Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Larger Bees to Swat

Here's something I'm really tired of: scared people. I don't blame them because they're afraid--we're all frightened of something--but I do object to the politics of fear transference, the idea that if something frightens you in particular, it's a crisis of profound import about which all of us must be concerned. Africanized honeybees, or killer bees, are an example of such folly.

Africanized honeybees, so named because they are probably a hybrid of The Bees Formerly Known as Killer from Africa and Brazilian honeybees, with which the African bees interbred, are more or less indistinguishable from other bee species and do not possess, as their nickname implies, a lethal sting, nor even one markedly more painful than their very similar cousins. Still, they can be dangerous, as they tend to be more aggressive and more inclined to swarm than other honeybee types. They also displace their more docile relatives. Thus far, they are known to inhabit several states in the Southern and Southwestern United States, including Florida, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Since their arrival in this country some 16 years ago, it is believed Africanized honeybees have killed about 15 people.

Even someone with my lackluster ability in mathematics can calculate this amounts to roughly one death per year. Dogs kill more people than this; so do snakes and spiders; so does lightning. Yet, some people have gotten themselves in a panic over the impending doom of the killer bees. One man in Arizona, who lost a leg while hiking because he fell down a mountain after being accosted by bees, has hired an attorney because he seems to feel not enough is being done to prevent the attacks. What exactly the lawyer is meant to do in this case remains unclear, and his quote is equally unscrutable: "What is more important--the life of the bees or the life of the people? What are they waiting to happen?" There is no indication of who they are or what action they're meant to take. What happened to this man seems a tragic accident, but what can be done about it now? Are park rangers, Department of Natural Resources officials, and beekeepers supposed to declare war against Africanized honeybees and seek them out at any price simply because they pose an occasional threat to citizens?

What it boils down to, it seems, is the unwillingness of many people to live with risk and the illusory notion that absolute safety and security can be attained. In India, tigers, leopards and cobras prowl not only the countryside but, in some cases, major cities. In Zimbabwe, it is not uncommon to see baboons or Cape Buffalo lurking on the edge of major tourist attractions. All over the world, people must grapple with the possibility that when they leave for work in the morning, they may not return to their homes alive, whether the reason for this is automobile accident or shark attack.

This is not to suggest people shouldn't take precautions, nor that technology should not be employed to advance the safety and quality of life of citizens whenever practical, but don't take an alarmist approach to a marginal issue; there's far too much of that already. Surely we have larger bees to swat.



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