At a crucial moment in the 1975 movie “Jaws,” on board a fishing boat hunting a predator great white shark, police chief Martin Brody (played by Roy Scheider) sees the shark for the first time, realizes what he’s up against, and accurately tells captain Quint (played by Robert Shaw), “You’re going to need a bigger boat.”
Here’s how I think various current voices in our culture would respond to Brody’s plight.
A certain former president: “Shark? What shark? There are no sharks in our big beautiful American oceans. Fake news!”
A QAnon believer: “This whole operation is the result of a sinister conspiracy by Chinese shark breeders, orchestrated and bankrolled by globalist billionaires, to bankrupt and take over the American boating and fishing industries. Your call for a bigger boat just plays into their hands.”
A libertarian: “You’re implying a need for increased government regulation of boatbuilding. And for limitations on the freedom of boat owners to decide how and when their boats will be used. Sounds like socialism to me.”
A member of the one percent: “A bigger boat should go only to someone who already has a bigger boat. Otherwise you have an unjust redistribution of wealth and a penalty on effort and enterprise.”
A climate science denier: “Sharks as a species naturally go through long cycles of peaceful and aggressive behavior. No need to disrupt that natural cycle with inconvenient and expensive human intervention.”
A defender of “religious freedom”: “My religion (but not yours) believes, among other things, that sharks are divine beings. Although I sell boats for a living, I refuse to sell you one, even though I sell them to other people who do not believe all the other things I believe.”
A fiscal conservative: “You can’t afford a bigger boat. You’re saddling your children and grandchildren with a mountain of debt. Better to let that shark predate than to resort to deficit financing.”
A “prosperity gospel” preacher: “Of course God wants you to have that bigger boat. Just visualize it and have faith. But if it doesn’t appear — well, I can’t help you there.”
A nativist: “Never mind that you’re trying to save lives, etc. You don’t belong in this boat. You’re not one of us. Why don’t you just swim back to where you came from?”
An unfit member of an unfit law enforcement system: “A bigger boat? How do you happen to be in this one in the first place — someone like you? You must have stolen it or are using it for illegal purposes. In fact, I just know you’re dangerous and violent.” As part of this response, shots are fired.
These responses range from the delusional and the foolish and the irrational to the inhumane and the dangerous and the deadly — with callousness and narrow-mindedness manifest along the way. Those who propose them as solutions to the problems and crises (the “sharks”) we face as a species and as a nation should, I think, no longer ignore, deny or misrepresent those problems and crises. They — and the rest of us — should remember that we are all in the same boat. And that boat really does need to be bigger.