Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Discrepancy

Been thinking about how to approach this topic. Let's try this.
Somewhere, right now, someone is becoming a millionaire.
Somewhere, right now, someone is about to die of starvation.
Somewhere, right now, someone is worried sick about a Calculus test.
Somewhere, right now, someone is being applauded for graduating from Kindergarten.
Somewhere, right now, someone is throwing a bouquet after getting married.
Somewhere, right now, someone is about to commit suicide because someone else broke up with them.
Tonight, I was pleased by how well the beef stroganoff turned out.
Tonight, I cut my finger on the sharp end of a curtain rod.

The common thread is significance. Each event really matters to the person experiencing it, and sits in their mind, taking up their thought space, focusing their mental capital. And, unfortunately, in the scheme of things, give or take a few hundred years, it is unlikely that any of these events will be remembered by more than a note somewhere in cyberspace. But, the events are obviously not equivalent. I would never suggest that my struggles with OpenGL shaders are anything akin to the struggle against sweat-shop labor, or starvation, or a traumatic relationship breakup. They're probably not even worthy to compare against the Calculus test. I felt strange writing the list of events above, as though it were wrong to put the horrific side-by-side with the trivial.

It sometimes happens, as it did in the shower this morning, that I am thinking of some work- or school-related problem, and all of a sudden there is an irruption from somewhere else, and I am thinking of the Middle East, or the global financial crisis, or someone I know who is hurting. And there it is -- the Discrepancy. The self-question: why were you thinking of something so trivial when there is something so significant going on to think about? Or, more pointedly, why are you living a life focused on the trivial when there are significant things to address? It's not about practicality; it's a moral issue. For example, it's not that I could solve the Middle East crisis. But even if I could do nothing, would it not be better to spend a life working on that than coding OpenGL? Isn't it better to tilt at a worthy windmill than step on a grape? Maybe if enough people join in, the windmill will tilt.

But really the point is not about me. It's about discrepancy. It's about all the things going on the world, and how it seems right to be concerned with big things, but there's always still what to eat for dinner, and how to earn a paycheck, and the splinter in your finger from a piece of wood you absent-mindedly ran your hand over without noticing. And on the positive side, there's the joy of eating something you enjoy, or watching a seed grow, or a laugh shared with friends versus the great joy of peace after war or maybe the birth of a child.

Modifying discrepancy is difference. It's unfair to say to a child learning addition, "that's trivial," simply because you have taken it for granted for so long. So, it seems that the absolutes aren't there. You can't say "breakups are the same for everyone," or "having a child is the same joy for everyone," or "dying is the same for everyone." Difference is personal. Discrepancy is absolute in its import, but personal in its instantiation -- everyone sees discrepancy, but, perhaps, where we see discrepancy is personal.

Becoming involved in our own worlds and isolated from those outside is a defence mechanism against discrepancy. Discrepancy is considered a negative thing in this society because it makes us realize the relative unimportance of our lives, and disrupts comfortable assumptions. Apple pie. Family values. Peace and love. Doing this questioning and making us uncomfortable should be one of the primary purposes of the great institutions of education, media, religion. That's why it's so disappointing to see education as socialization, media as entertainment and religion as social conformity.

Haven't expressed this right. Too much though in too few words.

2 comments:

  1. Yay, I have a new livefeed :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. No, you expressed it just fine. And it's the same stuff I've been thinking about--a lot. That's what I love about your blog. I see we are not that different after all!

    ReplyDelete