Facing the curse of empathy
G. Sam Piatt, PDT Staff Writer
Do lobsters feel pain when they’re dropped into a vat of boiling water?
Does a deer feel pain when a bullet pierces its heart?
Does a largemouth bass feel pain when its hooked in the jaw, or later when its filleted for the freezer?
Or what about the snake whose head you cut off with the hoe, or the fly you swatted and smashed?
There’s really no way to know the answers to such questions unless we can somehow enter the brain of non-human species such as animals, fish, reptiles and insects.
Empathy I believe is a good quality to have, but it can also be a curse. It’s an admirable trait to put ourselves in the place of humans and creatures that suffer, and want to do what we can to mitigate their pain.
I have been cursed with an overdose of empathy. I have trouble even killing fish, even though I love to eat them. I carry a small but heavy iron rod for walloping a fish on top of the head before I clean him. This I believe at least renders them unconscious so that they don’t feel the electric fillet knife slicing along their spine.
In hot weather such as this, I throw my catch into an ice chest. I guess I feel that suffocation is not as bad a death as that wrought by the fillet knife.
I can be driving the Interstate and see a cattle truck loaded with calves that have been taken from their pasture and are on their way to the slaughter lines at the Flemingsburg Stock Yards, and I can’t help but feel sorrow for them.
And yet I enjoy a good tender steak as much as anyone.
Pain and suffering and death are going on around the globe at ever minute of every day and night. It’s that kind of world.
I could never join up with the overzealous animal rights activists who want to stop all hunting and fishing. I shall always defend the hunter’s right to kill animals for food.
And for the thrill of an adrenaline-pumping stalk leading up to the kill. Or the miss, whichever it may be.
I started off this morning to write a column on bass fishing. What got me off on the above is a book, “Knowing Bass” written by Keith A. Jones, Ph.D. The book offers a scientific approach to catching more fish, especially the largemouth bass, a cannibalistic conniver who lives in a hostile world where potential harm – even death – lurk ever near.
Jones writes about the sensitivity a bass feels for changing temperatures and about pain and stress, noting that bass have nerve endings that terminate throughout its skin.
These nerve endings are sensitive to touch and transmit feelings to the spinal cord, which transmits them to the brain, just as the system of touch and feel works in humans.
Even so, the bass does not have the complex system of feeling pain as humans do, studies indicate, and can not possibly feel pain as intensely as humans feel pain, or have the pain perception that humans have.
Fish are very perceptive of sound and light. A knowledgeable bass fisherman, fishing after dark, will move silently and cast no light on the surface of the water.
EARLY TO RISE
I love bass fishing.
To be successful at catching bass I know I’ve got to hit the lake early. I used to be out there casting at daybreak or just before, but that’s becoming more difficult as passing years steal away my vigor.
By the time I get a pot of coffee and a couple of arthritis pills in me, remember what all I need to take and where it is, it might be 8 a.m. or later these days by the time I’m in business.
For the catch, I depend more on pure luck than any scientific approach. From a boat, I try to get a lure as close to the shoreline as possible.
Even though I know soft plastic worms and tube jigs will catch more fish, I usually start with a surface lure, because there’s no thrill in fishing like the thrill of a bass ripping into a lure on the surface.
The main purpose of Jones’ book is to make us a better angler. Those who understand in basic sensory terms the reasons why bass do what they do will make the next quantum leap in bass fishing savvy, he says.
But he points out that bass fishing is, after all, a game of chance.
“It will never be an exact science,” he writes, “and perhaps that is what attracts so many people – men and women, young and old – to the sport.
“So many factors lie beyond the angler’s control that at the start of the day, you can never know who will catch fish and who will go home empty-handed.
“In competition, whether friendly or formal, so much depends on being at the right place at the right time. You, or perhaps your favorite tournament angler, are never completely out of the running until the last cast is made, the boats docked, and the fish weighed.
“In bass fishing much more than any other sport, mere random chance can easily outweigh even large differences in degree of ability.”
Set the alarm for 3:30 a.m., get up, and go.
Don’t try to turn back your odometer. You should want people to know why you look the way you look. You’ve traveled a long way, and some of the roads weren’t paved.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@aol.com.
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