society

America: Divided We Fall

I told myself that I was going to try my hardest not to say or write anything further about the things that have been going on in this country as of late. But in light of recent events, and due to this prolonged period of elevated hostility, hatred, and chaos we, as a people, have become consumed by, I felt compelled to at least offer up some of my thoughts and opinions on what we, as a society, should be doing, collectively, in an effort to overcome these superficial barriers of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexual orientation. Racism and ethnic segregation are nocuous to our American Nationalism and will only serve to further divide us against each other. And, as Americans, we should be a united front, held together EQUALLY, regardless of what we look like, where we come from, who we love, and what we believe, by our common nationality and citizenry. If we truly want to make this nation “great,” then we need to start by mending the tears in the fabric of our society.

I’ve always believed that one of the most fundamentally important things we need to consider when trying to solve many of our personal problems and social challenges is our level of active engagement, not just reflection and rhetorical and philosophical musings. We need to reevaluate everything in and around us, and start taking steps towards developing our own positive inner qualities and transforming ourselves into genuinely ethical and compassionate human beings. But compassion shouldn’t be something we just feel on the inside. It needs to be something we also demonstrate and exercise constantly through actions.

Too many people have become content living isolated, self-absorbed lives rather than being at all concerned with the world around them and the difference they could make in it if they only tried. That “world” includes the proximal intra-personal and inter-personal relationships of home, family, and community, as well as the larger context of society, commerce, natural resources, governance, and the environment. So basically, we need to seriously examine how we are not only treating ourselves, but also how we treat others and the environment.

What kind of a selfish person chooses to live only for themselves today when they could be helping to build a better tomorrow for everyone? And as these inner workings begin to transform us as individuals, the ethical and altruistic qualities we develop begin to spill out into our communities, our world, with each and every consideration, action, and interaction. It is only with a respectful, intelligent, and informed heart and mind that we can finally begin experiencing life with a sense of interconnectedness, rather than the dividedness and segregation that has become so prevalent in today’s modern societies.

But how do we do any of this?  How do we cultivate and nurture a caring and compassionate culture? How do we begin transforming and healing our world?

In order to transform our world, our families, our workplaces, and our communities, we must begin by transforming ourselves through self-contemplation, self-inquiry, and self-reflection, as well as through the cultivation of benevolent humanitarian values and ethics. We have to develop the ability and the capacity to be genuinely concerned about the welfare of others. In the beginning, we may feel as if our actions are inauthentic, contrived, or fabricated, but if we “practice” new behaviors and try to consider, adopt, and see things from new and differing points of view, and we experience firsthand the results of actions rooted in generosity, kindness, and the wish to benefit others — if we restrain our selfishness, hostility, and anger, and make an effort to also develop and promote tenderness, kindness, and generosity — our experience becomes our teacher; our experience educates us.

So the answer to our problem, how it is we create a kinder, more caring and compassionate, UNITED society, arises from the intentions and actions of the individuals within that society. One small act of kindness and generosity, or just one act of tenderness, of selflessness, each and every one of these moments makes a difference. No act is too small or insignificant. Each little gesture serves to eventually connect every single being on this planet through kindness, much like how the strands of a rope all come together to create a larger, stronger form. With this rope, we strengthen and fortify our relationship with ourselves and those around us, like a movement that starts with just one person and multiplies over time until it is all-encompassing. First encircling ourselves and others, close family, friends, coworkers, our communities, total strangers, and eventually….the world.

Conservapedia: Something Wiki This Way Comes

While doing some Internet research this morning, I came across a website by the name of Conservapedia.

As I began to read through some of the hostile, perhaps even hateful, article headlines, the site’s overall message became very clear to me:

  • “There Is No Such Thing as Marriage Equality. Why be foolish and accept a fake substitute?”
  • “Evidence for (think he meant “of”) bias in school textbooks includes promotion of (he probably just forgot to put the word “the” here) Homosexual (and I’m sure he also meant to make that a lowercase “h”) agenda, support of liberal viewpoint (perhaps the “s” that belongs at the end of this sentence made off with the “of” and “the” from earlier), as well as support of the unproven theory of evolution. Most Biology textbooks do not provide the Creationist viewpoint a chance, or even a second thought.”(oh now he’s done it! **Rolling up sleeves for this one**):
    • To say that anything in science is “unproven” or “proven” is to completely overlook one vital detail regarding it: Science does not deal in absolute proof, only in the balance of evidence.
    • No scientific theory, evolution included, is ever considered to be proven. Instead, the more evidence that accumulates to support a theory, the more our confidence in it grows. Eventually, a point may be reached where the quantity of evidence supporting the theory is so vast, so overwhelming, that future attempts to deny or question it are considered futile and unfounded. THIS is the case with the theory of evolution, as it is the case with other theories that form the pillars of modern science today.
    • Perhaps this lovely gentleman is confused by the use of the word “theory” here. I can understand that, since this is an issue that oftentimes confuses the general public. “Theory” and “law” may have different common meanings, but in science, their meanings are very similar. A theory is an explanation of which is back by “a considerable body of evidence,” while a law is a set of regularities expressed in a “mathematical statement.” Evolution, like with most of Biology, cannot be expressed in a concise mathematical equation, and therefore it is referred to as a theory. A scientific law is not “better” or “more accurate” than a scientific theory.
  • “Anti-feminists understand that feminism is a danger to society. it (capitalization) is because of feminism we have we have (we have, we have….Tourette’s?) unrestricted sex, the Pill, abortion on demand, an astronomically increased number of single mothers (let’s be honest here, would you want your daughter marrying a man like this? Would YOU marry a man like this? Didn’t think so), teenage mothers and women in their 40’s struggling with infertility (the American Society of Reproductive Medicine states that a woman’s best reproductive years are in her 20’s. Fertility gradually declines in the 30’s, particularly after age 35. By age 40, a woman’s chance is less than 5% per cycle, so fewer than 5 out of every 100 women are expected to become pregnant each month…just saying), we have a fatherless generation who hasn’t seen a better example (what the heck does that even mean?); chastity is mocked, women are sexualized and coerced into selling themselves cheap (would he prefer they overcharge, instead? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.); we have no-fault divorce, and deterioration of family”
    • Yes, because growing up in a home where there is a total lack of empathy, understanding, and sensitivity towards certain family members, especially while expressing extreme and obvious empathy towards others, and making children grow up feeling marginalized couldn’t have anything to do with this whatsoever. Having a parent, or parents, that engage(s) in unfair or unequal treatment of one or more family members based on gender, age, birth order, family role, abilities, race, sexual and religious preferences, and have either or both disrespect them by violating their boundaries, couldn’t possibly be the reason we see deteriorating family involvement these days. It must be those crazy queers and dangerous feminists, right?

Eventually I became less interested in the website itself, and more curious about the person responsible for it. So now let us take a brief look at its creator.

AndyS

Meet Andrew Layton Schlafly, an American lawyer (I’ve seen grade school students with more impressive writing skills, and yet he has a law degree?) and conservative activist best known as the founder and owner of the wiki Conservapedia.

Andy, who initially intended for the site to be his mediocre attempt to collaboratively develop an online encyclopedia, founded the self-proclaimed conservative Christian alternative to Wikipedia on November 21st, 2006. Having, instead, been used as a soapbox for one misguided fanatic’s own vanity project, Conservapedia has become nothing more than a dumpsite for Shlafly’s toxic political and religious informational waste. And you know what they say about birds of a feather, don’t you? The site also boasts a number of articles and projects published by its own bigoted editors and administrators, who use their right-wing rhetoric in an attempt to provide their crusade with a driving theological imperative.

Thankfully, while such rhetorical rubbish may attract some wavering co-religionists to its cause, it also acts as a natural social constraint by limiting how successful the fundamentalist mindset can be outside of like minded circles. With such a relentlessly negative message and a tendency to demonize their opposition (e.g. the demonization of the explanatory width and depth of modern day science), it’s not difficult to comprehend why most people today tend to respond negatively to fundamentalist views, and why their overall widespread acceptance has been so severely crippled.

While fundamentalists tend to do more damage to their own cause than anything else (especially given their propensity for being incorrigible doubters with an insatiable appetite for evidence), the narrow-minded viewpoints expressed on Conservapedia should not be regarded as the collective voice of a larger community. Instead of looking at it as a reflection of the insights of an entire group of people, see it for what it really is: the distorted views of discriminative, fascist pigs and fanatical ideologues with raging persecution complexes, each being the product of insanity that I believe is wrought by ignorance and persistent delusions.

In a West Point study on the growing danger of violence from right-wing extremist groups, they laid out three major ideological movements; a racist white supremacy movement, an anti-government movement, and a fundamentalist Christian movement that have always existed in this country. This is not to say that Republicans promote right-wing extremism with a view towards violence against the government or other Americans, but their support for policies the extremists hold near and dear to their black hearts lends validity to hate movements that are becoming common among conservatives and having detrimental effects on the population. What do you think would be the outcome of a politician, television news station, and church telling people change endangers their entire way of life? Simple. The same things we’ve seen play out in similar scenarios in the past. Fear, doubt and loss give way to hate and anger. The result today, I believe would be an America with a large division of anti-government religious racists, all equipped with guns and four years of hate, searching for a place or means of release they will find in Republican policies and on America’s streets.

For those of you that may be unfamiliar with the fundamentalist’s extreme and literal interpretation of the bible, here are a few verses and their interpretations, brought to you by Ivana Wynn over at ranker.com (for a more indepth look at these bible verses and their literal, extremist interpretations, please read Ivana’s article: The Top 20 Bible Passages to Use Against Fundamentalists):

  1. “I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent.” (Timothy 2:11)
    1. This is the most often quoted version of this passage, but in The King James Bible, it goes a little bit more like this: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.”
  2. “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” (Luke 16:18)
    1. According to this passage, all members of the congregation that have been divorced and/or remarried would be sinners and should be kicked out of the church. With a 50% divorce rate in America, it’s safe to say that people are selectively ignoring this rule, yet somehow still seeing themselves as “pious.”
  3. “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord.”(Deuteronomy 23:1)
    1. First of all, yes, the King James Bible actually calls them “stones.” You are now aware of the fact that the “stones” euphemism is a biblical reference.
    2. Also, God hates people with testicular cancer, apparently.
  4. “A bitched shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 23:2)
    1. A bitched is someone who was born outside of wedlock, which means you were born before your parents were married. Being born out of wedlock makes you filthy, apparently; so filthy in fact that it takes ten genetic steps down the line to wash how filthy it makes you. So your family’s 100% awesome to come to church in like a century or two if you’re a bitched, which I guess is fair.
  5. “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)
    1. Bring around some pictures from Men’s Health for the women and some Maxim, perhaps some Playboy, for the men. Get them to look at it and give you an opinion. Most of the time, they will have lustful descriptions and will think nothing of it when they’re really violated a cut and dry part of what is supposed to be their belief system. Feel free to shout things like “ADULTERER!” after Gerard Butler and Jessica Alba have made everyone into adequate sinners.
  6. “But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head…” (1 Corinthians 11:5)
    1. Fundamentalist Christian women seem to have forgotten this basic rule of church attire reminiscent of Islam. The bible should have clarified what it means to dishonoureth one’s head. Most women walk around with their hair uncovered in all styles in modern society and men aren’t having too much trouble keeping it in their pants.
    2. Mary always wore a veil…why shouldn’t they?
  7. If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, 28 then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. 29 You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters.”(Leviticus 26:27-30)
    1. So basically, If you disobey God, you will eat your babies.
    2. You might as well put on the Food Network, get some good recipes ready and hand them to someone next time a Christian fundamentalist tries to pull their piety card out. If they’re not following this rule, then why follow rules that allow hate towards people different than they are?
  8. “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:35-27)
    1. So believing in God, according to the bible, is like a life-or-death game of Family Double Dare, only instead of having color-coded teams it’s every man (woman and child) for themselves.
    2. So next time someone says “family first” it’s probably them tricking you into loving God less than you should, just so you’ll go to hell and they won’t. So, according to the bible, every time a mother tells her child that family is the most important thing in the world, they’re really condemning their child to an eternity of fire, brimstone and suffering.
  9. “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke [reason with] thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19: 17-18)
    1. This pretty much means that every single Westboro Baptist Church protest is inherently Un-Christian (as if we needed the fundamentalists to tell us that). The Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, Kansas has clearly forgotten this guideline, which is much more explicit than anti-homosexual biblical references. The church is famous for being a hate group that protests at homosexuals’ funerals and has nothing but contempt for any other religion besides its own. The church is using technology to hate on homosexuals through their website, godhatesf*gs.com (I refuse to actually even link that URL, sorry and has a travel budget of over $200,000 to picket and disrupt funerals all over the country. They protest military funerals (protest in their context actually means “harass”) and make one of the worst days of these people’s lives even worse. This is what they do as a primary form of “activism. The scariest part is that these people actually procreate. They have kids holding up hateful signs and they teach their children the opposite of Christian values.
    2. But if The Lord says love they neighbor, then what book are they reading? imKMM
  10. “When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her.” (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)
    1. Okay this one is insanely specific, which makes it that much more awesome. This probably NEVER happens… but if a faithful wife decided to defend her husband by grabbing a guy by his junk, anyone, would have God’s blessing to cut her hand off.
    2. And once again, here’s another rule that illustrates the point that if people were better Christians, we’d have a lot more handless people walking around. If people were much better Christians, then pirate hook sales would go through the roof (and we’d probably have designer hooks as a driving force of our economy).
  11. “For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.” (Leviticus 20:9)
    1. If every kid in America who cursed at his parents was killed, we’d have to worry about repopulating the country. Every day.
    2. Try bringing this up in front of a man’s wife or children, see how that goes.
  12. “Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man’s brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.” (Mark 12:19)
    1. So if your brother dies, you need to bang his wife apparently.
    2. Moses, the prophet who delivered his fellow Jews from a wicked Egyptian tyrant and led them across the parted Red Sea, had apparently told this speaker that if a woman is widowed, her late husband’s brother should sleep with her and produce heirs for his brother. From a traveling crowd of people that were homeless for 40 years, this actually makes sense… but not so much for this day and age. Picture that — a grieving widow is visited by her husband’s brother to have sex the night of the funeral.
    3. Repopulating simply to have heirs doesn’t exist as a valid concept anymore. Plenty of couples are choosing not to reproduce at all and with a recession and climate crisis on our hands, they’re doing the world a favor. If this rule has been allowed to become obsolete, why not others that ruin people’s lives?
  13. “But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.” (Deuteronomy 22: 20-21)
    1. Non-virgins are to be stoned (as in, with rocks).
    2. The “father’s house” in Paris Hilton’s case would be any Hilton hotel, so we know that if fundamentalists were really taking everything the way “God” intended, then it should be a well-known and widespread Christian agenda to call for the public stoning of Paris Hilton. Sorry Paris.
    3. Also, there are edge-cases where if a little girl has an accident or is injured during sports, the bible says they should be stoned to death. It’s pretty well known that it’s entirely possible (and not at all irregular) for a young woman’s hymen to be accidentally broken due to accidents or even playing certain sports like gymnastics.
    4. This also means that in order to enforce a rule like this, we’d need to have regular “Hymen Checks” at churches, but we don’t, because we’re human beings and we’re trying to live in a little thing called “society.”
  14. “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched.” (Mark 9:43)
    1. So next time someone tells you that you’re going to hell, ask them if they’re free of sin, and if they believe that they aren’t, then kindly request their hand. It’s their duty to give it to you. Kind of like in that one SNL skit where Chris Farley gets on a Japanese game show, where everyone has to cut their hands off when they get wrong answers.
  15. “For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken. No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God.” (Leviticus 21:18-21)
    1. This one is actually saying that deformed people cannot approach God.
    2. According to the bible, people who are born with or acquire defects throughout their lives should not approach the altar of a church to make an offering to God because they “hath a blemish.”
    3. Christians are always saying God loves everyone but this list of “or”s excludes a whole group of people who actually have no control over what they look like most of the time. From something as superficial as a flat nose to once again with the “broken stones” (Women may be inferior in God’s eyes, but he sure knows how to make a man feel worthless). Congrats God, you’ve found a way to hold every disabled and unprotected person responsible for things out of their control and make them feel like crap about it.
  16. “But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days.” (Leviticus 12:5)
    1. According to the bible, giving birth to a daughter makes you unclean for 66 days.
    2. People should hold signs that say “God Hates Women” because it really will be the most accurate Christian sign you could ever make. God made the one thing women were actually appreciated for, the ability to give birth to life, a dirty act. When women give birth to their children at the hospital now, they are immediately handed their child because that’s what you want to do when you pop out a kid after carrying it for nine months in your belly — not go through 66 days of church-mandated shame.
    3. Next time one of your devout relatives or someone who always thinks they’re right during religious debates has a daughter, politely bring up the fact that in the eyes of God, the mother is a dirty whore who needs to wait 66 days before being allowed anywhere near anything clean ever again. She should probably also shower regularly.
  17. “…thou shalt not approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is put apart for her uncleanness.” (Leviticus 18:19)
    1. No, this doesn’t mean that guys aren’t allowed around chicks that don’t shower. That’s fine (according to the bible). It means that when a woman is going through her “woman times” a man is not allowed to “approach” her, which in biblespeak means sex — much like “knowing” does.
    2. This passage forbids men from sleeping with a woman on her period, which in the bible is known as “uncleanness.” That uncleanness is of course the means to human reproduction and has been known as the bane of female existence for causing monthly cramps, breakouts, mood swings and mass destruction.
    3. Now we’ve uncovered the secret mission of the bible: pit men against women. Forever. (they may want to rethink their take on the homosexual agenda)
  18. “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39)
    1. Invite your attacker to beat you more. Really? “Please sir, may I have another?” is a biblical rule? I thought it was just an S&M command.
    2. Passivity may be better than war and violence, but inviting someone to continue beating you seems a bit much. The best way to test this, of course, would be to openly attack someone and see if they pull a “please sir, may I have another?”… This can’t end well.
  19. “And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” (Matthew 5:40)
    1. This passage feels like the one above, but it kind of has a twist. If someone steals something from you, you should hand over something else too. It’s like a “steal one-get one handed right to you” offer.
    2. Passages like these make it seem like God didn’t honestly grant his followers free will and in reality wants to turn them into obedient and mindless robots who can’t think for themselves. Either way, a good way to test this would be to steal something from a Christian and see if you get even more out of it…. This also can’t end well.
  20. “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.” (Psalm 137:9)
    1. The bible encourages disciplining your child… by throwing him against a stone wall, baby! Doing so will apparently make you “happy” (if you’re a sadistic psychopath, or if you hate your children).
    2. This is a dangerous encouragement of violence against helpless children and if followed, could easily be used to justify parents who shake their kids to death to make them stop crying or for simply just child abuse.
    3. So next time someone’s trying to prove that every passage of The Bible is beautiful and should be closely followed, ask them if they beat their kids.

Dunces and Dragons

Jersey Shore, Party Down South, Washington Heights, Honey Boo Boo. Welcome to America, land of the free, home of the education crisis. The most prominent difference between Homo Sapiens and lower animals used to be our highly developed brains. However, in a country who’s students often score dead last when it comes to essential subjects like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, Americans today have only themselves to blame for the issues they will most assuredly have to face tomorrow.

The human brain, much like a muscle, begins to atrophy when subjected to long periods of disuse. I can offer no greater example to support this than the people of the United States. We can see the effects of capitalism carelessly achieving its dominance here, as well as the impact that our retreat from healthy thought processes has had on human progress. In a world where diseases have evolved over the millennia to exploit the weaknesses in our defenses, none have been more virulent than the epidemic this society is facing today: stupidity.

Let’s take a look back at proficiency test scores in 1991. In evaluating the results for thirteen-year-old students in the United States, we learn that they ranked 15th in math and 14th in science, just above Jordanian students, who ranked 18th in both categories. Tests taken annually since then have continued to confirm these sad numbers. So where do we begin to point the finger of blame when considering the destruction of millions of Americans’ intellects?

I’m no expert on the matter, but, if asked, I would say the blame needed to be shouldered equally amongst schools and educators, standardized testing, federal and state agencies, billion-dollar foundations, and even parents for not doing more to ensure that their children were being given the benefit of a well-rounded curriculum. If I handled myself professionally the way many people operate their schools today, let’s just say that I wouldn’t have a roof over my head for very long!

The United States is a knowledge-based society that is struggling to compete and succeed in the changing economic and political dynamics of the modern world. But to even utter this country’s name in the same breath as “knowledge” almost feels wrong, unless it were to be in order to describe a lack thereof. How could I say such a terrible thing about my own country? Well, let’s consider the facts:

By definition, a knowledge-based society refers to a society that is well educated and which therefore relies on the knowledge of their citizens to drive the innovation, entrepreneurship, and dynamism of that society’s economy. If anyone is reading this and silently arguing that the United States has done, and continues to do, well internationally in science and technology, then perhaps one critical detail has been overlooked. The U.S. does continue to do well, until it is pointed out that the majority of our scientists come from overseas. Many have referred to this as the “brain drain,” a term which is used to describe this country’s use of the H1B visa, nicknamed the “genius visa,” to gain access to foreigners that have shown they have extraordinarily special talents, resources, or valuable scientific knowledge. Year after year, we have been using these foreign-born individuals to replenish our scientific ranks.

If we compare the ratio of foreign-born Ph.D. students to that of the American-born, the numbers are both staggering and not in our favor. 50% of Silicon Valley goes to the foreigners (most of whom came to this country from India and Taiwan). On a national scale, 50% of all Ph.D. students in Physics alone are foreign-born, the figure for that being realistically closer to 100% foreign-born at the City University of New York! Whenever I read about a congressman attempting to eradicate the H1B visa in an effort to secure more jobs for this country’s citizens, I can’t help but wonder if that person is truly that unaware of America’s inability to fill high-level jobs due to the lack of qualified professionals filtering into the workforce upon completion of their schooling, or if it’s just another politician pandering to the people’s uneducated cries that these H1B visas take away jobs from those native to this country. These people fail to realize that rather than taking jobs away, this visa actually creates entirely new industries for the U.S. But today, as many foreign-born scientists return to their countries as their economies improve, our nation is faced with the harsh realization that it will soon see the “brain drain” come to an end.

This will shift the focus back to our own public schools, which will have to update and improve their archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms, which were designed and catered to the needs of the Industrial Age. Hopefully, then, we will also begin to address the significant problems stemming from our educators. Today, we can still see many of them that have continuously resisted change over the years, protected by their tenure and excessive bureaucracy. Perhaps it would be prudent for educators to take a few pointers from today’s business professionals, who know the value of quality, how to produce it, and who place special emphasis on the need for continuous improvement (both personally and on a business level). But does a low-performing school have only itself to blame when it fails to turn out students that are adequately prepared for the next steps in their lives? The answer is a resounding “no.”

While viewing a school from a business perspective can be very helpful in some areas, it is important to point out that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material. They are dependent on the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are relentlessly beaten down by multitudes of disparate, competing customer groups that would have even the most accomplished CEO in tears. But if we cannot change what, when, and how we teach to give all children the best opportunity to succeed and prosper in a post-industrial society, then we need to rally our forces and determine the best course of action in an effort to make that happen. Schools and educators cannot do this on their own. These changes can occur only with the trust, understanding, and active support of the communities that they serve.

To say that American education is being systematically destroyed at all levels may seem like an exaggeration, at first glance. However, stop to consider the quality and content currently being taught in schools and universities and you’ll realize just how terribly eroded things truly are. Sadly, the teachers are the ones that, I feel, take most of the blame for this. They are frequently accused of being the primary cause of low educational achievement and are continuously attacked through their unions, in addition to various other ways. However, the issues we are facing with today’s education system extend far beyond the teachers or the schools in which they work. State and city universities, which once used to be free to attend, have become extraordinarily expensive, many pricing out of the market altogether. The price tag on the school system was designed with one purpose in mind: to dismantle it.  That is apparently what happens when corporate interests have decided that the public education system is no longer providing societal control and, more importantly, corporate profits. To the elite, education has always been viewed as something that exists merely to serve their ends.

The contribution of public education to the U.S. economy cannot be overestimated. It, more than any other institution, has been responsible for an affluent and growing middle class. So why destroy it? Probably for the same reason we are destroying Social Security. Compare the two and what you will find is that they both have something in common. They both represent mutual support and the spirit of caring. But these are the very things that American capitalism now views as problematic to the objectives of those at the highest levels of power and privilege. By adopting the mentality of “every man for himself,” the elite are able to eliminate the one thing they really fear: oppositional unity. If they can destroy public education at all levels, they will have manifestly increased both their power and their ability to retain it.

Corporate-backed political figures, strategic underfunding of schools, humiliation of teachers, blackmail, propaganda, unelected school boards, irrelevant parent commentary, and unchecked student skimming by charter schools. What more could be done to destroy education in America? Well, since you asked, let’s review some of the issues surrounding high-stakes testing. A quality education exploits a student’s natural intellectual curiosity. Reducing their education to nothing more than test topics is the perfect way of creating a permanent underclass in this country. With prosperity no longer dependent on the investments in an educated people, the wealthiest among us now seek out fortune elsewhere. Rather than long-term prosperity, we now measure success by how much short-term profit is generated. It sounds like what we really have in this country is a problem with greed and our need for instant gratification. Nonetheless, the decision has been made that education for the masses was only useful when commodified and privatized for the enrichment of corporate executives and stockholders. To that end, publicly-funded education is being engineered to fail in order to facilitate a takeover by business interests.

So, if you live in America, the quality of the education system affects you. Without a decent education, students can’t go on to find jobs, buy houses, nor will they have the best quality of life possible. By continuing to allow children to move through the school systems like cattle, and by releasing them into the world without having first armed them with the skills and knowledge necessary for their success, we are impeding their ability to fulfill the American Dream. The only hope we have of ever rebuilding a strong economy is to strengthen our schools. We are clearly aware of America’s education crisis. The question is: What are we going to do to fix it?

The Enemy Within

Whether it’s fleeting self-consciousness or paralyzing anxiety, once the balance of power between self-perception and reflected self-perception begins to shift in favor of the reflected, we begin venturing ever closer to the edge of a slippery slope. The onset is triggered when healthy reconsideration gives way to crippling self-doubt. Thoughts begin to manifest themselves as an undermining inner voice that represents the part of us that has turned against ourselves. It longs to rob us of our joy and enthusiasm, to break our spirits, and turn us into fundamentally one-dimensional people. It goes without saying that this is a true testament to human complexity and the innate ability we have to create and maintain obstacles in our lives as a means of self-sabotage. I’ve come to think of that inner voice as the enemy within. More often than not, we tend to be our own worst enemy and harshest critic. It is so easy to see the beauty in everyone around you, yet impossible to acknowledge that any exists within yourself. I always find it amusing when someone catches me staring at myself in a mirror and accuses me of being vain or narcissistic. Despite what may seem like egotism and conceit to an outsider looking in, my purpose for doing so couldn’t be any more to the contrary.

The desire to improve one’s self aesthetically, or otherwise, is what I believe to be an inherent and inescapable part of the human condition. However, there is a fine line between self improvements and unhealthy obsessions. Sadly, most people will spend their entire lives balancing on the precipice of an endless downward spiral. Even sadder still, a great deal of them may lose their footing at one point or another and, in doing so, themselves.

In a perfect world we would learn to just accept who we are and value our imperfections as much as we do our perfections. We don’t really live in a perfect world though do we? In reality, we exist in a state of perpetual war against ourselves. It’s a purely psychological battle being waged internally with no clearly defined enemy. A swami once said: “The hardest enemy to fight is the one who has outposts in your head.” It is only when there is no enemy within that the enemies without cannot hurt you.

I’ve often heard people attribute their lack of self-confidence to society and its arbitrary standards of beauty. They allow those standards to completely define their value as human beings. We tend to forget that the way we think of ourselves sets the standard for others. If a person’s self-worth is hinged on what other people think of them, and they live only for their reflection as seen in the eyes of others, then they are doomed to a life of emotional disruption and dysfunction.

In the end it all comes down to a single truth. Your worth can only come from one place and that is from within yourself. Thinking you are worthy, makes you worthy. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Tell yourself that, and then remember that you are the beholder. Challenge yourself to find beauty where others have not, including in yourself. Don’t be surprised when after you’ve discovered it, others also begin to take notice. That, after all, is the beauty of love…it grows.