One in 10,000: Progress is rarely obvious
Progress is painful. Then, it is taken for granted.
For almost all my lifetime, every time I ran out of toilet paper, I or my loved ones had to do the following:
Stick your fingers inside the cardboard tube to grab hold of the spinning “axle”. Compress the axle’s spring lengthwise to shorten it. Remove the shortened axle while keeping it compressed. Change the toilet roll. Compress the axle lengthwise again within the roll. While maintaining compression, align it with the proper holes. Release the tension and hope it aligns with the holes into which it should snap into place. If it does not, compress again and align again until it works.
Here is what our new toilet paper holder looks like.
I’m not sure when this design alternative became available, but based on visits to other people’s homes, I think it is fair to say that the compressible-axle design dominated for decades despite being inferior in every conceivable way.
It never occurred to me that it could be done differently, and I like to think of myself as someone who likes to think about things. Now, the prior design’s idiocy seems boneheadedly obvious.
Ex-Dolphin Jonathan Martin thought differently of how things could be. He was one in 10,000. Original thinking is rare. Good original thinking is so rare as to never touch the lives of most people. Few of us can think of different ways of being aside from what we live with. That much is clear from the defenses of Richie Incognito’s behavior discussed here previously as well as the defense mounted by former NFL player Nathan Jackson (hat tip Ta-Nehisi Coates):
Some in the media were quick to label Incognito a racist, but some of his black teammates defended him. Every NFL locker room is full of proud black men who have a keen eye for the intentions of their white peers. If Richie Incognito said the N-word in a malicious way, those teammates would have taken care of the problem.
Coates also cites Dolphin’s lineman Lyndon Murtha who says Incognito’s behavior was typical—that it happens on every team and to every player.
The crap he would give Martin was no more than he gave anyone else, including me. Other players said the same things Incognito said to Martin, so you’d need to suspend the whole team if you suspend Incognito.
I would point these men to the legions of hardworking Americans who dealt with over-designed toilet paper dispensers for far too long. It is not enough to say that everyone else’s toilet paper dispenser works the same way. It is not enough to say that a lot of people, including those with arthritis, who certainly would be more affected, “would have taken care of the problem”. Most people don’t actually think. Rather, they face a situation and roll with it.
To defend the behavior, you have to articulate that there really is no better way. Humans are willing to put up with all sorts of garbage if the context seems to insist upon it. A man with a stern voice in a white jacket is sufficient to get most people to kill someone. Most people will be perfectly willing to say that the line on the left of this image is the same length as either A or B rather than C provided others say the same.
If your mental model of the world assumes that people within the System will recognize a moral problem, then you haven’t been paying attention to the history of the world. People don’t think about the morality of their actions—especially when they are merely enforcing the same rules that had once been enforced upon them and no one else acts as if there is an issue. Such people are probably the worst qualified to identify any moral issues with what they are doing.
It isn’t a reasonable expectation that players, by virtue of being black, would identify and squelch unacceptable conduct. More likely, they would just enforce whatever rules had been applied to them previously however stupid, unfair, or racist. Because only one in 10,000 stops to think about how their toilet paper dispenser works.
In the movies, the hero is obviously heroic. The camera work, the plot, the clothing, the casting all work to help name the hero. Sometimes the hero is given unique superpowers in case you are particularly daft. Sometimes, the hero will even literally tell you he is one in 10,000: [language and Django Unchained spoiler warnings]
Contrast that with Martin’s heroism as described by Murtha:
From the beginning, when he was drafted in April 2012, Martin did not seem to want to be one of the group. He came off as standoffish and shy to the rest of the offensive linemen. He couldn’t look anyone in the eye, which was puzzling for a football player at this level on a team full of grown-ass men. [Vik: obligatory xkcd]
Martin, whatever his weaknesses, did not see the current system as acceptable. That his judgment of the situation is unique does not make it wrong. All new ideas are rare when they are new. The conformity of the 9,999 ensures it. You shouldn’t be surprised when progress comes from a single man (or woman (or child[/efn_note]. You shouldn’t be surprised if it is a mentally ill man. That is the burden of being a real-life one in 10,000 instead of a superhero.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons