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)

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Stuart
Stuart
11 years ago

> if doom is inevitable, the more interesting and dramatic path thereto is surely preferable.
sounds like you would make a good terrorist or martyr…..i’ll await the news story…but, honestly, i don’t think you have the balls for that. it’s much easier to complain than to work hard to pull yourself up in our “winner takes all” capitalist system.
Too bad you decided to work for a living….you should have entered the financial “industry”, where you can make money without sweating.
Well, I guess you are right. Life is suffering, as the Buddha says. Or, as my executive assistant uses to posit “life sucks and then you die”.
However, I would not have missed it for the world. If it was really that bad, why would we all try so hard to hang onto it?
BTW, I have had hundreds, if not thousands, of good and great things happen to me and to those in my circle of family and friends. However, we have been around long enough that now we are facing many of those things which might be considered “less good”, mostly being death, sickness and loss. So be it. I’m a realist! (Ha Ha).
Who was I to think I could get away with it (not suffering)? I have a good friend who somewhat secretly was always amazed that only good things happened to me, while he had terrible problems in almost every facet of his life. Now he finally sees that it it just a matter of time..and I will catch up!
You can’t win, so you might as well give up and just try to make things as comfortable as possible for those around you.

Bob Walsh
Bob Walsh
11 years ago

“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?”
I think I can use this to explain what joining a union entails in the current environment. Would that qualify as a good thing happening to someone else?

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