When I was a kid, the local UHF channel would broadcast old movies every Sunday morning. Often it was an Abbot and Costello flick or the Three Stooges, but regularly it was one of the many Tarzan movies starring John Weissmuller. Of course these movies always included Cheetah the chimpanzee for comic relief. A common gag was having Cheetah somehow take possession of one of the bad guys’ pistols and gleefully send everyone diving for cover. Firing at random and causing mayhem, pratfalls, and good slapstick fun. The old saw says, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Cheetah had “a little knowledge” about using a gun and he was clearly dangerous. Cheetah’s hijinks were part of good family entertainment so no one was hurt, unless he sorely deserved it. In real life real people can and do get hurt when someone plays with toys they don’t fully understand.
As a grad student, I took a history of technology class during which “Cheetah with a pistol” became an analogy for human behavior. We were studying the rise of the steam engine as a mode of river boat propulsion. In the nineteenth century, it was not uncommon for steamboats to explode catastrophically. Was this because they were inherently dangerous? No. The steam boilers used on these boats were designed with pressure relief valves. If the the boiler pressure got too high, the valve opened so that dangerous overpressure situations didn’t occur.
Steamboat operators had “a little knowledge” about the equipment they used. They discovered that if you closed off the pressure relief valve on the boiler, your boat would go a lot faster, and they were right. What they had trouble with was understanding that closing that valve essentially turned their boats into ticking time bombs. They knew how to create more speed like Cheetah knew how to make people dive for cover. As comic relief, Cheetah never had to suffer any consequences. As fish food, neither did the steamboat operators.
Today, unfortunately, we are subject to the descendants of Cheetah and the boat bombers. They tinker with little pieces of complex systems and mechanisms they don’t understand. The problem is that when their meddling takes effect it is we, the American people, who must dive for cover or be blown to smithereens. They have learned enough to preserve themselves from the damage they cause and there are enough of their ilk bamboozled into voting them back into office despite repeated catastrophic failures.
Cheetah never took an NRA marksmanship course. The riverboat captains hadn’t spent any time delving into the “steam tables” at the back of a thermodynamics textbook. Yet they all deemed themselves to be qualified to operate and tinker with things beyond their ken. Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Barney Frank, Chris Dodd–none of these people ever had a private sector job of any consequence. None of them have ever run an insurance company or an automotive company. None of them have ever had to work within a budget or make a payroll. Maybe they have an animal urge to create mayhem like Cheetah did. Maybe they think they’re speeding up the boat. In either case, the ultimate result will be failure. And it will be the American people who are shot in the ass.