Sunday, 30 March 2008

Epistemics and incontinence.


Epistemology (according to TBH) is the branch of philosophy that deals with the big questions of Truth. What is it? How do we know it when we see it? “Social construction -ists,” he says, believe that they have answered these questions. Truth is what we agree it is. How do we know what we know: because everybody says so.

Turn the clock back and the Truth was that “the earth is flat”, move on a few hundred years and everyone knew “the earth is round and the centre of the universe”, while now we all know for sure that “the earth revolves around the sun”.

But, TBH says, there is another, perhaps more reliable, pointer to Truth: the stomach, the gut feel, the “epistemic detector”. How do you know what you know? Your bowels open.

The dumping reflex is part of a mammal’s fight-or-flight response. The cave man experienced it when, cornered by woolly mammoth or saber-toothed tiger, he knew for sure that this time it was life or death. The adrenalin kicked in. His sphincter muscles opened to evacuate his gut, and he braced himself for that last, desperate, dash for safety.

If someone tells you not to put your hand in the fire because you’ll burn yourself then you know why you shouldn’t do it intellectually. But put your hand in the fire and burn yourself and you’ll know why you shouldn’t do it viscerally. Visceral knowledge beats intellectual knowledge just as surely as a Smith & Wesson beats a Full House. But in an age where we value the analytical over the practical we often get this wrong.

Gut feel, intuition, wisdom if you like, is what we’ve got when we’ve forgotten what we know, when we’ve internalized all our knowledge and experience, when it’s become our instinctive response.

So it was intuition, that sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach, that told me so unmistakably that the women with the pretty babies (no dark ones, no ugly ones, no birth defects) who make up the demand for Guatemalan children are very much in the wrong. Don’t they realize it? Aren’t they disgusted, too?

A number of people have agreed strongly with what I wrote in Babies and Bangles. One couple, who ran children homes for many years, had exactly the same reaction when encountering forty or more new mums promenading their latest purchases before boarding a plane back to the States.

And yet this decadence, this social decay, this insidious rot, is so sweet smelling, so cloying: elegant ladies, exotic perfumes, manicured hands, expensive restaurants, designer baby wear. Other people have reacted defensively to my horror, telling me stories of wonderful foster parents that they know personally (though actually not of Guatemalan children).

I am still in no doubt that adoption is out of control here in Guatemala and that it is long past the point where the rest of us should speak out to condemn this trade in young lives. How can I be so certain? My epistemic detector tells me so.

Cruisers describe such certainty less delicately as “brown-trouser” or “Oh-shit!” moments. They happen when you’ve been helming for six hours in breaking seas because you don’t trust the autopilot downwind, your partner is exhausted and anyway is not as good at the wheel as you are, and you realize that this weather is likely to continue for at least another six hours.

I’ve spoken to more than a few passage-makers who privately admit to being so scared that at times they’ve wet themselves, then stood their watch damp and wretched, unwilling to wake the crew on such a feeble pretext.

I have a wonderfully elegant cruising pal, Jenny. Blonde, tall and graceful she wrote me an email about a really nasty passage as they were approaching Cartagena in Colombia. A wave broke over her head and that shock on top of the fear that she was already experiencing led to a wonderful warm feeling in her wet weather gear, yup incontinence had struck! Made me feel a whole lot better I can tell you...

Want the “low down” on sailing? You’ll get it here… if nowhere else! When provisioning for a long passage, spare a thought for incontinence pads. You won’t see them advertised in chandlery catalogues. Not surprising as they don’t fit the sanitized image of our sport. But they’re as essential a part of heavy-weather gear as oil-skins and survival suits. And even if you don’t encounter bad weather, they’re great for mopping up engine oil spills (and much cheaper than pads sold only for that purpose).

Maybe nobody else says so, but it’s true.

1 comment:

Kent said...

The world is round......like a pancake!