by John Mattingly
Though loathe to admit it, I’m officially the ornery, cranky old farmer I said I’d never become. Of course, the fact that I, or anyone, is here on earth to complain about it is, in itself, a miracle. The likelihood of any person being alive in the universe is on the order of 10,212 to one.* With this firmly in mind, there is no such thing as a bad meal, cold coffee, an insufficient trade, an unsatisfying lover, a wayward policy, a bad day, or even a tragedy.
Nevertheless … there are a few things I wish to exercise the miracle of my existence to point out as things I just don’t get:
1. “The computer lost your — (refund, payment, name, reward, reservation, complimentary massage).
First question: Why doesn’t the computer ever lose my —(late fee, speeding ticket, interest charge, proctology appointment)?
Second question: May I please speak to the computer? “Sorry, the computer is busy.”
The computational advantages of computers are more than matched by their capacity to provide the perfect alibi. “The computer did it.” We all know what that’s like. Bill Gates’ real genius was recognizing the collateral value to business of unreliable operating systems that, in a masterful irony, turned computers into the equivalent of the old Greek gods, who operated outside the human realm with impunity.
2. Honor the soldier, hate the war. It’s almost dangerous these days to suggest our “men in uniform” are a hoodwinked underclass, duped into doing our bidding in a war that’s draining the U. S. treasury, and not much else. Kurt Vonnegut complained about the re-dedication of Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day, pointing out that glorification of soldiers tended to encourage future wars.
Collective guilt over the way Vietnam vets were treated perhaps explains some of the current attitude. In Vietnam, fifty-some thousand of my cohorts perished in a war that Robert McNamara later conceded on the record, in The Fog of War, was a mistake. A mistake. Gee, thanks for getting it, Robert, some thirty years too late. It’s enough to make you wonder if the people in the highest level of government have a clue.
Compassion certainly is due our current band of brothers, even though there’s no telling if, twenty years from now, George Bush won’t make a movie, The Fog in My Head, admitting his war was a “mistake.” And much of the laudatory lip service to vets of the most recent war evaporates when held up to the light. No matter how hard we try to convince ourselves, we are no longer a warrior nation.
3. God with a long beard. Humans in Western Civilization used to think there were all kinds of gods running around dispensing delights and duties in the world. A significant mark of human progress was narrowing the number of gods down to one. With many gods in play, humans struggled to figure out which ones to please, which ones to fight, and which ones to try to mate with to gain immortality. Now that there is but one god making all the mischief, it starts to make sense to simply admit that the whole idea of a human-like god is, well, kinda foolish.
Many people who are devoted churchgoers and believers characterize god as a force, or as an intelligent designer, or merely as a spirit we can’t quite explain, and perhaps aren’t even equipped to understand. Meanwhile, all branches of science keep reaching a similar point of inexplicability. Humans may never be able to accept the fact that we can come up with questions that we know, even as we ask them, have no answers.
4. “There are no accidents. Everything happens for a reason.”
The longer I’ve hung around the planet, the more I’m inclined to think everything is an accident, from the vast mystery of existence right down what will happen before the end of the day.
If a poll was taken, and fairly adjudicated, naming the top ten discoveries or advancements that enabled the persistence of homo sapiens, I’d wager all of them were accidents. Starting with the survival of the first burrowing mammals, through the wheel and fire, making port in the Americas while searching for a route to the West Indies, and the “discovery” of zero which eventually led to the electrification of the abacus.
5. “It’s for your own protection.”
I keep hearing this phrase these days in places I never used to hear it. For example, I recently bought a car and paid cash for it. My father taught me early in life never to borrow money against a depreciating asset, of which a car is a flagship example. So I went to the dealership, negotiated the price, and returned later with a cashier’s check.
The salesman, a very pleasant man, presented me with the usual stack of paperwork, including a credit application that asked for a lot personal information, including my social security number and date of birth. I refused to provide this information because I wasn’t applying for credit. To this I was told that under the “Red Flag Rule” I was required to provide this information as part of a federal program deterring identity theft.
OK, so let me get this straight. I’m required to provide the dealership with the very sort of information an identity thief would like to get a hold of, “for my own protection.” How does this make sense? Why would someone steal my identity to buy me a car with their cash? If there really are people out there doing this, I’m not sure I want protection from them, but I am sure they need protection from themselves.
7. “Things in Washington aren’t changing fast enough.”
This complaint boils down to an admission that democracy is inefficient—a process that worked with thirteen colonies and a couple million people, but has failed on a larger scale. Those who want faster change are actually advocating a benevolent monarchy. As an added bonus, that would definitely result in less government.
*For those CC readers suspicious of my math skills, this number is derived from: (a) the size of the known universe, (b) the relative scarcity of matter in the universe, (c) the even greater scarcity of organized matter, and (d) entropy.
John Mattingly cultivates prose, among other things, and was most recently seen near Creede.