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By Robert A. Vella

Bigger is always better, right?  Most of us wouldn’t say so, but oftentimes what we say doesn’t match how we act.  And, it is our individual and collective behaviors which belie our expressed sentiments.

Are we not enthralled by our biggest celebrities?  Do we not adorn our biggest heroes?  Are we not proud of our biggest buildings and bridges?  Do we not admire, even if secretly, our biggest accumulators of wealth?  And, what about the biggest of all biggies?  Do we not worship He who supposedly created and oversees all things?

Of course we do.  From the high school cheerleader who is enamored by her team’s star quarterback, to the cranky old neocon who boasts of his country’s biggest and baddest weapons, we are all guilty of amor magnitudinis (bigly-philia in Trump-speak) to one degree or another.

Our obsession with bigness is deeply rooted in our competitive nature and our instinct for survival.  Sibling rivalry often manifests itself as feuding over the most desired foods and the largest portions.  This psychology can persist into adulthood, and restauranteurs exploit it with offers of decadent treats and huge meals which most people cannot consume in a single outing (nor should they even try to).  So too does the schoolyard bully exhibit self-gratifying behavior which serves no other purpose, and society reinforces this desire for dominance through the allures of sports, military service, law enforcement, business, politics, and other activities.

Still, bigness is a risky evolutionary strategy.  Just as the Cretaceous dinosaurs and Pleistocene megafauna became too big for their britches and succumbed to even bigger environmental challenges, we Homo sapiens appear headed towards a similar fate.  The inherent problem of being big and arrogant is that someone or something bigger and more powerful will inevitably be encountered.

The aforementioned President Trump is a good example.  His megalomaniacal ego is undeniably huge (although a particular part of his anatomy is reportedly not so prodigious), and it could potentially wreck great destruction upon humanity.  One careless move on the nuclear trigger could be most calamitous.  More unwise geopolitical moves could make severely strained international relations even worse.  More divisive domestic moves could irreversibly fracture American cultural cohesion already shaken by increasing polarization.  More resistance to climate change mitigation could push catastrophic global warming past the point of no return.

And, think about this.  Trump is only one man.  There are well over 7 billion of us now.  Although the scale of Trump’s bigness is an exception, the cumulative effects of all our individual bigness is a truly mighty and stubborn force.  It certainly aided in the success of our species, but it also might cause our downfall.

I remember being fascinated with astronomy as a child (I still am), and stellar classification was a particular interest.  What really captivated me were the massive supergiant and hypergiant stars like Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion.  If that star was in our solar system, its surface would extend almost to the orbit of Jupiter.  Now that’s big!  However, such enormous and powerful stars don’t live very long – only a few million years or so.  Compared to our Sun, an average-size middle-age star with an active lifetime of billions of years, Betelgeuse is like that 1950s Hollywood icon James Dean who’s life was as brief as it was brilliant.  Red dwarf stars survive even longer than the Sun, in the trillions of years.  If I had instead been infatuated with longevity and stability, I would have been more captivated by these small stars such as our neighbor Barnard’s Star.

But, I wasn’t.  I’m human, and couldn’t resist the attraction of bigness.

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19 thoughts on “Bigger is Better (and other nonsense)

  1. I’ve always liked insects, moths in particular. Actually, I like the moth caterpillars the most and the bigger the better. Luna moths and Cecropia moths and their larvae are awesome. The Cecropia moth caterpillar is YUGE! It has 4 horns on its head that it sticks out at you when frightened. Its harmless, but scary looking anyway. So, for me, the bigger the moth and its caterpillar, the more I liked it and sought to find it. I’ve not seen a Luna moth or a Cecropia moth in decades. I used to see them even in the city, but, nowadays, I’m sure they’re only gonna be found in forest preserve areas of Chicago. So, yeah, I liked my bugs big. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cool! My neighbor’s big healthy peppermint plant started dying last fall and we couldn’t figure out why. When I spread the leaves and branches apart to see the hidden interior of the plant, I found it was massively infested with bright-green squirming moth larvae! There must have been at least 50 of those critters in there! It was kinda gross picking them up with my fingers cuz their bodies undulated weirdly!

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  2. Robert, if what you say is true and we humans are attracted to “bigness” in all of the variety of forms, then we can only counter this defect (as presented in your post) by changing our mindset. As Mordanicus notes, we would need a “big mind.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s fairly clear that changing our mindset has become an imperative. However, I wouldn’t describe our attraction to bigness as a “defect.” From an evolutionary perspective, it probably gave us humans an advantage for most of our history. With the advent of industrialization/globalization, however, it became obsolete and turned into a liability.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t want to be argumentative, but since I was a little boy I’ve been enamored off and fascinated by butterflies, preying mantises, dragonflies, ants, bees and tiny animals like chipmunks and squirrels.

    I’m fascinated by huge celestial bodies, but I think it’s more about the strangeness and long distance (and potential for other forms of life) than by actual size. And I like the idea of living on a large piece of land, but I’d like a small house.

    I guess I’d have to say I do fall for that way of thinking sometimes. I love the Grand Canyon, mountain ranges (although interesting shapes are more important than size) and waterfalls. I also love color – as in flowers, rainbows and autumn trees.

    I don’t know. I’m a little confused now. 😆

    Interesting post, regardless. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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