The New Scientist is one of my favorite publications — especially its online version. It was launched in 1956 “for all those men and women who are interested in scientific discovery, and in its industrial, commercial and social consequences.” It’s punchy, smart and entertaining.
The New Scientist is also where I find many counterintuitive gems — eerily metaphoric of big issues elsewhere. Consider its recent report on beached whales:
Large whales that strand themselves should be killed, as any attempts to save them are probably futile and likely to cause more suffering, according to animal welfare specialists…. Euthanasia can be a very emotive issue… but it is often in a stranded whale’s best interests. Death is normally induced by lethal injection…. Rescuers often have struggled to save stranded whales. In 2002, a pod of pilot whales stranded themselves on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, – many were refloated, but proceeded to re-beach themselves, with fatal results.
This report was interesting and surprising in its own right. It contradicted popular belief, and sparked discomfort. But it reminded me that it’s often unnatural, inhumane and more destructive to keep sick things alive — especially big things.
In these messy times, our own government and citizens should consider the lesson of beached whales. Too often our gut instinct is to fiercely preserve what we have and what we know. The bigger the institution, the more protection we seem to think it deserves — even when we know it would be best in the long run to simply let go and start over.
But unfortunately, “too big to die” has become a ubiquitous phrase in our lexicon. And in many prominent cases, too-big-to-die has been put into practice. Consider the auto-manufacturing sector. Think of finance, banking, health care and public education. Even consider certain dying sectors of the media industry. It forces one to ask: How much have our protectionist tendencies stifled innovation and re-invention? In the big scheme of things, how much have we weakened ourselves?
If the law of beached whales applies to our various industries and institutions, then we run a big risk of repeating those last words of the animal welfare specialists: “Many were refloated, but proceeded to re-beach themselves, with fatal results.”
Again, it’s often unnatural, inhumane and more destructive to keep sick things alive. Euthanasia is tough, but we must let beached whales die.
(This above also was my latest column in MediaPost.)