In job interviews, the common answer to “What is your worst quality?” is often, “I’m a perfectionist.” My whole life, I plagued myself with perfection. I loved to do art, yet any drawing would have hundreds of erasures because it just “was not right.” I do not think I consciously realized how much of a perfectionist I was (and how much it held me back) until coming to college at Santa Clara University and realizing that perfection is not my disease, it is that of the world. America has been an idealized country for a long time, and somewhere a part of that hope for the “American Dream” turned in to a nationwide desire for perfection. Even more so in California, I daresay, my home state that I love very much. Growing up in the bay area, everything is a competition, starting from a young age. In school there is competition for the best grade, for being the most athletic or outgoing. Then as high school ends, there is the race to college: who is getting in to Stanford? Berkeley? Yale? Writing college essays is, seriously, the worst. Somehow, one must spin the experiences of their life in to the most intriguing, smart, amazing story that some random person will be reading and it is expected that it pleases them. I spent months on those essays, berating myself that they were not good enough. As an adult, one must strive to be the best applicant to the engineering firms, create everyone’s favorite new app, get a house in the nicest area…it goes on. So rather than coming to the conclusion that my struggle for perfection was something that was instilled in me as I grew up, I realized that it was a societal vice; something innate in American–and perhaps even human–culture.
Looking back at the research I have done in my first two quarters of the Critical Thinking and Writing class I write this piece for, I see the downfall of perfection everywhere. In the course, we learned about factory farming, the food industry, corruption, government organizations, and the role of technology in modern society. As I wrote each essay for the course, I had not yet realized the role of the strive for perfection.
Perfection in the American Dream is often seen in the form of the “ideal” family: a happy group sitting around a table eating dinner together–an idea I used to discuss family meals in my essay, The Addams Family.I discussed how when people see a problem, they believe the solution is to be completely rigid in fixing it. In my essay, this translated in to how people do not have family meals together because they believe if they do, it needs to be perfect: everyone gets along with no squabbles, the food is the healthiest it can be, and it happens every night. However, this belief is something that ends up diminishing the possible effect of family meals–something that can make one healthier for the rest of their life. The Addams Family mocks the obsession with the ideal American family image of wealth and perfection; rather portraying a family completely imperfect though one that functions happily at the same time. My essay encouraged families to have healthy family dinners, while reminding them that perfection is not the goal or the solution.
Factory farming was created to pursue a system of complete, perfect efficiency in order to both function at a cheaper cost and feed the growing population. Through documentaries and films like Food Inc. and Meet Your Meat, books like Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, and countless articles about meat production and the food industry, my class and I discovered that the factory farm is very far from perfect. Meat production began with small farms with cows, chickens, and pigs roaming freely, eating grass and foraging–as they were meant to–until they reached the age of slaughter. The meat derived from those farms was healthy and wholesome, mostly free from disease and did not damage the environment. Yet, it was decided that this was not good enough: there had to be something cheaper and faster, which supposedly means better. So meat production was mechanized, resulting in huge environmental, health, and moral problems. In Eating Animals, Foer discusses the enormous amount of methane gas released by cow farms and enormous pools of fetid, toxic waste that caused multiple deaths, and how chickens are placed in cold water baths full of bacteria and feces to in order to grow bigger and allow the meat to be priced higher. The expository documentary Food Inc. examined how FDA regulators now only have seconds to check meat for cleanliness and that the monotonous diet of corn given to cows causes E.Coli to grow in their stomachs–something that would never occur in grass-fed cows. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Deterioration in the food industry such as the previous examples are caused by the push to create a superior, efficient, cheap system of producing meat and food.
Becoming better means progress, and progress is good–but not if the desired outcome is perfection. At some point, it is necessary to accept the limits of who we are and not be disappointed with it–rather, it should be embraced. The final portion of research I completed for this course was on cybernetics. Cybernetics is the science of systems and communication with machines and living things–the science of combining human and machine. This includes, but is not limited to, prosthetics, artificial organs, robots with biological brains, and chips that are implanted in to the nervous system. Cybernetics is a fascinating field because it is, to most humans, amazingly futuristic. Combining human and machine can make things that were previously impossible possible, but cyborgs(humans connected to machines) inspire a great moral dilemma. For example, a very well-known cyborg named Oscar Pistorius has recently become a household name by smashing records in the Paralympic games and qualifying for the London Olympics with two prosthetic legs. Pistorius was heavily applauded and many hoped he would do well as he represented the underdog; the possibility that amputees can have a life just as full and successful as anyone. However, many athletes speculated whether it was fair that Pistorius qualify for the Olympics–perhaps the Flex Foot Cheetah prosthetics invented by the genius Van Phillips gave him an unfair advantage. So Pistorius was subjected to two rounds of testing in order to determine whether the accusations were true. The fist set of tests showed that Pistorius’s prosthetics allowed him to use less energy while running, therefore giving him an advantage. This first test was ultimately overruled by the IAAF–the International Association of Athletics Federation–because it failed to calculate possible disadvantages caused by his prosthetics in, for example, the starting blocks. The second round of testing was ordered to debunk the claim that Pistorius used less energy which gave him an unfair advantage. While the tests done by Dr. Peter Weyand backed up the ruling of the IAAF, it also unearthed a more clear advantage that Pistorius had over other athletes. It was shown in the testing that the Flex Foot Cheetah prosthetics allowed an unusually fast leg swing–20% faster than that of normal humans. Weyand declared that “‘”It was dead obvious as soon as [fellow doctor Bundle and Weyand] saw the data that Oscar has an advantage…We haven’t wavered from that interpretation since”(Epstein). This discovery raises the question: at what point do we stop building better prosthetics(or any technology, for that matter)? Do we stop when the technology equals human capability, or do we push on and seek for something better?
It is natural to search for “better.” Humans focus on progress and becoming better versions of themselves, and that is a good thing: it is the reason for many technologies we currently have and other entities that have enhanced lives around the world. The problem occurs when the goal is perfection. Through my research to write this piece on perfectionism, I have found several articles–scientific ones among them–that describe the “vicious cycle of perfectionism”(Perfectionism). It creates an unhealthy cycle because the goals set up are automatically unattainable. Therefore, it is more likely the person will not try at all. Yet, this makes people forget that the effort is what really matters. If someone is trying to be more conscious about the food industry and eat with conviction, it is not required to eat no meat ever, only organic fruits and vegetables, and never touch a hamburger again. Rather than trying to be perfect, the focus should be on making an effort. We are only human and whether or not you believe in sin, you probably agree that it is only natural to make mistakes. We cannot be only good all of the time. Even though I know realize how dangerous being a perfectionist is, I still struggle with holding myself to those standards. So next time you are faced with something and you disregard it because you know you will not be perfect at it, try. I promise I will try too. Trying with all of our human capacity, after all, is where the beauty of life shows: we do not need to use technology or anything else to corrupt our natural beings. Imperfection is always the best goal.
“Perfection is a disease of a nation…We shine the light on whatever’s worse.”
Epstein, David. “Fair or Foul? Experts Split over Whether Pistorius Has Advantage.” SI.com. Sports Illustrated, 4 Aug. 2012. Web. 10 Mar. 2014. <http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/olympics/2012/writers/david_epstein/08/03/oscar-pistorius-london-olympics/>.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and Company,
Food, Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Perf. Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Richard Lobb. Movie One, 2008. DVD.
Meet Your Meat. Dir. Bruce Friedrich and Cem Akin. Perf. Alec Baldwin. Peta.org. PETA, 2002. Web. <http://www.peta.org/videos/meet-your-meat/>.
Mizrach, Steve, Ph.D. “Should There Be a Limit Placed on the Integration of Humans and Computers and Electronic Technology?” Fiu.edu. Florida International University, n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2014. <http://www2.fiu.edu/~mizrachs/cyborg-ethics.html>.
“Perfectionism.” Usao.edu. University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. <http://usao.edu/student-services/perfectionism>.