Monday, January 31, 2011

Open Thread for Marcuse/Whitman

Prompts for Friday's Blog Post (Marcuse & Whitman)

Reminder:  If you don't like the assigned prompts, and want to do something else, you need to present that idea to me, in person or in email, at least three days before the assignment is due.  Don't do an alternative prompt unless I agree to it!  Hopefully, I will add a third option after class on Tuesday.

Option 1:  Pick one numbered section from Leaves of Grass.  Analyze that section, or some part of that section, making use of Marcuse.  What section or concept you use from Marcuse is entirely up to you; passages concerning literature or poetic language from either last week's reading (any part of Chapter 3 would work, for instance) might be easiest, but are by no means required.  You might use a concept from Marcuse to help explain what Whitman is doing; you might end up turning the tables, and essentially challenging Marcuse's understanding of art or poetry (maybe by finding it inadequate to deal with Whitman).  In any case, you should have a clear argument which makes use of both texts, including cited passages from them.


Option 2:  Look upon the original text from one of Marcuse's footnotes.  Some of these are easy to find, and some aren't.  In many cases, if our library doesn't have the exact edition, you'll be able to find the relevant material using Google Books.  Analyze his analysis of the cited passage.  How does he use it?  Is his reading correct?  Could his reading be challenged, altered, or expanded?  In other words, you should frame an argument which concerns Marcuse's use of one of his sources.

Option 3:  (Added Wednesday)  Go to the library, either physically or virtually.  You need to find a scholarly article on Whitman, which *must* be from the Pitt library.  I strongly suggest that you use the MLA Database.  I'm going to give you a link - you may need to log in if you're off campus, and the link may be different on campus, etc.  If you have trouble, you can ask me for help, but it might be easier to deal with a librarian - it's up to you.

MLA

Once you have picked and read an article, you need to do two things.

1)  Summarize one of its arguments, making use of citations and possibly quotes from it.
2)  Apply it to our class discussion - either extend or critique something we/I had to say about the poem, using this scholarly article.

Examples:  Starting out by looking for essays on Whitman and animals, Whitman and photography (thanks, Eric), or Whitman and sexuality would be productive.

FOR THIS OPTION ONLY, you may take until 4 p.m. on Saturday (that deadline is firm).  If you're doing so, just email me to let me know IN ADVANCE.

Also, you must cite your article, using whatever citation method you know.  If you don't know any, google either the MLA method of citation, or the Chicago style, and use one or the other.



Yes, do your comments exactly as last week

A thread was recently opened asking whether you should do comments as you did last week.  Sorry for not providing the reminder (and consider this an extension, if you need it):  unless I tell you otherwise, the following instructions from last week will stand for every week from here on out.  Those you who asked, thank you for asking!

Instructions:

remember that you need to comment on someone else's blog entry by Sunday night [for this week only, you can have a couple extra days, if you need it].  Whose, you might ask?  Everyone needs to respond to the person who posted immediately after them.  The last person who posted an essay responds to the first person who posted it.  What should you say?  You are responding to their ideas/argument in an attempt to improve them.  You might try to extend an idea, you might try to pose a counterargument, you might identify and say something about a relevant passage or external source that they don't use:  your job is to help them articulate and develop their ideas.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Wage Slavery in Parable and Capitalism

The subject of slavery is a theme brought up throughout Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower and Herbert Marcuse's One-dimensional Man. The common thread between the two is also brought up in Michael Moore's film Capitalism: A Love Story. The definition of slavery should be defined as it has somewhat variable meanings in each of these three works. In Butler's book, slavery is used in more of a wage slavery way, the people of California, and other areas across the country are forced to work in terrible conditions, not for money, but for food, security, and a place to sleep. In Marcuse's book, slavery is used in the sense that people are beginning to become slaves to capitalism, in the sense that nothing will ever be enough for them. And finally in Michael Moore's film, slavery is brought up again in a very similar sense to the wage slavery discussed in Butler's America. The people of Moore's documentary are shown caught in the never ending cycle of taking out loans, and being forced into debt trying to repay them to the same banks that promised them freedom.
Throughout all three of these mediums, however different they appear, the same core message seems to be present; society is on the decline, whether it be a real or fictional society, and this decline is leading to the "enslavement" of society. The beginnings of this trend could be traced back to the separation of the middle and upper classes as far back as Europe. As the aristocracy began to grow further and further apart from the middle and lower classes, the lower classes were separated and saw the aristocracy as something to be attained and as something to work towards. Hundreds of years later Marcuse, Butler and Moore in addition to many other artists have commented on the decline of society and the slaves it makes of people. Obviously conditions have not regressed to the point of martial law as they have in Butler's book, but the non-fictional stories of Marcuse and Moore point out that this type of society could not be too far into the future.
I could pose several questions about my opinion on this situation. I feel that the success of capitalism in American society has not been beneficial in the sense that many people think it has been. In Marcuse's book he discusses that people should be happy with what they have but they will never will be because society dictates that they will always be able to have more if they try hard enough. I completely disagree with this statement and think that this idea is probably the major contributor to the decline and "enslavement" of today's society. People believe in the "American Dream" and the idea that they can achieve anything with perseverance and hard work. Instead of inspiring healthy competition and creating a better economy, this idea makes people who should by all means be content with what they have, unhappy and crave the lifestyles of the rich and famous. People of today's society do not seem to think of the countries where a minimum wage job would create riches for some families, that there are millions of people who go without food, water, and shelter let alone a Ferrari or a penthouse suite. The America of today would not only appall Marcuse, but I think he would not at all be surprised by where society has fallen to.
One hundred years ago a doctor or an entertainer did their job because they enjoyed it and they were good at it. They made decent livings, supported their families and had money to SAVE. Saving money in today's society is almost non-existent, instead of using whatever left over money they may have to put into college funds, or rainy day funds, people's extra money goes to pay for ever climbing interest rates on credit cards and loans. Both taken out to try and fund the extravagant lifestyle that everyone craves.
In closing I feel that both of these books have been extremely enlightening as well as informative on both the past and present opinions of America's society, and possibly a window into where we are headed.

Question about Sunday post

Does anyone know if we are supposed to comment on the person's post after us like last week?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Crack Epidemic: Equivalent to Pyro Epidemic

History will tell that the United States of America faced a crippling Crack epidemic from 1985-1990: “The Crack epidemic hit the United States full force, resulting in escalating violence among rival groups and crack users in many U.S. cities. By 1989, the Crack epidemic was still raging and drug abuse was considered the most important issue facing the nation” (U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency). During this era Crack-related crime was all too frequent; according to the, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, “The Crack trade had created a violent sub-world, and crack-related murders in many large cities were skyrocketing…On a daily basis, the evening news reported the violence of drive by shootings and Crack users trying to obtain money for their next hit” (U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency). In Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler metaphorically illustrates the negative impact that Crack had on the United States; Butler illustrates the lack of control that authorities put around the epidemic and shows how the epidemic highlighted economic division.

Though the setting of Parable of the Sower took place several years into the future, it appears to be reminiscent of the infamous crack epidemic of the 1980s and early 90s. In the novel Crack addicts are represented by poor, scavenging “Pyro” addicts. In regards to the Crack epidemic, several economists “suggest that Crack Cocaine was the most prominent factor contributing to the rise and fall of social ills in the African-American and Latino communities…distribution of the drug occurred mainly in low-income inner city neighborhoods” (Wikipedia). In my opinion, Butler illustrates this decline in the African-American and Latino communities by showing how Robledo, a prominently African-American and Latino community, was destroyed by “Pyromaniacs”.

Although the vast majority of Crack users were of low economic status—just as Butler portrays Pyro users to be of low economic status—citizens of higher economic status were negatively affected by Crack-related crimes such as robbery and homicide. Butler shows how the crack epidemic contributed to social division and tension among poor and wealthier citizens: “We’ve never been rich, but to the desperate, we looked rich. We were surviving and we had our wall. Did our community die so that addicts could make a help-the-poor political statement?” (Butler, 163). Additionally, Butler illustrates economical divide as the rich community had the most protection from drug-related crime: “…although perhaps with their [the rich] big guns, private armies of security guards, and up to date security equipment, they’re better able to fight back. Maybe that’s why we’re getting so much attention. We have a few stealables and we’re not that well protected” (Butler, 117). To an extent, this illustrates how the less wealthy communities were more adversely impacted by the Crack epidemic than more wealthy communities.

Through the metaphorical use of “Pyromanics”, Butler does an amazing job of portraying the real life addictiveness of crack and the sociopathic behavior of crack addicts. She portrays the typical “Pyromaniac” as a desperate addict whose sole concern is just to get high on fire: “Sometimes the paints like the fire so much they get too close to it. Then their friends don’t even help him. They just watch them burn. It’s like…I don’t know, it’s like they were fucking the fire, and like it was the best fuck they ever had” (Butler, 111).

Octavia Butler seems to critique the lack of control that authority figures had over the Crack epidemic by showing the lack of control and concern that authorities had over “Pyro”-related crime. Throughout the novel the police and firefighters were either unresponsive or extremely slow when responding to emergencies: “There were no unburned houses back in the neighborhood, although some were burned worse than others. I don’t know whether police or firefighters ever came. If they had come, they were gone when I got there. The neighborhood was wide open and crawling with scavengers.” (Butler, 158). This may be textual evidence which demonstrates Butler’s criticism of the lack of authority or governmental control over the crippling Crack epidemic.

Although Robledo was a middle class community where there were probably no “Pyro” users, it was still destroyed by the “Pyro epidemic”. I believe that Butler was attempting to illustrate the effects that the Crack epidemic could have potentially had on the United States as a whole, that despite the fact that the epidemic had began in low-income neighborhoods its damaging effects would trickle up and adversely impact the entire nation. Butler metaphorically demonstrates that financial status, in the form of a gated community, would fail to protect from the Crack epidemic; the following passage expresses this idea: “We found the cold remains of a fire with a human femur and two human skulls lying among the ashes. At last, we came home and wrapped our community wall around us and huddled in our illusions of security” (Butler, 133).

We Should be Searching

Parable of a Sower demonstrates the use of gangs as one of the main antagonistic forces. Butler uses the gang life surrounding her in LA to draw inspiration and she incorporates her findings into the piece. From her observations she makes inferences and warns of a future that fails in its essential need for the growth of knowledge through the use of the police force and the Paints.

The book displayed a use of literal gangs that are reminiscent of the gang life during the 1990s. Butler is obviously influenced by the rise in gangs in her own environment especially when Lauren talks about the gangs guarding most of the bridges around San Francisco and that they “are there to rob desperate, fleeing people of their weapons, money, food, and water” (246). Butler also seems aware of the general attitudes of gangs, most likely due to the prominence during the 90’s. Most specifically, she is aware of the issue over territories. During the 1990’s “Black gangs along with Latino gangs were no longer confined to the inner city of Los Angeles” (Alonso). As the number of gangs increased so did the breakouts of violence over territory between different gangs. This knowledge influenced Butler when Emery and Tori explained that they had intruded on the camp because the two gangs fighting over the land where they were camping “ shot at each other and called insults and accusations back and forth” (290).

The recklessness of the gangs in the 1990’s was also on the rise, increasing from “18 to 43 percent” (Maceo). Aware of the increase, Butler incorporated the danger to those in such groups and those around it. For example, the dangers were made quite obvious during the many fights that broke out around the Earthseed group as they traveled north. Lauren described the fight that killed Justin’s mother by “one group chasing the other, both firing their guns as though they and their enemies were the only people in the world” (249). Not only does her description show the carelessness with which the groups fight, having no regard for those around them or the repercussions of their actions, but it also demonstrates the dependence of the future society on guns.

Butler featured guns as the best form of protection, often having Lauren wishing for more guns or worrying about the effectiveness of a knife. This points to the rise of firearms being used in gang homicides from 71% in 1979 to 95% in 1994 to be another influence on Butler’s warning about our future selves. Butler obviously has a good grasp on how actual gangs function due to her use of gangs as one of the antagonistic forces of the outside world. She seems to understand that their danger lies within their unpredictability and their capacity to take lives to get what they want.

In the way of realistic correlations between what Butler sees in her real life during the 1990’s, she does an excellent job of showing how the gangs would translate into the future as more hostile and more extreme versions of their current day selves. Butler, however, does not only write that the gang life will become more extreme, but she also displays an evolution of what our current day gangs could become. Such examples are the police force. Butler’s service forces are ones of laziness and money. In moments of intense need people don’t even try to contact authorities because they know that it will hurt them more than help, and probably cost a lot of money. When Keith is murdered, Lauren’s family scrapes up the money to afford a police investigation. In the end, they don’t help at all, but try to accuse Lauren’s father of killing Keith. Lauren admits that the police “never helped when people called for help. They came later, and more often than not, made a bad situation worse” (114). Through this description, Butler is hinting at the similarities between the police and the gangs roaming the cities. The gangs acted as one of the largest oppositions Lauren faced when she was on the road north, making the bad situation of traveling so much worse. When Lauren is living inside the walls she has the police to contend with (a type of societal gang) and outside she has gangs warring over territory to deal with. The most obvious connection between the gangs and the police force is when Lauren is talking about the gangs guarding the bridges, asking for tolls. She also includes the police in the list of people looking for payment to cross the bridge and those who killed the travelers who could not pay. Lauren blatantly says at one point that the police “were no better than gangs with their robbing and slaving” (317). Butler is warning her audience about the possible outcomes for the current system of gangs in society.

Continuing with the growing severity of the groups, the Paints also show Butler’s envisaged evolution of the gangs of today. They exemplify the recklessness and potential impact of such gangs. When the community is burnt down, for example, it is done so by the Paints. High on pyro, they burnt down the community for no reason other to watch it burn. The unpredictability of this group contributes to sheer terror of the group. Lauren does not know what to expect when she attempts to go back to her neighborhood, “Do they hang around after their fun to steal whatever’s left and maybe kill a few more people?” (158). Her question also portrays the haste with which the Paints act, Lauren is not even sure that they will stay to steal and have a cause for burning down her cul-de-sac. The impact the Paints has on the community was also and evident impact on Lauren’s life and many others. The Paints represent the ultimate form of fear because they have no reason for their fires, which means it could happen to anyone.

It is interesting to note who these gangs consist of, or rather, who they do not consist. Lauren, Bankole, and the majority of the Earthseed community are at least somewhat educated, being able to read, write or do both. The gangs are comprised of uneducated, lower socioeconomic status who are frustrated with their place in society. Their frustration finds an outlet in the violence they believe will bring them to their rightful place in society. The police, once highly educated, seem to be anyone who can get their hands on a gun and a badge. The badge, at least in Lauren’s eyes, is nothing other than “a license to steal” (316) rather than a sign of trust and service. The Paints are said at one point to be affluent young adults who were bored and got addicted to pyro, at other times it seems like they are a type of sociopathic Robin Hood, in either case the truth about the Paints never is known. The pattern, at least with the gangs and the police, seems to be lack of education. The Earthseed group represents the ideal, it represents people willing to learn more and change based on what they learn. The gangs, police, and Paints have no desire to learn and instead are obsesses with territory, power, or drugs. Butler seems to be suggesting a return to the basic principle of survival: knowledge.

Butler’s use of the gangs evident in her environment translated into Parable of a Sower through the blatant connections between our common ideas of gang activity and the gangs represented in the novel. Butler ventures to go one step further and shows what the gangs of the 1990’s could evolve in to: the paints and the broken down police system. Her use of gangs is a deliberate critique on the way our society has turned away from seeking knowledge as a basic need of life and has instead focused on power and technology.


Bibliography
Alonso, Alejandro. "Black Street Gangs in Los Angeles: A History." N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan 2011. .
Maceo, Brenda. "Rise in Gang Violence." USC News 10/05/95: n. pag. Web. 28 Jan 2011. .

Preserve Life

In Parable of the Sower, the worldly conditions are basically in shambles; rain does not come very often anymore, natural resources are scarce, and food is not as plentiful as it once was. While on route to Bankoles farm, Lauren’ group experience a “strong” and “chaotic” earthquake that disrupts their original planned route (246). I believe that Butler was relating this to her own beliefs on the direction of the word and parallels the unusual string of earthquakes and natural disasters that plagued the era that this book was published.

Although the idea of an expanding hole in our earth’s ozone layer was introduced in 1977, it wasn’t backed up with indisputable evidence until 1985. It was at this moment that people began to truly question the lifetime and longevity of this earth. This increased awareness of protecting the earth was further driven by the extraordinary amount of earthquakes that occurred from 1985-1993 when this novel was released. For example, in 1985 there was a large volcanic eruption and earthquake that occurred in Colombia that claimed thousands of lives known as the Armera Tragedy. This was quickly followed by the largest earthquake to hit California that caused millions of dollars of damage in Whittier. These earthquakes were accompanied by other quakes such as the 1988 earthquake in USSR and the 1989 earthquake in New Castle, both of which claimed many lives and cost millions in repairs.

In the Earthseed passage found before chapter 20 where Lauren finds out about the terrible aftermath of the earthquake is seen the passage “God is neither good nor evil. Neither loving nor hating…god is change” (245). I think this relates to how Lauren and Butler felt that this constant chain of natural disasters could be some sort of message from God that something is wrong and must change for the better. In Parable of the Sower, Lauren thinks of god as a changing force that motivates a desire to evolve while she strives for a better life. This can be related to the idea that these earthquakes are God’s way of showing his dissatisfaction with the actions of humans as a whole. Although the earthquake does not affect Lauren and her group members, society was destroyed badly and needed to “rebuild” their ways to something new, as obviously the old way wasn’t working. Because society at that time was basically in shambles and virtually beyond repair, it seems that the only way to truly change would be to destroy everything and start anew, something that could be achieved with an earthquake.

I feel that Butler was trying to get across the message of preservation of our earth and its natural resources; we must unite together to protect our earth and ozone so that future generations do not end up like the future in Parable of the Sower. This is actually a very startling thought as we are still battling the same battles in today’s world. We are still fighting to find alternative sources of fuel, efficient ways of recycling water, ways of decreasing pollution, global warming, as well as many other numerous efforts that exist in today’s world. It’s a scary thought but it is very possible that we will deplete the earth of its natural resources and we will need to find alternative ways or we will fall into a dismal future similar to that of Laruen’s.

I support Butler’s ideas of preserving the earth as I feel it is necessary not only for ourselves but for our future generations if we wish to keep living on this planet. There are obviously only so much of natural resources in the world that we must not be wasteful for we will surely regret it. This is especially important as the world’s population continues to steadily grow while resources continue to decline. We must heed Butler’s warnings and change our ways before it is too late and we destroy the future of our future generations.

Freedom?

Freedom has many definitions. It seems that for every person, the word has a different and unique thought process with endless possibilities. Marcuse and Butler both had feeling, or better yet thoughts, about what “freedom” is to them. Also, they have different ways of getting their views out to the reader.

First, Marcuse talks about freedom on multiple pages not only about freedom as a singular object, but more as a plural word with different aspects and angles. In his book One-Dimensional Man he comes right out of the gate and dives right into the concept of freedom because it is such a key point in most of his critiques of our society and needed to be explained early. The closest Marcuse comes to actually saying his own definition comes more as what he thinks is wrong with it in our society. “Freedom of thought, speech, and conscience were – just as free enterprise, which they served to promote and protect – essentially critical ideas, designed to replace an obsolescent material and intellectual culture by a more productive and rational one” (Marcuse 1). I think Marcuse is trying to say what I think really bothers him about society during his time and that has only enhanced today. Living life is more than a forty hour work day and producing a product to be consumed by the mass public to make a profit for your company. He continues on talking about more specific aspect and situations for freedom. On page 4 he goes on to say that political freedom would be, “liberation of the individual from politics over which they have no control”. Also economic freedom would be escaping the feeling of working for a living. Lastly, intellectual freedom would be ridding the mind of influences from the media and creating your own ideas and beliefs.

Butler takes a different, but it can be argued more effective way, of getting her definition of freedom out to the reader. I feel that Butler’s actual beliefs are mainly portrayed from the character Lauren Olamina in the story Parable of the Sower. So, if this is the case Butler’s definition would mirror what Lauren thinks. The wall that surrounds the community the Olaminas live represents freedom. Outside the wall was what Lauren thought freedom meant, not being trapped and unable to spread her words of Earthseed. Staying inside meant she was a conformer to the society, to the country. The wall was a physical boundary from the unruly outside and nice community but also a mental block. Living with a wall surrounding you in such a tight quarter has to give most of the people a false sense of security. This is how Zahra could honestly not see the attacks coming even though see once lived outside on the streets. She was not brain washed, just the sight and feeling of the wall made her and probably most of the community safe forever. This was not the case with Lauren, or Butler if you believe that Lauren is Butler when it comes to beliefs and ideas. Her freedom was outside and changing. “Change is God” (Butler). If freedom is change than does that mean freedom is God? I think this is what Butler was trying to say about freedom. The change is ongoing and so is the pursuit of freedom in a world of status quo and conformity.

In Marcuse’s definition I can understand the ideology of establishing ones freedom from society. Of course freedom is having no influence from others and being you but I question is that is possible in our world. Only in a utopian world could this radical change of how people think occur. Media is everywhere and on everything; from billboards to commercials and all in-between some one is being paid by a company to sell you the consumer a product from an even bigger company. This is why I can’t consider Marcuse’s definition of freedom the most acceptable to my world. Even as I write this essay, I can feel myself being influenced. The discussions from class and the thoughts of ours swim inside my mind waiting to get fished out on to the page. Is thinking about what others have said and thinking about what I have read an example of being influenced? In Marcuse’s world it is and I have to disagree. To block out all other sources of information, the brain would just be filled with nothing. Influencing and learning are two different things even though they can be considered closely related.

On the other hand I happen to think Butler’s definition applies better to my world. A wall surrounds the community and it is often said that outside the wall, all be it dangerous, is freedom. I feel that every person has his/her own wall; something whether you know it consciously or not that you lean on for comfort or protection. For me, I would say it’s my childhood. When I was a kid everything was fun and the biggest worries of the day consist of finding the toy I buried in the sand box yesterday. Now the decisions and questions come at you like rapid fire. What do you what to be? Where you going to live? Are you drinking tonight? All these questions and all I want to do is go back to my sandbox. But with the help of Butler, I don’t think Marcuse would be happy I’m letting Butler influence me but whatever, I catch myself not facing these questions with the thought of her definition of freedom. For me freedom is moving forward – it’s changing. Sure I’m going to let some people, some ideas influence me but I think it’s my job as a critical think to form my own beliefs using others to guide, help, and reject. Independence is a major factor in Parable of the Sower. Lauren starts off as a kid lost, trying to find her way and using her experiences and knowledge she concurs her obstacles and gets her word out. I don’t have any new religions I write every night but I think Butler doesn’t think Earthseed is the only way to become free. Finding yourself and changing as you grow into an adult is freedom in my eyes and I believe Butler would agree. When a person has no doubts or no regrets is when a person can say they are free. It is a goal that I feel can be reached with time and effort…mainly effort. The effort it takes to realize that what you’re trying to do is difficult but you, not anyone else, can do it.

Global Warming

In Octavia Butler’s novel “Parable of the Sower” the main character Lauren Olamina finds herself in the dystopia that the United States has become in the year 2025. The society is near collapse and Lauren and her family and neighbors are forced to live in a gated community in order to protect themselves from chaos that is outside of their walls. One of the reasons that Lauren mentions for the downfall of society is global warming. Fortunately we won’t be subjected to the fate that Lauren and her family and neighbors were because there is no such thing as man-made global warming.

Concerns about global warming were first raised in the 1980s. The phenomenom knows as global warming was also referred to as the “greenhouse effect” due to the fact that many scientists believed that global warming was caused by an increase in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. In 1988 the director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA, James Hansen, told the U.S. senate committee that there was strong evidence that global waring was being caused by human activity. He warned that if global warming was not reversed then there would be catastrophic climate changes.

When Hansen announced in the summer of 1988 that global warming was here, he predicted that the temperatures would increase 0.35 degrees Celsius over the next ten years. The actual increase was 0.11 degrees Celsius, an error of over 300%. In the scientific community an error of 300% is huge. This shows that James Hansen had no idea what he was talking about.

When NASA launched the rocket that was carrying the Mars Rover, they predicted that it would land on the surface of Mars in two hundred and fifty-three days at 8:11 P.M. California time. It actually landed in two hundred and fifty-three days at 8:35 P.M. That was an error of a few thousandths of a percent. The people at NASA knew what they were talking about and were able to make an accurate prediction. James Hansen was not.

The idea that it’s possible to predict the future climate of the Earth is absurd. Our most accurate weather forecasts can only make predictions for ten days. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has even stated that “In climate research and modeling, we should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.”

It may be true that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising and that It is due to the burning of fossil fuels. It is also true that the temperature of cities across the United States have increased withing the past 70 years; however, it is true that the temperature in smaller towns across the United States has decreased over the past 70 years. I believe that the increase in the temperature of cities across the country can be attributed to the urban heat island effect. The urban heat island effect is the idea that as a city grows the temperature of the city increases due to the increase in concrete and other urban materials that retain heat.

If there is no evidence for global warming and it is impossible to accurately predict the future climate of the Earth then why is there so much fear over global warming? In Michael Crichton’s novel “State of Fear” professor Norman Hoffman brings up an interesting point. He says that “For fifty years, Western nations had maintained their citizens in a state of perpetual fear. Fear of the other side. Fear of nuclear war. The Communist menace. The Iron Curtain. The Evil Empire. And within the Communist countries, the same in reverse. Fear of us. Then, suddenly, in the fall of 1989, it was all finished. Gone, vanished. Over. The fall of the Berlin Wall created a vacuum of fear. Nature abhors a vacuum. Something had to fill it.”

Global warming was the fear that filled that vacuum; however, it is true that we are in the midst of a warming trend that began around 1850, as we were coming out of a four-hundred year “mini ice age.” The fact of the matter is that nobody knows how much of the current warming trend is a natural phenomenon and how much is man-made. We also don’t know how much the Earth is going to warm in the next century. It is impossible for us to predict the future. It is only possible for us to make an informed guess, and an informed guess is still just a guess.

I believe that it is very unlikely that the future that Octavia Butler predicted in her novel “parable of the Sower” is going to take place. Global warming is not going to cause years of drought and the sea level is not going to rise. It is pointless to waste our resources over the fear of global warming. We should be concerned about things that are more important and certain… like who’s going to win the Royal Rumble this Sunday and get to main event Wrestle Mania. I hope it’s Wade Barrett. Go Corre!

Source: “State of Fear” by Michael Crichton

Political Spheres: Devour or Deteriorate

Marcuse spends a lot of time regarding the state as a machine that works endlessly at swallowing its inhabitants; forcing them to obey its mandates (that they create themselves) and reducing people to robots. To him, the machine is an adapting, expanding, and unstoppable process:

“If we attempt to relate the causes of the danger to the way in which society is organized and organizes its members, we are immediately confronted with the fact that advanced industrial society becomes richer, bigger, and better as it perpetuates the danger” (Marcuse ix)

“All liberation depends on the consciousness of servitude, and the emergence of this consciousness is always hampered by the predominance of needs and satisfactions which, to a great extent, have become the individual’s own” (Marcuse 7)

“We live and die rationally and productively. We know that destruction is the price of progress as death is the price of life, that reunification and toil are the for gratification and joy, that business must go on, and that the alternatives are Utopian” (Marcuse 145)

Butler, on the other hand, has defined the political system in Parable of the Sower as a system long-since broken down. Hell, no one in the story besides her father even talks about politics or law-making for more than a moment or without utter sarcasm/disdain. There’s not even an American company to be spoken of. The police, which could have been a source of some control or stability, accomplish nothing but being a common street-gang, easily likened to racketeers.

“No. Donner hasn’t got a chance” (Butler 54)
“Even if the cops came today instead of tomorrow, they’d just add to the death toll” (Butler 229)
“I don’t think it’s ever been this bad. Those people, those animals back there…” (Butler 229)

Marcuse sees our system as a self-fulfilling prophecy; we will become cogs in the greater machine bent on progress, or at least that’s what it tells us. Its installed needs and the ramifications for straying from the herd keep close tabs on the already invaded, jaded, and persuaded man – the one-dimensional man. This is a far-cry from Butler’s sci-fi, apocalyptic wasteland that has replaced the land-of-the-brave.

Butler is way off, in a literal sense, of what could happen to the states. At a point much sooner than the time the story takes place, other nations would have moved in for the kill on a country that has long held the envious, anxious eyes of the globe. Cocky, self-righteous America on its knees by its own hands; the world would have its pickings at the most influential and wasteful nation, a nation that has held the world in a hegemonic grip for the past century. Marcuse’s theory of a perpetuating cause/effect brought on by an attempt to control the dangers that we ourselves create is spot on with the never-ending arms race of economies and missiles we work to stockpile every year. Even if we were capable of destroying all we built, as Butler rests her entire story in, what logic could ever bring her to say that other powers, power that have taken note of our behavior, would not leap at an opportunity to share in the glories of our rich past? There is general fear of this even today; false superstitions about China, a so-called super-power, that will ransack America at her prime, but as pointed out by Joseph Stiglitz, former Senior VP and Chief Economist of the World Bank, “China is not only a developing economy; it is a low-income developing country. Yet the United States insisted that China be treated like a developed country! China went along with the fiction…” I believe the wheels are turning too fast for any one monkey-wrench to cause them to falter. When the society is backed so solidly by the drones of a one shallower generation after another, it would take more than force or ‘ro to rip through the machine.

I think the only argument that affronts mine is an idea that Butler proposes; we have the capacity to rot the Earth and turn our climate against us. While I do not intend to argue the legitimacy of global warming or climate shifts, as the phenomenon has been renamed (in an attempt to include any change in our weather, and thus make its creators infallibly correct), I feel the need to stick up for our intelligence. Though irrational at times, people need the system because, well, the system wants them to need it. We die to support that system every day. “We know that destruction is the price of progress as death is the price of life, that reunification and toil are the for gratification and joy, that business must go on, and that the alternatives are Utopian” (Marcuse 145). A utopia may be the death of the system, for all we know, but in our life time, with the nations of the world racing to be (almost) exact replicas of the U.S., the escape or downfall of one would mean nothing but the inevitable and very prompt installation of a shiny new one.

All the world’s a stage, and the theater refuses to go out of business – they have a bottom-line, you know.

Democracy

While the definitions of democracy for Butler and Marcuse may differ slightly, it seems that both have a negative view of the state of our democracy. As we discussed in class, Marcuse sees America’s political system, which would certainly be described democratic by many, as being nothing more than a starved shadow of true democracy. In his text Marcuse describes a study done about the election of 1952 in which the authors set up an operational definition of democracy. The general idea of this definition is that democracy can be defined as a system in which two parties or candidates compete for public positions by trying to win over the opinions of the electorate. The election must be fair in that both parties must honestly try to win, or at least to better their chances in this election as well as future elections. Marcuse’s question, however, is whether or not true democracy can be defined simply by the party lines of two competing candidates. This establishes a trend which mandates that the electorate must decide between what is put in front of them, and must disregard any thoughts of their own about what they would value in a public official if these thoughts do not fit neatly into one of the two party’s thoughts. As Marcuse states, this means, “The established parties themselves, their policies, and their machinations are not questioned as far as the vital issues are concerned…” (118)

Marcuse, however, would describe democracy in a way that “defines the historical intent of democracy.” (117) In democracy it should be “the electorate which imposes its directives on the representatives.” (117) It should also be the case that the electorate is “free because it is free from indoctrination and manipulation.” (117) Certainly an electorate that is forced to pick from two parties whose policies do not consistently reflect the opinions and desires of the majority of Americans cannot be said to be a free electorate. Marcuse notes that the historical definition of democracy cannot be realistically applied to a modern “democracy;” I don not believe, however, that this changes his opinion of the definition of true democracy. This simply means that Marcuse does not view modern democracies as true democracies, and sees the word democracy as misapplied.

I believe Butler would accept a simpler definition of democracy, but one that maintains the importance of a free electorate. In Parable of the Sower Butler describes the death of American politics more than she describes what the political system would ideally look like, but I believe that to Butler it would be extremely important that the voices of the electorate are heard and that the general well-being of the population is looked after. When it was brought up that Emory believed a law had been passed that allowed her employers to hold her in debt slavery, Bankole remarks that “Its hard to know what to believe. I suppose the politicians may have passed a law that could be used to support debt slavery.” (292) Obviously, any law that supports any kind of slavery is not in the best interests of the electorate. I believe Butler uses this example to show what the end of democracy looks like, and thus shows us that she views the freedom of the electorate as extremely important. Without this freedom, citizens of democracies can become literal slaves to a system that looks after the interests of the few wealthy as opposed to the oppressed many.

When looked at through the eyes of these two authors, our democracy seems inadequate and headed down a dangerous path. It is clear that Marcuse believes that the two-party system leads to an anemic version of true democracy, and while we may call our political system a world model for a modern democracy, a closer analysis shows that we can be as easily manipulated by our system as citizens of an authoritarian system can be by their dictator. I do not think that Marcuse provides a clear solution to the problem of the two-party system, although he does clearly state that the ideal democracy is an impractical system for society such as the modern Western society. This makes his ideal less applicable to our society than Butler’s, as he himself states that it would be extremely difficult for our society to reach the ideal.

Butler’s ideal democracy seems more attainable based on the standards she sets in the novel. When she discusses the election at the beginning of the book she seems to make a comment on the language and actions of politicians through Lauren’s father: “He didn’t vote for anyone. He said politicians turned his stomach.” (27) Butler also describes the winning candidates plan for America’s future: He hopes to get laws changed, suspend ‘overly restrictive’ minimum wage, environment, and worker protection laws for those employers willing to take on homeless employees and provide them with training and adequate room and board.” (27) I think many people have experienced the same feelings as Lauren and her father experience when they discuss the elections. There is a general feeling that politicians are dishonest, and that their plans for the future are overly vague just so that they can get elected.

The fact that Butler describes her ideal democracy through a democracy that resembles our present political system certainly makes it more applicable to our society. I can easily see the importance of a free electorate when I look at the electorate of 2027 and see that it has lost its freedom to literal slavery, and then look at our own political system and can already see how politicians often value the rights of corporations over the rights of individuals. I can also see the importance of a democracy that looks after the general well being of its citizens when I look at Lauren’s world, which is riddled with drug addicts and homeless dying of starvation and infection, and then look at our society, which still does not support all of its citizens through an affordable health care system.

Although Marcuse’s definition seems philosophically sound, and it is somewhat frightening to imagine our current democracy developing into the “democracy” that is represented in Parable of the Sower, I believe that the definition of democracy that Butler provides in her novel is more applicable to the United States. A cautious look at the world Butler has created might even prevent us from creating a similar type of democracy for ourselves.

Farm Slavery In Modern America

Modern-day slavery is among America’s best kept secrets. In our “land of the free,” thousands of workers are forced to sacrifice their freedom to growers or farm labor contractors (FLC). Octavia Butler addresses modern-day slavery in The Parable of the Sower, first when Joanne Garfield’s family moves to Oliver, California to work for KSF, a water purification company. She later introduces Emery and her daughter Tori, and Mora along with his daughter Doe, who escaped from agricultural slavery and fled north. These two separate sections of the novel reflect the conditions that were occurring throughout the 20th century, including the 1980s and 1990s when Butler was writing her novel.

When Lauren’s town hears news that KSF has bought the town of Oliver and is offering work, some of the families get excited and inquire into the opportunity. This includes Lauren’s best friend, Joanne Garfield’s family. They eventually move, and Lauren’s step-mother, Cory, begs her father to move their family also. However, he warns — and Lauren has utter faith in his accuracy — that KSF is not looking out for the well-being of its workers, but for the money in its pockets. He describes the system as one in which the workers become gradually enslaved; the companies offer wages too low to live on — let alone support a family on — and only allow the workers to buy their products at inflated prices. When the workers fall into debt, the companies begin to restrict their rights until they become slaves; they use the debt as a justification for restrictions on human rights.

The slavery that Lauren’s father describes is not one that exists only in fiction. A case study conducted for Oxfam International entitled “Like Machines in the Fields: Workers without Rights in American Agriculture” outlines some of the conditions for farmworkers in Florida, North Carolina and California — for purposes of this paper I will focus on the statements about California (where Butler’s novel is focused). A state law was passed in the 1970s to protect farmers such as by maintaining a minimum wage (federal labor laws do not apply to farmworkers), however, as Manuel G√≥mez, a Californian farm labor contractor (FLC), stated, “Ninety-nine percent of all contractors work outside of the law. Not one, not two—all of us” (2). While this figure is likely exaggerated, it nonetheless expresses a firsthand account that even in California, one of the few states that had legislation to protect these workers in the 1980s and 1990s, the laws often proved useless in practice.

The FLCs provide workers to the growers, who would rather use these services to hire temporary seasonal workers than hire full-time (on-the-books) workers. They hire them and are responsible for monitering their working conditions. However, it is a mutual authority between them and the growers over the workers because the growers often want them to impose stricter rules on the workers; “Farm labor contracting exists for the growers’ benefit… By using a contractor, a grower avoids having to deal with the labor laws. If I don’t do the job the way he wants, he’ll just call another contractor” (20).
Contractors regularly take advantage of the farmworkers’ vulnerability—their desperate need for employment, their lack of alternative opportunities, especially given their often illegal status, their inability to speak English, etc. They pay less than growers would, offer workers no benefits, but charge them for food, rent, transportation and tools at inflated prices. They use a variety of ways to cheat workers out of part of their wages (a common scheme is to pocket the workers’ wage deductions for Social Security or taxes), and in the most extreme cases, subject them to debt peonage (e.g., forcing illegal immigrants to work off smuggling debts). (20)
The workers hardly stand a chance next to the growers and FLCs, who take advantage of them to increase their own profits in a highly competitive industry.

When Butler decided to incorporate this form of slavery into her writing, she was reflecting on the time period. If The Parable of the Sower is to be viewed as a survival guide to a world that we may one day face, than the current slavery would only worsen. The industry is so powerful that to many, the question of slavery is a mere legend or hearsay. But this world existed in the 1980s and 1990s (and still exists today) and the human rights violations that occur contradict the “freedom” that American abolitionists believed they won for all people of this country. Yet, slavery persists.

United States Savings and Loan Crisis

Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower is a criticism of what she believes the future of the United States is going to be like. We are able to assume that the ideas brought forth in the novel were from immediate issues prior to the publishing of this novel. One of the most crucial issues of the late 1980’s into the early 1990’s was the Savings and Loan Crisis. The Savings and Loan crisis directly relates to the economical issues in Parable of the Sower. The people in the novel were living in a time of great inflation and economic distress, which is what happens to America during the late 1980’s to early 90’s. There were many other issues that were occurring during this time but this financial crisis was major; the worst the world has seen up to that time (erisk). This gives Butler all the reason to believe how the average American will be living in 2024 and the right to criticize the insanity that the current (early 1990’s) America is creating for future America.

The Savings and Loan crisis more or less starts in the 1970’s when congress deregulates interest rates. The deregulation of the interest rates was surely the main cause of the future disaster to the United States taxpayer. As new money markets began to fiercely compete in the industry, S&Ls faltered quickly and dramatically. Due to the strong competition between the two, an unsustainable gap opened between the interest rate asset and liabilities within the S&Ls. The assets were very low while the liabilities were extremely high. Then when oil prices sky rocketed, matters were made much worse, causing inflation to soar (erisk).

A great deal needed to be done and a lot of obstacles overcome to fix the future fatal attack on the American wallet. Instead of taking the necessary actions, S&Ls decided to be risk takers and gamble with the little bit of money they had to earn higher profits, they were able to do this because the rules and regulations for the industry had become way too lax. This ultimately dug their grave; and really deep at that! In 1986 government was attempting but greatly struggling to restructure the industry to mend where necessary. All attempts were too small to match up with this large scale problem though. Finally in 1989, President George Bush addressed America to explain the issue that was at hand, the news of this frightened Americans immensely, but little did they know how much it was really going to effect them. Up until this speech everything was done to make this problem as unknown to the American public as possible (erisk).

When it’s all said and done, industry funded measures were not great enough and the American taxpayer would end up paying for a great portion of the S&L fiasco. The American taxpayers dished out 124 billion dollars; four times the amount that the thrift industry itself paid (erisk)! This situation boils down to incompetent risk-reporting and long-term economic struggles for the United States taxpayer.

Butler shows the struggle of the everyday American in Parable of the Sower. She shows their economical struggles through their incapability to pay rent, adapting to forms of slavery, inflation of water prices to the point where it was comparable to the gas inflation of the 90’s, and the lack of paying jobs. I think she dramatizes these situations because this is what she truly believes America will be like; give or take a little. The gambling of the S&Ls correlates to the monopolization the American society went under in the novel. Everything is a chain reaction in the novel that started with the greed of big corporations; parallel to the pride and greed of the S&L crisis of the early 90’s.

Although the economy in the early 90’s was no where near as depressed as what Butler creates her society to be like, it still represents her thoughts and fears as to what the United States has in store for its future generations. I can understand where Butler is coming from but we are also in a time of economical recession and I at least have more of an optimism of where our future will lead us. I do not feel that we will ever regress as much as what she believed would happen. The United States, like any society has its ups and downs, just like the repression of the 90’s, but we always make it through and pull ourselves upwards.

Source: http://www.erisk.com/learning/casestudies/ussavingsloancrisis.asp

Progress through Technology

Over the last century, our technological advances have risen almost exponentially. At this rate, it is hard to see how the world will look like in the next century—will it be a beautiful utopia without any problems or will it be absent of human life completely? The answer lies in how we will progress over time. “Progress is not a neutral term; it moves toward specific ends, and these ends are defined by the possibilities of ameliorating the human condition. Advanced industrial society is approaching the stage where continued progress would demand the radical subversion of the prevailing direction and organization of progress” (Marcuse 16). I believe that Marcuse is trying to say that eventually we will reach a certain breaking point, in which technology will be able to pacify human society to infinitesimal levels. This is the point in which humans will be able to choose which future they will attain. To reach an ideal world, he proposes that the political world and technologic world have to work in methodical synchronicity; to create a truly totalitarian universe in which society and nature—mind and body—are kept in a state of permanent mobilization for the defense of this universe (Marcuse 18).

In analyzing Butler, by Marcuse’s definition, it is clear which progressive path humanity has chosen in this alternative universe. They’re progress is quickly retroverting back to primitive times, despite the technological levels they have obtained. I could see Marcuse criticizing the government as the major problem of these consequences. The government, instead of implementing its booming technology to solve the many problems the country has, it spends most of its resources trying to escape the problem—the colonization of other planets. In my opinion, even if this alternative does miraculously prosper, it would not matter because there is nothing stopping society from repeating its same mistakes. There needs to be another factor that would inhibit such behavior.

Parable of the Sower offers a very biological example of how human kind can progress. Of course the dramatized illustration of this in the novel is the spread of hyperempathy disorder, a mutation that can benefit humanity. Whether or not I agree that this particular condition would assist humanity is irrelevant. My point is that, in a world of chaos and survival, substantial evolution would finally be able to occur in humans via natural selection. “In order to rise from its own ashes, a phoenix first must burn (Butler 153).” This view of progress, demonstrated by Butler, directly contradicts Marcuse’s view that technology can only take two paths, as even if it takes the dystopian path, it can open a new one through biologic means.

That, however, is the big picture I got from Butler’s text. Butler herself, through her protagonist, Lauren, would probably define progress as humanity coming together and overcoming petty differences such as race, sex, and age. She incorporates a very diverse group of people into Lauren’s traveling community—Whites, Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, and even mixed races—all of varying age and sex. Her ideal way of progressing humanity is to start anew and slowly spread the ideas of Earthseed throughout a world that would finally be able to accept a radical change. The role of technology becomes a necessity in this scenario, as it becomes essential prove superiority over any other groups; this is why the community tries to arm itself to the teeth, despite them not looking for opposition.

I think Butler and Marcuse defined progress similarly, but the means as to how to obtain it were pretty different throughout. In one of Marcuse’s concluding points, he states, “Under this aspect, neutral scientific method and technology become the science and technology of a historical phase which is being surpassed by its own achievements” (Marcuse 233). In other words, I think Marcuse is reiterating that technology, if not controlled correctly by its people and the government, can quickly dissolve any past accomplishments that were made by human civilization. Butler, on the other hand, shows a world where this is taking place; however, she offers hope through her characters that even in the worst of times, humanity can pull through and start over.