My good friend and college professor Dr. M. Ritchey wrote a manifesto for a new project of mine. She has turned my insistence on bothering everyone about what objective qualities can be said to constitute “a sandwich” into a thoughtful presentation on the Platonic Dialogues and the wisdom of understanding our own limitations. (You should go read it as there are some spoilers below).
I’ve long argued for a simple definition of sandwichness and while I’ve enjoyed the resulting chaos it was never my intention to teach anything meaningful. I just wanted a solid definition. While I can’t argue that I love to push boundaries I would argue that boundaries exist to be pushed (otherwise, why would they exist at all?). A boundary that can’t hold its ground is no longer a boundary but more of a speed bump (which ultimately is a form of boundary I suppose… dammit).
Dr. Ritchey’s appropriation of my Sandwich Theory for the purposes of teaching the Platonic Dialogues is like Black & Decker creating the DustBuster based on R&D from NASA. While not the original purpose it’s being put to much better use for all of humanity. The idea of a classroom full of students falling into the “what is bread?” trap fills me the pride only a supervillain can feel when blotting out the sun. And yet, just as every villain is bested, so is my idea ultimately turned into an enlightening lesson.
The idea that to attempt to define a sandwich is pointless is handled so much better in the careful hands of Dr. Ritchey. Her knowledge of history and years of study and just generally being one of the smartest people I know allows her to see this failure of language and conceptual thinking as a form of universal equality where we must also question what be believe about “justice” and “freedom” and understand our own fallibility. In the end, she argues, we are just beautifully human.
This was never a thought I had in all the years I have argued the sandwich. I am almost ashamed to admit my thoughts were far more cynical. I assumed that if the sandwich could not be defined, then nothing could. Ultimately the failure of defining the sandwich let me to believe we live in a brutal and lawless world of barely sentient animals all fighting for a meaningless supremacy. My inability to define a sandwich was turning me into a nihilist. Without sandwiches how could we have morality?
Thankfully I was but the student, and the master came along and taught me a new way. The acceptance of futility is not the end of mankind but the beginning. As Dr. Ritchey says:
It’s true that each day we must make choices and decide what is the best thing to do. We can’t truly inhabit a world where there is no truth and words don’t mean anything, as even the most staunchly postmodernist philosophers have demonstrated. But how much better things would be if we at least recognized our own fallibility, our own essential blindness and lack of understanding in the face of the unimaginable complexity of the universe, our own knowledge that “all we know is that we know nothing.”
So I want to first credit Dr. Ritchey (while I did post her work online I am not the author) and secondly thank her. She has helped reinvigorate not just my lust for sandwich arguments but more importantly my optimism about the future of humanity.
image credit: shutterstock/Sergey Peterman