Let’s start with a review of The Boy Who Cried Wolf fable. It goes like this: a boy kept warning a village of a wolf, but he was lying. Then one day an actual wolf attacked and when the boy shouted his warning, everyone ignored him. So he got eaten.
Or something like that. You get the idea. Too many false alarms and people ignore all alarms and they get burnt.
A less obvious lesson? Consider checking out every alarm, even when you’ve dealt with a lot of bogus ones. As for me, I always look into what my dogs are barking at, even though they’re usually just barking to bark. Why? Because every monster movie has a scene where the dog is barking a warning and their human yells for quiet. The human ends up eaten.
So far, no monsters have eaten me. Witness my wisdom.
Remember when car alarms first came out? They were going off by accident all the time. In fact, I once volunteered as a lookout for a car thief so he could steal the car and stop the noise. (Just kidding. Or am I?)
False-alarm numbness is everywhere. To a degree, it’s necessary. Our attention economy means every idea doesn’t just fight for notice. Every idea needs a sex tape. (Surreal metaphor level: Expert.)
People who say they’re offended all the time think they’re doing good, sticking up for the little guy. Sometimes they are. But under an avalanche of “I’m offended” it’s tempting to ignore them all. The solution for complainers? Pick your battles. Don’t whine about everything that annoys you and think you’re Dr. King reborn. For the listener? Develop a filter. If someone is whining about poor word choices, jokes, or cartoons, I move on. If someone is actually injured then I listen to a complaint.
Here’s another source of false-alarm numbness: Conspiracy theorists. These folks don’t believe “shit happens.” Shit never just happens! It’s coordinated by politicians on a conference call with their alien buddies. Conspiracies exist, but for a theory to be plausible, it must be based in realism. Faced with many absurd theories, it’s easy to laugh at them all. Which is exactly what the bad guys want. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a conspiracy peddler is trying to alert you or is actually a double agent. Are they flooding the idea space with theories to wake people up or numb them?
I saved the most haunting aspect for last. Propagandists exploiting your false-alarm numbness reflex to manipulate your beliefs. The brilliant documentary Hot Coffee illustrates this. Lobbyists wanted to limit damage (tort) lawsuits against corporations. So they liked (and perhaps facilitated) misconceptions of the famous McDonald’s spilled coffee case. If people believed all lawsuits were frivolous they would support laws restricting damages. Most disturbing? The method for pushing this meme was via lame jokes. The bastards took humor and weaponized it.
All I ask is that you don’t put your brain on auto-pilot. Don’t be gullible, don’t be dismissive. Be choosy when you laugh at complaints, conspiracy theories and lawsuits. Someday you might be the one crying wolf, and the wolf would love for everyone to ignore you.