My Apology

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Scott Gardner

I’m not a quick wit. My conversational repartees come forward about as speedily as someone at a party stepping up to take responsibility for dropping a set of dentures in the punch bowl. One time at a conference, after I had finished a presentation, I was approached by a colleague who ripped me apart on a point of theory, and then before leaving said, “You’re not very smart, are you.” Three months later I gave him my riposte by email: “Well, you’re not the brightest tool in the henhouse, either!”

I like detached, periodic writing such as this column, because I can compose my thoughts at my own slothful pace. When I consider an idea for a column, I give myself plenty of time to fluff up a few pillows on the sofa, open a bottle of wine, kindle a cozy fire, settle in with my paper and pencil, stare at the paper, scratch my nose with the pencil, spill the wine, remember suddenly that my apartment doesn’t have a fireplace, run to the hallway for the extinguisher, clean up the mess, finish off the wine to calm my nerves, and finally—three weeks later—submit a few aimless paragraphs hours after TLT’s copyediting deadline has passed.

Ideally, my interactions with people would resemble those of the great philosophers. In short, I would take so long answering questions that everyone would have forgotten what they asked, and yet they would still respect me for it. One of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met was a man I used to sit with at a local park, who went by the name of Schopenhauer. On Saturday afternoons, we would meet by the pigeon pool and go on for hours deliberating topics great and small, all the while saying nary a word to each other. I learned so much from him. (I discovered some time later that Schopenhauer was a bronze sculpture.)

Here are a few observations on the world’s deepest questions that Schopey and I teased out after months of quiet excogitation:

Q: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

A: It depends on which band is playing, and if they get a mosh pit going, forget about it.

Q: Do humans have free will?

A: Yes, but to remove ads they must pay a monthly fee.

Q: Is knowledge a creative force, or a destructive one?

A: Since we’re even asking that question, then answering it equals adorning knowledge with a purpose, which could be seen as an act of creation. But answering the question obliterates the need to ask it, which is destructive. So...yes.

Q: Is there such a thing as a truly selfless act?

A: There are three: 1) giving your life anonymously to save another life; 2) donating the fruits of your effort to people unknown to you; 3) leaving a parking space with one hour left on the meter.

Q: Can one’s deepest emotions be fully shared and understood by others?

A: For millennia this was impossible, but luckily in the era of emojis, it has become rather commonplace.

I can’t parade a list of philosophical victories like this around without confessing that there are many questions which still evade me despite a lifetime of struggle, such as:

Q: How is it possible to start a sentence with “and”?

Q: Why does Velcro stop working after a while, whether you put it to use or not?

My college professor once told me, “Just knowing things does not make you wise.” I remember saying to her, “That’s very true. It’s something we should all take to heart.” She replied, “I don’t mean ‘you’ in the sense of generic humanity; I mean you, Scott, in particular. Knowledge won’t make you wise. You’re a philosophical parrot, regurgitating ideas you heard 10 minutes ago as if you spent years contemplating them. You throw out axioms like spaghetti on a wall, hoping that something you say sticks.” In an effort to emerge from the crushing weight of her reproach, I have made a hobby (i.e., this column) from my vice of “projectile philosophizing”, as I call it. I don’t mind if it’s met here with the same indifferent silence that old Schopey used to give it.