Wednesday, October 25, 2006

So You Think You Can Tell Heaven From Hell?

by Agent 99

…Did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?

Dodos were daffy-looking flightless birds of the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. They were wiped out in the late sixteen hundreds by British sailors. Something larger than turkeys, about fifty pounds, they had token wings and a little swatch of feathers on behind. They were bluish, with black bills, big red W.C. Fields bulb hooks on the tips. They had short necks, short legs and strong feet. Evidently, they made a good meal for camping clutches of hale and hearty mates. They didn't have to shoot them, or even have to chase them. It was just like pulling up to the drive-up window at McDonald's. The sailors would come ashore, and dodos would waddle out to greet them. Meals in love with their consumers. Trust venturing forth to embrace sloth and vanity and greed. Pure, guiltless, guileless being on its way to isn't-this-great! bottomless entitlement. Dodos have become synonymous with stupidity, and maybe you can see why, but I don't think virtue has ever been stupid. It has never been stupid.

An extinct bird, one that may well be the very epitome of undignity, symbolizes extreme dignity, where it is real, where the air is hollow. Untaintable trust is beautiful -- even if on a practical level it is ill-advised. This should have been a world where a dodo gamboled its way to a sailor and was met with a loving embrace -- which, of course, was what the dodos, to a bird, were trying to elicit from the sailors so unfailingly and so tragically. The dodos weren't stupid in their endeavors; the sailors were in theirs. Posterity ought really to have the decency to get that straight. Even though the dodos were failures, in a Darwinian sense, we compound our failures by maligning them so mercilessly, right up to this day.

There are wizened pieces -- a head here, a foot there, the odd bodiless beak -- of dodos stashed away in museums. In other words, what few parts those porcine ancient mariners left uneaten. I think someone ought to try reviving some dodo DNA. The greatest possible use for cloning would be to bring back to life those who died of our stupidity. Think of the heroes who'd walk the sweet earth again! Think of the oceans full of whales! Think of the loving dodos cooing in our gardens! If the dodos had succeeded, I'd have moved to Mauritius as soon as my parents couldn't stop me, and there'd be a completely different world to share with you now.

Wish you were here….

[Heart tip to Pink Floyd, lyrics by Roger Waters, as sung by David Gilmour for Syd Barrett. ©1975]

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