Canute and the mosquito


by James R. Vanselow

King Canute supposedly sat on his throne on the beach and ordered the tide not to come in. The popular belief is that he sought to demonstrate he was all-powerful, and that even Mother Nature would obey his commands. A kinder view held by many is that he wished to  demonstrate the opposite: that although he ruled his people, he did not reign over nature.

However, deeds do control nature where mere words will not. The Dutch system of dykes hold back the sea, just as levee banks hold back the floodwaters of the Mississippi River. And although mankind’s ingenuity has enabled us to overcome physical obstacles and devise ways to soar like the birds and to dive like the fish, we have made little progress overcoming our mental constraints.

There is no reason for not advancing the cause of the United Nations Save the Children’s Fund other than personal selfishness and perceived self-benefit for that most enduring of al mankind’s deplorable qualities — Greed! It beats Hate by a long way, and their opposites — Charity and Love — would often appear nowhere to be found.

Somewhere out there just now a baby died of starvation! Being a resilient man, I do not care. Well, yes I care, but only if you remind me of it. I do not care because I choose not to think about it. Another baby just died, but I am still not moved to do anything. Millions of babies will die of starvation in my lifetime, but I will care less about them than I will care about suffering a mosquito bite.

A strange comparison that! Both the babies and the mosquito will, if I am quick enough, suffer the same fate. The mosquito bite of course is a physical discomfort that I will not tolerate; the vision of starving babies is a slight mental discomfort which I can dismiss by making it someone else’s responsibility.

I pay my taxes, so it must be the government’s responsibility. After all, they do have
budgets for this sort of thing — a budget for the National Conscience as it were. Perhaps we should make it more official and have a Minister for National Conscience. That way we would feel better knowing who was looking after our consciences — who was looking after the babies would be another matter entirely. A budget to send aid overseas so that not quite as many babies die is all that can be expected of us, surely.

I am feeling better already, but then again, I did not feel all that bad to start with. The government will look after the starving baby problem, and I will take care of my mosquito problem. When I try to sleep tonight, it will not be the starving babies of the world that will keep me awake, but the whine of a mosquito whose fast demise at my hand will allow me to sleep like a baby.