Stepping Into Those BIG Shoes

As senior year is slowly yet quickly approaching, I had to think a lot about how I wanted to spend senior year, in particular my involvement in the API community. I had to start thinking about this back in spring quarter when elections were being held. While I want to be involved in the API community, I know I am not always the most aware of my limits to balance everything that I care about, whether it be API-related, tech, violin, or friends. A close friend urged me to do as little as possible, but that also didn’t feel right. As a senior, I feel the need to step into the big shoes in some manner. The choice I decided to make was to become the Asian American New Student Orientation Committee (AANSOC) Coordinator. I think there are a number of reasons why this in particular has caused me to believe I made the right choice. First off, it is a commitment during the summer and at the beginning of the school year, meaning it won’t be in conflict with other things I care about. Secondly, the freshmen year experience is a very fond memory for me. I think a lot about my freshmen year as I am planning for this, and I know for a fact that my freshmen year was purely shaped by the people I first made contact with in the beginning of the year. I love the excitement that freshmen bring to Stanford, and it reminds me of all that I have to be so grateful for and to make the most of what I can at this school. Through this role, I just hope that I am able to show the freshmen what an impact this community has had on me, and I hope that I am able to be approached throughout the year as one of the first faces they get to see 🙂 So here below is my letter that was sent to the frosh halfway through the summer. AKA my abridged testimony of the API community. Enjoy.

Dear Member of the Amazing Class of 2020,

Welcome to Stanford! My name is Da Eun Kim ’17, and I am the 2016 Community Coordinator for the Asian American New Student Orientation Committee (AANSOC). First off, I am ecstatic to welcome you to the Asian American community here at Stanford! The Asian American community has been the backbone to my life here at Stanford, and I want to share a bit of my experience with this community I now call my family.

To be honest, I did not think I would have so much involvement in the Asian American community during my time at Stanford. Coming from a school with a predominantly East Asian population, I had thought I knew everything there was to know about being “Asian American.” However, right from the start, I decided to join the Asian American Sibling (AASIB) Program, where incoming freshmen (“lils”) get paired with a group of upperclassmen (“bigs”) who became my first mentors and friends at Stanford. These upperclassmen were also incredibly involved members of the Asian American community, and through their influence, I found myself diving further into this community for the past three years. Not only have I been welcomed with open arms and developed a sense of belonging and self-confidence, but I have also learned a great deal about the Asian American community at Stanford and beyond.

Back in high school, the model minority was a concept that friends and family took pride in. Here, I’ve realized that the model minority myth can harm many South-east Asian communities such as those who may identify as Vietnamese, Hmong, and Cambodian, where families have come to America as refugees fleeing from Civil War in their home countries with no education. Even East Asian families in SF Chinatown where families live in one-room apartments for decades are hurt by this perpetuating stereotype. In addition, I’ve also grown to better address the concerns of misrepresentation of Asian Americans in media and to fight for better representation. And while there is urgency in better vocalizing the unique Asian American experience and bettering the future, Stanford is a place where I can learn more about and celebrate my heritage and history, as it informs our values in family and culture. Whether it is viewing the diversity of the Asian American community through cultural performances and special guests, sitting down and talking about issues that do affect all Asian Americans, or learning about the history of being Asian in America, this community has become a home, encouraging me to continue to explore my identity and to embrace it. And I hope that during your time at Stanford, you will be able to find your family in the Asian American community!

I would now like to invite you to join us at all of our AANSOC events during your New Student Orientation and at the beginning of Fall quarter! The events we put on, including the Community and We Are Family event, showcase the various aspects of the Stanford Asian American community. A calendar of these events and their respective descriptions are included in this packet. AANSOC events are free and open to all students, so please join us! At the We Are Family event, the AASIB program will also be doing their big SibFam reveal! I really believe that through the AASIB program, you will be able to find upperclassmen who share similar interests, both academic and non-academic. I have seen SibFams be one of the biggest positive influences for freshmen in introducing them to communities that they themselves later become leaders in. My bigs graduated last year, but I am still lucky to be able to keep in touch with them and seek their advice from anything Stanford-related to post-Stanford-related.

If you would like to learn more about the Asian American community before arriving, please explore our A3C website (a3c.stanford.edu) and our Facebook page (facebook.com/StanfordA3C).  On our website, you can learn about programs hosted by the A3C and the various student groups of the Asian American community.  You can also check out our Facebook page for event postings during the school year.

I cannot wait to meet you! Please say hi if you see me around, and you are more than welcome to shoot me any thoughts and questions. Enjoy the rest of your summer, and welcome to the family!

 

Sincerely,

Da Eun Kim

B.S. Candidate in Symbolic Systems | Class of 2017

M.S. Candidate in Computer Science | Class of 2018

Asian American New Student Orientation Committee (AANSOC) Chair

The Necessity of the Humanities for Americans’ Collective Flourishing

 

“Every month, it seems, we hear about our children’s bad test scores in math and science — and about new initiatives from companies, universities or foundations to expand STEM courses and de-emphasize the humanities.[1]” The balance between promoting a narrow STEM education versus a well-rounded liberal arts education is an subject of contestation involving Americans of all educational, political, and socioeconomic backgrounds. On one side, language of measurement and progress champions STEM disciplines: college rankings vie for Americans’ attention by rating institutions of higher education on quantifiable measures such as student loan debt, earnings after graduation, and other metrics of income security that are best achieved with an undergraduate STEM degree. Policies direct support to technical training, which equals survival in a society defined by technology and shaped by global competition. According to the National Conference of State Legislature, at least 15 states offer some type of premium for certain high-demand STEM degrees. States, frustrated by soaring tuition costs, crushing student loan debt, and a lack of skilled workers in science and technology, have begun rewarding colleges for “churning out students educated in fields seen as important to the economy.[2]” Given the belief that one’s education and training should align with the needs of the job market, policy-makers along the political spectrum have portrayed the humanities and liberal arts education as irrelevant and expendable luxuries.

However, every exaltation of STEM that ignores the value of the humanities is met with arguments warning Americans of their narrow obsession with STEM education. Supporters of a broader liberal arts education point out that the very “progress” that STEM supporters pursue reveals the importance of the humanities. The humanities foster creativity and empathy, which are necessities for individuals’ competitiveness in a capitalistic society, and for their capacity to contribute to society as a whole. Those who value the liberal arts argue that a combination of skills drawn from both the humanities and STEM is necessary in designing and delivering holistic solutions for complex world issues.

Interestingly, supporters of a narrow STEM education and supporters of a liberal arts education both reference the value of education in light of its usefulness for an individual’s contribution in a capitalistic society. A well-rounded education undeniably develops individuals’ intellectual capabilities and empowers them with job opportunities and social mobility, but neither side references America’s original intent in founding institutions of education: to require Americans to frequently recur to foundational principles so that they can best guard the unalienable rights of everyone in a democratic society. When Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott rhetorically asks, “is it really a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?[3]” he overlooks the foundational purpose of American education: to help Americans thrive as interdependent members of society.

Scott’s overlooking, which reflects that of many Americans, can be attributed to the disintegration of civic education during the post-Civil War evolution of American political thought. A crucial ideological shift occurred at the end of the Civil War, from which the Union emerged as the cruel victor over the South and proved that ultimately, mass, force, and accident trumped human excellence, character, and persuasion in determining success. The Civil War fundamentally changed America’s character through a newfound faith in and ambition to understand massive forces; before 1865, American institutions depended ideologically upon using reason and choice to combat accident and force, but the Civil War proved that no progress of the human mind could contribute a sufficient command over cruel circumstances, such as those evident in the war. Shifts in American political thought — shifts that subjected Americans to the accident and force that Americans once strived to be free from — influenced Americans’ conception of human rights, obsession with math and science, pastlessness, and fear of reflection.

Before the Civil War, political thinkers observed that nature revealed truths about Americans’ interdependence, but after 1865, thinkers observed truths about nature that undermined Americans’ interdependence. Marx observed that nature was characterized by a ceaseless struggle between unalterable forces of violence and disorder, and that the antagonism between and among classes was dictated by cold calculation and massive, impersonal forces that individuals could neither understand nor control. Americans realized that their rational choice was powerless over physical and historical forces that determined their destiny, but that they could choose to leverage math and science to progress along the trajectory of existing forces.

Through the mathematical and scientific study of natural forces, social darwinism changed the terms on which Americans derived individual rights and thus the terms on which Americans related to other Americans. Darwin, like Marx, concluded that because all of nature engaged in a lifelong struggle for survival, nature preached that it is natural, or right by nature, for everyone to be concerned primarily with their self-preservation. Survival was deemed the highest moral pursuit, and thus, every individual derived his or her rights from his or her fundamental right to survival. This newly defined moral pursuit made Americans vulnerable to the lure of sudden wealth, because self-interested economic gain was now amoral and within the boundaries of one’s individual rights. As the nation’s new ideologies betrayed its foundational democratic ideals, the greed, disunity, and private ambition that the Antifederalists prophesied became lasting concerns.

Additionally, social darwinism’s mantra of “survival of the fittest” applied its observations of evolution in nature to evolution in American society as well, convincing Americans that even though they could not change nature’s forces, these forces were propelling society into a future that was undeniably better than the past. The language of and pressure to progress inherently abandoned a faith in the past and silenced the need for reflection. The intellectual progress that capacitated these shifts in American political thinking were self-perpetuating; if Americans believed that they were continually deepening their knowledge of nature through math and science, then the farther they moved away from foundational democratic ideals, the closer they believed they were to “real” natural truths.

Gilman’s theory that great progress could only be achieved by competition, quantification and optimization encouraged a veneration of machines and mechanics that altered the conception of valuable work. Before the Civil War, work consisted of the intellectual activity instrumental to the progress of individuals and of society. After 1865, valuable work consisted of a labor force undergoing technical training to operate machines and optimize processes to secure America’s competitiveness in a global society subject to economic forces beyond its control.

Furthermore, the national moral malaise following the Civil War further deterred Americans from reflecting upon and seeing value in the past. Americans sought normalcy after the traumatic moral contestation of the Civil War, and thus, any belief that permitted them to avoid considering America’s intellectual positioning became very desirable. Social darwinism taught that government did not operate under an obligation to supervise its constituents, and thus Americans apathetically submitted to an impersonal government that threatened democracy This apathetic submission was a direct threat to the democracy that the Antifederalists advocated for, in which the debate over ideologies stemmed from a faith in public persuasion. Again, this pastlessness was self-perpetuating; the stronger the sentiment of pastlessness, the stronger the striving for progress, which was believed to expedite Americans’ movement away from the moral mess of the Civil War.

Because democracy was no longer a matter of individual choice but was dependent on external, unalterable forces, there was no purpose to promoting disciplines that educated individuals to become better citizens. Shifts in American political thinking, which influenced and were influenced by the worship of measurement and calculation, immediate capitalistic gain for survival, and “progress,” prompted an intellectual change in educational priorities that venerated certain disciplines and pedagogies and devalued others.

The emphasis on survival in an economy of rising mechanical industries stressed the purpose of learning specific skills that directly translated to maximum capitalistic gain for the individual and for society. STEM education and technical training were promoted because advancements in math and science advanced society’s understanding of the forces they were subject to. In addition, Americans applied their obsessive adherence to objective measures to evaluating the productivity of education. Instead of encouraging individuals to ask questions and develop as the independent thinkers that Thoreau believed could combat unjust governance and that Tocqueville believed could combat the tyranny of the majority, new pedagogy centered around superficial metrics of learning outcomes that prioritized measurable growth, which was more easily evaluated in STEM fields. The focus on quantification plagued test-driven, anemic educational practices for all fields, forcing fascinating epiphanies of human life to become bland classroom exercises in information accumulation and regurgitation.

The promotion of STEM content and pedagogy conducive for STEM content, coupled with sentiments of pastlessness and the assumed value of “progress,” further devalued the “irrelevant” humanities education. Language of pastlessness and progress promoted a disdain of the past and discouraged reflection; under social darwinism, there was no need to reflect upon forces that one could not control, especially because there was nothing positive to glean from the past and because forces progressed regardless of one’s reflection or action. Thus, not only were the humanities less useful than STEM in preparing individuals for a capitalistic society, but they were also unable to help Americans improve themselves and improve society through reason and choice. In addition, because nature now provided a simple answer for how Americans should relate to each other, tools that powerful for explaining social forces and for understanding Americans’ relationships with each other became obsolete.

Americans in a post Civil War era were immersed in a political thinking dictated by measurement and progress instead of the continued self-scrutiny that America was founded upon. Consequently, Americans lost an awareness of three previously recognized democratic truths: that Americans’ interior lives are the source of liberation and flourishing, that Americans need to be recognized by other Americans, and that democratic freedom requires a governing body that protects Americans’ rights on a large scale. The decline in democratic ideals was perpetuated by the decline in disciplines that fostered an introspection necessary for its restoration. However, the neglected humanities still have the potential to restore an understanding and collective practice of true democracy, because they hone American’s understanding of themselves, of others, and of the relationships between themselves and others.

The humanities hone an individual’s ability to engage responsibly in a polity where everyone recognizes the importance of protecting everyone else’s rights. A healthy democracy relies on citizens who can resist apathetic deferral to majority authority, hold politicians accountable, and critique systems that discourage Americans from protecting democracy. By equipping individuals to critically gather information, understand their surroundings, and reason about their choices, the humanities train Americans to be thoughtful and involved citizens. The humanities also help Americans engage in their incorrigible search for the meaning of being an American. “Self-evident” truths — that Americans are equally dependent on the interior lives of others, that the satisfaction of each American’s inner life depends on living in free society with others, and that equality relies on interdependence — are only evident through reflection fostered by studying the humanities.

The humanities also combat the self-promoting attitudes of social darwinism by teaching that just as individuals can discover their own intrinsic worth and need to be recognized for their full rights as human beings, they can also recognize the same worth and needs of every other member of society. After individuals recognize the intrinsic value in others, the humanities also help individuals foster an empathy necessary for promoting democratic ideals that protect all members of a diverse polity. For example, reading across languages and cultures fosters an understanding of the vast range of perspectives in society, and participating in the arts fosters the capacity to imagine the challenges that others face. These skills are especially imperative to fostering a diversity that America has always championed ideologically but struggled to uphold in praxis.

Social darwinism preaches that one’s pursuit of capitalistic gain is sufficient for one’s own flourishing, and that one does not need to consider the flourishing of society as a whole. However, democratic ideals teach that the ability to live together with others requires the ability to see oneself linked with others whom one has never directly known. For example, the study of American history reveals the need for nations to institute policies that protect the rights of all members of society, whose happiness is instrumental to the happiness of all other members. As Americans realize the wealth of wisdom that the past holds, American’s study of humanities not only enlivens their understanding of interdependence, but also catalyzes a positive cycle of combating the pastlessness and alienation that social darwinism perpetuated.

In neglecting the purpose of education for fostering democracy, present day education debates reflect the language and values of a post Civil War era when a country, born around a conversation and contestation of minds, lost its ability to reflect upon the dangerous evolution away from its foundational ideologies. The social darwinism that arose after the Civil War starkly altered the inner life of Americans, who struggled and failed to maintain foundational democratic ideals. Social darwinism shaped the politics that succeeded the Civil War: whereas Winthropian ideals preached that the study of nature brought Americans closer to natural truth of their interdependence, the new “natural truth” that emerged after 1865 taught that all humans were alone in the self-interested, competitive struggle for life. Social darwinism also promoted pastlessness and “progress,” which caused Americans to discard the very intellectual pursuits that defined them as a self-scrutinizing polity and necessitated their intellectual progress as a nation. Shifts in American political thought also contributed to an undermining of the humanities that continues today. However, studying the humanities is instrumental to restoring democracy, because it cultivates Americans’ abilities to recognize others’ unalienable rights and to live in a way that honors those rights. Amidst today’s STEM versus liberal arts debate, it is critical to not only remember what the humanities contribute to a capitalistic society, but the potential of the humanities to help Americans flourish in a democratic society. As Americans strive to create a more adaptable and innovative workforce, the humanities are a source of national memory and civic vigor, cross-cultural empathy and communication, individual and collective fulfillment, and most importantly, the protectors of ideals that make Americans who they are.

 

[1] Zakaria, F. (2015, March 26). Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous. Retrieved May 5, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-stem-wont-make-us-successful/2015/03/26/5f4604f2-d2a5-11e4-ab77-9646eea6a4c7_story.html

[2] Cohen, P. (2016, February 21). A Rising Call to Promote STEM Education and Cut Liberal Arts Funding. Retrieved May 4, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/22/business/a-rising-call-to-promote-stem-education-and-cut-liberal-arts-funding.html?_r=0

[3] Jaschik, S. (2011, October 12). Florida GOP vs. Social Science. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/10/12/florida_governor_challenges_idea_of_non_stem_degrees

Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”

  • How does Thoreau convince Americans that civil disobedience is worthwhile?
    • What are Thoreau’s views regarding the role constituents under a government that permits lawlessness?
    • How do his views differ from those of his contemporaries and predecessors?
    • Does his approach to civil disobedience address the pressing issues of inheritance during the 2nd generation of American political experience?
  • What are some potentially impractical or problematic implications of his philosophy?

 

During the second generation of the American political experience, thinkers such as Irving, Emerson, Tocqueville, Lincoln, and Douglass expressed their distinct concerns regarding serious constraints to the freedom championed in America’s founding documents. These constraints were permitted by American political practice despite foundational commitments to equality and to other ideals, and each thinker strived to adopt tools for combating the apathy and lawlessness that compromised American republicanism. The surviving generation grappled an urgent challenge during this critical era: how do Americans set the precedence for maintaining foundational constitutional commitments when ambiguously-defined constitutional ideals were honored in theory, but manifested in laws that permitted lawlessness?

Thoreau presents three possible responses to laws that promote lawlessness: citizens could “be content to obey them,” “try to change them but obey until they’re changed” or “disobey them at once.” Thoreau’s political agenda involving immediate disobedience is contingent upon his belief that the character inherent within the American people produces a good society, and that the government’s involvement in maintaining collective happiness must be understood with respect to the independence and moral correctness of its constituents.

Thoreau begins his seminal piece with the assertion: “I heartily accept the motto, — ‘That government is best which governs least.” Thoreau’s view of the role of government conflicts  Lincoln’s view as expressed in the Lyceum Address, in which Lincoln echoes the Winthropian ideology that government derives its protective ability from the allegiance of its constituents. Lincoln encourages citizens to patiently abide by government, despite its imperfections and provisions for immoral practices, to avoid uncontrollable internal dissension that endangers an union that he hopes is invincible, but worries is quite fragile. However, throughout “Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau emphasizes the need for immediate action and separation from a government that violates man’s introspectively discoverable moral principles.

Perhaps a product of the democratic sentiment of mutual distrust among citizens and the government, Thoreau also establishes his perspective regarding the nature of man and thus man’s proper involvement in government. Although Thoreau is convinced of the potential for individuals to reason independently and reason well, he also mistrusts individuals because of their tendency to submit to the tyranny of the majority. This paradox results from Thoreau’s understanding that the democratic legacy has been passively adopted, and rarely questioned, from generation to generation. Submission to tyranny of the majority implicitly conflates the size of the majority with the correctness of its beliefs, and can cause citizens to adopt the attitude that their individual actions do not matter. Tocqueville feared the tyranny of the majority and Thoreau wholeheartedly shares that fear, viewing it as a concomitant of democratic legacy that naturally perpetuates helplessness and apathy towards injustice, and squashes the lively political involvement necessary for maintaining American republicanism. In addition, Thoreau deeply mistrusts the minority who control the government. He champions the individualism that Tocqueville fears, and discourages self-reliant individuals from resigning their precious principles to a representative instead of exercising them directly.

If Thoreau neither assents to the power of the majority nor trusts the minority, whom or what does he trust? The answer lies in what Thoreau credits when society functions properly. Instead of merely critiquing what government has done incorrectly, Thoreau goes as far as to remove credit from government even when it acts correctly, because it often intercepts the main driving force behind positive change — “the character inherent in the American people.” Contrary to those who believe in the necessity of citizens’ interdependence for ensuring collective freedom, Thoreau views individuals as inherently trustworthy. Thoreau’s belief in the ability for individuals to act according to their moral principles and his subsequent rejection of the necessity of government for upholding foundational ideals drive his view of the relationship between a government and its constituents.

After discussing the role of the individual citizen and how he should reject the majority, Thoreau discusses how the individual should regard a government that permits lawlessness. Thoreau believes that associating with it comes with unavoidable disgrace, and he references the exceptional revolutionary spirit to assert that the correct response to this injustice is civil disobedience. Despite Thoreau’s championship of subjectivity, he states that “all men recognize the right of revolution,” and that by not fighting the obvious injustices permitted by the current system of government, Americans collectively betray the very attitude that fueled their forefathers’ heroic construction of their country.

Thus, Thoreau calls for alacrity, for action: “it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize” for “at once a better government.” Thoreau then aggrandizes the imperative urgency of this duty by referring to God Himself. His allusion to the relevance of this call to the “interest of the whole society” seems paradoxical in light of his distrust in the majority, but further illustrates his belief that because every man is intelligent, and because no intelligent man can support slavery, political action against blatant injustices is a basic human cause that no one can invalidate. Although transcendentalist thinkers generally do not advocate for relying on others’ thoughts, Thoreau’s argument for an immediate upheaval, which parallels an argument for the exceptional revolutionary upheaval, further demonstrates the universality of the necessity to resist a ruling system that permits injustices. This widely-inclusive call to action also addresses the apathy rampant during the era of inheritance, when political fervor inevitably weakened after the passing of those who risked their lives in the name of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Thoreau is confident that no one could be apathetic about injustices and refuse to act immediately after he assesses his own principles.

Thoreau then pinpoints the greatest threat to a reformed society:  the “nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man” who tolerate the status quo and passively rely on others to actively fight for justice. Thoreau is disgusted with the widespread appearance of commitment that masks the reality of lackadaisical indifference that idly waits for others to “remedy an evil.” In many ways, Thoreau’s standard for true political involvement goes beyond that of his contemporaries: mere banter and disruptive disobedience for the sake of reviving an exceptional revolutionary sentiment is necessary, but not sufficient. While Thoreau does not address the concern that spontaneous individual political action might threaten individuals’ interdependence for justice, he focuses on the necessity of political action to avoid leaving justice “to the mercy of chance,” or wishing it to “prevail through the power of the majority.” Furthermore, to directly speak to those who may not see themselves as one of the “patrons of virtue,” Thoreau defines participation and support very broadly, asserting that merely existing as a member of an unjust institution makes one complicit in injustices forwarded by the government. Although Thoreau does not address the potential instability of a community that subscribes to the self-centered view that one is a “man first and subject afterwards,” he states that those who simultaneously abide by their principles and accept the government betray their greatest asset and commit a crime against themselves. Thoreau’s call for citizens to dissolve themselves from the state again references God — that if God is on one’s side, one is already in the majority. Waiting for one’s opinion to be in the majority is not only too slow, but also irrelevant because God is already on the side that advocates for justice — the winning side. This rhetorical strategy encourages more citizens to seize the worthwhile risk of fighting injustice, while simultaneously empowering those who are already fighting.

How does Thoreau respond to one who wants to avoid violating his own inward perception, but remains afraid to resist authority because he wants to remain protected under the laws that privilege him? In his argument for civil disobedience, Thoreau also honestly presents the consequences for resisting laws while further promoting a philosophy that values self-excavation and self-reliance above all else. He states that because imprisonment is often unjust, a just man often finds himself in prison, and this statement frames imprisonment as something of which principled citizens should be proud. His philosophy also valiantly argues for citizens to shift their attention from the loss of physical comfort to the alternate consequence of “bloodshed when the conscience is wounded,” a wound by which a man’s “real manhood and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death.” By not actively defending justice, one betrays his greatest possession — independent reasoning and consciousness — which is worse than potentially suffering the physical bloodshed to uphold one’s conscience. Resisting external forces that encroach upon one’s noble pursuit of principle is only possible through firm self-reliance and removing as much dependance from government as possible, which can only provide physical comfort anyways.  

Thoreau’s thinking thus provides the source for a genuine, stable and constantly renewable spirit of inheritance that extends beyond the exceptional occasion of the revolution, because the source is found through a fiery introspection achievable by every American. Thoreau further establishes the insuppressible core of his revolutionary energy when he juxtaposes outer physical confinement, which is a possible consequence of civil disobedience, with one’s growing inner strength, which is a guaranteed benefit of civil disobedience. Systems of government and majority power can only overpower one physically, but each person can derive an insurmountable inner power, an inner power that empowers any citizen to act upon his or her intuition for principle to defend moral correctness.

A pressing second generation problem following the exceptional revolution is that citizens have little personal conviction to assent to a government that was passed down to them, when they have lived under no other system and have had no opportunity to personally define democracy. Thoreau’s understanding of civil disobedience addresses many concerns during this era because it justifies individuals in their resistance to majority rule, a predisposition that has settled into normalcy in American political thought and could have easily remain unquestioned. Deeply skeptical of government, Thoreau rejects the view that a person must marginalize his values out of loyalty to the government, especially one whose laws promote blatant lawlessness. The civil disobedience he poses encourages an active political participation that calls people to be guided by their conscience instead of obedience to an inherited and problematic governance structure. Beyond advocating for his understanding of civil disobedience, Thoreau also models an admirable spirit for preserving principle, a spirit that is derived from his view that the true key to sustaining inheritance is not a brilliant governance structure, but whatever allows people to capitalize on their greatest source of principle: their ability to act on their external observations and internal introspection. Thoreau’s inclusive call to action draws in all citizens; anyone can and should resist blind consent to the status quo and act on their own intuition to defend moral correctness, and government should be conducive for inciting critical thinking and political action to achieve these ends. However, individuals should not passively wait for governmental reform — they should immediately resist any lawlessness and seek every opportunity to act on their inherent desire for justice.

one: my father; juxtaposition [from a collection titled ‘my loved ones as a series of literary devices’]

a shuffle at the door, and my siblings and I leap to unknot the lock, hungrily seizing the salamis and cheeses, aloe vera drinks and trending juice boxes with our favorite cartoon characters,  boxes of organic peach-apple walnut multigrain cereal and bars of haagen-dazs coffee almond crunch ice-cream –

he totes them in gleefully, as we crowd around and lift the yummies from his arms

we hand-pick the bright packages out of plastic bags that we carelessly leave in a trail for him to slip on as his carries in the toast while we bury our faces in toys and books and facetime screens.

 

The morning of every exam meant a breakfast worth eating extra well;

He tickles us out of bed before stuffing his frigid fingers into gloves to warm up the car while we wake up to a breakfast table filled with steaming wontons and soups he awoke to cook.

 

Meanwhile, he folds the unwanted, neglected, stiff-as-a-bookend crust of last week’s toast.

 

He folds the unfoldable bread into halves, then massages it into bulgy quarters and dunks it in lukewarm milk (“eww! dad!! it’s soggy now!!”), too busy to mind our squeals before shuffling out the door to scrape the frost off the windows of our car, kept outside so our house can hold more of our toys and books and grand piano as we moved from house to house

 

He embodies calmness as he willingly steps into the horrifying discombobulated conundrums of the tick-tocking-urgency of a college application, clearing tears scattered onto my cluttered desk and replacing any angst-inducing objects with a bag of chocolate he was gifted but never ate. “Why would I eat it when I could give it to you instead?”

 

Every morning, a crisp black suit betrays the double digited years the seams have hung on his frame, a frame unimpressive but solid with strength and integrity no hardship could overtake…

…even when my house seems to topple along with its inhabitants at the sudden passing of my maternal grandfather, my ah gong;

even then, his eyes crinkle and twinkle with innocent laughter as he humors a burdened audience with light-hearted stories at my ah gong’s memorial service;

 

my father never cried, not even when he spoke of his own mother,

and yet he could bring an audience to warm gushes of tears with his simple but profound respect for his father-in-law, “he was the best man I had ever known, really;

we got along even better than my own father and I.

I will never forget rushing to his Shanghai home after work on a business trip, and just sitting in the kitchen, with our few, simple dishes.”

 


Who can find the patience to love and take on a family with frustrating and never-ending quarrels, and find the strength to humbly bear the burden of responsibility to love steadfastly in face of ridiculous and constant abuse?

No one but my father.

 

But there are things that my father doesn’t hide as well;

his grey hair that humorously concentrates itself noticeably in on the top of his head, as if to challenge his otherwise unfading youth;

his eyes, aged from the daily damage of unrelenting computer screens;

his hands, worn from wringing table cloths after dinner without a whimper of complaint.

 

They say you know a pastor is serious about his church if you see patches on his jeans from kneeling in prayer all the time

i’d say you know a father is serious about his family if his dress pants always look a little flattened at the knees from not just prayer, but from immediately peeling off his socks when he comes home from a long day to wipe the kitchen floor that is smattered with the snacks we so carelessly leave trails of .  .     .       .

 

we joke that he’s getting old, but know that as his keen insight into life will outlive his deteriorating eyes, and his worn wedding ring — inevitably worn from all that he uses his hands for — will always juxtapose and ironically stand for how much he loves my mother and me and my brother and my sister and his dad and mom and brothers and sisters and my mom’s family too

any appearance of aging only further proving his years of sacrifice and patience as his kids are often too lazy and selfish to yet fully understand and reciprocate that sacrifice;

 any indication of age counters his intellectual agility to combine a motley collection of ingredients in a soup most creativity, or aspiration to complete a marathon — both the 26.2 mile run —

and the never-ending task of holding a family of imperfect people together

 

 

He reaches for the other bookend of the toast, as the dinner table is filled with steaming wontons and soups he worked all day to buy

smiling politely as he eats the same old crust, the same old taiwan toast bread from the local supermarket that will bookend my memories of him.

 

One day, i hope to eat that crust; one day, i hope my sacrifices for those i love – not my wit or intelligence – will be the first and last things recalled with not a roaring laughter, but soft smiles of remembrance

 

He may not understand the abstractions i’ve used

but he understands the far-more-complicated angsts of growing up and the love it takes to raise a self-seeking, messy, hot-headed child like me to adulthood
and for that, I am eternally grateful.