Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Letter to the Willfully Ignorant Concerning Their Hindrance of Progress

Dear those of you that have checked out,

This is a coupon for a free ice cream cone from any restaurant, ever, but you have to read it out loud at the place or they won't honor it.

I've never really enjoyed being called smart.  As a child I heard it all the time, and I'll admit it, I was a smart kid.  We moved around a little bit when I was very young and at the age of 4 I found myself enrolled in school in Norfolk, England.  I started my education in the country of my Father.  While, as a 4 year old, I was in school I remember doing arithmetic. I remember changing every day for gym, out of my sweater, button up shirt, and tie, and into little red shorts and a t-shirt.  I remember not only reading and writing but getting graded on handwriting.  I even remember my teacher showing my mother how my handwriting was improving (something that would never be uttered by a teacher again).

Then when I was 5 we moved again.  We moved back to my Mother's (and now my own) country: The United States.  Specifically, Northern Louisiana.  When we came home my mother, of course, wanted to keep my education as uninterrupted as possible so she tried to enroll me in public school.  She was denied.  The reason was that I was too young to be in school (the minimum for Kindergarten at that time was 6) and that I wouldn't be able to keep up with the other children.  I'm going to skip the part where she gave them evidence as to why that reasoning was idiotic and go right into how the first three years of school were so incredibly boring that I still get a pit in my stomach to this day when I think about it.

But, this isn't what you might think.  This isn't a story about how I was so bored because the American education system is so upside down.  I mean it is, but I don't want to talk about it.  No, I was bored for another reason.  I was bored because I absolutely love to learn new things.  It really gets my coffee brewing, and it always has.  Learning something brand new and then learning how that relates to the things I already know about is an actual physical rush for me.  I grin like an idiot and want to tell everyone the great news.  And, after a lot of thought I think that's why I hated school so much.  It's because I don't think a lot of people actually love to learn things like that.  I don't think the majority of people get that intense burst inside of them when they understand something new, no matter what it is.

I was in a system that wanted me to KNOW things, but really didn't care if I LEARNED things, and even at a very young age I decided that just knowing things was for assholes.  I didn't want to know that the gears turned I wanted to know WHY they turned and WHEN they turned and WHAT they did when you turned them.  It's a passion I still carry with me today, probably because of some kind of gently screwed wiring in my brain (family history of weird brain stuff, we'll talk later), and it's a passion/crippling obsession that serves me well in my job.  Being a guy in a small IT shop for a very big place means that I need to know, as well as possible, how everything fits together and it just so happens, total coinkydink, that I LOVE knowing how everything fits together.

That's not to say everything comes naturally.  When I was very young I thought that learning was a piece of cake, or maybe I was some kind of genius because everything seemed to make sense instantly.  This is NOT an ability that has followed me into adulthood.  Yes, if I know SOMETHING about a system then understanding the rest of it isn't a huge deal, but learning something new kind can take a lot of work for me.  I hate to use this word, I mean I really hate it, but a good amount of my free time as an adult is spent, well, studying.  And, I don't mean watching a History Channel special, I mean actual study like reading multiple articles about a subject, making notes, writing tiny little conclusions about what I've learned like miniature research papers.  I check sources and seek out dissenting opinions to balance the conclusions.  I work harder on gaining knowledge now then I did in all my years at any kind of school.  But it's all work.  I read Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feinman a little while back and it wasn't like a casual Sunday.  It was weeks of me reading and re-reading and making notes and talking to my much smarter friends to confirm my suspicions, and I'd like to think that by the end I understood most of it.  And, with that understanding came a kind of satisfaction.

The bizarre part is that there's no rhyme or reason to the subject matter I work on.  One week it might be the circulatory system, the next month it could be physics, after that I'll want to know about colonial politics, maybe something about dinosaurs will catch my eye, and how DO they make marshmallows, and where ARE memories stored, and on, and on, hurtling randomly through the internet and, now, multiple magazine subscriptions.

My only hang up with the whole process is that there isn't really any end goal.  My job doesn't get easier with most of this new knowledge.  My finances aren't sparkling.  My dog can't drive a car or mend my clothes.  I mean other than the knowledge itself I really have nothing to show for it.  The line I feed myself to justify it is that as I understand ANYTHING better I understand EVERYTHING better, but that was something I came up with when I was a Buddhist.  I have since LEARNED that I am most certainly not a Buddhist, although I do still like some of the ideas.  Nowadays I've just accepted that this is something I want to do.  Just like some people love to play tennis or play bingo.  It's not FOR anything, it's just what they like.  I like to learn about stuff, and now that I'm an adult and don't have to attend classes, I can learn all I want.

I know that I'm certainly not the only one who feels this way.  Most of my friends have this same instant attraction to fresh ideas, even if it's completely useless to them.  So, I'm thinking maybe I'm just going through a regular routine that lots of us go through.  The best I can figure it, I'm currently on stage 3 of a system I call the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Timeline of Personal Growth.

First, there is the adolescent/young adult.  I call this the Michelangelo stage of growth.  He is impulsive, carefree, fun seeking.  To him nothing really matters and consequences are few and far between, and he knows that if he ever does get into trouble that there is a support system there ready to catch him.  He is a party dude.

Second, there is the newly independent individual.  This would be the Raphael stage of growth.  He has started to realize that all actions have a reaction and that most of the time that reaction is negative.  He realizes that a lot of the decisions and opportunities that were available to him when he was young and dumb are not gone as a result of his actions and the only thing left to do is be angry about it.  His rage is fueled be entry level jobs and bills and flaky, young friends that might still be Michelangelos themselves.  Either way he's pissed, a lot.  You could say he's cool but rude.

Third, and where I think I am currently, we have the full adult.  This is the Donatello stage of growth.  At this point the individual realizes that life isn't just about lost opportunities and slights against him, real or imagined.  His life is a life of discovery.  A life of trying new things and making sure that what he's working for really matters.  It's a time when problems require solutions instead of sulking and realizing the best way to solve a problem is to get in there and figure out how to fix it himself.  He also "does machines."

Fourth, and what I think I'm heading towards, is the seasoned adult.  The Leonardo stage of Growth.  He leads.  This is the time in a man's life when he's been through a lot, and he knows how to deal with it, and everyone thinks he is a complete tool for it.  In an alternate list I'm making this is also called "Cyclopsing".  I can already feel myself starting to drift into this stage.  I've had a few Leonardo moments with younger people (I'm only 28 for Pete's sake, but it's happening).  I hear myself saying things like, "you need to pay attention, I already know how to do this so this lesson isn't for my benefit," or, "fine, don't take my advice.  It should only take you about 3 hours longer to do it that way."  This is where knowledge ends up at the end: freely available to people that don't want it.  I think those of us that are eager to learn are also eager to dispense but there doesn't seem to be a real interest in it.

I'm becoming a young Leonardo in a crowd of adult Michalangelos.

Lately, the people around me at work or on the street or in the shops have been, well, let's just say one shamble away from just being stupid zombies.  And, I'm not talking about undead zombies, I'm talking like Dahmer zombies.  Someone has injected acid into these peoples' brains and they have just completely lost the ability to use their words.  I know that everyone has IT stories and oh look how dumb so and so is not realizing that you can't get on the network if you TCP/IP stack is corrupted, blah blah.  This isn't it.  This shit is mind boggling.

The other day someone asked me if he needed to capitalize the numbers in his password.  I told him no and he asked me if I was sure.  I told him yes, because you can't capitalize numbers.  He let me know that you in fact can because it would just be the large version of the numbers.  I asked him how he would go about doing that and he said just hit shift and the number, just like with the letters.  I then asked him how he makes parenthesis.  He died.

It's been happening all over.  A lady called me and told me that the computer was making a funny noise.  I asked her what kind of noise and she said, "I don't know."  You don't know?  You don't know what it sounds like?  You called me!  You called me because it made a sound that you KNEW wasn't a computer sound.  Something in your head classified that noise, I'm just asking you to do it again.  In fact, I'm pretty sure you're still doing it, what with that being an involuntary brain function and you just don't want to take on the titanic responsibility of telling me whether something is going beep like a microwave or buzzing like a bee!

What about the temperature.  Is it hot?  You don't know?  How can you not know?  Did you forget what warm feels like?  Let's try it another way.  Touch the computer for me.  OK, now how do you feel about the computer?  Do you trust it?  Because if you do then you should probably shut it off and let it sit for a while.

Even that joke required an effort of personal education on my part.

People are rebelling in some sort of odd, destructive way against having to know anything.  They refuse to learn even the smallest bit of new information and I can only imagine it's because they're afraid of what all information inevitably does, which is change something.  Information is the power to repair or redirect with facts and logic.  Information can heal the sick and defeat evil.  It is truly a source of power, but what with you all being fucking terrified of any kind of responsibility outside of a job a robot DOG could do, that's just not something you're going to pursue.

Well fuck you.  Fuck you for REFUSING to assimilate ANYTHING.  Because as much as you like to bitch to the rafters when you have to learn something super hard like a color or someone's name, you sure as hell expect me to know about 10x the volume of that in the form of complex technical knowledge.  Where do you think that comes from?  How do you think I came to know the things that I learned?

It's not like I gleaned them from the special crystals in my shuttle craft as I escaped from my exploding home planet as a baby.  Although, I can see in your faces that you aren't ready to completely rule that out yet.  No, I read books, I found examples, I did the work, and now I am learn'ed.  No one came by and stabbed me in the back of the head with a rod and then all of a sudden I knew kung fu.  Although, to be fair, if I am ever actually stabbed in the back of the head then it will probably be because I don't know kung fu.  And if you think that this makes me view myself as better than you, my thirst for knowledge and my drive to understand the systems of the world, well you damn well better believe that it does.  Because you know what?  If I, as a human being, at least TRY to understand something then I am working towards the overall betterment of what we are as a species, and you could do that too, with so little effort, but you just don't.  You're all just sitting on the boat while the scary man lets you know that there's no earthly way of knowing, which direction we are going.  All because you're fine with being stupid.

I hate the word stupid.  I hate it, because it's always ascribed to those that do NOT deserve it.  When someone wants to learn and they try and it doesn't work, but they keep that fire inside them of WANTING to know the why's and the how's well then they will never be stupid.  It's impossible.  Stupid is an end result and they are forever in the process of learning.

No.  You.  You people are stupid.  The people that give up or decide that knowledge is a burden that you have to sit through as a child and with the freedom of adulthood comes the freedom from learning anything ever again.  You are the people that I can not stand to be around.  The people that shrug.  The people that say, "Iontknow."  The people that just roll their eyes and shut off when they even THINK that something new is coming their way.  They say we use 10% of our brains, but you guys must have a hefty cluster of neurons in your ass because I'm not seeing any lights on in the penthouse.

You are, in the purest sense I can mean it, degenerates.

I want to be clear that this isn't just a work rant, this is a life rant.  I understand that the country is in the toilet, but I'm in the toilet too and I can not fathom how "remain an idiot" makes it to the tops of peoples' "to do" lists.  Animals don't even do this.  I'm a squirrel, there's a noise, was it a predator, Iontnkow.  EATEN.

This looking at your shoes and shrugging bullshit has got to stop, at least in my immediate area if you can help it.  For fuck's sake it's like being surrounded by the "bad kids" in every after school special, ever.  Hey you want to go to the library?  No way man, I stole half a cigarette and I'm totally going to smoke it while listening to a walkman.

Yeah, well, OK Judd Nelson.  You go ahead and do that.  The rest of us will be over here trying not to contribute negatively to the global wide fuck up that is the 21st century.

I don't really like to ever say I believe in anything because one thing that stuck with me from that pesky Buddha was that people who attach themselves to an idea are then destined to suffer through the failures of that idea.  But, one idea I'll say I'm quite fond of is the idea that the ability to learn about the world and ourselves is a privilege and a responsibility.  Knowing more than other people can be a point of pride, it can be a basis for competition, hell it can even be a turn on, but one thing it always is is a duty to everyone with the ability to learn.

One of the things that makes me feel truly happy in this world is when my wife asks me a question.  I know that might not be the most sane thing a husband has ever said but hear me out.  It's not just that she's asking me but it's the way that she asks me.  When she asks me a question it is blunt, spur of the moment, and can be about absolutely anything in existence.  It's the way a kid asks a parent a question, with that complete trust that they will get an answer.

She doesn't think about what I like or where I've been or who I've met.  There's no check, there's no filter.  It's just BAM what determines when it rains, BAM what temperature does water boil in Celsius, BAM how many guys are on a hockey team.  She asks me questions like she asks Google questions, and I have to tell you that I am absolutely honored by that, every time.  Not because I always have the answer and I get to show off.  My average for being able to tell her what she's asking for would be awesome, if I were on a baseball card.  It's just that she knows that I like to poke around in everything and no matter what she wants to know about there's a chance that I've learned a little bit about it.

I try to extend this honor to my friends I was talking about before.  The ones that would drill my ass into the dirt in a "who knows more about stuff" competition.  I hope that they also feel that warmth of being that one can get when one is recognized as a source of information.

That's a warmth you'll probably never know.

But it doesn't have to be that way.  You can change at any time in any way.  If for nothing else than selfish hubris, learn something knew.  Even if it's to lord it over your fellow troglodytes, just do it.  Maybe the rest of us will get lucky and something inside of you will start to wake up and I won't have to scream at you anymore because you can't figure out that your username on your profile is just your name.

It's just your name!  Just type your fucking name in!  I hate you so much!

Chiggie Von Richthofen

P.S.  I lied, this isn't actually a coupon.  I just didn't think you'd read it otherwise.

No comments: