2002/09/29
 
01:38

Violence and Genius

In some recent blogs, I've made reference to Wile E. Coyote, the mad genius of the Roadrunner cartoons who is best known for plummeting from cliffs and acquiring the characteristics of an accordion. I guess it's clear by now that I never identified with the Roadrunner, whose solution to everything was to run away. Even in my early years I thought that the coyote was a wonderful role model: he was extremely smart and he never gave up. As a young lad I focused on those qualities and never worried about his monomania or his unjustified reliance on the Acme corporation.

You may not believe this, but I remember reading a comic book where the coyote actually caught the Roadrunner (or, perhaps, one of his siblings). In that story, he cooked up the bird and discovered that it tasted awful. This story might not be canonical, but to me it speaks volumes.

Incidentally, this reminds me of a tale my father once related to me. He was on a hunting trip with a guide in north-eastern Ontario and he spied a loon. I love loons and so does my father, but after trekking through the bush for a long time my father figured that he should shoot something. The guide wasn't about to pass moral judgement, but he did put things in some kind of perspective. He explained the proper way to cook a loon for dinner: "Put the loon in a pot with a rock. Boil it until the rock is soft. Then eat the rock."

The overt message is that loons are tough and tasteless, but I think the guide was also trying to indicate that we should respect loons, as opposed to putting bullets in them.

As much as I admire Wile E. Coyote, I can't help but think that he could have used his genius in more productive ways. In a recent blog, I proposed the idea that we are drawn to killing because it's easy to keep score of our successes. I don't want to stretch this analysis too much, but I'm reminded of the Simpsons episode where Marge forces the producers of the violent Itchy and Scratchy cartoon to be civil: the result is presented as insipid and boring.

We have no shortage of clever people. I only wish that more of them could emulate Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. When he created this substance, he figured that it would make life better. In many ways it has, but he also saw how it was used for ill purposes. In an effort to make restitution, he used his earnings to establish the Nobel Prizes. I like to think that he has vindicated his peaceful intentions.

The world needs geniuses. We can only hope that those geniuses are more like Nobel.

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