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Shark versus Boy

Mises Daily: Tuesday, July 10, 2001 by

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Let us examine the tragic story out of Florida of the young boy whose arm was severed by a shark and then reattached, after the shark was killed by a ranger. 

MSNBC describes the dramatic events:

Jessie was attacked by a seven-foot bull shark while playing knee-deep in water at Gulf Islands National Seashore near Fort Pickens, in the Florida Panhandle. Doctors said the key to the boy’s survival was that his aunt administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation immediately after he was pulled from the ocean. His severed arm was recovered after his uncle wrestled the two-hundred-pound shark to shore. 

"He’s a big guy. He got hold of it and tossed it ashore," District Ranger Supervisor John Bandurski said. 

Ranger Jared Klein then shot the shark four times with a 9 mm pistol and pried its jaw open with a police baton. Volunteer firefighter Tony Thomas used a clamp to pull the boy’s severed arm out of the shark’s gullet. 

Few among us would have hesitated at this choice: boy's arm versus life of shark. Of course the boy's arm is more important, and so the shark had to go. 

Yet, there are millions of animal-rights advocates around the world, many of them Hollywood celebrities with easy access to talk shows and news reporters, who have remained completely silent about their professed view—namely, that human beings are not more important than non-human animals. 

In the American Northwest, for example, lands and waterways that might be habitat to endangered species of animals and plants are being shut down by federal authorities, leaving farmers and fishermen destitute in the wake of this policy that is eagerly welcomed by most animal-rights and environmental extremists. 

In my own neighborhood, an entire national forest is shut down. No one is allowed to visit, because there is the danger that visitors might step on an endangered toad. 

When the shark was killed, however, none of the "Greens" rushed to give press conferences about how wrong it was to kill the shark, even in order to recover the boy's arm so it could be reattached. It was all very silent out there. Where were the champions of species egalitarianism? 

The major difference is this: When you attack the livelihood of people by trying to save the wild and its animals, hey, that only means you are against profit. Making a living is, after all, just a euphemism for profiteering, is it not? 

All those who hate globalization and privatization because these make economic development more likely do not hesitate in their protests, since they are, after all, merely attacking greed and profit. And since many ordinary folks agree that there is something unseemly about greed—and they accept, without much skepticism, that this is what the Greens are against—the protesters manage to get themselves a somewhat placid, unresisting audience. 

If, however, it were clear that economic development is actually the life-support process for millions of human beings, especially in underdeveloped countries, so that disregarding and attacking it is actually doing violence to human life, the proud and unabashed Greens would be less confident that their position would go unchallenged. 

Those who do see the connection aren't applauding the Greens much—as Thomas Friedman noted a while back, observing how no African joined with the Greens in their protests against globalization! 

When the young boy lost his arm, this was clearly linked with his life, his prospects, his future. But had his parents simply lost their livelihood—a farm, the right to fish in some river beloved by the Greens—that would not have mattered much to many people who defer to the Greens on such issues. The dichotomy between the environmental agenda and human life is less easily perceived than between the loss of an arm and one's chance for a decent life.

It is lazy thinking on the part of most folks who are so willing to let the Greens get away with their silly idea that human beings are no more important than the snail darter or even the great ape. 

It is time, however, to get to the heart of the matter between the Greens and the rest of us: They do not much like human beings, and they care little about how much pain their policies bring to them. They are savvy enough, however, to know that if they made this position clear on each occasion when it is relevant, they would lose their standing in the forums of civil discourse and would be seen for the hateful people they are. In their politics, they are on the side of the shark, not the boy. 

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Tibor R. Machan teaches business ethics at Chapman University and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. See his Mises.org Archive or send him MAIL