Artist or Accountant?

Do the Scales Balance?

Portrait of Luca PacioliA guy driving back from a fishing trip is killed when a rock thrown from an overpass crashes through his windshield. Shit happens.

An otherwise-healthy 32-year-old mother of 5 small children contracts breast cancer and dies within 4 months of the diagnosis. Shit happens.

A cab driver steps between a man and the girlfriend he is hitting. The man turns on the cabbie and beats him into a coma. He dies within weeks without regaining consciousness. Shit happens.

Or at least, that’s what some people say.

Other people say that what goes around comes around. Karma’s a bitch. You reap what you sow. The scales must be balanced.

I wonder: Is the universe fundamentally just or not?

If the universe is just…

…then there is an accountant in charge who balances out every debit with an offsetting credit and every extra credit with a debit.

The universe is a zero-sum game. Everything must eventually balance.

But if it is not…

…then there is room in this universe for the unexpected and unbalanced to occur. Not just shit but grace as well. Not just bad luck but gratuitous fortune.

As it happens, we almost never see stuff get balanced. We almost never see a debit offset with a credit. Bad things tend to happen to good people, for no rhyme or reason. Good things happen to bad people, and they get away with it.

If the universe is just, and we don’t see every debit offset with a credit, then we tell ourselves stories to explain why.

Either we project the credit off into the distant future beyond death, (heavenly reward), or we place the debit into the distant past, beyond birth, (karma’s a bitch).

Both explanations require faith because neither is subject to proof.

If the bad stuff  is balancing undeserved fortune, then perhaps the good stuff is balancing undeserved misfortune, right? And vice versa?

Is shit happening to you because something from the distant past is finally catching up with you, (the sins of the fathers are visited on their children), or is the shit something you’ll get a reward for after you’re dead?

How can we know? It’s more than enough to drive you crazy.

Artistry, Not Accountancy

Of course, if the universe is not just, then perhaps it’s because there’s an artist in charge.

We’ve all known artists. They are messy. They are disorganized. They are extreme in their actions and reactions. Often they don’t make sense. They tend to over-indulge their senses and neglect the necessities of life. All for the sake of art.

“Shit happens,” yes – but to me it is just part of the great messy canvas the universal artist paints upon.

Oh, and grace happens on that canvas, too.

So breathe. In and out. In and out.

“Pattern Recognition” by William Gibson

Pattern RecognitionNeuromancer is apparently the William Gibson book I should have read 20 years ago. I didn’t. And still haven’t. But I did just finish his Pattern Recognition.

Quick impressions: It is – on the one hand – unlike anything I have ever read. On the other, it is a fairly typical but engaging mystery story.

His protagonist, Cayce Pollard, is a “coolhunter” with a bizarro allergic response to American advertising. She inhabits a world at once far cooler, far techier and far more strange than the humdrum one most of us experience. (It’s also a wee bit contrived. But hey, it’s a novel.)

Cayce is part of an online community focused on an underground film which is being released into the world one clip at a time. The mystery to be solved is the identity and motives of the filmmakers. There’s a Russian mafioso, an Italian high-fashionista, an Oklahoma-born Asian-American hacker, a couple of eastern European entrepreneurs, a Belgian advertising genius and lots of jet-setting around the world on unlimited expense accounts.

You know, pretty much like a normal day for any of us.

Things I loved: Gibson does an absolutely masterful job of creating a mystery that kept me completely engaged from beginning to end. He gets the technology world we inhabit now, (or at least the world we inhabited when this was published in 2003.)  The plot clips along at a nice pace throughout and the writing style is quirky but refined.

Things I didn’t love: Super strong plot, super undeveloped characters. I guess I’d describe this book as an internet-age version of a John Grisham novel. Also, the denouement felt, frankly, a bit contrived and a bit rushed. Almost like he looked up at the calendar and realized, “oh crap, this book is due at 5:00 this afternoon”.

I’d give it 3 stars out of 5.