In space no one can hear you be a dumbass…
“To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
–Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion (loosely paraphrased)
Of course Newton’s Third Law says pretty much diddly squat about human beings!
Let’s say you are in space and you wish to be a dumbass. What is something dumb you might do? Well, you could load yourself into the airlock, forget to bring your spacesuit, then punch the “open the pod bay door” button.
If you ever get the chance, give it a try. I highly recommend it. Don’t forget to document your results! Should be interesting.
The point here, one that is alien to most of us in America these days, is that actions have consequences. Well, they should. But once you involve those frisky humans consequences can become a quite murky thing.
The thing about the airlock example above is: It is absolute. The situation doesn’t allow for compromise, remorse, begging, forgiveness or anything else. There is no higher reality or force with which to lodge your request for something like a second chance. If you punch that button without a suit you will be sucked off into outer space and die. (Some of you might point out that “sucked out” might be a better choice of phrase. I can only say, “To each their own!”)
There’s a wonderful short story that illustrates the concept of choice and consequences when it is absolutely absolute. It’s called The Cold Equations and it was written by Tom Godwin back in 1954. I first encountered it in a book called The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, which is an incredible anthology of science fiction short stories.
Here’s the summary of The Cold Equations from Wikipedia:
A starship makes the rounds of Earth’s colonies, adhering to a schedule from which it cannot deviate. When reports of a fever outbreak on the frontier planet Woden reach the starship, it drops off an Emergency Dispatch Ship, a space vessel of limited range, with a pilot and the serum that will cure them. The pilot discovers a stowaway, an 18-year-old girl named Marilyn who wants to see her brother, a colonist on Woden. The girl believes that she will have to pay a fine, but the situation is far more serious. The ship only has enough fuel for the pilot and his cargo. Her additional mass will cause the ship to run out of fuel before it can land, dooming both the pilot and the sick colonists. The pilot tries frantically to come up with a solution, but there is no way around the “cold equations”; he does not have sufficient fuel. The best he can do is to alter the ship’s course enough to give her a single hour’s reprieve before she must be jettisoned. In that time, she writes letters to her parents and her brother, talks with the pilot about death and, in the last few minutes, is able to speak with her brother on the radio, allowing them to say their goodbyes. When the horizon of the planet breaks up the radio contact, the girl enters the airlock and is ejected into space.
Now that is the kind of consequence I’m talkin’ about!
That sort of thing, however, is totally and utterly alien in the world of human behavior. In the vast majority of cases boorish human behavior goes completely unpunished and unchecked. There are, in these cases, absolutely no “consequences.”
In some cases, a person may actually be held partially accountable for their actions. (I consider this outcome exceedingly rare.) You’ve heard the expression, “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” That is this concept in a nutshell. Whine, beg, show remorse, make deals, pray, etc. Do whatever it takes to slither off the hook either complete or partially.
I find myself thinking a lot about this concept after a friggin’ asshole who wouldn’t obey the rules on an aircraft became the straw on some camel’s back. The “camel” will be dealt with by our system, but what about the “straw?”
When has an airline passenger ever faced “consequences” for the behavior we saw in this incident? I’ll bet it’s more rare than me winning the lotto. (Or almost as rare as me buying a lotto ticket.) Does anyone who disobeys the “remain sitting” rule ever get punished? Banned from the airline? Do they even get a stern look from airline management?
Take a look at the world around you. How often can you see the airlock on human behavior being overridden by indifference, injustice or deliberate unfairness? And what are the consequences of never having actual consequences? Is a society totally devoid of civility the ultimate result?