Tuesday, September 19, 2006

To Wit

Tonight, as part of our exercises, the Humanities 103 class watched the Emma Thompson movie, Wit. It was an interesting movie, classified by many as "tear-jerker". For me it brought up a lot of questions. The main character is an English PhD, who in light of her cancer, struggles to understand the meaning of what she has done with her life. On top of this, she compares her attitudes towards students with the attitudes of the industrial medics towards her. That alone made the movie for me. It has been on my mind lately, especially as I am doing a bit of research on coffee, which is the poster boy for "social-conscious" issues today.

The reason that this is interesting is that the dichotomy is played out rather well in the movie. She wants to be treated as a full human by the doctors, however they cannot seem to treat her like anything more than a condition or a datum. She recognizes through this that she has often treated her students the same way, which is (quite frankly) easy to do with 19 year olds. What does this have to do with coffee?

Two of the largest social issues today are the two black liquids that captivate us: oil and coffee (which is often roasted and brewed to match oil). Many people will raise a big fuss about either of these two commodities but will nary turn an eye towards the larger agricultural or moral or industrial or familial crises that form/deform American life. Why? Why does (seemingly) no one care about the massive, almost irreplacable, loss of topsoil from America's heartland (and my original home)? What about the problem of actually figuring out how family dynamics are supposed to work in God's economy, instead of settling for stereotyped relationships? Granted, there are people who are passionately concerned about these things, but not that many and not that vocal.

Part of the answer (a good academic wiggle maneuver--never claim to solve the problem until you have tenure and then don't worry about publishing it because they can't fire you) is that these two liquids are our addiction. There are many who would be racked with debilitating headaches everyday without coffee or oil. There are many who would not be able to work without them or get to work without them (in all its varied meanings). In other words, without these two ultimately unnecessary things (man lived a long time without knowledge or addiction to either of these), American, and quite possibly global, society stops running. Could it go on? With great effort, yes. Maybe we would need a couple of days to stay in bed since our moods would be quite menstrual, but yes.

We aren't addicted to topsoil. We aren't addicted to family life. Addictions, so far as I can tell, are always dangerous and more than often deadly. Would the coffee crisis and the sustainability issues it raises be such a problem if we limited or (forbid!) abstained from its consumption? Would our current difficulties in the Middle East and Central America and Alaska be as pressing or as volatile if we walked more places (including to the local coffeeshop)? Could it be that our various cultural addictions lie as roots, maybe not the tap root, to some of our other domestic, natural, and international problems?

This is even stranger to me considering I'm about a month away to opening a coffeeshop.


Keith Martel said...

You're a pusher!

My wife is addicted to running. For a guy who has several creaturely pleasures, this one is odd to me. I run, but it is in no way an addiction.

I remember watching Wit several years ago and feeling like it is almost too full to use with a class in a day (or even a week).

Jason said...

You need to stop being funny, Russ. I almost spit out a black liquid (not oil, or even bile) several times while reading your post.

But you raise some fantastic questions. It's easy to think that our country is addicted to oil largely in part of the shift from living in urban communities to suburban sprawl (so wonderfully explained in "the Great Good Place").

On average, people drive over 10 miles daily to get to their workplace. This is such a common thing that people don't even question it. Nor do they question the "freewheelin'" livestyle, driving around and crusing for pleasure. We're addicted to it, and after around 70 years of it, accustom to it.

Now, if topsoil were suddenly an intensely traded bartering unit, well...that would be an addiction too. (Take notes on this.)

Janet said...

the coffee shop won't be open for another month? Man, that means i still have to life off of the eat'n'park coffee in the library.

Good movie. I really enjoyed that we were forced to watch that in Humanities (seriously, no sarcasm)

Anyways! i'm right across the street practically from you guys (patterson lodge). if you need anything just let me know.