I’m mainly a visual person. I’m much more distracted by, for instance, a butterfly wafting by than a truck backfiring. Like nearly everyone, I love music. But I don’t go out of my way to hear it nearly so much as do many others. But there are sounds that I love: Simple sounds. That is why the poem itself needs to be short and neat. Those are the kinds of sounds I’m talking about. Discrete.
And some of these sounds I think I inherited a love for. Others, I grew to love. And some sounds I believe have elements of innate beauty and of learned significance. The sound of a well-hit baseball is satisfying in some deep sense over and above the significance in terms of the game. It has a resonance of beauty beyond the even more important sense that it shows what humans are capable of. All of us feel pride when we watch an athlete perform some amazing feat of strength and skill and training and will and concentration all coming down to a moment of truth and *CRACK!* there it is and you know long before it clears the fence because you heard the Home Run first.
So, there’s that. But I can’t help wondering why we can’t find a way to also feel pride in all the accomplishments of all human beings. They’re all in our family. And, we recognize that, at some level. See paragraph above.
The snapping sound of a puppy’s jaws “missing” a toy is something I haven’t heard for many decades. Sadie reminded me of that sound from more than a half century ago. Some sounds you remember your entire life.
The Founding Fathers — yes, they were cool in many ways. Some were excellent writers; most were well educated. But even apart from the fact that they were all white males and many were slave holders — putting that aside, no matter how wonderful they may have been, they were vastly ignorant of a great number of things that educated people know about today.
Here are just a few of the things that they did not know about.
They did not know about evolution. They did not know about DNA. These are not mere details in modern day biology. They are foundational. Not only was their knowledge of the basic science of biology woefully lacking; they were also ignorant of many of the practical implications. They did not see people who had hip joint replacements or knee replacements or organ transplants. They had no idea that life began 4 billion years ago. They did not know about how to prevent or treat many diseases that we have now conquered. They did not know about proper maternal or prenatal care. They did not even know that a woman’s brains is just as good as a man’s. They did not know that the mitochondrial DNA is passed on only from the mother. They did not know what mitochondria were. They did not know much at all about the “family tree” of humanity. They did not know how to use DNA analysis in solving crimes or predicting susceptibility to disease.
Their ignorance was not just about biological sciences. They knew very little about physics or chemistry. They only knew of twenty-three elements! Now, we know 118. They did not know about electron shells and types of bonds. There were huge fields of human knowledge such as physical chemistry and biochemistry that did not even exist. Again, it was not just theoretical chemistry and physics that they didn’t know about. They didn’t have cured rubber or any plastics whatsoever. There were no gasoline engines.
They did not know about atomic energy or the theory of relativity. They had no idea how large the universe was; the existence of planets orbiting around distant stars. These distant planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets were completely unknown. Today we have confirmed the existence of over 5000 of these exoplanets. They did not know how our own sun generated its power.
They did not know about the destructive potential of an atomic bomb. They did not know that atomic energy existed or that it could be used in practical ways such as killing cancerous tumors, or generating electricity. There were no atomic submarines — or indeed, any submarines at all.
Their ignorance was not limited to science. Since these events had not yet occurred, they obviously knew nothing about the First World War and nothing about The Second World War in which at least 50 million people were killed. They did not know about Hitler or the Holocaust. They did not know about Stalin or Mao killing tens of millions of their own people in order to stay in power.
The did not know about automobiles or airplanes. Traveling across the (much smaller) fledgling nation or America would take days or weeks, not hours. They did not know about the telephone or the telegraph. They had no idea about computers, the web, or the Internet.
Their ignorance of the physical sciences and of many of the lessons of history is overmatched by their profound ignorance about what has been learned in the social sciences in the last few hundred years. They had never heard of Freud, or Skinner, or Chomsky, or Herbert Simon. They did not even realize that social science was possible to study empirically. They did not know how important early childhood stimulation was. Typical practices of education were to have people learn by rote. They did not teach people the scientific method because they themselves did not really know it.
So, however much you may respect their courage or their foresight or ethics, the fact is that, by today’s standards, they were colossally ignorant. That is not a “put down.” That is just a fact. Humanity collectively knows thousands of times as much as they did. Being ignorant doesn’t mean stupid. And, because they were not stupid, they realized that however hard they worked to forge a new nation’s foundation in law, there had to be a way to update that foundation.
There are today, a group of folks who want to keep all the wealth and power in the hands of the few and steal wealth and power from the many. In order to do this, however, they don’t come right out and say, “Hey, we’re better than you and we want all your stuff and we want you to all do what we say.” No.
Instead, they try to make you think that what they want for their own selfish reasons, just so happens to be what the founding fathers wanted as well.
For two reasons:
First, because you and I can’t even reliably read the mind of the person sitting across the card table from you. Reading the mind of someone who lived over 200 years ago is absurd. Sure, you can look at their writings and gain some clues. But any adult who’s done a fair amount of writing has changed their opinions over time; has sometimes said things that are ambiguous or vague or mistaken. The attempt to infer the intentions and thoughts of the “Founding Fathers” is often just a fishing expedition to find the pieces of the writing of some Founding Fathers that can be framed so as to rationalize the viewpoint you happen to have. In the case of the Ultra-Greedy, the nuggets of writing chosen are used to rationalize taking from others. instead of owning up to the out-sized greed, the originalists are saying in effect, “Hey, it’s not me. It’s these guys who lived a few centuries ago.”
Second, even if you could read the minds of all the Founding Fathers, so what? They were profoundly ignorant. We know a lot more now. Moreover, the world we live in is vastly different. We are vastly more interconnected and independent than was the case 200 years ago. In 1776, the population of America was 2.1 million. Today, it is over 330 million. Not only that, despite our much more extensive size, we can physically traverse the space much more quickly. And we can traverse it electronically as well — and do it almost instantaneously! Our destructive power is also much larger. We can kill our fellow human beings with chemical, atomic, and biological weapons and even our “conventional” weapons are much more deadly.
I understand it could be somewhat comforting to think that all the answers to today’s issues and problems can be found in the invisible inner workings of the minds of the Founding Fathers. But at some point, you have to understand (Spoiler Alert!) that it was indeed your parents and not the Tooth Fairy who put money under your pillow in exchange for your baby teeth.
Similarly, the answers to today’s problems require that we modern humans use our knowledge to propose ideas and come to reasonable ideas to try out and honestly look at the outcomes. Of course, there are some important things that remain constant: It’s a bad idea to steal or to kill people. But when it comes to how to govern a nation of 330 million people in today’s world, we need today’s people to use today’s knowledge to figure out the best methods. Sure, our laws are founded on The Constitution and it has mainly served us well. It was made to be amended, not to be worshipped as a golden idol whose meaning is divined by people, some of whom still want to burn witches at the stake. The reason the Constitution has served us well is precisely that we’ve changed it as we’ve learned more.
As I’ve said, although by today’s standards, the Founding Fathers were ignorant, they were not stupid; they knew that the world would change; that the nation would change; and they themselves did not say: “Our Constitution is perfect for all time and should never be changed!” No. Not at all. They said: “Our Constitution is the best we can do right now. But we know things will change. So, we include a way to change the Constitution when necessary.”
We can best honor that good sense they displayed; that humility; that foresight; by continuing to question and change the Constitution, not by trying to insist that we know what they intended and those intentions should never be questioned in the light of current knowledge and conditions.
I was trained in “Experimental Psychologist” in the late 1960’s. Today, my program would likely be called “Cognitive Psychology.” The change is more than simply moving to a more fashionable (or opaque?) terminology. Skinner and other behavioral psychologists held sway over much of the experimental work in psychology and particularly in America.
One of my classmates at Michigan had attended Harvard as an undergrad and described an honors dinner he had attended as a Freshman. He had gotten to sit next to B.F. Skinner at the banquet and Skinner, was not only a smart student (having gotten his own Ph.D. in two years), and a brilliant experimentalist; he was also a tireless promotor of his view of psychology. Even at a dinner for Freshman, he began to wax elegant about his particular approach.
“Now you see,” said Skinner, “I am holding a fork and I move it to my mouth and I get food. Some of my colleagues would say that I believe that I will satisfy my hunger if I move the fork to my mouth. But why? There’s no need for belief! It is simply that when I grab my fork and move the food to my mouth, I am reinforced by the food and thus I keep doing it! There’s no need to introduce any belief!”
My classmate, in awe of the great doctor Skinner said, “Wow! That’s amazing Professor Skinner and you truly believe that, right?”
“Of course I believe it! I mean — no, of course not. I don’t believe. I’ve simply been reinforced for saying it so many times that now it is my behavior!”
This is a recounting filtered through two sets of memory, but in essence, I believe it is correct. I no longer think of the word “believe” as a useless and unnecessary construct. As an undergraduate, I studied a lot of behavioral psychology, and worked as a laboratory assistant in a behavioral psych lab. At the same time, I had another part-time job working as a child care worker in the children’s floor of a psychiatric hospital. At the hospital, the approach the psychiatrists took was strictly Freudian. Thankfully, the patients spent the vast majority of their time interacting with much more practical and reasonable souls such as myself, my fellow child care workers, and many wonderful nurses.
I had been fascinated by Freud whom I first read about around age 13. I came to believe there was much truth in his approach. I interpreted dreams and “slips” and his approach resonated with my lived experience. But my allegiance is to truth, not to an individual. Empirical research began to demonstrate that however intuitive his approach might seem, it was not particularly effective compared with behavior therapy or, later, cognitive behavioral therapy.
When I had a first hand look at the “Freudian” approach applied to a kid’s psych ward, I saw for myself how it could be misapplied and mishandled. Here are two examples. One of the kids K had spent an hour or so building a plastic model of a car. No sooner had he finished and began to show off his cool accomplishment than a much younger kid D ran over and stepped on it, pretty well smashing it to bits. K began yelling and screaming. A nurse — one of the few I worked with who happily drank the Freudian Kool-Aid asked K what he was so upset about. K said, “D smashed my car!”
Nurse: “Well, K what are you really upset about?”
K: “I told you! D smashed my car!”
Nurse: “You’re going to the quiet room until you can tell me what you’re really upset about.”
I am not claiming this is “appropriate” use of Freudian therapy. But it does illustrate how easily it can be turned to something absurd and cruel.
This absurdity was not limited to nurses who “after all” didn’t have the years of training it takes to become a Freudian psychoanalyst. But here’s an example from one of those highly trained psychoanalysts. Another patient, M, had been on the ward for about three years and during this time had become close friends to one of the nurses, N. These nurses, you have to understand, did not spend time simply administering meds and sitting in the nursing station. They were on the floor interacting with kids during 90-95% of their shift. So she had spent many hours interacting with M. I observed them together and it was clear that there was a real bond of friendship. At some point, N had a job offer from Raleigh and told M that she’d be leaving. M was sad — appropriately so, in my estimation.
As is typical in hospitals, there were three shifts per day. There is overlap of shifts so that shift N can find out what happened during shift N-1. We took turns reading the “Nursing Notes” and “Psychiatrist Reports” during the handover meeting. The psychiatrist who was seeing M “explained” that he had told M that he, the psychiatrist, was going on a vacation for a week and so “obviously” the sadness expressed by M because he’d be losing his friend who saw him every week for three years was actually a reaction to the fact that M’s psychoanalyst would be on vacation for a week. Right.
I loved working with the kids. And, I enjoyed my colleagues on the ward as well. However, I got completely turned off to the psychoanalytic approach as practiced. I still believe there are some important truths to Freud’s approach, but also some absurdities, particularly when it comes to his misunderstandings of women. We’ll save that for another time. The point here is just to show why I was looking for another approach to psychology and behaviorism fit the bill.
For a time.
It is impressive to train a rat and to see with your own eyes how reinforcement, shaping, thinning the schedule, extinction, generalization, chaining, all work. I was able to train a rat to do a “chain” (i.e., sequence) of four unnatural behaviors. It took patience and it takes clear observation — a kind of empathy really. You have to know when the rat is “getting closer” to the desired behavior. This observational skill is also useful in training a puppy.
That brings us to the game of “chase the dragon, bring it to me, and fight over possession.” Our new puppy Sadie, being smart, learned to chase, fetch, and fight for control very quickly. What I find more interesting is how her behavior also evolved over the course of a week to grab the dragon by the neck a very high proportion of the time. From the standpoint of fetching and fighting me for possession, she has many choices: head, neck, left forearm, right forearm, left leg, right leg, left wing, right wing, tail, belly, or crotch. So, why is she focusing so heavily now on the neck?
One possibility is that I say “Good work, Sadie” more often when she grabs it by the neck. I doubt it, but it’s conceivable. Another possibility is that it’s easier to carry. That also seems unlikely. She occasionally trips over the dragon as she’s bringing it back. But to prevent tripping, it would be best to grab by the belly. Grabbing by the tail, head or neck makes it more likely to trip. In any case, she doesn’t seem to “mind” tripping as much as I would! Another possibility is that she holds on more easily when I struggle with her. But her jaws are strong and she can hold on anywhere and keep me from retrieving it.
I think the most likely explanation (though not the only one) is that grabbing by the neck and shaking (which she also does) is how her ancestors break the necks of small prey. Many people would say this behavior is “instinctive.” But she didn’t exhibit this preference when we began playing “fetch the dragon.” After a week though, she exhibits a strong preference.
In popular speech as well as in professional psychology, we often tend to dichotomize behavior into “learned” and “innate.” The behavioristic approach focuses on what is “learned.” As a result of that focus, we learned many important things about learned behavior. Some have suggested that the American focus on behaviorism and the importance of learned behavior was partly driven by our political philosophy. Regardless of why it happened, behaviorism “ruled the day” for quite awhile.
It turned out that what might be called “naive” behaviorism doesn’t work completely even for rates. One line of thought was made famous by Chomsky. People cannot learn their natural language merely by being positively reinforced for saying the “right” thing. There are rules that we learn. Children brought up in an English-speaking household, for instance, learn the rule that past tenses are made by adding “-ed” to the end of the present tense form of a verb; e.g.; we have “learn – learned”, “walk – walked”, “type – typed”, “showcase – showcased”, etc. There are thousands of example. But the rules are not “perfect’; there are many exceptions. We have “are – were” and “ran – run.” At a young age, almost all children at some point will say, “I ranned after my puppy” “I eated my dinner.” They have not heard that. They are not learning specific words; they are learning rules.
It isn’t only beings as complex as humans who fail to meet the expectations of “naive” behaviorism. A rat can be quickly taught not to “do” something if they are shocked when they do it. On the other hand, making them nauseous, while apparently noxious, does not teach them to avoid doing something. With smells and tastes, though, it is just the opposite. The rat (or human) can learn in one trial to avoid a particular taste or smell if it makes them nauseated. This is sometimes called the “Sauce Bearnaise Effect” — even one bad experience of getting nauseous after tasting a food — especially a novel one — can induce a life-long hatred.
The point is that some of our responses are predisposed to be paired with certain kinds of stimuli. We are not a “blank slate” but a predisposed slate. This kind of predisposition to fluidity is also true of genetic traits. We may think of the environment as a force capable of moving the genome equally easily in any direction, much like a billiard ball can roll in any direction equally easily on a pool table. But that is not so. Some kinds of changes are much easier to effect. For instance, in breeding dogs, the “toy” version is essentially a more juvenile form. They, like puppies and human babies, have a head that is disproportionately large for their bodies.
I recall many years ago reading an article in Science which observed that infant chimps were not afraid of snakes nor of a severed head. But with no specific “training” or “experience” with these stimuli, when they were shown later, the chimps were freaked out both by snakes and by a head with no body. It seems to me to be quite possible that there are behavioral predispositions that are inborn but not manifest without experience — but that the necessary experience is not “learning” in the traditional sense — not, in other words, being punished or reinforced but simply having experience that builds up your model of the world.
For instance, neither of us has seen a jumping spider as big as a puppy. We’ve never been bitten by one! Since they don’t exist, we haven’t “read” about how venomous they might be. But I’m guessing, if either one of us drove home late in the afternoon, pulled into the driveway and saw a spider in the driveway who jumped onto the hood of the car, we’d be completely terrified. We might “know” intellectually that the spider couldn’t tear the car apart to “get” us. But it would still be terrifying, I think because we would know that our “model” of what is possible in this world is badly defective. Our natural tendency, however, is not to say, “Oh, my God! My model of the world is terrible! I’d better fix it!” No, our tendency is to say, “Oh, my God! That spider is horrible!. We need to kill it!.” Our fear, in this case, is not “learned” nor yet is it exactly “innate.” It is “awakened.” At one time, our mammalian ancestors were so small that a large spider might be proportion to what the puppy spider might be to us?
In the case of he puppy chasing after a chewy toy in the shape of a “dragon,” she has “changed” to most often grab it by the throat. It could be learning of a sort, but it seems more like an “awakening” of a pattern already there ready to be activated by relevant experience. That’s not to say, I might not be able to shape her behavior by reinforcement or punishment to only grab it by the tail. This is not science of course. I haven’t been rigorous enough to rule out a more pure “learning” explanation. It’s just a speculation.
In the last two weeks, she’s also become much more adept at using her paws to “control” her dragon. This too feels more like “awakening” than it does pure maturation or pure learning. She’s grown more coordinated and stronger. It seems as though both maturation and learning are involved, but why should she want to “control” the dragon in the first place? That seems like the “awakening” of an instinctive desire.
What do you think? What is your experience with training puppies or other animals? What is your own experience? Do you think you yourself have had experiences that “awakened” something within?
My first “real job” was working as a camp counselor at a camp for kids with special needs. The camp counselors loved to play pranks on each other. One favorite was to sneak into another counselor’s cabin, fill the sleeping victim’s hand with shaving cream and then tickle them under the nose. The expected behavior is that the counselor will scratch the tickle while still asleep and thus smear their own face with shaving cream. Apparently, they tried this on me.
I awoke in the middle of the night and the first thing I saw were my thumbs firmly pressing on a guy’s windpipe. Apparently, instead of groggily smearing my face with shaving cream, I had immediately jumped up and began to choke him to death.
Mom sighed. She rolled her eyes. She glanced out the dining room window. “Still raining,” she muttered under her breath. She did remember to turn the iron off. Big Fred had gotten understandably upset when she had charred one of his shirts a few weeks ago.
“Donnie, we’ve talked about this before. You don’t even ride — in fact, I don’t even thing you ever rode your tricycle. Nor did you use the wagon we got you last Christmas. How about a new baseball mitt.”
“I sure could use a new baseball mitt! Thanks, Mommy! That’s a great idea. Then, I can play with Junior and I’m sure he’ll just let me ride on the handlebars when we go to the games. We go on…what’s the name of that street where those boys were run over last year? Hansel?”
“Hensley. Wait. You want a bike so you can join your brother in baseball?”
“Yes! Then you won’t have to watch me! Fred can watch me!”
Mom found the notion of peaceful summer afternoons with neither boy around for a few hours irresistible. “And, you promise you’ll play baseball and listen to Junior and do what he says?”
“Why should I always have to do what he says? Why don’t I ever get a turn? Isn’t that what you and Daddy always say? Everyone should get a turn. Freddie shouldn’t get all the turns to boss around! It’s not fair!”
“Donnie. It isn’t a game. Junior has a lot more experience than you do. He knows a lot of things that you don’t. He isn’t trying to boss you around. He’s just trying to help keep you from hurting yourself.”
“Okay, Mommy. Thank you for explaining. Sure, I’ll do whatever he says.” Donnie had long ago that it was important to look serious when he told these lies. Usually, he would ball his teeny fists in such a way as to dig his fingernails in so he really did feel pain. That made him look serious. Of course, it was also important to look Mommy in the eye. That wasn’t really something he remembered discovering. It seemed he’d always know it. The trick is to look just past the person into space while you keep in mind that it’s okay to lie. Everyone does it. That’s what you think about. Donnie felt very proud of himself to have gotten a mitt and a bike for nothing. But he wasn’t done. Not by any means.
Later that day, the rain stopped and the sun came out. The day became stifling and steamy. He knew when that happened, sometimes the Henry kids got into their swimming pool. Donnie stuffed his swim trunks into his pocket & decided he’d visit the Henry kids.
While they were swimming, Donnie spun a story of woe: how he needed a bike so he could play ball with Freddy. He tearfully explained that Daddy’s business was failing so they couldn’t afford a bike right now. But that was the terrible thing. Once he got the bike, he had a job lined up at the park and could easily earn the money to buy the bike. But he couldn’t even get to his job without the bike.
Becky always seemed the easiest mark and she spoke first: “How about if we pitch in and buy you your bike?”
Donnie smiled a huge grin. It was a genuine grin too. The Henry kids all thought he was smiling about the bike and they felt better than ever about helping out their friend. The real reason he was smiling was that his little con had worked. Then, he felt a bubble of doubt like an ugly burp. He realized that it was because it had been too easy.
“You know what? I really appreciate your offering to buy me a bike, but I just realized, that there’s really no need.”
Becky frowned. “What do you mean? You just said you needed a bike.”
Donnie guffawed. He realized, he would need to do more mirror work on his fake laughs. “Oh, I do need a bike, all right. But you don’t have to buy one for me. You can invest in one. You can lend me the money. I’ll make lots of money at my job. Then, I’ll give you back twice as much as the cost of the bike. You’ll double your money. Not in a year, but in two months!”
Everyone in Donnie’s neighborhood was very well off, but the Henry’s were exceptionally well off. To them, it seemed like nothing to give the money to Donnie. Donnie didn’t understand this, but he did see the blank look in Becky’s eyes when he said he could double her money. Donnie said, “Look. You double your money and you can tell your mom and dad how smart an investor you are. Trust me. They’ll be proud of you!”
After Donnie toweled off and feasted on some fancy teeny hot dogs, and gotten dressed again, and rounded up the cash he “needed” for the bicycle his mom promised to buy, he noticed Mr. and Mrs. Henry having cocktails across the hardscape. We walked over and began, “Mr. and Mrs. Henry. Thanks so much for letting me use your pool! And, wait till you hear what smart investors your kids are!”
Once Donnie had sold the three Henry kids on the idea, it was easy to get other “investors” from the kids.
“Ted, here’s a chance to do something really smart for yourself. Double your money! I promise!”
“Greg, here’s a chance to do something really smart for yourself. Double your money! I promise!”
“Mike, here’s a chance to double your money! Be smart!. I promise you won’t be sorry.”
Needless to say, Donnie never worked a job and never paid any of them back a single cent. You might reasonably assume they would have gotten together and beat the crap out of him. Instead, he played them off against each other.
“Ted, here’s the thing. I didn’t make as much money as I thought — they lied to me. After I finally get paid, I’ll probably only have enough to pay you back — plus interest — but not the other investors. If they find out I paid you off, they’ll feel like fools. So, if anyone asks, just say I couldn’t pay anyone off.”
Donnie used slightly different words, but this is what he told all his “investors.” Each one thought that they would be the “winner” — the only one to gain any profit.
September is a month of excitement for school kids. Who is in your class? What is your new teacher like? The weather is typically great. It seemed bad form to bring up debt repayment. Nonetheless…
Ted and Donnie Boy found themselves next to each other on the bench awaiting a turn at bat. Ted asked, “Say, Donnie.” Ted lowered his voice so they wouldn’t be overheard and asked about the timetable for getting his money back. Plus interest. Donnie said, “Oh, yes. I have it back in my locker. I’ll give it to you right after the game. I promise!”
October brings a cooler wind and leaves begin to turn orange, amber, and scarlet. “I’ll pay you next time I see you. I promise!”
November isn’t all that much fun on Long Island. It’s too early for snowball fights or sledding, but too cold for baseball. “I’m sorry, Greg. I brought you the money today. And, on the way over here, I saw this family begging for money so they could have a real Thanksgiving dinner so I gave it to them. Stupid, I know, but if you could have seen how pathetic and wimpy they looked.”
“Oh, no problem,” said Greg. “I’m sure you’ll get it sometime.”
“Absolutely. I have plenty at home. I’ll bring it tomorrow. I promise.”
December, January, February…
At some point, Donnie’s classmates were too embarrassed to keep asking. And too embarrassed to tell anyone else. Some were so embarrassed that they continued to believe that they would eventually be paid to avoid feeling like fools. Others realized they had been hoodwinked but didn’t particularly want that to be known so they pretended that they had been paid.
On the longest day of the summer, it was their custom to stay awake around the central fire and dialogue. This particular year, they found themselves arguing about which animal was the most dangerous to the tribe.
One spoke: “Crocodile has many teeth and strong jaws. Besides, he can creep silently along, looking much like a floating log until it is too late.”
Another spoke: “True enough. Yet, what of Panther who lies still and unseen upon a tree branch in the night? Then, he pounces with teeth and claws?”
Yet another spoke: “Terrible indeed. But what of Rattlesnake? He can lie unseen in deep grass and though he is small, he injects a poison that can kill? And, there are many more of them than there are Crocodiles or Panthers.”
On through the night, one by one, they would bring up dangers to the tribe. At first, they spoke only of animals, but one pointed out the danger of lightening and another of flood. Another spoke of the year without summer and others pointed out the red pox had killed many.
At last, a short time before the sun began to re-emerge over the horizon, and the sky paused on the brink of deciding to stick with the mild pink color or paint a different scene, they began to speak no more, awed into silence by entire sky aflame in a sea of crimson.
And, they all knew.
They all saw it.
They all realized it was more deadly than anything they had discussed before.
And they all realized it was up to them to tame this monster.