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Mister Know Enough
In this information age, we all suffer data overload to some degree. This comes not just in the form of commercial spam. It also comes as what I call acquaintance spam, those pesky e-mails from acquaintances demanding our attention. They claim they have "knowledge" they "must" share and then condemn us as "immoral" when we object.
I want to step back and talk about the function of knowledge in human life -- and how to deal decisively with people who want to abuse that function.
For as long as human beings have had language, they have had formal knowledge expressed in words. Human beings acquire knowledge through experience and reason. Oog the caveman learns how to make fire and shares it with his tribe. Moog his wife learns to cook meat on the fire and shares it with her daughter. Dag their son learns how to make a wheel and shows it to the tribal chief.
They pass their accumulated knowledge from one generation to another first through speaking and later through writing. Knowledge accumulates across the generations. People make many mistakes along the way. But when enough people get their knowledge accurate enough, enough of the time, this process allows the human species to propagate across the face of the planet and flourish.
In the end, that is all that counts: Knowledge needs to be essential enough, accurate enough and comprehensive enough to let the knower live well enough and long enough to reproduce so he can pass his genes and his knowledge to his offspring. The operative word here is enough. I did not say "totally" essential, "totally" accurate or "totally" comprehensive. Anyone who makes such a claim suffers delusions of godhood. Knowledge simply serves as a tool for living.
I do not serve knowledge. Knowledge serves me.
Let me repeat that:
I do not serve knowledge. Knowledge serves me.
I don't claim to know it all. I don't even claim full accuracy of what I think I do know. I only claim to know enough not to need pesky spammers. In other words, I am not "Mister Know It All." I am "Mister Know Enough."
This brings me back to my initial subject: acquaintance spam.
Let me share a story about a former coworker. After I joined her workplace Toastmasters Club in 1999, I found her increasingly inundating me and many others with e-mail messages not at all related to work or even to Toastmasters. As the 2000 elections drew near, her messages took a decidedly sharp turn left. No matter what happened, it had to be the fault of George W. Bush. If she stubbed her toe that morning, it had to be the fault of George W. Bush.
Finally, I had enough. So I replied to one of her messages and asked her what she expected me to do with them. "Oh, they're just for your information -- things to ponder," she replied. I politely informed her that I received enough work related e-mail to "ponder" already and please to stop sending me this unsolicited "information."
She bellowed back in all capital letters:
"WELL, EXCUSE THE HELL OUT OF ME! I GUESS YOU JUST THINK YOU ALREADY 'KNOW EVERYTHING'!"
I make no claim to know everything. I only need to know enough not to need pesky spammers like her. So I maintained my civil tone and responded:
"Nevertheless, I have no interest in receiving more of this material. Please remove me from your e-mail list for it."
How did she respond?
"WELL, EXCUSE THE HELL OUT OF ME! I GUESS YOU JUST THINK YOU ARE 'MUCH TOO GOOD' FOR THE REST OF US!"
I do not think I am better than everyone I encounter. I know plenty of people whom I consider my spiritual superiors. I use them as role models to improve myself. This woman did not fall into that category. So I gave her one last parting shot:
"I tried to be civil. I tried to be nice. What did I get in response? A scream fest! Forget it. I'm out of here."
By now, the gloves had come off. When I got another blast of political propaganda from this woman, I forwarded it directly to the worksite e-mail administrator and let him deal with it. He thanked me for it and promised to investigate.
The investigation discovered she had thoroughly abused the e-mail system with political propaganda, including one sent directly to Vice President Al Gore from her work address. It also discovered downloaded pornography on her workplace computer and clear evidence of her drinking alcohol on the job. These exposures led her to make open threats in front of a dozen witnesses to slit her boss's throat from ear to ear when he confronted her about these violations.
Not surprisingly, she found herself escorted off site, on the street and unemployed.
That is how you deal decisively with pesky spammers.
Don't mess with me. I mean it. Don't mess with me. In the end, the minutes of my life belong to me and not to you. I will spend them at my discretion and not at yours.
I am not "Mister Know It All."
I am "Mister Know Enough."
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