Commentary

Let Beached Whales Die

The New Scientist is one of my favorite publications -- especially its online version. It was launched in 1956 "for all those men and women who are interested in scientific discovery, and in its industrial, commercial and social consequences." It's punchy, smart and entertaining.

The New Scientist is also where I find many counterintuitive gems -- eerily metaphoric of big issues elsewhere. Consider its recent report on beached whales: "Large whales that strand themselves should be killed, as any attempts to save them are probably futile and likely to cause more suffering, according to animal welfare specialists.... Euthanasia can be a very emotive issue... but it is often in a stranded whale's best interests. Death is normally induced by lethal injection.... Rescuers often have struggled to save stranded whales. In 2002, a pod of pilot whales stranded themselves on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, - many were refloated, but proceeded to re-beach themselves, with fatal results."

This report was interesting and surprising in its own right. It contradicted popular belief, and sparked discomfort. But it reminded me that it's often unnatural, inhumane and more destructive to keep sick things alive -- especially big things.

In these messy times, our own government and citizens should consider the lesson of beached whales. Too often our gut instinct is to fiercely preserve what we have and what we know. The bigger the institution, the more protection we seem to think it deserves -- even when we know it would be best in the long run to simply let go and start over.

But unfortunately, "too big to die" has become a ubiquitous phrase in our lexicon. And in many prominent cases, too-big-to-die has been put into practice. Consider the auto-manufacturing sector. Think of finance, banking, health care and public education. Even consider certain dying sectors of the media industry. It forces one to ask: How much have our protectionist tendencies stifled innovation and re-invention? In the big scheme of things, how much have we weakened ourselves?

If the law of beached whales applies to our various industries and institutions, then we run a big risk of repeating those last words of the animal welfare specialists: "Many were refloated, but proceeded to re-beach themselves, with fatal results."

Again, it's often unnatural, inhumane and more destructive to keep sick things alive. Euthanasia is tough, but we must let beached whales die.

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22 comments about "Let Beached Whales Die ".
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  1. Mike Patterson from WIP, Inc., April 24, 2009 at 12:25 p.m.

    Nice! Great metaphor and great commentary. This insight is piercing, astute and invaluable.

  2. Jill Siragusa from Horizon Structures, April 24, 2009 at 12:30 p.m.

    Amen, brother!

  3. Daymon Hartley from daymonjhartley.com, April 24, 2009 at 12:31 p.m.


    Is the Beached Whale the economic, social and political system itself?
    I think what is missing in most of the reporting going on in the mainstream media is that we are experiencing a general crisis of the whole economic system.
    The best analysis I have seen so far puts forth the position that our present capitalist economic, social and political system is a victim of its own success.
    With the robotic and electronic revolution well under way we are replacing manual labor as we know it.
    And that is not necessarily a bad thing.
    If we can get machines to do the back breaking work in the factories, mines etc. then that should be a plus for humanity.
    But unfortunately they haven't figured out how to get the robots to buy back what they produce.
    And with a system still based on the premise that you have to have a job
    to earn a wage to buy the necessaries of life and there are no jobs....you have
    an irreconcilable contradiction.
    The profits and market system can no longer function to meet the needs of the majority of society.
    With Globalization there is an evening up process with the spread of the technology.... and rather then bringing the rest of the worlds workers up to
    the living standard we have enjoyed...our standard of living is being driven down to theirs.
    I used to think it was a big conspiracy by the elite but now I believe that every economic system has its own objective motion and laws.
    The people in power have no control over what is happening either.
    It is always better to be able to rule with the consent of the ruled.
    They think that if they just throw more of our taxpayer money at the problem it will go away.
    Every day you see another fascist type attack on our constitution.
    The system is based on competition to increase their profits.
    So they can't not compete.
    What we must move towards is some sort of cooperative, non-ideological economic system that can meet the needs of the population of the entire globe. And with the new technology
    we can meet those needs. In the proper hands we could eliminate world hunger, homelessness, disease etc. in a very short time.
    Let this Beached Whale die!

  4. Kurt Ohare from ohare & associates, April 24, 2009 at 12:31 p.m.

    I agree that sometimes it's the humane choice to put beached whales down - but don't kill it if you're not prepared to clean it.

  5. Tom O'brien from MotiveQuest LLC, April 24, 2009 at 12:32 p.m.

    Max:

    Nice article. How much better off would Detroit be right now if Chrysler had been allowed to die the first time it was rescued?

    It would have provided a stark example of what can happen if you don't pay attention (death) and it would have taken lots of excess capacity out of the market.

    Both would have been good things for Ford and GM.

    TO'B

  6. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, April 24, 2009 at 12:41 p.m.

    Letting this economic system die is equal to saying: Bring on socialism and government rule of our lives. With all its failings, capitalism represents freedom and government control represents the loss of freedom. Losing a whale doesn't affect my freedom. Losing the freedom to succeed or fail makes life into a boring elementary school soccer game where everyone gets a trophy regardless of their effort. Count me out.

  7. Greg Alvarez from iMeil, April 24, 2009 at 12:43 p.m.

    Its true some big institutions 'need to die'. Not just because of the fact that they are causing problems to the entire society, but because they have shown their lack on leadership to offer benefits instead of problems (millions from taxes invested to rescue them.)

    To avoid, however, creating more problems than a real solution, governments need to see objectively what will be the impact if they let die some organization.

    I believe its better to help them, and while help them, 'make them die'. I mean, you help them and support their activities, and at the same time you slowly direct them to go 'out of business', to avoid offering material to pessimistic media that would create an entire inescropulous speculation.

    I, nonetheless, tend to think like you: let all the financial white elephants die and start from scratch!

  8. Gary Klein from GKlein&associates, April 24, 2009 at 12:45 p.m.

    This is an extraordinarily important piece. I have been an advocate of this approach/theory from day 1. It's still not too late to apply it to a number of different sectors of the US economy. I believe it to be a matter of natural evolution.

  9. Michael Mcmahon from ROI Factory / Quick Ops, April 24, 2009 at 12:46 p.m.

    I was shocked to hear yesterday that AIG received ANOTHER $30 BILLION this week. Talk about a beached whale.

  10. Rosanne Gain from Gain - Stovall, Inc., April 24, 2009 at 12:48 p.m.

    The concept of sacred cows, and "sacred whales" are open to scrutiny and discussion. Metaphors help us to tell a story that is sometimes difficult to grasp, understand and ultimately to accept. Thanks for this thought-provoking piece, truly "food for thought."

  11. Rosanne Gain from Gain - Stovall, Inc., April 24, 2009 at 12:51 p.m.

    Darn, on my previous post I made a boo-boo: the opening sentence should read: "The concept of sacred cows, and "sacred whales" IS open to scrutiny and discussion."

  12. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 24, 2009 at 1:07 p.m.

    Life is precious. Too much life will choke us. When there are too many people who use up too many natural resources and cannot contribute to replacing them, when too many people make too much stuff other people cannot afford or need you should be able to see the pattern of too many people. We should be smarter than this by now to insist on population control in a sane, moral manner and eke out the greed where it rears its head religiously.

  13. Dan Mckillen from HealthDay, April 24, 2009 at 1:16 p.m.

    What if the catalyst that made all these whales beach themselves was a giant killer shark (Google) that was thrashing and weakening them over a period of ten years? The giant shark claims he is allowed to swim anywhere (fair use) and eat anything he wants in the ocean. Should we stand by and watch all the smaller fish become endangered species or put up nets (change the fair use rules) to keep the giant shark from
    destroying the food chain?

    Save the whales!

  14. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., April 24, 2009 at 1:16 p.m.

    "Don't kill it if you aren't prepared to clean it" is right on.

    The real question is: "What made the whales beach themselves?" If it was Navy sub-chasers testing ultra-long-range sonar, that's a problem some human ought to deal with. In the context of a given beaching, putting the whales out of their misery may be the right thing to do, regardless. But in the scope of this metaphor, the implication is that euthanizing the whales will somehow make room for "better" (sneer quotes) classes of whales to evolve that aren't disoriented by subchaser pings. And that's both delusional and disingenuous -- a rationalization for cruelty.

    In fact -- to pursue the metaphor -- it's most likely that Nature can't, given the materials at its disposal, engineer a creature that preserves other essential features of the whale while making the creature immune to hypersound. The whale's architecture is too deeply invested in sonar and audio communication, environmental scanning and prey-finding. So what all this boils down to, really, is saying: "Screw the whales. Come up with something else."

    Surfacing back to the concrete: I'm down with that, as far as AIG and other corrupt mega-institutions go. But if we're talking about "the publishing industry as we know it," I have a more personal stake in the game. I don't believe that what we value about magazines and professionally-produced topical websites can survive Google and ad-networks strip-mining the ocean floor of monetizable pageviews and binding all the oxygen of audience attention. And I think that most of what publishers are being forced to do in a desperate effort to adapt to circumstances is turning their products rapidly into crap. And none of this is the whales' fault, if you get my meaning.

    Ironic that you should so esteem The New Scientist. Did you happen to see that Scientific American -- the only American magazine that can hold a candle to TNS -- has boosted its EIC and is beginning the long, tragicomic slide towards extinction?

  15. Stephen Shearin from ionBurst Media, April 24, 2009 at 1:29 p.m.

    Great analogy. To stay in the vernacular, how do you determine value? Are a million dead minnows any less important? Where is the bailout for the thousands of small businesses facing hard times today?
    Why is it only a 'free market' when things go swimmingly?
    Let the whales die!

  16. J.a. Hope from Hope Health Inc., April 24, 2009 at 1:35 p.m.

    Great observations and analogy. Too bad the Bush and Obama administrations didn't heed this advice with the GM, Chrysler, AIG, Fannie and Freddie, etc. Creative destruction is a part of the capitalist system. Colossal disruptions are healthier in the long run than USSR style central planning. Bureaucrats cannot properly allocate capital in the way a free market system with individuals making choices across the economy, without govt interference that distorts the risk quotient for economic decisions!

  17. Ron & anna Winship from Parker-Longbow productions, April 24, 2009 at 1:46 p.m.

    *Actually, Max is a little off in this article. Having been a part of saving two pilot whales ourselves......let's just say.....it takes a big effort. We had 200 people on the beach move a pilot whale off the beach in a rising tide to begin with....then a lifeguard boat wrapped a canvas cradle around the body...and pulled the whale out to sea about a mile. Both whales.....once in the tidal shift...seemed to find their way to wherever they were going.

  18. George Linzer from Potomac River Media, April 24, 2009 at 1:53 p.m.

    Wonderful analogy! Simple and profound. So often, the best solutions are like that as well. It just takes fear and politics to complicate things and compound our mistakes.

  19. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc., April 24, 2009 at 5:33 p.m.

    In college, we were taught the fallacy of "reductionism." This is a perfect example of reductionism. To be sure, once in a while, beached whales should be "put down," just as other animals are. But to suggest that everything that resembles a beached whale should be treated that way is patently nonsense. As H.L. Mencken so aptly put it, "For every problem, there is a solution that is simple, obvious – and wrong."

  20. Max Kalehoff from SocialCode, April 24, 2009 at 8:18 p.m.

    Tim Orr: I agree with you that not every problem has a simple solution, although simple ones tend to succeed more often than complex ones. But the point is that we're erring to much on saving that which is big, and are too averse to re-invention in the name of avoiding short-term pain.

    Read Scott Martin: I can't argue with the fact I'm not a whale.

  21. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 27, 2009 at 8:22 p.m.

    Matt, although much of what you say is too true, please all remember that Rome's economy, military and society was dependent upon slavery. So was the the cradle of democracy, Greece. So who is the whale?

  22. Steve Wood, April 29, 2009 at 4:44 p.m.

    we will all be beached Whales if do not change the environment

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