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.