'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Friday, April 27, 2007

'To Beef Or Not To Beef'

"The following types of cattle should not be slaughtered - milch cows, stud bulls and suckling calves; whoever does so shall be fined 12 panas"
- The Arthasastra, c. 300 BC.

Americans alone consume one billion pounds of beef at McDonald's alone in a year - five and a half million head of cattle. - Statistics c. 2012 AD


My parents are vegetarian. Among my other relatives, the clear majority
are non-veg to varying degrees. Kerala, my home-province has an overwhelmingly non-vegetarian population.

I was brought up a vegetarian. However, even when I was quite young, Pop used to say: "I bet you are going to be a big non-veg freak; you love all those spicy dishes so much!".

Once when I was in High School, Pop told me: "When you leave home for studies or work, you can eat non-veg if you want. Of course, I would not be very happy if you eat beef. At least here in India, cattle and buffaloes nourish and sustain us with milk and heavy agricultural effort. It is unethical to kill them when they are no longer useful..... Actually, I have made up my mind, after I retire from service, I shall keep some cattle and ensure that they don't end up getting slaughtered - I will do my bit for those poor animals."

Those were impressionable days. Pop's argument sounded very convincing and I used to feel pretty strongly that killing any animal which sustains us is deeply unethical. Over the years, I ended up talking about this to many people, sometimes (naively) getting into arguments too. And yes, Pop has implemented his plan.

Let me record from memory some of the statements and responses I heard - from relatives, friends and so on - the majority of these were *not* generated by an argument.

- No, you cannot have only porottas (a kind of flat bread, a Kerala specialty) with tea! You buy the beef and throw it if you want; that is your choice. But if everybody talks like you I can't do business, please understand!

- Hey, you talk as if you belong among cattle, not human beings!

- Your arguments sound deceptively convincing; but I know they can be refuted, given some time. We will talk about it later.

- You talk about being kind to animals but what about the cruelties done to human beings. Hope you can show the same level of interest there!

- Unlike you, I have strong spiritual leanings. But, when it comes to food, well, I eat everything, and that is about it!

- You say you were *shocked* to hear Swami Vivekananda ate beef and did not feel bad about it. In my view, Vivekananda had a serious a problem - he was hungry; and by eating beef, he solved it! And what is YOUR problem?

- As a Hindu, I used to feel very bad about eating beef. But now my plan is: as long as I am a bachelor, I will eat everything, because there is no choice. Later, I will try to be *good*.

- Once upon a time (opens a small packet and shows a cluster of neat brown cubes) this was a cow. Offended?

- You may talk about all beasts of burden; but I can see that you have a hidden agenda of cow protection there; you don't quite care as much about camels and buffaloes as for cows! Am I not right? And this is a communally sensitive subject. So I will oppose you, as a matter of principle!

- It is like this. We live in a free country. If you think a cow is God or something divine, you can worship it. If somebody else thinks it is something God created for Man's consumption, he can eat it. That is the true spirit of freedom and secularism.

- You should try eating a steak. You would love it and then you wont talk about this. So neat and simple - just a slab off a cow!

- So, you would prefer treating me to chicken rather than beef. Are you bothered about a 'thread-bearer' eating beef? I am ready to go to hell if required. Don't worry, nothing will happen to you!

- Perhaps ethically, killing cattle for food is bad. But we need to eat them to preserve the ecological balance. By consuming cattle which are no longer economically useful, we are maintaining the ecological order and that, not emotions, should be our priority.

- I read somewhere that cattle are very efficient 'energy converters' - they consume cheap grass and yield rich milk and useful muscle power and even fuel! Even ecologically, growing them purely for meat is unprofitable. The cow is indeed divine, in some sense. I guess the same goes for camels.

- I find your Dad's decision to protect cattle as reflecting his personal viewpoint. Yes, he has some reasons but they are not universally applicable. So, I don't find his effort *laudable* as such.

- I must say I agree with what you say, in principle. But I admit I am not going to stop eating beef. I love beef too much!

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Logic(?) Of Life

The author of 'Dog Journals' (link on the right panel ->) argues logically: "Life is a bitch, they say. So, since I love mine so much, I must be a Dog". My own relation to Life (mine that is) is marked less by love than by the utterest bewilderment (from my side that is).

Indeed Mathematics must be the only realm where hard logic can get you somewhere, a realm where, for instance, you can actually establish something by negating its opposite. And this logic often comes a cropper in real life, where one often does not even know what is the opposite to what! Consider this real exchange:

Self: "Bananas are great. They not only taste great, they are perfect for all digestive problems."

A Mathematician: "I can't agree with you. What you say can be invalidated very easily."

Self: "How?"

The Mathematician: "Simple. It is obvious that nothing can cure *both* constipation and diarrhoea. That implies bananas cannot help with both!"

But then, they can!

Long back we studied an essay at school: "The Origin of Laughter". The author describes many theories on the origin of human laughter and then debunks many of them with counter examples. One of those theories went:

"Laughter arises from *contrasts*. Constrasts between two characters or objects, or between two unrelated situations or the situations in which the same character finds himself. For example, a dwarf seriously reaching for a fruit accessible only to a tall man evokes derisive laughter by the contrast between his lack of height and his aspirations".

The essay then gives the following 'counter-example' to this theory: Consider two men who are identical in every respect. When we see them together we tend to laugh, not at any contrast between them (there simply isn't any) but at the total *absence* of contrast (their identical nature). Ergo, contrast is not a sufficient enough reason for laughter.

Question: Is not the total absence of any distinction between the two guys a source of contrast (between two 'normal' people, some distinction is expected)? Is this example a counter-example at all? In fact, to self, it only *supports* the given hypothesis!


Many years ago, a friend of mine graduated with a Ph.D. He told me: "Hey, tonight, we are having a bash. Please join."

Self: I am not sure if my coming will be okay. X (another friend of the inviter and now, an eminent academician) would be there I guess; and as you know, he does not like me too much so...

The Gracious Host (TGH hereafter): Of course X will be there. But why worry? *I* am calling you, right?

Self: Thanks a lot. But I can always take a separate treat from you, like...

TGH: Just come, Man. And don't worry!

The party happened; I attended and so did X. Rum flowed. And somewhere there was an argument between X and self. The hows and whys and whats of it are lost to my memory now - except X repeatedly ordering me to "shut up!"... The next day, I met TGH again at a chai shop.

Self: Your party was grand. But perhaps I drank a bit too much and probably talked too much. Guess X was...

TGH: Yeah, X was really unhappy with your behavior; not just X, even Y (another friend of TGH and X's and a neutral to self) was pissed off; and he told me as much.

Self: I see. But you know, after a couple of drinks...

TGH: Yeah, I can see that. But...X was real upset; he said later, you had no business to be there.

Self: Hmm, know what? X and I actually are saying the same thing - that I should not have come - I told you yesterday I will stay away ... and isn't it very interesting, this total agreement between X and me actually brings out the difference between us?

TGH: Whatever, as a friend, I would advise you to be a bit more careful with people...

Back to the here and now. Immediately after "I must be a dog", 'Dog Journals' negates his own 'deduction', not with logic but with a fact of life: "Well, I am not a dog. I wish I were but I am not!"