Blog

Please share.

This is a plea by Naderev M. Sano of the Phillipines at the Doha Climate Summit. This all happened shortly after the Philippines was struck by deadly Typhoon “Pablo,” which left over 1000 dead and hundreds missing. According to scientists, disasters like this are going to become more frequent as ocean temperatures rise and the ice-caps melt, causing more water to enter the atmosphere. And third-world countries have the greatest risk of being effected more by these disasters. Making the decision to reduce emissions, or pursue alternative forms of energy is not simply about saving ourselves, but about helping one another. This is not one person, one nation, or one region’s problem. This is a global problem. Please watch and share.

Here is a link to more information about the Philippines: Philippines among Asian nations worst hit by disasters in 2012

Posted in Blogging, Soapbox by Preston on December 8th, 2012

Population Control

This is a blog-post that I’ve been wanting to write for a very long time because it has confused me for over a year. I have an anthropologist friend, and shortly after I announced to her my decision to become a Sociology major, I was met with a cold look. Apparently, anthropologists take umbrage at the pursuits of us Sociologists, and finally, at last, I think I may understand why. To describe this phenomenon, I will use as an example, the “problem” our planet seems to be having with population. Our population is increasing at an exponential rate, we are running out of clean water for all these thirsty people, we are running out of places to put all of these people’s waste, and we are running out of room to grow food for all of these hungry people. Many scientists are afraid we truly are approaching a Malthusian catastrophe.

Like many fields a young person like myself can study at a great big University, Sociology believes it has a solution. That solution comes out of studying society and the organization of people in society. When we do this we notice a couple of very interesting things. We notice that when literacy rates go up, birth rates go down. This is noted as one of the initiators of the Arab Spring, young people who had more access to education were forgoing raising children and turned instead to the streets and the local politic, to interact with global society, to make their voices heard. These were democratic revolutions . While whether they will sustain that way is yet to be seen, they nevertheless demonstrate a kind of pattern that could be reproducible in other parts of the world. As literacy rates increase, birth rates decrease, and citizen involvement in democratic international politics increases.

Literacy is certainly one effective method of dealing with birth-rates, and indeed it is a sociological one. Another method, however, could be seen as more controversial by some, though I am hesitant to say that. This is because I am talking about Women’s Rights and an increasingly modern perspective of a woman’s relationship with her body. Initially, it would seem that this notion of “Feminist” thought is a particularly Western one, whether that’s true I really don’t know for sure. But it is that fact, which I believe to be the point of contention between Sociologists and Anthropologists.

If women in the world were more empowered to see their body as theirs than they will be less likely to give in to the whims of male sex-drives. This is the theory, and we see this theory’s efficacy when we look more specifically at how women’s literacy rates effect birth-rates. On the one hand, I would initially wish to argue the point of “what’s wrong with empowering women?” Isn’t empowering women a good thing? At first this argument seems to be moot. Of course! Furthermore, if it’s a movement towards a sustainable population, then its even better. However, there is another philosophy, which I am still not sure I agree with or not.

This new mode of thinking would involve a change to already existing cultures, cultures which have long-rooted traditions, ceremonies, and beliefs. History is nothing if not an excellent source of stories of one group of people trying to change an already existing culture in the name of righteousness. This is central to the argument about Islamic women wearing the traditional hijab, it is not simply a matter of western religion clashing with Islam, but also of western notions of femininity clashing with another culture’s relationship to the female gender. If we go out into the world saying, women need to be empowered to be in control of their bodies (which is a much haughtier claim than simply that women should be educated the same as men) then we are bumping right up against another culture and that, my Anthropologist friend would probably say, is absolutely not okay. Who are we to say that the practices of one culture are better or more sustainable than another? We should leave other cultures alone.

But what about the sustainability of our entire planet? What are we going to do? Is it okay, is it ethical, to say that certain cultures should change in certain ways in order for all people on the planet to survive? How much do we really value culture?

That’s the question I leave with you, let me know what you think!

Posted in Blogging, Soapbox, Sociology by Preston on November 30th, 2012

Surprised by Fraternity-Related Sexual Assault?

Well, are you?

Most of the people I talked to about the recent article concerning the alleged sexual assault at Sigma Chi fraternity said, “No big surprise there.” A few were ambivalent, many were angry and disappointed. But when I asked people why they weren’t surprised they appeared uncertain before explaining generalized ideas about how it’s our society, or that it’s typical of men and so on.

When these kinds of things happen, I feel too much attention gets focused on why the individual event happened, which in this case was explained by irresponsible or underage drinking. In my opinion, the more important question should be why this isn’t surprising, even if it is shocking, because it tells us that this kind of behavior is common and expected to a degree in our society. And as a sociology major, that’s a major concern of mine.

Looking at the structure of a fraternity through the prism of sociology, it becomes clear how fraternities are in many ways like a perfect storm for sexual violence. To be clear, I do not mean that the assailants were victims of our society or that their actions were in any way justified, but rather I’m arguing that their actions are symbolic of a society that is androcentric and heteronormative and that it’s really important to remember this when we talk about sexual assault. While the university sanctions that have been placed on Sigma Chi may have the effect of stopping these assaults temporarily, they do not take into account how what happens in fraternities is situated within a greater social context.

Fraternities like Sigma Chi often include residences where large groups of young men cohabitate. For new members it will often be the first time living away from home, and away from a female presence such as a mother and/or sisters. Here we find an amplification of androcentric thought, where the often alternative views of women are almost entirely missing. And in the context of a society that fears and hates homosexuality, this male-centeredness creates another problem. Fearing that this close cohabitation exclusively with other men may cause some to doubt their heterosexuality, many young men may feel pressured to continually re-assert and prove their straightness to their peers. Combine these factors with irresponsible drinking and/or drug abuse, peer-pressure, and we begin to understand why fraternities commit 55% of all gang rapes on college campuses. This is a major problem. Clearly, these sanctions are hardly enough. Perhaps fraternity members should be required to take a class in Women’s Gender Studies.

The fraternity is of special interest because it is where these ideas and norms become highly concentrated, but it is important to remember that these ideas and norms exist outside of fraternities as well. I do not intend to denounce fraternities in general, though I do think they should be looked at critically from a social and contextual perspective. Instead, I mean for this article to ask us to take a step back and look at the broad social structures that guide our lives.

It upsets me to see people sigh and role roll their eyes when these kinds of events are printed. In service of the young women who were affected by the sexual assault I hope to open the discussion further, beyond fraternities, to the harmful implications of a society that devalues women and hates homosexuals. It is crucial that we take our whole society into account; otherwise these sad occurrences are nothing more than another shocking headline.

Since it’s taken the Minnesota Daily over 3 weeks to get back to me about printing this editorial I wrote, I decided to post it here.

For more reading on the problems associated with masculinity in our society, I highly recommend reading this short, 4-page article by Michael Kimmel, Masculinity as Homophobia

Please comment and tell me your opinion on this issue. And please share this among your friends!

Posted in Blogging, Soapbox, Sociology by Preston on November 7th, 2012

The Gettier Problem with Activism

Edmund Gettier is most well-known for a thought experiment that challenged the fundamental understanding of epistemology and what understanding is. In the experiment, a character makes an assumption about the outcome of an event based on a justified belief, but is wrong because he still fails to collect all of the data.

The story is about two people who are applying for a job, I’ll call them William and Amanda, and I will temporarily exclude gender issues. Each of them are wearing a Columbia jacket and they are each waiting for the results of their application. Amanda comes to the conclusion (belief) that the person wearing a Columbia jacket will get the job. From this belief, she infers that William will get the job, failing to realize that she is also wearing a Columbia jacket because it was a gift and she never paid attention to what brand it is. Furthermore, she is the one who will be getting the job, not William. Amanda does not know that the person wearing a Columbia jacket will get the job, therefore it is a belief. It being validated by her getting the job on account of her also wearing a Columbia jacket, though unwittingly, does not make that belief knowledge because of precisely the fact that she didn’t know. Her belief is justified, but only happens to be true by virtue of luck.

This thought experiment became relevant to me yesterday as I was thinking about the mobilizing structures of some activist groups, in particular the anarchist movement. In talking with some self-proclaimed anarchists, I have noticed this idea of us vs. them repeated regularly. This is an important part of social movements, as activists require an outsider identity in order to build strength for their campaign. But sociology, and in particular the idea of symbolic interaction, is a generally collectivist interpretation of the workings of society; that we are all a part of the building of society, and society is a part of the the building of the self and identity.

Personally, through my own experience, I have come to take the “Looking-Glass Self” to be the fundamental truth behind the workings of society. In other words, the idea of us vs them is impossible, we are all equally complicit in the creation of the problems in our society, because, through the process of interacting with each other in certain ways, we are creating the society around us. Marx would likely agree with me because he argued precisely for an oppositional movement not against specific people or organizations, but against the fundamental structure that he had declared to be the problem. “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.”

Yet the fundamental structures of our society that participate in creating social problems are not seen as the problem, instead the burden is placed on specific people (i.e. the 1 percent). In so doing, an oppositional movement is still created, which does indeed create social change, but only because by opposing those in power people refuse to provide for the system that gives those people their power.

As a result, the appropriate effect is reached, but for a misunderstood reason. Just like Amanda.

By the way, I only happen to be wearing a Columbia jacket, this is not intended to be an advertisement for Columbia, though I’m sure there are wonderful people who work in that company.

Posted in Blogging, Soapbox, Sociology by Preston on September 19th, 2012

If It Happens, Kill Me

Over the past few weeks I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my future, and what I want to do. At this point, one thing is certain, I want to be in education. That sounds simple enough. The trouble comes when I start saying I want to jump in the sandbox and get my hands dirty and start working towards making our education system a better one. Of course, who wouldn’t say something as empty as that.

Last week I saw a movie called Waiting for Superman, a very informative documentary on the issues revolving around our Education system and education reform. But the film gave me a weird feeling about my own future. One day, years from now, I could be a talking head, in a video just like that. And I wanted to ask a favor of you, my friends, that if that happens, kill me.

The list of people fighting to make our education system better could go on, but here are a few big ones. Bill Gate’s Gate’s Foundation, George Lucas’ “Edutopia” out of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, former Washington D.C. superintendent Michelle Rhee, DoneWaiting.orgDoris & Donald Fisher Fund, the Foundation for Excellence in EducationThe Bush Foundation for Education. And I couldn’t forget Perpich Center for Arts Education, could I.

The trouble is, when I look at that list, I don’t see a huge group of people working with one another to make education better. What?! You say. I know. What I see instead is a pile of football players, all clambering to get their hands on the elusive “better education.” And I’m afraid, terrified, that I’m going to end up in that same pile, come 2014.

I have a lot of ideas, and a little bit of a plan. Right now, this very minute, I want to be a fly on the wall of the Ed Department of U, where they are currently doing studies and discussing education reform. I want to be contributing to discussions, offering my opinion, actually doing studies of my own, and writing grants, and lobbying, and organizing, and having meetings with heads of unions, and congressmen and women, and doing press conferences. I want to have that Masters in Education and have a book published about how terrible things are, how we need to do something about it. And goddammit, I will not give up, I will not give in to pressure from any side.

All those foundations I named up there are awesome, amazing, incredible organizations that are doing really good, important things for our country. I wont deny that, but I’m still seeing a complete lack of competence and efficacy here in the real world. I will be writing more about my own stand on this issue in the following year and so on. But until then, I’m imagining myself, 10 years from now, like so many before me, at a town-hall meeting, or a board meeting, or a union meeting. And I’m sitting there, silently, as people talk bull-shit and banter, and I can see it happening, right there. My heart breaks and falls in a pile of mush on the varnished wood floor, and suddenly, from there on out, the fire in my eyes is gone, my words sound empty, the machinations of a forgotten dream.

And if that happens, please, break into my house, put duct-tape over my mouth, drag me to the basement of some dark, far away, abandoned house, and tie me to a chair, and leave me to die.

I wont stand to become just another talking head.

Posted in Blogging, Soapbox by Preston on November 10th, 2011

Sometimes is always sometimes.

Sometimes. What an awful word. In all my life I never would have expected to hate such a word. Sometimes is always sometimes, it is tomorrow, and then it is also yesterday. It is you and I, and it is neither you nor I. It is 10,000 years ago, before time was even a matter upon which people thought or pondered. It is amorphous and surreal, a serpant, a ghost. So many things, but when it comes down to it, when you boil it down, tie it to a chair, smack it around a little, try harder than might itself to get anything out of it. Well then, you begin to see. Sometimes is anything, everything, but right here, right now.

Posted in Blogging, Soapbox by Preston on October 12th, 2011

Better than I could’ve said it.

A brief letter to the people in charge over in D.C., written by my colleague Jesse Peterson:

– – –

Dear Senator Sanders, As an American university student, I truly appreciate your efforts to improve the lives of working class Americans everywhere. You and my friend Dennis Kucinich have done more for the average American citizen than most representatives will do in a lifetime. At the same time, the center-right policies of Barack Obama and his collaborators on the far right are destroying this country. You recently agreed to Obama’s 55 mpg goal for automakers in 2025. While I think this is an admirable pursuit, showing that the American government is willing to get tough on American automakers who need to make very intelligent moves to outcompete foreign car companies, it isn’t enough. I plan to buy American when the time comes for me to purchase a vehicle, but the issue at hand concerns all of us: the destruction of our planet by the incredibly wasteful process of extracting fossil fuels. As Americans, as citizens of the nation known worldwide as the most innovative people on Earth, we need to be moving towards alternative renewable energy sources. Subsidies for the auto industry clearly aren’t working. Let’s not lie to ourselves-Ford and Chevrolet have sold far more gasoline-only vehicles than hybrids this year, and they’ll continue to do so as long as it’s profitable. Our nation needs a resurgence of industry badly. As crudely as the author David Simon put it, the truth still stands: “We used to make shit in this country.”  Now, we rely on the rest of the world to manufacture our goods while we sit back and and wait for the dividends from out illegal wars to pay for our debt. I have lived in a nation that I haven’t been proud of my entire life, and I’m sick of the shame. I’m sick of telling foreigners that I’m American, but not like the rest of them.  I’m sick of trying to make excuses for my countrymen for the rest of the world. I’m sick of enraging the Muslim peoples of the world. I love them, and as a Christian I consider them my brothers. Norway has shown us that hate is not the answer. As civilized people, we respond to hatred with strength and joy. I LOVE MY MUSLIM FRIENDS!!! UNITY AND SOLIDARITY!!!

In Solidarity, Jesse Peterson

– – –

I felt like it needed to be shared.

Posted in Blogging, Soapbox by Preston on July 29th, 2011

Inspiring, Motivating, Energizing

Sometimes it feels strange to admit that I’m a fan of something. As if only screechy teenage girls are allowed to fall passionately in love with something. Nevertheless, I am indeed a diehard fan of a few select people and groups of people. I was surprised, a year ago, to find myself a fan of Quest Dance Crew, one of the most incredible dance crews I have ever seen. A group of people that continue to inspire me. But this year, for the 6th season of America’s Best Dance Crew, I fell in love with 6 people and I want to tell you why.

Di (Moon) Zhang, Brandon (747) Harrell, Phillip (Pacman) Chbeeb, Olivia (Chachi) Gonzales, Emilio (Millie) Dosal, and Dzajna (Jaja) Vankova are the members of IaMmE (Inspire, Motivate, Energize). Their formation is slightly confusing to me, but it involved the coming together of people from 3 different countries and even more ethnicities; it involved the coming together of 6 incredible minds. Pacman, 747, Chachi and Millie are all from America, but Moon is from China and Jaja from Czech Republic, she only got her green card in the last year.

I started watching ABDC because of Quest crew. I was instantly a fan, but not just because of their tricks, their dancing, or their creativity, but because of that team spirit, the brotherhood among them was so strong it was beautiful. It forced me to look at my own life and seek that same brotherhood with the people around me. And in addition, a passion to learn how to dance began to grow.

I think there is something so important about movement, about expressing oneself and one’s inner-most passionate feelings through as emotional and powerful an artform as dance. And I think when that artform is put together by a group of people, the power increases exponentially. So when I heard there was going to be a 6th season of ABDC, I knew I had to see it.

As the weeks passed, I watched many awesome crews get voted off, meanwhile IaMmE stayed strong. They stayed strong because all along, they had something unbelievable and fresh to offer the world. Before, I think, even they knew it, they were representing something fundamental to what makes this America; that we have the freedom to make our own destiny, and that freedom comes by embracing ourselves and our talents, no matter where we come from, no matter who we are.

I do not know a lot about dance, and I have focused mostly on hip-hop and b-boying since I started learning, but when I discovered the things Pacman has done over the years, it felt like a breath of fresh air. It opened up something personal inside of me too. His dancing is so fluid and crisp, and it is poignant at the same time. As I’ve seen video after video of him and his crew, I have begun to see how great his heart is. And his caring for his team-mates (especially Jaja, who he asked to come half-way around the world, to a country she’s never been to, to dance with them) sank into me.

To me, Dance Crews are an incredible feat of the human mind. Every move must be precise and on beat, and everyone must work together, in order for the choreography to be unique, every dancer has to provide their own input. Every single season of ABDC, the collaborative groups have come out as the winners for a reason. And I think it is such a beautiful irony that cooperation can actually empower our own unique wonder.

They let people vote online, by text, and by phone for an entire week, and as my life moved in all sorts of directions, I kept coming back to their incredible work, and their incredible spirit. I listened to them talk about their lives and what the experience of being on ABDC was like and I learned just how emotionally and physically all of them were taxed, but every time they hurt, they came back to each other and they held one another and they shared their joy and their sadness with every moment.

I saw such power in each of them, like an animalistic roar, shouting to the universe, it was like a flame that began to make my insides boil. I could feel in them the passion and the joy, no matter what blocks our way, of creation, of the artistic process. I could see it exploding out of them like a nova and it blew my mind away. I have never voted for anyone for a competition show, but I clicked vote I don’t know how many times.To see IaMmE win ABDC was so beautiful, it touched my heart, I was so happy for them. In a way that sounds corny, cheesy and stupid, but in fact I am happy for them because of what it means for the rest of the world, what it means for dance.

IaMmE is still a young group, considering 1 of their members has only been in the US for a short while, and they haven’t been dancing as a group of 6 for more than a year or two. But I think that, combined with their creative thinking, gave them a grace and sincerity that I haven’t seen in previous ABDC seasons. I think previous winners have had this charisma and flair, but IaMmE has shown us a group with real integrity and crushing honesty.

I tip my hat to them this week. IaMmE, you have no idea how much you inspire me, motivate me, and energize me to continue to practice my own creative and artistic process, and to seek out other opinions and collaborate with other people, and to work towards growth and improvement. I am extremely excited to see what you have next for us.

Posted in Blogging, Soapbox by Preston on June 6th, 2011