Duckman Is My Sherpa
Posted November 17, 2008 at 11:39 PM by Ben Nadel
Duckman was a loud, obnoxious, offensive, sexist, hate-filled, angry, neglectful, and self-centered duck detective. He was also one of my most influential mentors. I am not sure whether he so much taught me as much as he perhaps just helped me to codify some of my core beliefs; but either way, several epiphanies have been had crouched at his orange, webbed feet.
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Duckman's biggest influence came to me right in the very beginning of the series in 1994 - Season 1, Episode 3: Gripes of Wrath. In the episode, Duckman makes a quip about ineffective deodorant which inadvertently prompts a super computer to architect world peace through the removal of all daily friction present in people's lives. While this topic is nothing new, the episode deeply explores the paradoxical nature of happiness:
I don't care *what* religion you are! You made things worse when you made them better! I mean, I liked having a lot of free time, but I hated not having anything to do. Don't you see, things were good when they were bad, and they got bad when they were good. People aren't happy unless they're unhappy.
While this prototypical Duckman rant quite rightly expresses the conundrum that is happiness, the real impact of the discussion came from Charles - one half of Duckman's mutant son:
What we're saying is that the most perfect world is an imperfect world as the imperfections give people a reason to strive to change it.
This statement came nothing short of rocking my world at its very core. I became fascinated with this idea. I internalized it; I meditated on it. And while I am in love with the idea of a life-long journey and the constant pursuit of improvement (a "student's perspective"), over time, I dropped the significance of the drive to change imperfection. Rather, I began to focus on the more general concept that the only perfect world is an imperfect world.
And, as I grew older and continually re-evaluated my belief systems, this idea gave birth to the more specific belief that people's perfection existed within their imperfections. That is to say, it is their imperfections that, in a significant way, make them interesting, and beautiful, and unique, and ... well, human.
This Duckman wisdom that was just handed to me became a lense through which I viewed all people. Suddenly, my entire social experience was revolutionized; not only did I begin to really enjoy people's so-called "imperfections", I began to seek them out. As the pendulum of my life swung quickly into this new world, people's achievements - grades, musical ability, sporting victories, and so on - became boring. Who cares about that stuff - it's so... average. Give me something good - a missing tooth, a strange scar, a food allergy, a lisp - pick your nose for christ' sake. Show me a part of you that makes you, "you".
Of course this infatuation with the "imperfect" side of both human life and human nature slowly ebbed; as the shock of my epiphany wore off, I came to see life less as a lever on which Good and Bad reside on different sides of the fulcrum of experience and saw life more as a single scale on which both good and bad are the core parts of a single sum. Now, as I have matured, I feel like I have the best of both worlds: I highly appreciate people perfections while I, at the same time, find myself feeling very fond of their imperfections.
All I can say it thank goodness for Duckman - that angry little duck, that wise man.
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Yeah, I've seen that theme in a number of places... It was discussed in the book Life 101 and I talk about it in the Optimist's Wager, which I have yet to publish... On a semi related note, there's a similar paradox mentioned in the beginning of the movie the Life of David Gale, that you can only want what you don't have. Once you have something you can't want it anymore, because wanting implies that it's missing.
Here's the first chapter of my book
That pic has an old title - there's an updated cover image linked in the description.
That's awesome that you're writing a book. Badass! I'll have to check it out.
Ben, great post. I like the way you articulated this concept. I had a similar revelation while taking a creative writing course in college. When the discussion came up of "What makes stories Interesting?" and was followed by the question of "What makes life interesting?", then answer to both was Drama.
While I hate to hear about crimes being committed against anyone, and I certainly don't want anyone to die in war, my thoughts seem to drift toward the idea of "What would life be like if there was no crime, and were no wars, and the world was at peace and all of our problems were solved?". Of course, the answer I always come to is that life would be boring.
No doubt someone will interpret this as me saying that crime and war are good things. And that is not what I am saying. I will suggest that we think about these things. Are bad things actually things that we, as a race and as a society, need? I would venture to say yes. They are the actual necessary evil that we need to show us the good things. How would we recognize the good if there is nothing bad to compare it against?
As a race, we need drama to keep our interest. As you said, we need imperfection.
A better life (happiness) is not about ridding ourselves of all things bad. It is about balancing the good and the bad. You can't have good things, if there are no bad things.
Thanks. I know what you are saying. I like term "necessary evil".
@Jason - Balance is a good way of describing it. :) Much the way that's described in Buddhism as "the middle way". The analogy was to the string of an instrument like a violin - if it's too tight it snaps - if it's too loose it doesn't make any sound. In order to create music, the string needs to have just the right amount of tension.
@Ben - thanks re: the book
There's also another one I forgot is that in the book The Coming Anarchy by Robert Kaplan (a journalist who's spent much of his career seeking out stories that other journalists didn't want - which imo makes him a better journalist). The last chapter in the book is titled the Dangers of Peace which as I understand it was an expansion of an earlier article he wrote about what life would be like in a world without conflict (war in particular). Part of the down side he described is that the news would suddenly become all about gossip because the news industry wouldn't just shrivel up in absence. They'd still have to fill their hour a day or however many pages of print, but in absence of conflict they would turn to frivolity.
I'm not convinced that in particular is such a bad thing -- I don't pay much attention to news media currently, so I'm not sure it would affect me much. :P Personally I would really like to see us eventually evolve into a kind of Star-Trek esque society in which although we retain our cultural identity, the bulk of our time is spent in pursuit of fulfillment and "making the world a better place", instead of spending so much time focused on staving off violence.
As an example, there are a variety of things I might love to help work toward solving, such as helping with the development of prosthetic eyes for people who've lost their retinas. But because so much of our time right now is spent trying to stave off wars and economic disasters, there's little opportunity for me to get to a place in my life where I could actually contribute to it. If we had figured out how to make it possible for everyone to contribute and distribute the needs evenly, then the path from here to helping with the prosthetic eye would be pretty simple, because whatever education I needed would be available and there wouldn't be contention over patents. We would all just be focused on dealing with the issue of the eye, minus all the bickering about who becomes the next millionaire as a result.
But I don't really see that as a world without flaws or imperfections either. I see that merely as a world without violence. We can be peaceful and productive and still have our quirks. :) Even in Star Trek the characters are flawed. Like Jason mentioned, they really have to be to keep the series interesting. :) Though I think that culturally we've finally gotten past the point where the guys who are black on one side and white on the other are the big enlightenment. :P Now we're on to more subtle issues.
Getting back to the reason why I'm not contributing to the development of prosthetic eyes... I think ultimately the reason why education still isn't free (at least here in the US) is because we're still stuck in a "violent" mind-set. Why should we teach you? Why should we give you money for problem x? What are you going to give us? It's born from a very "us vs. them" mindset. It's all about what the other person is going to give back, instead of having the "pay it forward" attitude where you make positive things accessible to people and trust that good things will come of it.
p.s. The mention of "necessary evil" reminds me of the scene at the end of Time Bandits where the kid asks God why we need Evil (the devil-esque villain character). And God's answer was "that's a good question... I think it's got something to do with free will."
Got me thinking about Pay It Forward... I must have been really out of the loop, because god only knows why, I was still thinking it hadn't been released in the theaters yet... went and looked it up and saw it was out in 2000. D'oh! So I guess I'll have to go rent it. :) But I caught this video on IMDB next to the trailer... pretty cool. :)
That's a pretty crazy kidney donation story. I know this sounds really selfish after watching that, but I just don't think I could give my kidney to a random person. I might feel differently if it was someone I really cared about. To me, I find much joy in helping those around me when I have a connection to them. I don't think often about helping those that I don't know.
Now I feel bad :)
@Ben - you feel bad and then follow it with a smiley... heh... seems rather in keeping with the theme of this article doesn't it? :) If I could donate a kidney to a stranger I might... I actually have a horseshoe kidney which means my kidneys are connected in the middle at the top. As deformities go it doesn't bother me much. ;) But it does mean that the doctors would probably not consider me a good candidate to donate one.
I hope you get a chance at working on those prosthetic eyes, that would really do some good in this world. The problem today is that too many people are wrapped up in this world, no one is thinking of the hereafter. If everyone started thinking that way and began to worship God the way they're suppose to, we wouldn't have any hunger or wars or anything of that nature. A person can remain busy in this world making more money and thinking of how they can make even more, but when it boils down to it, none of it goes with you to the grave and God doesn't accept anything other than our deeds and the good that we've done in this world.
Anyway, I don't want to sidetrack the post, good luck with that!
I totally agree with you. Selfishness is why the world is the way it is today. It's all about me me me. That's so sad :( My feeling is I give back as much as I possibly can and teach my children to do so as well and always hope that other people are doing the same :-)
@Ben-My dreamboat (sigh)
I got very excited when I read that you are fond of imperfections because, I am FAR FROM BEING PERFECT, which means I may have a shot in hell at maybe one day seeing you!
Just so you know I have a chickenpox scar right in the middle of my forehead which kind of looks like a bullet shot :-) and unlike average girls, I totally pick my nose hahaha... So anyway just so you know ;-)
@Ben-My dreamboat (sigh)
I meant to say, one day having the courage to letting you see who I am ;-) and not worrying that you will think I am not "perfect" enough to hang with :-(
I am sure I would like to hand out with you, flaws and all.
Heh... "hand out with you"... damn typos!
Hand, Hang I'll take it! ;-) now if only I could work on my courage to actually go for it!
Hey Ben, I just wanted to drop another note here to let you know that I linked to this article from a blog I posted yesterday. :)
Thanks again for posting this. :)