Long Live the Crankies!

"Proud to Be Cranky". That's what Garrison Keillor says.

Keillor is talking about the inevitable decline that is built into our genes. As he succinctly words it: "Even if your face has been lifted, and you're hopped up on Viagra, one day you'll...have the sex drive of...smoked salmon".

Clearly Keillor is long in the tooth, but there is some evidence that the human race as well is approaching extinction. Mind you, the leading negativist is himself 95 years old and sounds nothing like smoked salmon. Professor Frank Fenner, an eminent Australian scientist, gives us maybe one hundred years, at which time many other species will vanish as well. Overpopulation, climate change, depletion of resources, are rampant. We might, he says, even have food wars ahead of us. Since we lack the political nerve to do anything cohesive about these problems, our end is well nigh upon us.

Personally, I have been too preoccupied as an artist with what the next species will look like, short or long of tooth. I saw no reason why arms and legs, mouths or other familiar appurtenances should follow us in the next millenium. As it turns out, however, nature is way ahead of me. Deep in the Atlantic Ocean, scientists have just discovered, are at least ten species that we have never even dreamed existed. Some of them have the charming name of Enteropneust, believed to be a link between invertebrates and backboners. One scientist reports, "They have no eyes, no obvious sense organs, or brains". (Perhaps they should run for Congress.)

It sounds eerily familiar. In a statement for an upcoming exhibit of International Cybersculpture, I wrote, "Artists accept an environment where leaves choose to be square, and where disequilibrium is the native tongue. We visit the black holes of information, and return with dreams of what could be".

Humbling thought. Here I have been passionately fantasizing about what lies ahead, only to discover that in fact it lies behind. Some scientists, like Dr. Robert Lanza, have no problem with that thought: Dr. Lanza feels that tomorrow could influence yesterday. "You have multiple possible futures", he claims, "each with a different history". Dr. Lanza is no slouch either. He is currently Chief Scientific Officer at Advanced Cell Technology (ACT)and Adjunct Professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. As he wrote recently, quoting John Haldane, "The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we CAN suppose". In the book "Women Artists of the American West, I wrote: "We honor a world of fluidity and shadows, with images as forms of transportation through time and space. We eschew naming and classification and think instead of absurdities and othernesses, brown dwarfs and gluons and six-flavored quarks. We envision a community of "White Earth", with an entirely different weather pattern that has never existed in the geological history of our planet but nevertheless could have. We do not ask, as Heidegger once did, 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' but rather, 'Why are there so many somethings?'"

Stephen Hawking, who knows a tad more on the subject than I, claims that we are more than just our genes. That's a good thing, because our genes appear to be pre-programmed for survival, not for altruism, which leads us to the writings of Richard Dawkins and his Selfish Gene Theory. As Dawkins wrote, "We are survival machines-robot vehicles programmed to preserve selfish molecules known as genes".

So I scratch my head and wonder if there is an altruistic politician in our future, or if, in magnificent irony, the selfish genes will drag us to the dire consequences that many wise thinkers are predicting. And then I turn, at Natalie's suggestion, to the words of Max Ehrmann, written in 1952 and titled "Desiderata":'

"You are a child of the universe,

no less than the trees and the stars;

you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,

no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should."

c. Corinne Whitaker 2010

Notes: Here is the full text of The Desiderata.

Dr. Lanza's article, "Does the Past Exist?", can be found at the Huffington Post.

An interview with Dr. Fenner is on Discovery News.

The San Francisco Chronicle's 'Earth on track for epic die-off, scientists say', is also illuminating.