Nature Sends a Message

Balint Vazsonyi

Florida has canceled programs which involve people "diving to frolic with sharks." The number of recent, fatal shark attacks apparently sufficed to restart the brain function of a generation whose members have largely shut it down during their formative years in the late 1960s.

For ease of communication, we might refer to their affliction as the "Woodstock Virus." It prevents the sufferer from seeing the world as it really is.

Among other things, they came to view the animal kingdom as it is portrayed in works of fiction, or as animals might have behaved in the Garden of Eden.

What is funny about that last quirk is that people afflicted with the Woodstock Virus do not believe in the Garden of Eden, or anything else proposed by those who had grown up before the 1960s. (That's everyone since Adam.) But I digress.

Witness the Discovery Channel, animals have come to be publicized as wondrous creatures whose perception, decision making, and ability to communicate far exceed anything we wretched humans could have "dreamt of in [our] philosophy" (William Shakespeare, mammal).

Fish appear on the screen, said to have "developed" a disc-shaped orange spot left of their tail fin to fool the hook-tentacled hermit crab. One can just see the fish at their convention responding to the call, "All those in favor of having the spot left of the fin say Aye."

The other day on CNN, a pregnant woman, involved with trying to induce dolphins to reproduce in captivity, whispered secretively to the camera. "I know Jesse (a porpoise) is examining my baby right now, using her sonar. Alas, we humans have no way of finding out whether she herself is pregnant."

The announcer took over. "After considering this problem for nine years, the head of the research team decided to use ultra-sound to examine the dolphins and found that Jesse had ovulated on schedule." Nine years? Ultra-sound is used every day in every American village. Next we saw the pregnant woman, jubilant on her back. "Since the ultra- sound was here, I had myself examined as well."

These are the brains that have given us the shark as this noble, demure creature who wants to be patted, likes to be fed and - this above all - craves to be understood. (Especially those abused at an early age.) When one of these tragically misunderstood creatures bit off the leg of a boy, the TV anchor shrieked with indignation as she reported the "vicious attack."

Sharks are neither noble nor vicious. They are, well, sharks. They were meant to be. But the adolescents who came of age in the 1960s were eventually supposed to grow into homo sapiens, not remain mired in their world of phantasy. On the one hand, they see animals as superior to humans, overlooking with gusto that it is people who make films about gorillas, not the other way around. On the other hand, they believe man is so powerful as to be able to destroy the planet. To top all this, they try to prevail on third-graders and beauty pageant contestants to save it.

Earth to Children of the 60s: See if you can predict the path of a hurricane for the next 24 hours before you panic about global warming a hundred years from now. Use our new technologies to film creatures large and small for observation, rather than as visuals to accompany political diatribes. Try to combine admiration for man's unique capabilities with respect for the restrictions Nature has placed on them.

And for Pete's sake, don't tell children that sharks are harmless so long as you treat them with dignity. And don't believe that wolves actually brought up Maugli, even though Walt Disney made a wonderful film about Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book. Consequently, don't introduce wolves into our villages, and don't send children to swim with the animals. It is nothing short of outrageous that leaving a stroller outside a store for a minute or two is punishable by law, but placing children deliberately in harm's way is all right if it conforms to the correct political purpose (porpoise?).

Nature has sent us a message. Florida appears to have heard it. Hopefully, others will too. The time has come to engage our brains once again to guide our actions. And while we are at it, we might also put an end to the "man is the enemy of Nature" rhetoric that runs parallel with deification of the animal world. It is not only stupid - it is downright irresponsible.