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Take It Real

haabibi's picture


Take It Real

             For the past few weeks, Facebook newsfeed could never have been flowed more with political and social issues, mostly about campus racial incidents around the country and ISIS terror attacks in Paris and Beirut. Through Facebook ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ buttons, the world shared their fear, anger, grief on internet, and tried to send their consolation to the bereaved through prayers and words. Living in a very complex world, where human rights can easily be infringed by those who hold power, mere words would not help alleviate such complexities.

Teju Cole, a novelist who wrote “The White-Savior Industrial Complex” in The Atlantic and Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes, who wrote “The Collapse of Western Civilization” suggest how the problem of human disasters can be alleviated in such a complex world we are currently living in. Even though the former deals with poverty issue and the latter with environment, they both betray government intervention as vital and suggest that taking real actions is what can really cause the world to change. The careful reading of these two writings suggests what stance we modern people should take in amid of deaths cause by terrors, racism and hunger.

             Oreskes and Conway contribute the collapse of western civilization to the unequal power structure of current society that hindered people from taking actions. Even though there were intellectuals in the society, the writers critiqued about how the society were inequitably and brutally controlled by those who with money and power in such free competition structured capitalist society. Because of this inequality, the climate change problem, which intellectuals could have acted upon beforehand, had engendered bigger and more disastrous and insuperable problems such as threat to national security, political destruction and failure of the market. The authors had set future historians in the book, who lamented the collapse of western civilization by saying, “how much people knew, [but] how unable they were to act upon what they knew” (Oreskes and Conway 2014). They acknowledge the fact that there were intellectuals, who had the “real” potential power that can contribute to prevention of the civilization from collapse. But Oreskes and Conway believe it was inequality of the social structure that prevented knowledge from being translated. They say the power resided “in political, economic, and social institutions that had a strong interest in maintaining the use of fossil fuels”, not “in the hands of those understood the climate system” (Oreskes and Conway 36). At the very end of the chapter, the authors made China, or the Second People’s Republic of China, as the only survived country, which government intervened in the market to alleviate the disastrous effects of climate change. This extremely drastic ending suggests the readers how discrete and concrete government intervention is needed in terms of preventing problems caused by climate change.

             “The Collapse of Western Civilization” and “The White-Savior Industrial Complex” have a similar stance that they both acknowledge that the government plays the most direct role in changing the world. They are also similar in that people are not actually taking any “real” actions to change the social injustice that they perceived and felt indignant about.

Teju Cole, on the other hand, focuses more on the micro-level, believing that individual, the constituent of the society, can be the seeds of the change. And to solve such problems like poverty issues, he urges individuals to reflect the government policies that might actually contribute to the social injustice. He critiques the White-Savior Industrial Complex for it drives people’s emotions to get donations from people and urges the readers not to confine themselves only to the short-term emotionally driven donation. Whereas Oreskes and Conway view not all people were ignorant and that there were intellects that were capable of changing the world, Cole believes that Americans are ignorant and incapable of thinking constellationally due to their illogical sentiments.

             I believe Cole’s argument contains a very strong point, and I would strongly recommend his article to people who are donating money monthly to the charities. However, the sentiment and the white-savior industrial complex that Cole criticizes so severely are also very integral in changing the world. Without the sentiments and emotions that were driven by such complex, from where and by how would modern people ever take some of their time off to feel sympathy toward those in need? Living in a very complex world, people need those emotionally-driven videos to think about people who are living in the other part of the world, where children are to hold guns, not pencils and where children chose death over future. It is their emotions that drive them to donate money, and it is their emotions that instigate their heart and lead to actions.

            However, as both writings suggest –without taking actions, all those emotions and knowledge become futile. Emotions and knowledge are indeed important, but they shine their real lights when people take actions. Cole suggests that people should really “consider evaluating American foreign policy, [by] playing a direct role in through elections” (Cole Web 2012).

             Looking at the current complex society, where so many innocent people died due to racism, terror and hunger, these two writings suggest that people should take real actions rather than merely grieving and sending consolation to the bereaved. What these two writings are actually telling us is that we, the constituents of society, should take real actions by looking at our own government policy and take real actions to actually trigger the change toward what we feel injustice to. Oreskes and Conway seeing status quo from the future historian perspective, Cole from an educated African-American, we know what we need to do next. Take actions.

Works Cited

Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, The Collapse of Civilization: A View from the Future. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014.

Teju Cole, The White-Savior Industrial ComplexThe Atlantic. March 21, 2012.



Anne Dalke's picture

I see you moving decisively here from your last set of papers, on the role of religious belief in change, to focusing on concrete action; I'm liking the way in which you were able to 'reach back' to an earlier text (by Teju Cole) to re-read a current one (by Oreskes and Conway), using the encounter to highlight your central claim, that "without taking action, emotion and knowledge become futile."

You have some good company in making this claim. Have you seen the recent newspaper articles reporting on the Dalai Lama's  saying that prayer is not the answer for the Paris attacks, for a " tragedy created by man .... The Dalai Lama says that he thinks a systematic approach instead of a spiritual approach to violence is necessary"?

Paulo Friere, whose essay on "The Importance of the Act of Reading" we discussed in class last week, also speaks to the importance of action, but he is careful to anchor it (and insists that we must, too) in reflection. Freire cautions against the danger of separating these activities into "verbalism" and "activism":

when a word is deprived of its dimension of action, reflection automatically suffers as well, and the word is changed into idle chatter, into verbalism, into an alienated and alienating "blah."  It becomes an empty word, one which cannot denounce the world, for denunciation if impossible without a commitment to transform, and there is no transformation without action.

On the other hand, if action is emphasized exclusively, to the detriment of reflection, the word is converted into activism.  The latter -- action for action's sake -- negates the true praxis and makes dialogue impossible.