Tanmoy’s recent musing on nerds set me thinking, and presently it occurred to me that humanity can be safely divided into nerds, lunatics and automatons (let me know if I have missed some important category). The lunatics, of course, are a threat either to themselves or to society or both, whether they are of the trivial type like the housewife I mentioned in my last post on the other blog, or of the Ivan the Terrible/Adolf Hitler sort. The less we have to take notice of them the better.
Most of us are not born to become anything better than automatons, first at school and later on as workers and neighbours and family men… even those (a very small minority) who seem in their youth to be gifted with energy and imagination and a sense of personal direction by and large become that way by the time they have lived forty years on earth. Most of us have to, simply in order to cope with life as it is; the dullness of unavoidable routine not only eventually grinds out all sparks of the divine fire, but maybe that is the way it should be for ‘civilization’ to survive, seeing that most kinds of necessary work is of a menial, low-IQ, repetitive kind, whether you are pushing files or removing tumours or repairing boilers or balancing account books or selling insurance or managing a shop or cooking daily for the family. Thank God mankind produces far more of the Telemachus type than the Ulysses…
But, although defined in a rather sneering way, it is the nerds who keep not only the
ividual life but civilization as a whole from dying of stagnation. Every great invention or discovery was made (if not accidentally) by some unsocial nerd who stayed obsessed with finding out the why or how of something he found irresistibly curious, some problem he felt just had to be solved, no matter whether he could see any kind of immediate benefit from it or not – whether it was vast questions like why the apple always falls straight to the ground or finding out if something could shut bags and other things better than hooks, clasps or buttons could (I am thinking of the zip fastener), or figuring out what a strange inscription on a rock in a desert meant, or how to remove seeds from a juicy fruit. And where would sensitive and thinking people be without the likes of Homer and Shakespeare and Stevenson and Rowling, who were all nerds of the finest types? All mankind owes a debt to nerds that can ind er be repaid. Without them, we should still be swinging from the trees. And turning to the nev ividual life, I admire no one more than a man who can say, at age 50, that he has started mastering sudoku or learning a new language, or watching a new genre of movies, or cultivating a new talent such as music or painting that he has just discovered inside himself. All of us who cannot do that are already dead, even if we might physically survive (and continue to pollute the earth, and irritate our families and neighbours with endless grumbling and preening) for some more decades still. Without a strong nerdy instinct, men and women become insufferably boring by the time they reach my age, as I can see very clearly among my own contemporaries: I’d hate to spend an evening with them instead of with their children, who, mercifully, are still not quite so brain-dead … though, alas, they are trying very hard to become like that, with Facebook and video games and Hannah Montana to help them! ind
P.S., May 05: Someone who probably wouldn't want himself named here (otherwise he could have sent in a comment directly) wrote that I might consider a fourth category of 'idiotic dreamers'. What do my regular readers think?