On Comparing and Contrasting

If I took apart my Mazda with its 4-banger gasoline engine, and then took apart a Peterbilt diesel truck, I suspect I would fine zero parts in common. Thus, some would argue that they are entirely different things, and trying to compare them would be futile. In fact, given what I see in the world sometime, I’d think there would be people that would end up SCREAMING AT ME IN ALL CAPS as a vehicle bigot if I tried to compare the two. How dare I disrespect a Peterbilt by comparing it to a Mazda. The truck and the car are, after all, completely different:

  • The diesel relies on spontaneous combustion under pressure, while the car uses spark plugs to trigger combustion.
  • The car has no need for glow plugs, while the diesel does.
  • The scale of the truck’s engine is much larger, and the pistons are probably in a V-arrangement, while the Mazda’s are inline.
  • The truck may have PTO or hydraulic system, the car does not.
  • The truck utilizes air brakes, the Mazda’s parking brake utilizes a wire.

So it’s true, they are very different. But completely? The truck and the car are similar in many ways:

  • Both are 4-cycle suck-squeeze-bang-blow engines.
  • Both have engine cooling systems that run fluid through the engine and radiators.
  • Both react hydrocarbons with oxygen to produce water, carbon dioxide, and other by-products—and energy that is utilized to do work.
  • Both engines run alternators that provide electricity to run other vehicle systems.
  • Both have steering systems, lighting, mirrors, climate controls, and windscreen wipers.

So, while I recognize the truck and the car aren’t the same, and despite hating this kind of exercise when it was a grade-school assignment, I think there’s something to be gained in the effort to compare and contrast them. Why? Because out of it, I can come to know the abstract, “essence” of a vehicle. And instead of having two completely different things to understand, I can understand that shared essence and use that as a base to understand the truck and the car.

And when I do that, it invites questions. Why does the car use spark plugs, while the truck doesn’t? Why does the truck need glow-plugs? Why does the truck use air brakes, while the car doesn’t? Observing similarities and differences directs my attention and prompts questions that might never occur otherwise, so I’d never attain the same level of understanding. Why does a diesel need DEF fluid, but a gasoline engine doesn’t? The answer to that pertains to differences in the emissions control systems, which goes back to air/fuel ratios, which causes differences in the intake strokes of the engine types. If I didn’t wonder about DEF fluid, I wouldn’t know to inquire about the other differences either. Over time, this builds a deep, complex and ever-growing understanding of the world around me.

I observe that other people think differently from me; they are happy to go through life with separate boxes, and never stop to consider similarities, differences among them. And that’s okay because different people think different ways. For one, I observe that oftentimes those folks can process information and make decisions faster than I do; the complex web of concepts and relationships I’ve built through the decades has the disadvantage of offering so much information to me that slows me down—even paralyses me. And in social situations, the quick-thinking folks seem to do well; my slow and methodical learning approach doesn’t work well for social cues, so I was an outcast growing up, and even now I’m mediocre in social situations. On the other hand, when it comes to complex problems—especially scientific or technical problems—my thought process serves me well. And when I take time to organize my thoughts and write, I believe I write well—but it’s costly in time and effort.

So I’m going to ask, if you’re one of those people that thinks with lots of separate boxes, please respect that I’m not one of you and that I, and others like me, have the right to think our way. Comparing and contrasting isn’t wrong; it’s not a thing that has a value judgement of right or wrong. It’s just our way of processing and extracting knowledge from the world around us.

So don’t be surprised or offended when I’m reflecting on the Mazda vs the Peterbilt, or being gay vs lesbian vs transgender, or pendulums vs flogging, or being furry vs gay, or massage vs bdsm, or (city vs country republicans) vs (city vs country democrats) and its relation to the big sort, or bdsm vs ageplayers, or homophobia vs transphobia vs racism vs ageism vs sexism vs fetishism vs whatever. It’s how I come to understand the nuances of the world around me.

And when I compare this to that, you have no right to tell me that it’s wrong to do so. If you do, you’re declare that Nature’s wiring of my thought process is wrong—and while we don’t have a word for that, I’m pretty that such a declaration is an -ism of its own. So instead, listen to what I’m saying, and listen for how I think this and that contrast too; thinking I’m saying this is that is what I think you guys get mad about, but rarely am I saying is. Although I may see similarity, there’s subtlety that recognizes your objections, and if you’d take the time to listen you might find we agree. And if there isn’t yet such subtlety yet, then perhaps a rational discussion—instead of just ranting that I’m a bad person for doing such a thing—might yield a meaningful conversation and provide me with a new perspective that I can weave into my tapestry to make it a little bit better, a little more complete.

I know the truck and the car aren’t the same thing. But asking the questions, “How are these the same? How are these different?” helps me understand both better.