Monday, November 24, 2014

Angry Deresiewicz Rant

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life.

That's his book. William Deresiewicz. A former Yale graduate himself, he tells us not to go to Ivy League Schools because they don't teach you the right things. 'Hey guys, I can't hold a conversation with my plumber', boo hoo. 

Let's get this straight, his book and his views are a product of his own angry disillusionment with the system. Every little story about how the system wronged someone fuels him and makes him more disillusioned. "This girl got a D in her class because she was late turning her assignment in." Waaaa, WAAA.

Frankly I think there are some real flaws in Deresiewicz' writing. He's a Yale graduate and former Yale professor. As Stephen Colbert puts it, "Hmmm... Why is it that only Ivy League people are writing books saying 'don't go to those Ivy League schools- hey is that my ladder? here I'll just pull it up behind me...'". It's a little bit hypocritical, and also a little bit condescending. The whole, 'I've been there (Ivy League) before, It's not that great'. That's the same tone that an A student uses when he gets a B+.
It's like he's saying, 'Guys, you won't be happy if you go there, you'll just be successful like I am now...'. He even envies the possibility of "not being rich" and says that the best schools deny you of that. He thinks that by not being in the upper class you can be fulfilled more.

You know, there was something postulated by a scientist or something, it's called Maslow's Hierarchy of needs:

You need to know that the basic needs are like food and shelter, safety, housing, those are on the bottom of the metaphorical pyramid. Safety includes personal security, financial security, and health and well being. Once you have those covered,  you can move up the list. You go to Love and Belonging, then to Esteem, and finally to Self Actualization. That's where Deresiewicz is now. He has already covered the basics, then the safety part, the financial security, now he's at self actualization. He realizes all of the mistakes he made and how unfulfilled he is having gone to the Ivy League.

But wait, the only way to get to where Deresiewicz wants you to be is by completing the lower part of the pyramid first. You need to complete your basic needs and your "safety" portion. Safety means financial security as well as literal safety.You achieve that by getting a good job, which stems from a good education, which is most likely an Ivy or a top/second tier school.

Wait a second, he is preaching to us that we can be fulfilled by not going to the Ivy's and being successful, but the only way you can get to the Self Actualization is by completing the pyramid.

Hmmm... can you guys see the trend here? You can only agree with Deresiewicz view if you have already fulfilled the lower part of the pyramid. That means that being financially secure is one of the criteria. So when he envies the poor and says that they can be much more fulfilled than the rich, well, according to the Maslow Hierarchy, that's not true.

Actually if you are following the Maslow Hierarchy of needs, really none of what Deresiewicz claims is true. You've got to be secure first, so Ivy's would complete that.
Do you guys buy this outlook?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

What's the Purpose of Doing School?

What is it? To prepare for a job to make money and be successful, right? That's what we've always been told. I think the reason we "do" school is to keep your doors open.

When we saw William Deresiewicz, author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, at a school "Literary Festival", he talked about the system as preparing you for being upper class and not having the problems of the lower class. He said that it doesn't prepare you spiritually and mentally for life.

Personally, I don't agree with Deresiewicz, but it got me thinking, what really is the point of school? We've been ushered through the system for so long that now we are just going through the motions. I have often asked my parents why I had to do well in school, why I had to do my schoolwork. They said that it was important to be well rounded and that that (knowledge) would help prepare me for life.

I thought that I could just find something I was passionate about and learn about it and be successful. Steve Jobs didn't stay in school. Neither did Bill Gates. I thought with a little bit of determination, willingness to learn, and a lot of confidence, you could be successful doing just about anything you wanted. Oh yeah, and a lot of practice. No one is just talented, there's always a lot of practice involved.

But, after some reflection, I think I know what school is for. It's a combination of my original thoughts and what my parents said. You've got to be well rounded so you can choose the occupation that you are most passionate about and be successful doing it. Think about it this way: no one knows what they're going become when they grow up, they have got to figure it out for themselves and they've got to keep all of the possibilities open.

You have got to "keep your doors open". When you are in school, you are learning in every area of knowledge. You're sticking the doorstop in each one, to keep that door open. When you find the right one, you can just walk right in. It's like if a lifelong mechanic tried to switch jobs because he likes to write; he'd be out of luck.Well if you've kept all your doors open in school, then you can switch jobs pretty smoothly compared to the lifelong mechanic; you can walk right in. You've just got to find what you're passionate about, and all of those doorstops are buying you time to decide.

Obama's Other Message

My fellow Americans- Obama has something to say to Congress and his critics... DON'T QUESTION MY AUTHORITY. He subtly pushed this message to his audience in his recent national address on Immigration Policy. If you watch/listen closely, past the ethical and emotional appeals for immigration reform, you can faintly sense the teeth gritting fight between Obama and Congress play out.

In his speech Obama reinforced his position multiple times because he knew he was going to be criticized by Republicans and Congress. Twice he stated that the executive actions he is taking are the same as the kind that "every republican or democratic president before him" have taken.

Then Obama made it clear that his immigration policy is not a "free pass" to citizenship and that it only gives illegal immigrants a "temporary" right to live and work here. This is important because his policy allows illegal immigrants- who have lived here for more than 5 years,  have passed a criminal background check, and are willing to pay taxes- to receive work permits and be safe from deportation. It's not a permanent citizenship status, but it allows them to stay in the United States legally. Obama needed to defend himself first.

In the first 10 minutes of his speech, he moved from the defensive to the offensive. He gives congress a jab by telling them that they should "pass a bill". He reasons that if bills are passed, then he won't have to take executive action. I think that Obama is showing them who's the boss here because he is taunting them to take action.

Then Obama says that they shouldn't be "impugning" each other's character. To impugn is to call into question, to dispute the validity of something. Obama is literally telling them not to question his authority.

Now keep in mind that these little soundbites are intermittently spoken throughout a 15 minute speech full of other ideas. Obama's message here is actually spaced out a lot more and so as a result the way I presented the information seems more obvious and direct.

I posit that this call for authority is a hidden message in his speech. Near the end of his speech, he almost covers it up by asking if we are a nation that educates its best and brightest to create companies that work overseas and work against us. He said that that would take away jobs, and "that's what this is all about". That really gave me the sense that that really wasn't what this was all about. It's about a power struggle between Obama and Congress.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Okay Deresciewitz, How Do You Do it?

During "Lit Fest", William Deresiewicz mentioned being on the Colbert Report, so I decided to check it out. First of all, Stephen Colbert was hilarious. He told Deresiewics, or Bill as he was called on the show, that "it doesn't matter what makes dad happy huh... he's an immigrant! You're breaking my heart! I'm so disappointed in you Billy, we didn't come to this country for you to smoke pot and play madden in your dorm room!". Classic Colbert.

Above: Deresiewicz on Colbert

However, Colbert also managed to voice some of the questions that no doubt many students had after listening to "Bill". He just throws it out there, saying,  "How do they do it, okay, so how should they do it, if its not working hard in high school, and conforming to the expectations of society, and then, crushin' it when you're at Brown or Columbia or whatever like that, and then sliding yourself into wall street and doing your thing there, and then making tons of cash and going off to your cabin in Belize- then what is it?

I'd have to agree with Stephen Colbert here, it's so easy to complain about the system, but how should we fix it? As far as I'm concerned, Colbert just described the path that is the safest way to success, so there's not much to fix.

But, Bill says that we shouldn't even be thinking about success, but about fulfillment and contribution to society. That's just so easy to say when you've already been to an Ivy league school. I would argue that if you didn't have a lot of money, if you didn't have a good job, if you didn't go to an ivy league school, then your influence on society would be much smaller, and it would be much harder to find things to do that are fulfilling to you. When you go to an ivy league school, you have many more opportunities, there are more doors that open for you. Even Colbert questions Bill, asking "why is it only people who are Ivy League people who are writing books saying 'don't go to those Ivy League schools'? Here, let me pull up that ladder behind me I'm sure it was in your way".

I've always been told that the safest way to ensure your success in life is through the academic system. Yeah sure you're conforming, but you're still doing tons of work and that has to account for something, character wise. I mean how can Bill claim Ivy League schools are bad when he himself had gone to an Ivy league school, and it was responsible for his success and is one of the reasons why people are listening to him in the first place?

I think that the whole concept behind Deresiewicz' book, the whole "Oh, I've been there, it's not that great" is frankly condescending.

Abiding by the system and going to an Ivy League College gives you more valuable skills than those you have missed, skills including discipline, dedication, commitment, determination,versatility, resilience etc. You will have many more opportunities later on in life to fully develop the skills that Bill purports that you will have missed. It's not like the plumber is gonna get angry that you didn't engage in a conversation about his life story, sometimes the plumber is just your plumber.

I think one of the concepts behind "doing school" is to keep your doors open. If you are more well rounded, you will have many more opportunities to do things that you find that you like. If you just worked on cars your whole life and then you saw another job that seemed cool, you might not be able to do that job because you don't have the background knowledge. When you learn in school, you're sticking doorstops in each category, and when you find the right category you can just walk right in.
Deresiewicz himself is example of my "doorstop" analogy. He didn't like "biopsychology", so he switched to English. Think about if he didn't have that great of an education, would he be able to just switch to writing books?

Don't you guys think Deresiewicz' arguments are slightly flawed? This idea of higher education directly applies to him and yet he himself, the Yale Professor, the accomplished book writer, blames higher education for his own problems and a generation of problems.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Dark Alley of the Internet

Typically, when you think of a Government crackdown on black market criminals, you think guns, masks, kevlar, a full swat team at least I do. But as of late, the Government taken a different approach to apprehending black market criminals: Cyber Crackdowns.  If you remember the Silk Road, the government has just taken down Silk Road 2.0 and dozens of sites like it. Silk Road 2.0 is a internet site that allowed users to buy illegal goods such as guns or drugs completely anonymously.

These sites are located in the "deep internet" and are primarily using Bitcoin in order to stay completely anonymous. I think the invention of Bitcoin was intended well, but the consequences are profound.

Above: An image of the original Silk Road page

Bitcoin is an online currency using a virtual wallet that is untraceable and is the perfect currency for criminals. It is un-taxable and untraceable.
Criminals can operate from anywhere in the world and get away with it using encrypted cyber-technology on sites like the Silk Road.
With the recent "iCloud Hackings", people have been worrying about their internet privacy. Many people say that anything you put on the internet can be accessed even if you delete it. It almost seems like the internet is a running transcript and anything you enter into it is vulnerable to extraction.

But what about the opposite extreme? What if someone is completely invulnerable on the internet and they could never be traced? What if they have too much internet privacy? Criminals can already somewhat achieve invulnerability with the invention of Bitcoin and unmonitored sites such as Silk Road, but what if we go too far? The FBI already thinks that the iPhone 6 has reached that point, saying that the phone allows users to "place themselves beyond the law". The phone's data is so heavily encrypted that the FBI claims it obstructs their investigations into such crimes as kidnapping or child pornography because they can't search through the data.

So is it possible that we have gone too far in terms of internet privacy? Is there a balance between internet privacy and complete anonymity? Or do you think like me;  the Internet is already out of control because of inventions like Bitcoin which allow transactions to occur without any personal records attached.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Why the Fear of Missing Out is an American Concept

We use these services to keep up with everything, and not miss out on anything. It's an American thing.

new study from The Institute of Information Systems at Berlin’s Humboldt University suggests that 1/3 of Facebook users have a negative emotional response to the site. The reason for this: the fear of missing out (FOMO). FOMO is a negative emotional response to the use of social networking sites (SNSs). The "fear of missing out" is an American problem because Americans don't like falling behind; they are very competitive. 

To elucidate, FOMO is when a person compares themselves to other people via social media and they become sad, lonely, or envious, and consequently they become afraid to fall behind socially. According to the study titled Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction?, this happens because SNS users tend to "overestimate someone's positive experiences" and "underestimate their negative ones". Basically, they're saying that you would imagine people to be a lot more appealing (based on their shared data) than they actually are. (Let us also consider the fact that most people don't share their failures as much as their successes). The reason they would seem more appealing is that you would see all of the person's advantages and would almost completely disregard their disadvantages. This might make you envious and want to keep up with all of the experiences they share on the site, and that can make you afraid of falling behind. 

If there's one thing we know about Americans, its that we just don't like falling behind. Think "Arms Race", or "Space Race", even things like Olympic Medal Count. Or, more fittingly for American high school students, think college. American students are very competitive when it comes to college. No student wants to fall behind in the "college race". The reason for this is that college in general is often seen [by students] as a determining factor in your future social status and wealth in American Society.  

Consequently, if someone else is going to a better college than you, you might feel as though you have fallen behind. And you don't want to be behind, you want to go to that school, you aspire to get that job, to make that much money, and live in that much prosperity. It's the current capitalist, idyllic, American Dream, we strive for it, and we can become envious of others if they seem closer to it than us. Americans just don't like falling behind, and unfortunately that makes the fear of missing out a uniquely American concept. 

Being productive
How can we change our interaction with social media to yield a more positive result?