One of the enthusiast car forums where I hang out has a running joke, a stereotype of a young new member’s first question. It goes something like this: “Hi! I just bought a new-to-me 540i 6-speed in Alpine White over black. It has a slight oil leak, and it shimmies when driving between 55 and 65 mph. It pulls left when braking. I’ve had to top off the coolant twice in three weeks. I don’t like the stock 15-inch wheels, so here’s my question: will 19s fit?”
The “joke” inherent in this hypothetical (but not uncommon) post is that the car owner is neglecting serious mechanical issues to focus on appearance. Fancy rims may make a car look good, but they don’t make a good car. A good car rides, handles, and stops optimally. It has properly sorted systems, and doesn’t leak hazardous chemicals all over the environment while risking an engine-destroying overheat. The smart owner won’t spend money on cosmetic cool at the expense of his own safety.
Many people willingly substitute the appearance of a thing for the thing itself. Take prosperity. Do you know someone who has a closet full of designer clothes, thirty pairs of shoes, a 50-inch smart TV, an i-Phone 6, and a stylish new car? Do they also have big debt, little savings, and lots of stress? Perhaps they are one layoff away from moving into their parents’ basement, assuming they don’t live there already. In Texas, that’s called “big hat, no cattle.” They have the appearance of prosperity, but not the substance of it.
Physical safety is another area where appearance often trumps reality. Flown on a plane lately? The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. Despite the massive investment in airport countermeasures, many experts feel that the TSA provides “security theater” — a display of tactics designed to make the public feel safer, without actually being safer. There is an interesting article on this topic here https://www.schneier.com/ess-break-eggs-makes-no-omelet-kevin-d-williamson
Someone posted a picture on Facebook showing a man accompanying a woman down a narrow sidewalk in an urban area.
More than a 142,000 people have shared the image so far, Thousands commented. The vast majority pointed out what they thought was obviously wrong: “a true gentleman always walks on the outside, between his lady and the street.”
I disagree. A right-thinking (I like that label better than “true”) gentleman will place himself wherever he can have the most positive practical impact on the woman’s safety. And that’s not always the same place. The “gentlemen walk on the outside” rule hearkens back to an era when the typical dangers involved chamber pots being emptied from upstairs windows or muddy water splashing up as horses and carriages went by on the unpaved roads.. So the man positioned himself on the outside in order to take the brunt of those indignities. Today the biggest issue in some locales would be street crime. The couple can’t see who might be lurking around the corner at the end of that construction wall. Google “the knockout game” for some of the unpleasant possibilities. The man might best place himself between the lady and a potential assault from another pedestrian. I know that when I’m out walking with Priority One, and we’re approached by a group of men coming in the opposite direction, I invariably place myself between them and her, regardless of where this puts me in relation to the street. She appreciates my attentiveness to such things, because real security interests her more than the appearance of it.
Some will object and say that the biggest risk is oncoming traffic, and the man in the picture should place himself between the woman and the cars on the street. I note that the pavement is dry, so there are no puddles to protect her from. And if a car loses control and veers up onto the sidewalk, the man’s 190-pound body won’t shield her from the impact of a rolling 4,000-pound machine. Unless his last name is Kent and he hails from the planet Krypton, his only hope of saving her is to move her out of the car’s path. With that construction wall to his left, he can’t move her out of harm’s way in that direction. He may need to save her by propelling her the other way, toward the street, but out of the path of the onrushing car. He can do that more readily from where he is. Some threats can’t be evaluated until they develop. A truly safety-conscious man would have started contingency planning earlier in their walk. Is there a wider, safer sidewalk on the other side of the street? Could they avoid that construction wall with its blind corner by crossing over or going around the block? Those are questions asked by a a man who wants the woman to actually be safe, rather than merely feel safe. At the very least, he shouldn’t have his hands in his pockets. He should be ready for anything. The point is that risks to our physical safety are fluid and dynamic, and our responses must be too. Getting locked into static rules such as “a gentleman always walks on the outside” is about appearances. It’s classical chivalry as a form of security theater.
Church is another place where appearances can deceive. One quickly learns how to look the part of a good Christian, by showing up reliably for services, dressing appropriately, and maybe testifying now and again. Dotting one’s Facebook posts with platitudes about faith and blessings never hurts either. It’s easy to settle for the appearance of godliness instead of the reality of it. Your life might be like putting chrome rims on a clapped-out car, but the outside is all many people see or care about. It’s spirituality theater.
Fighting Back will be out soon. In it, protagonist Eddie has to learn to distinguish between the mere appearance of freedom, happiness, and even salvation, versus the reality of those things. And he has to do it while staying one step ahead of people who are trying to kill him. Writing this novel was enlightening as well as fun. I hope you feel the same way about reading it.