Sunday, March 11, 2012

Captain Jain-way

by Drew Martin
I grew up like most American kids squashing bugs and not thinking much about it although I remember protesting the cruelty of boys frying ants with magnifying glasses in the sun. I became a vegan in my late teens and was most fascinated by the Jains of India who veil their mouths and sweep the path before them so as to not inhale or step on any insects. My considerations have wavered over the past twenty years. My vegetarian and vegan ways were only maintained in pockets of my life. My lowest low was when I worked at a zoo in northern Czech Republic. As an animal keeper it was required of me to feed the animals, which sometimes included killing their meals. When I was shown how to grab a living rabbit by the ears and hit in on the back of the head with a wooden club, I expressed I could not do it. The worst was how the baby chicks were killed before being thrown into cages: a handful of them were placed in a metal bucket, then another bucket was slipped on top and the animal keeper sat on it. I did this once when I lost my head during a heated argument with a coworker my age who insisted I do this part of the job too. It was horrific and I will never forget it. I never did it again. We live in a culture of contradictions. Simply put, a life is a life whether it is a cow or a fly but we have found ways to justify the killing of anything especially if our health or property is jeopardized by mosquitoes, termites, bedbugs, etc. Until recently I still had the knee-jerk reaction to kill centipedes in my house and I used to set mouse traps when field mice became too intrusive. I have stopped this now. I might recoil when a centipede scurries in front of me in the basement and I am not comfortable with the renegade mouse that darts around the kitchen but I cannot bring myself to kill them. What has changed, believe it or not, is having watched numerous episodes of Star Trek. There is a lot of violence and death in this show but there is also a profound reaction to newly discovered life forms that often pose a threat. This humanity is not religious-based or overly moralistic. Instead, it is more about the curiosity and appreciation of life and the acknowledgement that desperate acts come out of fear and that establishing communication is vital. I do not have a universal translator to speak to my mice and centipedes but I understand they are in my house for many of the same reasons I am. What works about the format of a television show is the ability to play out a situation, to show cause and effect, episode after episode, series after series, which performs the like the religious parable or a cultural fable, but without the rhetoric.