Saturday, January 1, 2011

Of Pocket Knives and Paring Knives: Peeling Our Own Apples

Clifford at Red Stick Rant posted this morning about the outrageous case of a girl suspended from school for having an eating utensil in her lunch bag: "On The Cutting Edge Of The Nanny State". I posted a reply there but decided to expand it a bit here.

I still have - and carry - the little pocketknife my grandfather gave me when I was 7 or 8. In the 1960s, a pocketknife was an essential tool and every pocket and pocketbook had one, children as well as adults. This is a small 2" two-blade knife with a yellow marbleized handle. That's it in the photo above. I don't carry or use weapons. I use TOOLS. My knife is a tool.

The main thing my pocketknife was used for in my youth was removing splinters and stickers and bee stingers. Over the years, it also trimmed loose threads, sharpened pencils, cut fruit, trimmed hangnails, opened letters, cut patches for bicycle inner tubes, scraped gum off the soles of shoes, uncorked a wine bottle, dug an arrowhead out of the ground, loosened and tightened screws, pried off lids, opened tamper-proof packaging...

My boys each got their own little pocketknife around the same age. It was a ritual that every boy's grandfather or father gave them their first good pocketknife - the all-purpose tool they would carry with them and treasure for the rest of their lives.

A modern pocket knife is the exact same tool that a worked bit of flint is. It is a fundamental human belonging: the use of a knife predates the harnessing of fire! A knife is an inseperable component of human natural history. It is as essential as shelter and to human life: our first tool is still the ultimate tool.

A knife is not a weapon: a person intent on injury is a weapon, and they will find a tool for their purpose, whether that be a stick or a string, their own strength or something else.

Children as well as adults have a right to feel competent to manipulate their environment and provide for their own needs - including their need to peel fruit, sharpen their pencil, trim their fingernails, and frankly, to carve their initials in a tree in a heart with their first love.

(And furthermore, I think a high school kid should have a right to not have secret searches of their belongings by strangers, but that's another issue).

Clifford posted a link to and I haven't looked through it yet, but the front page has an endorsement from Ted Nugent.

It is outrageous that in the United States of America of all places, we should have to join PACs in order to preserve our ancient and uninterrupted human right to make and own and carry and use the tools that fundamentally define not only human cultures, but earthly humanity itself.

I could say a lot more, but playwright James Goldman gave the best words to Eleanor of Aquitaine (played definitively by Katherine Hepburn) in The Lion in Winter:

"Of course he has a knife. He's always has a knife. We all have knives. It's 1183 and we're barbarians. How clear we make it.

"Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war -- not history's forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing.

"We are the killers."

The vast majority of us are not as disfunctional and violent as those characters. For 99.99999999999999% of Americans, a knife is just an eating utensil, a paring knife is just a tool for peeling an apple.

And I think I have a human right to cut my own meat, and peel my own apples, whether I am at school or at home, whether I am 10 years old or 110.

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