Fish and chips versus human nature

Published: October 7, 2019
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A file photo of a plate of traditional fish and chips. PHOTO REUTERS

A file photo of a plate of traditional fish and chips. PHOTO REUTERS

A file photo of a plate of traditional fish and chips. PHOTO REUTERS Writer is former Ambassador of Pakistan and ex-Assistant Secretary General of OIC

Skimming through the archives, I came across the most interesting article published by The Times of London some years ago. Incisively titled “The Hook Hurts — Will Anglers Feel the Pain?” the article related 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 call for Britain’s 3.5 million anglers to give up their “violent” pastime. Hence the significance of the “study” in question!

Without delving further into the study, one can hardly escape the thought that the British animal lovers are a rummy lot. For one, they are known for selectively feeling pain for the oddest of species. For instance, groups that agitate against cruelty to bears in parts of South Asia have no qualms about the bullfights in Spain.

One learnt, also from The Times, that PETA, an international organisation, has an “aggressive anti-fishing policy”. The Animal Liberation Front is credited with this gem of a statement: “Fish are dragged out of the 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, it is but natural. 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 the wholesale slaughter of a species so long as it is done “in a humane manner”. Reminds one of the old lady in English literature who felt no qualms about drowning kittens but took care to heat the water so they would not feel the cold!

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 fast emerging as a way of life in this blessed land. The modern individual no longer looks at angling in its restricted sense. Its scope has been expanded and taken far afield. It may possibly have something to do with modern theories of “economic development”, or even with the “March of Civilization”. Angling for position or privilege has, regrettably, become part of daily routines. The rat race is on; and with a vengeance!

There was a time when life moved at a leisurely pace. Events occurred according to a routine. Each person put in his or her best and was compensated accordingly. Those who didn’t make the grade were sifted out. Alas, no more! The accepted norm today is that, when not dividing up the loaves and fish, your modern successful individual is fishing in troubled waters. But that 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. Bloody conflicts are being wantonly lit all over like 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 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 and wantonly killing species, some of which are nearing extinction. But the fact remains: how does one expect humankind to be kind to members of other species when they cannot, or will not, respect their own? Therein rests the nub!

Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2019.

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