My workplace is located on the outskirts of Richmond, Virginia, in an affluent suburb recently bulldozed out of woods and farmland. It is an area where upscale yuppie housing mingles with office parks occupied by finance companies, insurance agencies, and high-tech firms.
One of the features of these office parks is the elegantly landscaped pond or lake, often with a fountain in the center and surrounded by brick sidewalks and ornamental shrubbery. In the architects’ sketches well-dressed office workers stroll among the glassy high-rises, all reflected perfectly on the surface of the adjacent lake.
And one of the unintended consequences of these artificial wetlands is Branta canadensis, commonly known as the Canada Goose.
Geese find suburban lakes particularly attractive. There they have no natural predators, and are protected by law, so that the only risk they face is being run over on the nearby roads. The well-watered lawns and cultivated flowerbeds afford them tasty delicacies, even if kind-hearted animal lovers don’t toss food to them.
So why should they leave? Migrate, schmigrate! These geese stay year ’round, strutting and fretting and honking and flapping. And hatching goslings — lots and lots of ugly little goslings.
I remember when I was a kid, Canada geese were a rarity. Occasionally in the fall or spring a migrating flock would go honking overhead, trailing their characteristic V-formation past the treetops. So beautiful and so romantic! And when a flock landed on somebody’s pond for an overnight stay, it was a real treat.
But not anymore.
I thought about all this yesterday afternoon when I looked out my office window and saw a huge flock of geese outside, crowding the lawn and the parking lot and crapping all over the sidewalk. Their green turds are everywhere, turning the lake a muddy olive color and causing a miasma of stench to hang over the area near the water. The scattered droppings make us do a little dance of avoidance on our way to the front door.
And these geese have nasty tempers. When they raise goslings in the spring they are particularly likely to attack the unwary pedestrian if he strays too close. Never would rough men in camouflage and hip boots and carrying shotguns be more welcome!
So it’s no wonder that they’re considered pests now, and almost universally loathed by those who have to spend any time among them. They may be prettier than cockroaches or rats, but they’re a lot bigger and a lot more visible. There’s even a service called Canada Goose Management, dedicated to keeping these oversized pigeons under control. Just call 1-866-POOP BE Gone!
But guess what? The Canada Goose is protected by law, and you can’t just shoot the buggers and be done with it. You have to scare them away with loudspeakers or fireworks or something, making sure to follow the Geneva Convention so that your treatment of them never rises to the level of torture.
All this is because the Canada Goose was an endangered species forty years ago. As a result, laws were enacted to protect them, and the wildlife management folks made a massive effort to rebuild the population. Why, flocks of them were even imported into Europe — can you imagine?
In addition, their habitat had to be protected, and so the notorious process of “wetlands preservation” began. Time was, draining swamps contributed to the public health and was considered a civic duty. But nowadays if water stands in a low spot long enough to hatch mosquito larvae, Uncle Sam stands ready to bring the full force of the federal government to bear on the unlucky property owner who tries to do anything about it.
So we’re in the ridiculous situation of having to endure a noxious nuisance, restrained by law from taking action. And the geese are bad for our health — when their excrement gets tracked into our buildings and dries out, it enters the ventilation system as dust and becomes dangerous for asthmatics and people with other respiratory problems.
This is a paradigm for our times writ small: continue to follow outdated rules, ones formulated long ago. So what if the situation they apply to no longer exists? Ignore the detrimental effects of what we do — we have good intentions; isn’t that enough? The high-minded elites know what’s best for us, particularly when they don’t have to hang out with the damned geese themselves.
Now think of the same paradigm writ large. Think of the terrorists on whose conversations we may not eavesdrop. Think of the murderous mujahideen who must be treated with kid gloves, given three squares and a soft bed, and then released back into the wild. These Islamist geese will do more than crap on our sidewalks if we let them go.
Because I say such things, you know that I must be a racist.
You’d better hope that William Blake was right when he said, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” You’d better hope that the fool who persists in his folly becomes wise.
Because as long as we persist in applying trivial rules to our current circumstances, we put ourselves in grave danger.
And all because of rules formulated long ago, when gentlemen fought civilized wars with each other and did not read each other’s mail. Back in those days we played by the rules because the enemy did, too, or at least mostly. Back then there were no terrorists with VX gas or dirty bombs. Back then there were scarcely any terrorists at all, and the few that existed confined themselves to Russia or the Rub al-Khali.
But not anymore.