Greg Hickey’s Our Dried Voices Book Review by Christina Knowles

Our Dried Voices
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I really try not to compare books I review to other more famous books, especially when they really are not knock-offs at all, but in the case of Our Dried Voices by Greg Hickey, it’s hard not to. Don’t get me wrong. This book is definitely its own original work, but still, it is impossible to read without looking back nostalgically to a couple of familiar prized works, and I mean this in the best possible sense. This dystopian novel is reminiscent of both The Time Machine by HG Wells and Ayn Rand’s Anthem.

The book is set far into the future. Samuel, who appears to be more intelligent than anyone else in his community, has an awakening of sorts, which stems from noticing things that go awry and setting about to, at first, just fix them, and later, to solve the mystery of who is behind the strange mishaps that befall his village, and figure out why they are happening. Like the character Equality 7-2521 in Anthem, Samuel wants to make a difference and befriends a slightly less intelligent female, Penny, similar to Anthem’s Liberty 5-3000. The similarities continue, but unlike Rand’s collectivist criticism, Hickey makes us think more deeply on the issues of the “nanny state.” Like HG Wells in The Time Machine, Hickey postulates on the de-evolution of humanity in a perfect Eden where there is nothing left to do but eat, sleep, and frolic in the garden, having sex with whoever is nearby and willing. Does work make humanity smarter? Does work give existence meaning? At the very least, it seems to prevent the de-evolution of the mind and body. But Hickey goes further, asking what gives us purpose and joy?

Without giving away too much of the plot, I’ll say that the answer is left somewhat up to us; however, the implication may be that trading one controlling ideology for another may not be the right answer. Ultimately, freedom is necessary to grow and be happy, much like Equality and Liberty find when they reach their cabin in the woods.

At any rate, I found this novel to be extremely engrossing. I thoroughly enjoyed it right up to the end of Samuel’s story. However, I think this is where the book should have ended. I wish I could have set the book down, satisfied with the knowledge of Samuel’s outcome and been done. But what followed titled, “From the handwritten manuscript ‘The Early History of the pearl colony’” (Kindle Locations 2705-2706), was an extensive and boring fictional history leading up to where the book starts. This history includes mostly dates of when certain diseases were cured, leading up to the Eden of Samuel’s community. I struggled with the purpose of this chronology, which seemed to be some kind of commentary against science, or perhaps, it was a warning against population explosion. It seemed to be saying that by curing these diseases and extending life, we took away any possibility of living fulfilling lives. Whether that’s what was meant or not, it pulled me out of the fantasy of the book and made me question important themes in the novel, wondering if I had even understood the point at all. The title also bothered me. I think I understood the point that we lose what we do not use, but it seemed like there should have been some connecting point more clearly tying the title to the novel.

With all that being said, I gave this book four out of five stars because, although I think it could have been better, it certainly ranks up there with many of our favorite and important dystopian novels that we look back on and say, “So and so predicted this would happen.” Maybe someday we’ll experience a dystopian moment and say, “Hickey warned us about this,” but I certainly hope not.

Thanks to the author who gifted this book to me in exchange for an honest review. 

–Christina Knowles

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Stand Up and Take a Knee by Christina Knowles

Take a Knee
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

I’m an American. I tear up over Pearl Harbor footage, I swell with pride reading the Declaration of Independence, I am fiercely independent, and I believe freedom is the highest good. But I still don’t get it.

I’m referring to the disturbing Nationalism sweeping our country, the dangerous Nationalism encouraged and flouted by our own president. I’m talking about the sacralization of our National Anthem and our flag.

Certainly, everyone does seem to be in an uproar over, first, the fact that some NFL players, beginning with Colin Kaepernick one year ago, were “taking a knee” during the National Anthem in protest over police brutality, specifically aimed at African American men. Next, people were incensed over Donald Trump stirring up his base in true Trump fashion, suggesting that we would just love it if one of these NFL owners said, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired! Fired!” (Criss).  Of course, Trump could not help tweeting on Saturday, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect….” and “…our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” (Criss).

And now, some Americans are furious that several NFL players locked arms in solidarity during the anthem at yesterday’s games.  In true American rebel fashion, #TakeaKnee became an instant trending hashtag across social media because, as all Americans know, when someone tries to interfere with your freedom, particularly your freedom of speech, you respond by doing exactly the opposite of what the presumptuous offending party told you to do, especially when he’s an authority figure. Nothing could be more American.

So, why do so many other Americans have a problem with this response? Apparently, this is a common symptom of Nationalism, and a result of sacralizing our symbol of freedom. By sacralizing our symbol for freedom, we condemn the very freedom we say we love.

Let’s back up for a second. Our flag is a symbol for our country, which embodies many ideals, most commonly freedom, independence, and determination. We feel pride when flying our flag, not because the flag has actual value, but because it represents something we believe is real—something about American character and values. When we say that soldiers died defending our flag, this is a metonym for our country’s ideals and way of life. It is a piece of cloth. It is not actually our country.

Yet, when we transpose all of our feelings of what we love about our country on to this piece of cloth and elevate it to the sacred, we do ourselves and our country a disservice. Once sacralized, we can no longer look at it reflectively, with an unbiased eye, with a view to grow and improve. It becomes a dangerous form of Nationalism through which, as opposed to ordinary patriotism, we are unable to see ourselves clearly and with an objective eye. It (the National Anthem, our flag, our country, our ideals) is perfect and can never be questioned. To question it, would be to defile it and be, in essence, blasphemy.

But, not everyone sacralizes the National Anthem or the flag, or even the actual America. To many, it is the ideals behind them that are held in high esteem, and when the realization of those ideals is in question, the flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, or the National Anthem is an obvious symbol to which we turn in order to draw attention to these contradictions between what we say we stand for and what we actually do. It’s a logical connection, and it in no way indicates that we are not patriotic or that we do not love and appreciate our country, and it certainly has nothing to do with disrespecting soldiers. We fly a flag at half-mast when we are grieving; we fly it upside down to signal distress. We do not stand for the anthem or pledge our allegiance when we see a discrepancy in the ideals we say we represent and in the reality of what our country, or our leaders, in most cases, shows that we actually represent. This is clearly Colin Kaepernick’s thinking when he explains, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color… To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder” (Gillespie).

According to Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided Over Politics and Religion, conservatives tend to sacralize symbols and traditions like the flag and the anthem, while liberals tend to sacralize other things, such as compassion and human rights (Haidt). They aren’t disrespecting soldiers who gave up their lives fighting in a war; they are making a logical connection between what we say we stand for and what we will stand for.

And while we’re at it, let’s stop referencing the rules for flags and NFL players. It is completely irrelevant what the rules are, or even the laws, for that matter. The most effective protests throughout history have been illegal. It’s called civil disobedience. If protestors concerned themselves with whether or not they were allowed to do something, women would still be unable to vote, and Rosa Parks would never have sat in the front of the bus. It’s effective precisely because it is not allowed. The risk of consequences demonstrates the level of commitment and the intensity of the desire for change.

I submit to you that those who refuse to stand for the National Anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance, whether it be to protest the president encouraging the squelching of free speech, or the systemic racism endangering the lives of black Americans, are the most patriotic of citizens. These protestors recognize what the flag and the anthem, and indeed, our country, are supposed to stand for, and refuse to settle for anything less than the ideals that form this great experiment. Truly, standing to honor that which fails to live up to all we mean it to be is dishonoring to America itself at its very core. As historian Howard Zinn once said, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” So, show us how much you love America, and take a knee.—Christina Knowles

Originally published in 2017

Sources:

Criss, Doug. “A president shouldn’t tell an NFL team what to do, Trump tweeted … in 2013.” cnn.com. Updated 25 Sept. 2017. Accessed 25 Sept. 2017.

Gillespie, Nick. “Donald Trump Should Stop Telling NFL To Fire Players for Anthem Protests” 23 Sept. 2017. Accessed 25 Sept. 2017.

Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided Over Politics and Religion. Vintage Books, 2013.

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