Saturday, 18 March 2017

Individual Dreams vs Conformity

We recently watched a film called Gattaca in class. A lot of similarities can be drawn between it and The House of the Scorpion in terms or the protagonist.
Both are different from the rest of society. Matt is a clone and Vincent - Gattaca’s protagonist- isn’t genetically crafted to be near-perfect.
Neither is offered a lot of opportunities and both are constantly told they aren’t as good, they can’t do it, they are inferior to others.
But in the face of society’s opposition and discrimination, both have dreams. Both have good characters/personalities.


Vincent and Matt’s dreams are completely different. Vincent want to go to space and Matt wants to rule Opium and not be killed. But since Vincent isn’t genetically good enough, he’ll never get into the space program, called Gattaca. And since Matt’s a clone, he doesn’t have any rights and thus can’t rule a country.


The important thing is that they both have dreams. They have to work really, really hard, running away from everything he’s ever known or pretending to be someone else to pass daily DNA tests. But both Matt and Vincent are determined to meet their dreams.


Growing up, Vincent’s parents, teachers and brother all told him that he couldn’t go to space. He was only supposed to live to 30.2 years. He would never get a good job since all employers did for an interview was test your DNA. So he has to use someone else’s DNA to get a job. Which he does. But he’s still not as capable physically and he’s still more likely to get diseases. So Vincent not only has to work harder to get past society’s strict requirements, he also has to perform better than he should be physically capable of. He does. Vincent is chasing a dream and that is powerful enough to break walls down.


Matt is a clone of a drug lord. People are generally either mean to him or just ignore him completely. Not super promising when you’re hoping to one day run a country. (spoiler alert) But then it goes a step further, when El Patron wants to kill Matt to use him for organ transplants. Matt is forced away from everything he’s ever known, to live life and fend for himself, despite the fact that he’s a clone. It’s his character and attitude that keep him going, seemingly against all odds.

Now, a very obvious similarity here is that both characters have outdone others even with discrimination constantly hammering them, because of amazing dreams and personalities. It’s not how you physically are that’s important, it’s what you do, how you think.

In the real world, people are discriminated against on an unfair basis. They are treated unfairly because of their race, religion, country of ethnicity, looks or gender.
Some people actually believe that others are inferior to them on some totally unfair basis! Now, I get that the problems are more pronounced in the House of the Scorpion and in Gattaca but they certainly exist. Maybe we don’t have clones or genetically perfect people. But we do have a ton of different people. We have different classes and different opportunities accordingly.

Again, people have dreams. When they truly believe in something, there’s nothing that can stop them. Take Martin Luther King Jr for example. He fought so hard for his own and a whole race’s rights. He was such an influential figure who is still respected today.

We have dreams and personalities and ideas and we can work hard and put in the time and effort and make things happen. We can go to space or run a country. We can invent something amazing or grow organisms in a petri dish. While humans face a lot of problems, the ability to dream and work hard isn’t one of them.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Immigrants and Borders

Lately, there’s been the issue of migrants and refugees crossing borders and oceans illegally, risking their lives to do so. People would cross the border illegally and dangerously because they are desperate. Where-ever they are, it would be better anywhere else because their situations are so dire.

For example, in this news article, there’s a man named Ahmed. He is originally from Somalia. He left his home because of a lack of work, aiming to go to Europe to find a better life. He couldn’t go through Yemen, to the north, because of the civil wars there. He went with an organized crime group of smugglers through Ethiopia, across the Sahara in Sudan, to Libya. There, he was told he had to pay when his understanding had been that he’d be able to pay once he had a good job in Europe. He was forced to work as a slave for two years. Escape wasn’t possible because when the smugglers caught people, they killed them. Eventually, with the civil war in Libya, he was able to make a run for it and walked about 150 km. He was able to board a rubber dingy and travel across the Mediterranean with a group of other people. The boat had a leak but fortunately, they were rescued by an Italian Coast Guard boat and brought to a refugee camp in Sicily. Ahmed is still there now.
Every year, thousands of people make this journey. In 2016, an estimated 4,576 people died crossing the Mediterranean alone. That’s 4,576 people too many.


Ahmed's journey. Image Credit Bloomberg.

In the book, The House of the Scorpion, there is a constant stream of people trying to cross the border between Aztlan and the USA. El Patron says that he catches just as many people going one way across the border as he does with people going the other way. They get caught by the Farm Patrol and turned into eejits when they cross the farms in between the two countries.

People try to cross because they aren’t doing too well where-ever they currently are. Similar to in real life, people are risking their lives and trusting smugglers because they are desperate. In the book, people are moving because they don’t have a job and consequently, food or shelter. People are moving because they are running from the law. People are moving to get out of slavery. They think that other places will be better.

“But beyond, where the United States lay, was a great glow in the sky. We knew that under that glow was the most wonderful place. Everyone had his own house and garden. Everyone wore beautiful clothes and ate only the best food. And no one worked more than four hours a day. The rest of the time people flew around in hovercrafts and went to parties.” (p 141)

Celia shared a story with Matt of her journey from Aztlan to being a servant for El Patron. She was a slave in a factory and trusted a coyote to bring her across to the States.
“What an idiot I was! Those people don’t help you go anywhere. They lead you straight to the Farm Patrol.” (p 142)
The coyote abandoned them in the mountains. “‘What happened to the other people who crossed the border?’ Matt asked. ‘They were all turned into eejits’.” (p 143)

Even Matt crosses a border into Aztlan illegally to escape the people trying to ‘dispose of him’ for being a clone without a purpose.

Now, I appreciate that people can’t be turned into mindless eejits in real life. Smugglers keep people as slaves sometimes though, if the people can’t pay them. Then, they are human traffickers as opposed to smugglers because the migrants aren’t doing things from their own free will.

Luckily for people like Celia, Matt and Ahmed, They made it to safety. But not everyone does.
Border crossings like this are dangerous for many people. The situations that people are in, to need to escape should never happen. Human trafficking and smuggling in our world and the root causes behind it need to be dealt with.

If you missed it, here is my news article again.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Judging Human Nature

View of human nature has been an incredibly influential Worldview element throughout history. We can see the Europeans coming to the Americas and thinking the native people were savages because they were different. This worldview element is one of the most fundamental, but certainly not the simplest. It’s just this, do you think others are good or bad? Do you judge their decisions, their intentions or the result of their work?
Well, in The House of the Scorpion, Matt’s life and country are ruled by one man. El Patron, who has ultimate power.  “It’s the law. Don’t ask me why. I can’t tell you.’ … ‘El Patron didn’t want that to happen to you. He’s powerful enough to break the law.” (p. 125)


But is he good or bad? From Matt’s point of view, at first, El Patron seems to be chiefly a good person. He treats Matt more decently than many others and is the one who created Matt in the first place.
But Matt is forced to consider other points of view. He finds a book about the history of Opium. In it, the author is very opinionated against El Patron because of his capturing people and turning them into mindless slaves. “As far as anyone could tell, they were not unhappy. So could anyone say they were being mistreated? I could! El Patron sold these people’s souls to the devil!” (p 197)


Also, there’s the slight issue of El Patron betraying Matt and deciding to use Matt’s organs as transplants to keep living, thus putting his own wants before other’s lives.
This shifts the view of human nature of El Patron. However, though Matt concludes that El Patron is evil, he still loves him.


Now, you might wonder how a genetically identical clone of an evil person could hold onto moral beliefs. Matt had more than just El Patron. He had good friends like Celia, Tam Lin and Maria. All of these people have rubbed off a lot on Matt. Their good influence is a blessing to him. Celia believes that Matt is good and that the truth is important. Because of her ethics and her beliefs against El Patron, Matt is still alive.
“You’ve had your eight lives, El Patron. It’s time to make peace with God.” (p 236)
She believes that El Patron doesn’t deserve to live. That Matt’s a better person than him and for that reason, should be allowed to live instead of El Patron.


In the real world nowadays, scenarios such as these don’t happen a whole lot. While we might think of another person a certain way, we usually don’t have to choose between two, the unfavored one dying like in the book.
It is still an important Worldview element. Lately, with President Donald Trump’s election in the States, people are showing intolerance towards other, different people for being who they are. To me, it’s completely wrong to say that another person or group is bad or inferior to you simply for being different. They are different but they are still human. Other people are still intelligent and talented and loving and compassionate. They should have equal rights to the rest of everyone and should always be safe.


View of human nature is an influential Worldview element. But when people aren’t accepting of others, it can lead to very dangerous consequences.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Caregivers


Mothers love their children a ton. They want what’s best for them. In our society, there are fewer things that are as important as mother (and father) hood. Beyonce did a whole bit in the Grammies about motherhood that stood out to me for being super different from what other people usually do. It was very powerful.

In the book, The House of the Scorpion, the protagonist is only a young kid (Matt). He has people who take care of him although since he’s a clone, he has no actual parents. Celia treats him like a son though.
Celia loves Matt. “I’m in the next room mi vida.’ whispered the woman, kissing the top of Matt’s head. ‘You get scared, you call me.’”(p. 14) For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, ‘mi vida’ translates to ‘my life’.

Celia teaches Matt a lot. He grew up speaking both English and Spanish so he is fluent in both languages. “At my house, he chattered away like a tree full of birds. And he can read both English and Spanish.”(p. 57) A lot of Celia’s values rub off on Matt from being around her so much.

While Celia loves Matt a ton and cares for him for that reason, El Patron’s reasons aren’t quite so pure. Matt has more than one caregiver. El Patron is the other one. I get the feeling that El Patron cares for Matt only because Matt is his clone. If Matt wasn’t his clone, he wouldn’t care. He cares out of greed and evidence of his superiority over everyone else. It seems like whenever Matt does something that El Patron approves of, El Patron gains reassurance that he is like that or was once like that.

El Patron does have a significant impact. Being a powerful drug lord, it’s not alwasy a positive one though. “El Patron said these foods were his favorites, and Matt decided they were his favorites too.” (p. 57)
There are other, darker parts of him that rub off too. For example, to get what he wants, Matt will order people around or think himself better than everyone else.

I think many people who don’t have good, loving parents can grow up missing a lot. For example, kids in foster homes are taken care of by foster parents not because the foster parents love them a ton, but because the children need someone to care for them.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that foster parents are bad or anything. Because they are certainly better than nothing. However, it would be ideal that all children grow up with parents who love them to the moon and back.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Clone Rights...

A lot of people, especially in Canada value their rights. Specifically, equity (everyone gets what they need) rights. In the House of the Scorpion, there is the question of clone rights. This particularly caught my attention in the novel so far. The protagonist, Matt is a clone. He is genetically identical to a drug lord, El Patron.
However,  Matt has a consciousness and feelings. He is smart and can think for himself. He looks just like any other human. But he’s not human. He’s a clone of one.
For this reason, he doesn’t get as many rights. On page 27 Emilia says , “Matt’s a clone. You mustn’t go near it. A clone is a bad animal.” Matt is generally shunned and ignored by others. He complains that he is treated the same as a dog.


On page 120, Matt sees another clone. This one has very little to no intelligence and is being tortured and treated like some sort of… thing that can’t feel pain, or thing that isn’t living. Here’s a quote about it, “Straps held it down. It was dressed in green hospital pyjamas, but these had been befouled by it’s terror. Worst of all was the terrible energy that rolled through it’s trapped body.”
On the other hand, Matt’s not human and he can be incredibly mean. He humiliates his best friend and occasionally makes others feel bad about themselves. This being said, he can be quite good and all the strain pressed upon him would surely take a toll.
So how is it that he can be both good and evil?


I think if we look at any person throughout history, they generally make decisions based on what they perceive to be right. Other times, they act out of anger or spite. For example, after WWI, Germany had a very poor economy. People were angry at their treatment and wanted to do something about it. They just needed a leader. (Wow, way to over-simplify it, but you get the point.)
I think people are both good and evil because they have emotions, and situations that often guide their actions. The way they behave can be viewed as right or wrong depending on your perspective.

Friday, 10 February 2017

The Scorpion Project

I've done comprehensive projects before. We've done multiple inquiries into everything from the Hubble Telescope to the European Renaissance to Canadian Political Parties.
Nothing has been so carefully organized and each task (there’s a lot of them) laid out so clearly as this.
Not 20 minutes ago, we were presented with a whole new project. A novel study on the book The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. This book has won three prizes including a National Book Award. I’m excited to read it and to dive deeper into the meanings, characters and plot. I read often and I love fiction novels. Usually though, I don’t reflect on them deeply. It will be a challenge for me to be able to take notes and write out my thoughts as I read the book because honestly, I find it disruptive to the flow of the story.
There will be many posts to follow on this book and my thoughts, which I will make an effort to write out. All this and (potentially) more, coming soon to a place with internet connection near you.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Imagination, Innovation and Whimsical Ideas

 
Imagine a world where all anyone cares about is money. In this world, there is no music, everything is gray and we are forever caught in an endless cycle where innovation and creativity are obsolete. Ask yourself, why is the world like this? What’s missing?

I think this could become a reality for many people if we took away children’s exposure to magical, whimsical ideas. If they didn’t have fairy tales or poems or books. They wouldn’t have dreams or any ambition. They couldn’t think outside the box.

According to Albert Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” I believe that innovation happens when people take their dreams and find imaginative new solutions to problems. If our children’s exposure to whimsical ideas was limited, they could lose the belief that anything is possible. They wouldn’t be able to think up effective new ways of doing things.

According to numerous studies, exposure to these ideas are important. Reading fiction is proven to reduce stress levels, improve creativity and make you happier in general. (The Surprising Power of Reading Fiction) (Psychology Today)

Recently at school, we watched the film The Little Prince. In it, there was a little girl whose life lacked any whimsical ideas. It wasn’t until she met an old man who lived next door who showed her fairy tales and fictional stories that she smiled. There was more light in her eyes, more colour in her world.

The fairy tales and stories themselves can also have valuable lessons that connect directly to real life. For example, in the fairy tale the “Ugly Duckling”, I think the moral is that people shouldn’t be judged by a fleeting glance. Or in “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, the moral could be not to tell a lie.

Basically, children’s (and adult’s) exposure to whimsical ideas should be unlimited because it will help them think more creatively and effectively; it helps them solve problems and it teaches them valuable lessons about the real world. It makes everyone happier.
Without imagination, we wouldn’t have people who climb mountains because they believe they can. We wouldn’t have the person who says, “Let’s try to put these chunks of chocolate in these cookies because it might be good.” And, we certainly wouldn’t have the innovators, authors, and entrepreneurs that the world needs. We wouldn’t try new things. We couldn’t solve problems. The world that we know would be dull, gray, and boring.