Friday, May 3, 2019

Waiting to Exhale: Challenges in Forging a Black Identity by Charlotte Seay



Fireman: Ma'am, were you aware that your car was on fire?

[Bernadine nods her head while smoking a cigarette]

Fireman: Ma'am, did you start this fire?

[she puffs smoke and plainly looks at him]

Fireman: You know, it's against the law to burn anything except trash in your yard.

Bernadine Harris: [flicks off ashes from her cigarette] It is trash.

Fireman: Look, this is a nice area. Luckily, a neighbor cared enough. Listen, the next time you want to burn something...

Bernadine Harris: It won't happen again.

[she shuts the door in his face]


One can only dare to be such a badass like this character. A noble African American woman named Terry McMillian wrote a novel titled Waiting to Exhale which was adapted into a two-hour dramatic film in 1995. It is a story about four African American females struggling with romantic relationships, causing them to lose their sense of identity in the process. The scene above is about Bernadine Harris burning her soon-to-be ex-husband’s car with his clothes inside because he was leaving her for another woman. This scene displays two things: destruction and cleansing. Although one should never deface someone’s property, sometimes one must break down and dismantle themselves in order to be reborn.  In the end, one can emotionally rehabilitate oneself and begin to create a new canvas and embrace the person one is meant to be. Personally, I have not had romantic relationship problems that have hindered my growth as a person. However, just like those four women, I have allowed the people in my life to define who I am and how I behaved. Worse, in acting the way I wanted to, it always felt like an act. When I attended church, I had to be very proper and modest in my behavior and appearance, yet the next day at school, I would be cursing and wearing crop tops and a fake septum ring. My personality just did not seem to fit into any one place. I divided myself into the multiple dimensions of my life, each one requiring a different characteristic for be to embody. I have been waiting for a chance to exhale and be satisfied with the person I am.



The first time someone called me an “Oreo” was in middle school in the seventh grade. Just like the cookie, being an Oreo is when one is black on the outside but acts white or behave in ways that are not associated with the African American community member stereotype. On a good day, this need to be properly black and properly American would not affect me so much. But being told by a girl who was lighter than me that I am not black enough to be black caused me to feel rejected by a whole community. I suppose I did not act black enough to have a lot of black friends or act white enough to have any white friends. I was in sort of a limbo state. I had friends, but I never felt like I belonged anywhere which made me feel insecure in the way I spoke. Over the phone, one of my aunts---that is, someone who shared my DNA---told me I sounded like a little white girl: “so proper.” I knew she did not mean any harm, but that comment felt so ignorant. I wanted to throw those words in a car and watch the whole thing burn. Can I not be a proper black girl?



Gloria Anzalduá was ridiculed for the way she spoke while she was in the United States. When she went to attend “Pan American University, [she] and all Chicano students were required to take two speech classes. Their purpose: to get rid of [their] accents” (Anzalduá, 8). Both Anzalduá and I had people in our lives telling us who we should be and who we already are. I strongly believe that the way one speaks and writes is strongly connected to one’s identity. Consequently, I have gotten bolder over the years which has changed the way I act around people in certain situations. My boldness gradually showed in my writing, and I had to learn how to cohere my thoughts concisely. Yet something in my head told me to hold my tongue and my breath as I slowly faded into the background.





Like school, like theater: an ensemble member does not have a significant role. They are just there to fill up some of the space on stage in the background. I was an ensemble member in my own life. It is funny because that carried over to high school when I became an ensemble member in musicals and plays. I never drank, smoked, or had sex during middle school or high school. It seemed like all my friends were partying and getting boyfriends and I was just there alone. I began entertaining myself with the thought of becoming promiscuous. This idea was a mixture of many things: I wanted to experience being with a guy myself, and I wanted an escape from my “goodie-two-shoes” life. Although I never actually put any effort into being promiscuous, it always lingered in the back of my mind. I incorrectly associated promiscuity with freedom because I believe that if one can do whatever one wants with one’s body and with whomever, one is free. One is doing those physical actions on one’s own time which I had never done before. I also felt that if I became this kind of girl, I would be free mentally. I was born into the Christian faith, but I never saw Christianity fitting into my life as I got older. In the Bible it clearly states, "Nevertheless, [to avoid] fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (1 Corinthians, 7:2). Christianity promotes sex after marriage, not before. Just like Plato’s cave allegory, Christianity was my cave. I did not live or explore outside of that reality. My mother made me go to church every Sunday, even when I told her that I did not want to go anymore. She yelled at me and made me go. I wanted to rebel and go against my mother’s wishes.



As time went by, I stumbled across a book in high school titled Loose Girl by Kerry Cohen at a local thrift store. It is a memoir about her journey of promiscuity. At the back of the book, I read an interview with Mrs. Cohen:

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: My own saving began when I saw myself in the pages of my book, so my hope is that girls and women will find themselves in Loose Girl. 

I found many flaws in myself that Mrs. Cohen had as well at my age. I am glad she wrote her memoir because it put my thoughts and potential actions of being “loose” to rest. It made me realize that it is not necessary to be a loose girl in life. It would have not made me live any more of a great life then I already had. I understood the depths and consequences of actions that I was considering. This life lesson goes along perfectly with Walt Whitman’s long prose poem, “Song of Myself.” He wrote: “Trippers and askers surround me, / People I meet, the effect upon me of my early life... / My dinner, dress, associates, looks, compliments, dues… / These come to me days and nights and go from me again, / But they are not the Me myself.” (Section 4). Everyone plays a part in one’s development, which Whitman eloquently phrases in his work. It is the small things like the dues one must pay to form our identity. Perhaps it is the way one feels when dressed: am I being controlled or freed by clothes? What really defines one’s character? For me, it was the people in my life early on who influenced me, especially the people who I went to church with. All the compliments they gave me made feel obligated to attend service after a while because they were so kind and old. Whitman made me realize that these things that have surrounded me since the day I was born made me the person that I am today. The effects of these influences were inevitable. Identity is inevitable. However, in life we get to choose whether we want those influences to impact our identity, as Whitman noted. I knew I did not want to be the person who I was at church because I was just going through the motions and not living the way I truly believed life to be. I agree with Whitman’s ending line: “Backward I see in my own days where I sweated through fog with linguists and contenders / I have no mockings or arguments, I witness and wait” (Section 4). Now that I have grown and am away from that either/or middle school environment, I can breathe a little more. 


In high school things got better. During my senior year, I decided to take a creative writing class. My English teacher encouraged me to do so. He saw a potential voice in me. I am not going to say that I emerged as a great writer, but I became more articulate, more confident, more essential. He did not just let me sit in class and stay silent. At the end of the semester, we had to present our final project. It was an opportunity to get to know what everyone was thinking about and how they chose to express themselves. I decided to write a book of poems. Due to “senior-itis” (a wave of terrible procrastination and lack of motivation among students during their senior year of high school), a lot of my poems were weak. I did not commit on any one idea to really be as successful as I could have on this project. I did not fail, but I was not proud of what I produced. After this project, I learned something very important: I am afraid of being ordinary and it showed in all my writing. I tried to sound smarter than what my own knowledge could provide all because I had not discovered my authentic self, what Whitman calls "the Me myself." 

Subway Art by the author


One cannot teach oneself authenticity. I looked up to so many recording artists who exhibit this quality in their character. Since I did not know who I was, I naturally wanted to emulate those who I want to be. I am still guilty of still doing this today, but not as extremely as before. I am now more inspired by their courage rather in trying to be like them. I found great relief in Alan Watts’ concept on what being an individual means by calling all beings hoaxes. “The word ‘Individual’ is the Latin form of the Greek ‘atom’—that which cannot be cut or divided any further into separate parts. We cannot chop off a person's head or remove his heart without killing him. But we can kill him just as effectively by separating him from his proper environment” (Watts, 9). This notion of intrinsic wholeness goes back to my theory of one having to destroy oneself to find oneself. Many people, including me, have thought that entering into college is yet another journey of self-discovery. To become the person that I want to be, I could not stay at home.



Everyone’s life has different scenes, just like a movie. There is an opening and closing line. I have stepped up from behind the scenes and taken more control of my life. I have begun to Gestalt my life by living as a whole human being rather than choosing pieces of my life to live. An individual is one atom, one organism. I have lived a life where I thought I did not belong. In reality, “[I] have been fooled by [my] name…[believing] that having a separate name makes [me] a separate being” (Watts, 11). Instead everyone is connected. Once one realizes that one is neither more ordinary nor extraordinary than the other, one can live the way one pleases. I have begun to realize this which has allowed me to finally breath in and exhale.




Works Cited

Anzalduá, Gloria. "How to Tame a Wild Tongue." (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

The Bible: King James Version. Glasgow: Collins, 2008. Print. 01 Dec. 2016.

Cohen, Kerry. Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity. New York: Hyperion, 2009. Print. 01 Dec. 2016

"Go to Bing Homepage." Plato+allegory+of+the+cave+cartoon - Bing Video. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

Watts, Alan. The Book: On the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 01 Dec. 2016

Whitman, Walt. “Song of Myself” N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2016

Whitaker, Forest, director. Waiting to Exhale. Prod. Terry McMillan and Ronald Bass. Perf. Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, and Loretta Devine. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 1995.





Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Gift That Keeps on Giving by Sofie Ramirez


   

I understand what students go through with the four issues of the university industry: admissions, cost, career training, and community. I can see how all four can have the capacity to beat us all down. However, I have a unique experience that I would like to celebrate, something that puts me in a position in which these issues are something I have not had to worry about. Rather than worry, I have something to uplift others up and demonstrate that our situations never have the power to defeat us unless we give it to them. If Pablo Picasso had it right when he said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away” (Picasso, par. 1), then my gift is the diverse background I was raised in and the woman I was raised by. Everything my mother taught me shaped the way I view the world and the part I can play to conquer its problems, rather than letting the problems conquer me. She showed me that there is so much more knowledge to be gained than what can be taught in a classroom. I learned that people must aim to strengthen their understanding of the many diverse backgrounds that make up the world and be willing to learn from each one of them. Through doing this bonding we find what makes us different and how these differences can come together in order to achieve a shared goal. We discover the unique piece of the puzzle that in turn makes the picture whole. Knowledge, experience, and empathy are the gifts that my mother gave me, and she is the gift that keeps on giving.



I believe that people have the potential to be more than the situations they are given; a poor daughter of uneducated immigrants living in the ghetto can become a first-generation college student, senior vice president of a bank, and a mother in the suburbs; a boy growing up in an abusive household may take an oath to protect and serve as an officer; someone growing up in an atmosphere of uniformity and discrimination may remain utterly fascinated with people’s differences rather than conforming to their similarities. If we are open to an empathetic and cooperative learning environment in which “... no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught. People teach each other, mediated by the world…” (Freire 1), as opposed to a banking concept of education, we may rise above all of the obstacles in our path. The real issue lies not in the university but the education system as a whole. We are taught that success is only real if it is for our own personal gain. However, we cannot get admitted if we are too self-involved to branch out and become well-rounded; we cannot pay for school if academic achievements alone are not enough to guarantee a scholarship; we cannot succeed in a career if not taught to work well with others and we may not enter our communities as active citizens if the only person we wish to help is ourselves. 



How then do we succeed? How do we not let ourselves get lost in the cracks, swallowed by the beast that is the university industry? If I can learn respect from Rodney and in turn he experiences kindness; if I can learn courage from Sarah and in turn show her understanding; if I, a bisexual Puerto Rican Jewish woman, am open to learning the experiences of a straight white agnostic man, have I not grown in my understanding? Have I not put my ideas under a microscope only to discover they were not so different from the beliefs of the person next to me? As Kelsey Picciano wrote in her blog post, “The reality I now knew was an expanded and fuller understanding of how I, as a single individual, fit into this whole big world” (Picciano, par. 1). If we open our hearts and our minds to the wisdom of others, we become a force so strong that nothing can tear us apart or knock us down. In Ria Shah’s blog post she wrote:

Walking the streets of Mumbai, tightly gripping my mom’s hand, a boy my age with a grin on his face, grateful for the two coins in his palm, looked me in the eye. Instead of seeing him as separate from me, I felt as if I were staring into my own reflection…. Distorted in many ways yet perfectly positioned, he was artistically flawless in delivering a unifying message. I saw myself inside his begging body. I realized at this moment that we human beings are fundamentally forbidden to shield ourselves from events outside our comfort zones. This unknown, unnamed boy, born into the lowest caste and purposefully made to warrant sympathy, rests inside all of us—it’s the voice telling us that we are all one in this meshed-out game, so struggle to be your best and I’ll struggle to be mine (Shah, par. 13).



This experience of oneness is what opened twelve-year-old Ria up to the connectivity of the world. As an adult, she sees that differences are superficial and understanding is universal. Is this not success? If all people on Earth learn that through cooperation things can improve, have we not defeated the divisive education system that aims to put us at constant odds with each other? Success is more than getting good grades; it is more than money, more than a job or a nice house surrounded by a white picket fence. Success transcends the tangible and is, in fact, achieving a reality in which human beings can work together towards the betterment of the world.





Ria’s powerful experience of Advaita (unity) reminded me of a lesson I learned at Temple Emanuel: a Jewish philosophy called תיקון עולם or Tikkun Olam. It roughly translates to “to heal the tear in the world” (Barnahum). It is the idea that our success solely depends on the ability of all people from all belief systems, races, ethnicities, political parties and walks of life to work together until the world is repaired. The reason I have not felt defeated or beaten down by the university industry is because I never came here with the idea that the classes at Hofstra University would make me whole. I came here with the idea that the people I meet, the relationships I form and the knowledge I gain outside of the classroom will lead to “the tools to live a principled, significant and meaningful life and thereby to ultimately and collectively improve society” (Gordon, par. 1). The university-industry may not defeat me if I do not give it the power to be fully in charge of all of my education. Through working together we may become individuals with a more diverse understanding in an environment in which we lift each other up rather than tear each other down:

I am a citizen of the universe. For why do you say that you are an Athenian, instead of merely a native of the little spot on which your bit of body was cast forth at birth? … When a man therefore has learnt to understand the government of the universe and has realized that there is nothing so great or sovereign or all-inclusive as this frame of things… why should he not call himself a citizen of the universe… (Epictetus 1).

 



If my mother is able to learn from her environment and if I am able to learn from my mother and if we are all able to learn from each other, then we have put ourselves in a position where we cannot possibly fail. If we get over the problems plaguing our generation---the tendency to be self-involved, distance ourselves from others and be in constant competition---we may learn from each other and achieve our success together. We are citizens of the world first, new members of our communities next, students at Hofstra and then our own people. This is not to say that we give up on who we are; on the contrary, it is that we use our unique identities to create a bigger picture.



What I am asking for is a revolution, not in the university but in our own thinking. What I am asking is that we keep our minds open to the experiences of others and use their wisdom to gain our own. We teach our communities the value of understanding, love, acceptance and תיקון עולם so that the university cannot defeat us because we have gone beyond it. One can still see the value in their degree, in their specialized education, in their own individual goals; so long as we are aware that as citizens of the universe it is our duty to use them to better society and not just ourselves. “Knowledge comes mostly from experience and from learning about the people in your world rather than learning about the world apart from them” (Parker, par 4). The university industry may seem like a tough one to beat if one thinks they are on their own. Fighting against “the system” may seem appealing until we realize that through joining it and changing it from the inside we succeed. The gift of unity is one the never ends: the gift of love and of learning. These gifts are how we succeed, these gifts are the knowledge we impart, they are the gifts that keep on giving.






Works Cited



Barnahum, Daniel, Rabbi of Temple Emanuel of East Meadow. May 2015. 



Epictetus. “The Discourses and Manual, Together With Fragments of His Writings.”



Freire, Paulo. “Banking Concept of Education”



Gordon, Paul Kirpal. “Essay 3 Prompt”. 



Parker, Morgan. “Gettin’ Queer for Dope: Learning How to Learn About LGBT Identity”. 04 February 2016. https://giantstepspress.blogspot.com/2016/02/gettin-queer-for-dope-learning-how-to.html



Picasso, Pablo. Personal Quote “Essay 3 Prompt” 



Picciano, Kelsey. “Forging a Whitmanic, Post-Traditional, Bisexual Identity” 28 January 2016.




Shah, Ria. “Has The University Stolen the Fire in our Bellies?”. 27 October 2015.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Trump Supporters: Sacrificial Lambs or Modern Revolutionaries? by Alexis Marking



Since Donald Trump first announced his candidacy for the presidential race in mid-June of 2015, both left and right-leaning political analysts doubted his ability to win. Trump quickly established a devoted fan base with his informal, stark approach to politics. The most common demographic among his supporters were uneducated white Republican males, who admired the Republican candidate’s candidness regarding [real and imagined] issues involving the United States. Many citizens considered Trump to be the force Washington needed to obliterate the partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans. The more audacious his speeches, the further Trump’s popularity escalated among the American public. Media outlets exploited his frequent political blunders with indefatigable news coverage, painting Trump and his campaign as both a mockery to American democracy and its long-awaited savior. In January 2016, Trump publicly acknowledged the unwavering support he received from his supporters: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters.” Trump harnessed the cultural anger among [largely white] citizens and developed an anti-immigrant, pro-military, bigoted platform; his slogan “Make America Great Again” appealed to many Americans who perceived their status in the United States as fleeting in today’s modern age.



After Donald Trump was inaugurated as the Forty-Fifth President of the United States, his demographic of supporters widely remained the same: white Republican men without college degrees. Upon winning the Republican presidential caucuses in Nevada, Trump professed his gratitude for such philistine cheerleaders: “I love the poorly educated” (Dunning, 2016). Dearth in matters involving current affairs and governmental institutions might help to explain Trump supporters’ blind trust in Trump’s various [and often unfounded] promises and claims. According to the Washington Post, Trump made more than 2,400 false or misleading claims during his first 400 days in office; after 649 days, the President made approximately 6,420 false or misleading claims (Fact Checker, 2018). The discrepancies between Trump’s promised policy changes and reality [over the course of two years] beg numerous questions: Why do educated Americans and minorities advocate for Donald Trump? How are Trump supporters able to forgive the President for persistently affirming falsehoods and committing acts of treachery? And ultimately, why do Trump supporters vindicate the stances of Donald Trump, who frequently endorses policies that actually hurt them? In this paper, I will examine potential theories regarding how Trump’s recent influence has prompted many Americans to forgo long-standing moral codes and follow his lead. We turn now to the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which compares psychological research studies with the cognitive bias that allows Trump supporters to remain uncritical of Trump’s efforts.



The Dunning-Kruger Effect



In 1999, two social psychologists by the name of David Dunning and Justin Kruger conducted a series of four investigations to research a psychological phenomenon (now referred to as the Dunning-Kruger Effect) stemming from “illusory superiority.” The notion that cognitive bias can produce a credulous worldview developed from Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments, a 1999 scholarly article published by Dunning and Kruger. The investigators tested their hypothesis by asking 140 Cornell University undergraduates [from the same psychology class] to assess their intellectual capabilities regarding grammar, humor, and logical reasoning. Upon completing the self-evaluation, each student was asked to speculate how they performed in comparison to the rest of the class (below average, average, above average). Results exposed that students who scored in the lowest percentiles also tended to grossly overestimate their performance. While actual test scores were situated in the twelfth percentile, students confidently estimated their scores to be among the sixtieth percentiles (Cherry, 2018). Further, the lowest scorers were approximately four times more miscalibrated than their top-quartile peers (Kruger, 1999, 1131). Top-quartile undergraduates experienced systemic bias, which Dunning and Kruger referred to as a false-consensus effect (a term coined in 1977). High-scoring participants were able to fairly evaluate their comparative abilities, but struggled with absolute abilities: “Extremely competent individuals suffer a burden as well. Although they perform competently, they fail to realize that their proficiency is not necessarily shared by their peers” (Kruger, 1999, 1131).



Since humans perceive faults through a sense of self-awareness, individuals often cannot recognize their own shortcomings: “The knowledge and intelligence required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task” (Cherry, 2018). The Dunning-Kruger Effect therefore presents a paradox: in order to make someone aware of their incompetence, they must first become competent. Dunning and Kruger classify the cognitive bias phenomenon as a “dual burden,” since people who cannot recognize their ineptitude also cannot discern the expertise of others or rectify substandard performance. Individuals who suffer from the Dunning-Kruger Effect consequently grapple with metacognition and overconfidence. Such obstacles as metacognition, overconfidence, and heuristics (mental shortcuts your brain produces subconsciously to make decisions) can prevent clear judgement (Cherry, 2018). Collected evidence from Dunning and Kruger’s research suggests Trump’s supporters are not overly misinformed, but are rather incognizant to the fact that they are misinformed (or perhaps uninformed) at all. Many supporters lack requisite political knowledge and thus trust Trump to assemble a beneficial stance for citizens to affirm. However, such blind trust can be misplaced presuming Donald Trump is also constructing stances based on misinformation or unfamiliarity with various political matters. As written by Charles Darwin, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence as does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who positively assert this or that…” (Darwin, 1871, 3).



Despite lacking in necessary fields of expertise, Donald Trump proudly campaigned for the presidency and has since governed the United States with one perspicuous notion: Trump and his administration will bring greatness back to America. However, the President and members of multifarious institutions seem to project ignorant or misconstrued philosophies on to citizens— especially those who rely on press conferences and news articles (and now, tweets from the President and other politicians) to form political opinions. In the past two years, President Trump has provided United States residents with misleading or false claims regarding a variety of topics: Once tweeting about the Federal Assistance Program, Trump utilized numbers from Canada instead of the United States to demonstrate how much aid “illegals” receive from the government. Trump has declared the US trade deficit to be $800 billion forty-four times, whilst the trade deficit in 2017 was actually $566 billion. President Trump has also promised the public twenty-two times that Republicans will protect citizens with pre-existing conditions, despite Republican politicians repeatedly trying to replace Obamacare with a law that would allow for more discrimination from insurers (Dale, 2018). Moreover, Trump and administrative members (notably Sarah Huckabee Sanders, currently serving as the White House Press Secretary) often prevaricate questions from reporters, justifying misinformation as a scenario of what could have been in certain instances rather than what was. (Dale, 2018)



According to David Dunning, the Dunning-Kruger Effect evinces Trump’s alleged narcissism and egotism as the cause of his boastful infelicities: “Not seeing the mistakes for what they are allows any potential narcissism and egotism to expand unchecked… All it takes is not knowing the point at which the proper application of a sensible idea turns into malpractice” (Dunning, 2016). Following this theory, Trump’s cognitive bias obstructs his ability to recognize the foibles in his cognition. Unchecked political ignorance would thus explain the 6,420 false or misleading claims Trump has presented to the public; the Dunning-Kruger Effect begets political missteps and vindicates Trump’s moral compass because he cannot objectively discern the issues in his stances. Moreover, the evidence suggests that some voters (especially those experiencing economic distress, sociological turmoil, personal problems concerning identity, etc) applaud Trump for his positions, but are not politically adept enough to distinguish between nugatory blunders and serious fallacies or governmental errors (and thus do not condemn him). On this premise, voters hold immense responsibility to stay informed on political matters. If voters remain engaged and wary of assurances by politicians, false and misleading claims cannot dominate ideologies or result in “misguided conclusions held with tenacious confidence and extreme partisanship” (Dunning, 2016).



Can Voters Recognize “Fake News”?

           

A study published by three researchers (Richard Gunther, Paul A. Beck, and Erik C. Nisbet) at Ohio State University examined the connection between “fake news” and the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The verdict was conclusive and disconcerting: Fake news substantially impacted citizens who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 (the control group in this investigation). If 100 percent of Obama supporters had cast their votes for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate would have almost certainly won the election. However, Clinton only retained seventy-seven percent of those who voted for Obama in 2012. To unearth the reason for thirty-three percent defection from the Democratic party (to the Republican party, various minor parties, or to not casting a ballot) within Obama supporters, the researchers asked 585 national respondents a total of 281 questions, three of which involved fake news statements. The first inquiry focused on Hillary Clinton’s health: “Hillary Clinton is in poor health due to a serious illness.” Twelve percent of Obama supporters answered that the claim was “definitely true” or “probably true,” while twenty-five percent of the total sample agreed. Donald Trump was the pivot of the second claim: “Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump for president prior to the election.” Less disparity was seen throughout the national sample this time, with ten percent of respondents and eight percent of former Obama supporters believing the second claim to be true. The third assertion concerned Hillary Clinton: “During her time as U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton approved weapon sales to Islamic jihadists, including ISIS.” This “fake news” statement was indubitably believed to be most true, as thirty-five percent of the national sample and twenty percent of Obama supporters opined this lie as truth. (Gunther, 2018, 1-2).



Evidence from the 585 respondents verified a correlation between “fake news” stories and voter behavior: While 89 percent of those who did not believe the “fake news” statements voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, only 17 percent of those who believed two or three of such claims did. 61 percent of voters who only believed one “fake news” claim still voted for Clinton. (Gunther, 2018, 2). The study also includes research on other potential rationales (gender-based issues, age, education, economics, political ideologies, etc) to determine the greatest cause for defection in former Obama supporters. Researchers discovered the politically-driven variables had a considerably stronger relationship with defection than variables like age and economics. The conclusive findings actually listed “fake news” as one of the four most compelling variables in the 2016 election, along with party identification and viewpoints on both Clinton and Trump (Gunther, 2018, 4). When taking “false-remembering” into account, researchers discovered that respondents who believed one or more “fake news” statements to be true were 4.5 times more likely to have defected from Hillary Clinton than respondents who did not believe any of the claims (Gunther, 2018, 4). The foregoing evidence hence suggests that ingenuous voters can impact an election eminently.



Misinformation and “fake news,” coupled with the Dunning-Kruger Effect, can influence the standpoints of United States residents and thus determine elections on federal, state, and local levels. When an individual establishes a political ideology on a false pretense, the results can be highly damaging to public perspectives on politicians, groups of people, organizations, and implemented policies. In an unpublished study, David Dunning and colleagues surveyed people the day after the 2014 elections and asked whether or not they voted. Dunning aimed to expose which category of voters was most likely to vote: informed, uninformed, or misinformed. The researchers discovered a paramount connection between citizens who voted and citizens who considered themselves “well-informed” (even if the citizens were actually uninformed or misinformed; their perception matters most). To ensure voters were “well-informed,” Dunning inquired about various economic and social conditions prevalent in the United States: “[Well- informed voters] accurately endorsed true statements… just as long as those statements agreed with their politics. Conservatives truthfully claimed that the U.S. poverty rate had gone up during the Obama administration; liberals rightfully asserted that the unemployment rate had dropped” (Dunning, 2016). Such voters were also more likely to affirm (and believe) falsehoods if their political stance benefitted from the misinformation. The unpublished study thereby confirmed that political motivation alters whether an individual will perceive an untruth as fact or fiction. The further a “truth” favors an individual’s partisan views, the greater probability an individual will endorse and accept that fact as truth. According to Dunning, the endorsement of partisan facts (no matter true or false) correlates with an individual’s perception of themselves as a “well-informed citizen” and thus increases their likelihood of voting. However, a partisan consensus does not mean every individual comes to the same moral conclusion; some voters condemn misinformation, while others do not always acknowledge the harm (Effron, 2018). “Fake news” exposes the troubling reality that voters are discerning right and wrong (and voting for politicians and policies) from perspectives they superficially construct. (Dunning, 2016)



Cult Mentality: How a Sanctimonious Leader Took Control



According to Janja Lalich, members of “totalistic” cults (cults that consider their chosen ideology to be the only correct solution or belief system) share four key attributes: “They espouse an all-encompassing belief system; exhibit excessive devotion to the leader; avoid criticism of the group and its leader; and feel disdain for non-members” (Jacobs, 2018). Leaders of cults are predominantly charismatic and elicit high attentional engagement, often manipulating the attitudes and viewpoints of trusting members. Many cult leaders are exceptionally egotistical, expecting adulation from members and nonmembers alike, and conquer through division. In the past, cult leaders have exploited social classes, economic vulnerabilities, political isolation, and other intimate matters which often induce higher levels of desperation and susceptibility.



Cult leaders are also known to routinely rebuke outgroups to create an “us vs. them” mentality, which results in alienation from individuals with opposing positions. Fear-mongering has proven to be an effective way of leading, since fear and anxiety are two of the most powerful emotions in voting behavior (the third being enthusiasm). Fear pushes people to defect from their political parties, radically transform political ideologies, and question many accepted principles. Furthermore, our amygdala (ancient part of the brain located near the brainstem) is responsible for registering disgust, which proves humans can actually dehumanize other groups of people by processing the specified outgroup(s) through their amygdala. Cult leaders strategically create extreme polarization and exploit members’ trust by providing misinformation (or none at all), maintaining high levels of enthusiasm throughout the cult, and establishing new boundaries for morality and justice. Scholars have repeatedly compared such tactics with the campaign and presidency of Donald Trump, who has been analogized with famous cult leaders for shifting the Republican party into a faction which collectively endorses his every move.



Conservative citizens face a greater threat of developing cult mentality, since a crucial aspect of Trump’s platform is fear-mongering: “A 2008 study… found that conservatives have a stronger physiological reaction to startling noises and graphic images compared to liberals” (Azarian, 2016). Conservatives have a much more exaggerated response to fear and anxiety than liberals, meaning trepidation regarding illegal immigrants, South Korea, shifting social status, or even the agenda of liberal politicians can progress into cult-like behavior. Trump benefits from a general hypersensitivity to threat throughout the Republican party, since his proposed policies are uncongenial to many outgroups. By keeping supporters and adversaries engaged with his politics, both admiration and speculation result in more attention, such as greater news coverage (frequently spreading misinformation from Trump’s tweets and rallies) and defensive responses from Trump advocates (in the media and at home). Many disregard Trump’s proclivity to act as a schismatic demagogue because they have become devoted to his cause, feel the need to come to his defense (since he represents the United States), or are misinformed about his stratagems.



Trump regularly holds rallies across the country to commend his supporters for their undying support and ignores his misdeeds in favor of describing his successes. By retaining high levels of enthusiasm, Trump supporters stay dedicated to his political cause— Even when the proposed policy changes unproportionally benefit a small elite over the working class (which primarily encompasses his demographic of supporters). Factors regarding the Dunning-Kruger Effect, “fake news,” and cult mentality can also explain why voters still support Trump. When a charismatic leader promises his trusting supporters that tax cuts, changes in healthcare, and other policies will only improve the United States, many are inclined to believe him based on cult mentality (faith put into sole leader, isolation from and fear toward contrasting views, etc), the circulation of false and misleading claims, and unchecked ignorance. The collected evidence thereby anticipates the forgiveness of Trump supporters as a result of such phenomenons. Trump receives infinite chances because he has effectively utilized faults in American democracy to his advantage. Indiscriminate trust in political candidates can be perilous to any type of equality.



Concluding Remarks



Thomas Jefferson once contended that “if a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be” (Dunning, 2018). Although the American public has struggled with misinformation and ignorance for hundreds of years, the United States has sustained a position of relative freedom for citizens. However, through false and misleading information, citizens have indirectly voted to increase social divisions, economic vulnerabilities for working and lower classes, political polarization, and to escalate the strain on democratic principles. Donald Trump serves as a catalyst for an ongoing (and worsening) issue: Voters cannot detect moral and political violations when the antagonist is charismatic and offers a break from institutional precedents. Furthermore, the Dunning-Kruger Effect exemplifies the dangers of our own ignorant misjudgments: “If we find ourselves worried about the apparent gullibility of the Trump voter... We should surely worry about our own naive political opinions that are likely to be more nuanced, subtle, and invisible—but perhaps no less consequential” (Dunning, 2018). By historical standards, Donald Trump has challenged the purpose of political parties and manifested Jefferson’s aversion by producing a movement much larger than electoral dynamics or recurrent political platforms. Prodigious power requires a substantial moral compass to appropriately navigate the issues at hand without taking advantage; Trump has constructed the ideal environment for elitists to profit, while neglected supporters shield him from culpability.



References



Azarian, Bobby. 2016. “The Psychology Behind Donald Trump’s Unwavering Support.”




Cherry, Karen. 2018. Dunning-Kruger Effect: Why Incompetent People Think They Are

Superior. Very Well Mind. About, Inc. https://www.verywellmind.com/an-overview-of-the-dunning-kruger-effect-4160740. Visited November 21, 2018.



Dale, Daniel. 2018. “Donald Trump Has Said ___ False Things As U.S. President.” Toronto Star.




Darwin, C. R. 1871. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. London: John Murray. 1st ed., Vol. 1.



Dunning, David. 2016. “The Psychological Quirk That Explains Why You Love Donald Trump.”




Effron, Daniel. 2018. “Why Trump Supporters Don’t Mind His Lies.” The New York Times.




Gunther, Richard, Paul A. Beck, and Erik C. Nisbet. 2018. “Fake News May Have Contributed




Jacobs, Tom. 2018. “A Cult Expert Finds Familiar Patterns of Behavior in Trump’s GOP.” Pacific Standard. https://psmag.com/news/a-sociologist-explains-the-similarities-between-cults-and-trumps-gop. Visited December 1, 2018.



Kruger, Justin and David Dunning. 1999. “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in

Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77:6, 1121-1134.



Naím, Moisés. 2018. “Forgiving Trump.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Apathy, Atheism, and The Last Call by Dushyant Rakheja



I spoiled God’s divine plan at the age of 17. My mother was shouting at me to not throw a bucket of water at my sleeping brother, yet I did. As expected, she was as enraged as was my brother, but he’s not important for now. My mother, or rather her beliefs as a Hindu, however, are. According to Hinduism, God has a divine plan for the world and everything that happens in a human’s life happens for a reason that only They know. Hence, it is often preached that one should not give into rage because all bad things are Their plan. If one reads again closely, they will find that I was able to aggravate a firm believer of this notion. I had her, just for a moment, “step away from God” and commit a sin. That possibly wasn’t part of his plan. I beat God…or did I?

Later that year angering my mother became a second habit, and questioning Their existence became the first. That was because I had concluded at this point that there was no divine plan that we followed. Call me skeptical but I fail to understand why the plan called for people to die at the hands of others for money. If there was a God, would he make a plan that could lead to this? Though I did know the answer already I wanted confirmation, which I found in Alan Watts’s The Book: On the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are. He confirmed my suspicion in the very first chapter by saying:
God also likes to play hide-and-seek, but because there is nothing outside God, he has no one but himself to play with. But he gets over this difficulty by pretending that he is not himself. This is his way of hiding from himself. He pretends that he is you and I and all the people in the world, all the animals, all the plants, all the rocks, and all the stars. (Watts)
Hindu philosophy states that we are born of God and we are one with Him. Watts seconds this notion by stating “there is nothing outside God.” Ergo, inhabitants of the earth, we all collectively are God! He is more you and more I than he is in Himself. The fog dissipated at last, giving way to why the divine plan led us to an era where the majority is not happy to be alive.

“… Sometimes the reason is you're stupid and make bad decisions.” (Harmon)

Being the Devil’s advocate, or maybe the God’s advocate, I started questioning priests and learned people about whether they knew God or not. More importantly, had God given them what they asked for any more than their parents or friends did? Before the big reveal, however, it is important that one knows about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

Consider a bunch of prisoners who were chained up in an underground cave ever since birth. Their only sources of light are the diffused sunlight coming from the mouth of the cave and the fire burning behind them at a higher elevation than them. From in front of the fire passes a road where showman and puppeteers perform casting a shadow on the opposite wall, the only wall that prisoners can see. Since that was the only thing they saw since the beginning of their lives, the prisoners accept the shadows to be true and hence start naming and familiarizing with them. If from a bunch of these prisoners one random person was freed and shown his surroundings – the fire and the diffused sunlight – he would start questioning his conception of reality.











Illuminated by this new knowledge, the prisoner returns to the cave to help his fellow prisoners differentiate the true from the shadows. Before making a decision, I would like you to try and remember your reaction when you figured out your mother’s name was not “mom,” or some other variation of it, but rather something else. I, personally, did not accept the fact and it took a lot of explanation to reconcile me. Or, try telling somebody that cockroaches cannot harm them and do not need to be feared. If one can be unaccepting of such minor changes, it would come as no surprise that the prisoners did not want to believe the free man. Since his eyes were more adapted to light, he could not see the shadows of the cave properly whereas the other prisoners could. They used that fact to establish their superiority and shunned him aside like a lunatic. The prisoners in this case could be exchanged with the priests I talked in my quest for sun. 

Some debated with me back and forth and strengthened my point that God resides in all of us, and prayer is just a way of reminding oneself what’s important to them in life. Others entered a state of absolute denial or even became a little hostile with their words and called me the personification of blasphemy.





Societal pressure, however, did not stop my investigations. I had progressed to finding the meaning in every mundane aspect of life: each blink, each wink, the flutter of the bees that I now consider my equal, each breath we take. The last question popped up to me during my grandfather’s funeral. He was clinging to life with an oxygen mask as Alzheimer’s took away his ability to breathe. My uncles and father gathered around him and were showing him images of the deity he worshiped and whispered, “They are calling you. You want to go to Them, right? You can go.” Among the loud sniffles, cries, and wailing, this sentence rang loud in my mind. If one believes in living a better life after death, why do they fear it or get sad when a close one dies? 


“Has any one supposed it lucky to be born? I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die…” (Whitman)


Walt Whitman’s 52-piece series called Song of Myself covered most of what I would like to know about life. It is true that the way I assimilate the message may be radically different than what he intended, but it resolved my issues. From Song 1, “I celebrate myself, and sing myself…,” I learned what it truly means to live and bask in the glory of oneself while enjoying the moment. Song 6 talks about leaves of grass, affirming oneness among humans and the earth; all of us being part of the same, being born and dying to be the same. Why should I then treat anything or anybody any different than others? The grass I walk on is not less deserving of my respect than the stranger I share a smile with at the coffee shop. My reaction on my phone falling out of my pocket and breaking must not differ from when I found out it was just my tempered glass protector. Some people mistake this for my apathy, but I am merely taking things as they come, like the Chinese farmer.


The Chinese farmer, in Alan Watts’ The Story of the Chinese Farmer, as one may have guessed by now, was a statute of the Buddhist principle of impermanence with an eye to the tao (zen). When dealt with seemingly good or bad situations, the farmer stays calm and waits for them to play out on their own, much like Arjuna learns in the Bhagavad Gita, that is, non-attachment to the fruits of one's actions. Divergence of the actual outcome from our expectations is what causes our sadness and not the outcomes themselves. This happens to be an unrealistic thing to chase after, but we all hope for a miracle every day.



Through my journey of life till now, I have been transformed into an atheist who does not believe in god, but after being acquainted with Alan Watts and Plato, I believe in humans and our power to change our lives as well as others. Hence, I would rather say that I am non-theistic but still pursuing truth. I believe in questioning what I see and am told to believe without reason. Walt Whitman gave me new questions to think about and a new perspective to view things from. The Chinese farmer challenged me to not over-think too much and to take things as they come. I was resolved and challenged to break the shackles and go to the light, to stand at the edge of the cave and learn about all the new parts of me that I see and not be overwhelmed by it. I have a new rail to take my train of thought on, and this is the last call. All aboard!





Works Cited

Clay, Becky. “Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.” YouTube. 5 Jun. 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoOVFO4Qnqg&feature=share.

Dhyani, Divya. Haridwar. Jan. 2015.

Harmon, Marion G., Ronin Games, Vol. 5. USA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015. Print. 6 vols.

Living, Raw. “Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in Cartoon!” YouTube. 4 Nov 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0GLmYm-SRw

Plato. Allegory of the Cave. Trans. Jowett, Benjamin. Los Angeles: Enhanced Media Publishing, 2017. Print.

Plato. Great Dialogues of Plato. Edited by Eric H Warmington and Philip G Rousse. Translated by W. H. D. Rouse. New York: Signet Classics, 1999. p. 316

Watts, Alan. Chapter 1 “Inside Information.” The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. Aylesbury: Hazell Watson & Viney Ltd, 1973. Xvii. PDF

Watts, Alan. “The Story of The Chinese Farmer.” YouTube. 20 Nov 2016. Web. 02 Dec. 2018.

            Whitman, Walt. Song of Myself. Dover Publications, 2001. Print.