Graduate School Personal Statement

The following is my personal statement that I sent to the University of York.

Marx, Mill and Political Theory

When one treats education solely as a means for financial stability, one cannot expect amazing results. Of course it is possible to get good grades and score perfectly on every exam, but true learning, true education cannot happen unless one has a different perspective. Regrettably, for most of my life, I was guilty of having this inferior attitude towards education; it was never about the content of the class or about developing my capacities. From an early age I figured out that if I just paid attention in class, I would not have to study at home and would still be able to attain a B. This remained my strategy even when I entered college. In fact, it was not until my senior year that I finally discovered the subject that would become my main passion in life.

Political theory was my wake-up call; it was the spark that ignited the flame inside of me. Ever
since my senior year, I have come to understand what the true role of education is. It is not
just a means to a good job, it is a means to live a dignified life. It is a process by which one
discovers who one truly is. To be clear, I took multiple politics courses throughout my study at
UC Santa Cruz, but none of them spoke to me except for political theory. It is what made me
the man I am today.

I would have to say that one of the fundamental characteristics that defines who I am is the
high value that I place on developing passion and independent thinking. The importance of
these two concepts first entered into my mind while I was taking a modern political theory
class. Specifically, there were two texts that made this initial imprint on my mind. The first was Marx's Estranged Labor and the second, Mill's On Liberty.

From my analysis of Marx's essay, I realized the role that passion plays in man's life-activity.
Passion, I believe, is crucial in productive labor and productive labor is necessary for man to
be happy. Or as Wilhelm von Humboldt puts it, “The true end of the highest and most
harmonious development of his powers to a complete and consistent whole.” There is no productive labor without passion and there is no happiness without productive labor.

This concept changed my life. Understanding the significance of passion in attaining happiness naturally led me to devalue the role of money. Society's strong pursuit of wealth is a completely mutated version of what our value system should be. It comes at no surprise that most people with sufficient money are not happy. What people do not understand is the role that passion plays in being human; it is what separates us from animals. According to Marx, we live to work, while animals work to live.

Reading Mill's On Liberty made me realize how important independent thinking is in attaining
the truth and through that, developing society as a whole. The truth is most likely contained in
a variety of opinions and therefore, a prerequisite of attaining the whole truth is critical
thinking. If the truth can be attained, then we are one step closer in determining what is
unjust. Once we know that, we can start moving to correct it. It is because of the people who
think independently that blacks and women can vote today. And it will be because of these
same people that gays will be allowed to get married in the future.

My strong support of dissidence has simultaneously made me extremely fearful of the consequences of blind obedience. I am sure you have heard of Milgram's groundbreaking and horrifying experiment on authority vs. morality. Learning about this experiment led me to think about how blindly obedient people are and how much personal will we lack. I tremble at the thought of imagining my friends and family placed in the same situation. We must all think independently not only to discover truth, but also to prevent ourselves from being led to an unknown destination.

Expanding on the lessons learned from Marx and Mill, I naturally started to examine what man's true nature was and in what type of society this nature was most likely to be realized. I have decided so far that man's life-activity can be carried out by various means, means which only he himself can decide. This idea combined with my strong support for dissidence led me to study classical liberalism. It only makes sense that individual liberty should be highly valued and that concentrated power should be significantly limited. However, classical liberalism raises many questions; for example, what are the limits of personal liberty? Among the various questions posed, this has been the one that I have developed the most interest in.

Freedom is highly valued in the West, especially in the United States. Most people believe
that we should be able to do whatever we want except for infringing on other people's rights.
A classic example that shows this distinction is drinking alcohol and driving drunk; the former
being allowed while the latter not. But I would say that many issues of personal liberty are
much more complicated than that. What if people wanted to take drugs? Should all drugs be
decriminalized? What would happen to society if that were to happen? After pondering these
questions, I have concluded that it ultimately comes down to individual liberty vs. systemic
risk, and this is exactly the question that I would like to study at your university.

The University of York's MA Political Theory (The Idea of Toleration) program fits my academic goals perfectly. It is exactly because of this balancing act between individual liberty and systemic risk that tolerance is such an interesting issue to discuss. I have taken the liberty to read some of Susan Mendus's work regarding religious toleration and I find it extremely thought provoking. The question of whether or not Muslim women should be allowed to wear headscarves in school is a difficult question to answer, but an interesting one nonetheless. I would like to explore this question and other ones like it in your uniquely offered program.

I stated earlier that education is a means to live a dignified life and I meant it whole-heartedly. Political theory has not just been an interest, it has been one of the main sources of meaning in my life. I know for a fact that I want to continue to study political theory in the future either as a professor or as a writer. Being a professor will allow me to focus my energy on breaking new ground in the subject. It would allow me to do everything I already love doing – researching, writing and teaching. However, if I am unsuccessful in becoming a professor, my goals would be satisfied by becoming a writer.

In any case, attaining a Masters in political theory is key in achieving my future goals. Having
this degree will help me approach either profession with more dignity, creativity, critical
thinking, and ethical behavior. I sincerely hope that you will accept my application and allow
me to study at your university. Please do not look at me as a student who just wants a Masters degree because of the financial benefits that come with it, rather look at me as someone who wants to develop himself and society, someone who wants to live a dignified life.