Do you ever feel sorry for the dinosaurs? They were big, they were hungry, and by gum, they lasted for a very long time. Small children all have their favourites, especially everyone’s cuddly favourite, the T-Rex that embodied with big teeth and massive jaws, the idea of being the biggest, toughest kid on the block. And the palaeontologists tell us they lasted for millions of years, which sounds pretty successful to me.
But then something happened. Climate change? Earth being struck by a comet? Whatever it was, the world cooled down, and the best survivors just happened to be the creatures who were smaller, furry, social and intelligent enough to handle it. There was nothing actually wrong with the dinosaurs, but they couldn’t adapt to the new climate conditions, and so they faded away.
The Jurassic Park films (based on Michael Crichton’s original novel) play with the idea of bringing the dinosaurs back for human amusement, but then, gosh, would you believe it, everything goes wrong and then we have Jeff Goldblum et al (with attendant children) running for their lives and always forgetting to have a really big gun next to them. It all goes a bit Frankenstein (Scientists playing God and coming a cropper), but that’s Hollywood for you.
So which of our long-cherished public institutions could be in danger of going the same way of the dinosaurs in Britain? The Monarchy? Parliamentary Democracy? The National Health Service? The Church of England? Take your pick. Of course, we’re not unintelligent reptiles subject to the laws of evolution because we can also change the environment we’re in- we’re not subject to it. It all depends on the degree to which people are willing to notice the way the wind is blowing, and be prepared to make changes that ensure our survival without losing our identity- which isn’t always easy. How far can you change an institution before it becomes something completely different and alien- especially for those who liked it, just the way it was?
One solution, of course, is to put them in a theme park, for paying visitors. To some extent, that’s what happens already, as palaces and stately homes and cathedrals now open their doors with a view to tourism topping up the coffers. But remember the Jurassic Park thing. What might happen if the inhabitants of Buckingham Palace were to suddenly revert to their original nature, the one that put them in charge in the first place (Wars of the Roses Part 2, anyone?). Or if Parliament started taking on the established forces and started chopping off a few crowned heads (or their corporate equivalent). Or if a cathedral was to start doing again, the very thing that caused it to be built in the first place, and God’s Holy Spirit suddenly broke out among the people?
Dangerous creatures, dinosaurs. Hard to tame. Best keep an eye on them.