Texas. When this state is mentioned few people have neutral impressions. For people that were born here I’m sure they imagine positive things like friendly people, bbq’s, wholesome farm living, and sweet, sweet baby Jesus. For those of us that grew up far from this mystical land we generally imagine negative things such as rednecks, over-consumption (of both food and petroleum products), religious fundamentalism, chewing tobacco, racism, and bigotry. In my short time here (4 days) since Friday I have already experienced most items from both lists. This isn’t particularly surprising because like most places, Texas has both the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Rather than focus on the negative I’d like to share a positive experience I had at a mega-walmart–everything IS bigger in Texas–from which I gained the insight that maybe I can be somewhat of a bigot too (gasp!)
After an exasperating encounter with the student housing office of U of H which made Japanese bureaucracy seem intelligible, I resigned myself to the fact that I will not be able to move into my residence until Wednesday. Of course the apt. was empty but don’t get me started! My plan was to go camping in Sam Houston National Forest until Wednesday. The forest is only about 1.5 hours outside of Houston and I could spend some quality time alone in the wilderness before the madness of studying and TAing started.
I had my camping gear with me as I had camped on the drive from Vegas to Houston but I needed to pick up some food and more propane and propane accessories. I also thought that since I’d be camping near a lake I might buy an inflatable kayak if I could find one for a reasonable price. When driving from Houston to the campground there is a town called Conroe through which you must pass. I figured I’d stop at the Walmart there, since it was just off the freeway (I’d seen it on the way in) to pick up food and see if Walmart had a boat.
|The parking lot is ONLY for Walmart|
|Walmart in Conroe, TX|
Walmart had the paddles but had sold out of the boat. As I was contemplating what I might do instead I noticed the fishing poles one row over. I have a vague recollection of having fished when I was ten or something but I am by no means a seasoned fisherman. “Hmmm…” I thought, “well, I’ll be there for 5 days, if I can catch my own dinner it’ll save me from having to make food runs and what’s better that fresh fish? How hard can fishing be?”
The guy working the sports and outdoors section was a big ol’ Texas country boy. I told him I was going camping for a few days and wanted to fish, could he advise me on what gear I should buy. Well, let me tell you, if you think fishing is a simple matter of attaching a hook to a line on a pole you are wrong! Depending where you are fishing and what you are fishing for you need to select the correct weights, lures, bait, floats, line, pole, cleaning kit, and net.
Stop for a moment. I am about to have my moment of insight. I realize now that I was feeling pretty smug about myself ever since I got accepted into several schools with scholarship. I don’t think that smugness ever reached the point of arrogance but it was smugness nonetheless. It wouldn’t surprise me if most college grads feel a slight superiority over those who never finished, just as I’m sure many who finished high school might feel the same toward those who never finished. Perhaps it’s a normal feeling–those with a higher level of formal education feel, to varying degrees, superior to those below them. Or maybe I’m just an asshole.
Anyway, I asked this Texas country boy to help me “gear up” for fishing. I explained to him that I was a total beginner and didn’t have any idea what I was doing. He was so excited to show me and explain to me all the intricacies of fishing. He asked me my budget, what type of fish I wanted to catch, gave me technical advice, demonstrated how to tie the knots. It was plainly obvious that if there were a graduate degree in fishing, this guy would have one. But he did not take his position of superior knowledge to talk over my head, to condescend, or to show off his encyclopedic knowledge of fishing. He answered my questions with kindness and with enthusiasm. He never made me feel small for not knowing what is practically innate to him. Particularly endearing was after completing every explanation he’d interject, “I love fishing….I really love fishing”.
I drew two main lessons from this exchange. The first is obvious, that it is much more pleasant to learn from someone who doesn’t speak down to you. The second is that I should be more humble. Perhaps I have more formal education than some but it does not mean I have more knowledge. Perhaps the guy at Walmart’s depth and breadth of knowledge of fishing far outstrips mine in philosophy–actually, I’m quite sure it does. The knowledge I pursue just happens to be disseminated primarily in formal institutions. His–not so much. It is doubtful that where knowledge is obtained is relevant in ascribing value to it, provided we are defining knowledge as “true justified belief”.
This brings up a philosophical issue: Can we ascribe different values to different types of knowledge? Is my knowledge of philosophy more valuable than his knowledge of fishing, or vice versa? Is an MBA more valuable than an MA? That is to say, is practical knowledge more valuable that theoretical knowledge?
I’m not sure what the answer is but I think it might have something to do with the type of life one wants to lead and the degree to which that knowledge helps you pursue that life. He enjoys a life of fishing and knowledge of fishing helps him successfully pursue this life. I’m trying to pursue a life of a philosophy instructor, obviously studying philosophy helps me achieve success in this aim.
But are there areas of knowledge that are universally beneficial, and if so, should we not ascribe more value to knowledge that has universal benefit? I’d like to think that studying some philosophy can enrich everyone’s life. It is not domain specific. Learning to think critically is an asset no matter what our specific field of interest. On the other hand, I’m not sure everyone’s life will be enriched if they learn the fundamentals of fishing.
So where does this leave us? It seems that there certainly are knowledge domains that universally improve our life quality, some practical, some theoretical. For example, the practical knowledge of how to manage one’s money will universally improve the quality of anyone’s life. Turning to theoretical knowledge, understanding something about ethics and concepts of justice, for example, can also universally improve people’s lives. Finally, there is the more specific type of knowledge, such as that which applies to fishing. It is doubtful that this knowledge will universally enrich people’s lives and so in a sense, is not equal to the aforementioned types of knowledge.
Doh! This is the problem with philosophy is no matter what I say, there is usually a counter-arguent. So if I may play devil’s advocate to my incoherent ramblings…: “So, what you’re saying is we should ascribe value to types of knowledge based on the degree to which they have universal utility. Can you provide an argument for this naked assumption? What’s wrong with knowledge for knowledge sake? Why does it have to be useful? Why not measure instead how much pleasure the knowledge brings?”
My reply: “Don’t make me go all Carnap on your ass, cuz you know I will…Let us ascribe value to knowledge based on its fruitfulness in achieving the purpose for which it is intended; that is to say, if a particular area of knowledge is meant to bring about universal pleasure, we should value it to the degree to which it does so. Conversely, if a branch of knowledge is meant to have utility, e.g. how to maintain basic hygiene, then let us measure it on those terms.”
Carnap, I love you!
Ok, I’m rambling too much. Time for bed. Thanks for reading guys and lemmi know what you think about how we should ascribe value to different types of knowledge.