First Slow, Then Fast by Orvan Taurus
Consider Activation Energy
One thing I recall from an old chemistry text is that if hydrogen and fluorine gasses are combined, they will explosively form hydrogen fluoride, pretty much no matter the condition. However, if hydrogen and chlorine gasses are combined, in darkness, there is almost no reaction going on. Some hydrogen chloride does form – slowly. But, shine light into the mix and the hydrogen chloride forms explosively. The seemingly small power of light is enough to push things over a threshold and start a potent reaction.
Many things seem to “do nothing” until some thing, some seemingly little thing, triggers a reaction. The classic example is the idiom of “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” The camel starts unburdened, or close to it. The first straw is just a bit of straw, light, insignificant, of no consequences by itself. So is the next (if we presume someone so silly as to load the camel single straw by single straw – but even by the handful, the story is the same – or close enough) and the next. But, each light straw, while almost nothing by itself, is not quite nothing. And is not by itself. The weight is ever increasing and the camel will strain under the load. And, if the loader doesn’t have the sense to stop (and it seems likely the camel would raise some objections even beyond the usual), eventually the weight will exceed what the camel can bear. The “last straw” wasn’t that different from the first straw – a light thing, insignificant, and of no consequence by itself. Only, it wasn’t by itself. And that meant it had great significance and dire consequence indeed.
There are other analogies:
A capacitor (or an arc gap…) can be charged, the voltage increasing. One volt? What problem? Two volts? Nothing seems to happen. Eventually the voltage gets high enough the dielectric breaks down and things arc over. That’s not nothing happening anymore.
A boiler might take 1 PSI just fine. So why not 2? And it will take 2 PSI just fine, so why not 3? And each additional PSI seems to do nothing. Right up until the boiler explodes in a disaster of great and horrific spectacle.
Another analogy could be made for fissile materials – even if there is no true nuclear explosion, it’s quite possible to make a deadly mess (for a while anyway) by assembling seemingly safe bits together until quite suddenly they aren’t safe anymore. And this can even happen by taking what had been safe in one geometry (a long, thin tube of solution) and putting the same amount of material into a dangerous geometry (a short, squat ‘bucket’) This is not theoretical. This very sort of nuclear accident has happened – and more than once.
Whatever analogy you prefer, it’s fairly plain that in the USA of 2021 (and for some time earlier), the straws are accumulating, the voltage is increasing, the pressure is building, the neutron flux is rising… slowly – so far. Things are tense, but many seem to be willing risk another straw and another straw (or equivalent) as nothing has happened. And since nothing has happened, nothing will continue to happen.
There is even some shock when ginned-up events fail to get the activation energy as they are seen for what they are – ginned up events designed to entrap. All those gatherings at state capitols that failed to even happen, let alone failed to become riots to point to, are one example. Or fifty. This likely causing both some frustration – propagandist aren’t getting the Event they hope to spin into something more. And some relief – “Well, if THAT didn’t do anything, it must be perfectly safe to…”
“They treat it like a dial that can be turned up and down, but it’s really a switch.” And it seems the perfect analogy is the thermostat. Yeah, the old goldish round thing that was on the wall at that old house. It seemed like a dial or close. It could turned up and down. But inside, it was a switch. It was OFF or it was ON. Turning it up all that way didn’t heat the house any faster, it just eventually made it uncomfortable. It is possible to turn the thermostat down before the heat gets excessive. Possible is not the same as easy, especially if there are fools constantly turning it back up as far it can go.
But it is an increasingly explosive atmosphere. Eventually the mix will be enough that some little, seemingly insignificant thing will be the spark that sets it off. When will it happen? No idea. Other than, the time is getting ever closer. What will be the spark? Again, no idea. Other than historians will one day look back on it, see it, and opine that had it happened in less explosives conditions, it would have been one little, insignificant straw of no great consequence.
That’s if things go utterly unchecked. And it seems now, that the people many once thought nutty for calling Democrats and “establishment” Republicans a ‘uniparty’ were not nuts at all. Thus the one thing that should be a check on “adding straws” is if not adding straws itself, failing to remove straws. Sure, a precious few are making an effort or at least appearing to be making an effort. It seems unlikely that they will be enough. It is just possible. Miracles do happen.
It’s a Big Problem. But almost all Big Problems are really so many little problems all ganging up. Solve one little problem after another and, if enough little problems get solved fast enough, the Big Problem falls apart and ceases to exist.
Do I know The Solution? Nope. Can I work the Big Miracle to magic away the Big Problem(s)? Nope. Can I do my damnedest to work what tiny efforts I can, in hopes of enough others doing the same, that if we are really fortunate, enough little miracles happen? Yeah. I can do that much. So can you. Now, let’s see if we can all grab away at least one little, insignificant, inconsequential straw. Maybe we can rescue the camel this time. Maybe we fail, but at least we’ll be the SOB’s who tried. It’s a long shot… maybe a million to one, at best.
[And, as we all know, a million to one chance is a sure thing. – SAH]