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Allegiant: A Critique

  • Posted on September 19, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Veronica Roth wrote Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant. I watched the movie and then got the books and I blew through the first two, becoming far more immersed in the stories than I should have been considering that I had a business to run and course work to do, not to mention a family to nurture.

Then, very early in Allegiant, what I read felt like a punch in the gut. If you want to read the book and haven’t yet and don’t want any spoilers, then stop reading; if, however, you also have adverse reactions to “triggers,” then you might want to consider reading anyway. I promise I won’t give away the ending.

There comes a point when the main characters learn what “this” has all been about:

A few centuries ago, the government of this country became interested in enforcing certain desirable behaviors in its citizens. There had been studies that indicated that violent tendencies could be partially traced to a person’s genes—a gene called “the murder gene” was the first of these, but there were quite a few more, genetic predispositions toward cowardice, dishonesty, low intelligence—all the qualities, in other words, that ultimately contribute to a broken society.

…despite the peace and prosperity that had reigned in this country for nearly a century, it seemed advantageous to our ancestors to reduce the risk of these undesirable qualities showing up in our population by correcting them. In other words, by editing humanity.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth, pg. 121- 122, emphasis added

I literally became sick to my stomach when I read that. The feeling persisted until the end of the book. And I was disappointed, because nobody in the book realized that the problems they were facing were an inevitable product of the original decision to mess around with humanity’s genes.

See, my problem with all of this, with the whole big mess, is that NONE of the characters react to what has been done in a way that it deserves. They react to what these scientists are doing in their own present in a variety of ways, which I sympathize with because these behaviors also deserve a strong reaction. The story’s present is the primary concern, after all. I understand all that and think Roth does a fairly good job presenting the variety of reactions.

But at no point does anyone even stop to wonder if they had the right to do what they did or whether the proposed goal is worthy or good or justified. We’re talking about eugenics! And, despite the disastrous consequences, nobody steps up to say, “You know, maybe you shouldn’t have been messing with humanity’s genetics in the first place and should stop messing with them now for that reason, if for no other.”

I have to wonder if it occurred to Roth. Did she realize that she was writing about eugenics, the same pseudo-science that the Nazis used to “excuse” the Holocaust? Did she realize that there would be a revolt before the country engaged in any mass eugenics project? Did she know what she was talking about at all?

Review: What Patients Don’t Say If Doctors Don’t Ask

  • Posted on July 19, 2013 at 10:00 AM

What Patients Don’t Say If Doctors Don’t Ask by Dr. Manon Bolliger, ND, is a book written by a doctor for other doctors advocating a new approach to medicine that questions some of the basic, underlying assumptions Western societies have made about health care.

This first thing that should be clear from this opening statement is that I, as a lay person, did not understand everything in this book, and I certainly didn’t understand the book well enough to actually have an authoritative opinion as to whether Dr. Bolliger proved her premises or not.

I can, however, say that Dr. Bolliger supported her premises well enough for me to say:

  1. The book is well-researched and well-supported.
  2. I am prepared to question my own assumptions about health, wellness, and my preferred approaches to treatment.

The second thing that should be clear from this opening statement is that this book will open your mind, if your mind is willing to be opened, to some intriguing and insightful questions:

  1. The book identifies areas worthy of further research;
  2. But, the book also questions the validity of some of our basic assumptions about how research should be performed and what the goals of that research are.

I’ll put it this way: I approach science with a carefully thought-out degree of skepticism, because:

  1. I think we, as human beings, have to question our abilities to actually conduct unbiased inquiry, when significant amounts of evidence indicate our perceptions are shaped by our biases, and therefore we are not unbiased observers.
  2. I think scientists betray themselves and their discipline, as well as revealing their own biases, when they present theories as facts, which is done frequently, often based on pretty ludicrous assumptions, when dealing with “big issue” scientific inquiries, like global warming/climate change, evolution, and facets of human nature.

So, when I read this book, I read it with a mind that is open to its concepts. I also read it with the hope that I would, in its pages, discover how to get the kind of medical treatment I wanted from the health care facilities available to me.

Unfortunately, this book is very much written with the doctor in mind, which means that I’m not going to be able to go to my doctor armed with the knowledge to convince him that not only should I be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, unless he has significant reasons to question the validity of the diagnosis, but that this condition should be treated as a whole, not merely as a collection of symptoms.

Fortunately, this book has both reinforced my reservations and made me further question some of my own assumptions with regards to health care, so I’m formulating a long-term plan that will, hopefully, not only help me to become symptom-free, but also help me to become truly healthy. And there is a difference, which is one of the things this book is about.

If you’re interested in being healthy and you’re willing to open your mind to new ideas, I highly recommend this book. Beware, however, that without a background in medical science some of this is probably going to go over your head.

April Showers

  • Posted on July 5, 2013 at 10:00 AM

I had already graduated from high school when Columbine became short-hand for school massacre. For a single year, I had attended classes in a fairly rural high school; due to the poor academic offerings, I took college classes for the remainder of the last two years of my high school experience and only went to the high school building to fill out paperwork. Still, I remember very little security in my high school building.

Yet, there was abundant evidence of the potential for violence in my high school. Although we didn’t have gangs—at least none that I ever knew of—and there was relatively little blatant crime, bullying was rampant and went unchecked. Walking through the halls, I heard everything from threats laced with racial slurs to plans to get girls too drunk to realize they were having sex. It was an unpleasant place and I was happy to escape to the more civilized college environment.

When I heard about the Columbine shootings, I found I wasn’t as surprised and shocked as others seemed to be. I could imagine it. I could kind of, sort of understand it. Not that I had ever even entertained such an idea. But I knew people who might have and I understood why they would think about it. And I knew, if they had been pushed just a little bit further, they may even have acted on the impulse.

With all the violence that’s been going on in our society, I’ve shied away from the gorging of the media frenzy. I don’t like the way “freedom of the press” has been transformed into a form of harassment and invasion of privacy, whether it’s celebrities or disaster victims, man-made or otherwise. I also don’t like the way so many try to “cash in” on these disasters, either for profit or for political gain.

So, I was kind of surprised to find April Showers in my Netflix queue. It’s a movie about a school shooting. I wondered why I put it in there. I looked it up and found out that it was written and directed by Andrew Robinson, a Columbine survivor. Then, I remembered that the movie had been recommended in one of my classes.

Art is one of the ways we try to come to terms with the incomprehensible reality that surrounds us. April Showers is an honest exploration of a traumatic event, capturing the horror and the aftermath without relying on gore or sensationalism to tell the story. Life is full of consequence. If we thought a little more about it, then we’d all be able to live better lives.