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The machine gun method

When I was in Algebra II my freshman year of high school, we were taught a couple of different ways to solve a quadratic equation. A couple have fallen by the wayside (as we law students do not regularly employ math more complicated than the Hand Formula), but I remember two distinct methods that had almost opposite pros and cons: factoring, which we learned first, and using the quadratic formula, which we learned last. As my math teacher, Mr. Josh Taylor, explained and demonstrated, factoring is the easiest of the ways to solve a quadratic equation, but it doesn’t always work. In contrast, the quadratic formula always works, but it has the uncanny tendency to get unwieldy at the times when it would make the most sense to factor instead. As a result, Mr. Taylor gave the quadratic formula the nickname of “the machine gun method” — it always gets the job done, but sometimes by using more “bullets” than the job required.

While the choices I have made in undergraduate and law school have largely seen me avoid using the stellar mathematic training I received in high school, this underling idea about there being multiple ways to solve a problem with their own disadvantages hasn’t just stayed with me as a back-of-my-mind idea. It’s come up, over and over again, both in other disciplines I’m studying and in other parts of my life. I’ll give three examples to illustrate the point, starting with my time in undergrad as a political theory and constitutional democracy major (think of a PLS-style Great Books program), during which we of course read Aristotle’s “Politics,” in which Aristotle articulates six distinct sorts of regimes of rule by one, the few, or the many, and then divided into three “correct” kinds — “kingship, aristocracy, and polity” respectively — and three “deviations from these — tyranny from kingship, oligarchy from aristocracy and democracy from polity” (IV.2, Becker Stephanus p. 1289a). The spring of my 1L year, I had the opportunity to TA Professor Patrick Deneen’s Political Theory course, where I graded a section of 30 students. They too read this quote from Aristotle’s “Politics,” but Deneen saw fit (in my view rightly) to emphasize a different line from this same general area, at which Aristotle notes that polity is a particularly unstable “mixture of oligarchy and democracy” (IV.8, Becker p. 1293b). So, while Aristotle emphasizes that polity is “the best possible” regime (IV.8, Becker p. 1288b), it’s also the regime least able to be kept, and so most societies settle for something more inferior but more stable. In that sense, then, both oligarchies and democracies (towards one of which every polity bends) are political machine-gun methods.

For a second example, let’s consider a paper I wrote before having taken Administrative Law on the relationship between legislative and executive power. Its central thesis was basically that American separation of powers has a “legislative silence” problem. If our Constitution gives Congress the power to make laws (see generally Article I), the President the responsibility to take care that the laws are enforced (see generally Article II), and the federal courts the responsibility to decide cases and controversies arising under the Constitution or those laws (see generally Article III), does it commit these powers exclusively to each respective branch? In that paper, I answered that it doesn’t but it should. James Madison proposed to spell separation of powers out in a constitutional amendment that was part of the original draft of the Bill of Rights, but the First Congress rejected it, with members voting no both because they disagreed with its substance and because they agreed with its substance so much that they found it unnecessary. That ambiguity in turn led to widespread executive encroachments on executive power, so I argued that we should reconsider whether the amendment was as unnecessary as some First Congress naysayers thought. After having taken Administrative Law, my view on that issue has quite a bit more nuanced, and while I still think the executive branch tends to exercise too much quasi-legislative power too much of the time, I readily acknowledge that the idea, whether put forward by James Madison in a constitutional amendment proposal or advocated by me in an old paper, that there is one right set of actors for every governmental function is a governmental machine-gun method.

And then there is the very nature of our legal system itself. I’ve previously written about the distinction between law and equity, and about the Remedies course I took last fall from Professor Samuel L. Bray, one of our nation’s leading scholars on equity. One of the things I most appreciated about taking his class was the opportunity it gave me to think about how the law courts (and legal remedies) and the equity courts (and equitable remedies) contribute to a well-ordered judicial system. As Prof. Bray would put it, anyone arguing (as he does) that maintaining a distinction between law and equity makes sense needs to have a compelling answer to the question of why we shouldn’t simply commit ourselves to making one of those systems work well all of the time. In response, Prof. Bray essentially ballparked that making either law or equity work well for 90% of cases all of the time is a rather easy task; 99% is harder but still doable. But to have one of these frameworks cover every situation is a practical impossibility. So instead we use two systems (formerly the separate courts of law and equity, now simply different legal and equitable remedies), relying on law to more efficiently handle most cases, then counting on equity to clean up that which law does not handle well. Thus, although I continued asking the question of why we don’t simply resort to equitable relief in more circumstances, Prof. Bray answered my question by essentially saying that a larger equity power would turn equity into a machine-gun method.

My dear friend Caroline Gramm and I were talking about this concept of “machine-gun methods” the other day, and she suggested that sometimes we get complacent in employing machine-gun methods for the problems we solve in our own day-to-day. Why? Because we’re risk-averse. We’re much more comfortable doing something we’ve done a zillion times before, even if it’s inefficient, than to try a new way to handle a life problem because we think it might not work. But think of how much more we’d be able to do if we weren’t so stuck in this risk-aversion! So, the next time an opportunity arises to do something a different way, maybe that’s an opportunity God is giving us to move from a mindset of “we know what works, so let’s keep doing that even if it’s inefficient” to something more like “maybe let’s try this, and if that fails, we’ve got the machine gun method.” We might be pleasantly surprised at what happens next!

Devin Humphreys is a 3L at Notre Dame Law School. When he isn’t serving as the sacristan at the Law School Chapel or competing at a quiz bowl tournament, he’s sharing his thoughts on the legal developments of the day with anyone who will listen. For advice on law school, hot takes on Mass music and free scholarly publication ideas, reach out to Devin at dhumphr2@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Rain on the just and unjust

The Sermon on the Mount is full of startling claims, many of which, for various reasons, we fail to appreciate.  One such statement is this: God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45 ESV). Jesus uses these words to show how much God loves His enemies, and it serves as a glorious example that Christians are called to emulate.

But we are thoroughly unimpressed with this example. The fact that God keeps sinners and unbelievers alive and gives them light and food seems more like fulfilling an obligation than grace. Many, implicitly or not, believe that God is required to give everyone x, y and z, and, if He doesn’t, He is either mean, uncaring or inept. And not only that, but if He doesn’t fulfill my wishes, if He doesn’t give me a promotion, a spouse, happiness or good grades, then, well, maybe I just won’t worship Him today. This verse, and the Bible as a whole, challenges such wrongheaded thinking.

Let us begin with this question: What does God owe humanity? Nothing. This is hard to accept, but that is what Matthew 5:45 is saying. But how can God withhold such essential things from people? The underlying assumption is that we’re generally good people, and thus deserve God’s gifts, but this is wrong.  There are no good people.  (While people, as in Matthew 5:45, are said to be good, this is through a righteousness by faith (Romans 4:5, Philippians 3:9) and not by works, for “no one living is righteous before” God on their own record (Psalm 143:2; cf. Psalm 130:3).)  “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). Or go back to the Sermon on the Mount, where to be angry with your brother is to commit murder and to have a lustful thought is to commit adultery (Matthew 5:21-30), sins punishable by death in the Old Testament (Leviticus 24:17, 20:10).  Indeed, even the tiniest sin is worthy of eternal damnation (Romans 6:23) since it is nothing less than, in the words of R.C. Sproul, an act of “cosmic treason” against the Almighty and most holy God. We so often think of sin as a negligible scratch or blemish. It is not. Even when we are deeply mournful over our sin, we are not even remotely close to fully grasping how repulsive, grievous, and perverse our sin really is. No, reader, you do not want God to give you what He owes you or what you deserve. All our works, even our best ones (Isaiah 64:6), make us deserving of Hell.

What remarkable grace it is, then, for God to allow sinners one day, even one more hour, on earth. Again, this is not only true for the worst sinners but all who are outside of Christ (Luke 13:5) and under the wrath of God (John 3:36). It is astonishing that God would allow those who have refused to repent and believe the gospel — who are more guilty than the people of Sodom (Matthew 11:24), who were destroyed by fire from Heaven (Genesis 19:24) —to enjoy abundance, comfort, laughter and the beauty of His creation, to have a family and caring friends, to sit in a warm home with a good book and to enjoy the benefits of modern technology and medicine. Such “common grace,” as it is called, is given to the unjust and evil.

While Matthew 5:45 focuses on God’s love to this group, Christians should rejoice in such things when they receive them, too.  Although they have been forgiven all their sins through Jesus’ blood (1 John 1:7), are saved from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:10), and are freed from any condemnation (Romans 8:1), Christians are not guaranteed another day on earth nor any earthly comforts (cf. Matthew 16:24-25, Hebrews 11:36-38). Such common grace, which also includes such things as God’s restraint of evil (Romans 1:22-32, 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8), is most worthy of praise. When such blessings are taken away, we should thank God for having enjoyed them and not “charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22). Furthermore, the dismantling of societal morality, as we see today, allows us to see more clearly the depravity of man, just how much God has done in the past and our total reliance on Him. We will never fully grasp the blessings of common grace, but Christians often see it most clearly when it wanes.

Let me conclude with a note to non-Christians. You may be quite pleased with all the things God has given you, but remember that these good things you enjoy will mean nothing if you continue your present course (Luke 12:20-21, 16:25). “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4), and such blessings you have received serve as a “witness” (Acts 14:17) to God’s goodness. If you do not know repent and believe, you will despise all such graces you now enjoy, for you have sinned against greater mercy, and thus, by enjoying them yet refusing to give thanks to God by worshipping Him, you are incurring a greater and greater punishment. While God still grants you days and the offer of the gospel is still available, I plead with you to “flee from the wrath to come” (Matthew 3:7). Do not think you can hide behind a lack of knowledge, and do not think your works can save you. But do not fear to come to Christ, for He will “never cast out” any that “come to” Him (John 6:37) and can save by His “blood,” which “cleanses us of all sin” (1 John 1:7), even the greatest of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Go to Him even now; “now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Andrew Sveda is a senior at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, majoring in political science and theology. In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading and playing the piano. He can be reached at asveda@nd.edu or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Riding the No. 2 bus

The No. 2 Bus is the route in Seattle that slices right through the city’s heart. Flying over the high hills of Queen Anne, winding through the tight one-way streets of the city center and crawling next to the thriving bike paths.

This route is unique not only because of the diverse terrain it covers but because of the people who consistently ride it. You experience every sect of humanity — the wealthy tech bros coming from their million-dollar mansions on Queen Anne, the unhoused trying to find some warmth on cold days, businessmen early in the morning on the way to the market opening, single moms headed to work in the city center and everyone in between.  

I think about this route a lot when discussing my grandma, Moo, and when thinking about what it means to be part of a democracy. 

Moo spent most of her career running hospice care for folks living and dying with AIDs, politically organizing (even running the first campaign of our former mayor) and protesting the lack of medical care offered to marginalized communities. 

Moo has told me since I was little that the best leaders she’s ever met are those who consistently ride the No. 2 bus — that if you want to truly know democracy, it requires less rendezvous with Aristotle and more with your next-door neighbor. The No. 2 bus is one of the few places in the city where everyone is able to interact with everyone.

Moments of democracy and citizenship. While fulfilling the duties of a citizenry, I’ve felt jaded at times, seeming to go through the motions of the processes without the motions themselves seeming to have merit. Voting for the first time, signing up for the draft and being called for jury duty — all actions of being a citizen, but each one never feeling fully satisfying on its own.

My first authentic rendezvous with democracy was in August of 2021. Sitting in the backyard of St. Paul Bethel Baptist Church in South Bend, Indiana, on a warm and friendly summer day with organizers from Faith in Indiana discussing plans for the upcoming year.  

The pastor sitting on a swing set. Small metal chairs squeak with every movement. Small, manicured lawn. Our faces still hidden under masks. 

One of the lead organizers’ voices rings in my head as she says, “I talk to people who tell me they’re not interested in politics, that they exist above the fray. Politics is about who gets resources and who suffers. There is no way to exist outside of it.”

An understanding of politics as decisions between who suffers and who gets fed makes it easier to reconcile differences. On this cool summer day, I found myself sitting between a Mormon and a Quaker talking about racial justice in South Bend. The connecting of people from multiple creeds and codes, discussing what our dream is for life together. A winding street of the brotherhood we all share in.

A few weeks ago, I was riding back to campus late at night on the South Shore Line. Currently, part of the tracks is broken and requires a bus for the middle section to Gary, Indiana. I was last off the train getting on the bus, and there was one seat left — at a table with two other people. I sat down a little drowsy and ready to crash as soon as I got home. 

I accidentally stumbled into a conversation with the pair of Hoosiers — Andrea and Paul (names changed for privacy). Andrea, a nurse, was surprised with a trip to Chicago by her son. 

They had spent the day scootering around the lake, visiting Boystown, eating deep-dish pizza and enjoying the big city atmosphere. Paul, a contract driver, obviously loved his mom more than anything in the world and could not stop talking, in the most endearing way, about all of the ways she had changed his life. 

We got on the topic of South Bend and what their thoughts were on the midterms. Their three biggest issues for their votes were crime, homelessness and the economy. 

Andrea talked about the ways she had seen the really scary downwind effects of people messed up by addiction, and she saw homelessness both as a problem of public safety and of human dignity. But it’s impossible to ignore the way their issues of choice melded so neatly onto national Republican agendas being spread.

In some ways, the reason these topics had become such prevalent issues before the election is because of the nearly 10 billion dollars spent on the midterm campaigns. With Republicans focusing 32% of their ads on public safety, 32% on inflation and 18% on immigration. 

However, it’s also Democrats attempting to spoon-feed issues to voters instead of listening to their concerns first. Three quarters of voters said violent crime was a major issue for them in voting. The majority of voters cited the economy as the top issue. 

And many of the voters just didn’t trust Democrats on those issues because they didn’t contest their narratives on them. According to a recent poll, voters trusted Republicans to do a better job handling the economy by 39 percent to 29 percent. They did not contest economic narratives that did push for their policies and that would provide more freedom and choices for working class Americans than Republican plans would.

These tensions remind me a lot of my grandmother, Moo. My neighborhoods in Seattle are more divided than ever from the downwind effects of redlining (political policies in the early 20th century that restricted neighborhoods and real estate to limit where people of color were able to buy houses) and generational wealth. 

Church is still one of the most “divided hours in America” — schools, places of work and social clubs are all segregated, too. These spaces we hold as sacred spaces of interaction are often divided across race, class, socioeconomic status, gender, faith, etc.  

The No. 2 bus is a place where people are in community with one another. Obviously, everyone doesn’t need to literally ride the No. 2 bus in Seattle, but if we actually desire a functioning democracy, we need to figure out ways to systemically build the No. 2 bus into our ways of life. If we want to be individuals actually engaged with the world, we need to meet the world in our backyard barbecues and coffee meetings.

Democrats are increasingly the party of college-educated coastal elites. The people who staff Democratic campaigns, offices and policy shops are even more coastal, affluent and elite. They don’t have a good finger on the pulse of where people are standing, often overestimating the levels of progressiveness of Black and Latine voters.

Even if their economic agenda and social agenda are better for the liberation and advancement projects of people, their messaging and choice of issues show a removedness from everyday life. Coming from someone in a wealthy and high-powered educational institution, it doesn’t take a lot to figure out that people are suffering and the messaging isn’t connecting.

Democrats tried to tell voters to care about abortion and an elusive “saving of democracy,” which are important, but they didn’t listen to the issues voters said they cared about most. Democrats just didn’t know how to meet people where they were at and didn’t even attempt to persuade voters that they know how to best deal with the issues most pressing to them.

Democracy involves disagreement — the counteracting and discussing of views to come up with some sort of solution. It’s not the 10 minutes we spent filling in bubbles on our ballots, but the years of talking back and forth in a jambalaya of ideas.

Over the next two years, we should look towards the No. 2 bus to save democracy and should spend more time in community with each other — and less time theorizing about the best ways to trick each other. It’s time to get into the arena.

Dane Sherman is a junior at Notre Dame studying American Studies, peace studies, philosophy and gender studies. Dane enjoys good company, good books, good food and talking about faith in public life. Outside of The Observer, Dane can be found exploring Erasmus books with friends, researching philosophy, with folks from Prism, reading NYTs op-eds from David Brooks/Ezra Klein/Michelle Goldberg or at the Purple Porch getting some food. Dane ALWAYS wants to chat and can be reached at @danesherm on twitter or lsherma2@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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The addictive aspects of ‘Lord of the Rings’

When people brought up “The Lord of the Rings” in the past, I used to laugh at the series. Why would I want to watch a bunch of tiny hobbits, dwarves and elves go on a journey over some fuss about a gold ring? It all sounded far too mythical and fantasy-like for me. In other words, I thought it was too nerdy.

However, this summer I decided to give the trilogy a go after hearing about the wisdom brought to life by the hobbits, dwarves, elves, orcs and other creatures in the series. Admittedly, it took me a little while to adjust to the oddities of the characters in the movies and especially long to not be creeped out by Frodo’s eyes, but with time, I became enamored with the series and its prequel, “The Hobbit.”

The first aspect of the movie that made me curious was the choice of Frodo as the ringbearer. Frodo was immature and had next to no life experience. He lived in the comfort of the Shire and knew very little about the violent history of Middle Earth and the sacrifices made to maintain the peace. Instead of giving the ring to a highly capable individual like Aragorn or Gandalf, a god-like figure, the future of Middle Earth hinged on a child-like hobbit. To highlight Frodo’s underdeveloped mind and will, the writers literally made him exceptionally small. Not only was he a mental-midget of sorts, but he was also physically tiny. As the four hobbits embarked on their journey to destroy the ring, Frodo showed his flaws after multiple near-death experiences which could have been avoided with better judgment. Luckily, with Aragorn at his side, Frodo and the hobbits survive and he grows from the experiences. 

At the Council in Rivendell, Frodo’s growth becomes evident. When the One Ring is put up for grabs, fighting breaks out over the best solution. Although Sauron is the only person that could unlock the power of the ring, the leaders of many races of Middle Earth wanted to use it to fight back against him and empower their people. This showed how ignorance, arrogance and greed can become oversights for the most talented and capable individuals. Simply put, superior ability does not translate directly to mental fortitude or wisdom.

After witnessing how the ring impacted these powerful people, Frodo took the lead and decided the bear the great burden of the ring. Frodo had questioned time and time again why he should hold the ring, but now he could see why he was as good as anyone else. Without aspirations for great power or wealth, Frodo did not want to use the ring for anything. He just wanted peace and tranquility back in his life and those he loved. Even though many of these great men and women wanting to bear the ring had positive intentions, as Gandalf said in the first movie, the power of the ring would be too strong. No man or woman was meant to have power that great, and corruption of the mind and ensuing actions are inevitable.

So with the ring in hand, Frodo and the fellowship of the ring began the trek to Mordor with seemingly insurmountable challenges in the way. Even with knowledge of the ring’s effect and Gollum as a physical symbol of where it could lead him, Frodo could not overcome the temptations it presented. After seeing countless friends and allies die in the hope of destroying the ring, Frodo is finally given the opportunity to end it once and for all on top of Mount Doom.

Then came the moment that frustrates me to no end every time I see it. In a moment of immense weakness, Frodo places the ring on his finger. After all the suffering he and Middle Earth endured, Frodo could not throw the ring in the fire. He could not think even slightly outside of his immediate desire, and just drop it. Luckily, Gollum’s obsession with the ring saved the day, but that ending always leaves me so disappointed. After Boromir’s death, Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog, Sam’s loyalty through Frodo’s insanity and the deaths of so many in war, Frodo still cannot muster up the courage to close his eyes and chuck that ring in the fire.

Over time, I have come to appreciate how poetic that scene is and determined it’s a main driver for why I continue to rewatch the series. Even though Frodo had grown tremendously from his time in the Shire, he still makes the fatal mistake he knows he absolutely cannot do at the very end. He had every reason in the world not to give in, and he still did it. As a third-party observer, I was most frustrated by his giving in out of all scenes of the movie. However, this is also when I started to see Frodo as the perfect ringbearer.

Frodo was not some crazy, mystical creature with unreal powers. He was just like any other human. He was a small blimp in the universe with the same weaknesses we are all susceptible to. Even though you would never expect it, the decisions of this little, immature hobbit were crucially important. It goes to show you that the choices we make everyday matter. It may be difficult to see on a grand scale, but every action we take means something.

Every time we hold onto the ring, we fail. We fail ourselves and all those around us. Now we don’t hold some powerful ring of sorts, but we all have flaws and harmful habits that hold us back from doing what we know is right. Every time we choose to give in to temptation, we choose an immediate desire without giving mind to the ramifications of the action. Ultimately, we all strive to live up to our highest respective ends. In order to move towards those ends, we must identify our habits and decisions that represent the ring and push back against them. In other words, develop key virtues and set clear objectives as Frodo did over time, then bear down and chuck the ring in the fire when familiar temptations do their best to veer you off your path.

Mikey Colgan is a sophomore from Boston majoring in finance and ACMS. He can be reached at mcolgan2@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Underlined passages

On the R train from Union Square to Prince Street, I sit across from a girl who seems to radiate the very signification of “cool”. Her red curls fall into place like puzzle pieces, a beguiling smile in her eyes underneath her mask. A seemingly careless outfit, yet its nonchalance manifests itself through all the right pieces: perfectly tattered boots, a vintage-looking leather bag, the rings on her fingers that surely were collected from a plethora of farmers’ markets and local jewelers. But it’s her shirt that catches my eye — a purple long-sleeve with graphics promoting a band I have never heard of. 

The screech of the subway lets out dozens of commuters, invariably busy, impatient. Dozens of others rush in to take their seats. We live our lives in shared fragments, coexisting in each other’s perception for fleeting moments. The moments pass, and we return to being inconsequential strangers. 

On my phone, I scroll through the band’s discography and add a couple of songs to my playlist. A local band from the city, with a great sound and a small, loyal clan of listeners. In the next weeks, I tirelessly have their music playing on repeat. At some point, my love for this band becomes my own genuine prerogative, but until then, I look at the album cover and think about the stranger on the subway, the transient timeframe in which I established my admiration for her first impression. I think about the irony of the way I subconsciously emulate the distinct authenticity I saw in this girl, and how this must be the same unspoken irony of our constant pursuit of individuality, and simultaneously, conformity. 

The human longing for belonging is evident in our everyday compliance to conventionality. Yet while we are so willing to allow others’ dispositions to color our own, we are preoccupied with the desire to be different, to be individual. 

Walter Benjamin illustrates this best in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” In his essay, he discusses the notion that a work of art “has always been reproducible”. From a strip of negative film can surface countless copies of the same photograph. The authenticity of an entity is found in “the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning […] to the history which it has experienced”. The grandeur of the photograph is the moment you were living when the subject was captured, an exotic landscape oceans away or a memorable dinner party that took place years ago. As you look through the viewfinder and press the shutter, you immortalize it as a piece of your personal records. A prerequisite of authenticity, Benjamin writes, is the existence of the original. His idea is that authenticity is permanence — reproducibility is volatility. 

I am perpetually emulating the essence of the things I see around me. Fragments of our image, when taken in on their own, rather than in whole, are mirrored in everyone else in our lives. The pieces of my identity — in the things I say, the things I feel or the things I write — are just as easily found in other people. In fact, I’ve come to terms with the idea that very little of me is thoroughly distinctive or individual. But while the negative I receive from the film lab may reproduce hundreds of copies of the same photograph, the solid metal of the camera and the grip of my fingers around it as I take a portrait of my friends is, as Benjamin puts it, my authenticity, my permanence.  

In an attempt to be a better writer, I underline the notably romantic, jarring or poetic passages I come across while I read. When I revisit a book, I flip through the pages to find these underlines, scrutinizing the diction, the wording, the techniques that the author implores. My ventures to absorb beautiful writing in hopes to translate another writer’s brilliance into my own is often my only goal in reading, even more than grasping the plot or message of the book. I fall in love with the way strangers laugh, the way the woman in the store intonates her sentences, the gentle mannerisms of the barista taking my order. I emulate all the things I admire, in conviction that the sum of these parts will someday formulate a concrete authenticity of my own. 

At Notre Dame, we are always waiting for the next opportunity to impress someone. We look to others and silently measure our dedication, our passion, our sense of direction in comparison to theirs. Being a member of such an explicit community, coming together for the mutually agreed intention of pursuing quality education, the influence our time here will have on us transcends the academic skills we learn in the classroom. Our proximity to equally motivated, bright young adults exposes us to a whole multitude of people within whom we will find specks and slivers to mirror. 

“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element,” Benjamin writes in his essay. “Its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” My presence in time and space is this: I sit in the corner seat of a cafe and I try to remember all the artwork, places and individuals that have charmed me in my life, the way my imitation of these entities have refined my own identity into someone who I slowly grow more comfortable with every day. 

Shouting hello to a friend on the sidewalk on the way to class. A phone call from a family member back home. Sometimes, our reflection in others’ mirrors comes in brief instances. In the warmth and love we feel in our mundane routines, we emulate these feelings. And in this, we find permanence. 

Reyna Lim is a sophomore double majoring in finance and English. She enjoys writing about her unsolicited opinions, assessing celebrity homes in Architectural Digest videos and collecting lip gloss. Reach out with coffee bean recommendations and ‘80s playlists at slim6@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Greatest ally, cause of your anguish

Our brains are but wonderful machines. This term is no exaggeration by any extent of the imagination, for they have been fine-tuned through millions of years of evolution into the survival powerhouses we know and love so dearly. They are, through constant innovation, quite literally the line between life and death and as such have allowed us to become the (self-declared) rulers of this world. 

Nevertheless, it is for this very reason that our brains are also wonderfully perfect torture devices. Due to their nature — that is, to prioritize our survival — they have inadvertently brought upon humanity some of the greatest sources of our agony. 

For you see, a brain has been designed so as to spend its resources in that which does not exist in the here and the now. Our brains record information and carefully construct a gallery of memories with the purpose to learn from your experiences. They craft the past, a past that exists exclusively in that cranial bathtub, and with it theorize about the future. Is that not fantastic, the ability to think? This is the reason our ever-wise ancestors noticed that maybe washing your hands was important or that perhaps one should not eat raw babies. They acquired knowledge from their mistakes and bettered their lives, always planning ahead. It was required in order for you to be here. 

Yet, that is the crux of the issue, the there is not the here, the then is not the now. We have erected structures, bound our fellow men to law and established society. Gone are the days of being pursued by bloodthirsty animals and avoiding precipices covered by fog and snow. For many, their greatest daily plight is having to turn in our homework assignment mere minutes before midnight. 

Still, our brains may be ever incredible yet they are anything but fast. What took our brains millions of years to achieve through trial and error we have formulated in four millennia, and with the birth of exponentially more powerful technology there is no possibility for our cerebrum–cerebellum dream team to keep up with the pace. As such, the original mechanisms remain present. That is to say, though the stakes are lower than ever, they may not necessarily be perceived as such whatsoever. The brain did not change their strategy of assaulting their host’s body with panic–inducing hormones at the face of danger, but rather, adapted to the new challenges. Exams are certainly not matters of life and death, but we are capable of deceiving ourselves into feeling like they are. 

Our brains, then, are experts of both future and past, administering their judgment through unconformity. They riddle us with guilt when considering our prior mistakes and overwhelm us with anxiety as we contemplate our actions to-be. Though neither of which are tangible or malleable, the brain cares not as it relentlessly reminds. They drown us in the abstract, in the ifs, in anything and everything that it believes may hurt you in the hopes of supporting your survival, but in truth, brings nothing but misery. 

This is what I refer to as the Autopilot. The Autopilot is named as such for, when engaged, it can override all logical thought. It erases any semblance of control in one’s circumstance and, dragged by reactionary emotions, leads on to panic. Worst of all, the Autopilot is the easiest thing to do. How is one not to be crushed by the weight of past and future colliding and merging? It only makes sense to give in and shatter, no? After all, our brain incessantly specifies how ever–colossal and imminent they are, how frail one is to stop them. 

However, though our brains and their great Autopilot rule our past and future, there is one source of perception that can never be conquered by them. For, when considered, the past and future do not exist. Certainly the past existed at some point, and perhaps the future will, but in the here and now, in the present, they do not exist. They are not real and, though their influence remains, they have no reason to actively control the present. 

Although your brain may be infatuated by that which does not exist, your body can only perceive that which does. Your body is always grounded, always living in the present, always real. Your body is immune to the Autopilot. 

As such, the greatest weapon to fight your brain? Your greatest anti-survival tool, key to your happiness? Turning Autopilot off, if only just for a brief moment of bliss, and focusing on your body. 

It is to focus on what is real, on what is right in front of you, for you never know when you will get the opportunity to experience it again. Past mistakes and future worries cannot hurt you once anchored in the present. That does not equivocate to a lack of care, but rather, a conscious decision to live in the moment. For that is the only moment that is actually real. If we allow our brain to trick us into living in that which does not exist, time will not be merciful. It will march on with indifference and–while experiencing inexistent and inapplicable agony –we will miss out on our one shot. 

So, perhaps, try to stop thinking every once in a while, and give living a chance.

Carlos A. Basurto is a first-year at Notre Dame ready to delve into his philosophy major with the hopes of adding the burden of a Computer Science major on top of that. When not busy, you can find him consuming yet another 3+ hour-long analysis video of a show he has yet to watch or masochistically completing every achievement from a variety of video games. Now with the power to channel his least insane ideas, feel free to talk about them via email at cbasurto@nd.edu (he is, tragically, very fond of speaking further about anything at all).

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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The things that don’t spark joy

We’ve all seen Marie Kondo and her organization wizardry on Netflix, preaching her secret key to not being a hot mess: if the object doesn’t “spark joy,” throw it away. I am a hot (arguable) mess, and I hold onto things that spark sadness, frustration, nostalgia and humiliation. 

For years, I’ve obsessively preserved souvenirs from defining moments and memories, not in the form of postcards and magnets but random trinkets that I would declare as “sentimental” according to my arbitrary, melodramatic discretion. 

Up to this point, I view my decisively uneventful timeline in a series of peaks and valleys, and the valleys somehow seem so much more monumental than the peaks — and so, sorry, Marie, but I’ll be holding on to the things that remind me of all my existential crises and crying sessions to Frank Ocean. 

If, hypothetically, all of my possessions were to be in one place, and that one place was to catch on fire, I would want all of the below objects to be salvaged. Not just the things that spark joy. 

The orange dreamcatcher my middle school friend made for me when I was moving away. We haven’t been in touch for years, and I’m sure she has no idea that it’s dangled from the window in every single bedroom I’ve slept in since. 

The one pair of wired headphones I keep in my backpack even when I have fully charged AirPods. The same headphones that drowned out Seoul subway announcements and New York City traffic.

My diary from my junior year of high school, pages filled with what in retrospect read like an extensive nervous breakdown. This was my most unapologetic, uninhibited version and she was someone I would love to find again.  

The battered, pink golf glove I still have in my stand bag from when I took lessons with matching pink kiddie clubs. 

The copy of “The Sun Also Rises” that I like to bring on flights, recommended to me years ago by a boy who I no longer speak to. The underlines and folded page corners still remain from when I first read it, scouring for insightful comments I could make to impress him. 

My grandmother’s gold ring that I haven’t taken off my right ring finger in years, somehow enwrapping my skin perfectly like lock and key. 

The hotel keycards from my favorite high school trips: Paris, The Hague, Singapore. Remembering the stifled laughter behind those doors and how we snuck out the fire escape and had to prop up a water bottle to keep it open for when we’d return at dawn. 

The recording microphone I have from the one week I was convinced that I was meant to be a songwriter. Quick abandonment came after realizing that my limited vocal range and knowledge of five guitar chords equated to a blatant lack of talent. 

The empty Kodak film canister that I turned into a keychain, dangling from my car keys, now a hollowed shell that reminds me of the best summer I ever had and the photos that were developed to tell the tale.

All my nametags and placards from past Model UN conferences, back when my favorite hobby was dressing up in heels and debating world issues with little to no idea what I was really talking about. 

The sweatshirt from my dream university that I kept even after the pure devastation of that rejection email because it is as much a token of my teenage ambitions and efforts as it is of my redirection.

The classic, comfort teddy bear that I’ve had since I was five, with its green Harrods ribbon still miraculously intact.

The plane ticket from Frankfurt to Seoul the morning after I graduated. I sat in my window seat and watched as my city turned into a tiny speck, distorted by the clouds, and I waited until the cabin crew was gone to let myself sob. 

In her consulting program, Marie shares that “to put your things in order means to put your past in order, too.” I choose to keep my past a part of my present, in convoluted disarray of the objects I arguably have no use for anymore. These are the tactile reminders of my past twenty years, and I love nothing more than shuffling through them whenever I’m home on break. My cabinets may be overflowing, but there is plenty of room for decades more of clutter to come. 

Reyna Lim is a sophomore studying finance with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She enjoys writing about her unsolicited opinions, assessing celebrity homes in Architectural Digest videos and collecting lip gloss. Reach out with coffee bean recommendations and 80s playlists at slim6@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Buckle your seatbelts, it’s time to study abroad

I had a lot of expectations about how my study abroad was going to go, and none of them came to fruition the way I thought they would. Now, this isn’t to say I didn’t have the best time of my life — I definitely did. That being said, my study abroad experience taught me one of the most important lessons I’ve gotten out of my time at Notre Dame: Just go with it.

When I found out I was accepted into the Rome Undergraduate Program in January 2021, I immediately let my Lizzie McGuire dreams run wild. I would stare at maps of Europe, read about Rome and practice my Italian whenever I could. I had never been abroad before, so my parents and I were anxiously looking into airline tickets and what was the right luggage to take. Given that the only flight I had ever taken was to Orlando with the band for the Camping World Bowl Game in December 2019, I was nervous about flying across the Atlantic by myself. However, by the time the end of fall semester 2021 rolled around, I felt ready to go to Europe that next month. As fate would have it, though, everything went to the dumpster fire.

My journey to Italy consisted of a bickering-filled car ride with my mother, who was even more stressed with dropping me off alone due to my dad’s recent COVID-19 diagnosis, a very strange interaction with the German customs agent who made me show him my wallet at 6:15 a.m. and over an hour-long wait for my ride in the Fiumicino Airport parking lot. I should have known then that I’d be in for a wild ride.

My time in Europe was filled with crazy adventures to different cities, countries and places within Rome. I met so many great friends in the RUP program, and I strengthened my previous friendships from campus by visiting people in other programs. Reflecting on all of those happy memories, I can’t help but remember how much those bonds grew with the pressure of traveling. I’ll give you a fan favorite among my friends.

Imagine this: it’s the end of your spring break and you’re in Paris. The weather has been gorgeous all weekend, you’ve seen so many beautiful pieces of art and your eyes lit up like a kid in a candy store when the Eiffel Tower started sparkling at night. You’re feeling pretty good when it’s time for you and your friends to head back to Rome, where you also know your parents have just landed to visit you. That’s when the chaos hits. Ryanair’s airport is an hour and a half outside of the city, and the only feasible option to get there is to take the bus they recommend getting on two-and-a-half hours before your flight. You and your friends were already late getting to your storage locker, so you’re sitting in the back of an Uber with stuff piled on your laps up to your necks. There’s about two minutes until your bus is about to leave, so your friends push you out of the side door when the car stops, and you frantically run to the French driver yelling in English to hold the bus. Turns out, there’s a very long line of people that you still had to wait through, so you end up missing the next two buses, too.

We ended up making it onto the plane by the grace of God. We had to run from the bus to the gate, but luckily, they ended up holding the plane for us thanks to two of our friends who had left earlier. I’ll never forget the look of the Italian man in the plane seat next to me who looked very concerned when I showed up panting with all of my friends. I’m telling you this story as an example of what I most valued out of my personal journey during study abroad. I learned to just deal with things.

A person can learn a lot from immersing themselves in another culture. When a language is being spoken around you that you don’t fully understand, you become so much more self-aware and notice more about what exactly makes up a culture by noticing the differences from your own. It’s a scary thing to do at first, but anybody would come out of an experience like that feeling more mature and capable of taking on any situation. In my case, I never felt more like an adult than I did when I was living in Rome. I may not have met a Paolo and sang in the Colosseum like Lizzie McGuire, but I did grow a whole lot more into myself.

You can contact Sophia at @smichett@nd.edu.

This views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Get it done early

Class ends and it’s 4:30. I just had a long day and the last thing I want to do is work out. I’m tired, there’s homework I have to do and I want to stop by my friends’ room and shoot the breeze. So then I think to myself: I only need to workout four days this week and I’m tired. Why not do it when I’m refreshed tomorrow? Well here’s the problem. I’m almost never feeling refreshed on a weekday and certainly not motivated on a weekend. And if we’re being honest, most of us feel very unrefreshed to say the least for most of our weekend. Now the vicious cycle begins. I lose consistency and things start to break down. Four days a week turns to three. Soon, three turns into three weeks off, and apples turn to apple crisps. Now I’m playing catch up to get back into shape. This struggle besets everyone and is very difficult to overcome. Over the years, I have tried a million methods to combat this when it comes to working out, getting homework done early or any other task I don’t want to complete in the moment. Alerts on my phone, motivational videos, written-out schedules. While some worked better than others, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon my favorite solution this summer thanks to the time constraints of my job.

The long hours of my internship this summer gave me one option to stay in shape: get a workout in before work. This meant I had to wake up earlier and build up the energy and motivation to exercise. At the beginning, I figured this would be a huge problem since I commonly struggle to get up for a 10:30 a.m. class ten minutes from my dorm. However, I soon discovered the freedom that early morning work grants an individual. Each day, my friend and I would trudge out of our apartment in the morning, exercise, then start a grueling workday. On paper, this sounds horrible. Waking up early for exercise after a 14-hour workday sounds like the last thing I would want to do. However, I soon discovered that these “grueling” workdays were made much easier by a morning workout. Whether it’s exercising, homework, or working on any other personal goal, now that you have accomplished a very crucial task in the morning, you will feel more relaxed the rest of the day. You’re not playing catch up. Instead, you can feel the relief of knowing you got your work done and have a sense of accomplishment throughout the rest of the day. This allows you to feel more cheerful and present in the moment because you’re not caught up thinking about the painful task you don’t want to do but know you have to later.

In addition to feeling more relaxed, a huge advantage of waking up before the rest of the world is no one can distract you. No text messages are sent and no spontaneous plans can be made. It’s you and you alone with the opportunity to get your work done as efficiently as possible. Your intentions are clear because there is nothing else to do early in the morning. Essentially, if you’re awake, you might as well be productive with such limited options to procrastinate. On campus, this is especially relevant because most buildings are closed early in the morning besides the productive ones: the library and the gym.

Now that I am returning to school, I am going to try my best to stick to getting up early and getting my work done. While it may be tougher with late nights and a looser schedule, forcing yourself out of bed in the morning will make the rest of your day significantly better. So if you struggle with pushing things off and find it affects your day-to-day life, try getting something important done before your first class. It’s not a crazy change or new idea by any means, but it can make your life less stressful and give you greater control over your daily actions. Put it this way. The longer you wait to do something, the more opportunities you’ll have to push it off. So try a couple early mornings and see where it takes you.

Mikey Colgan is a sophomore from Boston majoring in Finance and ACMS. He can be reached at mcolgan2@nd.edu. The views expressed in this column are those of the author, not necessarily those of The Observer.

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For the plot

Not too long ago, I came across an online video about “doing it for the plot.” It was a casual, 15-second clip about how the irrational decisions and impulsive choices we make, despite how bad the short-term consequences may seem, should be seen as contributions to the “plot” of our lives, as opportunities for adaptation and growth. The idea is that we’re in the director’s seat, writing out our own script at all times.

This perspective resonated with me, as it gave me refreshing solace for all the questionable judgments that have constructed my own plotline. I feel that I’m at a crossroads in my life where I often find myself questioning whether I’m too old to get caught up in juvenile melodrama, all the while feeling terrifyingly unprepared for adult responsibilities. It’s comforting to think that if there ever was a time for me to commit to the plot, it would be now. 

In consistency with this analogy, we see the beauty of flawed judgment calls in some of TV’s most beloved protagonists and how their respective plots unfold. As a young woman encountering her early 20’s, I turn to categorically “chick-flick” characters for guidance and affirmation. From Rory Gilmore in “Gilmore Girls” to Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City” or Jessica Day in “New Girl”, there have been countless occasions on which I would roll my eyes at the women on screen and their recklessness, their insecurities or their theatrics. But these traits are exactly what keeps me coming back to these comfort shows. 

It’s the fact that while we are quick to label these realistically flawed characters as “annoying” or “overdramatic” for their decisions or reactions, protagonists are meant to blunder and mess up. I doubt I would have the same devotion to Rory if I didn’t relate to her career crises or her fixation on academic achievement, or to Carrie if I didn’t see a bit of myself in the impracticality of her financial or romantic priorities. How dull and unrealistic would these shows be if all these girls did was read self-help books and immediately find productive purpose in their lives? 

It may seem frivolous to take this perspective to validate every misguided turn we take. An impulsive haircut or an overly emotional text message could fill us with regret or even embarrassment that surely could have been prevented by a second of further thought. But as of right now, these “wrong” decisions seem to be some of the most significant factors that help me figure out what would have been the “right” thing to do, and what it is that I really need at this point in my plot. It’s an over-simplistic, perhaps even imprudent mindset to treat our day to day lives as a growing plotline, but there’s a liberating sense in the idea that when every episode in each season comes to a conclusion, we are left with a new beginning and a series of lessons behind us. 

Doing it for the plot doesn’t have to mean blind commitment to irrational decisions. Often it is just as simple as splurging on online shopping and having to work an extra shift the next week, going on a bad date and getting to recap it with your girlfriends or underperforming on an exam and realizing that you might have chosen the wrong major. 

Call it youthful indiscretion, call it material for the memoir I’ll be writing once I gain world fame, call it Gen-Z’s response to the millennials’ overworn “YOLO” trademark. Call it what you want, but we’re doing it all for the plot. 

Reyna Lim is a sophomore studying Finance with a minor in Journalism. She enjoys writing about her unsolicited opinions, assessing celebrity homes in Architectural Digest videos, and collecting lip gloss. Reach out with coffee bean recommendations and 80’s playlists at slim6@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author, not necessarily those of The Observer.