Join Date: Oct 2004
Three essays that could use some feedback
Topic: Do changes that make our lives easier not necessarily make them better?
The benefits we gain from the convenience of technology ultimately make our lives better. From consumer goods to medical technology, our developments are the key reason why we are the longest-living and most prosperous people in history.
Mass production and the assembly line have allowed many products to be within the purchase range of the average citizen. Before Henry Ford’s concept of the assembly line, automobiles were too expensive to be practical for most people, and only the wealthy could enjoy the benefits of speedy travel. Then the assembly line changed everything, and all levels of society could easily buy a car. Some may argue that cars have been catastrophic to the environment, but without cars, people would not be able to have the kind of personal and economic (from being able to commute to work) freedom they enjoy in modern times.
Improved techniques in food preservation, such as canning, have been a great boon for the average diet. Pasteurization made milk safe, an important thing since milk is crucial for a child’s physical development. Canning also widened the variety of a person’s diet, increasing the availability of vitamins and nutrients.
Modern medicine is one of today’s greatest achievements, as the old days of superstition and quackery are gone. An MRI machine can take images of the brain in mere seconds, while a myriad of vaccines, from polio to smallpox, have mercifully depleted the number of cases of dangerous illnesses. X-ray machines can determine almost instantly where a fracture is and how serious it is. Because of the advances of modern medicine, people today enjoy longer lives than of their forefathers.
As humankind emerged from caves to form cities, technology and new developments have always been a great aid. While it has not been a spotless record, our present day prosperity is a testament to the benefit of change and convenience when they are done right. People today can buy the things they want, eat the foods they need, and receive the treatments they require. Though we naturally complain as all people are prone to do, we are truly blessed for the times we live in.
Topic: Is conscience a more powerful motivator than money, fame, or power?
Despite the ideals that humanity tries to uphold, we are more often moved by personal desires such as money or power, rather than conscience. This can be observed in two instances of history: slavery in America, and the rise of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union.
While the most of the world had come around to condemn slavery, the U.S. still tried to justify it as a necessary evil to keep their economy going. Actually, that was the view of conciliatory Northern politicians; hardcore Southerners believed it was good for the blacks to be dominated by a few wealthy whites. They believed this despite the fact that the Declaration of Independence stated that all men were created equal. Why would Americans knowingly defy their most sacred document? Because the Southern states needed cheap (or free) labour to keep their agrarian economy going, and the Northern states needed to have the approval of the Southerners to win elections. So a double conspiracy worked against the black slaves; it was perpetrated by the Southerners, and largely tolerated, and even abetted, by the Northerners. Slavery was kept alive for economic necessity of the South and for political benefits in the North.
Until it turned into one man’s insane quest for power, the Russian Revolution was supposed to be the great triumph of an egalitarian ideal overthrowing a neglectful and incompetent oligarchy. While the serfs were starving for bread, Tsar Nicholas II and his aides were clueless to their plight. When the revolution succeeded in 1917, the Russians expected a new start towards prosperity. However, with the death of Vladimir Lenin, a power struggle arose between Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin, the two powerhouse figures of the Bolsheviks. The latter won, and to insure his power, he engaged in a series of political purges, assassinations (such as Trotsky and Kirov), and the suppression of all dissent. Lost were the ideals of socialism and “Land, Peace, and Bread”. Over 20 million were killed under Stalin’s reign, from executions to starvation. None of his deeds were done to better the welfare of the USSR, but to keep himself in power.
Abraham Lincoln once referred to the “Better angels of our nature”, meaning the two ways a human being could act: good or evil. Unfortunately, as history shows us, those in power tend to lose contact with their conscience for other gains such as power or money. It happened in America, it happened in the USSR, and it has happened everywhere else in between. How to prevent such recurring nightmares remains the ever elusive question.
Topic: Can success be disastrous?
Success at any cost often leads to downfall. The lack of foresight and disregard for consequences are large contributors to this result. In fictional stories, the foremost example is of Macbeth, the ruthless Scottish thane who murders his way to the throne, only to be violently deposed himself. In real life, the French Revolution and the zealous tactics employed by Maximilien Robespierre, who also met a bloody end, serves as a sobering example.
In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the title character goes from a respectable noble to a despised tyrant upon his death. The reason for his lamentable turnaround is his ambition, which is sparked by a prophecy by the Weird Sisters. Together with his wife, Macbeth traverses down a path of murder that includes his king and benefactor, Duncan, and his best friend, Banquo. He even murders women and children in order to ensure his power, such as when he slaughters the family of Macduff (a potential threat). Finally, a dual alliance between the nobleman Macduff and rightful heir Malcolm overthrows Macbeth, who is killed as a traitor and a tyrant. Though he achieved his ascension to the throne, it brought him no happiness and caused him to die in infamy among the people.
Similar to the tale of Macbeth is the French Revolution in its Reign of Terror phase under Maximilien Robespierre. The revolution began as an idealistic and justifiable revolt against the excesses of the Bourbon royal family and King Louis XVI. Various accomplishments were achieved through relatively non-violent means, such as the establishment of a national assembly. However, after the royal family’s failed escape to Varennes, public paranoia took hold, allowing a resolute young man named Robespierre to carry out actions that he believed would ensure the survival of the revolution. Through the Committee of Public Safety, political opponents (such as the Girondists and Dantonists), royalists, and suspected enemies were sent to the guillotine. Due to his efforts, the revolution, at least in his image, lived on. Yet his bloody actions turned many against him, and ultimately resulted in his own beheading. The excesses of the revolution ironically paved the way for the emperorship of Napoleon, which were contrary to Robespierre’s dreams of a republic. For all his success in enforcing his view of the revolution, he, like Macbeth, died ignominiously.
The singularity of vision that accompanies a mad drive for success so often disregards the consequences of actions. By believing that the ends justify the means, ruthless actions are rationalized, such as in the case of Macbeth and Robespierre. Yet both accounts tell of a bloody and dark end for the two men, not one of eternal happiness. From this, we can perhaps learn that happiness is a state of mind, not an accomplish ment.