Chicken Heart

By Uncle Bill Warner

In the 1940’s, a fellow by the name of Arch Oboler wrote some pretty scary stories. One of them was called "Chicken Heart," where a scientist begins experimenting with a process which will enable living organisms to grow faster. Something like today’s growth hormones...more money for beef and chicken ranchers.

In Oboler’s radio play, the process works, and the experiment on a chicken’s heart takes off, and soon it is doubling in size every few minutes until finally the thing is so large that it destroys the lab, then the building, and begins covering the neighborhood and city. You can see where this is going. At the end of the drama, the sole survivors are flying in a light plane looking down as a world entirely covered by a gigantic growth which has smothered all life. And then they run out of gas...

The metaphor is obvious. Keep on messing with the way things are supposed to be, Baby, and someday things may be so far out of control that humans will have destroyed our own life support system. Look around you. Oil spews from wrecked supertankers and damaged offshore oil rigs, destroying marine and bird life. In Louisiana, as the bayous are covered with the prehistoric goo, the life there will case, save for the humans driving their big SUV’s , Semi-trucks, ag tractors, picking machines, and TV’s using oil-generated electricity. Foreign countries fall under dictators who promise to guarantee the flow of their country’s oil to us. We won’t even think about the nuclear arsenals which have the capability of destroying all life on earth many times over.

Far-sightedness has never been universal human characteristic. Fly now, pay later. And we will pay...and pay...and will our great grandchildren and their great grandchildren, if there are any. Life is good for us now, right? After all, who needs sea birds, fish, alligators, and the like? Who needs clean air, or the feeling that our children will feel safe.

This world-wide psychosis stems, perhaps, from a perverted survival instinct. We subconsciously see everyone and everything as a threat to our survival, be it folks with the "wrong" religion, immigrants who want to deny us work, or thieves who want to rip us off and murder our children. National boundaries, prisons, and arming ourselves to the teeth are our responses. How can you love someone who is a possible threat to your existence?

Unfortunately as the population of the earth continues it’s meteoric rise and the resources which support our life systems dwindle, and our technology, designed to give us a better life, causes more harm than good it is hard to have one’s eyes open and not see where we are taking ourselves (and the planet with us.)

As a former history teacher, I will freely admit to being a cynic. I prefer the term "realist," but let it pass. When in history has it been better? Thomas Hobbes opined that "The condition of man... is a condition of war of everyone against everyone." One might today feel that he should have added "everything," as, in our search for more comfort and security we destroy our habitat with short-sighted courses of action which result in the destruction of our forests, depletion of our water reserves, poisoning of the atmosphere, and even making war on our food with chemicals and genetic "engineering." We persist in blindly trying to improve our planet by introducing species where they do not belong, like the rabbit in Australia or the waterway choking water hyacinth in Florida. We pave over our farmland with highways and shopping centers, denying rainfall the right to seep into the ground and forcing it to rush to our rivers and raising their flood levels. We even block off the view of the mountains with telephone and power lines. You can thing of hundreds of more stupidities in our war against nature, from "off-road" vehicles to shooting species into extinction.

As I write this, the mass of oil continues its incursion into the swamps and bayous of Louisiana. Does anyone try and make connections to our continued demand for cheap oil with drilling in unsafe places? Does anyone connect the capitalist profit motive with corner-cutting on oil rig safety? Blame BP if you will, but the bottom line is that all of us are partly to blame.

Perhaps the only hope, if there is any, for the human race and animal kingdom is education. Learning first what the "facts" are and how make connections between what we are doing and what the ultimate consequences for future generations might be a first step.

The popularity of hate radio and TV attests to the fact that half the people in the world are of below average intelligence and the (inborn?) individualism or our kind. "Hooray for me and the common good be damned." If not giving a starving person some of my dinner, or denying health care to poor children because it is "socialism," another word for "sharing," are virtues, can there really be much hope?

Greed, fear, and short sightedness might be overcome through education, but as education budgets are cut and unworkable programs such as "mainstreaming" and over-testing are forced on teachers by people who have never spend a day in a classroom, the outlook is dismal.

Just as Oboler’s chicken heart , tampered with by humans, eventually destroyed everything, I think our technology and desire for "more and cheaper" may be out of control

The jobs have gone overseas to increase some corporation’s profits. My retirement is invested in these corporations. I am partly to blame for American jobs loss, right?

I drive on vacation or live in a house far from my work, burning up hundreds of gallons of gas, which makes me part of the demand which leads to offshore drilling and oil spills, foreign wars, and support of repressive governments in oil-rich countries to insure that this demand for oil is met.

I want cheap food, and I want it whether it is in season or not. Therefore, I support growing it as cheaply as possible, usually in someone else’s country where land and labor is cheap, where the growing season is better, and shipping it (burning up fuel) a thousand miles to my supermarket. We won’t even consider the used of banned pesticides or social upheaval caused by foreign-owned factory farming under NAFTA...or the immigration of people to the US after they have been run off their land

I wonder if anyone has connected job loss in this country to exporting jobs where there is abundant, cheap labor stemming for overpopulation in India or China? Is it too much of a leap to see an increase in crime here as people choose to steal rather than starve?

I want throw-away bottles, bags, and gadgets made from oil. Convenience over common sense. But I recycle! Right, and the fuel for the truck that picks up my recycles trash doesn’t burn fuel? Nor does the recycling plant?

I had a student in class once who took exception to my observation that cutting trees involved problems. "Trees re-grow, don’t they?" Tell that to the fish whose breeding grounds are covered over with silt from rain falling on unprotected hillsides into Pass Creek. . Tell that to the unemployed loggers in Hilt, California who cut themselves out of work. Tell that to the forests who have material moved out of them each time a log leaves which should have been returned to build the soil, or the animals displaced or destroyed.

Now I realize that I view this as a rather hopeless situation. I wish I could do otherwise. I mourn for each new baby born into a world whose future has been destroyed by overpopulation, over-consumption, and short-sighted policies instituted by "for-immediate profit" considerations and greed.

I know how the occupants of the light plane flying over the chicken heart must have felt.

Remember the famous quote from Walt Kelley’s cartoon character Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us?"

This rambling dissertation is way too long, and far too short. One way to cope with this is denial. If we really believe in a Panglossian "The Best of All Possible Worlds," then there is nothing to worry about.

Another way is to pray. God let us screw things up like this, and he can straighten it all out, you know, throw in some Malthusian checks on population growth. How about a little war or famine to cut down human pressure on the environment?

Another way we cope is to hack away at the twigs of the problems rather than getting at their roots. Thoreau’s observation, not mine.

"I’ll get a Prius, which gets better mileage than my Chevy" is hacking away, all right, but not getting at the root of the problem which is the driving itself. Still, it makes us feel good that we are part of the solution. My environmentally-conscious friends who drive to their environmentally-conscious meetings and retreats to work on the problems, wonder, I am sure, whether or not the trade-off is worth it.

Did Russians in a burgeoning population who wanted cheap electricity from Chernobyl ever think they were partly to blame for the nuclear plant being there in the first place? Did India’s skyrocketing population (or an American Corporation’s desire for profits) in any way connect with Bhopal?

Personally, I think I’ll just not look down at the chicken heart created by Man (or Woman) and pretend the plane I’m in will never run out of gas.

If I were grading this essay, I’d probably give it a C+ . Its author does not want to re-read and polish it, as he is in a bad enough mood as it is. --Uncle Bill, June, 2010

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