Monday, August 29, 2016

In-Store Corn Semi-Shucking: The Kernel of Human Stupidity

It's corn season. This always reminds me of airport luggage carousals and of certain gym members. More on the other two in a second.

Corn season means that whenever I go food shopping, I must navigate crowds of sourpussed people peeling back corn husks to discover that - surprise! - there's corn inside. They stand there, peeling and peeling, drying out their own ears as well as the ones they arbitrarily discard, hastening conversion from sugar to starch.

A palpable cloud of stupidity emanates from these crowds. You can feel it. It's a vibe. This isn't just people acting stupid, it's stupidity incarnate. Whatever the Manhattan Project felt like, this is its polar opposite. This is as close to livestock as human beings get. As I fight my cart through the shucking hordes, it feels more like stock pens than modern America.

I've cataloged human stupidity since early childhood. And I've found ways to account for the vast majority of it. Much can be chalked up to caprice (it can be more enjoyable to do/think wrongly), blind spots (who conducts every aspect of their lives with perfect linearity and competence?), or "otra cultura" (more of our behavior is tribal than we realize). Most often of all, it's usually not as black or white as it seems. People have surprising reasons. Often, I'm the wrong one!

However, the corn thing cannot be accounted for by any of the above. It's not capricious fun. It's not cultural. And it's certainly not a blind spot. They work intently, like locusts, avidly tearing and tearing away at nature's perfect corn-protecting swathes. It's distilled mulish stupidity; people doing something utterly counterproductive simply because other people do it.

I can think of only two other examples of human stupidity which are equally unaccountable:
* People crowding, dead-eyed, in front of luggage carousels, though their own baggage is not imminent, preventing anyone whose luggage is passing by from grabbing their bags and safely hauling them off of the belt, and....

* People in gyms wearing non-breathable plastic garments (even repurposed trash bags) in order to dehydrate their way to weight loss.
Corn, luggage, sweat: the ultimate trinity of widespread, unexamined. unaccountable, black/white binary human stupidity (I've left off a close fourth - people who get up and stand uncomfortably in airline aisles, apparently forgetting that they won't move an inch for at least 10 minutes; one might at least weakly attribute this to "stretching one's legs.")

But here's the thing. Spiritual gurus report* that even the most worldly of us can, if you look at them right, be seen to be winking. At some level, we know we're pretending here, even as lost in the drama as most of us appear to be. We're not as lost as we fear. We are always, at some level, winking, even as we pretend otherwise.

It's a phenomenally hopeful observation, and I see a link. One experiences a similarity in the company of corn vandals, luggage retrieval barriers, and gym dehydrators. Watch them; faces slacken in precisely the same way in all three instances, almost as if they, themselves, register their stupidity at some level. They make their stupid face! It's a tell; a wink. It's the saving grace!

Otherwise, why would people engaged in these three things seem so eerily similar? If you're truly convinced of the wisdom of store-shucking, why wouldn't you display the same efficient competence obliviously doing this stupid thing as while you're crisply parallel parking, or briskly chopping onions? How do people engaged in these three inexplicable acts of stupidity know to look and seem stupid while they do them? My conclusion is that, at some level, they know.

* - The best guru of the current lot, I think, is Adyashanti. He's the most consistently clear-headed, inspiring, and non-shit-full figure currently in that realm. In fact, I think it was he who made this very observation. Good interview here, and some free audios and videos here. Not a joiny thing.


vhliv said...

Why is it wrong to want to check that what you are buying has not been half eaten by corn worms?

plam said...

dehydration via plastic bag is totally worth it if you've got a weigh in for a competitive event coming up (been there, done that)

Jim Leff said...

So would cutting off a limb. And the latter would arguably be less deadly, if you're handy with a tourniquet.

Dehydration is a very, very big problem for the body.

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