Monday, November 21, 2011

The Dual-Terror of Dinosaurs: An Essay

Dinosaurs play in our dreams as children. Sometimes we’re hiding, afraid of their massive overwhelming power we’ve only seen highlighted by the remainder of their bones. Our imaginations fill them in, adding details like ridges, crayon-green skin and purple spots we’re not even sure they had. Other times, we’re riding them, flying on the wings of a pterodactyl or racing across the plains with the anchisaurus.

After all, it was the climate change that allowed our ancestors to thrive that wiped out the dinosaur’s population. In many ways, we were the victors, even if we weren’t actually saddling up a stegosaurus. That feeling, that we survived and they didn’t, gives us an optimistic view of the Earth when we’re kids. If we can survive what those big, strong dinosaurs couldn’t, then surely we can survive anything.

On the other hand, had we co-existed with the dinosaurs, a good number of us probably would have met our demise by being underfoot of a T-Rex.

This feeling of dominance and a lack of power carries us over into our high school years and beyond. As we move on to scarier places in our life with more responsibilities, we categorize the world into what we know we can conquer and what we know can conquer us. But dinosaurs remind us that sometimes it’s both. Sometimes we can out-live something that we couldn’t necessarily face head-on.

Though what attracts many to dinosaurs is their raw power and carnivorousness, I think a larger, less-talked about magnetism comes from the sense that mammals can outlive what they can’t conquer. We apply this lesson time and time again in our lives.

At the same time, we soften our impressions of dinosaurs in an attempt to rationalize this imperfect balance. As one part of our brain picks up on the victory of global climate change, another part of us is worried that if the king of the pre-historic world can fall, so can frail human beings.

We watch as a giant purple and green dinosaur becomes plush and starts singing about how he loves us. Because it wouldn’t make sense otherwise. How can something so strong and so dominating actually be wiped from the face of the earth? How can the bones we see in museums have been formed by a simple climate change?

The question haunts us as much as the answer does. We’re both the scared lab rats hiding in a corner and the ones who have successfully gotten to the cheese.

As college students, we open our minds to the facts, and we try to come up with solutions. We don’t say it out loud, but all education is essentially an exercise in not perishing. We learn science to cure disease. We learn English to be able to preserve thoughts. We learn history to pay it forward in a sense. But when we learn about dinosaurs, we learn about a civilization wiped down to their very bones. There is no “Greatest Poems of the Cretaceous
Period,” and in our hearts, we want our civilization to end differently or to go on forever.

We use the word “dinosaur” in our modern times as a negative thing. Dinosaurs don’t have cellphones and use dial-up internet, if any at all. We belittle what we don’t know, and we simply can’t know that much about dinosaurs. We can study their bones as much as we want, but the truth is that they could have sat up all night talking and singing in their own guttural language for all we know.

Unlike dinosaurs, we want to be remembered for more than just the shape of our skulls. As historians work to piece together what happened to our ancestors, we push forward, trying to make something of ourselves, even if it’s just to a small group of people. After all, the fascination of dinosaurs comes from not becoming them.

Jesse Langley lives in the Midwest, where he divides his time between work, family, and his plethora of Apple products. He writes on behalf of Colorado Technical University.