17 January 2011

An Immodest Proposal ~ Thank Some Non-Veteran for Their Service

My oldest son Douglas is a college senior majoring in biology and environmental sciences. We spent the afternoon working out some of the material infrastructure for his senior research project - which has something to do with the feeding habits of local birds (of which there are, here in our neck of Western NY, a remarkable variety of species - look here and here, for instance). It was fun spending time and witnessing him thinking the project through a bit.

Once Doug headed back to his apartment I came across this post - "Dying for Discovery" - at The New York Times. It recounts the risks and sacrifices that naturalists have made studying things like birds over the years. The author than remarks:
"We go to great lengths commemorating soldiers who have died fighting wars for their countries. Why not do the same for the naturalists who still sometimes give up everything in the effort to understand life?"
He goes on ". . . it also occurs to me that they might prefer to be remembered some other way than on a stone monument, or on paper" and suggests that some of the research done by naturalists (who happened to lose their lives on a research trip) in Amazonia prompted Peru and Bolivia to establish large national Parks to protect wild habitats and species.

I often complain that we disproportionately honor those who have gone off to kill or who have been killed in war. I think this post is important for reminding us that there surely are other domains of endeavor in which individuals risk their lives and who deserve our gratitude and admiration.

I find it obsequious and cloying to hear the radio show hosts and politicians offering a "Thank you for your service" whenever they encounter a veteran or military personnel. What about the social workers and parole officers and teachers and, yes, scientists and artists, who work in underpaid professions for years and decades in order to contribute to a better world? After all, they could be out there peddling sub-prime mortgages (or some other form of snake oil) and making real money. When was the last time you heard someone - anyone - publicly thank those folks for their service? No, instead we are taking aim at them (the teachers and parole officers are, after all members of those dastardly public sector unions) in the misguided quest for fiscal responsibility.

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