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the EPOCH JOURNAL

VOLUME XI ISSUE 1

Summer 2017

A Whiter Shade of Green by Grace Villmow

The Other B Vitamin by Morgan Anastasi

How Writing Can Save Us by Stuart Lombard

plus History and the Party of

Jackson & Our New Domain: www.EpochJournal.com SUMMER 2017

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the EPOCH JOURNAL summer 2017

volume xi, issue i

editors-in-chief Stuart Lombard Sawyer Neale editorial board Adam Enkin Stuart Lombard Michael Riggins Cyrus Schiller Grace Villmow layout assistant Max Wright contributors Morgan Anastasi Adam Enkin Charlie Hurd Yixiao Jin Stuart Lombard Grace Villmow © 2017, The Epoch Journal disclaimer The Epoch Journal is produced and distributed in annapolis, maryland. opinions expressed in articles or illustrations are not necessarily those of the editorial board or st. john’s college. advertising please contact epoch@sjc.com for information about advertisements mailing address st. john’s college 60 college ave. annapolis, md 21404 submissions are you interested in writing for the epoch journal? we are currently looking for editors, columnists, and general submissions — for more information, contact the editors at epoch@ sjc.edu. 2

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Contents 4. A Whiter Shade of Green Grace Villmow (A’20) 9. History and the Party of Jackson Cyrus Schiller (A’19) 12. You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Charlie Hurd (A’21) 15. The Rwandan Revival Story Adam Enkin (A’21) 17. From Charlottesville to Where? Yixiao Jin (A’21) 19. The Other B Vitamin Morgan Anastasi (A’18) 21. How Writing Can Save Us Stuart Lombard (A’19)

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ENVIRONMENT

A Whiter Shade of Green BY GRACE VILLMOW

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istorically, environmentalism has been an exclusively white practice with un-severable ties to colonialism. In fact, those ties have yet to be severed to this day – the modern conception of environmentalism is still largely white and rich, stunting the growth of developing countries. The outcomes of this mentality have severely negative impacts, particularly on third-world countries and, within first-world countries, lower-income persons and minorities. Let’s start globally. The Paris Climate Accord, signed by 196 countries in December of 2015, is an agreement for countries to plan and report their methods and actions to mitigate global warming. It is non-binding and many of the planet’s most infamous polluters (such as India and China) have only planned for a net increase their annual greenhouse gas contributions to our atmosphere at a controlled rate, but here is what makes it a huge step in the right direction: every single country that signed it recognizes that climate change is happening, humans play a significant role in it, and we should be taking steps to decrease our greenhouse gas output. The Paris Climate Accord is the start of a start towards becoming better stewards of our planet, but it has been met with hostile opposition for one vague, yet valid, reason: the economy. Common convention and understanding holds that whatever regulations we establish to preserve or improve the environment will inevitably contribute to a country’s economic de4

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mise. Our president has even tweeted that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese to decrease competition. This is entirely false, but it highlights the fact that in order to mitigate global warming, we must voluntarily make some changes that we might not see the benefits of in the short run. A country’s GDP might grow faster if they toss regulations to the wind, but the repercussions of such an action would come at a greater cost down the line in the form of food shortages, catastrophic natural disasters, and in many cases, an influx of displaced persons, refugees of their own country whose homes have been eroded away by rising sea levels. Perhaps there would be a sense of poetic justice in the ultimate destruction of countries that paid no heed to the warning signs or the scientists, but life ain’t fair. Not all countries will be equally impacted by climate change, and the countries that are the most responsible and need to make the biggest changes are not at the highest risk of global warming’s catastrophic effects. Thomas Friedman writes in Hot, Flat, and Crowded about the American Dream. It has inspired not just Americans, but the world to live in the American style: a way of cars and hamburgers with a higher waste output per person than any other country in the world. The United States consumes over 30% of the world’s resources despite weighing in at only 5% of the world’s population, and other countries want in. The core of Friedman’s book is a call to a green revolu-


tion worldwide, but more importantly, a call for the United States and other economic leaders that need to take responsibility for the damage they have caused. After all, we are the ones that set the precedent of such an extravagant yet environmentally catastrophic way of life. In an era of increased environmental awareness, Friedman posits that “green is the new red, white, and blue”, or a new way for America to reassert itself as the world’s dominant power; however, a study by the New York Times shows that the American people disagree. The image below shows a stark reality of the American mentality, that climate change will impact people, but not me. The worst part is that, for the most part, they are not wrong. Climate change will not hurt people in developed countries as much as it will hurt people in developing countries, climate change will not hurt the rich as much as it will hurt the poor, and climate change will also not hurt white people as much as it will hurt people of color. The United States has the highest GDP of any country in the world, which means that we are in the best position to start the green revolution, to reduce our waste and our greenhouse gas output. This asset, however, is currently acting as our downfall. We could enact changes that only our children’s children will see the effects of but will set an international precedent for making green energy mainstream, but the United States does not believe in delayed gratification. Instead, we look at the devastation of hurricanes Irma and Harvey and simply clean up, because we can afford to build our houses directly in the path of natural disasters that will only grow worse with the advent of global warming. Look at the states that got hit the hardest this September: Texas and Florida. Both voted Trump, a man who has called climate change a hoax, in the 2016 election. Perhaps they do realize that denying the existence of a problem will only make it grow worse, but what does that matter? We can afford it, at least for now. The problem is that other countries cannot. Or worse, other countries can, but will choose not to because they know one country cannot reduce global warming if no one else is making any effort.

The wealth of the United States and other major polluters also highlights that the negative effects of environmental regulations do not impact all countries equally. Or, perhaps they do, but some countries are better equipped to deal with their immediate negative impacts on the economy. In the short term, it is generally true that environmental regulations temporarily decrease a country’s competitiveness, or ability to participate in the global market. Products that were once cheap to manufacture might become less cheap, or companies might need to adapt to disposing of their waste in a more responsible manner, or other factors relating to the regulation cause a country’s net exports, for the years following the regulation’s institution, to decrease. In some cases, companies may even move out of the country to escape the regulations, taking jobs along with them. First world countries, or countries that maintain high economic independence relative to other countries, need to take the ball here, and they usually do. It is the immediate enforcement of these regulations on a global scale, in countries that cannot handle them yet, that causes going green to become environmental injustice. Environmental regulations slowly trickle down from countries that can handle them to countries that need more time. A good example is the advent of cars with high mileage. The United States started making cars meet certain mileage requirements in the seventies, long before cars were even commonplace in many developing countries at the time. Imposing such regulations on a global scale probably would have decreased carbon emissions and pollution that we see today, but imposing such regulations so early on might have and most likely would have stunted their growth. It is true that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by not allowing developing countries to have their industrial revolutions, but forcing these people to remain in the Dark Ages while we thrive would not be just. The prosperity of the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and all world economic leaders has come from industrialization: a period of trial and error, of creation and destruction. And now, we are in a position to SUMMER 2017

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make our technology more efficient. The countries just now entering their industrial revolutions are going to use the cheapest resources available to them, and why should they not? They deserve growth and independence as much as we do. What we can do is take this into account going forward, and start focusing our effort on churning out efficient technologies that we can make globally available. Let me make this abundantly clear: this is not only environmental justice here. Yes, it is fair that we allow developing countries to rely on coal and oil and natural gas as much as we did, but the importance of our transition to green energy is not just to protect the earth, it is to protect ourselves. If the United States continues to rely on coal and oil instead of taking the next step in development, other countries will catch up. We will no longer be the top dog in the global economy. Perhaps that does not matter, and our reign of power is coming to its end, but we have an opportunity here to reclaim that American spirit of innovation and inspire the world with the American Dream once more. We need to transition to green energy and a less wasteful lifestyle for two reasons: it will slow climate change without halting the growth of developing countries, and it will give us the competitive edge we need as countries larger than us emerge as world powers. There are also environmental injustices stemming from regulation that have no direct impact on the economy, like Africa’s ongoing battle with DDT. DDT is cheap and effective, but it wreaks havoc on whatever ecosystem it touches. The problem is, regulating DDT in Africa as strictly as it is regulated in the United States causes malaria cases to skyrocket. It really is a tough call – do we take Silent Spring to heart and stop producing it, or do we risk looking like hypocrites by selling to Africans a product banned in our own country? Current negotiations with the World Health Organization provide a limited exception to the DDT ban for malaria control, but people in Africa still die every day because Rachel Carson scared Americans into thinking that DDT is far too toxic to ever have any benefits. This is a prime example of an environmental in6

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justice: we have taken up the white man’s burden and so kindly restricted DDT from the rest of the world in order to better protect our planet’s health. An admirable premise, but one that highlights our own blindness to the struggles of the disadvantaged, an ignorance that kills over one million people every year. We fail and fail again to realize that our actions, even good-intentioned ones, have consequences.

Part II Environmental justice is not just an issue of developed and developing countries, but an issue of rich and of poor, and of white and of color, within first world countries. This past summer, I interned at the Keller Science Action Center in Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. I co-authored a research paper on infiltration rates in restorations of various ages on Chicago’s lakefront, but mostly focused in Burnham Park, a recently established 600-acre park on the city’s South Side. If you are familiar with Chicago, you might associate “South” Side with “Black” Side or even “Poor” Side, and for the most part, those are accurate associations. It is what makes the presence of Burnham Park such a milestone and also such a risk. No, not a risk because its location makes it dangerous for the people that visit it – it is dangerous for the very people it is intended to benefit. Environmental gentrification, also called eco-gentrification, is a phenomenon that many planners overlook when establishing an urban or suburban greenspace, and its results can be catastrophic for the people that live near these establishments. Once a greenspace – usually a park, or garden, or even a small patch of trees – has been established, property value skyrockets. For homeowners, this is good news. However, lowincome families tend to rent, and when property value goes up, so do their monthly payments. Apartments are sold out from under people who have lived in them for years, and they are forced to move elsewhere. In attempting to provide people with an natural space for recreation, the city only ends up displacing them. Environmental scientists Jennifer Wolch, Jason Byrne, and Joshua


Newell published a research paper in Landscape and Urban Planning that highlights the importance of making a city “just green enough” that people in low-income neighborhoods are provided with the benefits greenspace without its negative effects, but the possibility of eco-gentrification is still largely overlooked today when establishing urban and suburban greenspace. The problem even stems beyond gentrification. Chicago, in particular, has gang rivalries and feuding neighborhoods wherein sharp lines are drawn that determine who is allowed to go where. The Chicago Park District could try to improve quality of life in these neighborhoods by establishing a greenspace nearby, but depending on where they put it, access might be restricted to only a few blocks of people. The city might even make the mistake of placing the park on one of these sharply drawn lines, oblivious to the fact that this park has been made unavailable to both sides of the equation. In either case, somebody loses, and the city would have been better off redirecting those funds to a community center that helps care for children. Environmental injustices thus far have tended to stem from benevolent intentions rooted in ignorance, but unfortunately, the issue is much more sinister than that. Enter racism: alive and well in urban and suburban greenspace design. Public park districts design with everyone in mind, but they often do so based on antiquated and racist stereotypes: The Hispanic/Latinx community needs picnic tables because they are “family-oriented”, the Black community needs basketball courts because they “prefer structured physical activity”, and white people need hiking trails and bike paths because they’re “active and interested in their surroundings”. Picnic tables, basketball courts, hiking trails, and bike paths are all great features for a park to have, but they are often designed on the basis of exclusion. Perhaps trail signs are only written in English, or advertisement for aspects of the park can only be found in predominantly white spaces. The Chicago Field Museum, for example, played a huge role in the development of prairie restorations and hiking trails in Burnham Park, so maps and informa-

tion can be found there at the Museum, but not in the neighborhoods that the restorations and trails are actually located in. People that receive this information go and visit the park, and suddenly the people living in the nearby neighborhoods are excluded from something that was built for them. For further information on this, Jason Byrne, a coauthor on the just green enough paper, has also done research on the exclusionary perception that minorities have of public greenspace in Los Angeles in his paper entitled When Green is White: the cultural politics of race, nature, and social exclusion in a Los Angeles urban national park. The paper is available to view for free online, including the dialogue of a focus group that truly illuminates the extent to which minorities feel excluded from greenspace that is built in their very midst. His research also analyzes the sociocultural determinants of park (non)use, surmising that people are less likely to visit parks if they are “older, impoverished, busy, socially isolated, female, ethno-racially marginalized, are unaware of park facilities, perceive parks to be dangerous, or have grown up with limited access to nature”. Not all of this has to do with systematic racism or sexism, but park design often serves to further the cultural divide between white people and people of color, and between men and women. The way many parks are designed and advertised, an implicit Whites Only sign tends to appear as a glowing beacon of segregation instead. One could reason that any environmental inequalities in the United States and other predominantly white countries is an inevitable byproduct of systematic racism, sexism, and classism, and that these injustices will simply be remedied in time as we dismantle systemic oppression. This may be true, but there is no reason to wait when people are suffering now. The environmental justice movement was born in the United States out of Chicago by Hazel M Johnson, who spent most of her adult life in Chicago’s Altgeld public housing development. This was cheap land, and as Hazel soon found out, her neighborhood was in the middle of a “toxic doughnut”, the dumping grounds of numerous steel mills and trash collection companies. AfSUMMER 2017

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ter her husband died of lung cancer, Hazel took to documenting the illnesses that ran rampant within her community, soon collecting enough evidence to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that people were dying because of unchecked air and water pollution. Wealthier, whiter neighborhoods could afford to stay involved in public affairs and redirect any potential pollutants far away from where they lived, but the people living in Chicago’s public housing had no such luxury. Hazel Johnson had to found a group called the People for Community Recovery in order to even start to pressure the Chicago Housing Authority to remove asbestos from Altgeld. Nevertheless, she persisted, and a few years after she founded the group, she connected with a young organizer in the mid-eighties named Barack Obama. Her work eventually made it to the national scale and prompted then-president Bill Clinton to sign Executive Order 12898: Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations in 1994. It has been over twenty years since the United States formally started recognizing environmental justice as a task worthy of merit, and yet it is still often ignored by the environmentalist movement. It is true, none of these problems

have easy solutions, or even solutions at all. The thought of making a park “just green enough” leaves a sour taste in my mouth because no one should be subjected to a lower greenspace standard on the basis of their income. The thought of allowing developing countries to pollute the earth as much as we did, knowing full well the consequences, disgusts me, but I need to remind myself that in a capitalistic global economy, that is how they will earn the freedom and higher living standards that everyone deserves. This not an article that will provide anyone with answers, but this depressing information is something that everyone needs to keep in mind going forward. We can slow the rate of global warming justly or unjustly, and unfortunately, the latter would probably work better than the former. What we need to remind ourselves as we attempt to go green is that our actions impact everyone, and they will impact some more than others. It is up to us to make those impacts positive or negative. ■

Source: The New York Times 8

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POLITICS

History and the Party of Jackson BY CYRUS SCHILLER

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ight now is a justifiably confusing time for the Democratic Party. Underneath our very noses, resentment smoldered throughout the nation and rose up on election day like a poisonous fume. People across the country were confronted with the prospect of electing either of two of the most unpopular presidential nominees in the history of the country, and they chose the candidate that spoke their language. Donald Trump was elected on the promise of reversing decades of American decay, and his message resounded across the nation with stunning effectiveness. While more people voted for Hillary Clinton, it is easy to say that she represented what many had come to hate in American Society - privilege, elitism, and entitlement. Her campaign ultimately had little to offer voters that were desperate for change. The eight years of Democratic Party governance had some notable successes, but its overall effectiveness in combating pervasive social and domestic problems was tepid at best. Lately, it has been impossible to ignore the recrudescent surge of racism and bigotry in the United States. Polarization has increased and trust in media institutions is low. Most Americans know someone who struggles with opioid addiction, and no lasting solution to the problem of high healthcare costs has been reached. Democrats have traditionally been the party of the common man, and while Clinton has worked to advance many Democratic party ideals over the course of her long and illus-

trious career, she could not shake off the image of being out of touch. Many observers have called attention to both sides’ exploitation of social divisions in this country as the reason the Democrats became unelectable. While certain extreme elements of the right wing are indubitably repugnant to the vast majority of Americans, such as the “Unite the Right” protesters in Charlottesville, it was very ill-advised of Clinton to bring attention to these “deplorables” in the midst of a heated presidential contest. The Democratic Party, if it is to continue to be a national party, needs to return to its roots and fight for the interests of all Americans, rather than labeling an entire section of the American population as deplorable. But how did the Democratic Party get started in the first place? The first Democratic President was Andrew Jackson. Andrew Jackson?! You might say indignantly, the trigger happy slave owner who economically ruined the country and ethnically cleansed Native Americans? The president that Donald Trump purports to admire the most? Yes, the very same man. I am not by any means advocating a return to the 1830s, and while Jackson’s populist beliefs and policies would rightfully be considered horrendous and oppressive today, he did lay the foundation for future populist leaders. To grasp how truly remarkable Jackson was for his time, it helps to look at the Presidents who came before him. All of them were either aristocratic Virginia plantation owners or Harvard educated Yankee lawyers. By contrast, JackSUMMER 2017

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son was a man of the frontier. His parents were recent Ulster Scots immigrants who had settled in the backcountry of the Carolinas. Because of this, Jackson did not have the aristocratic trappings or educational opportunities that his predecessors had. In spite of this, he taught himself law and became a successful attorney in the frontier state of Tennessee. His military record, frontier manner, and attacks on banks made him a hero to many ordinary Americans. In addition, his policies in favor of Indian removal, while obviously wrong and unacceptable today, were very popular in the country at the time. Owning up to his populist credentials, Jackson had a famously rowdy inauguration party that left the White House a total mess. He extended the franchise to all white males, not just the ones who owned property. Although certainly not very egalitarian today, it was very progressive at the time and helped cement his reputation as the President of the common man. Jackson, as president, looked to the ideals of Jeffersonian Democracy, which favored a nation consisting mainly of small independent farmers. He distrusted Northern commercial interests, which he saw as elitist, and this was very much his opinion when he famously vetoed the charter of the Bank of the United States. Fast forward about 180 years and it makes perfect sense that someone like Bernie Sanders, while obviously more fiscally interventionist, would have a distrust of big financial institutions and pharmaceutical companies. The essential attitude of distrust is the same. Andrew Jackson took what Thomas Jefferson started and created an example for future presidents and Democratic party leaders to follow. I must reiterate that most of Jackson’s views today are certainly extremely racist and abhorrent. He was despotic and wrathful in temperament and he owned numerous slaves. He started the forced removal of Native Americans from the Southern frontier. However, these were acceptable at the time. Jackson’s standing as a U.S. President has understandably fallen in past half century as the Civil Rights movement came to the fore. I am not suggesting that we overlook Jackson’s many flaws, or that a look into the history 10

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of the United States through the eyes of its most marginalized and disenfranchised groups is not worthwhile or legitimate; it absolutely is, particularly today, and it always will be. I believe with adamantine conviction in the basic equality of every human being in with respect to their natural rights. Every American has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness regardless their race or income, and this is what the Democratic Party believes in. Social views have changed over time, and will continue to change, but the important thing is that although Jackson believed in the nauseous prevailing opinions of his day, he revolutionized the presidency and reformed the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican party into the Democratic Party, which continues to this day fighting for the interests of ordinary Americans and advancing the cause of equal opportunity. No President has been infallible, and many have done outright disgraceful things – Democratic Presidents are obviously not immune to this. Woodrow Wilson, an old fashioned Southerner, instituted strict racial segregation in the Federal bureaucracy, and he also signed the Sedition Act into law and broke his promise to the nation to keep America out of World War I. President Franklin D. Roosevelt interned Japanese Americans and tried to pack the Supreme Court with justices friendlier to his agenda. Truman got surprisingly little done during his time in office, while Lyndon B. Johnson got the United States mired in the Vietnam War. However, numerous fixtures of progressive and liberal thought and policy had their origin in these administrations. Wilson and Roosevelt, for instance, implemented numerous progressive policies to help ordinary Americans, such as child labor laws, the 8 hour workday, the income tax, and social security. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, while not wholly responsible for alleviating the Great Depression, were responsible for the construction of numerous schools, parks, and infrastructure improvements across America. The G.I. Bill helped veterans afford college. Truman desegregated the military, and Kennedy and Johnson advanced the cause of civil rights like no Presidents before or since. All of these ideas had their basis in the be-


lief that Presidents can use the power of the government to help ordinary people, and this had its start in Andrew Jackson. Jackson, arguably the first “strong” president, was a man of numerous contradictions. Although a professed believer in Jeffersonian ideals such as limited government and states’ rights, he was a staunch believer in national unity and threatened force when South Carolina attempted to nullify a federal tariff law. Although he was the most powerful man in America and although he had a tyrannical character, he made it his mission to make the government more accountable and responsive to the needs of the common people. This is what the Democratic party stood for then and what it stands for now. We live in a time where equality means something completely different than what it meant

in the 1830s, but the party has changed over the course of its long history to become the most pluralistic and inclusive party in America. There is no ignoring the appallingly racist history of the party from its start to about the middle of the 20th century, but since then the Democratic Party has brought people of differing backgrounds, races, and beliefs together for the purpose of making a fairer nation, where everybody equally has the opportunity to succeed and where everybody enjoys the freedom to live and prosper. I am not vindicating Jackson for his crimes, but rather giving credit to him where it is due. Populism, done right, can be a wonderful thing, and it would be wise for the Democratic party to know and remember its history if it is to have a better future.

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CULTURE

You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore BY CHARLIE HURD

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t seems like one of the most divisive issues in the United States right now is freedom of speech and expression. Nobody is blatantly coming out and saying they are ‘against the first amendment, but confusion about what defines the line between a mere liberty of ideas and harmful rhetoric has resurfaced in the mainstream. The debate about freedom of speech has been around long before its prevalence today, and one of the pivotal fighters in the advocacy of un-regulated discourse is the experimental musician Frank Zappa. Though his relevance has diminished in recent years, Frank was, at one point, an important figure in the debate over bureaucratic censorship of words and opinions. He even went so far as to testify in front of the Senate Commerce Committee against any regulations on the rights of musical expression. Not only was he adamantly a proponent of the First Amendment, but he used his music to stretch the boundaries of what could be said in the medium. There is virtually nothing controversial that he had not touched upon in his music by the time of his death in 1993. Just listen to his song Bobby Brown Goes Down and you will understand what I am referring to. His musical message can act as a blueprint to how our contemporary culture can handle the spreading of hate and vulgarity. Zappa started his musical career as a composer for film scores. He was a serious composer 12

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of classical music in a time when rock and roll was the dominant force in the popular domain. He started the rock band The Mothers of Invention to bring his message to a wider audience and explore a new medium of musical expression. Right out of the gate The Mothers had a message that challenged what was prevalent in the mainstream. While most bands were singing about romantic ideas like love and relationships, The Mothers were offering a cynic’s criticism of the 1950’s-60’s lifestyle. In the song Brown Shoes Don't Make It Off of their 1967 album Absolutely Free, Zappa portrays the time period as a fake materialistic world of TV dinners and inauthentic relationships. He even goes so far as to describe the politicians who run city hall as rapists who use their wives as trophies to win elections. These lyrics challenged what many people accepted as their ‘perfect American society’: “TV dinner by the pool watch your brother grow a beard got another year of school you're okay, he's too weird be a plumber/ he's a bummer every summer be a loyal plastic robot for a world that doesn't care” – Brown Shoes Don't Make It (1967) Though the lyrics in the song are incredibly salacious, it conveyed a message to his listeners that was only achievable with this level of crudeness. The message being portrayed was that people are


not fulfilled by this shallow, materialistic lifestyle and that it leads to evil men manipulating the public though their so-called ‘normality’. Though in ‘67 he was criticizing the modern way of life, Zappa expanded his realm of criticism the next year by parodying the counter culture for the exact same thing: its lack of authenticity. His 1968 album We’re Only in it For the Money, Zappa and The Mothers took on the hippies and examined their way of life. He stated that the entire movement was only a trend for status and popularity, the same driving force behind the phony materialistic ‘Leave it to Beaver’ idealism. “First I'll buy some beads/and then perhaps a leather band to go around my head/Some feathers and bells and a book of Indian lore/ I will ask the Chamber Of Commerce how to get to Haight Street/and smoke an awful lot of dope.” – Who Needs the Peace Corps (1968) His lyrics are not poetic at all. In fact, at first glance they may appear sophomoric. But if you dig into the reason they were written, it was apparent that they were designed make people think. A hilarious example of this is Oh in the Sky by The Mothers. A video of their live performance of this is available on YouTube. At first watch you might laugh or just be dumbfounded that this was ever allowed on TV. A strange bass player sings in the most irritating high pitched voice “oh in the sky” for several minutes to the backing of a 50’s ballad. It almost seems like there is no point to it. But at the end of the video Zappa gives an explanation of the strange charade that we just witnessed: “We're involved in a low-key war against apathy. I don't know how you're doing on apathy over there (in England) but we've got a lot of it... A lot of what we do is designed to annoy people to the point that they might, just for a second, question enough of their environment to do something about it. As long as they don't feel their environment, they won't worry about it to do anything to change it. And something's got to

be done, before America scarfs up the world and shit’s on it." Through the next decade, Zappa went on to berate everything that he found a significant problem with in modern society. He rebuked the way TV indoctrinates people in the song The Slime. He lambasts the way humans conform to fit in with others in the song Plastic People. He reprimands the distant way that parents treat their children and how it creates monsters in song Mom & Dad. He even parodies how cheap monster movies are low budget ways to make money in the song Cheepnis. Without his freedom of speech, his ability to criticize these issues would be suppressed. Everything began to change in the 1980’s. During this decade, the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) was formed by the wives of members of congress in order to ‘protect’ children from the horrible forces of indecency in music. Their initial rhetoric was to advocate for recording companies to put rating systems on their albums in order to prevent children from buying albums that are vulgar. There was a series of senatorial hearings which Frank Zappa and other musicians attended to testify. The PMRC cited heavy metal as a cause of violence in children and corrupting the youth. Frank Zappa in a CNN debate on the subject stated: “We're talking about words, I don't think that there is any word that needs to be suppressed." As a result of the hearings, record companies began using the famous Parental Advisory sticker on their albums that featured concepts that were deemed too controversial for the population as a whole. At a first glance this may seem like a small problem. A little sticker shouldn't change much right? Well, large record distributors, WalMart being one of them, began to ban the selling of these records in their stores. For a time this hurt the artists who were creating music, forcing artists to conform to the way society wants their music to be. But then it backfired on the PMRC SUMMER 2017

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in a way that could have been predicted from a million miles away. The forbidden fruit effect took hold, like with most things that are banned. Groups with controversial topics in their music began to have massive sales due to their ‘edgy’ nature. Teenagers started listening to the music with this label for the mere fact that they were deemed unfit for their consumption. In many cases they listened not for the quality of the music at all, but merely the fact that it was rebellious. This became a commodification tool by record companies, who started producing ‘controversial’ material just to boost sales. Zappa himself was highly critical of the music that benefited from this. He parodied the sexuilization and vulgarity of music in the later years of his life. He outdid even the most raunchy of musicians with shock value humor for the sake of being crude. His parodies of money grabbing initiatives led to more positive change against the commodification of vulgarity because instead of banning it outright, he ousted it for what it was; a fraud. It was nothing more than a cheap trick into getting kids to buy the music. A major thesis of Zappa’s work was the notion that music will not create monsters, society will. Regulating discourse won't make hatred go away, but it will let it grow unchecked underground. Only the free exchange of ideas can prove and prevent the disaster of hateful rhetoric. Frank Zappa set the example for us to follow; fight your hardest to let all arguments be heard, but use it for good and not for the spread of hatred. Today, this idea is relevant considering our current political climate. Though Zappa is not longer with us, I could imagine what would be coming out of his mouth in regards to the ‘alt-right’ vs ‘political correctness’ debate going on today. He would criticize both sides of the argument for different reasons. He would say that the new rise of white nationalism is not good for society. He essentially had the view that people should be allowed to do whatever they want as long as it doesn't harm others, therefore live in a society where everybody 14

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has the freedom to express themselves. Zappa also took the stance that word’s are words and nothing more. He would be an opponent of YouTube and Twitter who ban certain figures because they have controversial and hateful ideas. Instead, I would predict that Zappa would approach the new rise of white nationalism in the way he approached the issues prevalent during his lifetime. He would be a proponent of keeping anybody, no matter the political message, on social media without being banned. But still acknowledge that they need to be debunked and criticized. I could see him saying something like ‘The only way to stop the racists, is to show them that they are wrong. Banning them will only fuel their fire.’ As a musical figure, his legacy has drifted into obscurity, but his lesson is one that society should take to heart. The world should use Zappa’s parodies and music as an example of how a community should function when presented with opposing thoughts. Ideas need to be exchanged, that's how the ones that are flawed can be weeded out of the public discourse. If some ideas are banned, they will still exist but only in an environment without opposition. That's how such ideas grow, and Zappa knew that the only way to stop them from spreading was to criticize them. “They won't go for no more…Philosophy that turns away from those who aren't afraid to say what's on their minds, the left behinds of the Great Society.” – Frank Zappa, The Mothers of Invention Hungry Freaks, Daddy Freak Out!■


POLITICS

The Rwandan Revival Story BY ADAM ENKIN

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people.�

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hen Abraham Lincoln spoke those famous words in the Gettysburg Address in 1863, he was talking up the United States of America as a champion of democracy. Lincoln found democracy to be the most egalitarian way of governing, and he believed that it was the most viable option. Most people in the Western World would agree that democracy has worked, and has provided a place where many have flourished courtesy of the plethora of opportunities that surround them. These democratic values that we share with our allies are not universally shared around the world. Many countries around the world ranging from Venezuela, to South Sudan to Afghanistan are led by regimes with no vision for a safer community for its citizens. Instead, they struggle to survive in violence and economic turmoil while the leaders in power continue their corrupt and unethical behaviour. One country which was not listed above has proven that sometimes democracy is not an option. This country is Rwanda, which has enjoyed a huge economic rebound ever since Paul Kagame became its president in the year 2000 while creating an authoritarian government. Paul Kagame was born in Southern

Rwanda as a Tutsi. When the Rwandan genocide broke out and 70% of the Tutsi population was wiped out by the Hutus, Kagame, who was in the Tutsi army, fought hard to preserve his culture. Kagame became portrayed as a war hero for his resiliency in fighting and was rewarded six years later when he became President of Rwanda. The Rwandan economy has changed greatly since Kagame took over from his predecessor Pasteur Bizimungu. Kagame has privatised state industries and has reduced business regulations. Privatization in Rwanda has helped the economy considerably because when companies have the freedom to decide how to run their business there is more competition which leads to more productive industries. Economic growth was at eight percent from 2011-2014,(the United States had a growth rate of 2.4 percent during that same time period) and Kagame wants to move Rwanda away from its agricultural reliance so that Rwanda can move to a being a contemporary 21st century economy. Critics of the Kagame regime would say that the big caveat with these economic growth numbers is that Kagame uses coercion and intimidation to stay in power and sustain his grasp on power. Rwanda and its myriad of economic freedom (freedom for individuals to pursue a profit without the government intervening) is criticized despite this because of the country’s lack of personal freedom including not being able to critiSUMMER 2017

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cize Kagame. Rwanda has garnered the nickname “Africa’s Singapore” by critics and pundits alike because in Singapore there is no freedom to criticize the leader either yet both countries have an abundance of economic freedom. There is no disputing the fact that Kagame is an absolutist who craves absolute power and will sustain that power by any means necessary, but he has given a future for young Tutsi children throughout Rwanda.

The Rwandan economic revival is the perfect example of when countries like the United States abstain from intervening in other countries domestic affairs when the country is capable of figuring its problems out on its own. . Sometimes the will of a few ambitious people can shape the future of a country. Rwanda has changed the political landscape forever because it has proven to us that sometimes when a country is left alone it figures out its problems when the right leader

Rwanda - Martijn Munneke 16

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POLITICS

From Charlottesville to Where? BY YIXIAO JIN

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here is an old Chinese saying that “Lookerson see more than players.” Hundreds of articles have been written about the tragedy that happened in Charlottesville; however, as a foreigner, I will try to see this issue in a different way. On August 16th, the former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon had an interview with American Prospect. He said: “If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.” Economic nationalism is the key phrase. As we all know, Trump promised that he would adjust the global trade policy, giving more chances to American workers. Global capitalism has developed rapidly in the 21st century, while the majority of the people didn’t benefit a lot through this system because it makes the wealth gap grows bigger and bigger. It only benefits the rich industrialists, allowing them to use cheaper labour forces to make the maximum profit. Workers are brought into the global production and consumption process, and their countries are partly forced to take part in this process, which gives the illusion that they benefit from it. However, if we look at the statistics, we should discover that the benefit is limited; moreover, it brings many problems such as pollution. Imagine there is a supply chain. Some countries set their industry outside the territory to where the labor is cheap, while others need to accept those relocated factories. People of the

former one can enjoy good air quality, but the latter one, like China, need to struggle with air pollution. But this is a dynamic process and winner-loser positions change. After continuous industrial relocation, those countries who enjoyed demographic dividend, which means they have a huge amount of workers and use them to raise GDP, have turned themselves into high-technology and financial industry dominated countries. For example, we can clearly see the thread in the past decades of years. It went from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan after WW2 to Mainland China and India in the past thirty years, and now it is other south-east Asian countries like Thailand and Indonesia. For Japan, the bombardment of allies army left nothing but ruins after WW2, but using the the substantial military orders from USA, Japan’s economy burgeoned afterwards and now it the third largest economy which mainly focuses on tertiary industry. There must be something sacrificial in this process e.g. workers of countries that make cheap products for others. But we need to make it clear that workers of countries like USA could also suffer because of unemployment. Capitalists are unwilling to hire native workers because they could pay a lower wage to those workers from poor countries. So workers are all victims. The winner is those guys who use cheap labor and make big money. It is not hard to understand why Trump SUMMER 2017

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was elected. The statistics of voters of Trump and Marine Le Pen, leader of the French right-wing party Le Front National, have all shown that they share some key common backgrounds, like low household income and living in rural areas. Their voters are suffering from the inequality inside the global capitalism. They saw rich people at Wall street making a lot of money, but they tend to lose their jobs! Marx said, “The workers have no fatherland.” Every worker shares the same interest. However, the biggest problem that left-wingers are facing nowadays is that workers of all lands are not united any more. Capitalists deceive them, letting them believe that the reason of their poverty is a country across the ocean or people of other races, turning them into nationalists or racists. They take an imaginary enemy and want to get their contributions back from a innocent bystander. After the collapse of USSR, the communism idea that scared Western countries disappeared, and social democratic parties of Europe failed one by one; neoliberalism makes the living conditions of the poor worse and worse (Thatcherism and Reaganomics. It was Bill Clinton who solved the problem like giant wealth gap Reagan left). There are still some social democratic ruling parties now, but once the economic crisis appears, the welfare system will fail because of lack of public finance. Then the society tend to be unstable. For example, after the great depression torturing the whole world in late 1920s, Japan, Germany and Italy had coup d'etat and riots, and they turned to fascism because fascists promised people a better life. If the capitalistic society is running well, the left wingers or social democrats can be a good pressure valve, using welfare system to keep the society stable. However, when the paradox of the unbalance between production and consumption, namely, overproduction, occurs, the left wingers cannot maintain the stability. Hence the long-existing conflict, namely, the tension of class antagonism, cannot be simply dissolved but triggered. In a society where a wealth gap exists, everyone will not be totally equal to each other. Jean-Jacques Rousseau pointed out 18

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that the original source and basis of all inequality is private property in his masterpiece Discourse on Inequality nearly three hundred years ago. We need to remember that it was communists who defeat Nazism in the history, and explicitly speaking, Nazism is a freak that is made by capitalism’s self-adjustment to confront communism because communism provides the way that capitalists don’t like to solve economic crisis. Let’s look back into history. Hitler and Nazi party once promised that they are purely worker’s party, and their affiliated organization Sturmabteilung(meaning storm detachment) is kind of a left wing organization using people’s power. But after Hitler was elected, he launched operation called the night of long knives(Nacht der langen Messer) to destroy Sturmabteilung and kill every left winger in Nazi party. Then Hitler cooperated with old Junker aristocrats, big industrialists and old empire army to establish a right wing country. Hitler lied to people that it was Jews who caused the economic depression, shifting the class conflict to race conflict, making them believe that it were Poland, USSR, France, UK and Jews etc. who stole German’s living space. The same thing is still happening today. Charlottesville’s tragedy told us that this country is being tore inside. People of different races should unite together for common good, but now there are neo-nazists that blame other races in the period of economic recession. The history is like a circle. But we need to have it changed. Now it is urgent for leftists to earn the people’s trust. If you cannot describe a bright and certain way for people, some of them will turn to the far-right for alternative solutions. If we continue letting people divided, nothing will change. The tragedy of Charlottesville is not the first in the world and will not be the last. Workers and farmers, and all those who do not possess the means of production, including new proletariat e.g. white-collars, are friends and allies of those who lie on the left of the political spectrum. ■


CULTURE & SOCIETY

The Other B Vitamin BY MORGAN ANASTASI

A

merica has become uglier than ever and we are beginning to feel the repercussions. Walk down any city street and you will likely walk past a beige office park, bland condominiums, or an ugly and unkempt McDonald’s. Turn on the radio and you will likely hear a simple, catchy, danceable three or four chord song of three or four minutes. Walk into a movie theater and you will likely see a straightforward and simple action movie or comedy. America has always been “the blue-jean country”, preferring the practical to the fanciful, the humble to the visionary, and the hard-working to the hard-thinking. As a nation, we have never had the aesthetic refinement of the French or the Italians. The problem is not that America is incapable of producing artists of the highest caliber our land has birthed such aesthetic titans as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Frank Lloyd Wright, and John Philip Sousa, and many others beside. It is that our artistic triumphs are not distributed amongst our whole population. The ordinary citizen of Wichita, Dubuque, or Buffalo is not viewing Georgia O’Keefe paintings or listening to the compositions of Mahler. Compare to the situation of the poorest pauper in Rome or Paris who nonetheless shares in the grandeur and majesty of some of the most noble architecture ever erected by man. It is impossible to turn a corner in Rome without tripping over a dozen sites which dignify the human spirit in their refinement. While this humble position in the field of aesthetic affairs is noble in its democratic egalitarianism, it has begun to threaten a full-scale re-barbarization of society. Our nation is menaced by a crisis-level famine in the other B-vitamin: beauty.

For a long time, the aesthetic refinement of a nation has been considered, at best, a secondary concern, behind such practical measures as economic development, health outcomes, and political freedom. The truth is exactly the opposite: aesthetic refinement is not only a primary, but the primary concern of a nation. The production of sophisticated art, literature, music, and philosophy - to which group we may collectively apply the term “aesthetic endeavors” - is the primary yardstick by which a civilization ought to be judged. This is the criterion by which a civilization is remembered or forgotten. America is great and America is rich and many other noble things, but it must certainly strike us that America is not particularly interesting, except as a phenomenon. The aesthetic refinement of our people is not merely the concern of our posterity, it is vital to the present-day health of our society. When one is in the presence of true and eternal beauty, it is a profound experience. Indeed, “experience” is too light a term - one does not merely experience beauty, one is changed by it. Art or music or dance or literature, if it is truly beautiful, imprints itself permanently on the soul of the viewer. If one were to visit a different art museum every weekend for a month, one would be a different and better person at the end of it. Refined and sophisticated beauty impels the soul to soar to lofty heights and orders and directs it towards the true good. Beauty cleanses the spirit of the grime and dirt accumulated during day-to-day life. It orients our hearts to true North. It sweetens and softens our lives and lightens even the heaviest burdens. If we take seriously the Socratic claim that the SUMMER 2017

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polity is merely the soul writ large, we cannot avoid the conclusion that a lack of beauty in the diet of a large portion of the population would have severe political consequences. It seems that at this moment these consequences are becoming undeniable - our national civic discourse is juvenile and fractious, the bonds of brotherhood which unite a mere throng into a nation are frayed and weak, and it seems that the only thing both sides can agree on is the odiousness of the other side. All these are symptoms of a spiritual malnourishment. Before we propose possible solutions to this crisis, we must first examine how we came to this low and degraded state. Some of it is inherent in our national identity: our country is quite young, relative to others, and it is age and continuity which lend majesty and grandeur to what is otherwise mere aesthetic dalliance. We are a nation descended of Puritans - a group primarily remembered for their severe rejection of the lofty and refined beauty of the Old World. We have no national center of culture - no London or Paris which can unify the distinct and fractured regional subcultures of our fifty semi-independent states. We have several great cities, to be certain, but no individual city among them has the capacity to unilaterally bestow a national reputation - a man may be well known in Boston society but completely anonymous in Los Angeles - and therefore American fame will always remain provincial. The story of our culture will always be divided amongst fifty separate strands, rather than being united in one coherent and orderly single thread. What, then, is to be done? How can we remedy this crisis without sacrificing some of the foundational principles of our republic? Surely the first step is education - we must train our society’s youth to value the eternal over the temporal, the good over the pleasant, and the truly wise over the puerile. We must shift our attitude towards beauty entirely: the beautiful is not a superficial and unimportant aspect of our lives (every time we act as though it were, beauty vanishes from the world), beauty is the singular end of all of man’s practical - which has always been merely a polite term for base and material - endeavors. 20

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We must surrender the distinctly American habit of measuring greatness by the number of figures in one’s bank account and instead measure it by the number of stanzas or sonatas one has penned. Let us then commit ourselves as a people to living more elegantly, to drinking profusely from the font of the Muses, and let’s join the human race! ■


CULTURE & SOCIETY

How Writing Can Save Us BY STUART LOMBARD

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am going to present the issue of over-sharing, touch on the mechanisms that companies use to keep you coming back, offer a fix, and answer how writing can save us all. (138/140)

I. The Form of Over-Sharing A Tweet is a form of communicating ideas that forces us to choose our words carefully, or to resort to butchering our words into abbreviations. There are some things that Tweets are well-suited for, like: breaking news headlines, short status updates, or quotes from linked articles. But like all things nowadays, Twitter has turned into a highly politicised community of people with short tempers and even shorter thoughts. Users have learned that in order to participate, they need to shorten their thoughts to just 140 characters, and that has led them to lose most of the depth that should go into thoughts. People have very fastpaced arguments with little to no basis in logic, aptly named ‘flame wars’. These disputes can illicit instantaneous reactions and with how limited people are in their ability to express themselves in the 140-character limit, they resort to using the strongest possible terms and have the potential to cause a lot of damage. I have noticed that people are jumping to extreme positions very quickly, and this forces people out of a middle ground. The fact is that extreme positions are often more easily expressed in a small amount of space than the middle ground, which typically requires more words to properly express. I am a strong defender

of the middle ground. I make a conscious effort to make sure that I am not drifting to extremes. In such a divided world, we need more people who are even just willing to hear what people of opposing positions have to say. That can sometimes be a difficult task, but I have noticed that those people are easier to find at St. John’s. But I do not blame people for falling into social media traps; it is the companies that created the problem, and they know it: they did it on purpose. The more times you open the app, the more times you see advertisements, and the more daily users they have. These statistics eventually turn into revenue for the company. Is it surprising that Silicon Valley CEOs are increasingly restricting their children’s use of electronic devices? In 2010, Steve Jobs famously answered New York Times journalist Nick Bilton’s question: ‘So, your kids must love the iPad?’, by saying: ‘They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.’ Quite a lot of research has been done on over-sharing in the past few years. Researchers have likened the effects to playing a slot machine: either you are going to get lucky and there is going to be a ‘like’ when you open the app, or you will be unlucky and there will not be anything for you. The apps will constantly reinforce the cycle of rewards by doing interesting things with their algorithms like showing your posts more frequently to friends who have liked your material in the past. They know that those friends are more likely to ‘like’ your posts, and so they get you to keep coming back in order to see who is liking your posts and to show you posts SUMMER 2017

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from friends who you ‘like’ a lot. This also indicates the subtle etiquette of Facebook. Many people feel obligated to like posts just because they have seen them, very much akin to the almost obligatory ‘hello’ or casual wave when you pass a friend. If you see them and do not acknowledge their presence, they might wonder why. It turns out that the same thing happens on Facebook. There have been many occasions where I have been asked by a friend whether I saw their latest post. They wonder because there is almost an assumption that people check Facebook multiple times a day, and if I did happen to check Facebook that day, then it would be peculiar if I did not see their post. And if I did see it, and admit I saw it, then they will probably be wondering why I did not ‘like’ their post. They assume that I have not seen their post because I have not liked it, and assume that if I would have seen it, then I would have acknowledged it by liking it. This vicious cycle has to end, and we can bring it about, but it will be difficult because we have become essentially addicted to the social reward cycle. If you are ready to take on the task, read on.

II. The Fix In order to rid ourselves of the burden of social media, we have to disrupt the system that is keeping us full. I have seen many articles written on how to turn off Facebook notifications. It is fairly clear that people are getting increasingly annoyed at the amount of times Facebook pings their phones, but Facebook makes it difficult to find the settings in their app and then they hide the notification settings even deeper – this is their primary delivery method, and they do not want it turned off. But in order to lessen the burden, we need to give ourselves the means to forget about the apps. Notifications: Turn them off; turn them all off. Step two: eliminate the sources. Right now, pull out your phone, and uninstall every single social media app you have; make no exceptions. You might also consider getting rid of all but one news app, and other content aggre22

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gating apps. Do this, and do not reinstall them for one week. I did this, and even after just one week, I found that a number of good things had happened: I was thinking more freely with less distractions; I had less reliance on my phone, checked it less, and even left it behind a couple of times; and my phone had significantly better battery life – Facebook drains a lot of battery, especially on Android… it’s those notifications and constant background refreshing. I have not reinstalled most of them, and I find that I do not miss them. If there is something I feel I really must share with every single friend, acquaintance, and family member, I wait to get back to my computer. Try it just for a week, and if you find that you really need your apps back, then at least you can appreciate the problem. Question: Do social media apps and others that present endless feeds of content truly make me happy?

III. Returning to Writing If you care to hear my opinion, it is that the world is an incredibly bleak place. There are so many useless things posted online, and most of it has evolved into something without thought. Most things I see on social media either make me laugh, growl, or sigh. When I see rants, they are almost never backed up by anything except the heat of the moment – clicking ‘Post’ is too easy. When I see emotional posts, they often give absolutely no context, but illicit a ‘sad’ reaction anyways. What happened to keeping personal matters to ourselves? What happened to writing ‘Dear Diary…’? But it is not these things that are most concerning. Rather, it is the posts that cause people to instantly divide, and take sides within the post. It is the ‘flame wars’ where people’s feelings get hurt because they stepped into the fight with no armour. It is the strong-man rhetoric that has pushed the world closer to nuclear destruction than ever before. This problem could be avoided if people stopped sharing every remark that passes to the front of their minds. There is


definitely a place to vent all the frustrations that life sends our way, and that place is in a diary or journal, not the internet. Writing is an exercise in thought; it is crafting a journey from beginning, to middle, to end, then revising that work to make the arguments stronger and more logically sound. Humans have written for over two thousand years in order to record histories and treatises in a way that can be preserved. But what we have on social media is just a collection of words, haphazardly put together, then posted for the entire world to see. To react is a powerful thing, but we have taken it too far, and reactions have become a commodity. Did you know that as a Facebook Page, you can pay Facebook to push your post further so that you get more reactions? The price to promote increases the more you do it, so that it becomes more of a burden: either pay up and keep your audience, or stop paying and reach less people.

My advice: slow down. Pick up your pen and a notebook, and write. If you are thinking too fast to write it down, open a Word document and go crazy. When you are finished, challenge yourself to find fallacies in your arguments and to address them. This process will, I think, help you find the middle ground, because the extreme opinions are oft littered with logical fallacies and elementary oversights. I expect that if we all took more time to formulate our opinions, and to craft strong well-reasoned arguments, that the world would be a much less volatile place. It really is that simple: That is how writing can save us. Once we stop sharing our undeveloped thoughts, and focus on crafting good arguments, then no matter what faction you belong to, you will be taken more seriously and might even learn something about yourself or change someone else’s opinion. Let’s prove that the pen is still mightier, and use it to save ourselves while we still can. â–

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The Epoch Journal - Summer 2017  
The Epoch Journal - Summer 2017  
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