Colin — the abandoned baby whale, whose fate has been played out in public over the last several days — is the new battle-zone in the interminable war of reason and emotion.

Colin invites two powerful reactions. Some people feel intensely moved by his story. He was left by his mother, he was innocent and in danger, he could not look after himself. People wanted to help — wanted to keep in him their swimming pool, breast feed him, pay for his education — but it was all too difficult; even the ADF couldn’t save Colin.

Then there were the hard-headed, hard-hearted people who spoke about Darwin and “nature red in tooth and claw”, who reminded us that many baby whales die all the time, but don’t manage to do it in public places and so pass unwept.

I confess I’m less interested in Colin, more interested in our reactions. It’s sentimental to cry for a baby whale. That’s not because it’s sentimental to cry, but because the passion is not finding its real object. Colin was a symbol. People poured human sympathy into him; as if to say in a roundabout way: “I feel abandoned; I need to be rescued; I need love and kindness.”

It wasn’t so much Colin people were grieving for, as for themselves. That’s why it is so dangerous to cross a whale lover; they react as if you had just insulted them — and that’s the giveaway. In the secret recesses of imaginative projection, they are Colin. That’s why talk about Darwin and so on struck them as evil; it would be like spouting the survival of the fittest to a lost and frightened child.

And can’t we say much the same of the cool rationalists? Why do they hate it so much when people get worked up about Colin? Secretly, they can’t bear to see all that tenderness going in the wrong direction. Into themselves they shout:

You’re so feeling and generous to him — what about me, sitting here: don’t I need love, don’t I need to be understood and rescued and have a few million dollars spent making me OK? But I just know that because I don’t look as cuddly as a baby whale you’d never spend that sympathy on me. I hate you and your stupid, ugly whale.

I imagine a good few relationships have soured over this: Colin bust ups, Colin divorces. It wasn’t his fault; it was all about us.

Particularly given he was actually Collette.

Peter Fray

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