Fish n’ chips and human nature!

Friendly Fire

Khalid Saleem

SKIMMING through the archives, one came across almost interesting, and arresting, article published by the Times of London some years ago. Incisively titled “The hook hurts – will anglers feel the pain?” the article in question related to a scientific study that appeared to debunk the claim of anglers that “fish are too low a life form to suffer pain”. Apparently, animal welfare activists had become vehement in their calls for Britain’s 3.5 million anglers to give up their “violent” pastime. Hence the significance of the ‘study’ in question!
Without delving more deeply into the purported scientific study, one can hardly escape the thought that the British animal lovers are a rummy lot. For one thing, they are known for selectively feeling pain for the oddest of species. Observe, for instance, that the RSPCA, which stands against hunting with dogs (remember the spirited campaign against the fox-hunts?), is not opposed to angling. Other groups that agitate against cruelty to bears in parts of South Asia have no qualms at all about the bullfights in Spain.
One learnt, also from the Times, that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), an International Organization, has an “aggressive anti-fishing policy”. The Animal Liberation Front is credited with this gem of a statement “Fish are dragged out of water into an alien environment in which they slowly die. There is no pretence of humane slaughter”. A spokesman of the National Federation of Anglers in Britain was reported as having averred somewhat cryptically, “anglers have known all along that fish do not feel pain, or certainly not pain as other animals know it.”
If going through all this rigmarole leaves the reader’s mind boggled, he or she is hardly to be blamed. What it all boils down to is that the spat was not about the principle of the wholesale slaughter of fish but merely about whether or not these creatures ‘felt the pain’. Each side commissioned ‘studies’ to prove their opponents wrong. Apparently, according to prevalent philosophy, there is nothing wrong with wholesale slaughter of a species so long as it is done ‘in a humane manner’. Reminds one of one old lady in English literature who felt no qualms about drowning kittens but took care to heat up the water first so they would not feel the cold!
On another note, angling has evoked extreme reactions in intellectuals over the ages. Byron described angling as “the cruelest of pretended sports”. Izzak Walton went to the other extreme when he averred, “God never did make a more calm, quiet and innocent recreation than angling”. The middle ground was held by George Parker who defined angling as “an innocent cruelty”. Samuel Johnson was perhaps the nearest to the mark when he defined the fishing rod as “A stick with a hook at one end and a fool at the other”. Not very charitable that but apt nevertheless!
Veering from our subject a bit, from ‘angling as a sport’ to ‘angling as an art’ is one short jump. As one looks around one finds, to one’s horror, ‘angling’ being honed into an art form that is, in effect, fast emerging as a way of life in this blessed land. The modern individual no longer looks at angling in its restrictive and restricted sense. Its scope has been expanded and taken far a field. It may possibly have something to do with modern theories of ‘economic development’, or even with the ‘march of civilization’. Angling for position, privilege or pelf has, regrettably, become part of man’s every day routine. The rat race, in a word, is on; and with a vengeance!
There was a time when life moved at a leisurely pace. Events occurred according to a certain set routine. Each person put in his or her best and was compensated accordingly. Those who did not make the grade were sifted out like bad eggs. There was a serene order to things. Alas, no more! The accepted norm today is that, when not dividing up the loaves and fishes, your modern successful individual is busy indulging in fishing in troubled waters. But that, as they say, is another story!
This hullabaloo about fish and the ‘pain’ brings to mind the fact that these ‘feeling’ individuals hardly have anything to say about man’s cruelty to members of its own species. The world is in a state of sixes and sevens as it is. Bloody conflicts are being wantonly lit all over like so many bonfires; hundreds and thousands of innocent human beings are being cut down in the name of one ‘cause’ or the other. Violation of human rights in various regions of this blessed planet has long been ignored in the interest of expediency.
Such is human nature. One has no desire to condone cruelty to the lesser species. There is no excuse for cruelty to and wanton killing of several species some of which are nearing extinction. But the fact remains: how does one expect humans to be kind to members of other species when they cannot, or will not, respect their own? Therein lies the hub!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.

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