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College English Class: Marriage of Memes, Meat, Misleading, Morality, and, Most of All, Meaning//Jennifer Chun

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Marriage:

About one year ago, I was filling out the college admission form for the second time.  As with questions about our desired dorms, it included a form asking to rate our interest in a variety of topics from “not interested” to “very interested”.  There seemed nothing unusual about it.  Science and technology, Italian culture, California ideals…  I seemed pretty neutral to most of these, choosing “may be interested”.  But then “food” came up as a topic.  “Well, I enjoy eating food, so of course I’ll be interested”, I thought to myself.  So I selected “very interested”.  What I did not know at that time was that decision would finalize my marriage contract of my college English class required of me during my first two quarters in college.

I know “marriage” might be a strong term for referring to a relationship not between another human being, but if you think about it, being in college is being in a well-planned and awaited relationship with our studies.  We’ve all been preparing for college since we were at least high schoolers, building up our college resumes with Advanced Placement courses, extracurricular activities, and grades for that one moment of applying to several four year colleges.  We’ve sacrificed hours of leisure for a better future.  We heavily anticipate the months of March and April of our senior high school years to decided where we would be for four years.

And most importantly, your total college cost, tuition, textbook cost, and housing cost for a single quarter /semester or two may cost as much as an average marriage. My college’s tuition for a quarter is in the $20,500’s.  Couples on average are believed to spend between “$19,323 and $32,205” on a wedding(“Cost…”).  My mom keeps reminding me that a single class costs about $100, considering all the costs, so I MUST attend all my classes.  I understand Mom~

I think what bothers me the most about college though is that although we pay the heavy costs of college, American culture doesn’t do good enough of a job to encourage students to really enjoy their education.  A fair number of college students look forward to it mostly in a social aspect.  General education courses are often skirted off as “annoying requirements” for a diploma that may land us a job.  College is seem more as a chore than a blessed opportunity.

I really wanted to get as much as I could from a true college experience as I could, textbook knowledge and all.  I know of others who aren’t as blessed to have the four year experience, one that who never will…  And I didn’t want to let my parents’ savings go to waste.

And… I really wanted to go to the college I had been admitted to the previous year.  I had graduated the year before, and accepted the application when I did in my April, but I became really sick during my last months of high school.  I lost most of my remaining high school days and a month of college due to it.  During that time, I was unable to mentally get myself to check my emails or do anything.  My parents felt that maybe my applied college had given up my application since I failed to respond to their orientation emails.  They thought that I would probably need to take the junior college route to get into a four-year college.  But, I decided to take the slim, improbable chance of requesting for a gap year.  It worked!  I knew then that I had wanted to take on this education marriage.

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Memes:

During my gap year, I had taken community college classes and was forced to stay near home, in fear that my illness would come back (it did).  There was no social life on my college campus.  I couldn’t drive, so meeting with other people to hang out was hard.  I often spent lots of time on my own, wondering what life would be like in a four year college.  During that November, the Facebook group UC Berkeley Memes for Edgy Teens (or UCBMEFT) came out and took my Facebook story by storm.  Everyone was adding each other to this college page and the numerous other inspired college meme pages, even for colleges that they hadn’t applied to.  I was able to see how my fellow classmates related to each other in their college mishaps and grades.  I became really excited about attending a four year college, when I would truly relate to their experiences.

Memes became a big part of my college freshman fall quarter than I expected.  I was able to meet the people of my current Christian club and finally connect with my roommate (after three weeks of pure unease).  And, interestingly enough, my English class was meme-worthy itself.  The class title, not kidding, was “Food Porn”.  For the first few weeks, we had talked about, looked at, and even created our own food porn!  We had recognized the visual importance of food advertising and how it affects us as a nation, even if most of the food appeal is a lie.  Who knew that food could even be a topic for a writing class?!

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Meat:

After we had spent a fair time with food porn, our professor had us read Eating Animals and Consider the Lobster, both which examined the ethical issues behind eating many of our “ethical” meats.  He had us participate in class discussions about the texts and our analysis of the well-written and creative writing styles of Jonathan Safran Foer and David Foster Wallace respectively.  It made me want to become less of a meat eater when we had to watch videos displaying the harsh reality of animal treatment in factory farms.  I can’t look at a turkey ever again with the same ease anymore.

The other meat that we had learned about was the realization that everything that we’ve been taught in high school English classes was wrong!  We realized that our previous essays were reversing the outline of a basic argument.  Reading the professor’s book Slant, we rethought our writing processes with a slant, the mix of a thesis and a so-what.  We needed to open up our essays to more questions and underlying issues rather than narrow ourselves in!

The biggest meat of writing information was the professor’s motto.  “Write essays that you want to read!”.  It made me realize that the greatest meat of an essay was the enjoyment of the writer.  We have been so used to writing forced, structured essays that we had resented even thinking about writing an essay.  That really stuck with me the most throughout the months.

I incorporated all of these meat in an essay I wrote about offals, those animal intestines that you see in Chinese restaurants and the like.  It was my personal instinctive counterargument to the vegan- vegetarian- push that the texts have encouraged.  As much as I’d like to stop eating meat, I can’t due to my family owning many Chinese restaurants with meat.  I argued that offals do have more value than Western society likes to think in terms of “morality”. It’ll be difficult to stop all people from eating meat, but the least we can do is not waste the meat we make from factory farming!  Is it not more immoral to waste animal resources than to kill animals themselves?

In another essay, I was able to incorporate creativity with my love for math in an essay that doesn’t offer any excuse for food waste.  I took all my experiences with the various school dining services and used each restaurant to stress key issues in American food waste, particularly those involved with composting, surplus food, and leftovers.  We purposely avoid placing blame for wasted food on ourselves!  In one of my sources, I read of a woman who developed her own strategy to “forget” the existence of surplus food so when this surplus is past its expiration date she can throw this food away “‘with an easier conscience’”(Evans 53).  Scary thought, isn’t it?  It hit me more closer to home than I’d thought it would.

Here’s a “writing experiment” that I started my essay off with, the universal symbol of a person throwing away food that was created by various words that I thought a food waster would say as an excuse.  It was the most random idea I had thought of at the moment, but it worked out once I became determined to do it.  I am quite proud of this one!

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Misleading:

At the beginning of the Winter quarter, we moved on from factory farming and food corruption to deceit in all industries.  Food companies are messed up in their own ways, true, but so are many other things!  Our professor challenged us to work in groups to create a podcast based on any topic involving corruption.  Initially I wasn’t gung-ho for the idea since I’ve never been the best in group settings.  I also wasn’t too familiar with my group members.  It took some time for us to work everything out, but we succeeded in creating a podcast highlighting the notable female bias in the Silicon Valley.  Our group set-up forced us to get creative in presenting our podcast as one of “many” podcasts by a male student at our school asking informed females about gender-specific issues.  We took phone and Skype interviews with female tech workers to add to our podcast.  I had mislead myself into believing that everything wasn’t going to go well when quite the opposite was true.

We also do a fair share of misleading and lying ourselves, even without knowing it.   Dan Ariely in his book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty discussed various ways in which we as people lie to ourselves.  We use our creativity, personal belongings, and our conscious to lie to ourselves of who we are, for better and for worse.  It was rather amusing listening to classmates who openly admitted the ways that people cheated in their high schools in a college class!

It just so happened that around that time I went into an identity crisis about being in a four year college.  I was insecure as to whether I was capable of being in my intended major, or even being at the college at all.  I felt my interest in my major was fading quickly, but I didn’t know what to change to.  Was it right to put my family’s finances at a big risk when I was so unsure of whether my education mattered?  College only really matters if you finish with a degree, isn’t it?

district8-battle2

Morality:

We were assigned to write our final essay of any given topic relating to our official class theme of “Food, Self, and Culture”.  I felt that I had run out of ideas at that point.  I had wanted to stick with food as much as I could since it was a food class.  Most of my classmates had switched to other subjects of their interests that involved corruption or illegal means such as overuse of drugs in the Silicon tech industry and the competitive e-Sports.  I felt uncertain of thesis statements that I had brought to class for peer review.  I thought these statements over for days, and on a whim I decided to pick reality shows as a topic.

I had deeply thinking about the ending of a video game I had finished, Danganronpa V3.  I won’t spoil the ending in here, trust me!  I love the Danganronpa franchise, don’t get me wrong (the featured image includes the main protagonists of Danganronpa V3, Kaede and Shuichi) and I’d highly recommend it, but the end of the most recent game really made me consider the moral ramifications of teenage violence in similar franchises such as The Hunger Games movies and novels.  Is it right for our society to popularize medias such as these into the mainstream?  I discussed the video game as part of my analysis for the short story Those Who Walk Away from Omelas by the recently deceased Ursula Le Guin that questions whether the mistreatment of a select few people is worth the sacrifice for the happiness for most people.  I emailed my professor to ask whether this idea could work, and he thought that it was an excellent essay idea!  I was excited to hear that a series that has great meaning to me could be used as the basis for a college assignment, especially since the essay would be very specific to Danganronpa V3 and The Hunger Games movies.

The essay proved to be my most ambitious venture ever!  It took me about three hours to find a proper narrative that related to my stance ( that these medias that display child-killing encourage young adults to consider their moralities in decision making towards authority/establishment), but once I found it I hit jackpot and was able to use the story to lead my essay.  I had borrowed about four physical books detailing reports that defined ethics and morality (it’s far more greater than you can imagine!), reviewed a fair share of websites and databases, and relooked over summaries for the medias so I could describe all the occasions of defiance (murder or not) with enough background information for anyone to read the essay!  The outline for my essay, consisting of nothing but bullet points, totaled to five pages.  I thought that my essay would be ten pages at most, but in bringing the essay to completion on my rough draft, I realized that I needed a lot more time than expected…  I once had to work on the essay for four hours straight to get it done within the generous extension.

The essay… turned out to be 17 pages long, double spaces, MLA format, even without the works cited pages…

How…

The closest I’d been able to get a research paper to that length was nine pages.  Heck, the page requirement for the essay itself was at least five pages!

It was an exhausting essay.  Midway I was beginning to regret my idea since there was a lot that needed to be talked about.

I brought up all the crucial plot points that related to the three subcategories of ethics.  I established that each character had their “just” motivations; there is no one “common sense” after all (Wallace 26)!  The Hunger Games movies most notably encouraged young adults to create communities that dedicated themselves to relating words of the movies and the scarring violence to relieve daily stresses and discuss socioeconomic inequality.  We seek to find definitive solutions to movies that deal with realistic issues such as inequality.  Violence has always existed in “popular medias” such as Grimm fairy tales since they effectively keep children away from dangers through the use of fear.  The world will always be filled with violence, so the best solution is to discuss use of it with young adults so they may make their own best judgements!

 

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Meaning (The Most Important):

Looking back at it, the fulfillment of my improbable essay goal was an exhaustion worth taking!  I was able to reflect on the basis of my own decision making best by writing that essay.  The research proved that the world isn’t as straightforward as we’d like it to be.  The “just” in any decision should be seen in the same light as anything “in-just”.  They can switch at a matters notice depending on which ethic subcategories are weighted higher than others in society.  One of the most important things you can do is encourage discussion of ideals and topics that you know that exist, whether you morally believe in them or not.  All of our personal values are based on one another’s.  We should be open for outside opinion enough as we are to our random ideas.

We tend to feel the most at ease with ourselves when we stick with a specific set of values over our lives.  It’s only natural.  We want to feel that what we are doing is right.  Doesn’t your life only have meaning once you fulfill a life-long dream of yours?  No, it doesn’t.  I believe that life has meaning only when you take those improbable challenges and you daily face your “opposition”.  I wouldn’t be able to write an essay, let alone this blog post, so long if I hadn’t taken those few minutes writing an email to my professor about an idea that popped up in my head.  I wouldn’t have been able to challenge my creative limits nor even be attending a four year college had I acted on my “logic” over my intuition.  Writing an essay that you would want to read becomes no different than living your life as if you were to want your life to be like someone else’s.

A required English class such as the one I had for two quarters of my freshman year of college doesn’t serve primarily for me to learn about English.  It serves to push me and other adults into finding our own meaning by pushing us out of our comfort zones and helping us distinguish our intuitions from “logics” that may “mislead” us.  It was about finding the “meat” in my lives and the “morality” of my decisions.  Being in a group setting instilled a shared discomfort that became an unspoken mean of relating with peers, just as “memes” serve to bring college students together.  The “marriage” of college is costly in many regards, but it “means” so much to me.  I can not be any more grateful than I am now!

 

Works Cited:

“Shuichi Saihara and Kaede Akamatsu from Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony.” https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/858991328899557263/

“How much does the average wedding cost?” MSASea. http://www.msa-sea.org/43506-average-cost-of-weddin-venue/

“Average Wedding Cost in the United States Is $25,764.” Cost of Wedding, The Wedding Report.Inc, http://www.costofwedding.com/.

Harlot777. “Food Porn.” Imgur. 3 March 2015. https://imgur.com/gallery/pVczv6F

“Meat Chickens 2.” Safe https://safe.org.nz/issue/factory-farming-meat-chickens

Evans, David. Food Waste: Home Consumption, Material Culture and Everyday Life.

Bloomsbury, 2014.

“District 8 Battle 2.” Wired. https://www.wired.com/2014/11/mockingjay-violence-teens/

“Big Meaning.” Christopher Curtis Sensei. http://curtissensei.com/?p=820

 

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Creative Lessons//Brooke Broszus

Alright, I confess. I am a typical millennial. I have a smartphone. I have Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. Media has consumed me, but I hadn’t really noticed it to the full extent before taking a Critical Thinking and Writing class in my first two quarters of college. In this class I got to enjoy creativity, picking my own topics for essays and being able to run with them. This freedom allowed me to research topics that I was actually interested in, and that I could connect with. This creative freedom allowed me to learn the lesson that media has a choke hold on our lives, a hold so tight that we don’t even notice it is there because we have become numb and unaware of its control and how it influences us.

Chicken Noodle Poop:

The fact of the matter is that the CDC estimates that 76 million cases of foodborne illness occur in America each year (Foer 139).

While reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, I learned a lot of disturbing facts about the food industry, particularly about factory farming. I wrote an essay about the ill treatment of chickens in factory farms and how people continue to eat chicken, believing that it is healthy, despite getting so many people sick. The numbers I stumbled upon were atrocious. I couldn’t believe that with the number of illnesses, there wasn’t anything changing in the system. I found it to be because of ignorance. Not enough people are really aware of what is going on. There is not a large enough backlash on the industry to create change. This connects to media in that the media is not talking about it. It is a hushed topic, an industry filled with hush money. Instead of focusing on hard hitting issues, like the health of our society, we are focusing on mindless memes. And the industry couldn’t be happier about it; with no one talking about it, there is no need for change.

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Chicken Factory Farming

 

The Prognosis for “Crash” Diets

The first piece of evidence is the very name of these diets, as they are often classified and identified by catchy names in order to hook the public’s interest. This strategy is perfect for marketing purposes and help the articles and websites with the diets go viral on social media platforms (REVIEWS).

College is a time where people often try to reinvent themselves in different ways, one of them being body image. I wrote an essay about how crash diets fail to provide people with long term results and are often unhealthy. Despite these diets being unsustainable and ineffective, people keep going back to them. The diets continue to gain ground and make their creators money. This is all due to media. Media gets the word out there, continuously introducing new fad diets for the public to try. The media presents these ineffective diets in catchy ways on a multitude of platforms, constantly keeping them in front of the public, enticing people to fall for the empty promises of the diets. Media drives consumerism. It quietly influences people by continuously sticking things in people’s faces, which ultimately steers people’s habits without them even realizing it Continue reading Creative Lessons//Brooke Broszus

Either You are a Hypocrite or Not//Ryan Werner

What if I told you that you could win the hit television game show “Jeopardy”? You have the body of knowledge required to win Jeopardy if you are able to answer the following question: What is the complete definition of the word amphisbaena? If you are anything like me, you have absolutely no clue of what the definition entails. Unfortunately for me, this is demonstrative of the harsh reality of my inability to become a Jeopardy wizard. However, I do have a solution for my lack of knowledge regarding Jeopardy esque questions through a handy-dandy gadget called an iPhone. Principally, the iPhone is a computer stuck in a phone’s body which has the capability to “Google” any question from essentially anywhere. The modern technological age has paved the way to an ever growing level of accessibility and magnitude of data at the few taps of a finger.

The era of such readily available information has revolutionized research and provided countless benefits to billions of people across the globe. The age of information has shed light on topics which historically “the average joe” would not be informed about. However, such convenient access to mass data is also symbolic of a troubling truth within our society. For instance, despite awareness and access to information regarding issues such as food health, consumers continue to devour products that are detrimental to their health. Furthermore, despite taking a course at Santa Clara University outlying the dangers and atrocities of factory farming and processed foods, I directly witnessed classmates continue to consume such commodities directly before and after class. These were the same students who wrote papers, presented projects, and on a daily basis discussed the dangerous and atrophic nature of factory farmed meat. Continually, the same students who discussed the subsequent in-class reading from Princeton graduate and published author Jonathon Foer,

“Of course, consumers might notice that their chickens don’t taste quite right – how good could a drug-stuffed, disease-ridden, shit-contaminated animal possibly taste? – but the birds will be injected (or otherwise pumped up) with ‘broth’ and salty solutions to give them what we have come to think of as the chicken look, smell, and taste” (Foer).

Despite the preceding knowledge, I even found myself making acceptations on ingesting the very same products—such as chicken— that I disregarded in class. Bringing forth the question: does information and knowledge result in a change of behavior?

Despite cultural awareness and direct access to health risks of the food we consume, Americans constantly stand number one in the world in average obesity (Khan-US Health News). This is further reflective of the notion that information and knowledge are not substantial in altering behavior to create positive change in food consumption and thus our environment. The technological age has not only made finding information faster but has also aided in the development of a culture and generation of consumers who fail to consider long run impacts, morals, and that require a (legitimate) direct threat to generate considerable self change.

Conversely, many point to information as the key in igniting change. After all, if someone is unaware of steroids used in meat production, then how will they know the dangers of such food and initiate change in their eating behavior? In fact, the majority of students in my environmentally-based English class had no idea that for every one pound of beef produced roughly 1800 gallons of water is expended (Food Tank). Without knowing the extreme environmental impacts of consuming beef, no students in the class would change their behavior in regards to their diet and beef consumption. Hence, no change can be generated without awareness and knowledge. Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan discussed the influence of knowledge in reference to world poverty while addressing the UN, “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society and in every family” (Annan).  Kofi Annan, although not discussing the environment, was implying that with

out world awareness of global poverty and without access to education that mass poverty would never end. Similar to Annan’s point about poverty, a lack of environmental awareness and education across the globe has allowed for environmental ignorance. Environmental ignorance is evident in American as 51 percent of adults believe that climate change is not caused by human activity (Funk-Pew Center of Research). If half of American adults do not even believe in climate change, how will progress in regards to more specific, yet imperative, threats to the environment such as food production and consumption be solved? Thus demonstrating that without an expanded education and awareness of environmental issues that beneficial progress in the environment is improbable. The ignorance and unawareness of human impact on the environment is why countless novelists, filmmakers, and professors are working to create awareness regarding environmental topics. Without watching, reading, and discussing such works in my environmentally-based English class at Santa Clara University, I would have never known the countless impacts that I directly have on the environment; nor would I know to alter my behavior.

Talk is Cheap

Despite health advisory labels and a modern comprehension of the severe impacts of smoking, why do smokers keep smoking cigarettes? Yes, most smokers are extremely addicted to substances in cigarettes such as nicotine. However, smokers also fail to see the long run impacts of their action. Chances are, in the short run, no momentous impact will affect smokers well-being; it’s not like smokers who smoke cigarettes will drop dead in a week. Similar to the disconnect someone has between smoking a cigarette and the potential of getting cancer years down the road; there remains a disconnect between the knowledge of an individual and their behavior regarding their environmental impact. There is no denying that environmental ignorance and unawareness are serious problems in their own right. Nevertheless, having environmental awareness of the consequences of one’s actions does not solve behavior nor significantly benefit the environment. Witnessing my classmates continue to consume factory farmed chicken is symbolic that understanding how bad something is cannot override behavior, especially when competing with convenience and immediate gratification. Foer eloquently conveys this notion through the metaphor, “While it is always possible to wake a person who’s sleeping, no amount of noise will wake a person who is pretending to be asleep” (Foer). It is quite easy to pretend to care versus the effort it takes to genuinely care, let alone turn care into action and behavioral change.

Seeing is Believing and Understanding

In general, it is much simpler to discuss and debate the morals of hunting versus buying a salami sandwich. Why? Because hunting is directly correlated to killing, while buying a salami sandwich involves disconnect from the reality that you are eating an animal. I grew up hunting wild game alongside my dad who constantly reminded me, “It’s easy to pull the trigger but it’s the work that comes after that’s not easy”. As a hunter who has killed several large mammals—such as deer and wild boar—it still pains me in an indescribable way to take something’s life. Conversely, it never was hard for me to buy a sandwich from the store. Nonetheless, overtime I began to understand what my dad meant from his advice. The handling of the animal once it was killed was by far the hardest part of the hunt; vastly harder than trekking across miles of mountainous terrain packed to the gill with gear. I often found myself gagging and nearly spilling my stomachs contents as I skinned, gutted, and dressed the animals. I literally had to pull every organ, still covered in still warm blood, from the animals. Despite the goriness, I gained an appreciation and further understanding of meat. The way that I perceive meat and the animals from where meat comes will never be the same. I was only able to gain a new perspective of meat by partaking in the immediate (direct) impacts from my actions of killing and processing the meat.

This discovery connects back to the reason why people are incapable of generating change in their behavior from knowledge. Before I ever fired an arrow or bullet, it was effortless to discuss what hunting entailed. It was only after having to physically touch and after finding a direct connection to meat that I was able to fully comprehend that meat is from a conscious life form. All the while, keeping in mind that factory farming treats animals more so like a crop of corn than that of a living creature (Foer). The disconnect between one’s actions and the results that follow are quite evident: whether it is eating beef, smoking a cigarette, or driving a car. Through this disconnect, a gap persists between one’s choices correlating to long run impacts, actions in relation to morality, and more so reflective of how someone’s behavior is resistant to change without direct self impact. This is a gap which simply cannot be bridged by awareness and knowledge.

No Simple Solution or Conclusion

Like countless college students, procrastination persists as a dilemma that I constantly have to battle. Versus studying, it is not hard to give way to the devil who remains eternally perched atop your conscious telling you to stay in bed or watch Netflix. In such moments, I am fully aware of what procrastination entails but more times than not I end up caving to the habit. Despite having an awareness of procrastination, I still tend to think in the short run and end up only hurting myself exponentially by procrastinating. It is substantially more demanding to constantly hold ourselves accountable. Nevertheless, self-accountability remains vital to maintain our ability to produce at the highest level and be the best that we can be in all aspects of life. The same goes for the environment, we either know or have the capability to know the consequences of our actions. Ultimately, signifying that collectively we can alter our behaviors now or continue to procrastinate as the environment gets worse and worse.

The only way to benefit the greater environment is by holding your choices accountable as an individual; such as not eating beef or biking instead of driving. God will not fix our environment, the government will not fix our environment, and privatized industry most certainly will not help the environment. The only person who can make a difference right now is you. The mindset of acting upon knowledge must become as celebrated and ingrained in American culture as obtaining an education. You may believe that it is impossible to make a difference alone, a mentality often seen in voting where many feel that their vote does not count in the grand scheme of things. This deceptive mentality is reflected in the most recent presidential election through the summation of citizens who thought their vote wouldn’t count and choose not to partake. It is commonly known, all politics aside, that the vast majority of Americans from all political denominations believed Donald Trump would never win the race. Nonetheless, you have failed in being self-accountable—in the same light as choosing to not vote—by not individually acting upon environmental awareness. Due to the long-term nature of the environment, most likely you will never witness big picture or noteworthy results from either progress or setbacks correlating to the environment. Despite the selfish nature of human consciousness take a look at your children, grandchildren, younger siblings, and more so the next generation as they are who will reap what you sow.

“Perhaps in the back of our minds we already understand, without all the science I’ve discussed, that something terribly wrong is happening. Our sustenance now comes from misery. We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film. We perhaps know more than we care to admit, keeping it down in the dark places of our memory– disavowed” (Foer).

Like other novelists, I could write a book on the science of our behavior or the environmental impacts of each one of our actions such as consuming beef. This has already been done and that is not the goal of my essay. I am not going to list the ways you can make a difference, as there is no one magical solution or vaccine. There is an immeasurable amount of data on the environment and how we contribute negatively out there for you to find. Google it. It is your moral obligation to hold yourself accountable and act upon what you find and what you already know.

The one thing that unites the whole world is our world. The issues facing the environment and our role within it unites everyone no matter of political support, skin color, origin, sex, wealth, or age. Even if you a dinosaur, who does not believe in climate change, you are still not excused from your choices pertaining to the environment as there remains other directly correlated choices you can control such as through your role in supporting mass meat production. Anyone can talk all they want or soak up all the knowledge in the world but ultimately it comes down to action. If you so choose, keep ignoring the consequences of your actions and sleep good at night knowing that you are a hypocrite. There is no doubt that today is a complicated time; yet thanks to the age of information, holding yourself self accountable to what you know or have the capability to know is very black and white: either you are a hypocrite or you are not.

Looking back the opening narrative and to the Jeopardy esque question, the definition of amphisbaena is a serpent from mythology with a head on each end of its body that can either move forward or backward (Dictonary.com). For the sake of the future, having no in-between, which direction will you choose?

 

 

Source Citations:

Annan, Kofi. “UN Press Release.” United Nations: Meeting Coverage and Press Release. United Nations, 23 June 1997. Web. 13 June 2017. <http://www.un.org/press/en/1997/19970623.sgsm6268.html&gt;.

“Amphisbaena Definition.” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com. Web. 13 June 2017. <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/amphisbaena?s=t&gt;.

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2010. Print.

“Food Tank: Meat’s Large Water Footprint: Why Raising Livestock and Poultry for Meat Is so Resource Intensive.” Food Tank.27 Nov. 2016. Web. 13 June 2017. <https://foodtank.com/news/2013/12/why-meat-eats-resources/&gt;.

Funk, Cary, and Brian Kennedy. “Public Views on Climate Change and Climate Scientists.”Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. Pew Research Center, 04 Oct. 2016. Web. 13 June 2017. <http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/10/04/public-views-on-climate-change-and-climate-scientists/&gt;.

Khan, Amir. “America Tops List of 10 Most Obese Countries.” US News Health. US News and World Report, 28 May 2014. Web. 13 June 2017. <http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2014/05/28/america-tops-list-of-10-most-obese-countries&gt;.

Image Citations:

Not Me Blaming Sign. Digital image. Time to Play. Time to Play Foundation,Web. 13 June 2017.

Funk, Cary, and Brian Kennedy. “Public Views on Climate Change and Climate Scientists.”Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. Pew Research Center, 04 Oct. 2016. Web. 13 June 2017. <http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/10/04/public-views-on-climate-change-and-climate-scientists/&gt;. (Public View on Climate Change Graph)

 

Shattering Secrecy, Noses, and Dishonesty // Mayra Sierra-Rivera

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Stepping into my first Critical Thinking and Writing class was unlike anything else I have experienced. I was so used to learning how to write very purposefully in my previous high school english classes and not ponder in depth about why or what I am actually writing about. Sure, there were some assignments where I lucked out and had a chance to write as I like (which is basically like so) but there was always a specific topic I needed to write about (which were not as interesting as they should have been). However, in this class we had free roam over a topic I had never written about: food.

We began the course by discussing happiness and what it meant to everyone, until we agreed that it varies from person to person. Individually in my mind, I compared happiness to the common saying “ignorance is bliss” and I am surprised to have been thinking in the direction the class was heading, which was towards exploring factory farming and dishonesty. The term “happiness” indirectly connects to morality because to live happily, we would want a clear head with no guilt.

The next class involved reading a David Foster Wallace article that discussed what it meant to be gourmet and how lobsters were treated at the Maine Lobster Festival. I used to think that a tank of lobsters in a restaurant was merely for decoration; as you can see, I was a little naive in regards to what people eat. Likewise before reading this, I had no idea there were enormous events centered around lobsters (or any food in general) and agreed with Wallace that the process seemed a little inhumane. Personally choosing a lobster to eat while it is alive and then having it squirm around in a pot until death seems rather extreme just to satisfy one’s luxurious taste buds.

giphy-3

My issue here is not with the eating of animals, rather the experience they have before they end up on our plate. If someone is going to pay for meat, they need to be able to justify paying so little and yet having animals treated badly. If it is because they are animals and don’t explicitly resemble humans, that is speciesism, which should be unacceptable. Animals deserve to at least have a pleasant life full of free space, good food, companionship and anything else they are known to like (much like humans). But they aren’t given this, not by a long shot currently.

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Factory farming is a topic that is always controversial as food is something everyone consumes and deals with on a daily basis. In class we read a book titled “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer. At first I suspected the book would be a hardcore supporter of vegetarianism and veganism but it wasn’t. Foer attempted to suggest it is one solution to pollution, illness and the disgusting practices on factory farms, but he also wanted to expose all of the secrets behind them. Supporters of factory farming claim that is it beneficial in that it lowers costs for consumers. In fact, the economic benefits are evident: the prices of chicken and eggs hasn’t even doubled as everything else such as homes and cars has drastically increased in price in the last 50 years (Foer 109). While that may appear to be true if one only glances at the price on an item, they also pollute the Earth with methane emissions, animal excrements and consume thousands of gallons of water. As a result of factory farming, there are “externalized costs–farm subsidies, environmental impact, human disease” that ravage the communities we live in (Foer 109). Furthermore, the film Cowspiracy points out the 5% of domestic water use versus 55% for animal agriculture. Water is an invaluable source of life and the entire state of California has been in a drought for years, and yet so much of the resources are used for animal farming. And it’s not even the perfect farming that we would want — animals are abused constantly due to lax laws and lack of restrictions. In the documentary “Meet Your Meat”, our class witnessed the horrors that animals are subjected to constantly as they are raised for us. It was recorded by individuals who went undercover because they knew that factories would not allow the truth to be shown. In fact they state that if “factory farms had glass walls, we would all be vegetarian”. The video shows that animals are tortured inhumanely with prods and lack of space, to which they can do nothing about. But as humans we can, as educated social and political activists. This class has opened my eyes and has made me believe that this is not something people should allow to happen without any protest. The government is in charge of food regulation and has a responsibility to reduce the loopholes companies continue to take advantage of.

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I discovered that even outside of the actual raising of animals, companies in agribusiness continue to be unfair and dishonest about their products. For one of my essays, I researched food labels. On many meat products the words “organic” and “free range” dominated the packaging, although this is more often that not untrue and a downright lie.  

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I came to believe that the government, particularly the USDA and FDA, has a moral and legal responsibility to provide honest information to those who buy the products. It made me change my ways as a consumer, being more careful on what I put into my shopping cart and therefore saving a few bucks, which everyone likes.

Another event that was different about the class was the meet up at a local Safeway near campus. Before heading there I thought we’d be looking only at the meat or were there for some other reason entirely; however, I was intrigued when our professor wanted us to look at how the store itself was lying and tricking those who shop there.

 

How so?

 

Well in particular, we found that the store was organized to maximize the sales of all products. There were sections of the store such as the florist, cafe, and restaurants that made the experience more sensory in that it makes the customer feel good and spend more time there. There was even a certain way to make customers travel through junk food aisles to tempt them while shopping for only the necessities. But in particular and what was most surprising to me was when we revealed that there is a very specific way of stacking items on shelves. The top shelf is often “local, gourmet and smaller brands” while the middle shelf “is considered the bulls-eye zone, the location that falls perfectly in the shopper’s line of sight. This shelf stocks the leading brands and best sellers. Some groceries will sell this prime stocking location to manufactures for a fee” (Notre Dame College). This secretive scheming might not seem to be a big problem to some, but now that I am aware of this method, I will put a lot more thought into what my family and I are purchasing. We don’t want to continue giving money to people or organizations that don’t genuinely care about us, our health and our planet. Do you?

ignorance_is_bliss_matrix

 

Works Cited

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York, Boston, London: Little, Brown, 2013.

Print.

Learning House Admin. “The Psychology Behind a Grocery Store’s Layout.” Notre Dame

College Online. N.p., 4 Jan. 2013. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.

Bred to Shred // Colin Skaggs

I came to college this year with many hopes, dreams and expectations but the overall purpose of why I came to Santa Clara University was to achieve happiness. I would go to school for four years earn a degree in civil engineering and make lasting memories, and then my experience here at Santa Clara would setup me up for a happy fulfilling life. That idea of how to attain happiness is what the world me from media to my teachers to my friends and parents. However, when my Critical Thinking and Writing course started talking about happiness in the fall when my professor brought in the happiness project. The happiness project was just a simply worksheet that asked you to fill out what you knew about happiness. To my dismay I didn’t really know much happiness, I didn’t know what it looked like or even sounded like. This is when I started to question this idea of happiness that I grew up with. Continue reading Bred to Shred // Colin Skaggs

“LIVE SIMPLY, SO OTHERS CAN SIMPLY LIVE” // MITCHELL HONG

“Live simply, so others can simply live”

The inspiring story of Jason Rodas serves as a wake up call to each and every one of us. On September 30, 2008, Jason encountered the toughest decision of his life when his mother had gone into cardiac arrest. He was presented with two options from the doctors: to attempt to revive his mother but crush nearly every bone in her body or to let nature take its place and let her pass away peacefully. Unfortunately, he only had one minute to decide. After a matter of seconds passed, he reluctantly chose to let her go gracefully. But in those few minutes that he had left sitting next to his mother’s bed before she passed away, he unraveled his utmost appreciation for his mother – something that he never had done before. Continue reading “LIVE SIMPLY, SO OTHERS CAN SIMPLY LIVE” // MITCHELL HONG

Drowning in Decadence: The Root of Unhappiness in America’s Working Class

This quarter, the eighteen freshman in Professor Nicholas Leither’s Critical Thinking and Writing course at Santa Clara University worked together in a collaborative effort to study how the endless consumption of food, money, and technology have an effect on our culture and our happiness. As we begin our final quarter of the 2014 academic year, we are examining the advantages and disadvantages that result from consumerism, over-consumption, and excess.

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The Authors: Cameron Akhavan, Sabrina Aspiras, William Gebb, Christian Hellmers, Andrew Highlander, Mitchell Hong, Sondra Leal Da Costa, Ian Poblete, Ann Renschler, Chad Russick, Monica Shaw, Colin Skaggs, Sarah Thomas, Namanh Tran, John Valencia, Thomas Valentine, Anna Whitehouse, Natalie Wiggins

We often buy things saying, “I need this!” or “I just have to have this!” but then our purchases end up in the back of our closets or on a shelf, untouched. Compared to Americans sixty years ago, we take up more than three times the amount of space per capita; yet our super-sized homes do not have enough space for all of our belongings, causing us to spend twenty-two billion dollars in the personal storage industry (Hill). Our lives become unnecessarily complicated with this excess, consuming us and distracting us from what is truly important. We get so caught up in our own decadence that we forget to ask the fundamental question: does this endless consumption bring us happiness?

The phrase “there is always room for improvement” has brought Americans a long way.  These improvements have dramatically changed technology, the standard of living, and the average lifespan. All of this, of course, would not be possible without wealth. Despite being stereotyped as grossly excessive, excess has allowed technological and social growth. Expansion of medical technology within the medical sector has increased life expectancy in the past century. New drugs and vaccines have eliminated deaths from common diseases and infections that were once harmful. They have a huge impact on third world populations, one example being Malaria. Even prosthetic devices have allowed amputees to walk, swim, and run marathons, and hearing aids have enabled the deaf to hear clearly.

When it come to the advancement in prosthetic design and construction, namely the emergence of more sophisticated materials, we can see how our culture of excess can often allow us to pursue things other than individual wants and desires.  Because we put a major emphasis in the expansion of technology, we develop new ways to integrate it in other fields.

Social media has exploded, news travels in seconds over the world wide web, and Facebook connects individuals scattered across the globe, having a total of 1.11 billion users as of March 2013.  The drive for excessive wealth has brought us into an age of technological innovations that controls our day to day activities.

All these advancements in technology and in our standards of living might set Americans on a path to longer and more comfortable lives, but not necessarily happier ones. The root of America’s culture of excess is the attitude of quantity over quality in regards to food, money, and technology. In fact, unhappiness results from the endless and overwhelming desire for more. Young adults and the working class have become so mesmerized by the idea of living in exces
s that they neglect the awareness needed to overcome this cultural plague and recognize the magnitude of their choices. More importantly, they ignore the little things in life that surrounds them and fail to appreciate what they have. Daily activities such as food choices, monetary status, and technology use have become habitual instead of conscious decisions and have clouded our judgements. This has slowly, but surely led Americans to disregard what really matters in the world such as individual health, our environment, and appreciation of our lives and each other’s presence.

Donald Trump

Status is defined as the relative social and professional standing of someone in America. It has become the measuring stick for one’s happiness.  Americans have become obsessed with constantly striving for a higher class, consequently consuming their life and career. Americans have based sophistication on the food they eat, the technology they use, and the money they posses has given people an illusion of their happiness.  However, when one stops striving for a higher status, their happiness fades as they never lived their life in the present and enjoy life.  Status-seeking imposes negative externalities that cause people to work too hard and consume too much when judged by the criterion of economic efficiency (Arne).  Constantly striving for status does not lead to a happy life but instead a life filled in excess.

A new study by Cameron Anderson, a professor at UC Berkeley, found that respect from peers and being a valuable contributing member to society has a greater effect on happiness then appearances and monetary wealth.  The study discovered that constantly chasing wealth to improve one’s socioeconomic status does not necessarily bring contentment or have an effect on their peers’ happiness. Herman Edward Daly, an ecological economist, explored the same idea that “people’s concern for social status generates excess levels of economic activity and, by extension, natural resource depletion and environmental degradation” (Arne). However what actually matters to one’s happiness is the idea that “ the respect, admiration and feeling of powers from others within our face to face groups” (Kennelly). This idea of respect suggests that having the highest status is actually not that fulfilling, despite all the time one spends trying to achieve this status. Being a valuable, contributing member to your community and those who are an important part of your life, will give you a sense of contentment.  Knowing that you make a positive impact to those around you is what allows to feel satisfied with your life and thus happy; something obsession or excessive status can not do.

This Is Water

Choose (verb)
1. Pick out or select (someone or something) as being the best or most appropriate of two or more alternative
2. Decide on a course of action, typically after rejecting alternatives
(New Oxford American Dictionary)

“Choosing” is the focus of David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech to the Kenyon College Class of 2005, titled This Is Water. Wallace presents the idea that “learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think” (This Is Water).

Wallace introduces his ideas with a parable that includes an older fish passing two younger fish and greeting them, asking how the water is; later the young fish asks each other “what is water.”  Straight to the point, Wallace reveals that “the point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about” (This Is Water). The audience is then warned about the monotonous routines and petty frustrations that cloud the lives of adults day after day. This is where choosing what to pay attention to becomes important. Rather than just focusing on how miserable we are when standing in a line or when stuck in a traffic jam, we can choose what we are going to think about and how we can get meaning from our experiences.  We are advised to take advantage of these opportunities as a time to think rather than be annoyed with the situation as we normally do as our natural default setting.

Wallace’s ideas portrayed in his speech exemplify the importance of our daily choices, more specifically the choice to be aware. Americans today lack the awareness that is necessary to recognize that living in excess should not be our main concern. Similar to This Is Water, this idea of excessive consumerism has been instilled in our daily lives and has led us to neglect our surroundings and what truly matters in life. Our “natural default setting” is to strive to get more in life and make as much money as possible. Instead of being aware of the technology, money, and food that revolves in our everyday lives, we are constantly striving for more.  Rather, we should be taking time to examine the “water” that surrounds us.

Students

Here at Santa Clara University, students have also fallen prey to constantly using an excessive amount of technology. When surveyed, all the students responded that they had at least a phone and a computer in their dorm room, in addition to some having a TV, Wii, Xbox, Playstation, or tablet. With all this technology, it is not surprising that 51% of students spend 3-5 hours a day on their phone or computer. Even more extreme, 45% of students spend six or more hours a day with their faces glued to the screen. These students are always wanting more time to check the newest information online or watch their favorite show. One student declares, “I spend so much time on my phone and computer. Time just escapes me when I am online. I want time to do more activities, but I also can’t go a day without using technology”. Only one student out of thirty-three surveyed spends less than 2 hours a day with technology. This student realizes the importance of enjoying life without the excess of technology and admits, “I went a week without my phone once and it was so much nicer being able to genuinely enjoy those around you without the distractions of unnecessary websites like Facebook.” Despite the differences in what technology they have in their rooms or how many hours a day they spend with technology, all Santa Clara students surveyed agree that SCU students, as well as other college students, are obsessed with technology.

“BEFORE/AFTER OF POPE ANNOUNCEMENT SHOWS INCREDIBLE PROLIFERATION OF MOBILE IN JUST 8 YEARS”

Along with excessive amounts of technology usage, students at Santa Clara University (SCU) can also easily access excessive amounts of food from the dining hall or the on campus grocery store, the Cellar.  A survey done by SCU students showed that students aren’t eating a well-balanced diet, but rather 75% of the students have been found to be eating unhealthy snacks and foods on a regular basis. On top of an unhealthy diet, 25% of SCU students have been found to be constantly snacking instead of eating three structured meals a day (Renschler). With the freedom to choose what and when they eat, college students find themselves eating constantly even when they aren’t hungry. This constant eating is only accelerated by daily stress.  One student even commented on how she “[does not] stop eating” (Lidia Diaz Fong). The constant excess of food and food choices causes over 75% of students to feel guilty, unhappy, and lethargic about not only eating food but also by their insatiable need for food. Students at SCU are not content with eating three balanced meals. They constantly want more.  Coincidentally, eating more in turn adds to more unpleasant feelings.  Like so many things, more just doesn’t ever seem to be enough.

Students unable to control their eating habits in college during their first year tend to experience the phenomenon called the “Freshman 15”. This combined with newly found independence on food choice and social habits causes women and men alike to gain weight during their first year of college. On average 51% to 72% of freshman gained weight over their freshman year (Smith). Gaining weight is not limited to first year college students only, but rather can be applied to all college students. All college students are at risk of gaining “an average of [6.6 pounds] of body weight per year” (Hoffman). Excess food at colleges leads to an increase in students’ weight, which can harm their physical and emotional health and is often accompanied by unhappiness.

At Santa Clara, there are students who must take out loans because their parents are not able to cover all the costs, and, as a result, many of these students work during the year to pay off their loans. Then there are students whose families can afford the tuition, providing their child with the alleviation of stress of working to pay off loans. Based on a survey taken of a group of Santa Clara freshmen, about 47% needed financial aid to be able to attend, and 30% received the financial aid they needed. On top of that, 76% of the students did not have to take out student loans. This shows that despite the high price of this university, many families are wealthy enough to fully support their kids and let them focus on school instead of forcing them to also get a job during the school year. Also, 11% of these students needed on or off campus jobs, and about 50% of the kids are getting a monthly allowance.  Despite Santa Clara’s large endowment, the cost of school is still very high.

In the same survey, SCU students have revealed that tuition isn’t the only expensive thing they face in their daily lives.  Their favorite brands of clothing are among Polo Ralph Lauren, Lulu Lemon, Brandy Melville, J Crew, Urban Outfitters, Free People, and Nike. What we wear might not be necessary to some to display status, but to others like Christian Hellmers, a freshman student at SCU, “our status isn’t necessarily directly correlated to what we wear, but there are trends that many kids follow which may give off the impression of what clothes are popular.”  Let’s be honest.  You might not want to spend 100 bucks on a pair of trendy jeans.  Then again, there’s that little voice in our heads that say, “But just think of who will look at you.”

No matter which college campus you set foot on, you will be surrounded by technology:  students using their ID cards to buy food, others texting their friends on their phones, and some doing work on their laptops. This is what is out in the open; behind the closed doors of the dorms, lies the various gaming systems and social networking sites on which countless hours are spent. We have become so reliant on technology, that it has become normal to let it control us. Our technology usage has become excessive with the fact that a “recent survey concluded that on average, an adult … checks his or her phone over 150 times a day” (Cleverley). Our obsession with technology is detrimental to communicating effectively with each other when face to face. With our reliance on communication through computers and cell phones, “social skills, speaking confidence, and non-verbal gestures will be replaced with abbreviated acronyms and emoticons”(Cleverley).

While the negative effects of striving for excess are certainly clear through today’s experiences with food, technology, and money, the line between obsessing over what we want, and actually being content with what we already have, blurs when we consider the positive effects of goal setting resulting from personal ambition. The American culture’s high standards of living is an example of how advancements that were made through striving for a better life have directly resulted in a plethora of advancements. We wouldn’t have efficiently traveling cars without first having carriages, and convenient smartphone texting before starting out with old-fashioned handwritten letters. Striving for more has actually allowed humans to progress further than ever before. These technological advancements were only achievable through individuals’ dedication to innovation and an understanding that people desired more than what they already had.

This idea that striving for more encourages negativity and dissatisfaction with one’s life further blurs when we take our own lives and modern day philanthropists into consideration. In a survey done around Santa Clara University regarding feelings of contentment and the process of striving for more, the results proved that while many people are discontent with their lives and are choosing to strive for more, there are some who are also extremely content (Aspiras).  Interviewees said setting goals and subsequently achieving them brought them contentment(Tenorio and Huber). What’s interesting to note is that these goals were set on a day by day basis and followed a constant recurrent pattern. The goals that the interviewees set were relatively small daily achievements in comparison to larger end result goals.  It seems that contentment is more about the small, daily challenges and achievements, and less about grandiose dreams.

Oprah opening the Leadership Academy for Girls school in Africa

Still, philanthropists often have big, grandiose dreams to change the world.  They often aim to further social causes in order to positively impact their local or national community. This specific process of striving to fight social injustices, therefore, causes positive interaction within the world and is beneficial to individuals in a community.  It might bring happiness simply because it’s not personal.  A big dream for your betterment may not be the same as a big dream for the betterment of  others–at least when it comes to happiness.  Through the actions of philanthropists like Oprah Winfrey and Bill and Melinda Gates, it is clear that being ambitious by setting goals produces an environment that is conducive to a positive attitude and an influential life. However, even though we can reflect on our own choices and understand that philanthropists are able to donate to worthy social causes for the improvement of human life, there are still some other factors to consider when arguing over the effects of striving for more.

Technology

Cars, cell phones, and medical miracle drugs are devices that have helped our lives become better, longer, and more productive. However, this newer and better technology comes with a curse. The best technology is reserved for those who can afford it, essentially capitalizing it into a rich reward system. And it recirculates; as children grow up in environments that are either luxurious or impoverished, they become polarized in their perspectives on the usage of technology. This not only provokes socioeconomic differences, but also perpetuates (and is perpetuated by) capitalism (Lynn 1). Indeed, top companies often target their ‘innovations’ for the middle class and above–that’s where the money is, right? This has led to increased competition for companies that target the opposite demographic: frugal, minimal, and lower-class volume seeking companies like Nokia. However, some advancements in technology, like medicine, are held back from the lower class because of income and America’s private health care system. Other developed countries with socialized health care can provide top notch care with the newest drugs and state-of-the-art medical devices. With so much funding into biotechnology and biomolecular engineering, shouldn’t the mission be to allow everyone to afford it?  And if you’re poor and can’t afford health care, you can understand why striving to be rich is a reasonable goal.

The constant search for knowledge and innovation has created a tunnel-vision where ethics, happiness, and simplicity are often a second priority. Humans, as ‘Wisdom Kings’ desperately try to reach a full potential, are eagerly seeking the future (Margaret 2). Yet, the more wires we attach to our lives, the more stressed we become with complexities of daily life. Isn’t technology supposed to make our lives easier? How about safer? Guns and weapons of mass destruction are ethically cloudy in inherent purpose as well as actual use. Weapons, even when holstered in a belt or a silo, have historically created tensions with sanctions, power, greed, and dominance proportional to the length of the sticks. Not only have we developed a dependence on technology, but also as a side effect developed a dependence on the stimulation of discovery. More stimulation leads to needing more stimulation, keeping us on the fast track whether we like it or not.

Even the Internet can be dangerous.  The fact that there are clinics that specialize in the psychological treatment of computer-based addictions, such as the Center for Online and Internet Addiction in Pennsylvania is testament that the things we use, we often use to excess (Griffiths).

Take cell phone.  Sure, they are undoubtedly considered an essential tool in our lives. Without them, we would feel lost, disconnected, a step behind all of their peers. But when is it too much? According to the Morningside Recovery Rehabilitation Center, the average American spends 144 minutes a day using their phone (Borreli). Nearly two and a half hours, or 10.4% of the average American’s time is spent staring at a screen, and for what? If we took just thirty minutes of this time to exercise instead of responding to a text right away, American society would be much healthier and happier. More directly damaging is the fact that cell phone usage while driving a vehicle accounts for 23% of car crashes in the United States (Borreli). This use of phones is directly hurting and killing Americans through excessive use of what we dub a basic essential of our lives.  Moreover, those who have smartphones often have to enter binding contracts with service providers leading to more stress. There are fees and penalties for using excessive data which is the lifeblood of smartphones. Additionally, people who use smartphones are always thinking about the newest version of what they already have.

 

Food

Everyone loves food. Wouldn’t you love to go to your favorite place to eat every single day, and get whatever your heart desires, even if it is the most expensive thing on the menu? The real question here is, do you really need to? According to nbcnews.com, it is now evident that “Americans spend nearly half of their food budget eating out” (Young). Eating out too much is not necessarily a bad thing.  However, when a large fraction of money goes to Taco Bell instead of a healthier place such as the grocery store, that’s when one starts to worry. Furthermore, we as Americans have no limits with our food, constantly giving in to our desires for more to eat. For example, something that was as simple as a slice of pizza, has now evolved into an ideal creation that gets “more fanciful with newer and newer toppings” (Nandy). Nowadays, you can get pizzas such as a Hawaiian Pizza, one that has ham and pineapple on it, or one could go as far as getting over five toppings and ordering “the King Arthur’s Supreme at Round Table Pizza” (roundtablepizza.com).  Simplicity has disappeared, and Americans are faced with the dilemma of food getting more and more complex. As food continues to change, so do we, as we constantly strive for more and more, until we eventually want too much.

Nowadays, most Americans typically eat food that is already pre-prepared for them, or in other words food that is not healthy because it is not made with natural ingredients. Processed foods are on the rise, and Americans have “nearly doubled the amount of processed foods that they ate thirty years ago” (Lovelady). Processed foods are beneficial for people who are financially struggling in terms of today’s economy, due to the low cost in price, and this has become evident in supermarkets, restaurants, and many other stores nationwide. Also, processed foods contain trans-fats, which are the “worst type of fats… they raise your bad cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol” (mayoclinic.org). The main reason why Americans continuously consume so many trans-fats is because they are in so many processed foods, because they are known to “lengthen the shelf life of many foods” (Jones-Shoeman). The fact of the matter is that Americans are quite lazy, and if a little unhealthy substances can save a trip to the supermarket, most people are willing to take the chance of eating something unnecessary.

Obesity is a growing problem in America, and it is seriously impacting the way Americans are living their lives. Merriam-Webster defines obesity as a condition characterized by the excessive accumulation and storage of fat in the body (Merriam-Webster). This condition, gained easily through excess food consumption, can become extremely detrimental to the quality of one’s life. America is one of the most obese countries in the World with 69% of the adults being overweight and a whopping 36% of Americans being obese (Shah). This obesity doesn’t usually come from nowhere; approximately 17% of children aged 2 to 19 years old are obese. (Shah) With a high percentage of obese children in our country, and if not careful, our generation is on its way to possibly pass the 36% of obese people that currently live in the US. Obese people have to deal with a lot of challenges in life, including not being able to perform daily activities such as walking, but the issue that haunts them the most is the health issues they encounter.

The health problems that obese individuals face are vast. These problems include: type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep apnea, strokes, cancer, kidney disease, fatty liver disease, pregnancy problems, etc. (Shah). Many of these are due to an excess consumption of food that can easily cause death. Many of these diseases can alter someone’s life by putting him or her into a wheelchair, crutches, or even a motorized vehicle.  But the health concerns are one thing.  The daily physical and emotional challenges someone faces who is obese can be downright terrible.  If you are lucky enough to be thin, just imagine how carrying around an extra fifty or even 100 pounds might change your life.  We often fail to notice the things we’ve grown accustomed to.  Eating Cheetos and cheeseburgers tastes great in the moment.  But the effects slowly chip away at our bodies and our minds.

Not only does obesity hurt the health of US citizens, it also severely damages their wallets and more importantly the wallet of America. Obesity costs the US 21% of the National Health Care budget, which turns out to be about 190 billion dollars annually (Shah) and 14 billion dollars of that budget is spent solely on childhood obesity. These mind-boggling facts about obesity really make us students step back and look at obesity from a much more serious and concerned perspective both financially and physically. Obesity is not something that should be taken lightly, and food is, unfortunately, not the only thing that is (consumed) used in excess in America.

Although it can be hard to go through a breakup or traumatizing event, emotional eating is not the answer. “Emotional eating is eating for reasons other than hunger,” says Jane Jakubczak, a registered dietitian at the University of Maryland (Feature). In college, I hear a lot of girls talking about emotional eating, but I never understood how much science was behind the term and how dangerous it can be. “Instead of the physical symptom of hunger initiating the eating, an emotion triggers the eating,” Jakubczak claims (Feature). Due to this non-natural symptom of hunger, people excessively eat food that they think will change their moods. These foods are commonly known as comfort foods and they can be tremendously unhealthy for you. “Comfort foods are foods a person eats to obtain or maintain a feeling,” says Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Food and Brand Lab at the University of Illinois (Feature). Wansink also adds that “comfort foods are often associated with negative moods, and indeed, people often consume them when they’re down or depressed.” The main food associated with comfort food is chocolate (Feature). The most obvious side effect of eating too much chocolate is calories, but other side effects include dental problems related to the high sugar content, nervousness and irritability related to the high caffeine content, and gastrointestinal discomfort related to excessive consumption over short periods of time. These side effects can really hurt emotional eaters in the long run, making the short-term happiness of snacking really a huge negative in the long term. Emotional eating is only one of the small things in life that can make you happy in the short term, but doesn’t seem to be beneficial later on in one’s life.

Money

Even though receiving that pay check at the end of the week feels great, it’s not a true source of happiness.  Most people think that money is essential to our survival and that the more you have the happier you will be; however, having excess cash doesn’t necessarily make people feel any more content in the mornings.  The effect of happiness resulting from more money caps at $75,000 (Luscombe).  People who make below this amount have been observed as more depressed, but for those who make $75,000 or more a year, their scale of happiness seems to plateau.  Also, people quickly adjust to a higher standard of living and eventually get bored and tired of it (Frank). They have so much already that buying more and more makes the effectiveness of the product’s satisfaction output less.  Whenever there’s an environmental shock, such as a hurricane, the wealthy tend to work out their issues with minimal loss of happiness, but in daily life, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference.

It’s no surprise that many people can’t handle receiving large sums of money without blowing it.  It has been seen time and time again with professional athletes and lottery winners.  They make a tremendous amount of money in a short period of time and consequently waste it on useless items until they have a reduced amount of money they had than before their winnings were introduced. Antoine Walker burned through $110 million; Vin Baker spent $93 million; and Mark Brunell originally made $50 million but is now $25 million in debt (Davis).  All of whom were professional athletes and are now struggling financially.  Also, about 70 percent of Americans who quickly win a large sum of money, such as the lottery, will lose it within a few years according to the National Endowment for Financial Education (DeLuca).  Not only do we struggle with controlling our urges when we are presented with large sums of money, but we also don’t gain a substantial amount of satisfaction in our daily lives as a result of an increased income.

Many dream of earning enormous sums of money and strive towards this end without regard to other factors of their daily satisfaction. The American Dream is the possibility that if you work hard enough you will be happy. Though many people cling to this traditional imagery of the American Dream—that if you work to get what you want, you will be happy—others have realized working for nothing more than accumulating wealth rarely equates to happiness. In fact, the quest for unfathomable wealth not only fails to impress our peers, but also can lead an individual into having an unsatisfied outlook on life, resulting in more unhappiness. The 2012 documentary, The Queen of Versailles follows the Siegel family and depicts exactly the idea that the extremely wealthy who continue to strive for even more money are unhappy.

The Siegel family, owners of Westgate Resorts, is attempting to build the largest single family owned home in America, deemed the Versailles house. Jackie Siegel, 30 years younger to the 78-year-old CEO of Westgate Resorts, David Siegel, explains to the cameras, “[w]e are busting at the seams!” (The Queen of Versailles) They are determined to upgrade from their 26,000 square foot mansion into a home three times as large, modeled slightly after the Palace of Versailles (Scott). Jackie, a stereotypical trophy wife, is concerned solely on appearances of the Versailles home, hoping to express the family’s wealth through the exterior aesthetics of the house and frets over what paintings and furniture will decorate the interior.

Meanwhile, the 2008 recession hit David’s timeshare corporation enough to cause concern for the Siegel’s and lay off hundreds of Westgate employees. While Jackie exclaims, “the kids might have to go to college!” David quietly wonders if they will be able to afford college when the time comes. Jackie ignorantly continues to ask for more money and shops until she drops. She hardly notices when David tells her that she should spend less because they really will be in serious trouble if the recession continues to affect his profits much longer.

Some millionaires focus on giving money back to the community and donating to worthy causes, but Jackie Siegel decides to expand their home into the largest building owned by a single family which includes ten kitchens, thirty bathrooms, tennis courts, and, of course, a bowling alley. Everyone remembers the days when we fantasized about making enough money to afford our dream house, but seeing the reality of the ridiculously wealthy lifestyle alarms us more than causes us envy. Reviews of the documentary show how a variety of Americans react to the intriguing, yet disturbing images relayed directly from the lives of the top 1%. Most reviewers are “largely entertained” by the hilarious ignorance and hubris displayed by various members of the Siegel clan (Rotten Tomatoes). This goes to show money in and of itself won’t be buying respect anytime soon.

 

Cars

Cars are universally a symbol for American ingenuity and exponential improvement of technology. Every American has been in a car, and nearly every American family owns at least one car (Chase). They are an integral part of our lives that allow us to work and live in separate places, take vacations, get around quickly, and do things in the spur of the moment. While these are positive things, excessive use of cars is detrimental to us and the planet as a whole. While we have all heard of arguments against motor vehicles because of harmful emissions and excessive use of gasoline, it doesn’t end there.

Americans spend excessive amounts of time in their cars which deprives them of valuable exercise and often takes away an opportunity to form human relationships. For example, the average American worker who commutes to work sits in traffic when they could be at home spending valuable time with their families. This excessive use of cars leads to unnecessarily congested city streets, highways, and automobile accidents which causes direct injuries. The nature of the obsolescence employed by car manufactures inherently creates dissatisfaction from the owners of cars. An American driver buys a car one year, only to see a newer, better version of their car come on the market just a handful of months later. This can create a cycle of wanting and striving.  For the last century, motor vehicles have driven America into its position as an economic and social powerhouse, but at a great cost to many of those who buy them.

In 2008, the housing market in the United States crashed. Similar to other collapses that have challenged the American economy (The Great Depression, The Panic of 1893, etc), the world economy was in jeopardy. How could something so terrible have happened? In our modern times, it seems like there should have been warning signs that would have predicted the downfall. So what happened?

Credit default swaps were invented. Credit default swaps are essentially insurance against the collapsed company bonds (Davidson). CDS, as they are known, became a very dangerous tool. As Credit Default Swaps are insurance bonds, and companies rarely collapse, “…that’s zero money down and a profit limited only by how many you can sell” (Davidson). So in essence, companies were selling insurance against something that was unlikely to happen and would in the short term gain a profit. Excess was so easy that some companies did not have a backup plan if and when things went wrong.  Something did go wrong.

Enter a new character in our play: AIG. AIG was a CDS broker. While most companies would buy and sell CDS, AIG would only sell them. The last element in the equation comes in the form of the American homeowners. Picture a middle-class family. This family sees a very

From “Queen of Versailles”

nice house that is far out of their price range. Desire and sometimes even greed tells them they need it, and banks give them the money to buy it through tricky terms like CDO’s and MBS’s. But people skipped over the fact that they could not afford such houses. So people began to default on their debt and soon, “mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations became nearly worthless.  Suddenly that seemingly low-risk event-an actual bond default-was happening daily. “The banks and hedge funds selling CDSs were no longer taking in free cash; they were having to pay out big money” (Davidson).  AIG did not have enough money to cover the defaults and defaulted themselves. As a result, all the banks that had bought insurance from them were left up a creek and unable to keep money moving around the economy. This reverberated around the world and the global economy threatened to shut down.

Thus it became a reality that American consumerism and the desire for excess threatened not only the country, but the world at large. The greed of the consumer combined with the greed of the banks, which then combined with the greed of CDS brokers. This combined greed almost crashed not only the American economy, but the global economy. Our culture, which encouraged Americans to spend money they did not have, nearly demolished the economy which we had spent so much time and effort to make a global force. While there were many factors which led to the recession and it is certainly easy to blame the banks who were lending out faulty loans and taking advantage of the people’s lack of foresight, it was the American people who wanted these loans in the first place and forced a lifestyle which was beyond their means. Of course, it wasn’t all their fault.  How can you blame someone for wanting a better a life, especially when there were all those “financial experts” out there telling them they deserve it and can afford it?  Sure, there is nothing wrong with the pursuit of the American dream, yet when it is coupled with a sense of entitlement and a disregard for limits, it can lead to disaster. Therefore, it is time for our culture to grow more aware and become cognizant of the effect which each individual can have. We now live in a time of interconnectedness, and it is the responsibility of all of us to know the consequences of what some of our excessive wants have on those who are still in need.

 

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