Wednesday 20 August 2008

Who is baby whale creature's mother?

So I'm inspired by the baby whale creature topic. Beware though, this post is not for the faint of heart.

It's interesting to me that when we are faced with something like this in the 'natural' world, ie. amongst other animals, that we tut tut, and say with sad wisdom, "yes, sometimes in the wild mothers abandon their young. We don't understand why but they do." And it's considered one of those difficult-to-deal-with anomalies of nature, just what happens 'in the wild'. Nobody thinks of making laws where we go after other species mothers who have abandoned their young, to prosecute them (tough love) or offer therapy (no one will think badly of you, just own up) or reconcile parent and child in a supportive community framework. I suppose it's a question of us governing our own species' behaviour in this respect, and having some sense that wild natural behaviour is far out of our ability to control.

But how are humans so different to animals in these biological ways of responding? Yes, humans are capable of art and culture and ideas and altruism and all kinds of refined applications of the human heart and mind. But in our animal, biological ways, how different are we from any other animal? When it comes to desiring sex, taking care of our young, how we respond when we're hungry, how we respond when we're physically threatened, we have animal responses for these things, and I wonder how much those core animal responses have really needed to evolve over the lifetime of the species? Animal responses, for what they are, are pretty effective mechanisms.

But we treat our own species differently, of course. We have rules, social and civic, legal and personal ones. We have standards and codes of behaviour, we approve of certain behaviours and disapprove of others, and there is generally quite a lot of individual variation in open cultures as to what is approved of and what disapproved. And generally, if you really want to get people tut tutting, just tell 'em a story about a mother who has abandoned her child, or has gotten an abortion, or even someone who has been unable to take care of her children, with the result that her children are either taken into care or grow up feral, neglected. That's one way to flush out people's disapproval. Usually, the most important consideration to us is actually the child's safety, which no sane person would argue with, but we tend to pathologise the mother.

But what about someone who has an abortion because she discovers that the child she is carrying has got some serious genetic problem? Is this also a natural response?

It seems so arbitrary when it happens in nature, but it does happen, and each mother is different in her response. Cats, dogs, tigers and lions all often reject a 'runt' and favour the strong ones. When the runt dies, she eats it and thereby gets nutrition for feeding the others. Motherhood in animals is remarkably bullshit free. I'm not recommending that we humans start eating our dead babies, or ignore the smallest because he or she is weak, my point is that in this animal zone of our own behaviour, we apply standards that we often just can't follow, because it is not how our instincts operate.

Why do we treat human females who abandon their young as having a problem to overcome, when it is evident everywhere else in nature, not that this is the norm by any means, but that it is, in fact, another aspect of nature?

So what about baby whale creature's mother, swimming out to sea? Do we think she's heartless? The baby whale story is terrible. Baby whale creature will probably die. It is awful and I will be cheering if they manage to find a way to save the baby whale creature.

But baby whale creature's mother has swum freely off into the ocean. Someone will see her again some day, in another yacht, blowing jets of air up into the sky, taking HD camcorder footage with glee and oohs and aahs, wondering at the beauty of the natural world, or maybe you'll happen upon some of that footage of whales tossing a baby seal between them, killing it with shock, playing with it before eating it, and flinch at the cruelty before moving swiftly along to another cute kitten video. It is hard, what happens sometimes in nature. And we are more a part of nature than we usually care to understand.

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