One of the scarier artifacts of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy universe is something called the Total Perspective Vortex, which, as Ford Prefect noted, is "the worst thing that can happen to anybody." From Fit the Eighth of the BBC radio series (1980):

The Vortex derives its picture of the whole Universe on the principle of extrapolated matter analyses. To explain — since every piece of matter in the Universe is in some way affected by every other piece of matter in the Universe, it is in theory possible to extrapolate the whole of Creation, every Galaxy, every sun, every planet, their orbits, their composition, and their economic and social history from, say, one small piece of fairy cake.

The Vortex, we are told, was inspired by the wife of one Trin Tragula:

"Have some sense of proportion" she would say thirty-eight times a day. And so he built the Total Perspective Vortex, just to show her. And in one end he plugged the whole of reality as extrapolated from a fairy cake, and in the other end he plugged his wife, so that when he turned it on she saw in one instant the whole infinity of creation and herself in relation to it.

To Trin Tragula's horror, the shock annihilated her brain, but to his satisfaction he realized he had conclusively proved that if life is going to exist in a Universe this size the one thing it cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion.

There are those who would argue that I lack a sense of proportion, and perhaps there was a time in my life when I might have been alarmed at this characterization. Today, not so much: if anything, I seem to glory in my insignificance. This is not to say, however, that I shun the occasional bit of puffery. There are maybe half a dozen people in the entire nation who do the sort of job I do, and I am fond of saying that it would take at least half of them just to fill in for me. (Once a year, when I disappear into the backwoods for the World Tour, I demonstrate the truth of this assertion.) I do not, however, define myself by my job: that way lies desolation and despair.

Most people, it seems, would prefer to do something "meaningful," something that benefits some substantial segment of mankind while simultaneously putting bread — and not that crummy two-thirds-air stuff they sell on the bottom shelf of the grocery store, but something with flavor and grain — on the table. Maybe I would. Or maybe not; the position I occupy these days isn't even slightly meaningful and benefits mankind hardly at all, but it requires a fairly specific set of skills, and for deploying those skills, I am paid well, or at least not remarkably poorly. It's an exchange, pure and simple: for about two hundred hours of labor a month, I get to do pretty much whatever I please for the remaining five hundred hours. This is not to say that you couldn't learn this, because you could; but there's no compelling reason why you should want to.

Lacking a sense of proportion also makes it easier to suggest, as is my wont, draconian punishments for crimes considered minor. I wasn't the first person to call for the crucifixion of spammers, but I suspect I enjoyed it more than most. Besides, I don't consider the punishment at all disproportionate: the spammer has declared, simply by spamming, that he prefers to make his living at the expense of others, and such persons, apart from causing me personal expense, heinous enough an offense, are simply incompatible with a proper society, and if we're not going to exile them, we may as well hang them by the side of the road. Ken Lay, had he lived, would have been jailed and fined; it would have given me great satisfaction to have seen him enslaved — preferably outside the US, since we have laws against that sort of thing.

If you're reading this and thinking "Jesus, what an arrogant little prick," be advised: I am not little. I have, however, come to grips with my place in the Universe, however unimportant that place may be. In other words, I made it through the Total Perspective Vortex with my soul intact. The last person to pull that off was Zaphod freaking Beeblebrox, and he was the Galactic President, fercrissake. And yes, I know: as the Galactic President, his job is not to exert power, but to deflect attention. I think I've performed admirably in a similar capacity over the years, and I won't even object if you offer to buy me a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, provided of course you observe all hazmat rules.

The Vent

#547
  1 September 2007

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