So I’ve decided to start doing an interview series for the blog as I felt like it would be a good idea to bring different perspectives on board to answer some deeper questions. Daniel Guinan was the first person to help me out with this. He’s a really great guy who might not be as outspoken as he should be. It’s people like Daniel that show that with the right mindset, you can work to achieve great things and with the way Daniel conducts himself, I know he’ll go on to do just that. The following is the transcript from the interview I conducted with Daniel. Enjoy!
N.L.: Alright, so Daniel, the first thing I wanted to ask just so I have it all together, you said you are a four year undergraduate student here at St. Andrews?
Daniel: That’s right. I started my second semester of my first year here of four years.
N.L.: Alright, so what is your main area of study?
Daniel: I’m studying physics and I’m taking a module in sustainable development this semester as well.
N.L.: Alright, good deal. Ok, so along the whole train of thought of the blog getting into it, one of the things that I try and hold myself to is kind of some sort of motto or a mantra. For instance I believe it was Jeremy Bentham who believed in finding the best in the situation that you can find. I know that he did a lot with ethics, I believe. As long as one choice has the greater good, something like that, you try and always find that. I’ve kind of developed a different form of that that I have tried to focus on, I don’t know, trying to bring out the best in each situation, kind of like the silver lining, but kind of in terms of with other people. So on that vein, do you have any sort of motto or mantra that you try and hold yourself to or try and live by?
Daniel: So not specifically a motto or mantra, but let me tell you about my New Year’s resolution. This was this past New Year’s, so it’s pretty recent, I decided that whenever I had some kind of problem, that I was going to try to take an approach in terms of higher consciousness. I mean it sounds like a lot of hogwash a lot of times and people think ‘a higher consciousness, what does that mean?’ but it’s actually grounded in scientific terms. So, the lower consciousness is, I describe it best as everything that has to do with things that revolve around the limbic system, what some people call the paleomammalian system, when you’re developing in the womb, it’s the part of the brain that develops first. It’s the part of the brain that has to do with fear, sexual arousal, with fight-or-flight responses, you know, survival. So the thing is that from a day-to-day basis, we kind of tend to use a lot more than we need to. We don’t need to survive, yet all of this is centered around ourselves, around me, how does this pertain to me or how does this affect me? If you try to take a step back and reflect in terms of higher consciousness, you’re sort of detaching yourself, you’re looking at a situations and thinking in more universal terms. I’ll give you a for instance. If someone said something hurtful or mean to me, it’s a natural thing to say ‘oh that person’s mean’ or is an evil kind of person, but if you think more in terms of higher consciousness, you think ‘ok well maybe they aren’t an evil person, maybe it’s more of a symptom of hurt rather than evil. So you take a step away from yourself and you think ‘well maybe that person’s in kind of a lot of pain’, so I’d say that’s kind of my current motto or mantra to some extent.
N.L.: So, let me ask, is there anyone in particular -people often talk about having childhood heroes or what not- at this stage of your life, is there anyone that you would aspire to be like?
Daniel: I do a lot of times listen to big thinkers and there’s a lot of people, like I’m a big fan myself of Steven Pinker, if you’ve ever heard of him. I think right now at this time, he’s a researcher in cognitive science at Harvard. He’s said a lot of interesting things about say how freedom of speech affects scientific progress and how linguistics is a window to the human mind, things like that. Otherwise, I go around and I meet people, sometimes friendly people that have good personalities that are responsible. For instance, just in Andrew Melville Hall, I don’t know if you know Caleb Maisonville, but he’s such a nice and open guy. I feel like I wanna be more like him you know? I know that’s sort of like a lesser sort of role model. As a child, I can’t say I can think of any real role models. Buckminster Fuller is someone I’m a big fan of. Buckminster Fuller is another sort of thinker. He had things to do with being a big physicist. He developed the buckminsterfullerene which is one of the most stable structures in terms of buildings, it’s kind of a strange looking thing. He actually coined a term, which is very interesting called ‘dymaxion’. It’s a portmanteau of dynamic, maximum, and tension. He made diagrams of dymaxion cars, the dymaxion house. It’s all this kind of like ‘50s or ‘60s era because that’s when he lived, and imagine all this very modernistic and efficient for back then. It’s interesting, but he ran into a lot of interesting ideas back then.
N.L.: That is very interesting. So now getting into a bit of deeper things, more long term things, at this point do you have any sort of long term goals, something you want to accomplish?
Daniel: Above anything else, I want to feel like I’m making a positive impact on the world, and I know that sounds a bit cheesy, but I would rather not have a lifestyle or a career where I’m not doing anything to help people, you know what I mean? I wouldn’t say I have any more specific aspirations than that. I guess overall to do more help than harm. There’s a lot of people I feel that get sucked into certain kinds of jobs or corporations where they’re just being paid, they don’t worry too much about what their job is or what the consequences of doing their job is. I guess I hate to be sort of cynical about this but if I was offered say $20,000 or $30,000 a year for doing something like researching alternative fuels, I’d rather do that than say making millions of dollars putting more carbon into the air if you see what I mean?
N.L.: Very good, very noble of you I suppose.
Daniel: Thanks, and I hope I still think like that 20 years from now.
N.L.: Alright, so kind of along the same vein but a little different. Obviously that is something that you strive to do, is there anything that you sort of expect from life, or to get out of life? You’ve kind of got this good aspiration of what you want to contribute but is there anything at the end of the day you want to see, what benefits you want to reap?
Daniel: I guess what I want is to find myself in a life that is happy and full of meaning. The problem is that people look for happiness or meaning as if it’s something you find behind a rock or a tree, they keep searching for it. Really it’s something that comes from inside yourself. Really I’d want to return from my life is for myself to be able to look back at myself and say ‘Ok, I’m satisfied’, that’s all I especially want overall. Of course there’s material aspirations that will come along and go, and some things like family or jobs, but when it really comes down to brass tax, that’s what I want.
N.L.: So based on your current point and thinking about all of this, is there any piece of advice that you would want to give your 35-year-old self to make sure that you didn’t lose touch with yourself? You’ve sort of got these aspirations today and you’ve got this idea, is there anything that you want to make sure that you don’t lose touch of?
Daniel: Just don’t forget to never separate cause from consequence. I feel like a lot of people don’t think actions through and I’m sure that by the time I’m 30-years-old that I’ll be mature enough to realize that, but sometimes people don’t make enough of a connection, they do stupid things that way. That’d be the piece of advice that I’d give myself.
N.L.: So another big thing with the blog is this sort of connectedness, this trying to bring people together. One of the reasons that we decided upon that is that we believe in today’s time it’s becoming more and more of a global community although some people in some areas have kind of a backlash against it slightly. If you look across history, especially with the U.S., kind of this isolationism, I believe in some people’s minds, not everyone’s, I think that’s kind of still there in a sense. With that -more specifically for you- for Dallas, do you kind of see from your perspective do you see [the people of Dallas] branching out and really kind of connecting to that global community?
Daniel: Dallas itself, yeah I’d say that there is definitely a branching out to a global community. One interesting thing about it is that you’ll find food from almost anywhere in the world, and that’s not too much of an overstatement. I guess that’s a symptom of a larger thing. It’s showing that people who bring their food to Dallas, as a sort of mark of their culture, and it shows first of all that they’re not afraid to show their culture, that’s a big thing, and coming to a foreign country and wondering if you’re going to be judged, wondering if people are going to like the food or that kind of thing. Otherwise, I think that it’s also globally connected in terms of it has a really really large airport, DFW. I don’t know in terms of world airports, but I know that in terms of airports in the United States, it’s one of the largest, you have a lot of connecting flights that go through there. I wouldn’t know if that’s technically something that connects people because they’re just passing through, so I’m not sure if that connects the city so much.
N.L.: Well I would think that based on the experience of where I live, not that far away from Greenville, South Carolina, with the advent of GSP, Greenville-Spartanburg International, the airport that’s there, it’s not very big, especially in terms of airports like Charlotte, North Carolina which has a fairly big international airport. GSP has done a whole lot as far as bringing in a lot of people from around the world, especially a lot of people from Europe because recently BMW set up a big plant right in that area, I think near Greer, South Carolina, and so that’s aided in a lot of people kind of coming over from Germany and what not, so it’s kind of this business is what’s ended up connecting this little place that probably wouldn’t have fallen on a lot of Germans’ radars, but now there’s all of this stuff with the plant, it’s a decent sized plant, they’ve got a showroom and a museum and stuff, so it’s definitely done us a favor, but in terms of Dallas–
Daniel: Well the thing is that, I mean this might be kind of a smaller example but I did go to an international school there, I took the French baccalaureate there, I guess because there’s enough French ex-patriots that tend to be there, but it’s not just a French school. There’s lots of different kinds of people and I guess to have a school like that takes a lot of global connectedness. In terms of the state [of Texas], I think Houston is one of the most racially diverse cities in the United States. I mean I realize that it’s not the same thing as Dallas, but Dallas and Houston have a lot of similarities, the way that they are made and the way that the atmosphere of the city feels, the size of the city, that kind of thing.
N.L.: Ok, so if we go down this a bit. Just getting a gauge onto your feelings, we were mentioning about the airport and factors that kind of feed into [global connectedness], and I mean I’m no social anthropologist–
Daniel: Actually, let me add something real quick. I think one of the other factors is people’s openness to connecting. I feel like Dallas is a place where that does happen, but also, my family owns a ranch about a six hour drive from Dallas and I feel like it’s almost a different universe when you go there because there’s clearly, there’s a poorer Mexican community there, and a more wealthy, Anglo part of town. I feel like there’s a strong racial divide there in general, not that there’s any kind of animosity or hatred, but it’s a lot more divided and not really integrated. That’s a place where people are more closed off or not as open to global ideas and global connection.
N.L.: So I guess kind of following along with this though, you mentioned a lot of people not being afraid to kind of share their culture being a major player, for instance in having all of this food from around the world, do you kind of think it’s better that you hold onto your culture, for instance New York City is supposed to be this great melting pot where people come from all over the world and [everyone’s] supposed to blend together and you’ve got this multifaceted variety of cultures coming together, so do you think it’s more important to hold onto your culture when you move somewhere or is it better in terms of your overall well-being to adapt to your surroundings? I know it’s not simple, you could probably go both ways as they’re both just as important, but it seems like if you hold onto your culture too much, do you sort of feel like an outsider? Or if you adapt too much to your new surroundings, do you lose touch with your culture?
Daniel: Actually, the first thing this makes me think of is my girlfriend. She’s Indian and her family’s Indian. They moved to the United States about 8 years ago. If you had met her you’d think that she’d been in the United States for many generations, she’s up to date on American culture, she would be familiar with things you’d expect normal Americans to know, but then she goes back home and she speaks her native language, and in fact depending on who she associates with, like if she’s talking to say me, she’d have a normal American accent, if she talks to her mom or something, she goes right off into an Indian accent. So I think that more than anything else, cultural identity is a strong and important thing, it’s part of what makes who you are who you are and I think that in some ways we’re all an ambassador of where we come from. Ultimately the essence of a stereotype is by watching ‘bad ambassadors’ if that’s what you want to call it that, people who don’t portray their own culture, don’t behave the way they ought to and people– now I’m going to say that stereotyping isn’t something people should be doing in the first place, but when you don’t have a lot of cultural exposure and you see one person, you make generalizations. I guess in essence to answer your question, I would say that it’s important not to forget, but you need to experience other things. You need to immerse yourself in new scenarios, cultures, places, to open up and to figure out your own place in the world, I’ll put it that way. There’s a quote by T.S. Eliot and he said something along the lines of, “I’ve traveled a long, long way to only come back and realize I don’t even recognize my own home”. It’s opens up your horizons, it opens up your ways of thinking, so I think that definitely it’s important to embrace new cultures. Then on a side note, it’s actually really interesting and something pretty applicable today is that there’s a lot of issues that people talk about cultural appropriation, that kind of thing. I really think that transculturation is a normal part of an evolving society, and what I mean by transculturation is that you have one culture and another culture and they meet and they sort of melt to a new culture. Then there’s different forms of acculturation, which is actually more common, where there’s this other culture that comes in and totally wipes out the old culture. So I think that more than anything we can’t forget the past, we can’t forget culture, we can’t strip people of their identities, we have to recognize their identities, but we can also integrate things into different cultures. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
N.L.: So this one’s a bit of a two part question. As it currently stands, what do you believe is one of the largest problems plaguing humanity as a whole and do you believe you can aid in fixing it?
Daniel: Ok, so I actually have a couple of answers for this. So first of all, I think there’s some really serious issues with mainstream culture. Have you ever noticed when you walk into, say a movie, maybe it’s got some violent scenes in it or something, even Iron Man or something. You walk into an Iron Man movie and it’s nothing wrong with watching it but you notice that there’s a 9-year-old sitting there in the front row. I feel like just that is proof of something really wrong with society because you’ve got these parents that are fine with showing their little kids violent scenes, suffering, death, destruction, but then you’ve got things like pornography that’s totally shielded –I’m not saying pornography’s ok to show– but then like a sex scene in a movie, sex in some sense is a celebration of life. It is a place where pleasure happens and yet that’s the first thing to be shielded. You’ve got people dying and being shot up, and they’re like ‘oh well that’s fine to show my kid’. I think there’s something very backwards about that. You know I’m sure there are people that disagree with that, but you know. What can I do to help it? I think a lot of people haven’t even considered the idea, it’s just kind of like a gut reaction almost.
N.L.: Yeah, I know that’s kind of a loaded question, ‘can you aid in fixing it’ but I guess I was just seeing if you felt like there was any way you could kind of–
Daniel: Yeah, I’m not even talking about something that big, but something, the idea of two people being intimate is something that is beyond a lot of parents.
N.L.: I guess with that example, awareness is probably the most important factor just to make sure people realize it’s even there.
Daniel: Exactly, I do really believe it’s a gut feeling. You don’t even think twice before saying ‘oh, let’s turn it off’ or something like that. That’s another thing that goes with that. I was talking with Raj [Rajiv Choudhury or R.C.] actually about sex education, like in the UK and back home. I think it’s more of a global problem. You know if you have anything at all it might be something like ‘ok kids, be sure and wear condoms, this is what an STD looks like,’ and they don’t go into too much detail. I think what’s a huge problem is there’s a lot of grey area when it comes to sex, like consensual sex and that kind of thing and they don’t go over that at all because rape is a problem they don’t teach. There’s even movements on how not to be raped, and things like that, but I think that that’s not what they should be teaching, they should be teaching how not to rape. If people are suddenly aware of what they’re doing is wrong, that “no” means “no” and things like that, all of a sudden you can curb things like this happening. There’s entire statistics that you can break down by a whole lot just because people realize what the problem is. I’m not saying if you tell someone to not commit a crime that they’re not going to go out and do it. That’s not true, but if they’re considering doing something or if they’re thinking something and all of a sudden they’re educated about it, an educated person is less likely to go out and do it because they know what to expect. I think that education is one of the most important things there is in terms of priorities of a human being. I think that health comes first because if you’re not healthy, in other words, you’re pretty much screwed. Health is above anything else, and after that is education. An educated person is a powerful person because with knowledge you have the power to make an informed decision so you’re all of a sudden a more powerful person when tackling the world. If you have a powerful individual, then all of a sudden you have a powerful society and I feel like not everywhere in the world there’s not even education that reaches everybody. There’s a reason why I think the preservation of knowledge is sacred. It saves lives, it allows progress to occur and it changes entire statistics like I was saying. I think for education, the way to fix that would be to– I’m being rather optimistic here, but I don’t believe this would ever actually happen but I think that if you can increase the global equity, and what I mean by equity is it’s different from equality in that equality is giving everyone the same thing, equity would be saying ‘ok, here’s the little guy, we’re gonna give him more than the big guy so that they’re both at the same level at the end’. If you could increase global equity in terms of education and say that there’s nothing more important than education then I’d think that’s what ultimately the solution will be. It’s like awareness is the first step of it and I think that there’s no corner of the Earth that’s bereft of genius. People have a hard time realizing that. Even in the U.S., you’ve got things like Harvard is $50,000 a year. You’re gonna deter a lot of poor people from going to Harvard, but there’s plenty of poor people that are intelligent –I’m not saying every poor person is– but you’ve got poor people that are intelligent, you’ve got people that have the brains of geniuses that are working on farms. It happens. I feel like if you throw a bunch of seeds into the dark, every now and then you’ll have a few sprouts, you’ll have a genius somewhere. I guess you’ve got people with “normal” professions, you become doctors, lawyers, teachers, important things, but then you’ve also got an Einstein somewhere in the woodpile and I think that every person who’s not educated is a wasted opportunity. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, he once said, “Genius without education is like gold that’s still in the mine,” and I very much believe that when it comes to education.
N.L.: Alright, I suppose I’ll kind of wrap up with this last question. Let’s say over the next 5-10 years, what do you hope to really see come about as far as change, what do you hope to happen really overall, what do you want to start seeing as a pattern?
Daniel: Well one thing that I’d like to see is that –again, I’m not thoroughly optimistic about it, but– I feel like –in fact, is it ok if I extend 5-10 years and say like a generational thing, per se?
Daniel: Ok then, I’d hope to see future generations embracing culture, that they’re more likely to be curious about questions, more likely to be curious about things. I feel like a lot of people today are sort of indoctrinated by small talk, which is ok. I think it’s an important thing to just enjoy the small things in life, but I think that if all you do is you gossip and you small talk, there’s nothing deeper, more important in your life. I’m talking about your personal life. You can sit in a class and you can learn about big and important issues, but if you don’t bring that out of the classroom and see how that applies to your life, you’re living a shallow kind of life. I think that I would hope for a global culture that embraces the acquisition of knowledge and challenges ideas more openly. There’s a lot of people who have ways of believing in things blindly. The moment you question something, questioning something is a part of believing something. I think that you can’t deeply be convinced of something until you question it at some point, even if it’s a very sort of subtle question.
N.L.: Well alright, with that it sounds like you should almost have my job because it sounds a lot like what we’re getting into on the blog. *chuckles* The sort of bigger questions, but yeah, I definitely agree with that. I definitely see that.