When I heard that a New Zealand “presenter” had made fun of an Indian person’s name, an act that roused India to protest, my reaction was, “Is this guy (or woman) nuts? What a jerk!” As usual, knowing the whole story makes all the difference. The name in question is Dikshit. I ask you, who could possibly let a ripe target like that lie? Not me, that’s for sure.
It is an orange and yellow fall, this year. I haven’t seen a single maple that has turned red, they are all just the candy corn colors. I understand red leaves result when there is a sudden sharp frost early in the leaf-turning process. If fall creeps up slowly a degree or two lower each evening, the color is not nearly so vivid. And there is something a little depressing about an orange fall, like someone you love fading slowly rather than the quick shock of a sudden heart attack. Since I am not working, the days pass more quickly, and I really haven’t fully realized yet that spring is past, despite the Fourth of July and even Labor Day. Apparently my gardens feel the same – some bulb I planted and forgot has sent up leaves I don’t recognized, and finally has a cluster of buds which I think will never bloom at this late date. I have a couple of dahlia bulbs I planted this year and these too have not yet bloomed, and apparently never will, or at least they will not do so this year. And although I do have zinnias and cosmos higher than my head, and although these have brought forth some blooms, the majority of the buds are just forming.
I got to thinking of this business of sharp early frosts causing brighter autumns and it occurred to me that this is one more thing that I think I “know” without really having any independent awareness of it as a fact. Somebody told me that. The difference between this “fact” and many others that I assume I know is that I actually recall where I heard this one stated. The man my dear friend Marilyn married told me this in reference to liquidamber trees in Sacramento. I have never actually done any verification of it – and really why would I? But in the last few years I have realized more and more that the things I think I know – and take for granted that I know – are things I have just read or heard. I realized long ago that the real danger of the silly tabloids one finds at the checkout counters is that you read the false headlines about famous people and laugh, but a year later when a celebrated person’s name comes up you have a vague memory that they did one thing or another and don’t remember where you read or heard it.
Almost everything I know, is actually something I have read or heard. I’d say fully half of my knowledge is in this category – possibly more. I definitely know that hot water burns, because I have been burned by hot water more than once. But every single thing I have heard about, say, South America is something that I heard or read or saw in a film or on TV; I have never been there. Much of it is extrapolated from what I encountered in Mexico - a land that is definitely not South America, simply because the Mexican people look vaguely the same and speak the same language. I know from experience that Arabs are far different than the common American perception of them. I don’t even bother saying so any longer, when I hear someone who has been nowhere tell me what Arabs are like because my experience is that the speaker will dismiss my eight plus years of actual experiences in Saudi as ‘liking Arabs’ – in the same way many people once dismissed positive statements about black folks as not being true, but merely the deluded effusions of a n------- - lover. Some folks still do – and equally, of course, there are folks of non-white races who will not accept a single positive statement about anyone white.
I love history and I read it constantly, not really to learn anything, but just because I like it. And the more I read of English history, which is my favorite topic and the one about which I read most, the more I realize that almost anything anyone says is mere speculation, or only partly true. It is impossible to really enter into the mindset of an earlier era. How much more this is true of a people that is not as similiar to me as the English are. This doesn’t just apply to history, however. How often have I heard detailed descriptions of life in the inner cities from people whose only experience of them is driving on a freeway that cuts through them? It is clear that people who tend to read one set of bloggers and who prefer one cable news channel have a radically different set of ‘facts’ from those who get their information from another. It is easy for a person from the first group to believe that a person from the second group is being willfully obtuse. Some people merely want to have their own prejudices reinforced by anything they listen to (this is what we call “Faith”), but even someone wishing to hear all sides, and who listens to all the sources he can find is still reliant on other sets of eyes to know what really happened when he himself was not present. And as to knowing WHY something happened, that is not even within the realm of possibility to know. Most of us really don’t know why we like what we like in our own lives, or exactly why we do most of the things we do.
Dylan, who in my opinion, got so much right, nailed this whole issue long ago:
My guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking I had something to protect.
‘Good’ and ‘bad’, I defined these words quite clear, no doubt, somehow,
But I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.
Notice that even folks with experience and smarts such as those folks at Microsoft can’t figure things out. They think, for instance, that I wanted to space Dylan’s lines as if they were separate paragraphs. And they were wrong, wrong, wrong.
Don’t think for a moment, though, that knowing how tenuous, speculative and second-hand all my knowledge is will stop me from acting on (or writing about) facts of which I have no personal knowledge. If you think that, you just got another fact wrong.