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Resume Writing 101-From Start to Finish

Writing a concise resume used to be a person’s first introduction into the competitive world of job hunting.  It didn’t matter whether the job being sought was entry-level or the management track, knowing how to sell oneself via a 1-2 page formal summary of professional qualifications and achievements was the first (and, oftentimes, only) chance at impressing a potential employer that you would get.  Despite the popularity of business oriented social media sites like LinkedIn, the importance of having a decent resume holds as much true today as it did twenty years ago.

I can feel the collective eye-roll of most readers at this point, sighing in unimpressed union, “Well, duh!”  If you are among this crowd I assure you that I’m not trying to waste your time (or mine) by typing up a how-to on a matter that is common knowledge.  Given the volume of resumes and abstracts (if one can call them that) I go through on a regular basis, the glaring fact that stands out is the sheer negligence of the most basics of resume writing standards getting ignored by job-seekers entering the workforce nowadays.  For their sake, and my own, I think it’s worthwhile to go over some of these basics, one point at a time.

  1. Use a simple Word Processor document.  There are many resume writing programs and apps on the market now, but I have yet to come across one that’s worth its bandwidth when it comes to typing up a plain, to-the-point resume.  A simple Word document that most laptops and desktops already come equipped with is really all you need.
  2. Font and Style:  Times New Roman is the classic; Arial is acceptable though slightly less business classy.  Anything else, ought to be avoided.  Seeing as how your resume was typed on a computer, and is understood to be read as such, there is no need to use fonts that mimic handwritten or artsy text.  What makes resumes visually appealing to an employer is their legibility, not the amount of fancy swirls or loops you managed to imitate in your text fonts.  If anything, this could be seen as distracting and unprofessional.  Since you never know what quirky pet peeves a person might have, deciding to play on the safer side by sticking to plain script (i.e. Times New Roman, 12-point font) is just a smarter way to go.
  3. Write your name in bold at the top of the page, and center it.  I would advise that your name should be the only thing written in bold on your whole resume to make it pop from the rest of the text, and thereby more memorable to the person reviewing it.  It is also advisable that you write your name in a slightly larger font to further add to the effect (so if you’re using 12-pt. font for the body of your resume, go up to 14 or 16-pt. for your name, but nothing else).  While still centered on the page,  write your phone number and email address beneath your name (no need to bold these; your name is the only part we’re trying to make pop on the page above anything else, remember?).  A lot of resume tips online will also say to include your address among your contact information, but I would have to disagree with this.  When employers are narrowing candidates down for callbacks, they start looking at the pettiest things to choose from among otherwise equally qualified candidates.  Hence, when they see that Candidate 1 lives 5 miles away, and Candidate 2 lives 15 miles away, they might consciously or subconsciously take this into consideration when making a final decision.  Best not to give them the option to even let it be factored into the equation by not mentioning your exact location so front and center.  [This is a general bit of advise.  If you know that your address will not or cannot be a detrimental factor, and might even be an asset, by all means go for it, and list it.  I’m simply telling you what’s been helpful in my experience, having sat on both sides of the hiring table.]

Now, with the basics out of the way, let’s get into the actual meat of the matter.  All resumes need to detail the following four sections regarding your professional history:  1. Objective, 2. Qualifications/Skills, 3. Education, 4. Employment History (I’ll mention a few words regarding how best to handle References towards the end of this post).

  1. Objective:  Your objective is your one-sentence pitch as to what your career goal is in terms of why you’re seeking this position.  I say one sentence, because you should really be able to explain your reason for wanting this job (and the reason why it’s a perfect fit for you) as succinctly as possible, and usually when people start typing up two-to-three sentences worth about themselves, they are prone to letting irrelevant/rambling details seep into the text.  A lot of jobs are fast-paced environments that value employees who don’t waste time, and demonstrating that you are someone who can communicate your intentions in one sentence, while others take four, goes a long way to speak in your favor.  (And no, just writing one long run-on sentence, filled with commas and semicolons is not a convincing hack that will fool anybody; if anything it will just make you sound long-winded.)  As to what to actually say in your objective, it largely depends on what type of job-hunt you are conducting.  If you are tailoring your resume to a very niche position, in a specific line of work, it’s better to speak directly to that.  If however you are job-hunting with more of a general idea of the sort of job you’d like to do, but know that you will be sending this same resume to a variety of different employers, a more versatile wording in your Objective might be applicable.
    •  Acceptable example:  “Objective:  To obtain a competitive position in a field that will offer continues growth in proportions to my abilities and skills.”  Vague enough to apply to a variety of career fields, displays a sense of ambition, but also pays lip-service to the notion that this ambition will be of mutual benefit to the employer and the employee.
    • Unacceptable example:  “Objective:  To get a job that I will enjoy and with which I can forward my career in the long-term.”  Essentially says the same thing, but it’s far too casual for employer’s to read any further depth into beyond what’s stated, and more importantly it is entirely egocentric in its delivery giving the implication that this candidate is someone who will bail the moment the feel that things aren’t going their way at work (this may be true of most employees, and any competent employer will be aware of this, but showing that you possess the gift of subtlety and plausible deniability are also highly valued skills on the job market, even if your bosses know when you’re try to use these skills on them.)
  2. Qualifications/Skills:  Right after your career objective, you should have a section of your skill sets.  The best format is to list them in tidy bullet points, one after the other, with the most relevant at the top of the list (i.e. relevant as they pertain to the position you are applying for, so feel free to shuffle these bullet points around and personalize them to each position, as you apply from one job to the next).  If you have any certifications or specialized training, this is the time to mention it.  If you know that the position you are applying for requires knowledge of a specific skill that you possess, write it out as plainly and obviously as possible (i.e. if the job will require you to work with spreadsheets all day, say “Proficient in all matters of Excel use, both on PC and Mac OS” instead of the more opaque “Proficient in Microsoft Office systems”–yes, the latter obviously includes Excel, but don’t overestimate the attention span of employers and their need to have things explicitly spelled out to them at all times).  Towards the end of your list of skills it’s perfectly all right to mention something that, though not completely relevant, shows you to be an interesting, and well-rounded person, but use a bit of common sense regarding what details to share.  Saying, “Extensive experience volunteering with youth groups to help foster a more positive community for at-risk students,” is a great humble brag, but saying “Leading figure in the online furry community, actively advocating inter-species acceptance and relations,” though potentially intriguing to discuss, probably not appropriate to lay on a potential employer so early on.
  3. Education: State your education as plainly as possible, by which I mean:  Name of school, type of degree, area of study, and noteworthy honors or commendations.  Unless the position you’re applying makes a point of mentioning an educational requirement, or your education reflects some unique or prestigious point, there is no reason to overwork this section beyond the basic points mentioned.

The above information should fit within 1 page of a 12-pt typed font, or somewhere very close to it.  Leaving you open to type up the final section on a separate page.

4. Employment History:   As the section’s name implies, give a list of  places where you worked.  Self-explanatory, really, but I’ll be painfully long-winded about it anyway [because I’m a pedantic son of a bitch, that’s why!].

    • The rule of thumb to follow is that if you have very little job experience, list whatever you can reasonably get away with passing off as “work experience”.  Have you ever done volunteer work?  List it, and give a detail of your responsibilities.  If you have done internships, student work-study, lead meet-up groups, whatever…these are all experiences you could use to demonstrate your ability to be productive and efficient in an occupational environment, even if you weren’t technically being paid to do them.  And in terms of wanting to fluff your resume to supplement a lack of employment history, or fill in extensive gaps in your employment history, mentioning these specific activities looks much better than trying to camouflage it with  vague concealers like, “Worked freelance projects” or “Self-employed entrepreneur” (unless you’ve got a legit business card naming you the CEO of a registered company, please don’t ever use this designation for yourself–no one is impressed by it).  The point isn’t to lie, or make things up in lieu of a robust work history to tout; it’s about showing that despite your lack of a standard 9-5 employment history, you are still a viable candidate that should be considered a serious contender for the job.
    • Now, some people will have the opposite problem, where they have way, way too many past jobs, volunteer work, extracurricular activities, etc., listed under their employment history to the point that they need several pages to fit it all.  If this sounds like your resume, you should definitely consider a rewrite.  If you’re applying for a administrative position, and you have several years of of administrative experience, you don’t need to list that summer job in McDonalds, or that year you spent as a delivery driver, or the side-gig you’ve got going on entertaining children dressed as a clown (honestly, adult coulrophobia is so widespread these days that mentioning the last one might work against you full stop; no one wants to take the chance of getting murdered by a clown during business hours).  That’s not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t mention any unique work experiences that only tangentially relate to the job you are applying for, but if your employment history is already running well past 1 page of otherwise relevant work experience, just let said work experience do the heavy lifting at impressing your future employer, and wait to let all that quirky personal charm you’ve got shine through during the in-person interview.
    • Now, how do you best summarize a past or present job position on your resume?  Easy:  list the company, list your position, list the time worked there (month and year).  Beneath that type up a bullet point summarizing all your duties and responsibilities.  Be as thorough as you can without resorting to word salads, or simply repeating what’s already listed under your Qualification/Skills sections–i.e. type in full sentences, as if you were relaying the information in person.  Depending on how much you did in the position, this may take one sentence or three, but try to keep it within 5 (you’re less likely to ramble irrelevancies if you place this limitation on yourself).

Okay–I’ve teased it, so now let’s say a word about References.  Please, please, please, do not write these three words anywhere on your resume in regard to your references:  “Available upon request.”  If they are available, and you already have them on hand, moreover if you know this is a job that will request them from you, just have a separate page typed up and ready to show to the employer.  In fact, even if you aren’t directly asked for references, you can never go wrong by always attaching a list of references to the back of your resume.  Regardless of whether the employer will make use of the list or not, having it ready and available for them shows forethought and thoroughness, and leaves a very good impression in your favor as a professional and serious job-seeker.  I want to mention that your list of references need not be more than 3 up-to-date professional references (ideally past employers who are at least likely to still remember you by name); give their names, their positions, their relation to you, and their contact information (just a phone number will suffice in most cases).  That’s it as far as references go; real straightforward, no need to overthink this anymore than anything else on your resume.

Keep in mind that nothing written here is the definitive word on resume writing, and I’m sure there are several caveats and exceptions I failed to mention simply for the sake of not wanting to take up more of your valuable time (or mine).  And although the above information is tailored to an old-school typed and printed resume format, it can just as easily apply to any other style of resume submission, and even as a rundown of how to organize the sections on one’s LinkedIn profile.  Though you should always, without question, have an actual typed resume on hand; if employers just wanted links to your social media they’d contact the third parties Facebook is selling all your personal data to for profit–Heyoo!  What?  Too soon?  Or have we all just moved on from that unethical bit of privacy invasion?

All right then, carry on, and good luck job hunting.

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The Reason Stories are Written in Past Tense

One of the first things any decent creative writing class will teach an aspiring author is the importance of maintaining consistency throughout the text, and it’s something I’ve definitely mentioned before on this blog.  Although this often refers to the importance of maintaining plot consistencies, grammatical consistencies (and functional consistencies), are equally crucial parts in creating a legible narrative.

Anyone who reads fiction novels regularly will have noticed that the overwhelming majority of these stories are written in past tense; e.g. “It was the best of times…”, “She figured it was all over…”, “He loved her like no other, but also saw no way to show it…” etc.  But why is this?  What makes a past tense narrative more grammatically correct, then a past or future tense syntax structure?  To answer that question, one needs to first dispel the phrasing of it.  There is nothing inherently more grammatically correct about using past tense, as opposed to any other tense, as long as the narrative voice remains consistent in its use throughout the story (or there is a damn good reason why it doesn’t need to do so).  Hence, the reason past tense is seen as the default has less do to with grammar, and more to do with functionality.  It shouldn’t be forgotten that writers by definition are also readers, meaning that they carry with them decades’ worth of literary conditioning, just like the audience they are trying to reach.  Most of the books a writer has read will have been written in past tense narrative, and like every other reader, it is understandable if this structure naturally seeps into one’s own writings.  Thus, one also shouldn’t underestimate the sheer amount of concentration it will take to catch the potential for inconsistent writings when attempting to do experimental works that run counter to the norm, and how the potential of creating an inconsistent prose goes up substantially when trying do to something out of the ordinary.  Therefore, defaulting to the more common past tense narrative is an easy way to ensure consistency throughout one’s plot, since it will feel the most natural; for writers and readers, alike.

Alternatively, rarely do you see whole plot narratives written as future tense; e.g.  “I will go see her tomorrow, after which we’ll talk…”, “They are going to take care of it later…” etc.  This sort of writing is reserved more for character dialogues, as they are more in line with casual conversations (not to mention people’s internal dialogues) wherein the discourse centers on planned actions (i.e. things yet to be done, spoken about by character’s whose overall knowledge of events is limited).  In contrast, narrator voices—whether they are written in first person, or third person; whether they are limited, or omniscient—are instinctively read by the audience in a bird’s eye view perspective, detailing the happenings to them as an observer of events.  It wouldn’t be impossible to write a whole narrative in the future tense, but the risk you run is to possibly frustrate your readers because, in many ways, such choice of phrasing stands so deeply in contrast with how most of us are attuned to differentiating between plot narrative and character dialogue that it may have the unfortunate affect of making the story too confusing and tiresome for most to bother following along with to the end.  And while challenging readers through provocative prose can be laudable, given them a headache through cumbersome verb usage is anything but useful.

Lastly, there is present tense; e.g.  “She creates the world as she sees it…”, “He says what he thinks, and he thinks what he knows…”  It’s a very impactful form of narrative, which immediately frames the plot into an action mode—things are happening, and they are happening right freaking now!  It’s unique, and in the hands of a skilled writer, has the potential to serve as a creative alternative to its more common past tense counterpart.  On the other hand, in unseasoned hands, it has the potentially to also wear out the reader; think sensory overload brought about by too much intensity.  There is a reason most stories follow the general set up of: introduction -> rising action -> climax -> falling action -> conclusion/resolution. If the whole story is written in a narrative that denotes action all throughout these distinct steps in the narrative, then the writer will have to work doubly hard to make the impact of the climax (and the rising action that leads up to it) standout to the reader’s attention.  I’m not saying that it’s an impossible task to accomplish, but it is harder, and takes considering talent to get it right.

I outlined why looking at the prevalence of past tense narratives in fiction isn’t really an issue of grammar, but an issue of ease of writing and what reader’s are simply accustomed to.  In an obvious way, the situation is very much a Catch-22:  Readers are used to reading narratives because most authors write in past tense narratives; authors write in past tense narratives because most readers are used to reading in past tense narratives. And a prevailing orthodoxy is therefore sustained.  Now, I will never say not to attempt a heterodox approach that deviates from the norm, on the grounds that one never knows for certain what works until it’s tried (every new situation carries with it the prospect for new discovery, and all that).  I simply want to make the point that no reader expects you to re-invent the written word to be seen as a great storyteller, and it’s perfectly fine to stick with what has been tried-and-tested to work, and what will make it easier for you to write your story, rather than fret over the structural details when you really don’t have to.

Remembering the Alamo: the Power of Myth in Cinema

The other day I got a chance to revisit John Wayne’s epic war film The Alamo.  As one can assume from the title, the film depicts the events surrounding the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, whose legacy served to inspire popular support for the ongoing independence movement led by the white American colonists living in what was then Mexican territory.  It would be an understatement to say that the film does not strive for historical accuracy.  Rather it focuses more on the mythical nostalgia that has developed among the white Texan population since the battle (and persists to this day); fervently espousing a message of freedom and republicanism over tyrannical oppression as a likely allegory to the Cold War struggle taking place during the film’s release in 1960.

In Gunfighter Nation, historian Richard Slotkin defines myths as “stories drawn from a society’s history that have acquired through persistent usage the power of symbolizing that society’s ideology and of dramatizing its moral consciousness” (p. 5).  Within the history of Western expansionism, the Alamo stands as a hallmark of American fortitude, where the legacy of the event has all but displaced any concern for veracity by its admirers.  This is the sentiment on which John Wayne builds his tale of The Alamo, occurring chiefly within the framework of the Western genre that his own quasi-mythical persona helped create in American culture.  The message that Wayne is adamant to reverberate throughout the film is the idea of nostalgia.  As evident by how the plot begins and mounts its climax with Sam Houston prophetically commenting on the need for future generations to remember and uphold what is being done in 1836, to keep it in their hearts as the life of Texas.

Although the film’s setting is in Texas, depicting a Texan struggle for freedom from oppression, John Wayne’s constant reminiscing about republicanism—a clear attempt to mimic his perceived Jeffersonian ideal of democracy—transforms the entire narrative into a classic tale of American virtue relatable to all red-blooded patriots.  It doesn’t take much to realize that Wayne’s Davy Crockett is not meant to be an accurate representation of his historical namesake, but an emblematic stand-in for Wayne’s personal principles (as seen by the dialogues his Crockett gives, where the lines often closely match Wayne’s 1977 patriotic oration America: Why I Love Her).

This is best seen in the first exchange between Colonel William Travis and Davy Crockett, where Crockett proclaims, “Republic, I like the sound of that word.  It means that people can live free, talk free, go or come, buy or sell, be drunk or sober, however they choose.  Some words give you a feeling.  Republic is one of those words that make me tight in the throat.”  Of course, the irony that Texas is being freed by slaveholding Americans is absent from Wayne’s proclamation.  Instead, he focuses on the myth that Americans (in particular white Southerners) heralded the true spirit of the Texan cause: freedom.  This is vital in establishing the message that we are viewing a battle between right and wrong, and since an independent Texas is presented as the land of opportunity, hope, and future, all who stand against it can only be on the side of despair and tyranny.  The essential myth Wayne accomplishes here is the substitution of frontier Texas into contemporary America’s struggle against the evils of the world.

The film itself acknowledges its affirmation of myth over fact in a telling scene in which Crockett reads out a forged letter he had written under Santa Anna’s name, urging the American men to leave Texas at once.  The pompous tone of the letter causes Crockett’s men to see it as a clear attempt of intimidation, and as men they are obligated to respond harshly to such antics.  Crockett does immediately admit that he in fact wrote the letter, but justified it on the basis that its contents were in line with what Santa Anna might have written.  Nevertheless, the men are so agitated at the possibility of Santa Anna addressing them so self-righteously that they readily take up the Texan cause for freedom and independence as their own.  Never mind that the letter was a fake, created and existing solely in Crockett’s imagination.  Moreover, no man present bothers to question how Crockett, a native of Tennessee, whose knowledge of Santa Anna stems solely from hearsay, could possibly know what sort of message Santa Anna would give to these Americans.  And no one cares, because the reasoning behind established myth “is metaphorical and suggestive rather than logical and analytical” (Slotkin, p. 6).

The Alamo is a film that needs to be analyzed through the time it was made in order to fully grasp its underlying theme.  In 1960, the United States was engaged deep within the Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union, a conflict which to most Americans stood as the absolute battle between liberty and tyranny.  Of course, in 1960, America had little idea of how the conflict would eventually unfold in the next three decades, thus it became a dire priority to raise American consciousness against the forces of oppression on the other side of the world.  John Wayne, being a staunch anti-Communist, anti-Leftist patriot, creates a historical narrative that serves as a helpful analogy for the American people to grasp how the fight against tyrants is an American virtue that reaches deep into the country’s roots.

For Wayne, promoting such a message could also have been an attempt to atone for his failure to serve in World War II, an inconvenient truth for a man who built his career on portraying brave patriots who answered the call of duty for their country.  In reality, the fact still remains that John Wayne could only live up to his image in make-believe movies, never in real life, which perhaps fostered much of his simplistic dialogue promoting war against perceived tyranny.  The opening scene of The Alamo starts with a harsh condemnation of Santa Anna as a malicious dictator, determined to “crush all who oppose his tyrannical rule.”  Just as the Cold War narrative between the Unites States and Soviet Union was simple, so is the narrative between Santa Anna’s Mexico and the American-Texan forces in 1836–it is simply a fight between right and wrong.

Little background information is given about any of the major characters involved in the fight for Texan independence.  Nor is there much said about why a large population of white Americans are living in Mexico to begin with, or how they are specifically being oppressed by their adopted country.  Crockett and his men are the only white settlers shown actually immigrating to Texas, and the only background on Crockett is that he was in Congress before becoming a raccoon-hat wearing adventurer on the frontier.  Although his time in Congress is portrayed more as a mundane series in his life, rather than having been a worthwhile endeavor on his part (Crockett’s negativity towards policymakers is likely a reflection of Wayne’s own frustration with contemporary politicians who are not doing enough to combat the menace of the Soviet Union).

It also does not take much to see that Santa Anna is meant to be a representation of the archetypal Soviet dictator—though perhaps not so much on par with a Stalinist megalomaniac, as a boorish Khrushchev autocrat.  As a result, John Wayne is attempting to blend the urgent threat of the present with a treacherous (yet, ultimately defeated) enemy of the past; hence, Crockett’s nostalgic musing about the state of his mind right before a noble, though hopeless, battle as “Not thinking; just remembering.” Yes, a battle may be lost, but the final outcome has always been victorious for those who choose the right path; the war will still be won in the end.

John Wayne’s The Alamo heavily orientates around the notion of cultural nostalgia, and how this looking towards the past serves to foster a positive consciousness towards the future.  Wayne does not care to provide a reliable history lesson to his viewers, however.  Instead he provides a needed myth that retells a known story the way he believes it ought to have happened, and ought to be seen.  In that sense, he is foreshadowing the lines that will be uttered in one of his better cinematic works, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “This is the West, sir.  When the Legend becomes fact, print the legend.”  The Alamo is the legend, not just to Texas but all freedom loving Republics (i.e. America as a whole), and for John Wayne, if it is to be remembered at all, it better be done the right way–his way.

Darwin’s Use of Natural Selection, and Metaphors in Science

From its initial publication on November 24th, 1859, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species revolutionized the scientific field through its presentation of evolutionary theory as the biological process capable of accounting for the diversity of life observed in the world.  And the key means by which Darwin proposed evolution to be possible was a mechanism he called natural selection.

From the start, controversy arose against Darwin’s strictly naturalistic explanation for the emergence of new species, and opposition formed swiftly to denounce evolution by natural selection as an insufficient theory that is unscientific in its analysis.  Most of the early opposition was religious in nature, but a more legitimate note of dissent came from Darwin’s own colleague Alfred Russel Wallace, who criticized Darwin’s choice of diction in referring to the evolutionary process by the term natural selection as misleading to the general public, because it needlessly implied a selector in the process.  Darwin countered Wallace’s objection by making the case that, for explanatory purposes, natural selection served as a sufficient term as it gives people a descriptive (albeit metaphorical) idea of how the wholly naturalistic phenomenon operates in comparison to the widely familiar practice of artificial selection.

Wallace himself was a proponent of evolution (often referred to as its co-discoverer along with Darwin), and was by no means opposed to the idea of natural selection.  He simply preferred the phrase “survival of the fittest” as a much better alternate to natural selection, arguing:

Natural Selection is, when understood, so necessary and self-evident a principle, that it is a pity it should be in any way obscured; and it therefore seems to me that the free use of “survival of the fittest,” which is a compact and accurate definition of it, would tend much to its being more widely accepted, and prevent it being so much misrepresented and misunderstood.[1]

Wallace thought that among the scientists in the field, who understood their work, the use of natural selection was not an issue, but among those who did not understand evolution and its process, the metaphor would fail to convey Darwin’s true meaning.  Undoubtedly aware of the attacks his and Darwin’s theory was already being subjected to, Wallace must have been worried that confusing people about the function of natural selection with metaphorical language would only serve to move skeptical minds further away from embracing evolutionary theory.

Darwin responded by agreeing that natural selection can be misleading to some, and even decided to incorporate “survival of the fittest” alongside natural selection as a compromise to Wallace in subsequent editions of On the Origin of Species.  But Darwin also commented how through the continued use of natural selection, his intended meaning will become more widespread, and weaken the sort of objections Wallace made.[2]  Despite these concessions on the issue, Darwin remained largely dismissive of Wallace’s concern, even bluntly responding that Wallace overstated the case for the opposition, and implied that certain individuals will misinterpret any term simply because they are too keen on scrutinizing over matters that are trivial to the average person.[2]

Darwin introduced the concept of descent through modification (i.e. evolution) in Chapter I of On the Origin of Species by drawing parallels to the artificial selection observed in animal domestication[3], something most of his readers would have been familiar with at the time.  He does this as a means of easing his audience into his argument in Chapter IV, where he finally makes his case for natural selection.  The confusion Wallace referred to can be argued here by Darwin’s parallel between artificial and natural selection, and his stating how, “this preservations of favourable variations and the rejection of injurious variation, I call Natural Selection,”[4] because it indicates the presence of intelligent oversight (as is the case for artificial selection), when in reality no such implication need be made for the process to function.  Though in his exchange with Wallace, Darwin appeared to be shrugging the matter off as a nonissue, he nevertheless thought it important to both defend his use of natural selection, and clear up any confusion about his intent in later editions of the book:  “It is difficult to avoid personifying the word Nature; but I mean by Nature, only the aggregate action and product of many natural laws, and by laws the sequence of events as ascertained by us. With a little familiarity such superficial objections will be forgotten.”[5]  Thereby reiterating his confidence that by continually familiarizing the public with his true intended meaning for natural selection, the term can be salvaged and the misguided dissent will disappear.

Charles Darwin insisted that metaphorical terms are needed in science for the sake of expressing an idea, and that it is the general descriptive quality that ought to be focused on by readers, not so much the personification of abstract concepts.  For example, when one says that particles are physically attracted to one another, few actual think there is some sort of conscious intimacy taking place between the consciousness-devoid matter.  Same goes with the description that gravity pushes down on a table, in that nobody would claim that the result caused by the force is driven by a self-awareness to hold on to the object.  In the case of natural selection, while in a literal sense a misnomer, it is nevertheless an apt description of the mechanism taking place.

Despite what is often asserted within anti-Darwinian circles, evolution by natural selection is actually not a completely random phenomenon, in that there does occur a mode of selection.  To explain it simply:  Different variants exist among and within different species, exhibiting different traits; some of them will be better adapted to a given environment, thus they will better survive in said environment, leaving more descendants with the same beneficial traits than the less adapted species.  It is blind, unguided, and in the long-run goalless, but also not really random, in that nature itself non-randomly provides the setting in which the various random traits will either flourish or flounder.  Thus, although the selector is an unintelligent and unaware agent, it is a selector nonetheless; a natural selector.  Meaning that Darwin’s use of natural selection as a metaphorical expression to describe the mechanism of evolutionary theory is a fitting one, and an entirely justifiable one.

Natural selection, as a term, is metaphorical only in the broad sense, but very descriptive in light of the proper understanding of the science involved in its function.  Darwin was right to point out that, given enough promotion, a phrase will begin to take on the definition popularly assigned to it even among the most stubborn minds.  Originally, the Big Bang was coined as a dismissive mockery of the theory, and is neither accurate not descriptive, but it has such wide use that objections have been thoroughly forgotten, and nobody emphasizes its metaphorical implications.  This leads into the main point, and it is one that Darwin himself indirectly made to Wallace, how for those who are opposed to the implications of evolution no term or explanation will be justifiable, and misconstruing natural selection is a means by which to either conform the concept to their personal liking or discredit it as insufficient.  The same would happen with “survival of the fittest,” or any other alternative phrase that could be proposed.  And it is through the merit of its work that science is judged, not by its ability to accommodate to the ignorance of its detractors.

 

[1] Francis Darwin and A. C. Seward, eds., More Letters of Charles Darwin:  A record of his work in a series of hitherto unpublished letters (London: John Murray, 1903. Vol. 1.), 270.

[2] Francis Darwin and A. C. Seward, eds., More Letters of Charles Darwin:  A record of his work in a series of hitherto unpublished letters (London: John Murray, 1903. Vol. 1), 272.

[3] Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species ed. James Secord (Oxford: University Press, 2008), 111.

[4] Darwin, Origin of Species, 141.

[5] Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species, 6th edition (London: John Murray, 1872), 63.

“One among the stars…”

13.7 billion years traveled.

100 billion galaxies crossed.

4.5 billion years endured.

170 million generations survived.

 

Crossed a distance beyond innumerable stars…

Endured dangers of every imaginable kind…

Until it was passed down to a…

…7 billion…

…billion…

…billion…

…string of chemical bonds.

 

And each atom in this bond…

is unique in its own regard…

so there isn’t a part of you that makes up who you are…

that doesn’t speak to your birthright among the stars.

“Sitting as I’m reclined to sit…”

Sitting as I’m reclined to sit, to watch the sages of my age

Rivet us with tales of worry ’bout the happenings of the day.

 

The scorn rises from the cynics lips; lisping laments for the lame.

The jester gestures at the festive scene of stalwarts’ silly seriousness.

While the content point to the sky on high, to avoid the pits below;

The discontent comfort in the pits beneath, to not be burdened by too much sunny hope.

 

And I sit, still inclined to recline, afar from these treats, and tricks, and qualms, and psalms,

Hearing these sages happily sing sorrowful splendors, soaring through a splintered sky.

 

“This age is lost, and masses stupid!” shouts the cynic from his stool.

The jester shrieks, “Oh, what fun it is to mock so cruel, and play the fool that beats the fools!”

“But hope is near, no need to fear!” come the voices from a happy few.

“I’ll hear no more, your hope I scorn!” snub back the hopeless legion, shrill and lewd.

 

And I sit, inclined to try and define, whilst still seated reclined,

How to approach the voices bestowing wisdom onto me.

How to understand these people eager to define the world for me.

What views to hold; what views to scold.

Which to mock…flock to…and which to block.

 

Only wanting to understand whose banner I am most inclined to stand under.