I forget what N/A and I were talking about the other day, but the conversation ended with his question:
"Yeah, but you know where Bangladesh is on a map though..."
And my response:
"Um, no. Actually I don't."
You see, I'm part of that pathetically large population of Americans that can't find Iraq on a map. I couldn't give you a set of dates as to when WWII took place (I will below but only after having looked it up). You could give me the name of a significant historical figure, and there's probably like a 90% chance I couldn't tell you what their deal is. I don't remember the details about the composition of the Supreme Court.
Essentially, I'm the person who keeps quiet and nods through most conversations concerning history, geography, or politics and prays they don't get cornered with a question about something that they really should fucking know but don't.
And it drives me nuts.
'Cause I'm not a dummi. I still remember that the basic functional unit of the kidney is the nephron. I read constantly, sometimes as much as a couple books a week. I've spent 8 years in post-high-school studies. I can argue folks under the fucking rug when faced with a philosophical debate.
And yet, when it comes to history/geography/politics, I am a fucking idiot.
I've been trying to figure out why that is. Because every once in a while, I vow to brush up on all of the above because I feel it is my duty as a human being with opinions to do so. And yet every time: failure.
I'm trying once again by reading Howard Zinn's A People's History of American Empire, and I will say: I'm enjoying it. Probably 'cause it's in graphic novel form, and I can be like: Ooooh, fun pictures next to names of people that I will have forgotten within 24 hours. But still: remembering people's names and time periods eludes me. And I pretty much constantly have to reread sections as my brain starts to drift off towards other things, turning details about, say, the Pullman strike into a mushy blah blah blah railroads diatribe.
And I really want to know WHY. Because I can't figure out why my brain doesn't retain these things while everyone else's seems to. And I can't figure out why my brain doesn't retain these things when it is fiendishly good at retaining a slew of other things. And I can't figure out why it can't even just stay FOCUSED on them when I read about them.
So yesterday night, I was thinking about it some. And I realized: it's not anything new, and it's really not specific to "Social Studies." I've always sucked when it comes to remembering ANY a) names, b) places, and c) dates.
I have a BA in English & Philosophy, an MA in English, and an Associate's Degree in massage therapy, but I could not in a million years tell you what was the span of years that covered the Romantics. Who was the first philosopher that came up with the idea of utilitarianism? Not a clue. Which muscles compose the hamstrings? I could tell you, but it would take me a few minutes of picking my brain for recall.
Why is that?
Well: 'cause (please do not punch me) who cares really?
I mean, last night, I reached the following conclusion. And I'm fluctuating between whether or not I'm just making excuses, and whether this is a legit point (so chances are, it probably rests somewhere between the two), but I think the reason is this:
I like patterns. I love being able to figure out a pattern in the things I do. The world is composed of patterns.
The thing with patterns is that it's not so much the specific that is significant in it. It's that the specific fits in as part of the whole.
When you think of pi, you don't get all juiced out and gaspy over the digit 4. You're not like, HOLY CRAP, LOOK AT THAT 4! THAT 4 IS SO SIGNIFICANT! AND THERE IT IS AGAIN, RIGHT THERE! No. You're like, Check this out: these numbers are building in such a way that you'd THINK there'd be a pattern, but there's not. The 4 is just part of the organized chaos that is pi. On its own, really, it's no more significant than 3 or 29.
And I like that.
[I'm realizing retrospectively that perhaps pi wasn't the best example to use there since it's not actually a pattern but a lack thereof. And yet: the same rule applies, so: suck it.]
In all my studies in literature or philosophy, it's the patterns I'm attracted to. Not the names or dates.
Reading a book with a critical eye requires picking up on patterns.
Learning philosophy requires picking up on patterns.
Understanding how the body works requires picking up on patterns.
In all these cases, really: names and dates are superfluous.
Perhaps that is a horrible thing to say because it basically undercuts everyone's sense of their own significance.
But in the big picture that is History: it's true.
Knowing that WWII spans the years 1939 to 1945 really is superfluous. Knowing that the name of the U.S. president during this time period was Roosevelt is about as useful as sticking your dick in a hole in the wall.
If I want to go about breaking the chains of history, neither of these things is useful for shit.
I mean, I hate to tell you, but the details of you aren't important. Your impact on the world may be. But really, whether you existed in the 1970s or your name was J.J. LeMew, it makes no fucking difference really.
Because really, it's the patterns that are important. And the patterns of history are such:
Powerful White Men (aka: The Population in the Majority) manipulate/colonialize/exploit/kill the Other. The Other tries to stop the Powerful White Men (aka: The Population in the Majority) in their tracks.
And really, and you can kick my ass for saying so, that's all you need to know.
Do I wish I knew the details better? Yes. I do.
Will I slip fucking ex-lax in your beer if (now knowing this) you corner me with a question in public that exposes my horrifying ignorance about history to all those present? Fuck yeah.
But really, when it comes down to it, it doesn't matter if it's us fiddling in Iraq or the Battle of Wounded Knee or the construction of the Panama Canal--it's the same story.
And I think that's why I have a hard time retaining any of it.
Names and dates are interchangeable. Specificities are irrelevant.
As for geography: Well--with that one, I just suck.