Back in Their Day (Shifting Baseline)

Shifting Baseline Syndrome: The problem that what a generation perceives as the norm is determined by what they witnessed during their formative years; And that generation after generation we tend to think that only a little damage is being done to our ecosystems (and thus care only a little), when in actual fact the damage is immense.

There was once a time when fishermen didn’t have to scour the oceans for days in order to break even. Schools of fish would span for literally miles. The fish, by living longer, were bigger. Much bigger. The same goes for nearly all land and ocean dwelling species. The countryside was once abundant with life, with herds of hundreds, flocks of starling that could blot out the sun, birds of prey nearly everywhere, land mammals, insects, beavers, weasels all rich in number. The country was an unmanaged garden of colour and beauty. Nowadays, a ‘pleasant country walk’ consists of walking through a dilapidated wasteland. But how were we to know this? To us it just seems a little less green than we remember.

As we age, we find ourselves rehearsing the lines of our parents. ‘Back in my day…’ we say and then might kick ourselves upon realising the re-enactment. For whatever reason, more often than not, the discovery perturbs our thoughts, deflecting us away from considering the consequences of whether or not the words we echo are as true as those of our antecessors. Instead we brood upon the value of our independence, discontent at the idea that we are trapped within the confines of a personality moulded by those who raised us. But what if our parents were right? What if the land was greener, more abundant back in their day?

And remember, our parents were children once too. The day they imparted their wisdom upon us they probably experienced the same sense of uneasiness and for the same reasons. See, the children inherit the leading role. The cast is always changing but the script remains the same. By our skewed sense of was, reality turns to myth, the natural world perishes evermore. But back in their day it was greener than even we remember.

Ultimately, we all need to stop shifting the baseline.

A.C. Stark

3 responses to “Back in Their Day (Shifting Baseline)”

  1. I believe it’s also the same concept that makes someone slip into a new habit. It develops gradually over months while you keep comparing yourself to last week.


  2. Creeping normality. It’s the same experience as not seeing day after say that you’re aging. Good post!


  3. Thought-provoking post–I like that.
    And I appreciate your following my blog.


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