2 + 2 = 42David Feela - 03/19/2020
“Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
– Douglas Adams, 1952-2001
Something important happened when the late British writer Douglas Adams completed his popular Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. Inspired by an expanding imaginary universe of comic social commentary, the author couldn’t stop at three books, so he added two more, maybe because he thought five was a better number.
Even with the possibility of reincarnation, we may never get a full explanation. In Adams’ third volume, his fictional computer named “Deep Thought” concluded, after 7.5 million years of computations, that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, was 42. When the author was asked why he chose that number, Adams replied he simply meant it as a joke, as if humor might be the only credible way to understand the universe, and this earth in particular.
Douglas Adams suffered a heart attack in 2001, age 49, not 42. Diehard fans grew suspicious. But here in America, especially since the 2016 election, political discourse may have strained our ability to laugh. Still, the template holds true. Though people express a stern unwillingness to discuss politics with each other, or get extremely angry when they do, much partisan posturing and outright balderdash has justifiably left some of us on the floor, rolling in fits of hysteria. Had we not been taught that the machinations of government deserve, like the flag itself, to be saluted and revered, we’d readily admit the silliness prevails there too.
I mean, really, milk and water are the only safe beverages to serve while senators consider the weighty matters of impeachment? I have to smile at that picture. And to require our senators sit at their desks and not jabber with their neighbors, and to avoid reading any materials not directly associated with the ongoing proceedings – this rule of silence, imposed on a group of politicians who, above all, love listening to themselves talk? Even the senators had to smirk. Deep Thought obviously has no place in the U.S. Senate chambers.
Hyperbole, which is a set of exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be interpreted literally, has taken hold of American politics, and even the most ludicrous lies are applauded and taken as fact. In order for us to hope we will ever be identified as at least one form of intelligent life in the universe, perhaps it’s time we recognize absurdity and at least be willing to laugh at it.
Adams’ universe continued to expand with “The Tertiary Phase,” a radio drama/BBC audiobook. Six episodes were aired in 2004, three years after his death. I accidentally found them in a filing cabinet at the bottom of some basement stairs in a thrift store.
Episode 2 featured a rather ingenious otherworldly phenomenon, an imposed forcefield that stood beside a screen at the Lord’s Cricket Ground. Ford Prefect points it out to Arthur Dent, who doesn’t actually see it. Arthur wants to know why. Ford explains. “An SEP is something we can’t see, or don’t see, or our brain doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem. That’s what SEP means. Somebody Else’s Problem. The brain just edits it out, it’s like a blind spot.”
But it’s not totally fictional, because an SEP has settled in the air above us like a great Vogon spacecraft. For those who haven’t read the series, the Vogons are an alien race from the planet Vogsphere sent to demolish planet Earth in order to facilitate the construction of a hyperspace express route. There are people among us unaware that a political bulldozer is idling its engine while we all finish our morning cup of coffee. Our climate, our courts and the rule of law, our election process, even our Constitution have been tagged with a big red X, which means scheduled for removal.
As for aliens, how about that one named Zaphod Beeblebrox who has two heads and three arms. His character is described as “hedonistic and irresponsible, narcissistic almost to the point of solipsism, and often extremely insensitive to the feelings of those around him.” Despite these flaws, he thinks of himself as charismatic.
As President of the Galaxy, he distracts his audiences so no one will discover who’s actually in charge. Eventually he steals the fastest spaceship in the universe because it is powered by the highly respected but equally impossible-to-control Infinite Improbability Drive. He’s certain he can handle it.
Douglas Adams has been lost to us now for almost 20 years, most likely comforted by his towel, giggling with a host of other creatures in some undisclosed corner of the universe, fully aware that the mischief he authored will one day suspiciously add up to whatever reality we deserve.