Sunday, January 19, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: The Physics of Misfortune

One of my recurring little fantasies, when I have a bad day, is that I'm taking a hit for somebody else. Like, if I am sick and unproductive, but my husband (whose health overall is much worse than mine) has a good health day, I pretend to get credit for that. Or I imagine that Moby's dying in an intersection and requiring hordes of bystanders to push him into the Walgreen's parking lot prevented an accident in which someone's child died. In these instances, my problem is always smaller than the unknowable problem I pretend to be deflecting. I'm not sure how this works in terms of the conservation of mass and energy, but presumably my wandering into the situation deflects the force of the disaster and changes its degree of momentum.

Or something. It's not as if we have a Physics of Misfortune. We don't even have a standard of measurement.

But what if we did?

What if you could precisely calculate how much misfortune you could take on behalf of someone else and how much it would benefit them?

How far would you take it?

And would it make a difference, whether or not you could aim it? Would a person who would accept maiming in order to save her own child from death accept a papercut to keep someone else's from an injury that needed stitches?

What if accepting a misfortune had an equal chance of benefiting either your daughter, or the girl who bullies your daughter?

What if you could prevent a single wartime death by breaking your leg, but couldn't control which side the person you saved was on?

The story works out differently, if this is a singular power discovered by the protagonist and maintained as a secret, or if someone actually works out the Physics of Misfortune and everyone has equal access to the power. In the former case, it's all personal moral dilemmas; in the latter, some jackass is bound to weaponize the ability.

I presume I don't have to expound to anybody on the potential for gender politics involved here, either? Didn't think so...

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