Saturday, June 4, 2016

DoD Institutes Moratorium on Invocations of Gadflies

We here at the DoD seek to lead with the idea that deviants know best what they are about and so generally eschew limits of most kinds.  However, we’ve really had it up to here (“here” being way up high, like above our heads, as far as our arms can reach high) with gadflies.  Well, that’s not it exactly.  What troubles us nigh unto perishing is people invoking the gadfly to explain their own ratty behavior.  Yes, we know that there is a long and storied history of useful gadflies, those stingers of the staid and stale among us.  But here’s the rub:  Thinking you’re the gadfly is, we have ruefully concluded, generally a bad idea, not least because: 

a) Thinking you’re the gadfly, the one delivering stinging truths to an otherwise bovine population, requires high confidence in oneself coupled with low estimation of others, a posture ill-suited to our fundamental mission here at DoD, the quest to know more things.  Sure, Socrates – that gadfly we count as both blessing and curse upon us all – got away with some of this, but he also had a daemon.  So, get a daemon, then we’ll talk.

b) Yes, thinking you’re a gadfly can be a marvelous alibi when you’re counting the reasons people don’t like you, but the risks of puling self-flattery are high here.  While it’s historically true that gadflies came in for some serious dislike, it would be high folly to act as if the only or most plausible reason people dislike you is that you’re just so much the bomb at telling hard truths nobody else can see.  Even worse, to imagine that others’ dislike of you is proof of gadfly status.  Yes, right, they also hate you because you’re beautiful. 

c) Maybe – just maybe – thinking you’re a gadfly is a self-defeating thought.  Sort of like thinking you’re wise.  Start thinking these things about yourself and you carry yourself several long strides away from them.  Leave it to others to decide if you’re a gadfly.  Or if you’re wise.  Less chance you’ll be wrong then, we think.

d) Finally, is there anything more bathetic than thinking you’re a gadfly when you’re really just practicing some garden-variety juvenile rudeness?  Probably, but we’d not want to find out.  And, at any rate, we prefer our self-satirizing burlesque to be of the intentional sort, not something we stumble into out of misplaced self-valorization.

For all of these reasons, we here at the DoD have decided that for the foreseeable future, we shall eschew invocations of the gadfly.  We recognize that this will leave us without rhetorical cover for a host of socially disagreeable sins and ills, but, well, that’s sort of the point.

Joint Colloquium Plans Disintegrate into Mayhem

Alert to how admin loves “collaboration” and “interdisciplinarity,” the DoD recently experimented with the idea of holding joint colloquia with the Department of Normalcy.  Our first colloquium was to be a session on Meiji era European philosophy, but planning quickly foundered on the rocks of what to call the session. 

Our Normal colleagues protested identifying any philosophy as “European,” saying such would be but trite “identity politics” and that the best philosophies cannot be contained within cultural markers.  In return, DoD representatives were simply confused:  Why not listen to the European philosopher first – after all, how the hell should we know whether European-ness matters in advance of encountering some?  We might even need to ask that European some questions and hear some answers.  Heck, we might even need to tarry in some heady uncertainty about ourselves before our questions even become good ones.

From there, the planning session went wholly off the rails – yea, verily, the trolley of “collaboration” wantonly mowed down entire villages of people just trying to get along.  What if, the Normals asked, our colloquium attracted Europeans to philosophy for the wrong reasons, seducing them into thinking their identity might matter?  Here again, deviant representatives were left wondering how the hell we would know if that’s a bad thing – after all, we’ve not yet settled on a set of right reasons for this, or indeed for all manner of human endeavors. 

It swiftly emerged that relative to our colleagues in the Department of Normalcy, we here in the DoD operate at an overwhelming a priori deficit, an affliction that has us persistently prefacing remarks with how-the-hell-should-we-know formulations.  We were game to keep trying our hand at this collaboration thing but, alas and alack, the Normal faculty departed the meeting as soon as the stale institutional cookies had all been eaten.  We appear to be running at a deficit in those as well.

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.”