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October 8, 2012 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

On The Potential Importance To Your Life Of The Besotho Slit-Faced Bat

Why Doing What is practical is never a good reason to do anything


I’m no mathematician, but in all statistical likelihood, it has happened to you before. You’ve been at a party and have professed to an acquaintance that you’ve spent the day memorising the taxonomy of the Ankylosauria group of herbivorous dinosaurs.The routine reply from your generic liquor-imbibed associate:“wut. You’re weird.Why would you do that? Of what use is that?”

At this point, the shame sets in.You can feel it, can’t you? You see, they spent their day doing something useful. More likely than not, it was something practical. Now, in your defence you could employ the classic “I learnt it to improve my prospects in a pub-quiz” line. But if you did that, you would be lying.You gave your time to the Ankylosauria for no reason at all. Following curiosity’s sweet scent you were lead to the millennia-decayed carcass of a nearly- forgotten vegetarian beast. Do not be ashamed, my friend. It is Mr. Practical who deserves your condemnation.

But pause before cleansing the shame, for we are all guilty of this ankylosauria-aversion—even if we do consider ourselves dino-bros. In fact, we let this aversion guide our lives. Usually though, we call this attitude being ‘practical’—or sometimes ‘being an adult’, ‘making the tough decisions’, or ‘being responsible’. It may even look as subtle as the person who asserts during a drunken stand-off that the ability to coif the bun of your hair is more worth-while than learning about cloud formations. I mean, after all, how will cloud formations assist your ascension as a budding young socialite?You can’t put cloud-formations on your CV.

This delusion of practicality says that the worth of everything is determined by its likely utility to your career, or your financial or social ‘advancement’. It’s as if the only use in doing anything is so that the thing in question becomes something else. I do X because it will do Y, and Y is good for me because one day it will do Z. Now, of course life is all about compromise— putting the bread on the table and all that—but the decision not to learn about the migration patterns of the Galapagos Swallow isn’t an all or nothing decision; death is not on the line here. It’s an unnecessary trade-off. Most of the time, the practicality defence is deployed out of sheer cowardice and lack of imagination.

Here’s a challenge. Next time you hear the phrase,“That’s not relevant to my life”, or,“There are more productive uses of my time”, think: Really? What are these great products? What is this ultimate end that we’re after? And if you then profess to know this supreme end, how is it that you’ve figured it out? I mean, with your youth and your limited knowledge and your inability to know what the future will bring, it seems a little presumptuous, doesn’t it?

The answer is there isn’t some ultimate end— and I would hazard a guess that you don’t think there is one either.Those pastures of green are pastures of fiction.And by being practical, you’re burning bridges which you don’t even know exist yet.This is the reason why everyone over thirty is racked with alopecia, angina and soul-destroying regret.They buried the treasure-chest of curiosities by investing in some great pay-off that has never come and never will.

We need to stop controlling our curious urges in the name of the false idol of practicality. Being practical leads nowhere.This is fine. But the problem is we think it does—this is why we give it special preference.We shouldn’t. But why are these mundane—and impractical—things any better? Why allow your urges to lead you to a dusty-old journal detailing the mating cycles
of the Basotho slit-faced bat? Because—quite simply—these things add texture to the fine fabric of life. For what end you may ask? For no end but that.

And that’s just fine by me. ▲


About the Author ()

Ollie served dutifully alongside Asher Emanuel as Co-editor of Salient throughout the tumult of 2012. He has contributed to Salient since 2011 and intends to do so for the rest of his waking life.

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