Sunday, July 29, 2012

Screw Charity, It's My Money

  I've come to the conclusion that a selfless, self-sacrificing society is inherently a miserable society. It's really a simple train of logic; if everyone sacrifices their happiness to make others happy, then, very clearly, no one is happy. In other words, only selfish people are happy.
  I believe that people should give up the idea that it is their moral responsibility to give up their own happiness to make others happy, to go out of their way to save others. Rather, I think that we as a society should gradually develop the ability to feel happiness at making someone else happy. If we do this, then we can all be selfish AND happy, and it is in human nature to be selfish, so this would be a good thing to develop. I think that we are on this track, but we have a ways to go; in the meantime, I do think that we, as a society, should stop making people who have more than others and don't help those with less than them feel guilty about it. It is unfair for those of us who feel happy at giving a homeless person a dollar to fault the wealthy for not giving money to charity, for example, if that is not what makes them happy.

  Jason, Grant, and I came to the conclusion in past conversations that true altruism is a myth. Anything that anyone does is motivated by self-interest, we said, either by the happiness it gives you or by the prevention of the guilt you would have if you didn't do it. People who don't give money to homeless people on the street don't do so because it doesn't affect them one way or the other; people who do, do so because they would feel first pity and then guilt if they didn't. For this reason, Jason's proposed redefining altruism as foregoing a physical reward in favor of an emotional one.
  SPOILER ALERT for A Tale of Two Cities: Skip this paragraph if you haven't read the book. My friend has a theory that Sydney Carton, one of the classic examples of self-sacrifice, was a completely selfish character, for example. Sure, he takes Lucie's lover's place and is hanged while posing as Charles Darnay to keep Lucie happy, but it is shown repeatedly that his life is utterly meaningless and devoid of all reasons for living. He only agrees to be hanged, my friend says, because he will then become a martyr, and Lucie will love him forever in that way, which she would not have if he didn't.
  I, however, would like to make an addendum to that conclusion. One could argue that they do derive pleasure from doing something for other people, but I would point out that this person is not, then, being self-sacrificing; as shown above, they're only doing it because it makes them happy. However, you may not derive pleasure from doing things for other people, but you may still do them anyway, meaning you may be self-sacrificing, and this is where my addendum comes in. People may not always do things only in their own self-interest, but only those who do can be happy.

  In other words, only selfish people can be happy.
  This does say that selflessness and selfishness are not opposites. If doing something for someone else at your own expense makes you happy, you can be both selfless and selfish. Rather, selfish and self-sacrificing are opposites. You either do things that make you happy, or you do things that do not make you happy.

  I think I would like to propose that we as a people stop making it the moral obligation of everyone, even those whom it doesn't make happy to do things for other people, to be responsible for others' happiness. (Also, this is my own ideology, but I think this is a more suitable job for the government than for individual people.) We can have both selfless and self-centered people in the world, but we must have only selfish people in the world. Consider yourself more evolved if you are selfless, but it is ridiculous to force others to be unhappy. If everyone would do what it took for their own happiness, we have more than enough selfless people in the world to keep it running.

My money, darnit.

- Adarsh Nednur

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

You Just Got Pwned.

             Today, I’m sitting at my 5 year-old Lenovo, typing out my thoughts. Rewind about a year and half, and I’m frantically pacing back and forth along my end of the fencing strip. Just before the ref calls, “Break over!” I drag my sleeve across my face to catch the droplets of sweat that have accumulated over the last 8 minutes. It’s the bronze medal bout, and I’m up 13-10.  Lauren has been a b*tch to fence; her parry is way too strong, but I somehow found a way around it. Two more points. Two more points and I go to nationals!
            I slip my mask back on, and everything disappears except Lauren. Two more points. Two more points on her and I win! Somewhere on my right, the ref mumbles, “Fencers ready? Fence!” and all hell breaks loose.
For the next 3 touches, she flies at me full force, and screams like a banshee each time she lands a touch. By the four attempt, I finally recover and manage to get a double. It’s now 14-14, bout point, and I’m losing my mind. If my next point isn't perfect, I'll be spending my summer watching Grey's Anatomy instead of cheering my teammates on in Reno. I can't lose. I can't lose. I can't lose.
Suddenly, I stop myself. "I CAN lose, and I WILL lose if I don't calm down. If I don't make it this year, I'll try again next time. But right now, I need to focus." As I near the end of my strip, I finally figure out what I need to do. Lauren makes a final lunge at my chest, I catch her blade, step back, parry, and repose to her shoulder, a move that I was taught my second week in fencing. My sensor lets out a shrill 'beep' as Lauren simultaneously lets out a shrill shriek.

Jason and I don't agree on a lot of things, and the value of competitive sports is no exception. I'd like to make a case for the value of judging ones worth based on others, fittingly, just in time for the 2012 Olympics. Oh, goody!
            In his most recent essay Football is Un-American, Jason states that:

     "I believe that only progress matters...There is no need for competition or comparison for individuals or parties to reach their full potential unless the competition is against one’s self." 

               I believe this philosophy is a great mentality to have in the process of self-improvement, but I don’t think it’s a very effective one to live by. The main flaw that I find in Jason’s argument is that life rarely gives the opportunity for hindsight. Nobody cares how much you've worked out this past month. You still don’t have Chris Evans’ abs (drool). As you pass up your math test to be graded, your teacher doesn’t care how bad you were at differentiation two weeks ago. He or she will grade it according to how well you presently understand the material, and base the curve (if they’re one of the awesome teachers who use it) on how well you presently compare to the average score. My peers and I will shortly meet such a mentality outside the classroom when we enter the job market. Macintosh and Google aren't going to care about how much your C.S. skills have improved since you started college. The only thing that matters to the interviewer is how much you stand out in comparison to the other hundred and fifty people waiting in line. And in the slim chance that you do land the position, you'll spend the rest of your days proving and re-proving your worth to your employer.  
         Whether we like it or not, we have to compete for most things in life: college acceptances, our jobs, even our relationships. You must be thinking, "Then don't we already have enough stress in our lives? Why would we want to add more?" Because competitive sports help you learn to deal with that stress and often simultaneously act as a release from it. In any sport (fencing, basketball, soccer, etc.), there is rarely any stress at the recreational level. At my fencing club, people come in with a big smile and go out with a bigger one. The value of competitive sports is in the experience we gain in learning how to do deal with the pressure of competition we will no doubt face, but in a contained, stress-free environment where the stakes are minimal. Had I not spent months in my fencing club, losing again and again, tying at 14-14 again and again, and regaining the calm to come out in the lead, I would not have made that last touch. Competitive sports also teach you respect for the game, respect yourself, and respect your opponent. Ultimately, they help you become a better sport not only on the field, but in everyday life. Nobody likes a sore loser. 
         Competition is also one of the most pure forms of jealousy (which I elaborate on in my wonderful essay 'You Jelly?') that provides an additional push to reach our goals on top of our own desire to do so. Lucky for Jason, there's usually a correlation between focusing on self-improvement and one's rise in skill as compared to one's peers, so, in a way, our opposing theories end up complimenting one another in the universal struggle to get better. As my fencing coach always says: "Be better than you were yesterday, but know where you stand today." 

On a final note, I'd like to wish Courtney Hurley, Kelley Hurley, Susie Scanlan, and Maya Lawrence luck in the women's epee event at London 2012. Go kick some international ass!!! 

-Julia Chinchilia

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Football is Un-American

            The most overused term in any class pertaining to Colonial or early American art or history is “rugged individualism.” Rugged individualism is the several hundred year old equivalent of today’s chain status “Like this if you are a strong independent black woman who don’t need no man!” (Am I the only one who remembers that?) meaning that it is the idea of not being told what to do, not needing to depend on other people for survival, and not judging or being judged. So how is it that the modern American pastime of competitive sports requires breaking every one of those classic ideals for the sake of entertainment? I highly doubt this post will change anyone’s opinions about the world of competitive sports, but I hope it will open the eyes of the reader to the other views that exist in the world.
            I love the Super Bowl because I only watch it for the commercials like most human beings. I couldn’t care less about who actually played in the Super Bowl, and I couldn’t care (even) less about who won! In fact, I don’t even know the names of the teams last year even though I was watching at friend’s house for hours. I just find it ridiculous that we as a people have decided to judge the worth of a person, of a team, of a program, or of the city that program is located in by how it matches up during one game against another program.
            What does it mean to be better than someone else? It means squat. As I said in Miley Cyrus, Life Coach, I believe that only progress matters. You being better than me, The Steelers being better than The Astros (Does that comparison hurt, sports buffs?), or Queen being better than Justin Bieber (Have you heard his new video? It sucks.) doesn’t tell you how good either individual or group is. If the comparison became something along the lines of, “I can do the splits, but you cannot,” needing the other person for comparison is moot. It would be just as easy for me to say, “I can’t do the splits, and I don’t want to. I prefer keeping my legs together and my groin off the floor, thank-you very much.” There is no need for competition or comparison for individuals or parties to reach their full potential unless the competition is against one’s self.
            A feature in a driving game I played as a kid was that I could race against my shadow, the image of my last lap's performance superimposed on top of the one I was currently doing. The only worth I have ever found was in being better than I was a millisecond ago. For instance, I know “millisecond” is spelled with two L’s because Word just autocorrected me, and I have become a better writer and speller because of it. Of course there are people who already knew how to spell it, but how do they better me for knowing it? They don’t. One’s own progress is the only logical means to determine worth or improvement. And yes, spelling can be a competitive sport, so that was relevant.
            Don’t get me wrong; sports are a valuable means of creating brotherhood and friendship and cultural bonds. If it wasn’t for competitive spirit, I would never have the opportunity to participate in TCGC Winter Drumline which I did just for the love of the music. Go ahead and play your games, but ponder if there are such things as winners and losers if everyone gave all they had and a myriad of factors infinitesimally – another word I just learned how to spell thanks to Word – small may have changed the outcome to favor one team over the other.

-Jason Rossiter

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Idealism vs. Pragmatism

     My AP Human Geography teacher told us that there was a population crisis in India, and there were way more people than the country could handle. This, of course, we knew already. Then, she told us something that made me stop and think. She said that the population crisis was actually getting much worse in parts of the country because it is now illegal to have to use ultrasound clinics to determine the gender of a baby or to have a fetus aborted; people used to learn the gender of the baby and, if it were a girl, have it aborted because of the prevalent gender biases in rural India.
     Now, of course it is honorable of the Indian government to try to expunge this gender discrimination, but, pragmatically speaking (and I hope this doesn't sound too cold), can the government really afford to be idealistic? I mean, I realize that I'm saying "Let the female fetuses be aborted," but, when their high population is the thing keeping them from socioeconomic development, can they afford to enact policies which exacerbate that situation?

     I have a friend who's accused me of being idealistic in this blog, of focusing more on principles and beliefs than what will actually work or being practical. The question I ask today, on his and my own behalf, is: is there room for idealism and strong, uncompromising principles in a world where pragmatism may solve more problems? My answer is, there must be, or we have failed as a species.

     Population crises seem a good field for the relevant thought experiments. Consider this: if the Indian government were to enact a policy where 50% of the men and 50% of the women of India, evenly distributed across the age spectrum, were randomly chosen and executed, it could solve their population crisis, spark one of the biggest technological resurgences and periods of innovation in recent history as resources suddenly become sufficient to care for everyone and scientific experimentation and advancement become viable, and bring India to the helm of the world almost overnight. I don't say this satirically, and it shouldn't be viewed as such. Actually consider this, and realize what it would mean for the world. What if the resulting period of progress led directly to the cure for AIDS and cancer? Would it be worth it then? Surely that would cure more people than we had killed, at least in the long run. (Of course, there could be arguments that ethics doesn't work that way. Here's a great webcomic to illustrate.)
     Now, you probably couldn't make yourself seriously consider that, and rightfully so. It's barbaric. (If you could, I extend a sincere congratulations. You have managed to be so open-minded as to make even me uncomfortable.) This coming from the guy who argued with his AP World History class that A Modest Proposal was a good idea which, in those circumstances, should have been enacted. (Another essay for another time. This does not conflict with my views here. I was later proved wrong, not because of any ethical dilemmas, but because my teacher pointed out that it relied on Malthusian theory, which is inaccurate.)
     I propose this: that uncompromising principles and idealism to the point of stupidity are the only thing that make us human, empathetic creatures and indeed, have often succeeded in greater change than pragmatism. If Gandhi hadn't had a blind belief in the power of nonviolent protest, even through being put in jail and having attempts made on his life, where would India be today?

     David Fincher's Se7en has an interesting viewpoint on the topic: that idealism and uncompromising principles in a disparate society may be misplaced, but they are the only thing which make existence worthwhile, because they are the only thing that give us hope of a better world, one where biases and crime and horror have been eradicated. I leave you with the final line of the movie: "Ernest Hemingway once wrote, 'The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.' I agree with the second part."

The father of India, a blind idealist

- Adarsh Nednur

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Recipe for World Peace

Every single person on this earth has a cultural heritage. Yes, even ‘American’ is considered its own thing. I believe that the key reason for the establishment of all traditions and practices, even religions, stems from the need to adapt and survive on a certain region’s available resources (i.e. the use of rice as a staple food in Asia). Further along, some cultures were also created to help leaders control their subjects (i.e. the Caste system). Today, our major cities are filled with thousands of cultural centers that promote the upkeep of major traditions and heritage education. I personally spent most of my childhood splashing around the Jewish Community Center pool and roasting kosher weenies at my synagogue. However, I have a cynical prediction that the efforts of these organizations may, in the end, all be in vain.  
The world is becoming more secular and uniform every day. In my experience, many children of Jewish orthodox parents either compromise by joining conservative or reform temples later in life, or drop their practice entirely. They may progressively indulge in the occasional bacon strip, go to shul (link) only for Yom Kippur, or stop wearing their kippa in public. And I’m sure this is not limited to the Jewish community. Some take this as a tragedy, but I can’t help but think, “So what?”

Just the other week, I called my mother out after she let slip a very snide comment about my brother’s girlfriend, who happens to be black. For the next 30 minutes, I went head-on with her, my aunt, uncle, and grandparents as they pitched arguments across our after-dinner tea about affirmative action, the race of most Texas prison inmates, and the ‘black’ mentality. I was able to shoot each one of them down, in both English and Russian. (I give a more descriptive narration of my family dinners in my wonderful essay Nag like a Jew)
I go so far as to say that we are taught to promote the ‘No Place for Hate’ policy because it is thus far the only thing we can do to attempt peaceful coexistence. We tolerate those different from us instead of hating them, and I agree, it’s a very effective method for the most part. We are encouraged to embrace our differences. However, I believe the true recipe for world peace can only be achieved when there are no longer any differences. There will always be people like my grandmother, who, no matter how many times I prove her wrong, will always clutch her bag tighter when she passes a black guy in the street. This inherent lack of trust of those not part of our own race or background is what I believe makes world peace impossible while there is such an expansive variety of cultures. Luckily, the only thing she carries under her arm is a purse, while some carry a gun *cough* Zimmerman case *cough*. 
I believe the growing integral uniformity in the world, such as the one shown in my above example, is actually helping push this universal goal along. I know this sounds very Brave New World, but I am convinced that with the spread of uniformity comes a growing mutual understanding, aka, our ever-desired world peace. It may take thousands of years, but I believe a day may come when the original races of the world no longer exist, and all of earth’s inhabitants are part of a single culture, a single mind, a mind for progress through unity. The world will fall into step with itself over time, no genocidal ethnic cleansing required. 

            I take life with a pinch of salt and conclude this essay on the dark note that I believe there is currently no other plausible, satisfying recipe for world peace other than the lack of conflicting interests between people. In that case, is forgetting your heritage really all that bad?

It may take thousands of years, but I believe a day may come when the original races of the world no longer exist, and all of earth’s inhabitants are part of a single culture, a single mind, a mind for progress through unity.

-Julia Chinchillia

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Live and Let Stupid

            This perspective runs parallel to that of Let Your Kids Fail., The Magic School Bus, and really anywhere I’ve flaunted my Libertarian or Anarchistic opinions. The thesis is very simple: If one cannot prove that an individual’s actions directly affect him or her in a way that goes against his or her rights [see Save $ by Not Killing People to understand how rights come from Natural Law], then there is no legitimate rationale that can be used to float the idea that another’s actions are worthy of being made illegal. I had to include directly because we could argue for years about how every action indirectly affects the entire world, Butterfly Effect, anyone?
            Gay rights is this generation’s big thing. And, frankly, I’m getting really frickin’ tired of hearing about it. If someone could tell me how two men or two women getting together is any more detrimental to American society than the massive amount of sexual activity that happens outside of marriage is, I’d probably shut up for a while, but no one has been able to do that. There are all these holier-than-thou preachers out there Bible bashing the American public trying to get them to see the evils and dangers of gay marriage, and it’s ridiculous. When the preacher-man fulfills Jesus’ rule on how clean he must be before accusing others, he can act as the sword of God and tell them how to live. As for those who are terrified of what gay marriage will make them have to explain to their kids, read what Louis C.K. has to say about that [NSFW]. Let others make their own choices. Babying society because of something one group of people disagrees with is a big, “Screw you!” to the minorities that have lived with worse for generations. Atheists and non-Abrahamic  religions still have the same “under God” in their pledge despite the fact that it directly conflicts with their beliefs.
            I hope no one has assumed from the title that I perceive gay rights to be stupid; I’ve just decided to arrange this piece with the most pertinent example first. Now we get to the stupid. John Stuart Mill wrote a work entitled On Liberty that described how one’s morality should be free from the state and created the Liberty Principle that stated “the state or any other social body has no right to coerce or restrict the individual unless the individual causes harm to others, crucially, the individual's own physical or moral harm is not justification for constriction of their liberty.” Mill himself doesn’t take it as far as I’m going to, but he got the gist of it. Mill wouldn’t condone drug use or lewd behavior because he was kinda uptight, but those are actions which could easily happen in privacy and not affect the mass populace. Yes, I think doing drugs is stupid.
             Since I’m running close to my self-imposed word limit, we’re just going to run through a few examples of what I deem to be acceptable and unacceptable without delving into the rationale. Feel free to comment if you dispute something or want clarification. Drugs in a private place = your body; go for it. Dueling = acceptable between consenting parties. Murder = no bueno. Firing someone even though it directly affects their income = acceptable because earning money isn’t a Natural Right.
            I’m not going to change your mind on gay marriage being right or wrong, but I hope I can explain why you should let the individual decide if they should participate in it or not. What if we lived in a country under Sharia law? Wouldn’t you want to be able to live by what you believed to be right even though the society disagreed with you?

This post is not meant to force my personal opinion of right and wrong on the populace. I am merely interested in providing a viewpoint that shows how an individual's choice to practice what he or she believes is right or wrong can exist alongside another's choice to act in a different manner.

-Jason Rossiter

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Public Restrooms Are Sexist Segregation.

  I watched The Ides of March a while back (good movie, worth watching), and there was a point made in it in passing, which is what I wanna talk about today. I should preface this by saying that this is pretty strictly an American issue, because I can't address how this is viewed in other cultures or is represented in media.
  I propose that having separate restrooms for men and women is equivalent to segregation. As long as men aren't allowed into women's restrooms and vice versa (and they aren't, really, even if there is no specific law saying so, because many places prosecute on a sexual harassment basis), I consider this an infringement upon basic rights and discrimination by gender.
  I'd like to quote the decision of the Supreme Court in the Brown v. Board of Education case.
"We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment."
  Did you catch that? I'll paraphrase: "Separate but equal is unconstitutional because separate means inherently unequal." I know they were talking about educational facilities, but the same principle was then applied to buses, and train cars, and all other manner of public facilities. I've yet to understand what makes restrooms different.
  Oh, I know there are some arguments, of course. There is the, "I don't wanna see the other gender naked every time I walk into a restroom" argument, but I don't see guys naked every time I walk into a men's restroom, so I think that point is moot. If it doesn't apply now, it certainly wouldn't apply then. There's also the, "It would make sex in restrooms way too easy" argument, but, the way I see it, we're making it unfairly easy at present for gay couples. Now, I've met people who want to discriminate against gay couples before (which I am most definitely and completely against, by the way, and not afraid to say it), but never anyone who wanted to discriminate against STRAIGHT couples.
  My friend said she didn't want to have to explain to her young kids, when she had them, the differences between men and women before the kids were ready. I may choose to address this in more detail in a later essay, but I think explaining these differences casually in a non-sexual way when children are young can obviate more problems than it creates. I personally am of the conviction that a sheltered existence causes more problems in the long run than the few it postpones are worth.
  And think of the BENEFITS! Not having to walk all the way down a hall (or even just around a corner, when you're in hurry) to find the next men's restroom, being able to optimize usage of floor space in a building (imagine how many restrooms are in a large mall, and what having half, or even a quarter, of that space available to stores would mean for business), NOT DOING SOMETHING UNCONSTITUTIONAL. This isn't just an archaic and esoteric conversation, though it may be arbitrary; there are some obvious practical applications. "Because it's awkward," is not a valid reason to violate the Constitution.
  If people are unwilling to consider this, I would at least like them to accept that they are not as committed to equality and "the American Dream" as they might have me believe. I find that pursuing the ideals listed in the Constitution or ingrained in the subconscious of the American people often requires thoughts previously considered blasphemous. If we don't take the ideals to the extreme that they should reach, then I think a constitutional amendment is in order, stating that we do not discriminate by sex EXCEPT in the case of public restrooms, because OBVIOUSLY that is a worthy place to draw the line on the principle of liberty. (That was sarcasm. It doesn't translate well in writing.)

Men Women Bathroom 2 Clip Art
The symbols of oppression.

- Adarsh Nednur

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Of Patriotism and its Silliness

            If you are like many Americans you are probably proud of being an American. I’m sure you have your reasons. Whatever they are I can tell you now that it’s silly to be proud of something so superficial as nationality, and just because we’re all guilty of it, that doesn’t mean that it’s not silly.
            You don’t choose where you are born so why should you be proud of it? It was in the Georgia Aquarium that I decided that it would be much better to be a manta ray. Someone asked me how long do they live. I said probably about 20 years, but that’s 20 years of flipping around (no really, they were doing flips in the water, you can almost hear them going "wheeeeee") in the water versus the dull drudgery of human existence. But I digress, the point of that episode was simply to illustrate that given a choice some would choose to be born elsewhere under different circumstances.
           Take for instance the State of Texas. Texans are probably the proudest people in the United States when it comes to their state. Many people are Texans before they are Americans. I'm one of them. I am proud of Texas, so what? We have accomplished great things. There are a million and one reasons to love Texas; there is plenty to be ashamed of like our miserable education system (more on that later). Yet despite my pride for the Lone Star State I think that I would still rather be a manta ray.
            An important group of people to look at in this issue are the Germans. The German people have an incredible amount of accomplishments to be proud of. Composers like Beethoven or Bach, philosophers like Nietzsche or Kant, engineers, leaders and so on. The Germans also have a good deal to be ashamed of, most notably the Holocaust. With the good comes the bad. I realize that there remains room for patriotism and without it the apathy would kill entire nations, however Germany is a perfect example of the dangers of nationalism.
            When I was discussing the topic with a friend he asked if I would be able to defend personal accomplishment. I can see the connection between the idea of pride in one’s country and their personal accomplishments. A personal accomplishment is something that as an individual you have succeeded in and there is pride in that. Neil Armstrong can be proud to have landed on the moon. You can be proud that you made straight A’s for the first time. These are things that you personally have worked towards. This is the difference in personal accomplishment and something a group of men composed centuries years ago.
            Pride in one’s country (or state) is something that most people have. In some instances it can be a good thing; I wouldn’t want a politician in office who was not a patriot. Yet blind patriotism and flag waving because “America is the best nation in the world” is silly. The United States, just like Germany, has done some pretty screwed up stuff that we shouldn’t be proud of. When I had a German foreign exchange student he made the comment that flags were ubiquitous in the United States where as in Germany flags were really only flown outside government buildings. The point here being is that Americans tend to overlook the terrible things that have been committed by our nation in favor of the good ones. The problem here being is that a nation of flag wavers can never truly join the international community in the fullest sense. Or in the case of Texas, join the United States whole-heartedly (the same can be said for most of the deep south anyway).
            Be proud, you might as well. Just remember that you didn’t choose to be where you are. 

Texas is best America?

Thus Spoke Grant

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Monday, July 2, 2012

You Jelly? Good.

            Kosher cookies generally suck. However, the ones I was munching on last summer at the Houston Jewish Community Center weren’t half bad.
            I, along with the other lanky teens hovering around me, was awaiting the awards ceremony for the annual J-Teen arts competition, an event where Jewish teens from around Houston submit their best artwork to be judged by a committee of starving artists. I submitted a kick-ass pastel work that I was sure would take top prize.
            A soft tap on the mike signaled the start of the awards.
            Best in thematic photography: something, something, Cohen! Best in thematic digital design, something, something, Levy! Best in thematic works on paper…Rachel Goldstein!

           My name is not Rachel Goldstein.

jeal·ous·y [jel-uh-see]: resentment against a rival, a person enjoying success or advantage, etc., or against another's success or advantage itself, in other words, the very feeling coursing through my veins at the time.

            Behind everything we do, there is a source of motivation that drives us forward. Some look to their future dream job as a surgeon at Texas Children’s, as they sit 'til 3 am doing an AP World History project. Some focus on the Ducati they’ll be able to buy after a summer of barista-ing at Starbucks. But what do these two have in common? They are both dreams fueled by jealousy.
I believe that jealousy is the root of all inspiration. You want to be a surgeon because you either know or have heard of a doctor with a 6-digit income who gets to improve the lives of thousands of children. You only want the Ducati because it got your brother laid, and you want a share of the magic. You want to be able to experience the benefits of these achievements for yourself.
            The main problem with admitting jealousy is that it generally has a very negative connotation. It is directly assumed that if you are jealous of someone, you are not happy for them or are malicious toward them because of his or her achievements. I don’t believe that this is always the case. In the above anecdote, I had nothing against Rachel- I simply desired the recognition that she had received in the contest for myself. I used my desire, my jealousy, as a push factor to create an even more spectacular piece for the next competition. I spent weeks on my new piece, obsessively perfecting every detail, imagining myself receiving the award, which I’m pleased to say I did.
            I also believe that jealousy is one of the strongest motivations we can have to succeed. We choose role models on the basis that they have achieved something that we want to achieve as well. If you have older siblings, this line might sound familiar: “Your brother placed 4th in the American Chemical Society exam, why can’t you?” Well…maybe not that exact line.  However, if you have been the target of similar comment, at that moment, your parents were implementing a very effective motivational tactic that I like to call “positive jealousy”. In the very best case of positive jealousy, you will strive to gain the same esteem in the eyes of your parents as your older sibling by studying your butt off for the next ACS exam. You place 4th, and your parents love you again!
            But what if you don’t? What if our best efforts fail or we’re simply not good enough? This is where jealousy reveals itself as a double-edged sword that can at first inspire and later send its victim tumbling down the slippery slope of unconsolidated loathing. In my case, if I hadn’t gotten the spot the second time around, the most important thing to do would have been to deal with it and let go. This is the catch that comes with jealousy and gives it its reputation, for this is where many meet their ruin.
Jealousy that is allowed to fester after it no longer has purpose or isn’t directed into anything productive can be extremely destructive. Some are literally eaten away by jealous grudges against loved ones or rivals that they could not let go. Extended jealousy has been proven to degrade one’s physical as well as psychological health. A recent study showed that it can even degrade one’s vision. Talk about ‘blind jealousy’… 

As cynical as it sounds, I believe that jealousy makes the world go round. But above all, it’s what makes us human. No other animal experiences envy of a fellow’s possessions or position, yet at the same time, no other animal pushes itself as hard as we humans do to satisfy anything other than its basic needs. When used correctly and in small doses, jealousy can have marvelous effects. The constant desire to upstage our peers may sound heartless, but it promotes progress like no other and has brought us where we are today.  

-Julia Chinchillia
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