J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 6-13-11
People who flounder and make fools of themselves are known as jackasses, and people who are deliberately mean or offensive are often referred to as an “ass.”
Yet, these adverse characteristics have little or no connection, or relevance, to the mammalian ass family.
Asses have been among the most helpful and enduring partners with humans in the building of our civilization. Where would we be today without their burden-bearing assistance? From the mammoth asses first brought to the United States by George Washington, to the mighty burros who walked narrow canyon walls with the ores that fueled the Industrial Revolution, asses have, in some cases, been more helpful to human advancement than certain people have been.
Not only were asses an advantageous mount in early human combat, asses have been central to the supply chain of warfare, bringing supplies and accommodation to warriors around the world. Showing no preference in ideology, asses have dutifully, and reliably, brought the necessities of life to men in the field of battle.
If we step back and envision the human condition without any help from the ass, we see an enfeebled human species, limping forward in fits and starts, seldom progressing. Absent assistance from the ass, humans would likely be stuck in the Dim Ages.
Evolutionary biologists have a convincing preponderance of indications that asses evolved in the desert regions of Africa where feed was scarce. Forced to spread out to survive, asses developed a loud voice to communicate with their friends and family, adding long, highly receptive ears to be sure they connected. This enabled asses to roam far and wide to graze, and get back together when necessary or desired.
Others believe that asses came into being in a single stroke, on the sixth day of creation described in the Bible, and were placed in the Garden of Eden as primary companions to humans. Perhaps to enable humans to get around the Garden. This belief gets much support from the difficulty one has in imagining an evolutionary ancestor of the ass slithering in slime, burrowing in tunnels, or hopping about like a kangaroo.
Whether the ass owes its life to evolution or pure creation, there is no doubt that the ass has been, and still is, a valuable partner with humans in their struggle to make sense of an occasionally grim planet. At the very least, many people keep a few jackasses around for reliable conversation. Asses can always be depended upon to offer an unusual, if interesting, insight on stray topics.
Consequently, referring to a person as a jackass, or an ass, should be the highest of compliments. To all of those who have, in the past, mistakenly called me such, be informed that I hereby accept your most flattering assignation.