You’ll have to excuse the faltering nature of this post: My Facebook status is currently “Low on Mana.”
You know I like to think the Big Thoughts (har) and these mental excitations decidedly do not lead to good vibrations. In fact, more often than not, they lead to impasse.
Most people, I hear tell, have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Not me. I have a miniaturized and hovering Gandalf the Grey and he continually yells, “You shall not impasse!” For some reason, though, that’s not all that helpful.
What sort of big thoughts, you ask, oh helpful reader? Just wee trifling matters. Is climate change real and impacted by human behavior? Do vaccines kill my kids? Should girls be allowed to show a little shoulder in their high school yearbook photos? Will a little non-disclosed GMO kill me? Is it acceptable to harvest organs from poor people? Would raising minimum wage help or hurt the economy? Will we as a society literally swallow petroleum until it kills us? Does being armed to the teeth make society safer or more dangerous? Should politicians and people advertising products have to tell the truth? Does Earth orbit the sun or does the entire universe orbit the Earth? Does trickle-down economics represent the overall best solution for everyone? Why does Hulu Plus have commercials if there’s a monthly fee? Why does a good portion of the people on this planet feel it is acceptable for a 50-year-old man to marry a 12-year-old girl? Does Obamacare make our nation stronger or weaker?
It should be obvious my wee little brain is incapable of grappling with weighty issues like these (and many, many more). What to do? What to do?
I call stuff like this a Magic Problem. The real truth and/or solution is behind a curtain and I don’t get to speak directly with the Wizard.
Why the word “magic?” Simple.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
–The Third of Clarke’s Three Laws
For most of us the “magic” in our lives is omnipresent. Things like light switches, toilets and the thing under the hood of our car that makes it go are absolutely indiscernible from magic. How do those things work? Hell if I know. It would probably be correct to say that you shouldn’t be allowed to use any technology that you don’t understand, can’t build and don’t know how to fix. But, as a society, we’ve decided wholeheartedly that we don’t need to live that way.
I don’t know much. I don’t know how to prove what my gut, intuition and reasoning abilities deduce what must be correct about these sorts of things. Remember, I’m the same guy who thinks that light switches, toilets and motors are magic.
At least I know what I don’t know. And I do know this: Beware anyone who comes at you regarding such things and claims to have a monopoly on the truth. Beware those who say they know. Especially if the topic is something that is still way beyond the capacity of humans to understand.
Oh, you believe XYZ is false? And, coincidentally, you profit and make your livelihood based on XYZ being false? And you have no specific experience or training or innate abilities involving this subject? I’m not exactly getting a warm fuzzy feeling that you are the best source of information on this particular topic. Ya think?
The problem with that which exists behind the curtain is that it is not knowable. If it was knowable, we’d all know it. Right? Of course, these days, what people will quibble about is downright head scratching. We thought the case was settled but now a few nutballs have reopened it. “Gravity doesn’t exist,” the yell. “And Jay-Z has talent.” Are they crazy or what?
Here’s the dilemma: You’ve got this piece of magic in front of you and you have to deal with it. You are unqualified and don’t have the training or the knowledge. So you rely on the opinions of experts. This is a lot like getting your car fixed. The mechanic says, “You gotta replace the confubulator. It’s gonna run you $600.” What the hell are you going to do about it? All I know is the thing needs to go. Please, just make it go. Here, take my $600 and my confused and dubious thanks. This same phenomenon exists, of course, with light switches, toilets and other stuff like computers. It doesn’t apply to TVs because they are disposable. We just throw it in the garbage and buy a brand new one. It would be a waste of money to pay someone to try to fix it.
Case study: Vaccination debate. There isn’t a chance in hell I can understand the issue myself. Maybe if I went to college and got my Ph.D in biology I might be able to grok the inklings of the topic. But who has time for that? So we turn to persons other than ourselves to inform us. Experts and advocates. The problem? There are two sides and each claims to have the facts, science and scientists on their side. It’s magic. How am I supposed to decide? Nothing personal but I’m feeling uncomfortable about putting all of my eggs in your basket.
When I reach impasse that seems like a good time to remind myself that most people probably don’t know any more than me. And that the louder the yell the more they must be overcompensating for a lack of knowledge. Especially when their financial bottom line hangs in the balance.
How certain are you that everything you believe and everything you’re being told is really what it seems to be? It too much certainty a bad thing?