Last week a child fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati zoo, and a gorilla had to be killed.
Suddenly the country was filled with zoologists, parenting experts, and people who evidently would feel comfortable with their child in the care of a 450 pound male silverback gorilla.
I watched an unedited news conference of the zoo official explaining the circumstances. (As a communications expert I have a professional interest in watching such interviews.)
My first thought was that if my two-year-old fell into a gorilla enclosure, I would follow my child into that gorilla enclosure.
And then I Goggled Cincinnati zoo gorilla enclosure and saw images of the area.
The barricades appear designed to look natural. A thick wall of shrubbery keeps people away from the edge of a 12 foot drop. The child scampered under the shrubbery, over the edge, and fell into the water below.
I would have attempted to follow my child down that 12 foot drop – at 6’2” I’d be willing to lower myself over the edge, hang and drop a few feet, if it meant protecting my daughter. But looking at the shrubbery, I’m not sure how I would’ve gotten through or over it, to even get to the edge.
And so the facts of the situation changed my opinion of the situation.
But facts haven’t slowed others from having stupid opinions.
We live in a culture of functioning illiterates that eschews experts, but that doesn’t stop us from having opinions. Perhaps it encourages us to have opinions founded on little more than conjecture and bias.
This wasn’t Koko, raised in captivity and learning sign language.
This was a near-wild animal that could have killed the child in a fraction of the time that it took to read this sentence. A wild animal that experts keep a metal fence between them and its kind.
Many may be anthropomorphizing.
The gorilla wasn’t ‘protecting’ the child, like a character from the Jungle Book or a Disney movie, the animal was dragging the child like a toy.
Zoological experts, employees of the zoo trained for exactly this sort of situation, made the decision to shoot the animal and rescue the child.
And yet the internet is ablaze with opinions from people who blamed the parent, faulted zoo officials, and thought they knew better, in the comfort of their living rooms with the benefit of hindsight.
The great thing about the Internet isn’t nearly instant access to huge libraries of information, instead it’s our ability to make uninformed, snap judgments, without consulting any of that information. And then reinforcing our wrong opinion with other ill-informed opinions.
I’m most shocked in this situation by adults who suggest that the animal should have been coaxed with food to surrender the child, or that other methods should have been employed. (Tranquilizers would have been too slow, and the animal would have killed the child if it fell on the child.) The animal could have accidentally killed the child at any moment during the 10 minute ordeal.
I couldn’t imagine the horror the parent must have felt. Evidently, neither can the legions of online experts who blame the parent or think that the child should have remained in the cage longer.
In our egalitarian culture every opinion, no matter how dumb, is just as good as every other opinion.
The opinions of experts, the mildly educated and the ignorant uninformed all have the same legitimacy.
This is life in our United States. It’s what allows our nation to be led into unjust invasions of other countries, to judge parents and zoo officials when the life of a child is at stake, and to vote for candidates with absolutely no experience, expertise or credentials.
I have a Master of Divinity degree.
I have formal seminary training in Biblical studies, which means my reading of scripture often includes a Biblical exegesis of the pericope that incorporates a hermeneutic of historical criticism.
This means my opinion is usually not equal to someone who discussed scripture in Sunday School.
And both of our opinions are less informed than the professors who taught my seminary classes.
The experts – those with formal, legitimate training – are usually right. And they were especially right when it came to making a choice between the life of a child and the life of an animal. It’s baffling to me that there’s even a question. But this is life in our United States.