The magnificent spork, that eating utensil long cherished by fast food restaurants, has existed for longer than many might realize. The simplicity of its design and function make it an item that is often taken for granted. The name “spork” is a portmanteau, combining the words spoon and fork. Other similar utensils exist, each with their own portmanteau name: Spife, Knork, Sporf, etc. Perhaps backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts are the folk who best understand the usefulness and value of the spork. The combination of spoon and fork not only cuts down on weight but also makes cleaning up after meals that much easier.
One of the earliest recorded instances of a spork-like utensil comes out of the U.S. Patent Office. In 1874 a man named Samuel W. Francis applied for a patent for a combined knife, fork, and spoon. Francis’ spork had tines extending out of the front of the bowl of the spoon and also featured a short knife edge extending out from the side of the spoon. Several other patents were issued in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for different designs of spork, but these were all design patents that only protected a specific configuration of the utensil. The Finnish army also uses a combination spoon/fork called a Lusikkahaarukka, although this device is not directly analogous to the modern spork.
The more recent history of the spork is not an easy thing. According to the New York TImes, in 1952 a man named Hyde Ballard applied for a patent on the name “Spork”, although this patent is no longer on record in the patent office. Coinciding with the rise of the fast food restaurant the spork became more and more common and eventually made its way into the everyday vernacular. In 2006 a Swedish designer named Joachim Nordwall tried to reinvent the spork and make it more useful by placing the tines and the bowl of the spoon at the opposite ends of the utensil. Nordwall’s employer, Light My Fire, currently sells this new design alongside other outdoor supplies.
Although new designs of the spork will undoubtedly be “invented,” mankind has been using combination utensils of various types for centuries. The value and convenience these tools provide is something that is as important now as it was when they were first created.
An ideal’s longevity is based not on its truth or nobility, but on its innate defense against corruption. This is an interesting attitude to have as it runs contrary to the belief that “truth will have its day” or that “love conquers all.” Every idea that man creates and pursues will have, built in to it, mechanisms that defend against the “corruption” of the idea. Corruption in this sense can simply be defined as the acknowledgment of other ideas that are contrary. As an example, the ideal of freedom is protected and fostered by the mechanisms of a free press, personal property, etc.
This idea of mechanisms designed to defend ideas does not require a judgment on whether the said ideas are true or even based in fact. It simply serves as a device to introduce the next part of my analogy. If those mechanisms can be thought of as gears which, in their turning, drive our daily actions, then each person’s mind as a whole can be thought of as a great machine which is, throughout the great journey of life, trying to find the best configuration of gears.
Society also functions this way. Each idea has its adherents, each religion its followers, each industry its own wants and needs. Every system in society has its own “gears” that support and drive it. In many cases the mechanisms that form around concepts are neutral, serving only to protect the idea they surround. But sometimes the mechanisms can interfere with or directly attack the mechanisms of another idea. For example, in older times arranged marriages were common (and still are in some areas of the world). These marriages existed as a mechanism to maintain the power of the family. Heads of households would make matches for their sons and daughters to improve bloodlines, consolidate power, gain wealth and prestige, etc. The mechanism of marriage defended the all importance of the family. This mechanism came into conflict with the growing idea of freedom of choice in love, the idea that you should be able to choose who you want to be espoused to.
What arises then is a system in which the ideals and beliefs that society as a whole subscribes to are in constant friction with each other’s defensive mechanisms, like two gears that don’t fit. This is distinctly apparent in today’s political and social debates. The two major political parties in America have ideas and values which are so different from one another that many times the outward expression of those values clash and grind together in a most distressing way. We each try and fit the gears together in a configuration where they complement each other in some places, or simply don’t encounter any resistance in other places. Sometimes certain gears are even discarded entirely in our vision of this “great machine”, when judged to be completely incompatible with any others.
When seen in this light all the conflict that arises between humans is the result of us trying to either uphold a mechanism or tear one down. Each of us has an idea, no matter how rough or abstract, of how we think the gears should fit together. To carry this analogy even further, some gears appear to our eyes to be inferior to others. Some gears are clearly flawed or if used would cause damage to others. This is “truth” and “falsehood.” What we see as truthful has a place, what we see as false does not. How we see those gears all depends on what purpose we think the greater machine ought to have.
So where does this leave us? When considering new ideas we should look at all the turning gears and effects that the idea has on the greater system. Does what we think we know really fit with our core beliefs? Do the policies we support and the daily actions we take mesh well with other ideas we see as truthful?
It is said that we should judge people not on their words but their actions. I think it should be the same with concepts, ideas, beliefs, and philosophies. Look at the fruit that these things produce. Look at the mechanisms that drive them. Do we protect certain ideas we have because that is simply what we have always done or is it because we have actually examined them for ourselves. Are they a good influence on the greater “machine” or do they produce a negative effect?
The questions that arise as we see the world as a product of the interaction of ideas is important. It allows us to strips away much of the emotional baggage that too often clogs good, intellectual thought and makes us look at the foundations of life on this planet. The foundations are key, because without a firm foundation what can we possibly build that will stand? Without a societal “machine” that is not constantly striving to become more efficient how can anything be achieved?
The common man. Is there such a thing any more? Is there a certain basis on which the values, actions, and lifestyles of the mass of society can be judged? It interests me to see that the idea of a commonly bonding philosophy or shared ideal continues to decline. Multiculturalism, the much-lauded, mixed blessing of the modern world tells us that diversity is to be praised as a hallmark of a strong society. But is this truly the case? Is there such a thing as too diverse?
In the founding years of our nation, immigrants from the world over flocked to a land where they could be free of religious persecution, Old World prejudices, and dead end lives. America represented a shining beacon of opportunity. These people brought with them the cultures of dozens of nations. Naturally these people groups came into conflict with one another. This conflict was the natural expression of racial and cultural differences, and seeped into government because, after all, the government was run by these same people.
Yet they had a respect and commonly held belief in at least a few things. The exceptionalism of America and the freedom to do as you saw fit to name a few. Though different and sometimes at odds with one another, over time they unified and formed the amalgam of culture that is America. Thus the great melting pot analogy was born.
But today you see the purposeful division of groups of people by none other than the social institutions, federal government, and corporate entities that claim to protect them. The natural integration of society is halted for the purposes of vote buying, victimizing, and marketing. By promoting this idea that people are defined by their race, creed, cultural background, sexual orientation, gender,etc. society as a whole has sharpened the conflicts between these groups. There is no room any more for the idea of the common person. There is no longer anything to be held in commonality among each other!
While I know that this post is more political than my usual fare, I just felt like I needed to get this out. Any comments or thoughts on this subject are appreciated! Do you find that there are values or concepts that you hold in common with people outside of your immediate family and community?