Morality or the Egg
Nawww doesn't it make you just want to hug a fluffy toy? The cutest little penguin ever washed up on the shores of New Zealand a few months ago and melted the insides of the nation. This poor flightless bird, nicknamed Happy Feet, had no idea where it had turned up. It nommed on sand and rocks by accident, causing serious health risks that needed vet attention. After all the horrific earthquakes where lives were lost, limbs amputated and buildings destroyed, New Zealand pooled together $30 000 dollars to save this stray bird. What the ef man?!
I'm actually okay with overall outcome of the publicised surgery of a single irrelevant animal. Optimism, collaboration and setting an example of caring for nature are all good things. The moral justification given by our Kiwi mates is that the fundraising generated great publicity for the country and the Wellington Zoo in particular. In the long run the money serves as an investment for the zoo and local wildlife care. This may be the ultimate result of the fanfare but I don't believe it was the original motivation behind it.
Our charitable actions are at large influenced by our feelings. In a past column I discussed the idea that moral obligation should be determined by objective means. It would be ideal if we could calculate how much time and effort to contribute to a cause using a mathematical morality formula. The reality is that we let our emotional compulsions moderate our decision making. This is why charities like World Vision Australia and UNISEF always show you a child named Sabaya or something when asking for donations. Their websites are plastered with images of innocent beings in need of help, coupled with accounts of their personal stories.
Personifying the issue makes it easier for us to empathise and want to contribute. A less affective approach would be to just reel of statistics about poverty in an attempt to appeal to rationality. Yet bleak numbers just aren't as evocative as a cute face and a foreign name.
What I'm getting as is that the citizens of New Zealand were just subjected to an accidental charity technique. If a general 'Save the Penguins' campaign had taken place three months ago in Wellington, psychological knowledge would say it wouldn't have raised as much money as our little mate Happy Feet. At least not in the same time.
So perhaps the decision people made to donate to the wet bird was indeed intended to boost national wildlife publicity in the long term. Yet I can't help but suspect that the true motivation, especially during a time of crisis, was a blind emotional one.
Either way, penguins are cute. Yay.