Sunday, April 3, 2011

I'll Take Your Word For It. Except Not Really.

“Caring about stuff binds us to the other people who care about that stuff and that creates the communities that make life worth living.” - John Green

In other words, fandom is awesome because you get to geek out over stuff with people. 

"Everything has been figured out, except how to live." - Jean-Paul Sartre

Now on that I would have to disagree. There's a fair amount of science-y stuff we don't know, and the phenomenon of love (of any and all kinds) is way too complicated and multi-faceted and such to have been really figured out as a whole, which brings me to today's topic: taking people's word for things.

When it comes to books or movies or tv shows or music, it's pretty safe to take people's word. If you and Person X like a lot of the same things, and Person X likes Thing A, chances are you'll like it too. Obvious and boring. Moving on.

What's less easy to trust people on is the future. Here's a quote from Hank Green that I've been thinking about rather a lot lately: "Do not trust anyone who is telling you the way the world is going to be for you."

Because there have been a lot of things that have happened this year that don't match up with any of the stereotypes, or assumptions, or stories, or predictions with which I have been presented.
Humanity as a whole is far too diverse (and complicated, and multi-faceted, to quote myself from above) for everything to be the same for everyone.

We can only tell others the way things were/are for us. We can only say "this is a possibility, and this how it played out." Which, don't get me wrong, is a useful thing to be told. It gives us something on which to base ourselves and our interactions, as well as helping us to keep realistic expectations. But people are people, and people are different.
The trick, I think, is to find the balance between treating everyone the same, and treating everyone as an entirely different type of life form. Neither extreme is a good idea, obviously, but where in the middle is it best to go?
You have to assume some things, but if you assume too many, things don't always turn out as well as they might have otherwise (and no, I don't have anything particular in mind when I say that, so you don't have to try and read in-between the lines).

But Hank isn't saying to never trust anyone who tells you anything about the world. He's saying that life is full of surprises: "I majored in biochemistry, and now I'm a professional Internet moron."

So like all good Ravenclaws, we need to "cum grano salis," which is rough Latin for "take it with a grain of salt." 
(And no, I don't actually know that much Latin. I just googled the phrase to make sure it meant what I thought it meant, and the Wikipedia article happened to have the Latin for it, so I thought I'd sound all sophisticated and such.)

Comment Question: What Hogwarts house are you? It occurs to me this is something Harry Potter fans should exchange, particularly about those of you I know IRL.


  1. Gryffindor, Honor,decency, loyalty and all that

  2. I can't speak latin, but I do know never to tickle a sleeping dragon... :)

    I'm guessing Ravenclaw, since I'm INTJ/INTP (depending on mood) and that seems to be what most of the tests are based on. I wonder how many slytherins can actually get "Slytherin" as a result though... I don't know, I just wrote this so that I could make a useless harry potter quote.

  3. I still have to finish the series but I like Gryffindor although, looking up the Houses, I think I would fit in with Hufflepuff.

    I have to say that I like Slytherin's style. I don't see myself as cruel but I love Snape...or maybe it's Alan Rickman that I like the most. I still love when he was trying to reverse the spells on HP in book one...

  4. Wow, this might be a long comment, because there is a lot of great stuff in your post.

    So, when I heard that John quote I agreed, because shared enthusiasms are an important way to connect with other people. But in addition to bringing these communities together, our shared enthusiasms provide the context for our communal thoughts. For example, when you say a Ravenclaw you convey a lot of information in one word conditional on someone sharing the Harry Potter context. Speaking of my BEDA attempt at Ning, I did a post about this there: Ning blog

    As for the Hank quote, where is it from?

    As for our future, it is sort of a probability space. Most anything is theoretically possible, but it turns out that some things are a lot more likely than others, so we can pick out some good guesses. Which are inevitably wrong in some details, but broadly accurate.

    Finally, I think a good argument could be made for any of the houses except Hufflepuff. If I were given Harry's choice I probably would go with Ravenclaw, expecting to find lots of people in both Gryffindor and Slytherin insufferably self-confident about their inherent correctness.

  5. Oh, that's true about "Ravenclaw." I hadn't thought of that.
    The Hank quote is from "A Message To The Class of 2009," which is possibly the non-music video of his I know best.
    And now I'm cringing at the thought of the Shrodinger wave equation for the Future, since you referred to it as probability space...oh god...

  6. Thanks for the quote provenance.

    Every day a sea of infinite possibility throws up a wave, which crests upon the shore and collapses into sea-foam, mist, magic, and you! And yes, I firmly believe that "quantum physics" is the rational scientist's version of, "a wizard did it."

    Saw that you are reading Tamora Pierce, she would probably be my JK Rowling. Also, I meant to ask why you wished you got The Thief on CD?

  7. Haha, that's a great way of describing it.

    I am not actually reading Tamora Pierce right now. I love her books, but my Shelfari widget is misbehaving for some weird reason and displaying books from my "Have Read" rather than "Am Reading." I didn't change the code for it, so...I don't know what's going on there.

    I've listened to a lot of fantasy on CD. I think the vibe of the genre speaks (sorry for the pun) more to me orally than text-wise, just because it's so epic-legend-y. Or something. I don't really know. I've never gotten that impression from a book before.

  8. That's interesting reasoning. I guess I have never had the patience for audio books, as I can read through them faster (given sufficient time to devote to reading) than I can listen to them. That said, I can see how the oral format could have a more epic feeling.

    I also wanted to comment on the Sarte quote, which I really like. If we figure out how we ought live, what else is there important to learn? Granted, it isn't the only thing we have left to learn, just the only important thing left.

  9. I find audio books incredibly useful for multi-tasking. I can do homework, or listen to them while walking after school and such when reading a textual book wouldn't be practical.

  10. As I trek backwards through your blog, I'd like to stop and make note of the fact that I am most definitely a Ravenclaw.


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