Thursday, 2 February 2012


Critical Thinking lessons are really useful in some respects, in that they inspire interesting discussions, and they get people thinking. And then, they are also a reminder of the common attitudes that get on my nerves.

Humans are efficient creatures. We're always hunting the quickest path from A to B, and this is such a subtle, instinctive part of us that most of the time we don't even know we're doing it. People often scratch their heads at Rube Goldberg machines because they go out of their way to do all kinds of fancy engineering feats to engineer a simple task. There's nothing wrong with it, it just takes longer. But somehow, the idea of inefficiency has become a source of derision. It's considered an insult to be "slow"; we take care to avoid redundancy, doing the same thing twice; we talk of "functioning members of society". All in all, everything points to humans being animals that care a lot about efficiency.

So it should be little surprise to me that in the eyes of society, it is bizarre, deviant, strange to do something that is useless, without a purpose, inefficient. That people would double-take, look at you quizzically and ask "Why did you do that?" when there may have been no reason at all. Pointless actions that do harm are unjustifiable, because as defined, they do harm. A random murder spree episode is morally unjust because people's lives have been taken against their consent, vitiating one of the most basic human principles: treat as you wish to be treated.

But when pointless actions bring no harm, then the inefficiency stigma becomes strange. Do your best, for a minute, to cast away every innate idea you have about the way things should be, and ask yourself: if a man wants to go to the local shop through a winding route that takes him past London (I live a county away,) can you find an objection based on solid principles of objective reasoning for this? Does it make sense? No. Is he hurting anyone in taking the "scenic" route? No. Well, okay, maybe his fuel meter, but economical considerations aside, the man is not unjustified in doing something inefficient. Perhaps this is where people get confused, and think that if something isn't justified, per se, then it is unjustified, ergo, "You should stop doing that."

The discussion originated when we were talking about college. I asked Tom what he wanted to study, and he said Media Studies, and I confess I've forgotten what the other two was. I can't really remember quite where the conversations went because right now I'm tired as heck, but I remember that journalism came up, and Frances says to me that "Your head is full of useless facts that nobody would ever need to know," or something along those lines. That was what inspired this post, because of how unfair a statement that was, and it got me thinking about the societal idea of everything having to have a purpose.

What I do doesn't have to have a purpose. I study various subjects: philosophy, religion, ethics, logic, parts of linguistics such as morphology, etymology, syntax, etc. because they interest me. I learn things because I like to acquire knowledge. I learn these things to broaden my horizons, I learn how to learn and how to understand the world to get a better sense of the world around me. I learn the subjects that fascinate me because the world is so complex, and if I can chip away at its mysteries, piece by piece, the more I'll come to appreciate the life I have. That the thoughts and ideas in my head could be so sweepingly dismissed, brushed aside and branded "useless" is just plain hurtful and inconsiderate.

Life doesn't have an innate meaning, it's not written in the stars. But I bring my own meaning to my life: I want to live a good life, a life full of love and happiness. I don't care if everything I do along the way has a specific purpose. And if I want to go to Tesco via London, nobody's gonna fucking stop me.

~Love Leonidas

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