There has been a serialized Web comic running weekly for a few months now that just finished. It’s called FreakAngels, and it’s a science fictiony thing set in London, in a dystopian future where most of the city is under water. We’re not told why London is drowning (in the words of The Clash); it’s just the status quo for the story’s backdrop.
And, a little while ago, I read Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic America where most people, and virtually all plants and animals, are dead. Again, no explanation is given for why things are this way, they just are.
Puzzling people and offering up strange ideas and situations for them to try and comprehend is fine if you’re doing it as part of an attempt to entertain. But all too often, organizations (frequently governments) make us do things that seem crazy and leave us scratching our heads in a similar manner. This sometimes makes us frustrated and upset, like the post-flight security screening we got in Orlando that I wrote about.
I was reminded of this on the weekend because I was telling a true story that happened when Cindy and I were going camping in Washington State many years ago (way before 9/11). As we crossed the border from BC, the officer saw through our hatchback window that we had a cooler, so he asked us to pull into the secondary screening area. Another officer came over and pointed to the cooler, and asked, “What’s that?”
“Um, it’s a cooler,” I replied.
“Please open it.”
She them pointed at a bunch of bananas, and queried, “What’s that?”
I was seriously trying to figure out if this was some kind of trick question, but I answered, speaking slowly like you would to a thick child or an angry bear, “It’s … a … bunch … of … ba-na-nas.”
She then asked, “Where are they from?”
I didn’t immediately get the thrust of her question, and answered honestly, “Safeway.”
“No,” she seemed to think that I was making fun of her, and was getting a little snippy. “I mean where were they GROWN. Were they grown in Canada?”
I actually suppressed a laugh at this one, and replied, “Y’know, I’m not totally certain, but I’m pretty sure they were not grown in Canada. We don’t have much of a banana growing industry.”
“So where were they grown?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, if you don’t know where they were grown, you can’t bring them in.”
So I asked, “But if I had said, 5 seconds ago, that they were grown in Ecuador, I could bring them in?”
“OK, they were grown in Ecuador.”
“It’s too late now. You may eat them here or leave them.”
I wasn’t prepared to argue the silliness of the situation with an armed border guard, so I said, “I’m not that hungry – you can have them.” And we went on our way. It didn’t make any sense, but I’m sure she had her reasons – maybe she was just peckish. My point is, knowing why that bizarre rule was enforced would have helped me see her side and possibly preserved some of the little respect I have for the US government.
So, just like I advised Igor del Norte in this post; if you are going to ask people to do something counter-intuitive (or just plain dumb), explain to them why it’s necessary.