Archive for October, 2010

23
Oct
10

Illegal Aliens vs. Patriotic Predators: a Preface

Octavia Butler was a lonely author in a White male dominated market.  Butler, an African-American science fiction author, began writing the genre without much support, no mentors, and no role models when she was only a young girl.  She grew to win the esteemed Hugo and Nebula awards, as well as the highly notable Macarthur Genius Grant.  To this day, there are only a handful of African-American authors in the science fiction genre; therefore, only a handful of Black lead characters within the stories.  Apparently, some do not feel the need to use Black characters in science fiction.  As Butler notes an editor saying at a convention, “He thought that it wasn’t really necessary to have Black characters in science fiction because you could make any racial statement you needed to make by way of extraterrestrials.”(“Octavia Butler on Charlie Rose- Part 1/2”)  This is a powerful statement because it brings one to note the connections between human-extraterrestrial conflict and racial conflict within the United States and between the U.S. and colonized countries.

Movies such as X-Men played an essential role in demonstrating this conflict.  The film series now known as X-Men was originally devised as a comic book titled ‘The Merry Mutants’ by author Stan Lee, and illustrator, Jack Kirby in the early 1960s(“Wikipedia”).  The sixties was a time of high racial tension in the United States, with the Civil Rights movement reaching a climactic point of sit-ins and marches nationwide.  The X-Men storyline centers on ‘mutants’ who are ostracized and hunted by humans who hate them because they are different.  The challenges that the mutants face within X-Men have a direct connection to the challenges African-Americans experienced in the United States in the 1960s.  African-Americans were facing opposition from hate-driven groups such as the Ku Klux Klan during this time when they were attempting to exercise their rights as human beings.  The extreme hate went to the point that many African-Americans were castrated, brutally beaten, set on fire, lynched, or such is the case of 13 year old Emmitt Till, all four.  This type of behavior in a civilized country makes you wonder if the aggressors and murderers did not consider African-Americans ‘mutants’ to be despised and destroyed, and if so, did they not realize that monstrous acts such as those made them appear as ‘mutant’ rather than decent human beings?  These are questions that will be further explored in my research to uncover these connections, the controversies involved, and explore the science fiction culture.  What are movies you have seen that utilized ‘alien’ characters to demonstrate real social concerns?

References:

“Octavia Butler on Charlie Rose- Part 1/2.” YouTube. Web. 22 Oct 2010. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66pu-Miq4tk&gt;.

“X-Men.” Wikipedia. Wikipeda, 22 10 2010. Web. 22 Oct 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XMen&gt;.

19
Oct
10

Spring Forth

     As I am reading the essay ‘Why Keep Asking Me About My Identity?’ by Nawal El Saadawi, several thoughts run through my mind. One, why is it that I have never heard of this phenomenal author and advocate for social justice up until this point? From that question, another is birthed. How many other brilliant authors, poets, and orators have been shrouded in the closets of history? Even more, how many ‘illiterate’ geniuses passed down libraries of wisdom through oral tradition, only for it to be lost through hundreds of years of cultural evolution, amalgamations, and outright genocide?

     As these questions propel my eyes through the pages of Saadawi’s text, she relates her experience as an African scholar traveling to international conferences on the African identity. She ponders, “Why does no one ask you what is your ‘identity’? Is it that the American ‘identity’, American culture, does not require any questioning, does not need to be examined, or studied or discussed?” (Saadawi, 1997)

     Suffice to say, the status quo is not normally questioned. This reigns true in any arena; Christianity being the dominant world religion, no one asks, “Why would you want to believe in Jesus?”, instead questioning you if you travel outside of this religious standard. One could name thousands of cases is which this is true; enterpreneurship, homeschooling, deviating from the standard American diet, and individual style in hair and clothing are just a small sample of decisions considered ‘questionable’ because they step outside of the norm.

    While variations from status quo may evoke interragation, they are necessary for societal change. When that one person or group chooses to live in color in a monochrome time, it saturates all with the brilliant hues of human evolution. This growth as humans serves as a uniting force through the invisible divisive grid we have self-imposed throughout history. As Saadawi puts it, “This struggle for change, for revolution, can unite us across differences in colour, in race, in language, in culture, in sex, in identity.” (Saadawi, 1997)

     We should hope that this proves true. Otherwise, we shall be as bone cells of human anatomy; the osteoblasts spring forth and create new bone while the osteocytes are left behind trapped in the ‘matrix’.

References:

Saadawi, N.E. (1997). The Nawal El Saadawi reader. New York, NY: Zed Books.

 

11
Oct
10

Nietzsche: Nazi, Nihilist, or None of the Above?

“The most valuable insights are the last to be discovered.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Anti-Christ

Friedrich Nietzsche often gets a bad rap.  A pioneer German philosopher and poet, Nietzsche is often accused posthumously of being a Nazi or Nihilist by modern day students and professors alike.  Alternatively, I have found Nietzsche’s work to be enjoyable and enlightening.  However, I am not one to use my opinion alone to defend an ideology.  Many times, I do not find that others share these same restrictions.  Often, I find myself in conversations that go like this:

“Oh, I don’t like Nietzsche.”

“Really?” I respond.  “Is it because of something you’ve read by him in particular?”

“Oh, he was a Nazi.”

“Oh, that’s interesting.  You know, he died in 1900, when Adolf Hitler was only 1 year old.  What did you read by him that made you feel like he was a Nazi??”

“Oh, well, he was a nihilist.”

“Okay.  Did you read anything by him in particular that made you feel that way?”

“Oh, I heard he said God was dead.”

“Well, yes, he said God was dead, and he said we killed God, which was just his philosophical commentary on society.”

It becomes apparent to me at this time that not very many people have actually read Nietzsche and taken the time to attempt to understand him.  He is really hard not to like if one invests the time to read just a few of his books.  With this in mind, let us consider one of his most popular and most controversial books, Beyond Good and Evil.  Just the title may make some conservative souls cringe.  This literary gem is a collection of thoughts based around erasing the line of demarcation between good and evil to consider life and society from an objective standpoint.  Nietzsche sums up his own approach to truth-seeking within the text with the line, “Cynicism is the only form in which base souls approach honesty.” (Neitzsche, 1966) Taking into consideration that Nietzsche equated cynicism with honesty, one can better understand his often perceived as ‘nihilist’ approach to philosophy.  However, there exists a definitional fallacy here.  A nihilist is generally defined as one who rejects all theories of morality or religious belief.  One who is committed to seeking truth cannot logically be defined as rejecting morality; therefore, cannot be defined as a nihilist.  Though the way some may look at it, claiming to traverse beyond the perceived ‘moral’ boundaries of good and evil is in itself ‘immoral’.

Erasing mental boundaries such as these is essential to journeying to the core of any field of study.  Imagine, historians straying away from reporting the facts of indigenous religions because the religions are ‘evil’, yet lauding pedophile or philanderer priests, pastors, or politicians as ‘good’.  Unfortunately, this type of practice has happened many times in history, anthropology, sociology, and any field subject to investigation by humankind.  We can all take a lesson from Nietzsche in our studies and negate the illusion of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

References:

Neitzsche, F. (1966). Beyond good and evil. New York, NY: Random House.

 

11
Oct
10

Ego Tripping: All Praises to the Poet

“I turned myself into myself and was Jesus

Men intone my loving name

All praises

All praises

I am the one who would save.

-Nikki Giovanni, “Ego Tripping”

I often have difficulty praising myself.  I would like to say that this is a problem for many or most women, but I lack the statistics to state this as a fact rather than postulation.  After all, it is not only misery who loves company; all of our human shortcomings search for friends.  Nikki Giovanni, an honored and widely published African-American female poet, mastered the art of self-praise in her trademark poem, “Ego-Tripping”.  She makes use of such phraseology as, “The tears from my birth pains created the Nile, I am a beautiful woman.”(Giovanni, 2003)  A woman cannot read these words aloud without experiencing an energetic surge of self-confidence.

On the other hand, some people may read words such as, “I turned myself into myself and was Jesus”, within Giovanni’s poem and say, “What ego!  How could this woman position herself as Jesus!  What blasphemy!”  Here, the issue becomes very touchy depending on the stringency of one’s religious beliefs.  Is it blasphemy to compare a woman, the physical conduit of human life on earth, to the Christian ‘savior of mankind’?  Is woman not in essence the ‘savior of mankind’ as well for continuing to produce human life?  In many creation stories worldwide, woman has instead been painted as the provocation of man’s downfall from Paradise.

Nikki Giovanni very eloquently challenges this belief system while asserting belief in herself in “Ego Tripping”  We could all take a lesson from her bold statements in re-evaluating our personal confidence levels.  So many religions, therefore, so many societies place women as a source of evil, temptation, and seduction that can only be useful if having learned submission and maintaining a humble position of inferiority to men.  Because of this, it is all the more difficult as a woman to grant oneself a strong vote of confidence from an internal position of power.  In the spirit of reclaiming this power, let me be the second to say (Giovanni was the first), “men intone my loving name, all praises, all praises, I am the one who would save.”

References:

Giovanni, N. (2003). The collected poetry of Nikki Giovanni. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

11
Oct
10

Pay Now, Play Later: The Art of Delayed Gratification and Other Life Lessons

“The universe, this stepping-stone, has been laid down to prepare a way for us.  But we ourselves must step across it, one by one.” – M. Scott Peck, M.D., “The Road Less Traveled”

Which part of the cake do you like better, the cake or the frosting?  Dr. M. Scott Peck posited this very question to one of his patients to identify the reason behind her tendencies towards procrastination (Peck, 1978).  “Oh, the frosting!” she responded, soon revealing the reason work piled up her desk for months on end.  She had not mastered the art of delaying gratification.  Delaying gratification can be defined simply as paying now, playing later.  This skill is not easily acquired because it requires not only taking a hard look at your priorities, but at yourself.  As a university student, I am quickly learning this hard lesson.

When I was very young, my grandmother often wore a tee shirt that bore the message “Overworked and underpaid”.  In the essence of carrying on the spirit of this phenomenal matriarch, I held this moniker in my head as a mantra.  Yes, overworked and underpaid – the road to sainthood.  Realistically, this road will more likely lead one to loss of sleep, followed by loss of sanity.  Yet, in this spirit, I would consistently plop more on my plate than I could realistically consume.  Then, I would pathologically feel overworked and under-accomplished because of lack of proper organization and time-management.  Vicious cycle, right?  Indeed.  Within my spirit of “sainthood” and misappropriation of priorities, I would put off homework for community fundraising or put off studying for an impromptu peer mentoring session.  While these activities may not be as seemingly frivolous as spending a few hours blowing off time in the campus game room, they are in actuality just as academically detrimental.  They are the activities that are gratifying to me; therefore, in order to be successful as a student, I must pay first, completing my work in a timely fashion, and play later, participating in the events that are gratifying to me.

While I would like to say that I learned this hard lesson long ago, and have been extremely successful in my academic endeavors ever since, it is instead just now becoming clear to me as I read the final pages of “The Road Less Traveled”.  Minutes ago, I set the book aside and paused the playlist on my laptop as the hours crept towards midnight and realized, reading this book at that  very moment was not more important than completing my class assignments.  I must first complete all of my assignments and then I can do the things I love.  Or as Dr. M. Scott Peck so eloquently puts it, “Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting an experiencing the pain first and getting it over with.  It is the only decent way to live.”(Peck, 1978)

References:

Peck, M.S. (1978). The road less traveled. New York, NY: Touchstone.