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June 2012

Cunctating Towards the Tipping Point of Earth’s Destruction 150 150 admin

Cunctating Towards the Tipping Point of Earth’s Destruction

Cunctators, all of us!

Don’t you love that word? I learned it at Anu Garg’s A.Word.A.Day from Wordsmith.org. It means one who procrastinates an enormous amount, from Latin cunctari to hesitate.

Like the majority of the human race, I cunctate, I postpone, I wait and see. Not all the time. And not even when it comes to huge tasks; my cunctative habit is uniquely formed to fit my talents, weakness, and lifestyle.

My mother cunctates less than most. She approaches life with fortitude and great discipline. Now in her mid-seventies, her ability to face the future is paying off in wonderful ways. In the last few years, she has learned to operate a Macintosh (her emails often contain inventive graphics), started T’ai Chi classes and joined a women’s group.

Mom never lets problems linger, whether it’s a messy kitchen — God forbid she should leave the house with dirty dishes — or coming up with ways for a recent widow to reimagine her life.

Alas, Mom isn’t running the world. Cunctators are running things, and so we have a really big problem.

Here it is: Scientists warn that Earth may be approaching a tipping point. This was the headline of an article posted in the Los Angeles Times on page AAF on Friday, June 8th.

Not the front page — already a sign of suspect cunctation. And then the conditional verbs “may be,” which immediately let all of us cunctators off the hook.

But consider the sub-heading: They liken humans’ effect to past global events that led to mass extinctions. The reporter Bettina Boxall wrote it, I believe, to spur the minority of non-cunctators, like my mother or Al Gore (don’t I wish he was in charge?) who might actually do something about this looming cataclysmic crisis.

Do what? You ask. You already recycle. And gave up your gas-guzzlers. You feel virtuous when you leave the grocery store with your own bags. You take pride in your vegetable garden, however meager.

I understand. We’re overwhelmed. What can we possibly do about this inevitable downward slide towards “mass extinction”?

Ouch. That hurts, if you really take it in.

For decades, scientists have issued dire warnings about global climate change, their clarion call becoming successively louder over the years. And yet, we continue to cunctate, putting off any radical change that would severely change our lifestyle and hope to save our environment.

Homo sapiens probably came to dominate Earth because we DID cunctate. Of course, we had bigger brains than our sibling species, but more importantly, our mental function for complex planning was more developed.

Complex planning allowed Homo sapiens to conceive of future steps and determine whether those steps would aid his survival. Our long dead siblings Homo erectus and the Neanderthals lacked this ability. We delayed. They plunged ahead.

You might simply plunge your spear into the raging mastodon, and end up as its lunch, rather than taking the time to figure out and develop one that would sail through the air and hit its mark. Our predecessors, in their cunctative wisdom, put off the hunt, tinkering with their tools and means of attack until the odds of success increased.

In evolutionary terms, cunctation offered great benefits. And yet, I wonder, have we become too reliant upon our adaption for complex planning? Has it become the master, and we, its slave?

Our species has gone from dominating the planet to causing and passively regarding the destruction of our environment (the clear path of an excessive cunctator, if ever there was one).

One of the primary reasons for cunctation is fear. Fear of both success and failure. Knowing we lack the skills to move forward, we cunctate until we are ready.

But we can’t afford to delay.

By now, let’s face it: the likelihood of global climate change is no joke, or left-wing conspiracy. Boxall quotes Anthony Barnosky, the lead author of a recent paper in the journal Nature, “The net effects of what we’re causing could actually be equivalent to an asteroid striking the Earth in a worst-case scenario.”

The causes: “exploding global population, rapidly rising temperature and the clearance of more than 40 percent of Earth’s surface for urban development or agriculture.”

I can only imagine that another species, perhaps one invented in the wilds of genetic engineering, will supersede mankind, just as surely as we won over our long-gone sibling species. Tormented by such thoughts and possibilities, I recently published the first installment in a series of young adult dystopian novels in which a girl’s mad scientist father engineers a new hybrid human-beast that is capable of withstanding the withering heat on impoverished Earth.

As Barnosky said, “By the year 2070, we’ll live in a hotter world than it’s been since humans evolved as a species.” (That’s only two and a half generations from now!)

A cautionary tale disguised as a Beauty and the Beast story, Revealing Eden is my small attempt to get across this very same message in an entertaining format: we must change our cunctative habits or face “mass extinction.”

Or perhaps, our great-great grandchildren will adapt to look more like the animals that their forebears have driven to near extinction. The Jaguar Man, as in my book, or Raven Girl?

I fear the odds of changing our cunctative ways are slim. It worked million of years ago, so why bother?

Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. The hurrier I go, the behinder I get. Tomorrow is another day.

Sound familiar?

 

On beauty in the age of gloss 150 150 admin

On beauty in the age of gloss

Tell me the truth, Sister, on a scale of one to ten, how do you rate your beauty? Hmmm. I perceive your disdain, even through the nebulous reaches of the Internet.

That’s a guy thing, you say. Women don’t do that.

Really? Perhaps, when you look in the mirror, you don’t slap across your chest an invisible beauty pageant banner that rates your visible assets. But I bet you rate, not only yourself, but every woman that comes onto your radar, and all the time, too.

You have your own system, or particular symbology for rating beauty, I imagine. Like my Italian mother who passes judgment on films with a number of meatballs, the higher the better, your cultural identity probably informs your ratings.

In fact, we all do it, my dear. Honestly, how can we avoid it when a constant barrage of images conspires to create insecurity about our looks? Have you noticed how quickly your self-imposed rating plummets after flipping through a fashion magazine? I’d like to see what would happen to their sales if those same high glossies advertised average-looking people.

Perhaps, the magazine editors know how much we despise ourselves and therefore, figure we would never buy their products unless we felt duly punished. Sadly, too many of us inwardly feel like Groucho Marx: “I would not join any club that would have someone like me for a member.”

The day I caught myself comparing my grade-school daughter’s looks to the other girls in her class, I thought, this must stop! I understood that, on a subtle level, I would pass on to her the same limiting behavior with which I had been conditioned. In my heart, I only wanted to send a message that each girl was beautiful in her own way.

No doubt, beauty is power, often as formidable as a genius IQ. In the evolution of humanity, it has served a purpose with the selection of genes, just as in all species. I strongly suspect, however, that our obsession with beauty has deprived us of something of equal value, if not greater.

When I set out to write the first installment in my new series of fantasy romance novels, Revealing Eden (Save The Pearls Part One), I found myself facing twin fears that, at the time, seemed thematically unrelated, but ultimately, came together in a perfect way.

Eden Newman lives in a post-apocalyptic world where the ability to withstand extreme solar radiation defines beauty and class. The more melanin in your skin, and therefore, the darker it is, the better your chance of survival, the higher your beauty rating. Eden’s blond, blue-eyed looks brand her as an ugly, oppressed Pearl. She’s desperate to find a mate, and doomed if she doesn’t.

All she really wants is for some guy to see past her obvious defects and admire the Real Eden, the one on the inside. Honestly, isn’t that what we all want? Then why are we so quick to judge each other based on appearance?

One day in grade school, as I stood at the front of the school waiting for my mother, a boy leaned out of the window of a departing bus and hurled a racial slur at me. It wasn’t even about my race! But it stung all the same. With my wildly curly hair and prominent features, I didn’t look like the other girls, and I guess that frightened him.

Perhaps because of that moment, I never felt beautiful. I focused on developing my mind and told myself I didn’t care about looks. Years later, when I starred in several indie films, I was flabbergasted to read reviews that praised my beauty. To this day, I never have understood why appearance often matters more than character or intelligence.

Call me over-imaginative, but I fear that our fixation on external beauty is now as useless and as cumbersome to our survival as if we had reptilian tails.

We vote on leaders, not based on intelligence or soulful qualities, but by the style of their clothes or haircut.

We ignore the real reasons for deep problems like unemployment, economic disparity or the continuing destruction of our environment because solutions like better education or higher taxes or cap and trade require a deep change in how we look at the world, and at ourselves.

We want quick fixes. We’re like the patient who only treats the symptoms, never approaching illness from a holistic point of view, body and soul. We’d rather take the next miracle cure that promises to fix all our ills. Or better, yet, get a facelift in the hope of erasing more than wrinkles.

As Audrey Hepburn famously and generously said, “For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.”

Can we learn to see who we are and where we are going before it’s too late? I hope so.

Next time you look in the mirror, tell yourself you are uniquely beautiful, just as you are, and send that message to the next person you meet.