A while ago Tom blogged about how process-oriented people and goal-oriented people differ, and how aggravating it is to intelligent life-forms when process-oriented people (of whom the famous “GIGO” phrase is an accurate description, since the part of the brain that deals in making judgement calls appears to have been totally atrophied) are put in charge of things.
Process-oriented people should never be put in positions of any kind of authority whatsoever. They do not have the judgement skills necessary to not be utterly incompetent at it.
Example: the tale of Luna the orphaned orca. There’s a movie about it – The Whale – that I could only watch half of before deciding to turn it off. Seriously, Canadians, you guys are too polite by half. No wonder government bureaucracies up in the frigid north get away with outrageous totalitarian rulings.
Here’s the basic story: Luna’s mom is not exactly Best Orca Mom ever and he doesn’t have that great a relationship with her, which is weird because orca families stick together forever, basically. One year when he’s two, he gets lost from his pod and shows up near a little place on Vancouver Island, where he decides that since he can’t find any other whales, hanging out with the humans is the next best thing.
Predictably, the locals are pretty thrilled by this. Baby orcas are really cute and this one is basically begging for attention! Now, there are some concerns, of course. Orcas are freaking huge and strong and can break human stuff pretty easily, but on the other hand, boats have propellers that can act as large knives and really, seriously cut up cetaceans that get too close. So there are rules in place that say “No disturbing the whales” – so that humans don’t go whale-sightseeing, get the whales accustomed to boats, and thereby lead to a predictable increase in the number of human and whale potentially-life-threatening accidents. Wild stuff should be “left alone” to do its thing, and as a means of protecting a vulnerable species, I think that’s a good idea. However, Luna’s case was not the same. Luna wasn’t kidnapped from his pod by humans; the humans weren’t the ones who reached out first. Luna reached out first.
If the wild animal waltzes into your back yard and starts asking for head scritches, the whole “no disturbing the wildlife” rule doesn’t apply. The bear that’s after the bird seed in your feeders has to be dealt with – by human intervention. The wildlife has decided to disturb the humans. “Letting nature take its course” in that case involves letting humans be human. We’re a part of nature too – but the Canadian bureaucracy didn’t think so. Instead of doing something productive – like immediately attempting to train the whale to follow a boat back to waters where his pod might swim by close enough for him to find them (or vice versa), they actually nixed the first “reunite” plan and…. sent idiot girls out to shoo away the people who were giving Luna the companionship he craved.
Seriously, if you treated a dog that way, people would be like, “That person is abusive, the poor dog needs a better owner.” Basically the bureaucracy’s response was “oh, look, a rule says that people can’t disturb the wildlife” and instead of noticing that hey, the wildlife was the one disturbing the people, they tried to keep the people from interacting with the whale, which required the Idiot Girls to… interact with the whale. Yeah. That worked out well. Not.
As far as I’m concerned, training the whale to follow a boat would have been the best option. Orcas are very intelligent. If Luna had been trained to follow the boat the first time that plan was offered, they could have led him away from the town, and wandered about until they found Luna’s pod. If Luna went back, well and good. If things didn’t work out – then Luna still has his friends on the boat, and people can try to figure out what to do next.
There was a huge opportunity squandered, after all. Orcas are intelligent, and trainable. If Luna were to be rejected by his family group, why not take him back to his chosen home and train him to coexist with the town? If orcas can learn to hunt stingrays without getting themselves stabbed, I think orcas can learn to Stay Away From Running Propellers. They can rake themselves up pretty badly with their teeth when interacting with each other, so little scratches from boats never deterred Luna from approaching. But one day, he got too close to a tug boat’s powerful propellers… and that was it.
Sad, yes. But I think that if people had stopped and thought about what it would take to coexist with this animal, there could have been several steps taken. First, train Luna to stay away from running propellers. (The bureaucracy would have squashed this flat, because they’re process-oriented and the process said “no disturbing the whale” and didn’t say what to do if the whale was the one doing the disturbing!) Second… gee, humans invented propellers in the first place, you don’t think we couldn’t invent something to keep whales from getting badly injured by them? Some kind of guard, maybe? I mean, we have cars that can parallel-park themselves now, maybe we could invent some kind of sensor that could cut power to a propeller if a large object (like a whale!) got too close? Seriously. If tech is the problem, there is a tech solution as well. Ditch this nonsense about humans being separate from nature and start thinking of ways to minimize the downside. You wouldn’t even have to mandate that all boats be retrofitted or anything. Just make the tech available and encourage people who live in close proximity to cetaceans to use it. I’m sure lots of “save the whales” organizations would help defray the costs for boat owners who can’t afford expensive new tech.
And, of course, finding a way to keep Luna safe in proximity to humans would have opened up a huge opportunity for tourism for the town. A lot of people would love the chance to see a whale, and interact with it – on its terms, and not because it’s been kept in a tiny pool like in Seaworld-type places. “Whale-watching” tourism boats could be modified to be safer around Luna. Their presence would have given him something interesting to do other than poke about the harbor potentially breaking expensive things. Scientists could have studied what happened when humans and a whale choose to interact, and how to train whales to avoid the danger of propeller-laceration from boats.
But all that would have required that the bureaucrats have the ability to make judgement calls. And the only kind of “judgement call” the vast majority of bureaucrats make is “what’s in my best interest?” Which generally means covering their own butts by following rules by the letter, rather than the purpose, when there’s no personal gain to be had in breaking the rules and a lot of risk of criticism and resultant sacking.
Tangent question: What is up with people sticking their hands in orca’s mouths and rubbing their tongues? I’m pretty sure that orcas do not do anything like that with each other, due to a distinct lack of hands. People do not pet dogs’ and cats’ tongues. Sticking your arm into an apex predator’s mouth seems like A Very Bad Idea. Let’s not teach the intelligent, insanely powerful predator that it’s A-OK to have human appendages in its mouth, okay guys? Because there isn’t a newspaper large enough to smack it in the nose if it decides to bite!