Your Pants Are on Fire

Stephanie Fail

To the herds of students and staff reluctantly returning from a skimpy summer, welcome! I too go through violent mood swings where I do not wish to be here. The doubts tear in and burn away my superficial motivations for an education (like a cushy job) leaving me with the real reason I am here. The real reason most of us are here it seems is to be useful to society. How does one undertake this task? Work. All types of work.

You may be a business student hoping to lift the economy of your hometown into the 21st century. You may be a nursing student hoping your hardcore studying will result in better care for your patients. You may be like me, swimming in the midst of one of the liberal arts departments hoping to reach some island of truth and write a book about it to save our species from self-destruction.

When my most painful challenges come along is when I doubt myself the most. For if I am chosing to battle these obstacles, I better be damn sure that the outcome is what I want. When I began college, I wished to become an ecological engineer. The trouble was that once the reality of a mathematically based field set in I realized that I did not wish to curse humanity with my dispassionately designed bridges. You see, as painful as math is, I do not love the end result of massive formulas as much as I admire the mystery and profound depth behind an excellent piece of prose. Writing is one of the most painful experiences that I routinely choose to practice. As someone whose writer’s block has helped her to fail English twice, I have to constantly remind myself why I am choosing it as my vocation. I want to write because I believe fossilizing thought is the most powerful way to preserve knowledge between generations.

Our written records capture the voices of our ancestors and in reading them we become possessed by their minds. The past reincarnates in our present and we hopefully pass on this wisdom to the future. The future is why writers write. In case the truths they take for granted become erased from the common mind by the powerful, so long as a single copy remains all is not lost.

When the Catholics raided the Aztec and Maya people of Central America, why were they so obsessed with destroying their libraries and books? What power lies in a book? This power of hiding alternative views of reality allowed the colonists to force the locals to swallow their version of truth and justice- the Bible. Thus by hiding behind a metaphorical and invincible text the colonizers were able to do whatever they wished under the name of their god. They used to hunt down indigenous scribes and torch them alive because they could not understand the depth of their writings and feared communication without their supervision. So I wonder again, what power lies in a book? The power of intellectual freedom. The power of our ancestor’s energy and time in purified form.

Why I wonder, were the colonizers as hell-bent on the destruction of a written culture as much as they thirsted for gold? My theory is that it was fear. Fear of others having more knowledge than them. According to the eyewitness accounts of Bernal Diaz del Castillo, the Spainards walked into the marketplace of Tenochtitlan shocked “…we turned to look at the great marketplace and the crowds of people that were in it, some buying, others selling, so that the murmure and hum of their voices and words that they used could be heard more than a league off. Some of the soldiers amoung us who had been in many parts of the world, in Constantinople, and all over Italy, and in Rome, said that so large a marketplace and so full of peaople, and so well regulated and arranged, they had never beheld before.” This was an advanced civilization they fatefully interrupted, and they were terrified of failure.

Money is in essence a byproduct of human activities and so knowledge is an even more concentrated form of our energies as it takes centuries to accumulate. The wisdom of these people, of all people cannot truly be controlled, only it’s resources can and that is often by force. If a nation has control over the majority of the world’s resources and does not honor knowledge then no matter how brutally it applies force it is destined to fail. A nation that fears human potential and oppresses it to gain control is hindering our very evolution. The preservation and accumulation of knowledge is one of humanity’s most noble tasks. We are just beginning, and the sun torches us towards silence every day. So fellow scholars, my plea is this: Do not allow fear to control you and do not forget why you are here.