Ooops!

Nov. 7, 2010

I started this blog on Thanksgiving weekend almost a year ago, and I made a secret promise to myself that I would do two things. One is that I would do this faithfully and regularly every Sunday. The second was that I would keep it up for a year and evaluate things around Thanksgiving of 2010.

Sharp-eyed regular readers of the blog will have noticed that there was no blog last Sunday. (I know, I know! I’m talking about what mathematicians call “the empty set” when I talk about sharp-eyed regular readers, but cut me some slack for the sake of literary contrivance.) I’ve managed to blog from hotel rooms in Rome, Italy, Cadiz, Spain, the Air France lounge at Charles DeGalle and even from the first class cabin of a flight from Salt Lake City to Detroit, but last week I failed to pull it off.

It was not from lack of opportunity. My room at the Marriott Chateau Champlain in Montreal had an excellent wireless connection, and I had at least as much time to blog before the session on my new book at the International Association of Environmental Philosophy as I had in Cadiz or Paris. I think I was just overwhelmed by the thought of sea lice.

The evening before I had heard a lecture by Kelly Oliver on her new book, Animal Lessons. I’ve read the book and I recommend it highly for people interested in animals from a somewhat abstract angle, and her 40-minute synopsis was actually quite good. She ended up the talk where she ends up the book, calling for us to engage responsively with animals, which is to say disengaging from some of us humans’ more tortuous and violent practices and letting the other animals be.

Well and good except for the sea lice. I must be a bit coy here about why, but I spent a chunk of the weekend reading about how sea lice attack the mucus membrane around the mouth and eyes of ocean-going salmon. The parasites eat the membrane away, sometimes extending deeply into the other soft tissues of the hapless fish. The description I read went on for several paragraphs of detached scientific prose that provided grisly details of the damage suffered by salmon, ranging from blindness to gaping holes in their flesh. I spare readers here the grizzle but it definitely made me root for the salmon, though Oliver’s talk made me wonder if I was shorting the homely louse. Sea lice are animals, too.

Humans want to engage the sea lice on behalf of the salmon, though I would be the first to stress that this is not because the humans want to let the salmon “be.” Rather they want to catch and eat them. But Atlantic salmon are under all manner of assault, not just fishermen. To wit: the sea lice.

If I’m being a bit obtuse here, I’m afraid it will just have to ride. This is, after all, the non-blog that comes too, too late, throwing off the rhythm and not living up to the silent promises I’ve made to myself. No answers, no analysis. Just stunned silence.

Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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