Kris an’ Murphy: Grace

Kris: “Hmph. I don’t see what the mystery is here.”

Murphy: “Right. You have grasped something about women that the world’s most famous and transcendent physicist couldn’t manage?”

Kris: “Not that Grace! And even if I thought I did have her figured out, no way I’d tell her! She’s so charming when she thinks she’s got me dazzled with her, ah, mystique. I was talking about …”

Murphy: “Waitaminute. I thought it was you and Faith …”

Kris: “She got her Master’s six months ago. Working on her Ph.D. over at State. I’m told that Larry is [ahem] quite taken with her. Grace started in September and is proving to be quite companionable.”

Murphy: “I don’t be…”

Kris: “And how is Louise these days, Murphy?”

Murphy: “Never mind. You were going to say something about that meme.”

Kris: “Steering the conversation into safer channels, are we? Wise choice. I was, of course, talking about the concept of grace. I suppose trying to turn it into some kind of unsolvable puzzle keeps a bunch of preachers employed. But I don’t see it as a puzzle at all. Quite the opposite.”

Murphy: “How so?”

Kris: “So tell me you’ve never screwed up in your life.”

Murphy: “‘I’ve never …’ Gimme a break, Kris, willya, you pulled this on me two weeks ago!

Kris: “I’ll take that as a ‘no’. Now tell me how many times you could actually have done something about the screwups.”

Murphy: “Sometimes, yeah. And sometimes …”

Kris: “Sometimes, shit happens. You did it, it’s your fault, but you had about as much chance of stopping it as you’d have of stopping an express train with your bare hands.”

Murphy: “Or a school shooting?”

Kris: “Yeah. Imagine being the security guard who watched a kid go into the schoolhouse a thousand times, and on the thousand-and-first he blew away the building. Your fault, you let him in, but what the hell could you possibly have done about it? Assuming, of course, the kid’s collection of AR-15s wasn’t hanging out of his pockets. So what would you expect to happen to you?”

Murphy: “With that on my record? To be blown away myself. If I didn’t do it first!

Kris: “Happy Facebook to you too. Which of course is exactly what would happen if the social media trolls – which is pretty much everybody on social media …”

Murphy: “You’re forgetting the lolcat crowd. They’re not trolls …”

Kris: “Just irrelevant. And you’re really dating yourself with that reference …”

Murphy: “Louise won’t wish to hear that.”

Kris: “She’s probably too young, and too into Instagram, even to know what a lolcat is, Murphy. As I was saying. If social media had its way, just about anybody who screwed up at anything, their fault or not, and hadn’t been anointed as untouchable by the mob du jour, would be guillotined, crucified, drawn and quartered, basically subjected to some kind of messy death.”

Murphy: “This is social media? Sounds like you’re describing the Executive branch of our government!”

Kris: “Which we voted into office. So they’re different how? Anyway, let’s say the social media types get their way. You screw up, you’re done. Branded for life, if indeed you’re left with a life. Then, something happens to one of them. What do they get?”

Murphy: “The same treatment.”

Kris: “OK. Now iterate.”

Murphy: “At the rate most of us bugger things up? Global warming would cease to be a problem.”

Kris: “Or, more to the point, there’d be no one around to care whether there was a problem or not! We’d have all wiped each other out. Exactly. Grace, the ability to let some of this ugly stuff that we’re responsible for slide, works to break the blame cycle and stop us from exterminating ourselves! No mystery whatsoever.”

Murphy: “Oh, I dunno …”

Kris: ” … ‘if it’s that obvious, why are we even asking questions about it?’ Because grace is risky. It might backfire. You offer grace and it works, you look good. And the whole point of life is looking good, so you gain in prestige and profit within your village, however you define it, yes? You offer grace and it doesn’t work? The person you offered grace to goes ahead and does the same stupid thing again? Now, it’s not just her fault, it’s yours too! And you are now at the mercy of someone else’s grace. Not a comfortable place to be, especially since the exercise of grace can be surprisingly random. The problem with seventy-seven times, Peter, is that, sooner or later, there’s a seventy-eighth time. That’s when the chickens come home to roost. And who knows whether it’s seventy-eight times, or seven hundred seventy-eight, or eight, or 0.8?”

Murphy: “No mystery, huh? That sure sounds like one.”

Kris: “I disagree. That’s not a mystery, that’s an ignorance. We don’t yet know for sure where the tipping points are, when the costs of offering grace are greater than the benefits. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the big data people, at Facebook and elsewhere, are figuring this out. I’ll bet, though, that in a wealthy society, which we still are despite our headlong rush to fritter it away, the tipping points are far more liberal than in a crowded, resource-strapped society, in which the smallest transgressions could lead to social collapse via war, drought, famine, or pestilence. You can actually see in the Bible, I think, the evolution of a society from one in which resource limitation was critical to one where it was less so, where the ‘jealous’ god became a ‘god of love’. Who nevertheless had to enforce the concept of grace with the divine equivalent of an AR-15 arsenal, lest ‘the people of god’ forget and set themselves on the path to self-immolation. Haven’t you ordered the wine yet?”

Murphy: “The waiter’s been by six times already. He couldn’t get a word in edgewise.”

Kris: “Argh. My apologies. Grace will be wondering where the hell I’ve been.”‘

Murphy: “She’ll have to offer you grace.”

Kris: “That would be nice.”

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