Letter to Chomsky

Dear Noam Chomsky,

Hi, my name is Jason and I'm a graduate of UC Santa Cruz. I've decided to write to you because I have recently seen a posting of one of your email responses to some random person and it made me think that you actually might respond to mine.

I want to say that you have been one of the largest influences in my life (including John Stuart Mill and Ralph Nader); I quote you constantly anytime I have a serious discussion.

I also want to say that I try to implement my beliefs, my philosophies into my life. I'm currently in China teaching English and I always try to implement independent thinking into my lessons. Sometimes I give my students censored material because I want them to question what they've been told. I'm surprised at the extent of the censorship here; it really angers me and I try to struggle against it. I guess it's my way of being an activist (I've always wanted to be one, but couldn't imagine myself marching outside and going head to head against police). I don't know how much difference it will make, but I will continue.

Anyways, I have been pondering a question for awhile and I think I've recently concluded on what I think, but I wanted to know your perspective.

I was on the subway yesterday and a homeless woman asked me for money and as usual, I ignored her. I ignore every homeless person who asks me for money and it has been bothering me for years. I'm a person who wants to “save the world” and I plan my life accordingly to how I want to do it. I dream about working with wind turbines and solar panels and I talk about it all the time with my friends. My goals are very ideal, but I feel as if all this “grand talk” means nothing if I don't help the people right in front of me.

Every reason that I have come up with to defend my act, I have concluded, seems to me more like an excuse. I tell myself that I should give them money and that I'll start doing it when I have a career, but it scares me to think that I'm just fooling myself.

What is the right thing to do?

This is really important to me.

Sincerely,
Jason

Beggar

I was on the subway yesterday and this old woman asked me for money, and as usual, I ignored her. I don't usually give money to beggars and I'm trying to figure out why, but something tells me that I'm not going to like what I conclude.

Sometimes I think about what the beggar is going to do with the money. Maybe he'll buy alcohol or drugs or something of that nature. I definitely would not want to assist them in that, but theoretically, they have to buy food eventually (or find it in a dumpster). I guess that's why I would be more comfortable giving them food.

I also think that giving them money doesn't solve the problem and that they're just going to be dependent on begging. But what else can they do? Who's going to hire a homeless person? I wouldn't.

I think it's also easy for me to blame the government because they are not taking care of its citizens. Even though I believe this is correct, in this situation it sounds more like an excuse not to help the beggar.

I want to jump to the conclusion that I'm just selfish and all that talk about saving the world doesn't mean shit if I don't help the people in front of me. At the same time, I feel like I'm not doing myself justice if I just leave it at that. There has to be another reason why I ignore beggars.

I have to say that looking the other way seems to be a natural reaction for me. I don't even think about it, I don't even analyze the situation; I just always ignore them (or at least try to). This leads me to think that it has something to do with my upbringing. I have never made a conscious decision to ignore beggars so it must have been acquired by observation of others (most likely family).

I'm more mature now, I can think independently now, I can analyze situations better than I ever could. So why do I still ignore them? I want to say that breaking habits is hard especially if it's one that has been pretty much life-long. Nevertheless, I can't leave out the factor of selfishness.

On Superficiality

Section 1
In this article, I will attempt to explain my complex thoughts on appearance and superficiality. The first section is the explanation of how I categorize and discern superficiality and the second section is the explanation of my attitude towards it. (I have found it difficult to explain succinctly my opinion on appearance and superficiality, thus, I have concluded to structure the second section in such a way so that you, the reader, will understand me by reading the mental processes that brought me to this attitude). This composition does not in any way exhaust this topic.

Perhaps it may be useful to elaborate, in short, on why I believe superficiality is negative (I want to state here that I believe everyone is superficial to a certain extent). It does not seem to be just to judge and treat someone solely based on their appearance (unless it somehow reveals something about the character of the person, a topic which I leave to another day). Some people are just born unattractive (a very relative word by the way). It is as if you were to judge and treat a person badly because of their race. People should be judged (if judged at all) and treated by their personalities, skills, talents, passions, desires, intentions...in other words, people should be judged and treated based on their contents. I believe that most people do agree that treating someone badly because of their unattractiveness is unjust.

Having stated that, it would be logical that I would not favor anything that supports superficiality; I would favor the opposite, I would favor protest! The list of things that support the system of superficiality includes make-up, plastic surgery, fashion, and exercise (keep in mind this list is not exhaustive). The first two are bolder supporters of superficiality, the last two are not so clear and will be elaborated in more detail.

It is easy to see how make-up and plastic surgery are clearly supporters of superficiality (they are not supporters in the sense that they advocate it, but rather in the sense that they accept it). Both exist for the purpose of looking attractive, to be judged favorably by the superficial society. An argument can be made that wearing make-up (or getting plastic surgery) is for building up confidence and thus, solely inward and not for others. It is understandable how it can serve this role, but I do not believe it is solely inward (and even if it is solely inward, that would mean that one would feel better about oneself because of make-up and thus, would make oneself superficial). I believe there is an external factor to it. For example, if one lived in a box, would one wear make-up? I feel that for most people, the answer would be no. People can be confident of the fact that they are physically attractive, that they will be judged and treated favorably by superficial people. It is definitely not safe to assume that one wears make-up because one wants to be judged and treated unfavorably and it is also not safe to assume that one would wear make-up in total disregard on how one would be perceived by others. It, therefore, accepts superficiality.

The elaboration of my attitude towards appearance and superficiality is quite confusing. I must first explain the discernment of superficiality in regards to fashion and exercise. With that, I will try to smoothly transition to the next section.

It seems to me that these two things can be considered supporters of superficiality, but it would depend on the intent of the individual. If the individual's intent is to dress well so that superficial people will perceive them more favorably, then they are supporting superficiality. If they are doing it for artistic reasons, then no. If one exercises to look thin so that superficial people will perceive one more favorably, then yes. If one does it for health, then no. To put it simply, they can be either or both, the intent determines everything.

The categorization of one's actions can be clarified in the diagram below. However, in the next section, I will also use the diagram to help explain my attitude on appearance and superficiality.

Section 2
In the beginning, I disapproved of the entire superficiality circle, but a closer examination revealed to me that that was false. A question was raised as to whether or not I would find someone attractive if they were overweight. And if I did not, would that make me too superficial. My first thought was that I would not find an overweight woman attractive which of course made me ponder why. Was it solely because society told me that being overweight is unattractive? Or was there some part of it that was deeper than that? I have concluded that being overweight belongs in area 1, and thus, touches upon both superficiality and health. Over weight people are both unattractive and unhealthy, but more specifically, it is because they are unhealthy that they are unattractive. Therefore the answer is no, I am not being too superficial because I am taking health into consideration. To clarify my point, I would also not be attracted to someone who was malnutritioned because it would reflect poor health.

Another aspect I had to take into consideration was art. When I disapproved of the entire superficiality circle, it meant I was also against fashion. This presented a problem because I did not approve of a society in which everyone wore the same clothing. I concluded that it is good that there are different types of clothing, that there is fashion. So, I created a new circle for art and I placed fashion into it. I believe art is something deeper (and beneficial) and therefore, I approve of the art circle.

It would seem that I would be ok with things belonging to area 2 because of the previous statements I made about area 1. However, I must point out a slight difference between the two areas. If one's actions fall into area 1, regardless of one's intention, one should not stop because area 1 corresponds to health. In other words, one should not stop exercising because exercising supports superficiality; the health benefits are worth it.

However, if one's actions fall into area 2, I disapprove of the action if it is done with the intent of supporting superficiality. In this case, there is no beneficial outcome if one supports superficiality.

This analysis is limited to the scope of general morality and intentions; it does not take into consideration the indirect consequences of not being judged and treated favorably by the superficial society.

Chosen Path

I have chosen my path and I am considerably satisfied with it. I depart from Los Angeles on Dec. 23rd and arrive in Beijing on the 24th. Starting Jan. 5th I will take part in a TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) course which lasts 1 month and upon its completion, receive a TEFL certificate. I will have class everyday from 9 am to 4 pm and at night, I plan to teach English, hopefully both privately and in a classroom.

After I receive my certificate, I plan to mainly tutor privately during the day and teach a class at night. I have not yet decided whether I will attain official employment at an English training institution. To my surprise, I do not have to be officially employed to remain in China, I also have the option of paying a fee to extend my current visa; the latter is the more profitable option.

I am currently not certain how long I will remain in Beijing. I am thinking about staying for 8 months because I want to fly to Germany for a Master's program there which starts every Winter. However, if I am unable to make enough money to pay for my studies, I am willing to stay in Beijing an extra year. Whether or not I will extend my stay will be determined around March, which is the application deadline for the Master's program.

Miseducation

The following is an excerpt from a book I recently read, Chomsky on Miseducation.

Beyond a Domesticating Education: A Dialogue

Donaldo Macedo: I was intrigued some years back by a twelve-year-old student at Boston Latin School, David Spritzler, who faced disciplinary action for his refusal to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which he considered “a hypocritical exhortation to patriotism,” in that there is not “liberty and justice for all.” The question I want to ask you is why a twelve-year-old boy could readily see through the hypocrisy in the Pledge of Allegiance, while his teacher and administrators could not? I find it mind-boggling that teachers, who by the very nature of their work should consider themselves intellectuals, are unable or willfully refuse to see what is so obvious to one so young.

Noam Chomsky: This is not hard to understand. What you just described is a sign of the deep level of indoctrination that takes place in our schools, making an educated person unable to understand elementary thoughts that any twelve-year-old can understand.

Macedo: I find it mind-boggling that a highly educated teacher and a principal would sacrifice the content in the Pledge of Allegiance in order to impose obedience by demanding that a student recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Chomsky: I don't find that mind-boggling at all. In fact, what happened to David Spritzler is expected of schools, which are institutions of indoctrination and for imposing obedience. Far from creating independent thinkers, schools have always, throughout history, played an institutional role in a system of control and coercion. And once you are well educated, you have already been socialized in ways that support the power structure, which, in turn, rewards you immensely. Let's take Harvard for example. You don't just learn mathematics at Harvard. In addition, you also learn what is expected of you as a Harvard graduate in terms of behavior and the type of questions you never ask. You learn the nuances of cocktail parties, how to dress properly, how to develop a Harvard accent.