by Martin Boksenbaum —
It’s amazing to me that Dante’s Peak, a mediocre commercial catastrophe movie, could have one of the most important political messages I’ve heard in the movies. Pierce Brosnan’s character is trying to convince his boss, who is in denial, of ever-growing indications that volcanic activity is building toward a devastating eruption. In an effort to get his boss to take action, he tells him of a scientific experiment involving frogs.
“Rather than being blinded by our fears, we need to become more informed and to think more clearly about what is really going on…”
If a frog is placed in boiling water, he says, it immediately jumps out and saves its life. But if you put it in room-temperature water and gradually increase the temperature, the frog doesn’t register the growing danger and will sit there until it boils to death. Are we failing to register, to care, to take action about the crises we’re in—environmental, social, political—because conditions get just a little bit worse each time? It seems essential to me that we learn from the frog’s mistake so that we become more sensitive to the gradually increasing levels of danger and become more receptive to taking action in our own self-interest.
But we also need to avoid the opposite mistake. We need to learn about what made buffalo jump to their death. Buffalo could be stampeded off cliffs by hunters making a lot of noise. The buffalo’s fear of an in-your-face danger was used to mislead them. It seems essential to me that we learn about the buffalo’s mistake that our panic can be used against us. Rather than being blinded by our fears, we need to become more informed and to think more clearly about what is really going on, so that we cannot be stampeded as many were by the shocks of terrorism and the “weapons of mass distraction” into calling for more of the wrong stuff.
by Martin Boksenbaum
Martin is a founding member of the Alliance.
(This essay was originally published in the Alliance’s 2004 Directory of Organizations That Promote Sustainable Communities.)