A little op-ed piece this morning…
It can be easy to become numb to the wackiness of the internet. Today, an unscientific trawl from my laptop reveals that not only has a widow been brought to tears after opening an envelope left by her late husband, but that someone started a rumour that Cardi B’s real name is “Cardigan Backyardigan”. Leaving aside the unsustainable level of background knowledge I would need for either of these stories to matter to me, I can think of no circumstances which would prompt me to snap at this click-bait.
There are those who do click, though. There must be. At least enough to keep what I am certain must be a small army of grammatically challenged, easily entertained, and permanently agog social commentators in business. One such allegedly newsworthy item resurfaced this week, raised from an uneasy rest by national radio.
In 2014, author Nikesh Shukla sent a tandoori chop into space on a weather balloon to promote his new book ‘Meatspace’. So far, so wacky. The stunt was well-received and probably helped Shukla sell his second novel, acclaimed as it was by the Independent on Sunday and BBC Radio 4. Responses to the orbital chop were predictably shrill and the event was presumably guffawed over by devotees of LadBible and crazy frog ringtones. Amidst the din was a young man, presumably drunk with titillation, who gushed ‘Why? Why NOT?’ as if this should end debate on the matter. This comment, however laddish, has been irritating me ever since.
To begin with the obvious, the ratio between things we do and things we don’t do is overwhelmingly stark. When we arrive at work on Monday morning, colleagues are kind enough to ask us what we did at the weekend, rather than what we didn’t. This has the benefit of us not having to drearily list tasks we haven’t completed such as nipple piercing or self-immolation. It is a courtesy which we extend into all aspects of life and saves defendants from explaining in court why they didn’t murder people.
‘Because to do so would have risked his death and my incarceration, your honour’.
It seems to me that we are not asking the question ‘why?’ enough. To perform an act is to invite discussion on our motives for that act. The ‘why’ is everything. It explains why early 63 million people voted for a narcissistic, pussy-grabbing adulterer for president and why 48% of Britons still support capital punishment. When someone replies ‘why not?’ they are rarely interested in an alternative narrative. It is a child’s reply, a conversation ender, a stall from someone who hasn’t the wit to explore their own thinking.
Unfortunately, the ‘why’ is more difficult and subsequently less sexy. It requires introspection and the consideration of a person’s own fallibilities. It is easier to move on to the next picture of a space-bound delicacy and shrug ‘why not?’