It’s interesting how an image can suddenly become the clarifying symbol of an unrelated problem.
The image I am referring to is that of the dinosaur Dreadnoughtus schrani. It reportedly died between 66 and 84 million years ago, but it became a media star last week as the result of research published in Scientific Reports. And no wonder. At 130,000 pounds and a body about 85 feet long, it is now the largest creature we know ever to have walked the earth. Of course it is extinct, and that makes one think of life spans. Then the tiny head relative to the massive body brings up the issue of proportion, proper proportion.
You may remember that in my last post, I brought up the point that the energy provided by meat-eating seems to have played an important role in the development of the human brain. Dreadnoughtus was a vegetarian, and it is hard to imagine how many ferns it must have had to consume daily to fill a belly larger than a draft horse. Scientists are now trying to figure out how it moved, and one wonders if it lived head down among the greens or ever used that long neck to see at great distances.
Although this dinosaur apparently died in a flood, we associate all dinosaur species with extinction by an asteroid. Had there been no asteroid that wiped them out some 65 million years ago, how would they have evolved? We think of them as being primitive, the attack from outer space like a giant hand sweeping a rather crude design off the drafting board to make room for something new.
The something new would eventually include us, a species that evolved, comparatively speaking, with the speed of a rocket. But do we have a fundamental sense of limits, of going too far in certain ways, of hitting the wall, so to speak? Is there the potential to evolve endlessly? Are there opportunities to course correct, or do all designs have a lifespan for one reason or another? Dreadnouhtus makes one wonder.
We live in a culture that seems to have embraced the idea that “Bigger is better,” and this particular titanosaur, as the biggest ones are called, would certainly invite admiration in this regard. But that tiny head relative to the size of the monstrous body gives us pause.
And now I will get to my point. There are very few paleontologists among us, but Americans are nevertheless beginning to react against the prospect of bigness in many different respects. The main two, however, are the bigness of government and the bigness of corporations. According to last year’s Mood of the Nation survey by Gallup, more than 60% of Americans are dissatisfied with the size and power of both. This attitude may be based less on detailed knowledge than on an instinctive sense of skewed proportion.
Let’s take the head of state issue first with regard to our country, arguably the most powerful in the world. Here we have one individual responsible for a nation of over 318 million people guided with the assistance of more than 4.1 million employees, including the military. In 1776 when the foundation for this government was being established, the population was only about 2.5 million.
The breadth of responsibility for our head of state is also continuing to expand. As a result of our economic strength and military power, we seem to be expected to assume an ever larger role in maintaining order and improving quality of life all over the globe. Still, we have only one head of state.
Now let’s look at the corporate world. According to Business Insider, about 25 of our largest corporations had revenues in 2010 surpassing the gross domestic product (GDP) of entire countries. Take Walmart, for example, whose revenues of over $400 billion exceeded the GDP of Norway. Of course most of these corporations are now international, so the CEOs are responsible for the actions of both overseas and domestic employees.
Of course not one of these CEOs or any president would ever say, “This is too much for one man/woman to handle.” The fragrance of power with regard to the presidency and both power and wealth with regard to CEOs is infinitely seductive. In the case of the former, power is typically leavened with a lot of abuse. In the case of the latter, power and wealth have proven very effective in preventing consequence for wrongdoing or incompetence. Maybe that’s one reason for the current mania for merger and acquisition.
And so we have a titanosaur-like government and corporations growing ever larger but topped, proportionally speaking, by a very small head at the end of a very long and over-reaching neck. And again, one wonders if that head is lifting high enough to see the metaphoric incoming storm or asteroid that would threaten its way of being or its very existence.
In the present, the threat to the existence of the titanosaurs may come from the people living in their giant shadows, frustrated by a sense of being excluded and disempowered by the way things are. It may be hard for them to be specific beyond some general and ideologically-framed resentment, but the complaint could nevertheless be valid. Something is wrong. Things are not working right. There is a problem with proportion and balance. Momentum is going in a bad direction.
Dreadnoughtus was given its name because of its enormous size, and this specimen was an adolescent bound for an unimaginable weight. The phrase “Dread nought” means “Fear nothing,” and size always has seemed an important protection in every respect. In this regard, perhaps the largeness of the human brain will save us if it is deployed in the pursuit of balance and equity rather than bigness. After all, Dreadnoughtus wasn’t very pretty, and it is very dead.