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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Preserving Our Dinosaurs

Imagine air so foul that you must wear a respirator whenever you leave your apartment.  You press through crowded, darkened streets—little sunlight pierces the polluted air.  The government limits every aspect of your life, from the food you eat to the number of children you’re allowed to have.  Good luck finding a job, let alone one that fulfills your passion: you compete with your fellow citizens for the few on offer, knowing the slightest offense or poor test result can make you unemployable.  Am I describing life in a communist state?  Am I imagining the lives of the European poor prior to WWI?  No, I’m thinking of the future as depicted in the recent TV series “Terra Nova.”  This is the future the conspirators in the “Doctor Who” story “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” fear is inevitable.  It is a future Earth exhausted by too many bold visions, too many dynamic changes, and too many revisions of the existing order.

Change is inevitable.  Every day brings new demands.  Today’s bold solutions and “improvements” to yesterday’s way of life, necessary though they seem, inevitably lead to fresh challenges that must be tackled.  Therefore we prize innovation highly.  We praise inventors.  We herald visionary leaders who propose sweeping reforms.  We pride ourselves when our government funds the programs we see as necessary, or cuts the programs we see as wasteful.  Yet each change is like a stone tossed into a pond.  Throw in too many, and not only do we disturb the water, but we elevate the bottom of the pool until it grows level with the surrounding land.  Wind and sunlight dry the damp ground, erasing all signs of the former pond.  To preserve our pool, we cannot throw in too many stones, and we must occasionally dredge it to prevent the bottom from rising too high.  So which stones should we not throw in?  Which stones should we remove when we dredge the pool?  On what basis do we make such decisions?

As much as we yearn for bold change and gentle revisions, we also long for stability.  We contribute to social security, healthy insurance, and pension systems in the belief that these companies and government departments will care for us in the future.  We draw up contracts to ensure that each party delivers the promised goods, services, and monies.  We join faith communities and groups that celebrate our views and values, and feel betrayed if the leadership later revises the existing orthodoxy.  We loving maintain our favorite automobiles, clothing, furniture, and artwork to lengthen their useful lives.  We saddle ourselves with hefty mortgage payments, take all necessary measures to ensure we can live out our lives in them, and pray that the government or our family won’t force us from our beloved homes in our twilight years.  We engage in marriage, the ultimate in long-term contracts, in the hopes that we will share the rest of our lives with our loving partner.  We expend effort and give to groups that pledge to protect certain plant and animal species against extinction.  We recycle, buy ecofriendly products, and try to utilize as little gas and electricity as we can, because we wish to bequeath a healthy world to future generations.  Stability: oh how we crave it!

We embrace change in certain areas of our lives, but seek to protect other areas against any change whatsoever.  We welcome the extinction of those dinosaurs we despise, turn a blind eye to the carcasses of others’ cherished beliefs and institutions, but cry foul when the creaking old agreements, definitions, and viewpoints we love are threatened.  How do we balance the change we feel we need with the stability we crave?  How do we protect others’ dinosaurs when we see their existence as antithetical to our own?  Some things we know must be changed, others can be changed, and some, we believe, must never be changed. Where do we draw the line between compulsion and compassion, and who defines which of our cherished dinosaurs reside in either category?  

Sometimes I am bewildered by how oblivious others are to my feelings, my expectations, and my beliefs.  Each day I strive for perfect vision that will allow me to view others’ needs as equal to my own.  I know this is impossible.  Yet I try.  For one thing I know.  Whether I see the future depicted in “Terra Nova” as metaphorical or literal, I want to live there even less than I wish to colonize Earth in the Triassic, Jurassic, or Cretaceous Periods.  I want to live right here, right now, and I don’t want anyone to threaten the dinosaurs I cherish with extinction.

The moral of this story: Don’t you dare mess with my pet Triceratops!

This series will conclude with "Protecting Our Dinosaurs."

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