Sunday, October 17, 2004

Our Lemming Side

Becoming as a species ever better-informed and lesser-educated, our increasing similarity to those furry-footed rodents is apparent and Darwin be damned. My Thursday Washington Post carries an article by Julia Eilperin “Worldwide Report Says Amphibians Are in Peril,” ecological stresses may be taking toll.


Ho hum, those old ecological stresses again. 32 percent of all amphibian species face extinction, compared with 12 percent birds and 23 percent mammals. “Canaries in the coal mine” scientists call amphibians because their permeable skin makes them particularly sensitive to environmental changes. Well, coal mining has always been a nasty business. The article goes on to say that “this has taken the scientific world completely by surprise.”


Oh, come on. Pissed them off, made them frown perhaps, in some rare cases made them collectively tap their fingers, but hardly took them by surprise.


There are no surprises left.


There are merely consequences and on our collective headlong rush-for-the-sea we are barely able to glance over our shoulders as the consequences blur by in fast-forward. A polar ice cap melts here or there, a larger “dead zone” in this or that fishery. We are able to measure the precise percentage of air pollution America supplies globally compared to its population (24 to 4), but are we surprised? Hardly. Bored perhaps, maybe annoyed, but only at the constant harping and dreary finger-pointing, never at our god-given freedoms to fuck things up.


The following day, another staff writer by the name of Jonathan Weisman marks the moment the U.S. hit its debt ceiling of 7.4 trillion dollars. And it turns out (are such coincidences never-ending?) that that moment coincides with the worldwide amphibian dilemma. Been a busy week, but you gotta admit that the Washington Post has some first-class staff writers. Unfortunately Weisman’s article was another of those ho-hummers, ‘cause neither of these ghastly occurrences is going to put the gun to our head by next Tuesday. And, if it were, we wouldn’t begin to get nervous until Monday afternoon.


That’s the way it ought to be. It’s our heritage, our right as Americans to put off the future. We invented putting off the future and we’re damned proud of it. Just as Europe is known for never forgetting the past and has let it cripple them, America is known for never worrying about the future, their major strength. Consequence is a word in the dictionary. We invented futureless consumption as a Yankee concept, nurtured it in our schools while discipline gave way to chaos and polished it in the glamorization of everything from no-money-down to reality-TV in place of reality. On a whole psychic level, from government to daily life, if we don’t choose to admit it, it doesn’t exist. Yeah! At long last, the unsinkable ocean liner.


And, of course it may well be true. We haven’t yet tested the theory that all these disappearing life forms may change for the better. The icky stuff that spoils camping trips may just go away. It hasn’t yet been put to the test that unending and galloping national debt finally comes to a reckoning. No entity on earth has yet accumulated 7.5 trillion dollars in debt, so how could we really know? And it’s someone else’s job anyway to monitor all that stuff.


Isn’t it?