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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Unbearable Superficiality of Being

I just ran across a post on a gardening site saying, essentially, "I'm not into lawn care at all and know nothing of the do's and don't's, but my lawn keeps dying -- can anyone help?"

Yes, I can: If you want to succeed at something, learn a little !$^*@&^!@#* bit about it! It's similar to a woman I knew who would always say, "I try to grow things but I just don't have a green thumb!" Knowing her pretty well, I understood that this meant: "I don't know a thing about growing plants and certainly can't be bothered to learn, but rather than admit my repeated failures are due to laziness and ignorance, I'll blame some magical thumb factor as the cause!"

Or someone will say to me, "I tried your recipe for X, but it just didn't come out the ways yours did!" Well, yes: I've cooked the dish 50 times before, cook almost everyday of my life, study books on cooking (not recipe books!), and have personally spent time with about half-a-dozen good cooks learning from them. The disappointed cook, on the other hand, cook once a month, has never made the dish before, can't be bothered to watch me make it, doesn't study the subject... and thinks a few lines scratched on paper will make up for those differences?!

It's a species of what Michael Oakeshott called "rationalism" -- the idea that a recipe or cheat sheet is just as good as spending years actually mastering something.

UPDATE: And the point here isn't "I cook well" -- I cook as well as anyone who puts a lot of time into it is likely to cook! -- or that there is anything wrong with not cooking well. What I am complaining about is the "shortcut" attitude -- play golf like Tiger Woods in three easy lessons! Think like Richard Dawkins with only these four simple rules! (Oh, wait, that would be easy.) Think like Aristotle with only these four simple rules!

10 comments:

  1. I tried to bake cookies the other day, and it was comically bad. They tasted good, but they came out as one giant cookie on the sheet.

    In retrospect, what happened is that I didn't let the butter soften enough (like the directions said), because I was too impatient to wait and too lazy to soften it in the microwave. Then that initial problem kept spilling over into the next step in the directions.

    I am very bad at cooking and handy man stuff because I don't know what corners can be cut and what is crucial. E.g. if you're boiling water for pasta, you obviously don't need to measure out the exact volume of water that the directions say. And I never bother putting in salt like you're supposed to.

    But if you use soy milk instead of regular milk on the mac and cheese, it tastes gross--trust me.

    Gene, is there anything that Oakeshott's work *doesn't* apply to?

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  2. Well, the work on rationalism is a critique of a view of practice that has become widespread since the Enlightenment -- in brief, that all knowledge is technical knowledge, and tacit knowledge is nescience. So it applies pretty widely!

    All of those shortcuts and so on -- that's what you learn in apprenticeship -- the master chef says, "You see, the reason we put the salt in the water is to make it boil hotter so the pasta is hotter -- but that's not absolutely necessary."

    And sometimes I see directions like, "Beat the batter until it is sufficiently soft"! If only I knew when that was! Again, you get that working alongside a good cook, when he says, "See those little bubbles forming there -- just when you see those looking just like that, stop!"

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  3. Dr. Murray Tyson8:27 AM

    I just ran across a post on a gardening site saying, essentially, "I'm not into lawn care at all and know nothing of the do's and don't's, but my lawn keeps dying -- can anyone help?"

    When you ran across the post did this damage your computer screen?

    Given the strange things you are doing to your computer screen, it does not surprise me that your lawn is dying.My advice would be to hire an illegal Mexican to take care of it.

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  4. "When you ran across the post did this damage your computer screen?"

    Ha ha ha, Dr. Murray, that is so funny!

    Perhaps looking up 'metaphorical usage' would prove an aid to you in your ESL efforts.

    "Given the strange things you are doing to your computer screen, it does not surprise me that your lawn is dying."

    So, you think I ran across my own post saying my own lawn is dying, and, perhaps surprised by it, am here criticizing myself for making it?

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  5. Dr. Murray Tryson10:26 PM

    Ah yes, you unraveled that well.

    I was actually expecting more in the way of fertilizer, which I was going to recommend you spread across your lawn.

    ReplyDelete
  6. There's leftover okra soup with sardines in Gene's refrigerator.

    ReplyDelete
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