America’s satire problem

IC Chronicle

For the free exchange of ideas

October 2017 issue

America's satire problem

How a nation's sense of humor was stolen

By Justin Henry

America is in a satire crisis. The Onion wrote straightforward polemics against the president, Kathy Griffin photographed herself holding the president’s bloodied head and even Christopher Buckley broke off from satire to write historical fiction. The role of satirist has been usurped by President Donald Trump who devotes mind and body, Daniel Day Lewis-style, to political
performance art.

You can see the president try to continue his schtick of trolling the establishment well into his presidency. In an interview with John Dickerson of CNN’s “Face the Nation,” he mocked the respected journalist to his face, renaming his program “Deface the Nation”.

Throughout history, satire has been society’s court jester, the subversive voice able to get away with criticizing authority by ironically embracing the thing it satirizes. For the jaded, disenchanted Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, Trump is this court jester, taking on politics while undermining political norms. But what happens when the court jester becomes king and his subversive trolling becomes law? Since this absurdist comedy reached the height of political office, the nation’s satirists have turned to polemicists.

Four decades ago, the political spectacle of Trumpism was safely restricted to a half-hour block of a television program called “All in the Family," the first prime time show to explicitly address racism, sexism and other -isms.

“Our whole world has come crumbling down!” Archie said upon learning the Jeffersons, a black family, were moving in next door. “The coons are coming!”

The most progressive viewers identified with Michael “Meathead” Stivic, Archie’s son in law, for his pro-union, pro-civil rights stances. Progressives agreed with TV critics like John J. O’Connor that the show blew the whistle on domesticated bigotry through satire.

However, this rapier-wit was lost on the Wallace dixiecrats, an alt-right coalition for its time who identified with Archie’s resistance to a progressing world. Writing for The New York Times, cultural critic Laura Hobson said Carol O’Connor’s performance as Archie Bunker inadvertently condoned bigotry.

How can it be that, according to a Newsweek article from the same year the show premiered, CBS received letters of praise from both the reactionary right and the progressive left?

Satire’s paradox

Satire assumes the role of whatever it satirizes; it ridicules by embracing its subject rather than dissociating from it like an editorial or straightforward polemic. How else could CBS have aired a show where the central character say “the coons are coming” on their airwaves without a knowing wink at the audience? Through the show’s perpetual state of self-awareness, the audience does not feel ashamed laughing at such a thing because they are in on the joke.

But by embracing racism, the show appealed to genuine racists as well. Audience perception is based on the audience’s preconceived political leanings, according to the 1974 paper “Archie Bunker’s racism: a study in selective perception and exposure,” written by Neil Vidmar, Duke University Russell M. Robinson II Professor Emeritus of Law, and Milton Rokeach, professor of psychology at Michigan State University.

Their study found something disheartening, that more survey respondents identified with Bunker’s racist attitudes than with Stivic’s rejection of them.

“The Colbert Report” was a case study in the paradox of satire. Stephen Colbert’s sarcastic homage to Bill O'Reilly was a delight for liberals to see right-wing TV personalities be properly skewered for their vindictive and prejudice attitudes.

“So...you’re a communist, right?” Colbert fires at left-wing journalist Amy Goodman.

It was equally comical for conservatives to see Colbert identify Goodman as communist.

Heather LaMarre, associate professor of communication and social Influence, media & communication at Temple University, focused on Colbert’s show in her study “The Irony of Satire: Political Ideology and the motivation to see what You Want in the Colbert Report”. While there was no difference in the likeliness that both conservatives and liberals would find the show funny, LaMarre found their explanation of why it was funny drastically different.

“[Conservatives] were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements,” LaMarre wrote in the abstract.

The reason for satire’s flexibility is that it works with the viewer’s preconceived leanings since any decisive political stance is obscured by levels of irony and sarcasm. The profundity of satire, according to Northrop Frye’s paper “The Nature of Satire”, lies in its ability to produce mutually exclusive interpretations, rather than the politics projected onto it by the reader.  

“Satire, in short, is the completion of the logical process known as the reductio ad absurdum, and that is not designed to 'hold one in perpetual captivity, but to bring one to the point at which one cannot escape from an incorrect procedure,” Frye wrote.

Satire in the Age of Trump

Christopher Buckley is a political satirist famous for his book “Thank You for Not Smoking” and a Wall Street Journal column from 1999 in which he drafts an inaugural address from a then-hypothetical President Trump.

However, after a multi-decade career of establishing himself as one of America’s most prolific satirical writers, Buckley wrote a historical novel in 2016. In a December 2016 interview on CSNBC’s Morning Joe, Buckley said American politics have become sufficiently self-satirizing.

Donald Trump began his campaign of satirizing the establishment when he courted the attention of Tea Party Republicans in 2009 by questioning Barack Obama’s citizenship, a trend of undermining Obama’s leadership that continued throughout his presidency. For left of center news outlets and pundits, he was a living, breathing exposé of right wing bigotry, just like Archie Bunker.

After reporting his announcement that Trump considered running for presidency on a 2013 episode of “The Daily Show”, correspondent John Oliver was still making jokes.

“Do it,” Oliver said with sarcastic earnest, staring at Trump through the camera. “I will personally write you a campaign check now on behalf of this country which does not want you to be president but which badly wants you to run.”

Three years later, when Trump was only months away from winning the election, Oliver’s tone changed drastically when on his own show, “Last Week Tonight”, he let loose a polemic against the Republican nominee’s tirade against the Kahn family.

“We may be on the brink of electing such a damaged, sociopathic, narcissist that comforting the families of fallen soldiers may actually be beyond his capabilities,” Oliver said.  

Since the rise of Trumpism as a political force, the stakes of political issues has been raised substantially. Ku Klux Klan members march unmasked across the country, the President of the United States struggles to denounce nazis and North Korea tested a ballistic missile over Japan on Aug. 29.  It is no longer enough for political comedy to please both sides of the political spectrum, just as journalists have shirked any conventional principles of nonpartisanship, as Mitchell Stephens wrote for POLITICO magazine.

Similarly, after transitioning from the satirical “The Colbert Report” to the straightforward “The Late Show”, Colbert sometimes trades his comic wit for direct crudeness when addressing Trump.

“The only thing you’re mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c--k-holdster!” Colbert shouted at the camera.

The audience didn’t laugh. They cheered.

America’s age of plaintiff satire was challenged in Paul Beatty’s 2015 novel “The Sellout”, a recipient of the Man Booker Prize in October 2016 marking the first time it was won by an American author. It was originally marketed as a biting satire that would reinvigorate a conversation about race in Obama’s America which thought it had reached a point of color-blindness.

A quote from The Los Angeles Times is among the many featured on the book’s cover, depicting it as a book that speaks truth to power about race politics in the U.S.

“‘The Sellout,’ while riding beneath terrifying waves of American racial terror and heteropatriarchy, is among the most important and difficult American novels written in the 21st century,” wrote the Los Angeles Times.

The one person who disavowed any hyper-politicized reading of the book was Beatty himself. In an interview with PBS News Hour, he expressed a surprisingly cavalier view of his own work.

“I’m just kind of responding to myself, I guess,” Beatty said laughing. “I think I read something where someone was like, ‘Oh, black people were better off during segregation,’ and I just thought it would be so fun to see how segregation would work now.”

In an age where political neutrality is decried as complying with an oppressive system, Beatty plays with themes like police brutality and the aftermath of slavery for fun.

The greatest satirists in history like Voltaire and Jonathan Swift, Frye pointed out in his paper, did not just lampoon a given ideology, but the way its adherents proselytized it in public. For example, at the Grand Academy of Lagado in Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”, the scientists shirk religious faith only to submit themselves to the dogma of their science.

“There is a great deal of hypocrisy and corruption in any church, and a great deal of superstition in popular worship,” Frye wrote. “Any really devout person would welcome a satirist who cauterized such infections as an ally of true religion. But once a hypocrite who sounds exactly like a good man is sufficiently blackened, the good man himself may begin to seem a little dingier than he was.”

The way preconceived ideas determine the view of a satirical work is called motivational cognition, according to LaMarre’s analysis, and it makes the satirical work a kind of political mood-ring, revealing the political leanings of the viewer.

But without this kind of satire, criticisms by Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee rob us of our cognitive participation, instead confirming our preconcieved biases with no self-awareness. However, Beatty’s book, “The Colbert Report” and “All in the Family” offer the chance for differently-minded people to laugh at the same thing and bridge their divides through humor. “The Daily Show”, “Last Week Tonight” and “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” embody the very political convictions ridiculed by their predecessors.

The punch-line of “Trumpism” was encapsulated by a viral video published a few days after Trump’s win by a YouTube channel called Predo. It was a montage of progressive comedians and pundits ensuring us that Trump was unelectable while laughing at his subversive political fanfare. Set to Edvard Grieg’s quickening “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, the montage ends with election night and CNN’s electoral map filling with red states and the sound of leftist candidates eating their own shoe.

Activist professors in the Age of Trump

Illustration by Adriana Del Grosso

IC Chronicle

For the free exchange of ideas

October 2017 issue

Illustration by Adriana Del Grosso

Activist professors in the Age of Trump

By Ashley Stalnecker

Cultural critic Henry Giroux laid out the reformist professor’s duty in a lecture at the MacPherson Institute. Giroux said teaching should inspire a “radical democratic project” that rejects a society characterized by inequality, degradation to the environment and the elevation of war and militarization to national ideals.

“Under such circumstances, education becomes more than an obsession with accountability schemes, an audit culture of market values and an unreflected immersion in crude empiricism in a data obsessed, market-driven society,” Giroux said. “It provides the foundation for a world in which thoughtlessness prevails.”

Giroux described these qualities as laying the groundwork for the country’s submission to Donald Trump’s right-wing authoritarianism.

For progressive academics, the 2016 election was the harbinger of an anti-humanistic Trumpocalypse with a hatred for liberal arts not seen since the McCarthy era. Many take their cue from critical pedagogy and the writings of Brazilian educator Paolo Freire.

While teaching impoverished Brazilians to resist European imperialism in the 1960s, Freire wrote “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, a manifesto to create an egalitarian model of education. Critical pedagogy calls for a radical re-thinking of the traditional learning dynamic between student and teacher.

The text describes a one-way “banking model” of teaching where the teacher deposits knowledge into the students’ minds which, Freire theorized, maintains the oppressive imperial conditions imposed by European colonialism. In its place, Freire advocates for equality between student and professor as adventurers achieving truth.

During the 1980s, Freire maintained correspondence with pioneering critical pedagogists, most notably Henry Giroux and bell hooks. Since then it has had enormous impact on training courses for teachers in the attempts by critical pedagogues to resist the neoliberal restructuring of the university, according to Melanie Lawrence in “Beyond the Neoliberal Imaginary.”

Neoliberalism refers to the marketization of public goods and services thought to exist for the good of society. In higher education professors call this the commodification of the university.

“Critical educators are advocating for change and the significance of challenging neoliberalism becomes our quest for the direction of an alternative logic; one that challenges the conservative neoliberal imaginary, treasures the narratives of all people as originally promised through democracy, and critically examines both how and for who quality education is organised,” Lawrence wrote in her abstract.

A study by David Steiner and Susan Rozen found critical Freire’s and Giroux’s work are among the most commonly required texts in education courses at 14 of the top ranked universities in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report.

In the United States, the book has been harshly criticized among conservative pundits as well as mainstream academics. In Gerald Graffe’s Radical Teacher, Graff said this pedagogy ironically confines students to thinking through a narrow neo-Marxist lens.

“What right do we have to be the self-appointed political conscious of our students?” Graff asked. “Given the inequality in power and experience between students and teacher (even teachers from disempowered groups) students are often justifiably afraid to challenge our political views even if we beg them to.”

Ithaca College’s own Sherry Deckman, professor in the department of education, has found new ways to engage students in her classes through Freire’s theories. In a blog post “Engaging Students as co-instructors”, Deckman wrote that involving the insights of her students has made for more enriching class sessions.

Just as Freire envisioned, critical pedagogy has moved countless academics to radical democratic activism. But professors at Ithaca College and Cornell University are not only dedicated to getting involved in the political turmoil of the time period; they are interested in getting the youth involved too.

Cornell historian Russell Rickford focuses his research on black radical tradition in the United States. Rickford is one of the founding members of the Ithaca chapter of Black Lives Matter. In an email he wrote that his political activism and scholarship go hand in hand.

“It is absurd to suggest that one’s own experiences and outlooks do not dramatically shape one’s pedagogical style, approaches, and priorities,” Rickford wrote. “Those who are able to claim such ‘objectivity’ are usually individuals who enjoy the greatest power and status under white supremacist patriarchy. The ‘objectivity’ of a white male classicist is rarely if ever questioned because Eurocentrism is hegemonic.”

Rickford views his responsibility as one to help move people toward engagement and activism. As Karl Marx suggested, intellectuals need to change the world, not just understand it, he said.

All the world’s a classroom

Michael Twomey retired from his job as an English professor at Ithaca College at the end of the Spring 2016 semester to pursue the path of becoming a climate lobbyist. As he works his way to becoming a full climate lobbyist, he has been doing small jobs to make a large impact with the Citizen’s Climate Lobby.

“We have people who lobby in Congress by going to talk with congress-people but the local chapters like ours do a lot behind the scenes in terms of phone calling congress-people,” Twomey said. “We go to town meetings. We write letters to Congress people and we do all that we can to bring new members in, educate people about climate change.”

So far, Twomey has called congressman Tom Reed’s office to talk with his staffers and written a letter to the editor that was published in the Ithaca journal.

Citizen’s Climate Lobby has built a name for itself of bipartisanship, appealing to Republican economic interests and Democratic interests of sustainability. The group proposed a carbon fee on oil companies that produce carbon through importing, manufacturing and drilling.

The carbon fee would collect money from all of these producers of extractors or importers. Twomey said this is distinct from a tax in that the purpose of a tax is not to raise money for the government. Instead, the fee would then would be returned to taxpayers.

“The net cost of governing doesn’t increase because we’re using the IRS and so it’s economically efficient,” Twomey said.

Twomey said the second part of the lobby’s work is to convince congress-people to join an organization in the House that’s called the Climate Solutions Caucus, formed by Republicans and Democrats. Twomey said in order to join, a congress-person can only join with someone in the other party.

Twomey believes it’s important that people get involved in the near future as politics change and intensify.

“I’m concerned,” he said. “I think that it’s important for ordinary people to step up and do what they can because what I’m seeing is that the government is in a state of disarray.”

Meanwhile, politics Professor Patricia Rodriguez has been working with Tompkins County Immigrants Rights Coalition. Although largely inactive since 2005, the group has reinvigorated since the 2016 election.

The group was originally developed to pass a comprehensive immigration policy that creates a path for legalization for immigrants. When the policy failed, the group died down until the 2016 election and Trump’s discriminate travel ban.

Now, Rodriguez is working with the group to create a rapid response network to document the government’s search and deportation of immigrants. They are working on a hotline that will allow an immigrant to contact the coalition and have the group show up at their doorstep or wherever needed to document their arrest. The group does not have the power to stop the arrest but they come as a sign of support and solidarity as well as witnesses.

When the group is called, they will film, take photos, and write down information that might later be needed in legal proceedings. They serve as witnesses to make sure what is going on is verifiable and not imagined or based on assumptions.

Since the summer, the network has become a group of more than 50 people. The hotline is currently in the process of being tested and the number should be available by mid-September.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez is doing everything she can to get her students, and the youth in general, involved in activism.

“I think the youth are key to be involved in different groups, different organizations, that try to bring about change,” says Rodriguez. “The world is there for their grabbing.”

She thinks it is important that the youth pay attention to what is happening politically and socially to issues such as racism, bigotry and violence. She said that not only those issues are important, but the youth should be made aware of the different socio-economic classes and different styles of living that are unequal.

“I think that youth need to be confronted with that and just begin to think in ways that perhaps they never have about solutions to that,” Rodriguez said.

As a professor, she believes that her most influential work is giving students such information.

“To me I think that the influence of the work I do is to have a different type of thinking that is not individualistic, that is collective,” Rodriguez says. “And to bring students into that conversation as well, to get students out of the classroom, to be engaged in something that is real, that I feel like everyone can have an impact on.”

Despite all the negatives in politics lately, Rodriguez still has an optimistic view on the future.

“I’m involved in [activism] because I see a lot of hope,” she says. “I have a lot of hope for change to happen. I have a lot of hope that people in the end will think about other people more, rather than just the

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2017 Writing Department Contest

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Editorial: Echo chambers of the liberal college

For the free exchange of ideas

October 2017 issue

Echo chambers at the liberal college

By Justin Henry

We cannot make any progress bridging our college’s tumultuous divides unless we are willing to confront fundamental assumptions of our ideologies.

Do you remember your first classes where you had a vague sense all the cool kids sat at the Bernie Sanders table? You highlighted aspects of your beliefs that signaled you weren’t a racist, sexist homophobe. If you’re a young man you might have let everybody know you were aware of your male privilege and alert other men to their own.

We are the children of World War II baby boomers, for whom capitalism was synonymous with freedom and socialism was synonymous with government enslavement. We began to sympathize with ideas we never thought of before. Like how the white capitalist hetero-patriarchy continuously reconstructs itself to suppress uprisings against it. We feel compelled to join the fight because we are told there is no neutrality in situations of injustice.

Much to the surprise of our parents, we came home during break with a critical Marxist analysis of society from an English gen-ed. It’s because we finally realized how blindness to our privilege has aided in maintaining oppressive power structures and now we have a lot of repenting to do.

Although I am left of center in my voting style, I am concerned about the intellectual bigotry which forms in an echo chamber, where our perception of leftist orthodoxy becomes restricted to a narrow corner of the political spectrum and certain ideas become heretical. College is a place where young people should be free to develop their viewpoints without beguilement or bullying from professors or students.

I’m talking about when people test your allyship so you feel compelled to join political causes for which you have no genuine conviction. So you avoided the social suicide of speaking up and being labeled as racist, sexist or otherwise bigoted. This is how any ideology can resist honest vetting and become naturalized into an environment like Ithaca College.

There are many ways to learn which don’t relegate you to a certain identity politic. These ideas should be critically vetted in a college institution—after all, it’s your time, your money and your college experience; nobody gets to make up your political mind for you.

Conservative activists like Pat Buchanan and Jordan Peterson believe the liberal university indoctrinates young people into communist, anti-Western dogma, an idea that is laughable to the accused professors and students. No one thinks of their viewpoints as just another partisan ideology but as a code of ethics that has transcended partisan politics to academic righteousness.

If nobody challenges the fundamental assumptions of our worldview, we cease to become free-thinking liberals but high-priests of political dogma as we submit ourselves to mob rule. We become bigoted ideologues, urging the “sheeple” to wake up to the democracy, all the while being herded ourselves. Like the hero of a Greek tragedy, we become the very thing we set out to defeat.

Conservative activists like Pat Buchanan and Jordan Peterson believe the liberal university indoctrinates young people into communist, anti-Western dogma, an idea that is laughable to the accused professors and students. 

There is a twist of irony to the integration of critical theory in classes in the humanities and social sciences. “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paolo Freire described an egalitarian model of learning which rejects European traditionalism and frees students from its “banking model”. Originally intended to liberate students from the western bourgeois mentality, critical Marxist theory has itself become a constraining dogma.

I suggest we get back to the core foundations of critical analysis and to continue to question the status quo of the academy in all its complexities.

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October 2017 issue

Beach bunnies & piping plovers: My time as a wildlife conservationist

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IC Chronicle

For the free exchange of ideas

October 2017 issue

Beach bunnies and piping plovers

My time as a wildlife conservationist

By Sarah Stuart-Sikowitz

It is a sweltering day in June and the birds are chirping. I am working at the Rockaway beaches, located at the southeast tip of Brooklyn where the borough meets the Atlantic. To my right are the barrier island’s plant-speckled dunes that roll gracefully until they hit pavement. To my left is the clear water of the Atlantic lapping against the trash-ridden sand. However, I am not here to pick up trash, I am here for what is before me: the nesting site of the critically threatened piping plover.

The piping plover or Charadrius melodus, a small white bird with a silhouette akin to cotton balls on stilts, is federally-listed as threatened and New York state-listed as endangered. With a drastic loss in habitat due to development and increased beach user-ship in the past three decades, the bird’s ability to nest on Brooklyn’s beaches became nearly impossible.

Suburban life in the Rockaways was developed in the mid-1800s, but due to the challenge of hauling people through swamps into the islands, it wasn’t fully operational until 1869 when the first railroad was built.

The original towns and villages were established by poor Irish and Jewish immigrants who were attracted to the cheap and beautiful land. The supermarkets and smoke shops didn’t come until after the first modern railroad was built in 1956, which transported people from Manhattan and upstate New York to the area’s closest beach. This ushered a new era for the Rockaway peninsula.

With easy transportation, the land became known in New York as prime year-round real estate. In rushed the opportunistic developers selling beach side mansions for quadruple what they bought the land for. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers chose these beaches as their new homes, letting schools, rental homes, gas stations, and all-terrain vehicles take over the islands. This was the beginning of the piping plover’s decline.

Their population declined until the Rockaway nesting site was established in 1989 as a protected zone by the National Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. Since then, crews like mine have been installing protective fencing around their nesting zones and monitoring their reproductive behavior in order to facilitate the species' population growth.

During my time with the plovers, I worked underneath Doug Adamo, chief of the natural stewardship division at Gateway National Recreation Area. Adamo has been overseen the plover protection program for over 14 years.

“There was probably a really nice fore dune and secondary dune that was wiped out by development,” explained Adamo. “Now we just have the remnants of that. Luckily, it was 1972 when the park was created and the last of it was preserved from then on.”

Despite their effective function in the broader ecosystem, people rarely see beaches as diverse environments that serve as a home for a plethora of important birds, grasses, and insects that had established themselves long before humans arrived. Fore dunes, the first dunes from the sea, are the areas that plovers and a wide range of animals and vegetation inhabit. The first three rows of dunes are covered in beach grass, cord grass, sand wort, and sea rocket. Their roots lace together loose grains of sand and cement the dunes in place, which are extremely sensitive to human foot trampling. Sand dunes must be stabilized by this vegetation as they provide the first barrier against impacts of storms and floods. This will become increasingly important as ocean levels rise and test our ecological defenses in the next fifty years.

 

We have worked on the beaches for the past two weeks. As many of the plover couples have laid their eggs and have started to incubate, we are checking to see if any have hatched. Though this landscape is a paradise to many, it has lost its glamour as it is our duty to monitor the hot sands for eight hours a day.

Two fellow National Park Service employees trudge through the sand next to me: one 79-year-old man named Tony with a wispy white ponytail poking out from under his canvas hat, and the other a young man squinting against the blinding light. I am covered in my cotton uniform, skin hidden from the overbearing sun.

My crew of biotechnicians work out of Gateway National Recreation Area, New York City’s most expansive federal park. We spend most of our day looking through binoculars, taking notes and getting to know the plovers. There are many behaviors we look out for. Displaying their feathers at a fellow bird? One is courting the other. Are they collecting shells? This is a common behavior among nesting pairs who decorate their nests to camouflage their eggs. A butt that has recently turned the color black? They’re likely mating and the female may be pregnant.

It takes a trained eye to find the brilliantly camouflaged birds, white and grey speckled little things, unremarkable against the sand and shells. After laying four eggs, plovers spend the majority June sitting on their nests, an activity called incubating. Stress and distraction from nearby beach activity can affect their ability to incubate effectively and can lead to higher egg and chick death. It is essential we know if and when there will be eggs so we can set up symbolic fencing—a protective string fence which illustrates the approximate distance the birds need from human beings without becoming stressed. Once hatched, their chicks are even smaller and significantly harder to spot. As we are only a few weeks into the nesting season and it takes roughly 26 days for them to hatch, I have yet to see one since starting the job.

While we scope out the nest of two mating plovers, Tony is off on another rant about a family walking along the water.

“Those beach bunnies better keep walking,” he grumbled, smacking his lips from dehydration. The man spent most of his days here harping on the locals, complaining of their arrogance and general demeanor. “They don’t care about our plovers, they only want to bring their goddamn dogs on the beach and take over like they own the place.”

Tony has established himself as one of the plover’s most dedicated protectors, clocking in over twenty years of work on the job. He has spent one quarter of his life warding off beach goers threatening to harass the species. This is one of the most important parts of his job, as the plovers’ threatened status has been caused by an array of factors, the highest among them beach recreation.

The Management Plan for the threatened piping plover, a document written in 1989 and followed diligently by the staff at Gateway, describes the three most detrimental impacts to the plover’s reproductive success as habitat loss and degradation, disturbance by humans and domestic animals and predation.

“Human activity and habitat decline go hand-in-hand,” Adamo said. “With the disturbances during the beach season, this is what happens: the birds are already establishing their nests when Memorial Day comes along. All of sudden there are tons of people that weren’t there in the beginning of May around the birds. That’s why all these conservation measures were put into place, we’re trying to help that situation.”

To lessen the human disturbances, the government asks beach users to avoid flying kites and drones, not to bring their dogs, and not to enter into marked bird nesting territory. Plenty of beach space is offered to engage in those activities elsewhere. For those who refuse to abide by the law, jail time and a fine of up to $500 is possible under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Many of my coworkers have called the police on vandals or trespassers in their time working for Gateway.

One nest robbed of its eggs may not seem like the end of a population. However, when dozens of people affect the birds’ ability to procreate—whether that be by harassing them, taking eggs, or simply flying a kite—it exponentially erodes the population with each new generation. In the 2016 mating season there were only 24 nests in the Rockaways, according to the Resource Report on Piping Plover Monitoring, and roughly 59 percent of the eggs were successful. This is only a slim rise from the numbers before 2012 when Hurricane Sandy’s waves created more nesting habitat, but not nearly enough to de-list the species. Another nest destroyed would have further eaten away at their success rate and brought the species closer to endangerment.

Many critiques of the federal government’s protection of endangered species go beyond frustration of lack of beach access. Some go so far as to argue that protecting a species is manipulating natural selection. In fact, having a more genetically diverse ecosystem provides more opportunities for evolution to occur. Patricia Rafferty, chief of resource stewardship at Gateway national recreation area, said anyone who brings up natural selection doesn’t understand the big picture.

“If you take people out of the picture, this species would do just fine,” Rafferty said. “The habitat that they need occurs in a place where there is high human demand and use. You can hardly take a bird that weighs a few grams and expect them to out compete humans.”

Having an act that protects these birds helps maintain a healthy ecosystem rich with genetic diversity. No matter how inconvenient beach closure may be, these small regulations can change the entire environment for the better.

“Within the 4.5 miles of Sandy Hook that have been left natural for the beach nesting birds, including the plover, just within that area, we’ve seen one-half of the state’s [plover] productivity,” Adamo says with a proud smile. “That’s really productive. You can imagine if we had even five more miles of beach somewhere what the productivity level might be.”

That’s why we are hard at work in the Rockaways, monitoring the plovers, educating members the public and sometimes detaining them. Without the National Parks, Fish & Wildlife Service and other federal, state, and local organizations that have taken action in regulating the species’ population, Adamo believes the birds could have seen a grim end.

“The plovers just can’t be productive without minimal disturbances,” he said. “If there were no regulations on them, you’re looking at very small pockets of populations whose productivity would go down so much that within 10-15 years, they might be extinct.”

This is what we think about when we see families on the beach. But today, all is well in bird land. Worst case scenarios are rare. No speeches must be made to educate lawbreakers. The family passes by my team without event, though Tony continues to grumble. The family isn’t here to steal eggs, nor are they looking for trouble. The plover female nestles peacefully over her eggs while the male scavenges for food. With no imminent danger in the near future we decide it’s safe to venture on towards the next set of fenced-off areas.

The next plover site is past a crowd gathered at a beach-side resort. We are a stark contrast with the half-naked visitors burning their tanned skin in the hot sun. We dodge children tossing baseballs and drunk fathers with enormous beer bellies. All are grumbling like Tony now who is flushed both with jealousy and frustration at their hedonism. One part of me wants to strip off my sticky cotton AmeriCorps shirt and jump in the water like the rest of them.

Far past the drunken sunbathers and giddy children, we arrive at the final fenced-in nesting site. Within the string fencing there are two plovers zooming one way or another, down to the water to feed and into the grass to cool off. Their newfound energy is palpable and we can’t help but smile. Tony pulls his binoculars to his eyes and watches them calmly, his mood lightened by the birds and our distance from the resort.

I look through my binoculars and find the birds. Their soft, rounded bodies have not ceased to send me into a fit of squeals. The species do less walking than bobbing, hopping here and there erratically and peeping quietly for one reason or another. I scan their land for the movement of other plovers but see little more than discarded bottles, cardboard, and tampon applicators. They do not mind the trash, they have never known a world without it.

Throughout my time working with the plovers, I debated with myself why humans aren’t more sensitive to their effects on the natural environment. Ultimately, the answer seems disturbingly clear: they might not know, or they might not care. People will continue to smash or take eggs, trample through dunes and erode precious root systems, party and leave trash behind them. They can’t be bothered to stop until they recognize the aggregate impact of thousands of people each year who do the same.

In an ecosystem, small actions are like a drop of water in a still lake: they will cause ripples that continue to grow long after the drop has dissipated. From my time with the plovers and my own research of sensitive ecosystems I have learned only the bare minimum of how each of my sandy footprints affects the wider environment. I may never know exactly how much I contribute to the rise of CO2 emissions each time I flick a light switch on. I certainly can’t measure the amount of methane that has been released in order to bring me the red meat I’ve consumed in my lifetime.

However, my awareness of these facts has lead me down an analytical road that has brought on the urge to lessen these impacts and veer my actions in a greener direction. Dozens of times per day we are presented the choice to be more sustainable, and dozens of times per day we make the wrong choice. But these choices became instinctual only when I realized this Earth is not mine but is equally shared by all species and their children.

“Look,” my coworker says, “Do you see?”

I look without the aid of binoculars to center my vision to find which of the dozens of littered bottles he is referring to, then I look through the specs to see it. At first, I only see a red Budweiser bottle, dented lightly, but there is nothing special about it. Pressed by my peer’s urgency I continue to look, and after some time a tiny bobbing head peeks over the Budweiser can’s edge. The sheer feathers on the head are puffier than those of the adults I’d seen, and I suddenly realize what is behind the beer can. We stand there for some time, waiting for the bird to reveal itself. Finally, the anonymous animal I’ve spent weeks working to protect emerges. A baby plover, the smallest creature I have ever seen. In that moment, the choice became easy.

Dating, romance or hooking-up: take your pick

By Mila Phelps-Friedl

My grandparents met in the college culture of 1930s University of California at Los Angeles. Jeanette was in a sorority, Dean in a fraternity. He worked at her sorority, and when she decided he was cute, she filled a brown paper bag full of water and dropped it on his head as he worked below her balcony room. They married and stayed married for 68 years, all because of a bag of water. Tell me that’s not one of the most adorable “how’d you guys meet?” stories you’ve ever heard.

People don’t really have stories like this anymore, and more than that, people don’t ask where you met your significant other, because a common response ends up being, “I met them on the internet.” This is, of course, not a bad thing — but it does constrict a lot of our dating lives to the characters behind a cellphone or computer screen. A few small factors to blame could be the changing college culture, the prevalence of technology in our lives or perhaps a lack of romantic genes (or an understanding of what is considered romantic) in millennials. Whatever the reasons, it is clear that dating has undergone a massive shift in the last two decades. There will always be those outliers who prefer face-to-face interaction — who met in class or at a cute little coffee shop — but the majority of our generation depends upon technology to create a base interaction with someone in the first place. That’s a scary place to be.

Our dating culture has been steeped in validation through these small actions that outweigh the actual process of getting to know someone. Comedian and actor Aziz Ansari recently published a piece on modern dating in Time Magazine. In his piece, Ansari discussed how the heavily nuanced tactics of finding a soulmate online are vastly different than those of his parents’ traditionally arranged marriage.

According to Ansari, with the rise in these dating apps, there also seems to be a rise in the pressure to always be talking to somebody — always looking to find that special someone.

“The biggest changes have been brought by the $2.4 billion online-­dating industry, which has exploded in the past few years with the arrival of dozens of mobile apps. Throw in the fact that people now get married later in life than ever before, turning their early 20s into a relentless hunt for more romantic options than previous generations could have ever imagined, and you have a recipe for romance gone haywire.”

So what is this “romance gone haywire” that Ansari mentions? Moreso, what are the implications of these social applications and websites on dating overall?

Smartphone applications like Tinder, Grindr and OkCupid have had a huge influence on the motivations behind young people leaving their couch and forming actual human connections. Instead of seeking out that attractive stranger from across the room, they can evaluate the chemistry based on superficial qualities of a profile. In a few simple steps, you can be that much closer to finding the most convenient human interaction rather than putting yourself out there in hopes of finding the right one.

In an article published by the Association for Psychological Science, the author quotes a study by professor Jennifer L. Gibbs of Rutgers University. The article sums up the results of her study, finding that “some theorize that online daters may be wearing rose-colored glasses when looking at potential dates — filling in the information gaps with positive qualities in a potential partner.” In other words, while online dating provides an efficient and widely cast net of date-able candidates, it doesn’t always provide the most realistic version of who you’re talking to behind your computer or phone screen.

Some science suggests that social media can also have an effect on our happiness, even if we have managed to find that special someone. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2015 concluded that, while some social media can help couples feel more connected when they are separate, providing consistent forms of contact through iMessage, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger can also fuel jealously, if that constant need for validation continues to arise in the relationship.

Constant connection also means that the lack of that connection can lead to things like anxiety and distrust. According to the study, 27 percent of surveyed teens consider social media a major factor in feelings of jealously and insecurity. We are so open about our lives and the things we do that if we’re posting about something that doesn’t include our significant other, it can lead to jealousy and a feeling of neglect. While social media can definitely supply that connection, it can also hinder the ability for couples to lead separate lives, lives not dependent on a cell phone or constant contact.

Another notable statistic compares the rise in popularity of these applications with the rise in the number of females that utilize these apps and receive unwanted and uncomfortable attention from different users. According to the same study, “Just as adult women are often subject to more frequent and intense harassment online, teen girls are substantially more likely than boys to experience uncomfortable flirting within social media environments.”  The study cites that around 35% of all teen girls resort to blocking or unfriending someone who makes them uncomfortable online. Behind a screen, people can say things you’d never say to someone directly. In that same regard, it is a form of cowardice that drives many of these individuals to make lewd remarks online, where they are less likely to be caught or called out.

There is a lot to think about in reference to the way technology and efficiency are influencing Modern dating culture is sometimes characterized as a romance although sometimes conflated with the instant gratification of hooking up. Examining the way that social media affects our everyday life is just as significant as tracking it in our personal relationships. The more we understand that, perhaps the more we can retain the sweet parts about meeting someone and getting to really know them, even if it will never be as cute of a story as my grandparents’.

The Oscars, they are-a-changin’

By Araxie Mehrotra

“And I say, exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost. I became an artist — and thank God I did — because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” – Viola Davis in her acceptance speech at the 89th Academy Awards.

The 89th annual Oscars ceremony tried to separate itself from the aristocratic Hollywood establishment following the boycott of the 2016 Oscars. For example, the Academy tried new approaches in order to relate to a more mainstream audience rather than the elite audience the ceremony is known to gear itself toward. Throughout the night, the Oscars remained a place where everyone who had the chance to speak was able to talk freely and critically on the problems facing our world and America.

The nominations themselves made Oscar history: for the first time in history, there were African-Americans nominated in every single acting category. Statistically speaking, the hardest category for African-Americans to win is the “Best Actress” category. The only African-American to ever win that category was Halle Berry in 2002, and that was also the only year that two African-Americans nominated both won an Oscar for the leading role.

That year Whoopi Goldberg hosted for the fourth time, Will Smith was up for “Best Actor in a Leading Role,” and Sidney Poitier was awarded an honorary Oscar. So, has the Academy and Hollywood moved backward in terms of race relations? Compared to last year, maybe not, but they seem to be more aware that people are paying attention to what they are doing. Who they nominate and award affects the whole country, not just the Hollywood community. With this past Oscars, it seems like the Academy has gotten the message that it matters who they are recognizing and, perhaps more importantly, who they are not.

With tension around the Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi, who boycotted the Oscars due to the travel ban, questions regarding whether or not any of the nominated African-Americans were going to actually win an Oscar, and the sexual harassment claims about Casey Affleck all eyes were on the Oscars this year to see who would win. This brings into question whether the Academy should base their decisions on the current events in the news.

This year, there were a few events that could be argued to have swayed the awards. For example, the award for “Best Foreign Film” went to the Iranian film “The Salesman,” which beat out the front-runner, German film “Toni Erdmann.” Could Farhadi’s boycott on the Oscars have played a factor in his film winning?

It is clear that “The Salesman”’s win brought attention to the the travel ban by Donald Trump on Muslim-majority countries. Farhadi had announced before the awards that Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American engineer, would be representing him at the Oscars. When he won, she read a prepared statement that explained why he was boycotting the Oscars. In his remarks, he talked about the divide in society and the importance breaking stereotypes.

Hollywood is a dominantly liberal institution and many of the actors and actresses protested against Trump. At the very beginning, Jimmy Kimmel addressed Trump in order to get rid of the tension in the room. He continued to constantly make fun of him and even poked fun at Meryl Streep for her Golden Globe speech that Trump had attacked her for. Kimmel even tweeted at him during the show but received no response.

Many presenters and winners also used their moments in the spotlight to express their opinions about the political climate in our country. Gael García Bernal used his presentation of Best Animated Feature Film to talk about the divides in the country and to say that he would support Trump’s proposed wall dividing the United States and Mexico.

Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, in their moment to shine, mentioned the ACLU and the kids who are growing up like Chiron in Moonlight, saying the Academy has their backs and will tell their stories. Viola Davis gave probably the most mesmerizing, heartfelt, raw emotional speech about the beauty of being an actor or actress. It was not directly political but covered the themes of diversity in Hollywood. This year’s ceremony was a significant point in Oscar history that demonstrates a different style of thought and establishes it as more than just for show.

Although the most talked about moment in the show was the “Best Picture” mix-up, there were so many Oscar records broken this season that America should celebrate. Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar, Damien Chazelle became the youngest director to win an Oscar, Dede Gardner became the first woman to win twice for producing a film, “Moonlight” became the first all minority-cast movie to ever win “Best Picture,” and Viola Davis became the first African-American to win a triple crown of acting — an Oscar, Tony and Emmy.

Even though these are wins that should be celebrated, there is still not equality in Hollywood. But this could be a start of a new path for Hollywood, one that is more inclusive and is now aware of the influence they have in the United States.

Hate is Not Religious

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Hate is no religious

By Jeremy Werner

As someone who was born and raised Jewish, I assimilated into many conservative Jewish customs, such as attending Hebrew school from the time I was in third grade until my Bar Mitzvah at the age of 13. Since then, my connection to my synagogue has dwindled. I have become surrounded by more people who believe other things. I have watched many of my Jewish friends denounce their religion in favor of something more logical, but I have stood true to my beliefs, and I have never let anyone test that.

The other night, I was grateful to discover something I had never encountered before in my Jewish upbringing: the Chabad house. Chabad is a movement where Rabbis and other people of Jewish faith open up their homes to others and provide meals and company to those who seek it. I sat and ate a wonderful Shabbat dinner with Rabbi Josh Krish and his wife, Andi, at the Ithaca College Chabad on Grandview Court. We laughed, told stories and connected over our experiences with journalism and Judaism. People walked in the door without knocking or ringing, and they were welcomed with open arms. Josh always says “welcome back” when people enter, because he has trouble keeping track of all the people who visit his home. I was surprised when he not only invited me back for Shabbat next week, but for lunch the next day or to just drop in whenever I felt like it. Although Josh and Andi’s home was small, and although they had a newborn child to raise, their door was always open, and they always welcomed visitors.

The night after this experience, it came as a shock to me when I came back to my dorm to see tweets from people bashing religion as a breeding ground for hateful people. Homophobes, racists and terrorists were all being blamed on the religious ideology they followed. It was strange to me that the same ideas that told one couple to open their home to me and serve me a meal was used as reasoning for people taking to the street to tell homosexuals they aren’t welcome on this Earth. It troubled me knowing that some people thought it must be religion itself telling people to go out and spread hate.

I can see why some would blame the rise of hateful people on religion. After all, that is the alibi hateful people give. A homophobic person might hold up a sign that says, “Jesus hates gays.” A terrorist might scream, “Allahu Akbar!” (Allah is the greatest) before committing an act of terrorism. Someone who isn’t well versed in Islamic culture might ask, “Does the Quran really promote terrorism?” This is far from the truth, as the word Islam is actually derived from the word meaning “peace.”

Religion does not create hateful people. Hateful people use religion as an excuse to commit atrocities.

Religion has been used as an excuse for many heinous crimes throughout history, such as the Crusades, the Holocaust and 9/11, just to name a few. Some might blame these crises on religion, since it was religion that drove people to commit these terrible acts, but it’s just as ridiculous as Mark Chapman blaming his murder of John Lennon on the book, “The Catcher in the Rye.” A quick read of the controversial novel makes apparent that it does nothing to endorse the murder of a celebrity. However, one man’s interpretation inspired him to commit a villainous act.

The reason we see people use religious texts as a scapegoat, as opposed to more everyday novels, is because religious texts have the unfortunate position of being written purposefully ambiguous. There are, however, key themes within these texts that cannot be misinterpreted. All religious texts teach ideas of peace, love and togetherness. Mark 12:31 says, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” It doesn’t exclude anyone, it simply states “love.” Religion isn’t just an explanation for how the universe came to be, but it is also a moral code. If you ask any priest or any rabbi what their religion preaches, they’ll tell you they hope to teach people to be kind to others, no matter their race, gender or creed.

In fact, religious texts often encourage the positive treatment of those who are different. Leviticus 19:34 says, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.” This passage expresses how important it is to treat those that are unlike yourself with the same kindness that you would give to your own family. After all, this was the kind of treatment the Jews did not receive in Egypt when they were slaves. The Quran says similar things. Surat Al-Hujurat 49:13 says, “O people, We have created you male and female and made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily, the most noble of you to Allah is the most righteous of you. Verily, Allah is knowing and aware.” This passage claims that differences in gender and race are so that we can identify one another, and that a person’s worth is based solely on their righteousness.

With a quick reading of these ancient texts, the idea that we must welcome strangers becomes very apparent. The Chabad house is not a new movement, but rather a close interpretation of the Torah made strange by modern culture. After all, modern culture contains men of power who claim to be religious men, but shut out foreigners in need based off the fear that their differing ideals will clash with ours. Have these men not read the text? Or do these men lie about their religious affiliation? Or, perhaps, they just don’t understand what religion means.

Rabbi Kirsh told many stories, but one stuck with me more than the rest. It was the story of a Hebrew man who had many debts to pay, but no money to pay them. God gave him the money, but when it came time to pay his debts, he no longer had it. When asked what he did with the money, he said that he went to his temple for service. While he was there, he listened to the problems of other people and how much money they needed to fix their troubles. He ended up giving all of the money away, and he thought to himself, “I have been thinking about myself and my troubles all this time, but maybe God had given me this money not for myself, but so I can help others.” Rabbi Krish finished by offering the idea that our purposes in life, no matter what we’re doing, is to help others. He told us not to worry, because while we help others, people will be helping us. If we all help each other, we’ll never have to worry about ourselves.

Conversely, we can ignore others, and when the time comes that we need help, no one will be left to help us.

Hateful people will always exist, and they will always try to blame their actions on something else. The Bible, the Torah and the Quran do not promote this hate, but loudly protest it. If you encounter someone who uses religion to justify their hate, do not scold them. Do not blame their ideology. Invite them into your home, serve them a nice meal and show them what religion is truly about.

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Seeing the Gray: The Legislation of Morality

By: Christine Gaba, Staff Writer

In an effort to explain why the playwright, Sophocles, ended “Oedipus Rex” with the guilty Oedipus having to leave his kingdom of Thebes, English Professor Lee A. Jacobus provided a provocative statement about ancient Grecian thought on government:

“The belief that the moral health of the ruler directly affected the security of the polis [city-state] was widespread in Athenian Greece. Indeed, the Athenians regarded their state as fragile — like a human being whose health, physical and moral, could change suddenly. Because the Greeks were concerned for the well-being of their state, the polis often figures in the tragedies.”

It was centuries ago when the ancient Greeks created the democratic legislation system that has had so much influence in the conception of our own government. Yet, both American society and the ancient Greeks seemed to have developed on their own similar ideas about the purpose of laws in a society — if the state is going to last, its laws should show the society’s sense of objective morality and, like in “Oedipus Rex,” take measures to enforce this morality upon anyone who challenges them. However, if not careful of how we form our notions of morality and law, we could allow our own biases to taint our policies and wind up with a monopoly of crooked thought in our government.

People’s ideas of objective right and wrong can be seen clashing everywhere. In the recent presidential election, thousands of people from all across the country showed their concern for their future government by marching through the streets or at their respective political rallies to support the laws and rights they want given priority. Whether it dealt with the support or denouncement of immigration policies, civil rights for LGBT members or which candidate should to hold office, many people did everything within their power to announce to the world how what they supported was right and what their opponents supported was wrong. The clash of objective ideals can also be observed on Ithaca College’s campus, most recently with the faculty union protests, where we see our professors rise up against an administration system that they believe has been unfair to them.

When I say “objective morality,” I’m referring to ethical standards that our society believes are universal, not relative to time and place, such as believing we shouldn’t murder or steal from one another. For example, many crimes are illegal because they cause physical and emotional damage to victims, leaving behind feelings of vulnerability, therefore hindering societal progress.

It is also important to attach some form of punishment to these crimes. The punishment not only discourages people from committing them, but also reinforces our idea of objectivity for our laws by acting as a form of redemption for the perpetrator. Every time a crime like murder or theft occurs, there is a cost for society. Whether the damage is monetary or emotional, it goes against our standards of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. By being punished, the perpetrator pays the cost back to society for their crime, getting cleansed of their debt while also satisfying our society’s need to see what they believe as right and wrong supported by the government.

In “Oedipus Rex,” one of the crimes that Oedipus commits that forces him to leave Thebes is the murder of the original king, Laios. Oedipus takes over as king, and his reign is fruitful for Thebes until a terrible plague is sent upon it by the gods. The people of Thebes discover that the only way to lift it is to obey ancient Greek custom and law and exile Laios’ murderer.

Once the truth comes to light that he is the one who committed the crime, Oedipus, despite being a powerful member of his government, follows his society’s laws, gouging out his own eyes before exiling himself. Despite all the good that Oedipus had done, he still committed a crime that could not go unpunished. Thebes would not be in good health until he was reprimanded according to the regulations of his government, a harsh lesson about the necessity of law, order and morality.

However, laws are subject to bias. Whatever lawmakers think is objectively right plays a part in the laws they agree to pass and have govern our society. In the Oedipus story, the king should not have had to gouge his eyes out before leaving Thebes — there is no practical or productive reason for it. He did it because, out of all things, he was compelled by his own beliefs for what he believed was right and wrong. He believed that it was right for him to lose his sight, because of his crimes. In fact, it was Oedipus who, at the beginning of the play, created the law that murderers had to gouge out their own eyes. It was a completely subjective law for Oedipus and his legislators to uphold, and we can still see essences of this kind of subjectivity in our laws today.

For example, we can see subjectivity coloring our opinions when we regard different political parties from our own. Many of us don’t know the particulars each party is fighting for, because they sound like they are against us and thus not worth further investigation, causing us to simplify each party’s goals and generate bias.

Recent research has sought to explain why we possess such different opinions on moral objectivity from each other. Psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Jesse Graham published the findings of their studies in 2007, “When Morality Opposes Justice: Conservatives Have Moral Intuitions that Liberals may not Recognize.” The intention was to see how a liberal’s objective morals differ from a conservative’s, and vice versa. The study shows that there are five psychological foundations that are used as the basis for morality for everyone: harm committed, fairness given, loyalty maintained, respect exhibited and sanctity preserved.

“As a first approximation, political liberals value virtues based on the first two foundations, while political conservatives value virtues based on all five,” Haidt and Graham wrote. “Conservatives have many moral concerns that liberals simply do not recognize as moral concerns. For this reason, liberals often find it hard to understand why so many of their fellow citizens do not rally around the cause of social justice, and why many Western nations have elected conservative governments in recent years.”

Hence why we often see liberals and conservatives at an impasse on certain laws and rights. They think differently from each other, and have developed their own codes for what they believe is right and wrong. However, because subjectivity gets mixed in, it becomes essential for each side to paint the other as the villain, since they want their morals to be given more attention than the other side.

This amplifies the idea of one side having moral superiority over the other, setting each political party on their own island with few paddles to try to cross and understand where the other side is coming from. It makes you wonder why we bother with thinking of morality as objective, if it just winds up creating more problems for us.

But here’s the problem with attempting to completely separate law from objective morality: it’s impossible. Every law ever created was founded on the bedrock of objective morality, because someone thought it was right to have this law and wrong not to, and then fought to make it happen. Every right, every protection, every rule we have toward governing our society’s behavior and thought was never guaranteed. They were conjured in the human mind and then brought into existence.

Neither political affiliation can claim to be the morally superior. They can claim to be more progressive or more conservative, but not to have the higher ground on anything. The world isn’t in black and white, and neither are morals. We can’t allow ourselves to see the gray. We have to remain open to everything and everyone, even if we don’t agree with it.

 

How to be a Human Being?

By Olivia Smialek, Contributing Writer

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.”

Ginsberg had no idea how prophetic that line would become in a few short decades. His words echo in my mind whenever I see a group of so-called friends going to dinner with their heads bent over their phones as if God could call at any second. Ginsberg’s there when so many beginning writers think they can only write well when they write about themselves. I look at an entire room full of people unwilling to think beyond their life in high school, looping the same brainless thoughts ad infinitum — and there he is again. When social media posts alternate between adventurous joy and crushing depression brought on by real life, I know Ginsberg was right. Millennials have descended into a new kind of insanity amidst the pulls of technology, social media and other contagious anxieties.

How did a generation of people so passionate and fortunate fall into such a state of blatant isolation and lacking creativity? We had one of the best standards of living in the world when we started out as kids. Computers and televisions became staples of our lives rather than a rarity. Media was created with such meticulous attention that whole networks and websites were devoted to us — first Nickelodeon and Disney, then YouTube and Buzzfeed. Education seemed prepared to take us above and beyond our parents’ standard of living. We had a sturdy springboard to launch ourselves into the world.

Then the Twin Towers fell, unnecessary wars began, and the economy crashed. College became even more of a long-shot than we could have imagined. Public education was de-funded and re-prioritized right under our noses. None of the adults we looked to for answers would explain what had happened or how it affected us, so we turned to technology for answers, instead finding a hiding place from the real world. Those brilliant screens and media became an addiction, our only safe space where the adults were always one step behind. We distracted ourselves from rampant economic backlashes and crises with cat videos and celebrity brawls. The stress of adulthood sucker-punched us right before we figured out we had to grow up, and we didn’t take our new responsibilities very well. The ensuing panic of adulthood and its expectation created a rash of anxiety and depression that we couldn’t stop scratching. We turned in on ourselves, hiding everything away under our anxious, apathetic masks.

Amidst the chaos, millennials lost something valuable: the ability to live with other human beings. We became less willing to understand others, substituting it with a strange, narcissistic sense of pity. Ever talked to a millennial about a problem? They’ll often say they’re sorry and tell you a story about how they’ve suffered a similar problem in the past. Maybe they’ll blame it on mental illness and recommend taking a trip to your local therapist. You can’t help but express pity for them — clearly they’re suffering worse than you are — yet you can’t help but realize that you don’t feel any comfort from them. It makes you regret saying anything in the first place.

Perhaps George Saunders’ “Braindead Megaphone,” an entity that screams loudly for attention although it has nothing to say, is telling us to grow up and face the world, and we’re wrong for wanting to do things differently. It could be the voices of our parents and elders screaming how, at our age, they had jobs and lives planned out with guaranteed success, and that we’re failures for lacking their drive. It may be our own fear of physically and spiritually dying alone in a crashing economy, because we wanted to pursue our passion. The oppressively rigid structure of our childhood may have prevented us from truly learning how to make friends. The advent of technology brought us just close enough to prevent the creation of any real bonds. Though each theory has its merits, all of these factors slowly infected us with enough loneliness to create an epidemic.

Some people claim to have answers. Stephen Marche blames social media: we become more depressed as we both observe everyone else’s wonderful lives and attempt to make ours just as great. It becomes a competition to determine who has the best life out of your alleged friends, and how you can one-up them. Over time, this competition creates a façade, something used to mask real feelings of isolation and emptiness. But everyone thinks you looked so happy on that hiking trip. Imagine how jealous they feel! Too bad they ignored your invitations to come, forcing you to go out alone in the first place. Surely one of those other happy people would be kind enough to share that with you.

The same concept works in reverse: if a friend is suffering, millennials think they have to feel worse. With mental illness becoming synonymous with millennial, misery and stress become our defining traits. Linda Esposito, a therapist writing for Psychology Today who specializes in young adult psychology, and her colleagues adore working with our tragedies and deciding how we should change ourselves to get “better.” Some parents pay $28,000 a month to put their children in facilities that force them to straighten out their lives and heads. Colleges have “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” to keep our brains cushioned and ready to work, yet we squander this care and necessity in favor of our friends’ pity. It’s okay — maybe those strangers on the internet will have some solutions for our problems. Even if they depress us more, nothing feels more satisfying than the “I’m here for you” comment on your news feed.

The world doesn’t want to hear another sobbing twenty-something cry for simultaneous attention and solitude. Amidst all of this mental angst and turmoil, millennials must face the small matter of adult life and growing into the real world. Facing a lower quality of living than our parents, crushing loans and the pressure to get a job and become successful, how do we stay sane? As we trudge out into the world armed with degrees and self-conscious panic, we realize nobody cares about all of our self-importance. The world has little room for anxieties and insecurities when it’s our turn to solve its problems. We’ve inherited enough of a mess, and we have to fix it on our own. For all of our talk of change and boasting about our own skills, we don’t have a clue where to start.

The best solution to this madness is the most simple, something nobody would have expected. It begins with talking less. Though our lives are important, they don’t deserve to be told in loops to everyone we meet. Some things should be saved for intimate moments. Once we have learned to be silent, we can learn to listen, focusing our attentions on the concerns of others. Take an interest in those other people. Ask more about their lives and see beyond their profiles. Learn new things about the world and ourselves, and use it to better the world. Our mutual interest must become mutual action directed toward improving our lives. We cannot sit back and cry about a problem while long-standing governmental, collegiate or parental authorities fix it for us. Our combined efforts have the potential to bring about legitimate change; when enough people are tired of the status quo, they become strong enough to make that change possible. Cooperation may not end the madness consuming our generation, but we may start to remember what it’s like to be sane.

Patriarchy Has No Gender

By: Michaela Abbott, News Editor

Women are constantly bombarded by the over-boding media presence that perpetuates the notion that women are never good enough. Seen through magazine articles like “How to Shed That Winter Weight” and other colorful headlines, it is clear we are valued for our bodies, not our accomplishments. Because of this, we learn to prioritize our appearance over our accomplishments. When we are constantly praised for our long lashes and skinny waists, we often feel undeserving of our nonvisual accomplishments.

By nonvisual accomplishments, I refer to those that don’t make us Instagram famous — making the Dean’s List for the third semester in a row, landing that killer internship, moving into your own apartment for the first time. None of these achievements have the visual proof of those sexy “Fitsagrams” with which we are constantly bombarded. It is not unnatural to believe that we are undeserving of rewards or praise.

In a world that fosters this imposter syndrome — or the inability to internalize one’s achievement — women feel that their accomplishments, and those of other women, are not justified. “If I don’t deserve happiness, why does she?”

“Patriarchy has no gender,” a phrase I learned from Ithaca College professor Jess Ross, speaks to the fact that men are not the only gender responsible for our male-dominated society, and males are not the only gender who put women down. Women also contribute to the patriarchy, the societal system that puts males first. This is shown through girl fighting, most often seen in the form of social comparison.

This phenomenon is ever more prevalent in our world because of the rise in social media. What used to be reserved for our Cosmopolitan Magazines is now brought into our home lives. Comparisons of worth have become unavoidable and nearly addictive.

A significant amount of research has been done about the effect of social comparison in mainstream media, like magazines and television, but the concept of social comparison resulting in negative self-esteem issues in social media is a relatively new subject.

According to a study done by Common Sense Media, 27 percent of social-media-using teens reported feeling stressed out about how they look when they post pictures, and 22 percent reported feeling bad about themselves when nobody comments on or “likes” the photos they post. While both boys and girls reported feelings similar to these, the majority was found among girls.

Another study, “Social comparisons on social media: The impact of Facebook on young women’s body image concerns and mood,” found that in teen girls, Facebook users were significantly more likely than non-Facebook users to have internalized a pattern of habitually monitoring their body and self-image.

Although these studies are just the beginning of a long future in social comparison research, there is a clear relationship between the use of social media and it’s effect on self-image. It is important to notice this pattern, because it accentuates the dangerous territory in which women live. The obsessive anxiety that results from social media comparison fuels aggressive behaviors between girls.

This issue is bigger than an individual experience. Cara Golden, psychology professor and women’s and gender studies department coordinator at Ithaca College, said that to simply attribute this behavior to “girls being girls” instead of looking into the influence of larger society would be belittling the problem at hand.

“This is what really concerns me,” Golden said. “That if we don’t focus on the system, then we get into ‘girls like to do x,’ ‘girls just like to fight with each other,’ ‘girls just like to pick each other apart,’ but there’s a reason why girls pick each other apart. It’s not because they like to do it or genetically they’re predisposed to do it.”

The psychology between individuals almost exclusively works within their larger systems. In the case of girls and women, the direct influence of our actions is evident if we investigate the social structure in which we are situated. In each system, whether it is educational, professional or social, there is a power structure. Shown mostly through media images, our power structure places men at the top of the societal hierarchy. As a result, women are considered inferior.

“In a system that essentially subordinates women, views women as less than and views femininity as less than, that’s the essence of patriarchy,” Golden said. “Girls and women simply aren’t recognized. They’re not seen. They’re not valued the way that boys and men are.”

Compare the two classic gender roles: men bring home the bacon and women cook it, men dirty their clothes and women clean them. Although there are exceptions to this, we can conclude that women are mostly seen as subservient to the larger patriarchal system. This message is seen in the media, explicitly and implicitly. Consequently, women are trained to fight to be seen, to be liked, to be taken seriously. This need to be valued and respected is not specific to women, but it is more difficult for women to obtain this recognition than it is for men.

There are two primary ways in which girls can gain recognition: by being liked by boys and by being like boys. The first way enhances your femininity by being chosen by masculinity, while the second way speaks to the disposal and rejection of femininity in favor of masculinity. These only begin to perpetuate the system in which femininity is unfavorable.

Whether aggression is inward or outward, both are forms of internalized misogyny. Intense fear of being different in adolescence coupled with the need to be recognized leads to “girl fighting.” Outward girl fighting can be shown through bullying or passive aggressive exclusion, while inward girl fighting focuses on negative self-esteem. These two work hand-in-hand and are exacerbated by social media.

In order to make ourselves feel better, it’s almost natural to degrade other women. Not holding an envious position doesn’t feel as bad when you convince yourself that she got the job because she’s good looking. Girl-on-girl hate thrives in the environment in which we are situated.

In this same environment, misogyny has become increasingly internalized. Although involuntary, the messages the media has ingrained in our minds reincarnate themselves into insults against other women. Think of all the misogynistic language that is available to us. Golden pointed out the plethora of words we could think of to use to degrade women: bitch, hoe, slut, ugly, ditzy, superficial, petty, catty, back stabbing, manipulative, untrustworthy — and the list goes on. There simply is not the same range of derogatory language for men.

Having such an accessible and negative vocabulary makes it too easy to engage in girl fighting. Regarding social media, jealousy or the fight to be noticed may pit one female against another female as well as provide them both with the exact language needed to tear the other down. If she’s a slut or a whore, then it wouldn’t be difficult to feel superior.

I’ve noticed this pattern in my own past. I used to have issues with a past girlfriend of my ex-boyfriend. I didn’t like her being in his life. I didn’t like the fact that she was pretty. I didn’t like her as a person. Not for reasons having to do with her personality, because frankly, I didn’t know her, but for the sole reason that it felt better to hate on her than to recognize that I was insecure and anxious about myself and my own appearance. This self-esteem issue, or inward aggression, manifested as competitiveness against her.

I cared too much about what she posted on social media. I constantly thought that her life was better than mine, that I needed to be better. I would often start feuds with her, and ultimately, I survived off of the drama. I knew what I was doing was obsessive and wrong, but I could not stop.

Social media made this obsessive feud far too easy. I was given the ammunition to ultimately hurt myself. With every post I looked at, with every minute I wasted, I was falling into the exact message I had been absorbing all my life: you are not good enough. That’s what this patriarchal system encourages. It gives girls and women copious amounts of unavoidable content to use against themselves while enforcing the message that they need to create this competition in order to have a good life.

I felt that I thrived off this competition. It gave me purpose, but it also made me feel incredibly anxious. I was motivated to be a better person, but looking back, my definition of better and the way I was motivating myself were crooked. Better to me meant prettier, more successful, cooler, and the thing is, engaging in this obsessive, competitive behavior brought me no closer to my goals. I began to see my posts as fake and started to question my identity. Did I really enjoy that band, or was I doing it to impress someone else? Was I trying to be cool? Did I really want to buy that jacket, or was I doing it to fit a certain image? I had lost track of the answers. I was posting certain things to Instagram and Facebook that were no longer my own thoughts or feelings; they were an attempt to win the fight to be noticed.

I used social media to fictionalize myself, because in reality, I felt inferior. I needed to overcompensate. This is what made me realize that social media is not real life. This is a message we’ve heard from our parents at one point or another, but it is something that is still hard for many girls and women to grasp. A 2010 Girl Scout Research Initiative Study found that 74 percent of girls said they believed most girls used social media to make themselves look cool. Of that same population, 41 percent admitted that they engage in this behavior as well. When every girl is posting about the best version of herself, and you have to live with yourself even in the worst of times, you begin to wonder if you’re falling behind, if you’re ultimately not good enough.

This is a common fear that is often expressed in a negative way: turning in on ourselves and hurting other women in order to succeed. We cannot let this fear get in the way of female advancement, especially in future generations. A more productive lifestyle would be for us to consciously and actively notice these faults in the larger system and turn our aggression toward the issue at hand. Girls and women need to be valued, recognized and supported in our culture, and that begins with us. Instead of seeing that hot girl on Instagram and instantly comparing yourself, remind yourself that while she is great, you are also great. You can be great together.