Letter From The Editor:
The End of the World/Evolution
By Nuala Lincke-Ivic, Editor & WLAC Associate Professor

nualaThe world was supposed to come to an end on December 21, 2012, according to the Mayan calendar. It didn’t. We’re still here. The evening before this less-than-propitious date, my nine-year-old son (genuinely concerned) asked me what we would do if the world came to an end the next day, if earth started to tilt on its access at precisely midnight (the rumored hour of our demise), thus killing most or all of us on the planet. I told him we’d race to the ‘fridge and try to eat all the chocolate cake. But shouldn’t we pray? he asked. Of course, I said; we’d offer thanks for the cake. God knows who we are anyway, I told him, and any last-minute entreaties would probably be moot regarding God’s evaluation of us: A, B, C, D, or F people.

Of course, I was flippant, flamboyant, and facetious (don’t know if the second adjective works, but like the alliteration) for a reason: I did not believe the world would end. I had weathered the Y2K catastrophe, and my son hadn’t (being born in ’03), and as a child, I had also had my bunk bed slammed from one wall to another in my room, and then back to its original position, during a California earthquake, and while I was on the top bunk, and I had survived. And of course, I, my son, and the rest of the country had survived the election of the first black President of the United States of America (in ’08), and apparently well enough to cause us to re-elect him (in ’12). We earthlings always seem to survive catastrophes that threaten our survival, whether they come from outer space, Mother Nature, or even ourselves. After all, wasn’t the election and then re-election of a black President proof that we had survived slavery, the generations-long (and counting) catastrophe that this nation inflicted on itself? As a nation, we have survived. We have evolved.

Of course, our evolution as a nation (read: social progress) must continue, and nowhere does this evolution seem more necessary than in our homes, schools and penal system, three arenas that seem inextricably related, negative experiences in the first and second arenas—home and school—often acting as causal factors for a person sojourning in the third arena: our penal system. We have to be good parents, teach our children about good and bad choices, and do our best to ensure that they receive the education that they need to succeed in life. As our twice-elected black President contends, we also have to make a college education available to all diligent, determined people, especially young people in crime-ridden neighborhoods, give them career options that seem better than the hustla life of a gang member. And for all people whose home life, lack of a useful education, and bad choices led them to incarceration in our prison system, we have to begin—or continue—to ask this important question: Is our nation focused on the rehabilitation of people who break the law (the question Fyodor Dostoevsky asks in his novel Crime and Punishment, in which a convicted murderer is rehabilitated in jail and then released)—or is our nation focused on the punishment of people who break the law?

The argument that one must suffer the consequences of wrongdoing seems logical and convincing, but to what degree must one suffer the consequences of wrongdoing: by being incarcerated for a period of years (eight years for the murderer in Dostoevsky’s novel)—or life in prison, or…even the death penalty? The beginning of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy seems to frame our question about the death penalty perfectly—whether or not we should kill our murderers:

To be, or not to be—that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.

In the November 2012 elections, 52% of California voters marked “yes” for Proposition 34, which keeps the death penalty as an optional punishment for alleged murderers, and 48% marked “no.” As a nation, we are divided in opinion about whether or not to keep the death penalty legal. But at least we are asking this question: Should it be legal? In the same election, 68.6% of California voters marked “yes” for Proposition 36, which prevents people from serving a mandatory sentence of life in jail for a third felony conviction, if the third offense is considered minor (for example, the theft of a pair of socks)—and 31.4% marked “no.” Proposition 36 seems proof that we are asking another important question: Should we apply a legal principal to individual criminals: three strikes (felonies) and you’re out (in jail for life)? Like the rhetorician and philosopher Stephen Toulmin, 68.6% of California’s 2012 voters believe that we should evaluate individual cases on an individual basis.

Yes, it is a testimony to our evolution as a nation that we elected and then re-elected a black president, and that we are asking important questions about our prison system—and that we understand that there are inexorable links between and among these three arenas: parenting, education, and prison. In this issue of West, we continue our effort to evolve as a society, and in our stories, essays, columns, and interviews, we ask questions, directly or indirectly, about these three arenas, and measure their affect on our society.

Good reads in this issue of West include Dr. Anthony A. Lee’s essay “I Ain’t Gonna Read No Book” in Pedagogy; Du’Ron Fisher’s “My Father’s Story” in Essays; “Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man” in Interviews”; and Carissa Alva’s pieces in Flash Fiction.

Cheers,

Nuala Lincke-Ivic
West Editor & Associate Professor
English Department, Language Arts Division
West Los Angeles College


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