2.27.2015

What happened to me on the subway - the salmon story

So, there I am on the subway this morning, and there is a group on the other end of the car. They have a group leader guy speaking to them but also the rest of the subway car - he's projecting pretty loudly. There are a bunch of people sitting around him and a bunch of people standing, hanging onto the subway poles, listening. It's clearly a religious group because they keep mentioning rabbis, donations and Hebrew at various points. (This isn't a commentary on any religion - just that it might be a known story.)

Train

And the group leader starts to tell this story. It's about a prince who loves salmon. Long story short, there is a 6' speaking salmon who knows this about the prince and is so happy the prince loves salmon, even up until the point that he's caught by a fisherman and laid in front of the prince. The prince is laying out exactly how he loves salmon (food preparation techniques) and the salmon finally realizes what's going on. His dying words to the prince are:  "You don't love salmon. You love yourself."

Train

At this point I'm thinking that there is a surprisingly good message here. Wow, what a fully compassionate story to be steeped in religion and told on the subway, right? I was impressed with its radical compassion. And that's where it gets weird. The rest of the story is about the "hierarchies" of being. Inanimate objects. Plants. Animals. Humans. (Personally, I would argue humans are animals but whatever.) And how it's okay for humans to use the things "underneath" them. It's okay to eat salmon as long as you're doing something useful with your life. You are then - get this - "elevating the salmon" to a higher level.

That turn in the dialogue floored me. I don't know why. We live in a culture where people use animals for their own perceived needs with little thought to the animals' being every day. There are many reasons society (and people, individually) use to justify this every day. Maybe this story floored me because it came so close to having respect and understanding of non-human beings and yet managed to make the narrative about why it's okay to use them. That whole story seemed to be built to justify that, which in itself is crazy to me. That using other beings is such a conflicted moral issue that this story needed to be created to justify it.

I just wanted to share the experience because I struggle with people's perspectives on this issue. It is really strange to have a position that I personally feel is rooted in compassion but I'm aware my perspective seems to be so out of touch to so many people. Thoughts? 


12 comments:

  1. Whoa, that IS a weird plot twist. Are we supposed to feel irritated by this demanding salmon, then?! Sounds like that parable shot itself in the foot. That logic might be a good way to justify all kinds of discrimination and abuses; as long as YOU believe something is 'beneath you' on the Worth Ladder, you can do what you want with it! It might even clash with kosher reasoning, in some way; shouldn't "unclean" beasts be "elevated to a higher level," too? Seems like they'd need it the most.

    I was vegan, then ex-vegan (for wussy reasons; afraid of defending my beliefs or ever inconveniencing anyone even slightly), then realized I wasn't being honest about my beliefs and went back to being vegan about a year and a half ago. I've been vegetarian for more like six years, though; even at my wussiest, I couldn't go back to eating straight up animals. Strange where we draw our lines, isn't it?

    This puts me in an odd position; every time I think "how can people be so blind?" I then think "oh, like YOU don't know? What about YOU, dollface?"

    Most of us do whatever the people around us do without too much thought. We eat whatever our culture offers, wear what everyone else wears, use the words we hear other people using. One can introduce alternative ideas, but we can't force people to be introspective or think things over. Some people are less inclined to pondering than others, some care less about ethics or general integrity than others... a friend once told me "you can't force people to be introspective," and it was startling. The idea that some people weren't mulling things over full-time was new to me.

    Integrity matters greatly to me. I brought up integrity on my first date with Mr. Jaunty, because it's a virtue I value highly. (I... may not be a fun date.) Once I KNEW about animal rights and animal abuse, I could try to ignore the facts and blend in with the people around me, but I couldn't do it forever. I needed my actions to be consistent with my beliefs, and they weren't.

    Some people don't mind cognitive dissonance. One friend keeps telling me "I do believe that being vegetarian is the morally superior choice, but...." and every time I wonder "what are you expecting me to say, here? Give you a gold star for NOT doing what you believe is right?"

    I think we all want to be Good People, but we measure that goodness by comparing ourselves to the people around us; my friend figures he's basically a decent person, so he doesn't feel pressed to anything "extra virtuous" like become vegan. It's hard to help people see that it isn't about THEIR lives or THEIR degree of excellence, but about the lives of others they're taking without a second thought. Instead we think "well, ______ eats meat, and SHE's a great person, so it must be okay."

    Ramble ramble ramble.

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    1. Yes, my boyfriend also brought up the fact that this concept can be used to oppress anyone seen as being "less" as well - which is an excellent point about the intersectionality of this power issue.

      I think there are definitely ways that I'm not the most sensitive to other beings and I fully acknowledge that we all have our own entry points to compassion. I totally agree with you regarding most people not doing anything "out of the norm" - sort of obviously I guess because if most people were doing those things, they would BE the norm. And totally agree that the norm exists in a way that oppresses and exploits others and it's difficult for people to be introspective about it when there's not much in it for them on an external rewards basis and it doesn't impact them at all if they aren't thinking of it from a compassion perspective.

      I also totally agree with cognitive dissonance and our comfort level with it. (I have 5 cats who eat meat - twice per day.) I think I mainly don't get building these narratives to reinforce WHY it's right. I better understand the people who say okay I know it's not right (me/cat food) and I have cognitive dissonance about it. I have often thought, "Should I euthanize my own cats and not be the guardian of an animal who eats meat in the future? I can still work as a TNR and spay/neuter advocate without having cats." But I can't make myself seriously consider it. But I also know there is a level where that is totally morally wrong. What trips me up are the constructs people make - these narratives - that try to make it NOT wrong. It seems so nefarious and mindfuck-y.

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    2. "I think I mainly don't get building these narratives to reinforce WHY it's right."

      Easy: as long as you feel justified in your actions of beliefs, you never have to change your ways. What a timesaver, eh? Plus, you get to be Right About Stuff. Major perk. It can get "nefarious and mindfuck-y" fast.

      I've gotten a lot better about this on an animal rights front, but I'm probably still playing "oh well, what does it matter?" with a lot of other issues.

      Mr. Jaunty is a Buddhist. Ex-vegetarian, ex-vegan. I initially only became vegetarian and then vegan to support his efforts (MAN, was I a great girlfriend), then he quit both. How was it so easy for him, and so fraught with moral dilemmas and emotional upheaval for me? The Shadow knows!

      Cat food IS a tricky issue, I've thought a lot about that one--- because I adore cats. Mr. Jaunty's allergic, so I'm off the hook there. But I do buy him eggs when he puts them on the grocery list. He buys his own meat, I get squeamish about meat. Still drawing weird lines! I did convert him so soymilk, and it's nice not having to buy two kinds of milk or waste space in our little fridge on multiple milk cartons.

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  2. Mmmm, yes, I'm pretty sure there are versions of those narratives which preach why some humans are better than other humans, or closer to god, or why it is okay to use our environment for any purpose we see fit. Whoops, I see that this has been covered in the above comments. I like what you said about a compassion perspective. Those people that preach this bullshit about being 'better than', seem to have a very strong conviction about what they believe is the only truth - which is a shame, because that leads me to think that they will not attempt empathy with suffering - in order to retain their truth. I'm guessing that the salmon narrative is designed to create understanding for the salmon and then shock the shit out of the empathisers; I can't guess the purpose? I don't know how the salmon story is beneficial for anyone, the eaters or the eaten...

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    1. "I'm guessing that the salmon narrative is designed to create understanding for the salmon and then shock the shit out of the empathisers"

      Ha! 'Surprise, listeners---- you picked the wrong side!'

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    2. Okay you both made me laugh with that point. "SUCKERS!"

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  3. That's a very common thought in Judaism - that you must make the death of the animal that died to sustain you meaningful. I haven't heard that exact story, but I've encountered similar ones, and I'm not even observant. To me, it's better than mindlessly consuming animal flesh (though mass-produced kosher meat comes with a lot of ethical problems). I don't think you sound out of touch, and I'm not a vegan.

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    1. I feel like I recall strains of that in hearing about some aspects of Judaism so that makes sense. Also, hi! :)

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    2. On a similar note, there are kosher vegans: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjDPteJvdQA

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    3. Oh Mayim! I love her. Thank you for sharing this video.

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  4. i read this entry on my phone then said i needed to come respond on the actual computer, but forgot. so that is why this comment is so weirdly late.
    i hadn't heard that story about the salmon before and found it really interesting and poignant...until i hear the part about the order of things and how people are over animals. i am passionate about animal rights but always feel like i need to be quiet or keep those views to myself to not offend other people. because by expressing them, you are kind of saying other people are doing something wrong (because i think it is morally wrong to eat/exploit animals). then i think to myself, why shouldn't i say what I believe when it is so important to me. It is probably my most strongly held belief. i go out of my way not to inconvenience people and even hate having to ask if things are vegan when we go to a family gathering. i just bring all our own food now.
    this seems kind of random, but have you watched the new aziz ansari special? he has a whole section about factory farming and how terrible it is, but how meat tastes so good. and vegetables are boring? it was so dumb and made me like him less, even though pretty much everyone i know feels the same way. he talks about the male chicks discarded in the egg industry then says something like "if i video came out of rapper ja rule throwing chicks in a bag to suffocate them people would freak out his career might be over." i hadn't thought of it that way before for some reason but it is so try. people KNOW what goes on and turn the other way. but hearing something like Michael Vic is hosting dog fights and they can't believe it and want him ruined.
    i guess its that thing someone above mentioned where you are like "c'mon people how can you not care?" when i didn't really care for most of my life. ugh. its hard.

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    1. It is really hard to strike a balance between existing as vegan and feeling like you're asserting yourself as vegan so I totally get it. I had years with my family where it was an issue. I'm having flashbacks to years when they used all the ovens/stoves for meat stuff on Thanksgiving and when I ordered Chinese food in so I would have something to eat that day, was mocked. For 10 years some of them claimed it was a phase and openly mocked me for it. After a decade I think they finally gave up. Friends, on the other hand, I think either get it or they just respect it and let it go even if they don't get it. I have had one or two friends who are really loving people but super resistant. I had to explain the emotional connection as "Eating animal products when you know what happens to animals - to me - is like when people know there is abuse/incest going on in a family and they do nothing about it, leaving the most vulnerable to suffer in silence and as less-than." Which is rough but that's really how I feel. We sort of just agree to disagree but it's mind-blowing. It's like how I love my grandparents even though they're racist and how I love my cats even though they eat meat and I buy it for them. As far as talking about veganism, I feel pretty confident talking about it when it intersects with my actions and only occasionally when there's a current topic at hand (dog leather, eating dogs, faux fur being real, etc).

      I haven't seen that special all the way through! I love Aziz Ansari for so many things but things like that get me. Jim Gaffigan and Louie CK did similar things as well I think. Jokes that show they logically get it but don't fundamentally get it. The Ja Rule comment is really interesting.

      Anyway, thank you for posting this comment! It is so much to think about and reconciling this outlook when it's not the majority is always a struggle. Glad we are in it together. xo

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