In 1996, environmental author Daniel Quinn, in describing man's gradual harming of the planet, wrote:
If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.
The parable of the boiling frog is hundreds of years old. Numerous experiments have been done over the years to determine if it is true. Some scientists found they could do it, while others claimed the frog would always jump out of the water. It became clear that the most relevant factor was the speed at which the water was heated. When the water was heated extremely slowly, the frog could be unwittingly boiled alive.
The significance of the story of the boiling frog is certainly not the mythology around its veracity, but its usefulness as a metaphor for so many circumstances in life when people are unwilling or unable to react effectively to crises that occur very gradually or imperceptibly. This metaphor has been used about various slippery slope situations throughout history, such as global warming, the Cold War, why women stay in abusive relationships, and the slow erosion of civil rights.
We currently have what I consider fast erosion of civil rights in this country, perpetrated by Republicans, and they don't even have fig leaves over themselves in their culpability. But many Americans seem to perceive it as much slower erosion than it is, if they perceive it at all. For many Americans, it is all someone else's drama, or they are "too busy" to pay attention to politics. The ostrich with its head in the sand is sometimes used synonymously with the boiling frog metaphor, but to me they seem a bit different, as the ostrich is making a choice in a way that the frog isn't. Given the erosion of women's reproductive rights, minority voting rights, the rights of individuals versus corporations, needed environmental protections, and so many other casualties of the slow-burn abuses of Republican political power in this country, I am not sure on any given day whether average Americans have their heads buried deliberately in the sand, or whether they are falling asleep happily in the warm baths inside their own bubbles.
Either way, we most certainly do have massive erosion going on -- from beach dunes to all manner of human rights. As Paul Krugman wrote in 2009, referring to the economy as well as the environment:
The hypothetical boiled frog is a useful metaphor for a very real problem: the difficulty of responding to disasters that creep up on you a bit at a time. And creeping disasters are what we mostly face these days.
But I would argue that the GOP has begun to turn up the temperature on the pots of water a bit too quickly, ensuring the frogs will jump out. Watching the gathering protests and escalating anger in Texas, Ohio and North Carolina these past two weeks, where women's reproductive rights have been assaulted in abrupt, sneaky and heinous ways that no frogs could sleep through, has given me hope that people are paying more attention. Finally! Raise your hand if you think Republicans are pulling the wool over anyone's eyes as to why, for example, they are legislating TRAP laws to upgrade abortion clinics to ambulatory surgical centers. Congressmen, get out of here with that bullshit. The blatant strategy of shutting down the clinics to reduce access to abortion under the guise of seeking a higher level of care for women is laughable in a sardonic and I-might-just-kick-you-in-the-crotch sort of way.
The Tea Party may be aghast at the fall of DOMA, but the rest of their agenda -- banning abortion, increasing the wealth gap, chipping away at environmental regulations, getting more whites (and fewer minorities) to the polls, and in so many other ways keeping a death grip on power in this country -- is going to be their undoing. They are too giddy and delusional with anticipated victory in the culture wars. They're getting too sure of themselves and their version of God. They've woken a sleeping giant, not a harmless frog. I realize I'm using a lot of clichés and dark humor here. It's hard to deal with my resentment any other way.
But I get to have hope, don't I? Despite voter suppression, the demographics are changing rapidly in this country. How long can minority voting be stemmed by a white finger in the dike? Women are facing a backlash the likes of which they have not seen in over forty years, putting on the line not only their Constitutionally guaranteed reproductive rights, but all of the other rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that hinge upon being in control of their own childbearing. The poor have become a permanent and growing underclass, joined by many former members of the middle class. The opportunities for upward mobility are being slowly shut off for all of them. And, Mother Nature is not only weeping, she is angry. It will all be in her hands in the end.
The dinosaurs are dying out but they don't know it. Only humans are aware of their own mortality. It will be a violent, thrashing death, but death will come. Most Republicans will soon be inescapably part of a new minority, but they'll be ok and they'll be treated humanely. They'll just have to share a little.
I can't wait.