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

Bass Monster’s Bad Day

Just made a new song that was partially inspired by the bass sound in Inception. It isn’t my greatest, but I like build-up at the end. It was mostly an experiment with heavy bass sounds, to see what worked and how it worked. Bass noises are much more complex than I thought, I still have a lot to learn. Probably sounds better with headphones that speakers.

Posted in Blogging, Music by Preston on October 26th, 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


Posted in Blogging, Diversions by Preston on August 24th, 2012

Continuing Creativity

So, I thought today was going to be a work day, and it turned into a make-music day, which culminated in a new song. I don’t think it’s -that- great of a song, but to me it showcases new things I’ve learned with the program I’ve been using. Here it is, enjoy.

Posted in Blogging, Music by Preston on April 18th, 2012

The Serendipitous Event

I don’t like starting a story with a tragic event, but in truth, I’m beginning to feel like tragic events are no less significant than any other kind of event. I was thinking about that at the grocery store the other day, my total came to exactly $20.00. “It’s your lucky day” the cashier told me, smiling, finally something interesting, they must have just gotten the job.

Yes, it is interesting, serendipitous, that I should choose precisely the correct amount of vegetables and fruits that my total would amount to an even dollar amount. But really, I though, actually it is not so lucky, I mean why this obsessions with even numbers. In fact, every total purchase amount should be fortuitous, and lucky. Really, the person before me with eggs and milk $7.59, I wonder how often their purchase matches that exact amount.

I began to think about how tragic events are not so significant, really, as I walked out of the store. Why should they excite a reading more than a guy going to the grocery store?

So, as I crossed the street, lost in my thoughts, you can imagine I was only mildly shocked when I was struck forcefully by a car running the red-light.

– – –

A little story I found in my notebook the other day, you know it’s fictional because when would I be a customer and not a cashier at a grocery store?

Posted in Blogging, Stories by Preston on March 15th, 2012

Dear Preston,

When I woke up this morning, I sat up and realized I was shaking, trembling. I felt like my entire body was trying to fit itself into another dimension, but the laws of time and space where keeping me trapped. That’s how I felt when I woke up this morning, trapped.

And when I reached for the two pills on my bedside, the ones I always set down before I go to sleep, I couldn’t help but pay close attention to the way they felt, the little capsules in my palm, and their movement as they slid down my throat and esophogus. It was almost surreal, but in a familiar sort of way. And then… the phone rang, and I was struck, not with the urgency to answer it, but with the energy and vivacity of its sound. It was almost alien, like someone was trying to contact me from another universe.

But then I tried to stand up and reality fell upon me like a cinderblock pressing me to the ground. My legs shook as I attempted to stand up and without warning, I felt a sudden coldness, like my body was being filled with ice-water. The phone continued to ring, and I knew it was you. But the more I attempted to answer it, the more I began to fear missing it, the more my fascination began to fade, the colder my body began to feel. Something was pulling me towards some mysterious shadowy country that I had never before seen, and the more I resisted, the harder I was pulled; and the harder I was pulled, the more I feared, until finally my knees locked and I stood, bracing the nightstand for support, only to fall to the floor sobbing.

When, finally, I was able to stand again and walk to the bathroom, I turned the warm water on and set my hands in the sink until control slowly crept back into my body. But as this happened, I realized that the control is only an illusion, a cheap trick our mind plays on our body, until our bodies grow weak, and no matter the strength of the mind, the strings the mind uses to waltz our bodies around like marionettes are cut one by one.

I have not grown isolated and cynical here in this small town, Ged and Maria visit me a couple times a week when they walk their dog, and I have Tom Shepherd the local sheriff stay to chat every Wednesday evening, he says the kids don’t make much of a ruckus when it isn’t the weekend. I enjoy my days here, even if I occasionally miss seeing you and your brothers.

But this morning, even after I had regained some false sense of dominance over my functions, I could no longer keep myself from knowing that every movement, every intention, every yearning, was driven by fear; fear of this incomprehensible void that has followed me my entire life.

And so I have written you this letter to tell you that, for once in my life, I have made the decision to let the final marionette string be cut, to face the void. I cannot continue to live in fear any longer, but if it be the way of the universe, I will die gladly in full embrace with the void.

But before I leave, you must know that my love for you, for everyone, is greater than I can describe, and unceasing. My body will not be here when you arrive, but my presence is, and has always been, with you. Illness, oldness, and death await me on the voyage to peak of Mount Henry, and with every emphatic step I take, from here to the end, I will meet them like old friends.

With abiding peace and love,


– – –

A letter one of my characters wrote to me today. A version of this will go into the book. The problem I’ve been dealing with is that the book is being written in first person, so I have no way to get the inners thoughts and feelings of the other characters out unless they’re telling them themselves to me, or in a letter. This letter is based off of a section of a story in which a dam is failing and the old man’s (Charles) house will be in the spill zone when they release the dam, but clearly, Charles has other issues on his mind. And the name, Charles, by the way, is a filler name. I don’t see myself sticking with it.

Posted in Stories by Preston on February 21st, 2012