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Disturbing the Universe

The musings of author Christina Knowles

Month

August 2014

Is There Hope for the Human Race? by Christina Knowles

Snagged from www.vox.com
Snagged from http://www.vox.com

It has been a depressing week. Refugee children from South America continue to suffer, the Israeli-Hamas conflict is far from over, even though they are experiencing a temporary ceasefire, the Ebola virus is spreading across many African countries, tensions are rising as the radical Sunni threaten the Kurdish region, Robin Williams tragically committed suicide, Lauren Bacall died as well, and protests and riots erupted in Ferguson, Missouri after the unarmed Michael Brown was shot by the police, and then the militarized police force moved on protestors with armored vehicles, assault rifles, and tear gas. And that’s just what I can think of off the top of my head. Like I said, a very depressing week.

Snagged from www.vox.com.
Snagged from http://www.vox.com.

One might wonder if there is even any hope left for the human race. This week I asked myself that question. It would seem, if one were listening to the news, that everything is spiraling out of control, and we are on a fast trip downward toward annihilation. But is everything really getting worse? Or is this just the perception we have from an ever-increasing saturation of instant news coverage via cable news, Twitter, and Facebook? Although I am thankful for social media for its ability to provide a platform for the average person to report what they see, rather than relying on our somewhat (understatement) biased news sources, are we letting our access to hastily reported news prejudice us against our own futures? Perhaps.

Snagged from www.vox.com.
Snagged from http://www.vox.com.

Let’s look at history to get some perspective. According to longevity expert, Sharon Basaraba, “From the 1500s to around the year 1800, life expectancy throughout Europe hovered between the ages of 30 and 40” (Basaraba). Today our life expectancy has more than doubled since that time. Obviously, advances in medical care and hygiene make our world a better, safer place. We have vaccines, regulated hospitals, and most developed countries enjoy clean water. We also see improvements in food and environmental protections. Prior to the 1950s, corporations could dump toxic waste without fear of penalties, poisoning fish and water sources, as well as the surrounding agriculture. Since then food inspection and labeling has advanced, and even twenty years ago, people didn’t take the idea of avoiding GMOs and eating organic seriously, but today it is widely accepted. Okay, but what about all the violence and terrorism in the world?

According to a 2011 Huffington Post article, statistics show violence is down worldwide, despite global conflicts. “The rate of genocide deaths per world population was 1,400 times higher in 1942 than in 2008.

Snagged from marginalrevolution.com
Snagged from marginalrevolution.com

“There were fewer than 20 democracies in 1946. Now there are close to 100. Meanwhile, the number of authoritarian countries has dropped from a high of almost 90 in 1976 to about 25 now. Rape in the United States is down 80 percent since 1973. Lynchings, which used to occur at a rate of 150 a year, have disappeared.

“Discrimination against blacks and gays is down, as is capital punishment, the spanking of children, and child abuse” (Seth Borenstein). But despite the data, most people I know believe violence is at an all-time high. Why? Because we hear about it, see it in graphic detail on the evening news and on our Twitter feed.

And what about civil rights? Although there are human rights violations daily all over the planet, more countries now have civil rights laws than ever before. Minorities and women in our country enjoy much more freedom and less prejudice than in the early 20th century although there is obviously a long way to go. Accommodations for the disabled have come very far. We’re seeing the right to marry for homosexuals granted in more and more states all the time. Working conditions are better thanks to unions and the 40-hour work week, there are no more sweat shops, at least in most developed countries, and there are child labor laws to protect the young. There are fewer injuries on the job and education is more available than 100 years ago, although rising costs of college are beginning to turn the trend back the other way. But weren’t people just happier in the past?

Not necessarily. Some people argue that we are in a recession, and people tend to be less happy in economic down-cycles. However, other research shows that people today are more likely to follow their dreams and opt for an emotionally fulfilling career over money, as long as they are somewhat secure. Perhaps because not many jobs today are secure, there is actually more perceived freedom to follow your dreams. Another reason people may be happier is because they are healthier or because they have more freedom to be themselves. Shana Lebowitz reports that a study in 2013 by The National Institute on Aging found that people are indeed happier than the same people were when they were younger, probably because people tend to get happier as they age. The study also found that people born after the Baby Boomers are happier than the Baby Boomers themselves (Lebowitz). As an English teacher, I read a lot of old books, and people do just seem nicer, more sensitive now, than portrayals of people hundreds of years ago. I have noticed that children seem less respectful; however, children also have gained more freedom and autonomy, which would explain a greater freedom to express themselves, especially in negative ways.

So are we truly spiraling the drain? Or is it just our perception?

I guess I am trying to say that although things seem horrible—and they are sometimes, as bad as it is, we do seem to be learning something. We are progressing even though we don’t hear about that on the evening news. All it takes is a little research to put things into perspective. I know we all expected to be driving hover cars and colonizing the moon, while reading about eradicated disease and something called war in the history books, but change is slow and we can’t see something grow while we are staring at it. So chin up—there is hope for the human race after all.—Christina Knowles

Sources:

Basaraba, Sharon. “Longevity Throughout History: How has human life expectancy changed over time?” April 21, 2013. Available: http://longevity.about.com/od/longevitystatsandnumbers/a/Longevity-Throughout-History.htm Accessed: August 15, 2014.

Borenstein, Seth. Huffington Post. “World Becoming Less Violent: Despite Global Conflict, Statistics Show Violence In Steady Decline” October, 22, 2011. Available: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/22/world-less-violent-stats_n_1026723.html Accessed: August 15, 2014.

Hoegen, Monika. “Statistics and the quality of life: Measuring progress – a world beyond GDP.” Edited by Thomas Wollnik. Available: http://www.oecd.org/site/progresskorea/globalproject/44227733.pdf Accessed: August 15, 2014.

Tabarrok, Alex. “Long Term Trends in Homicide Rates” June 1, 2011.Available: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2011/06/long-term-trend-in-homicide-rates.html#sthash.JQAecZHp.dpufhttp://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2011/06/long-term-trend-in-homicide-rates.html Accessed: August 15, 2014. 

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Don’t Give Us Your Huddled Masses by Christina Knowles

Anti-Immigrant2

Recently, I have witnessed many angry outbursts on social media regarding the approximately 100,000 unaccompanied immigrant children pouring over the border, originating from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, choosing to leave their families and risk the dangers of traveling alone to cross the border in search of hope and safety. These children, who are fleeing violence and poverty in their homeland, turn themselves in to American immigration authorities and beg for help. But apparently, numerous Americans, many of whom claim to be pro-life, refuse compassion to these starving, freezing, and abused children, and just want them immediately deported—sent back to the violence and chaos from whence they fled. I do not understand this curious and callous lack of common decency and compassion for these suffering children.

A few weeks ago, a friend posted this on his wall: “I am ashamed that SO MANY Texans will argue that a fetus is a living human and deserves to live a full life. But when a little ACTUAL FOREIGN kid shows up on your doorstep. All of the sudden you find every excuse as to why you can’t take care of it.” This caught my attention because I have always wondered about this particular paradox myself.

Before I had a chance to chime in, a person, whom I do not know and who will remain anonymous, responded, “But it’s ok for some bimbo who can’t get her shit together and get on BC or keep her legs shut to have multiple abortions. In some cases these late term abortion babies are born alive and left to die. That’s so f—ing sad. Your [spelling was not corrected] right I’m not taking care of a little American or foreign child. I did not make that choice to have sex and create them. In the form of taxes you could say I already do take care of them. People are put in jail for animal abuse and it’s ok to murder someone you never gave a chance to live.”

Apparently, she wanted to prove his point. For some reason, many people in the pro-life movement only seem to advocate for the lives of unborn children, which, forgive me, strikes me as pro-birth, or even anti-abortion, but not pro-life. I, personally, don’t think one should label oneself pro-life, unless one is also interested in respecting all life, protecting the dignity of all living beings, having compassion on them, and doing one’s best to elevate their situation out of suffering. Unfortunately, these remarks and lack of concern for anyone except unborn fetuses are typical. Fetuses may, indeed, be human beings who have the right to live, but because another human being’s health and well-being is also involved, abortion is a complicated issue, but the question of whether or not to help these child refugees should not be complicated at all.

Most people who hold a hard line against illegal immigrants, in this case, more properly identified as refugees, do so because they fear that sharing our resources with others will cause our own people to go without. However, “the irony with today’s anti-immigrants is that they are themselves descendants of uninvited immigrants who came from countries lacking in opportunity a few hundred years before” (Headbloom). And although the angry and indignant reaction of those in opposition to any humanitarian aid for these children is based in selfish instinct, I suppose this is somewhat understandable. It will require sacrifice on our part. However, if we are to be the leaders of the free world we say that we are, then we need to set a humanitarian example. “The US is constantly insisting that countries around the world accept refugees. Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan are all accepting millions of Syrians, for example. They are much less equipped to do so based on their economies and their size in comparison to the numbers arriving,” according to Brenna Daldorph, journalist for France 24. Aren’t we, at least, willing to live up to the humanitarian standards we expect from others?

But beyond our reputation, I would like these people to consider that, both personally, and as a nation, our most valuable possessions are our character and compassion, and if we are able and willing to coldly refuse help to those who cannot help themselves, especially children, who through no fault of their own, flee horrific conditions for the chance at a better life—or any life at all, then we have nothing worth preserving anyway.

How soon we forget our own history and what this country has long represented. America has always been a nation of immigrants, and we used to be proud of it. We visit the Statue of Liberty and read the beautiful words inscribed there:

Copyright 2011. Jake Bowen & Alan Headbloom.
Copyright 2011. Jake Bowen & Alan Headbloom.

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

(“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus)

And we are moved and proud. But we have no reason for this pride any longer because too many of us don’t care about the huddled masses, the suffering, the starving. And why? Because we want to keep everything for ourselves. We don’t want to lose what we have and become like them. But by doing so, by protecting ourselves from them, we have become something far worse. We are not even worthy of them or of our own heritage. If this is who we’ve become, if this is who we will be, then we truly have lost the best of who we once were.

As Americans, we need to once again become the nation worthy of being that “beacon of light,” that “shining city on the hill,” the country that stands against tyranny, protects the weak and downtrodden, and offers comfort and shelter at least as often as it wields its mighty force and influence. Like my friend who originally posted that he was ashamed, I don’t want to be ashamed of America anymore. I want to be proud, proud to be a citizen of a country who lives up to the lofty ideals of our forefathers, even if it costs us something. The price of protecting these children, we can afford. It is much more expensive not to; it will cost us everything, at least everything that matters—our character and our ideals.—Christina Knowles

Sources:

You Know Who You Are by Christina Knowles

grumpy catPeople often mention their pet peeves. I really didn’t think I had very many until I started to think about it. I mean, I’m pretty easy to get along with, and I don’t usually get upset about little things. I do have a touch of OCD about a few things, and I’m kind of particular about how I like things done, but I don’t believe I really put that burden on the people around me–at least I try not to. I don’t expect the same things that bother me to bother other people. With that said, there are some things I consider to be more than slight irritants, and I apologize in advance if I sound rude or snippy, but once I started listing them, I started to feel a little annoyed. But what did you expect? Pet peeves do that to people. Here they are:

1. Napkins stuffed inside glasses: I’ve known a lot of people who do this. I find it utterly repulsive, mainly because I can’t help imagining the person who has to pull it out.

2. Leaving used tissues anywhere but the trash: Even my own used tissues disgust me. It makes me want to sterilize whatever surface they’ve touched.

3. Students who stick their gum under their desks or stuff trash into my cabinets: Seriously? There is a trashcan less than 15 feet from any desk in the room. Do teenagers shove their trash in their cupboards at home? Or is this some type of protest behavior, and I’m missing the point?

4. Vandalism other than protest graffiti: If you aren’t Banksy, you have no reason to deface any property that is not your own. Vandalism is truly the most senseless crime, and you probably aren’t as talented as Banksy anyway.

5. Giant flagpoles in the middle of the front yards of residential homes: Your house is not the White House, and you are not the president. Buy a regular size flag and mount it on your porch like a normal person.

6. Closet and cupboard doors left open: This is definitely an OCD thing, but come on, how hard is it to shut the cupboard after you take out the cereal? Someone could bump their head, or be driven insane until they are forced to get up in the middle of dinner to shut it, and then have to explain that they have OCD.

7. People not flushing toilets: You aren’t saving the planet because someone will have to flush it before they use it anyway, so it is still getting flushed the same amount of times. Stay until you see it go down. Repeat if necessary. Thanks.

8. People who have road rage: You are either way too stressed out before you ever get into the car, or you are leaving way too late for a job that you fear you are about to lose. Set your alarm for half an hour earlier, put on some classical music, and get a more laid-back job.

9. People whose only posts on Facebook are cryptic remarks that don’t say what they really mean, or who post suicidal song lyrics without saying they are quoting song lyrics. Want attention much? If you don’t want me knocking on your door in the middle of the night to see if I need to call an ambulance, please use quotation marks and credit the author. Even then, you may want to mention that you are not thinking of taking your life. I don’t need that kind of stress.

10. Speaking of Facebook, people who post ridiculous stories or claims from satirical sites because they think they are actually real, then get upset at you for posting a Snopes link on their wall. And while I’m on the subject, people who post false and mean-spirited memes that dehumanize or demoralize a person just because they disagree with his politics. Attack the issue, not the person, and by the way, the more preposterous the libel, the crazier they seem.

11. People who expound on issues as some kind of intellectual authority, but do so in run-on sentences, littered with homophones, and with no commas, way too many commas, or no punctuation whatsoever. If you cannot write using accepted conventions of your native tongue, I’m not likely to consider you an expert on anything intellectual. Disclaimer: I don’t judge every post this harshly. Sometimes a person is quickly posting something funny or replying briefly in a casual conversation, but if you are attempting to persuade someone of something with your wealth of knowledge, please demonstrate a wealth of knowledge.

It sounds much worse than it is. I rarely am bothered by any of these, which is why it took me some time to think of them. What it did for me, though, was make me realize that sitting around thinking of what annoys me. annoys me. It is not really a good idea . . . unless it causes a certain someone to stop leaving the cupboard doors open. You know who you are. –Christina Knowles

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