Orcas, their human friend, and the autistic boy they healed

Roberto Bubas is an Argentine wildlife ranger who grew up admiring Jacques Cousteau. The French marine researcher who travelled the seven seas in his mythical boat, the Calypso. When he came of age, Bubas studied marine biology in Puerto Madryn, in southern Argentina, and went on to work in Valdés Peninsula.

This part of Patagonia on the Atlantic coast is flat and desert, if you omit to count the rich wildlife, from varieties of penguins to whales. Enthralled by them, Bubas started approaching them. Most extraordinarily, he developed a friendship with the orcas, which humans —look who’s talking— call “killer whales.”

These gigantic sea mammals engaged him. One day, an orca brought him a punch of algae. He reacted the way pet owners do when their dog brings them a ball or a bone. They throw it away so the dog brings it back. The orca did the same. She was playing with Bubas. And they have let him approach them for decades. By now he knows at least three generations of orcas. Those include the very little ones when he began his research work 25 years ago and that now are moms themselves.

Then a second miracle happened. Thousands of kilometers away, a 9-year-old boy who had never spoken up to that moment started to pat the TV screen, exclaiming “Me! Me!”. Agustín’s stunned parents took him to Valdés Peninsula. Bubas wrote a book based on that story, “Agustín Open Heart,” now becoming a movie.

Agustín, the boy that had been diagnosed with autism, is now 19, is an artist, attends university and has a girlfriend. Asked about this boy’s recovery, Bubas says that perhaps it wasn’t him that had a condition, but that the world is ill. Indeed. Perhaps there is a case of collective autism that prevents us from knowing the world we live in.

‘Everything else is public relations’

 

These are tough times for journalism. That there is a superabundance of media platforms does not necessarily promote freedom of expression. It may actually conspire a fundamental principle for effective reporting: critical thinking.

But surely it is always better to have an excess of news outlets than a lack of them. For in the increasingly complex societies we live in, governments and influential corporations would surely breathe more easily if there were fewer journalists looking around.

And all this is worth remembering today when we celebrate World Press Freedom Day. The challenges are many. There is also the consolidation threat in the industry. A string of harassment cases against female employees at Fox News—as well as many other scandals that have dogged that corporation—are a case in point. That shows that media corporations may become themselves powerful interest groups with things to hide.

Yet other challenges also include the bad disruptions caused by web-based media: poor writing and reporting, lesser or nil fact-checking, less than ideal platforms that make for hurried and bad reading. And that is bad, because in addition to inquisitive reporters, societies need critical readers.

All of that, however, pales in comparison with the state of journalism in places like Turkey, where a thin-skinned president has made a habit of imprisoning reporters and violently harassing critical media. But Mexico is bad too, because of organized crime.

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.”

A job is not always work

 

We tend to use indistinctly “job” and “work” to describe what we do to earn money. As most words, their meaning is a convention, which tends to be somewhat arbitrary. It’s worth remembering it, following the International Workers’ Day on May 1.

In common usage, both words imply a degree of coercion. These are things we must do to pay the bills. In that regard, it is entirely secondary and irrelevant whether our job matches our vocation. It’s either that or you may risk eviction or hunger, and all the bad things poverty entails.

But there is a subtle difference between “a job” and “work.” The job is well explained in this short movie —“The Employment”— that lasts around six minutes. Watch it through the end. It’s worth every second of it.

The first regular work men did was hunting: it involved tactics and strategy, eventually using tools, to systematically procure food. Then came agriculture. It also taught us a method to extract from the world —the world of everything and every creature on it, not just humans— what we need to live. It did more than putting food on our table. While working the land, we began the process of learning —everything from planting to the timing of seasons— as well as improving tools and techniques. Agriculture begot us culture upon which, in turn, civilization was built.

That was work. It provided for us spiritually, physically and materially. And it did so magnificently because it corresponded naturally to our truest vocation. Jobs don’t. They are the dark underbelly of industrial and modern economies. When they are available, they pay the bills at the expense of stifling our profound inclination to create. Work is a synonym of creation, not of job.

A lot of people in the world put up with endless hours of misery and unhappiness every day to make ends meet. Many others too feel down because they don’t even have that to earn badly needed money. By definition, what happens regularly is what we call “normal”. And we tend to accept passively everything that’s “normal,” even when it’s an aberration like the one we are describing.

We have said a lot of bad things about our lesser, mechanical cousins, the robots. We have a lot of other bad things to say about them in the future, too. But let us make an exception today and envision the possibilities that robotics and artificial intelligence could open up for societies.

The essence of the problem are not jobs, or the lack thereof, or that robots are stealing ours. It’s how the economy is organized. We all need to earn money to make a living. In other words, there are only two ways to do so without a job and its corresponding wage, one difficult but feasible, the other unconceivable at present: being wealthy or, alternatively (and impossibly), getting everything for free.

But imagine for a moment that robots freed humans to devote their time to their real vocation –whatever that be, from music and cooking to carpentry and finance. Just imagine that the economy can be rearranged in such a way that people will not have to do jobs that are backbreaking or stultifying, oppressing our body and mind. Just imagine: never stop doing it. That’s what our most distant ancestors did when they started to farm, and bestowed on us the wonderful world in which we live. If we imagine hard enough we may figure how to make a robot-based economy work out for us. Imagine.