Friday, March 31, 2017


A speciest, like a racist or a casteist, is someone who believes in the superiority of their own species. Like cats, for example. They have no doubts- they rule. Most of us are speciests. Even the ardent animal lovers like me, who kill ants or mosquitoes without remorse, exhibit speciesm. It's not just that we place a higher value on our lives than we do on, say an insect, we also actually value our comfort more.

There's an ant epidemic in my house. The fiery tiny red ant with a bite that's worse than an injection. The chalks and the pastes have proved ineffective; they simply take a different route. Once they got into my clothes cupboard, I bought a can of bug spray and unleashed it with all the fury that only a person with itchy bumps in unmentionable places can muster. I felt better, for a while. But you see, I stood and I looked at the surviving ants running around later that day. I remembered everything I've read about ants- their highly social nature, their dependence on each other, their hard work and commitment to their colonies. I also remembered why I killed them; the seeming impossibility of coexisting with these creatures who invaded my food, clothes and bed sheets. I kept zooming in and zooming out. Let me explain what that means-

The thing about human beings is that we not only evolved intelligence, we evolved perspective. This gives us the unique ability to 'zoom out' or to see the big picture, as some would say.

What happens when you zoom out? The details become unimportant and invisible, the edges begin to blur and fade, generalizations become easier, priorities jostle each other and a few emerge victorious. Zooming out is the single most used technique to sway entire populations into following propaganda. That Hitler could create an army of wanton killers was because of his skill in helping them zoom out and see what he saw. That empires flourished at the cost of mass killings, slavery and oppression was because men and women, with families, with love in their lives, zoomed out and saw a form of twisted success that they wanted.

That's what zooming out can do- it can absolve you of responsibility, of having to think about your power and the individual you wield it over, of his pain, her anguish, its freedom. If you zoom out far enough, you can justify anything. You can be selectively numb. And you can be very dangerous.

When the jallikatu (bull-taming) issue swept over Tamilnadu, the media guided the people beautifully into zooming out. Suddenly, even animal lovers were supporting the cause, citing the dastardly evil intentions of foreign corporations. What the media neglected to mention is that the species, which existed in about 30 different varieties had already dwindled down to just a handful of surviving strains, mainly because the use of bullock carts- the horrid cruel practice that the same afore mentioned animal lovers hate with a passion- have dwindled due to vehicles. Almost all villagers today utilize artificial insemination to impregnate their cows. So the extinction was already happening at a fatal pace, thanks to the altruistic attitude of our brave and glorious Tamilians who don't keep things around if it serves them no purpose. But let's gloss over all that- it's a detail that becomes invisible when you zoom out. The foreign 'milk invasion' theory may very well have been true. But in that issue, as in others, what about the individual in question?

So, let's do what I did with the ants.

Zoom in.

You're an animal with five senses. You eat, sleep, procreate. You are capable of giving and receiving affection. You feel fear, you feel love. Suddenly, one day, you're guided to a wooden enclosure. All around you, you smell the sweat and adrenaline of hundreds of humans. You hear their noise. You are agitated. You are slapped in the rear and in an instant, you are engulfed by this mass of humans pressing against you, hands grabbing your body, some not letting go. You run in fear, terrified by your inability to understand what is happening to you. Are they predators? Will they hurt you? Will they kill you? You try to shake them off your body- you don't like being touched and grabbed like that. You try to protect yourself, swinging your horns this way and that. You are violent, because you are so very afraid...

But all that is okay. Because the solution to shutting down those evil corporations lies only, only, only, only, only with continuing this practice. Big picture! The feelings of the individual don't matter, especially when they're of the four legged kind. You see - it's for their own good. Not the individual, but their species. It's for their own good. Big picture, see? Congratulations. You've zoomed out.

I think we would have a very hard time living with ourselves if we zoomed in all the time. We'd all have to be committed. If we could feel the anguish of an ant that walks over the ruins of it's entire colony, going from one body to another to see if someone, anyone survived; if we could feel the pain of a chicken that has never touched soil, sitting in a coop so tight that it cannot move, injected with hormones, eggs whisked away even as they fall; if we could feel the helplessness, the hunger and misery of the homeless and the destitute....

...if we allowed ourselves to zoom in, I think then, and only then, would our evolution continue. Until then, as we have daily proof, we are all numb. And dangerous.

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