Civilization clips its own whiskers: a type of self-imposed lobotomy.
I was a young adult before I ever heard an explanation for whiskers on animals: cats for instance. The cat’s whiskers, or the rat’s, are as wide as the cat’s body. If the cat’s whiskers will fit into the hole then the cat will fit into the hole. The cat wants to catch the rat, the rat wants to escape the cat. The smart rat will have a pretty good idea which hole the cat will not be able to chase into; the cat doesn’t need to know the dimensions of a particular hole until the rat has run into it. The cat comes upon an opening, maybe the mouse just ran into a crevice. If the cat can insert its face into the opening, it knows instantly if it can pursue further.
And now I remember parking feelers on cars in the 1950s: the driver could hear when the blind side was near the curb: like cats’ whiskers.
I love to fish, I love to wade. My feet know how to toe the muck before I place my weight on my exploring foot. If I got here, then there has to be a way for me to back out of here. I may not find my path first try, but I’ll keep probing till I can advance; or retreat. I don’t go storming out into the lake only to fall into a hole twenty feet deep. Maybe I’d be able to swim out of such a hole, but I’d rather not find out by a forced swim. If a ‘gator comes exploring in my neighborhood, my fly rod is eight and a half feet long. Extending my arm I could poke the ‘gator from “ten” feet away. My arms, my legs, aid my eyes, my ears, in deciding where I can venture. (I’ll never forget the family of manatees, me wading off Bird Key, that swam a foot short of the tip of my fly rod, then came no closer (really funny to fish salt water with an ultra-light fly rod!))
In the army it wasn’t up to my feet, my rod, my eyes where I tried advancing to: I had to charge ahead without any caution. The general, the lieutenant, the sergeant was using me like whiskers: if Knatz doesn’t step on a land mine, then maybe Smith can go forward too. There are situations where a military force will try caution, will value the lives of its soldiers, and situations where the lives of the soldiers are of secondary-to-no importance. What I realized in 1967, 1968 was that corporate America, Wall Street, the Pentagon had clipped the society’s whiskers so that grunts, children, banks, everyone would plunge (damn-the-torpedoes) into any hole regardless of whether we’d be able to back out again.
That’s what “Global Warming” meant to me in 1968. The ecologists were telling us that the world was full of things, potential dangers, traps, for which we had no knowledge. We didn’t know if human pollution would make the seas rise, or the weather change. We were just plunging full speed ahead: like idiots. We’d envolved intelligence: but our intelligence, our sense of caution, was strapped down. If photosynthesis suddenly ceased in the north sea, would we easily be able to restart it? If Manhattan were swamped so that building entrances were under water, could we just all move to Brooklyn? Might not Hoboken be flooded too?
It all reminds me of Roosevelt: Franklin D.: smoking away, cigarette after cigarette inserted into his aristocratic holder.
… And I remember an insurance huckster, throwing handfuls of $1 cigars into the audience. Don’t think; smoke!
(In the 1950s a $1 cigar was an expensive cigar, not a cheapie.)
See also Conservatism.
2013 07 23 Today I am reminded that Nigel Calder, one of my favorite science explainers, was hostilely skeptical of “global warming”: he was worried about humans precipitating new ice ages. He was worried about new ice ages whether humans precipitated them or not. Notice: Calder and I do not disagree on any important point. I’m not betting for or against “global warming” as a harm: I’m worried about marching anywhere while our brains are shut off. He’s betting on ice over fire; he is not rooting for blind stupidity.
2015 03 16 My neighbor Dan is a smart guy as guys go: hands on smart; not intellectual let-me-explain-gravity smart. I like him. I saw in my first five minutes with him that he’d never understand any of my subjects, wouldn’t have a clue about my life no matter what he was told. So I don’t bother to argue with him. (He’s in a position of power over me which I won’t explain just now: just accept it as true. He’s already done more for me than most people in a position to help or harm would have done: harm being the default where the society as a whole is the guilty party.) There’s sense in his opinions but no physics, no theology, nothing deep: no Augustine, Aquinas, or Einstein. I just made an exception, a mistake I don’t doubt. If so, it’s too late now. I got excited, and get this, duplicated his mistake myself:
He was insulting intellectuals and their “global worming. Fine. I wanted to listen closely, follow his reasoning: there’s always intelligence in Dan’s views. And I’m retired as an arguer: you want to blunder into traffic? go ahead, I won’t stop you, not ordinarily, not these days: I’ll just snigger.
So: Dan address fears of the ice cap melting. He said that if you fill a glass with water, then add ice, the ice will protrude above the rim. As the ice melts, the glass still doesn’t spill, not just from the melting, the glass will still be exactly full. So there’s nothing to worry about.
I snapped. I told Dan, not for the first time, that I assigned essays on global warming to my English class in 1967, 1968. I said that the ice caps were holding the continent of Antarctica submerged, that if the ice melted the continent would surge. A land mass now the size of “Australia” would bloom to the size of an “America”. That I said would flood things: and immediately emphasized that my 1968 emphasis had been not that one thing or another would happen but that we were blasting full tilt, blindly, into unexamined holes. The state and the corporations flush the brains from the society, now there are no brains left. Serves us right.
But a minute later I realized, flushing, that I’d made the same mistake with my land example as Dan was making with his ice cubes: the land+ice will occupy a similar volume after melting and popping as before melting and popping: the meling and popping isn’t the danger: the danger is that civilization has developed in specific places on the land mass and on the oceans fronts: New York! Washington! Boston! London! Hong Kong!
Who cares if the same volume of continent is floating on the same volume of water if all our major cities are under the water? So what if Kansas is now water front: Kansas is not Wall Street! A new hill is Shantung does not replace a drowned Shanghai.