“The Danger of a Single Story:” Is the iGen Complicit in Continuing the Single Narrative?

Nyeleti Honwana, Contributor

‘This is the 21st century after all,” is a phrase that Generation Y’ers have all uttered at one point or another. And we are proud to belong to this 21st century. We are progressive and free thinking, and we believe that all are equal and, most importantly, we are informed…or so we think. The Internet, which many of us consider our “generational head quarters” provides us with almost anything we could possibly want to know. We literally hold the world in the palm of our hands–whether it be on our Blackberries, iPhones or Androids. However, one must ask the question: what is the value of the information we receive, and how does this information influence our understanding of a people, place or occurrence?

Author Chimamanda Adichie

Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie (Purple Hibiscus, 2003) explains that as people, especially as children and young adults, we are “impressionable and vulnerable…in the face of a story.” In her speech, titled The Danger of a Single Story, Adichie tells the story of Fide, her family house boy when she was just a girl:

“The only thing my mother told us about him [Fide] was that his family was very poor. My mother sent yams and rice, and our old clothes, to his family. And when I didn’t finish my dinner my mother would say, ‘Finish your food! Don’t you know? People like Fide’s family have nothing.’ So I felt enormous pity for Fide’s family.”

One day Adichie visited Fide’s family out in the countryside and was taken aback to see the beautiful and intricate baskets that his family made. She explains that she had not imagined them capable of making anything; all she knew of them was that they were poor. That, she says, was her ‘single story’ of them; they only way she had the ability to imagine them living.

When Adichie later attended university in the United States, she was met with benign ignorance. She recalls her first run in with an American roommate, who, she says, was shocked to learn that Adichie listened to Mariah Carey and could use a stove. She goes on to say that:

“She [her roommate] had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning, pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa; a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her, in any way. No possibility of feelings more complex than pity. No possibility of a connection as human equals.”

The image of Africans as a backward people, who spoke tribal languages and only listened to tribal music was the single story that her roommate had of Africa. Adichie’s roommate, like Adichie herself, was not necessarily ignorant, but had bought into the single story: the stereotype of a peoples. It is this lack of knowledge that led to her surprise when meeting Adichie. However, a single narrative can have much more damaging consequences than surprise. On many occasions the single story has led to hatred, alienation and violence.

Nine years after 9/11, there are nationwide stories of teens abusing their Muslim school mates. A recent example is Kristian, who at thirteen was experiencing the worst year of his life. Kristian was born in the U.S. to Trinidadian parents. An average American teenager, Kristian enjoyed “regular stuff” and was described by his father as a normal kid; he watched T.V. and played games on the computer  However, during the 2009-2010 school year, Kristian suffered long months of physical and emotional bullying because of his religious beliefs. Kristian was beaten, spat on and called a terrorist by four of his classmates. In an interview with the New York Post, he recalls one of the worst days: “They punched me…spit in my face…tripped me on the floor… [and] kicked me… And as they were kicking and laughing, they kept saying, ‘You f- – -ing terrorist, f- – -ing Muslim, you f- – -ing terrorist’.”

Kristian’s attackers were his 14 and 15 year-old classmates; classmates that once told him “You came here to burn our buildings down. People can’t get jobs because of you”. These teens were fed a single story of Islam, one of terror and hatred. Therefore they were unable to see the good in Kristian and, more importantly, unable to understand that they were more alike than they were different. Kristian’s ordeal is just one example of the danger of the single story. We must all be vigilant against a single narrative and strive to understand the wider story before rushing to judgment. Not doing so means that we allow the stereotypes to form our total opinion of people, places and events because we become prisoners of a linear narrative; we miss the context and ultimately lose sight of the complexities of that which is different and new to us. We become scared of the “other” instead of realizing that those whose lives are completely “unlike” ours are still human. They very well may be just “like” us, but if not, then ignoring the single story’ will allow us, Generation Y, to continue to extend our scope and understanding of the world, which can do nothing but improve our abilities to improve the world.

Taken to the extreme, it is this way of over simplifying our narrative and the image we create of the other, that leads to intolerance.  When you decide that all Muslims are terrorists and all blacks are thieves and all whites are racist, that is when the problem starts. Generation Y must avoid this problem if it wishes to successfully lead the integrated, mobile world of the future.

 


Can the New Republicans Live up to the Hype?

James Di Palma-Grisi, Columnist

The Sharron Angles and Christine O’Donnells of the Tea Party are dogmatic and simplistic candidates parroting the same talking points that, by even the admission of Alan Greenspan, will not work in our current economic climate.

So what will happen once these people (or, perhaps except in the cases of Angle and O’Donnell) are elected? We see what happened to Scott Brown — he compromised his conservative principles to do something popular with liberal Massachusetts voters, and his support dropped sharply.

Seeing this example (and being from areas far less liberal than Massachusetts, in most cases), the other Tea Party candidates probably will not take this route. Instead, they either will stick to their conservative principles (and become regular Republicans) or will take a free-wheeling, anti-lobbyist approach and find themselves without funding or backing at all.

That is to say, while they are conservative, they may or may not represent the elite interests that funded their campaigns and organizations. If they don’t, they will be marginalized candidates in the next election cycle, and if they do, they will lose the credibility they had with their constituency. Crucially, the latter only will happen if the voters find out where the money is coming from—something that will be quite clear once the votes on key provisions in bills, or the attachment of earmarks, are made public.

In Congress, in other words, there can be no hiding behind opaque organizations—the Tea Party will be on record, and their ideological purity will be brought into question the same way Scott Brown’s integrity was called into question when he voted liberal on the financial reform bill.

But, stopping Obama’s agenda may be the real purpose behind the Tea Party, and it can almost certainly accomplish that feat.

Now the question for us: what will we do about it? Does Generation Y have a stake in the President’s agenda, or does it have more of an interest in hearing that it’s capable of doing great things?

Gen Y certainly has lost interest, for the most part, in the elections by having turned out in disappointingly low numbers in the 2010 Midterm Election. It has, instead, turned back to pop music and all the other things youthful. Suffice to say it is no longer as politically active as it once was, and is by several metrics horribly narcissistic.

So there is a danger here. This generation could be manipulated rightward by the same promises of power and purity that Candidate Obama offered them in 2008. All that is needed is a potent and communicative leader. Being the Right, there is not much there for young people, and finding a youthful leader would be as easy as finding a natural head of hair at the Republican National Convention–it is the party of the elderly and the established, those who think the world is just fine as it is.

Whether this danger is benign or not remains to be seen. That is to say, whether Gen Y is pulled rightward in large numbers, numbers large enough to impact an election or as an afterthought (which seems likely if they continue to only turnout as much as they did in 2010) has not been determined yet. But surely this is not the only point of entry for Gen Y–there must be strings to pull other than narcissism. Such is the task of political analysts and campaign managers.

Meet Massachusetts’ Generation Y Republican: State Representative Ryan Fattman

Malik Neal, Columnist

State Rep. Ryan Fattman with his girlfriend on Election Night Credit: John Thornton/ Milford Daily News.

It was late evening and months before Election Day in Massachusetts. Ryan Fattman, 26, had a special romantic dinner with “the most important person in his life,” his girlfriend of seven years. The setting encompassed all the ingredients of a conventional marriage proposal scene in a Hollywood blockbuster—fancy restaurant and a candle-lit dinner. Only one thing was absent—an actual marriage proposal. In its place was a political proposal, perhaps not as life changing, but equally as important to Fattman’s future.

Ryan Fattman’s idea to run for State Representative was not a newfound revelation; it had been building up for some time. “My friends were leaving Massachusetts,” said Fattman, “they were leaving not because of the weather, as some suggested, but because of the climate—high taxes, no job incentives, and corruption.”

Elected as a Selectmen, a local political representative, in Sutton County at the age of 21, Fattman had prior political experience making political climate changes in government. During his term in office, he helped bring businesses to the town of 10,000 by encouraging tax incentives and promoted transparency by making sure all town meetings were taped and accessible to the public.

So, armed with the approval of his girlfriend and his experience in Sutton, Fattman set out for higher office; but obstacles nevertheless remained. His opponent, Representative Jennifer Callahan, was a formidable candidate with years of experience. She served on the Sutton Board of Selectmen, the Sutton School Board and in the State House since 2003. A May 2010 poll said if the election were held then Fattman would get 35 percent and Callahan would get 57 percent. All of this did not deter the young and ambitious Fattman. Equipped with steely confidence, combined with humble faith, he announced his candidacy on the steps the Sutton Town Hall on April Fools’ Day 2010. The date was chosen cleverly by Fattman to represent how the state and the people had been tricked by the politicians on Beacon Hill. He stated:

“Massachusetts stands at a defining moment in its history. And the question becomes how we change direction. I don’t believe this is a question about experience, education, gender, or age. The question is about the past versus the future; and the old way will no longer do. It’s time for a new generation of leadership.”

Massachusetts' newly elected State Representative for the 18th District

Fattman developed a new message that resonated with people. He focused on jobs, lowering taxes, illegal immigration, and per diem payments—the allowance some Representatives claim for driving to and from the State House. “People are hurting and we’re paying politicians to drive to work?” Fattman asked rhetorically. He went on: “They [State Representatives] always say there is no money, yet there is money for them to drive and eat during work.” The people of Sutton were quite receptive to this message; he was elected on November 2, 2010, defeating his opponent and becoming one of a rare breed, a Massachusetts Republican holding a state office.

In these difficult economic times, the voters obviously did not appreciate their elected officials spending taxpayers’ money (in addition to a generous salary) simply to eat and commute to their jobs at the State Capitol. His message was therefore obvious: stop wasting taxpayers’ money. It was simple, clear and convincing, and it got him elected.

“What’s lost in politics is what we brought back in this campaign—sincerity, being in touch with people, and a willingness to listen and to care,”

Fattman remarked.  He knocked on doors every single day, talking with people in the district about his plans and listening to their concerns. Each day he wrote thank you notes specific to each person thanking them for listening to him, and even if they were not home, he wrote to them as well.

Fattman likes to tell the story of knocking on one family’s door that was not home at the time he came.  Suddenly, the sprinkler went off at 1:00, causing him to be drenched. After the grueling experience, Fattman wrote a clever note to the family to the effect of: I now know better not to stop at your house at this time. I love your beautiful lawn, but I didn’t need watering. Please, though, consider voting for real change by electing me—wet or dry.

When asked if he had any advice for young people, Fattman answered, “For five to six years I’ve been told that something couldn’t be done. I want to make sure all youth know they can do anything they set their minds to.” This message has clearly taken hold in his district. A few days after being elected, he received an email from a 12 year-old girl about welfare reform in Massachusetts. “As I read the email, I thought it was written by a 20 year-old,” he noted. Fattman went to the girl’s house to meet her and talk about the issue. “When I knocked on the door, her mother laughed, saying “I knew you would respond but didn’t think you would stop by the house.” Fattman did and was impressed by the girl’s willingness to contact him and address the issue.

Fattman’s election demonstrates what youthful zest, diligence and proper presentation of an issue can accomplish. He found the weak spot in his opponent’s armor and pierced it with good effect. His careful and respectful presentation of his future plans to his girlfriend has borne fruit. He only needs to properly harvest it. As Fattman noted, “I’ve beat incumbents in the past and worked hard. I would not mind doing it again.”

If all goes as planned, he just might.

The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act: A Look at recent Anti-Bully Measures around the Country

Stephanie Rushford, Associate Editor

Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide in September

Two New Jersey lawmakers Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Rush Holt are proposing new legislature that would require federally funded universities and colleges to implement an anti-bully program in their respective schools. The Tyler Clementi High Education Anti-Harassment Act was named after the Rutgers freshman student who committed suicide in September after an online video was posted of him sharing an intimate encounter with another man. This proposed legislature would require colleges to adopt policies that prohibit the harassment of students on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender, race and other factors. In addition, the government would provide funding to these schools to establish anti-bullying programs or expand the ones that are in place. Furthermore, institutions would need to distribute these policies to students, and notify bullied students of counseling services. Senator Frank Lautenberg stressed the importance of anti-bullying legislature:

“The tragic impact of bullying on college campuses has damaged too many young adults, and it is time for our colleges to put policies on the books that would protect students from harassment. While there is no way to eliminate the cruelty that some students choose to inflict on their peers, there should be a clear code of conduct that prohibits harassment. It is vitally important that all students have the opportunity to learn in a safe and secure environment.”

While the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act would federally require universities and colleges nationwide to adopt anti-harassment policies, many states have recently passed similar laws. Over the summer, Governor Paterson of New York signed the Dignity for All Students Act into law. The law requires New York Schools to revise their code of conduct and establish anti-bully policies—which would include bullying related to sexual orientation—and organize school training programs on anti-bullying policies for school employees. Lastly, under the new law, schools would report any instances of bullying to the state education department. At the press conference, Governor Paterson explained the government’s role in preventing bullying at schools:

“Every student has the right to a safe and civil educational environment, but far too often young people are ruthlessly targeted by bullies. Bullying and harassment have disrupted the education of too many young people, and we in government have a responsibility to do our part to create learning environments that help our children prosper.”

Surprisingly, New York’s new anti-bullying law does not mention how schools should deal with cyber-bullying.  The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act includes language to cover harassment via the web, like in the case of Facebook, and electronic messaging, like in the form of a menacing email or text. This past August, the state of Missouri added language to its existing anti-bullying statue to included cyber bullying. Missouri is only one of 11 states that has anti-cyber-bullying laws in place, notably Arkansas’ anti-cyber-bullying legislature allows for school officials to intervene even if the cyber-bullying did not occur on school grounds.  In New Hampshire, their anti-bullying law covers cyber bullying and harassment related to sexual orientation or gender identity. Overall, although directed at primary and secondary schools, 45 states in the nation have some sort of anti-bullying law on the books. Recently, Senator Bob Casey introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act, much like the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti- Harassment Act, a law tha would require federally funded primary and secondary schools to “adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including conduct based on a student’s actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion.” Furthermore, this piece of legislature would compel states to compile data on the incidences of bullying their schools and report them to the Department of Education. Currently, this bill is in the Senate Committee, and most likely not reaches the floor of Congress before the Holiday Recess.

 

 

Meet Aaron Schock, a Modern Early Riser

James Di Palma-Grisi, Columnist

If there ever were a modern early riser, Aaron Schock equals or surpasses the archetype. Elected at the age of barely 27, having won the primary at 26 and having served as a school board president at 23, Schock also served as a state representative for Illinois (also at 23, tied for the youngest).

In the span of four years (only two of which saw him eligible for Congress), Schock became a national representative for the people of his district, which includes Peoria, the famous “middle-of-America” cultural exemplar. While Schock’s views may represent what Peoria has become, his personal story diverges considerably. Schock tried to graduate high school early, and when he was prevented he ran for the school board. When he was prevented from appearing on the ballot, he created and managed a write-in candidate campaign and won a seat on the board.

“I think I’ll bring a much different perspective than someone who’s two-or-three times my age. I think our country would look different, and certainly our government and its programs would look different, if more people were here that were in their 20s and 30s,” he said.

Whatever the relevance of the representative’s age, Schock has taken his personal perspective to Washington, receiving special permission to serve on multiple committees. Echoing several articles on Generation Y in the workplace, Schock has little use for seniority and “the way things are done,” preferring instead to make his own path through Congress. In this respect Gen Y will change the workplace—through its own special cases like Schock.

Although Gen Y is seen typically as distrustful of both parties, Schock has taken a decidedly partisan path, becoming a party whip for the Republicans. “I’m not only getting to do the job that I ran for office to do, but I think I’m also getting to participate in the new D.C., if you will.” It seems Schock still possesses that generational naiveté, believing he is part of a uniquely positioned “pulley group” that can drag society alongside it by pulling on a single mental and verbal rope.

Indeed, the Heritage Foundation describes Schock as a “staunch conservative,” but interestingly enough, in the same article he appears to possess fairly liberal positions filtered through conservative ones. This may appear nonsensical, but bear with me. Schock represents Gen Y by taking a liberationist view of government and politics, rather than the stodgy, fuddy-duddy republicanism of the past 100 or so years. When asked his idea of “earthly happiness,” instead of replying in a spacey, vague, David Brooks-style mode, Schock replies simply “the freedom to do whatever it is I want”. Simplistic though this explanation may be, it represents an ideological break from…ideology.

Schock does not escape the generational strainer unscathed. With an eye towards the future, he replies that his greatest achievement “hopefully…hasn’t happened yet.”

So what will Schock do? If he has his druthers, taxes on new renewable energy technologies will be eliminated, which will force two things to happen: companies will innovate, and companies will match those innovations to what consumers are currently or will probably enjoy consuming. He finds this superior to university funding, though it is unclear how comprehensive the tax cuts will prove—for instance, if the basic research is needed, which companies will be able to afford the research even if they aren’t taxed on it?

But, that doesn’t mean he won’t push for the issue, among others. In the Illinois State House Schock recounted: “I have one of the most conservative voting records in the state house. I’ve got a 100 percent pro-life, pro-family, 100 percent with the Second Amendment.” Despite these credentials, and in spite of his posited “new Washington,” he takes the same talking points as his predecessors—on his first Meet the Press appearance, Schock takes credit for a stimulus project in the ARA, while simultaneously (although not necessarily in the same breath) makes it clear he did not vote for the project. This much is politics as usual–playing fast and loose with the facts in the hopes that those listening cannot follow.

Schock may have been taken in by the ways of Washington already, but one instance cannot draw our opinions one way or another. However, it can inform them of a working hypothesis.

I Thought This Was America! | Volume 2, Food (continued)

James Sasso, Associate Editor

Part 3: Politics

How could such a horrid system of mass farming, pollution, torture and low quality food be allowed to continue without much change in America? I thought that America was the land of the healthy: the land with the best doctors, the best gyms, the best trainers, the best dietitians and the best scientists. How have they allowed a system, a fundamental system to the survival and well being of our country, to continue its ferocious path of slowly killing America? Where were the politicians, those elected to protect us and serve is, to be found when the horrors of this system were discovered? Well, they were in Congress.
One of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country is the one for farms. The farm lobby has always been strong because, simply put, people need to eat. It makes sense that Congress would be willing to subsidize food in order to make it more affordable for the general public. In this regard, Congress appears actually to fulfill their duties to the general public by improving the lives of its population.
But read between the lines and one finds an entirely different and improper set of subsidies for farming and raising livestock. It would be logical for the government to subsidize all farming if it were to provide said subsidy. Doing so would be the most fair to the system and to nature because people need a varied diet to live healthfully. Instead, Congress repeatedly has bowed to the wishes of the biggest farm companies, those who own the most profitable crops and livestock such as corn, soy and cow, who insist that only certain foods receive the most generous subsidies. Low and behold that the 10 most heavily subsidized crops and livestock are grown and raised by massive “industrial” farms owned by some of the nation’s, and perhaps the world’s, biggest food companies such as Conagra, ADM and Monsanto.
These subsidies help keep the prices on these crops stable enough and cheap enough that they can be used in all sorts of processed foods and industrial products. With costs so low and subsidies so high these massive companies are able to minimize production costs while reaping the benefits of massive sales. They then are able to buy more land, lobby harder, receive further subsidization and increase their incredibly damaging farming and breeding practices. Since subsidies come from taxes, the American people, essentially are paying companies to do us (and the world) massive trauma.
One would think, though, that not every farmer in America is part of the industrial system, and that person obviously would be correct. Unfortunately, these companies produce, and/or control the production of, most food that hits American tables. Small and intermediate sized farmers have difficulty competing against the strength of the big businesses. It’s like if a small drugstore tried to compete against Wal-Mart. But America does subsidize farms, and since our government purports to fully support small business, it would make perfectly logical sense for them to prop up the smaller farms with subsidies against the big companies. A quick glance at the distribution of subsidies to the farms of America reveals the flaws of our system.

In an evaluation of the USDA’s subsidy program one finds that:

“over the last decade, increasing economies of scale and greater commodity demand generated by legislative…mandates have led to increased farm size and further crop specialization.”

(http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/farmincome/govtpaybyfarmtype.htm)

This has (1) increased the size of farms and (2) further limited the diversification of crops grown in America. Many previously intermediate sized farms have become “industrial,” becoming those megafarms that generally do so much damage to our environment and quality of food. Also, even though the profit per acre for these commercial farms averaged $133 in 2008 and only seven dollars per acre for rural farms, commercial farms received 76 percent of commodity program payments (a specific type of subsidy) while rural farms only found themselves the beneficiaries of eight percent of the same subsidy. Even worse, the commercial farms generated sales of $849,500 per farm while the rural farms could only manage $23,300 per farm in 2008.

Why then do these large commercial farms continue to be the recipients of such a disproportionate amount of American aid? Would it not seem that the small rural farmers, who are attempting to produce higher quality products, should gain more help from Washington? Aren’t politicians constantly lamenting the death of small businesses and the plight of independent entrepreneurs against the march of big business? Why, then, would they allow the majority of payments to go the largest producers, and therefore biggest profiteers and those who need the subsidies the least?

The answer, simply, lies in the power of the farm lobby–a farm lobby that does not protect the interests of farmers in general but only the interests of the biggest, industrial farms that can afford, with the help of American subsidies, to pour millions of dollars into their lobbying campaigns(http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/agriculture/subsidies). The farm lobby has always been strong, but now it is made up of the few who work for profit instead of the American population’s benefit. These subsidies, on a fairly small swath (such as corn, wheat, rice, soy, dairy, peantus and sugar, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agricultural_subsidy#United_States) hobble the ability of farmers to innovate and diversify their use of land. It leads to farmers all growing corn instead of one growing corn while the other grows spinach because the subsidy system inevitably makes corn more profitable for the farmer. The big companies encourage this because they control a vast majority of these subsidized fields and breeding houses, reducing their costs and increasing their profits, giving them more money to lobby and thus only continuing the waste of subsidy money poured into their pockets. The money of the taxpayer goes directly into the hands of a few extremely large corporations which are in almost no sense of the world farmers ((http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/agriculture/subsidies).
I thought the politicians wanted to protect the people against the powers of the rich? Do the politicians not have a responsibility to improve our lives, not detract from them? Are they not directly encouraging the degradation of the quality of our food and the pollution of our environment? Shouldn’t they instead encourage the return of small farms which can employ more workers and fewer machines?

Unfortunately this is another instance where the politicians follow the money instead of what is best for the country, something that is all too common in modern politics. If government is truly for the people, not the corporations, it should end this cycle of misused subsidies. Our generation, a generation of foodies, needs to bring this cycle to an end. We need to elect politicians who will serve our better good because in America our politicians are elected to try to improve our lives, not their pockets, and honestly, I thought this was America.

Part 4: Solutions

At this point it should be fairly obvious how disgusting the American food system has become. It pollutes the earth, produces low-quality, bad tasting, unhealthy food and is driven by a political machine tucked safely away in the pockets of giant “agricultural” companies. The system is so corrupted that one might argue it’s lost for good. How could we possibly begin to dismantle the behemoth wreaking havoc on our lives and nature? Unfortunately there is no single solution, and whatever the answer, Generation Y likely will have to adopt its behavior.

First and perhaps foremost we need to lower our meat addiction. The artificially low cost of mass produced meat in this country has been permitted by the ridiculous subsidy system that pays industrial meat farmers and packers to behave so irresponsibly. There is absolutely no reason that a hamburger, or any meat, should be less expensive than a salad or fresh vegetables and fruits. This unbalance, where heavily processed foods that use primarily subsidized ingredients are cheaper than their fresh healthy counterparts, contributes an enormous amount to the high obesity rate of Generation Y. People simply are able to get more food for their money when they buy McDonalds or potato chips instead of going to a market to buy vegetables for dinner. It’s simple economics; the meat makes more monetary sense.

The cheap subsidized, hyper-processed products of America has made us addicted to meat. We eat more meat per person than any other country and have it almost every day, if not with every meal. Meat has never before in history been an everyday experience. It used to be reserved for the rich or for the special occasion. Meat was eaten in small amounts and acted almost as an accompaniment to the starches, legumes, vegetables and fruits of the dish. It is not healthy to eat meat every day. It has been linked consistently to the rise of heart disease, obesity and cancer problems in American youth. It’s neither healthy for us or the environment.

As a foodie and former chef I can say with authority that meat is not necessary at every meal, and when it is present it certainly should not dwarf the other components of the meal unless it is a special occasion. Instead, it ought to work as a flavoring to lentils or rice. The plate should have a proportionate amount of what we call side dishes to the actual meat. If more families were to follow this method than the insane one steak per person rule, then more people could afford to buy higher quality, natural meat. We need to rid ourselves of the notion that meat is a requirement for a meal. Meat is a privilege and should be treated as such.

There is no reason for meat to be less expensive than vegetables. I have always marveled at American restaurants that charge eight dollars for a salad and five for a chicken sandwich. In a similar light, vegetables at the grocery store should not cost more per pound than ground beef (to be honest you should not even consider eating mass produced ground beef, but that is another story). Yes eating less meat or higher quality meat will be more expensive and will drive up the cost of meat, but this is a necessary side effect of a healthy food system. Meat must be more expensive than vegetables.

As mentioned previously, much of the reason for the low cost of meat and processed foods that use the subsidized crops, such as corn or soy, is the political power of the massive companies who control these agricultural products. These companies are able to  lobby the government successfully to avoid oversight while reaping the benefits of an unfair subsidy system. The lack of oversight allows these companies to operate in an industrial manner while having the limited government oversight of an agricultural company.

With the lack of oversight the companies can skirt environmental and animal rights concerns. They stack animal upon animal in indoor cages where they can barely move, let alone live a happy life. This keeps the cost of production down because it minimizes land use and saves the time of herding and watching the animals. These veritable meat plants are disease and waste ridden, yet there is little governmental oversight as to how this vile waste is disposed. The massive quantities of animal feces, and the exorbitant amount of chemicals used to grow crops, spill into our water systems and rivers causing untold environmental damage. The animal waste, at the same time, contributes massively to the amount of methane in the air, which has been proven to increase Global Warming. The government needs to stop pretending these industrial plants are in any normal sense agricultural and put them under the same scrutiny as they would a nuclear plant.

In the same political breath, the subsidy system needs to be obliterated. How can a system that favors the large and already rich farms over the smaller, less profitable ones make any sort of sense? Food subsidies should surely exist but in a more universal manner so that all foods are subsidized and only the farms who need subsidization receive it.

Just as American politics need to move away from the support of megafarms so do the American people. Support your local farms. Go to the farmer’s markets. Eat locally as often as possible. The more people demand local, natural food, the more economically feasible it will become. There is little reason that America could not harness a system of small, family farms to feed the population as happens in Europe. The only problem, conceivably, is the size of America, where our populations are heavily concentrated in coastal cities. We need the middle states to produce enough food for all, which might lead one to assume large farms are the only answer, but there might be alternatives.

If high speed rail were to be developed sufficiently so that one could travel from Nebraska to the coast in a matter of hours, more small farmers would have the ability to work where there is plenty of land and still sell their high quality products on the coasts.

Another solution could be rooftop gardens in cities. These could provide fresh fruits and vegetables to city residents who might have trouble otherwise finding such staples to the human diet. These are certainly not perfect solutions, nor are they the only ones, but what is certain is that the power of the megafarms either needs to be diminished or radically altered.

Generation Y, we are supposed to be the progressive generation. We recognize the dangerous state of our environment, and we strive to be healthier than any other generation. We are self-defined foodies who pay attention to our food and have vaulted the chef to celebrity status. If food is so important to us, then we should act like it and give our crumbling food system a renaissance. Food is what keeps us alive, is it not? Are we not a country obsessed with food? Should we not, therefore, pay scrupulous attention to where our food comes from and how it is handled? I’m sorry for this rant, but I thought this was America.

Protect America’s Tolerant Society

Eric Waters, Columnist

Muslims are not America’s enemies. Not all of them desire to bring down all that America represents. The vast majority of them are peaceful and want a better tomorrow for everyone.

That being said, I find that we increasingly live in a world where Muslim extremists can dictate political, and in some cases even personal, decisions made in this country. Think about that for a second. Are we really free to do what we want? Or does the threat of terrorism so pervasively invade our minds that we must consider it before making any choices?

While it would be completely deplorable to burn a Qur’an, the Bible or the American flag, we, as American citizens, are entitled to a sacred right of free speech that allows us to express ourselves perhaps at the cost of the comfort of others. Florida pastor, Terry Jones, eventually canceled a Qur’an burning event due to this hovering threat. Even though the burning was his own protest to the mosque at Ground Zero, Jones had to call of his program for fear of the extremists’ retaliation against people half-way across the world (not to mention the potential threat against his own life). I am in no way supporting or condoning what he proposed, and it was no doubt a provocative and emotionally charged idea, but I’ll be damned if it is not within his right to protest in this way. It was the proper decision to abandon the event, not because of the threat of retaliation or how offensive the act may have been to some, but simply because it was the right thing to do. In short, America is a country that remains tolerant of certain behaviors it does not actually support.

These types of threats cannot escape even the comic, pop-culture world. In an episode of the animated Comedy Central show South Park, an attempt to include a depiction of Muhammad sparked outrage and uproar. The creators of the show, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, take on all types of controversial issues, a cartoon depiction of Muhammad being no exception. However, when the episode was set to air, Comedy Central edited it and removed all mentions of Muhammad. This edit happened for fear of retaliation, as one extremist group threatened that Stone and Parker would suffer the same fate as Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker murdered for his depiction of Muhammad.

This is not the first time that there has been controversy surrounding a Muhammad depiction. A Seattle Weekly cartoonist, Molly Norris, went into post-assassination-threats hiding just weeks after drawing a satirical cartoon calling for a “Draw Muhammad Day.” There also were murder plots against Danish cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, whose depiction of Muhammad with a ticking bomb in his turban essentially began the cartoon controversies. Again, we see societies that normally would be tolerant of such actions caving to the threats of Muslim extremists.

The line is drawn. Will we live in a world of tolerance or will we live in a world where simply drawing a cartoon can come with calls for your life? Is this the kind of threatening environment in which we want to live? The evidence is overwhelming to support the notion that our freedom of speech and democratic beliefs are under attack.

And where does this end? It is well known that the Muslim extremists disagree with almost every aspect of the American way of life. So, what do we do when they decide to start threatening Americans for something in which more of us may be involved, when voting or attending a church or synagogue will spark calls for retaliation?

Will we forfeit those rights as well and fold to their threats of violence? So, how do we confront Muslim extremism in an area where they have clearly succeeded? The answer is not simple.

I’ll start by drawing a distinction between confrontation in the theater of war and confrontation in the theater of ideas. The United States is currently involved in several military campaigns to confront Muslim extremism, but militaries have boundaries–physical or otherwise. (I want to clarify that I am in no way belittling the work and sacrifice of so many of our service men and women, I agree with much that has been done militarily. My point, instead, is that this fight is two-pronged.) There is another front in this fight that resides in the theater of ideas, and it starts right at home with you!

Ideas do not have boundaries. We must show the Muslim world that the idea of tolerant societies leads to more freedom and success, that the idea of tolerance and understanding leads to less confrontation not more. This is how we ultimately crush a Muslim extremism based on fear and brutal enforcement of their own twisted ideology.

Generation Y, we are growing up in a dangerous world and we have two choices: We can bow to the demands of these Muslim extremists and voluntarily surrender our rights one by one until we have none left, or we can stand up to the intimidation. Our country’s defiant saying has always been “don’t tread on me.” Why start allowing anyone to do so now?

Narcissus Bows, but Only to See Himself

James Di Palma-Grisi, Columnist

After reading a few articles about Gen Y and the workplace, I have come to the conclusion that the system of beliefs Gen Y seems to have is reminiscent of a single factor: elevated expectations. Like a banker in heat, the entire Generation seems to believe itself important, perhaps to a narcissistic degree, and capable of enacting dramatic change on the workforce.

An NPR article entitled “It’s up to you, New York (And Job Growth)” tells the story of Tsivia Finman, a 24-year-old college graduate with a life-threatening illness and without health insurance, looking for a job in New York. In January 2009, Finman moved to New York with two degrees, two grand and one plan: live in New York City looking for a job until there is only enough money left to buy a one-way flight back to Michigan.

“You always think, ‘I’ll find that job, I’ll find that job,’ which is why I didn’t apply for Medicaid earlier,” she explains. “It’s like something is gonna come along, I’ll have that work, but you can not do what I’m doing. It’s playing with fire, and it’s scary. It’s scary.”

As we learn from the article, Finman eventually applies for Medicaid, accepting the fact that her own health is more important than her fierce desire to believe things will turn out well for her. Medicaid seems to be a denouement of sorts, her admission that the world will not bend to her call and that she must rely on others for her own safety and health. But, crucially, she shows no signs of remorse; she knows full well that you “can not do what [she’s] doing,” and yet she continues to play with fire.

Call me crazy, but if I knew something wasn’t working, I would return well in advance of my money running out completely. I may sound like a miniature Andy Rooney, but Finman’s situation strikes me with a cyclical quality. We’ve heard the mythic American Dream stories of ages past, of foreigners coming to America believing that the streets are paved with gold only to immigrate to a country without mobility. We’ve heard these stories, and we know their falsities. But it seems that we, for all our talk of breaking the mold and improving everything, are falling into the same traps as our forebears, and are every bit as unaware.

Take Barack Obama for instance. We all thought he would bring a generational uprising against the traditional moralities surrounding Washington and business in the United States. We believed he would end wars, change the way the country saw itself and the way it was perceived abroad. What does that idealism remind you of? The student groups of the 1930s, 1960s and 1980s, perhaps? It is possible that someone could trace that attitude back to the revolutions of early modern Europe or the American Revolution. Of course, Obama—with Congress—passed several pieces of landmark legislation, but the shining future that was promised (I don’t care how many “lowerings of expectation” there were, the promises rang visionary for many listening) never materialized. But then, it never does. Nor should it be expected for the workplace.

And yet, there is Tsivia Finman (and probably thousands, maybe millions, more like her), bringing us, however abruptly, to narcissism. In the 1950s, 12 percent of teenagers queried thought of themselves as important. By the late 1980s, that number had risen to 80 percent. There is so much talk of Generation Y’s (and Obama’s) pragmatic idealism, an ideology allowing us simultaneously to work for the ideal and to achieve the best somehow rationally. Perhaps narcissism really ought to be added to the equation.

“Emerging Adulthood” or Emerging Hypothesis?

James Di Palma-Grisi, Columnist

If there is one thing psychologists do regularly, it is disagree with one another quite publicly about their pet theories (many of which, of course, later make it into the mainstream). The “emerging adulthood” hypothesis seems to be one of those contentious claims.

On August 18th, the New York Times Magazine published a widely read and widely responded-to article, “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” in which Robin Marantz Henig presents psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett’s movement to view the 20s as a distinct life stage.

Just as adolescence has its particular psychological profile, Arnett says, so does emerging adulthood: identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between and a rather poetic characteristic he calls “a sense of possibilities.” A few of these, especially identity exploration, are part of adolescence too, but they take on new depth and urgency in the 20s. The stakes are higher when people are approaching the age when options tend to close off and lifelong commitments must be made. Arnett calls it “the age 30 deadline,” Robin Marantz Henig reports in the New York Times Magazine.

Adolescence was recognized as a developmental stage in itself only recently in psychological history. Before such recognition, it was assumed that children were transformed instantly into adults. In one of my psychology lectures, the professor said, “Children are not little adults” and pointed out that neither are teenagers.

This, of course, is based in decades of biological science, during which gender-specific hormones propagate throughout the body, and key brain structures develop and mature. The prefrontal cortex, the brain area associated with decision-making and weighing long-term consequences among other functions, continues to mature until an indeterminate age.

With that in mind, adolescents certainly are doing both—growing from experience and developing naturally—whereas it is unclear what the 20-to-30 year-olds are doing. “Never trust anyone over 30” may be a catchy maxim, but those under 30 certainly are not in the same identical chock boxes either. The question is whether those closer to the dreaded marker are identical to those 10 or 20 years past it. If the hormones unleashed with adolescence change the mind and body of the adolescent, must there not be a similar change—similar in magnitude—for the designation of a new stage?

I find it strange that the stages of adolescence—the physical stages—are so well defined, whereas the perpetual development of the prefrontal cortex constitutes a novel stage in itself. It may be that such a continuous change may constitute its very own stage: adulthood. After the maturation of the emotional brain, which manifests in the many outbursts of adolescence, those outbursts subside a few years later, age depending, and they do not manifest after that unless under “normal” circumstances in which anyone would show emotion.

That transition, between adolescence and the next phase, is marked and observable. The notion of a somewhat arbitrary cutoff between 20 and 30, say, seems just that—an arbitrary cutoff. Would it be presumptuous to assume that an otherwise healthy cohort of overachieving 20-somethings would be their own sample, and their emotional health and occupational satisfaction reliable indicators? At that point, and at the risk of sounding Medieval, it seems that the difference between those in the phase and those outside it is the degree to which those outside have made up their minds about what to do. And if that is the case, the stage is not a stage at all, but rather a constant, apparently unyielding development of the prefrontal cortex throughout observed adulthood.

Also, if “emerging adulthood” was indeed a phase, it always should have been observable the way adolescence always has been. The characteristics of adolescence are more or less universally observable, whereas the characteristics of “emerging adulthood” are dependent on how many questions and how many jobs a person holds within 10 years, it seems. Of course, I am not a psychologist, but I believe we can be skeptical of these rather simplistic judgments about our cohort made by outside observers using highly questionable metrics to establish their claims.

Arnett’s push for “emerging adulthood” seems to use the same reason that a poll based on a short questionnaire would declare, “Millenials eager to change world!” Simply holding a large number of jobs doesn’t mean automatically that someone is indecisive or questioning. It may be reflective of an awful economy (which Henig mentions in her article) or multiple interests, rather than a vague sense of possibility. For instance, say I am interested in materials science and constitutional law, to take two polar opposites—would it be all that unreasonable for me to hold a different job each summer, followed by two internships, one in each field? Does that justify creating a new stage of psychological development?

Then, the inevitable question—what does this mean for us? In my analysis, it means we are a generation unafraid to question our own interests, but not relegated only to questioning those interests. It very well may be that the period of questioning is a more general period of exploration, with the questions being asked and the opportunities being taken; the two are not mutually exclusive. The typical period of exploration and questioning may be just a period, not a discrete psychological phase, no matter how tempting the prospect of institutionalizing and codifying the actions of the young.

As a generation unafraid to question our own interests, we can avoid the rueful careerists’ lament: that they chose the wrong field or simply wish they had done something else. We also can avoid the less pernicious, but perhaps more directly annoying, result of wishing to have explored something else—“I wish I had given it a shot”—and in so doing put our future frustrations to rest. In this regard, we can continue this “frustration saving” by banking our presumed primary interest for now in anticipation of having tried it for later periods of second-guessing. It would seem that the second-guessing now saves second-guessing later, when the options are all but permanently closed.

We should do the same with our politics; Exploring that socialistic or libertarian streak to see how it fits, or try on the jacket of the more plausible enemy. Democrats should become temporary Republicans to see whether, if their positions were true, their own beliefs would change. Then, and only then, should we make a judgment of our own beliefs.

Assume for a moment that rent control really did cause housing shortages, and work backward. Why could this be? Could the market explanation that lower prices cause people who can otherwise afford only to live together to live separately? If so, are there less open apartments for the people who otherwise would pool their funds? Then, ask yourself if that is plausible. It is no different than pursuing parallel protocareers in medicine and Kazakh culture, trying each on to see how agreeable it is to your present configuration.

If flexibility truly is our forte, then we are uniquely positioned—and perhaps more favorably positioned than the polls may present us to be—to solve the complicated problems for which ideology constantly fails to provide answers. If we can behave as the “policy mandarins” of the Obama Administration, regardless of your existing frame of reference, and examine the data as it is instead of how it would be if it was more stylish and immediately comprehensible, we may find ourselves inheritors of an ugly mess that we can, with enough sustained effort, solve and, in so doing, improve the world, as we apparently are so eager to do.

An Interest Group of Its Own

James Di Palma-Grisi, Columnist

photo courtesy of Wall Street Journal

The Pew Research Center polled Americans in late August on the response to the Ground Zero Mosque, a YMCA-like structure planned for construction near the World Trade Center site. Interestingly, the poll found that 51 percent of their respondents agreed that the mosque should be built somewhere else, while 62 percent of those same respondents agreed that Muslims should have the same rights as other Americans when building religious centers in local communities. The other option for those 62 percent was “local communities should be able to prohibit construction of mosques if they do not want them.”

Such strange behavior.

While the statistics reported here’s sources did not provide the demographics of respondents, I cannot help but assume that Millenials did not compile most of the poll’s respondents’ make up. Generation Y tends to agree with itself regardless of party or social beliefs on issues like the environment and the Iraq War. Before Obama’s election, a Peanut Labs poll of people aged 18-29 years old found that 89.5 percent of Generation Y support alternative fuels, and 80.5 percent, in accordance, support climate regulation. Following this rather liberal trend, 75.6 percent want to end the Iraq War, and 68.6 percent want to end it immediately and bring the troops home.

While these statistics admittedly are outdated, the broad agreement manifests itself—not only among Gen Y’ers themselves, but between issues as well. Considering how divided the rest of the country is on these issues, there seems to be a solid consistency characteristic of Generation Y.

If the numbers are to be believed, Gen Y has its opinions in order and is unified on some national concerns. Given such strong, single-minded stances on other issues, we can only assume there is some convocational factor that informs Gen Y beyond media and partisanship. I would venture to guess that since the generation appears anti-dogmatic and self-centered—according to a USA Today poll, 81% say “to be rich” is the goal of the generation; 51% say “getting famous;” 30% say “to help those who need it”—the generation will believe in a civil libertarian solution allowing the mosque.

This, of course, is conjecture awaiting confirmation or denial.