April 21, 2012
IN THE BEGINNING, GOD CREATED DINOSAURS and humans, and they walked together in Texas.
At least, according to many people in Glen Rose.
The small town about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth is home to some of the best-preserved dinosaur tracks in the world; it’s also a heavily Christian community where many locals interpret the book of Genesis literally.
Their belief is bolstered by a phenomenon in the riverbed. Alongside the dinosaur tracks are what resident R.C. McFall and others call “man tracks”—tangible proof of biblical creation accounts and a refutation of the theory of evolution.
McFall walks along the Paluxy River, careful not to place his cowboy boot in a dinosaur track. Muddy water fills the fossilized footprints embedded in this rocky ledge.
“There’s a track right there,” he says in a deep Texas drawl, pointing. “That hole is where my dad dug one out.”
If the river weren’t up, McFall explains, we’d see man tracks just a few feet away, in the same strata of rock as the dinosaur tracks.
The 113-million-year-old dinosaur tracks, first discovered in 1909, are an important part of Glen Rose’s livelihood, bringing thousands of visitors a year to attractions like Dinosaur Valley State Park and Dinosaur World. The town’s tourist industry, accounting for $23 million in annual revenue, was built largely on the jaw-dropping fact that fossils this old are still present today. Visitors can park their trailers at the Jurassic RV Park (the tracks actually date to the Cretaceous period) or stay at the Glen Rose Inn & Suites, where the sign features a cartoon dinosaur.
“The dinosaurs are what drive us,” says Billy Huckaby, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Glen Rose. “You can’t develop a town of 2,000 into this kind of tourism revenue unless you’ve got something really special to promote.”
Tourist literature describes the tracks as millions of years old, but not everyone buys the science.
“I believe in the Bible,” McFall says. “I don’t believe the world’s over 6,000 or 7,000 years old. Course, everybody’s got their own interpretation.”
Beyond their appeal to tourists, the tracks have made Glen Rose a destination for scientists and religious pilgrims. In the ’30s and ’40s, paleontologists came to study the well-preserved dinosaur footprints, removing sections for display at museums in Austin and New York. Creationists, too, have come to Glen Rose, hoping the man tracks can prove their hypothesis of a young Earth. The town has even produced its share of fake tracks—both dinosaur and human—which further confuse the issue.
But if there’s controversy among residents of Glen Rose between science and religion, it’s below the surface.
“MOST EVERYONE IN Glen Rose that I know believes man and dinosaurs coexisted,” Alice Lance tells me at the annual tractor pull. “The only conflict we have is when people move from metropolitan areas and have different value systems. I think some don’t have a strong [religious] belief system, and they’re more likely to go with science than faith.”
Biology teacher Wendy Thompson says that students sometimes ask about the exhibits, including “evidence” of human footprints alongside those of dinosaurs they’ve seen at the local Creation Evidence Museum, or ask questions informed by their religious views. One student recently told Thompson how she and her father reconciled evolution with the Genesis account. God created the sun and moon on the fourth day; before that, a “day,” the student reasoned, could have been millions of years long.
“I just listened to her,” Thompson says. “It’s kind of a touchy thing.”
Mary Adams, the niece of George Adams, who found the dinosaur tracks more than a century ago, recently delivered a presentation to youth at the First Baptist Church warning them against belief in evolution.
“If we were not created by God,” the 87-year-old Adams tells me, “there’s no one to whom we are accountable. We can live exactly as we please.”
Adams’ presentation described how she was raised in a church-going home and believed a literal interpretation of Genesis until college, when she accepted evolution instead. She left the church and was married, not entirely happily, to an atheist for 29 years. After their divorce she returned to Glen Rose and to the Lord.
She calls the theory of evolution “the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
For Adams, the idea that God may have worked the miracle of life through the mechanism of evolution, or that science explains “how” and religion explains “why,” doesn’t hold water. It’s “too much of a mixture,” she says.
“Mixing,” though, is how residents like Alice Lance reconcile science and religion.
“How long was that week [described in Genesis]?” Lance wonders. “Until the seasons were established, we don’t know how time would have operated. If you believe in a superior being, he could manipulate time.”
ACCORDING TO GEOLOGISTS, the rock layer near Glen Rose containing fossilized dinosaur footprints is 113 million years old. Dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago, about 60 million years before the earliest humans appeared. So what are the riverbed man tracks?
The answer comes from amateur paleontologist Glen Kuban, who’s studied those tracks since the ’80s. They’re actually more dinosaur tracks, Kuban says.
Fossilized tracks were formed when dinosaurs—in this case the herbivore Paluxysaurus (similar to the Brontosaurus you learned about in grade school) and carnivore Acrocanthosaurus (a smaller cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex)—left footprints in mud that dried and hardened. Later, a different type of sediment washed into the tracks and, over millions of years, turned to stone. Eventually rivers carved through the area and eroded the softer, later sediment, exposing the tracks.
Kuban, later joined by other paleontologists, determined that the “man” tracks are metatarsal prints made by dinosaurs that, instead of walking only on their toes, let their heels drop into the mud. The resulting elongated tracks appeared human-like, and the effect was compounded when mud collapsed over the toe impressions or sediment filled them in. Kuban has presented his work at conferences and published in scientific journals. Among paleontologists, the issue is settled: There are no man tracks.
Glen Rose residents are less sure.
“I’ll be honest,” Sue Bussey says. “Some of the tracks positively look like man tracks. But Dr. Baugh took us to see the McFall tracks, and they don’t look like a man’s track. There’s no definite toes. There’s a heel and an arch, but it’s very vague.”
Sue and her husband, Morris Bussey, run Bussey’s Something Special, a bed and breakfast inn just off the town square. A western-themed bedroom sports a list of “The Cowboy Ten Commandments.” (No. 10: “Don’t be hankerin’ for yer buddy’s stuff.”)
Sue’s referring to Carl Baugh, a Baptist minister who moved to Glen Rose in the early ’80s to research the man tracks. Convinced of their authenticity, he founded the Creation Evidence Museum to promote the idea that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, consistent with biblical timelines. The museum tends to attract more tourists and creationist pilgrims than locals.
“I’m religious,” Sue Bussey says, “and I know God made it all, but I don’t know or care if he made it in billions of years, or if he put time zones in there to make it look like billions of years.”
Morris Bussey runs the Stone Hut fossil shop in an old whiskey cabin close to the state park and the Creation Evidence Museum. Though his formal education stopped at sixth grade, Bussey knows a lot about fossils.
Unlike his wife, he’s not religious. “You ask me what I believe in, it’s the almighty dollar,” he says, pointing upward.
Over the years, the Busseys have learned from professional geologists and paleontologists. “One thing they taught us was about pseudofossils,” Sue says. “That’s a wannabe fossil. Either someone’s made it, which happens around here, or more likely it’s just a rock that looks like a fossil.”…
April 21, 2012
The most striking change in American society in the past generation—roughly since Ronald Reagan was elected President—has been the increase in the inequality of income and wealth. Timothy Noah’s “The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It” (Bloomsbury), a good general guide to the subject, tells us that in 1979 members of the much discussed “one per cent” got nine per cent of all personal income. Now they get a quarter of it. The gains have increased the farther up you go. The top tenth of one per cent get about ten per cent of income, and the top hundredth of one per cent about five per cent. While the Great Recession was felt most severely by those at the bottom, the recovery has hardly benefitted them. In 2010, ninety-three per cent of the year’s gains went to the top one per cent.
Since rich people are poorer in votes than they are in dollars, you’d think that, in an election year, the ninety-nine per cent would look to politics to get back some of what they’ve lost, and that inequality would be a big issue. So far, it hasn’t been. Occupy Wall Street and its companion movements briefly spurred President Obama to become more populist in his rhetoric, but there’s no sign that Occupy is going to turn into the kind of political force that the Tea Party movement has been. There was a period during the Republican primary campaign when Romney rivals like Newt Gingrich tried to take votes from the front-runner by bashing Wall Street and private equity, but that didn’t last long, either. Politics does feel sour and contentious in ways that seem to flow from the country’s economic distress. Yet much of the ambient discontent is directed toward government—the government that kept the recession from turning into a depression. Why isn’t politics about what you’d expect it to be about?
Traditionally, class figured less in politics in America than in most other Western countries, supposedly because the United States, though more economically unequal, and rougher in tone, was more socially equal, more diverse, more democratic, and better at giving ordinary people the opportunity to rise. That’s what Alexis de Tocqueville found in the eighteen-thirties, and the argument has had staying power. It has also been wearing thin. During the five decades from 1930 to 1980, economic inequality decreased significantly, without imperilling “American exceptionalism.” So it’s especially hard to put a good face on the way inequality has soared in the decades since. Even if you think that all a good society requires is—according to the debatable conservative mantra—equal opportunity for every citizen, you ought to be a little shaken right now. Opportunity is increasingly tied to education, and educational performance is tied to income and wealth. When it comes to social mobility between generations, the United States ranks near the bottom of developed nations.
Like the competitors on cooking-contest TV shows, writers who are presented with these socioeconomic ingredients do quite different things with them analytically, but nobody approves of the situation and almost everybody blames the élite. Charles Murray points out, in his new book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010” (Crown Forum), that indices of social disorganization at the bottom of the income distribution—imprisonment, joblessness, divorce, out-of-wedlock childbearing—have been rising substantially. “Coming Apart” reprises elements from all Murray’s previous books, most notably “Losing Ground,” from 1984, which counterpoised a liberal élite and a socially dysfunctional underclass, but the differences are telling. In “Losing Ground,” the underclass being examined was mainly black, and the argument was that the élite had helped to create that underclass by enacting social-welfare programs. Poor people reacted to their perverse incentives by losing an ethic of work and family, and the social fabric of their communities disintegrated. But the social program that was the main villain of “Losing Ground,” Aid to Families with Dependent Children, doesn’t exist anymore, and Murray no longer blames misguided policies for the behavioral problems of the poor.
Instead, the malign influence of the élite is purely a matter of ethos, or moral tone-setting. The élite—who, in Murray’s account, live in unprecedented geographic and social isolation from poor and working people—are themselves hardworking, unlikely to divorce, dedicated to their children, and even comparatively religious, but, unlike the élite of Victorian England, they don’t “preach what they practice.” Somehow this manifests itself in the breakdown of social mores at the opposite end of society.
“Coming Apart” is, in effect, an analysis of inequality that rules out a program of redistribution. In Murray’s view, trying to shift resources away from the élite wouldn’t do much good, because (as Murray and Richard Herrnstein argued, in far more detail, in “The Bell Curve”) the élite are genetically endowed with higher intelligence: as long as the United States is a meritocratic society, and as long as these people keep meeting at selective colleges, marrying, and improving their breeding stock, they’ll keep doing better than everybody else. Anyway, what the non-élite need isn’t money, Murray thinks; it’s better values. Very little of “Coming Apart” is devoted to government policy.
Murray’s élite live in an archipelago of “SuperZips,” mainly blue-state inner-ring suburbs, like Chevy Chase, Maryland. They are a type that sounds awfully familiar: Obama-supporting, kitchen-renovating professionals with graduate degrees, who, unable to rest comfortably in the knowledge that they have passed economically dispositive high I.Q.s on to their children at conception, obsess relentlessly over education. In David Rothkopf’s “Power, Inc.” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), we encounter an even more exalted “Superclass”—a group Rothkopf introduced in a previous book by that title—whose members are the sort of people one might encounter at the World Economic Forum, in Davos. They are rich, rooted primarily in global banking and business rather than in any particular communities or set of social values, and ideologically committed to unimpeded markets above all else. Unlike Murray’s élite, they are not merely the product of inexorable natural processes. They flourish in a world they deliberately built for themselves, by expertly altering the rules. Rothkopf, who was a Deputy Under-Secretary of Commerce during the Clinton Administration and is now a globe-trotting consultant, writes as a quasi-penitent member of this group.
Rothkopf’s book is astonishingly ambitious. It traces the relationship between state and market—a relationship that, he says, has succeeded the relationship between church and state as the dominant conflict in societies—from the thirteenth century to the present. During the past thirty years, he says, we’ve adopted the view that politics and markets were actually allied: freedom in one realm meant freedom in the other. The result of this idea, along with the increasing influence of business within both political parties, was a series of policies that deregulated national currencies and banking systems and enabled the globalized economy of the Superclass.
Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of people still live in specific places and depend on local and national governments for social benefits, beginning with items as basic as stable currencies. Globalization, in its present form, strengthens a cadre of very large businesses that Rothkopf calls “supercitizens,” and diminishes government, which is becoming, in his nice phrase, “too small to succeed.” The result is that “there has been a decoupling of the interests of supercitizens and those of the ordinary people around them, between those who represent the views of people who must necessarily live within borders and those for whom borders no longer have meaning, between those who require jobs and capital flows and those who view people, villages, cities, and states as economic options, part of a constantly changing calculus in which efficiencies and profits rule.”
Rothkopf writes as a grand strategist, not as a reporter, but there are a few moments in his book when he visits members of the Superclass whom he obviously knows from having worked with them. Both Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers explain to him that the globalization and deregulation of finance that they helped to bring about when they were in government was a historical inevitability, not a policy choice. And Hank Greenberg, of A.I.G., bitterly describes the government’s rescue of his company, in September of 2008, as having been simply a way of protecting the interests of Goldman Sachs, which had a substantial stake in A.I.G.’s fate. Rothkopf doesn’t get very specific about what he proposes to do to reverse the power imbalance between governments and markets, but he makes it clear that he thinks that political decisions created the present situation and that only different political decisions will alleviate it…
April 21, 2012
In the mid-nineteenth century, the Scottish man of letters Thomas Carlyle coined the term “hero-worship,” by which he meant the high regard, entirely proper in his view, that ordinary people have for the great figures of their history. His project in Lectures on Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1841) was to restore greatness to dignity in an age he believed had come to belittle the very possibility of exceptional human achievement.
Carlyle claimed, on the contrary, “Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the History of the Great Men who have worked here. . . . ; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men sent into the world.”
Each of Carlyle’s lectures takes up one of the “Six classes of Heroes” he identifies: the hero as divinity, prophet, poet, priest, man of letters, and king. He suggests that the times in which one lives have some bearing on the type of hero who steps forward: the hero-divinity seems to be a figure belonging to the pagan past and is unlikely to resurface. Nevertheless, Carlyle argues vehemently against the proposition that the times make the man. He points to the numerous manifest historical instances in which a people was in desperate need of a hero and didn’t get one—to their ruin. Heroes, he insists, appear on their own schedule.
Carlyle seems to regard heroism as an essential property: The greatness of the heroic type will always express itself, but it manifests itself in a form appropriate to its time. One age’s prophet is another age’s playwright is another’s king. A young person destined for greatness will find a proper avenue for its expression and travel down it. What distinguished Muhammad and Samuel Johnson from their respective contemporaries was greatness or heroism. What distinguished them from each other was that the seventh century was ripe for a prophet, the eighteenth for a literary lion.
Carlyle professed himself to be certain of the ultimate success of his project to rehabilitate greatness, the veneration of which he considered innate to mankind. He refers to the “indestructibility of Hero-worship”:
We all love great men; love, venerate and bow down submissive before great men: nay can we honestly bow down to anything else? Ah, does not every true man feel that he is himself made higher by doing reverence to what is really above him? . . . And to me it is very cheering to consider that no sceptical logic, or general triviality, insincerity and aridity of any Time and its influences can destroy this noble inborn loyalty and worship that is in man. In times of unbelief, which soon have to become times of revolution, much down-rushing, sorrowful decay and ruin is visible to everybody. For myself in these days, I seem to see in this indestructibility of Hero-worship the everlasting adamant lower than which the confused wreck of revolutionary things cannot fall. Carlyle was a romantic; he was not a systematic thinker, and in keeping with both his romanticism and his theme—praise of hero worship—he had a tendency to gush. But he had genuine hold of a serious problem of his time and ours—the modern world’s egalitarian distrust of claims of greatness and heroism.
In our age of wiki-culture, you don’t need to be a hero to all to be a hero to many.
Carlyle was not anti-modern. There is certainly a large helping of Enlightenment modernity in his proposition that the figure “[w]e all” properly “love, venerate and bow down submissive before” is not God or the king, but a certain type of human being. Yet Carlyle clearly has a foot in both the piety of the ancient world and the humanism of the modern. He wants to retain the qualities of reverence (“love, venerate and bow down”) historically associated with belief in God. But he seeks to abstract them into a generic “Hero-worship” characteristic of all times and places. He does so in an effort to counter the ascendant “sceptical logic,” “unbelief,” and decadent “revolution” swirling all around him.
He wants to save the modern world from its leveling tendencies, to keep a place in it for due regard for greatness, or the heroic. Clearly, he refers to “every true man [emphasis added]” feeling himself “made higher by doing reverence to what is really above him” in order to evade the manifest fact that many of his contemporaries and ours, in the egalitarian spirit of the age, flatly rejected the proposition that there was or is anyone (or anything) “above” them before whom they should “bow down submissive.”
Notwithstanding the bravado of its author, Carlyle’s project was a failure. He recurs to the abstract coinage “Hero-worship” at the historical moment when “bow[ing] down submissive” is finished. An indication of the extent to which the man was overmatched by his times comes in ironic form from the resilience of his term hero worship, which remains common in discourse nearly two hundred years later. Carlyle wrote in praise of “Hero-worship.” Today, hero worship is something parents tell children, teachers tell students, and friends admonish each other not to engage in.
Is the modern world really worse-off for its unwillingness to worship heroes—or leaving worship aside, at least to acknowledge that some individuals, by dint of superior achievement, have a superior claim on our respect and admiration?…
April 21, 2012
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.