Video: Why We Are Already Living in the Apocalypse: A Walking Dead Video Essay – Part 5 (Strength)

Here is Part 5 of my 5 part Walking Dead video essay.

Author’s note:  I am so happy that I finished this project. After five long months of writing, recording, rerecording, editing, and rendering, I have created a 60+ minute Walking Dead video essay. No other video essay on YouTube is that long, at least not to my knowledge.

As part of a celebration for Walking Dead’s 100th episode milestone, I will be releasing a Definitive Edition of the video essay on October 22nd, the day of the Season 8 premiere.

Are You Only 20 Percent Effective?

Self-discrepancy theory states that our selves, or the core understandings of our identities, are split according to three components: the ideal, ought, and actual self. The ideal-self is the person we aspire to be, the ought-self is the person we want others to be and the person others want us to be, and the actual-self is the person we actually are. The theory was developed by Edward Tory Higgins in 1987, and since then much research has been aimed at identifying the three selves’ existence relative to one another and which of them is the most predominate. Not surprisingly, the actual-self dominates the other two.

Self-discrepancy represents a conflict that wages inside our own heads—and between our partners—every day. My spouse wants me to stop smoking, but cigarettes are the only things that remedy my stress. I know I should lose weight, but food tastes too damn good. My father wants me to become a doctor, but I’d rather be a pilot. I want to do well on that exam, but I’m too lazy to study for it. The list goes on. Do any of these conflicts sound familiar to you?

I am a classic example of a self-discrepant person. Need proof? I know that I should completely cut alcohol out of my life because it’s hazardous to my organs, but I still enjoy the occasional drink after a long day at work, or with a good friend. I know that I should revamp my diet because I consume too much grease and am probably clogging my arteries, but I can’t stop eating hamburgers, pizza, and pasta. I know that I should stop playing video games so often and start devoting more time to pursuing a career in psychology and expanding my reservoir of knowledge for the sake of it, but I love grinding my character in Destiny. And finally, I know that I should advertise my YouTube videos to stimulate viewership and conduct research on the stock market to make informed decisions on my investments, but I don’t care enough to do either of those things, so why even bother?

And yet, by sitting around and waiting to take initiative, I am actually doing more harm than good to myself. By continuing to drink alcohol, I am further eroding my organs. By continuing to consume greasy foods, I am routinely putting myself at risk for heart disease. By continuing to play too many video games and not pursuing a career and expanding my base of knowledge, I am setting myself up to live with my parents until I’m 40 and making myself stupider. And by not advertising my YouTube videos and investing in the stock market, I am wasting my time producing the videos in the first place and losing money.

If I was a truly self-sufficient person, I would write 5 of these articles a week instead of just 1 every other week. I would market my YouTube channel 8 hours a day to maximize audience retention and engagement, and I would release at least two, high-quality, 30-minute long video essays a month. I would quit my weekend job at the local supermarket and find a better one. I would practice meditation to more effectively manage my emotions. I would go to the bar to talk to women and get out of my shell. I would address every single criticism that I’ve ever had, or currently have, of myself—and then some.

The fact remains that I’m not 100% self-sufficient. Most of the time, I’m 10-15% self-sufficient, and 20% self-sufficient on a good day. That’s not very… sufficient of myself.

Can you imagine where humanity would be today if it utilized 100% of its potential? We probably would have cured every known disease, colonized the galaxy, and transcended space and time itself. But we know that human beings are not THAT perfect. How could they be? They’re notoriously flawed creatures. We’ve accomplished many great things, but only to a certain degree. We still quibble amongst, and go to war with, each other, we still haven’t cured some of the most deadly diseases, and we still haven’t traversed and uncovered the secrets of the far reaches of the galaxy. At least we invented the fidget spinner and sliced bread.

Perhaps our aggressive laziness could result from our propensity to favor pleasure over self-improvement. The human brain is largely rewarded through instant gratification, and not through evaluation of long-term consequences. Given the proper time and training, it can learn to delay gratification in the interest of its longer-term goals, but for the most part, it demands to be rewarded instantaneously and without obstructions. It explains why there are alcoholics, pornography addicts, and obese people—if they really wanted to improve themselves, they would’ve done so a while ago.

Self-discrepancy seems to be a conflict that arises from incessant instant gratification. In essence, we weigh the amount of pleasure we can derive from any given activity (i.e.: playing a video game, partying, or reading a text book) relative to whether or not such activity is befit to our well-being, and almost always, our hedonistic instincts kick into overdrive.

So what can YOU do to reach your potential? Close the gaps between your ideal, ought, and actual selves as much as you can. I’m not saying that I’ve done it already because it’s a conflict I struggle with every day, but I have become more aware of it.

It’s true that while you’ll never reach your full potential, you can come as close to your full potential as absolutely possible. And that’s about the best you can do for your short (and sometimes miserable) time on this God-forsaken floating rock.

Can We Look Up to Fictional Role Models?

“Simply put, there’s a vast ocean of shit you people don’t know shit about. Rick knows every fine grain of said shit… and then some.”

– Abraham Ford, The Walking Dead

AMC’s The Walking Dead is one of my favorite television series, slated to return in October 2017 for its eighth season and whopping 100th episode. I adore the show not for its graphic depictions of gore and violence, but instead for its thoughtful illustrations of the sociology, psychology, and politics of the zombie apocalypse. In fact, I love The Walking Dead so much that I dedicated this entire past summer to creating a video essay for it, arguing that we’re already living in the apocalypse by discussing issues of power, sanity, philosophy, community, and strength in the context of AMC’s highest-rated series. Aptly, you can find Parts 1 through 4 on this blog, and right now I’m working on Part 5 and a “definitive edition” to celebrate the show’s 100th episode milestone, quite a remarkable feat.

As much as I commend The Walking Dead, I will not overlook its flaws. Many of the characters are just plain weak and uninteresting (i.e.: Daryl Dixon), with a few exceptions such as Carol, The Governor, Gareth, Morgan, King Ezekiel, and Negan. In addition, the show’s writing is at times shaky and questionable, with the more recent seasons characterized by four great episodes, four good episodes, and another eight episodes of pure filler content—you can thank the Screen Junkies at YouTube for that observation.

One thing that I will never criticize The Walking Dead for, however, is giving me my first TRUE role model to look up to: Sheriff Rick Grimes.

Rick Grimes has seen it all. He’s transformed from a small town cop to the leader of The New World, calloused, exacting, and most of all, uncompromisingly tenacious. But Rick’s lived a hard life the past couple of years: he’s killed his best friend, grieved over a wife who died in childbirth, lost places he called home, faced betrayals and double-crossings, and witnessed two of his closest friends get brutally beaten to death by a sociopath with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. Rick has even done things that he’s not so proud of, killing people in cold blood in the interest of safeguarding his group. Whereas other characters might have been rendered permanently insane from such experiences, Rick has always come out on the other side, and more vigilant than before the world went to Hell.

Given Rick Grimes’s attributes, it’s no wonder he’s my role model, but this notion that “fictional characters are ineligible to be role models” is a myth. For a fictional character to even exist in the first place, then obviously he, she, or it has to come from somebody’s mind. In other words, somebody, usually a professional writer, has to imbue within a character the values, morals, beliefs, and personality traits that justify said character’s behaviors and underlying motivations. Some characters can even reflect the writers who wrote them. For instance, Rocky Balboa’s identity crisis in Rocky II (1979) is said to reflect Sylvester Stallone’s own struggles in dealing with fame and finding a voice (Schmidt, 2017). As such, you can imagine why audiences grieve over the death of a beloved character in a television show or movie franchise—their identities might become so inextricably tied to the character that’s just passed away, that they feel “chipped away” in their untimely absence.

I’ve struggled to come to terms with character deaths on a couple of occasions. Fear the Walking Dead (2015) is a classic example. Travis Manawa, a school teacher and my favorite character, was set up for an interesting arc at the end of Season 2, (*SPOILER*) brutally beating the hell out of two men responsible for inadvertently causing his son Chris’s death. However, the actor who played Travis, Cliff Curtis, was cast as the main villain in the upcoming Avatar sequels prior to the principal photography of Season 3, so the writers had to write his character out of the show by abruptly killing him off in episode 302 (“The New Frontier”). Since then, I’ve grown increasingly disinterested with the direction of Season 3, having found it difficult to identify and emphasize with the new lead character, Madison.

I was under the impression that Travis Manawa would be the Rick Grimes of Fear, not Madison, Travis’s girlfriend. And I have nothing against Madison because she’s a woman. Rather, she’s bland, boring, dull, and generally not a suitable replacement for Travis. Rick Grimes will always be my #1.

But why might I hold Rick in such a high esteem? In short, he’s experienced so much pain and loss in a short period of time, yet repeatedly come out stronger as a result. I figured, then, that perhaps I could follow suit, for one day, I will lose someone or something very dear to me—just as Rick lost his wife and the Prison. But that won’t be enough to stop me, because even when my life is shattered into a million pieces, I’ll somehow put them all back together again.

I don’t want to be weak. I want to be strong like Rick Grimes. And if you’ve been paying attention, that’s really what this blog is about.

 

Reference

Rockall-Schmidt, G. [George Rockall-Schmidt]. (2017, August 19).  How The Rocky Films Changed Over Time. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKTmkLvESI4

Why American Education Is Destined to Fail

“The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.”

– Philip Siekevitz

A popular Internet meme is that adulthood is like skipping the tutorial section in a role playing video game, and then having no idea what you’re doing as soon as you first step out into the world. For example, after creating my character in Blizzard’s MMORPG World of Warcraft (2004), I recall struggling to figure out where to go next and how to so much as progress the storyline. I would see higher-level players glide past me on their fancy mounts with their badass-looking armor, and wonder how they were able to become so powerful. Surely, they must’ve had access to this esoteric knowledge on character progression, right?

Like adulthood, character progression in video games is a never-ending process, and not a product. It’s about the journey you must undertake to acquire a fancy mount and badass-looking armor—not about a fancy mount and badass-looking armor in and of themselves.

I never stuck with World of Warcraft, but I did transition to Bungie’s shared world shooter, Destiny in 2014. Destiny, I think, was addictive for many of the same reasons that made WoW addictive: it was a loot-based role playing video game with a heavy emphasis on teamwork and cooperation. Above all else, Destiny was about “becoming legend,” or grinding for a long period of time to create the most powerful character imaginable.

Although plagued by inexcusable problems at its launch, such as a fundamentally incoherent story mode, repetitive gameplay, and a broken reward system, Destiny has been renowned not only for its ability to cultivate relationships between people who are halfway across the world from each other, but for its longevity. Whereas player populations in most games drop off after one or two years, Destiny maintains a strong and loyal following, with players to this day grinding to reach the maximum light level despite the knowledge that all of the hard work and energy they expended will be nullified as soon as the next expansion or full sequel is released. Can you imagine, then, how quickly the Destiny community would have disbanded if within the first few hours of the game, you could max out your character?

The answer to the preceding question is part of why the American education system is faulty. Specifically, just as video games with weaker communities operate under the assumption that character progression is something that can be completed in a matter of hours, the institutions that teach our children assume that learning can be completed in a matter of years. That is, education begins in preschool, continues throughout elementary and middle school, and ends in high school, when in reality, education begins after we’ve received our diplomas and continues until we die.

Another point to consider is that inadequate education is no different from skipping the tutorial section in a video game in that it fails to articulate the skills we must practice before we can begin our education, and so, as soon as we reach a point where we are required to achieve independence (let’s say, age 20 or 21), we suffer tremendously. That might seem cynical, as if I’m suggesting that the first 18 years of life is a waste of time, but it’s quite the opposite: there is SO much to learn beyond high school that it’s actually very exciting. In fact, there is so much to learn beyond high school that it’s impossible to learn it all in a hundred lifetimes.

None of this is to say that you should downplay education, but you should question its value. For instance, my preliminary education has a special place in my heart for teaching me to rudimentarily read and write, but I will always criticize it for failing to teach me how to pay taxes, manage expenses, do the laundry, and cook a meal, and at the more advanced level, for failing to teach me how to remedy negative emotions, form and sustain a meaningful relationship, and make a sensitive decision with long-lasting ramifications.

Of course, it’s good to be able to write an essay about Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and solve the Pythagorean Theorem with square roots, but what practical applications do these principles have in the wider context of my life, and the trials and tribulations I will face along its inevitably perilous course? Few, probably. Even worse, school teaches us what to think, but never how to think. This became evident to me upon taking an English examination in high school, in which I was instructed to complete the multiple choice section after reading a short story whose language was bewilderingly antiquated. Why should I be conditioned into thinking that there is a singular “right” answer to interpreting classic literature when classic literature is supposed to warrant multiple interpretations?

Sometimes I feel there are puppeteers dictating the contents that I should and shouldn’t put into my mind, or balding, old men in slick suits who’ve written the exams I’ve taken all my life—who think that math equations are supposed to teach me how to solve a personal problem, and that poems and short stories from three centuries ago will allow me to develop a deeper appreciation for works of fiction. However, I’ve actually learned more from “turning my brain to mush,” watching television shows and reading Wikipedia articles.

And that, you could say, is why American education is destined to fail. It prescribes knowledge that instruments of institutions “think” you should (or ought to) have once adulthood is on the horizon, but it doesn’t give you the tools you need to transition into adulthood, and navigate it successfully.

So you know what I do? I study EVEN when I don’t have a test to take the following week. I learn new things not as part of an endless, narcissistic pursuit, but as part of a contingency, so that in the event my car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, I won’t just solve a silly math equation. I’ll repair the damn thing and make it to my destination.