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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Box

There's a box on the table. It's got no hinges, no top or bottom--it's completely impossible to open. Solid steel faces; no seams, no cracks. But when you knock on the side, you can hear it's hollow. Not necessarily empty, but hollow. In fact, that's the whole debate.

What's inside there? It could be nothing, but why would anyone even make a box to hold nothing? That doesn't make sense. So something must be there. Never mind how impossible it would seem to have gotten anything inside there in the first place. Something must be inside, but what? When you shake the box, it doesn't make a sound. Perhaps it's filled with cotton balls. Or helium.

Those would be the logical answers, at least. Of course there are others who say what's inside is a baseball. But you'd hear that bouncing around, wouldn't you? Still, they insist it's a baseball and always has been. It's an immutable fact, they say, so why even argue? But others say it's a cat. Some say it's a dead cat, others say it's alive. Some philosopher says you can't ever know, but no one is listening to him anyway. One person insists it's a piece of lapis lazuli, the biggest ever. Another insists it's a gun. Both of them have conviction unwavering. They're certain. The lapis lazuli people say the gem is inside there to represent peace. The gun people say it means war. Each lives according to their self-prescribed philosophy, and if you question what they've got to say, they'll both be ready to throw down with you at the drop of a hat--even the pacifists.

They'll tell you all about how they know, when plainly it is impossible to know at all. They'll give you their facts, their reasons--a cocktail of half-truths, assumptions, interpretations, ambiguities and outright lies--and expect you to come over to their side. If you don't, they'll spit in your face. It will be bad enough if you decide there is a cat inside there, because then you'll have to decide whether it is alive or dead, of course. And what color it is. And whether its name is Jingles or Tiger. Because not only will the people with their gems and the people with their guns be angry with you, but the thousands of different iterations of cat people will be even angrier. They'll be so frustrated that you have the right idea, but you've just got these details wrong, why won't you just open your eyes? His name is Mr. Skeeter and he's a grey tabby, goddamnit.

But worse than all of those would be to choose nothing. Because then you are denying the idea that the box is important at all. You're saying that it's just a box. Maybe it's not important at all. You can't know what's inside it, but the simple fact remains that we can get along well enough without knowing, and that all this fighting we're doing over a completely unsolvable variable is downright barbaric and just as silly. But that's pushing too many buttons. That's calling into question the very existence of some of these people who have put their entire lives campaigning for the lapis lazuli, the gun, or the thousands of different cats. And so if there is anything that those disparate groups can agree on, it's that you are the scum of the earth and should be strung up out in front of town hall.

And yet, all signs point to that box just being empty. It doesn't make a sound when you shake it, it hardly weighs anything, and there's not even a way to get something inside it as far as we can tell. Of course, you couldn't say for certain that there is nothing there. It could be those cotton balls, but there's no real way of knowing. It might be that helium, or even a compound of hydrogen and oxygen. Just air. Would that really be any different from nothing at all? Even if you somehow could open this impenetrable box, the contents that had been so hotly contested for so long would just disappear undetected into the rest of the air around us. And we'd never know or appreciate it, because all along we've been surrounded by that air and we didn't even notice it anyway.

So what's the point of fighting about it? I have no idea what's in that box, but what's more: I know that I can't possibly know. As convinced as I may be that there is nothing in there because all of the empirical evidence points in that direction, I still can't say for certain, just for pretty sure. What I know most is that I refuse to fight about it, kill about it, even get angry about it. I just don't care about your weapons, or your gemstones, and I don't care about Mr. Skeeter, no matter what you think he can do to me with his all-encompassing knowledge and command of fate. Plus, if he really does have everything in his paw, completely under control... he's kind of a dick. He's definitely at least not the embodiment of pure goodness. Seriously now.

There is enough of world outside of that box for me to worry about and try to take care of while I'm on this planet, so I'll stick to worrying about that. You can fight over a stupid fucking box.