Monday, April 28, 2014

Evil has been present since the beginning of humanity, and will be present until the last humans walk the earth. The question is not whether evil exists, but rather what evil is and who is capable of it. When you ask people to think of someone evil, a large portion of them will give you examples like Hitler and Osama Bin Laden. Rubin Szatajer can certainly testify to Hitler’s capacity for evil, having seen it first hand. He can also vouch for the evil of not just Hitler, but Hitler’s soldiers as well. Most people would consider those soldiers to be evil, and not normal human beings.
 What most people will also tell you is that it takes a certain type of person to be evil, that not everyone is able to do terrible things. What Dr. Baron showed us with the Milgram experiment is that almost anybody, when put in the right situation, is capable of terrible things.
       In the Milgram experiment, test subjects were willing to administer lethal doses of electricity to a fellow human being just because an authority figure instructed them to do so. Everyday, normal, good people listened to someone they didn’t know tell them to cause incredible pain to someone else. This idea is the same concept Hitler and others like him were able to use to get entire countries to think and act in evil ways. This fact is a testament to the human condition of submitting to an authority figure, when that authority figure pushes the right buttons.

       President Snow does the same thing in the Hunger Games. Do you think every Peacekeeper was just as evil as Snow? Of course not, but they fell trap to his charisma and coercive mind. This is part of what makes men like Snow and Hitler so dangerous, not just that they themselves are evil, but that they can get others who were previously good people to do terrible things in their name.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Some day the world will come to an end. Be it through a natural demise like the Sun expanding to devour it, or by the hand of the humans who occupy it, the fact that its days are numbered is undeniable. For nearly the entire life of the human race men have wondered and theorized about the end times. The Mayans predicted an exact day, the Christians an exact sequence of events, and in more recent years, cult leaders have again and again seen their prophecies about the rapture fail. I’d like to talk about the latter, cults, and some of the consequences of that Millennialism mentality.
       A family friend of mine was one of the many people tricked into following Harold Camping and his predictions of the End Times in May 2011. My friend was utterly convinced that Mr. Camping was telling the truth, up to the point where he was willing to sell everything he had (which wasn’t much) and take his children on a cruise a few weeks before he thought the world was going to end. He believed he might as well spend all his money, since after May 2011 the world would be gone anyways. Thankfully, he was persuaded to not throw away his life savings based on Mr. Camping’s “prediction”. However, I was able to see first hand some of the consequences of Millennialism. Here was a man, with a family to provide for, willing to risk their whole future because he was tricked by Camping. While he was fortunate enough to not lose everything, others were not so lucky.
       The fact that Mr. Camping was able to gain so many followers is a testament to his charisma. He was able to persuade thousands of sane, otherwise intelligent people to follow him, a remarkable feat.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Unfortunately I had to miss class on the day Dr. Mazeroff came to speak to the class, but I was able to look through the power point that went along with his talk and get a good idea of what he talked about. What I want to do here is go through a few of the steps in the Hero’s Journey and compare them to Katniss’s experience.

The first thing I want to look at is the Departure stage, specifically the annihilation of self idea. By volunteering as tribute in the Hunger Games, Katniss essentially commits a delayed version of suicide. Then there is the initiation phase, which to me was when Katniss learned the culture of the Capitol, or at least tried to. The power point mentions that part of this stage is dying to oneself, which in a sense would be what Katniss has to do, putting aside her own feelings of contempt and disgust at the people in the Capitol in order to win over sponsors. However, as we know, she pretty much fails to do so, shooting an arrow through a pig’s mouth in an act of angst. Even when the people do fall in love with her, its not so much because she tried to win them over so much as it is they are fascinated by her blunt personality.

Finally, I want to consider Katniss’s return, which in Dr. Mazeroff’s presentation said that the trick was to “retain wisdom…and share it with the rest of the world”. To me, Katniss doesn’t follow this path, which is not necessarily her fault. What she “learned” by participating in the Hunger Games is not really something she can come home and share with her District. When she does take on a position of leadership in the rebellion, it’s definitely more reluctant that perhaps the more stereotypical hero’s return.
The movie Children of Men was profound. Its portrayal of a world bereft of the joy of children was almost chilling. It was really cool to see how the world would look in such a scenario, especially given the realistic chances of something like that happening.

One scene that I liked was when Theo and the woman travelling with the girl were standing in Sid’s house looking out at the old playground, and how she talked about how still the world had become without the sound of children. That was a very interesting scene, to see the deeper effects of fertility loss on humanity. Children are something most people take for granted, and the darkness of the movie illustrated how important kids are to the brightness of life.

The movie connected to the Hunger Games in a couple of ways that stood out to me. One was obviously the gloomy feel to life in London. It felt like there was nothing to be happy about, that people were just carrying on their lives and going through the motions. Another way was the oppressive nature of the government. Although not quite on the level of President’s Snows atrocities, the imprisoning and abuse of non-British certainly was a parallel to the culture of fear that existed in Panem. Finally, I also noticed how the main rebels in the movie were violent and at times extremely cruel. This reminded me of how sometimes the people rebelling aren’t necessarily going to be more righteous leaders than the people they’re trying to overthrow. Although I don’t think they were on the same level as Coin, their willingness to do absolutely whatever it took to get what they wanted was definitely an interesting connection to the Hunger Games.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Dr. Casey's guest lecture was by far my favorite so far. I love listening to people talk about leadership and their past, so hearing about how he grew up and found his current role at the College was awesome for me. It was cool to see how he was able to accomplish so much from such a humble beginning. What stood out to me from his story of his childhood was when he talked about being moved from an all white school to the African American school across town. I found it really interesting that because it was so hard for them to find jobs, many talented black men and women went into teaching, meaning Dr. Casey ended up having phenomenal teachers all through grade school that had a huge influence on him. To me, that one life-changing moment where schools in the south were desegregated is similar in its magnitude to some of the things that happen to Katniss that lead her along the path towards becoming the MockingJay. When she volunteered as tribute, that one massive moment ended up triggering a nationwide revolution. Obviously Dr. Casey moving to a new school is not quite as momentous as starting a rebellion, but in his own life it was definitely a turning point.

I also loved what he said about leadership not being so much about “getting to the top as it is about who you have holding your line”, referring to his experience at the mountain climbing camp in Colorado. I’ve found that many truly successful leaders know the importance of their supporting cast.

Another thing he said that interested me was his point about how sometimes we place too much emphasis on rights instead of responsibility when talking about certain groups and their various demands. I think that is an extremely valuable point, considering how these days it seems we live in a society of victims, where people are constantly pointing fingers claiming they’ve been discriminated against or had their rights violated. At times there is valid reason for them to be angry, but the problem is most of them aren’t willing to look at the issue from any perspective other than their own, to see that maybe there are two sides to the issue. I think a lot of people are too quick to put the blame on someone or something else instead of realize that in order to really fix something, it takes an effort from both sides.