|What is Worth Knowing|
Issue #06 (February 1982)
All the really useful knowledge conveniently presented in one place
An appalling amount of time and energy is spent learning things of no earthly use to anyone. A brief survey should suffice to show the futility of most of these enterprises. Lest I be accused of treating the fabric of human knowledge the way Groucho and Chico treated that contract in A Night
at the Opera (…the party of the 23rd part…I'm-a no like that party…rip…the party of the 24th part…no…rip…), I sincerely protest that I am simply passing along the fruits of many solitary hours of lucubration, [quoteright]accompanied only by my faithful bottle of Ripple, and that if my efforts result merely in less nonsense being broadcast through the land, in publications and at parties, I will consider it reward enough (though mink, precious gems, and gold of 18k or more are never out of order).
Eating off your neighbor's plate is likely to result in getting your hand bitten...
Opera -- (Since I've mentioned it). In an opera, people take turns singing until someone dies. Never does the cast and audience decide to forget the whole silly thing and order out for pizza. Much the same can be said for the theater, and concerts. (The latter are, however, generally easier to sleep through unless the program is the "1812 Overture.") Did your mother raise you to memorize Verdi plots?
History -- A list, chronologically arranged, of who owns what real estate and how they got it from the previous tenants; and who's doing what to whom and what with: Your neighborhood gossip, financed by taxes. Just remember that the winners write the history books. What Groucho and Chico did to that contract is nothing compared to what a well-trained historian can with a pile of facts.
The Stock Market - What goes up, must come down (see Science).
Science - What goes up, must come down (see The Stock Market). Everything that is discovered will be found to have military applications: that is, a better way to kill you. Even planaria, not exactly the mental giants of the animal kingdom, seldom assist those trying to kill them. Are you any less intelligent than a planaria?
Mathematics - This is a finished subject. 2+2=4, always has, and always will. Why beat a dead horse?
Physics - Learn the Greek alphabet and you've learned Physics, I say. As Starka (my grandmother) fully understood, meatloaf can be infinitely subdivided to accommodate more guests. Even oatmeal can be diced. Since meatloaf is made of oatmeal, and oatmeal is made of atoms, the same can be said for them. Q.E.D.
Religion - The gods cannot be bribed, tricked, cozened, cajoled, threatened, helped, flattered or embarrassed, though they derive great amusement from our efforts. Let 'em watch teevee like the rest of us.
Psychology -- The field is divided between those who think the body is some sort of cosmic accident, and those who refuse to believe in the soul because it doesn't show up on their oscilloscopes. Now how are people like that ever going to teach you how to get rich and famous, or how to keep your teeth from falling out? At first glance an understanding of yourself and your fellow humans might appear to have some practical applications, such as how to get them to give you what you want more consistently. Well, forget it, it will only make you feel guilty, and who needs any more of that?
Music - Quarter-notes, eighth-notes, sixteenth-notes: more mathematics in disguise.
Miscellaneous facts - What the number of threads per square inch in your bedsheets is called. How tall the Great Pyramid is. Who wrote "Claire de Lune." All of these can be looked up should occasion arise, and, believe me, in decent company, it won't.
Etiquette - Eating off your neighbor's plate is likely to result in getting your hand bitten, especially if your neighbor is a cocker spaniel; however, if your hostess has any breeding at all, she will never seat together two such guests who are likely to quarrel about religion, so this possibility is remote (unless you are a cocker spaniel yourself). Stake cut a little territory with your salad plate, water glass, and silverware, and try to keep your elbows inside it; and glare at someone else whenever you fart. Nancy Reagan herself could find no fault with that.
Mysteries of the Universe - Knowing how pigeons find their way home or what UFOs really are will not make you healthier, more secure, or stop the kid from throwing the Chronicle in the bushes every morning. Relax.
Literature - Knowing who wrote "Aurora Leigh" does not make it one whit less boring. Memorizing it, unless you are The Man in the Iron Mask with lots of time an your hands, is a waste of brain cells, which have been dying at the rate of 1000 a day since you were 20 years old. Surely you have something better to with the ones that are left.
Computers - They have begun to design and program each other. Trying to follow their conversations will be as rewarding for us as trying to follow a pig auction in old High Church Slavonic. Soon they will be learning and thinking, and if none of it is worth your time and effort, of what use can it be to a box of wires with Gallium-Arsenide where there ought to be hemoglobin? We are secure from complete obsolescence, however, until such time as they can write their own checks to the utility company.
Politics - Everything you need to know about politics can be gleaned from watching the three-year-olds in a Day Care Center, for by this age all the Basic Tactics have been learned and are being refined through constant practice. They are: Hit, Grab, Blame, Sneak, Lie, Bully, Whine, Make Nice (generally under duress), and Throw Up All Over Everything. Could anything that happens in a City Council, the court of Louis XIV, the Illinois State Legislature, an Indian powwow, or a Mensa Business meeting not be subsumed under one of those headings?
Now that I have released you from the onerous burden of learning, thinking and studying, you are free to go back to sleeping, eating, drinking, copulating, and reading murder mysteries, which is what you sly devils wanted all along, isn't it?
As a neo-encyclopedist, she follows the footsteps of Aristotle and diderot this month with her trenchant selection from the annals of human knowledge.
She was a former officer and newsletter staffer in San Francisco Regional Mensa. She was well-known for her columns about the behavior of Mensans. An escapee from Chicago, she has worked as a career programmer at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.