They didn’t have much trouble
teaching the ape to write poems:
first they strapped him into the chair,
then tied the pencil around his hand
(the paper had already been nailed down).
Then Dr. Bluespire leaned over his shoulder
and whispered into his ear:
“You look like a god sitting there.
Why don’t you try writing something?”
-James Tate (copyright 1970)
Of course the ape had to be strapped down. He had no reason to write. He was not improved by it, because he was already good, already a complete being just by being an ape. We who write see the writing as part of what makes us a benefit to the universe, as if the universe needed self-reflection, or an observer who would permanently etch their point of view for all time.
There is nothing wrong with writing. Evil doesn’t exist within the power of education, or even of replicating that education in others who have that gift or inclination. I am proud of my daughters who have been writing novels and poetry in their spare time. I am proud of my son who programs games and creates characters through word and design. But why would I want to put that burden on an ostrich, a horse, an eagle? They each have their own nobility, their own glory. Why diminish that glory by imposing upon them that which they are not gifted for? Their talents are already so great, why force them to do that which they were not born to do?
Why? Because we find it difficult to see glory in that which is not reflected in ourselves. We demand our children be intelligent in the way we are intelligent, to be gifted in the way we are gifted, to see not what we see, but how we see. Our fellow countrymen and women are only properly citizens if they are literate in the way we are literate, and we expect them to be so. They must know English as we know it, they must budget as we budget, they must live as we live, and have the benefits that we consider benefits. If our children, our countrymen, our family does not experience life as we experience it, they are poor, they are pitiful. And we feel we must do something to improve their lot, or we must blame them for not achieving the best. Our best.
So we limit their options. We establish societal standards that make it illegal to live without electricity, even though our ancestors all lived without it. We base our functionality on full literacy, although having a society with a majority of literate people is a very recent historical phenomenon. We insist that most people, especially the poor, live in cities, even though our bodies and biological rhythms are based on agricultural work. Again, there is nothing wrong with living according to these most recent standards. But to create a society where there is no place for the subsistence farmer, for the functionally illiterate, for the socially awkward is to deny our heritage, to deny the citizens we have.
Education is essential. Everyone should be given an opportunity to achieve all that they can. But if they cannot achieve sustenance in this world, why should they be treated as outcasts, as non-citizens? The true crime is to take the poor and call them lazy or crooked, when they have done nothing wrong. The policies and economics of our world are shutting out people who aren’t able to be educated in the traditional sense, whose intelligence doesn’t lie in the classic reading/math categories.
I want to make it clear, I am not comparing the poor to apes. The poor are human, with their own talents and gifts and secret powers and work to do for humanity at large. They are no less, no more than any other human being. But many of them have gifts that aren’t as easily accepted in the society we are building. Why not? Why are they excluded?
What if we saw them for who they were instead of how they are not like us? What if we found a place for those who couldn’t work forty hours a week? What if we created contexts for people to live and even thrive, even though they don’t meet the requirements of our “new world order” of a society? Who would it harm?
What if we actually had a society in which everyone had a place? Where no one was excluded? Would it be so bad?