Following yesterday's post is another contemporary example of map-art, this time from Kathy Prendergast. I first learned about Prendergast's work in Denis Cosgrove's article "Maps, Mapping, Modernity" (as posted in yesterday's post). Cosgrove's succinct writing does all the summarizing needed to introduce Prendergast's work:
I first heard of this art piece by reading Denis Cosgrove's essay on cartography and modern art in the 20th century. The essay is a brilliant piece of writing that expands the study of artistry and mapmaking beyond the early modern period. While the piece can be found at JSTOR, I have linked it here for your viewing pleasure.
The first part was done: deciding to go to graduate school. The rest was a bit harder.
After I had successfully defended my master's thesis , my advisor asked what my plans were now that I had done that hurdle. When I told her of my inclination of going on for my PhD, she was super supportive. Her only word of advice was in carefully choosing were I would like to get my doctorate from.
Fit is important in choosing a graduate program. Not only do you have to consider if the potential faculty and department are able to support you the best that they can, but you have to wonder how you would fit into the program. Are there enough faculty members who are able to serve as your mentor? How does the university do in funding graduate students? Stipends? Travel/research grants? In providing academic resources?
This is something I wholly neglected to evaluate until it was too late. I was only concerned with finding potential professors to work with, which also was done badly. I searched a random set of universities - schools I've heard of, schools I thought were interesting - and searched for professors through departmental faculty pages to see any potential interests. But since no other professors is really doing what I'm doing, it was an awkward process. In hindsight, after reading numerous forum posts from GradCafe after I had applied, the best bet would've been to contact professors and asked them. But I didn't and pressed forward.
If there is any takeaway from my experience, it's that I did a lot of things badly and got immensely lucky at the end.
Applying to graduate school is expensive. You will normally pay $50-70 per application. As someone of limited financial means since leaving my old job, this constrained the number of schools I applied to. And even if you get rejected, that money will never be seen again. I do wonder why there isn't a greater movement to remove these application fees across the board. Yes, some schools do have fee-free applications for financially disadvantaged applicants, but this is neither consistent or readily advertised. If universities were actually serious about opening up graduate education to minutes and lower-income students, this needs to change. But it hasn't, and I was forced to charge this on my credit cards.
Not only are fees a limitation, but so is asking professors to write you letter of recommendations. Even if application fees are not a barrier, asking your professors to write you 15 LoRs comes across as a bit much to me. But maybe it wouldn't be. Maybe your professors will be happy to write those letters. But I didn't know since I didn't ask them what a reasonable number of applications would be. I simply assumed six applications was "enough." I asked and had no issues on that account. But again, the professors I've asked I have worked closely with, and they knew what I was capable of. If you are thinking about graduate school, just keep in mind who you need to ask for LoRs and ask them what they process normally entails. Would've done me some good.
With both those out of the way, I then went on to do my applications. If there is one takeaway here, it's to read the instructions carefully and press forward. Fortunately, I did not screw this part up! Yay me!
The application process finished in December. Everything was submitted on time, and my LoRs were sent on time. It was now to play the waiting game.It is around this time when I began reading GradCafe and other sites, and as I read more, I cringed more. So yes, read these sort of sites before you start applying. They're full of wise sages. Heed their advice!
Of the schools I applied to, three accepted me and three rejected me. In hindsight, I chalk this up to my obliviousness to note how I would fit into these programs. One was a dream school that I applied to without considering the fact that the faculty members I needed were not entirely a good fit for my own research.
The three schools that did accept me were more close to me in the "fit" department. What made the difference to me was that Vanderbilt reached out to me: first my future advisor, then graduate students. What made me lucky was that my future advisor was animated to reach out to me (despite not having prior contact) and wanted to see my research first-hand. I imagine he would be busy enough to justify looking over GPAs and discarding those that would not interest him. But he looked into my application and saw something there. I really lucked out there, and I'm thankful for that.
Not everyone will be so lucky. If there are any takeaways, it's these:
- Contextualize your research interests into something larger. Since my research dealt with geography and cartography, I should have situated my own research into the wider history of science.
- Understand that your research is unique. As such, you will not find a future person of interest (PoI) who will do what you do. From what I've heard from various professors at Vanderbilt, having a graduate student apply doing the exact same thing as you is actually detrimental. Find someone who you admire and think can expand your research, not another you.
- Aim High. Vanderbilt's graduate acceptance rate is on par with Yale. I purposely did not apply to any Ivy League schools out of a sheer sense of intimidation. If you have the money, try to apply to a top-tier program. You'll never know!
- Contact your PoI! Seriously, it's necessary. Why? Because the department will discuss amongst themselves for graduate students, and if a PoI knows you, they will vouch for you. This is how students are accepted. Not by the "best" GPAs or "best" credentials, but by these intra-department discussions. That my advisor would reach out to me and vouched for me in these discussions only proves that I should've done this will all the schools I applied to.
In the end, I got into a great program. I just finished my first semester, and I'm very much looking for the next. While things worked out for me, they so easily could not. I do wonder where I would be if I was not accepted to any programs. Some on GradCafe have said they've applied multiple years before they got accepted to their dream schools. I don't think I would've been able to do that, and I greatly admire those who do.
I do not know where my journey in grad school will take me. But I'll be sure to keep this page updated with any news.
Last summer, I voluntarily became unemployment. It wasn't that my old job was particularly hard. Rather, i had graduated with my M.A. from North Texas earlier that May. Was I going to have a graduate degree and simply stay on in my tech support job? With a half-assed plan in place, and little-to-no savings, I quit after seven years there.
Through luck and the fortuitous friendship of my M.A. advisor and the person in charge of hiring me, I was able to find as an adjunct-instructor at a local community college. Was the pay good? Hah, no. But I figured it would be a good testing ground to see what I ultimately wanted to do with my life. Obviously I would teach history, but the question would be where and in what context. That is, do I want to continue on with my education to get my doctorate degree and brave the academic job market in a few years time? Or would I use my M.A. to finagle my way into a high school job and be content there? My heart wanted the former, while my brain told me to be realistic. At the very least, I could buy time with my adjuncting.
I wouldn't teach actual college students, by the way. I would instead teach high school students who wanted to earn college credit before heading off to a four-year university. Now I would actually interact with high schoolers and see if teaching high school would be something I want to do.
Truth be told, I didn't know what to expect. But seven months in, I can say that I love my job. This is what I want to do with my life. And even if I "settle" to teaching at a high school, I can say that I would still be a happy man.
Except...except I still had that itch, that desire to get my doctorate degree. My experience as a M.A. student is not entirely analogous to others in that 1. I was a part-time student and 2. did not really partake into the clique of graduate students that predominated North Texas.* I wasn't able to graduate in two years on account of work-related changes and training. But despite the time constraint and the anonymity I felt with the department, I loved graduate school. It's simplistic to say if it was "hard" or "easy." It was challenging, but I love a challenge. I found a good topic to write about, and while funding from UNT was non-existent, I did the best I could to research my thesis. Researching topics, grappling with historiography, and writing are things I also loved. And I would not be able to do any of that in a professional setting if I went the high school or community college route.
My philosophy was this: I could either do this now, or live with the regret of not having tried. The worst-case scenario would be that I would be rejected from all the schools I've applied to. In which case, I transition from adjuncting to full-time teaching. I took the plunge and applied in the autumn of 2016.
In the next post, I will expand on the application process. What schools I applied to, and what I learned (belatedly). I will also end on a very optimistic note. Stay tuned!
In his Jan. 18 post “Iran’s Hostage Victory,” Michael Totten displays the same blindness typical of many hawks in their disdain and loathing of both Iran and the possibility of a détente with Iran.
Totten begins his post eye-rolling Bernie Sanders’ suggestion on restoring diplomatic relations with Iran:
Now, my response isn’t to defend Iran. It is beyond any doubt that Iran is the perpetrator of many human rights abuses: ranging from the persecution of Baha’is and homosexuals, to sponsoring Hezbollah, and liberal use of torture against prisoners of conscious. That can’t be denied.
But for the sake of consistency, why doesn’t Totten advocate ending diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or Egypt? Those same abuses can be pinned on nominal American allies. But he doesn’t. And he shouldn’t.
Breaking diplomatic relations from other states is rarely a good idea. Yes, the circumstances behind the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis were unique. But Totten is not advocating the continued situation with Iran because of the hostage crisis of 1979. Rather, he’s angry (rightfully so!) that Iran is unjustly imprisoning someone today. And while his anger is warranted, you do not base your foreign policy on those concerns.
The United States and Iran have shared interest in the region; namely, the destruction of the so-called Islamic State. And while the 2015 nuclear deal’s ramifications are yet to be seen, the upside is that Iran’s pursuit for a nuclear weapon has been stymied for the foreseeable future. In contrast to McCain’s infamous rendition of Barbara Ann to Bomb Iran, President Obama was able to accomplish the same goal without another disastrous war in the Middle East.
The prospect that diplomacy may work and may be a force for good is frightening to Totten and the still-extant neoconservative punditocracy, where it is forever 1938 and Obama is another Neville Chamberlain. Iran is an evil and must be dealt with post-haste!
But what is truly mind boggling is that these well-meaning (if woefully wrong) pundits have their equals in the conservative inner-circles of the Islamic revolutionary vanguard of 1979. Ayatollah Khamenei and his ilk also have memories of the United States that mirror the boogey-men of Totten’s fevered imagination. From Mosaddegh to America’s support for the tyrannical Pahlavi dynasty and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran…well, you get the idea.
It’s easy to imagine what Khomenei would think of making peace with the United States. Why would he support dealing with a regime that has openly talked about bombing his nation for the last three decades? That surrounds his country militarily? That could theoretically exterminate his population in half an hour? And that is complicit in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iranians?
For all the faults Iran has done to the United States, it does not compare to what we have done to Iran.
But to Totten, while may think it’s Munich 1938 all over again, our past against Iran is irrelevant. Iranians will just have to get over ancient history.
The point is not that two wrongs make a right. Peace is not going to happen when one side completely capitulates to the other. That’s a fool’s errand. Instead, the first steps to peace are always tentative: one side gives, the other side reciprocates. Pride and reactionary factions on both sides would rather want war than admit their mistakes.
To their credit, both Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani have made those first steps despite the opposition. That the Iranians quickly released US navy sailors after their capture shows what diplomacy can accomplish.
Diplomacy isn’t always going to work. And that’s okay. There are no easy answers, and peace is hard for both sides. But war is even harder. Totten may fret that Iran isn’t perfectly compliant with his image of what it could be. But as the saying goes, the perfect is the enemy of the good. And of course, good is better than our current situation.
One hopes that the future American and Iranian leadership continue the work accomplished this last year. Peace depends on it.
Last week, my father spoke highly of Pope Francis. He said "Me cae bien." (He's fine by me). Now, if you knew my father, this is extremely out of character. Since a child in rural Mexico, he was vehemently anti-Catholic and flirted with Evangelical and Charismatic Christian churches. And given the long history of the Catholic Church in Mexico, who can blame him for his attitude?
My father was not impressed by Pope John Paul II, and much less by Pope Benedict. But Francis? He's fine by me. I thought hell had frozen over.
But Pope Francis has that effect on people. Many of my fellow atheists and liberals have been swayed and enamored with Francis. Unlike his predecessors, Francis hails from Latin America and brings in a new perspective on a euro-centric religious organization. The actions of Francis in the early days of the papacy showed a man more committed to the poor, vulnerable, and shunned than the pomp of Benedict's red Prada shoes. Instead of an insular body out of touch from the realities of modernity, Francis showed that he was at least listening.
The amount of goodwill Francis had generated among skeptics and critics is astounding. And indeed, some of this is warranted. While the Republican party still clings to antediluvian denial on climate change, Francis's Laudato Si was a clarion call to all Catholics to combat climate change. That Francis has spoke critically on the pervasiveness of poverty was also welcomed by his nominal leftist critics. And let's us not forget his role in bridging US-Cuban relations.
Clearly, Francis is living up to the hype.
But let's be honest: has Francis change one doctrine, one tenet of Catholicism? Has Francis signal a change to redefine Catholicism stance on marriage?
But there is widespread disappointment over the meeting between Pope Francis and Kim Davis by many liberals, as exemplified here in Slate. There is a difference between giving the Pope credit in voicing concerns on issues like poverty and climate change, and idealization: the latter is inherently unstable as it ignores that Francis has never wavered from his view on religious liberty or same-sex marriage. So how can we be disappointed over nothing?
Regardless of what you think of Kim Davis and the reactionary attempts to make her a martyr, one cannot claim that the Papacy had a position resembling that of the pro-SSM side in the US. Where would anyone get that idea? Or the idea the Catholic Church was going to break with centuries of tradition over this issue? Again, the idealization of Francis led to delusions of the reality of the Catholic Church.
I do not say this to be harsh. As a former Catholic, a portion of me is still moved by Mass, by Catholic hymns, and the antiquity of the Church. I will admit that I am sympathetic to the Catholic Church, if I can never actually bring myself to believe again. Nonetheless, even my sentimentality doesn't cloud the reality of the church's stance on gay marriage, on divorce, abortion, contraception, and sex. These positions have not changed while Francis has been pontiff, and they are positions I reject whole-heartedly.
Maybe Ross Douthat is correct in saying that the West is not entirely secular. Maybe that can go some length into describing why Francis has had such a hold on even nominal skeptics like myself or my father. But even if that is the case, and even if Francis is fine by you, do not be taken: the Church hasn't changed at all.
The oft-quoted and oft-misattributed line “History if written by the victors” has always been wrong. With enough spin, with enough apathy from the victors, the loser’s narrative can take hold and dominate the conversation. Like global warming denialism or creationism, there is no need to “win” the debate among academics. So long as enough of the lay public believes the spin, that’s all that’s’ needed.
The spin de jour are the increasingly feeble attempt to salvage the meaning of the Confederate flag. In the wake of the Charleston Church Shooting of June 17, 2015, discussion of the place of the Confederate flag has resurfaced given that the shooter, Dylann Roof, was an unrepentant white supremacist who idealized the Confederacy, Apartheid South Africa, and the former Rhodesia. This idealization goes hand-in-hand with the Confederate Flag flying at full-mast over the South Carolina Statehouse, while the American flag is at half-mast in honor of the victims of the shooting.
Given the sordid and twisted history associated with the “Rebel flag,” the continuing flying of that flag by any and all municipality and state government - South Carolina most of all - is an insult to not only the victims of the shooting, but all victims (direct and indirect) of white supremacy of the last 300 years.
By no means am I suggesting the Confederate flag should be banned from sale, or excised by society at large, a là Germany and Nazi insignias. But any decent human being should look at that flag and view it for what it is: the failed symbol of traitors who sought to expand a slave-holding society across a continent. The Confederacy deserved to die, and so should any nostalgia for it.
Yes, any one should be able to wave the Confederate flag at their own pleasure. But society at large should view those individuals as they would any loon waving the Nazi flag or the Islamic State’s banners: as people far outside decent society. But why has American society humored the Confederate flag-waving for so long?
Simply put, it is because of lies and apathy.
The Civil War was caused because of slavery. End of discussion. There is no historical debate over this question, and yet contemporary opinions outside of academia continue to push the lie that the Civil War was due to “state’s rights.” The simple rejoinder to that lie - “a state’s right to do what?” - should tell you how flimsy that idea is. And yet it continues to persist. High Schoolers are taught this lie under the well-meaning intent to show complexity to historical events. The problem is that while analyzing the minutia of battles, of individual motives, and of war-time strategies are themselves complex, the ultimate roots of the war are as simple as they are tragic.
This tragedy cannot be denied. Over 700,000 Americans died as a result of the war. And for what? The proposition that men can own men? And women? And children? On the basis of skin color? There’s nothing redeemable about this. Nothing at all. And yet, that’s the kicker: when confronted with such a horrible excuse, people create new myths to justify their collective actions. So the goal to preserve slavery became to “defend state right.” This Lost Cause became a lie that continues to this day, because so many people would rather deny the obvious that comprehend the horrors committed by their ancestors.
They’re not alone in this, and given the rash of denialism around the world towards genocides and atrocities, we can say that this reaction is “natural.” But whereas Germany has taken an active stance in combating revision and to fully recognize the magnitude of Nazism's horrors, this was not (and is still not) the case in the United States. Because while Nazism died when the Red Army sacked Berlin, American white supremacy didn't die. Jim Crow would metastasize as a result of Reconstruction's failure, and exist for another century until the Civl Right Acts of the 1960s ended it. But the racism that fueled it didn't die, only to recede under the surface where it still exists, manifested by Dylann Roof.
Defenders of the Confederate flag resort to emotional and parochial appeals: they say it is about heritage . But such a statement is itself racist. Why? Because whose heritage are we talking about? Are we talking about the heritage of only white Southerners? Or does the heritage of African-Americans not matter? Do the defenders of the flag even think what African-Americans think about the flag? I don't think the thought ever crossed their mind. Or if it did, they would resort to thinking that this is just another instance of "identity politics" and that by pointing out the evil behind the flag, that those complainers are the real racists.
Unironically, Dylann Roof said as much in his manifesto:
"I think it is is fitting to start off with the group I have the most real life experience with, and the group that is the biggest problem for Americans. Niggers are stupid and violent. At the same time they have the capacity to be very slick. Black people view everything through a racial lense. Thats what racial awareness is, its viewing everything that happens through a racial lense. They are always thinking about the fact that they are black. This is part of the reason they get offended so easily, and think that some thing are intended to be racist towards them, even when a White person wouldnt be thinking about race. The other reason is the Jewish agitation of the black race. Black people are racially aware almost from birth, but White people on average dont think about race in their daily lives. And this is our problem. We need to and have to."
There is absolutely no self-awareness here by Roof. While writing a screed about his rationale to murder and inflict human misery due to his racism, he instead lays blame on African-Americans for simply pointing out past injustices. This "racial lens" is a problem, according to Roof, because "white people" do not do that. This, lady and gentlemen, is what we called white privilege. But he's not exceptional in saying this. While crude, Roof is simply conveying an extremely common opinion. In a 2013 Rasmussen poll, more Americans thought that African-Americans were more racist than whites. Further, Pew found that half of American whites see no racism around them. This is despite de facto segregation, white flight, police brutality against minorities, and, oh yeah, the entire history of white supremacy against blacks and minorities. But it is the idea that because blacks and minorities - the victims of white supremacy - are voicing the damage wrought to them, that by simply speaking, they must be the real racists.
And the reason why this continues is because of apathy. Why bother with such a depressing issue when you yourself are not affected by it? Dylann Roof did say that he and his ilk did not think about race all that often. Sheltered by privilege, he could not muster the empathy to see why racism is still a menace today. Instead, frustrated by this and other small events through life, he took up the gun. And nine people are now dead.
In the wake of Sandy Hook, or the Aurora Cinema shootings, and of so many other mass shootings, I have little faith that gun control will ever be enacted. But the symbol of white supremacy still waves over the South Carolina Statehouse in Charleston. Cane we at least take that down? And cosign it to museums, textbooks, and cheesy Civil War reenactments?
Taking down the flag will not do anything meaningful to end racism. But at least we won't be humoring racists any longer.
It took me long enough, but I finally have my Master's degree in History.
Find a job, that's what. I keep telling myself that whatever job I find will only be temporary, and that I will eventually complete my PhD in History. But I cannot predict the future, so a successful job search may mean that I will forever be a teacher. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you. But it's just odd that, back in high school, I would have never imagined myself as a teacher. Funny how life leads us into strange and new directions.
Last year my job search was, to be blunt, a failure. Looking back on it now I feel that there were many mistakes made during the interview processes. But I did discover a few things during all that about what principals are looking for at prospective teachers.
I was confident given my good grades in History, and my performance on the TExES Social Studies exam. I don't think my knowledge of the subject is in doubt. Rather, what principles care about is on how to manage a classroom, how to deal with parents, how to make lesson plans. Not really the subject at hand.
On one level, this makes all the sense in the world: a teacher must do much more than simply lecture. We simply do not appreciate the entirety of what a teacher has to do. I wasn't at all surprised by these questions. Makes sense. But surely, you would have expected something about competency on the subjects, no?
Whatever is the case, I didn't get a job last year. So the search continues again. This time I have a Master's degree, and more teaching positions to choose from. And I have the added bonus of applying at community colleges!
We'll see what new opportunities come my way, but even with last year's troubles, I remain optimistic.
So, I'm now into my third semester in graduate school, and so far I'm managing my own. Having a 4.0 is nice, and my work in my three study courses is coming along nicely.
However, this is the first time that I'm going full-time to school; the previous two semesters were part-time only. In taking these three study courses, I'm now able to appreciate the different styles (for lack of a better term) among my professors, regarding their assumptions in the study of history.
My first professor (also my advisor) focuses on systemic institutions and assumptions that permeate all levels of society, even into the most innocuous aspects. People are trapped by these forces and assumptions, and by realizing our biases, we can come closer to understanding past decision making and the resulting consequences. In this perspective, the works of structuralism (especially of Foucault and Derrida) takes center stage as analytic tool in studying the past. As my advisor's focus is on Orientalism - the Western perception and assumptions towards the Orient - it isn't a surprise that this is the primary means to analyze the past. This includes trying to observe the historian's biases when analyzing texts and material from another society. It is not simply to let the text "speak for itself," but to also be vigilant toward's our own biases. I can say that studying under her has helped tempered my earlier, skeptic-influenced ambivalence towards post-modernist thought.
In contrast, my second professor eschews the "systemic" notion of history, and looks at individuals. As a semi-famous military historian (and certainly one of the top military historians anywhere), he can appreciate trends and patterns - commonalities - in the history of European warfare. However, he tries to focus much more closely on individual decisions, individual factors that swing the entire course of history from one end to another. In studying WWI under him, the old notions I had of WWI - that the war was inevitable due to long-term trends - are being challenged. The more I read, the more I realize that a Bismarck or any competent leader would not have let war come at all. Rather, the leadership - political and military - fucked up. And fucked up a lot in institutions that did not promote merit or good ideas, in societies plagued by class antagonisms, in a ambivalent adoption of new technologies and falling back on old tactics, and on the contradiction of wanting a decisive victory in the face of trench warfare. Even with these trends, bone headed mistakes and hesitations led to this. So with this professor, the human factor looms large.
And there's the third course. This course deals with Mexican-American and Chicano history. As a Chicano myself, you would think that the style taught here would be to my liking. You'd be wrong about that. From my readings and my observation of the professor, the entire field of Mexican-American history is wrapped up with Chicano and Latin American activism. Now, in their defense, Chicano and Borderland scholars have shed a lot of light of systemic prejudices against Hispanics - from the use of quarantine in South Texas to the use of eugenics to sterilized "troubled" Mexican youths in California to showing that Mexican-Americans were lynched at a higher rate than blacks were. That anger is there, and that anger towards the past is actually justified, unlike the fears of conservatives towards something as tame as affirmative action. Nonetheless, when I hear from this professor that a writer should be more emotional and condemnatory towards an injustice, I feel uncomfortable. History should not be synonymous with polemics. While the course is interesting, I am better able to articulate why I'm unsettled by Chicano studies in genera.
If anything, I do find that the three courses have helped me understand the nuances and contradictions among these different threads. What am I to make of it? Or what am I to choose, I can not say.
Back during my days back in Austin, I walked passed the main building often on my way to class. Inscribed on its facade is the following:
Ye shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free.
Ironically, these words are sourced from the Book of John as an appeal to accept the Holy Ghost in order to achieve eternal salvation. But never mind that. Despite the theological origin of the phrase, I always liked it. I feel learning unshackles a person from the constraints of ignorance. Ignorance is a prison, limiting one from knowledge and blinding them to the world as it really exists.
At times, though, the truth hurts. It really hurts. In learning new ideas - the unseemly details of past events, and the inconsistencies of cherished narratives we hold dear - our view of the world is shaken and shattered. The uncomfortable realities that manifest from our new-found knowledge can lead to the following scenarios:
- We accept the truth and change our views accordingly (if reluctantly) based on new data.
- We ignore the new truth to end the unsettling feeling that arises after such discovery.
- We dismiss the truth as false out of a deep conviction we already know the one and only truth.
I strive to choose the first option every time the opportunity presents itself. And yet it's hard. Giving up my religion and my political ideology was hard; once those were gone, I developed a void where these ideas once took center place, and trying to fill that void with substitute ideas only let to more confrontations with uncomfortable ideas. No doubt I am not alone with this feeling.
Why do we resist? We should recognize the errors of our ways and accept the truth, accept reality. Sure, it's embarrassing to admit a mistake, but in the end we should be able to recognize the inherent advantage in our new found truth. But still we resist.
I don't think anyone will know the answer to this question other than to say that humans are not logical animals. We are much more than automatons who follow basic commands preset from a creator. We base our lives on emotions and feelings and would rather cherish these feelings more so than to recognize and appreciate the cold reality.
Still, while it's useful to understand that humans are inherent emotional creatures, not rational ones, these emotions can lead to detrimental reasoning.
Some weeks ago, I passed by my sister's snow cone shop. However it happened, our conversation steered from what apps to install on her new iPhone and to a discussion of welfare. Keep in mind that my sister graduate as a Social Work major, is steeped in the literature of welfare statistics, and was once vehement in debunking the stereotypes of welfare abuse and its perceived prevalence. Years of working outside of field of study, opening up her own business, and being a mother has drastically changed her views on welfare.
She now rails against welfare abuse. Her once liberal views have veered towards the right. This, despite knowing the statistics. In fairness to my sister, she is cognizant of this change and tries to remember the evidence from her years in school. But alas, that's not enough. And it's not enough for a very obvious reason:
Her new truth feels good.
And if it feels good, sounds good, then it's true. Damn the facts. Anecdotal evidence may be worthless to any practitioner of logic and skepticism, but boy, does it ever work in shaping a person's narrative of the world.
I know what the standard skeptical/atheist refrain would be. You must teach people how to think properly, logically so they can base their beliefs on reason and on the evidence. It's a nice sentiment, and works great if we're talking about a single thing a person will not put much attention to in a day-to-day basis, like alternative medicine or other pseudosciences. But such reasoning has a hard time challenging an established narrative.
If a narrative makes sense and feels correct to someone, what can be done? And considering that our entire political culture is dominated by these self-insulated narratives, I have a hard time thinking much can be done. And I'm not just referring to my sister's views on welfare.
People actually think anthropogenic global warming is a hoax. People really think that Barack Obama is an evil socialist autocrat hellbent on destroying Western civilization. People actually think that there's a cabal of corporations that seek to impose free trade and unbridled capitalism on humanity. Faulty narratives are pervasive.
Anyone seeking to sway political discourse one way or another must understand that showing statistics, charts, or photo evidence is not enough. But again, anyone seeking to sway political discourse would be advised to take a critical look into their own assumptions and ask if they are proselytes of the one, objective truth, or dupes like the rest of us.
I wish I had an answer. But considering this has been the way humans have thought since the dawn of our species, I doubt anything can change this. Indeed, I think that while combatting the most harmful narratives would be advantages to all of us*, maybe we should just agree to disagree on most narrative conflicts. Maybe this is prudence speaking, or just exhaustion on my part.
There are times I do wish I did not know and accepted the comfortable narratives most people do have. I would like there to be a God. I would like there to be an ultimate political truth. But I just can't bring myself to reject what I've learned, to reject the history and my skepticism to accept a truth that is most likely true. Ultimately, I could not accept the Catholic faith I grew in. I could not accept the veracity of the claims Conservatism, and then Socialism offered.
The narratives may be comforting. The narratives may offer a community of gnostics who are self-assured compatriots of the one, self-evident truth. I do wish I could just accept ignorance and bathe in her warm bliss. But I cannot. If you want to know why I am repelled by organized religion, by political parties, by ideological movements, this is why.
I wish it weren't the case.
And the funny thing is, while I do know enough to call shenanigans on this or that narrative, I do not know enough to actually formulate a narrative for myself. I don't know enough. Period. So not only am I repelled by groups I yearn to join, I'll never have the means to find such a group.
I may be free, but I can assure you, it's no picnic.
*Narratives that actively promote violence or inflict deadly harm on a person. So think violent Jihadism, Fascism, Communism, Anarchism, or the promotion of homeopathy to a cancer patient. Anything that is self-evidently physically killing an individual.
As mentioned in the New York Times, the presidential elections in Egypt have seen the Muslim Brother candidate Mohamed Morsi and old Mubarak-apparatchik Ahmed Shafik emerge as the two leading candidates; as a result, a runoff will be held to determine Egypt's first democratically elected President. More interesting (at least to me), is the reaction of the liberal wing of the Egyptian revolution who are piqued at the thought that either a Muslim Brother or Mubarak stalwart will lead the country.
Other moderate and liberal candidates like Amr Moussa, the Nasserite Hamdeen Sabahi, and the former Muslim Brother Aboul Fotouh did not gain enough votes to proceed to the runoff. Indeed, the two former frontrunners of the race, Moussa and Fotouh, are now out of the race. In the case of Fotouh, it seems liberal support for the candidate eroded with the Salafists endorsement of his candidacy. Thus, liberal support buoyed Sabahi's candidacy to propel him to be on par with that of Fotouh. And while the combined votes of Fotouh and Sabahi would put them in a clear plurality of the vote, the Egyptian voting system doesn't care for such ad hoc rationalizations.
Moderate and liberal voices were overshadowed by the organizational skill of the Brotherhood should not come to anyone's surprise. As mentioned by this special from Al Jazeera, this Muslim Brotherhood has had organizational success in parliamentary elections since the beginning of Mubarak's regime. And they are the most organized and largest non-state actor in Egypt. And while the revolution itself was led by liberal and leftist activists, the inability of these activists to speak in a single voice like the Brotherhood doomed their candidate(s) of choice.
However, the success of Shafik may come as a surprise since the revolution sought to remove the ancien regime of Mubarak. But this is not that surprising once you think about it. It was never clear if the majority of the Egyptian people actually supported the revolution. Not to mean they thought Mubarak was awesome, but that they were neutral with regards to the revolution. The revolution has had an economic and social cost to Egypt: the lost of tourism has sunk an already beleaguered economy, and the constant protests, clashes, and riots of the past year and a half has created a yearning for "normalcy" on the part of many Egyptians. They want security and jobs, and the revolution-as-a-phenomenon has created a situation counter to that. This is the situation that Shafik tried to tap into by stating that the "revolution is over". The chaos of the revolution has ended.
Of course, the dictates of the second-place candidate does not end a revolution. It'll be interesting to see how far Morsi goes if he does win the run-off vote. If so, the Muslim Brotherhood will now control the presidency and parliament, able to pass any legislation they will wish to pass. How they interact with the military (much less the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) is to be determined.
So what's next of Egypt's liberal activists? Well, the defection of many Fotouh supporters to Sabahi has led to Shafik being the second-place winner. Assuming that this election fosters a new era of Egyptian democracy, and not a continuation of autocratic rule, liberal and leftist activists should follow the example of the Brotherhood and do a better job at organizing at a political level. Yes, the liberal activists were at the forefront of the revolution, with the Brotherhood joining the protests once Mubarak's power became untenable. But as seen in the parliamentary elections, liberals and the left could not even hope to compete against the Brotherhood. And the decision to boycott the election proved to be disastrous. Yes, they showed their displeasure at Islamists controlling the legislature, but they don't have any say in the matter. What did that accomplish?
Let this election be a lesson to the Egyptian left. Hopefully, next time (if there is a next time), some semblance of unity can emerge to actually shift the course of the election. In the meantime, they will need to decide if either Morsi - the Islamist - or Shafik - the face of the old regime - is the lesser to two evils.
I try to post here more often, but I feel that I don't have much to say. I have ideas, I have opinions, but when I start to write them down here, I second-guess myself. Do I actually know what I'm talking about?
At the same time, I'm astounded as to how often I read the opinions and thoughts of pundits that are worthless. They know very little, they fail to fact-check, and they are so damn sure they are right. How can they be so confident despite being wrong so often? And they get paid for it? It's mind-blowing.
You can chalk this up to the Dunning-Kruger effect, but I feel that what makes people so enamored to the writings of know-nothing pundits is that these pundits are so confident. The whole industry of political blogging feels like some large echo chamber, where people reinforce their beliefs day in and day out.
"Damn learning! I want to read more on how I'm already correct, and how they are wrong!"
Maybe this is why, despite my liberal proclivities, I am turned off by the liberal blogosphere. I am more fascinated with the ideas of anarchists, communists, and the marginalized left than I am with those loyal stewards of the Democratic party.
Another problem I find in updating this blog is that I have a hard time maintaining my focus on my writing. I may have an idea in mind, but I then go about making outlines to organize my ideas around. It seems I need to forgo that entirely and just write from the top of my mind. Edits can come later.
So I'll try to update this more often. But who knows.
A common theme I notice about the lamentations over the removal of ODDs from the Mac Mini is the desire for Apple to install Blu-Ray ODDs into Macs and MacBooks. But what percentage of people actually play movies on Blu-Ray disks?
I would imagine that many more people peruse the DVD selection of a Redbox than buying the latest Blu-Ray movie from Best Buy. Maybe I'm letting my own personal anecdotal experience affect my outlook on this "controversy" as I don't have a big screen TV, much less a blu-ray player. But I feel that Blu-Ray was a moribund format on arrival, doomed for failure as a result of the convenience of online streaming.
Sure, the engadget editiorial is correct: downloading a 50gb rip of a Blu-Ray disk is going to take a while, even on the best ISP network in the US. But how many people actually download (legally or illegally) a Blu-Ray film versus a standard DVD rip or standard definition flick?
I can see Blu-Ray living on as the go-to format for installing games, especially in next-generation gaming consoles. But the fact that Apple more or less succeeded in distributing their new OS without a physical delivery system, I see the removal of ODDs from the Mac Mini not as an act of hubris on Apple's part, but simply stating the obvious: the Optical Disk Drive's days are numbered.
How do you describe human nature to be? Is man intrinsically good or evil?
Or is man a thinking capable of so much wonder and idealistic virtue...but also a creature of flawed thinking and vices?
I ask this since the political debates that plague the blogosphere and society all boil down to what is is the true nature of man. In studying history, there are those you read about who have an idealistic - almost utopian - vision of society. With their theories on a given economic/political/ethical philosophy, these dreamers and thinkers have the plan and solution to lift man up to something new and better.
Traditionally, the term "liberal" was used to describe this lot; those who believe that the creation or modification of institutions can be use to change the condition of man. But the term has the obvious connotation of lumping all idealists into the center-left of the political spectrum, when this is clearly not the case.
When we talk of idealists in the political context, this include disparate groups ranging from the Moral Majority of the 1980s to the Anarchists of the 1890s; from the Progressive activists in the turn to the 20th century to the Tea Party activists of the turn of the 21st century. Idealism knows no boundaries and knows no political party - idealism is a common part of every ideological faction we know of.
Idealism is not universal, and there are those "realists" who have the view that human nature is unchanging and eternal. To Realists, the way man behaves is hardened over generations and generations - to the point where the action of most people is predictable and repetitive.
Whether you consider yourself an Idealist or Realist depends heavily on your take of human nature - is man a flawed and defected creature? Or can man be bettered and reformed?
Can the ills plaguing the world - whatever you think they are - be ended if those problems stem from the innate nature of man?
For most of my life, I had the view that someone can change the world; I hoped to change the world. But in reading history and current events over the years, my idealism has been tempered and my cynicism sharpened. What's that saying from Socrates? "The more one learns, the less one knows"? I don't know of an adequate way to change the world without changing human nature itself. And can that be done?
I think it boils down to the scope of "changing the world": can world peace be achieved, or hunger be eliminated? I don't think so, at least, not yet. But can I do something to help another person and change their life for the better? Absolutely.
While I still fee some hopelessness for our future, I still think doing something is better than nothing; at least we can say we tried. Right?
After winning the Republican primary to be the party's Kentucky Senate candidate, a series of interviews - one with NPR and another with the Rachel Maddow Show - left Rand Paul in a bit of trouble. The issue concerned his views on a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In summation, his views are that the federal government does not have the constitutional right in legislating who a private business may or may not choose as patrons - if the business owner decides to refuse service to a person of another race, it was within his right as the property owner to do so. This is in keeping with the libertarian view that a key function of government is to protect the rights of property owners and the right to free speech of its citizenry.
In theory, the community at large (leveraging their collective might as consumers) could boycott the discriminatory business owners and hurt him economically as a protest against his opinions. In the libertarian viewpoint, this is a self-correcting mechanism that does not require governmental involvement and zero infringement on the property rights or freedom of speech of anyone person...in theory, at least.
The problem with Paul's (and libertarians') view on this issue is that it makes several assumptions:
- Government is an entity separate from the wider society that has a set (if arbitrary) role in protecting "natural rights" - rights that include the protection of private property and free speech but not freedom from unjustifiable discrimination or injustice; essentially, government has no right to protect the welfare of a minority group due to an arbitrary demarcation of responsibility and duties libertarians adhere do.
- The notion the wider society would actually be opposed to the discriminatory actions of the hypothetical business owner and be bothered to actually boycott the hypothetical business. For example, we all know that many goods on sale at your local discount store are made in sweatshops that abuse the rights of their workers - how are the boycotts against these sweatshops and Wal-Mart working out? They're still in business (and thriving) despite years of knowledge of these practices.
- The notion that property rights are more important than the right of a citizen from being discriminated against.
While these views may seem reasonable to Paul and his ilk, these ideological views are completely out of touch from reality. It is easy to say that people will unite and protest against unfair business practices if these practices are known in the open; but when the situation emerges, how many people will actually partake in the boycott? And what is to be done when nearly every business in the hypothetical community are also discriminatory as well? Who will protect the minority group from this?
It is easy for an idealistic libertarian to tout how, if given the chance, he would march along side Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement in condemning racism...only after the fight for equal rights has been mostly won already. An idealistic libertarian does not have the burden in having an internal debate over the rampant racism and discrimination against blacks and other minority groups pervasive throughout the entire country and the rights of business owners in choosing whether or not to discriminate. When faced with a situation that causes this type of conflict between one's ideals and one's common sense, it is always troubling. Fortunately for most libertarians, they do not have to face history in their day to day lives.
Unfortunately for Rand Paul, he now needs to balance his idealism and reality. It will be interesting to see how he proceeds from here.