Misguided fools always do. Mean well. Yes, things in the pit do get…gory. But in the end, there’s a difference between hurt and pain.
Before I started the mod, one of my goals this year was to finish Infinite Jest. Needless to say, I failed. I want to blame the mod, but to be frank, I blame the book. The book is a bit of a grind. Now, while I find David Foster Wallace to be funny, thoughtful, and at times inspiring, the story itself makes me want to fling said book out the window and go back to marathoning porn. To this day I don’t know if that represents a personal failing or the author’s, but I choose to blame it on him, seeing as he’s dead and can’t defend himself.
Given our shaky history, it would seem counter-intuitive for me to want to read one of his essays. Essays are by nature extremely didactic(read: boring), as they’re typically sans all the witty humor and lingual acrobatics an author performs in his novels. Still, I’m glad I picked up Consider the Lobster, because the whole thing was a fascinating read, and something to draw back on when building the character Okapi, the degenerate pit fight gambler.
The premise of the article is simple. Is it inhumane to cook a lobster? The argument Wallace makes is that the answer is unknowable, because the answer, er, boils down to whether a lobster feels pain. And because it’s impossible to know whether a lobster feels pain, your answer reflects more about you than it reveals about the scruples of your local seafood buffet.
For humans, the purpose of pain is obvious. Whether it’s a knife in the gut or a deep-seeded regret, pain more than anything else molds experience. When athletes talk about their career, they remember the heartbreaking loss more than the glory. When old timers reminisce about high school crushes, they’ll talk most vividly about the one that got away. Pain cuts deeper because it’s wired deeper. Grog knows not to eat rocks because the last time it gave him a tummy ache. However, none of this would be applicable if not for memory and our concept of time. Without an understanding of the past and a fear of what might happen in the future, there’s nothing to stop Grog from jugging down a bottle of drain cleaner while petting a king cobra.
For animals, memory isn’t memory. It’s a miasma of circadian rhythms, Pavlovian cues, and funky hormones. The less complex the brain, the more unreliable it gets. At some point, the act of avoiding pain isn’t so much a decision as it is a reflex. And like a hand jumping back from a hot stove, the body works on its own. The mind is on a need to know basis. The pain only comes after, to forge the memory so we don’t touch the stove a second time. This is the basis of Okapi’s argument for why the pit fights are kosher. Animals get hurt, but they don’t feel pain. For animals, everything is a reflex.
Obviously, such an argument is relatively shallow, something a mother kitty said to assuage her child. Wolves are not lobsters. Moreover, feeling pain has other functions besides memory, as it plays an integral role in recuperation. A wolf who hurts its leg may not understand it has to rest, but it will likely avoid chasing Red Riding Hoods because the pain is sharp. It won’t remember the experience or tell its grandwolfs about it, but in that moment, it feels the pain every bit as much Okapi does after a bad day at the pits. Having no memory doesn’t equate to no pain. What it does mean is that an animal is far more likely to hurt itself a second time.
Which brings us full circle to the character herself. Okapi, you see, is a gambler. And the fundamental trait of all degenerate gamblers is an inability to learn from their mistakes. They double down and let it ride, all the way to the poorhouse. They spend years trying to mine their way out of the gutter, building back their bankroll only to have it collapse on a single bet.
Okapi may argue that wolves have no memory, but in the end, it’s hers that’s a cause for concern.