Friday, June 3, 2016

Sacred Stupidity

Here in the DoD, we don’t just work on deviance.  We also farm - because having one job with a vanishingly small success rate just wasn’t enough for us.  We ambitiously need two, and the more luckless the better.  And, since it’s summer, we’re mixing deviance and farming (ok, mostly the latter), so forgive a predilection for agriculture talk. 

We here at the DoD satellite ag campus are ashamed to say that we used to seriously underrate quail.  Quail have a habit of running instead of flying off immediately when you approach their habitat.  Worse yet, they run straight on away, into the open spaces and in the direction you’re heading.  So if you come upon quail, they’ll “flee,” except their version of this looks a lot like trying to lead you on a 5k jog.  So here’s the shameful admission:  We here in the DoD once thought quail exceptionally stupid on account of this.  After all, if you’ve got wings, use ‘em and, if somehow that’s not on, then at least run into some brush and hide.

Quail are in fact quite clever, since this behavior is a form of predator misdirection.  They jog instead of fly so you’ll think you might catch them and so follow.  And they run in the open since that’s going to draw you away from their covey in the brush. 

To figure this out, we at the DoD satellite ag campus had to look into things (ok, we asked our uncle) and were struck that some healthy curiosity had not blocked our low opinion of quail in the first instance.  Nature can be a hot mess, sure, but it tends not to favor deadly behaviors. 

From this sorry episode of confident ignorance, it was a short leap to radical self-doubt since, in truth, we here at DoD are ever poised to make that particular jump.  Why, we asked ourselves, would we have assumed that quail don’t know what they are about when concluding that they are stupid is surely the least interesting possibility?  Too much learning, we ruefully reflected, and you start to think you know things - even, and maybe even especially, when you don’t. 

So we here in the DoD refreshed our resolve regarding fundamentals – to wit, we decided to lead with the thought that we are stupid and leave the smug certitude to other departments.  We would praise and valorize stupidity wherever we find people earnestly owning it.  Indeed, we concluded that the “revelation of our own slowness has seemed to make all stupidity sacred.”*

*Henry James, “The Middle Years.”

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