Rendered Fat Content


Joseph Wright: An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768)
"If we can maintain faith in infinitesimals, we stand some chance."

Invite a halfway decent project manager to a project meeting or an otherwise innocent pandemic and things tend to quickly seem more complicated. While a team or a society easily focus their energy upon some essentially mythical closure, the project manager's having none of that. She'll start asking "and if you achieved that, where would you be?" in long meandering series intended to get people thinking less superficially. You see, most of us firmly believe in silver bullets, even though experts in every field agree that there's really no such thing. Nothing ends like things end on TV, prominently featuring unambiguously good guys, white horses, or native sidekicks. Silver bullets prove impractical for reasons beyond their obvious expense. Lead's almost twice as heavy as silver, its mass much better suited for bullets. Silver bullets would struggle to accurately hit any target, regardless of the skill of the shooter involved. We each suffer somewhat from a form of Fairy Tale Poisoning, and this toxin serves us very poorly.

We've, for the duration of This Damned Pandemic, maintained a reassuring belief in the eventual emergence of a blunting vaccine which would quickly neutralize the threat.
Many of us bet that it would come quickly, especially given that we're said to have The Most Advanced Health Care System. I mean, how could it not deliver quickly, even though history suggests that we should set our expectations on more distant horizons? Well, a couple of the companies involved managed to beat the odds and deliver effective vaccines in months rather than years, further encouraging our notions that the end of this ordeal simply must, then, be very near, indeed. And if we were dealing with a modest outbreak and we'd all taken to heart our personal responsibilities to mask up and distance, we might, indeed, be closer than we think. But we didn't do that, so we face a much more enormous undertaking. If we carried a handful of obvious centers, we might thwart the spread in weeks, but this contagion has no apparent center, so everyone needs attention. That's, ahem, upward of three hundred and thirty-one MILLION individual vaccinations, each one needing a booster, with a month's delay between and twenty one days, they say, after the second one's administered before any "All's clear," gets sounded. That's a shit load of snakes on this Medusa's head, unlikely to be effected by even a billion silver bullets, which would bring their own daunting logistical challenges.

The project manager understands that we exclusively deal in
SliverBullets, tiny shards of light requiring exquisite coordination. Nobody accurately foresees the eventual proliferation of the many complications involved, further complicated when nobody's in charge. Nobody's ever really in charge. The designated project manager's essentially powerless, except to influence independent choice- and decision-makers. We each pride ourselves upon our common sense, which the project manager understands can never make much sense of anything very complicated, and every implementation's much more complicated than it seems to everyone involved. These are not simple head-bone-connected-to-the-neck-bone problems, but expanding constellations blithely unaware of all of their own parts. Market forces cannot coordinate such efforts because markets react to local forces rather than integrate emerging courses of action. We face exclusively massive systems problems where nobody can ever actually see the system, so these efforts demand a manner of thinking which is continually rejecting the notion that we've somehow figured out everything. We must be both lean and wise, an always unlikely combination.

I understand that The States will be in charge of the details of vaccine deployment. Fifty independent entities, some of which still rely upon fax technology to track and report progress. Some states seem certain to decide to not buy into the inevitable hegemony involved when outside experts strongly suggest protocols, and will respond with some form of the old "We don't need no stinking badges" assertion before finding some new way to totally screw up distribution. (Notice how I'm not mentioning South Dakota here.) A few states maintain public health services rivaling lesser third world nations' while others seem authentically world-class. Some will doubtless rely upon private providers who will at least attempt to charge through the nose for their services, … because they can. Others will struggle to simply schedule appointments and track follow-ups and might well fail to communicate or convince that the side effects of that first shot should not dissuade anyone from showing up for that second appointment. A snowstorm will very likely delay some second visits. A few will inevitably die and people will come to fear their potential salvation more than they feared the disease. About twenty percent will persist in believing the whole shebang's a hoax.

Best case, we might begin to blunt This Damned Pandemic toward the end of NEXT year, unlikely very much before. That mask you've been wearing will continue to be your constant companion, regardless of which sliver bullet you've come to believe in. We gratefully foresee an administration capable of actually administering something, but it will bring no silver bullet in with them. The tenacious belief in the existence of silver bullets only prolongs the pain and suffering. Salvation might come, and when it does, it will have most likely been the result of ten million little decisions and at least as many almost blind choices, each intended to make some small difference; and they will. Those who understand that seemingly insignificant slivers make the difference might ultimately help us overcome this contagion, but they will face popular uprisings insisting upon Ayn Rand's or Tom Paine's superior wisdom: silver bullets. We deal exclusively in SliverBullets, not bright shiny mythical ones. We reasonably expect ten thousand unforeseen complication. If we can maintain faith in infinitesimals, we stand some chance. If not, we're sunk with a six gun loaded with imaginary silver weighing us down.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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