Monday, April 30, 2012

Examples of a Type

I've spent most of the last couple of weeks wandering around Arizona.

We had a long list of things we wanted to do. One of those things was to visit Tombstone, which has become something akin to a western RenFaire (except with fewer of the visitors bothering with costumes). The buildings are in great condition, and as much of the feel of the old mining town as possible has been preserved.

Of course, we can blame the Earps and the Clantons for this. If it wasn't for their famous gunfight, Tombstone would probably have dried up and blown away completely not long after the mines closed. The evocative name probably helps too. (The anecdote is that the guy who found the original silver claim was told that he would find 'nothing but your own tombstone out there'). It was probably inevitable that an old western town would be preserved in this manner, but the O.K. Corral made sure it was this one.

Another of our destinations was the one surviving Titan missile silo...a cold war edifice that carries with it a certain darkness. All of the other silos were deliberately blown up when they were decommissioned so they could never be used, and there are no longer any Titan missiles. They proved quite useful for launching satellites to low earth orbit. Except this one, which was deliberately preserved as a museum (the missile in the silo is a dummy that was used to train crews on maintenance and installing and removing the warhead, and could not be fired).

All of this got me thinking. It seems humans like to preserve what they consider to be 'classic examples' of a type. We like to make sure we keep 'at least one' of everything we've built. Just in case. To learn from, or whatever. Does this speak to some human tendency to just want to make sure that we have the things we have moved on from? Just in case we ever do need them again. I think that might well be the case. And in the case of things we want to make sure we never need again, like ICBMs, we preserve to remind ourselves why we don't want to need them again...