In Steve Martin’s 1979 comedy classic (says I) The Jerk, Navin Johnson is attacked by a crazed killer, spraying the gas station he works at with bullets. A number of the errant shots pierce a nearby stack of oilcans, causing Navin to immediately conclude,
“He hates these cans. Stay away from the cans.”
Navin Johnson is an imbecile.
But in the way he puts two-and-two together,
We’re all imbeciles.
Okay, I’m an imbecile and you get to decide for yourselves. But if you are truly honest about your behavior,
Under paralleling circumstances,
You’re an imbecile.
Think about it. How often have you made a faulty “causal connection”? A thing happens, you reach a reasonable understanding of why, and you find out later you were entirely wrong.
Imbecile. Or, at least, “Imbecile Thinking.”
And it is entirely understandable.
Human beings are “story creatures.” We package experience in narrative modules.
“Deftly turned phrase, sir”
The stories we tell ourselves and repeat ad nauseum to others till they ossify into “The Story of Record” require an identifiable structural format – wherein “A” inevitably elicits “B” – a way of understanding the universe we live in – “I, an Earthling, am familiar with this sequential behavior” and a comfortable conclusion – “This story has ended where stories have ended before. I feel viscerally content with this conclusion and will now move on with my life.”
But that doesn’t make the stories right. It just makes them the stories we remember. The “Official Repository” of “Not the case.”
Sometimes that bogus narrative is startlingly revealed to us.
Have you ever had a crystal clear recollection of where you left something and it turns out you actually left it somewhere else? That’s worrisome, isn’t it? The story for where it wasn’t was more compelling than the story for where it was. Makes you kind of ambivalent about the outcome. You’re happy you found it, but who was that person inside you who was so sure it was somewhere else?
There is also a ‘”personal power” component in erroneous cause-and-effect scenarios, sometimes rising to the absurdly ridiculous.
“I took my umbrella and it didn’t rain. I left my umbrella at home and it did.”
You control the weather.
Why am I talking about this today? Because it fits what’s going on.
I flew home from a Bar Mitzvah in Toronto, and the next day I had a really bad cold.
My immediate conclusion:
The winter weather in Toronto gave me a really bad cold. (Which I continue to endure at this writing so don’t get too close to the screen. I think I sneezed on it.)
The Toronto-“Really Bad Cold” nexus could, in fact, be an accurate explanation.
But it could also be
“He hates these cans.”
Except it was really cold there. I’m just sayin’. Though that could be possibly what fooled me. A misleading “explanatory” wrinkle:
“It was really cold – I got a really bad cold.”
Sounds plausible, but may not actually be the case.
But damn, was it cold!
It could also be – as has been suggested to me by others, who readily analogize it with a “Petri dish” – the plane, with its recycled air and coughing passengers. People get sick on planes all the time. Well, not actually on the plane unless they get “air sick”, but immediately thereafter. There is arguably supportable evidence it was the plane.
Or – and here comes my least favorite – it was an unwelcome visit from “Ol’ Mr. Random.”
“You’ve been ‘Eeny-Meenied’, M’boy.”
I will, of course, never find out which it really was. If the plane made me sick, the frigid visit to Toronto was
“He hates these cans.”
If the frigid visit to Toronto made me sick, I am “Navin Johnsoning” the airplane.
(With more rational justification but equally inaccurate.)
The thing is, what, for a man with a diminishing resistance to the bad stuff, is the ultimate “takeaway” going forward?
Do I avoid winter trips to Toronto?
Or do I avoid all airplane rides? (Or fly wearing a mask?)
And, adding to the frustration, confusion and abject lack of personal control,