Dire Bullshit

When I bought my son a door jumper (ba­si­cally a bowl with leg holes dan­gling from a spring that could be at­tached to a doorframe) I read all the safety warn­ings.

Here they are.

In case you don’t want to read all of them, there’s a bunch of ob­vi­ously le­gi­t­i­mate and po­ten­tially le­gi­t­i­mate safety warn­ings, and there’s:

“NEVER use op­tional play­mat with any product other than the door jumper.”

To be clear, the de­scribed item is a rec­t­an­gle. Of vinyl-or-some­thing-backed fabric.

And this throws all the other safety warn­ings into ques­tion. They’re tak­ing their op­por­tu­nity to warn me about dan­ger to my child, and they’re us­ing it to sneak in im­per­a­tives about com­bin­ing a harm­less rec­t­an­gle with other ob­jects. This doesn’t hap­pen when you buy a yard of muslin from the store be­cause you don’t ex­pect a yard of muslin to come with any safety warn­ings at all. But when you look to a source for ad­vice, and have rea­son to take it se­ri­ously, it may ac­cu­mu­late cruft:

  • Recipes on food pack­ag­ing that call speci­fi­cally for their brand, of that in­gre­di­ent and any oth­ers the com­pany sells. (If you’ve been care­fully pur­chas­ing NESTLE® TOLL HOUSE® choco­late chips be­cause you be­lieve they’re es­sen­tial to the recipe, good news, they are not.)

  • In­sti­tu­tions like banks and in­surance com­pa­nies, which might mail you im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion you’d want to have, and might just be stamp­ing “URGENT” on the en­velopes be­cause this im­proves some met­ric by get­ting you to open their ran­dom crap.

  • It’s hap­pened to me in n med­i­cal set­ting, ROT-13 if you want the rk­gen ex­am­ple; post­par­tum, a nurse told me that ev­ery time I used the bath­room I had to spray wa­ter on my­self as a sort of makeshift bidet. “For how long?” I asked, as­sum­ing this had to do with height­ened child­birth-re­lated in­fec­tion risk. “All the time,” she said, “For the rest of my life?” I said, and she nod­ded, and I never listened to any­thing she said ever again.

This is epistemic poi­son, but it’s all over the place. At­ten­tion is memetic en­ergy; memes will evolve to grab it as nec­es­sary. Refer your friends (through priv­ileged one to one chan­nels they don’t tune out yet, of course) to gain in-game prizes! The next train is in two min­utes on plat­form one, and re­mem­ber, if you see some­thing, say some­thing. And we learn to sac­cade over ads and prune our Twit­ter feeds and filter safety warn­ings with our own judg­ment about the haz­ard level of vinyl-backed fabric rec­t­an­gles so we can slog on through pol­luted in­for­ma­tional wa­ters, throw­ing out a few ba­bies with the bath­wa­ter be­cause the bath­tub speci­fied a brand of soap be­fore re­mind­ing us not to bathe chil­dren near open win­dows.

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