Logical Fallacy of the Day

Cincinnati mourns gorilla killed to save boy.” That’s the headline of a USA Today story, which says (in part):

The Cincinnati Zoo was open Sunday for Memorial Day weekend tourists, but the gorilla exhibit was closed indefinitely after authorities killed a gorilla that attacked a 4-year-old boy who fell into the enclosure’s moat.

Zoo President Thane Maynard said the boy crawled through a barrier Saturday, fell 10 to 12 feet and was grabbed by the zoo’s 17-year-old male western lowland gorilla, Harambe.

The Cincinnati Fire Department said in a statement that first responders “witnessed a gorilla who was violently dragging and throwing the child.” The boy was with the 400-pound animal for about 10 minutes before the zoo’s Dangerous Animal Response Team deemed the situation “life-threatening,” Maynard said.

Police confirmed the child was taken to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center near the zoo and was treated for non-life threatening injuries.

“The choice was made to put down, or shoot, Harambe, so he’s gone,” Maynard said. “We’ve never had a situation like this at the Cincinnati Zoo where a dangerous animal needed to be dispatched in an emergency situation.”

Maynard said the Dangerous Animal Response Team followed procedures, which they practice in drills. He said no one had ever gotten into the enclosure in the 38-year history of the zoo’s gorilla exhibit.

“It’s a sad day all the way around,” Maynard said. “They made a tough choice. They made the right choice, because they saved that little boy’s life. It could have been very bad.”

After the gorilla was shot, zoo employees unlocked the gate and two firefighters quickly retrieved the child, according to the fire department.

Two female gorillas were also in the enclosure.

“We are all devastated that this tragic accident resulted in the death of a critically endangered gorilla,” he said in a news release. “This is a huge loss for the zoo family and the gorilla population worldwide.”…

The decision to shoot Harambe instead of tranquilizing the animal was made in the interest of the boy’s safety, Maynard said.

“In an agitated situation, it may take quite a while for the tranquilizer to take effect,” he explained….

Maynard also explained that while Harambe didn’t attack the child, the animal’s size and strength posed a great danger.

Before I get to the logical fallacy, I must comment on some aspects of the story. The first is the apologetic tone of Maynard’s statement. Why apologize for doing the right thing?

Then there’s the contradiction. Maynard is reported to have said that the gorilla didn’t attack the child. But the fire department’s statement says that the gorilla was violently dragging and throwing the child, which seems more plausible.

And why was the situation deemed life-threatening only after the child had been in the gorilla enclosure for 10 minutes? It was life-threatening the instant that he climbed into the enclosure. Perhaps it took the response team that long to arrive at the scene and decide to execute the gorilla — an unconscionable delay.

Anyway, the logical fallacy is that “Cincinnati mourns.” That’s typical headline guff, and a logical fallacy. To ascribe an emotion or trait to a geopolitical area (and thus to all of its inhabitants) is a form of reification, which is the treatment of an abstraction as if it had material existence.

There is no “Cincinnati” to mourn, grieve, or otherwise experience emotion. There are many, many Cincinnatians (and New Yorkers, Americans, etc.) who have many different emotional reactions to notorious events: the killing of a gorilla, the death of Princess Diana, and so on. One of those reactions is indifference, which is often the proper one.

The headline writer could have written “Cincinnati rejoices in rescue of child from gorilla’s clutches.” But that would have been just as fallacious. There are Cincinnatians (and others) whose  main (and sometimes only) reaction to the killing of the gorilla was to mourn it, and even to claim that it had been deprived of due process of law. But such views — I suspect and hope — are in the vast minority.

Were I given to reification, I would say that the events in Cincinnati reveal the callousness of America. The headline writer focused on “mourning” for the gorilla, while giving second place to the child’s well-being. And there were several bystanders who recorded the event with their cameras instead of turning away in horror.

I report, you reify.

*     *     *

Related posts:

More Thoughts about Evolutionary Teleology

Creative Destruction, Reification, and Social Welfare

“We the People” and Big Government

Society