Friday, December 12, 2014

Olivia Fan Final Paper

Olivia Fan
Seminar in Comp.
Edward Abbey Writer or Anthropologist: A Critical Look at the ways in Witch Abbey Constructs Himself in “Desert Solitude”
Edward Abbey’s novel “Desert Solitude” may just seem like a well-put together polished journal that catalogues his time spent in Arches national park, but it is important to acknowledge Abbey wrote this book to serve a greater purpose. In the introduction to this novel Abbey reminds readers that although much of it is based on the time he spent in arches the desert serves as a “medium” not the subject of the book. Abbey’s goal in desert of solitude is to take a step back and observe humanity and culture in relation to nature. To make himself seem credible Abbey composes himself to have desirable characteristics of a successful anthropologist. His novel, composed of both fictional and true events, works to highlight the qualities that make him an anthropologist and omit the qualities that don’t. The final product, when compared to an actual book of anthropological work, observe culture in similar ways to achieve a final conclusion. I will be putting in parallel “Desert Solitude” and a book I read for my pop-cluture class “Righteous Dopefiends”. Both were composed to get across very similar messages.
“Righteous Dopefieds” Is a book written by Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg cataloging the 12 years they spent with the Edgewater Homeless community. This community, based in San Francisco, is full of heroine addicts that all make camp together under the highway overpasses. It consists of interviews, field notes, and pictures from there time spent there. It also talks about larger issues such as treatment, changes in the demographic of San Francisco, legal action, and education that tie into the community of homeless.
In order to observe Edward Abbey as and anthropologist we must first understand what an anthropologist is. Anthropology is a social science that studies humans both past and present. It draws upon the natural sciences by studying the evolution of the species and how they human behavior and evolution varies between different groups of humans. It also draws on social sciences by discussing the organization of Humans in culture, institutions, and social conflict. We will be looking at the Sociocultural branch of Anthropology. These are the people who try and pick out and interpreted a culture through these seven characteristics layed out by Omohundro in his article “Think like an Anthropologist”,
“1.Cultures are integrated
  2. Cultures are products of history.
  3. Cultures can be changed, and they can cause change.
  4. Cultures are strengthened by values.
  5. Cultures are powerful determinants of behavior.
  6. Cultures are largely composed and transmitted by symbols.
  7. Human culture is unique in complexity and variability” (Omohundro 36).
Sociocultural Anthropologists are the ones we think of traveling to far off destinations into the field and living within a culture for years. Omohundro goes on in his article about the parameters and definition of culture. He says, “…not only does culture provide guidance on what to do, how to do it, and when, but culture also predicts and interprets what others will do and say” (Omohundro 28). This prediction of behavior is what makes a culture’s values clear through a consistent pattern.
Abbey constructs himself as an anthropologist both through spiritual separation and physical separation of himself from humanity. These are important characteristics in an Anthropologist that allows culture to be observed objectively and without much prejudice. In the beginning of his book he says, “Why I went [to Arches] no longer matters what I found there is the subject of this book” (Abbey xi). By not sharing with us his background Abbey’s life to readers is perceived to just start in the desert. Without prior knowledge of his life in humanity he becomes separated from humanity and our culture. From then on we think of Abbey as a foreigner exploring our culture, and viewing it as objectively as possible. He also doesn’t talk about his family at all during his book even though he was a father. It seems like a large part of your life to exclude. The Abbey we know is totally disconnected from any past in humanity. This cultural distance is admired in anthropologist. Anthropologists have to find the perfect balance of being close enough to observe the culture yet distant enough that you don’t disturb it or become too involved in it. These will hurt the credibility of the study because you could affect the culture or the culture could affect your objectivity. In “Righteous Dopefiends” the anthropologists described the struggle to stay both objective and find the right balance of involvement and relationship needed to properly observe the community. They say, “At first, we felt overwhelmed, irritated, and even betrayed by the frequent and often manipulative requests for favors, spare change, and loans of money. We worried about distorting our relationships by becoming patrons and buying friendship to obtain our research data. At the same time, we had to participate in a moral economy to avoid being ostracized by the network…we had to learn, therefore, not to take their petty financial manipulations personally, and refrain from judging them morally. Otherwise, we could not have entered their lives respectfully and empathetically” (Bourgois and Schonberg 6). They talk about the relationship between them and the community. On one hand they had to make sure they didn’t disrupt or muddle their relationship as observer and observed, yet on the other they needed to partake in order to stay in the community and not be “ostracized”. The balance allows them to be objective and more open to the community.  Abbey does some of the same things when describing the Cowboys and Indians. Abbey works as a rancher with the cowboy. He observes them and their lives yet he leaves little impact. He is able to observe the changes in them. Abbey states they are “dying off or transforming them selves by tortuous degrees into something quite different. The originals are nearly gone and will soon be lost forever in the overwhelming crowd” (Abby 111). He explains that cowboys have given in to the new “mechanized and automated”(109) food market. Although he is very opinionated on the subject it is clear he does not express this opinion to the actual cowboys. We realize he is no longer involved in their lives after studying them when he starts to fantasize what became of them.
            Edward Abbey continues to separate himself even more from culture and humanity through his spirituality. A good chunk of the book focuses on Abbey’s mysticism. He tends to mock the more traditional ideas of religion in his book in favor of something more natural. He describes the Glen Canyon as “Eden, a portion of the earth’s original paradise” (Abbey 152). He then goes on to describe what he means by paradise by saying, “…when I write of paradise I mean Paradise, not the banal Heaven of the saints.  When I write ‘paradise’ I mean not only apple trees and golden women but also scorpions and tarantulas and flies, rattlesnakes and Gila monsters, sandstorms, volcanoes and earthquakes, bacteria and bear, cactus, yucca, bladderweed, ocotillo and mesquite, flash floods and quicksand, and yes –disease and death and the rotting of flesh” (Abbey 167). His paradise is Natures course and the circle of life that is independent of Humanity’s take over. Comparing that to typical ideas about Eden being free of death and a paradise of total bliss and innocents it reminds me of a poem called “In the Garden” by Sheryle St. Germain. It’s about Turkey vultures. She explains, “They were vegetarian then. There were no roadside kills, 
no bones to pick, no dead flesh to bloom, ripen.
And they were happy.
They could not imagine
what they would become” (Germain Verse 2-3). Abbey would love the Vultures as scavengers and not believe they were ever vegetarian even in the garden. Abbey respects nature the way it is because he believes everything is full filling a role. He is not disgusted by death and carnage. Abbeys spiritual beliefs also show a reluctance to identify with humanity. After seeing the dam built at Glen Canyon he has to think of himself as separate from humanity to fight off self-loathing. Although he admits he cannot perfectly separate himself from humanity and become part of the desert it is not for lack of trying. He says in the beginning of the book that he would risk everything including himself for nature.
But what are the goals of Anthropologists? Why did Abbey need to seem so smart, critical, and objective? Why did he need to be taken seriously? There is in fact a more specific reason behind the choice of “Righteous Dopefiends” as the book I compare to Abbey. “Righteous Dopefiends” is a Grey Zone study. Grey Zone was a term first used to describe anthropological work being done in concentration camps created by the Nazis. When studying these camps they looked at the authority figures in the system. They looked at Nazis, and the hierarchy within the camps, and more specifically the Jews who helped Nazis keep the others in check. It would be really easy to villainize these people, and many have, but by blaming them you alleviate the responsibility of other parties. Grey Zone means the blame is not black and white, and cant be placed on one or two groups of people. This work tries to identify the entire system of injustice in order to completely fix the issue. All of this is explained in “Righteous Dopefiends” and is a constant theme throughout the book. On specific example is happens when Scotty a member of the community dies of an overdose. Everyone in the Edgewater Community blames Petey, Scotty’s best friend, for his death. They believe that Petey didn’t do his best to revive Scotty, and that he wasn’t watching him close enough. But Bourgois and Schonberg beg the question “Who is the Killer?” (Bourgois and Schonberg 210). Bourgois and Schonberg say, “Perhaps by assigning individual blame for Scotty’s death, the Edgewater homeless were able to hide their anxiety over their own everyday vulnerability to accidental overdose” (Bourgois and Schonberg 212). By using Petey as a scapegoat they ignore the larger issues at play. They ignore the shift in the community to white collar jobs that made them homeless; they ignore Scotty’s complaints that he wasn’t being treated well enough at the hospital; they ignore the shift from treatment to criminalization of drugs; they ignore shifts in funding for their education about drugs that promotes only abstinence; they ignore the cycle of violence and addiction; they also ignore their own flaws and addiction. They think “Oh if I just avoid people like Petty who don’t have my back I’ll be fine” when that is not the case. The goal of Grey Zone work is to shine a light on all these systems that prevent communities like the Edgewater community from getting better. Edward Abbey is the same way. In his “field work” he identifies specific problems some witch seem very localized to the arches area. He talks about the tourist, and the greedy Shepard’s and miners, he talks about the dam the government builds in Glen Canyon, and the casinos and industrial ranching that take over the Indians and Cowboys. Yet he tells us he doesn’t blame them necessarily. He is sad for their loss, but he can acknowledge they are a part of a bigger system. Abbey in not saying save this one canyon, he’s not asking us to let the wolves eat our sheep, he’s not asking us to live in the desert all alone, and he’s not asking us to save just the cowboys. Abbey’s real asking us to acknowledge our culture and see it’s other side. Abbey is criticizing progress, something consumer culture is all about, because with that progress comes destruction. Omohundro would say our culture predicts this pattern of destruction. He would say it’s a “comfortable habit” (Omohundro 38). Abbey has described growth as cancerous in "Desert Solitude" and in some of his other pieces. Abbey is asking us to acknowledge nature and acknowledge the chaos we cause in it. He believes a bigger system is at play, and wants us to focus on the larger issue rather then the plethora of other smaller issues it causes. When talking about construction projects in national parts he dives deeper into the real issue of progress by saying, “Wilderness preservation, like a hundred other good causes, will be forgotten under the overwhelming pressure of a struggle for mere survival and sanity in a completely urbanized, completely industrialized, ever more crowded environment”(Abbey 52). You can see why in his eyes progress is cancerous, and why objectively from the perspective he creates, as an outsider to humanities strive for progress and as the voice of nature, progress is slowly killing us.
 The ending of “Desert Solitude” comes as a bit of a surprise. In the last chapter Abbey admits he is leaving the desert and returning for New York. He says, “After twenty-six weeks of sunlight and stars, wind and sky and golden sand, I want to hear once more the crackle of clamshells on the floor of the bar in the Clam Broth House in Hoboken. I long for a view of the jolly, rosy faces on 42nd Street and the cheerful throngs on the sidewalks of Atlantic Avenue… I grow weary of nobody’s company but my own” (Abbey 265). Why would Abbey include this ending when he simply could have left it out or written a new one? After all his work to construct his credibility why would he ruin with this end? The ending destroys the boundary that is necessary between an anthropologist and their work. Edward Abbey might not be the perfect anthropologist, but his ending is not uncommon in the field of anthropology. Often the most passionate anthropologist get too involved in the culture they are studying. It is obviously cautioned against and many need to make sure they develop self-reflexivity so they know when they need to step back. But it’s human nature and once in the while just like Abbey someone falls through the cracks. Abbeys mistake makes him believable and more relatable to us.
Edward Abbey’s work is loosely based off structures of Grey Zone studies. Although in the end he cannot remain perfectly objective he creates himself as an anthropologist throughout the whole book. He does this through a certain amount of created distance from humanity, he works to observe human culture as the outsider he has constructed himself to be, and in the end this serves as a way to get his point across to the readers by identifying the system of injustice we force upon nature. He wants us to understand it in our progressive culture that will ultimately end up failing not only nature, but also humanity.

Final Project/Essay

Brooke Kihle

Professor Johns

Seminar in Composition


Genetic Determinism is Incomplete

            Imagine specific characteristics that make you who you are, singularly determined by your genome. Your openness to new things, tendency to murder, or hair color are all created from specific genes woven together into your DNA. An individual’s DNA encodes our genome, which essentially is the instructions to how we develop and function- who we are- through a combination of genes and non-coding sequences of the DNA/RNA. This theory is classified as genetic determinism; the ideology that “who we are” is predetermined by our genome.  However, through modern research on genetically inherited diseases like BRCA1 (predisposition to breast cancer) and PKU (phenylketonuria) we can prove inaccuracies in modern science. Also, by understanding the limitations with current modern science like The Human Genome Project we further understand how incomplete genetic determinism is. Lewontin’s theories in Biology as an Ideology supports genetic determinism to be incomplete. There are environmental factors that also contribute to a human’s phenotype and genotype variation that complicates specific genetic inheritance. In, Lilith’s Brood, Butler shows the Oankali’s inaccuracies of the current human generation and through their misunderstandings tries to prove to the reader the inaccuracies of modern science. The Oankali’s misunderstandings on genetics are metaphorically shown by Akin and Jodahs, constructs from Oankali-human hybrid breeding, and their external and internal struggle. Butler uses the Oankali, representing the faults of modern science, shown by ideals of Lewontin and scientific research which offer a more complete solution for science institutions.

            First, it’s important to understand the science behind the theory of genetic determinism. In Biology as an Ideology, Lewontin explains the foundation of this theory stating, “organisms are nothing but the battle ground between the outside forces and the inside forces. Organisms are the passive consequences of external and internal activities beyond their control” (Lewontin109). This meaning genetic determinist believe our genetically inherited DNA solely creates our phenotype. This view states that we are separate from the outside world, the environment, and that we only interact but are not influenced by such environmental factors. Therefore, as individuals we are created by the “inside” forces-genotypes and explicitly separated from the “outside” forces that is our environment.

            However, there’s an argument to this theory that starts the conflict between “nature” and “nurture”. Genetic determinist are cleverly deemed the “nature” side of this conflict because of their belief that we are made up by our “nature”, our genome. Consequently, the “nurture” view supports environment significance in creating individuals. Lewontin’s theories explain that “nature” and “nurture” along with random variation create our phenotype. This supports the incompleteness of genetic determinism because both our genome and environmental factors contribute to create our overall phenotype and human characteristics. Picture it this way, when someone goes on trial, they present a case, explaining the situation and then a jury votes on their punishment. Let’s say a man killed his father (dramatic I know but I promise I’m trying to prove a point) and the lawyer presents his case, stating this man had a family history of bipolar disorder and his dad abused him as a child; which factors would influence the jury’s decision on his sentence? Both the man’s possible inheritance of bipolar disorder, traumatic childhood and emotional instability with his father all contribute into motives for reasons he killed his father. Now, of course this doesn’t make what he did right, I’m simply stating you can’t ignore one factor from another they both contribute to who this man is and why he killed his father. This can be brought back to explaining our phenotype, showing that as individuals we are made of both these genomic and environmental influences. Lewontin summarizes this theory stating, “History far transcends any narrow limitations that are claimed for either the power of genes or the power of the environment to circumscribe us. Like the House of Lords that destroyed its own power to limit the political development of Britain in the successive Reform Acts to which assented, so the genes, in making possible the development of human consciousness, have surrendered their power both to determine the individual and its environment” (Lewontin 123).  

            Other scientists support Lewontin’s theory through scientific research. “An individual’s phenotype is often as much a product of the environment as it is a product of the genotype” (Freeman, Quillan, & Allison 273). One example of environmental influence is seen through research on the genetically inherited disease phenylketonuria (PKU) which causes individuals to enzymatically convert phenylalanine to tyrosine. This results in an accumulation of phenylpyruvic acid which causes mental retardation. However, an individual who inherits this disease isn’t predetermined to have mental retardation; newborns can be tested for the disease and if identified early and placed on a low phenylalanine diet can develop normally. Thus individuals treated with PKU but develop into healthy adults prove that those with certain genetic disease are neither predetermined to their disease’s symptoms nor singularly controlled by their genes.

Also, research on the BRCA1, a genetically inherited predisposition to breast cancer, proves this theory to be true. Anyone with the defected gene increases their chance of getting breast cancer by 60-90%. However, having BRCA1 does not guarantee you will have breast cancer. There are possible solutions to curing an individual with breast cancer or avoiding the possibility of getting breast cancer altogether. For example, surgical procedures like a mastectomy- surgically removing the entire breast tissue can eradicate the possibility of getting the cancer as well as literally “cutting out” the cancer of those infected. Both these genetically inherited diseases represent how incomplete genetic determinism is. The individuals are controlled by both their genotype as well as environmental factors which ultimately contributed to their phenotype.

            With any scientific theory there’s opposition, in this case genetic determinist which correlates directly to the Oankali’s belief that they can genetically predetermine a hybrid human-Oankali offspring. The Oankali may be an alien species but their thought process isn’t too far from earth, many contemporary scientist follow the theory of genetic determinism with projects like the Human Genome Project (HGP). “HGP researchers have deciphered the human genome in three major ways: determining the order, or "sequence," of all the bases in our genome's DNA; making maps that show the locations of genes for major sections of all our chromosomes; and producing what are called linkage maps, complex versions of the type originated in early Drosophilaresearch, through which inherited traits (such as those for genetic disease) can be tracked over generations.” (National Human Genome Research Institution). The theory behind the HGP is to create a “blueprint” of the human genome with a goal to eventually use this “blueprint” and compare it to any individual’s genome. The HGP takes linkage mapping to determine if individual’s DNA has certain diseases or not. This meaning, they locate mutations on certain chromosomes for certain diseases and if the individual’s DNA has the same mutation in the same location than they have this disease. This essentially would determine every human’s genomic make-up and one could find out what disease they will inevitably acquire if not already have and other mutations and predispositions.

However, this has not yet been accomplished. The HGP still has a long way before being deemed completely scientifically accurate and precise. There are many misconceptions that go with the current state of the HGP as well. An article in the New York Times, My Genome, My Self, by Steven Pinker best describes these limitations, “Our genes are a big part of what we are. But even knowing the totality of genetic predictors, there will be many things about ourselves that no genome scan — and for that matter, no demographic checklist — will ever reveal”(Pinker).  Pinker was asked to participate in the project and got his genome sequenced (or as much of it as they could). Essentially the sequencing gave Pinker percentages of “who he was” like a higher chance of baldness therefore he should be bald and a low risk of prostate cancer therefore he won’t get prostate cancer in his lifetime. It is incorrect to state that the HGP is predetermining an individual’s personal and physical state because it simply can’t. Currently modern medicine and technology is nowhere near advance enough to accurately state that the HGP’s linkage mapping is defiant. Even if it were, they can only give a percentage, a likely hood of the outcome of these findings. “For some conditions, like Huntington’s disease, genetic determinism is simply correct: everyone with the defective gene who lives long enough will develop the condition. But for most other traits, any influence of the genes will be probabilistic. Having a version of a gene may change the odds, making you more or less likely to have a trait, all things being equal, but as we shall see, the actual outcome depends on a tangle of other circumstances as well” (Pinker).

Additionally, this same theory can be seen through the Oankali. The Oankali are described as having their own “blueprint” to predetermine and genetically modify a hybrid offspring population. However, this “blueprint” itself cannot possibly predetermine the outcome of the hybrid offspring. Overall this hybrid-human-Oankali population will have variations that cannot be known. Based off of scientific research like that of BRCA1 and PKU diseases we understand that such blueprints are inaccurate because they lack significant environmental factors that do contribute to a human’s genome. The Oankali’s in Lilith’s Brood represent modern scientists and their misconceptions of genetic determinism. Such projects like the HGP and Oankali’s “trading” to create a hybrid offspring population are limited because they do not account for other factors like the environment that are just as important as genetics when creating a human.

             The Oankali’s inaccuracies are subtly shown throughout Lilith’s Brood. “We used to treat animals that way, we did things to them inoculations, surgery, and isolation- all for their own good. It scares me to have people doing things to me that I don’t understand” (Butler 33). The Oankali do not account for psychological factors that greatly effect Lilith during her entrapment. “You shouldn’t have isolated any of us unless your purpose was to drive us insane. You almost succeeded with me more than once. Humans need one another” (Butler 19). They do not understand emotional and psychological aspects of humanity which limits their accuracy in reproducing with our genes. The Oankali’s ignorance is a metaphor for modern scientist’s own ignorance with genetics. The HGP has great consequences if modern scientist truly do believe in genetic determinism. The general knowledge of an individuals’ genome can be used against them, for example if someone is shown to have a gene of Huntington’s disease and this information is given out as public knowledge it will put the individual at a disadvantage, limiting their chances of getting good health care or a stable job because who wants to invest on someone who eventually won’t be able to control their own body (it’s a cruel world)?

 However, Butler does the very opposite of what the Oankali and genetic determinist eventually do to themselves; instead of loss of hope she instills it by using Akin and Jodahs to show the opportunity for better science. The Oankali are a metaphor for modern genetic determinist, where the Oankali fail to account for environmental factors so do modern scientist. Akin and Jodahs are symbolic of better scientific methods that can be used in the future. Butler instills hope in the Lilith’s Brood, first through Lilith’s hope for human survival and improvement, then by Akin’s acknowledgement of human change and tolerance and finally all put together by Jodahs’ adaptability and eventual compromise with both species to form a truly hybrid generation. It’s important to understand that a true hybrid generation would not be possible without Lilith, Akin and Jodahs.

Also, the Oankali were unprepared for the outcomes of Akin and Jodahs metamorphosis- their physical change into adulthood. Akin is a human-Oankali hybrid male who looks similar to human species which inevitably causes his capture from a group of human resisters- those who refuse to reproduce “trade” with the Oankali. After being released from confinement he continues to go back and visit the human resisters and forms emotional bonds with them. After Akin’s metamorphosis, all his physical similarities with the human species disappears. Instead of turning against Akin, the resisters show their ability to tolerate difference and change which leads Akin to advocate for the human’s to have their own independent lives on mars. The Oankali had no way of understanding let alone predetermining the psychological factors Akin went through as a construct. The transformation for Akin was literally both external and internal. Both these factors contributed to Akin’s ability to advocate for the human-only Mars population, as well as, save the hybrid-Oankali species.

Another misconception of the Oankali, was shown through Jodahs the first human-Ooloi construct. Jodahs was seen as very dangerous and unpredictable. The Oankali were even “surprised” to find that Jodahs could shape shift. This “unknown” scared the Oankali population and Jodahs (with Lilith and the rest of their family) was isolated in the deep parts of the woods. This cause Jodahs to become increasingly depressed, physically losing its “sense of self” turning into a sluggish-body creature. However, Jodahs physical shape-shifting eventually provided useful with his ability to seduce and save an inbred, fertile human community. This was the missing link to the Oankali-human connection. It catalyzed a connection for many humans to be able to accept their differences and join the Oankali-human families, while the fertile humans joined Akin’s human-only population on Mars.

The Oankali had many limitations when creating the hybrid offspring. A major factor that they never contributed was Akin’s and Jodahs’ psychological trauma of belonging to both species that were so unequal. Another factor, was Jodahs’ physical shape-shifting that was a completely knew physical trait for an Ooloi. Where the Oankali failed thus the genetic determinists fail- they cannot possibly precisely and scientifically contribute all the factors that make up the hybrid offspring. Butler uses the Oankali’s failure as inspiration for scientific prosper. Butler instills hope seen through Lilith’s own hope and the other humans who have survived that there is chance of improvement. Lilith is symbolic of hope whereas Akin of change, and Jodahs of proven solution. Lilith represents the incompleteness- hope for the Oankali to fail (which they did, some humans remained fertile) and humanity to grow. Akin represents their limiations- the humans could adapt to difference and accept where the Oankali deemed them incapable. Lastly, Jodahs is the better method, the adaptation, the fact that genetic determinism is incomplete and thus there are better solutions possible. Lewontin supports all of them because Lewontin supports the misconception of genetic determinism. “Perhaps they could find an answer to what the Oankali had done to them. And perhaps the Oankali were not perfect. A few fertile people might slip through and find one another. Perhaps learn and run! If she were lost, others did not have to be. Humanity did not have to be” (Butler 248).

            In conclusion, there are many beliefs as to what determines a human. The questions of what makes up our phenotype- our sense of style, problem solving skills and skin tone is constantly debated over science history. Many modern scientist like those creating the HGP believe in genetic determinism- that our genome is solely predetermined by our genetic inheritance. However, there is sound research like that of BRCA1 and PKU inherited diseases that prove this cannot be true. Environmental factors have such a significant role in what creates a human’s phenotype a simple conclusion has to be made- genetic determinism is incomplete. In Lilith’s Brood Butler uses the Oankali’s inaccuracies and misconceptions to portray the limitations of contemporary scientists. Lilith through her own hope instills to the reader hope for improvement. Akin, shows the ability for change and combined Jodahs shows there are solutions for better science methods.

Works Cited:

Butler, Octavia E. Dawn. New York: Integrated Media, n.d. Web

Freeman, Scott, et al. "Gene Structure and Expression." Biological Science. 5th
     ed. New Jersey: Parson Education Company, 2014. 237-304. Print.

Lewontin, R.C. Biology as Ideology. New York: HarperCollins Publishers; 1991. Print.

"An Overview of the Human Genome Project." National Human Genome Research
     Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <>.

Final Project

Meaghan Duffy
Final paper
Professor Adam Johns

The Threat of Individuality

Individuality distinguishes one existence from another.  The phenomena of individuality allows for a desire within each person to create and persevere due to unique passion and intelligence.  Distinctiveness and a loud identity, much different from the social norm, is more prone to a few disapproving stares, but it will be the reason for change and advancement.  As Steve Jobs so famously said, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” 

A dramatic transition in values can be linked back to the early 20th century, to the era famously known as The Roaring Twenties.   During this time, trends became a prevalent part of society; people who strived to prevent exclusion reached out to conformity in attempt to stay relevant.  Before World War I, the country remained culturally and psychologically rooted in the nineteenth century, but in the 1920s America seemed to break its wistful attachments to the recent past and usher in a more modern era” (Zeitz).  After a wartime recession caused by severe hyperinflation around the world, the economy boomed in the decade following WWI.  A Progressive Era accompanied by advances in technology, growth in big business and a thriving banking system, created an economic boom, leaving Americans with much disposable income to spend on luxuries.  During this time, the credit card was invented, which provoked spoiled Americans to participate in unnecessary extravagant spending in order impress their neighbors.  The 1920’s will forever be defined as, “…flappers and dance halls, movie palaces and radio empires, and Prohibition and speakeasies” (Zeitz).  During this time, dresses became shorter, brighter and lighter. New fabrics were experimented with and designer brands became a desire and indicator of worth and wealth.  In this decade, the risk takers of society were born.  Flappers prized style over substance, novelty over tradition, and pleasure over virtue’ (Ferentinos).  They cut their hair and shortened their dresses above the knee.  They flirtatiously danced with men and participated in illegal drug use.  These women were rebels against the expectations to settle down and to stay obedient housewives, and they used fashion and popular trends to get this message across.  Since this time, how a woman or man presents him or herself externally, sends a strong message about wealth, worth, values and morals.  Each individual is immediately tagged and labeled as being a certain kind of person solely based on what he or she has draped over his or her body.  If a man is not participating in the latest blazer trend or sporting his Oakley sunglasses, he is considered irrelevant, and he is disregarded.   

What is the point of rebellion if conforming is easier?  In the 1950s, following America’s victory in World War II, a wave of comfort swept across our country.  The returning veterans presumed their home jobs, which allowed their wives to escape the factories and return to their household duties.  Following the conclusion of the war, there was a major shift in production from war materials to consumer goods.  Due to this victory, the United States was considered a super power, promoting a time of peace and prosperity.  The values of capitalism were rekindled, and this was made possible by the revolutionary invention of the television.  Serving as the perfect median, television commercials provided the people with an insight into the idea life.  This ideal life, promoted by advertisements, included a cute house in the suburbs, a white picket fence and a carload of children.  In hopes of being socially accepted, many people gave into this advertised conformity.

Along with the promoted idea of conformity, there existed a group of rebels who initiated The Beat Generation.  This movement was lead by a group of disgruntled poets and writers whom were disgusted with the newfound modern social structure and widespread consumer attitude.  The Beat Generation was never a large movement in terms of sheer numbers, but in influence and cultural status they were more visible than any other competing aesthetic” (Rahn).  Allen Ginsberg, a prominent author of The Beat Generation, published his work Howl in 1956.  Howl targeted the average Americans who were unaware of the constant corruption and hardships surrounding them.  This poem shown light on the parts of the country that weren’t all safe smiles and sheltered bliss but instead the parts that were struggling to stay alive.  Ginsberg explicitly gets his point across, stating, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix” (Ginsberg).  This poem by Ginsberg strives to draw attention to the social issues of drug use, starvation, pornography, poverty and racism. It emphasizes that ignorance and escaping to the suburbs are not acceptable remedies for these debilitating problems.  Although The Beat Generation was scolded and continuously insulted for being non-intellectual, “time has proven that the cultural impact of the Beat writers was far from short-lived, as the influence of their work continues to be widespread” (Rahn).  The Beat Generation was responsible for decreasing censorship in literature and highly increasing attention on environmentalism.

            In Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood, a foreign society is clashed with a group of earthlings.  When Lilith, an American human, first comes into contact with Jdahya, disgust, nerves and fright automatically overcome her.  “The unknown frightened her… She did not want to be any closer to him.  She had not known what held her back before.  Now she was certain it was his alienness, his difference, his literal unearthliness” (Butler, 13).  The American way has taught people to become nervous and entirely closed off when it comes to the presence of the unknown.  Americans have been brought up egotistically and arrogantly in a way that discourages the acceptance and study of new culture.  When Jdahya introduces his people’s motives to Lilith he states, “We’re bot hierarchical, you see.  We never were.  But we are powerfully acquisitive.  We acquire new life- seek it, investigate it, manipulate it, sort it, use it” (Butler, 41).  The Oanklali people have a deep desire to constantly and consistently renew themselves, enabling them to evolve and survive as a species.  They choose to change rather than to fall into, “extinction or stagnation” (Butler, 40).  Jdahya strives to explain to Lilith the obvious flaws of mankind explaining that, “If they had been able to perceive and solve their problems, they might have been able to avoid destruction” (Butler, 38).  The mere existence of war as a concept, where humans kill and destroy life to somehow enhance other life, is an absurd assumption that only a highly flawed species could ever believe is sufficient.  The Oankali species blame humankind’s downfall on, “two incompatible characteristics.”  Jdahya says, “You are intelligent… You are hierarchical.  When human intelligence served [hierarchy] instead of guiding it, when human intelligence did not even acknowledge it as a problem, but took pride in it or did not notice it at all…”(Butler, 39), that’s when it became obvious that the two were in conflict with each other. 

In Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit, Leslie Marmon Silko describes the lifestyle of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico. The Pueblo people value the individual, focusing their judgments on behavior rather than physical beauty.   Silko says, “Younger people, people my parents’ age, seemed to look at the world in a more modern way.  The modern way includes racism (Silko, 10).”  The Pueblo people, “looked at the world very differently; a person’s appearance and possessions did not matter nearly as much as a person’s behavior.  For them, a person’s value lies in how the person interacts with other people, how that person behaves toward the animals and the earth (Silko, 10).”  According to them, a common maker relates all things, all people and all animals upon creation.  There is no proper and improper, favored or disfavored, because everything in this universe is created for an intended balance that is necessary to create harmony and peaceful flow.  Silko, as a young child, was taught by her grandmother to be proud of her confidence and strength because such qualities made her beautiful and valuable.  “To the Pueblo way of thinking, the act of comparing one living being with another was silly, because each being or thing is unique and therefore incomparability valuable because it is the only one of its kind (Silko, 11).”  Among their culture, there was no social ladder that could be influenced by choice of clothing.  The Pueblo people value physical differences that would be pitied in our culture.  What we ostracize, they celebrate.  “Persons born with exceptional physical or sexual differences were highly respected and honored because their physical differences gave them special positions as mediators between this world and the spirit world (Silko, 12).”  Silko tells a story about the hunchbacked medicine man who was seen as a universal healer and of much importance in their culture; he was not labeled as disabled and less capable as he would have been in modern American culture.  One should not feel worthy of formulating another’s full life story based on his or her physical attributes.  Accepting individuality, as seen within the Pueblo culture, allows for confidence, which stimulates action.

Some critics may argue that individuality allows for chaos and too much room for feuding interpretations and strong disapproval.  The coddlers of this world will say that paying attention to the differences among a group creates an environment of unfairness and discourages the shy minded of the world.  These are the same people that support the mandate of uniforms so their school is recognized as a conformed group rather than a dense area of uniquely specialized individuals.  A sea of gray pants and sweaters roaming a hallway in unison makes it almost impossible for the brilliant stylist and the obscure minds to express their passions and desires on the blank canvas of their bodies.  When humans are unable to express their essence externally, they are less likely to express themselves verbally.  Further, the figureheads of a capitalistic society such as our own are easily spooked by the idea that an uncontrolled, non-manipulated mind can change the world in a favorable way.  People are scared of individuality because there is a possibility of unexpected brilliance in a non-typical member of society. 

When the topic of celebrating the individual is brought up in a friendly environment, many people will claim to agree with this.  These are the same people who will shoot dirty looks at the female with a buzz cut, or will be reluctant to join in on a fight for a cause that they believe in.  These people hold back in fear of rocking the boat.  Such people are entirely hypocritical and completely unaware of the meaning.  When individuals religiously practice conformity and uniformity out of worry that they will stand out in a negative light, yet still preach individuality, they are once again falling into a trend.  Conformists are scared to feel discomfort.  They practice uniformity so that no child is left behind.  While this keeps every child up to date, it also works to prevent the star pupils from shining.  The exact reason for a bell curve in an academic system is to condense the test takers into an average.  For decades, this nation has catered toward the average Joe.  We condemn the overachievers and pity the underachievers, celebrating the masses that don’t draw too much attention their way.  We do this because we’re petrified of being left behind. 

Work Cited:
 Ferentinos, Susan. "Flapper." The Ultimate History Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.

Zeitz, Joshua. "The Roaring Twenties." The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2014.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. "Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today." The Antioch Review 54.3 (1996): 364. Web.

Butler, Octavia E. Lilith's Brood. New York: Aspect/Warner, 2000. Print.

Rahn, Josh. "The Beat Generation." - Literature Periods & Movements. Jalic Inc., n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2014.

Ginsberg, Alen. "Howl." Poetry Foundation. Ed. Ruth Graham. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.