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The Lucilius Parables, Volume I

A LUCILIUS PARABLE: EDGE OF CONTEXT

February 7th, 2021

 

Lucilius was quiet, concentrating on the problem at hand.  His eyes narrows on a detail on the screen as he read it again.  There was something wrong with the context of his understanding, he knew.  He leaned back to entertain the notion for a moment.

 

“When you understand a problem completely…” Lucilius said out loud to himself. “…it ceases to be a problem…. Because a problem really represents a lack of understanding because the context is wrong.  There’s a bit of nuance missing that solves the problem and nuance is always a function of context.”

 

He smiled at the smart sound of his own words and then noticed the problem still on the screen.  He frowned a bit, realizing his meta-musing did nothing to actually help solve his problem.  He sighed and leaned back in to concentrate again when the door to the apartment burst open and his roommate stomped in.  

 

The drama of the entrance was too much to ignore.  Lucilius swivelled around in his chair.

 

“Something wrong dear?” He teased.

 

“I just don’t understand how stupid some people can be!” Shouted the roommate.

 

Lucilius smiled.  It was one of his favourite topics, primarily because he always seems to find himself on both ends of the confusion.

 

“Noticing people’s poor diet choices in the wild again?”  Lucilius offered.

 

“What? No.”

 

“Counting the number of people commuting to jobs that can be done through a wire?”

 

“What?” His roommate was growing more frustrated. “No!  I was at lunch with people I work with and I found out that nearly all of them voted for that moron!  I mean, how can these people be so stupid?  How can they do things that are clearly not in their own best interest?”

 

“If you can’t understand why someone would do something, does that necessarily mean they are stupid?”

 

“I don’t see any other way to explain it!”

 

“That’s my point.”

 

“What?”

 

“You said yourself you don’t understand.  Isn’t that sort of what stupid means?  When someone doesn’t or can’t understand something?”

 

“Are you calling me stupid?”  Lucilius roommate asked, even more incredulously.

 

“No,” Lucilius said with a suspicious smile.  Then he slowly offered out his hand as though he were presenting something.  “But you might be.”

 

The roommate was not amused.  Lucilius shook his head and waved a limp hand as if to ask forgiveness.

 

“All kidding aside,” Lucilius continued. “You admitted as much yourself: thinking a whole bunch of people are stupid is an admission of ignorance, because we can’t understand what causes their stupid behavior, right?”

“I mean, they have to be delusional,”  Lucilius’ roommate added.

 

“Sure, maybe,” Lucilius agreed. “Certainly a whole bunch of people can be delusional about something, it happens all the time, but even delusion has root causes and a specific context that makes the delusion really compelling.”

The roommate seemed to be listening, more interested now rather than just emotional.

 

“Like this problem I’m working on,” Lucilius said, lazily nodding his head back at the computer.  “The only reason it’s a problem is because I actually don’t understand the problem completely.  There’s some little bit of detail and nuance that’s escaping me which keeps me from understanding, and so right now, I’m just confused.”

 

“Huh, yea, I’m definitely confused by their decision.”  The roommate piped in with high eyebrows, but after a moment he rolled his eyes.  “You’re saying I’m missing some detail that explains their behavior?”

 

Lucilius nodded his head down gently.

 

“If you can’t believe what you’re seeing or hearing, what does that mean about what you actually do believe?”

 

Lucilius’ roommate looked off, thinking about the idea.  “Well, obviously you’re implying there’s something wrong with what I believe.”

 

 

“You said yourself that you don’t understand, and isn’t that the same thing?  So where is the problem really?  With ourselves or with them?”

 

“Isn’t that two different problems?” The roommate countered.

 

“Sure it is, but aren’t they clearly related in a way where the solution to one also solves the other?”

 

 

The roommate seemed stuck.  Unsold maybe.  Lucilius waved a hand, as though to try and wipe the slate clean and start again.

 

“This was about a vote right?”  Lucilius asked.

 

“THE vote,” corrected the roommate.

 

“Ok, the vote.  Let me ask you: what’s the point of Government or even civilization?”

 

“Progress? and order?  I guess?”

 

“A little bit. But containing both those, it’s really about how we try to take care of each other.  How we can get along with strangers because we simply just don’t have the time nor the memory to get to know everyone individually.  Government and even more, civilization is an attempt to solve for the problem of: how do you cooperate with strangers? And so when you asked how they could do something that was clearly not in their own best interests, who’s interest were you really thinking about?”

 

“But I can clearly see how they are undermining themselves!”

 

“From your perspective which admits not being able to see their perspective.  How can you claim to know what’s best for someone who you don’t understand?  Saying someone is stupid is not understanding…  Isn’t that really an admission of your own approach to the situation?  How can you be sure your ideas and solutions will work if you’re admitting from the outset that there’s something you really don’t understand?  Doesn’t that sound rather brash?”

 

“So, your saying they see some sort of benefit that I don’t?”

 

Lucilius nodded.  “That might be the key, that missing bit of context that makes the picture snap into focus.  People act based on their emotions, but just like delusions, emotions also have causes, which seem sensible and compelling within their context,”  

 

Lucilius shook his head some, now talking more to himself,  “When it comes to these sorts of issues we are so sloppy with the context, and it’s strange.  We become so binary and then pretend that one half of that context just doesn’t really exist or doesn’t matter.”

 

The roommate sank down on to the couch, and smiled a bit sheepishly.

 

“I must have seemed pretty ridiculous stomping in here all pissed off about my dumb coworkers.”

 

Lucilius lifted half a smile, feeling a bit defeated. “No, but, that’s probably because I know where you’re coming from.”


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