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Title

"Need to Know" 1

I’ve been awake for about six hours now. During that time, I’ve cooked breakfast for my sons, showered, shaved, shopped, read 37 pages of John Keegan’s “Faces of Battle,” answered some e-mails, offered a few salty, irreverent, comments (ho ho!) on Facebook, and half-watched an episode of “Family Guy.” Busy, busy, busy, that’s me! But that’s not why I listed my activity. I’m interested in this because of a phrase from the textbook that’s been haunting me for weeks: “need to know.”

February 27, 2010
 
 

I’ve been awake for about six hours now. During that time, I’ve cooked breakfast for my sons, showered, shaved, shopped, read 37 pages of John Keegan’s “Faces of Battle,” answered some e-mails, offered a few salty, irreverent, comments (ho ho!) on Facebook, and half-watched an episode of “Family Guy.” Busy, busy, busy, that’s me! But that’s not why I listed my activity. I’m interested in this because of a phrase from the textbook that’s been haunting me for weeks: “need to know.”

Leaving aside my shock that I could ever use the word “haunting” (in a good way too!) to describe anything in the book, and, for the moment, the thought that it’s kind of a double-edge sword to tell the reader of a textbook on the science behind the environment that the authors will just tell him what he “needs to know,” I wondered what I needed to know as I went about my business. I’m pretty hazy about the first few moments of today, I try to be that way every day, but I do remember turning on the stove to make breakfast, so in the interest of “moving this damn thing along” let’s start there…

I need to know that if I turn the given knob on my stove to “lite” [sic] a flame will emerge on whichever one of the four rings I wish. That a stove is where one cooks one’s food. That I must eat if I am to continue living. That, qua short-changed, university employee, qua divorced father whose kids like to cook with him, and qua excellent cook, it makes sense from the economic, familial, and taste vantage points for me to cook breakfast rather than going out. That I am a university employee, a father, and an excellent cook, what these terms mean, and why the first two roles involve extensive responsibilities backed up by legal, moral, and financial authority. English, even to read the word “lite,” and an understanding of the signs used by my stove to communicate with me. That the flame is the result of gas combining with a clicking sound and that if I turn the knob to “hi” (my stove has long been engaged in a fierce campaign against the English language) the clicking sound will go away. At this stage, the front right burner on my stove is emitting a blue flame, but I haven’t really done anything, yet I’ve needed to know a lot, and I left out a lot, all the stuff that led me to my stove, I probably glanced at my oddly long-lasting, black, plastic, Sony, clock-radio, I may have turned on a light, and I left out all the cool, interesting, worth-staying-up-all-night-to-read, continental, and, in contemporary terms, ‘non-scientific’ stuff about consciousness (all the stuff in “fuck off” books, as in “Fuck off, can’t you see I’m reading!”), so it seems safe to say that I needed to know, to put a definitive figure on it, tons.

Perhaps even tons and tons.

And yet I know nothing! And I don’t mean that in some form of Socratic, arrogant-faux-humble, sense; no, I mean I know nothing! Don DeLillo gets at something like this, he has the central character in “White Noise” awaken one morning and realize that he’s completely dependent on others, that he knows nothing (It’s peculiar that I remember this as I only read 50 or so pages of the book.) . So, what don’t I know? Well, the clicking sound, I assume that’s electrical, because there’s a plug and some cable running down the back of the stove, but I wouldn’t put money on it (whoa…something is true if and only if you’d put money on it – I smell tenure at UNLV!) , and anyway, what is electricity? How do you make it? And then there’s the gas.

But that’s okay, because I don’t need to know.

Thus the double-edged sword, for what do I need to know about the environment? I need to know the difference between climate and weather, check! That anyone who listens to Rush Limbaugh on the topic is a moron and if you read The New York Times, the Guardian, the New Yorker, and Harper’s, you’ll generally know what’s going on, check!

I don’t need to know anything else and that’s just as well because I don’t have any course materials here at home because NYU had a snow day on Friday (Yay!) so I didn’t bring my stuff home so now I’m not studying for my mid-term on Thursday, but that’s okay.

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