these bankers; they were addicted to the adrenaline of literally torching peoples homes and setting their lives earnings into flames that the crime and potential consequences were ignored. Parable of the Sower literally took the figurative of the housing crisis and displayed an ending we hope to never see, which is the loss of hope, family and community. Greed, addiction, segregation, and corruption of the law were evident throughout the novel and a perfect way to characterize the Financial Housing Crisis of 2008.
At the end of the novel, the individuals, a part of Lauren’s group and those converted to Earthseed, decide to rename their community “Acorn”. On page 328, Butler writes, “Then we buried our dead and planted oak trees. Afterward, we sat together and talked and ate a meal and decided to call this place Acorn”. When thinking of the literal acorn grown of oak trees, I think of its importance to animal life and especially squirrels. One single acorn can make the difference between survival or death throughout the winter. If you’ve watched the film “Ice Age”, then you really should know this information.
After reading the ending of the novel, I decided to do some research on acorns and what they represent in a variety of contexts, other than a source of food. According to Symbolism Wiki, acorns symbolize potential and strength. This can also be seen in the new community in the novel because the characters had to be resilient, hopeful and strong despite the expulsion and loss they endured. There is another perspective on the symbolization of acorns given to us by the Nordic and Celtic people. They said that the acorn symbolizes fertility and immortality. Let’s first grapple with the symbolization of fertility or being fertile. Merriam Webster defines fertile as “capable of growing or developing” in the context of human reproduction as well as plant growth. When thinking about the novel, the naming of Acorn, although cliché, is also very appropriate. By planting oak trees in their newly founded community, they are assuming that the soil is fertile enough to grow and develop these trees. However, there is the potential and strength within this land that keeps the morals high and the hope for a better life. This symbolization of Acorns being fertile can also be connected to the families in the housing crisis because they thought that the homes they were placing mortgages on and moving into would give their families potential for a better life and made it capable for them to grow and develop.
The Nordic and Celtic groups gave another symbol to the acorn, which was immortality. Immortality is something that many films and novels grapple with because it often leads to life lessons. Many characters in these works of literature seek immortality because no danger can ever threaten them. However, the hard truth is that no one is immortal and we all face common dangers that are life threatening. Today, we are facing a common threat, the Coronavirus. At first, the world was put into quarantine that was followed by shock and fear. Although I cannot find the direct source, I read an interesting post on Instagram. The post basically said that the coronavirus is not biased or racist, it will find you and it will get you no matter who you are. This was such a shocking statement to me because it goes along with thinking we are immortal; if you think you can survive this virus and put yourself into danger, you are toying with death.
In the May 4th L.A Podcast, the hosts go back and forth when discussing residents partying on the L.A beaches despite the calls for social distancing and quarantine. In contrast to the 2008 housing crisis where families were expelled from their homes, our world is facing something we have never seen before. Every family in every country is being expelled from the rest of the world other than the safety of their home- if they have a place to call a home. Therefore, it is fair to say that the residents who are partying on the beaches and protesting the quarantine think they are immortal and cannot be affected by the virus. The other definitions of “acorn” seemed to be very positive, however this symbolization of acorn can be viewed as a very negative thing. The bankers in the 2008 housing crisis and the criminals in Parable of the Sower all thought they were immortal and untouchable; this we know is untrue. Therefore, by naming their community “Acorn” in Parable of the Sower, they are showing strength, potential, and fertility. However they are also engaging in a moral risk of thinking they are immortal. In this community, if they become too comfortable and naive to the dangers in the world they live in, their community can fall and expulsion will be a cyclical pattern in their lives forever.
After reading Megan Ander’s post that deals a lot with risk, both in the novel and in recent events, we see both the advantages and disadvantages of taking risks. Megan explains how hotels and motels and refraining from taking the risk in sheltering homeless people. They say it can hurt their reputation, their insurance, their business. But is any of this stuff more important than flattening the curve and essentially saving lives? We also see this risk in Parable of the Sower, where the main character Lauren takes innocent people into their nomadic community for a sense of safety and shelter. The risk is that these “innocent people” may not be who she thinks they are, but at least she took the chance on someone and gave them hope. We have to hope that our world will take the risk and change; change for the better, change for faith in humanity, and change for our future generations.
On Monday, May 5th, L.A Podcast released an episode entitled “Karma’s a Beach.” In this episode, the hosts discuss how Davon Brown, along with Street Watch L.A. seized a vacant room at The Ritz-Carlton in downtown Los Angeles. Brown, a homeless man, entered the hotel and asked for a tour. Once he was shown a room, Brown and activists from Street Watch L.A. commandeered the room. Their goal is to get more hotel rooms available for Project Roomkey. The idea of Project Roomkey is to help unhoused people move into vacant hotel rooms in order to protect them from COVID-19. After listening to this episode of the L.A. Podcast, I reread the ending sections of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower with the importance of advocacy in mind.
In the context of the vital role of advocates in expulsion and the housing crisis, a topic which L.A Podcastdiscusses in nearly every episode, my rereading of Parable of the Sower brought me to new conclusions. This mindset interested me in Lauren Olamina’s role as an advocate for the expelled and unhoused members of her group. Lauren, like Devon Brown, is unhoused; both Lauren, Butler’s fictional narrator, and Brown, a real L.A. homeless man, focus on not only improving their own situation, but helping others. This comparison helped me to see Lauren in a new light, and made me trust her more as a character and a narrator.
Once Lauren finds out that Bankole has “a safe haven—or as safe as any haven can be that isn’t surrounded by high-tech security devices and armed guards” she could have left her group behind and only housed herself. Instead, Lauren tells Bankole that she will only go with him to his property if the rest of the group can also come along. In response to her demand, Bankole inquires: “‘You need me to take you and all your friends off the street so you can start a church.’” Lauren confirms that this is indeed the case, stating “‘That or nothing.’”
Initially, when I read this section, prior to listening to L.A Podcast, it seemed to me that Earthseed was Lauren’s priority; however, after listening to theL.A Podcastand rereading the novel’s ending, it became clear to me that her fellow expulsed people are her priority. Lauren introduces her group to Earthseed, but never explicitly forces them to convert. Therefore, Lauren simply wants to bring the group to Bankole’s “safe haven” in order to provide them with potential housing. She hopes that an Earthseed community will develop from their settlement of Bankole’s land, but providing her friends with housing is not contingent on their conversion to Earthseed. It is in this way that I see Lauren as an advocate.
By reading Parable of the Sower in the context of the importance of advocacy in expulsion and the housing crisis as discussed on L.A Podcast, it is clear that Lauren can be considered an advocate. She convinces Bankole to take the rest of their unhoused group to his land because she wants them to be safe. She potentially risked her place at Bankole’s property in order to ensure her friends would have a safe place to live. Devan Brown, as mentioned on L.A Podcast, seemed similarly selfless in his motives. Occupying a room at The Ritz-Carlton was risky, but Brown and Street Watch L.A. put themselves at risk to advance the mission of Project Roomkey and help other homeless L.A. residents. In the examples of both Lauren and Devan Brown, they risk their situation to advocate for housing for other people. Therefore, rereading Parable of the Sower with the context of the issues of expulsion and the housing crisis with which L.A Podcast grapples allowed me to view Lauren as an advocate for the homeless.
Over the past decade in the United States, police brutality has been a point of contention. Parable of the Sower was published in 1993, a year after the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, which were sparked when four white police officers were acquitted from beating black motorist, Rodney King, in March of 1991. The prosecution had video evidence of the beatings, but the officers were still acquitted despite leaving King with permanent brain damage and a fractured skull. Thousands of frustrated protesters began rioting in the streets hours after the verdicts were announced.
I believe the brutal beating of Rodney King and the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 partially inspired how Butler crafts the relationship between people and police in her novel. An NPR article “When LA Erupted in Anger: A Look Back at the Rodney King Riots” describes the initial shock people felt when the officers were acquitted. Journalists Anjuli Sastry and Karen Grigsby Bates write, “Los Angeles Police Department officers then kicked him repeatedly and beat him with batons for a reported 15 minutes. The video showed that more than a dozen cops stood by, watching and commenting on the beating,” which revealed a disturbing bystander effect among the officers. This reminded me of the diffusion of responsibility we observed with the 2008 financial crisis. The people who were writing bad mortgages and loans were often separated from the consequences of their actions. It also contextualizes the general distrust of the police the characters feel in Parable of the Sower. Dozens watched as four officers mercilessly beat King, and then the LAPD faced no consequences. The four accused were acquitted and the bystanders faced no repercussions.
In Sower, the distrust of police is made clear after the group reaches Bankole’s land only to find out that it was burned and his family is dead. Bankole wants to go to the police, but Lauren advises him not to under the pretense that they would likely steal from him, which they did, and possibly arrest him. Lauren questions, “I wonder what you have to do to become a cop. I wonder what a badge is, other than a license to steal” (316). In this instance, Lauren is emphasizing how cops use their authority to break the very laws they’re supposed to be enforcing. The savage beating of Rodney King is a real-life example of police using their authority to break the law–while being watched by a dozen other officers who failed to intervene—and get away with it. This instance indicates that something is broken in our law enforcement system. Something was broken when Butler published this novel in the early ’90s, and it is still broken today.
Now, in 2020, we are witnessing another abuse of power made possible by powerful police unions. It is the misappropriation of taxpayer money. This week’s episode of L.A Podcast focuses on how the city will manage its budget now that we are facing a looming recession in the wake of COVID-19. The hosts explain how the LAPD is the only department that did not see any budget cuts. Cops received a pay raise for working during the pandemic, while other services dedicated to cleanliness experienced cuts. Considering that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, It would be more practical to fund cleaning services, food programs, and services for people without homes. Why are the police being given raises—funded by taxpayer money—while other people are being laid off and told to live off of $1,200 for the next several months? According to The LA Times, the pandemic has caused crime rates to fall sharply. I would argue, based on this statistic alone, that cuts should be made to the LAPD, and budgets expanded for departments that provide food and cleaning services. This, along with Rodney King’s case, led me to question whether police unions have too much influence. These budgetary decisions benefit police unions more than the general public, which indicates that they are dangerously powerful. This power must be checked because it enables some to abuse their authority, which can create a scenario–similar to that in Parable of the Sower— where the trust between the public and police is broken completely.
I’m not writing this because I dislike the police. There are good cops, and cops who abuse their power. We will never be able to generalize and say that all cops fit into one category or the other. I’m writing this because I think police unions have too much power and need to be checked.
What stuck with me from Parable of the Sower was the importance of community. In the beginning, Lauren had every intention of heading north alone, and staying alone for the whole journey. Lauren is someone who suffers from hyper empathy. At one point in the book Lauren mused that if everyone had hyper empathy then people may treat each other with more kindness and respect, but since only a select few are born with the ability, Lauren and the others who have it must suffer from the pain that everyone feels around them. This is why it would make sense for Lauren to want to isolate herself from others, yet she chose to travel with Harry and Zahra. She even accepted many more members into her group in the hopes of building a community that she could teach Earthseed to. Although initially desiring to be alone, Lauren’s kindness and her faith in her own belief of Earthseed allowed her to open her heart to more people, even with the risk of them causing her pain (which they did). Lauren accepted the pain in exchange for the support of a community that she could trust and depend on. Everyone in this Earthseed community was expelled from somewhere at least once, more often multiple times. For example, Lauren’s, Harry’s, and Zahra’s expulsion was driven by a fire that allowed outsiders to destroy their home community. I think part of why Lauren allowed more people to join her group was because she understood that she could not fulfill her purpose in life alone. She wrote herself, “Belief / Initiates and guides action.” Lauren dreams of a better future, and her solution is to leave Earth and “take root among the stars.”
The Parable of the Sower is frightening because the state of Lauren’s world seems like a feasible result of how we are currently living in our own world. So many of us are disconnected, and expelled, through things such as the 2008 housing crisis, income inequality, climate change, systemic racism, and most recently, the coronavirus. To me, it feels as though many people think in terms of what can benefit themselves instead of what can benefit everyone together. They lack empathy. Lauren lives in a world where it really is “every man for himself” but I hope that we (inhabitants of Earth) do not have to live this way. We should care for one another, and for our home, Earth. I want to have hope for a better future, as Lauren does. I do not want to succumb to pessimism, as Bankole does when at the end of the novel he tells Lauren “I don’t think we have a hope in hell of succeeding here.” Although I can see how easy that might be when there are so many people in the world that seem insistent on destroying our world instead of saving it. I mean this in terms of how we treat each other, and our planet. Lauren believes that we are all subject to Change, but that we can shape it, and that “Kindness eases Change.” What I took from this is that while it’s hard to handle change alone, if we band together with kindness we can shape the way that our world changes so that it changes for the better, and not for the worse. This is why community was so important to Lauren, and why it should be valued in our world too.
I have gathered this same message of the value of community from listening to L.A Podcast. In this Podcast, Hayes Davenport, Scott Frazier, and Alissa Walker talk about the issues that Los Angeles faces. It is clear to me from listening to them that even though awful things happen in Los Angeles and to Los Angeles, they still care about it a whole lot. They want to shape the change in L.A. for the better, and by sharing their thoughts and efforts through podcast form they are fostering a community that can help them shape the world into a better place. Even though there is so much in our world that needs to be fixed, it is better to fight for change together instead of giving up alone.
In L.A Podcast, the hosts talked about “false hope” regarding tenant protections. Specifically, they emphasized their concern that none of the tenant protections were passed except for rent freeze. There are a lot of uncertainties for tenants right now because many people do not have jobs and are unsure how to pay the rent, especially once the rent is unfrozen. That sense of uncertainty regarding expulsions is also apparent in Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Lauren, for example, has trouble getting the insurance company to pay for her father due to the absence of his salary. The insurance company “isn’t going to pay – or not for a long time. Its people chose not to believe that Dad is dead. Without proof he can’t be declared dead legally for seven years. Can they hold on to our money for that long? I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me.” This idea of being forced to put – often unmerited – trust in the hands of specific agencies has become extremely relevant during the coronavirus outbreak. Many banks initially refused to help businesses that had not previously taken out loans with them. Additionally, many people have had difficulty filing for unemployment, and even after filing, still do not have access to these funds. Even with the stimulus checks, people had difficulty getting checks, while some spouses of the deceased reported getting checks for them in the mail. The book, along with L.A Podcast, appear to be asking one simple question: what do you do when the only source of help is unprepared or unwilling to do so?
Another great point that L.A Podcast brought up was that 40% of people dying did so in institutional settings in L.A. county. Although these nursing homes should have been a place of shelter, due to mismanagement, the state was not testing people for coronavirus before putting them into nursing homes, causing the illness to spread within their boundaries. Had they been closed off, the elderly people of the nursing homes would have been safe. Similarly, Lauren’s gated community, while initially a place of shelter, ends up becoming a target of theft and murder. Zahra acknowledges this when she says, “I didn’t believe we would be allowed to sit behind our walls, looking clean and fat and rich to the hungry, thirsty, homeless, jobless, filthy people outside.” Clearly, both L.A Podcast and Butler make an effort to describe how mismanagement, whether from the government or private agencies, can lead to homelessness and affect the lives of the vulnerable.
One place I noticed that the podcast diverted from similarities with Butler’s text was regarding their theory of crime rates in a recession. During the podcast, the hosts bashed the authorities in the L.A. area, including the conservative government on the L.A. board. They also spoke against the Los Angeles Police Department, who were up for a salary increase this year. The hosts advocated that the Los Angeles Police Department should not get a salary increase this year and should instead take the same salary as last year. Additionally, they argued that the money should instead go to the struggling people of Los Angeles, such as small business owners and tenants. They backed up this assertion with the claim that crime goes down during a recession, so the police officers are less needed. Additionally, they seemed to believe that the police were inherently destructive, perhaps due to previous clashes between armed officers and unarmed citizens. However, Butler’s book, which was a work of fiction, offered an entirely different interpretation of what crime looks like in the face of an expulsion pandemic. According to Butler’s more critical take on humanity, desperate people resort to crime. This can be seen during her descriptions of the water stations, which are scarce and, consequently, prone to crime. According to Lauren, “There aren’t enough water stations. That’s why water peddlers exist. Also, water stations are dangerous places. People going in have money. People coming out have water, which is as good as money. Beggars and thieves hang around such places – keeping the whores and drug dealers money.” While the hosts of the podcast seemed to focus more on policy, and not actions, Butler places an emphasis on how policy can affect an individual’s actions, and the ways that they protect themselves and their loved ones.
Despite this, Butler still attaches the sentiment of hope to Lauren’s narrative. This is explicitly seen on August 15, 2027 in the text, when Lauren reiterates her conceptualization of Earthseed, a religion that emphasizes the idea that once humans shape themselves to these standards, they can save themselves. Just like how the hosts of L.A Podcast talk about what they would want in their ideal society, Lauren describes her dream place. According to Lauren, “It might be possible to find such an isolated place along the coast, and make a deal with the inhabitants. If there were a few more of us, and if we were better armed, we might provide security in exchange for living room. We might also provide education plus reading and writing services to adult illiterates…” Earthseed is a society that supports everyone within it. What keeps Lauren fighting is the hope for this society that helps people and their neighbors and is based on trust, instead of a society where people struggle to provide themselves with the resources they need to succeed.
I saw someone share a post on social media and I wish there was someone I could source, but it said “We are not all in the same boat, but we are in the same storm”. I thought that truly applied not only to the current crisis we’re facing that L.A Podcast has been discussing the past several episodes, but also the crisis that Lauren and her community face in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. In thinking about the two different crises, it makes me remember one of the first things we discussed at the beginning of the semester after watching The Old Man and the Storm, not everyone experiences the same thing in the same way.
In L.A Podcast, one of the more frequently discussed topics amid the current crisis is how the “Safer at Home” orders in Los Angeles impact those who are unhoused. Unhoused people don’t have a place they can truly call home, so how are they expected to seek shelter in order to stay safe? The hosts of the podcast have cited how city officials have been trying (although not at the greatest capacity they could) to move unhoused people into hotels, but there is some distrust within that relationship. In the episode titled “SoCal Distancing”, Alissa said, “There’s been that level of trust that has been squandered when it comes to saying we want to give you shelter because some people are saying they don’t trust our city leaders or outreach people”. It’s hard to gain trust from people that feel as though you have not done anything for them in the past proving that you are deserving of that trust. Trust is a two way street and while city officials may think they have those that are unhoused best interest in mind, they have to keep the other party’s experiences in mind during this crisis. City officials have a home to return to when the crisis is “over”, but the unhoused do not. What happens after? Are they expected to return back to the streets? Readers see this struggle with trust amid a crisis in Parable of the Sower through the relationship Lauren experiences with the police. When Lauren is on her own after her community is destroyed and is trying to escape to safety, she explains how she only trusts herself to protect her rather than the police as they had not done anything prior to prove that they are deserving of that trust. In earlier chapters, she explains that the whole reason her family uses guns is because of this distrust. This lack of trust in the police occurs again when Bankole seeks answers for what happened to his sister and her family. Lauren describes her thoughts on Bankole going to them for these answers by saying, “They were or professed to be, sheriff’s deputies, I wonder what you have to do to become a cop. I wonder what a badge is, other than a license to steal. What did it used to be to make people Bankole’s age want to trust it” (Butler 300). Here we see how different experiences have shaped Lauren’s narrative on police. While she does not trust the police, Bankole does as he’s older and remembers a time in which he could. We also see how differently people who have the title of police officers versus those who are civilians, experience the crisis they are living in as Lauren believes police officers have an advantage in which they can steal from civilians. They may both be living through the same crisis aiming for survival, but their experiences differ within it because of these titles. This reminds me of how different my experience is of the current crisis compared to those who carry the title of being considered essential workers like medical professionals and grocery store employees to name a couple. I am able to stay within the safety of my home, but essential workers cannot as they are needed and are on the frontlines in hospitals or grocery stores helping people. Our experiences of this time are different and we are not on the same boat in this storm.
Another common topic of discussion among episodes of L.A Podcast is access to relief from the stimulus bill that Congress had passed several weeks ago. Not everyone had access to a stimulus check despite paying taxes because they are undocumented or their business is cash only, therefore it did not qualify for the small business loan. People were forgotten/excluded in the bill, so this is eye opening when thinking about who gets included and excluded to materials and resources and for what reasons. People’s experience with the stimulus package(s) as a result of the crisis were not the same. This makes me think about the “us versus them” mindset that Kelly talked about in a previous discussion forum in reference to those within the gates of Lauren’s community and those outside. Kelly talked about how not only were the gates a physical barrier, but also a collective mindset serving as a barrier. While in her gated community Lauren and her community were strict on keeping outsiders away from their resources and materials, but once the community was destroyed and Lauren was on her own, on her way toward creating her own community, she was inclusive and took in new people when she felt she could trust them. She recognized when other people needed help in order to survive such as mother and daughter, Emery and Tori Solis, and provided them with access to food and safety. She would make comments about how Harry and Zahra would question her in taking on new people, but she still knew she was doing the right thing. On this note, I was inspired when the L.A Podcast discussed what the State of California was doing in using their disaster relief fund to compensate for those who were excluded in the federal stimulus bill as they mentioned specifically in L.A. that approximately 10% of the labor force is undocumented.
As we continue to live through the current COVID-19 crisis and face its effects, we must remember that although collectively we are all going through it, we are not going through it in the same way. We are all on different boats in this storm just as the characters in Butler’s Parable of the Sower all brought different backgrounds and experiences with them throughout the crisis she writes about in her novel. Even though we are all on different boats, we still must continue to support one another in order to get through the crisis together just as Lauren and her new community Acorn do when Butler leaves us at the end of the novel.
While reading Parable of the Sower, and listening to L.A Podcast, there were a few things that stood out to me, that had me stop and question, and think. What stood out to me first was the lack of police support in the community within Parable of the Sower. It shocked me, although I felt like it shouldn’t have. I was surprised and curious about how the police force got to that state in the book, as being unresponsive, and not to be trusted. I personally have a hard time understanding where I fall in the realms of pro or con police. I realize and have only positive experiences with the police in my hometown of Canandaigua, NY, and also within the city of Rochester. I would go into the inner city, with Flower City work camp and tell the community about God and do a mini Vacation Bible School. The police did extra laps in areas we were in, due to locations being at high risk for gun violence. They were around to protect. Contrasting those experiences, I am understanding more and more about police being not supportive of people of different colors. While listening to L.A Podcast, “While my Qatar Quietly Weeps,” and previous episodes, they highlighted the abundance of funds that are given to the police, instead of other organizations, and how it just goes to increase pay. L.A. Podcast was trying to understand why, and how come they just keep getting more funds, and they claim that crimes actually tend to go down in recession/ pandemic times. Police officers do put themselves on the front line and deserve to be paid, but to what extent is an amount too much?
Within Parable of the Sower, Lauren Olamina and her group were walking away from a small town that had been set on fire, and Natividad (group member) said, ” I wish we could call the police- whoever the police are around here. The householders back there should call.” Then Lauren said, ” They wouldn’t do any good.” This is just one scene where the police were mentioned and then shot down because they are “no good”. I just kept thinking about how a society gets to a point where not even the police show up to the devastation. It makes me wonder if everyone has become so lawless, and trust overall has been so destroyed if that results in the poor police force. There was another scene where Lauren and her following were entering a new town, Salinas, and it was lined with police with automatic weapons. “Some of the guards were well trained- or they were almost as power-drunk as the scavengers.” This part of the text was jarring in the sense of trying to understand police officers to be “power-drunk”. I was looking at the LAPD website and came across their qualifications and rules the police need to follow. I have never looked at something like this before, and it mentioned the process that new police officers have to go through. I then thought, do older police members have to be re-interviewed every time that rules change? Nowadays to become a police officer there is a psychological investigation done on the candidate. I think it would be smart for older officers to go through the changed or updated evaluations, because you never know what could have altered the officer’s life and could be affecting them.
To reiterate some questions I have:
1. How long and under what circumstances would it take for our police to switch like a flip and act as the police in Parable of a Sower?
2. What other evaluation should be mandated for police, and should it be yearly? (unfortunately, it would cost a lot of money, but could it help the many injustices we are seeing in today’s world? )
These questions are still predominant in my mind, but after searching online I found a lot of different ideas on the topic of police officers, and the psychological exam they take before becoming an officer. One website (Link)really shared the details of what the test was like. The article talked about how they use a polygraph and other different measuring tools are used during the examination. While the officers are taking the test, they have a heart rate monitor attached, and metal pads to their fingertips that detect excessive amounts of sweating. These are worn to help the examiner determine if the person is lying or telling the truth on certain topics. The exam looks like a written portion where the officer will write a response too, “My mother is…”, they are also asked questions about if they ever stole as a child, and selling illegal drugs. The monitors help the examiners decide what questions need to be asked more directly, and/or if they are telling the truth. There were many articles and webpages about “how to pass a psychological exam” and “what is on the exam”, but it was rather hard to find cold hard numbers about how many officers do not pass, per year, and per area. There was some indication of how many failed, but the section or group was not shared. While I was reading, I came across many upset, and confused officers who had contributed to a website about the exam, and if they failed why they did not understand why much frustration(Link). There was no indication of how many times after passing or what caused the officers to have to retake the exam.
Although this psychological exam could cause some uproar within the police community, it should not go unnoticed that there is so much that police officers do beyond the scenes to try to make communities safer and better places. I know in my hometown, some of the police officers are delivering and dropping off food to families who are not able to drive and the students in that house receive free and reduced lunch. It is the small acts that people begin to appreciate. It is important to think about the situations that Butler writes about with officers being drunk with power, and abusing the amount of power by oftentimes harassing civilians. That is not all police officers, but being mindful and aware of situations we see, hear, or experience is important.
Going back to the text of Parable of the Sower, Lauren Olamina had begged Bankole, her close friend, not to go to the police, “ not to trust any police or government official. It seemed to me such people were no better than gangs, with their robbing and slaving” (pg. 330). I think Butler tries to have her readers think beyond the “norms” or the typical everyday living. She wants us to think and be brave in trying to shape the world into a better place even when it seems as if the world is against you.
I would say that quite a bit happens when I read Parable of the Sower in the context of the content of L.A Podcast. There are many similar themes running through the roots of these two narratives despite the gaps in the time of release–one could call it “age” (which I’m sure Butler would be proud to know is a relevant concept both within and outside of her novel as time races forward), medium, as well as the aspects of fiction. In listening to L.A Podcast over the past few months, I have become clued in to the most contemporary set of issues that face Los Angeles today as presented by the hosts of the podcast. These issues regarding the unhoused population, tenant/landlord relationships, allocation of city resources and capital–all of these topics and more combine to create an image of a city that is struggling to meet the needs of its people. I suppose this isn’t a unique situation for a city to be in, but the level of sophistication and steadfast consistency of L.A Podcast serves to highlight the issues more than I would normally be exposed to, frankly inspiring me to pay more attention to the contemporary issues of my own city, state, and the country at large.
Personal notes of media consumption aside, I think that Parable of the Sower makes great strides in what I have come to understand as the hyper-truth of objectively “good” fiction (while also admitting that it’s incredibly difficult to come up with specific, measurable, almost scientific criteria with which to judge fiction on a scale of good to bad). Most of my favorite fictional works, which Parable of the Sower certainly falls into, use fictional aspects only to focus on the aspects of universal truth from which we can learn about ourselves and the world around us. The fiction is a means to achieve outcomes that otherwise would be inaccessible while also creating a compelling, sometimes entertaining, story. I think that one of the most prominent effects of reading Parable of the Sower alongside L.A Podcast was the actualization of the truths that are inherent in the text at hand. This science fiction isn’t just an enticing story; thinking about what makes the story enticing leads me down a path of realization, truth, and a search for something that is more powerful than what any nonfiction account of a situation could provide. The novel is situated perpetually on the edge of feasibility of survival and continues to demonstrate the instability of the world through shifts in plot that serve to both keep the novel exciting to read as well as keep the novel rooted in the truth that it proclaims most often: “God is Change.” Pairing these elements of the novel with the contemporary L.A. Podcast does many things. Firstly, I think it serves the novel by demonstrating how precisely accurate Octavia Butler was in her demonstration of the world that we could come to inhabit if we don’t stay sharp.
In an interview on Fast Forward Butler outlines her ideas about the natural tendency of human beings to get right to the edge of something, almost to the point of no return, before deciding to turn around and back down. She references nuclear war as one of these things and draws a connection to her belief that she doesn’t think it will be possible to reverse climate change, as it’s not as easy–though the negotiations to back down from nuclear war certainly weren’t easy. Boiled down: climate change is a long process, whereas nuclear war is the decision to not launch missiles, rendering the former likely irreversible and the latter a matter of one decision, which inclines me to note how terrifying it is that one decision can (and has) change(d) the world in such a dramatic and irreversible way. Relating this edge theory to L.A Podcast, I think it’s interesting and slightly aggravating from an outside standpoint like my own to view the city of Los Angeles getting right to the edge of forcing more Angelinos into homelessness by not taking more steps sooner to cease evictions during this period of emergency. The discussions from “Mr. Moratorium’s Wonder Emporium” and “I Wanna Lord Your Land” (as well as episodes following these) centered around the city choosing to defend the landlords rather than tenants by citing a few outliers from the population of landlords and their vulnerability during the pandemic were difficult to understand. Coupling this discussion with the fact that there appears to be no official list of landlords according to the hosts of the podcast, I can imagine that the data and communication streams necessary for streamlining information regarding legality of evictions, among other things is certainly complex. That said, it always seems easier from an outside perspective to make a change that keeps the tenant/landlord relationship in tact by instituting eviction bans, flexible rent payments for the future benefit of all, and widespread knowledge of these changes, but the complexities of this situation as well as others are generations deep and require much more sophistication than I can manage given my limited exposure to Los Angeles and the nature of tenant/landlord relationships in mass quantities. What can be observed regardless of expertise is the damage being done to people who cannot defend themselves financially or politically from these issues due to the nature of an individuals’ savings or status in regard to citizenship. These issues do need to be taken seriously and worked on throughout the next few weeks.
As seen in Parable of the Sower, Lauren Olamina has ambitions for how she can remedy the issues that she sees in her neighborhood cul de sac. Despite being walled in, she knows that her community must do more to keep safe in the growing danger of the world around them. Even though Lauren and her father are able to install a night watch and the members of the community are willing to fight for each other at a moments notice, their resistance was futile in the end. The slaughter and fires during the fall of her neighborhood nearly wiped the entire population out, despite their defenses. However, Lauren and a few others survive the raid and find themselves unhoused with no hope of help from anyone but themselves. This compelling narrative demonstrates again that “God is Change” (13), and leaves Lauren and our new cast of main characters fending for themselves. I can only imagine the multitude of unique stories and realities of the population of Los Angeles who are unhoused or slipping in and out of housing as they are able. Hopefully the forces of expulsion aren’t as outright aggressive and driven by synthetic drugs as depicted in Parable of the Sower, but any force of eviction leaves unhoused individuals without too many options to choose from for themselves or their families.
This leads into what I believe to be the most important aspect of all: So what? Who cares? This particular discussion is perhaps the closest to reality due to the fuel for this fire coming partially from a podcast discussing contemporary issues in Los Angeles, but an explicit rundown of the “so what” is still important. In the spirit of staying in my lane in regard to my training in English Literature and not in Political Science nor in the study of infectious diseases, I find the richness of the narrative presented by the L.A. Podcast to be striking and troubling at the same time. The discussions on the podcast involving the distribution of resources across the city, where financial support is coming from during these times, where resources perhaps may be better spent–all of these things and more are important to discuss and important to remedy. As Molly mentioned in a comment to an earlier iteration of this post, the hosts of the L.A. Podcast seek to educate their listeners. There are a lot of directions to go in as a podcast that deals with the contemporary news of a city, but the direction of education and awareness done effectively is significant rather than the alternatives of imposing fear, demonstrating their own ideology of a situation without room for discussion, or glossing over the news in a comedic manner as if nothing is wrong. There is something to be said for the impact of meaningful education on a community–hopefully one day enough people will have enough education about the issues at hand to do something about it rather than simply listening to the narrative surrounding raids in Echo Park and empty hotels/motels that aren’t open to unhoused individuals during a pandemic.
In contrast, Parable of the Sower reaches in the direction of what I view as a sterile outlook on job opportunities in the dystopian future–something which illuminates the necessity of the value of all human life, whether rich or poor, housed or unhoused. There is a suggestion from Emery, an individual who worked for a company that kept her on property and in poverty, essentially as a legally run slave operation in the frightening future that Butler created. Emery suggested that Harry, who is a young white man, look for work as a Driver. Misunderstanding her, he thought she meant a driver of trucks. Emery meant a driver of people, noting that her boss liked to have white men drive the labor force where she had been forced to work. Harry responded to her suggestion in disgust at being associated as a perpetrator of slavery in the modern age, but Emery was simply relaying what might be possible as a job in the current state of things in the novel. I found her suggestion so interesting because it seemed that to her there were no barriers to anything–only what pays and what doesn’t. There is really nothing standing between Harry living in their community and Harry working as, essentially, a slave driver. Emery doesn’t think it was insulting to associate Harry with slave drivers at all, but Harry sure does. The suggestion that the Drivers in Emery’s original place of work were regular people, potentially not unlike Harry, trying to make their way in life was mind blowing. As a reader in the 21st century, the depiction of slavery as something that Butler writes in for the future of America was staggering enough to handle, but coming across a character who was a slave recommending that a friend of hers become a Driver demonstrated that people on all sides of the issue could be hurting. Everyone could be in need of something. Sure, maybe some Drivers enjoyed pushing the workforce harder, but maybe some of them were just trying to get by. Before this gets too close to the Nuremberg Trials, I want to stop and reflect on the power of looking at all sides of a situation with a degree of understanding and humanity.
I’m curious to view the narrative from the view of those who are making the decisions in the city of Los Angeles. What other pressures are there to weigh? Are hotels worried about their image as a location where unhoused individuals are held, or could they be worried about the safety of the staff of the hotel and the other guests that they are currently employing and housing? This would be problematic in its own right, as viewing an entire population of individuals as a danger to your employees and customers isn’t a well informed point of view and only serves to perpetuate the issue further, but still it wasn’t discussed on the podcast. Likewise, is the LAPD seeking only to fatten their wallets? Could they instead be facing a hiring shortage which they believe to be due to the wages currently offered? These are all very shallow questions to ask and I definitely could be more informed as to the history of the hotels in the area as well as the LAPD, but at least to me it did not seem like the LA Podcast did an effective job of relaying precisely why they believed in the corruption of the hotels and LAPD, or rather the union that the LAPD is made up of. The purpose of this post is certainly not to critique the LA Podcast, but to explain what happens when I pair the show with the novel–I see room for discussion here, but the podcast is already approaching a length that would be difficult to sustain weeks on end, so there isn’t a ton of room on the show as it is. Again, the both/and is prevalent here.
So what? I think the most important thing to take away from all of these connections is the importance of digging deeper. The importance of the comprehension of the potential complexity of human beings and the organizations that they are a part of cannot be understated. The presentation of the donation to the Mayor’s Fund from the state of Qatar as a weighted donation that will have an expected repayment in the future in regards to the international port that Los Angeles contains is astute and likely, but I’m implored to imagine the narrative of Qatar. What difficulties are countries who export oil going through currently? Granted, they have amassed plenty of wealth over the years due to their natural resources, but change is difficult to weigh and lifestyles certainly have had to change in the Middle East as well, which furthers the demonstration of the interconnections of the world causing most things to become too complex to effectively evaluate and understand.
I have no doubt that there is an intense need for some honest communication with the best intentions for all placed at the forefront for the city of Los Angeles as well as for the world as a whole. The truth is the only thing that the individuals in Lauren’s community have to stand on, especially after everyone in the community participates in the cumulative funeral for all whom they have lost at the end of the novel. It is from the solid foundation of an honest, unapologetic truth that life will spring forth in their community. Their cumulative trust and faith in each other worked to get them where they are and certainly must be continued past the closure of this novel. Their trust has bloomed partly out of necessity as well as courage, as their typical timeline of establishing trust must be shortened during the time of crisis that Lauren’s community finds itself in. Typically, we don’t trust people until after they prove themselves worthy in action. Lauren’s community can’t take that time, but they can’t trust people blindly either. Lauren navigates the construction of trust with powerful words to demonstrate the reality of the situations they find themselves in, perhaps most notably when she outlines to Grayson Mora how “We never steal from each other, ever.” Her clarity of speech throughout the novel coupled with the necessity of everyone in the community needing everyone else for strength in numbers makes their trust of each other something surprisingly solid in an unstable world. In a novel ending with a small community it is certainly easier to achieve trust as it was certainly a necessity to achieve to ensure the groups’ collective survival. Digging deeper is something that can be taken into our own lives on both a macro and micro scale so that we don’t get caught at the edge of a cliff without expecting it. Hopefully we will have dug deep enough quickly enough to turn around and walk away unscathed without falling into the abyss of whatever evil is presenting itself at the moment. The options are nearly endless, but I have faith in humanity, naive as I may be.