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Response to "The American Scholar"
22 January, 2003 :: 6:26 a.m.

So here's my first response essay for English 401...the topic was Emerson's "The American Scholar"...I got a + which is as good as you can get...before she handed them back Sornberger said that there were only a few plusses (sp?) and that she expected the number to go up now that we know more of what to expect...boy will she be surprised by the crappiness of my second essay...anyway, without further ado, here it is:

Emerson believes that too often we become what we do. He uses the example of Man on the farm becoming a farmer. Almost two hundred years later this is still true. We find ourselves labeled with a job title and that becomes our identity. It's often the first thing you hear asked between tow people meeting for the first time--"What do you do?" In college it's, "What's your major?" We judge others based on their fields of expertise and whether those sound interesting or not. In college, your friends are often those in the same major, in the workplace it is those we work with, those we feel a sameness with.

This finding identity through what we do and not who we actually are leads us to be a static nation. There are changes, technological advances we adapt to, but people do not advance themselves. We are taught to be patriotic. Patriotism is going to primary and secondary school, then college, then finding a job and starting a family. We are encouraged not to live but to conform. Conformity equals patriotism.

Colleges, according to Emerson, should ignite a fire within us. They are for introducing us to the ideas and teaching us to expand on these ideas. Instead college is a place for preparation to join the mindless masses. Indoctrinate us with the (safe) ideas of others and throw us into the corral with the other sheep. You are encouraged to believe you are thinking for yourself while actually you are acting out a scripted role in life. Those whose ideas might scare the herd, unsettle the sheep, are labeled wolves. Wolves must be destroyed or removed.

Television, movies, books--these have become life substitutes. Why do something for yourself when you can come home, flip on the television and watch someone else do something? Why bother when real life can't compete with the excitement of The Lord of the Rings? We even have virtual reality sports for children now. God forbid they actaully go outside and excercise in the sun! This isn't to say books or movies or television are bad things. There is nothing wrong with tuning out sometimes for entertainment, but too often it becomes a habit or addiction. A favorite book or movie can become almost a religion.

An example of this is the movie Fight Club. Tyler Durden says, "The things you own end up owning you." The movie itself does this. Rather than shake off the daydream we've been in and start genuinely finding our paths and ourselves, we watch the movie over and over again. The movie is so entwined with Emerson and yet almost the antithesis of his idea. He says create to find freedom; the movie says destruction is freedom. But from destruction comes creation so we are right back at the beginning. As Emerson says, the mind is constantly finding connections between things until we can show that everything stems from the same root.

Okay, kids, that was the paper...retyping it just now, I see some rather obvious places where it needed to be explained better and I'm not sure I agree 100% with everything I wrote, but that was my honest reaction to what I read and that's what Sornberger wanted. And just like Erin and her whole anti-war, but not wanting to go to Washington for it thing, I find myself feeling the hypocrite because I do believe what I wrote about substituting movies, music, books, tv for life...I do it and I love those things and I probably won't stop. I mean I do go out and do things, it's not as if I spend all my time in my hobbit hole, but if I'm feeling like avoiding people, I stay home and watch a movie or read. At least I have no cable, so I don't have that to worry about. I like being able to turn the tv on for background noise, but I rarely actually sit and watch it (except during school when I have papers to write or books to read because suddenly even Martha Stewart decorating a cake seems more interesting than what I should be doing) so I'm finding I don't miss it all that much. I now have my computer to download music onto and use for background noise and I have my movies also for the same purpose (I love commentaries on dvd's despite my initial reaction to them when they first came out of, "who the fuck would sit and watch the movie with people talking over it?"--you, that's who...schmuck). So yeah, I'll watch the movie with the commentary on once and then after that I can use it for background noise if I want to. As I said almost a year ago, Fight Club is just as good with one of the commentaries on as it is by itself. Okay, so now I'm ramblind, but yeah, I feel the hypocrite in a way, but I am not letting society tell me what I should believe or how I should dress or whatever, so I guess I can feel a little better because of that. I don't know, it's tough when you get hit over the head with something from the time you can comprehend voices to get yourself to believe something else...and even harder to get from believing to acting. Action based on knowledge is Emerson's definition of a's no good to sit around knowing a bunch of shit unless you put it to I guess there are a lot of smart people out there these days that don't measure up to being a scholar...I have to agree with Emerson on that point even though I don't like all of what he says in his other essays, knowlege without action just isn't much how do I kick myself in the ass and start living by my beliefs?

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