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Wonky (or Y Know?)

June 4, 2011

{an inexcusably late essay}


Saying you know something closes off all further discussion. The concrete sets around your feet and you’re stuck. There are very few cases when this is a good thing. Yes, there is certainty. Yes, you are anchored to something. But you also can’t adapt to changing circumstances. Thrown into a lake, you will drown, the absurd manner of your death convincing everyone of your ties to the criminal underworld (see ‘cement boots’, any Mafia encyclopedia worth its salt).

Useless knowledge might not seem dangerous, but it is, and not really because of what it is, but what you must do in order to know it – what you have to give up. Helsinki is the capital of Finland. The tongue is the strongest muscle in the body. Great, but ask ‘why?’ or ‘how?’, and most commonly you will be greeted with a shrug (or a quick blow to the head). Knowledge like this is accepted or it isn’t. No room for questions without becoming irritating.

See, to have that kind of certainty, you must let go of something else – kind of like Heisenberg’s principle writ large. In the case of useless knowledge, there are many somethings. Breadth, depth, significance, adaptability – a lot to give up on.

I am not necessarily advocating for a complete spurning of all facts, factoids, data points, trivia or anything else of that nature. Even I know how disorienting living in total awareness of how little we know would be. But what I am concerned about is the situation where knowing for the sake of knowing replaces questioning, evaluating and challenging. That instead of venturing out of our homes, we will just pile stocks of fun facts around us until they are yellow with age and tell ourselves we need no more, and maybe, more troublingly, that there is no more to need.

And I admit that I am bitter at how much I forget, but I can only hope that my own baggage does not obscure the point I am trying to make. Knowledge is only useless when we glorify it as an object to be admired rather than a tool to be used, like those Beanie Babies collectors who never took the tags off of those delightful stuffed animals. Collecting, arranging and owning for no real purpose are dangerous and alienating actions. You can hope that someone will appreciate your display, but why does TLC document the stories of the world’s leading collectors of dolls, and farm implements and salt and pepper shakers – only to show that they are living alone?

In an age where Trivia Nights are far and few between (actually I have no real idea of the frequency with which Trivia Nights take place, so call me on it), useless knowledge is a handicap, forcing us to stay still instead of engaging with the world.

Maybe we should view knowing not as a destination, but an incentive to keep looking. Maybe, chipping away the cement around your feet, and taking the facts and figures out of their dusty museum cases, you should use the things you have stored away to do something besides sit, cluttered, in your mind. The rainy day you are waiting for will never come (unless you literally need a rainy day, in which case come to Toronto).


You know. I know. So what?


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