The Crack Is Not the Mirror
I’m flying to Vegas and am stuck in the security line.*
I take my iPad out of my bag. It has to be in a separate bin from everything else. I take off my wedding ring and bracelets, and stuff them in my bag, which goes in another bin. My wallet goes in there, too. Off come my belt and my shoes. I made sure that all of my gels and liquids in my dopp kit are of less than three ounces.
I’m slightly infuriated at the fucking guy ahead of me because he decided to wait until the very moment of access to start the undressing thus taking up more time than was already apparent.
At this point, this is all normal behavior. Normal rules we all follow. Everyone has to remove their fucking shoes as if the mega-sized x-ray machines that require a hands-up position to indicate that we’re all guilty of something can’t detect something dangerous in our fucking shoes.
In the constant seeking out of our specific place in the world, we make rules. Rules to establish a sense of place and perspective on how things are supposed to go and how we can all work toward a better, more just society. Part of that establishing of rules is finding out what is ‘normal’ versus what are outlying circumstances. Normal is weird thing because it automatically labels anything or anyone outside of it as abnormal. No one wants to be seen as abnormal because it paints a derogatory picture.
In the United States, as of this writing:
73% of the population is white.
96% of the population is heterosexual.
51% of the population is female.
The most common median age is 22 years old.
Thus, normal in America today is a straight, white female of 22 years of age. Everyone outside of that demographic is, by simple math, abnormal. But it really isn’t that simple. One of the coolest aspects of democracy is that the minority gets to set a certain number of rules based upon preference. For example, there are fewer than two percent of the general population who identify as vegans yet vegan fare is more readily available in marketplaces by no other virtue than anyone can eat vegan food, so it makes perfect sense for there to be more of it available. Like kosher food, a minority needs it but everyone can eat it so grocers are just smarter to cater to the minority. New availabilities are established by using common sense.
When it comes to creating laws, the same principles should apply. Like every other rule of thumb, however, the concepts can be taken too far.
“If there's a 1 percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis . . . It's about our response.” — Vice President Dick Cheney in 2001
Thus began what became known as The One Percent Doctrine. This doctrine, on some level, dictates that our response to the smallest exception is completely subservient to that exception rather the majority of the rule.
The doctrine doesn’t add up. It isn’t reasonable to levy all of your powers to prevent the smallest of exceptions in a way that creates obstruction to the whole of society in order to root out that exceptional experience. The larger the population, the larger the exceptions, and yet keeping some sort of overall perspective on the problem is key to understanding how to handle it when the exceptions crop up.
If 100 couples get married and only two of those couples end up divorcing, becoming a lawyer devoted exclusively to divorce law would seem terribly niche and without a lot of long range planning. But divorce is closer to the rule given that 50–60 percent of marriages end up there, so doubling down on divorce law and becoming an expert in that realm is really pretty smart. Thus pre-nups become routine because divorce is no longer the exception.
Out of 45 American Presidents, Barack Obama is the abnormality. He is the exception. A black man. Those who point to this exception, this outlier, as a sign that the reign of old, rich, connected white men is over because of this one exception are selling an idea that reality does not support.
Obama’s ascendence to the highest office in the land does not provide ample fodder for the argument of post-racialism — if a black man can be elected President, then the rule has become that black men all over have no excuses for not becoming president. Anyone reading this can see what a bunch of pigshit that statement is because Obama is the isolated exception, the One Percent Doctrine of post-racial thought.
Of the estimated 850,000 employed police officers in this country, less than 0.05 percent have been involved in killing someone both unarmed and black. To then reason that the police in this country are out murdering black people on any wholesale manner is nothing more than propaganda. These killings, while horrifying and unjust, are the isolated exception to the vast majority of policing going on. Hardly an epidemic.
The United States has 325 million citizens living within her borders. Of that number, an estimated 12 million are undocumented immigrants. Which means that less than four percent of the entire population are living here without legal status. Thus, anyone claiming that illegal immigration is anything but an anomaly is ginning up the crowd for political reasons. The idea that the country is rampant with people immigrating here without proper Change of Status documentation is ludicrous.
Out of the billions of airline passengers who fly, one asshole tries to ignite explosives in his fucking shoe and the result is the maddening practice of removing your shoes for the TSA. In fact, nothing speaks to the hysterical jingoism of the unwieldy focus on the exceptions more than the slow history of the security checks in airports.
Of the many scientific studies done about the effects of fossil fuel consumption on climate change, less than three percent state that climate change is either not happening or is not affected by human behavior. 97 percent say otherwise.
Focusing on the smallest of exceptions as endemic of the whole is a broken mirror. Back away from the mirror and the cracks seem less daunting. The closer you get, the more horrifying you look and the more the cracks supersede the purpose of the mirror itself. Do the cracks require repair? Of course. Does that repair require a wholesale destruction of the mirror? Gimme a break, wilya?
I mentioned this idea to someone over the holiday. I started with the numbers on immigration and he was dismissive of the facts. “It might be less than four percent but it’s still a pretty big problem.” Then I related the numbers of police killing unarmed black men. “Yeah. Now that I agree with.”
I’d guess that the numbers reflected in the science of climate change, despite the obvious reality of the tiny exception denying its existence, are reflected in ideology than rational perspective but the facts are plain: to follow the One Percent Doctrine when examining almost anything in society is an overreach and a mistake.
*I wrote this entire piece while waiting in line to get through airport security. With time to spare.