The Guardian’s Conspicuous Armor
A recent column by John Derbyshire was more entertaining than usual. I say that, in part, because I greatly sympathize with his suspicion of the medical arts — although I’ve never calculated out the risks entailed with various tests as compared with the risk of not taking them.
But what’s really lodged in my imagination is the summary of a short story with which he opens the piece:
Science fiction writer Robert Sheckley wrote a story titled “Protection” whose first-person protagonist acquires a guardian angel. The angel is actually a validusian derg — an invisible, immaterial being from another plane of existence, present only as a voice in one’s head. The derg’s sole satisfaction is to keep a human being safe from harm.
Like all pacts with the supernatural, this one turns out to have a downside. By taking on the derg, our narrator has made himself conspicuous to that other realm. Dangers multiply. The derg explains:
“If you accept protection, you must accept the drawbacks of protection …”
“Are you trying to tell me,” I said, very slowly, “that my risks have increased because of your help?”
“It was unavoidable,” he sighed.
In a practical sense, one can observe that accepting protection inherently entails choosing a side, making the protector’s conflicts one’s own, so it’s a subject for Derbyshire’s calculation of risks. But there’s also an element of tempting fate.
A client asked me, the other day, whether I’m an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist. I replied that I believe that good things are bound to happen… but only to other people. It’s probably pessimism to be looking for the other shoe, when things are going well, and to expect exacerbation when things are going badly — although the individual can certainly plea realism, given particular experiences. When it comes to tempting fate, however, one might as well take the route of conspicuity; if doom is inevitable, the more interesting and dramatic path thereto is surely preferable.
Which brings in the underlying optimism, I suppose, that in the end, we’re just gathering anecdotes to share in Heaven (one hopes)