Apophenia Between the 2008 Housing Crisis, Parable of the Sower, and My Fall 2022 Semester

Apophenia is the ability to see connections between ideas and objects that may seem unrelated. The 2008 housing crisis, Parable of the Sower, and my academic journey this Fall 2022 semester are all different topics, but when closely analyzed they all share a connection. The housing crisis of 2008 was the mass expulsion of millions of Americans from their houses and neighborhoods. During this time, there was a rise in unemployment, which led to people not being able to pay their mortgages and ultimately resulted in mass foreclosures. The cause of the housing crisis can be attributed to the following terms: mortgage bonds, subprime loans, documentation, moral hazard, bad faith, trust, corruption, fraud, accountability, pressure, and bubble. According to Michael Lewis (2010) in The Big Short, “a mortgage bond was a claim in the cash flows from a pool of thousands of individual home mortgages” (pg 7). Creators of the mortgage bond market had a solution that ensured they would get their money back when they wanted: “they took giant pools of home loans and carved up the payments made by homeowners into pieces, called tranches” (pg 7). This relates to subprime loans because subprime loans had high-interest rates and were given to those who couldn’t afford such rates so they would be more likely to default on the loan. Documentation is any communicable material that is used to describe, explain or instruct regarding some attributes of an object, system, or procedure.

 During the housing crisis, faulty loans were given to homeowners requiring very little documentation to prove they could afford such loans. According to Oxford Languages, “A moral hazard is the lack of incentive to guard against risk where one is protected from its consequence”. In terms of the housing crisis, bankers and lenders were behaving in a moral hazard by providing and encouraging the sales and trades on risky loans because they knew that they would not face any major consequences from it. Lewis (2010) states: “the industry was fraught with moral hazard. “It was a fast-buck business,” says Jacobs. “Any business where you can sell a product and make money without having to worry how the product performs is going to attract sleazy people” (pg 9). When they were found out about their role in the matter, they still did not face any significant backlash; they were able to keep their jobs or resign with huge payouts. The bankers and lenders had no reason to proceed with caution because either way, they knew that they would be protected in the end. This relates to bad faith, as it is the intent to deceive. The bankers and mortgage lenders knew that they were selling risky and faulty loans to their customers, but they proceeded to mask the loans as a good business deal. They had the intent to deceive their clients because they knew they were gaining lots of revenue from the bad deal. 

All of this coincides with trust, fraud, and corruption. Americans believed that they could trust their banks to protect their money and their assets when really the banks and the lenders were abusing the American people’s trust by committing fraud, which is the wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain. By assuring the American people that they would be in good hands with these loans, they were deceiving them to receive huge payouts. This connects to corruption because the bankers and lenders were behaving in dishonest and fraudulent conduct as they were the ones in power. At the height of the housing crisis, the pressure was increasing as Wall Street bankers were continually conning people into taking out bad loans. When there is too much pressure, an implosion occurs. The housing crisis was a big bubble building pressure from the rise of bad loans being sold and by a certain point it became too much and it finally burst. The bursting of the housing bubble resulted in a recession where millions of people were without homes and jobs. The Wall Street bankers and lenders knew their role in the matter but refused to take accountability for their actions by pretending to not know what was going on and that they did not foresee this crisis happening, and by trying to place blame on the common people by saying that it was their responsibility to fully understand the documents and loans they were signing and agreeing to. 

Similar to the actual housing crisis of 2008, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower also emulates the same concepts that lead to expulsion. Although this book was written in 1993 about the future, we see how the book produces a story that is not that far off from reality today. In Parable of the Sower, we meet the main character Lauren Olamina, who at the start of the novel is fifteen years old in the year 2024. She has a condition called hyper empathy where she can feel other people’s pain and pleasure, a result of her mother’s abuse of the drug paraceto. Lauren’s family consists of her father, a Baptist minister who also teaches at a nearby college; his second wife, Cory; and Lauren’s four younger half-brothers: Keith, Marcus, Bennett, and Gregory. They live in the fictional town of Robledo, California where water is scarce and expensive, there are few jobs, and climate change has produced massive rains followed by years of drought. In her neighborhood, there is also social inequality, which is the unequal distribution and access to resources. In Robledo, the neighborhood is surrounded by walls fortified with lazor wire and supposed to be bulletproof to repel attacks from intruders. This creates pressure outside the walls and pressure from inside the neighborhood. There is pressure brewing outside and inside the walls because to the less fortunate on the outside of the walls, families like the Olaminas seem very wealthy to them since they have access to food and money. There is also pressure within the family because Lauren is adamant about learning survival skills and tactics because she believes that the neighborhood will not be safe anymore. Her dad is too stubborn to realize this, and Lauren makes the statement that she won’t be able to grow if she remains under her parents. In her Earthseed notebook, she writes: “A tree cannot grow in its parents’ shadows” (pg 82). This comes from the frustration of being told that she is too young to fully understand the world around her, when in fact she is very wise for her age and more practical and realistic than her parents, who want to remain naive in their bubble and think that nothing can get worse in their neighborhood. 

In addition to the internal and external pressures Lauren faces, she also faces another kind of personal force- multiple forms of foreclosure. First, Lauren faces what is known as identity foreclosure. According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, identity foreclosure, or premature commitment to an identity, is “the unquestioning acceptance by individuals (usually adolescents) of the role, values, and goals that others (e.g., parents, close friends, teachers, athletic coaches) have chosen for them”. Lauren experiences this by accepting her father’s religion although she doesn’t believe in it. She states, “at least three years ago, my father’s God stopped being my God. his church stopped being my church. And yet, today, because I’m a coward, I let myself be initiated into that church. I let my father baptize me in all three names of that God who isn’t mine any more” (pg 7). As her story progresses, we see that Lauren fights to establish her own identity with her own thoughts and ideals, which often gets a lot of pushback from her father. This is why establishing Earthseed as her self-created religion is important to her because this is something that no one can take away from her. Next, foreclosures are generally talked about in the sense of someone’s home being seized because of missed payments. Although the government didn’t seize Lauren’s home, it was seized, taken over, and destroyed by pyro drug addicts who burned down her house. In relation to this, Lauren has to come to terms with the narrative foreclosures of her family members- the premature conviction that one’s life story has come to an end. Since she was the only one who escaped her house alive she has to assume that the rest of her family is dead.

Overall, Lauren’s journey was turbulent. Life as she knew it used to be normal until it got turned upside down due to the actions of others. Water is privatized, there’s pressure to grow food, drugs have infiltrated the community, and company towns are beginning to take over. Even though Lauren was semi-prepared for the worst to occur, it is still a devastating tragedy to lose her family and everything she once knew. Similarly, the same can be said for those affected during the housing crisis- they thought they were living normal lives until their homes and jobs got ripped from underneath them. The life that they once knew, they were unable to upkeep now. Both the housing crisis and Parable of the Sower reveal how tragedies bring on a change in perspective. For Lauren, the only thing she could do was to keep moving forward and keep moving north to find better shelter. Once settled, she named it acorn, a homage to her family, and she held a tribute for all the lives that were lost along the way. For those affected by the housing crisis, although it must’ve been hard, they found a way to rebuild their lives back from the ground up. 

This matters because given GLOBE’s insistence that Geneseo students should gain practice in the ability to “reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time”, I can use the housing crisis and Parable of the Sower as guides for what to do when faced with adversity. College is not easy and it is never an easy ride. Although my journey this year wasn’t as devastating compared to those in the housing crisis or in Parable of the Sower, it still is something I can be proud of. Before this semester, the last semester that I completed was the Fall of 2021 and it was horrible. Academically, I was at my lowest. Spring 2022 was my initial graduation date, but I had to take a medical leave of absence. Coming back for this semester, I was registered for six classes, and I was faced with a huge bill because I lost student aid due to poor grades. I’ve already been placed on academic probation before, so the pressure to not fall back into old patterns was high. Similarly to Lauren and those from the housing crisis, I could be facing my own expulsion- expulsion from financial aid and from the college, I knew that I had to make a rebound this semester- other semesters may have been poor academically, but that does not define who I am as a person and as a student. Everyone is allowed setbacks, what matters is how they make a comeback. 

Specifically in this English 111 course, my performance at the beginning of the semester started off fine. Towards the middle of the semester, it got rocky because my attendance was declining. At this point, I wasn’t behaving in good faith: I was not communicating with Dr. McCoy about my absences and I was also missing class to do other assignments for other classes. I had let this English course fall down on my list of priorities. After having a meeting with Dr. McCoy, I vowed to change my behavior and to also start behaving in good faith so I could finish the semester strong. Since then, I’ve only missed about two classes due to sickness instead of randomly disappearing to do work for other classes. I started to be present in class more and in my work. I was doing the readings more often and that was evident in my ability to answer the reading quizzes and what I add to small group discussions when we have group essays. Compared to previous semesters, my academic performance has greatly improved in all of my classes. I am very confident that I will pass all six of my classes with A’s and B’s. As for financial aid, after two long months, I was able to appeal to regain my aid based on how well I am currently doing this semester. And it was granted. In the past, I faced personal troubles that led me towards facing expulsion from school. For instance, I had a lack of motivation to even be in school and it affected my attendance in classes and my consistency with assignments. I was put on academic probation more than once and I had to complete a semester of academic boot camp to be back in good standing. Coming back this semester, I knew that the pressure to not fall back into old habits was high. I had to fight against forces that would have otherwise led me down the same path as before. I had to find the motivation to do well this semester. It was overwhelming, as there were many times I could have given up and even wanted to, but I had to remember the end goal. I needed to prove to not only just myself but also others such as financial aid that I can be academically successful. My journey this semester has been nothing short of easy. Similarly to Lauren, she knew that she wanted to spread Earthseed with others so that one day it “could take root among the stars” (pg 77). By being persistent, and never losing sight of her goal despite the tragedies along the way she was able to make great strides toward her goal. I can say the same for myself because my main goal is to finish college and graduate with my degree. I have come too far and too close to give up or to let things inconvenience me and I also cannot be an inconvenience to myself. This relates to Geneseo’s GLOBE because by reflecting on past actions, I can make better changes to ensure myself a different outlook for the future. The ability to do this is important for anyone no matter their background, discipline, or path in life. 

Nina Avallone-Serra, Hailey Bernet, Giovanni Cicoria-Timm, Janiqua Morris, Ronnie Trebing, Riley Weaver

At the very beginning of Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, our protagonist, an enslaved girl named Florens, poses the questions, “Who is responsible?” and “Can you read?” From her journey as an enslaved person who is a keen observer, we know that Florens isn’t only talking about reading words but also about reading symbols and making connections. One of the most significant symbols we see is Florens’s attempt to interpret the dog head she sees emerging from the steam of a boiling kettle, though she cannot understand its meaning. This example introduces course concepts like pressure, and lack of pareidolia, and gives us Florens telling the Blacksmith that not all signs are so easy to read, and many take more time to understand. She describes trying to read all the signs, but feels like she is missing much. This is because in every situation where she is observant, she never has the tools of power and education to fully grasp what is going on and what will happen as a result. Her lack of having the tools to interpret and predict certain things often leads her to face multiple occurrences of expulsion. 

It is hard to fully place blame on those who find themselves expelled when they aren’t given the proper tools to mitigate their outcome. We see this concept present in all of the books we’ve read so far. In King Lear, Lear lacks the tools to interpret which of his daughters truly and genuinely loved him, until it was too late, and he makes the wrong decision that ultimately leads to his expulsion and even his death. In The Big Short, it is easy for Wall Street bankers to place blame on the homeowners by saying it is their fault for neglecting to fully read the agreements they were signing, however, not everyone has access to and resources to achieve financial literacy. Due to their lack of knowledge, they were easily preyed upon by Wall Street lenders who knew better and decided to take advantage of them. Similarly, in Turner House, the Turner family lacked the tools to be able to save their family home from foreclosure or even to find out what forces had jeopardized their family home. This is something we see a lot throughout A Mercy while Florens, an enslaved child, is struggling to grasp concepts and utilize her knowledge as an enslaved individual.

These findings help us as readers create a unique interpretation of the 2008 housing crisis. In The Big Short and The Turner House specifically, Florens’ situation brings to light a common theme about weaponized ignorance. In each of these books, Wall Street entities purposefully withheld information from those whom they wanted to take advantage of. The Turner family did not understand why the value of their family home had suddenly plummeted, and just about everyone besides our main cast of characters in The Big Short failed to understand any of the workings that contributed to the crash, even if the aforementioned in both books could recognize the significance of their situations. 

Throughout A Mercy, Florens’s enslavement presents a barrier, not only to the vague symbolism she reads but also to real-life scenarios. Within the novel, Florens thinks to herself, “They are certain their years of debt are over but the master says no. He sends them away, north, to another place, a tannery, for more years. I don’t understand why they are sad. Everyone has to work.” (pg 46). This shows how Florens isn’t fully knowledgeable of the concepts of slavery and indentured servitude versus freedom, despite, or perhaps because of her status as an enslaved person. Another good example of this concept can be found on page 81, where Florens confesses her failure to understand “free and not free” and even experiences trepidation when faced with the “looseness” that Florens identifies as the feeling of freedom. The pattern of expulsion Florens notices also contributes to Florens’ unintentional ignorance, the routine upheavals in her life stunting her ability to comprehend the full meaning of various images and experiences she encounters. Florens outlines this pattern on page 160, “This happens twice before. The first time it is me peering around my mother’s dress hoping for her hand that is only for her little boy. The second time it is a pointing screaming little girl hiding behind her mother and clinging to her skirts. Both times are full of danger and I am expel.” Though this child-like reading of social cues can be attributed to the lack of parental presence she experienced growing up, it inadvertently led to failure to prevent these repeated expulsions moving into adulthood.

The ability to read not only literature but behavioral scenarios within a society is so important, especially when the society in which one inhabits is inherently against those of lower status. For Florens, this meant the inability to understand enslavement and the concept of freedom outside of it. She didn’t have time to educate herself on these things as she was busy focusing on her ability to survive. The blacksmith, on the other hand, was able to spend time in his freedom learning the ways of free will and individuality. Individuality happens when people feel safe and secure. Florens felt neither of these things, between the constant expulsion and the lack of paternal care she had growing up. The only life she knew was filled with danger and unknown futures, so why would she work to make something for herself in a time of such uncertainty? This leads to the bigger picture of education as a powerful tool. Education isn’t only about learning how to read and write, but it also involves being knowledgeable and aware. There’s a reason why people say knowledge is power; Florens always could notice things and patterns, but she often lacked the education and knowledge to put the pieces of the puzzle together. This shines a light on the bigger picture of people being purposefully kept uneducated and unaware of the potential they hold, because if their true abilities are kept hidden and they lack resources to take advantage of these, then they don’t know what they are missing out on. This is why the blacksmith was disgusted at how Florens was carrying herself over him; he wanted her to be her own person and start living for herself and not other people. Unfortunately, this mindset plagued enslaved persons during slavery and it was essential to keep enslaved persons uneducated because it also kept them powerless. Today, this notion has maneuvered out of slavery and transformed its way into other parts of everyday life. As a result, minorities and people of the lower class often lack the education and tools needed to fully prosper which often leads to them being taken advantage of.  We see the parallels between enslaved life for Florens in 1690, and how minorities and lower-class people today find themselves experiencing a similar kind of “enslavement” because they are prevented from having the tools to read and interpret things.

Aviana, Kenzie, Faith, Abbie, Ally, Janiqua, Mairead

King Lear by William Shakespeare, is a play about how the bad faith of others leads to tragedy in the end. Two of the main concepts demonstrated within King Lear are liquidity and swapping. Based on the Investopedia definition, liquidity is a concept in which something can be converted or transferred without losing its value. The term swapping describes the act of exchanging one thing for another.  Both terms are closely related to expulsion, which is to be denied membership in an organization or to be forced out of one’s home or situation. In King Lear, there is a trend of liquidity and swapping between many characters. It is usually coupled with acts of fraud in an attempt to gain money, status, or love, which ultimately ends in someone’s expulsion.    

The play begins with Lear seeking to give up his land and divide it between his daughters. While this exchange has to do with swapping, it also applies to liquidity. He states, “With my two daughters’ dowers digest the third” (Shakespeare 15). King Lear is stating that his two daughters will receive the land and dowry that was originally supposed to go to Cordelia. Both the land and love that belonged to Cordelia were easily transferred to Lear’s other daughters Goneril and Regan; the fluidity of such shows how liquid dowries are, as the value does not change. After not meeting her father’s expectations of love, everything Cordelia had was swapped, and with no land or love left she is expelled from her kingdom and family. As Lear declares, “nothing will come of nothing” (Shakespeare 13). Nothing shall be received without first something being given. When Cordelia does not act as Lear wishes, she loses everything and receives nothing. Her sisters received everything after embellishing their love for Lear. They knew that if they didn’t embellish their words, then they wouldn’t receive the King’s inheritance since Cordelia was his favorite daughter. They had to commit fraud for their own personal gain.

Due to King Lear’s consistent swapping of trust and love between his daughters, he gets himself thrown out of his kingdom and status. After being turned away by Goneril and Regan, Goneril claims, “‘Tis his own blame hath put himself from rest, And he must needs taste his folly” (Shakespeare 119). After swapping his love between the two daughters, Goneril and Regan turn on Lear, casting him out when he comes to them. The liquidity in which Lear placed his love led to his daughters swapping their love for scorn in turn. The daughters’ love for Lear is fluid, just as his love for them was. In each example where liquidity and swapping took place, it eventually led to someone’s expulsion. 

This is not the only instance of familial swapping in King Lear. Similarly, between Cordelia and her sisters, the status within the family between Edgar and Edmund gets swapped. Edmund came into the world expelled as he was born from wedlock, while Edgar was the legitimate son. In Edmund’s first soliloquy he declares, “Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land. Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund” (Shakespeare 29). In an attempt to take back a status he was never given, Edmund schemes and commits fraud against his brother to show him in a villainous light to their father. After fooling both his father and Edgar, Edmund gains the inheritance and status he always wanted. Edgar is expelled, leaving all the trust and love from their father transferred to Edmund. Once again, we see how love and inheritance are liquid – easily transferable with no value change. In the end, we see that no matter someone’s status, expulsion can happen to anyone. 

While analyzing King Lear, we managed to make text-to-world connections to real-life examples in another film. In King Lear, many definitions overlap each other and have significant meanings. Different definitions have different meanings depending on the context. Even if a book is from a different time, we can still find importance and relevance in its stories and the messages it teaches today. It was interesting to note how we see the same concepts illustrated in King Lear, a fictional work, can also be played out in real life as in the film, The Old Man and the Storm. An example of liquidity seen in The Old Man and the Storm is when the government tried to steal the residents’ property after the hurricane destroyed their homes and physically expelled them from their neighborhoods.  We also found it interesting to see how Shakespeare could have many connections to financial topics, and it made us wonder if other texts that do not directly discuss these topics can connect to them.