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Archive for Sunday, January 13, 2008

Human seeks to understand Nature’s pain

January 13, 2008

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One more good intention has bitten the dust. It turns out that catching and releasing fish isn't the paragon of enlightened conservation it's been cracked up to be. According to an article in this paper, catching and releasing may render fish docile and incapable of defending their nests. Anglers who thought they were saving fish from extinction may in fact have been hastening their doom. A disturbing possibility comes to mind: Might it actually be better for the fish to be whacked on the head, dredged in cornmeal, fried to a crisp and eaten than to be released?

Piscatorian sages have come up with another insight. Getting caught on a hook might cause fish pain, not to speak of mental anguish.

"One thing I've thought about, when you let them go, do they survive?" asked a guilt-tormented fisherman. "How messed up mentally are they? If someone did that to me, I'd be stressed out." Bravo! At last, a fisherman capable of thinking outside the box. Human beings don't have a monopoly on hang-ups, after all. Fish can suffer from complexes, phobias and neuroses too. I look forward to psychiatric findings on depressive, hysterical, passive-aggressive fish.

Other questions arise about the torments we subject animals to for our amusement and sport. Consider bucking broncos and waltzing dolphins, circus dogs who leap through flaming hoops, seals forced to play ditties by honking horns...Are these creatures having fun, or are they undergoing humiliation and a kind of torture?

Subjecting animals to the status of "pets" may itself be not just psychologically damaging, but immoral, a violation of their natural rights. Put yourself in your dog's shoes. Would you like to be led around on a leash and commanded to heel, roll over and play dead? What gives us the right to speak of "higher" and "lower" forms of life? Nematodes and microbes probably feel that they ought to be perched at the top of the great chain of life instead of human beings. Moreover, what theorems might fish brood upon if they didn't have to live in fear of being caught? We need to think about such things

Of course, some deny that animals are capable of thought and scoff at the notion that animals feel pain. According to them, pain is a "subjective sensation" that involves "emotional processing." Emotion is impossible without consciousness and fish don't have complex enough brains for consciousness, they say. Perhaps it would be instructive for these cunning sophists to have a Lazy Ike, a Rattletrap or a treble-hook packed with stink bait stuck in their cheeks while some marlin or grouper reels them in, admiring the way they jump and draw out line on a gallant run.

How would they like to be stuffed with excelsior and mounted above a fireplace like a trophy tarpon? Fishermen: hang up your rods and reels. There are any number of virtual reality video games such as "Bass Buster" and "Crappie Killer" to satisfy your lust.

The catch-and-release imbroglio opens an enormous can of worms. It shows that we are guilty of crimes against nature even when trying to do good. We can begin to atone for these crimes by showing a little sensitivity, by undergoing a little "emotional processing" ourselves. For starters, let's stop evoking animals to describe our own fallibilities. To call a coward a "chicken," a stupid person a "dumb bunny," or a suspicious situation "fishy" is to disrespect the animal kingdom. To refer to the world as "our oyster" is presumptuous and in despicably bad taste.

We need to "feel the pain" of other creatures. How do we know that stones are inanimate? What suffering do we cause when we chop down a tree? Blithely we drive our power mowers over the grass, oblivious to the agonies the blades must suffer, just so we can exult in manicured lawns. I have no doubt that their screams are terrible, had we but ears to hear.

As to predation, the flaw in creation, whose fault is it but ours? The main reason some animals eat others is due to our failure to provide them with vegetarian alternatives. Only when lions learn to enjoy tofu and bean sprouts can we expect them to lie down with lambs.

Finally, a word about bird-watching. Isn't bird-watching an invasion of privacy? What makes bird watchers think our feathered friends enjoy being gawked at? Would you?

George Gurley, a resident of rural Baldwin City, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.

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