Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Whoever said we were rational?

My desk is too high. Too high for what? you ask. Too high for me, or more precisely, too high for my arms when I’m typing. As a result, my forearms ache when I type for more than a few moments at a time, and I am already contemplating the exercises the physiotherapist will prescribe for my occupational-overuse-repetitive-strain-self-induced-what-an-idiot injury. So why persist with a desk that is too high? Because I like it. It appeals. It is, in a word (or two), aesthetically pleasing. It’s wooden, which immediately raises it in my estimation above those that are plastic and metal. It’s worn and used, hinting at hours of worthy literary endeavour (or possibly finger-painting, given the assorted paint blotches over it). It has three delightfully pokey drawers into which I can ram all sorts of papers and pens and assorted other stuff (a cloth for cleaning my glasses, a cork, some cash – hardly worth breaking into the house for  – a pocket-knife with which to defend said cash, some cuff-links for the day when I finally wear a suit, a watch that doesn’t go, a plastic crucifix from a junkie in NY….). It doesn’t have the stench of mass production (or if it was mass produced, its siblings have long since disappeared so that it can present a faรงade of uniqueness). It doesn’t have the operating-theatre sterility of the ergonomically-sound desk which I would have if I cared about my arms. If there is such a thing as the Platonic desk, the ideal desk, this is it.

If I were rational, however, I would not be sacrificing the health of my arms for aesthetics. In the event that my arms have to be amputated, will my desk still bring me pleasure as I contemplate its wooden loveliness? Possibly, although the pleasure might be a little diminished (like my arms).

The desk, incidentally, cost $10. Plus the $180 it cost to ship it here. Again, reason would suggest I should have acted otherwise, but aesthetics demanded that I shove my reason into a cupboard and lock the door. And so I did. And so I have my desk. And it’s beautiful. And my arms are sore.

Taking myself as the exemplar of all humanity, I can then make the universal observation that we are a thoroughly irrational species, supremely adept at the sport of rationalisation, and wonderfully equipped for the past-time of self-delusion. We follow our heart’s desire and then rationalise the idiocy of our actions so that we can delude ourselves into thinking that we are rational. And because this column is supposed to be vaguely philosophical, if you think my generalising from myself to all of humanity a little hubristic, then I suggest you read the most wonderful philosopher of the 18th century, David Hume, and see if you can find it in your heart to deny his reasons.

Naturally enough – and here comes the punch-line – I have to stop writing now because my arms are aching….

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