Friday, February 19, 2010

"Say Snowball to Me When you Get a Chance": Contemplation of the Concept of Fault

One morning last week, Andy and I started talking about conspiracy theories. After a little JFK assassination contemplation, we moved on to conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 which morphed into a conversation about blame and fault in general. I haven't been able to stop thinking about these things all week.

We were at a Chinese restaurant last night, eating among other things "fruity shrimp" and frog legs (tasted something like chicken but a bit ... fishier) and sharing a Volcano. I'd told Andy earlier, "Say 'snowball' to me when you get a chance" because that was the best way I could think of to segue into my thought process on fault, but he never got around to it. That's why I had to seize the teachable moment :)

ME: Pick up your spoon.

ANDY: Are you on something?

ME: No, I'm trying to share my philosophic epiphany with you. I know you'll appreciate it.

ANDY: Philosophic epiphany?

ME: Just work with me here. Pick up your spoon. Please.

ANDY: (Picks up his spoon)

ME: Okay, now take an ice cube out of the bowl.

ANDY: (Takes an ice cube out of the Volcano bowl)

ME: Okay, now put it onto the napkin.

ANDY: (Puts the ice cube onto a napkin on the table) Are you sure you're not on something?

ME: I'm sure.

ANDY: Now what?

ME: Wait for a minute. (We watch the ice cube melt for a minute or so, then I push the napkin aside to show the dampness on the table) Man, the table's wet. Whose fault is that?

ANDY: It's your fault. You told me to put the ice cube there.

ME: My fault? Do you ALWAYS do everything I tell you to do without question?

ANDY: Well, then, I guess it's my fault. I shouldn't have listened to you, but you're a teacher and I thought you were going to be teaching me.

ME: I am teaching you. I'm sharing my philosophical epiphany.

ANDY: Oh, I thought you were going to show me how you can tie a cherry stem with your tongue.

ME: I've shown you that a hundred times. This is more important.

ANDY: I see.

ME: So whose fault is it that the table is wet?

ANDY: Well, it could be yours because you told me to put ice on a napkin. Or it could be mine because I just did what you told me to do without thinking about it.

ME: I blame you. For a different reason, though.

ANDY: I beg your pardon?

ME: Yup. It's your fault because I had this whole snowball analogy figured out to explain this to you, but you didn't remind me to tell you about it, so I had to wing it with this ice on a napkin thing.

ANDY: I see.

ME: When we were talking about where fault lies, I've been thinking a lot about that. It's a lot more complicated than I realized.

ANDY: Yeah?

ME: Yeah. You put the ice on a napkin because I told you to, and the table got wet as a result. It was your fault in that you carried out the actions, but it was my fault in that I told you to do it. But it could go a lot deeper. What would make me want to make the table wet? Did I want you to look like an idiot? And why did you listen to me? Why didn't you just say no? And might you now order someone else to take an ice cube out of a cup--

ANDY: That's a bowl.

ME: You get what I'm saying, though, don't you?

ANDY: I do. If we'd never talked about the Kennedy assassination last week, you'd never have made me put an ice cube on a napkin to illustrate your philosophical epiphany regarding the concept of fault.

ME: Exactly.

ANDY: Want another drink?