Mar 24, 05:07 PM by Eric Allen
Last week I suffered a bit of a meltdown. I set extremely high expectations for my peers and for my professors, and they’ve been consistently letting me down this semester. Whether it’s the crazy Professional Development professor railing about how “our kids need to be more competitive” or my Probability professor’s spat with the class about the proper process for handing in homework, the faculty have been really disappointing me this semester. On top of that, my teammates for “Senior Design” have been, well, sub-par. Don’t get me wrong, a couple of them are great, but the majority are clueless and unmotivated. A terrible meeting on Tuesday sent me into an emotional tailspin, and it took me a few days to recover.
As I generally do when I’m not feeling well mentally, I scheduled an appointment with the Counseling Center. I feel weird seeking psychological help when I’m really just pissed off at stupid people, but boy was it a good call. Today I spent an hour there, and I’ve picked up a big piece of wisdom.
Don’t set expectations for events outside your control. That’s it. That’s what I learned today, and it’s really that simple. I tend to set expectations (high ones) for everything around me, and I tend to believe I can, through sheer force of will, control most events. This turns out to be a recipe for disaster, and that’s exactly what happened to me last week. It sounds simple, but it’s not going to be easy to integrate into my daily activities. As an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs, I’m predisposed toward this kind of behavior. It will take a lot of willpower and concentrated effort to change, but I think I can do it.
Already today I’m feeling better. Instead of setting expectations on everything, I’m letting the day unfold. I had a meeting with a couple of my Senior Design teammates (the good ones), and I didn’t set expectations. I simply communicated what I needed to get across and listened to what they communicated. We set some milestones for our part of the project, and we got a ton of work done. Now, instead of feeling guilty about being unproductive, I’m sitting on my favorite hill enjoying the biting breeze of Spring. Experience life as it is, instead of constantly comparing it to your predictions of what it should be. That’s my new nugget of wisdom.
Dec 23, 02:28 PM by Eric Allen
Seeing Avatar last week re-ignited an internal conflict I’ve been struggling with for several years. First and foremost, I’m a geek, an engineer, a maker of things. I live on the cutting edge of Progress, driving it forward as fast as I can. On the other hand, I’m inclined to believe in circular time, and the idea of living in harmony with everything around me is really compelling. The two sides seem completely at odds to me, and I’ve yet to find a way to reconcile them.
The Na’vi are an indigenous species on the fictional planet Pandora in Avatar. The arboreal life on the planet is completely interconnected, and there seems to be some kind of global mind within it. The Na’vi are humanoid creatures capable of communicating with this global mind (called “Eywa”), and their purpose seems to be stewardship of all life on Pandora. Their society is clearly ancient, and they appear to be a fundamental component in the balance of life on Pandora. Where, then, would I fit in such a society?
My technological bent boils down to three things: I love learning, I love building, and I’m always trying to find opportunities for more efficiency. These attributes are fairly highly valued in Western society, but they seem to me completely at odds with the way of life for the Na’vi. When you’re adhering to ancient tradition in a culture that has remained unchanged for generations, there’s not much room for new knowledge. Things are artificial and unnatural—why do you need builders when nature provides everything for you? Efficiency creates economic surplus, which disrupts society and shifts norms. The way I see it, none of my fundamental strengths are compatible with Na’vi living.
Textiles are certainly a possibility, and I’ve been weaving since I was in kindergarten. Granted, the Na’vi don’t wear much in the way of clothing, but most indigenous humans need clothing. Weaving offers many of the same opportunities to me as, say, programming does, and it has the advantage of requiring no advanced technology. Give me wood, wool, and some tools to work the wood, and I can make you a blanket. Unfortunately for me, the Na’vi don’t appear to need much in the way of textiles. They wear minimal clothing, and their bodies seem perfectly adapted to their climate.
I could probably get into farming, but agriculture is arguably what got us into the mess we call modern civilization in the first place. I doubt a Na’vi society would be amenable to the development of farming, as it could easily disrupt the natural order of life. Agricultural surplus is the first step toward specialization, and hence craftsmen and eventually full-blown Progress. The ways of the Na’vi are not compatible with serious agriculture.
From what I saw in Avatar, the Na’vi don’t really make much of anything. They are active participants in nature, but everything they need is provided by the environment. Fundamentally, I am an agent of Progress, for better or for worse, and I don’t believe I could fit into a Na’vi society. Where does this leave me in human society? Assuming things continue along like they have for the past few decades, I’m set. I’ve got the skills, abilities, and knowledge to thrive in modern society, but I don’t know if that’s where I want to be. If I don’t believe Progress is an inherently good thing, how can I be a willing participant in the innovation engine that drives it?
Jul 19, 05:04 PM by Eric Allen
One of the hardest things for me as a young adult is coming to terms with just how deeply broken our world is. From dangerous climate change to rampant corruption in the government to irrational genocide, there are things going on in our world that just don’t make sense to me. It seems like every time I turn around I uncover yet another festering evil. Can I trust the government? The banks? Industry? Media? What isn’t broken?
For a young person becoming aware of the world, these realizations can be a hard blow. No wonder most of us just zone it all out. Unfortunately for me, I can’t seem to ignore the harsh realities I’m faced with. When I think “climate change” I don’t think poor little polar bears—I question the sustainability of human life on Earth. Without the “whatever” filter of a normal teenager, I came face to face with a lot of hard questions, and I still do.
That’s why I knew I had to see Food, Inc. After watching it today, I must admit I was brought to tears by a lot of it. Food in the U.S. has become yet another business seeking efficiency and profit over all else. The most appalling part to me is that the farmers don’t want this! They just want to make an honest living, but they have no choice but to go along with industrial agriculture. Most consumers don’t know any better, so agribusiness continues to grow and profit year after year while our watersheds become polluted, deadly diseases like E. coli multiply and transform, and oil is consumed at an astonishing rate.
What do we do? Fortunately, there is an answer. Unlike the answer to climate change (“stop using energy”), you have an opportunity to make a difference three times a day. Every time you eat a bite of food, think about where it came from and how it got to you. When you shop at the supermarket, read the labels and carefully question what you’re buying and how much. We can make a difference as consumers, and until we do things will remain as they are.
If there’s one movie you see this year, make it Food, Inc. Go see it. Now.
Mar 10, 01:08 PM by Eric Allen
We have been in an era of cheating on a truly grand scale. From students believing the only way to do well in school is to cheat on exams to Wall Street bringing down the global economy with its excesses, we have witnessed cheating at every level of society. The American Dream is no longer a dream—it’s a right! We Americans seem to believe we are entitled to owning our own home, having two cars, and consuming at an insane rate. Unfortunately, the rest of the world has tried to follow us! Chinese students come to the US with one goal: make a lot of money. At least they still believe in hard work for the most part. No matter where I look, I see a society rotting from within. Where did virtue go? Honesty? Trust? Hard work?
Now, I predict (quite optimistically) that over the next five years we will return to the social norms that have worked so well for the better part of American history. Already Obama is working hard to restore competence and trust to the White House. Consumers across the nation are flocking to green products, and the Prius is one of the best-selling cars in California. I think things are only going to get better. As our economy continues to stagnate or decline, Americans will have no choice but to buckle down and work hard. The nineties were a great party, but it’s time to get back to life. Cheating works only when people let you get away with it, and desperate people don’t let you. When Americans struggle to make ends meet, they aren’t going to tolerate others taking advantage of them. Wall Street has a long road here to prove itself valuable to us in the decade to come.
I know it’s a bit odd, but I welcome the recession. I work hard, and people seem to consider what I do to be valuable. An economic contraction on this scale is going to make millions of people wake up and question what is going on. And they must! We’ve spent so many years prospering from our world domination we’ve forgotten what it’s like to worry about what value you create. Now is the time to start ventures! Go out and create! Build things…things people want. There’s enough food to go around, and housing is rapidly becoming much more affordable. I like being useful, and I think most people do. Now is our chance to feel truly useful again!