Monday, March 07, 2005

I'm all for empathy,

I'm fond of pets, and as a child I had my share of fish, too. I won a succession of goldfish at a succession of fairs by tossing ping-pong balls into their tiny water-filled globes. Perhaps the shock of those ping-pong balls--light though they may have been--barrelling into their little worlds stunned them in a way that proved fatal, however, because most of the pretty little fish were found (to my sorrow) floating on the surface of the water in our fishtank just a day or two after taking up residence there. There was one particularly hardy specimen who managed to live long and prosper, and I carefully nurtured and fed him (her?) for three years.

So, I wouldn't say I lack all feeling for fish, not exactly. But I'm afraid I fail to live up to PETA standards. Their fish empathy project is hitting the airwaves, designed to add a new layer of guilt to our lives.

I wish them good luck in New England--ain't gonna happen. Here in New England, we like our seafood, especially on our plates.


At 4:47 PM, March 07, 2005, Blogger Bryan said...

Alright, this is just getting weird now. It was only a decade or so ago that Kurt Cobain told us "It's okay to eat fish, 'cos they don't have any feelings" and now this? Is there anything that we are allowed to eat besides tofu? Check my blog post here: for a related commentary.

At 12:42 PM, April 29, 2007, Blogger zeplinair said...

Got goldfish - and most people don't know these fish at all - not even most researchers who use goldfish as scientific and medical research subjects. Here is a video of goldfish behavior that most folks never get to see due to how we behave towards them.

This is a spontaneous, but tiny sampling of confounding behaviors I've noted in them. In this video, I was tri-tasking with a water changer, holding camera, etc. There is no food involved before during or after the shooting of this vid.
Please pardon the silly little post-production additives.

Note: three years is not 'prosper' for a common goldfish since the current recorded longevity record is, I believe...around 49 years.

The common reactions I get to the video, I would never have gotten if the critters in question were dogs or cats, or even gerbils. This is because our view of cats and dogs,
and many mammals, but particularly our familiars, in this developed and enlightened part of the world, is much different. We have enlarged opportunity and permission to indulge our wonderful instinct for empathy.

It was always so. Decarte, a 'great' mind of his era and a sweetheart of the Catholic Church, deigned that sympathy for the dogs, or any animal, he was experimenting on or vivisecting (while conscious), was patently silly because, not possessing of a
'soul' (define that for me please..) the struggles and
cries were obviously just that of "a spring being touched". Animals were 'automata', machines devoid of feeling...and ridicule to any who might (in horror) think otherwise. (note: pet keeping by common folk was discouraged and suspect and could easily lead to a charge of witchcraft)

In Descartes day, as still in ours, the moral structure still seeks to distance our empathic responses from those we've deemed it necessary or appropriate to exploit.

Our perceptions are bounded by how we, as the human "animal", create models that mediate our experience of the world, once we learn the expectations, and thus thereafter
shoe-horn incoming experience into those models. Unexamined lack of knowledge inspired by this inate cognitive shortcut is often revealed by a reductionist and over
generalized describing of the thing in question.


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