Friday, 25 September 2009

Why Not Gun Down the Gunmen?

After witnessing Malta’s war on birds, it is tempting to fight fire with fire: go into the shooters’ lairs and massacre the lot of ‘em. Take out their children and wives too, and by implication all succeeding generations. That would solve the problem, wouldn’t it? In the same vein I've listened to birders here talk of shooting dogs that run amok through flocks of birds, and driving over cats for being... well, being cats.

In a rational moment anyone could predict that these actions would escalate the problem. It is how wars get going. It’s interesting though to dissect why such a notion is tempting.

Number one has to be the motivation of being right where the other guy is so clearly wrong. We all love that and go out of our way to find ever more issues in which to put one over. There's nothing like the feeling of being right. From that standpoint we can totally invalidate the opposition and justify whatever action we take.

There is a problem. Right and wrong don't exist. You can't point at them. They have no weight. We invented the words without, unfortunately, a precise definition or field guide to aid in identifying them. By their tenuous nature right and wrong have become a barrier between people; we no longer connect across the words and neither side gets what it wants.

What's the solution?

We're bad at this. Thousands of years of disputes have come down to the same old answers: have a war; write a law; kill ‘em; bang ‘em up; boycott their goods; fine them; and so on. Each creates a new problem, sometimes a worse one, without even necessarily solving the old. Maybe, as a society we're simply not mature enough yet to be successful at handling problems. Maybe we need to recognise that they will always exist and we don't need to solve them, just turn them into problems we’d like to have.

Here's a nice one, inspired by a couple of incidents from my week on Malta.

On my one day off I caught the bus to Rabat from Dingli, where I waited at the stop with a couple of lads. I asked one when the bus was likely to turn up.

“It’s a bus,” he replied, showing that the universal experience of buses was at least one shared piece of humanity.

We went on to talk in the usual male lingua franca – football. He was a Pompey fan; I’m Saints – the biggest clash of right and wrong on the South Coast. But we connected and no-one came to blows and no birds got shot. He even spent the journey into Rabat pointing out his favourite landmarks.

The second scenario saw me throw an errant football back to a kid in Buskett Gardens. He very politely thanked me in perfect English before continuing his game.

No, I’m not suggesting football as a better problem, although it could have its part to play. But kids, yes. I doubt that either of these two nippers would be interested in blasting bundles of defenceless feathers out of the sky. In fact, wouldn’t a child be horrified by it? I mean actually seeing it and the bloody, broken mess that is the end result? I don't mean as some hypothetical, virtual computer game.

Wouldn’t a child be more in thrall to the beauty of a wild creature? Wouldn’t it be worth capturing that spirit before the murderous adult world begins to impose its twisted values? Win the hearts and minds of the youngsters and they will surely swamp their butchering parents. Then the next ten years will just be a damage limitation exercise.

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