Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Giraffe's long neck , ....or, the slippery road to hell

Ostensibly, the long neck lets the giraffe reach for the juicy leaves on the higher branches. Some people though, have pointed out that the giraffes neck is in fact too short; it can't reach far downwards enough to drink. Whatever, the fact is the giraffe has become somewhat of a biological oddity. Clumsy and conspicuous, if is really a matter of time before it becomes extinct, if not for commercial zoos and Natgeo.

But how did it become that way? This has become a bit of a biological enigma and people have spent fruitless hours debating this over absinthe and wine. An interesting discussion about this can be found here. Many believe the longer reach of the giraffe conferred some survival advantage, and each successive generation got longer and longer necks. But that's probably only half the story.

Initially there might have been some survival advantage. A minor one perhaps, but that didn't matter. That would have been OK if it had just remained that way. As usual though, things got complicated when we ladies got into the act. At some point in time, the lady giraffes decided that male giraffes with longer necks were attractive. Apparently longer is better. I mean, who wouldn't want offspring to have that critical advantage to reach for the 5C's, ....ooops, sorry, I meant higher branches.

Once that paradigm was set, each generation of lady giraffes sought partners with progressively longer necks....regardless of survival (dis)advantage. Result? A biological oddity consigned to nature's museum of dead ends.

Here was an example of the development of a slippery slope. While the original intention was sound, (long necks were good because they could better reach high branches), the paradigm got overly fixated around a false criteria - sexual and physical attractiveness.

Lesson for us? So much of our debate today is poised astride the beginnings of various slippery slopes. Many have clearly good intentions, or at least couched in language that suggest noble intentions...We save lives if there are more organs available for transplants. We are merciful if we can only euthanize away human suffering. Why let unwanted unborn kids be born into this cruel world? Commercialized medicine is good for our economy and development of medical excellence, etc....

All good stuff until the paradigm gets shifted along the way. At some point the focus of the paradigm will shift so that the ends become more important than the means. It then becomes more important that we have good economic growth, high globalized performance rankings for whatever we choose to do, that our emperors and mini-emperors have have progressively beautiful clothes to wear on the global stage.... Then our necks will become increasingly longer. Overextended. Too long to manouvre ...too short to drink, too clumsy to survive. And then we will become consigned to world's museum of social dead ends.


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