Hi, my name is John and I’m an answerholic. For as long as I can remember I’ve been an insufferable smartarse. If you were to ask me a question, I will reflexively give you an answer, regardless of my expertise or lack thereof. If I know the subject well, you will get a more comprehensive answer than you ever wanted. If I don’t, oftentimes you will be subjected to a stream-of-consciousness, motor-mouthed list of theories, guesses, and promises of future research. Admitting that I haven’t got a clue is becoming more common, but remains the exception. Incidentally, I cannot overstate that brevity is not my strong suit. A notable number of these encounters end with my interlocutor looking wildly for an exit and performing the shuffling retreat of the finished conversation. I suppose that the reason for this confession is curiosity. It’s certainly not absolution, I’m hellbound and proud of it. But I am curious about whether I am alone in this, and whether it is quite as irksome as it seems.
My disorder makes itself most known in my day job, in that most inconsequential of arenas. Given the large volume of tourists who frequent my workplace I am often asked for directions, whether to landmarks or restaurants, or information about local or national oddities. A recent encounter saw a very nice Australian girl enquiring about the ubiquitous pineapples adorning our Scottish souvenirs. After gently pointing out that these were actually thistles, and that thistles are the floral emblem of Scotland, the matter ought to have been settled. The question was answered and the conversation was over. But this poor girl was then subjected to the fascinating back-story of our national flower. Some sleeping Scots were alerted in time to the presence of some marauding Norsemen, by the shouts of pain after the attackers trod on some prickly thistles. Almost certainly apocryphal, but relate this I did. Halfway through this tale, the signature nods of the no-longer-listening were readily apparent. I wish to sincerely apologise to this young woman and her many fellow victims, as this is far from an isolated incident.
Outside of employment, my targets tend to be my long-suffering friends and family. The most casual of discussions becomes a lecture series peppered with one of my favourite dialectical tools: the historical anecdote. Every single time, for instance, that any ludicrous story of censorship or prudery comes up in conversation, I can launch a one-two punch of strong opinion and a funny anecdote, which I will now inflict upon you. After finishing his dictionary, Samuel Johnson was approached by some respectable ladies who wished to congratulate him for not including any profanity. Johnson’s response contains the perfect response to any pernickety puritan: it’s rather amusing that you were looking for the naughty words in the first place. Again, this may be apocryphal, but it’s a very useful illustration, and can handily be told in only five solid minutes of flavour text and pantomime acting.
You may have noticed by this point that I am recounting my crimes while committing further instances. Peppered throughout are the very features of blowhard and know-it-all that I’m supposed to be resisting. Maybe some have already switched off, maybe some were mildly interested. It does seem fairly certain that this sickness is far from cured. So, lacking a remedy, should I more fully embrace this quirk? Are the glazed looks of the many worth the relative attentiveness of the few? I have to hope that the answer is an emphatic “yes”. There is an underlying current to this, beyond being a show-off about what I know. I genuinely love learning new things, and thinking about the world. Carl Sagan once compared a love of science to romantic love; when you feel it, you want to tell everyone about it. Philosophy literally translates as “the love of knowledge” (φιλοσοφία), and it is no accident that this is my chosen field. I can’t stand not knowing something, and this drives me to find out everything that I can. This is a battle that is already lost. I only have one lifetime, and there is simply too much to be known. Indeed, Socrates defined a wise man as a man who knew the extent of his own ignorance. But the insurmountable nature of the problem simply can’t deter me – I’m going to give know-it-all status a damn good try. And this love of learning leaves me quite perplexed when faced with someone who doesn’t feel the same drive to know more. Hence my incessant questioning and answering. After all, half the fun of learning something fascinating is communicating it to your fellow humans, and sharing the philo sophia.