Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Most Basic of Differing First Principles

Yesterday during a conversation with Chris's mother, I came to a most unexpected realization.

She rattled on about some reality show she watched that showed real ER doctors in real situations, and how disappointed she was that these doctors didn't "do" more.

Mel: "What do you mean?"
Jane: "All they do is hand off patients to other doctors in other areas."
Mel: "And? That's their job. Take care of emergencies and send patients to the specialists best able to deal with the problem."
Jane: "But I thought they were gods. I thought they could handle everything, and knew everything."
Mel: "That's impossible."
Jane: "But that's the way its supposed to be."
Mel: "No, that's the way you think it's supposed to be."
Jane: "But aren't they supposed to know everything?"
Mel: "No, they can't. It's something of a minor miracle that they know enough to help at all, and there's still huge gaps in scientific knowledge."

And that's when it hit me. She and I were coming from completely differing first principles. She wanted everything to be perfect, where sickness was "something wrong" and if only the doctors put their unlimited knowledge to the problem, they could fix it. I was coming from the first principle that shit happens, the world is chaotic, and when the doctors could do something, it was because of a combination of medical knowledge and medical progress made over thousands of years.

Then I realized Og was having the exact same problem in his anarchy discussions. In fact, Jane's position and Billy Beck's position could be summed up as

The world is perfect. People are perfect. If we could just keep from messing things up, everything would stay perfect.

If we could keep from getting sick, things would be perfect. If we just didn't mess with other people and kept our own boundaries, we wouldn't need government because everything would be perfect.

If only evil man would stop polluting the planet and save the polar bears, everything would be BACK to perfect.

This entire principle assumes that there is such a thing as "perfect".

My position, however, and Og's position could be summed up as

The world is chaotic and shit happens. Nothing is intrinsically perfect. Deal with it.

Humans are prone to sickness, and the only thing that keeps up from dying is concerted effort on our part, and the accumulation of medical progress as applied by those who have studied the work of those before them. People are flawed, and a very few people would make life hell for the vast majority without some sort of outside interference. The world is constantly changing, and adapting, and all life must change with it. All order in this world is a direct consequence of seeing what works (i.e. living and surviving), noticing what doesn't work (death) and diligently replicating what works (i.e. adaptation).

These are the most basic of first principles. One can either assume the world is perfect and everything wrong is due to destruction of the perfect, or can assume that the world is flawed to begin with everything good is due to hard work, observation, and diligence in the War Against Entropy.

Where do you stand?

Saturday, December 20, 2008


I am an exception. It's about time I got used to that fact.

I'm never going to be one of the crowd, I'm never going to be "normal", and stereotypes will never apply.

I am an oddity, and that's not a bad thing.

Unfortunately for most of my life I've thought of being exceptional (in the purely definitional sense) as a bad thing. In fact, for most of my life I've been so obsessed with being "normal" that I've effectively hidden who I am.

I've lost my ability to pretend I'm anything even approaching normal. Not only have I lost the ability, but I've realized I never really fooled anyone.

Thursday night was the school Advent program. I took daughter the younger with me to watch her sister perform.

If daughter the younger attended public school rather than the private Catholic school we have her enrolled in, she would quickly be diagnosed ADD and drugged. She's incredibly intelligent, incredibly spririted, strong-willed, and very easily becomes bored. She has the attention span of a nuclear physicist when she's engaged in something interesting to her, but otherwise getting her to sit still is a challenge. I spent the entire program with squirming 5 year old in my lap.

As I'm sitting there with little miss "oh look they're doing something in the back of the church" I'm looking all around me and realizing something.

I'm sitting alone. Other people are sitting alone. However, everywhere in the church there are identifiable adult "cliques" filling up entire pews.

Yes, adulthood is just like high school.

The cliques are filled with "the norm" of the school, i.e. the 90% of parents and grandparents who share the same social status, tax bracket, white collar jobs, and socialite tendencies.

The rest of us? Not so much. The older blue collar couple who decided to keep their modest house while sending their late-life, only child to the best school they could. The National Guardswoman with the IT husband and 3 kids. The mixed race family, parents recently divorced, with the firefighter dad. And me, quite possibly the youngest mom in the school, an exception myself, holding a lap full of exception.

I've tried to mix in with the normals, yet even in this situation where we at least have the kids and school in common, I'm still outside of the crowd.

About then, I figured out I would always be outside of the norm, with exceptional circumstances, exceptional kids, and exceptional husband, and an exceptional life.

That's not a bad thing. That's just how it is.

After the performance I ran into the National Guardswoman as we went to pick up our daughters from their shared classroom. She was thrilled to see me, and wanted to know how we were doing. She knows Chris used to serve, and that she can talk about her work without me shrinking away in terror at the fact that she really wanted to go to Iraq. I know that I can talk to her about what's really going on, without worrying that I will be rejected for the weirdness of my life.

About then I realized the reason I know the stories of the other exceptions is because exceptions, no matter how different they may be from each other, attract other exceptions. Others may talk about tolerance, but we have to practice the tolerance we preach, otherwise we would be quite alone. Exceptions are so used to be outside of the crowd that whenever we find each other we tend to make almost unbreakable bonds.

It's not so bad being an exception. Now I know I wouldn't have it any other way.