Have you ever loaded a bison into the trunk of your car because you thought it was cold?
If you answered no, congratulations! You are not a knucklehead.
If you answered yes, you must be one of the two recent visitors to Yellowstone who did precisely this.
A couple of unnamed tourists, a father and son, recently loaded a baby bison into the trunk of their SUV and drove it to a ranger station. They were afraid the newborn animal would freeze to death. It was 40 degrees out. Not even water freezes at 40 degrees.
After being handled by its “helpers” the baby bison’s mother rejected it and rangers eventually had to euthanize the calf.
What can one say in the face of such utter lack of understanding, in the face of such total disconnection from nature, from the world? People who think wild animals freeze to death in 40-degree weather ought not be allowed to drive around the national parks unsupervised. Look at the damage they can do.
This same ignorance has been fully on display in the wake of the shooting of Harambe, a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo. A three-year-old boy fell into the gorilla enclosure and, to save the child’s life, officials shot and killed the ape.
Predictably, the outrage has been over-the-top. A lot of people live for these moments, moments that allow them to combine their need to demonstrate moral superiority with massive public displays of emotion. Just look at the picture below:
People have been blaming the kid’s parents. People have been blaming the zoo. People ought to be blaming themselves or, at least, the culture in which we live.
Looking at these two incidents together, two important points emerge.
First, zoos provide a clear example of our deeper problem.
Teaching our kids about nature is important to my wife and me. So, we spend a lot of time at zoos. It doesn’t take long to notice that most people aren’t there to learn anything. Most people who walk through the gates just think they’re going to an amusement park with animals. The result is that zoos are often unpleasant. There is little silence, little room for contemplation, almost no space for serious observation.
Kids run wild. Many, many times we’ve seen entire exhibits descended upon by groups of unruly, poorly supervised children who have little interest in what’s before them. Given this environment, it’s not surprising that a kid at one of the busiest zoos in the nation slipped into an enclosure.
You can criticize the parents. Had they been watching the boy, he wouldn’t have crawled in, he wouldn’t have fallen, and the Cincinnati zoo would have a living male gorilla named Harambe instead of a dead one.
But, if you criticize the parents, you’ve also got to criticize the general cultural ethos that tells people children require less supervision than they actually do. Especially, in the presence of wild animals. That kid’s parents were just doing what I have seen a million other parents do at the zoo: assume that everything is perfectly safe.
Second, the assumption of perfect safety is built on another assumption clearly on display at the zoo. Spend time at any zoo, or even at any local park, and you will see that people assume that the world is made for them, that the whole world exists only as an entertainment, a big show which owes them a happy ending.
When zoo officials shot Harambe, they failed to supply the requisite happy ending. That’s why the women in the picture above are crying. Their tears aren’t so much about the loss of the gorilla as they are about being reminded of how the world actually is.
Looking at animals in a zoo, ought to move us to contemplation, ought to help us to realize our place in creation, ought to bring us into deeper contact with reality. These two stories, the bison in the trunk and the shooting of Harambe, show us how far we are as a society from those ideals.
Many people are so protected from the realities of life that they cannot understand that bad things happen, that not every tragedy can be avoided. They cannot imagine that their own well-intentioned actions could be the cause of such tragedies. They know neither themselves nor the world.
These are people in desperate need of silence. They are people who need to turn off the television, skip the next round of shopping at the mall, and make contact with reality. Our whole society is dying for want of a long, serious walk in the woods. Take one today, but be warned-anything can happen-because, as much as we might wish it were otherwise, the world is not a totally safe space.
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