Back in the day — yes, that day — when I thought I knew everything, or at least everything I needed to know at that moment, evolution and erosion seemed like fairly simple concepts. People evolved; the planet eroded; life proceeded apace. Simple. What don't you understand about that?
But someone, maybe Albert Einstein — though given the quaint, archaic, journalistic hangup about getting quotes right I'm not about to put my neck on the line and say it was him — said something like, "All major breakthroughs occur at the borders of known science when some smart cookie bridges the gap between what's known in two different disciplines." Of course, if, and I'm not stating it as a fact, but if it was Einstein who said something like that, he said it with something like an Austrian accent which is devilishly hard to get across in print. So use your imagination.
I wasn't thinking particularly about either earth science or human evolution the day I finally grasped both the profundity of that idea and the oversimplification of my understanding of the difference between erosion and evolution. I was eating lunch... hanging from a rope... dangling more feet above the ground than I ever want to fall... on a mountain. Eating lunch under those circumstances is more likely to lead to indigestion and numb legs than it is to deep thought but then, it was an extraordinary day.
A loud "crack," reminiscent of thunder and lightning occurring so close to where you are standing — or hanging, as the case may be — that there is no discernible gap between your perception of the two, broke my monotonous, cowlike grazing and I spun around in my sling to witness, for the first and only time in my life, massive erosion taking place in real time. A flake of granite the size of a small subdivision, having not moved for maybe a couple of million years, secure in its relationship with the other granite around it since before tectonic forces thrust it up off prehistoric seabed, chose that precise moment to give itself over to gravity.
It slid down the face of a well-climbed route on a snaggletooth spire of rock called, unimaginatively, The Spire, broke into innumerable smaller pieces when it met the rocky approach slope below, dislodged several times its bulk and weight in other rocks, trees and earth, and tumbled ass over teakettle down the draw for a couple of hundred yards. It all took 15 seconds, maybe 20 — time having, metaphorically, stood still — and with the billowing cloud of dust it threw up still swirling in the air, silence returned to the mountain. Silence punctuated only by an insignificant cry of, "Hey Zeus Christo!"
When tranquility returned and the dust had settled, there was a new, boulder-strewn approach route to that aspect of The Spire. There were several new, unclimbed routes on the final third of its rise. In climbing terms, the mountain had, I realized, evolved. The weathering process of erosion had created new, exciting opportunities. I'd be ready to accept the challenge as soon as I changed my pants... and finished my lunch, which now tasted kind of dusty.
My partner and I decided to continue on with our climb. We rationalized, in our anthropomorphic way, the mountain would have wanted us to continue. Okay, we really hated down-climbing.
Belaying my partner, I began to wonder about my former distinction between erosion and evolution. I began, specifically, to wonder whether if, as I'd just witnessed, erosion could be evolution, might it not work the other way? If the earth can evolve, why can't humanity erode.
It was an Ah-Ha moment. It explained so much. It explained Nixon and Vietnam — both hot topics at that moment — it explained the stubborn determination with which racial prejudice continued to be a day-to-day blight; it explained the growing religious intolerance and tribal conflict that seemed to spread like wildfire across vast swaths of so-called civilization. Homo Sapiens had ceased to evolve and were, in fact, eroding. Our final demise was more likely to be a whimper than a bang. We'd seen the enemy and they were us.
As I've aged, I've decided that insight also explains, among other things, the continuing war on drugs and, if I'm not mistaken, the weird assault being waged on speeding drivers by our local-ish RCMP, with the blessing and active participation of whatever governmental department sets speed limits on our roads and penalties for their breach.
I think it was Mark Twain who said, "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." Or maybe it was someone else. Does it really matter?
One of the lies fuelling the foolish assault against speeding is, perhaps, truthful, as far as it goes. It says some number, half or better, of all collisions involve excess speed. Since half or more involve speed, why not crack down on speed? Well two reasons come to mind. First, the gap between involvement and causation is considerably wider than that between evolution and erosion. And let's try to be honest for a moment, what we really should be trying to do is reduce the number of physics experiments on the road, the ones where two vehicles try to occupy the same space at the same time.
Speed doesn't cause those collisions. Some small subset of the half involving speed do but the vast majority don't. Inattention does. Distraction, its kissin' cousin, does. Alcohol does. Drugs do.
But speed is an easy target. It doesn't take anything more sophisticated than radar to catch speeders. And with the ridiculous speed limits posted on much of the Sea-to-Sky Highway, catching speeders is like shooting fish in a barrel. That's the second reason, by the way.
The stretch of highway near Whistler Olympic Park is prime fishin' grounds. Virtually the only stretch of straight, four-lane road between here and Vancouver, its 80km/h speed limit is quickly giving it the kind of reputation certain southern U.S. towns used to enjoy as revenue-generating speed traps.
Except in those backward towns, the sheriff only took your money. In supernatural B.C., if you're going fast enough, we take your car. For a week. With nothing approaching due process. And with — far too often — attitude better reserved for child molesters.
Six hundred million Olympic dollars have vastly improved the safety of the StoS. Modern cars and trucks handle better than ones made even five years ago. Speed limits seem to be stuck somewhere near the dark ages. And some RCMP officers' bullyboy attitude described by those dumb enough to nudge 120km/h on that stretch is, unfortunately, all too common on the force these days.
I'm not seeing a lot of evidence of evolution on this front.
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