The Day the Circus Came to Town

When asked by a reporter why he thought people attended his macabre concert performances, shock-rocker Alice Cooper explained, “Because people would rather see a plane crash than a circus.”

But what if the circus was the plane crash? Would people still want to attend? Would parents still insist on bringing their kids?

In hyping the circus surrounding the COVID pandemic, the media, the bureaucrats, the technocrats—they all implore that we “Follow the science!”

But most of the recommendations these jesters push can more appropriately be described as Clown Science. Masks? Shots? Testing? Isolation? They all grant admission to the big top. And all attendees will be coerced inside to behold the science of clowns—without an intermission.

The science of clowns is both theatrical and perplexing. It is a high wire act fraught with peril and death-defying tension.

Amaze! as the tightrope walker dances between elevated platforms. Behold! as the flipping trapeze artist resolves in her partner’s grasp. Thrill! as the unicyclist traverses a wire suspended high overhead! Time after time, the aerial acrobatics play to perfection.

Until they don’t.

The very moment a performer suffers a stroke or spasm at the altitude of awe, the science of clowns succumbs to the reality of physics. And at that point, the acrobats are grounded with a dull thud.

Send in the Clowns

When calamity visits the circus, the clowns are summoned. Meant to distract from the carnage being tended to on the sidelines, the silly performers attempt to lure the audience back to a blissful state of suspended reality.

Pay no mind to the cleanup in ring three, Folks! Boffo The Clown is juggling chainsaws over in ring one—and they’re on fire!

This is the point in the circus where we may identify the intersection of Genuine Science (the law of gravity) with Clown Science (the illusion of antigravity). It is the difference between reality and fiction, truth and diversion.

The inescapable fact is that what goes up, must come down. Flirting with the edges of that reality may lead to a sobering conclusion—the aftermath of a lesson in terminal velocity that even a clown car overflowing with buffoons cannot conceal.

The Show Must Go On

Even as performers fall like rain from high above the big top, management insists that the circus continue. After all, they reason, the clowns have been doing a good job of keeping the audience distracted. And it’s not like OSHA has been making any inquiries.

As casualties mount, however, the crowd grows increasingly restless. Some have even demanded a refund. The nervous ringmaster comes to realize that he must finally address the carnage at center stage. 

So, a unicycle giveaway is announced. One member of the audience will win a wheel every hour on the hour (must be present to collect). The crowd cheers with enthusiasm at the news.

Horror or not, the COVID circus designed to keep the observer in the tent as long as possible. A patron who exits the circus tent is a patron who is no longer purchasing popcorn, soda and clown head trinkets. A customer who leaves the tent not only abandons the buffoons, but the entire circus ecosystem—a sophisticated network of players and performers who have mastered the art of chicanery and diversion.

“We love you all!” the roller-skating ringmaster shouts to his applauding audience as the concessionaire rings up yet another sale of cotton candy.

Escaping the Tent

It’s not easy to ignore the offerings of a full blown circus. To abandon the circus is to embrace reality, which, admittedly, is not nearly as compelling as witnessing a clown being exploded from a cannon.

But in order to grasp reality, the intellectually curious in the crowd understands that they must escape the science of clowns. Scientific reality exists beyond the tent, not within it. Those with an inquisitive and a willful disposition will reject the circus and retreat to venues of greater understanding.

The more passive members of the audience will embrace the clown show. They will guffaw loudly when a performer slips on a banana peel, and they will slap their hands together with enthusiasm when the neon applause sign instructs them to do so. 

These self-captives will not only remain in the tent, but they will also make it a point line up early to purchase tickets to next year’s repeat performance. And they will pay handsomely for the privilege of distending their bellies with popcorn, cotton candy and sugar waters.

But then, one day the fire-eater’s act will go terribly wrong.

And as the tent erupts in flames around them, the frenzied exit-seekers will be aghast to discover that the fire extinguishers emit Silly String and the fire buckets have been filled with confetti.

At that point maybe, just maybe, at least one flame-dodger in the stampede for escape from the circus might summon an understanding that the the whole production was all but an illusion.

Intellectual Honesty

A recognition and understanding of reality can only come through the pursuit of intellectual honesty.

Intellectual honesty is a self-affirming commitment to be proactive in shaping your own destiny, and not having your fate determined by clowns.

Intellectual honesty is a pact that you make with yourself. It is a self-promise that you will not be distracted or manipulated by antics and buffoonery. It is a determination to separate fact from fiction. It is a will to seek truth by asking questions. And while the answers you discover may be anathema to your friends, family or self, intellectual honesty is the ability to accept and embrace this truth regardless of consequences. 

But some patrons would sooner be consumed by flame than dare lift the tent flap in an attempt to discover truth outside the circus.

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