What’s Your Inspiration?

I am currently reading Walden, which happens to be a critique of—or a devil’s advocate to—most everything society has created. If I may, a few quotes:

Which would have advanced the most at the end of a month—the boy who had made his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for this—or the boy who had attended the lectures on metallurgy at the Institute in the meanwhile, and had received a Rodgers’ penknife from his father? Which would be most likely to cut his fingers?

In other words: rather than our diplomas, we should be concerned about the knowledge acquired along the way. Moreover:

As with our colleges, so with a hundred “modern improvements”; there is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance. [….] Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.

If “progress” is only a few people’s idea of advancement, is it really progress? (e.g. the loopholes of our current education track). Is advancement for one individual the same for another? At what cost is our current progress being made? Walden makes us reevaluate what is so necessary about our current lifestyles. I’m left wondering why we spend so much on housing, some people wasting their entire lives in debt to their place of residence. What is actually beneficial to a school if a teacher or professor is tenured? What is the point of a high-paying job to support our wants to the point of excess, bad health, and insularity (e.g. the concern with only ones work, even if it’s not important to the employee)?

Currently living in Japan, I look over at my Japanese Teacher of English and wonder how important her government reports are. She has to detail all of her visits to other schools (three times a week). She has to write weekly reports about her curriculum. She has to give almost monthly open classes to non-English teachers of the same school. She has to view other classes (almost monthly) that are non-English. Because her days are sometimes filled with reports, she is forced to work overtime or complete work when she should be sleeping. She often tells me she wishes she had time to study her English as if it were a pipe dream. I look over at her now, a feverish scribe, slave to the red tape, and wonder what is actually improving her English classes? Where is her (creative) inspiration?

To quote a favorite movie, SLC Punk, “What’s the point? Final summation? None.” I know there is some idealism involved in the whole living-in-a-shack-in-the-woods theme—besides the fact that it could be filed under “drastic measures”…and, well, the fact that I really like watching movies. Still, it seems most of what we “have to do” is stuff we have to do to be like everyone else (although, I admit paving our own way is, well, burdensome).

Forgive me if this sounds like one big cliché…something about “the road less traveled by” or something to that affect. That’s not really what I’m shooting for here. My question is why does it seem that only the only people aiming for real innovation appear on the TED website? (I feel I could have garnered a comparable college education on TED.com, no offense, Bucknell). I hear the last all-round successful inventor/genius to have lived was Thomas Edison…and, well, I kind of believe it. Surely it’s not because we have thought up so many ideas that there aren’t many left. Something is slowing us down. Something is helping to preserve our vegetable torpor.

And thus ends my rhetoric with a dismal conclusion comparable to that of The Deer Hunter (1978). To lighten the mood, I offer my favorite awkward skit including Zach Galifianakis: A Vodka Movie. Enjoy.

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3 thoughts on “What’s Your Inspiration?

  1. Dan- Really interesting post! Some great quotes and probing questions… I couldn’t agree with you more about TED (Side note, one of my favorite TED talks. Check it out: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html).

    That said, if you’re really looking for answers, I think you might find some very juicy and plausible ones in Vilem Flusser’s “Toward a Philosophy of Photography.” The author is now seen as a sort of 20th C prophet of cybernetics, but he makes a great argument against the dangerous rise of automaticity in our post-industrial culture… as well as for the importance of critical thought and experimental art. His language gets a bit conspiratorial at times, but mostly it’s a smart, unassuming text that packs quite a punch. We’re reading it in a class of mine, and according to my teacher (critic/author/poet David Levi-Strauss) it’s one of those odd little books that’s been circulating poet’s and artist’s circles since it was posthumously published in 2000.

    Enjoy!

  2. Great post! Sometimes I just want to go live in the woods. There is too much clutter in our lives. But then I would miss the internet…I think that you bring up a great question about progress. What is progress? How do we measure it? Sadly, I do not have an answer for that, except it is probably not to be found by speeding everything up and trying to make us all more “productive.”

  3. Wow, thanks Margaret for the video. I’ve seen it on the website but haven’t until today watched it. (And although I should be doing other important things, I’m enjoying this video). What really struck a chord with me is when Ken Robinson says students “become frightened of being wrong”. In Japan, schools are traditionally 100% objective…Right vs. Wrong. And language education needs a lot more room for error if we want kids to stay interested. Just think of errors that native English speakers still make! (I still have trouble spelling embarrassed…is that right?) So, in Japan, this fear of being wrong problem is magnified 100 fold.
    I think my favorite video is Ann Cooper on school lunches. Relating back to my post, she points out that we are following nutritional guidelines from a government organization that are known to be incorrect. And our school lunch system follows a precedence of the past with know aim at advancing (i.e. pizza, french fries, and orange drink is a perfectly healthy and well-balanced meal for kids). I could really go on and on about this and the FDA and the Beef Trust yada yada. It’s better if you just watch the video, haha.

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