Banana Car and the Aflockalypse

So you’re driving along and your 12-year old son points and says, “Banana car!” and you say, “What?”  Then he explains the game, which is simply to shout “banana car” when you see a yellow vehicle (school buses don’t count).  High score wins.

Play it today, even by yourself (though it’s hard to tell who wins unless you have a multiple personality disorder).  Actually, you don’t even have to do that, because I have primed you.

Yup, you have fallen victim to my sneaky but effective way of making a point.  So, now, while you are trying not to think of banana cars, you are actually thinking of…banana cars.  You see, you can’t think of not something.  You can only think of “not banana car” in relation to a banana car (the yellow vehicles you will be seeing all day today).

Some of you will actually count them and some of you will only notice them, but all of you will be affected.  You see, you can’t not notice something like a banana car.  Same with dead birds.

Of course, you had a little help didn’t you?  The press wanted you to do what?  Read their stuff, right?  So, they dig up every story they can, most of which were probably there all along, but deemed unworthy of publication.  Like a story line from the X-Files, the “real” truth is buried in the back page until Mulder uncovers it.

In fact, there probably aren’t any more birds, fish, or fruit flies dying than usual.  Could be, of course, but I doubt it.  It is most likely just a giant game of banana car.  Know why I think that?  Because as you drive and walk around today doing whatever you normally do, something distinctly unnormal is going to happen.  Like me since my son introduced me to the game, you are going to notice banana cars everywhere.  In fact, it’s going to look like suddenly everyone went out and bought yellow cars.

Now, you and I know perfectly well that there are no more banana cars than usual.  They were there all along and we thought nothing of it.  There have been mass animal deaths all along and nobody noticed.  Don’t feel bad, by the way.  There is a good reason we tend to see disaster at every turn–evolution.  It kept our ancestors alive.  Now, though, we can do it globally and instantly on Google Maps.  It is no longer just the lion we think we see in the bush, but the lion everyone worldwide thinks is lurking “out there” somewhere.

All of which would be benignly amusing were it not for a good thing gone bad.  The same fear that kept us alive when we were primitive leads us to do stupid things now that we call ourselves sophisticated.  In a strange twist of the human psyche, we have become the lion in the bush, scaring the wits out of ourselves.

Human beings have shaped a world infinitely more hospitable than the shelterless Savannah.  Yet every advance sparks a firestorm of lamentations about how we are ruining ourselves, ruining the Earth, or angering God.  The particular timbre of the shriek depends on the world-view of the shrieker.  For the nature-enthralled, pasteurization makes milk hazardous and vaccines cause autism.  For the religious fundamentalist, every storm is evidence of God’s anger at our being too cocky.  We are slow to acknowledge genuine pride in our capabilities and quick to lash out at the audacity of our adventurous spirit.  Every disaster, real or imagined, is but another piece of evidence that we are somehow our greatest danger to ourselves.

We suffer from lack of confidence, not hubris, from priming ourselves to see humanity’s arrogance at every turn, not the actual mistakes we make.  The more banana cars we see today, the more likely we are to see them tomorrow.  The more we fret over dead birds and temperature fluctuations being caused “somehow” by us, the more we come to see ourselves as bad, as wrong, and as something that deserves to be punished.

This does not mean we are never wrong or that we never need to weigh progress against legitimate harm.  It just means noticing when we are playing banana car.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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