I was listening to the radio not too long ago and I heard a public service announcement from the Department of Really Obvious Things that said, essentially, “If you see a downed power line, don’t touch it.” Well, duh. Who is this public service announcement for? And is this particular problem so prevalent that it takes precedence over all the other obviously dangerous things like walking into an open manhole and driving the wrong way in traffic? Are we really socially obligated to spend money to protect people who can’t figure this out on their own? And even if we are, is this the best way to go about it?
I mean, really. Picture this scenario. Someone (I am going to assume this is a guy for stereotypical reasons) sees a downed power line and says to himself, “Huh. This shouldn’t be here. I think I’ll move it, or maybe touch it to see if it is live.” He then reaches out his hand, but something from the deep recesses of his mind (or, shallow recesses, in this scenario) says to him, “Wait! Stop! Wait! I think I heard something on the radio about this! I’m not supposed to touch this!” He walks away, safely, another great disaster averted. Seems to me that if this is really a chronic problem and we want to capture everyone’s attention at the critical time, then we would print the rubber wrapping around the power lines with bright orange or yellow stick figures with little x’s over their eyes and their hair standing on end.
I know enough about marketing and psychology to know that it doesn’t work this directly. I know that if you say something to someone enough, something subconscious automatically operates your brain/body. This is why you naturally reach for the package of potato chips with the brand name you are familiar with, or Coke instead of Pepsi. It isn’t because you remember the commercial, it is because something subliminal stuck in your brain and most of us prefer the familiar to the strange.
But still. Have we become a society that has become so incapable of critical thinking that we require being told not to touch something hanging off a power pole? Are our survival instincts that slim? Really simple organisms without complex brains, like jellyfish and earthworms, have sense enough to stay away from danger, why not people?
But now that I think about it, maybe there is an inverse relationship of survival instinct to brain size. Not that squirrels are likely to win Nobel Prizes in Physics any time soon, but we can all probably agree that they have a higher thought process than clams. Yes, the clams that dig themselves deeper into the sand at low tide to avoid predators. Anyway, the squirrels that live in my neighborhood hang out on the side of the road waiting for someone to drive by so they can dart out under the tires of the car. These are not squirrels who think, “Whoa! That big thing that smushed Uncle Murray last week is going awfully fast on its round legs. I’d better steer clear!”
I have not seen the studies, but I am guessing that because the head of a deer is larger than an entire squirrel, its brain is considerably larger. I am also assuming with a complete lack of appropriate scientific knowledge that the larger brain gives a deer at least the tools with which to think higher order thoughts than squirrels. And yet a deer, when faced with an oncoming car ten times its size does not bound away swiftly and gracefully to safety as it is no doubt physically capable of doing. Instead, it just stands there, looking at you like, well, like a deer in the headlights.
And so here we are, humans, with our tremendous, complex brains that are unrivalled in this world, capable of pondering the secrets of the universe, and we are killing ourselves off at a rapid rate while doing stupid, easily avoidable things. We are theoretically at the top of the food chain, with no natural predators save ourselves. Thus faced with a life without physical danger, we feel the need to create it for ourselves. Why else would bungee jumping operations make money? Why else would there be an endless supply of videos of young men pitching headfirst off of a stair rail while trying to ride it on a skateboard or flipping their ATVs? Why else would every television show involving professional stunt men with safety equipment start off with a warning not to try this at home?
I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. Now. If you’ll excuse me, there is a six foot snake in my back yard with a rattle on one end and giant fangs on another. I think I’ll poke it with a stick.