Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Impact of Longevity on Future Society

If you ever watch a sci-fi movie, such as Star Wars, you'll notice they portray many elements of what one individual imagines future society to be like. They usually consist of using lasers as weapons, interstellar (and sometimes intergalactic) travel, sentient extraterrestrial life coexisting with humans, much more sophisticated artificial intelligence almost to, and sometimes reaching, sentience (usually robots), and among many other things. These, for all we know, may or may not be correct, however, one thing most science fiction generally ignores is longevity - the point at which humans defeat aging and all illnesses, and thus have an indefinite life expectancy (death being caused only through serious accidents, murder, or suicide). In just about every sci-fi film I've seen, life expectancies remained more or less the same as they are now.

As much of an oversight as it may seem, this ignoring of longevity makes sense. After all, can you imagine just how much society would change, and how every individual lives his or her life? Most sci-fi movies, novels, etc. usually don't portray the future so much as they portray our current attitudes and society in a future setting. This is also true of historical dramas, where they take our current attitudes and society and put it in a historical setting. Certain technologies such as laser weapons, interstellar travel (at least as is portrayed, seemingly instant), and very sophisticated artificial intelligence wouldn't change too many things regarding peoples' lifestyles and society in general, you can most certainly bet longevity would and in every way imaginable. Trying to incorporate longevity accurately into the sci-fi genre would require placing oneself in an absolutely foreign setting - so foreign that many of our concepts and perceptions of life, love, and so many other things would become "obsolete."

Personally, I find this prospect fascinating. Many people do not give longevity the emphasis it deserves and often take the idea for granted. Hell, many don't even believe that it's possible, but as far as I can tell about aging, it is not something which is necessary. Evolutionarily speaking it is and so is the death of all organisms, but to an individual level, it can be stopped, and indeed, health technology will eventually reach a point at which it will be. Obviously not all at once and I'd imagine it would take a bit of time for such an advance to reach the entire human population, but once it does, its effects will be profound. And to be honest, this change may very well appear as bleak as it is fascinating. The future is always a mixed baggage - it's never all good or all bad.

Certainly you can imagine death would become much less common and far more alien to future generations than they are now. However, this is a trend that's been occurring over the last few centuries, and not just because we live longer now than we once did in the past, but because the people we associate with today are usually closer to our age where in the past (largely an effect of urbanization), whereas an individual of the past generally associated with an entire community of the area in which they lived (thus giving them more intimate contact with all age groups, the old included). However, just as we disassociate ourselves from death now (as I mentioned in my last post), future generations will do it to such an extent that death will be something which is almost never considered and seem "real" to them. After all, how many people do we personally know who have died? Most of us have had at least a grandparent die. Death to us is all too real, whereas with an indefinite lifespan, losing one's parents, grandparents, etc. would be an extremely rare thing.

Of course, given enough time everybody will probably die of an accident or something else eventually, however, that would likely take a lot of time in most cases. Long enough for the consideration of death to appear irrelevant at least. When this happens, you can be sure that the idea of death will disappear from the future society and a culture focused on death (as ours in many ways is) will cease to exist. It may still exist in the form of a final judgment against a villain, but in most other cases, it will cease to exist for they will fail to apply to the society at large. People largely will not be able to relate to death.

Life is said to be more beautiful because we live only so long. You would think that there are only so many things you can do before you eventually get bored of life. After all, we aren't just talking about a few hundred years here, but rather, thousands of years, if not tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of years - in a few cases, maybe even much more. An indefinite lifespan can potentially last forever. Can somebody really live that long? It's hard to imagine it, but I think people can, and quite a few will. People often think life would become so boring after awhile, but I disagree. There's so much to life which we fail to notice that unless we stubbornly refuse to explore what surrounds us, we'll be able to keep ourselves occupied potentially forever. Moreover, as we move through time, things will inevitably change, keeping what's going on seemingly fresh.

Of course, we look at our older generations today and we often notice them unable to relate to the way we are today. I think this is the result of ageism, the phenomenon where we assign so much importance to how old somebody is. If our lifespans become indefinite, ageism will disappear, and with that, so will the idea that we are a certain age. Mainstream society will truly be mainstream - there won't be a culture that pertains only to the younger generations or older generations, but to everyone. Certainly how long one has been alive would give them some experience to base their knowledge and wisdom on, but I think that's about as far as it will go.

But lastly, and most importantly, is love and how families will work. Can a marriage truly last indefinitely? I think theoretically it could, but I doubt very many will. And what will happen to the concept of love if people routinely enter marriages with the understanding that they'll probably split up at some unspecified date after growing weary of each other and wishing to move on to new experiences? Will it seem as deep as it is now? Will it be as monogamous as it is now? One thing is for sure - the whole fantasy of "happily ever after" will cease to exist. A culture accepting these changes will have to evolve and we may be seeing one more open to divorce, remarriage, open relationships, and the like. Love may become more based on how you enjoy someone's company more than any deep commitment. I'd imagine this could make some today feel a little uneasy, myself included. Certainly age old myths of "love conquers all" and the like will go and love will likely be much more pragmatic.

And then consider it, if you can potentially have an infinite number of children (no menopause for women), how many generations of children could you produce? Children with a 10 year age difference will seem like nothing when we think of children with a 100 or more year age difference. As I said, age differences probably won't seem so relevant in the future, so siblings with such an age difference could still likely relate to each other, but what would you do with so many children? Especially if you have them with multiple spouses over hundreds and hundreds of years? How would you keep in contact with them all? I think we may see a culture less focused on the family unit, with parent-children relationships becoming less important. To compensate, we may see a society will a much more collective mindset where friendship circles and other social groups are emphasized more than family units. I'd imagine that this could also make some today feel uneasy as our culture today is largely structured around the family unit.

Please bear in mind that these are just my predictions for what the impacts of longevity will have on the future. I think they're likely, but they more than likely won't be spot on. But the fact remains that longevity will most certainly change how we think of and associate with death, life, ageism, love, and families. And these changes won't necessarily be for the better; they'll simply just be a neutral change, many of which won't entirely make sense to us living today, just as how some of our concepts wouldn't entirely make sense to those living hundreds of years ago.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What Goes Through the Heads of the Dying?

Besides a bullet in a few cases, that is.

The question of what the dying are thinking of as they die has been on my mind for as long as I can remember - ever since I was about three years old. When I was about three, I remember just coming to the realization of the concept of death and that the time each and every one of us is alive for is limited; some more than others for varying reasons. It's a very dark and unnerving notion for an individual of any age to face, especially as during this time I had no concept of heaven and hell to fall back on. Thus I believed that naturally what would come after death would be like what it was like before my first memory - in other words, absolutely nothing. As one would expect, this terrified me and I remember being afraid of anything even mildly related to death, whether that would be an injury, the dark, or what have you.

As with all things, I eventually came to terms with the idea of death and eventually not existing by the time I was about four or so, if I remember correctly, but of course, this did not quell my fear of it and my avoidance of anything that could hurt me. Rather, the way I, and generally most people, came to terms with it was through disassociating myself from the concept. Deep down I knew I'd die someday at some unspecified time, but for now, it would remain out of my mind and all the deaths I see in movies, video games, on the news, in books, etc. would not be related to my own mortality. This method works, but it does have its drawbacks when one is suddenly confronted with their own coming death, such as if an individual finds out they are HIV positive, is in an airplane that is falling toward the ground with no hope for a safe landing, when they have a gun pointed to their head, and thousands of other possibilities. In such cases, panic and terror strikes the victim, and in emergency situations, that can sometimes be catastrophic. This is why games like Return to Zork freaked me out when I was young, for you play it in a first-person view and when you die, it'll give you the perspective of the individual dying (as if you're the one dying), complete with freaky music.

Even when I was young, I recognized that to an individual faced with his or her death must be a terror beyond anything I could comprehend and this fascinated me, as much as it gave me a sick and cold scare, in an odd way. At first I would think about it every time I smashed a goomba in Super Mario Bros. 3, while later I'd see it in all places besides video games - in movies, in books, in the media, and so many others. Our culture is indeed one fixated on death, where death simultaneously represents the final judgment (the killing of a villain), the worst sin (murder), the work of terror (school shootings, terrorism), a tragedy (a fatal accident, a fatal illness), the inevitable (the death of an old person), the ultimate sacrifice (war deaths, saving another at the cost of one's own life), a selfish act (suicide), a fool's humorous result (Darwin awards), etc. Of course, depending on context and interpretation, what death represents often overlaps and aren't as clear cut as I described, as is the case of most things. What would be going through an individual's mind would most definitely depend on the circumstances of the death and how that death is seen.

The most striking example to me is the falling man of 9/11. He was all over the media, becoming iconic of the terror of 9/11. There were many like him and ever since I first saw the pictures and videos, I could not help but to wonder what he was thinking as he was falling. Was he thinking about the family he's leaving behind? The things he had yet to accomplish? How scared and unfortunate he is to die? Did his life flash before his eyes so quickly that he was not cognisant of anything else? How hard was his stomach churned as he fell? Or perhaps in a more positive tone, was his mind at peace during the fall? Did he reminisce on his happy experiences? Did he reflect on his faith and pray? There is no way we will ever know and for each person who jumped from the World Trade Center that day, the answer is most certainly varied, but I think it can be said with some degree of certainty that the consideration of their life, their past, and what would have been their futures came about in some manner, whether before and/or during the fall. Moreover, we also have to understand that as they jumped, they had to have accepted their death before it occurred (even if desperately), for you don't jump off a skyscraper like that thinking that you might have a way to survive. As such, I'd figure that what went through their heads during their falls would seem much more peaceful compared to other deaths, though the rushed panic that may ensue during the fall may have grappled some others.

But what about those whose coming deaths are more prolonged? Those tested HIV positive, diagnosed with a cancer that they're very unlikely to recover from, etc. all fall under this, and indeed, we can hear what they have to say. The acceptance of their deaths, unlike the case of the falling man of 9/11, are done much more slowly over time rather than out of desperation, but it is forced nonetheless. Their deaths still occur at an unspecified date, but the date now appears much closer and more real to them than ever before, giving them the sense that they're living under a "time limit," where in reality, we all are. They are usually hit with a wave of terror when they first learn about their diagnosis, as is the case of a non-profit organization I read about in Vancouver, BC. They are an organization that gives those tested with HIV positive, usually homosexuals who have been rejected by their families and friends, a buddy to talk to and spend time with for support and general friendship (basically a buddy-buddy system). Apparently this organization had many people call them up or come in that had just learned about their being diagnosed HIV positive, and they'd almost always be distressed and in tears, telling them that they have no idea what to do. Clearly they're in a panicked daze about what's going on, and that's not surprising given that I'm sure most non-HIV positive individuals would tell you that they'd have no idea what to do either.

Accepting one's death is a long and painstaking process, and indeed, helping HIV positive individuals coming to terms with that is one of the goals of that non-profit organization in Vancouver, BC. The thing is that while hard, just about all people are able to do it. I don't think I have ever heard of a case where somebody with a prolonged disease like that has ever came out and said "I'm not ready to die!" just before their deaths. Of course, this may perhaps be out of pressure to comfort their family and friends and conform to the idea that there's an expectation for people who are dying of a prolonged disease to be ready to die, but after reading some of the diaries of those with these diseases, those types would appear to be among the minority. This doesn't make their deaths any less tragic, mind you, but it's simply underlying the point that the acceptance of their deaths has brought them peace of mind as they die.

An acceptance of death certainly does that, and I think that there's a possibility that it even accelerates it. Elderly individuals are all faced with it at some point, and generally that is accelerated when their significant other dies. It could be said that by accepting your death, you are telling your body that it's time to die. And this would indeed make sense if evolutionarily speaking, man had adapted to disassociating him or herself with death until they are aware that their time is drawing near to an end. But that's just speculation.

You do have to wonder, though, about those whom never saw their deaths coming. Do they think they're still alive? When my mom was lying on her death bed in the hospital as a result of an allergic reaction to a bee sting, I doubt she was ever aware of her coming death. After all, she was sedated, and thus unconscious, nearly the entire time - only her first few days in the hospital were the exception, and I'd imagine she figured that she was going to eventually recover and get out, just like her bee sting two months prior to that. You really have to wonder what that would be like to go to sleep and wind up never waking back up. People say that this is the best way to go, but is that really so? Your answer to that is indicative of whether you think ignorance is bliss.

This naturally leads to the question of what is the worst way to die.

Personally, I think to be aware and not to be ready for your death is by far the worst way to go. This is often the case during wars, where an individual has hopes of surviving but then suddenly had his (and increasingly her) other half of their body blown off by a shell, mine, or what have you. In those cases, they'd be knocked unconscious and be entirely unaware of their death - during many wars, that is said to be the desirable way to go. But occasionally they aren't knocked unconscious and are still cognisant of their surroundings, often moaning and crying out in agony. Perhaps that could be said to be the worst way to go?

Perhaps there's a different take on death itself. After all, death is said to be nought but a relief. We fear it instinctively for we are programmed to as a means of avoiding it, and for a general fear of the unknown (also instinctive). The adaptive significance of that is very obvious. However, you have to ask - is death itself truly bad or is it simply the process of dying that is bad? After all, if we know about our coming death, accept it, and willingly wither away, is that not the best way to go? If everyone could accept and welcome their deaths, would death necessarily be such a bad thing? I'd say that indeed, this is the best way to go and that through accepting and welcoming one's death, it is not so much of a tragedy as it is a fact of life that, while unfortunate for those left behind who miss them. Death is indeed feared by only the living. I'd go as far as to extend this to all other deaths and that, while the circumstances of the dying may be tragic, the death itself is not. This is how I view my mom's death - no more than a simple fact of life, which is neither good or bad, that we all must come to terms with one way or another, for both those we love and ourselves.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Deficiencies in the Criminal Justice System

I was getting my haircut today and the barber, who's a rather talkative guy despite my usually reserved nature in these sorts of interactions, told me something that shocked even me. His 19 year old son, William Somtoa, whom he talks about time and time again whenever I get my haircut, apparently died as a result of a drinking and driving accident, where he was sober and the other person was drunk and hit him.

I was very nonchalant in my reaction for I don't typically have much to say regarding these sorts of things. I mean, what do you say other than a short "oh, I'm sorry to hear that. :/"? However, despite what one might think of my reaction, it did hit me fairly deeply despite my not knowing him. As a result, I felt compelled to do a search on the accident that led to his death and Google his name based on the information my barber gave me. When I read things like his Facebook (of which I found that we have five friends in common - one of which is my cousin Carina, which makes sense as he also went to Mt. Rainier High School) and saw all the goodbye comments left for him on his wall, he somehow "came to life" to me, as if now all of the sudden I realized that he was indeed a real person instead of just another name. Thus I felt prompted to center this blog around his death and the injustice that I believe is currently taking place. To get an idea of what I'm talking about, below is an article that gets at it:

While this is more on the man who killed him, James Jabari, it does give vague details about what occurred. However, I don't think that this does justice to what happened to William, so I feel compelled to write about it in my own words. From the information I've obtained from this article, other articles, my barber, and comments that I've read, I'll give a description of what occurred with some details of what was going on which most news articles fail to give.

The Friday night of January 2nd, 2009 was like any other. William Somtoa wished to go out with his friends. For a 19 year old, this is a typical enough thing and William's father was fine with it. Also as is typical for a group of young males looking for some fun, they all headed to Rick's Strip Club in Lake City, a neighborhood in Seattle, around midnight. They left there at about 2 am.

As William got into his friend's silver Subaru Impreza WRX (his other friends having a yellow Subaru Impreza WRX - William and his friends were big on Subaru Imprezas, and William was planning on buying one of his own as soon as he had enough money), his friend called shotgun (which, for those of you who do not know, is a game many young males play where the first person who shouts "shotgun!" gets to ride in the front passenger seat). As such, William settled to sitting in the backseat.

At about 2:09 am, the yellow Subaru came to a red light at the intersection at NE 95th St. and Lake City Way, with the silver Subaru that William was in behind them, and stopped. James Jabari, who was driving a BMW with a blood alcohol content of 0.23, was driving down Lake City Way at an estimated 70 miles per hour. Before any of them could figure out what was coming, the BMW swerved right to miss the car it was originally headed towards only to smash straight into the rear end of silver Subaru that William was in, which pushed its way into the yellow Subaru as a result.

Witnesses said that unlike in most crash scenes where you typically hear a screech of the brakes and then a crash, there were no screeches in this one. It was all crash. Jabari clearly not did not brake before hitting the back of the silver Subaru, which is typical of DUI accidents. Jabari's passenger flew out the front windshield while Jabari himself crawled out of the BMW after the wreck. Those in the silver Subaru, however, were in a much worse state than Jabari. All were knocked out cold with William, having been in the passenger seat, having the gravest injuries of them all. The pictures below show the accident scene that night:

The passenger of the BMW, the driver of the silver Subaru, and William himself were declared to be in critical condition and were rushed to Harborview. The only one who had life threatening conditions, however, were William and that next day he was declared dead. The other two recovered swiftly enough. The passenger in the front seat of the car William was in was declared to only have minor injuries.

Jabari had neither a license (it was revoked) nor auto insurance. The car he was driving wasn't even his. Jabari was arrested at the scene and bailed out for $200 the next day. Later when Jabari would appear in court for a hearing, he would plead not guilty to the charge of vehicular homicide. The outcome of the trial has yet to be decided, though it is expected that Jabari will be receiving a few years in jail. The bail set at this hearing was $75,000, of which Jabari will have collected and be coming out this Thursday.

So you see what wound up happening. It truly is sad for all involved. The saddest thing I heard was that for a little while after William's death, my barber would continue to go to William's room each morning to wake him up, as his routine is, but only half way through would realize that his son would not be there. As one can imagine, my barber's feelings were something in between sad, angry, and helpless. He told me about how his wife said to him that the punishment Jabari will receive will most certainly not be enough and that he should go "get him" himself. However, given that that's not exactly the sort of thing my barber would do, as much as he might wish to, he declined and said that all he can do is let the law handle this. However, how has the law handled this thus far?

James Jabari is about my age - 21 years old. Yet since 2005, he has received a total of 16 convictions. Five of which are related to driving with a suspended license, more than one of which dealing with drinking and driving (which got his license revoked), one for a hit and run, and one currently under investigation for burglary. His other convictions deal with having failed to appear in court (which surprises me that Jabari would receive a bail at all). Moreover, Jabari had also received numerous reckless driving citations.

With these prior convictions, you can be sure that Jabari will likely receive a sentence longer than a one-time offender, but I cannot imagine it'll be long enough. Five years maybe? Personally, I think the convictions given to those charged with DUIs, especially if those DUIs result in an accident, or worse, death, should be much more harsh, or at least harsh enough so that they're given a long enough sentence to create a rift between those convicted and their friends so that upon release and thereafter, they generally will not be in a situation to party and get drunk (irresponsibly at least - usually after awhile, those they'd party with either wouldn't party so much and/or irresponsibly), and if they do in the future, they'll be more prone to avoid driving. Looking at the number of those convicted of vehicular assault where they wound up killing somebody when they were drinking and driving where they got off with jailtime of only a few years, I think it's absolutely ridiculous. Now, don't get me wrong as I'm not usually the one to advocate for a more harsh sentence for most crimes, and tend to advocate the focusing more on rehabilitation rather than punishment or as a deterrent. However, those who repeatedly drink and drive and show that the revoking of their license doesn't stop them from doing so are a danger to all of society, especially when they kill somebody as was the case of William's.

Of course, Jabari is as much of a person as William was, and thus we must keep in mind that he does have family and friends who care about him. And let us not forget that killing another individual may have awakened Jabari to his actions he has done time and time again in the past. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system cannot take an individual in question's word for their expressed remorse, for anyone can feign a sign of sincere remorse for their actions. Jabari had to have known the potential consequences for his actions, even if they did not immediately register with him, and thus he must be given the "benefit" of the doubt now. Personally, given his record and my general experience with those who have the same sort of record that Jahari has, I am very skeptical of his remorse. Remorse is about far more than just saying I'm sorry and if he's going to convince anyone of it, it is up to him to prove it.

But at the same time, we must understand that the criminal justice system operates on the good of society, not the good of the individual and his or her family and friends, and moreover it has a very hard time taking the person in question's word for their remorse for anyone can feign the sign of sincere remorse given the practice. One life taken is already too many and personally, given the dangers drinking and driving poses, I think the jail sentences for drinking and driving should be given a marked increase. Perhaps not necessarily on the first offense, but repeated offenses most certainly should be. While I'm generally against the whole three strikes idea towards criminal justice, I think it's far more appropriate to apply it here and anywhere where the actions by those convicted individuals poses a danger to others.

Unfortunately, Washington state law isn't very harsh on those convicted of DUI offenses. It seems as if the criminal justice system is more focused on punishing those who have drugs, have failed to pay their child support payments (which ironically makes it so that they cannot pay further ones, much to the detriment of the child in question anyway), and others which are not directly related to our society's safety, justice, and betterment. But those who have shown themselves to be a threat to society, however, can in some cases get off easy, and such benefits of the doubt have wound up in many others' deaths which could have been avoided, William's included. Thanks to all this, I'm sure that in a couple more years, we'll be seeing James Jabari back on the road in the streets of Seattle late at night, whether his license is still revoked or not. Such are the deficiencies of our criminal justice system. One can only hope that Jabari is truly sincere in his remorse and does not kill another person in the future.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

"You're Majoring in Geography? So You Know Where Everything Is, Right?"

Geography has to be one of the most misunderstood of all subjects. I knew I'd get this reaction when I decided to major in geography, but it seems whenever I tell people of my major, they feign the "oh, I know what you're taking about" look and ask me if I know where some random bullshit on a map is.

Of course, the reality is that geography is much more than just knowing where everything is. Hell, it's hardly even that. Knowing where everything is in geography is very comparable to knowing all the dates of events in history. There was once a time and place where that kind of geography prevailed in post-secondary education and still does in many high schools. However, geography is very different now. As I try to simply tell people, it's more of a method than anything else.

The method, simply put, is spatial analysis. Immanuel Kant put it very well - all subjects taught at a university have a general rule in that they have a very specific subject matter of which they focus on. For examples, chemistry focuses on chemistry, sociology focuses on society, economics focuses on the economy, etc. However, two subjects defy that general rule - geography and history. Other than trivial information (except cartography in geography's case), geography and history do not have a great deal of subject matter. Instead, the two focus on all things, but in a different, as well as a more holistic, way. Geography is the study of all things (culture, society, economics, politics, etc.) over, and as they relate to, space and history is the study of all things over, and as they relate to, time. With this in mind, being that I am a major in geography and a minor in history, I like to think of myself as a very four dimensional person.

You might wonder what the significance of geography is. Given geography's focus on all things, you can be certain that there is a great deal of overlap between geography and all subjects. Many geography classes will feel more like a sociology class, a political science class, an economics class, an environmental science class, or whatever with more of a focus on spatial analysis. Given that, you might wonder what the justification is for making geography a completely separate subject.

The answer is simply that geography isn't so much about studying subject material as it is about synthesizing them. That is the goal of spatial analysis. This synthesis is what we know as the "geography" of our universities. A sociologist could use spatial analysis to further their understanding of society, but a sociologist would not be able to synthesize that into a new perspective of society. A sociologist would be more focused on the subject they're studying of society (using spatial analysis as a tool, not a subject in its own right), whereas a geographer would be more interested in the spatial interactions of society in its own right and fuse that with the spatial analysis of economics, geology, etc. and the way humans interact with all these things. The result of this is a new, and more holistic, synthesis.

With my strength in synthesizing material and the fact that geography studies all things, I think it is a part of the appeal of the major to me. It is also a big reason why I like history, as history does the same thing but through time instead of space - so for example, instead of studying a specific culture over space, they'll study a specific culture over time and come up with a new synthesis of that. Unfortunately for history majors, much of their syntheses are not so relevant to the contemporary world as geography is, hence their limited value to employers.

But if such is true of history majors, the opposite is true of geography majors. The claim that geography is dead thanks to technology and modern communications making space an irrelevent factor is completely and utterly untrue for space does play a significant role in our interactions (after all, how things are spaced, such as roads, hospitals, fire stations, etc., can effect everything that interacts with it far more effectively if placed with careful deliberation than if it were randomly placed without consideration - an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts), both on the micro and macro scales. And even if it were true, the study and synthesis of all things, and its relevance to today's world, gives geography majors a great deal of versatility regardless, and hence why of all liberal arts majors, geography is one of the most marketable. It amuses me when people pass off my major of geography as worthless and won't make me any money, where little do they know, I can use that degree to land me jobs as far afield as jobs related to urban planning, marketing, resource management, archaeology, politics, etc., some of which may deal with spatial analyis, some of which may not, many of which are relatively well paying. The perfect degree in an age where degrees only need to be marginally relevant to a job and where the average person makes one or more significant career shifts during the course of their life.