Thursday, June 5, 2008


It was the summer of 1975. I was a 16 year old pacing the steets of Hyde Park, on Chicago's south side. Crime rates had been high for a decade, and reports of violence (including police violence) were everywhere. But what scared me that summer 33 years ago was a finned predator attacking a Cape Code beach town in the mother of all block buster summer movies, Jaws. Crime couldn't stop me from walking the darkened streets of the neighborhood with my small dog in hopes of running into one of the girls in my class, but that imaginary great white kept me out of fresh water Lake Michigan (or from enjoying it when pursuit of those same girls required getting wet).

Reponses in the Mexican village of Ixtapa to a series of shark attacks this late spring, recall that movie, and remind us how primal and powerful that predator fear is in humans. As reported by Marc Lacey in the New York Times:

After the first attack, officials eased normally tight restrictions on shark fishing and sent an armada of fishermen out into the ocean to strike back. A number of sharks were brought back and hung as trophies, an effort to send a signal that the crisis was under control.

As a means of reducing shark attack risk, these measures are unlikely to work well and may actually increase fear of shark attacks, but they appear to mimic our response to violent crime (or is it in fact the original). Like the crime control response to the threat of violent crime, they have a powerful intuitive appeal. While it drives criminologists and apparently shark experts crazy, such responses seem to be repetitively embraced by humans facing the specter of a violent predatory attack (and not say a hurricane or a cancer).

Whether or not such responses have deep roots in our evolutionary heritage as the offspring of ancient relatives who got good at avoiding large predators they are clearly dysfunctional in their effects on crime rates or shark attacks. The key is to become conscious of the powerful appeals of these primal response and if possible develop tactics for slowing and moderating our irrational desire to attack tough and display the results.


Catalectic said...
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Catalectic said...

Wow! That was quite the story telling! Im quite amazed at all the things you've done! No wonder your soo happy! Well I hope you had your fun and excitement. In the mean while, as winters kicking in right now, we might be expecting some change! A change in weather hopefully to the better, it either has to rain or not! Mother nature is playing games with us :}
-Much LoVe
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