What is it for? Good god, y’all?

By | January 31, 2013

I found myself offended by something I am reading. It’s a seemingly minor thing, just a question. “What is [the world] for?”

“What is it for?” That’s 4 words, 15 characters, and might be the most efficient way I’ve been pissed off by anything in my life. It sounds so bloody innocent, to be pondering the theological implications of a world to live in. And yet, it perfectly encapsulates a very simple flaw.

I’m going to tell you, but it is going to require an example first. You have a hammer, in a world with no nails. You can look at it, and wonder what it is for… this part could be used to pry bark off a tree, perhaps. It doesn’t have great weight for throwing, but fits in your hand fairly well. And then you strike it against a rock and get sparks, and cook your food with the fire you start with that. Handy thing. Nice and shiny, if the light catches it right.

But you’re already seeing that hammer being used for the “wrong” purpose. And thinking this example is silly. But this is a world with no nails. That hammer is a rock. Iron ore. Picked up from where a glacier left it.

Does that change in context change the purpose of the tool? No. Purpose is synonymous with motive. It is a rock. To assign it purpose is to anthropomorphize the inanimate… or to assign it your purposes, your motives in placing or crafting it… and expect the world, and other minds in it to think as you do.

The rock doesn’t care if it’s a hammer, a firestarter, melted for ore, or thrown at a baby. It’s a rock, and to assign it motive is as absurd as arguing with the elements. And when it comes to a debate with thunder, it is a Thor point.

To personify the driving forces in a complex world is to build gods and spirits. Superstition… worthless superstition.

The question that must be asked in its stead, when you have a hammer, in a world without nails… is “What can I DO with this?” From this question, imagination and context matter. You can build a house, sharpen a spear, hunt for dinner… and if the rock is big enough, you can stand on it and see farther. If it’s the size of a planet, you take some smaller rocks and build a place to live on it.

This works for worlds, tools, and even lives. If you ask what your life is for, you may find that you are a hammer in a world without nails… doomed to rust. But if you ask what you can do with your life… you might become the whack-a-mole champion, and with practice… be a magnet, generating electricity.

That’s the choice. Plead with Thor, or create the lightning. Ask better questions.

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