Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shifting the Paradigm

I recently finished reading Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. I'm not usually a novel reader, but I am trying to expand my literary horizons and it was recommended to me by a trusted friend, so I decided to give it a try.

It is the story of Mary Anning, a working-class girl from England who (true story, dramatized for the purposes of the novel) found the first complete fossil specimens that led scientists to begin to consider the idea of extinction and evolution in the nineteenth century. I had read a children's book about Mary Anning a couple of years ago, so it was interesting to read a more adult rendition of her life.

One of the things that struck me most about the book was the characters' understandings of the broad implications of Mary's finds. Up until that time, at least in Europe among Christian people, it was thought that the world was just two thousand years old and the Bible was a historical text describing the creation of the world in seven, twenty-four hour days. Finding the remains of creatures that no longer existed was a huge blow to the accepted order of things, because it implied that some creatures had become extinct - did God make a mistake when He created them? Why would he do that? It also implied that the world was much, much older than had previously been thought. Accepting these new ideas took a huge leap of faith and logic and did not come easily.

From the perspective of this twenty-first century blogger, the paradigm shift that occurred as a result of these finds is obvious, and happened quite quickly. Very few people today still believe in the Bible as a literal text, and though some people still cling to creationism it is no longer a scientifically-accepted explanation for the beginnings of the Universe. However, from the perspective of a nineteenth-century English peasant who was picking up curiosities on the beach after a storm, these realizations must have completely rocked her world to the core. Everything she believed, everything she thought she knew to be true, completely upended.

It just makes you think how quickly paradigm shifts really take place, even though they don't seem to be quick when you're in the middle of them. I believe we are at that point now on our planet, where a shift is taking place from consumerism to sustainability. It seems to be frustratingly slow, but really, it is happening fast enough, faster than we think.

I am a scholar-turned-mother/activist who is interested in sustainable living and social justice. I have published a number of articles and given presentations internationally on the topics of voluntary simplicity and humane parenting. Learn more at my website www.beautifulfriendships.net.

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