The Inverse Square Law of Stupidity

October 5, 2007

Back in Melbourne and I’m in full catchup mode. With any luck (har har) I should be back in the blog related swing of things in a day or so, but in the interim I thought I’d mention an odd moment I had at the airport terminal.

The flight home was a little bumpy due to some strong winds, and as I wobbled out to wait at the baggage pickup I found myself perusing a brightly colored “dangerous goods” poster. You know, the ones that describe which goods should “never fly” and what you can’t take on board a flight in hand luggage. Immediately a couple of things struck me:

  1. What on earth was the sign doing in the baggage pick up area? It’s a bit like advertising birth control at an antenatal class.
  2. I was bemused to discover that along with the usual warnings about fireworks, tanks of petrol and radioactive materials, there was an explicit warning about spears. I mean you have to wonder don’t you – do they get a lot of people trying to take spears on board flights? Where do you even get a spear? And where would you be taking it?

Then my daughter wandered over and glanced at the poster. She looked confused and asked me why an umbrella was dangerous? I had to look again, because I hadn’t even noticed. And I had to stop and think about that for a moment – I’ve gotten so used to stupid airline carry on baggage security theater that my brain’s automatic filtering software considers classification of an umbrella as dangerous to be normal.

But it’s not normal.

There is nothing normal about my grandmother not being able to knit on a seven hour flight, or my little sister having to throw away her nail file because she forgot to put it in her checked luggage. There is nothing normal about a mother having to drink her own expressed breast milk, or infants being stopped at security because their names are on a no-fly list. It’s just that the longer something stupid is allowed continue without being challenged, the less people seem to notice it as abnormal.

I denote this as the Inverse Square Law of Stupidity – the degree to which a person will notice stupidity is in inverse proportion to the length of time over which that stupidity takes place, and the degree to which it is not acceptable that it be exposed to scrutiny.


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