Thursday, August 11, 2005

Man's Generosity to Creatures vs Indifference to Fellow Beings

The following discussion touches on 2 contrasting values. The first is obvious.

As an example, Australians have been deeply concerned about a humpback whale, entangled in fishing lines. The whale was obviously hampered in its ability to move around freely, and had been that way for two weeks. It suffered from laboured breathing and probably lack of feeding. Unfortunately the people who first spotted it didn’t have the equipment to free it.

Like vultures, which sharks of course are of the seas, tiger sharks sensed a feeding of a crippled animal and had been ominously trailing the mammal. Another whale which was similarly entangled was freed much earlier.

The authorities sent a reconnaissance aircraft to re-locate the animal, to be followed by a rescue team to do the needful.

As an aside, I hope Japanese did see how much value Australians place on their whales and dolphins by these efforts, and why they have objected so strenuously to Japanese attempts to resurrect commercial whaling.

Back to the 1st value, in 1988, a couple of Californian gray whales were trapped by the frozen Artic Sea of Alaska. Virtually the world was galvanized into an international effort to free the two whales, by cutting either holes or a channel through the ice to enable the two creatures to breathe and escape into the unfrozen sea. The task was done principally by the local Inuits but supported by volunteers from all over the world. Even a Russian nuclear powered ice breaker dashed to the spot in an effort to help the whales.

Whales, dolphins, various types of birds and animals seem to draw out the most protective and generous nature in human beings, which brings us to the 2nd but opposing value.

Yet, when people, yes, man's fellow beings, are dying of hunger and deprivation in various spots around the world, like Darfur, Eritrea, Niger, Sri Lanka, etc, or affected by nature’s calamities visited upon those unfortunate people, like mudslides disasters in South America, etc, it has to take some truly earth-shaking (pun not intended) catastrophe such as a humongous tsunami killing hundreds of thousands before people would wake up and start to chip in.

Let us look at the latest case, Niger. The UN has recently launched an ‘anguished’ and urgent appeal for food aid to Niger.

Such tearful pleading tell us the reality that more than 2.5 million people are suffering from hunger while several thousands of children are at risk from severe malnutrition leading to deaths.

The deteriorating food and sanitation situation has been so acute that the UN has raised fivefold its estimate to fight Niger's famine to $US 80 million. Only $US 25 million has been received or promised. We all know that the term ‘promised’ usually means for that promise to be realised, it may take as long as an American spacecraft to reach the planet Pluto.

The more bizarre the natural calamity with the more horrible the devastation, the more likely and swift will be the international support. By contrast, the Darfur sufferings, though of horrendous and long suffering magnitude, have become so ‘common’ that they have lost their shock effects - effects that appear to be mandatory prerequisites to attract the urgent attention of the people of the world. Sure, aid is trickling in, but hardly with the same concerns and enthusiasm displayed for whales or some rare lizards or weird flowers or small little frogs.

Aren't we humans queer with such contrasting values? Have we got our priorities correct? Or is it that animals, fish, insects and flora don't possess the ethnic divide that fellow beings confront our emotions with?

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