This last week, a gorilla was killed in Cincinnati. I wasn’t there. I do not know anything of the circumstances. It was a tragedy … not like Syrian refugee tragedy or human trafficking tragedy, but a tragedy that a member of an endangered species had to die. I truly love animals, and gorillas are among the most majestic of creatures on the planet. I found it terrible that keepers who must revere these animals even more than I do had to put one down.
Social media is overwhelmingly calling for the head of the mother who allowed her child to fulfill his dare and climb passed the barriers and into the moat in the gorilla enclosure. They want the woman dead, prosecuted, persecuted, held responsible, jailed, and fined for the loss of one silverback gorilla. I can guarantee that most of the people doing this were not present, and are absolutely not in command of facts. Of course, this stop no one.
Again, I have no idea what this woman or her family are like. She might be the most irresponsible human on the planet. She might also be a loving, caring mother who heard a child make a comment like “I’m going to jump in the (gorilla’s) water” along the lines of “I’m going to go to the moon” (sure kid, you’re going to get passed that impenetrable barrier that separates us from a 700 pound muscled ape), and when she turned to deal with another of her kids, kid #1 decided to give it a whirl. In other words, could this be a simple accident instead of child neglect, child abuse, child endangerment, or wanton gorillacide? A lot of the world doesn’t seem to think that way. THEY WANT BLOOD!
I’ve reflected on this a bit from the frame of reference of what I see happening in schools and specifically what happened to me this semester. More and more there seems to be an inability to see things from any other perspective other than our own, and a complete unwillingness to communicate with anyone who may have a different perspective. If someone wrongs you, it can’t possibly be a mistake, or a problem with your personal point of view. The wronging must be evil, and it must be stopped and possibly avenged at all costs. The result has been teachers who are a lot more cautious in terms of getting close to students, and a lot more willing to simply follow rules blindly because it is the safe recourse. You have seen this with school administrators who seem to be more willing to make poor choices based on “simply following the rules blindly”. Even in Chicago, we see this with the police who have suddenly gotten a lot more frightened to accost minorities for fear that they get drawn into confrontation that becomes the next viral video … at least a part of the sudden jump in crime in minority neighborhoods in Chicago is an unwillingness by the police to do anything except go in and clean up the mess when the shooting is over.
Getting back to the gorilla incident: what is the message to parents?: unless your children are on leashes, you had better be very careful about granting your kids a degree of freedom, because if an otherwise reasonable accident occurs, you will be the subject of the next witch hunt, replete with nationwide petitions signed by over 100,000 people (I was asked to sign one calling for the prosecution of the mother, and it did have over 100,000 signatures … the one calling for a federal investigation of the Zoo for killing an endangered animal had only about 40,000 signatures … I signed neither). Are you allowing your kids to hike a mile to a park to play? If they get seriously hurt, be prepared for some moral righteousness to come down on your head for daring to allow your kids to run wild in the streets.
We’ve had these messes before. I recall Richard Jewell, one of the heroes of the Atlanta Olympic bombing who was then accused of the bombing. In an era before social media being so prevalent, the new media shellacked him. The only good news is that he was able to get some money from several media outlets, and his role as a hero was eventually recognized (in 2006). Going back to the early 1980s, there was the McMartin Pre-School trial when several innocent people were accused of everything from human sacrifice to sexual abuse … all based on assumption and unreliable witnesses. All can be traced back to an inability to communicate. I suspect the only difference between now and then is that the voice of the mob is much louder, and with politicians able to listen to those ever louder mobs, it creates an even more dangerous situation. Hell, World War I largely started because of a lack of communication between nations.
I hope one day, we as a society will turn off social media, though I suspect it would be easier to wish for winning the lottery. We live in an era where people are plenty angry, often times because of reasons, and the fire of the self-righteous hatred is getting fed more and more fuel. I know that history tends to go in cycles, but I am a believer that those cycles aren’t as absolute as some historians claim them to be, and that changes in technology and the order of the world can change those cycles periodically. I look very disappointingly at the cycle we are in now, and wonder when it will end. When will we have a society that begins to value communication over dogma and righteousness?