Prowling the Sagacities, Perplexed

In the Fourteenth Week of the Leacock Anniversaries in 2019, on Monday, June 24th, in collaboration with our scouts Astranasus and Mnemochirianne (see last week’s post), I persist in the effort to corral, tame, and put to work the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice.

In the good old days, when a knight errant received word of a pestilent dragon, he simply suited up, saddled his horse, rode out, and slew it: a simple linear set of tasks. If our scouts can be relied upon,—and I think they can,—our set is decidedly non-linear. They bring us word of a creature, called the Yottapede, whom we have created and who is engaged upon the jocund task of shaping and thus creating us, on whom we are parasitic, and who is parasitic upon us. The dragon, in other words, is both an independent being operating on us from outside, and a part of ourselves operating from within. Whatever we do to the Yottapede, we do to ourselves. I have suspected right from the start that that might be the case, which is why I speak always of taming the Yottapede and putting it to work, not slaying it.

Or rather, I speak of taming the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and putting it to work. Are the two tamings and puttings to work the same operation? Or are they simply closely related?

I believe that I may have chosen my scouts well. Mnemochirianne, being a centaur, is both horse and human. Horses are a most conspicuous example of a wild creature whom we have tamed and put to work, whom we have adapted, who has adapted to us, and who has adapted uks. The art of whispering horses, that is, taming them without breaking their spirit, is known. I served notice last week that we need to learn to whisper the Yottapede.

Astranasus, the star-nosed mole, serves as a supreme example of a creature who, on its own, has learned most unusually how to adapt its senses and skills of daily living in order to take advantage of fruitful environments and circumstances beyond the reach of others. Detecting, through the long, slow process of evolution, an environment containing food but where sight, sound, and even smell were of little use, this enterprising creature grew a set of foveated tendrils and learned to do the job by touch. We, wallowing in what I am calling the Charged Ooze, are still trying to find our way using the senses on which we  habitually rely, primarily sight, and intellectual processes related to sight. I make no judgement yet about the senses and their respective intellectual extensions that we will need to navigate the Charged Ooze. I merely suggest they may not be the old accustomed ones.

We may not have as much time as it took the star-nosed mole, because Nature now seems disinclined to wait around while we figure it out. The Yottapede, as it began to form, as we began to form it, all those centuries ago, believed it could conquer Nature. Nature always had ways of fighting back when our notions of conquering went beyond sophisticated forms of symbiosis into brutal violence. “Okay,” says Nature, “if you want to be violent, so can I.” The problem for us is this: Nature may or may not turn out to be more powerful than the Yottapede. Recent evidence, and much history, suggests it is. In any case we know this for sure: Nature does not care about the survival of individuals, nor even of species. If Nature, to ensure her own survival, needs to get rid of us, she will do so. We pride ourselves on our adaptability, but ours is nothing compared to Nature’s. And she doesn’t care how long it takes.

Recently, for reasons entirely exogenous to the Leacock Anniversaries, I have been spending a great deal of time with William Wilfred Campbell, a dead, almost entirely forgotten Canadian poet and writer who as a young man spent two years as a school teacher. His biographer tells us that he “opened the book of knowledge to his youngest pupils and to others almost as old as himself with the frequent interjection, ‘It’s only common sense, only common sense and reason, that’s all.'” (Carl F. Klinck, Wilfred Campbell, p. 25). Ah Wilfred, it’s not only that. It’s not even primarily that. Stephen Leacock teaches us it’s a creative blend of Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour. There’s one big problem with common sense: it’s common. We are an uncommon species in an unprecedented pickle. We are going to need uncommon sense.

We are going to need uncommon sense just to survive, let along tame the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. And it we can’t tame it, at least to some workaday extent, what’s the point of survival?

Next week I will ask Mnemochirianne to give us some pointers on whispering the Yottapede. Or I will ask Astranasus to teach us to use our senses uncommonly. Or I will keep wandering around in a receptive frame of mind as I have since the week of March 28th until something useful happens.

Maybe I can find out something about whispering the Yottapede by re-exploring the ideas of Stephen Leacock on Education. Has Education been taken over by the Yottapede? Perhaps it has. Maybe we should find out, or at least what kind of Education might help to tame it.

Posted by Paul Conway

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