“Useless”

When, as a boy living in my redneck part of rural Australia, I’d stuff up some task allocated by my late father, there’d be a reasonable chance of my being labelled “useless”. While I’m quite thoroughly uninterested in one of those “must have made you feel” discussions, what with all the confected reciprocity and bogus empathy that such exchanges entail, there are still things that can be said of the insult in question.

It – “useless” – is intended as an insult, but I’m afraid I can’t receive it as such. I’m quite happy to be useless. Consider the corollary of taking “useless” as an insult; receiving “useful” as a compliment.

To be “useful” is to count yourself a tool among tools. It’s to position yourself alongside instrumental luminaries such as pencils, auto-rewind and Preparation H. It’s not for no reason that “useful”, as applied to people, has negative connotations in politics.

I’d encourage anyone else who’s been called “useless” to give this some consideration. Unwittingly, you’re being paid a compliment akin to “not a Muppet”.

It’d be far better to be considered, in lieu of being “useful”, as “cooperative with qualifications”. At least this way you’d have some of your agency acknowledged in the mix. And I certainly don’t enjoy the prospect that my “usefulness”, should it ever present itself, may one day entail someone else being fucked over – avoiding this would be one of the qualifications for my cooperation.

Admittedly my concerns don’t condense down well to a single adjective, and I’m not in a mood for coining neologisms, so I think I’ll just happily settle for “useless” and let the connotations land where they will.

~ Bruce

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