Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Peril Sensitive Sunglasses...

Long ago, there was this guy -- Douglas Adams was his name.

Don't Panic!

I learned about Douglas from my brother Dan. He talked about this crazy story called "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (HG2G) I remember him telling me about it -- a story where the world ends and this one remaining human, Arthur Dent, has to hitchhike his way from there on out. He's one of only two remaining humans in the universe. Read the book (don't watch any of the movies, BTW -- just my opinion).

I remember it distinctly, because at the time I thought: "What a depressing story". Amazingly though, I would eventually read the HG2G. Adams would become one of my favorite authors and his work would have a profound impact upon me. If you haven't read it by now, I sincerely must prod you. You see, it was written before the Internet -- and it supplies cultural beacons and jargon that we take for granted today -- stuff that underlies much of what you perceive as the Internet.

Stuff like universal translation, wireless transmission of data and complete mayhem related to an ever-changing world are so broadly outlined (And more importantly, lampooned) in HG2G.

And then there's the Glasses

One of the characters in the book has a really neat pair of glasses -- they're sensitive to peril. You read that right -- they can tell when danger is near. The character (and here the reference is both descriptive and formal), Zaphod Beeblebrox, wears the glasses because he doesn't want to freak out when peril is near.

So, what do they do? When danger is nearby, the glasses black out the lenses. That way the wearer can't be alarmed by the imminent peril approaching. This works wonders for Zaphod. You'll have to read the book for more on the subject. I can vouch that the story and dialog are legendary.

And then there's this thing today...

I find that there's a moral equivalent to these glasses today. That there's a whole section of the population that's been willingly blinded by obvious peril. That they're wearing these glasses, ignoring the obvious markers for eminent collision with reality.

I just finished watching "The Big Short", for reference. If you get a moment, it's on Netflix, and very much worth the time. The main takeaway from the movie is that there were a very small number of people that could see the eminent collapse of the housing bubble (and all of the derivative instruments attached). No one around them wanted to see what they saw. Very few listened to them. They talked a lot in the movie about how it's very hard to believe in a falacy when you don't want think that the obvious (and depressing) outcome is possible.

The population around them were wearing their glasses. They were willingly closing their eyes and effectively wishing the big money monster away -- all the while, some people with calculators and a willingness to stare ugly reality in the face were bracing themselves for the obvious collision. In the movie, they end up making some cash by the way -- although they portray them as reluctant heroes.

What you have today is similar. You have a group of people that won't face the obvious. They want to believe that somehow the ugly monster in the room is just going to get tamed at the last minute. That the moral deficiencies are somehow worth it in the context of the greater good (to be clear here -- for one brand of belief versus another brand). That the day of reckoning will not come.

These people haven't taken the time to do some simple research into the past track record. They have willingly put their glasses on, ignoring the obvious peril -- hopeful for some magic to make it all get leveled out before the plane crashes into the mountain.

The problem with Peril Sensitive Glasses: They Don't Work

Like the vast majority of the people in "The Big Short", people are going to find out that willful blindness can lead to an embarrassing and surprising failure. As comic as the analogy is, it breaks down rather badly when applied to real-world situations.

Zaphod's Peril-sensitive glasses are about to fail. The light of truth is slowly uncovering more and more things these days. The false narrative that many hoped to project is being exposed. For some, it was a beautiful lie. So much power and promise from something -- just a few minor issues could be overlooked if everyone would just hang onto those glasses! Mind you though -- the glasses are about to fail, still.

I find it ironic, still. I wouldn't know about those darn glasses were it not for some curiosity and some prodding by my brother. I gave up on the notion that the plot lines of the story would be depressing (as crazy as it sounds, HG2G is extremely funny, albeit in a rather dark and chaotic way). I was willing to look past my expectations and I'm richer for it.

I stomped my own pair of Zaphod's glasses, in other words, and never really looked back.

There's more irony here, but I've talked enough. The world is set to make it's own chaotic and darkly humorous story, and that's enough, don't you think?