In January of 1968, Alexander Dubček was selected as the first secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSC). At this time, Brezhnev, the leader of the USSR, trusted Dubček and allowed him to maintain power in Czechoslovakia. Brezhnev did not anticipate Dubček ’s democratic-leaning reforms.
Soon following his assumption to power, Dubček attempted to decentralize the government and grant more rights and freedoms to the people. He coined this “socialism with a human face,” giving the cogs in the machine some liberty once again. Censorship stopped. Restrictions on media, speech, and travel were partially lifted, and the people experienced a brief breath of fresh air from the twenty some years of harsh oppression. Czechoslovakian films were some of the important, creative products of the Prague Spring, in which directors radically affected film styles around the world with their use of absurdity, humor, and critique of communism. Additionally, the Czech radio took advantage of the increase in freedom, and broadcasted anti-communist sentiments. This eventually made it a big target in the Prague Spring invasion.
The USSR was not pleased with the growing freedom in Czechoslovakia. As Czechoslovakia was known as the connection between the East and the West, its leaning towards the West with growing freedoms and rights threatened communism in Europe. Brezhnev met with Dubček to try to stop the democratization of the country, and called him multiple times after, when Dubček hadn’t changed his policies. As a response to Dubček’s strong stance against censorship, some 650,000 men from Warsaw Pact troops, including soldiers from the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Poland, and Hungary, invaded Czechoslovakia. They were coming to save Czechoslovakia from the evil West, from freedom. The invaders killed over 130 people in the immediate attack, leaving over 260 people seriously injured, and some 140 slightly injured.
When the Warsaw troops entered Czechoslovakia on August 20th, they first had some trouble reaching Prague. Citizens in outside towns realized what was happening and went out to the streets to either fight or confuse the soldiers. Some painted over street signs, while others met the troops outside to fight. In Liberec, a small town to the north of Prague, citizens threw tomatoes and anything at hand at the tanks rolling in. Nine were killed here, some 45 seriously injured.
The troops finally made it to Prague early morning on August 21. Here too, citizens met the tanks out in the streets. They tried to stop the tanks with makeshift barricades, even using their own bodies to form barriers on the roads. Some flipped military vehicles.
The most violence happened in front of the radio building. Citizens tried to defend the building, and fought the troops back. Here, 17 were killed, but eventually a tank destroyed the radio building. Once the radio was down, it was easier to control the rest of Prague. Alexander Dubček and other politicians of importance were arrested, and sent back to Moscow for interrogations. They were forced to sign the “Brezhnev Doctrine,” and bring heavy censorship back to Czechoslovakia.
The Warsaw troops were coming to help their brothers against the counter-revolution. Soldiers in the invading camps had been told that they were helping their brothers in Czechoslovakia against the dangerous revolutionaries-that they were there to rescue their friends. Tanks and censorship was their offering in friendship.
After the invasion, the USSR set up the government in Prague, bringing back censorship in a period of what they called ‘normalization.’ At the onset of their new government, around 70,000 people fled the country, while more than 300,000 people left in later years. They were fleeing a killing machine. Perhaps the numbers of the invasion-less than 200 deaths, seems low for an invasion thus remembered. But, the invasion represents a much higher number of deaths. The re-implementation of Communism meant the snuffing out of freedom. It meant that people were no longer able to be people again; to have a conscience, think what they want, say what they think. It also meant physical death. According to Victims of Communism, the overall death toll of communism worldwide spans from 42,870,000 to 161,990,000. In Eastern Europe alone, communism is responsible for over 1,000,000 deaths.
After Dubček was removed from office, Gustav Husák took his place as first secretary. He led the process of ‘normalization,’ restoring censorship, purging the political system of anti-communist sentiment, and strengthening the country’s ties with other socialist nations. Of the 115 members of the KSC Central Committee, Husák replaced 54. Throughout the nation, top levels of leadership were purged. According to the US Country Studies on the Czech Republic, professors, scientists, and social leaders who did not show full support of normalization lost their jobs and were forced to do menial work.
Soviet control permeated Czechoslovakian government. In 1970, Czechoslovakia and the USSR signed the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, in which Czechoslovakia lost sovereignty and allowed USSR to remain stationed in Czech lands. Soviet leaders kept a close watch of Czechoslovakian politicians. By January 1971, central authority was restored to its pre-Prague Spring level.
Though communism permeated every facet of life, pro-freedom sentiments had not died completely among the people. Living in a thwarted environment forced some to find alternate avenues. Like a tree which twists and bends to find light in a shaded glen, leaders seeking freedom for themselves and their brothers found ways to pervade the communist haze. The most famous and celebrated spokesperson for civil rights and freedom, Vaclav Havel, continually searched for ways to undermine the communist regime. Born in a bourgeois family, Havel received a limited education (the communists didn’t like wealth and his dissident family, and wanted to punish success and opinions in many of their forms). This did not stunt his search for academic excellence and artistic expression. When he was 27, his first play, “Garden Party,” which highly criticized communism, premiered at the Prague Theatre in 1963. When Prague Spring was suppressed, he was forced to stop writing, and work as a manual labourer instead. However, this only added to Havel’s enthusiasm. He, among others, published Charter 77, a document in which listed the many civil rights violations of the communist party. This document, though confiscated in its original form, made its way into being published in the Western world, and broadcasted illegally to Czechoslovakians through Radio Free Europe and Voice of America. His efforts to bring down communism led to his imprisonment on multiple occasions. Yet, though he was imprisoned, the communists could not stop his message from spreading. Later, once out of jail, he founded the Civic Forum--a group made up of multiple anti-communist groups. With this, he lead the Velvet Revolution--a 10 day long protest which resulted in the toppling of communism in the Czech Republic.
Vaclav Havel reminds us of our humanity--that each and every one of us has a unique conscience. That each is born with reason, and thus must exercise reason in his utmost capacity. That each and every one of us is born equal, and has the right to live, and exercise that equality in freedom of speech, opinion, and thought. He reminds us of who we are at the core, and who each has the capacity to become.
Stay tuned to next week's post: an interview with an intellectual who was able to rise to the heights of academia despite being prohibited to study and do manual labor instead.
Prague Spring interviews
After I experienced the commemoration of Prague Spring, 1968 in the Czech Republic, my interest in the history of communism in this country peaked. One of my friends from class mentioned that she wanted to go to the Museum of Communism downtown, and I immediately asked to join. What I was about to learn would change my life.
I had always known that communist governments were repressive. But, the extent to which they repressed their citizens was unknown to me. I had a fictional picture of communism in my mind: an Animal Farm-like reality in which nobody could trust anybody, wealth was extremely difficult to accumulate, and freedom was nonexistent. But, this fictional idea never was real to me. I imagined the real version of communism to be less harsh--that Czechoslovakia wasn’t repressed that much. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Communism in Czechoslovakia was extreme. It robbed people of everything they had, including their consciences, personalities, and ability to trust. It made each person just a number in a system, forcing them to act as cogs in the machine rather than human beings. The following is what I learned at the museum:
Although it wasn’t until after WWII when the Communist Party officially took control of the country, many citizens sympathized with communism in the early 1920’s. Leading up to the establishment of the Communist Party in the Czechoslovakian government in 1921, Czech lands suffered from droughts and poverty, and thus communism appeared to offer a solution to their problems. By 1928, the party had gained a substantial amount of followers, making it the second-largest party in the Communist International party.
After WWII, the USSR dictated the government in Czechoslovakia. Socialist parties were abolished, and the Communist party gained control. Once in control, the Communist Party leaders initiated massive eradications of dissenters. At the start of Communist control in Czechoslovakia, 23,000 people were found guilty of crimes. Of the 23,000, 713 were sentenced to death immediately.
In 1945, 75% of industry was in the government’s control, and in 1948, the government put to use the taking of others’ property, or “legalized theft.” Although Klement Gottwald was the president of Czechoslovakia, he had limited control himself. Most of the decisions were dictated to him from the USSR. Thus started what the Museum of Communism calls the “Communist Dictatorship.”
From 1948-1968, Czechoslovakia was subject to extreme poverty, doctrination, and oppressive control. The Communists created a new ideal for their citizens: Homo Communism. The new socialist man was the laborer. He volunteered for his community, loved the army, and waved the soviet union flag. To showcase this ideal, the government created many banners and paintings glorifying Homo Communism, including the huge painting attached at the bottom of this article. Because labor was valued so much, and because the Communists in Czechoslovakia thought that the bulk of the community relied on physical labor, the government sponsored many uranium mines. Working in these plants was extremely unhealthy, and the stress of gathering uranium left huge environmental issues in the country, as well as economic.
To compensate for the government’s overinvesting in industry, it decided to change the value of its currency overnight and lower its debts. Although a few days before doing so government leaders promised that the money value would not change, they changed the value regardless on June 1, 1953. Imagine going to bed with $50,000 dollars in your bank account, to wake up to only $1,000. The reform made paupers out of the citizens, while it decreased the debt of an extremely inefficient government system. Cash lost about 80% of its value. The West referred to this reform as the “great swindle,” which it surely was. 130 anti-communist strikes occurred as a result of the reform, to which the government acted violently to repress.
Additionally to the Homo Communism ideal, and all of the problems it brought with it, communism hacked away at Czech culture. Baby Jesus, who traditionally brings presents on Christmas Eve, was replaced by Grandfather Frost. The Scout program--an important extracurricular program for many Czechs--was replaced with the Pionyr program. The Communists tried desperately to thwart religious practices. Many faithful Catholics could not hold jobs where they had the possibility of affecting the culture. Among many Catholics thus persecuted, Dr. Radomir Maly, a former historian for a museum in the town of Kromeriz, was forced to quit his job and work as a menial worker because he would have had too strong of a religious effect on those around him. Dr. Maly’s story of persecution is a common one for faithful Christians in Czechoslovakia; from 1948 to 1968, the number of priests in the country decreased in half. Many practicing Christians were forced to either stop practicing their religion, or turn to illegal, underground meetings. The persecution of Christians has a lasting effect in Czech Republic. In 1921, about 82% of Czechs identified as Roman Catholic, but by 2011 only 10% of Czechs identified as Roman Catholic.
The Communist policies were bad. Taking away freedom anywhere is a violation of human rights. But the ways in which they were enforced are close to unimaginable. The StB was the Czechoslovakian secret police who monitored their neighbors all while remaining under cover of ordinary citizens. StB infiltrated all parts of life. In every avenue of work, members of the StB monitored their neighbors and coworkers. StB kept records of the people they watched. They listened in on phone conversations at switchboards, bugged rooms, and set up secret cameras. If these records hadn’t been burnt, they would have covered several soccer fields, piled a few meters high.
In the 1950’s, 422 labor camps were created, in which lived 11,026 residents. Dissidents and non-dissidents alike of the ‘Communist Dictatorship’ were systematically placed in these camps. The Ministry of Justice predetermined how many people they wanted to imprison. Thus, many of the imprisoned had not been loud dissidents of communism, and some hadn’t even committed any crimes. The StB had two rules regarding the placement of people into the prison camps: 1. The people arrested were the only witnesses to their crimes, and 2. The StB could never free someone they arrested. Breaking any of these rules would undermine the StB authority. The StB had several ways of forcing confessions out of their imprisoned: they would torture the arrested by not allowing them to sleep well, waking them every 15 minutes from their cells, they would beat them up physically, inject drugs into their systems, and not let them live until they forced a confession.
Travel was hardly an option for Czechoslovakians. Either they travelled to the West illegally (and never returned), or they travelled to the USSR on highly supervised trips. When Czechoslovakians visited the USSR, KGB was vigilant in never letting its visitors see the true face of communism. Escape from Czechoslovakia into Western countries was nearly impossible. Huge barriers and barbed wire fences were built along the borders, and sand plains led up to the barriers to highlight the dark bodies trying to escape against the white sand. Many were killed while trying to escape.
Communism was indoctrinated in schools. Children were taught to tell on their parents if their parents ever talked poorly of communism. My grandmother, who grew up in communist Prague, said that she had to be very careful with what she told her children. She admits though, that her children were smart and knew not to say anything, and that most of the other children understood not to talk about communism, too. Additionally, children were taught that wealth was evil. If someone acquired wealth, they were against the common man. The subject of their education was likewise made up of propaganda. For example, children had to write essays on the benefits of their liberators, the Soviet Union. Undoubtedly, if they questioned the essay prompt, or the USSR, they were met with grave repercussions.
Thus, Czechoslovakians lived very tough lives. Their commemoration of Prague Spring, 1968 weighs much more when seen with the knowledge of what Czechoslovakians were trying to escape. The goal of the commemorative movement--that the nightmares never go grey--was met with me. The commemoration made me interested in Czechoslovakian history, and made me question my previous knowledge. Now that I know this “Communist Dictatorship” started with the approval of the people, I will be much more skeptical about politicians in my own country, and vigilant that none try to take away my freedom. I hope that learning about communism in Czechoslovakia has the same effect on you, too.
Stay tuned for the second part: Prague Spring 1968-Post Communism
Read more here:
This past August 21, the world, especially Czech Republic, commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Prague Spring invasion. Various speakers spoke against the evils of communism, and how the Prague Spring invasion from the USSR and other Warsaw Pact troops threw the nation back into darkness. Luckily for me, I was in Prague in August, receiving my TEFL certificate, and was able to witness many of the commemorations of this pivotal point in Czech history.
In 1968, Czechoslovakia experienced a brief period of liberation and artistic creation, called Prague Spring. Coined by then president Alexander Dubcek as “socialism with a human face,” Czech society loosened from a previously oppressive and completely socialized society. Czechoslovakia experienced a burst in creation, giving this time period its name, “Zlata sedesata” (the golden sixties). But, upset with the direction Czechoslovakia was headed in, and wary the country--as seen by many as the connection between East and West Europe--would inspire other countries to adopt looser communist governments, troops from the USSR, ordered by stalinist president Antonin Novotny, along with other Warsaw Pact countries, rolled through Czechoslovakia and re-instated strict communism. All in all, around 250,000 troops invaded Czechoslovakia, including some 6,300 tanks and 250 airplanes. Around 72 Czechs and Slovaks were killed during the invasion, and some 270 injured. Although the numbers may seem low for something commemorated as such, the invasion symbolizes the loss of freedom and the catalyst of many more deaths during the 'normalization' back into the Communist way of life.
During the week leading up to the Tuesday, many of the historic locations in Prague housed special events to honor the lives lost in the reoccupation of Czechoslovakia. In Wenceslas Square, where citizens--typically students--historically protested, and where Warsaw tanks famously fired at the Radio station during the reoccupation, several organizations, including Vojenský Historický Ústav Praha and others, sponsored the showing of documentaries on a blow-up screen, posters displaying images of the brutal invasion, speakers, and singers. The goal of the commemoration was twofold: to remember the victims of Communism, and to make sure that Communism and similar ideologies never return. Their logo reflects their goal: “Aby sny nezešedly” (Let not the dreams (read "nightmares") go grey).
On Tuesday, August 21, many important locations had commemorations. A concert, organized by Czech Radio, was held in Wenceslas square, where many songs about the invasion were sung. A special video and maps were projected onto the National Museum nearby. Various museums had special exhibits on the invasion, free to the public on Tuesday. In addition, in Kampa, a grassy, tranquil area by the Vltava river, several speakers recounted the events of the haunting day. About 300 melancholic people, holding Czech flags and banners, surrounded a small stage which held three speakers. Among them, a USSR expatriate Mr. Gorbanevska spoke against the ignorance of Communism.
Gorbanevska’s family has a detailed history with Communism. The repression of Prague Spring happened when he was young, and living in Russia at the time. His mother Natalya Gorbanevskaya, a strong proponent of freedom, and vocalist against the USSR, was one of the eight people who protested on the Red Square in Moscow several days after the Prague Spring invasion. She brought young Gorbanevska with her, as well as her two other children. All eight protestors were swept up by the KGB within seven minutes of sitting in the square with a Czechoslovakian flag and a banner which read things such as: “мы теряем лучших друзей” (We are losing our best friends), “Ať žije svobodné a nezávislé Československo“ (Long live free and independent Czechoslovakia), and “Позор оккупантам!” (Shame to the occupiers). Most of the seven were subject to harsh treatment, including Gorbanevska’s mother, who was later sent to a psychiatric hospital for being a dissident, diagnosed with “sluggish schizophrenia.” She has been celebrated as a hero in the West, and is well-known for her numerous acts of courage and literary works on the necessity of freedom.
At the talk, Gorbanevska humbly opened his speech in a highly accented Czech, saying “Odpust mi, nemluvim Cesky” (Forgive me, I don’t speak Czech). A translator stood by his side and translated his Russian into Czech for the younger people in the crowd. For a people who had to learn Russian under the occupation, hearing Russian would be a hard thing on such a day. Gorbanevsky’s opener, however, created a platform on which he and the Czechs listening could together mourn the invasion. He continued to say, “I wanted to share a few words. A normal person to normal people.”
Gorbanevsky’s message was brief and direct: we must never forget the atrocities of Communism, and must actively reject it in all of its future forms. He dwells on current Russians’ ignorance of the repression, and how refusing to learn about the evils of the USSR based on the fact that these events took place in the past is an unforgivable excuse. If we forget the history of Communism--how it first started out as a political party which gained much popularity but evolved into a soul-killing machine--we risk repeating it.
In his talk, he chastises the Czech president, Miloš Zeman, for his weak stance against the Communist party in the Czech Republic. To the mention of Zeman, a rustling went through the crowd, stirring everyone a brief period of whistling in disapproval of Zeman. They’d been stabbed in the back by the secret police, their own brothers, countless times during Communist occupation. Betrayal by their president is close to unbearable.
Gorbanevsky concluded his speech by encouraging the crowd to never forget the tanks rolling into Prague, and to never tolerate limitations of freedom. He encouraged everyone in the crowd to continue protesting injustice everywhere, even if they risk persecution. Protesting evil is the right thing to do.
Following Gorbanevsky’s speech, the founder of the “The Memory of a Nation” project, a non-profit organization, talked about his work in sharing stories of normal people’s lives under Communism. His work has the same goal as those who organized commemorations throughout Prague--that people should never forget Communism, and never stop fighting for freedom.
After all of the speakers held the stage, a young singer was called to the stage. She sang the Czech national anthem, “Kde domov muy” (Where my home is), and the whole crowd joined. Following the song, members of the crowd lit candles for people they knew who died at the hands of the Communists during the occupation (the intellectuals, celebrities, and politicians who wouldn’t promote the USSR, as well as many others). They processed from Kampa to the statues memorializing the enemies of the state, and lay the candles at the feet of the statues. At the statue’s side, a scout (Scouts had been outlawed under Communism) held up the Czech flag. People reverently placed their candles down by the statues, and quietly related their stories to their neighbors.
This experience taught me many things. It explained the quiet stillness in the crowded metros, and the hard, emotionless face of the passersby. Communism may be gone in the Czech Republic, but its effects still linger. We must never forget what Communism was, and how it came to be here, but we also must be willing to move on and trust others again, rejoice, and enjoy this life.
Stay tuned for my impression and recap of the Museum of Communism next.
Interesting links for follow-up research:
Just one day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, men and women worldwide participated in what they called a Women’s March. These marchers claimed to raise awareness for disrespect towards women. However, instead of a march for all women, this march was clearly a march for progressivism.
These marchers equated the ability or choice to abort their pregnancies with women’s rights. By falsely doing so, they withhold the platform’s message of inclusivity and solidarity from women who have regretted their abortions, or who work to give women alternatives. Pro-life groups such as Students for Life of America and New Wave Feminists, after asking to be partners or sponsors of the event, were declined. By exclusively bullying these women, the Women’s March was much less of a protest for all women, and more of a protest for progressivism.
In the Women’s March platform found on their website, the protesters encourage healthy familial environments for women. They rightly argue that women should not accept violence towards their bodies in any way. Underscoring this true cause, the platform calls for the continuation of federal funding to Planned Parenthood—the organization which is responsible for more than 30% of the nation’s abortions, giving 1 in every 8 patients who visit Planned Parenthood an abortion. Clearly, this organization encourages abortions, a violent and harmful choice in comparison to adoption. So, although the platform initially seems to have a great message, the specific policies within the platform suggest otherwise.
It seems strange that this event happened right after Trump’s inauguration. If it was truly a march that highlighted real problems women have been facing for a while, why had it not happened sooner? Why had it not happened after Bill Clinton’s scandals? Or Chris Brown’s domestic violence? The march was much less than a march for basic human rights. It was a political scheme directly attacking both Donald Trump’s presidency and Conservative values (both different things).
Whenever politicians take advantage of natural disasters for their own benefit, people always seem to be dismayed. They argue it is wrong to use the victim’s experience to better the politician’s own standings. In the Women's March, the organizers used the abuse of women—the emotions women have been holding inside—for a progressive political ploy. This abuse of women and of their emotions contradicts the march’s end. It is a sad thing that this march has misled so many people from expressing their pain.
1. What do the Women's March organizers claim were the goals of the Women's March?
2. When did the Women's March occur?
3. According to Ms. De Gree, what were the real goals of the Women's March?
4. What is your opinion of Ms. De Gree's analysis of the Women's March?
5. Optional Questions: Where did the Women's March occur? Which individuals or orgaanizations provided funding for coordinating and organizing the Women's March?
As the new semester starts to roll in, and both students and teachers start falling back into a routine, it is important to first set goals to ensure the most amount of learning. Being able to step back and create a vision for the semester will help both teachers and students have something to work towards. When work starts to pile up and overbear, students or teachers may feel like giving up. But, having a picture of success in the back of the mind can help both students and teachers work through their challenges better and more efficiently.
While creating goals, both students and teachers should seek to make goals for things in their order of importance. Prioritizing things may help hold things in perspective throughout the semester. In creating a sense of order, creating goals in respect to priorities may help the student or teacher focus less on the superfluous details. It can be easy to focus on these details too much and get drawn away from the big picture and that which really matters. When creating these goals which shape the end picture of the semester, try to make them about the most important things you would like to achieve. Try to focus on setting no more than five goals so that you can focus on those five things. Then, for the following semesters, once you’ve been practicing those five goals and making them habitual, you could expand your goals to work on bettering your learning strategies in other ways. From prioritizing your goals then, you will be able to focus on the things that matter, and use those lessons to help you expand your abilities even more in the future.
When envisioning the semester and setting goals, reflecting on past experiences can be indispensable. One of the reasons why the freshmen first semester GPA is astoundingly low compared to the rest of the semesters at most colleges is because students learn from their past mistakes and use that information to better prepare them for the future. While the succeeding GPAs may not always increase or follow that pattern, students learning how they best comprehend material greatly influences their future learning habits by helping the student place himself in the best situation to succeed. Teachers do the same thing. They reflect on past teaching semesters, analyzing which activities really helped students understand things, and comprehending how to better fit those activities in the lesson plan. Sometimes it may be difficult to recognize that specific activities were not beneficial in the classroom, but being able to recognize this and change shows that you are both humble and want to change for the students’ benefit.
Thus, through reflection and intentional ordering, the student and teacher may prepare themselves for the coming semester. In reflecting, the student and teacher recognize their strengths, weaknesses, successes, and failures. Understanding those differences helps shape the learning curve for the succeeding semester. When the student or teacher prioritize goals for the semester, they place themselves in a better position to do well because they have fewer things to worry about. As long as they have a solid understanding of the big picture, and how to get there, they will be able to succeed.
AI (Artificial Intelligence) has grown so much in recent years, it has become embedded in our lives. From the development of the Walkman to the plans for the so-called smart headphones, we have become more reliant on artificial realities for companions. Whereas the Walkman started to block our interactions with other people through distracting our hearing, the looming creation of smart headphones pose a deeper threat to our human connections. Soon, with the potential creation of smart headphones such as the Vinci smart headphone by Inspero Inc, people will be able to use headphones to somewhat replace a human companion. With these headphones, people will be able to ask a Siri-like voice for multiple things, such as directions, music shuffling, and weather predictions. But the most shocking thing these headphones will be able to do is suggest changes to the buyer, such as changing the music to fit the anticipated “tone.”
This addition to our influences will most likely be another negative one. Following along with the negative culture which dually takes away our resolve to rely on critical thinking and places less importance on human connection, reliance on smart headphones will end up leaving people feeling empty and lonely. Unlike other technological advancements which improve manual labor, this advancement in technology will take away the need for people to be alert and think for themselves. In this way, smart headphones will continue the trend of creating the mob culture instead of training people as individuals. Much like how reliance on social media, such as Snapchat and Instagram, greatly persuades people to think the way media want people to think, smart headphones may numb people from recognizing the importance of both their critical thinking skills and human connectivity.
When watching the Kickstart advertisement for these headphones, I was horrifically reminded of the shells (wireless smart headphones) from Fahrenheit 451. In Fahrenheit 451, people are so accustomed to the companionship they receive from the shells that they hardly ever think for themselves or have any deep relationships with others. Only when the main character realizes this and stops using them, is he able to see reality without that outside influence. Now, while we approach a time when our culture will start to become more and more reliant on Artificial Intelligence, it is extremely important to remember the vital lessons from Fahrenheit 451. Namely, that human companionship is unparalleled, and the ability to think independently forms the core of our very own identity.
Although Fahrenheit 451 lays out a society so reliant on AI it seems a bit exaggerated and impossible, it nevertheless challenges us to constantly keep our reliance on AI in check. Humanity will never reach the point where we use only AI for companionship because we are social animals and will recognize the superficiality of AI in the end through our natural impulses to create real and deep relationships with people. But, I think it is very possible for people to rely on AI to an unhealthy extent, despite their real relationships. While in the end, people may just use these headphones as any other headphones due to the apparently great sound quality, knowing the potential dangers of these headphones may prevent people from disappearing into an entirely different world–the Artificial world.
With 2016 coming to a quick close, the media has tried to reinforce its agenda with its focus on giving 2016 a negative name. The media has been filled with mourning for the loss of many celebrities and the outcome of the election through countless memes and sound bites. Through these tactics, the media has striven to consume the audience with their agenda and project a negative outlook on the passing year. But, instead of providing encouragement for the coming year, this negative judgment of 2016 aids the media by convincing the audience to remedy their sorrows through materialistic means. In other words, by drawing attention to the deaths of celebrities, the media hopes to drown the audience in its materialistic message. And, by referring to the election as a complete loss in 2016 with quick memes and sound bites, the media pushes its progressive ideology (with its lacking of analytical thought) onto the audience in a way that is hard to challenge.
Through dragging us into thinking that 2016 was a horrible year, the media demonstrates its focus on the memes and sound bites which emotionally attract people. Using events which have recently happened, the media encourages people to make rash statements and generalizations about the year. When many celebrities died in the week leading up to the New Year, memes suggested that their deaths were indicative of the entire year. Because the media was so focused on these deaths, it made people attach their deaths to the entire year. Linking the deaths to the year emotionally aids the media in trying to make people believe that the year basically and superficially relies on the lives of the celebrities. But, because the media does this through funny memes and sound bites, people are easily lead to believe the media.
Thus, it could be easy to get caught up in the media and believe that 2016 was a horrible year. When all you see or hear is death, progressive ideology, and sound bites, it may seem like 2016 was really that bad. But it is important to not get mixed up with that thinking. We need to remember that we can’t judge the entire year based off of just the last two months. This would be entirely superficial. We can’t only judge the year off of the media’s presentations. What we must do is view 2016 holistically. We must discern in which areas we grew and in which areas we need growth. Judging the year based off of celebrity deaths and the election should be thrown out of the window because none of those things are as important as relationships with Christ, family members, and friends. Nor are those two things as important as understanding things on a deeper level.
The coming of the New Year this weekend allows us the opportunity of meditating on the important things in life. Through recognizing that the media does not provide a meaningful way to judge the year, we will be better able to ensure a better next year because we may be able to deny the media’s idea of the good life.
The week before finals, when I was writing one of my essays, my dad made me realize that I didn’t have to stress out about school as much as I had been. The essay was not where I wanted it to be at that point, and I texted my dad, asking him to send up some prayers for me. I told him that I was stressed that the essay would not be good enough, and that I really needed divine intervention. My dad replied that he would of course pray for me, but that I really shouldn’t stress out about the essay. He pointed out that stressing about work is not worth it because as long as I did my best, there was nothing else I can do about it. From that point on, I fixed my attitude about my essay, finished it to the best of my ability, and moved on to other assignments.
My dad revealed a very important lesson. Oftentimes, we associate our self-worth with our worldly successes. When we do poorly in school, don’t perform the best in sports, and don’t execute well for our bosses, we decide that we are worth less. This is a flaw in our culture. It shows that we value people, including ourselves, for how they can benefit us in situations. We “aestheticize” people, that is, we use people in a utilitarian sense, taking what will benefit us and leaving the rest. Instead of looking at people as unique human beings, we sometimes only see people for how they may help us. And, to a certain point, this may be necessary. We may become friends with someone because we have to in order to survive. But if we are only friends with them for that reason, we miss out on any deeper meaning in the relationship.
When we view our worth as directly related to our worldly success, we limit ourselves to just our capabilities for success. For example, if I thought that I was a great person based off of a great paper grade, I would only be judging my character based on my ability to write. That would be a very inaccurate way to judge myself. Perhaps my grades show determination, will-power, commitment, and an ability to understand. But sometimes people get good grades because they know what the teacher wants, or because they were born with a specific talent. A grade doesn’t directly reflect the time you placed in the course or the level of understanding of the material. Perhaps you understood the material, but simply didn’t test well, or wrote in a particular style that the professor didn’t like. All in all, judging ourselves based on how well we did in the class limits the value of the class itself and shows a lacking in recognizing the transcendent worth in knowledge from the course.
As cliché as this will be, our grades truly do not define us. Although grades and GPAs may affect our scholarships and may demonstrate our determination to do well in classes, they do not always reflect our transformation throughout the semester. We should look at school beyond our grades. Instead of limiting courses to credit hours and grades, we should view courses as ways to grow in our life. We should keep in mind the higher purpose of learning. Like the man in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, who is released from the darkness and finally understands the light through education of the light, we are able to understand things in life in a deeper, more truthful way through education.
Thus, through education, we may learn how to live better. At Hillsdale College, students sign an honor code rather than reading a list of “do’s and don’ts.” The honor code, which states “A Hillsdale College student...through education, rises to self-government,” demonstrates the importance of education. Through gaining wisdom and understanding in education, we are able to understand our role in society and things in life in a deeper way. This understanding, thus aids us in having full lives. Therefore, rather than limiting our education to numbers and letters, we should recognize the greatness in education as that which helps us order our lives for the better.
During my senior year of high school, my older brother, who was attending UCSB at the time, told me the best advice I have received. He told me that if people don’t push themselves past their comfort zones, they will not learn. Through putting ourselves in unfamiliar positions, we learn of the consequences of new actions. Therefore, he told me that I had to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Not only will putting ourselves in challenging positions teach us how to grow, they will help us feel confident in our abilities.
When we use social media, we only sometimes put ourselves in challenging situations. More often than not, we just scroll through, looking at whatever catches our eye. Because of the way social media is structured, most of the content does not demand our full attention. Unlike a newspaper, in which you have to read the article to understand current events and issues, social media usually are something which does not demand the user’s analysis. Sometimes, we read articles our friends share. And perhaps engage in discussions on social media. But most of the time, we pass up on these discussions to avoid hurting other’s feelings.
We use social media to get to know other people without having to do the hard part of actually talking to them. We avoid the challenge, if you would call it a challenge, of getting to know someone and be able to read them to understand what they’re actually saying. Social media gives us the opportunity of filling our lives with almost meaningless noise because it distracts us from the reality of things. It only lets us see things at the surface.
Why do we continually use social media when we get the same results each time? Although we may feel like we get closer to others because we find out about their lives, when we don’t actually develop a relationship with others, the satisfaction we receive fades. Because we don’t have real interactions with people, and because we don’t fully focus on social media, it’s hard to form lasting relationships with people. We return to social media for the same fake feeling of friendship.
Sometimes we use social media to receive our news. We learn about the current events from reading article titles and memes, instead of reading actual newspaper articles. Thus, the things we see on social media, if that is the only way we get news, greatly affects the way we view the world. If we view the world based off of social media’s representation, then we only view the world with the carefree attitude we use towards social media. This makes it hard to take the important things in life seriously because we don’t fully understand the things that go on.
This past week at many schools, students had to write their last papers before finals. This week at my school, and many other schools, is commonly called “Hell week” because of the insane amount of papers. I, too, had a hell week and had to write many long papers. This task, albeit challenging, showed me how mind-dumbing social media is. I used social media as a break between writing my papers because it provided light, brainless entertainment. It helped me realize that the knowledge and satisfaction I get from social media is fading compared to the knowledge and understanding I gain when I write papers.
Knowledge and understanding gained from reading intellectually stimulating articles, essays, and other literature is far more transcendent than the satisfaction from social media. When we use social media, we tend to want to keep checking it habitually to see any updates. But, after reading a good essay, we feel satisfied for much longer for learning something stable.
This Thanksgiving, I visited one of my good friends near my school. While on my visit, I saw a cute little magazine cover framed on one of their bookshelves. On the cover, a little girl in a play dress sat knitting what looked to be a scarf. After studying it for a while, realizing how happy the girl seemed, I noticed that it was the cover of an old Good Housekeeping magazine.
Now, this cover would not have been printed. People would have claimed that Good Housekeeping supports a limited view of women and their roles as mothers. Good Housekeeping, according to them, would suggest that a good mother is one who teaches her daughter how to be a good mother in the future, or a good mother according to the standards of that day. Her daughter would learn how to knit, sew, wear dresses, and do other chores. Any mother who fails to do this, fails in being a good mother.
The way our society would react to this cover if it were published today shows a drastic change in our definition of motherhood. To fail to recognize that knitting and sewing are perfectly fine activities for a woman, if she so chooses, is one of the ways we can see this drastic change. Good mothers put their children first. They show them interesting things, and teach them how to behave well. This cover shows that a good mother teaches her children things, including knitting. It demonstrates that good mothers, in teaching their children these things, show them that they can create things and find happiness in their abilities to create. It doesn’t limit women to specific household chores. It merely shows that women, as people, can and should create things.
I remember learning how to knit from my mother. I was excited to be able to make scarves and other neat things just through using two needles and yarn. This sparked my interest in other areas of crafting. But I wasn’t the only one in my family knitting. My brothers did as well. We loved creating things for my family members. We made scarves for practically everyone in the family for Christmas. After learning how to knit, my siblings and I learned how to sew. We created neat couch pillows, with embroidered designs. Whenever we finished a project, we gave it to someone we loved, happy that we could simply create something and give it as a gift.
My mother, as all good mothers, showed us how to create things and find joy through our abilities. She helped keep us creative when we could have been bored watching some unintelligent TV shows, or stuck with an iPad, just following instructions and not really thinking. Through showing us how to knit, sew, and do other crafts, my mother sacrificed her time. Instead of having us sit in front of the TV to let her do the things she wanted to do, she would talk to us and teach us things. She devoted her time to our development and thus our confidence.
Now, many of the Good Housekeeping covers are centered on the mother herself instead of children. The juxtaposition of just the covers of this magazine demonstrates our culture’s drastic change. When motherhood used to be focused on children, it is now focused on the mother and her ability to host other adult guests. It shows that as a culture we are much more focused on ourselves and our pleasures instead of sacrificing for others. And, it shows that we are much less concerned on children and their development in general. We seem to just let other things teach our children, such as educational TV shows or iPads, so that we can have more time ourselves. This is a loss.
Why couldn’t this old magazine cover be a cover today? Would teaching your child how to knit today restrict them from seeking things other than knitting in the future? Does it teach little girls that her place is only in the house? Of course not. It engages children and helps them feel accomplished from creating something. As opposed to just placing children in front of the TV, or handing them iPads to do activities which require them to do things, instead of the more engaging activity of creation, mothers teach their children important skills.
Jessica De Gree
Jessica teaches 5th grade English and History as well as 11th grade Spanish III at a Great Hearts Academy in Glendale, AZ. In addition to teaching, she coaches JV girls basketball and is a writing tutor for The Classical Historian Online Academy. Jessica recently played basketball professionally in Tarragona, Spain, where she taught English ESL and tutored Classical Historian writing students. In 2018, she received her Bachelor's degree in English and Spanish from Hillsdale College, MI.