Saturday, April 26, 2014
reasoning with armadillos
There is no reasoning with armadillos or daisies.
If you doubt this, just try it.
And perhaps the same might be said for human beings, no matter how heart-felt the encomiums for man's "rational nature" or "ability to reason." No matter how sweetly-reasoned, still there is the armadillo factor. Sometimes I think it is strange how unreasonable reasonable people can be about the power and capacity of reasoning.
Last night, I was gabbing on the phone with Michael. The two of us got off on our lives and reasonings prior to joining the military. Michael went into combat but I did not. Nevertheless, our youthful hopes and doubts before joining up were pretty similar.
My experience was this: As a freshman in college, I successfully pleaded "conscientious objector" to the obligatory Reserve Officer Training Corps classes on campus. I wasn't religious and I don't remember what arguments I made that convinced the colonel to whom I made them. Maybe he just figured that an objector would not be good for corps morale ... or that I was another one of those assholes. I don't know. Whatever the colonel's reasons, I was off the ROTC hook.
Two years later, I signed on the bottom line and became a member of the U.S. Army. I was 20. The national draft was in effect so you either had to go or run away to Canada or get pregnant or have a politically and financially well-positioned parent. I wasn't looking for an out.
My father, who had been too young for World War I and too old for World War II and who had a Ph.D. and taught college courses, was aghast at my decision. I was, as he told a friend, "a fairly intelligent young man." How could a fairly intelligent young man make so unintelligent a decision?!
I considered his disapproval. I considered my previous pleas for conscientious objector status. Was I just some nitwit hypocrite who changed his principles at the drop of a hat? I thought about it quite a lot and what it finally came down to resonates with me to this day:
"I would rather have the experience than the virtue."
Right or wrong, intelligent or stupid, there it was, out in the open -- the armadillo factor.
An armadillo is just an armadillo. A 20-year-old is just a 20-year-old. A 20-year-old might long not to be thought of as an ignoramus, but also there is some bit of hard-wiring that knows experience makes a credible and effective adult. Talking the talk was good, but walking the walk was ... well ... adult. Good experience, bad experience, sound experience, unsound experience, wise experience, unwise experience ... experience which was so sorely lacking at 20 needed to be improved, widened ... even at the expense of making a vast mistake. Philosophy and morality without experience ... well, who hasn't heard the hollow-drum resonances of those who can parrot virtue -- or even make symphonies around it -- but can't find their own ass with both hands?
Experience never turns out to be what was envisioned. No one can see into the future and so the future is always a surprise. And the notion that experience is the sole arbiter of a credible human existence is as screwy as the notion that reason alone can light the way or mold a backbone. But I sympathize with the young man I was -- stupid as a box of rocks, perhaps -- who set out, daisy-fashion, to be whatever daisy happened to evolve.
Thinking -- ad nauseam -- about all this doesn't change my abhorrence of a war I never experienced, for example. I can find no fault in my father's attempts to dissuade me from joining the military. But I think life is eased somewhat to think that others set out to find experience because that's what daisies, armadillos and people do. Whatever the dangers and whatever the delights, that's just what happens.
Santayana's suggestion that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" is too smug by half: Of course the mistakes of the past will be repeated. Why? Because the past of the wise and wizened is not the past of the bright daisies of the present. There is no transmitting of experience except among the deluded. The wise and wizened may be 100% right, but, armadillos are armadillos, daisies are daisies and people are people.
I may pray like fury that my children will not make the mistakes I have, but my prayers and a couple of bucks will get me a bus ride. There's no reasoning with armadillos or daisies.