If you’re familiar with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you know where the title of this post came from.
“But why’s it got to be built?” Arthur Dent asks as the city prepares to bulldoze his house to make way for a bypass.
“It’s a bypass. You’ve got to build bypasses,” Prosser says.
…And then the world ends.
I love the completely fallible logic of Prosser in this moment. Questioning the reason for the existence of a bypass has never even really occurred to him. It’s a bypass. You’ve got to build bypasses. And thus is formed what I like to call “The Bypass Effect” – in which we do things in our lives for absolutely no reason other than that we’re supposed to. We’ve got to. Because reasons. Well, reasons that no one has ever particularly thought about or asked about because it’s just the way things are. So there.
We’re all guilty of The Bypass Effect, and I think that to a certain extent it’s necessary to maintain a decent and civil society. We don’t run around lighting people’s houses on fire and singing opera at the top of our lungs all the time because it just isn’t done. No one bothers asking why (except I think people like living in their houses, so there’s that). The fact is that a lot of the rules we live by are completely arbitrary.
But The Bypass Effect can be harmful, too, because it tricks us into thinking that certain things can never be changed and shouldn’t be questioned. It’s the reason people fall into the rut of a 9 to 5 job that has nothing to do with what they really want, the reason people get married at a certain age regardless of whether they’re really with the person they ought to marry, the reason people have children who’ve never even asked themselves whether they personally want children or not. Because it’s just the thing to do. It’s a bypass. You’ve got to build bypasses.
I’m not advocating for a societal revolution here, but I am advocating for the act of questioning. It’s vitally important that we actually ask ourselves, every time we make an important decision, what we actually want. And figuring that out can be harder than it sounds, because we’ve spent our entire lives being told what we should want without ever really being told why. It’s so ingrained in us that we just go with the flow.
A lot could change if we just ask “Why?” a little more often. Because people say you’ve got to build bypasses, but I’m sure there are a thousand better ways to get from point A to point B.