Natural and Artificial behaviors for College Students
In his text “College Pressures”, Zinsser examines the behaviors of college students nowadays and those of a decade ago. He argues that the unpredictability of life, exploration and enjoyment in college, and being true to feelings are natural and that the external control over life is artificial; he endorses this kind of natural over the artificial.
Zinsser defines unpredictability of life as natural. He states that students have enough time to change jobs, careers, attitudes, and approaches (210). This list of items covers every aspect of students’ lives. These changes suggest that students might not end up doing the job that matches or even related to their major. The vast difference between the knowledge students acquire in college and that is required and used in their career makes the unpredictability an innate property of the career life of students. Zinsser invites “a mixed bag of achievers” to tell students how they get started and most of them get into their field by accident (215). It is very common for students who major in physics to work for Wall Street companies and there are more physicists working in financial field than ever before (Physicsworld). Moreover, Steve Jobs, the co-founder and the late CEO of Apple Inc., in his early life dropped out of college but started to drop in on creative classes. This change transformed the rest of his life. Zinsser argues college students will have the same transformation lying ahead of them; the transformation will make their life unpredictable. Zinsser claims that students have the right to “experiment” and “trip and fail”(210). Zinsser argues that failure is not serious; he regards failure highly and asserts that failure is as instructive as victory. Mistakes are unavoidable and uncontrollable. The random occurrence of mistakes makes life naturally unpredictable.
Zinsser claims that exploring, enjoying and relaxing during the college life are natural. He wants students to explore, to relax and to enjoy this state of life rather than treat college merely as a mean to the future job. Zinsser presents the leaning experience in the past age. Students at that time could take course from music to anthropology and “[journey] through college with a certain relaxation” (211). He argues that the college life was like a journey and students were like travellers in the bygone age. According to human biology as well as human psychology, travel as one of the most popular recreation activates around the global, will refresh mind and body and is built into human nature (Bruce xi). Zinsser uses metaphor to relate study in college to travel as he thinks that they share many characteristics. First, travel is to somewhere unfamiliar, somewhere we have a limited knowledge about. When we travel to a place, we desire to encounter exotic goods and alien customs and see something otherwise forever hidden from us. Exploration is the most exciting part of travelling. Zinsser believes that college life is similar. Students in college have the opportunity to dip into every kind of knowledge ever created and learn something otherwise will be forever unknown to them. A future physicist can take a class on the relationship between science and religion; a future actor can learn how the advance of microbiology affects the development of psychology. Secondly, travel is about enjoying and relaxing. When we travel, we are free from the trivial work of everyday life. We push all trouble out of our mind. Bills, broken furniture can all be dealt with later. Life in college is similar. When students are away from class, Zinsser argues that they should sometimes “forget about their peers and go to a movie” (213). They should sometimes put their writing assignment out of their mind for a while and just relax and enjoy with their friends. It is human nature to do whatever brings enjoyment. Darwin argues that, “all man desire their own happiness”(248). He uses the scientific method and the evolution theory to explain behaviors of human society and establishes that the desire for happiness is universal in human nature. Zinsser uses this analogy to travel and the natural desire for happiness to argue that it is natural for students to exploring, enjoying and relaxing during the college.
Zinsser believes that being true to feelings is natural. He employs a personal story about a girl who is in love with art. Zinsser claims that the girl who secretly takes art class despite of the opposition from her parent is a “free spirit on a campus of tense students” (212). Zinsser argues that being true to aspirations is being free in spirit. “Free spirit” reminds readers of wild animals in nature. Zinsser establishes the connection between the girl and animals in nature to argue that being true to feelings is natural. We believe it is human nature to be free as “[all] human beings are born free” (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Free in spirit is therefore natural. Moreover, Zinsser believes that the girl “deserves to follow her muse”. Diversity is the basic property of the species. Darwin believes that the varieties or the individual difference is the key to evolution (106-115). Because of the diversity within and between species, natural selection can choose the fittest individuals of the species and the fittest species. Evolution is basically the aggregation of such selection over a long period. Diversity is also the natural property of this modern era. The ever-increasing information flow is making the world more diversified than ever before. Students, as active members of the society, should be diverse and follow their individual affinity. Furthermore, feelings include the desire for knowledge. Zinsser loves to hear students “play their ideas” and their inquiring minds exhilarate him (211). Curiosity and the desire for knowledge are highly valued from ancient times to now. Even in ancient Greece, there are a group of philosophers dedicated to understand reason behind all kinds of phenomenons. Curiosity also plays out in the individual level. Curiosity is effective from the day a person is born. Psychological studies have shown that babies as young as three months old will be intrigued by the gravitational effect. They will stare at falling objects tentatively and later try to drop object themselves as experiments (Meltzoff). Dickens argues that emotion is fundamental to human and is the motivation of the progression of civilization. Therefore, It is human nature to wonder about the world and explore the reason behind. Empathy and mercy are important feelings too. Zinsser observes that students in the past age cares about the world and ask such questions as “why is there so much suffering in the world?”(210). Empathy and mercy are the natural emotion of humans. They date back to the bible: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Therefore, Zinsser’s arguments on passion, curiosity and empathy show that being true to feeling is natural for human.
Zinsser argues that following a path set by external force is artificial. He first argues that following the path set by the parents is artificial. He describes that students “are caught in one of the oldest webs of love and duty of love”(212). Zinsser uses metaphor of “Caught” and “webs” to show that students are like helpless incest, caught in the spider web. Spider web symbolizes the parents. Students in the web are in the mercy of their parent, cannot act own their own and lack spontaneity. Such parental control force students to act artificially. Moreover, he observes that otherwise cheerful students are taking courses without any joy (212). The contrast between “cheerful” and “joyless” and the oxymoron of “joyless tenacity” illustrate that Zinsser believes the courses produce no fun for students. He uses the simile that students are taking class “as if they were going to dentist”. We all experience the pain, the fear and the unwillingness of going to the dentist. Almost no one will voluntarily go to the dentist even though the visit is occasional. Those students, however, choose to take those classes everyday. Natural selection makes humans in such a way that they are wired to pursuit happiness and avoid pain. It is similar to pleasure principle proposed by Freud, that we all follow ”the programme of becoming happy”(54). Students who follow path set by their parents feel no joy through out their college academic life. It conflicts with the basic principles proposed by Darwin and Freud. Therefore, following the path set by parents is artificial.
Zinsser furthermore argues that setting the career based on security of future is artificial. Students want a plan “that they can follow unswervingly to career security, financial security, Social Security and, presumably a prepaid grave”(210). Zinsser uses the juxtaposition of “security” and “grave” to argue following a rigid plan is artificial. Self-preservation is the most important natural law in the state of nature and is also the foundation of society according to contract theory (Rousseau, Hobbes). Death as the very opposite of self-preservation is obviously not desired. Because it is strange for the young to desire death or to desire a grave, it is equally unnatural for them to desire a map that will secure the rest of their life, including their death. Therefore students’ following a carefully crafted plan is artificial.
Zinsser regards natural characteristics of life and natural behaviors of students highly. He first praises the unpredictability of life. He observes that, “luckily for [him]”, most of the successful people “[get] into their field by a circuitous route, to their surprise, after many detours”(215). “Luckily” suggests that Zinsser believes the observation matches his philosophy. He uses “circuitous route”, “surprise”, and “detours” in one sentence; all three phrases suggest the future is not planned, but happens by coincidence. He further quotes the speech by Carlos Hortas, “They ought take chances”, otherwise “something in spirit will be missing”(214). Zinsser uses Hortas’s speech to endorse the unpredictability of life.
Moreover, Zinsser endorses being true to feelings. He describes the pursuit of one’s passion despite parents’ objection as “no small achievement in itself” (212). The author puts dashes around this phrase to emphasize the point that he greatly values the freedom that one can pursuit his or her passion and considers it as a major achievement. He further believes that students should “have the power to shape their own future”(213) based on their dreams not their parents’. When discussing the exploration and enjoyment and during college, Zinsser states that he does not care whether students get As or Cs and he “would rather employ graduates who have [the] range and curiosity ”(211). His contrasting attitudes towards grades and curiosity implies that he believes satisfying the curiosity and the desire to explore are much more important than the final results on the transcript. Zinsser also believes the empathy and other quality of humanity are essential. He wishes the admission officers will really look for “the extra dimension of commitment or concern”(211). He believes that such concern towards the world will “make them [students] good lawyers and doctors”(211) and is essential to the students.
Zinsser pities that students are forced to behave artificially and hope they can cease to do so. He wishes students can release the “clammy grip of the future”. “Clammy grip” means the artificial control of future is actually chocking the life out of students rather than secure it. Students in that situation have to give up their passion on their natural talent and hobbies. He mentions the release from such grip is his wish. The word “wish” clearly expresses his pity towards the students who impose the artificial control over the future. Zinsser also tells students to relax but “they can’t” (211). As Zinsser put it, his wish and suggestions for students are native (210) and expresses his frustration towards the artificial behavior of students. Zinsser believes that students are forced to act artificially and he regrets that deeply. He mentions, “violence is being done to the undergraduate experience”(213). He suggests that the external control over students’ life is violence. Violence is a strong physical force that forces victims to submit. Violence is not accepted in the modern society; there are hundreds of laws to prevent violence and to punish actors of violence. Zinsser’s word choice “violence” implies his strong distaste against the externally controlled undergraduate experience. His pity towards students and distaste towards the twisted undergraduate experience express his disapproves of the artificial behaviors of students in his essay.
Zinsser praises the natural manners of life and students: the unpredictability of life, the exploration and the enjoyment in college. He argues against the external control over life, which he believes to be artificial.
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