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MLA Full: "Arbitrary but Useful." YouTube, uploaded by vlogbrothers, 26 February 2021,
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APA Full: vlogbrothers. (2021, February 26). Arbitrary but Useful [Video]. YouTube.
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I guess one other thing that I would say is that the frustration people like me sometimes have about how we don't all use the same systems of measurements or whatever is, like, I get it, it's frustrating. But ultimately, homogeneity had utility when it comes to whether we're talking about kilometers or miles, but there are lots of ways in which it is better for us not to have perfectly fluid, barrier-less communication.

The deeper societal thing I was thinking about is how there are so many arbitrary communication tools that could speed communication for some people, but actually stand in the way of it for others. Clothes and memes and shows and style and whether you learned about the categorical imperative in all of that stuff can give shared systems for communication and...vibing. But they can also be little speed bumps that exclude people or make you less likely to feel like you're getting along with someone. So they can be arbitrary and useful and harmful all at the same time. Things are complicated! That got too big way too fast to fit it into the video as I had structured it so I gave up!

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Good morning, John.

Today, Orin was bouncing on the couch and he was singing the ABCs song-- he has a lot of energy these days, it's very good-- and, as per usual, when he got to HIJK, he sang H I K J L M N O P. And this has being going on since he learned the alphabet song, like, almost two years ago now.

But this time I looked at him and I was like, "That's a little kid now!" Like, eventually he's gonna have to learn the alphabet in the correct order. Like, he has the whole rest of the thing right. And then I was like, "Well does he?" Cause it's not like there's a good reason it's in alphabetical order.

So if he says K J  instead of J K who care-- except then I was like, "Actually no, it's arbitrary." There's no reason why it's that way, but there's a reason why it's a way.

Orin's gonna have to, at some point, uh, be able to look things up in alphabetical order. And this isn't something that I'm worried about. When he was 2 he used to always say-- when referring to himself he would call himself "you".

Like, "You have to go to the bathroom!" or "You are thirsty!" and I'm, like, "I get what you mean!" And, it makes sense, right?

We call him You, and he's up here being like "Okay, so I'm You." and I'm like "No, you are you." Err!

Like, for a two-year-old whose whole world is very new, the following sentence isn't very easy to parse:

"No, you're you. No, you're me. When you're talking about you you're me."

But, eventually, without us even noticing it, like, one day he was just saying I instead of you. So, like, it's nothing I'm worried about. He's gonna get J and K right eventually.

But this whole thing made me think about another thing-- as it so often does-- which is that just because something is arbitrary, doesn't mean it isn't useful. And I think that we get those things mixed up a lot.

Whether something has a reason for being the way it is has no impact on whether or not it's useful. In fact, there are lots of things that have great reasons for being the way that they are, but that's actually not useful.

Like the keyboard! There's a reason why it's laid out this way, it's just not a good reason any more!

It's so mechanical typewriters didn't get jammed. Like, we don't need to worry about that! It's full of electronics!

But it once it was that way, we're not gonna change. This is permanent now! It maintains it's utility because I need to be able to sit down at a different computer and still be able to type.

The biggest example of this, of course, is language. None of these words need to be the words. that they are. Like, there's no reason that the sound PROTEIN BAR needs to be-- like, that's just a weird noise!

Like, okay, yes it's a bar and it's got protein in it, but both of those words-- that was a bad example! 

ᙓᗩᖇ? ᵉⓐŘ? Doesn't need to be called an ear!

But everybody needs to call it the same thing. That has tremendous utility! As we see when we go to places where people speak different languages.

Now this is usually the point in a Vlogbrothers video when I would tie this interesting little thing that I had a thought about into something that's relevant to your life or maybe even to, like, the world as it exists right now. 

"Ah, I thought Hank was just being silly and making noises and then he really tied it in to, like, Robinhood and GameStop stocks!"

Maybe I've been too stressed out. I haven't been sleeping great, I'm gonna-- you know, just thinking about stuff that needs to get fixed in one way or another. 

And so I kinda got nothing? Like, I got a couple of things but it woulda been way too hard to get deep into how I feel like this impacts us on a deeper human societal level, so I just gave up!

Is that the point of the video? Sometimes you can get halfway through something and be like "Uh, well this is good enough. I don't need to wrap it up in a nice pretty bow."

I'm just here in your YouTube subscription box to say that just cause something's arbitrary doesn't mean it's useless. That's it. We exist in a stew of completely made up things that don't exist for any particular reason. There was no system applied to their creation, and yet they remain dramatically useful to the continued existence of ourselves and our society.

John, I'll see you on Tuesday/