My Grandpa Rod was an accountant, but even he had questions when it came to doing his own income taxes.
When he called the help line, he never asked questions he needed answered, not right off. He asked several to which he already knew the answer. If the person got them right, then my grandfather asked what he didn’t know. If the person got the first questions wrong, he thanked the fellow, hung up, and tried again with someone else.
I remembered this and have since done my best to keep it foremost in mind in all of my dealings.
The appearance of ignorance is often the wisest thing one can do.
* * *
I know people watch things like Leno’s segment “Jaywalking” and are appalled at the stupidity of the common person. But suspiciously, the people interviewed have no incentive to get questions right and know they’ve a good chance to get on TV if they answer dumbly enough.
Instead I watch Discovery Channel’s “Cash Cab,” a quiz show picking up random people in New York and paying them for answering trivia correctly until they get to their destination. And I’m astounded by the brilliance of individuals, and groups especially.
* * *
We often think people of previous times were much more ignorant than they actually were.
I once read a textbook showing an example of prehistoric brain surgery. A section of skull had been neatly removed and the subject apparently lived for many years after.
The book said the surgeons probably thought their subject had evil spirits in his head and they were trying to let them out.
The authors didn’t have enough faith in the human race.
* * *
Some people already doubt the validity of moon landings. It comes as no surprise that the ancient monoliths of humankind are often doubted to have been accomplished on their own, not by people with the technology that archeology tells us was available to them. Fantastic explanations have been invented. But human ingenuity is itself fantastic, far more, and real.
In past days, genius was diluted in the sweat and blood of peasants and slaves. Today individual genius is on spectacular display, pure and magnified, by the rushing about of individuals, turning on their lights, driving their cars, popping their fireworks.
Marvelous! What we have made, not for the ego of pharaohs or whim of kings but for and to the delight of all.
Truly our collective individuality is wonderful.
* * *
In the future it is plausible, perhaps even probable, that having mapped the human genome, we will be able to alter the DNA of zygotes and fetuses in the womb and smooth away all genetic imperfections.
Yet I’m wary of this more than anything because the stones builders refused have repeatedly proven themselves cornerstones, because our strength as a race is made perfect in weakness, and especially how we overcome it. While I would tell no one that their child should be sick or disabled, we’ve seen much good come from it, just as even something so terrible as the bubonic plague was a tragedy in each individual case but washed away feudalism and helped make the Renaissance and glorious modernity possible.
Suppose the whole world was full of perfect people, superior to us in every way. Would their society be better or preferable? Or would it lack the energy, and the weakness, that has kept the human race striving for better all of these years?
I’m not sure. But I do know that being flawed and apparently so terrible, I don’t trust any human to guide the direction of our perfection.