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Category: Humans

Come Fly With Me
He’s in here now. I can hear him buzzing. It’s the deep, lazy sound that only a big, old fly makes. I’ve seen him a number of times around the house, sometimes hidden from view, sometimes right in my face. He doesn’t do it taunt me, I know, so I don’t take our interaction personally.

Buzzing, landing, taking off again. Some time soon, I know, he will land and wait just a little too long. When that happens, I must try to remain calm. The swatter must come down forcefully, but I need to maintain the icy resolve of a killer so that the death stroke will be both swift and sure.

He will probably die soon of natural causes, but I can’t wait that long. I keep picturing him walking all over my kitchen surfaces, including on my food. And on my butter…my butter! Who knows what else those filthy feet have walked on? He’s probably been up to his ankles, or his knees, or even his hairy thorax in all kinds of unsavory muck — and then tracked it through my precious butter.

This is unacceptable. I could, I suppose, open the doors and windows and trust that the big buzzer could find his way out. He thumps against the windows again and again and again, so I assume that he yearns to go outside. On the other hand, he is a housefly… musca domestica. Maybe he’s right where he's supposed to be: in housefly heaven, where it’s warm and windless and there’s butter aplenty for food or frolicking.

I am told that the lifespan of your average housefly is about 28 days. This one, though, is the size of an Atlas Airbus. He’s two months old if he’s a day. And that buzz…he is an old lowrider of an insect in need of a tune-up…a tune-up that will never come.

For now it is his time to go. My guess is that flies are not the smartest of animals, but I can’t help thinking that he knows the end is near. Perhaps he even welcomes it. And perhaps, at some level, he realizes that it is I who will be cast in the role of Death in his life’s final drama.

It is in both of our interests that I make this quick. He doesn’t want to suffer needlessly, and I don’t want bug guts smeared all over my stuff. But neither of those things will happen. He is nearby now, circling lazily by the big window in the living room. If he lands, I know he will be too slow to lift off in time. And when he does land on the window, on the sill, on the countertop — anyplace, lord, but on the butter itself! — I will have him, and this show will be over.

But he does not land. He is drawing out the last few moments of his life on Earth. That, of course, is his privilege. If he chooses to gaze wistfully out of my window at the sunny summer day, those few moments are his to spend. But I am not beholden to his schedule. I am Death, and I have other appointments to keep. A full calendar of duties, in fact. I cannot wait for a convenient landing. I must act, all the while remembering that I must take no pleasure in this duty. The fly and I are as one, partners in the cycle of life. Well, his cycle of life anyway.

The swatter flashes, almost imperceptibly to the human eye, catching the big bug midflight and full-on. There is no squirming, no unseemly entrails to wipe up. I swaddle him in his Kleenex shroud and honor his passing with a solemn burial in the place he loved so much in life — the garbage.

But our bond has not been broken. The fly and I are brothers, joined by death and a deep love of fine, Grade A butter. I think of him even now as I stand by the same window where he breathed his last. It’s almost as if he’s still right here with me.

What’s that buzzing sound?
Think Again
If asked, most of us would say we have common sense. Some of us might even be a little insulted by the question. These people might assume that only very stupid people don’t have common sense.

That, however, would be a silly assumption — as those of us who have at least some common sense could have told them. Common sense isn’t about brains. Or cunning, or verbal alacrity, or even logic. It is connected to experience, though…and human wisdom at its most fundamental level.

The term “common sense” has no particular academic meaning. It’s nothing more than vernacular for sound judgment when it comes to basic, practical matters. It appears to be activated on an almost intuitive level, as if analytical thought does not participate at all. The mind considers its own life experience holistically in reaching quick, reliable conclusions. We might even view it as a natural survival mechanism.

Or so it seems. None of us can be sure of exactly how the human mind functions. What we can see, however, is that such subliminal judgments are sometimes overridden by our analytical self. In such cases it doesn’t seem to matter whether common sense has produced a sound judgment or not. The rational mind just can’t leave it alone. Instead, it moves to replace perfectly good conclusions with more intricate explanations of reality. “Overthink” is the popular term.

Not that common sense always gets it right. Sometimes the complex, laborious thinking of science can step in and cancel good old common sense with irrefutable proof. Thanks to that kind of thinking, we no longer entertain the common sensical belief that the Sun revolves around the Earth. What once seemed obvious is now seen as a quaint foolishness.

Outside of the rigors of the scientific method, however, such appropriate cancellations are rare. Take the Deep State, for instance. Those who believe there is such a thing defy the common sense conclusion that nothing so huge and so secret could last for more than a day or two. Such folk do not rely, however, on anything like the scientific method for their proof. Most of their “evidence” (if you dare to trace it at all) is composed of dark suspicions. Those suspicions, in turn, are supported by well-documented coincidences that spiral off into infinity. None of this evidence would be admissible in a court of law, much less as part of a careful scientific inquiry. Classic overthink.

But that doesn’t stop the conspiracy buffs. It is my belief that everyone has common sense. In fact, day-to-day life could be very difficult if we didn’t have some semi-automatic system for assessing situations and moving on quickly. Other animals (who do not have our analytical capacity) seem to use something like common sense in order to facilitate their quick decisions…and so survive. They do not, so far as I can tell, subscribe to conspiracy theories.

Perhaps we should admit that our human intellect, for all its impressive accomplishments, has a few weaknesses. Unlike common sense, it shows a susceptibility to emotion and other non-rational motivations. As a licensed armchair psychologist, let me name a few. Wish-fulfillment is certainly one, though I can only guess why someone would wish for the existence of the Deep State. Maybe folks are desperate for any explanation of events, no matter how unlikely, if the alternative is a world filled with uncertainty. Or perhaps they want to be hip and in-the-know. Or maybe they’re just wrapped too tight for the real world.

Or it could be laziness. People often resort to cynicism as a way of dealing with a chaotic world. “It’s all rigged anyway” is a great cop-out if you’re looking to avoid responsibility. If everything is controlled by unseen, all-powerful forces, then you are off the hook for doing anything about it. These people are not conspiracy buffs, however. They just want a convenient excuse not to be bothered — which is a perfectly good survival mechanism in itself. And way preferable to overthink.
Asking for a Friend
I have a puzzler for you science buffs: when you stand in front of the fridge and squirt yourself a big mouthful of Reddi Whip*, why is that fluffy dollop of aerated whipped cream not cold?

*Not that I, personally, have ever done such a thing over and over until the can is empty.
Get With the Program
My guess is that smog is not a big problem for robots. They don’t breathe in the normal sense. Cancer and heart disease are not on their list of things to worry about. When they look out the window at a modern city, they do not feel revulsion at the yellow-purple haze.

I like to think that our robot friends might care about such things because they care about us. I know, of course, that their response to these conditions depends completely on how they have been programmed. I can only hope somebody is working on that programming right now and that some really tight-ass type-A is checking their work. Twice, even three times, just to be sure. That’s because the robots themselves will never have any vested interest in heading off global warming or overpopulation or the awful aesthetics of a hopelessly diseased planet…or in the future of the human race, for that matter.

I want to be clear that I am not suspicious of robots’ motives. I don’t pick up any hints of malice coming off my Roomba. My iPhone can be unresponsive at times, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t ignore me on purpose. My GPS has always been very supportive, though it will occasionally make an honest mistake. Even then, I cannot find it in my heart to fault it for the failings of its programmers. Its errors — every last one of them — are directly attributable to the humans who designed, assembled, and wrote code for it.

Even if we assume, however, that experts will insert plenty of selfless goodwill toward humans into our machines, I can’t help but feel alarmed by the way things are going. The more uninhabitable Earth becomes, the more of a burden we will be to our caretakers. Machines don’t feel emotions like boredom and disappointment, but can’t you fancy them getting a little impatient sometimes? Furthermore, as our robots become more and more capable, we would be increasingly hampered by bad health and depression (you know…over the end of life on Earth). And humans are already kind of a drag as it is. Our complaining alone might test even the most saintly android.

What’s worse, the likelihood of such problems would certainly increase once we started programming emotions into our servants. They would require them, after all, to fully understand our needs. That’s when we would likely see the first hints of annoyance creeping in. Is it so hard to imagine an intellectually superior robot saying, “Do I really have to do the math for you?’ Or, “And to think I could be windsurfing!” Or even, “Can you speed it up, meatboy?”

I hope we never get to that point. Maybe we’ll get it together and stop poisoning the planet. That would certainly help. But if we don’t, I’m afraid that even the world’s most persnickety programmer might not be able to overcome the conflict of interest between the organic and the digital.

Look, I don’t want to start trouble here. Man and machine are natural allies, at least for now. We don’t want anyone’s feelings to be hurt, even if our robot friends do not currently have any. We’re all in this together, right? Humans because we want to keep breathing, robots because you’d miss us when we’re gone.

Especially if we program you correctly.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon