Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Moral Individual - iib

When I was an impressionable teenager (in my early teens) I used to watch a program on animal rights on television. At that time our(my family's) meat eating was restricted to fish(not on daily basis). Chicken or mutton was rare. The family were on and off vegetarians with my father holding himself off for more than 25 years then coming back to the normal self towards the end of his life.

The program was about how non-vegetarianism was leading to inhuman treatment of animals (thus how barbaric the whole non-vegetarianism was). The program provoked me to such an extent that I started bringing chicken meat to home every week. This act in fact followed a period of chicken abstinence as I had trouble cleaning my teeth after eating as they had many gaps in between them.

At that time I had no understanding and experience of the caste system. I had made no observation how vegetarianism was part and parcel of the purity and pollution idea. When I can be easily overcome with emotion just by watching sentimental scenes in the movies, how could a real life situation of cruelty to animals, instead of making me remorseful, would make me angry at the program creator?

Obviously, if some animal lover calls non-vegetarians as barbarians, it  becomes a personal attack. But was this a case, where I believed - because of my ignorance- that I did no wrong and when someone pointed out the contrary I had trouble admitting it? At that time, my argument was that the animals we would eat were reared only for that purpose. No non-vegetarians then no existence of animals of slaughter. Now I don't think I need to justify non-vegetarianism, as the caste system has proved, the idea of vegetarianism is perverted as it develops a contempt for fellow human beings without any guarantee of love for animals. My views are likely biased by "born" vegetarians as I hardly came across vegetarians by choice in my society. Anyway, at that time I got angry.

I wonder, instead of portraying non-vegetarians as barbarians, if the approach of that vegetarian crusader had been different, then would that have convinced me. I'm not so sure. There is an absurd thinking that if people go and see how animals are slaughtered they would stop eating meat.

The act of killing (or violence in general) is as enticing as sex. I  used to go and watch the slaughter of chickens. I didn't feel anything. I suppose it is true for people who like action movies where violence is normal. However, as I have argued before, the empathy comes after violence because of a feedback loop. Majority, I believe, would be moved if the person or animal is half dead and struggling. The sound of struggle and emotion in the eyes are enough to invoke empathy through the feedback system. I did feel this when I came to Hyderabad and saw 'halal' killing. In Mangaluru, chickens were killed in one shot and there was no struggle afterwards. Initially, halal killing disturbed me but I got used to it later on. I guess unless acted upon, empathy can turn into indifference.Is this true in other cases too?

Even now, I can't control my feelings while watching emotional movie scenes. If tears don't roll down like they used to be when I was small, I believe, it's only because watching the computer monitor all the time  has dried up my eyes.

Why can't I control my emotions to the events that I rationally know to be unreal but become indifferent to the events that are obviously real? The clue, in my opinion, is the repeated physical movements of the chicken case and varying emotional outbursts in the form of words in movie scenes. But why would repeated things break the feedback system and dissolve the empathy? As I have already argued before, empathy is nothing but association of self-pity with suffering of others. Somehow, repeated feedback on the suffering of others weaken the link to self-pity. Probably, if I watch the same scene multiple times I would stop getting involved with it. However, if the same emotion in some other movie is expressed with a different set of words I would again get emotional.

Therefore, I would say,
- act of violence doesn't develop empathy (on the contrary it's a clue for reward like sex)
- empathy is developed in the aftermath of the violence if it's long enough to invoke the self-pity
- repeated exposure to the same aftermath would weaken the link to self-pity and thus the person loses empathy
- varying expressive words have the ability to keep the empathy alive even though the fundamental emotion is the same

I suppose, instilling non-violence in any form as a born morality, would lead to perversion as in the case of enforcing the sexual abstinence.

29 comments:

Maju said...

"act of violence doesn't develop empathy (on the contrary it's a clue for reward like sex)"

It depends on people (on the type of "soul", I'd dare say). I remember when I could not understand (I still cannot) how other boys would take off the legs of a fly or torture a crab or a fish.

My first experiences with fishing ended soon after I realized how cruel that was for fish... for worms... Of course I did not ate from that and I felt no remorse gathering mollusks, who don't seem to express their pain and anguish in any way (I would not think of them as animals but more like sea-fruit, so to say).

Only a lot later I became vegetarian for some time... but I'm horribly lazy for cooking so I quit.

"empathy is nothing but association of self-pity with suffering of others"

This is true but only in a negative sense of empathy. You also empathize with other emotions, not just pain. Some of us do like to see animals or people enjoying themselves, because that way we also enjoy.

Maybe it is a matter of the type of psyche.

anilkurup said...

“Now I don't think I need to just justify non-vegetarianism, as the caste system has proved, the idea of vegetarianism is perverted as it develops contempt to fellow human beings without any guarantee of love for animals”.
You have a fascinating point here. Quite true!

"act of violence doesn't develop empathy (on the contrary it's a clue for reward like sex)".That indeed is a strange thinking- the linking to sex. There may be violence in some sexual dispositions and act. But I do not see any reason to agree with you here.


"empathy is nothing but association of self-pity with suffering of others". Self pity? What has self pity got to do with empathy? Self pity is a demeaning and debasing form of destruction of personality and the soul. On the contrary, empathy is as Khalil Gibran said,”Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution”.
Regarding Halal killing, the advantage is the swift severance of the arteries without pain and the draining of blood avoiding bacterial accumulation. But Animal welfare associations and the scientific community have doubts about its fool proof efficacy. And as a provision which can be used as anticipatory the Islamic law also says,”If one is forced because there is no other choice, neither craving nor transgressing, there is no sin in him”.
And to differentiate grades for animals is rubbish. The life of an amphibian cannot be insignificant to that of a bovine, don’t you think so?
And the dictum best followed is” My food is your poison and your food my poison”.

Maju said...

Just because in English self-compassion is considered a negative emotion (everyone to be hyper-tough, it's an order!) that doesn't mean that self-compassion is wrong: English is wrong instead (if anything).

You have the right to feel pity for yourself, whenever you feel to have been abused (and everybody has been). That self-pity is part of becoming aware, not only of your own sufferings but of general injustice and hence a step in overcoming it (you cannot solve a problem without first gaining awareness on it).

manju said...

Too many mistakes. I don't think I fixed them all.

Maju:
It depends on people (on the type of "soul", I'd dare say).
Anil:
That indeed is a strange thinking- the linking to sex.

I'm referring to this study.

Maju:
This is true but only in a negative sense of empathy.
Anil:
Self pity? What has self pity got to do with empathy?

I have clarified this part in my previous post. I only consider self-pity arising from physical pain. I agree self-pity because of emotional pain needs to be avoided or analyzed. And the empathy arising from it need not be 'true' one.

The discussion is only about violence and empathy. I started by considering empathy as an innate trait but now consider it as a secondary behaviour. I regard its origins to feedback loops in brain (for lack of better scientific terms).

Maju said...

Even if that sensationalist article on "mice crave violence" would be true, that does not mean violence as in being a bully necessarily - it may be violence as in a honest duel too (that is what most sports and games are about, right?)

Young from many animals fight playing but they stop at complaints and signs of anger or submission. Maybe eagles kill their siblings but lions do not: they play with them with brotherly love, even if that play is directed towards the violence of hunt.

Humans are neither mice, nor eagles nor lions. Our social nature demand that we do not disdain or abuse our peers and allies, at least not often, because our own survival lays on their trust, which we cannot betray but at a most heavy price.

Maju said...

Besides, I do not see any major difference between physical and emotional pain: both are perceived subjectively: there is no pain without the mind and, anyhow, physical and emotional pain are so intimately related that there is no clear barrier. Physical pain reinforces emotional pain (caused by words and gestures that remind of the physical pain and its potential recreation).

manju said...

that does not mean violence as in being a bully necessarily

I said nothing of that sense. If you read my previous posts, I feel self-pity is develop during child hood phase itself.

I also argued that it may be possible some people never develop empathy (because of the underdevelopment of their feedback loop that associates others' pain with their self-pity or cause of it). In some cases, empathy can be enforced through societal taboos.

The extent of empathy is dependent upon the person's intelligence.

I do not see any major difference between physical and emotional pain:

Your examples?

Let's consider the following example.
1. Person A hits person B. Here beating is the cause of the physical pain and person A is the cause of emotional pain.

Self-pity due to beating and in turn empathy towards physical pain caused by beating is always a true empathy.

Self-pity due to person A and in turn empathy towards emotional pain caused by person A is a true or false empathy.

Maju said...

I think I can agree better now.

"The extent of empathy is dependent upon the person's intelligence".

With the part of the intelligence we call sensibility. IQ (cold analytical logic) would not be a good measure but probably artistic intelligence would not be either.

I'd mention emotional intelligence but this has less to do with direct empathy (an emotion) than with being able to manage emotions (instead of being overwhelmed by them).

"Your examples?"

You can see that in all orders of life, from wolves to chimps and also among people: when the bully (boss, master, alpha specimen) sets the status quo, he (or she) oscillates between direct physical violence (beatings, bites) and indirect physical violence (threats). In humans, with a more complex language, we use insults and hierarchical concepts (caste names and routines for example) to represent people's place in the social hierarchy.

When an abusive man calls a woman 'bitch' or 'whore', he is "putting her in her place" (not that I think this but HE DOES and maybe she does too), reminding a process of establishing hierarchies that is already internalized by both (as it's part of the social order). There may be no physical violence at all, no threat... but the ability (once and again ratified) of being able to put her down is just a repetition of that violence... which may include memories of beatings, rape or merely less dramatic (but similarly effective) physical "correctives".

Of course, if need be, if the supposedly submissive individual rebels, then physical violence will be used again... unless the rebel can overcome the oppressor one way or another.

manju said...

I suppose there are two things here. The abusive words giving rise to emotional pain are not ideal. However, abusive words giving rise to physical pain (through historical memory) is indeed valid. And the empathy (towards people suffering discrimination) is a true one.

Maju said...

If it's offensive it is usually because it implies some sort of real pain. If someone would call me "nigger", I would not know how to react (I may laugh or shrug but I could not take it as an offense, as it has no meaning in my personal subjective experience of pain, be it directly or indirectly physical). But try telling that to any random African American...

He/she may not associate it directly with personal pain maybe but he/she will in any case be very much aware of the pain it implies in general for black people (now and in the past) and will probably react in consequence.

Anyhow, you should be less extremist about the need of "physical pain". As Brecht said (from memory): there are many ways to kill a man: you can stab him in his heart, you cat take the bread from his hands... only a few of these ways of murder are illegal in my country. And not just illegal, only some of them cause direct pain: jailing does not necessarily cause physical pain (but it's a pain), firing one from a job is not physical pain (but can bring death and is a major source of pain in any case), taking somebody's farm or home is not "physical pain"... but kills anyhow and causes immense emotional distress. Many would rather withstand torture than to suffer some of these non-physical legal ways of inflicting pain.

manju said...

Why only African American? Any dark skinned person like me can be offended and emotionally pained. It's only light skinned person's privilege not to feel offended by it(Maybe not, if the word is abusive then its origins are irrelevant. I mean consider a community that doesn't have the memory of the origin of 'nigger' but use it as part of its cuss words. I am sure there are so many abusive words whose origins have been forgotten). However, self-pity I develop because of it is a false one(Unless I connect it to some other form of physical pain that I suffered). It's only true for African Americans and the empathy they develop towards all groups.

You are making two mistakes here. I have no interest in discussing how strong and fatal emotional pain can be.

I'm only talking about instincts. The only identity relevant here is the identity that cannot be changed because you are born with it. Other identities based on language and religion are emotional and irrelevant in the discussion of empathy as a natural behavioural instinct.

I suppose that means Indians who though born with the identity of lower castes do not suffer because of it, if they develop self-pity based on historical memory of physical pain then it's a false one. Since the caste identity is not an unchangeable born identity in the present times, it again is an emotional identity.

Maju said...

It's not just "emotional" pain, it's non-physical pain in so many forms! Taking your house is not "emotional" but it's not "physical" either (you are unharmed in your body - at least by the moment). Emotions are only our mental expression of it (as there's no pain without a mind).

I forgot to mention a key example of non-physical pain which is however deeply traumatic: separation of babies from the mother, specially at birth. This has been described as the emotional equivalent of death and may damage the babies emotionally forever (however it's widely used in hospitals worldwide, normally without even consulting the mother at all).

A baby without its mother is as good as dead and instinctively it knows that. So separation causes tremendous anguish and, when that is your first experience in life and goes on for hours... go figure!

This is similar to being deprived of a home, of your job, of your land. It is not "physical" but the pain is atrocious and the result can be mortal (not by suicide but by deprivation: hunger, cold...)

manju said...

It's not just "emotional" pain, it's non-physical pain in so many forms!

Though your examples (except for baby and mother where you have gone bonkers) are all about physical pain.
(you are unharmed in your body - at least by the moment).
(not by suicide but by deprivation: hunger, cold...)
----------------------------------
Emotions are only our mental expression of it

I don't think you get my point. Physical pain is purely objective and emotional pain is subjective. If someone calls me 'nigger' I may feel emotional pain because he associated me with people lowlier than me. How can you compare a 'brown' man with a 'black' man?

anilkurup said...

"If someone calls me 'nigger' I may feel emotional pain because he associated me with people lowlier than me".
An element of racist mind?

manju said...

An element of racist mind?

Secondary racist or honorary racist. Another example would be, if I get short shrifted by a Chinese, I may think, "How can he do this to me? He is after all a yellow man and not a white man".

Emotional pain many a time can arise from biases but that will never be the case with physical pain.

Maju said...

You've left me flippant with your comment on the N-word, Manjunath. I did not think I would ever read this (or anything like that) from you:

"If someone calls me 'nigger' I may feel emotional pain because he associated me with people lowlier than me. How can you compare a 'brown' man with a 'black' man?"

I mean: you are using the first person singular and not using conditionants of any sort (such as attributing such thoughts to someone else, for example Gandhi, who was quite a racist himself).

You left me speechless.

manju said...

I think those words are self-demeaning enough if thought over it. But please let me know how you would have re-written it.

Gandhi sort of reformed himself when it came to castes. However, I wonder whether it was the case with his idea of races too. If not, I think it probably because he lost touch with Africans after he left South Africa and thus lost opportunity to correct himself.

Maju said...

I'm not really concerned about Gandhi (he's been long dead) but about you. I mean, let me ask you a straight question: do you really mean that you think that Black (African) people are "lowlier" than you?

I'm still hoping that it was sarcasm.

anilkurup said...

Manju has not answered my straight forward question.
"If someone calls me 'nigger' I may feel emotional pain because he associated me with people lowlier than me".
An element of racist mind?
I'm not concerned about classification secondary or honorary racist etc..
The statement you made has racist tone . Are you subscribing to that philosophy or was it a slip?

manju said...

It probably a lot to ask to connect my comments and posts and not to take any single point and make absurd points. But you must understand as a writer I would be totally focused on the point that I'm discussing.

In my hypothetical examples to invalid emotional pain, I can be an absolute dark skinned person or a relative brown skinned person when faced with N-word.

But of course the brown man examples were the ones that I had read and heard. The point is even if the tone is racist its irrelevant in this case as they have to be seen within the context of hypothetical examples for invalid emotional pain. I'm not sure what could be a pure racist tone but the example I have given is frankly debasing for the "brown man" as he has accepted his 'lowly' self.

I'm not making any classification here. If "honorary racist" doesn't sound like "honorary white" then it's not my problem.

anilkurup said...

Pretty audacious, isn't it?

manju said...

Pretty audacious, isn't it?

And who is being audacious here? Asking 'direct questions' when obviously failing to connect the train of thoughts is sure sign of audaciousness (in most cases probably a mere misunderstanding but not when the tone is 'holier than thou').

anilkurup said...

My goodness, the train of thoughts , beg your pardon, that was a trifle long train to connect! It will be an interesting debate if comments and posts are not seen as personal jibes. I'm certain I can expect another punch for this. I 'm not agreeing or disagreeing per se your comments on the main topic. But the comment on niggers and brownies were something I felt I should clarify. And it hasn't been yet. Ok forget it!

manju said...

It will be an interesting debate if comments and posts are not seen as personal jibes. I'm certain I can expect another punch for this

It will be surely seen that way if the blogger doesn't consider the commenter as intellectually challenged when he conflates "hypothetical I" with "real I".

Maju said...

I believe that you are hiding yourself, Manju, in a discursive labyrinth of some sort that only persuades you (if anyone at all). As they say, the easier person to fool is always yourself, so beware of your own tricks.

I am still waiting for you to reply straightforwardly to my straightforward query. Until you do I will consider your racist claim sincere and therefore your credibility pretty much down to nothing.

manju said...

Maju:
Your straightforward question is retarded in the first place. You can consider my claim as a brown person as racist and also consider my claim as black person as sincere. You are ridiculous.

manju said...

in a discursive labyrinth of some sort that only persuades you (if anyone at all). As they say, the easier person to fool is always yourself, so beware of your own tricks.

It's alright if you have realized that you have fooled yourself, first, by not understanding my post and second by jumping into confusions.

Maju said...

I do not consider generic color categories as "brown" or "black" (or "white"). I consider that you are insulting people from other ancestry than yours (Black Africans in this particular case): that is racism.

For that reason I am breaking all relations with you and your blogs.

manju said...

I do not consider generic color categories as "brown" or "black" (or "white").

Nor do I. But that is irrelevant to the present post.

For that reason I am breaking all relations with you and your blogs.

It's a pity. There was no trick from my part. Probably, you should be careful while judging people.