The Parable Of The Fuzzy Dice
In 1973 my family and I arrived in Britain. Though my parents were British, I’d spent most of my life up to that point elsewhere, almost exclusively in what were then called third-world countries that nevertheless had the great benefits of warmth and sunshine. Aside from the perpetually dreary gloomy British weather, there didn’t seem to be much difference between the Britain of that time and the other places I’d lived. Intermittent electricity, garbage strewing the streets, and a general sense of hopelessness: all these were very familiar to someone coming from Mombasa or what was then the sand-strewn wastes of Arabia.
The most notable thing to me, however, were fuzzy dice.
Back in the mid-seventies fuzzy dice were the ne plus ultra of automotive accessories for a certain type of young man: modest IQ, inadequate education, and doomed forever to be either unemployed or stuck in a dead-end low-skilled manual job. These young men would save or steal enough to buy a used Ford and then add things to it in the belief that this would make their vehicle (and by extension therefore themselves) more appealing to the teenage girls of their socio-economic bracket.
Racing stripes were hand-painted across bonnet (hood), roof, and boot (trunk). Holes were punched in the exhaust to permit everyone within a one-mile radius to know that the driver was behind the wheel and in search of, if not exactly a good time then at least a fractionally less relentlessly tedious one. A stolen car stereo would occupy pride of place in the slowly deforming cheap plastic fascia. But most important of all was the final addition: fuzzy dice perpending from the rear-view mirror.
These would typically be enormous, reaching down almost to the top of the dashboard. As they swung in response to Newton’s inexorable laws of motion they would partially or entirely obscure whole sections of the view ahead and have the wholesome effect of further distracting a driver who was already experiencing the thrills of alcohol intoxication and the sugar rush that comes from living on a diet entirely comprising cheap carbohydrates.
Yes, the appeal of fuzzy dice was undeniable. And fuzzy dice became for me a metaphor conveying an essential element of the human condition.
Fuzzy dice were coincident with the Pioneer probes being dispatched by NASA in a blaze of late-Apollo optimism. As these would become the first human-made objects to pass out of our solar system, some fuzzy dice enthusiast thought it would be an excellent idea to attach to each of the hapless Pioneer units something that would purportedly carry information about the human race to any alien civilization that may happen to intercept the probes hundreds of millions of years from now.
The two Pioneers thus each had attached to them a gold-plated and completely incomprehensible plaque purporting to give the location of our planet relative to others in our solar system as well as cartoons representing a (naturally Caucasian) man and woman.
Let’s pause to consider this particular example of interstellar fuzzy dice. An alien civilization hundreds of millions of years from now, defying literally astronomical odds, finds a Pioneer probe. They look for some sign that may give a clue to the creatures that created it so many eons ago. They look in vain for universally comprehensible indicators such as some form of mathematics or even a representation of basic chemical entities such as hydrogen, formaldehyde, and so forth. In fact these poor aliens look in vain for anything at all they could possibly interpret.
They find nothing.
They do see, however, that somewhere out there in the void lives a two-dimensional life form. Apparently it comprises a tripartite species: two amoeba-like forms plus a strange multi-stick form. Perhaps these are different phases of the creature’s life, or perhaps all three forms are required to bond simultaneously for the creature to mate and produce offspring? Sadly there’s insufficient information for our alien biologists to do more than speculate. It is clear, however, that two-dimensional life forms must live on a world that has crushing gravity, as most life forms are three dimensional. It is unclear how the three-dimensional probe was assembled within and then propelled out of such a deep gravity well, but that’s just another mystery to be added to the pile.
If only the creatures, whatever they were and wherever they once existed, had been in possession of some form of intelligence! Just think what our alien friends could have learned!
After some additional period of consideration our alien friends come to the only possible conclusion: far, far away and a very long time ago there was a planet on which lived at least two different tool-making species. One had sufficient intelligence to construct rudimentary spacefaring probes and launch them out of that planet’s gravity well. The other was quite devoid of any measurable form of intelligence whatsoever. It was this second species that is depicted on the plaque. And thus the inescapable inference is that the first species attached the plaque in an attempt to offload the second species onto some unsuspecting alien civilization.
The plaque is basically an advertisement: come and get these two-dimensional morons, three for the price of one, hurry and get yours while stocks last!
One particularly perspicacious alien nods in agreement and then voices the obvious question: “Why didn’t they simply attach fuzzy dice to the probe? It would have conveyed exactly the same message far more concisely.”
Fuzzy dice come in all shapes and forms. One of the most compelling sorts of fuzzy dice in our modern age is medical equipment. Hospitals are full of this and it is often just as helpful as the rear-view mirror type. Countless studies have shown, for example, that fetal heartrate monitors perform no useful medical function but they do raise the anxiety level in the distracted mother and thus slow down the birth process, which in the USA reliably leads to artificial induction which then reliably leads to a nice revenue-generating C-section.
We see a very similar phenomenon with ventilators: over the autumn of 2020 doctors around the world began to accept, rather ruefully and rather too late, that around 80% of covid-19 deaths during the period February — June had been caused not by the virus itself but by doctors rushing patients into induced coma and artificially ventilating them. Fortunately this realization has now been overcome and so doctors are once again using their nice shiny fuzzy dice to ventilate patients, with predictable results. Once again SARS-COV2 can kill you — provided your doctor is able to get you onto a ventilator in order to “do everything possible to treat the patient.”
Ventilators may be more technowhizzy and shiny than leeches and bleeding bowls, but the sad reality is that there’s just as much logic and efficacy underlying the use of both. When you have fuzzy dice you really, really can’t keep them hidden away in a drawer!
Remaining for a few moments more on the topic of fuzzy dice we can note that one of today’s must-have personal accessories is the facemask. These are so wonderfully efficacious at preventing the spread of SARS-COV2 that much of the world is now under renewed lockdown! But we still dangle our dice proudly on those increasingly rare occasions we’re permitted to venture out, convinced we’re saving lives.
It is a lamentable fact that metaphorical fuzzy dice appear everywhere we look, from the red MAGA caps worn by mindless mobs in the USA to the union flags so patriotically waved by mindless Brexiteers in the UK. We humans adore our fuzzy dice in all the shapes and sizes and textures they come in. Our smartphones are perhaps the current apotheosis of the fuzzy dice phenomenon, being both technowhizzy and shiny and endlessly distracting! It’s very possible that far more automotive accidents have been caused in the last few years by people texting while driving than were ever caused by the original fuzzy dice themselves. And that’s progress!
One day someone will make a fortune selling a phone screen-saver that proudly displays fuzzy dice. But it won’t be me.
As we’re an endlessly resourceful species, at least when it comes to ineradicable stupidity, we don’t even require physical artifacts to satisfy our fuzzy dice cupidity. We can have purely abstract fuzzy dice. One excellent example of abstract furry dice is whataboutism. This is the name given to the tendency of very low IQ individuals, when presented with a critique of their beliefs, to mutter whatabout… which is the mental equivalent of staring at fuzzy dice dangling in the air.
Trumpists are particularly fond of whataboutism as it is one of the very few things they can do with their brains that isn’t exclusively associated with the gray matter acting as inert ballast to stop their heads bobbling about when they walk. So when someone points out that Trump lies endlessly about everything, has fatally undermined what was left of democracy, and is nothing more than a flabby sac of orange vomit, the ardent Trumpist will say something like whataboutClintonandObamahuh?
Which is akin to saying, when confronted by the proposition that Hitler was a rather unpleasant person who was responsible for the murder of eleven million people, replying “yeah, but I saw a four-year-old Jewish girl stealing an apple one time so it’s not like the other side is blameless.”
We humans have had mental fuzzy dice since long before anyone began attempting to record anything permanently. One of the glorious achievements of humanity has been the invention of invisible magic pixies that are claimed to be responsible for the creation of the universe (or at least the miniscule fragment most people are capable of imagining) and its ongoing maintenance. According to the currently fashionable Yahweh-derived mythologies of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, one particular magic pixie has an incontrovertibly perfect Plan for all of creation.
Coming from a supposedly all-powerful and all-knowing entity, one must assume this is a Cunning Plan of magnificent proportions so perfectly contrived that to alter even one tiny detail would be to mar perfection ineradicably.
And yet… the people who believe in this particular fairytale also believe that if they supplicate their pixie with sufficient earnestness, it will indeed change its perfect plan in order to accommodate their desires. Because prayer always works!
Except for all the times that it doesn’t; but then it wasn’t meant to be, for a reason.
After more than six decades of seeing fuzzy dice wherever I look, I have one small remaining shred of hope and it is this: that if either of the Pioneer probes ever do get intercepted by some distant alien race, one among them will decide to treat the golden plaque like a scratch-and-sniff card.
If this happens, at the moment when the surface image of the male and female heads has been scraped away, beneath will be revealed for all posterity an engraving that perfectly captures the essence of humanity: