Knowledge is power. Power is dangerous. Society is a group of codes designed to manage dangerous power. But the thing about power is it's like water—it goes everywhere it wants, and sometimes the containing vessel can just be damned. Noncodified power—unlawful knowledge—is one of the oldest social offences in the book. But the thought that real knowledge ever could be “lawful” is incongruent. Laws are codes based on morals, and knowledge is amoral.
Real knowledge is really amoral.
But the programmers' call to arms, while naïvely putting out of work millions of liberal arts majors, is, in some situations true. “Information should be free.”
Nobody can ever know anybody else. Heck, nobody can ever know themselves! But we can strike up an en passant acquaintanceship with the most general and superficial outline of somebody else, a little bit, kind of, maybe.
English, as befits a language belonging to cultures that are not particularly in touch with mammalian nuance, doesn't distinguish between knowing and knowing (see how ham-fisted that sounds). But our more aware Romance-language-speaking friends get that there's knowing and then there's knowing. There is conocer, and then there is saber.
In high school it was very easy to remember the exciting difference between connaître and savoir. I was crushed to learn, fifteen or twenty years later at the Alliance Française, that actually the reasons we use connaître pour quelqu'un et pas savoir are remorselessly grammatical and have nothing to do with the erotically philosophical question, “is it ever possible to really know someone?” I decided that grammar may explain the mechanics of language but the heart of language is still a desire to make sense of a possibly-senseless world. As such we need two (or more) words for “knowing” every bit as much as we need two (or more) words for “water-based atmospheric precipitation.”
Here's the thing of it. Usually—and by “usually” I mean, “how I always assumed the game of life was played until I started dancing tango”—we do get to know people in a “conocer” kind of way first. We learn their outside, one chain mail link at a time. We familiarize ourselves with their icing. Sure, we don't really know them, but that's ok. Power is infinitely intense, and it would be exhausting to have too much of it. “Conocer” is God's way of making sure we don't overextend ourselves. For if we really knew even a percentage of the people we “know,” we would fry our little circuit boards in no time.
Still, man is an information-seeking animal, eternally on a quest to hunt down a nice juicy hunk of information, club it over the head, and drag it back to his cave where he can then extrapolate its farther-reaching ramifications over a glass of malbec with a few of his colleagues. The drive to learn something puts the “sapiens” in “homo sapiens.” But the drive to learn someone is hard-wired into the “homo” part of that. Maybe love is just “the illusion of knowing the other” (someone other than I originally said that), but illusion or not, love is feeling like you're getting to know the cake underneath all that icing. Tu sabes alguien.
So tango is a very heady pastime. Basically we're all professional (or amateur) huggers. And the minute you take someone in your arms, you catch a glimpse of the cake, not the icing. And while icing, “conocer”-type information gets disseminated one linear byte at a time, cake, “saber”-type information transmits itself holistically. You instantly get the whole cake, and the only thing that slows down what would otherwise be our total and immediate grasp of that person's whole character is our own limited processing capacities.
Sometimes I feel like I can barely hear the mechanics of a lead because someone's body is screaming at me so loudly it drowns out the technical information it was purportedly intending to convey. “I AM ME!” the body yells in a deafening roar. “Oh, and please put your left foot over there.”
Tangueros are information junkies, and the appeal of getting a whole bunch of information all at once, like an expensive workshop that takes a millisecond instead of a weekend to consume, is irresistible. Insider information is even better. You don't get anywhere with tango unless you're relentlessly curious by nature. Unless you can't think of anything you'd rather do than delve into something that is not easily known. So combine that immediate total dispensation of insider knowledge with an audience that's ravenous for it, and...one wonders why there aren't more guys in trench coats hanging out on street corners, murmuring, “psst—tanda, tanda—psst....”
How the “saber” of tango is even more interesting than the usual more time-consuming route of slowly transitioning from “conocer” to “saber” with someone—typically because you fall in love with them—is that it produces the results of romance without necessarily including romance in the equation. Which makes me think romance may be an evolutionary tool whose main purpose is enabling us to get to know each other, and, by extension, ourselves. Maybe romance is just philosophy wrapped up in a box of chocolates.
What makes “saber” so alluring also makes it scary as hell. The grown-ups' roller-coaster, thrills and chills and daring adventure, all condensed into the physical equivalent of, “hello.” I was sitting in the park watching people and their dogs, and one dog-owner said to another dog-owner, “they all want to sniff without being sniffed.” Ergo the danger in the power that is knowledge.
It's a trade-off. When you embrace someone, it's like the Christmas Truce of 1914. You both lay down your arms. Growing up means slowly accumulating more and more arms over time, so we all desperately need the relief of laying down those arms, but it's progressively scarier to do so.
That's why tango is not for the faint of heart. Kids can learn it, but only grown-ups can really dance it.
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