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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How little I know

I was watching one of those survival shows on TV the other night. This one was set in Alaska, with a number of people placed in different coves trying to survive for a certain set period of time. They were trapping fish with gill nets, building fires, fending off predators, building shelters, that type of thing. It occurred to me that I don't have the skills to do any of those things.

Then it occurred to me what an incredible number of everyday things there are that I don't know, or don't know how to do. I don't know how to operate a motorcycle, or drive a truck.

I don't even know how to cook, beyond making scrambled eggs or frying a steak. I can follow the instruction on a package, but as far as assembling ingredients myself, forget it.

Rural guys usually have a whole range of skills I don't have. They know how to hunt, or fish. They know how to clean a fish, or get the meat from a dead deer. They can identify wild animals by the sounds they make. (I've been known to mistake a squirrel scampering through dry leaves as a grizzly bear.) They can load and shoot a rifle, or shotgun. And operate an ATV. I know none of these things.

Even weekend warriors have a range of skills I don't have. I can't mountain climb, or orient myself in the wilderness. I haven't tried to set up a tent since I was a kid, and couldn't now. I wouldn't know which plants are edible, and which are poisonous.

Guys who are handy around the house know a lot more than me. I don't know how to operate a power saw, or fix the plumbing, or rewire an electrical outlet. I don't know how to resurface the driveway.

All sorts of fields of intellectual endeavor where I know next to nothing.

I know little about the law, other than to hire a lawyer if I'm in trouble.

I know little of geology, about the earth's various layers, and so on.

I seem to know a lot of history buffs, but I can't myself as one of them. Half the people who write into this blog seem to know historical facts I'm unacquainted with.

As far as music, I know what I like. But I can't play any instruments, I can't read music, and I certainly can't write it.

I know next to nothing about art, or architecture.

I'm incredibly narrow when it comes to sports. I've made an effort to stay in shape, but never learned how to ski, or play tennis, or wind surf, or skate, or any number of other things. And when the talk turns to football, or basketball, or baseball, I just clam up, because I don't know anything about them.

I don't know how to dress a wound, or set a bone, or jump start a failing heart.

Most of the things mentioned above don't particularly interest me. What's worse is that I somehow never bothered to explore many of the things that do. I just let them slide, as I have so much else in my life.

Evolution was the one subject I studied in college which really set me on fire, and I always meant to pursue that further, but never really did.

I'm interested in zoology, but these days that passion gets indulged in the lowest brow, watching-animal-fights-on-Youtube sort of way.

My knowledge of science is sadly lacking. I always meant to take a look at physics, just to see if it was as difficult as people say, but never got around to it.

My knowledge of highbrow literature is spotty. I always meant to read some of the Great Books, but never got around to it.

Speaking of great books, I've always meant to take a close look at the Bible, but somehow never got around to that, either. My understanding of other religions is similarly lacking.

When you're younger, you can always sort of vaguely plan to do these things in the future. But at 62, I'm forced to be more realistic. These are all things I'll never learn.

Even the stuff I once knew I've forgotten, since I never used it. Calculus, for example. (I just never had the need to calculate the area under a curve in my everyday life.) I can't even speak my first language, Japanese, any more.

Cavemen had to be generalists. They had to know how to hunt, cook (to the extent they did that), make clothing, construct a shelter, travel by the stars, find water, know which plants were edible, etc.

As society has progressed we've all gotten narrower. The nature of modern society is that we all specialize, learn a trade, and rely on others to fill in the rest of our needs. And mostly, I'm just a creature of my time.

Still, I look at my range of interests and they seem particularly narrow. It's a little like the repertoire of someone with Aspergers.

I seem to know a fair number of people with a broader range of interests, and abilities.

I suppose the worst part is that I have no particular interest in changing.


Anonymous said...

I can't believe how much time I have wasted reading the blog of an incompetent ignoramus. :) Just kidding.

If everything you say is true, it just goes to show how much an interesting, creative mind can make up for lack of knowledge or skill. The older I get, the less impressed I am with people on the basis simply of knowledge (i.e. facts). The ability to draw connections and see things others don't see is a far more interesting trait. Knowledge (facts) shows good memory and organization but little else. Not to turn this political, but I also find that liberals are far more likely to judge people on the basis of their factual knowledge (who have you read, how much history do you know and so forth). It's usually the sign of a middling intelligence to over-value such superficial traits. Liberals' distain of Trump is example of this: they fail to appreciate his intelligence because he isn't "educated".

On skills, I am in the same boat as you. But I do have regrets I haven't done more. Skills show focus, self-discipline and commitment.

Quartermain said...

Don't feel bad, I'm not much better off. I'm a little of a history buff but not a historian. I detest specialization, I hate being pigeon holed by HR making it difficult to impossible to move to something better or different. Everything you described is wide spread. TPTB don't want critical thinking self sufficient well rounded renaissance men they want specialized worker bees.

John Craig said...

Allan --
Hey, sorry for this late reply, I was out all day. True enough about the powers that be. They want everybody in their neat little slot and happy to be a niche-filler.

John Craig said...

Samuel --
Thank you, again, as with Allan, sorry for this late reply. I"m with you: I prefer original insights to programming, and so much of programming (read: "education") these days is being stuffed with a headful of political correctness that it has only a negative value. And yes, being able to wade through a pile of information and make sense of it is of more value than just being able to regurgitate it.

And, like you, I sometimes -- whenever I bother to think about it -- feel a little remiss in not having learned some of the manual skills that the WWII generation all seemed to learn in the course of growing up. But…..then I just forget about it.

And yes, Trump has much more common sense -- a more worthwhile trait -- than, for instance, the dishonest journalists at the NY Times who write about him.

Mark Caplan said...

Cavemen had to be generalists. They had to know how to hunt, cook (to the extent they did that), make clothing, construct a shelter, travel by the stars, find water, know which plants were edible, etc.

Actually cavewoman handled all those chores, except for hunting and star-gazing. This arrangement kept caveman's piercing mind uncluttered to better focus on the sublime and the transcendent.

Runner Katy said...

What you bring to your readers and friends is quite the talent, I would say. You continually learn by reading and keeping up with the political nonsense going on and sharing your insight on people and events. But after reading this, and pardon me if I'm off base, but I thought, why not take up a new hobby, skill or learn something new that you always wanted to, at age 62? I know your energy may not be what it once was, but considering how healthy you keep yourself, I see no reason you can't begin a new class. You're only 62, after all. I have several friends who began running in their 60's and now in their 70's are doing their first marathons. I doubt you would regret learning how to do something that you always aspired to do!

John Craig said...

Mark --
Ha! True enough. Hunters and gatherers definitely split the tasks by sex. I suppose I was using "cavemen" to describe both sexes.

John Craig said...

Runner Katy --
That's a good suggestion. And every now and then I think along those lines. A few years ago, after going to Spain, I thought I'd pick up Spanish. But after a few sessions I dropped it, knowing I'd never really have much opportunity to use it. And most of my other similar ideas die similar quick, ignominious deaths.

But anyway, thanks for the suggestion. (Not that I'm going to take it.)

Dave Moriarty said...


Don't feel bad the people who supposedly have skills to do things -fill prescriptions, perform office functions etc don't do them even if they can.

Try working in an office depending on others to do some things essential for your work activity. everyone has an excuse why they are not done , usually pointing to somebody else and arguing it is someone else job. no one wants to be responsible for anything so they don't bother to "own it"

so we evolved from survival of fittest -where multi talented , multi skilled players survived to survival of those who can work in a group/organization and get others to cooperate . but we have maxed out that approach and the pendulum is swinging back due to the shirking of responsibility most office workers take as normal.
So now if you want something done ... then you better do it yourself and thus back to survival of the fit.

but if you want to learn how to play paddle tennis i will show you at the Y and you can pick that up quickly

John Craig said...

Yes, I've worked in offices and know exactly what it's like. (How do you think I got to know so much about sociopaths?) I"m also well acquainted with the take-all-of-the-credit-but-non-of-the-blame ethic that reigns in such places.

Thanks for the offer but honestly, I have no desire to learn new stuff at this point. Which I guess is my problem.

Steven said...

Nobody really knows much about paleolithic people and their culture as they left no records and so its mostly speculation but based on extant tribes, a native Amazonian Indian would have a good shot at surviving on his own if dropped in a random place in the Amazon. They had all round survival skills...and there really weren't that many clothes required in the tropics. However, I'm fairly sure i'd find a way to get myself killed within about half an hour of being dropped in the Amazon.

i'm also sure you have gained more insight than most. Being helpless in the wild is just part of modern society. Though we fancy ourselves more advanced than paleolithic folk, most of us would be helpless in the wild and would also know practically nothing about how to reconstruct modern technology. Perhaps nobody would have broad enough knowledge to do so...running our human society is a massive collaborative effort, and it is built on all past generations and their incremental developments. Pretty amazing really. Perhaps that is the flaw of individualism..we are all completely dependent members of a group.

btw vis a vis your previous post, i've been drinking. can you tell and if so, how? my thoughts are probably a bit random.

John Craig said...

Steven --
You're right about how most of us -- if not all of us -- would be helpless in the wild. But there are degrees of helplessness. I, personally, have no survival skills that would set me apart from anybody else. There are a few people -- the Bear Grylls-types -- who are a lot better. But if you've ever seen that show Naked and Afraid, it's also striking how many people who are self-styled survivalists are also helpless, or at least a lot more so than they'd fancied themselves to be.

Interesting question. Honestly, I would never have guessed that you'd been drinking from your comment. And now that I know, the only thing that's different is that you haven't bothered to capitalize about seven or eight letters that should have been capitalized, which is a little sloppy. Compare your comment above with, say, your comment after the other post you refer to, the one about alcohol and alcoholics. Your comment there had all of the capitalizations where they should have been. This one, no. But as I said, I would never have known if you hadn't pointed it out.

Anonymous said...

Hey, don't sell yourself short! You forgot to mention you write an interesting blog.

- Gardner

John Craig said...

Gardner !!

Thank you….though I'm not sure I can forgive your long unexcused absence.

Actually, I was going to say something about how all I'm really qualified to do is write an impressionistic blog about current events, since that's all I do, browse the news, rather than sit myself down and learn a new subject in a disciplined fashion. And I consider myself qualified because my bs detector is in working order.

But I didn't say it because that sounds sort of pretentious. (Doesn't it?)

Anonymous said...

You're such a boomer.

Sounding pretentious and self-promotion are de rigueur these days.

Sorry for being MIA. I've been down the rabbit hole on a project. Coming up for air.

- Gardner

John Craig said...

Gardner --
I guess I am. My son tells me the same.

Hope the project is fulfilling. You've been relatively coy, so all I know about you is you were/are a journalist, and have big eyes, so I picture you as the Kate Mara character on House of Cards. Which I guess would make Paul Ryan your current source….

Steven said...

I had had about 5 pints of lager before I wrote that. My soccer team were in a final and lost. One isn't firing on all cylinders after drinking but it can loosen you up and give you a bit of inspiration (or at least you think so at the time).

I relate to what you're saying but you've gained more insight into a lot of things than most and I'm sure you know plenty. There's actually a kind of contentment in your attitude to things you haven't learnt. I hope you can appreciate the beauty in life, something I've always valued a lot. Its not all about information.

I'm sure you didn't need any kind of reassurance from me, or anyone, but there you go. I know I'm glad to have crossed paths with you....virtual paths at least.

Lastly, I'd be in support of Gardner commenting more. If there's a petition, I'll sign it.

John Craig said...

Steven --
Thank you, it's been my pleasure. I'd actually written this post thinking that others would relate, we all have intellectual interests we've never pursued, and we're all a little regretful about the paths we've left unexplored. But somehow the post ended up being more self-abnegating than I'd originally intended, so people have ended up feeling obliged to reassure me. Oh well.

As far as Gardner goes, I'm afraid she's immune to petitions….or pleas. She's bright and irreverent, and therefore always fun to hear from. But those two qualities tend to go hand in hand with "headstrong," so she'll come and go as she pleases.

Anonymous said...

Flattery will get you everywhere.

Well, practically everywhere.

I was writing a book.

- Gardner

P.S. I HATED the Kate Mara character. She is to reporters what Kraft Singles are to cheese.

John Craig said...

Gardner --
Sorry, but as long as you're not more forthcoming you're consigned to Kate Mara-hood.

You could start by telling us -- or me, I promise not to post your comment if you ask me not to -- what the book is about.