Sign up FAST! Login

Are Trout Too Smart to Eat? Cosmos And Culture : NPR

Living On An Alien Planet 13 7 Cosmos And Culture NPR

VanderMeer's current "Southern Reach Trilogy" — comprised of the books AnnihilationAuthority and Acceptance — takes readers deep into the wilds of North Florida for an encounter with something wholly not-human.

Karen Joy Fowler recently won the PEN/Faulkner award for her 2013 novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, an exploration of animal consciousness through the story of a chimpanzee living in a human family.

This conversation was provided to 13.7 by VanderMeer's publicist and was edited by NPR.


Stashed in: @troutgirl, Science!, Awesome, Ethics, Fishies!, Under the sea!, Intelligence, Science Too, Empathy, empathy

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

VanderMeer: SeaWorld has always bothered me. Any time you take an organism that's used to traversing so many miles of ocean a day and put it in a tiny cage, it's unethical. [It's] a sign of pathology, unless there's no [other] choice for preservation of a species. But even that is giving up — it means we've given up on their habitats.

Fowler: I think, I believe, we're hitting the critical mass on SeaWorld. I'm waiting to see what the California legislature is going to do. I just feel all of these gathering forces ...

When I was doing research, I stumbled on an event that I had never heard of called the brown dog riots, which took place in Battersea, England, in about 1906. It was this peculiar flashpoint, without going into too many details, over the issue of vivisection at the medical schools, which had the medical students on one side and this huge line-up on the other side of labor, the suffragists, the Fabians, the Marxists, the socialists, all opposed to vivisection, all seeing it as a gendered issue, a class issue. On the other side, only the medical students, really, and the medical universities.

It ended ambiguously with no clear win on either side. And yet it seems to have been the last gasp of this coalition that somehow disappeared. And then the use of animals for the most trivial of reasons, like cosmetics, went unquestioned for decades and decades.


VanderMeer: Do you think that these issues being thought of in a more, for lack of a better word, progressive way impacts though how people perceive their natural environment in general and how this all ties in to the mess we're in?

Fowler: I do. In certain ways, we, many of us, stopped paying attention to the world. I have to think we would have moved on the whole climate issue in a different way if we'd been paying better attention. There are so many reasons we're not. We lead indoor lives. We're online. The economic climate makes it hard to look outside daily needs. And then there is the partisan nature of our politics, all the money lined up against us. I know you'll remember that appallingly hilarious video of Sarah Palin giving some sort of interview while turkeys were being stuffed into killing machines behind her.

VanderMeer: Yes, I do remember that. The way that some of these scenes become banal to us is what's disturbing too. I think the incident in your book where the father runs over the cat, which you leave ambiguous as to whether it actually happened or not, is telling in that regard because there are actions that happen every day outside of controlled environments or experiments that reflect a certain bizarre callousness toward the world we live in. It makes me a bit pessimistic about the limits of empathy, if that makes any sense.


Fowler: It makes perfect sense. On the limits of empathy — I just read the new book by Frans de Waal called The Bonobo and the Atheist. A lot of it was about our natural proclivity towards empathy and how many animals we find this in, and cited many studies and observations. But in the end the book concluded that there seems actually to be what they call an empathy deficit for people or creatures that you don't see as part of your own tribe. Not only do you not empathize with them, you actively dis-empathize.

VanderMeer: Dis-empathize, right. If sharks were as smart as chimpanzees — using our conventional definitions of worth — it wouldn't make a difference, in a sense. So how far do you think "personhood" should go in terms of our thinking of animals? Is there a cut-off point? Or is it simply that we need to rearrange our entire thinking about this?

Pigs are apparently the smartest animal we're allowed to eat. 

great article (more like a discussion) with lots to think about here... oh but please don't make me think about vivisections!

i don't know if trout are too smart too eat, but they sure aren't tasty enough! octopuses are too smart to eat, for sure.

and i agree about sea world and it's siblings: they can't possibly last much longer.  remember how flipper committed suicide?'Barry

I didn't realize that's how Flipper went. 

And I didn't realize octopuses are smart.

And I wonder why trout aren't tastier. Maybe do we don't eat them. 

You May Also Like: