I Know Nothing
My only similarity to Socrates and Montaigne, I’m in no way comparing myself to those two heavyweights, is that as my tenure here approaches its conclusion, I’m persuaded I know very little about most everything. It wouldn’t be far wrong to say ‘I know nothing’.
Of course I know about a few things. I know the common English names of a few plants and trees but not one Latin name. I know how to pay the insurance on my truck and which key to use to start it and how to use my credit card to put fuel in the tank.
I can speak my language moderately well, a language I know little about, to tell the truth. I can order a bowl of oatmeal and ask politely where the men’s room is, et cetera.
I have learned a few facts but I know little about this world’s wisdom. I know nothing about the real world, the world of ideas and man’s search for truth, how this world of hominoids really works, about those complicated things that have been percolating for centuries under the hood, unknown by me.
I know nothing about Aristotle, Augustine, William of Occam or Thomas Hobbs. I never read one of Plato’s dialogues. I can’t remember anything I read of John Locke, David Hume or Voltaire. Blessings upon you if you can read Kant, the insomniacs friend.
I know nothing of our modern thinkers and their thinks. When I pick up a National Geographic, I only look at the pictures. I guess I watched too much television when I was a boy. Oh well.
I know almost nothing about the whys of life. I know about the battle of Actium and that the Sumerians had an advanced culture but I don’t know why the Roman Empire collapsed, why Russia is so big or why Archimedes was so smart. I don’t know anything about China, Japan or Indonesia. I failed Algebra I twice. When I was learning to read I used to cry on my Daddy’s lap because I couldn’t tell the difference between ‘saw’ and ‘was’.
I’ve never sailed across the ocean or jumped out of an airplane. I do know that scuba is an acronym. Each letter of the word stands for the sentence, ‘Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus’ but I never learned to scuba dive and that’s all I know about that.
I use a computer but I understand it about as much as I understand the world. Sixteen screens are open, four are frozen and I don’t know where the music is coming from.
A long time ago a man told me I should never parade my knowledge. I asked him why. He said mine would be a very short parade. I was offended but immediately grasped the continuing truth of his statement.
I do know one thing, however, one important thing. My mother loved me. That I know. I also know my father loved me. I know those two things. I can add four more things to those two things. My grandparents loved me. I can’t really explain the ‘why’ of those loves. Maybe Kant, Hume, Hobbes or Descartes could, but somehow, I doubt it. My parents and grandparents loved me, end of story.
I think Fred Rogers understands. He’s right about that sort of thing. I was and am loved by my mother and father just because I am, not because of anything I have ever done or for what I might become. I didn’t have to pass algebra or get a college education or live in a big house to be loved.
I guess Descartes didn’t go far enough, did he? I’m not loved because I know things or can run especially well or paint lovely pictures or perform some complicated task superbly before an audience. I am not loved because I make straight A’s, play the piano or earn lots of money or because I am handsome or pretty and I wear designer clothing with just the right shoes.
Perhaps knowing my mother and father loved me just the way I am is the only thing in this world really worth knowing. I have a sneaking suspicion that is true.
I also have the suspicion that human parents, and thus grandparents, are not an accident of organic development over eons. I suspect the fact there are parents and they love their children is itself part of a greater plan. My word, that’s a nice thought, isn’t it?
Can I prove to Descartes, Hume or Locke the empirical existence of my mother’s love, my father’s love or that my grandparents loved me? I doubt if Hume or Locke would think I know anything about what I just said. They would agree I know nothing but the answer to my question is ‘NO’.
No one HAS to ‘prove’ my mother loves me.
No one has to prove my grandparents love me.
I’ve lived a long time and that’s about the only thing I know for sure.
And you can be sure of that, too. That I know
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Copyright 2021 by Barney Beard. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the author.