Familiar Fish photographs by Ted Sabarese.
Kurt Cobain sang “It’s OK to eat fish, cause they don’t have any feelings.” Indeed, most people don’t empathize with fish at all – I don’t really – despite the fact that we are evolutionary relatives. Pescetarianism is an acceptable form of vegetarianism, and in Sri Lanka dried fish is basically a vegetable. The artist Ted Sabarese has explored our relationship with fish by photographing people with fish that look like them. Interesting results.
He commented on his work, saying:
With all the recent, fiery controversy between evolution, creationism, intelligent design, science, religion, the political left, right, etc., I thought it might be provocative to throw my visual two-cents into the ring. The images beg the question, “is it really so difficult to believe we came out from the sea millions and millions of years ago? (Go Fish With Ted Sabarese)
In an evolutionary sense, all altruism is probably genetic self interest, to a degree (quite literally). Genes for selflessness can’t logically survive unless you die/suffer/deny for things that share some of those genes (so that those genes can pass on). Hence, kin selection is a dominant explanation for altruism in humans – we lower our personal evolutionary chances if they increase chances for our family, and that gene pool as a whole.
You can extend that logic out from families to castes, to nations, to the human species. From there you can go further back in the biological family tree, hence we give more of a shit about apes than say mice (though we use both in medical testing, for their similarities to us) and dogs and cats have special pride of place. Once you get beyond mammals, however, it’s a bit of a cliff. Snakes and reptiles are feared, amphibians are (mentally) reptiles, and fish hover only slightly above insects, and not much to their benefit.
Ornamental fish aside, they don’t really arouse great feelings in anyone. I’ve been on the Mount Lavinia beach as fishermen pull in their nets. People stand and barter while the fish are flopping around, essentially drowning in air. Fishermen get this weird ‘sin’ vibe from some Sri Lankans (for killing animals) but at most dhanes I’ve been to, monks are served and quite happily eat prawns or dried fish or fish. I’d say about 10% of the time I order a vegetarian lunch packed I get dried fish or even fish in it, and if I get veg at a sit down kade they bring you fish gravy (unless you go there a couple times and they see you’re a vegetarian for reals).
I think the basic logic is don’t eat yourself, don’t eat your relatives, and then recurse out. As in, repeat that logic for the species (don’t eat your species, don’t eat your species’ relatives), by loose order of relatedness. This order is loose because we eat pigs but not dogs (most of us) despite them both being pretty similar to us. A big part of this is how we perceive relatedness, not a solid biological measure.
So, yeah. I think Mr. Sabarese’s art is interesting because it questions why we feel the way we do about fish (feeling not much at all), and asks whether perhaps that feeling is wrong. Perhaps they aren’t so different from us at all.