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”

What’s In a Dystopia

Recently, my mother (who is what people sometimes gently refer to as a “Facebook aunt”) shared a video of a speech by Yeonmi Park, a defector of North Korea, which I will post below:

After watching this video, I was struck not only by Yeonmi’s moving story, but how the society she describes in her re-telling of life in North Korea sounds like a fictitious dystopia.  Imagine a place where citizens are brainwashed to the point that they felt the regime can read their minds, or where generations of a family are raised in concentration camps to due a patriarch expressing doubt on the authority of a regime. This description (coupled with North Korea’s growing hunger crisis and frequent flooding/droughts) makes the country seem like a dystopic fiction novel, but it isn’t.

When I googled the etymology of the word “dystopia,” I was surprised to find that the definition does not include any mentioning of a “future” state, but rather an “imagined” state where “everything is unpleasant or bad.” In light of this definition, what’s stopping North Korea from constituting as a dystopia? The fact North Korea is a real (as opposed to imagined) state?

In class last week, Beth commented (and I’m paraphrasing here) that when she first taught Butler’s Parable of the Sower in the early 2000s, Butler’s imagined dystopic state of North America was unthinkable to her students, and in the years since, her students report more and more frequently that Lauren Olamina’s world seems like a plausible future for our country. I wonder (and I don’t pretend to have any answers here) whether Koreans a century ago ever thought their country would be divided into two countries: one of which is a totalitarian regime that largely isolates its citizens from the rest of the world.

Further, I am struck by the line in Yeonmi’s speech in which she states “We need to focus less on the regime and more on the people who are being forgotten.” I realize that Yeonmi is correct–the limited discourse I’ve heard about North Korea tends to focus on the succession of its chain of dictators and their cult personalities, but not on the majority of North Koreans who are oppressed and often starving (instead, they appear to function as supernumeraries to a narrative about totalitarian regime).

My reading of Parable of the Sower, along with some very preliminary research on life in North Korea, prompt me to think differently about the concept of “dystopia.” Like many of Beth’s students, the 2024 California that Butler describes in Parable of the Sower seems less far removed from our contemporary society than I would perhaps like to admit.

Unlikely Shelters

After our in-class activity of exploring the Geneseo campus to search for shelter, I immediately thought of this article I had read earlier in the semester. I was impressed with the brothers’ ability to find shelter in such an unlikely place. At least, it seemed like an unlikely shelter to me at the time. I cannot imagine the desperation and determination that living in a hollowed out tree must require. Persecution forced Jewish people from their homes and into hiding during WWII. While some of them were taken in by others, many more were not. When no one is able to hide and shelter you from this persecution, nature seems to be the only available option.

Though the brothers found shelter within the tree, I’m intrigued to learn how they sustained life during this time. Did they have someone to bring them food and water, or did they have to hunt for it on their own? What did they keep with them in this limited space? How often could they leave the tree, and when did they know it was safe to do so? What kept them warm in the winter?

The Parable of the Sower and in class activity were good exercises in imagination. Yet I can’t believe that people have had to find and sustain shelter in this way in real life.

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?”

Churning Thoughts on Circulation

In Parable of the Sower, Lauren and her group (well, really everyone who is not super rich) have had to revert to preindustrial methods of survival. (Disclaimer: that statement is flawed; those ‘preindustrial’ methods have been used in modern times, but not to the extent that people in Butler’s world have used them). Agriculture is a highly prevalent example of this, as the original neighborhood Lauren lived in relied on hand sowing for the entirety of their food source, and the group must continue to rely on it in the creation of Acorn. Water purification is another example. Though there are water purification tablets and water stations available, the cheapest and therefore most-used method of purification is by boiling the water. Yes, many people still have to boil water for sanitation purposes, but I assume that most students that attend universities do not boil drinking water in fear that it is contaminated. That method was more commonplace in the past. Continue reading “Churning Thoughts on Circulation”

Project Reflection

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

Continue reading “Project Reflection”

Sweat Equity

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

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

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

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

Space to live and credit score

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

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

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

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