The Theory of At Least One

This was originally posted in 2006 (I'm still working on the date feature!). Here it is again:

I believe in what I call the Theory of At Least One. The Theory of At Least One means that there is at least one person out there who thinks a certain way or supports a certain cause or has a certain hobby. I believed this long before I became a web surfer (which appellation I really can't claim; I prefer other people to do the surfing and then tell me what sites are cool to visit). In other words, the Theory didn't grow out of me studying the Internet, it grew out of my understanding of human nature. But the Internet backs up the Theory.

Basically, the Theory of At Least One can be described by the phrase, "Well, there's at least one person out there who thinks . . ." But the important thing about the Theory of At Least One is that it doesn't, necessarily, refer to things like conspiracy theories. And it also doesn't, necessarily, refer to a small group of people or fans all agreeing on something. It refers mostly to the individual. So, I will think to myself, "Well, there's at least one person out there who makes gorilla sounds on the underground." Or, "Well, there's at least one person out there who thinks Happy Gilmore is an existential poem about the futility of life." Or "There's at least one person out there who owns a dog named Tolstoy." Or "There's at least one person out there who thinks that some minor soap star is the best actor in the world."

The Theory of At Least One doesn't apply, particularly, to craziness. I'm sure there's at least one person out there who thinks he/she is an alien (possibly, more than one person!). Nor does the Theory apply to deliberate fantasying, like those of us who created our own stories to add to Tolkien's universe. Rather, the Theory refers to the idiosyncratic nature of human beings.The Theory of At Least One keeps me humble. It also kept me from being overwhelmed by the machine-like and didactic certainty of the Marxist feminist thinkers who occupied my college classes for two years. (Everyone else didn't believe in anything much; I believed in something but became tongue-tied in exasperation when face to face with the bandwagon of socio-politico-economico determinism.) Anyway, the Theory of At Least One isn't an answer to higher education's insistence on external causation but it does represent, for me, a basic underlying belief in human individualism. (I'll leave discussions of free will and such for another time; to paraphrase Neo, I believe in free will because I want to.)

Anyway, the Theory of At Least One can be applied broadly or nit-pickily: at least one person today in Maine is glad it rained; at least one person is out there in Portland protesting something (despite the rain). At least one person somewhere today is thinking of watching all their Star Trek DVDs from the beginning. At least one person is vomiting at work. At least one person is wishing they could meet David Hasselhoff in person (really, I bet there is). I least one person is writing an angry letter to CBS News. At least one person has just decided that Tim Farrington is absolutely the best writer of the last fifty years. At least one person has just decided that he or she will never watch baseball again.

Every show ever made has at least one fan who thought it should never, never have gone off the air. Every book ever written has at least one reader who cried and wished it would never, never go out of print. Every actor has at least one fan. Every episode has at least one detractor and one enthusiast. And so on and so forth.

At least one person will read this blog. (It's a hopeful kind of philosophy.)


  1. Anonymous2/24/2014

    At least one person did read this blog. And at least one person really loved it. "There's at least one person out there who thinks that some minor soap star is the best actor in the world." writes Katherine Woodbury, I used to be that person feeling that way about Sarah Michelle Geller playing Kendall on the show All my children. As I've gotten older I'm no longer a soap opera fan. I am still a fan of Geller although I wouldn't consider her the world's best actor

  2. I love this comment :)

    I get a continual kick out of reminding myself, "At least one person bases his or her life on Andy Griffith" or "At least one person dresses like Finch from Person of Interest because it IS Finch" or "At least one person decided to become a jazz musician because of that one episode on The Simpsons" (scads of people can be inspired by actual jazz musicians; it takes the individual to be inspired by Lisa Simpson).

    "Nobody could possibly believe that," I'll think about the premise of a show, and then I'll think, "Ah, yes, but somebody out there does!"

  3. I've long had a similar observation, but more expansive: think of anything, no matter how normal or bizarre, and there is a group of people engaged in it and (and this can be even weirder) another group who like to watch the first.

    I also like your disagreement with, I think if I read right, what could be called "single causative theory". That is; any human behavior can be invented but once. An extension of this is that any behavior must have a cause, be it deliberate invention or a product of biological necessity. Of course, this type of thing is essential for funding departments of sociology, psychology and a myriad of other soft sciences.

  4. Absolutely! At the time I wrote this, I was attending classes where classroom discussions would occasionally get completely sidetracked/coopted by the socio-economic-blah-de-blah single causative theory students. Which meant the overall intelligence of the discussion would instantly dropped.

    What made it odd as well as annoying was how non-cutting edge it all was. For example, one day, I said, "Why do we have to have one dominant ideology?" (I was contesting the Marxist idea that all of civilization can be reduced to a dominant group and a subordinate group.)

    Everyone laughed. "Hee, hee, how naïve."

    Except my argument was fairly progressive and post-modern. I'm not a fan of post-modernism any more than I am of Marxism (nothing making sense doesn't appeal to me any more than single causation), but I was making a far more relevant academic argument than either the professor or the students.

    Talk about being stuck in the previous century!

    It brings me back (always) to my fairytale argument. Why insist that there is ONLY ONE EVIL DELIVERER OF FAIRYTALES (DISNEY) when there's Disney and Miyazaki and Grimm and Perrault and a dozen television shows and graphic novels and Mr. Depressing Hans Christian Andersen and Andrew Lang plus C.S. Lewis/Tolkien reinventing stuff all over the place.

    You say this to the Marxist students in my master's program, and they would have said, "Yes, but Walt Disney has economically taken over the industry, evil capitalism, yadda yadda yadda."

    You ask my folklore students (who actually read fairytales) and they say, "Yeah, Disney's okay, and people should read that other stuff too, and there's nothing to stop them."

    Constructed ideology versus reality: reality wins.