Home Columns Anantha Narayan Murphy’s children

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The most famous adage in the known history of mankind is attributed to an air force captain named Edward Aloysius Murphy Jr. He’s said to have stumbled upon the “If anything can go wrong, it will” maxim while experiencing a near botch-up moment engineered by a colleague during an all-important safety test for measuring rocket acceleration, way back in 1949.

The ready availability of a convenient scapegoat to explain away human error made Murphy’s Law enormously popular. Extensions popped up overnight. The world joined the party to conjure up eponymous laws aimed at offering witty insights. The first gush of laws seemed like dark clones of Murphy. If Stock’s Observation postulated that “Just when you get your head above water, someone will pull your flippers off,” Sprinkle’s Law gloomily posited that ‘Things will always fall at right angles.’

But then, Murphy’s charm began to wear out when everyone and their dog started creating their own versions. The resulting ennui gave birth to a new set of laws on a new set of topics. To save you some trouble, I’ve applied Sturgeon’s Revelation (“90 per cent of everything is crap”) as the filter and have culled out the most remarkably pithy ones.

Let’s start with the wonderfully prescient Rothbard’s Law (“People tend to specialise in what they are worst at”). Doesn’t it reveal why all of us end up chasing degrees and careers that have no vague connection to our real talents?

Shirky’s Principle is even better. It states that ‘Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution’. The wisdom of the observation will sink in once you start ruminating on questions like, ‘Has policing brought down crime?’ and ‘Has bureaucracy increased the efficiency of government?’ If that set you thinking, Hutber’s Law (“Improvement means deterioration”) will make the penny drop especially when you reflect on how social media has made us all unsocial.

Cunningham’s Law is my personal favourite. It says, ‘The best way to get the right answer on the Internet is not by asking a question, but by posting the wrong answer!’

And perhaps the dictum for our times is Poe’s Law, which declares that it’s impossible to create a parody of religious fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing…without using a winking smiley. Doesn’t that make you go, ‘oh my god’?

Anantha Narayan

Discovered any new eponymous laws? Share them with anantha@albertdali.com.

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