Sunday, July 13, 2008

Musings: On Killing

Killing doesn’t come easily to me, especially when it’s something large and beautiful, like an oio writhing on a fishing line, its body all a-sparkle in a Kauapea rainbow. I couldn’t, and didn’t, end that vibrant life.

It’s a little easier with rodents, because I can take the “buck up, little Missy, it’s got to be done,” approach. Still, I once was so traumatized after cutting a big centipede in half, and watching the two parts struggle separately, that I vowed never to kill another one. I’d also heard that such pacts deter them from stinging, but I can report that’s not true.

Yet when it comes to ants, even though I bear them no particular malice, I nonchalantly kill swarms of them every day. I’m regularly flushing them down the toilet, washing them down the drains, wiping them up enmasse from kitchen counters.

I was struck by my willingness to commit wholesale ant slaughter the other day when I was sitting and watching two ants walk across the floor and thought, they could be gone in an instant. But since they really weren’t bothering me, I let them live.

That got me thinking about what happens to the psyches of people who regularly have the power of life and death over others. Does the killing become rote and automatic, like ants?

And was I able to be so cavalier about ant carnage because they’re so small and so anonymous, so numerous and so easy to kill?

Then it struck me: maybe that’s what’s happened to the human race. It seems that as our numbers keep rising, our respect for all life keeps diminishing. It’s gotten so easy to kill large of numbers of our “enemies” in a detached way by dropping bombs, releasing poison gases, blowing things up. Just like it’s gotten so easy to destroy entire ecosystems by blowing the tops off mountains to get at the coal, or kill thousands of non-target fish while sweeping the ocean with giants nets that scoop up everything in their path.

I started wondering about the philosophy of Ahimsa — do no harm — and the Jains, who gently sweep the ground before them so as not to tread on a single ant. What would the world be like if each us took the time to be that aware of the consequences of our actions — if each of us were that reluctant to do any sort of harm to another creature?

And if some of us humans already are able to achieve that level of consciousness, love, compassion and respect, what’s hanging up the rest of us?


zen said...

Indeed very thought provoking.
if this philosophy is understood at world level,world wud really be a better place to live.Even at personal level,a thought and belief of Ahinma gives tremendous good feeling.
Jains are stark example of follower of Ahimsa.In contrast, Buddhas, despite being followers of the Goutam Buddha seldom follow the path of Ahimsa.It is surprising.

Andy Parx said...

At some point it becomes obsessively destructive to try to do the impossible- not kill to live. We kill when we eat, we kill when we breath. It’s part of our life cycle. There is a difference between wiping up the ants on the counter and the little boy torturing them with a magnifying glass. The former leads to self preservation and survival. the other is what causes the ills you talk about.

I thought about living like the Jains you describe when I was younger and realized that my stepping on the ants is part of their life cycle. That is why there’s so many of them- they evolved to be stepped on.

If I could team up with enough people to stop killing half the ants that get killed inadvertently, we could be destroying their survival because in their evolutionary development is the part where many are inadvertently killed. The whole any system would first be overpopulated to the point where they can’t survive and the new evolutionary reaction might be that the new ants would only produce half the numbers of offspring.

But then if all of us who had succeeded in stopping the inadvertent killing of half the ants die off ourselves and the next generation doesn’t do the same then we are back where we were but with perhaps not enough ants to survive as a species.

I use ants as an example but the same model goes for anything we kill. It may sound a little far fetched but it’s the ecology -the life and death cycle- that’s important, one being as important as the others to everything’s survival.

If we view ourselves as many indigenous cultures do- as part of that ecological system- we don’t create the problems created by the christian-western model of humans being separate from the rest of life and “having dominion over” it. Actually not killing an ant, a rat or centipede of even a fish to eat is more part of that latter conceptualization of the world that was created by people 2000- 2500 years ago when they began to understand their power as a species.... whew that was long.

Katy said...

I tend to agree with Andy.

Another trend which disturbs me is the ease with which western "environmentalist" vegetarians can find a way to justify supression of Native people's hunting and fishing rights in the Northwest.

Right here on Kaua'i, can you imagine the ecological disaster which would ensue if everyone went vegetarian and stopped hunting?

There are valuable ethical questions here when it comes to our impact on the life around us, but I can't find a way to be troubled by inhabiting a certain place on the food chain.

Anonymous said...

There's no need to eat dead animals. Therefore, I don't do it.

Anonymous said...

"Meats meat and man must eat" as the movie "Motel Hell" put it less eloquently than Alan Watts but empathy and consciousness maintains the sacredness of and for all life. Humans may consider themselves at the top of the food chain but the bottom dwellers still like eat.

Anonymous said...

Hitler was a vegetarian.

Anonymous said...

Dead animals are GREAT! The only purpose of veggies are to be steamed and placed around a juicy steak or chop!!!

Anonymous said...

Gotta love blog world.

Only 6 posts to hit Godwin's Law and then the cartoon character shows up.

Anonymous said...

The Soup Nazi eats meat.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of killing:

Throughout my stay in Baghdad, I heard many chilling stories about the brutality of the Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM), or the Mahdi Army. Created by Moqtada al-Sadr in 2003, this Shiite militia won broad popularity by providing services to the poor and by aggressively challenging the US occupation, but over the last two to three years its ranks have swelled with violent young men interested more in amassing power and wealth than in pressing any political agenda. I heard about how, during the 2006 "battle for Baghdad," JAM-linked thugs had waged an assassination campaign against Sunni merchants, businessmen, and other prominent Iraqis. I was told how the JAM, in taking over the health ministry, had set about liquidating Sunni doctors and nurses. And, in Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq, Patrick Cockburn's richly detailed and revealing new book, I read about how Cockburn himself had been seized and nearly executed at a JAM checkpoint in 2004 . . .