Abigail Kennedy: Final Self-Reflective Essay

In 2008 the world faced a global financial crisis. This began with corruption and fraud that would fester and spread throughout the large businesses and government. According to the Inside Job, a documentary from 2010, big businesses involved within the financial industry abused their powers to obtain more and more money. One of the first things they did was to utilize Collateralized Debt Obligations, or CDOs. The CDOs were toxic, wreaking financial havoc on the investors who used them. The CDOs were bad, and would cost customers innumerable amounts of money. The businesses, on the other hand, would only make more money. The more money investors lost, the more money the businesses made. Additionally, rating companies were paid to push out high ratings for CDOs and other investments. Everything became rated triple A, which investors would trust to mean that it was safe to invest. However, this would only cost the investors everything they had. The documentary also touched upon other fraud occurring in this time period, more specifically within the housing industry. The home foreclosure rate was skyrocketing. Banks would grant people loans that were more than the customer could ever pay back. People would take loans out for homes they could not afford, and consequently lose their deposit. Then, companies would purchase homes, then sell the mortgage to either themselves, or other companies, and purchase them again in a repeated cycle. This topic is mentioned in the podcast, The Giant Pool of Money. The treatment of mortgages drove up the price for homes, ruining the housing industry. People were losing their money, their homes, everything. Inside Job also discussed when the market for CDOs crashed, plunging the entire world into an economic crisis. The banks, relying on the CDOs, went bankrupt. The banks had global reach, destroying the economies of other countries. There was a mass recession; people were laid off from work and expelled from their homes. However, according to Inside Job, those who were responsible for the crisis were able to walk away with their fortunes intact. There were little to no repercussions for them; most were either allowed to resign or kept with financial compensation in the millions. The world that was in existence in 2008 could be described as an apocalyptic dystopian world. People were forced to leave their homes, held no jobs, and were largely homeless and angry. There was mistrust towards the government and the banking industry. The book The Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler, takes place in a world plagued with mistrust and terror.

The world in The Parable of the Sower is destroyed by climate change, drugs, and disease. The world has turned to an apocalyptic one, where the weather is extreme and the people are worse. People go around doing whatever they want. This can include killing, raping, stealing, doing drugs, and even commiting arson. People tend to have low empathy, and the majority of the world is considered dog-eat-dog. The police do nothing to help those in need, and the government is extremely radical and does little to help the people. Water is rare, and therefore extremely expensive. On top of that, well-paying jobs are becoming scarce. The story follows Lauren Oya Olamina on her journey of religion and faith. Lauren lives with her family in a gated community in Robleto, Los Angeles. Her home is surrounded by a protective gate. Lauren lives with her father, stepmother, and her four half-brothers. Lauren’s community is held together by religion, Lauren’s father leading the community in their faith with his sermons. Her father is a professor and Baptist pastor. The people of her community all fervently believe in their faith, as it is one of the few things they have from their days before the apocalypse. Lauren, however, does not believe in the same God that her family does. Lauren believes that God is Change, and that her religion is meant to prepare people to live amongst the stars. She believes that the key to humanity’s future is a life in space. Lauren calls the religion “Earthseed” and develops it in secret. In an act of rebellion Keith, Lauren’s half-brother, runs away and works with a group outside the walls. Inevitably, Keith is found dead, having been tortured up until his death. Soon after, Lauren’s father goes missing. After these tragedies, only more misfortune falls upon the community. A group of outsiders break into the gated community, leaving only three survivors: Lauren, Harry Balter and Zahra Moss. The three survivors decide to head North, with Lauren disguised as a man. On their journey they meet several people, many of which join them. Lauren teaches the group about Earthseed, and many join. One person who joins is Taylor Bankole, a doctor who owns land up in Northern California. The group decides to head to that property, as it is their safest bet. During the journey, Bankhole and Laura form a relationship. Once the group arrives at Bankhole’s land, they form the very first Earthseed community: Acorn.

The novel itself tells an incredible story of Lauren’s journey in developing Earthseed and spreading it. However, with the course concepts from the course “Expulsion and the Housing Crisis” in mind, the story changes slightly. In the course, we learn about the housing and expulsion crisis of 2008, and its effects on the economy and the people alike. Some of the course concepts include trust, fraud, moral hazard, apophenia, and expulsion. Throughout the course we have consumed various types of media. We have watched documentaries, listened to podcasts, and read novels. With each media, we were to make connections between the prior works we consumed, and utilize our course concepts. Parable of the Sower was the last thing we worked with, meaning we had an arsenal of prior knowledge to use when we read it. Knowing that we were meant to make connections from the novel, I read it differently. As I read, I looked for examples of expulsion, trust, and fraud. This in itself is an example of apophenia. Apophenia, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things.” Essentially, the tendency that people have to make connections between two things that are not necessarily connected. Octavia E. Butler wrote Parable of the Sower in 1993, 15 years before the 2008 market crash. Therefore it is highly unlikely that this novel was intended to have connections to the crash.

 However as a student, if I am meant to look for connections, I will look for connections. For example, one could say that Lauren is expelled from her home, just like how several people in 2008 were. Or that the takeover of Lauren’s community could be considered a hostile takeover. The Investopedia definition of hostile takeover is “the acquisition of one company by another corporation against the wishes of the former.” Lauren’s gated community could be considered the company that gets taken over, and the group of outsiders could be considered the corporation that takes over the first company. Suddenly, a connection has been made between the business world and the novel. In reality, the two technically have no correlation, they only happen to have things in common. Looking for connections means you will make connections, whether or not there are any to be found. Someone reading the book for pleasure would likely not try to connect the Parable of the Sower to the 2008 housing and expulsion crisis, and they certainly would not connect it to William Shakespeare’s King Lear. However both King Lear and Parable of the Sower have themes of accountability. In both novels, accountability comes in the form of death. In King Lear, Edmund is the second born of his father, Gloucester, and is illegitimate. Gloucester’s first, legitimate son, Edgar, is to inherit Gloucester’s land and title. Edmund is jealous over the fact that his brother will inherit everything due to his legitimacy. Eventually Edmund hatches a plot to kill both his brother and his father. He successfully gets rid of them both, however Edgar lives. Edmund even manages to dethrone King Lear and take his throne. Later on, Edgar comes back and challenges his brother to a duel. Edgar wins the duel by stabbing Edmund, which kills him. Arguably, Edmund pays for his crimes with his life, and therefore he is held accountable. In The Parable of the Sower, Lauren’s half-brother Keith goes on an unapproved trip outside the gates of their community. During this trip he gets jumped by outsiders, and subsequently loses a key to the gates. After being reprimanded by his father, Keith runs away and joins a group of thieves outside the gates. Keith thrives for a while, but unfortunately is murdered. As Lauren states, “The body was Keith’s…Someone had cut and burned away most of my brother’s skin. Everywhere except his face. They burned out his eyes…” (Butler 112-113). It could be argued that for stealing and losing the key, Keith was punished with death. Therefore, Keith was held accountable in the end. In reality, these two deaths have nothing in common. Connections made are ones I drew specifically for this essay. I made these connections in order to show how easy it is to fall victim to apophenia.

At SUNY Geneseo GLOBE, A Geneseo Education for a Connected World, insists that students should gain practice in the ability to “reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time.” The course “Expulsion and the Housing Crisis” accomplishes just this. Throughout this semester, we have learned more and more about the 2008 crisis. Using the knowledge we have gained, we looked at the various works in the course differently. In other words, our knowledge gained in this class changed how we viewed other works. The fact that I was able to make connections between otherwise disconnected works means that the course did its job. Beyond that, each work we looked at was from a different time period. For example Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower was published in 1993, Michael Lewis’ The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine was published in 2010, and William Shakespeare’s King Lear was first performed in 1606. Each of these works were written separately and in different time periods. However, each work has certain themes and connections that can be made, and all can be connected to the 2008 crisis. Knowledge can change perception, just as it changed my reading of Parable of the Sower. Knowledge is a powerful tool, and it helped my class observe the changes in outlook over time. Each media we consumed related to the crisis in some form or another. However, each work also contained its own outlook on its story or lesson. These individual stories and works become part of a large web of information that we have spun for this course. While some connections were forged intentionally by us, others may have been made unintentionally by the authors. 

Admittedly, I have enjoyed this class. It has given me a new perspective and appreciation for concepts relating to the 2008 crisis. I might never have read Toni Morrison’s A Mercy if I had never taken this course, as I had not heard of it prior. Additionally, I can now make connections to the 2008 crisis. For example, the dinosaurs in Michael Criton’s Jurassic Park, were made in bad faith, a course concept. Knowing about the past crisis also allows for the understanding of how such things happen sometimes, and how they may happen again. Knowing about the past helps prepare for the future.

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