Currently Typing (In Class)

This may be the second-last post I’ll make here, and for good reason. The first reason is that I think a fair closer is needed for the posts throughout the semester. The second is how few posts I have made. I suppose that regards the merit of my words holding any sound content to share, or to expand on something that I believe has not been discussed during class. Either way…

I’m both excited and indifferent about this final essay. The ambition behind discussing the housing crisis and the contrasting narratives of literature showcase so many ideas as to how we view – or how we begin to view them. One thing that comes to mind at the moment is that of Inside Job and The Big Short as a heavy contrast in comparison to that of Dominion, A Mercy, and Parable of the Sower – one may consider these pieces of literature are differing perceptions of housing. What kind of crisis there is, when and how a crisis may begin, or if an individual is aware of a crisis at all. That also includes those who are even affected despite some knowledge of economic or social disarray. I’m likely overthinking at this point in favor of a streamlined final paper (in my head, anyway), but the words I’m currently hearing regarding insurance also relates to the earlier aspects of the class. Again, I go back to The Old Man and the Storm that demonstrates a crisis for ordinary people being almost another number to place on a list that says “assist” but not so much “help”. More recently, This Old House reminds me heavily of the “reality” TV series Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. As Jess calls it phony and transparent – that is how I feel with the perceptive contrasts I mentioned earlier. There is a greater emphasis on “assist” than “help” in order to showcase a means to help but not so much a means to give way for resolve. Or may I’m being cynical about how meretricious (new word, yeah!) the premise of building an old house and rebuilding the remnants of it into a new home. This of course also relates to Mister Blandings Builds His Dream House while demonstrating the hollow nature a home can be, despite the incredible sentimentality it is allegedly supposed to be. That can even be said for anyone who is wealthy enough to afford (and maintain) more than one house. I know I’m young, but the idea of that still sounds absurd and a physical display of self-absorption, which that too can relate to what I have discussed in my Dirge essay, and may very well be mentioned in the final essay. My home life – or at least in parallel to the illustrated lives throughout the semester – leaves me detached.

Perhaps that is a good thing. Regarding the final essay, at least.

Some Thoughts on Modern Indentured Servitude

Hello, everyone! Congratulations on making it almost to the end of the semester. I’ve been thinking a lot about sharecropping, company towns, and other methods of debt slavery-esque practices in recent history. More specifically, I’m thinking about these concepts in the context of property theft and alternative labor markets like the drug trade, especially in the context of Parable of the Sower and episodes of This Old House. Continue reading “Some Thoughts on Modern Indentured Servitude”

Biblical Parables and the Talents

The Biblical Parable of the Sower, in as brief an account as I can manage, follows a man who sowed seed into three different kinds of land with mixed success. The Parable of the Talents is about a man who went away and left his home and land in the care of his slaves. The titles of the novel we just read and its sequel are taken directly from their biblical parallels, and this has got me to thinking a lot about how religions build upon each other. I think it might be some kind of sacrilege for me to make this observation for some faiths, so I’m going to proceed with that in mind.
Continue reading “Biblical Parables and the Talents”

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Inner-City Schools

When Dr. McCoy asked us to “find shelter” outdoors during our class the other day, I had an a-ha! moment. Having felt like the world had shut us out, and it was our job to protect ourselves from the weather and any other threats, including other people, the objective of this course clicked for me. Continue reading “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Inner-City Schools”

The Consequences of Resentment

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

Futuristic Story or “Dug Up” Journal?

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

Sweat Equity

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

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

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

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

Multiple Origins of Earthseed

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

Tracing Earthseed to Heraclitus

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

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

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