8B - New Student Edition - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, September 6, 2000
Limited Edition: It's a consumer world after all
0 kav, I'll admit it. I'm one of
those people who refuse to
throw anything away. I see senti-
mental value in my Economics 101
notes. Naturally, years of keeping
stuff led me, by senior year, to
require a closet bigger than my new
apartment in New York City. Many
have urged me to recycle things like
anthropology worksheets outlining
our direct lineage from monkeys,
but -I always respond, what if some-
day schools in Kansas decide to stop
teaching evolution? Oh wait...
If there is anything worse, though,
than an obsession with old stuff, it's
definitely an obsession with new
stuff. These issues of refusing to let
go of articles from my past pale in
comparison to a major societal prob-
lem we all face today - con-
sumerism. The swelling economy of
the past decade has lifted con-
sumerism (the drive to buy, buy,
buy) to new
ment is rather
P e o p l e
to avoid the
are a rare.
breed. We live
in a society Ethan Shalom
huge amounts Johnson
on wealth, so
it's no wonder
that everyone is
trying to show off his or her slice of
the newly enlarged pie. I don't
exempt myself from this disease
either. I too have bought a pair of
jeans primarily because of the label
on the back.
What's worse, the impulse to
spend frivolously surrounds us.
Media companies provide content to
us at the price of making us read,
listen to or watch advertisements
that encourage us to purchase adver-
Oftentimes the content pushes us
as well: Jay-Z's hit single "Big
Pimpin,"' for example, celebrates
his ability to spend ridiculous
amounts of money on hubcaps. (Per-
sonal confession: I play that song
very loudly while driving a 1987
I do not claim to have become dis-
mayed by consumerism all by
myself. A few screenings of the
movie "Fight Club," which includes
a detonation of the headquarters of
major credit institutions, certainly
helped. But this movie (and to a
lesser extent, "American Beauty")
have only aided me in articulating a
feeling that has been gnawing at me
for quite some time.
The crux of the problem is not
simply that people are constantly
accumulating stuff. The depressing
part comes when you realize that
many people spend their entire lives
working to buy things that will give
them a feeling of superiority over
others. If you drive the Mercedes
4000 XXXLS, then you are obvious-
ly a better person than if you could
only afford to drive the Mercedes
2000 ESP. Of course, this sounds
absurd, but that's reality in America.
Consumerism and its underlying
superiority complex expose the
worst aspect of our country -
unequal opportunities. The Ameri-
can Dream of climbing to the top of
the mountain is still a much steeper
journey for some groups than it is
for others; today's consumerism
invites people at the top to jeer at
their peers below by boasting their
constantly new possessions.
I believe that consumerism also
leads people to dress alike. Many
individuals feel the need to prove
they can afford to sport the Mavi's
(even if they're eating macaroni and
cheese every night to do so). This
type of behavior is generally moti-
vated by the perception that one's
social acceptance seems to depend
on it. That's rather disheartening. If
you notice yourself wearing exactly
the same thing as all your friends on
a regular basis, take a moment to
consider why. Not that the clothing
you wear necessarily defines who
you are at all-just be careful about
what's fueling your decisions.
This past May, I spent some time
in Europe, and I noticed that in
France people lounge in cafes for
hours at a sitting. While I'm not
suggesting that we all abandon our
jobs to loiter at Starbucks, I do think
it's admirable that the rat race only
moves in third gear over there.
Although the mantra "live to
work" (as opposed to "work to live")
provides a strong, traditional Ameri-
can message, living for the purposes
of buying Rolex watches and Prada
handbags is nonsensical. Having
been socialized to pursue these sym-
bols of success, such inclinations
will not be defeated easily. But we
can at least take baby steps. '
promise to try if you do too.
--Ethan Shalom Johnson can be
reached via e-mail at
Pack your bags, unpack your bags. You're in Ann
Arbor. You're a student at the University of
Michigan. Your parents are gone. Your friends are
gone. You are here. And you are you.
I know these are fairly obvious statements, but it's
a Zen perspective. Although cliched, I've found we
don't have enough of the "wherever you go, there
you are" mentality at this University. It's all rush,
rush, rush. And it's not the Greeks I'm talking about.
I know it takes a bit of adjusting to get a handle on
college life, so I'm going to pass along some pearls
of wisdom. If not pearls, then at the very least, I'm
planting pebbles in the slimy, fleshy mucus of the
oyster that grows pearls.
I'm planting seeds.
I would first suggest you leave your car at home.
Or park it in the Meijer park-
ing lot for the rest of the
year. I know you think you'll
need it to get around, but .
parking in Ann Arbor is hor- f
rendous. Even with multi-
million dollar programs to
revamp the parking situation
undenvay, spaces are hard to.
come by. You'll end up
sleeping on the sidewalk out-;
side the Parking Bureau
office the night before spaces Josh
go on sale, hoping for one of
the couple hundred or so Wickerham
spots they sell to students for
S I 50 a semester.
If you do find a parking
space, you'll still end up with
tickets; headaches and the unquestionable distinction
as your hall's designated chauffeur.
Take it from a guy who finds almost everything he
needs within walking distance when I say that, cars
are more like slaves' chains than any kind of asset.
You can get by without one, especially while you're
Cars are just shiny pieces of metal. The more time
we spend in them, the less time we interact with the
community around us. And what's more important
than fostering a cohesive University community?
Certainly not cruising the streets, running over squir-
rels or being able to haul your friends around.
Cars don't define you as a person. It's a heavily
imprinted myth that commanding large pieces of
glass and molded plastic provides any kind of free-
dom whatsoever. Cars transport people from subur-
ban nowhere zones to ever-blander consumer
nowhere zones. House to highway to mall and so on.
They take us nowhere fast. But Ann Arbor is a
somewhere zone! Being in A2 and experiencing the
diversity of the city and the campus puts most of the
places your car can take you to shame. Because Ann
Arbor's unique character is available without hop-
ping in a vehicle, let the car go.
Admittedly, cars do provide escape and command
some kind of power, but at this University, the ego as
symbolized by your SUV is supplanted by the power
of the mind to create a persona quite entirely of your
own making. Who's driving whom? Take control of
your own life by letting go.
The kind of person you present yourself to be
should not be confined to such dull pursuits as
money worship and status seeking. I extend this not
only to cars, but Abercrombie & Fitch, "The Real
World," stock market fantasies or any other con
game spun out by uptight gentlemen to line their
pockets. You are not your car and you are not your
clothes; you are not your soft drink, your inose ring,
your wad of cash, your favorite TV shows, your
friends or any kind of culture you're being sold. And'
if you've ever seen "Fight Club," you know that
"you are not your fucking khakis!" You are a person
stepping into the world for the very first time.
Now I know a lot of you want to bring everything
you own to school with you. All I can tell you is that
your life as you knew it just came to a close. The
skin you wore in high school is no longer necessary.
Hauling all your crap to college with you will make
it all the more difficult to realize just how honest you
can be with yourself. Bringing all your baggage -
whether literal or metaphorical -- to school with
you is more of a hindrance because living the stu-
dent's life has historically been correlated to that of
the monk's: bland, studious, attentive and concerned.
If you start off the term free of your junk, you'll get
a lot further. You can use a little imagination and a
lot of creativity to pursue your own possibilities.
Don't think I'm not dealing self help here: I'm
simply reminding you that you don't vet have a vest-
ed interest in the system--any system. Anything you
put. your mind to can become manifest with a little
imagination and a lot of creativity.
Don't want to be a different person? That's your
prerogative. To each his own. To each his assump-
tions and to each his conformities.
To the extent possible, though, I think you'd be
pleasantly surprised to detach yourself from set
assumptions about life, love, religion and reality.
Explore your options, because conforming is easy.
You'll decorate your dorm walls with new posters,
fill your frames with new friends and let yourself
drift into new areas of attention and study. Find a
cause - any cause - because paradise can't be
found in your television.
So leave all your crap behind. Sell your car and
buy a computer. And when you don't have your car,
you live in the dorms and don't have to cook any
meals, you don't have a job (at least not until your
summer savingsrun out or your parents cut you of)
and no one's telling you what to do, what is to
become of you'?
Now we're at the heart of the matter.
When you have nothing to do but focus on the
concerns of the campus and the world, when can't
run and hide, when you can't hope in your car or
watch TV to escape and when you can't rely on
established opinion, you just might begin to hit rock
bottom and truly discover what you're made of. Col-
lege isn't about finding a job, it's about finding your-
self. It's one of the last times in your life when you'll
be able to let go and easily become what you want to
be without someone telling you how you're sup-
posed to live your life.
My hope is that we can change the general feel of
this campus, right now, starting today. You may not
have noticed yet, but the University has a reputation
for snootiness. We're all contained in little bubbles
of skin, too solipsistic to talk, too apathetic to give a
damn. Generally, people appear upset if you smile at
them on the sidewalk, much less try to strike up a
conversation. I suppose it's only natural to be a little
frightened and a little insecure, but let's get over it
and enjoy the great people and wonders that sur-
round us. Throwing your TV out the window would
certainly help that.
You can go anywhere. You can be anything. Get
with the program. Get with the people. Write for the
Daily! Eat ice cream till you throw up. Start smok-
ing. Stop smoking. Do what feels right! Let go! Be
an exemplar: postmodern, post industrial, post ratio-
nal, post structural, post hegemonic, Post Raisin
Bran. Break your chains! And enjoy yourself? But
pay attention; because you never can tell what peo-
ple have up their sleeves. Welcome!
-Josh Wickerham stares at the wall and eats hra-
nola in his free time. He can be reached via e-mail at
Fight for your mind
O ne of the most unexpected and out long ago, that they have to work
welcome developments occurring within the system to have real influ.
on this campus and across the nation is ence.
the recent resurgence of social activism. What activists of any ideological
At the University, we have seen SOLE bent have to be careful of is succumb-
successfully pressure the administration ing to the belief that most people agree
to sign the Workers Rights Consortium with them. For activists to ever have
to combat sweatshop labor, many stu- any actual influence, they must realize
dents actively campaign to protect affir- that there is a time for activism and a
mative action from the legal assault it is time for pragmatism.
facing and many have been active in The U.S. is not a country of extremes
gathering signatures for a ballot nea- and people on the ends of the ideologi-
sure that would effectively legalize the cal spectrum have to make alliances
possession of marijuana in Michigan. with those in the middle if they ever
These are some of the best known hope to have any influence. The right
examples of student activism on cam- realized this long ago and decided
pus and their rise mirrors what is hap- working with the established center-
pening across tight party was in their best interest.
the country. The agenda on the left fices an even
Groups working ,.tougher battle to be addressed than did
on behalf of the right's, considering this country's
human and conseivative tilt. But many liberal
workers' rights activists have nevertheless chosen to
have become alienate themselves from the estab-
especially preva- lished center-left party. Claiming if they
lent an d large could just get the tens of millions of
m o v e me n t s non-voter:; to the polls (and ignoring
focusing on the the fact that the vast majority of voters
env ironment, and non-voters identify themselves as
the death penal- Peter conservativcs), they'd be winning land-
ty and police slide victories, many of these new liber-
brutality have Cunniffe al crusaders have seen fit to abandon
also gained and even try to cause problems for the
prominence. Democratic Party.
The starkest -. The refrain heard from people like
example of the Ralph Nader is that there is basically no
growth of these groups is the protests difference between the parties, so why
that took place against the World Trade support Democrats over Republicans?
Organization in Seattle earlier this year. As proof, he points to the recently
That protest and subsequent ones passed Permanent Normal Trading
against the World Bank and Interna- Relations with China bill that labor
tional Monetary Fund in Washington unions fought tooth and nail against,
D.C. brought together a wide array of but passed with a large number of
groups who had not previously worked Democratic votes. Nader decries what
with each other, such as human rights he calls the two "corporate parties" and
activists, environmentalists and labor urges people to go Green.
unions. What Nader and his followers seem
Political and social activism never to be forgetting is that trade with China
really went away of course. The new does not define the American political
activism has been coming from the left system. The two parties each have a
and follows a long period of right wing broad ideological spectrum within
dominance of social activism that saw them, but they aie in no way the same
the rise of the Christian Coalition and party. Whether Nader and others on the
other groups dedicated to forcing their left like it or not, with our single-repre-
beliefs on others. sentative districts and Electoral College,
The liberal groups focus largely on this country is constitutionally rigged to
issues different than the biggest grass- be a two party state. And that's not
roots players on the right and not many changing.
have yet risen to fight school prayer or If, like activists on the right, groups
the denial of evolution, but it is good to such as labor, environmentalists, and
see the environment and workers con- people who care about human and
cerns making their way back onto the workers rights want to have any influ-
national agenda again. The left-leaning ence, they need to pick a party and use
activist movement is only in its infancy their grassroots activism to support it.
and will undoubtedly face some prob- Being part of the system they think is
lems. Environmentalists and factory broken is an unpleasant idea for many,
workers are bound to run into trouble but they need to suck it up and face
with each other, for example. But the reality.
most important lesson these groups -Peter Cunnife can he reached via
have yet to learn is one the tight figured e-mailat pcunni/Jwumich.edu.
Continued from Page 7B
note important dates for each of the col-
leges as well as sports schedules, and
dedicate the rest of the space to Univer-
sity-sponsored and student-run events.
I'm not suggesting an e-mail news-
paper (I would never suggest competi-
tion for the Daily!). As I envision it,
students could contact those responsible
for compiling the list and get an event's
name, date, time and place mentioned.
Nothing more in the interest of size. It
would help a lot of the smaller sports
and goings-on in particula. Sure, most
students would delete it, but wouldn't
you skim it quickly in case anything
caught your eye?
Students fearing a deluge of junk e-
mail need not worry were such an idea
implemented intelligently. It should go
out only once a week and under no cir-
cumstances should it advertise anything
besides the events or degenerate into a
classifieds section. And of course stu-
dents would have the option to unsub-
scribe from the list.
I feel social interaction is the single
biggest factor determining how con-
nected one feels to the University. I
can't say either of my suggestions will
happen for incoming students, so the
burden is on them to go out and estab-
lish an investment in the University. But
the University would be wise to recog-
nize the strongest connections occur
when both parties make an effort.
-David Wi/lace can be reached by
e-mail at dlaridnnr nr;Iumich. edit.
The office of
Continued from Page 7B
enforcement to deal with the repercus-
sions of alcohol prohibition was shifted
to an attack on marijuana and other nar-
cotics. These effects are widely seen in
the continued attack on drugs today
where someone is arrested on drug
charges every 20 seconds in this coun-
According to the San Jose Mercury
News, the U.S., with five percent of the
world's population, now holds a quarter
of all the world's prisoners. Nearly two
million Americans are now behind
bars. Hundreds of thousands of these
prisoners are in for drug offenses, many
for simple marijuana possession.
Crime rates in the Unites States are
not significantly higher than most
industrialized nations, but mandatory
that, "The prestige of government has
undoubtedly been lowered considerably
by the prohibition law. For nothing is
more destructive of respect for the gov-
ernment and the law of the land than
passing laws which cannot be enforced.
It is an open secret that the dangerous
increase of crime in this country is
closely connected with this."
Unjust marijuana laws breed con-
tempt for a system that denies people
the free will to explore their own states
of mind. Or, to take the other side of the
coin, they prevent people from pursuing
their own happiness. They are an
attempt to legislate morality.
On prohibition in 1840, Lincoln said,
"It goes beyond the bounds of reason in.
that it attempts to control a man's
appetite by legislation, and makes a
crime out of things that are not crimes.
A prohibition law strikes a blow at the
very principles upon which our govern-
stories with any cannabis connection.
Stories of car accidents caused by alco-
hol could be blamed on marijuana if a
joint was found in the glove compart-
ment. Pot vernacular was also modified.
Pot was once known only as hemp,
but newspaper publishing giant William
Randolph Hearst inserted the Spanish
word "marijuana" into any story of the
sensational drug sweeping the nation.
This fear of the foreign compounded
the effect of over- reporting the drug.
A more conspiratorial tone can be
taken when Hearst's connections are
uncovered. Hearst was friends with
Harry Anslinger, a top drug official at
the time. He also knew top board mem-
bers at Dupont, which had just devel-
oped new synthetic alternatives to
native hemp cloth and fiber products,
including nylon. These men, reaching
toward a common goal of prohibiting
.marijuana use, would have benefited
juana was not a new drug; marijuana
was simply a sensationalized version of
a plant dear to Americans since before
the signing of the Declaration of Inde-
Up until the end of alcohol prohibi-
tion, marijuana had been a legitimate
crop in the United States. It was known
as hemp and used to make fibers, ropes,
food, cloth, paper, cooking and lighting
oils and many other products. George
Washington and many of the other
founding fathers grew hemp. What was
the constitution written on'? Hemp
paper. Hemp was integral to the inde-
pendence of the fledgling nation
because it was a sustainable crop with a
myriad of uses. Hemp, in short,*was a
Its oils could break much of our
dependence on fossil fuels for plastics
and transportation; its fibers could
clothe the world and paper our offices;
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