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Monday, 7 April 2014

Curiosity of the passionate philosopher

So, I'm chatting with A and I'm telling her all about tonight's maybe-meeting: a forum about fluidity in gender and sexual orientation. I find it fascinating. I find LGBT culture fascinating. I find cultures other than my own (and by that I mean not just the heteronormativity I was brought up with but cultures from other countries and inherent to different languages) fascinating. I want to learn all the languages. I want to visit all the countries. I want to know all the mythologies. I want to embrace all the peoples of the world. 

For a while there, and by that I mean "until I started talking to A just now and started trying to convince her to look for the local LGBT+ club" I thought I was just fascinated by LGBT+ culture but it makes sense to bring in my love for languages into the mix and make the broader statement. I will start learning some Mandarin sometime in the hopefully-near-future and I think it's exciting. I haven't watched the first of the new set of Bollywood films recommended to me by a classmate but that's exciting too. I had quite an interesting conversation with her about differences between here and there and everywhere and it was a nice conversation because she's well-educated enough to put prejudices aside and make fun of even herself. The same way some people are afraid and willing to discriminate against different, instantly deeming it dangerous, I'm curious to know everything about it.

I think in the end it comes down to just that: curiosity. Granted I'm given a good teacher, I will find interest in biology, philosophy, chemistry, history, psychology, physics, mathematics, anthropology and just about anything (except, perhaps, statistics and economics). I want to know more, I want to learn more. The mindblowing realisations that give people headaches and make them shy away from wanting to hear more, for fear of shattering the foundations of the world as they know it, tickles my brain and makes it eager to push the boundaries of what I know. I hope that never goes away. It's one quality about myself I'm truly proud of. I may not be able to understand or learn everything I would like to, but I at least want to get there. I do look down on those who are content to see the world stay as it is, never questioning its ways or wanting to make it better. Right now, that includes A, who has just admitted to thinking as I think and feeling as I feel but not quite: she doesn't really want to do anything about it. She doesn't really want to learn more, doesn't really want to do more, doesn't really want to get involved. She says she's just not passionate enough.

pas·sion /ˈpaʃ(ə)n/
Strong (and barely controllable) emotion or feeling of enthusiasm about something.

I don't know if I agree with it being uncontrollable or barely controllable, because I frankly don't think that feelings are controllable: people just become good at handling them and we're not all equally good at it. I think it goes without saying that passion has no explanation for it and is more often than not illogical in nature. There's no reason why you're passionate about something. Given the same reasons and even agreeing with them, someone else may not feel passionate about the same thing. I asked EBF and he borrowed the definition given in House of Leaves where the simplest way to put it was "to suffer." I thought for a moment it might have been a bogus definition with a bogus explanation but it turns out to be true: the Latin word pati does mean "to suffer" and it is the root behind both "patience" and "passion." The more you know. Since the word was first used in English in the thirteenth century, I think it is safe to assume that they meant suffering in a very biblical sense (i.e. the Passion of the Christ) where "to be passionate" meant "to be willing to endure hardship out of love."

To be passionately curious, then, would be to become the figure-of-speech cat willing to risk its life to sate its need for knowledge.  To be curious, then, is to be passionate about knowledge and fourteenth century French people seemed to deem that a bad thing, usually. Quite understandably, too, I guess. At least given the context of the Middle Ages. 

Curiosity is not necessarily a bad thing anymore but you do seem to be warned against it. Is it in any way dangerous, then, to be curious? Is it for the bold and brave or the dense and dumb? It may almost sound like a stupid question (and you know what they say about stupid questions: there's no such thing until you ask one) because curiosity is what drives the quest for knowledge and human progress, but it's not encouraged as much as you would think it should be. Also, curiosity is what drives gossip, so draw your own conclusions. I do feel that gossip taints the very idea of curiosity (which I believe to be an innately good thing) and yet I cannot think of a more appropriate word to replace it in such a context so it just adds to the question of how good or bad curiosity really is. Point taken, fourteenth century France.

In the greater scale of things, curiosity is still a good thing. It's what compels us to look outside the bubble we call "the world" to find more things to add to it. 

I'm about to make a very broad generalisation now and I want you to excuse it, but understand where I'm coming from when I make it. I think majorities are most tempted to be ignorant and forget to be curious. Majorities of any kind know all there is to know about most anything because it amounts to knowing all there is to know about themselves, and there's often not all that much to be learned. You will seldom [citation needed] find a minority with the same mindset. To the average person in a majority...

 - Jewish last names just sound like German last names
 - African people cannot possibly be caucasian
 - LGBT+ people are all the same (and not, say, a collection of different minorities)
 - people of "Latino" ethnicity look like Arabs
 - Arabs look like Indians
 - Chinese people look like the Japenese, Korean and Vietnamese
 - different Latinamerican countries are about the same and speak the same language
 - black/"latino" people are all poor

Somewhere along the line, I hope, you realised these generalisations are stupid. All of them. They are made in an attempt to over-simplify a far-too-complicated-for-their-tastes world and it suffices to lump all of the similar categories into a single one: different.

Taking the example of LGBT+ people, which I'll continue to run with for a while because they're the ones who made me realise all this, it's not easy being mistaken for someone you are not. So you end up learning about the distinctions and similarities in a way majorities never bother. How many straight people do you know who can tell the difference between a butch lesbian and a trans man? ...who can tell the difference between a drag queen and a gay man? ...who can tell the difference between bisexual and pansexual? ... who know more than two gender identities? I'm guessing that percentage is lower than its equivalent in the LGBT+ community. And if you think this is a stupid statement, stop to think of how being gay doesn't make you knowledgeable about the troubles associated to being trans or polyamorous, but the average gay person will know much more about them than the average straight one. Just look at the damned acronym: LGBT+ was once just LGBT and that was already a union of different minorities under the same flag. Because they allied, they became more aware of the distinctions between them. The average cisgender straight just knows they are like most everyone else and it suffices them. 

The average white male in the western world will not bother to think of the troubles of a black Muslim woman might face. She's just one of "them," those who are different and overlooked. Women are not just women, they are not-men. Black is not just black, it's not-white. Muslim is not just Muslim, it's not-Christian. It wouldn't make much of a difference if it were a Chinese woman who was also Buddhist. It's all overlooked in favour of simplification. 

I guess what I'm trying to get to is that I feel like a minority, in a way, because I am fascinated by all the ways I'm different from other people and keep wanting to learn more about it. However, it doesn't really take being a minority for this to be true, or we'd be stuck in the eternal damnation that is perpetuated ignorance. I consider them my friends and that's enough reason to care about them.

friend /frend/
A person you know well and enjoy being with, but is usually not in your family.

I would therefore like to encourage curiosity and a passion for knowledge through interest in one's self extended to interest in ohters. I don't mean to say "we are all special" in that awful, trite way so often encouraged among children who will grow up thinking life is unfair when no one gives them special treatment. I mean we are all different or should struggle to be different because, who needs more of what's already there? Nature certainly doesn't (hello, evolution!) and everything that has ever happened has happened through change, which is not possible without some form of conflict, but conflict necessitates two or more different sides. And now I think I've come full circle. 

To embrace being different and to want to learn more about it drives knowledge. Actually wanting to act upon that knowledge is what drives progress. And willingness to act from the side of any minority is exposing oneself to suffering, so it takes passion. But it's hard to be passionate about just anyone, and some form of affection is needed. The lowest level relationship required for that kind of affection is friendship. 

And so I suppose I end with Plato: in an ideal world, we'd all have the heart of a philosopher.

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