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Empire and Extinction: The Dinosaur as a Metaphor for Dominance in Prehistoric Nature

Paul Semonin
Leonardo
Vol. 30, No. 3 (1997), pp. 171-182
Published by: The MIT Press
DOI: 10.2307/1576441
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1576441
Page Count: 12
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Abstract

Contemporary paleontologists, newscasters and filmmakers routinely portray dinosaurs as tyrants of prehistoric nature who created an empire that lasted for 150 million years. These commentators follow a well-established literary and iconographic tradition that uses the language of empire and autocratic rule to describe the dominance of these carnivores over the rest of the natural world. The author analyzes the development of this paradigm of dominance from its inception to its latest articulations. In the author's opinion, the savage view of prehistoric nature has its roots in the philosophy of the Social Darwinists and their dreams of imperial rule over the non-Western societies they considered racially inferior. The paradigm of dominance today legitimizes violence and conquest under the guise of a scientific view of the savagery of prehistoric nature.

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