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Wishful Thinking

July 8, 2010

I used to be a magical thinker many years ago. Whenever I wished for something I would keep looking at the road side while sitting on the backseat of my parents’ car or when I was walking home from school, hoping to spot the object of my dreams.

For many years I badly wished for a tortoise or a turtle to come into my life, just waiting for me at the side of the road. As I used to find coins just about twice a month, I reckoned I could stumble upon animals just as easily. Animals longing to let go of their wild nature, willing to become my companion and just waiting for me to come by.

It never happened. (It should also be noted that my dream to stumble upon a tame specimen of Gallimimus at the side of the road never came true.) I never found a turtle at the side of the road.

Until today. A dream came true, but it had unnoticedly turned into a nightmare. When I walked out the door this morning I caught sight of about four centimeters of what seemed to resemble a six-legged crab. As I got closer I could make out that one of the legs was actually a tail and another was a head on a long neck. Closer yet I recognized it as a tiny turtle standing squarely on the right side of my path.

dead turtle

Noticing an ant crawling on its eye I realized that it was dead. Its limbs had not completely stiffened yet when I picked it up to move its body off the street and onto the sidewalk where I went on to take a picture of a shattered dream.

In an attempt to stretch this story into a metaphor for something more dramatic than the mere death of critter—albeit a cute one—I chose “Wishful Thinking” as the title for this entry. Although this story is not representative of anything in particular, it did remind me of what I recently read on Magical Thinking in Derrick Jensen’s “What We Leave Behind”.

(There’s much I disagree with when it comes to Jensen’s worldview, but this section is quite powerful.)

Are you a magical thinker? I know that too often I am. With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, let’s play a little game.

If you put a bumper sticker on you hybrid Prius that reads Visualize World Peace in the hope this will bring about world peace, you might just be a magical thinker.

If you buy a hybrid Prius in the hope this will slow global warming, you might just be a magical thinker.

[...]

If you think buying compact fluorescent light bulbs will slow global warming, you might just be a magical thinker.

[...]

If you think this culture will stop killing the planet without being force-fully stopped, you might just be delusional, and if you don’t act to stop this culture, then you will be failing in your responsibility as a living being (p.224/5).

“Ugh, did he just really turn a story about a rotting turtle into an environmental protection guilt-fest?”—so it seems. What I was aiming for was that: remembering my innocent dreaming and my firm believe that watching just closely enough will make the unlikely more likely, in the face of the distasteful partial manifestation of that dream demonstrated just how unsatisfying Wishful Thinking can be. Observing the road side would have only increased my chance of discovering unpleasant road-kills. My convenient idea of looking out for what is easiest to spot just addressed the wrong problem (turtles aren’t the type to lurk at the side of roads) and at the same time left me unsatisfied. I think I’m eventually driving the point home: attempting to solve the wrong problem is unrewarding in every way.

If you think our culture will survive if only we could manage to find an alternative to cheap oil, you might just be a magical thinker—or you might be part of the actual problem.

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