The Tillikum Syndrome
The horrific incident at Sea World Orlando, in which Tillikum the killer whale lived up to his name by clenching Dawn Brancheau in his teeth for thirty minutes, indicates a much larger problem, which can be referred to as The Tillikum Syndrome.
The basic situation is simple enough. A blinkered corporation sets up an unhealthy situation with terrible consequences, and a paying public ignores the disgusting wrongdoing for its own purposes.
We can pull four main ingredients from this unenviable picture: (1) a money-hungry corporation, (2) an unhealthy situation, (3) terrible consequences, and (4) a willfully ignorant public.
These four together define the Tillikum Syndrome. In the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, it runs like this:
(1) The money-hungry corporation is Sea World. Making a buck is the number one priority. Doing what’s right is ancillary to profit.
(2) The unhealthy situation is putting a huge apex predator, an orca, in a tiny tub compared to its natural habitat, the ocean, where it is ogled by tourists who chew popcorn and moan, “Oooooooh.”
(3) The terrible consequences are of course the death of human beings (Tillikum has been involved in three deaths), but also a not-so-subtle scummy message: that it is absolutely fine to treat animals and ecosystems as nothing but props for the needs of spoiled consumers. To hell with harmony and spirituality and reverence for life. Let’s have fun and make cash.
(sidebar: Don’t you just love the way business refers to us as “consumers”? Not partners with Nature, not caretakers of the Earth, but devouring bottomless pits of need)
(4) The spoiled US citizens don’t bother to think deeply about the virtue of putting an orca in a tub, the death that results from it, the horrible message it sends, or the stigma inflicted on the nation’s reputation.
The Tillikum Syndrome (TTS) doesn’t just apply to Sea World. There are many applications . What about a chemical company that pollutes while producing? All you have to do is fill in the blanks:
(1) Money hungry corporation: a chemical company
(2) Unhealthy situation: an icky factory plopped down where the buffalo used to roam, an ugly smear on the landscape.
(3) Terrible consequences: environmental pollution and of course that little side effect called cancer.
(4) Willfully ignorant public: the people who buy the cheap products made at the plant, which could be all kinds of nifty things from epoxy to fake rubber shit to hairspray.
See how easy it is to find instances of TTS? The problem is everywhere, riddling the essence of North American society. We have a big problem on our hands, even bigger than a five ton killer whale.
Let me leave you with one more example of The Tillikum Syndrome.
(1) Money-hungry corporation: Wal-Mart
(2) Unhealthy situation: big ugly boxes speckling a continent like a national case of acne, where humans are herded into aisles and check-out lines like cattle. What E.O. Wilson refers to as “glorified feed lots.”
(3) Terrible consequences: Too many to count. Here are some: (a) goods Made in China support the CCP, a police nation without a bill of rights; (b) environmental destruction caused by acquiring “raw materials” to make products, which are produced in nasty factories without proper oversight; (c) mistreatment of the workers in sweatshops around the globe who make the cheap products that spoiled US citizens buy.
(4) Willfully ignorant public: All of us who shop at Wal-Mart, which includes me from time to time. UGH!!! It really is hard to stop. But if we can’t stop completely, at least we can
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