Thursday, June 28, 2007

peeve no. 249 is the casual use of 'random'

As rants go, the capriciousness of this one is up near level 11. I hardly expect anyone else to share my irritation. Nevertheless, I must tell the World.

In my opinion, the everyday use of the word "random" is nearly always inaccurate. If someone you were talking with abruptly switched the conversation's subject, neither that person nor the shift was random. It may have seemed random, but only because you weren't insightful or knowledgeable enough to fathom the connection.

To be fair, the mental leaps people are capable of making can be incredibly subtle and creative, even to the point at which the likeliness of anyone else duplicating the leap is nil, whether with or without the exact same set of information. Don't call it random. Mental leaps are essential to progress.

If someone shifts mood suddenly, the chances are good that it isn't random, although someone's true motivations may be cloudy at best. The cases that come closest to randomness are those in which the emotional imbalance is clearly linked to a chemical imbalance - and in those cases the underlying cause is definite!

Humor that consists of events happening outside of rhyme and reason is not random, either. It's a writer frantically hurling nonsensical ideas when he or she doesn't care enough to write organized material. Unfortunately, such "humor" is its own undoing, because sooner or later the audience will notice the absence of any point, then naturally wonder why they're settling for such. One should also note that even "random" humor can't, in fact, be truly random. True randomness alienates an audience. Seriously. Use some dice or something to pick a set of elements, then combine the elements. The result will not cause laughter so much as perplexity.
Humor isn't random; it must be constructed so that it works.

Sometimes the actions of large organizations, or the managers of those organizations, may be labeled as "random". If thinking that makes one feel better, fine. Specific decisions perhaps actually have random elements (if two products are so similar in price and features as to be practically indistinguishable, who cares which one will be bought?). The reasoning behind other decisions may seem shaky or hasty, at best. But you better believe that when manager 3 suddenly starts advocating wonder technology 6, the idea did not enter his head by accident.

Tragedies, or the victims of tragedies, feel "random". My genuine (discomforting) advice is to abandon the illusion that the Totality Of Reality operates according to well-defined rules at any time, tragedy or not. I have barely any control over what happens to me. Neither do you. Those in supreme positions of power don't either; they could be eliminated by microscopic organisms, an assassination, or a coup. If "random" is a synonym for "out-of-control", then "random" is just the way things are.

Ugh, now I'm depressed. Stupid Total Perspective Vortex.

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