Tuesday, November 02, 2004
Ten-thirty p.m. in North Carolina on Election Day
“Idolatry", wrote G.K. Chesterton, "is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice.”
Seems like a good occasion for a brief note on reality.
A few years ago, a man was killed in a fog-engendered freak accident not too many miles from my home because his perceptions conflicted with reality.
Fog, as anyone who has experienced it knows, makes for unpleasant driving conditions. Low beams and judicious use of brake lights generally provide an adequate margin of safety, providing everyone is patient and wary, but navigating a cloud-bank is still rough on the nervous system for the simple fact that it can be well-nigh impossible to see more than a few feet in front of the car, thus giving the driver a choice of driving too slow and being hit from the rear or driving too fast and hitting someone else from the rear. The consequential chain-reaction pile-ups can be spectacular for no other reason than the sheer number of automobiles involved, fatalities aside.
The road this particular man was driving on is a well-maintained divided highway that rarely sees even moderate traffic. I don’t remember all the details – such as his estimated speed, for instance – but I do know that he was going fast enough that when a large and stationary truck carrying some sort of long, protruding cargo was all of a sudden smack-dab in his way, he had no time to prevent that whatever-it-was coming right through the windshield and taking his head off. It’s entirely possible that he never saw it at all.
As I recall, the truck driver was charged with something, probably some sort of criminal negligence, and justly so – that’s what flares are for - but that wasn’t any help to our newly decapitated fellow citizen. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men…
He was dead then and is still dead and will be dead at least ‘til the last trump sounds, all because what he thought didn’t fit with what actually was.
Perception told him that he could see far enough ahead to react to taillights. Perception wasn’t particularly concerned with a deer or a dog – there’d be time to brake: the fog wasn’t that bad.
Maybe perception whispered “I’ve driven this little old highway a hundred times before, nothing to worry about!”
Perception wasn’t being particularly reckless: certainly one ought to be able to travel North Carolina highways with a reasonable expectation of there not being lethal truck-cargoes a-lurk in the cruising lane. But what perception, however well meaning or innocent, didn’t reckon with was truth.
Truth in the form of critical mass, that nonnegotiable instant when one of two objects attempting to occupy the same space at the same time loses the argument but good.
That is the nature of reality. Illusion cannot protect you from it.