I’ll always remember my brother telling me “ignorance of a law is not an excuse to break the law.” This seemed really strange to me, as I wondered how everyone could possibly know every law in every city in every part of the world. I’ve come to realize that what my brother said to me those many years ago is true, not just in judicial hearings, but in everyday life.
So often people choose to do what is easiest for them. They choose to drive a car because it is easier than walking home. They choose to go to McDonalds because it is easier than picking up groceries at the supermarket and cooking a meal. And more often than not, they choose to ignore underlying problems when dealing with intense issues, such as animal cruelty, sustainability, and violence. However, it is crucial for one to educate themselves on important issues in order to gain greater understanding of a situation and generate a clear opinion.
The idea of awareness was stressed in my CTW class from the get go. One of our first videos, This is Water detailed the importance awareness plays in our lives. David Foster Wallace expresses that “the real value of a real education has nothing to do with knowledge but everything to do with awareness” (Foster Wallace). More often than not, people’s choices are dictated by their narrow view on a situation. This is Water expressed how individual’s put themselves and their desires at the center of their opinion but fail to see things from another’s point of view. Through awareness, we can counteract this one-sidedness and develop a greater sense of understanding. This theme of awareness would span the entirety of two quarters of CTW, beginning with our discussion of animal cruelty.
Globally, over 56 billion animals are mercilessly tortured for to meet human needs (“Food”). This is one of the first things I learned in my CTW 1 class. It was no surprise to me, as I, like many other web-goers had seen, or rather chosen to turn away from, various animal cruelty videos released by animal rights groups such as PETA. What I did not know, was just how superficial our knowledge of animal cruelty can be. Through reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, I learned the greater extent of atrocities that are inflicted upon these animals. I learned that cage free holds about as much truth as fast food being good for weight loss. Most people know chickens are killed for meat production, but are unaware that chickens are “forced into shackles, their throats are cut, and they’re immersed in scalding hot water to remove their feathers” just for our pleasure (“Chickens Used…”). Learning more about these atrocities slowly made it harder for me to eat meat without feeling morally burdened. It was not until I read a section in Eating Animals that described how 83 percent of all chicken meat (including organic and antibiotic-free brands) is infected with either campylobacter or salmonella at the time of purchase” (Foer 139) that I realized I could not stomach eating these creatures anymore. This newfound awareness of types of diseases and chemicals I was really putting into my body deterred me from wanting to eat meat any further.
Cowspiracy even further opened my eyes to the detrimental effects of eating meat. Living in California, the drought is very important to me. I was not aware of who was the main consumer of water, other than having once heard that agriculture accounted for greater water usage than homes. Through my CTW assignments, I was put in a position where I could no longer be blind to what was going on. Researching for essays informed me that in order to supply our meat eating demands, animal agriculture attributes largely to water wastage and ozone depletion. This was mind blowing. Many times people choose to stay unaware because of the time and effort required to understand deeper issues; however, Cowspiracy made that easy. Infographics within the documentary, stating things like 1 pound of beef requires 2,500 gallons of water made me want to grab my phone and tell everyone to stop eating meat as soon as possible (Cowspiracy). Luckily, I got the chance to educate my peers on awareness through our next assignment- the sustainability debate.
Debating sustainability at this school really got me to delve deeper, past what I was being told on the surface. I chose to argue against the school being genuinely concerned with sustainability because I thought it seemed interesting and easier than arguing for it. Once again, I chose to do as so any others do, and chose what I thought was the easy route. Boy, was I wrong. The project taught me that sometimes what a company or organization may tell you is not always what is happening in reality. It’s up to the consumer to look beyond the surface and learn for themselves what is going on. Just as a carton of eggs may have happy chickens frolicking on green pastures, or health organizations may claim that soda has no effect on health, it’s beneficial to learn about what is really happening even with trustworthy companies.
Though I may have thought I was aware, taking the time to really figure out the details and discover what happened behind closed doors helped me form a greater opinion on this school’s true motive. While assignments like Meet Your Meat and Eating Animals made sure that I knew what was going on behind the scenes of factory farming it was class discussions really made me think critically about what I was actually doing. Hearing different opinions on the implications of the meat industry gave me greater perspective on the issue at hand. Through hearing other’s firsthand accounts, I gained greater awareness into the reasoning behind their actions- a topic apparent in our next topic, Columbine.
Once again, CTW challenged me to become aware about another topic I only vaguely knew about. Upon seeing that we were going to read Columbine all I could remember about the incident was two school shooting outcast kids in trench coats. Given that the book was so thick I wondered how much could be talked about this one day. However, every reading gave me greater insight into what I thought what a simple story. Columbine really stressed the idea of taking the time to look past surface issues and being aware of what is really going on. Greater awareness of Eric and Dylan’s problems or behaviors might have led to greater preventative actions. Reading Columbine, also offers us the opportunity of being aware of what to look for nowadays or reasons certain protocols have been enacted.
Dave Cullen, author of Columbine, also emphasized how it can be easy to paint someone as a loner or a weirdo, but taking the time to get to know the perpetrators can paint an even more vivid picture. As Dave Sanders, one of the Columbine victims, once said, “you can’t really teach a kid anything: you can only show him the way and motivate him to learn it himself” (Columbine 50). Only from getting greater insight and knowledge of these events can we come to an informed decision. Naturally we are so quick to jump to conclusions and point the finger, but slowing down can help us better learn where to point.
While it might place less of a burden on one emotionally and intellectually, remaining ignorant to prevalent issues in society can be harmful. My fall and spring CTW classes pushed me to go beyond knowing about an issue but to truly be aware of what was going on at different levels of the situation. It is beneficial for one to step out of their comfort zone and educate themselves on societal issues. Be it politics, psychology, or nutrition, greater awareness of an issue allows a reader the opportunity to make more informed decisions and form a stronger stance. Just as I overcame my reluctance to watch animal abuse videos to learn more, so can others. And while an individual need not know about every law from Turkmenistan to Tibet, gaining greater awareness of just one thing is beneficial to society as a whole.
“Chickens Used for Food.” PETA. PETA, n.d. Web. 08 June 2016.
Cowspiracy. Dir. Kip Andersen. 2014. DVD.
Cullen, David. Columbine. New York: Hachette Book Group, 1991. Print.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.
“Food.” Animal Equality. Animal Equity, n.d. Web. 08 June 2016.
Foster Wallace, David. “This Is Water – David Foster Wallace.” YouTube. YouTube, 20 Nov. 2014. Web. 08 June 2016.