CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Meteorologist Jim
I’ve never been much interested in the weather.
To be precise, it’s predictions of the weather that don’t interest me. When the weather is happening, I do care—I like sunshine and don’t like rain (unless that’s what we need)—but the day before it happens, I don’t really need to know about it. It’s going to happen exactly the way it happens regardless of whether I’m aware of it beforehand, so I keep an umbrella in my Family Truckster just in case.
To be fair, I’ve never lived in climactic region where the weather mattered all that much. If I lived in tornado or flood country, I’d probably be a lot more interested in weather predictions. Or maybe if I was a farmer, then knowing the weather beforehand might help me decide how to best protect my crops and livestock.
But I’ve never been a farmer or lived in such a place, so left to my own devices I would never have watched the Weather Channel or known who Meteorologist Jim was. But I’m rarely left to my own devices. Unlike me, my wife (remember, from Chapter One, she’s the kind of gal who does not like surprises), is interested in weather predictions, so she watches the Weather Channel a lot—which means that I end up watching it too. Which is why I know who Meteorologist Jim is.
He’s a guy who is very passionate about predicting the weather. He gets particularly fired up when there is a hurricane bearing down on the coastline someplace. I like passion so I generally like his style, but there is a limit to that, and one stormy day Meteorologist Jim crossed it for me. During his forecast he left the rails of predicting the weather and wandered into a rant directed at people who were determined to ride out the storm in their homes rather than retreat inland as Meteorologist Jim clearly thought they should. For Meteorologist Jim, that was irresponsible and selfish behavior. He is an Orist who believes that a man either does as he says, or he must have bad character. There is no third choice.
I remember thinking, why does this guy from Vermont think that he has the moral authority to lecture a farmer in North Carolina about how he should conduct himself during a storm? His job is to predict the weather, not tell people he doesn’t know what they should do about it and insult their character if they decide not to obey him.
I made that observation to my friend Tim Watson at the time, and he said “well, he is an expert”.
“Sure,” I replied, “an expert at interpreting the Doppler, but he’s not an expert on individual risk assessment—we are each our own experts in that.”
It’s like that nurse who told my wife and me that we were going to have a daughter. She was an expert at reading the sonogram, so it was silly of me to have questioned whether three lines meant that we were having a girl. Realizing that, I ultimately gave way to her expertise and didn’t question her again the next time those three lines popped up. But if she had started to instruct me on the way I should raise my daughters I would have said hold on now, that’s going to have to be my department. You can predict the baby’s gender but I’m the one who will be responsible to the Creator for their love and protection.
Now, having raised those three daughters, I’d say I have a fair bit of expertise in doing so, but I think it’s a good idea to keep that mainly to myself (unless asked by another man with whom I am in a close relationship), because I’m only an expert (at most) at raising my own daughters. I wouldn’t tell another man how to raise his own kids and get mad at him if he decided not to take my advice. For a Minivan Centurion, raising a child is a duty that is not delegable to anyone else.
Well (Tim Watson might say) raising your kid is a different thing from deciding whether to leave your house in the face of an oncoming hurricane. Perhaps, but it is indicative of the creeping tendency of the cult of expertise to strip a man of his agency.
Agency is the capacity to act as an individual who makes his own choices free from the control or direction of an outside force. Without agency, a man is nothing but an automaton waiting to be told what to do and when to do it. Agency is critical to the Minivan Centurion. Without it, he is neutered into involuntary Fat Ted-ism because regardless of what he might believe he is powerless to act on it.
But Tim (of course) is correct that there is a limit to man’s agency. Human beings who live in a community are only free to make their own choices up to the point that they adversely impact our neighbors. As Abraham Lincoln said, my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins. The trick is figuring out where the tip of your neighbor’s nose starts in situations where that is not quite clear. Minivan Centurions like Tim Watson and I are free to disagree on that precise point if we also agree on the fundamental and underlying right. And we do.
The hurricane example provides a handy illustration of this dilemma. Despite Meteorologist Jim’s warnings, Farmer Bob decides not to leave his house, crops, and livestock to the predations of the storm and the looters who will inevitably scuttle by in its aftermath. He has lived there all his life and firmly believes that he knows best when he is better off riding out the storm on his land than retreating from it.
Anyway, Bob asks what business of it is yours Meteorologist Jim if I choose to ride it out? if I’m wrong the consequences of that decision land firmly upon me and nobody else. It is, after all, my life I have placed at risk.
Jim responds not so fast Farmer Bob. Your decision to stay does affect other people, specifically the rescue crews who must come in and pull you off the roof of your farmhouse when you finally come to your senses. Your recklessness places them in danger.
Fair point. Who’s right, Farmer Bob or Meteorologist Jim?
For the Minivan Centurion, the resolution of the question lies with the application of consequences. While Farmer Bob contends that there should be consequences for him (and him alone) if he is wrong and is willing to accept them, Meteorologist Jim doesn’t believe that those consequences should apply. But the Minivan Centurion knows that one cannot exercise agency without acceptance of the consequences. The two go together. A man who will not accept the consequences has no right to demand agency.
This formula is recognized in the law as the doctrine of acceptance of risk. A defendant accused of negligently harming a plaintiff can plead acceptance of risk as an affirmative defense. In so doing, he is saying:
Sure, through my own negligence I may have created a risk that you might be harmed, but you knew of that risk and willingly accepted it. As a result, I should not be held culpable under the law for the resulting damage because you had the opportunity to avoid it and chose not to.
The concept of acceptance of risk underlies the waiver that Tim Watson signed when he learned to skydive. To be effective, a waiver must clearly warn of the risk such that one manifests a knowing and voluntary responsibility for outcome. A waiver is particularly useful for activities that are inherently dangerous, like riding out hurricanes.
In deciding to stay put through the hurricane, Farmer Bob explicitly accepts the risk that it might kill him and implicitly waives any demand that he be rescued if his decision turns out badly for him. By exercising his agency, Farmer Bob has accepted the incumbent consequences. The two go together. This may seem harsh, but what alternative do we have in a free and liberal society? If a man is forcibly relieved of the consequences of his own actions than he is also stripped of his agency and becomes a Fat Ted by default.
For the Meteorologist Jims of the world, that might seem like a good trade-off. After all, isn’t it all these people running around and engaging in agency who are making life more difficult for the rest of us? Wouldn’t the world be a better, more orderly place if these stubborn people didn’t insist on making their own decisions rather than letting the experts do their thinking for them? If they would simply abandon their insistence upon having agency, they could then be relieved of the threat of consequences. Who wouldn’t want that?
I hate to admit it, but (in a way) we all want that—to be released from the grinding demands of decision making and self-determination, free to waft along in a state of comfortable numbness (as the song goes), smoothly fading away to a permanent departure from a guilt-free and meaningless life. To be liberated from the pain, worry and responsibility inherent in being a man with Three Dots, all one need do is abandon his agency and leave it to the people who know better, the distant experts, to make all his decisions for him.
I get that desire because I have that desire. Every man does. But a man who abandons his agency has chosen to be a Fat Ted and removed himself from the fight. No longer an asset, he is started on the path to becoming a liability—even if he doesn’t realize it.
The Minivan Centurion refuses to give in to that temptation because his life is not his own. He is Purposeful Mud that has been formed by a higher power with an ultimate objective in mind. As such, he is obligated to remain uncomfortably sentient regardless of the circumstances of his life.
To serve the people who depend upon him throughout his compromised adventure, the Minivan Centurion must be fully alert, awake, and aware, ready to both make decisions and accept the consequences that result. He must never give in to the sweet seductions of the distant expert and descend into agency-free passivity. If necessary, he must make like Odysseus, stop his ears with wax and tie himself to the mast to keep that siren song from running his ship and crew off azimuth and into destruction.
The non-delegable duty of the Minivan Centurion is to remain uncomfortably sentient and stay firmly in the fight. He must never give in to the demands of the Meteorologist Jims to surrender his agency.