HONOLULU, April 21, 2016 – Everybody loves dinosaurs. In natural history museums the world over, people of all ages gladly pay to stand beneath hulking reconstructions of dinosaur skeletons and listen to curators tell of beastly titans and worlds lost to time. Like so many ancient things, we admire the dinosaurs for what they once were, but not what they became. Tyrannosaurus rex, once the ravenous king of the ancient world, is now the main dish of tailgating parties, his modern descendants easily found in your bucket of fried chicken.
So just how could it be that a razor-toothed, all-consuming, gargantuan beast of unquenchable might like Tyrannosaurus could devolve into a steaming plate of extra crispy Nashville hot chicken? I find myself experiencing the same kind of cognitive dissonance every time I turn on the news and hear about clunking Russian fighter-bombers buzzing U.S. Navy warships with impunity (the same kind, I might add, that Turkey handily shot down using U.S.-manufactured F-16s last year).
How did we go from forcibly chasing off Tu-95 bombers with F-14 Tomcats off the North Cape in 1986 to watching Su-24s do Top Gun-style high-speed flybys over our ships in 2016? It just doesn’t seem possible that something so great could be reduced to something so pathetic.
Fortunately, modern science provides some explanation – at least in the case of T. rex – by suggesting that the “decapitation strike” Chicxulub meteor that killed the dinosaurs wasn’t solely responsible for their elimination, because they were, like Americans, already in mass decline by the time the big boom happened. A report published in the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences tells us that “dinosaurs showed a marked reduction in their ability to replace extinct species with new ones, making them vulnerable to extinction and unable to respond quickly to and recover from the final catastrophic event [66 million years ago].”
As strong and mighty as the dinosaurs were, they had lost far too much over too great a time to bounce back from one, big hit that came when they were least prepared. If that’s not a lesson for Millennials and Generation X, I don’t know what is.
WHAT AMERICANS CAN LEARN FROM DINOSAURS
While most of what we know about the dinosaurs is based on fossilized remains and theory, it’s clear that as great as they once were, they did still did not have things like Internet blogs, social media apps, or recurring political pundits on national network TV news. We know this for sure, not because paleontologists have failed to discover a petrified cardboard bowl of açaí buried next to a DinoBook Pro laptop, but because of the fact that dinosaurs successfully ruled the planet for over 135 million years. If dinosaurs had access to Twitter and BuzzFeed, for example, I’m sure they would have only lasted a mere 135 months before going extinct as a result of an accelerated intellectual and moral decline.
Let’s assume however for the sake of argument that modern paleontology is totally wrong, and the dinosaurs actually had everything we know now to be so wonderfully awesome about modernity, from super-duper “stealth” fighters, to space probes landing on distant comets, to heated online clashes over what should be the proper gender pronoun of a jar of mayonnaise (made, of course, with 100% cage-free Protoceratops eggs). It’s an absurd concept, yes, but let’s walk through this on our quest to discover how the glorious T. rex became an ordinary chicken served up on our 2016 lunch menu.
“MAKE LAURASIA GREAT AGAIN!”
The decline of dinosaurs, let alone T. rex, would probably not have been immediately apparent. For years, even centuries, the dinosaurs would probably have noticed only minor changes in their lifestyle, much of which could either be chalked up as a minor inconveniences of daily life or partially mitigated by a juggling act of crafty government administrators and the politicians that appointed them to office. The solution to rising food prices among most dinosaurs would have been to simply work harder and longer for more money, start a small business of their own to “make their own hours and be their own boss,” or better yet, send their hatchlings to prestigious (aka “highly selective”) colleges in the hopes of starting off adult life with bigger incomes, and for a time, this would have worked without too many complications.
T. rex clan would have felt the effects of their decline the least, in large part because their unmatched strength would have easily granted them hegemonic powers in the ancient world. Their stubby, seemingly useless arms would have spurred them to seek technological solutions to almost everything as a means of getting more done with less effort, and as a result, their scientific, industrial, and military might would be – for a time – unsurpassed on Earth.
Unfortunately, the blessings of hegemony are often corrupting influences, and as T. rex obliterated, pacified, or brought under fealty most rival clans, the “peace dividend” of their global victory would have drastically shifted political focus from matters abroad to issues at home.
As anecdotal proof of this, Henry Kissinger, quoting George Bernard Shaw, warned modern international relations students in his political science textbook “Diplomacy” that “‘There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it’ … The absence of a clear-cut adversary will produce domestic pressure to shift resources from defense to other priorities.”
After winning what we shall term “The Dino War,” the government of our T. rex clan was forced to deal with mounting domestic woes, including a brutal recession, skyrocketing inflation, and millions of unemployed dinosaurs. Deep post-war cuts in military spending would also briefly make the economic crisis seem worse, as mammoth T. rex defense companies – previously “profitable” only because of large government contracts during the War – laid off hundreds of thousands of workers, and divested or shuttered huge divisions.
Weaker companies that failed to win major contracts just before the end of the War would go out of business entirely or be bought out by larger companies with more ongoing defense contracts. As a point in case, in the middle of the War, there would be thousands of T. rex defense companies; by it’s end, dozens; and, later, when the meteor fell, less than five major companies holding nearly every military contract.
This defense paradigm shift, as well as the recession, would also have significant implications for the rest of the T. rex market. Companies across the board in all sectors would respond to post-war inflation and declining profits by downsizing, outsourcing, automating processes, and ultimately, increasing their prices.
To support investment, many of these companies would later lobby the clan council to lower interest rates to “free up credit” and to increase taxes, both as a means for fueling more government spending and, ultimately, to eliminate competition by making the cost of business more expensive.
These “reforms” would result in more economic distress, widening income inequality, and an emerging mercenary mindset among hatchlings to pursue money, material possessions, and power. An entire generation of dinosaurs emerged that had neither known the well-earned success and prosperity of their grandparents, or the sacrifices and dedication of their parents who helped win the Dino War.
What was once an industrious economy built on hard work and innovation soon metastasized into a palace economy orbiting around access to government favors in the form of exemption from regulations, preferential tax credits and subsidies, and rule-making authority to influence consumer behavior. As the T. rex clan declined at home, her military superiority likewise declined abroad, as allies sought new economic partnerships and old enemies tested emerging gaps in the international T. rex security umbrella.
Demoralized T. rex military officers, once elite forces respected and feared by all, frequently stood down when challenged by rival clans abroad, both from a lack of initiative and from an overriding fear of being relieved of command or court-martialed by their indecisive, easily frightened political leaders. Fortunately for them, their leaders were never held accountable, as newspaper editorials praised each stand-down as “the right thing to do, given the circumstances.”
In the decade before the meteor fell, the T. rex clan would be a dysfunctional, failed state with more problems than her citizens could count. Nevertheless, the intellectual-academic class would frequently take to online blogs and Sunday morning TV talk shows, asserting that such changes were natural outcomes of a stronger, more prosperous, and interconnected world, and, in fact, the T. rex clan was “in many ways, greater than ever.” Many would believe them.
As rival dinosaur clans produced deadly nuclear weapons for the first time or massively proliferated existing stockpiles, T. rex academics also insisted on “global zero” – starting, of course, in good faith with their own military – dismissing the possibility that they would ever need them for self-defense. “For the cost of a single aircraft carrier,” boasted one pundit, “we could provide free daycare for every hatchling in Laurasia!” Another pundit suggested, “The real problem we have in our clan is overpopulation. Why do we need to have a space program when we can provide free contraceptives?”
Ironically, the T. rex clan space agency detected the killer meteor that would devastate the Earth at a long range years before it actually made planetfall. Unfortunately, to pay for the cost of universal clan healthcare, early warning radars and space defense systems were deactivated or outsourced to private contractors. Instead of preparing for the possibility of an extinction-level event, the T. rex space agency opted to commission a vast, costly, “technical study” which concluded that the chances of a catastrophic meteor hitting the planet were “slim to none.”
The rest, as we know, is history.
Americans would do well to recognize that our own, real-world United States has, in many ways, devolved from might into collective chickenhood. Alexander Solzhenitsyn warned in 1978 that “there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses. And it will be impossible to stand through the trials of this threatening century with only the support of a legalistic structure.”
Unlike the dinosaurs, though we are in decline, the killer blow to our way of life has not yet struck. But why should we wait for it come? We still have a chance, while it is called today, to reform our government, to dispense with the crippling greed that erodes our society, and to return to a new strength that is founded on truth, understanding, and honor.
I fear that should we fail to turn America, and indeed, the Western world around, the only real “dinosaurs” in our world will be those souls unfortunate enough to have once tasted – and lost – freedom.