Letter to the Editor: Don’t Let ‘C.A.V.E. People’ Torpedo Future

By William T. Sellers
Los Alamos

Sometimes one simply has to step outside the immediate “box” of one’s perspective to see the bigger picture of what’s really at stake.  

In his seminal work, Civilisation, the great British historian Kenneth Clark details the vignette of a decaying ancient city perched high above a river valley for protection, one that had long outlived its earlier dynamism, and now was suddenly confronted with the immediate danger of a barbarian horde camped out in the valley below.  

As the indolent citizenry pondered their impending fate with some trepidation, the barbarians ultimately decamped and moved-on. 

Rather than being relieved, local scribes recorded a vast sense of jaded urban disappointment, that the excitement of being pillaged and plundered had not befallen them.

From this, Clark deduced a very important principle; that there is an elemental vitality that must be maintained if human organization is to flower with the creativity of civilization itself. 

Concurrent with that vitality is a perspective of risk-taking, along with the creativity and innovation that flows from it.

In numerous civic backwaters all across America you’ll find the kind of thinking that Clark was warning about, a certain kind of fearfulness of the future, an acceptance of overall sclerotic decline, frequently characterized by a mentality of “No!”

In Idaho, we adopted a term from small-town growth expert Jack Schultz, “the c.a.v.e. people,” which in his many battles with this mentality he had coined, “citizens against virtually everything”.

It’s a killer mentality, and those who possess it will use all the legal and political instruments at their command to stop progress, because at its core, they are fearful of the future.

In many respects, Los Alamos singularly invented a large part of the 20th century; Heraclitus having told us, “war is the father of all things.”

We all know the history; it is an easy look backwards, a safe look backwards, a look backwards with seeming clarity. 

To many it is a regrettable look, one filled with trepidation. But we were not there, we were not in their shoes, and our judgment is spectacularly clouded.

Today we must look forward; as Dr. Charles McMillan reminds us, our laboratory possesses one of the most unique brands on Planet Earth.  

Great labor and effort has passed over the decades that buttresses its many good works; works that are literally on the cutting edge of everything. But the townsite still suffers, and in today’s competitive climate for younger talent and brainpower, that could make all the difference in attracting the future. We must strive for that quality Warren Buffett terms, “the durable competitive advantage.”

Let me be blunt: a town council forever cowered by the constant implied threat of legal actions, many of which have been taken in the past to our great detriment, delay, and expense, is not in Los Alamos’ best urban and laboratory interest.  

It’s that simple; don’t let the “cave people” torpedo the future, pass the charter amendments.

Sellers is a venture coach and vice-president of the Los Alamos Entrepreneurs Network. He can be reached at readbill19@usa.net



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