The Capacity for Understanding

As I was reading some of my old blog posts, looking for a reason to cling to hope for humanity, I came upon the following words which were included in a longer sentence:

…we must be capable of acknowledging and recognizing the incalculably vast differences between butterflies and locomotives.

One would never know it by reading those words alone, but the subject of the post was the complexity of saws—the devices we use, for example, to cut wood. I wrote about the unique and necessary lexicon, which I discovered by chance while wandering the internet, surrounding saws.

It occurred to me, as I read that sentence from my old post, humans are far more complex, even, than I have acknowledged. Even the dull, dim-witted, downright stupid among us are capable of distinguishing millions—maybe even billions—of unique characteristics and attributes of pieces of the universe around us. We can be trained, or train ourselves, to understand many of the minute differences between elements of the physical world. Surely, then, we can be trained or can train ourselves to understand the similarities and the differences between elements in the intellectual landscape. That is to say there’s hope for even the dull, dimwitted, and downright stupid to grasp, on at least a basic level, the full spectrum of ideas related to any given subject.

All right, maybe my optimism is misplaced. Maybe even a basic understanding of the full spectrum of ideas is beyond many of us. But the fact that almost all of us can readily acknowledge and recognize how butterflies and locomotives differ from one another is worth celebrating. That capacity is a reasonable baseline to describe intellectual facility. Or, at least, it is an attribute worthy of note.

Even after last night’s debacle in Iowa (which has yet to be resolved), I can feel a few shreds of optimism about my fellow human beings. But to be honest, those shreds start to degrade into brittle fibers as I contemplate what Trumpian thugs are sure to make of the situation. Ah, but I must return to the wondrous reality that even Trumpian thugs can see and appreciate and understand the differences between butterflies and locomotives. Though the Trumpian thugs are doing all they can to eradicate the butterflies and replace them with coal-powered locomotives, spewing soot and ash and planet-killing carbon dioxide.

The fragility of my hopefulness is clear to me. I vacillate between low-level joy and overwhelming despair.

I don’t have time for this. I took a break from writing to check on my wife. She was sick all day yesterday with an awful cough and she’s in bed now with an ice-pack on her head. I must devote my attention to her well-being, considerations of the viability of humankind be damned.  I’d better go check on the status of the ice-pack.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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