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Rawlins Gilliland: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Today’s theoretical advancements are profound but commentator Rawlins Gilliland suggests that historic precedent is a sobering remembrance of things past.

Regarding revolutionary scientific technologies, it’s human nature for many of us to never question industry ‘experts’ while others remain immovably skeptical.  Consider controversial hydraulic fracturing or fracking - injecting liquid chemicals underground to release inaccessible natural gases or the politicized aerial spraying on pesticides on a massive urban scale to combat West Nile virus mosquito outbreaks.  While I neither champion nor condemn modern initiatives, personally, having lived long enough to see how many times the unproven "new" proved too good to be true, my ingrained instinct is to ask, "What could possibly go wrong?"

Historically, so much unconventional wisdom lauded as smart or safe has later shown to have blinded us with science.  I knew a time when DDT was considered harmless. I recall magazines where heart surgeons advertised the new ‘light and mild’ cigarettes.  When our house was proudly shingled in that mid-century rage, asbestos siding, who knew we’d later need a team of spacesuit-clad robots to remove it?  What, me worry?

I remember when the feisty Fidel Castro was the populist liberation rock star, when sexual liberation was billed as ‘free love’ before it cost millions of lives.  Buy hey.  The Asian vine kudzu, introduced to the American south to prevent erosion; like Johnson grass, brought earlier to the plains from the Mediterranean to feed cattle that refused to eat it, each became among the most invasive predatory botanic species in world history.  Aside from that, you can’t go wrong.  It’s academic!

Listening to current debates, I’m reminded of a friend extolling how her alcoholic husband battles compulsive gambling addiction and bipolar anger issues, “But Rawlins”, she insists, “He’s a wonderful father”.  Adding that she’s “probably pregnant” but taking a new anti-depressant deemed "safe" for expectant mothers, I recalled Thalidomide and thought, "What could possibly go wrong?"

Give it up for those pharmaceutical prescription drug hits that keep on coming! A pill to help quit smoking warns us to discontinue usage if you suffer "suicidal or homicidal psychosis."  Alright!  One diet aid caused life-threatening heart valve damage to thousands but picky, picky.  They lost weight! Take the popular sleeping pill linked to sleep walking, some users even driving in an unconscious state. Yield!  An oral hair loss reversal formula suggests we consult our doctors if we experience liver failure or ‘sexual side effects’ including irreversible impotence.  Otherwise, relax! 

What could have possibly gone wrong when my father returned to the music business in 1950s Las Vegas?  Dad wrote home how the hotels loaded caravans of tour buses to the desert mid-night to watch the blinding atom bomb blasts.  He described sipping cocktails seated in nightclub comfort as the tsunami rush of radioactive wind engulfed them at hurricane speed.  Any prevailing-wind government assurance ‘studies showed’ that this sci-fi madcap madness was virtually risk-free.  Of course we now know that it caused cancerous deaths downwind for decades.  But why split hairs over atomic spilt milk?  Then was then, now is now.  Today, with everything we’ve learned?  What could possibly go wrong?

Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas.