Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Everybody Calm Their Shit

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.” -- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

Let's assume that you have received the official internutz memo about the most recent thing your are supposed to be OUTRAGED about -- the senseless murder of a noble gorilla, into whose enclosure had fallen a young child. Naturally the cries went up instantaneously, as if the zookeepers were just supposed to wait and see what a 400-pound, immensely strong beast was going to do with the toddler he was dragging.

Tragically, initial reports did indicate that Harambe the gorilla was indeed being kind to the child, and had not harmed him. But the very act of trying to extricate the kid -- or even to tranquilize Harambe -- might have set him off. Life is about risk management, when you get right down to it, and that is simply a risk that no decent parent would be willing to take with their young child.

Now, the argument is being made that the mother (both parents were there, but most of the verbal attacks seem to be directed at the mother) is negligent; after all, what kind of parent lets their kid fall into a gorilla enclosure? Who knows? Maybe there was a hole in the fence, maybe there was just a low spot that the Cincinnati Zoo will be surprised to find had not been breached yet. Kids have a way of taking off when you turn your back on them for even a second, stop go get a soda, take a dump, whatever. That someone might have been technically negligent for a split-second does not necessarily mean that they were criminally negligent, or even negligent in a more general sense.

I hate to play the "shit happens" card, but sometimes freak events occur, and it's not entirely someone's fault. One assumes (hopes) that the public approbation this woman has received thus far will clarify the error of her ways, that she already feels terrible about the outcome of whatever she did or didn't do. Perhaps she can strap the kid into a harness, and leash him to her ankle, should they screw up the nerve to leave the house again. Maybe a hamster ball for the kid. Again, it's the uniquely American fixation that every "problem" has a solution.

That said, it is abusively stupid to refer to the mother (or either parent) as a "hero". Nobody in this incident deserves that appellation. Shit went down, there was an ugly outcome, and hopefully both the parents and the zoo can learn something from this unpleasant experience. But the mother a hero? No. She's also not a demon, nor even, as far as anyone knows, a bad or even mediocre parent. The kid's four years old, something must have gone right along the way.

As usual, the real issue here is a meta-issue, or perhaps a few connected meta-issues. One is the usual ineffectual diet of meaningless outrage too many people subsist on. All this wondrous technology at our very fingertips, and so many choose to use it like a rat in a fucking Skinner box, pushing like buttons and e-signing e-petitions to register their ephemeral fury. It's pathetic.

This is just like the Cecil the Lion deal last summer, except that dentist most definitely was a prick asshole who deserves to get killed by the next trophy animal he pays a year's salary (for most people) to kill. But it's similar in that none of the folks outraged by Cecil's demise seemed to care that two African lions are killed every day by thumb-dicked fuckheads like the dentist Walter Palmer. Are all the Harambe petition signers equally outraged over the ongoing devastation of remaining gorilla habitats in the wild? What about elephants and leopards being steadily driven to extinction by poachers and habitat encroachment? They seem to genuinely think their e-tantrums qualify as Something Special.

Put your fucking money where your mouths are, if nothing else. If wildlife poaching pisses you off, stop buying Chinese-made products, and send an e-pistle to the Chinese Embassy and tell them why. If enough people make good on that, they will crack down, I can just about guarantee you. If killing a zoo animal grinds your gears, then check out that zoo, see if maybe the kid got into the enclosure because the barrier needs work, and ask what you can do to help. Zoos, these e-activists might be startled to find out, are not exactly high-profit ventures. They're more like symphonies, heavily dependent on charitable donations and fundraisers sponsored by estates foundations.

Zoos are also a well-meaning and unfortunate reminder of what humans -- not just "negligent" moms or "trigger-happy" zookeepers, but human beings everywhere -- have done to the planet. For every one of us doing their best to not be a burden to the ecosystem, there are a thousand, or ten thousand, or a million, doing the opposite in various degrees. We have fouled our nests, exterminated the wildlife, continue to proliferate and consume and pollute and breed heedlessly, and the zoo's purpose is to assuage our collective guilt, to absolve our collective responsibility.

Another uniquely American obsession is the self-help cult, and its biggest niche is the weight-loss gimmick. People will pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars, to buy whatever snake oil has the brightest graphics, the pumpiest music, the hottest bodies. All in order to avoid the simple truth, that weight loss is predicated on four simple words: eat less, move more.

It's breaking down what each of those words entails (what kinds of food are best? how much less? what kinds of motion and for how long?) that gets people hung up. But rather than getting a fatal case of analysis paralysis, just start by taking a walk around the block four or five times a week, and throw out your potato chips. Doing something is always better than thinking about doing something, but not doing anything.

If we are to extricate our collective selves from this fix we've gotten into, there are also four simple words worth considering:  consume less, think more. Once we get serious about breaking each of those words down a little better, we might actually get somewhere.

No comments: