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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Murphy's Law and Gun Control


I don’t know the origin of Murphy’s law. I suppose the origin is only a google away, but it doesn’t matter. The law itself states, as we all know, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong,” with a sometimes corollary, “at the worst possible time.” The corollary is clearly a late add-on, intended to intensify the perceived cynical joke that is the heart of the law. But the law itself, though comically formulated, is in fact a law. Better stated, “Anything that can happen, will happen, given enough time.” It explains why intelligent life showed up in the universe despite the extraordinary chances against it (by the reckoning of some). The universe is that big and that old and given certain conditions it is possible. It tells us also, then, that even if we were to eliminate all causes of death except one—let’s say car accidents—then eventually everyone will die in a car accident. Much could be accomplished if we were to simply keep Murphy’s law more prominently in mind when we do such things as build nuclear power plants and put in place ample safeguards to insure against meltdown. There are not enough safeguards in the universe to insure against meltdown. Or when we argue about gun control: no law (as the right wing always reminds us) will prevent random slaughter. Or when we put locks on houses: no lock will prevent unwanted access. Safeguards and locks and laws are all means of reducing chances, lowering percentages.  That doesn’t mean they are useless.

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