A lesson of value: Cecil, hitchBOT and raising a respectful child

This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 3-year-old daughter Viva who believes that wanton destruction is not healthy for lions, robots, and other living things.

Last week, a dentist from Minnesota, not content with the daily sadistic satisfaction of drilling into people’s faces, tracked and murdered Zimbabwe’s most popular lion. International outrage and an extradition request has caused the dentist (Walter Palmer, DDS) to go into hiding, allegedly in Florida. Palmer likely assumes that if trigger happy neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman can walk the streets unmolested, ANYBODY can, and when the heat dies down, Palmer will likely lure Mickey Mouse out of Disney World, shoot him with a crossbow, follow him around for a couple of days, then chop off his big mascot head and hang it on his wall next to a picture of a smiling tooth reminding children to floss.

This week, friendly Canadian hitchhiking robot “hitchBOT” was beaten, dismembered and otherwise damaged beyond repair in Philadelphia, the same city where Ben Franklin once stabbed a panhandling printing press in the eye.

Oh, wait, no, such an act would be crazy … and yet, some frustrated Eagles fan DID actually destroy a hitchhiking robot. Constructed from a pool noodles, Wellington boots, a GPS, and powered primarily by Canuck politeness, hitchBOT was a social experiment that has most definitely concluded. I’m not sure what the experiment was about, but if they were testing the hypothesis that Philadelphia is a cesspool of violent sociopaths with terrible accents and Italian Beef sandwiches RUINED by Cheeze Whiz, consider the experiment an unqualified success.

This is the world where we are trying to raise our children, and these are the people surrounding them.

There are very few points on which we as Americans can agree: Should we poison our groundwater while collecting shale gas? Should we dismantle our labor laws and education system? Should we carry machine guns in Applebee’s? WHO KNOWS?!! But most of us agree that the Simbas and Wall-Es of this world were meant to perform show tunes, not be whacked by Dental Professionals and Mummers out for kicks.

And, yet, somehow, our society is turning out people like this (and if not our society, at the very least, the “Grand Theft Auto” gaming series). Might you be a part of the problem? Might I? Will your child grow up to be a conscientious and productive member of society, or will they be destructive and disrespectful – whether that means something truly sinister like blowing up stone Buddhas or taking a hammer to the Pieta, or benign but troublesome disruption, like growing up to be the next Spider Dan, Soy Bomb or Steve Bartman.

Now some people are born villains, some achieve villainy and some have villainy thrust upon them. As far as the latter categories, we need to make sure we aren’t actively creating destructive, disrespectful kids, whether by example or by abuse. If you’re about to vivisect a neighborhood animal or get crazy about wire hangers, you, of course, need to stop. As far as that first category, though, people spend a lot of time talking about how much we can learn from children and how gentle and prejudice-free they are, but I’d contend that humans are born evil. And if not evil, then certainly selfish to a fault. We are here as parents not just to keep the children fed and clothed and safe from … well, lions and robots, but also to teach them not to bite and hit and point and bully and exclude. Without adults to chide them, most kids would likely end up killing Piggy with a rock in pretty short order. We must, regularly and repeatedly, tell our kids to share, to be kind, to be patient and to be non-violent. We also need to teach them to respect animals, people, things and other people’s efforts – to respect every creature with whom we share a planet – if we don’t we end up raising a Walter Palmer or even (gulp) a Scott Walker.

Unless taught otherwise, children swipe toys from one another like that bandit weasel on “Dora the Explorer.” They will smash every jack-o-lantern, break every streetlight and grow up to shoot a man for snoring. Luckily, we are fairly unique in the animal world in that we are able to occasionally rise above our lizard brains, but it doesn’t happen without guidance. No one told Walter Palmer that the world wasn’t his to take. No one told whomever quartered hitchBOT that just because someone isn’t standing over you with a sidearm preventing you from smashing things, things are still generally not to be smashed. (Has anyone seen if Bruce Banner was near Philly that night?)

I think Americans are sometimes unfairly labeled as ugly and selfish. Sure, I like a 64 ounce beverage as much as the next guy, but most of my friends and I are actually pretty conservative (in the true sense of the word) and pretty respectful of other people’s lives and cultures. As a capitalist society, however, we do have a “taker” streak, and some disturbing anti-intellectual tendencies as well. We need to make extra sure we teach our kids that even if you can’t immediately think of how to monetize things, such as nature, art and other innovative ideas, doesn’t mean they don’t have worth. (Not that you can’t monetize lions and art and robots. There’s plenty of money in circuses, musicals and roombas, but those aren’t typically conscionable.) Just because a robot was programmed to bum rides and make benign conversation instead of assembling cars or blowing up terrorists doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. Just because an elephant has tusks that would make fetching knick-knacks doesn’t mean it should be stuck down. Every parent needs to remind their kids that people, places and things that aren’t printing money still have a place.

I should note, however, that the inventors of hitchBOT did first create a machine called “kulturBOT” that is actually an automated art critic. That the friendly, benoodled hitchBOT was destroyed, but a cybernetic art critic was allowed to function is truly a crime. That the majestic Cecil is now a rug, but theater and Opera critics are never lured from their offices by the smell of a fresh carcass and pursued across the plains by homicidal dentists strikes me as a real tragedy.

But, then, maybe I just wasn’t brought up right.

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