Saturday, September 26, 2009

Change, American Culture, Trilobites, Humanity's History, and the Big Picture

A tick or two of the cosmic clock, posts about humanity's development, and what's happened on Earth for the last 4,500,000,000 or so years: Earlier this week, I posted one of my favorite quotes:
About the 'laws of Nature' -

" 'Your mistake is to think that the little regularities we have observed on one planet for a few hundred years are the real unbreakable laws....' "

Grace Ironwood, Chapter 17.4, "That Hideous Strength" C. S. Lewis (1946)
(September 23, 2009)
The same day, I posted a micro-review & mini-rant about one of those standard-issue global warming articles. (September 23, 2009)

I like trees and flowers and spotted owls as much as anyone: but I know a little too much about Earth to get on the 'Earth now' bandwagon. Particularly considering the lack of unanimity among scientists who actually make their living studying climate - and the way heretics are shouted down - I suspect that global warming is as serious a threat as the runaway defoliation we're experiencing here in Minnesota.

Which I do not think was caused by my putting out extra hummingbird nectar a few weeks ago. ("The Ice is Falling! Runaway Melt Mode! And You Should See What's Happening to Minnesota Trees!" (September 23, 2009))

I don't doubt that Earth's warmed up a trifle in the last few decades. Other planets orbiting our sun have, too.1

News Cycles, Seasonal Cycles, Change, and the Big Picture

As I wrote before, there's a reason you don't see recipes calling for fresh trilobite. Change happens.
"Americans are known to have a tough time with the concept of 'long term.' I once lived in Europe. Before leaving the United States, I was listening to an American newscast that talked about a company's future 'long term.' The news story then went on to say that, by long term, it meant the company's performance over the next five quarters - barely more than a year! Several months later, while in Europe, I was introduced to some people by my Dutch colleagues. While doing the introduction, they explained that I was in the country 'tijdelijk' - meaning temporarily. I was scheduled to stay for three years. I thought back to the American newscast and wondered how they would take that comment from my Dutch acquaintances."
("What's Your Definition of Long Term?" p. 28, "Start Your Own Home Business ... In No Time" Carol Anne Carroll, Que Publishing, Indianapolis, Indiana (2005))
I can see how people who grew up in a culture where 15 months was "long term" might have trouble thinking about changes - and cycles - that take more than a year.

American news, at least, is a 24/7/365 affair in which a story might be at the top of the news in the morning, people's reactions would highlight the afternoon news, and - if the event were enormously important - it might be mentioned the next day.

A Wikipedia article called this the 24-Hour News Cycle. Americans don't seem to have much of a problem noticing events that recur on a daily, weekly, or even annual basis.

Cycles that take more than a year - maybe not so much.

Paradoxically, in a culture where technological and social change is almost proverbially fast-paced, some American subcultures seem disturbed at the idea that life on Earth - and Earth itself - changes.

An overview of the last 4,500,000,000 or so years on Earth: (from "The Ice is Falling! Runaway Melt Mode! And You Should See What's Happening to Minnesota Trees!" (September 23, 2009)
1 Climate Change, from (from "Masdar City Video - Looks Cool " (September 9, 2009))

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