The Human Language of Sharks

It seems that in the age of the anthropocene that many discussions are happening in regards to humans, animals and the places where we meet. However, many of these discussions concern only one species of our multispecies world – often we humans – and the conversations usually have a colonial attitude in terms of our ability and our right to inhabit the spaces where wild animals live and to be able to do so without impunity and with the presumption of our complete safety. This attitude has extended as far as habitats where human beings cannot live, namely the oceans, and yet still we expect to be able to enter oceans in complete safety as if it is our right as human beings not to dare to be harmed by anything as lowly as an animal.
Our human-created world of technology and resulting
detachment from the natural world we are a part of is causing us to experience and exhibit a form of narcissism that humanity has never manifested to this degree before. We no longer seem to have a fear of the natural world nor awareness that it can better us in any way. Nature seems to have been put permanently on a leash for our psychological comfort and through this concept human law makers and legislators seem completely flabbergasted when nature does get the better of us in some way.
Colin Barnett’s Western Australian Shark Mitigation Program seems a perfect example of this neurosis. The very small chance of a shark having the ability to injure or kill bathers in its own habitat has incensed the government so much that it has enacted what can only be called a genocide on the creatures who live there to ensure the safety of the creatures who visit there. When looked at in a rational, non-hysterical way, this can only be seen as some sort of colonial madness. Sharks are not creeping out of the water and sneaking into people’s homes at night to feed on them, they are not hiding under our beds, they are not organising sleeper cells in our cities waiting to take over. They are creatures who have been here for much, much longer than us and much, much longer than any other creatures on Earth. They are living their lives in the oceans of the world and should be allowed to do so unmolested.
Why is this hysteria occurring despite widespread opposition and condemnation from Australia and the world? Why are sound minds and logic being ignored in favour of a small minority of paranoid lawmakers?

I believe much of this has to do with language. Even as I write this, spell check is continually putting a squiggly green line under the pronoun ‘who’ whenever it follows the noun ‘shark’ or ‘animal’ or ‘creature’. Our language has been hard-wired to think of animals as ‘it’ not ‘he’, ‘she’ and definitely not as animals who think, feel, remember, choose, decide or act. Their ability and agency has been diminished by our language and thus by our laws. Our colonisation of their spaces and their lives has not just come from our nets and boats and hooks and guns but from our language, which has colonised their ability to be.

July 8, 2014

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