I read a blog post by Scott Adams today and was pleased to read some of the reader comments. I do not hate Scott Adams. In fact I love reading his blogs. Some of his arguments can be quite stimulating. There is the occasional streak humour or an insightful piece. Not to forget the follow-up discussions from readers that are an important aspect of his blog - a must read. Then there are ones like today's post. Other than the fact that it seemed to go places, I found this bit rather itchy. Read the original post - 'Principled or Stupid' - if you like because I only focus on one bit in this article.
The premise: Suppose you were driving along a long stretch of desert, low on gas and saw a gas station (that you've vowed never to buy gas from because they are unethical weasels) along the road with a sign that said it was the last gas station for the next 100 miles, would you buy gas from them (against your principle) or would you prefer to drive past the station, run out of gas and eventually die in the desert.
The question: If you chose to die, are you stupid or principled?
An aside: For the sake of argument, we will assume that they are telling the truth, unethical weasels though they may be.
I know of people who will jump up and claim that they would rather die than go against principle. Would they really do it is not the question here. It is a hypothetical situation, so I will buy their argument for the moment. If you are like me, you will admit that you would buy the gas and get on with life.
What I noticed on the comments in Adam's blog was that the first person who put in his 2 cents worth said the argument was specious (I just learnt the word, click here if you are like me). Of course, he meant it in the context of the entire post, not just the bit I refer to in my blog. The interesting thing is that he did not simply jump on Adam's bandwagon and try to answer the question. He questioned its validity. More often than not, people read the comments as they scroll down to post their own and in the process are influenced by what the first few readers have said. As a first reader comment, it improved the value of the write-up by adding one more dimension to the discussions that follow.
This reminded me of a stand-up comedy show that I watched last week - Arj Barker's Let Me Do The Talking. He did the talking alright - was not one of those comedians who have people strategically placed in the audience to yell out something that will lead to another joke. Quite a few of his jokes were long-ish and we had to listen to the story before we laughed. In other words, the audience laughed, listened, laughed again, listened again. Unlike Danny Bhoy (who I loved) where the audience kept laughing all the way through till you could laugh no more and probably even pee'd in your pants.
I digress. Back to why I was reminded of Arj Barker. He narrated a few anecdotes explaining how people simply do things without questioning the validity. His take on that is to follow AQUA - Always Question Unvalidated Authority. For example,
Airhostess: Sir, please switch off your mobile while you are in the plane.
Airhostess: Because the door of the aircraft is now closed.
You need to switch off your mobile, the door of the aircraft is closed.
Barker could not see why the cell phone had to be switched off? What did the text message have anything to do with the door of the aircraft. Whoever heard of a plane crashing because of a text message?
(Again, for the sake of the story, we will refrain from various reasonable arguments that could lead us elsewhere and pretend that everything Barker says makes sense)
A couple more similar anecdotes and he commented along the lines of 'I would really like to pull my pants down and take a dump right there, in response to such absurdity where I cannot get a reasonable answer to the why'. In other words, AQUA.
The audience laughed. He picked up a guitar that was on the stage since the start of the show and requested to be allowed to sing a few lines. He started off by asking the 1500-strong audience to raise their hands and start clapping. The audience obliged.
"STOP STOP STOP!", he screamed.
He could not believe that after all that he rambled about AQUA, the audience blindly conceded to his request to put up their hands and start clapping.
What I would have really liked is to find 1500 piles of smoking, stinking crap in the room and no people. Then I would know you guys listened to what I just said.
Clearly, Adam's first comment followed AQUA. The reader left a pile of dump in response to the specious post. I am sure Arj Barker will be proud of him.