I sat in a mini-bus listening to the conversation of two young backpackers sat behind me. Both in their early 20’s, these two women were adorned in all the accoutrements of politically correct, zen-minded, global traveller. However, there conversation both astonished me and troubled me.
They were discussing their love of eating baby sharks. They gleefully described the best baby sharks that they had eaten, the best way to cook a baby shark (grilled, barbecued or stewed ?), and they reminisced over the baby sharks they had eaten together. They were travelling to Koh Tao, Thailand, an island renowned for it’s marine diversity and wonderful diving. I could only assume that they were going diving.
It was not their love of eating sharks per se which astonished me, but the lack of knowledge of their actions, and the possible contradiction in their behaviours which were both fascinating and worrying.
I love eating seafood, but eating shark is not like eating other fish, and eating baby sharks is even more damaging.
Sharks have an average gestation period of 2 years, and often give birth to only 2 pups at a time. So, our backpacker’s dinner would destroy a 2 year breeding cycle for a shark. Did she not know this ? It’s worrying if she didn’t, but even more worrying if she did.
Finally, going diving to enjoy the marine eco-system whilst also enjoying eating the apex predator within that system seems at best ignorant.
So where’s the Psychology ?
Cognitive Dissonance: a feeling of uneasiness experienced when the components of an attitude are incongruent (not balanced).
Festinger wonderfully showed us that when the components of an attitude are incongruent we must change one component in order to achieve congruence. I would have loved to have tested our backpacker to see if she was using this process, something like:
me: “do you know that Sharks have a 2 year gestation period”
her: ” yes, I heard that, but I think that the sea is overpopulated with sharks”
or maybe a Psychoanalytic Ego Defence Mechanism:
Denial: “what baby shark ? I didn’t eat a baby shark”
Projection: “the shark wanted to be eaten, my action gave the shark a sense of purpose”
Displacement: “my life is so hard, you just don’t understand the pressure that I’ve been under”.
Reaction Formation: “I’m actually a orthodox vegan, I just don’t know what came over me when the shark was placed in front of me”, or even “it was me or the shark…,”
Understanding the complexities of apparently contradictory human behaviours could help us to start untangle a huge raft of personal, social, economic and political problems. However, on this occasion I chose to sit quietly on the minibus in a state of growing dismay.
for more on shark conservation please check out the excellent Project Aware.