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On Priorities

I'm a massive Sherlock Holmes nerd. I have read all the short stories, all the novels, much of the extra-canonical material, and watched every on-screen portrayal ever made*.


This lifelong obsession explains a lot about my personality, such as my unwavering belief that if only I was smart enough, I could make everything ok, the world would be a good place, and everyone would be fine. I know that's not how life works, but damn if I don't believe it. Anyway.


In the novel A Scandal In Bohemia, Holmes is tasked with stealing a Very Important Object from a very smart lady. He knows he can't possibly search her house without getting caught— it would take hours, even days, to find every possible hiding place. So he gets Watson to throw a smoke grenade through a window. Lady-lady sees the smoke, thinks her house is on fire, and runs to fetch the Important Object from its Clever Hiding Spot, revealing its location to the spying detectives. I won't spoil it for you, but suffice it to say, shenanigans ensue.


Holmes' supposed ~genius~ with this tactic is simply a conscious awareness of what, for most people, is unconscious instinct: in an emergency, people protect whatever's most important. It's an old instinct, deeply ingrained. As far back as the book of Genesis, we read about Noah, who realizes the world is about to end. He has just enough time to build a big boat, and what does he do? He says "fuck human civilization, it's biodiversity or nothing, bitches." Which is highkey ecofascist now that I think about it, but that's beside the point.


The point is, there's nothing like a crisis for clearing up your priorities. The past few months, I've seen so many friends FINALLY getting out of toxic relationships, and why? Because they were stuck in the house with this person and realized they didn't want to live like this for the rest of their lives. You never really know someone until you've seen them stressed and angry, and some people have been showing really ugly sides of themselves lately.


On the flip side, I've seen so many happy relationships become more serious or committed, e.g. deciding to be exclusive, moving in together, getting engaged, etc.. That makes sense too— if you're stuck alone in the house for weeks on end and find yourself pining for one specific person, like,,,, you might be in love, my dude. And if you've been stuck in a house with someone for months, dealing with their quirks and idiosyncrasies and bullshit nonstop 24/7, and you still love them? That's a lot of empirical evidence to support the hypothesis that you're probably gonna keep loving them for a long time.


I'm not trying to make the argument that "oh, rona is good, actually, because some of my friends got engaged uwu" because obviously that's bullshit. I'm trying to ask the question: what's getting clearer? Which of your priorities is being drawn into focus? Is it just one thing, or several? If it's a few different things, do they link together harmoniously? Or are they mutually exclusive? What are you gonna do about them? Is there anything you CAN do about them, under the present circumstances? If you can't do anything about them, what's the use of knowing what they are?


What does it mean for something to be important?


The word "unprecedented" is getting thrown around a lot lately, which I think demonstrates a lack of perspective. This isn't the world's first pandemic. It's not the first time people have had to rise up for their human rights. If anything right now is truly unprecedented, it's the climate crisis, but even with that: it's the direct result of the same old banal machinations of dysfunctional human politics that have plagued society since the dawn of civilization. The Iliad tells the story of a girl named Cassandra who is cursed to tell the future and have no one believe her, and that was three THOUSAND years ago. Jesus hadn't been invented yet! On average, as a species, we have consistently excelled at hearing what we want to hear.


But fAcTs dOn'T cArE aBoUt yOuR fEeLiNgS, sWeAtY!!!🤪 War, famine, disease, and death have always nipped at the heels of humanity— one of the defining characteristics of life is that it doesn't last forever. You can either contend with that, or try not to think about it. There are arguments in favor on both sides, but in general I'm in favor of calling a spade a spade. Memento mori. Pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris. Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus. etc. etc. etc.


Death is coming for all of us. Is it coming faster and harder right now than usual? Maybe. Depends on your frame of reference. Who knows how long any of us have? My friends laugh at me because I'm so punctilious about telling everyone "be safe, make good choices" every time I say goodbye, even to people I barely know. It's a little bit of a silly superstition, but I'm paranoid that the one time I forget to tell someone to drive safe, that's the day they'll die in a freak traffic accident. We have limited time on our hands, and we'll never know how limited until it's too late. So, what's important? And what are you gonna do about it?


Phew. This one was a downer. Sorry about that. My next post is gonna be an interview with a clown, so hopefully that'll make up for it.


*Jeremy Brett, may the earth lie light upon him, gives the definitive performance. I will die on this hill. Basil Rathbone can hang. Birthdaycake Crumblebiscuit's rendition has redeeming qualities. Robert Downey Jr. can kiss my entire ass.

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