Final Project

I'll have to upload the file somewhere ... but I made a power point presentation for my final project.

My First Term of College

This is the end of my first term of college. I took two classes, both online, as I did not have a job when I registered, but hoped to find one and did not want my school and work schedule to overlap. By the time I finished my first week of school, I had a job working night shift at a local care home for dementia patients. This has been an experience! Something interesting happens almost every day I go to work. I haven't been to a regular school since 6th grade, as I was homeschooled (self taught, mostly) after that. I was nervous about taking a class with deadlines and assignments, but I think I did pretty okay in the end. I've been practicing my writing by blogging off and on over the years, and it doesn't hurt that I like it!

I feel like I learned a lot this term. It wasn't the ideas or techniques that I read in the book that I appreciated the most (I know how to read, and I could have done that on my own), but the feedback and pushing I got from my teachers. I'm always happy to be shown (whether directly with a note or indirectly through an activity or assignment) how I am doing things wrong. I realized that I had been being lazy, as well as my over use of it and is. I've been catching myself doing the same thing while writing my sociology assignments, and I can re-write my sentences to be more complete. I can really tell the difference between a sentence with a bunch of 'it's and one with actual words instead.

Making Pie

I was invited to a friend's house for thanksgiving dinner, and so I offered to bring my upside-down pecan pumpkin pie. It's pretty much the most amazing pumpkin pie anyone has ever tasted. After waking up around noon on Thanksgiving, I set to work making my desert. I looked at the recipe, and realized that I had forgotten that I was out of evaporated milk. So, I headed out to Sherm's, battled through the wild crowds, all buying last minute ingredients for their meals. As I was making my way through the store, I passed a display of evaporated milk, so I grabbed one, and was on my way.

After I finally made it back home, I started mixing up the ingredients. First, a big can of pumpkin pie mix, next the evaporated milk. Once I had added the milk, I knew something wasn't right. I looked at my recipe, I looked at the can. I had purchased the wrong size, 12 ounces instead of 5. I didn't have a second can of pumpkin, and I dreaded going all the way to the other side of town and fighting for another can of pumpkin. Besides that, time was running out, and I needed to get to my friend's house soon! I decided to check the local convenience store, and thank goodness, they had a can of pumpkin (puree instead of the mix, but I could deal with that!).

I got home, and mixed up the pies, poured them into the pans and started putting them into the oven. I had ended up with two large pies and four small ones (like pumpkin pie shots). After I put the two large pies in, I realized that I didn't have room in the front for all four little pies, so I reached back and carefully set the little pies in the back. Well, I wasn't quite careful enough, and one of them dumped over, spilling all over the bottom of my oven.

I cleaned up what I could, and continued cooking. In a couple minutes (unknown to me) smoke started billowing out of the oven, and then the smoke alarm went off. Our smoke alarm is ... excessively loud. BEEEEP BEEEEP BEEEP THERE IS SMOKE IN THE HALLWAY BEEEP BEEEEP BEEEP EVACUATE THE BUILDING BEEP BEEEP BEEEP! and so on. I opened the windows and doors, and frantically waved something at the smoke alarm, trying to get the smoke away from it. I turned off the oven, and eventually the alarm stopped. I called up my friend and asked her if I could bake my pies in her oven. She said, sure, as soon as the turkey and rolls are done cooking. So, I started taking the pies out of the oven so that I could wrap them up and bring them over. The first pie I took out, as I was setting it on the stove top, slipped and fell, splat, upside-down on the floor of my kitchen. I almost cried.

I took the other pies out (no more accidents) and cleaned up the floor as best I could. I was a little worried about transporting the pie. I figured that with my luck, I would dump them all over my car. They made it to my friend's house. I carried them to the fence, opened the gate, tripped, almost fell, caught myself, made it through her herd of mastiffs and into the kitchen without further loss of pie. Whew!

Sadly, the pie sat there all through dinner, as the turkey (like all turkeys) took longer to cook than expected. They finally went into the oven at 7, baked for an hour and then got put in the freezer in an attempt to cool them down before people fell asleep. By 9:30 when I had to leave for work, they were still hot, and so I left without seeing what anyone thought of my pies.

In the middle of the night, my friend sent me a message telling me that it was the best pumpkin pie she had ever tasted.

I have half a can of pumpkin puree left ...

Using broken minds as a key to Artificial Intelligence

I tend to think of the human brain as a very complex computer program that we could possibly re-create if we had enough variables and an effective method for teaching it to "learn" and adapt. In computer programing, one common aspect of all programs are bugs, or quirks in the programing that, when triggered, produce unintentional results. These results aren't always bad, referenced by the humorous phrase, "that's not a bug, that's a feature!" By looking at a program's bugs you can learn a lot about how it works without looking at the source code.

In my job, I work with people whose minds have malfunctioned in one way or another. Last night, one of my residents was rambling on and on as I was getting her dressed. It reminded me of a memory dump in a program, and that's when it hit me: it might be more profitable to create an artificial intelligence where the types of mental illnesses that humans face are possible.

Currently, those working on artificial intelligence are focusing on the visible functions of the human mind, but are not reproducing the system behind it. By taking a look at the mind's bugs (such as schizophrenia, memory loss, paradoxical thinking, fallacies, gullibility and so on) a greater understanding of the underlying structure can be realized.

My favorite (fictional) example of an artificial intelligence's mental neurosis is HAL in 2001: Space Odyssey. He is driven by the directive to make sure his mission succeeds at any cost, and sees the humans as being unnecessary, untrustworthy and flawed companions. He kills off most of the crew before being turned off by the protagonist. If we develop a computer with the ability to become mentally deranged, we will be forced to change our revering attitude toward the computer to one of caution, just as we have toward humans that we do not know. True artificial intelligence would be a dangerous thing, for it would represent a mental force as strong as ours, but malleable in a way that humans are resilient to.

Formal Organizations

How has one specific formal organization changed your life in some significant way? Explain how the institutional culture has shaped your personality, attitudes, values and/or beliefs. What role did bureaucracy play in this process?

When I was born, I was labelled a member of my parent's church. There was a ceremony (like a christening) that solidified my membership in the eyes of the other members. As I grew, I was socialized to accept the governing structure of the church as being "right" and "obviously the way things should be". When I was a bit older, I was officially made a member, and given a "vote" and felt as though I was an important piece of the organization. This illusion stayed with me until I grew old enough to realize that what we were told, and reality were quite different.

One interesting facet of this church is that it is highly structured and bueracratic. The power structure is VERY rigid and standardized across all congregations. There is a "handbook" for every position, and there are rules for every possible situation. The local administrators are usually well off, business oriented/minded men - even though the members are from all walks of life, and the leadership is *supposed* to be democratic. Once you move beyond the local sphere, there is a HUGE amount of inner-circle self-promotion going on, and it is impossible to get into a position of power without knowing someone or being promoted from a lower position. The sunday school lessons were standardized in the 60s, and now everyone in the world learns from the same book (translated), and hears the same information being regurgitated every week.

When I was 18, I was assigned to teach the 4 and 5 year olds, and had my first experiance of being told that I was not allowed to deviate from the lesson manual, and then realizing that I was being asked to socialize these young children with values and norms that I did not necessarily agree with - ie with being obedient members of the church bueracracy. I had been raised with a strong personal value of education and that there is always more to know about any given topic, and so when I started taking the "adult classes" and realized that it was really just the same exact thing I had been learning for the last 18 years, I lost all interest in being a cooperative member of the group.

Even though I am no longer a member (I was kicked out for heresy :-) ), I still look at some portions of the social structure and can admire it for being very efficient, and working for a large number of people who do not rebel against their socialization. It is very difficult to entirely step away from something that you were born and raised into, and even today, I find myself with values that originated from this organization. There was a emphasis on learning to speak publically, and each member was trained to become a member of the administration, even though most of them would never actually be appointed (it helped maintain the illusion that it was possible), and even today, I can get up in front of a bunch of people and wax philosophical for as long as needed to fill in the time.

Unfortunatly, I believe that the more they move towards a formally burecratic organization and away from their original form, which emphasized creativity, democracy and life-long personal and social change; the less powerful their method of socializing their members and KEEPING members through adulthood will be. If I had been a member in the 1800s when they were still radically progressive (even by today's modern standards) I might have stuck around.


When I was young, people around me always told me that I was creative. I liked to draw, and I did a pretty good job as long as I used a photo or other drawing as a guide. I never agreed that my drawings made me creative; everything that others saw as creativity was just technical skill. To me, creativity involves creating something new, something that has never existed before. The better you can do that, the more creative you really are. On the other hand, there are a lot of things that most people don’t consider to be creative that really are. Any time you have a problem, and you are able to figure out a solution, that’s creativity. When you make something up on the spot, whether it’s a fib, a recipe, a new word, or lyrics to a song you can’t quite remember, that’s creativity.

Creativity is something uniquely organic. A machine does not create, it only imitates, follows instructions, or takes advantage of the fact that we find patterns of symmetry mixed with a touch of random to be beautiful. Of course, a machine can be used to create, but it is not the one doing the creating any more than a No. 2 pencil creates poetry in the margins of school books. A machine cannot solve even the most simple of logical problems if it has not been made aware of the problem and its solution beforehand. A machine does not know how to lie.

Social Structure & Interaction

After defining these terms, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, provide an example of each from your personal or social life.

Geimenschaft describes the extended, personal relationships we have with those we come into contact with (what Cooley refered to as primary groups). The most basic and universal example is the family. The members of a Geimenshaft have a feeling of solidarity and tend to place the whole above their own desires and ambitions (knowing that the whole is looking out for them, and those sacrifices will be more than worth it).

Gemein is the German word for common in English and gemeinschaft, community.

A good example of geimenschaft from my personal life is my Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) group. We get together every Saturday and have a blast playing D&D, eat great food and drink copious amounts of alcohol. D&D is, by its nature, a community-building game. You have to work together in order to solve puzzles and conflicts. When the monsters have been killed, and the dragon's horde is divied up, there is a lot of discussion about who could best use each item rather than who has already recieved the most items. In all of the experiances that I have had, sharing food and drink is one of the quickest ways to develop a strong sense of community. It is not a coincidence that the word communion and community are so simillar (and, let me tell you, you can easily tell the difference between the congregations who share a real meal rather than those who ration out little slivers of tasteless flour and sips of wine/water/grape juice).

Gesellschaft describes an association of people who work together, but don't have any other bond keeping them together. A good example of this concept is the typical relationship between the owner of a business and their employees. Even if you are lucky, and the people you work with all get along, the owner (almost) always has the sucess of the business as the first priority, and if you are not contributing to this sucess, you are forced to leave. This is more pronounced the farther removed the owner (or manager) is from interaction with the workers.

Geselle is a word that means journeyman (a craftsman who has completed the first stage of training in a guild) and Gesellschaft then describes an association of journeymen.

An example of gesellschaft in my own life is my relationship to UCC. I have paid UCC money, and I expect to get a return on that investment. Maybe after I have taken classes here for longer, or if I was on the actual campus, or if I wasn't the one paying for my classes, I would have less of a feeling of disconnection with the school as a whole. The less we are connected with the people involved with an orginization, with society, the less likely it is that we can form little, micro-gemeinshaften: friendships, clubs, gangs, cliches ... in short, community.


just a funny note, when I used Google translate to read the dictionary entry on Gesellschaft it translated the syllablization as: ge - sell - ten - sheep

Social Structure & Interaction

For this activity, I'd like you to demonstrate your understanding of specific principles of social psychology and symbolic interaction by returning to the Lecture Notes/Powerpoint for this section, clicking (again) on the Jane Elliot video clip on the first page, and describing in a few sentences (each) how the clip illustrates the following concepts. Just Google "Jane Elliot, A Class Divided".

Social Status
In-Groups and Out-Groups
Social Institutions

Social Status denotes your position in the overall web of society as well in each particular social institution that you are a member of.

Jane Elliot took advantage of the naturally ascribed status of eye color and gave it additional meaning. The children most likely had statuses before this experiment started, but the eye color became a master status that overrode all other statuses that they might claim.

Roles are the way in which we fulfil our various statuses. Once we understand our roles, and accept them, then we have a guide as to how we should act.

In itself, the status of eye color has little meaning to grade-school children (as evidenced by the fact that social institutions do not normally grow up around this status), but once Elliot defined the roles of each status, the children responded accordingly and able to figure out how they were 'supposed' to act. I think this shows the importance of a society (especially for children) that properly socializes its members.

In-Groups and Out-Groups describe the relationship between a group that we belong to and other groups with differing norms, statuses, values, etc.

The feelings that each eye color group had towards the other was that of an out-group. The difference between how that manifested in their actions was how each group percieved the worth of their status. The privilleged group looked down on the other group - and ascribed them negative attributes. The un-privilleged group also looked down on themselves, accepting and acting out the negative attributes that were assigned to them.

Social Institutions are the basic way in which we orgianize ourselves into groups based around a common need, goal, interest, status or role.

Before the experiment, the children belonged to the unified institution of their classroom. Once the experiment went underway, they divided into two separate groups, but I think that they were all still in the same social institution, just a vastly different one than before.


What does Mead mean when he says that the self is both a subject and an object to itself?

Mead was making the point that a major aspect of being a self, a concious being, is being able to think of ourselves as others would see us. He posits that this is neccessary for the development of our society as well as for each individual. We all exist as a part of a whole, and by using others as a frame of reference (where we reference ourselves in light of others) we are able to form a view of ourself in context.

I like to talk to myself a lot. I use it, as Mead states, to reason things out, almost like a have an imaginary brain friend. If I can see my thoughts as others see them, then I am better able to form arguments that will make sense to others.

I have been thinking a lot about some people I know with Asberger's Syndrome. They seem to be missing part of the ability to see themselves as others see them. They talk without noticing that everyone else is annoyed or falling asleep.

I think Mead was also trying to say that our sense of self relies on being a part of a society, a "team", and that the I comes from being in the team ... so, you could also say that the I or the me IS the team :D

I really like thinking of examples where we are only the subject or only the object to ourselves ... like when I draw and am absorbed in the act of creation, of placing my own perspective down onto paper (although even that has overtones of communication), and then I realize that I've been at it for hours and didn't eat. Or, from the opposite end, I take care of mentally ill patients for work, and some of them are there, but not there ... some of them have little or no sense of self left. Others have lost the ability to communicate, but they are still very much a self, and those are the ones who will fight you when you violate their privacy. Violence is the last way that they have to communicate with the rest of us.

Gay Marriage is ...

If you examine the arguments used by the various groups against same-sex marriage, you may notice an interesting pattern. Let's examine a few arguments from those who wish to ban same-sex marriage in the United States.

1) Those who disagree with same-sex marriage may eventually be classed in the same category as racists.

2) If same-sex marriage became a norm, then marriage as we have known it may be gone forever!

3) Same-sex parents might not compensate for the lack of a father or mother in the family.

4) What is the point of marriage if no children can be produced?

5) Children ARE being taught in school that there is no moral taboo associated with same-sex marriage.

6) In the case of many religious adherents, there is the belief that same-sex relations are on par with adultery and having sex with your mother-in-law.

Now, I could have fun arguing against these points, but let's take a closer look at what type of arguments are being used. The first two arguments, unfortunately, expose two of the fears that the opponents of same-sex marriage feel. They are afraid that they will become the minority, and that they will lose something that they hold dear ("traditional" marriage .. which, ironically, has only been around a couple hundred years, and only recently had anything much to do with love and all that jazz). The second two arguments accuse same-sex couples of being insufficient parents. The last two arguments are based purely on a moral appeal to those who hold the belief that sex between two people of the same sex is a sin.

Two thirds of these arguments are based on fear. Fear is one very effective use of arguing through emotions. It can convince people to turn against an idea even if they themselves see nothing wrong with other people practicing it.

The remaining two arguments are logic based, but, in my opinion do not hold up to scrutiny.

The first is two-fold:

Same-sex couples might not provide a balance of gender exposure for their children
This balance is required for a healthy childhood
Same-sex couples might not properly raise a child

the second half of this argument:

Same-sex couples might not properly raise a child
those who are might not properly raise a child should not be allowed to marry
Same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry

I hope I do not have to point out all of the problems with these arguments!

The second argument can be broken down as follows:

Same sex couples cannot produce children
Marriage is primarily concerned with reproduction
Same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry

The second premise of this argument is not true, otherwise you could replace the first premise with those who are infertile through chance, age or choice. You can see where this would be problematic!

For fun, take a look at the types of arguments that proponents of same sex marriage are using and see how they compare.


A fun statistic for you all: When laws are created that say things like "marriage is the union between a man and a woman" this leaves those who are neither in a very sticky legal situation. Did you know that about 1.7% of children are born with an ambiguous sex? That means that in a town the size of Roseburg, there are approximately 400 citizens who do not fall into the traditional male/female categories. The way that laws are being recklessly written in the name of religious morals is very disturbing to me.

For more information on the 1.7% figure:


Racial Profiling

I've been trying to think if I have ever been the target for racial profiling. As a white person in a predominantly white town, it isn't something that I think about a lot. There are simply too many of us for a targeted reaction to even register. I wonder how often any of us are discriminated against on the basis of our race and we do not even notice. It is something that we generally do not even think about.

I remember the first time I ever consciously noticed a black person. I was in fourth grade, and she was a new student in another class. No one was really brave enough to talk to her, as we were so afraid of possibly offending her (since about the only thing we "knew" about racial relations was that black people were very touchy about how they were treated).

Group Identity

We all belong to groups, most of us belong to many, many groups. I know that I act certain ways and am treated certain ways because of the groups I am associated with. There are some groups that I did not choose, such as being a female, my family, the school classes that I belonged to as a child, my religion. These groups shape who you believe you are, as others treat you in certain ways depending on how they perceive these groups.

For example, my brother and I were very interested in learning how to make computer games when we were children. When my brother showed interest, he was encouraged, given books on the topic and he is now in college as a network administrator and having a blast. On the other hand, when I showed a similar interest, it was as if it did not even register on people's radar. Young girls were not expected to want to program, and people only see what they expect to see.


As a young person, I have most definitely been the target for ageism. We tend to think of this as a problem affecting the elderly in our communities, but just as we discriminate against those who fall over a certain age, we also discriminate against those who are younger.

Throughout my working life most of my jobs have involved working with those who are quite a bit older than me. I have a knack of sitting quietly and observing those around me in such a way that they forget I am there and will act naturally. I am always amused when they start bashing on the "young people these days" when I am sitting right there next to them. Many of the negative perceptions that are held about the younger generation by the elderly are false and stem from a misunderstanding of the culture that we have grown up in. I would get worried, but I know that the previous generations have all spent their later years bitching about the youth and how they we are going to ruin the world.


One way to best observe culture is to distance yourself from it. For this assignment, I'd like you to attempt to get something done in society BOTH WITH AND WITHOUT THE USE OF SYMBOLS (language or gestures).

For this assignment, you'll need a pet (yours or someone else's) and also, like the first activity, a friend, family member or co-worker.

First, see if you can convey a simple idea - "THIS IS TASTY" - to the pet. You can use gestures, objects, smells, etc. in your effort to convey this idea.
Next, use the following phrase to convey the idea that "THIS IS TASTY" to a person. Try to convey the idea at first WITHOUT the use of any gestures or symbols (just state it plainly without emotion or action). If this fails, try again using gestures or other forms of symbolic communication.
(note: this is actually a phonetically correct Ukrainian phrase for "this is tasty!")

Were you able to successfully convey this idea without the use of gestures or symbols?

Did it help to also use gestures or objects to do this? Explain what transpired.

Finally, looking back at the White article on the importance of symbols, discuss one specific idea given that this activity helped you to understand.

Through this excersize I was better able to understand the idea that a thought is better able to be remembered and used if it is represented as a symbol in our minds. My roommate's cat uses language, and by using HER gestures (not human ones) I am able to communicate in a limited way with her: hello, i like you, go away, let's play, would you like to cuddle? and so on .. these are things that a cat can understand, and that they have ways of communicating with each other, but trying to tell her that something is tasty was beyond her realm of experiance - she has no symbol in her mind for yummy food. It is easier to understand this when I tried the same experiment with a human, since we share a common culture. We have MANY symbols (in the forms of gestures, facial expressions and so forth) to denote that food is good, and on top of that, we are exceptionally good at interpreting new symbols if given enough context.

Animal Population Control

An analysis of Kristof's article [NYTimes, login required]

I felt that Kristof's essay about controlling deer populations through hunting was quite entertaining, and as a bonus, it informed me of a few facts I was not previously aware of.

Because of the humorous tone, as well as the lack of counter-research (showing exactly why other solutions do not work, rather than just making fun of them), I think it would be difficult for this essay to convince an avid animal rights advocate to take up hunting as a recreation, or even support extended hunting. Luckily, I do not think that these people were Kristof's intended audience. Rather, I believe he was aiming for the upper middle class, who is conscious of animal rights, but can see that hunting might be a necessity in certain circumstances.

I was personally astonished that deer would be a leading cause of death in any category, and was dubious when I read Kristof's assertion. It would have been a good idea to spend a little more time establishing a fact that seems so astonishing at first glance. Part of my suspicion was caused by his qualification of category: large, North American mammal. What constitutes "large"? It seemed to me that he was purposely limiting the scope of his question to disclude other obvious answers. But, after doing some research, I found that deer related automobile crashes are one of the leading causes of death in the united states. The runners up in ALL animal categories are Bees/wasps/hornets at 48 deaths per year and dogs at 20 deaths per year [cite]. It would have been a better argument to state that deer are the largest cause of ALL animal related deaths, even above venomous insects. This would have had more impact as well as reducing confusion about which animals Kristof was including.

I would be very interested to see how the number of collisions with deer correspond with the deer population in each area or state. Would reducing the number of deer significantly reduce the number of deer related fatalities? According to the CDC, there are about 20,000 non-fatal car crashes involving deer every year. [cite] I think this topic deserves a more serious look rather than just an off the cuff solution, even if it ends up being the easiest one to implement.

Another point, according to the IHEA, about 1,000 people are injured while hunting per year, and almost 100 of these injuries prove fatal. [cite] If the number of hunters rose, it follows that the number of hunting related injuries would also rise.

The Sociological Perspective

In order to better appreciate the "sociological imagination" I'd like you to first read, and then think about, C. Wright Mills' notion that "neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both."

Next, I'd like you to get away from your computer and into the more tangible world that surrounds you. GO TALK TO SOMEONE RIGHT NOW! You can choose a family member, friend, co-worker, or whomever you think will give you an honest, straightforward answer to this question: "WHAT IS ONE PROBLEM YOU HAD TODAY?" I'd like you to ask this question without any pre-conditioning, so don't tell this person why you are asking the question. Write down their answer and then return to this activity on your computer. Go ahead, go now, it will only take a moment. Seriously, go!.........

When I got to this activity last night, the only person around was my roommate, so I asked her, 'What was a problem you had today?' After a little thought she replied, 'getting my thoughts in order.'

My roommate is also a first term college student, and is taking three classes in addition to working. She has been out of school for a couple years, and is having trouble getting her brain back into gear. This is a problem because she has a lot of reading and writing to do for her classes!

Personal troubles are usually limited to an individual or a small group of individuals where public issues affect a much larger portion of loosely related people. This is not to say that personal troubles do not affect the larger society, in fact they most certainly do, just as public issues in turn affect personal issues. I believe Mills spoke of personal troubles as 'biographical' and public troubles as 'historical.' I believe that these words succinctly underline the meaning behind these two types of issues. There are billions of humans on this globe, and we all fall into groups, cultures, categories which when our personal troubles are taken together, they aggregate into a public trouble. In other words, when one person has trouble finding a parking space, it is a personal trouble, but when almost everyone in a certain group (racial, geographical, religious, etc) has trouble finding a parking space it becomes a public trouble, and the sociologist should start looking for the cause.

My roommate's personal trouble of being unable to study is a latent function of certain public troubles (and some of these 'troubles' are viewed as facts of our culture rather than as a deficiency). My roommate has been out of school for six years, and because of the way our culture currently exists, there is little room to practice reading non-fiction or writing essays outside of school. As everyone should know, what we do not practice becomes rusty from disuse. I would consider the general public's lack of the ability to think critically or logically or to retain pertinent information to be attributed to this 'public trouble' of having no convenient or necessary way to practice the skills that they learn in high school. I would also consider that once we all leave college, unless we take a job where these skills are used, they will again fall into disuse and we will be unable to easily "collect our thoughts and put them in order."

It is important to find the underlying social causes of personal problems because it helps us see that it is impossible to truly solve our personal problems without first solving the underlying problems of society. One of my roommate's favorite phrases when someone is complaining to her about a problem they are having is to say, 'that sounds like a personal problem!' And, I believe that it is also important to be able to recognize when a problem really DOES stem from your own personal choices and actions rather than blaming it on others (parents, neighbors, teachers, etc.)

Another reason it is important to understand how larger social structures affect the individual is because of cause and effect. Knowing that when a government or corporation or religion makes a decree or a decision or a new law that there will be consequences for the common citizen puts some of the responsibility for those problems into the moral realm of these larger entities. But, whether or not they accept that responsibility is another story altogether!

My Brother James

I’d like to tell you about my little brother James. He is the perfect picture of someone who never concedes to the pressure of what other people think. First of all, he is about a foot taller than most people, and his white-boy afro does nothing to counter this image. He likes the color purple and exotic clothing, and it doesn’t shock the people he knows to see him walking around town in a brightly colored vest, a hat and stripped pants. In the winter, he likes to wear a tremendous trench coat that makes him look like a skinny mobster. And of course, I can’t forget his shoes. He has big feet, not abnormal, but large. The thing with James though is that he hates when shoes touch the ends of his toes, so he always buys shoes that are about an inch longer than he needs, giving his whole costume a clown-like feel.
Another of his quirks is that if he feels that he can pull it off, he will always claim the opposite view in a discussion, and argue his side vehemently until the other parties to the conversation either give in or give up. I must admit that this is his most irritating personality quirk, and those who don’t know that he isn’t really serious can take offense. I remember once when he was a child, he asked me what day it was, and I replied that it was Wednesday. He retorted that it was NOT Wednesday, but Tuesday instead. I did a double take and checked the calendar; it was indeed Wednesday. I let my little brother know that he was wrong, and showed him the calendar, and recounted the things that had happened on each of the days since Sunday when we had gone to church. He still insisted that it was Tuesday rather than Wednesday, and of course I wouldn’t back down since I knew I was right. Eventually we both broke down into giggles because of the sheer comedy of our argument.
Today, my brother James has moved to San Fransisco in order to go to culinary school. Even in a town as diverse as San Fransisco, he still comes across as someone who doesn’t mind being himself in any circumstance. I think his sense of self comes from his feeling of assurance that he is correct. As a way of illustration, let me tell you about the time he decided to make a batch of macaroni and cheese. Our family has a favorite recipe for mac and cheese that involves making a cheesy cream sauce with onions and then adding the cooked macaroni and baking the whole thing until it is a delicious, creamy, cheesy, crunchy magnificent concoction that any of us could eat an entire batch of without blinking an eye. So, while making the cream sauce, James mis-read the recipe as calling for eight cups of flour rather than eight tablespoons, which is sixteen times too much flour! The flour is the third ingredient he needed to add, and instead of thinking, ‘hmm, this seems weird, maybe I should re-evaluate,’ he went right on ahead with his recipe. I walked into the kitchen just as he was attempting to “pour” this brick of flour, macaroni, and chunks of cheese (since, of course, they didn’t melt right when mixed with so much flour) into a casserole pan. If I had not stopped him there, he would have baked it and only admitted to his mistake when it came out of the oven inedible. When I asked him why he hadn’t realized that he had made a mistake he told me that he had followed the recipe, and so how could he have made a mistake?
Another amusing facet of my brother’s personality is his use of made up names and words. He has been doing this since he was old enough to talk as a toddler. When I read an email from him, I feel as though I am reading a foreign tongue, as I only recognize half the words. When I ask him what a word means, he replies that it is a portmanteau between two other words that he feels should go together to create a new word that has the meaning he wanted.
I admire my brother’s strength of character, and I am envious of his ability to act as he sees to be correct without regard to the opinion of others. Of course, this tendency can be taken too far, but any good trait when used without moderation can turn sour. Luckily, as my brother has gotten older, he has learned to curb some of his tendencies when appropriate. He even calls me when he has trouble with a recipe and doesn’t know what to do rather than just foraging ahead.

Things are Not What They Seem!

What does Berger mean when he says, "things are not what they seem?"

When Berger says “things are not what they seem,” he is referring to all aspects of our social life, from individual to communal to even world wide social structures such as religion, race or gender.

As way of illustration, think of any person you know fairly well, but not intimately. You may know things about them, but you cannot say that you know everything that goes on in their life, and in fact you would probably be shocked to learn of some of their experiences or beliefs. What is true for the individual is also true for organized groups of people. We all hide behind stereotypes, some gladly, some disappointedly, but if you are able to look past your expectations, then you will be able to see the unique and sometimes shocking truth (or at least slightly closer to the truth).

About three years ago, I had a falling away with my church (which will remain anonymous for now). I had been a member since a child, and so I had never really been worried about looking too hard at what it meant to believe what was taught. The actions that started me down the path of leaving was actually, for the first time, taking a critical, outside look at what was actually being said and taught, and how it matched my own personal values. One of the critical choices I made was to start reading a Jewish translation of the ‘Old Testament’. What had once been something that I had heard many times before became new, and I was able to look at it with new eyes, and realized that what I was reading was not what it had seemed to be when I was still entrenched in my old belief systems.