Monday, February 9, 2009

General Theory of Cruelty and Disgust

An hour back, I placed chalk marks in my house of the special chalk that kill cockroaches and now, I am witnessing painful death of a cockroach. After crossing the line and probably sniffing the poison, it started acting crazy, running from pillar to post openly as if it doesn't fear anything whereas the general nature of cockroach is to run away from humans and come out only in dark. It did not know what to do, running for I don't know what, may be for life. It is difficult to assume what was going inside the cockroach, whether it was suffocation, thirst, or something else. It felt as if an invisible gun is behind you and you are aware of it and the fact that it will eventually kill you, but you don't know what to do, where to hide, whom to take help from. Finally, the race for life ended and the roach rested on its back, but still alive. It would lay silently for some time as if dead and then bounce back with vigor in an attempt to save its own life, then silence again. It will be alive like this for hours before other insects starts eating it or I throw it away. Is that what we call a painful death? In whatever way a man dies, be it by hanging, cancer, or beheading, it will definitely be better than the death of a cockroach in this way. I hear, I read people talk about cruel, gruesome killings, about more ethical ways for execution of prisoners sentenced death which are painless. Can we compare any of human executions with this, a cockroach's execution? At times, I wonder how can painless, ethical, peaceful be adjective to death and killing. Isn't that absurd?

There are animal right activist who make noise about ethical treatment of animal, for peaceful death in the slaughter house, against the culling of stray dogs. There are people who don't like to see animals slaughtered, but do like to eat slaughtered animals. There are people who don't like to see animal slaughtered and don't eat meat as a consequence. There are those who turn their face away seeing a dead animal on the roadside or even vomit. But all of these men and women do like to use that special chalk to destroy cockroaches, vaporizers to kill mosquitoes, and the famous hand to squeeze all the blood and internal organs out of the mosquito and enjoy the moment of victory. Is there anything painless or ethical in those acts? It seems that size of the life is more important than life itself. The animal activists don't utter a word when there is a drive to kill mosquitoes by the municipality, but shout their hearts out on dogs being culled. Is it that the size does matter? Can you imagine switching on the mosquito terminator and finding chicken sized mosquitoes all around in your bedroom the next morning, some smashed beneath your back with blood and intestines spread on the bedsheet. Or else imaging placing the system to drive cockroaches to extinction and the next morning, finding dog-size cockroaches half dead on their back, showing signs of life only by moving their extremities slothfully, with froth coming out of their mouth and an expression of death on their face. Now, what shall I make of those who grimace at the sight of a dog run over by motorists, to the extent that it has become 2-dimensional, and then go home and switch on the equivalent of gas chamber to suffocate and terminate the mosquitoes.

The acts of animal right activists seem as if they are a matter of convenience and a way to get the feeling of doing something good. Thats it. Consider this, animal right activists make noise about dogs being culled and do all sort of adaptation drama, but utter not a single word when thousands of poultry birds are culled just because there happen to be suspicion about avian flu. The birds are not even tested individually, just a few birds in the whole district happen to have the stains of avian flu. You may argue that it is the question of a deadly disease and hence culling of birds is morally correct. Then by analogy, isn't killing of HIV or swine flu infected humans too is morally correct?

What Makes Us Feel Disgust: The concept of cruelty varies from person to person and place to place. What is considered unacceptably cruel at one point on earth may just be fine or even fun at another. Looking at various forms of pitilessness in inflicting pain/harm or termination of life, a general pattern emerges about what we human term as cruel and what not. For an act to trigger our feelings of disgust, it must affect us through our different senses and must have one or more of the following elements:
1. Size: The size of the organism slaughtered must be large enough to be apparent and occupy a big section of our visual field. How large is a question of debate, but here is a probable index:
  • Less than 2 Inches (insects): Hardly cruel.
  • 2 inches to half a foot (small birds, rodents): Not yet cruel, but dirty.
  • Half a foot to 1 foot (poultry, cats): Cruel, the cruelty meter starts ticking.
  • Larger than 1 foot (dogs): Definitely cruel, please don't do it in front of my eyes.
2. Hearing: The organism must yell loud enough for us to be irritated.

3. Sight:
  • The organism must emit red blood when slaughtered since we associate red blood with pain.
  • Colorless or bloodless slaughter creates a sense of reduced pain.
  • Disfigured corpus (e.g., severed head, broken body parts) of organism enhance our feeling of cruelty in comparison to non-disfigured corpus (as in the case of natural death).
  • An organism struggling for life while being slaughtered or dieing is a bonus for our feelings.
4. Smell: Smell of fresh blood or decaying flesh also adds to our feeling of disgust.

Hopefully, the above analysis gave you a new perspective and a new line of thought about death, slaughter, and mosquito repellent. If you felt nauseated reading all that crap and wish to kill the author (me), then please remind yourself that it is also an act of cruelty.

You have a right to ask about my stand on this issue. I'm a vegan. The only reason for being a vegan is that it is difficult for me to butcher an animal or bird and I believe that I do not have the right to consume something which I cannot prepare from its natural form (e.g. natural form of meat is live animal). On the other hand, I do not make fuss about culling dogs, etc., just as animal right activists do because it is illogical and partial. Finally, I don't drive the innumerable cockroaches, spiders, etc., out of my house either, not because of any moral compulsions but that I'm a tad lazy to do all these.
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  1. Buddy, as per my perception, killing anyone for self-protection is not morally bad act although I agree with your other mentioned points.......

    And difference would be always there between the death of HUMAN & the death of ANYONE else...

  2. Nature of Evil is certainly more complex and culture dependent. It is an intriguing topic indeed for atheists who do not have a recourse to a universal moral code.
    I strongly recommend reading Nietzsche's "Beyond Good and Evil" and "Thus Spake Zarathusthra". By no means easy books to digest, some of the points raised "might" change your world view.

    If you are totally new to Nietzsche ( other than his much touted Ubermensch ) this should give you a good staring point:

    Check this for a further discussion on the nature of cruelty :

    Of course I wouldn't be surprised when you go through all this,ponder over it and depending on your philosophical predilection either reach a nihilistic world view or a more likely espouse a "live and let live" attitude.

  3. Thanks Girish for the links.

    As far as Nietzsche is concerned, I tried his "Anti-Christ" and had to drop it midway. It seemed more his "views" on Christianity rather than any "logical analysis." Moreover, I guess, improper translation from German to English took a lot of juice out of it.

    Also, I do not believe the nature is anything good or evil. It is just as it is, completely indifferent and it is we who "perceive" things and give them meanings like evil, goodness, etc., according to our own pain response to it.

    Touching softly is associated with affecting/care just because we happen to feel that way when touched softly, but it may just be some terrifying feeling for some other organisms.

    And probably, our emotions associated with cruelty is the reason that we have People for Ethical Treatment of Animal, but NOT People for Ethical Treatment of Stones because we feel that unless and until there is blood oozing, flesh distorted, and something screaming, there is no pain in stones.

  4. Hey..just happened to read this from a link from CTC. Amazing. I think the same way too. I cant even bear killing those industrious ants. I just blow them away from food items. I dont use rat poison. In fact rats habitat at my kitchen.:) just one mind you. I dont care. Where else would they go? of course we like doing the "good deed" ! i feed strays all the time. In this context, prolly we could focus on "feeding" and "protecting" rather than at "killing". This is simple enough and an achievable objective.what do you think?

    Sunday, December 21, 2008
    Two little kittens:
    Two little kittens went for a mission
    To explore the shadow so big
    They got near it and lay down to lick
    Those interesting tyres of the gig
    The gig - it started and carelessly shattered
    The fragile bones and the little twin hearts
    Two lives miffed out never to return
    Two little bodies thrown into the gutter

    But return does the mother mewing piteously
    For amongst her kittens two she does not see
    She seeks and searches and walks about listlessly
    She walks all places and haunts all faces

    You and I, can we answer the mother
    You and I , can we answer the Father
    You and I, can we do this to one another ?
    For aren’t we all creatures born together ?

  5. I liked what you have written. I think we can't relate to the pain when a mosquitoes, or a cockroach gets killed. I guess this is because we don't see them exhibiting any recognised emotions. We have never seen a hoard of baby roaches following mama roach. Nor seen a mosquito trying to defend its eggs. This might be a reason why we are blind to the fact that they too might feel pain and fear.


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