RW40 - Fish Psychology

This week, Dan and John talk about

The show title refers to the question if fish can feel lonely.

Dan’s first house was a 1940:s wood-frame house in an up-and-coming-but-still-not-quite-up neighborhood.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

The critter in the dark alley, John got a Fitbit (RW40)

John got a Fitbit as a gift in August of 2016. He takes it very seriously to the point where he is interacting with it more than he interacts with his friends. He is taking the stairs instead of the elevator mostly to impress his Fitbit. The day before John woke up and started his day without putting on clothes (he lives alone and he sleeps in the alltogether). As the day wore on he never found a reason to put on clothes and by 10:30pm he was both ashamed and proud that he had not a stitch on while he had spent the whole day occupied. As he looked down at his Fitbit, he saw that he had managed to make 1000 naked steps around the house, but he is supposed to do 10.000. John put on all his clothes for a walk to the grocery store and get some pie. He took his walking stick and went through his neighborhood, which is full of adventure even on the calmest day. As he arrived at the grocery store he realized he had forgotten his wallet, but was able to laugh at his folley. It was 5000 steps down and 5000 steps back, so he accomplished that goal at least. John knows his neighborhood very well, but there are still a couple of blind spots, streets that he normally just drives down and doesn’t think of as walking steets. There was an alley where he previously didn’t realize that there was an alley. It was dark and overgrown, suggesting it was blocked somewhere up the line. It seemed like a wonderful thing to explore, but it was dark down there and he had to go through a minor crisis before he finally went down the alley that went forever.

Going down the alley and looking at the backs of these houses that he knows from the front, John was wondering what would lurk up there. As he got about 1/4 mile down, he had to go through knee-high grass in the dark. Some kind of critter had been napping in the tall gras, not just a squirrel, but a larger nocturnal critter. John was in this alley without any way out, he still couldn’t see where it was blocked and the critter had startled the shit out of him and put another 25 steps on his Fitbit while he was just running in place with his walking stick. It was not the time when you want some Wolverine coming out of the bushes, because John was already feeling a little suspect, waiting for some mean dog or for somebody to shout ”Who goes there?” Still, it was fun exploring a part of his neighborhood in the middle of the night that he didn’t know existed. The critter was probably a Possum, because a Racoon would have behaved differently and would not have been startled. Nothing creeps Dan out more than an animal that has been watching him for a while and knows more than he does!

Staring animals, large birds and owls (RW40)

If some predator eyes look at John, he is mostly thrilled by it, because he considers himself as a top predator. Even when it comes to a bear, he knows enough about them not to corner one, so if there is some bear pearing at him out of the park, it would give him pause. It might be a different story if he was covered in peanut butter. Dan is uncomfortable just by the idea of something looking at him. One night when he came home in the dark, he had this unnerving feeling of being watched as he walked up to the door. As he looked over his right shoulder, there was an owl right on top of the porch light. It had been staring at Dan the whole time as he was walking down the driveway. It could have just flown away, but it stayed there and watched, even as Dan walked towards it and ended up being just a foot away from it. It creeped him out! John is thrilled by this story, because he really loves owls. He has never seen one and he is not sure why they never reveal themselves to him. John’s sister has a picture of an enormous snowy owl that she took from a four feet away when the owl was sitting on the lowest branch of a tree. It might have been a barn owl with a white face and she was able to walk right up at it while it was staring at her and she took this incredible picture of that face as big as a pie. Why does that never happen to John? He is looking for owls everywhere he goes! There are so many owls in Seattle, but they are all hiding from him.

When his daughter was about 3,5 years old, John was driving through the parking lot of the big South Center mall (the one that John had opened) together with his daughter and his daughter’s mother. It has green strips between the rows of parking in order to make it appear less as a big callous parking lot, but rather as a beautiful parkscape. His daughter was pointing out the window, saying ”owl” and apparently in the tree immediately to the right there was an owl, but as John turns to look, his daughter’s mother also turns to look, blocking his view and the owl flies away before John managed to see anything, not even the tip of its wing. It was another day with a mysterious owl escaping him. Sometimes he goes out at night looking for owls and sometimes he can hear them. When Dan goes for a walk at night, especially in the cooler months, he can see a couple of huge owls with 6-foot wing-spans. John is getting crazy with that, he even has a barn, but there are no barn owls in there. He can see Racoons stacked on top of each other 50 high, but he doesn’t see any owls, except on the pillows in his bedroom.

Right across the parking lot at his studio, Dan will hear a stereotypical fake cartoon Hawk sound every day around 3pm. Then a Red-Tailed Hawk would come down for landing at the top of the building and yesterday another hawk was responding to it in the distance. The other hawk then landed beside the first one and they just sat side by side, pressing at each other. Dan feels like he is in nature in the middle of this parking lot and there are pictures of the Hawks online, taken by people in the same apartment building. In Austin they have some pigeons, but mostly Grackles and no crows at all. Maybe the crows don’t know about Austin and John should mention it to them in passing as he is loading his car next time. Hawks are birds that kill other things and they don’t just sit around scavenging for French Fries. A friend of Dan lost a cat to a Hawk more than once. In the Northwest there are large birds like the Bald Eagle or the Peregrine Falcon and one day John was sitting out on the back porch, smoking a cigarette and watching the day transpire when all of a sudden all the pigeons alighted at once. As he looked up startled, he saw this Falcon nab a pigeon right out of the air and left a cartoon cloud of feathers behind. He then took the pigeon onto the roof of a neighbor’s house and took it apart, right in front of John who at that point was chain-smoking just out of excitement. All the other pigeons around were not pleased and made excited pigeon sounds. The falcon just sat there cool as a cucumber and it was Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom right in the backyard. The cloud of feathers was very funny!

Concluding a TV broadcast day (RW40)

In preparation for the show, Dan watched Close Encounter of the Third Kind, just to brush up for topics that might come up. It is still a good movie and still holds up. John was watching YouTube exerps of Goodfellas while he was in the bath tub after his walk to the grocery store. It is one of those timeless movies, like a period piece taking place at a time they were recreating for the movie. There are things that are very of-that-time, which is also true for the movie Poltergeist. Stranger Things is making Dan revisit those movies from his youth. The beginning of Poltergeist shows the TV-signoff at midnight when they would play the Star-Sprangled Banner before the TV-channel would go off the air and you would get static on the channel until maybe 6am. Who wants to watch TV past midnight? If you stayed up that long to see the American flag, you must be some kind of night-zombie! John was just thinking about that two days ago! All of a sudden he was seeing that American Flag waving and a voice saying ”We now conclude our broadcast day”, which existed in a couple of different versions. There was an Alaskan version called ”Alaska is” and they would play Pachelbel’s Canon (Canon in D) over a slideshow (it was before Ken Burns, so it was just a static slideshow) with pictures of fireweed, puffins, mountains, people on snow mobiles and bush pilots. It lasted for the whole length of Pachelbel’s Canon and was John’s first exposure to that song, so he thought it had been composed for this slideshow to conclude the broadcast day.

John’s housing development fantasies (RW40)

John sometimes fantasizes about how he would build a big housing development. One of the things that infuriates him the most is a poorly designed housing development. He imagines a big development on a block with a passage way in the middle of it that is covered with a big glass arch, not accessible to cars. There are all those sidewalk cafés in there and the people who have apartments above it have windows with little balconies and flowers and can look down into the arcade. It is open to the air, so even in the winter it would be an active pass-through where you could comfortably stroll around, probably even with heated floors.

In Anchorage some sections of Downtown do now have heated sidewalks, because in the dead of winter the sidewalks used to be just crusted with little ice mountains. The heating keeps the sidewalks dry and clear even in ice-storms. John has a vision of this big Italianate apartment building with these arcades running through the middle rather the way they normally build it where here is a big fasade with airshafts behind it. An airshaft is the worst waste of space, but you need to have something in there because you can’t build an apartment without even a little bit of cross-flow. Why would you build a wasted airshaft if you can build a beautiful arcade in the backs of these apartments and give those people a pleasant way to be?

Fish psychology (RW40)

Dan was in a fish store the other day and one of the guys who work there recommended him to have one specimen of a certain kind of fish in his tank. Dan was concered that the fish would be lonely, but the guy scratched his beard and said he doesn’t think that fish are capable of feeling those kinds of things. He had been running this fish store for the last 30 years and John would happily cede the authority of fish psychology to that man. A fish or a dog isn’t lonely. People are lonely and that is why they get a fish or a dog. On the sliding scale of emotions, a gorilla who is sequestered in a cage feels a wider variety of emotions and even your prescious dog does not want to be left alone all day.

John’s dog Barney ran away (RW40)

When John was 8 years old, he had a dog called Barney. One day the dog ran away and a month later a girl at his school asked him if he had lost a dog. She thought that it might be John’s dog who was living with them now. John went home with her one afternoon and found Barney living with this girl. Barney had been John’s best friends, they had been inseperatble! Barney had dug a hole under the fence and had gotten on a walk-about where he got lost and was found in this caul-de-sac by this nice girl and her nice family. Obviously they were feeding Barney well. John’s mom had a philosophy that dogs live outside and this was a house where Barney was clearly living on the couch and people were feeding him bon-bons. As John walked into that caul-de-sac, Barney jumped up excitedly and tail-wagging and went on the other side of the car from where John was standing. John was calling for him and went in his direction and Barney walked to the other side of the car away from John. Very clearly, Barney had found a new life. John was a very emotional, sensitive and nostalgic little boy and he was been absolutely traumatised by losing Barney. He had searched the neighborhoods, he put up flyers, we walked around until the sun went down calling for Barney for days until his mom told him that the dog was gone and he might have been hit by a car or something terrible has happened to him. John was crushed!

A month and a half later, there he was, actively avoiding John’s gaze, let alone letting John touch him. After he chased him around the car a couple of times, the girl was like ”Huh” and John was like ”Huh”. This is the kind of thing that a kid would break down and cry and he would probably have cried if any adults had been standing around, but it was just John and this other 8-year old girl. John didn’t exactly feel betrayed, but he was like ”Oh, I guess Barney wants to live with you now. Great! Fuck you, Barney!” He might even have shaken hands with her. He just walked away very sanguine, because he understood something very fundamental: Dogs are idiots and what you perceive to be their love is just idiotic native companionship qualities that had been bread into them. It is not their natural behavior, but we have made them like this by breeding them for generations. We picked the puppies that appeared to love us and we drowned the puppies that did not appear to love us. The exceptions are dogs like Huskies where we don’t care if they love us because they are pulling sleds. We don’t care as much if a true working dog is affectionate. Huskies have their eyes on the horizon all the time. You can obviously make a bond with a Huskey, but if you leave the gate open, 9 out of 10 times the Husky is gone. Barney was part Pitbull, part Labrador. He was the ultimate kid’s dog and just as he had found a slightly better existence, his allegance had shiftet. When John’s guinea pig had died, he had cried for 10 days, but when Barney left him for this little girl, he was like ”Huh, lesson learned about dogs, I guess”.

Abortion culture (RW40)

This section was inspired by listener feedback from Jeffrey, Pismo Beach. He prefers Roadwork over Roderick on the Line although the latter has given him the greater laughs.

What does John think about the comparison of modern day abortion culture and Hitler’s Third Reich culture? John had mentioned that he doesn’t consider any one life to be sacred, but Hitler considered many single lifes to be sub-human. How do you distinguish the differences between the two enough so that you can claim that Hitler has done absolute wrong while still being okay with abortion culture.

This is the kind of feedback that they frequently get. There is a lot of pushback on the secular humanist rumenating they do on the show. They also get a lot of feedback on how the show ends. But Dan picked this question because it represents the overall kind of a vibe and the thought-provoking questions that the listeners are looking for John’s answers on.

Being argumented into a corner

During his college years in 1990 John was living in Washington DC together with some other kids from Anchorage. They didn’t exactly have an Alaska brotherhood, but John’s good friend Peter worked as a paige for Alaska senator Ted Stevens, the famous ”Internet is a series of tubes”-senator. There was another kid called Tony Fink who’s father Tom Fink was a former mayor of Anchorage just as John’s uncle was a former mayor of Anchorage. Tony was working in some government capacity and was living in a much nicer house than Peter and John. Tony and Peter had gone to high school together.

One day they were hanging out and smoking pot and somehow got into a debate about abortion. The Finks were a catholic family and Tony Fink had really dialed in a very tight abortion argument. It was important to them and they had dotted their T:s and crossed their I:s. Tony led John in a very socratic way, asking simple questions in the sense of ”Well, don’t you think that babies are humans?” while John was very stoned, but also pretty smug. Tony was stoned as well, but if you are stoned and have an argument that you know already, you can perform that argument pretty well. If on the other hand you are stoned and are asked to come up with an argument, it is a lot harder. While John had read Plato, he hadn’t incorporated the lessons into his style and had not become a socratic debater. John admired this great technique that was leading him down a primrose path. He comes from a liberal culture where a woman’s right to chose is presumed to be the higher order of good, so he felt pretty confident that he would be able to defend it. Tony socratically marched him through a series of premises and small concessions until they reached a place where John must surely believe that human life is sacred. At that time, the word ”saced” wasn’t a culturally loaded term, but generally meant ”valuable”. John had no choice than to admit that human life was sacred and that he was boxed into a place where there was very little room to manouver. Tony Fink was very self-satisfied about that and John was not used to being argued into a corner. It was a catholic debate squad way of backing John into a stairwell and he was devastated by this experience. It took his breath away because in his stoned swirl of thoughts he was trying to walk it back to the point where he had agreed to a false premise, but he couldn’t see how he’d gotten to where he was. He wanted to leave that stupid 3-people party and didn’t want to hang out with Tony Fink anymore. Mic-drops didn’t exist at the time, but Tony sheathed his saber and asked John if he would like another drink.

Is the right to chose really a quesion of law?

The idea that the millions upon millions of fetuses that have not come to term consitute the greatest genocide in history is an article of faith among some anti-abortion people. It presumes that each one of those little creatures has a soul and that the soul lives in heaven and descends into this corporial form. To terminate a pregnancy is to send that soul back to the soul hopper unbabtised. One of the great challenges of being a humanist is to understand the value of an individual human life and how that isn’t simply a matter of law. The wall of law moves from hither to dither. Obviously a humanist doesn’t condone experiments on children in a concentration camp, but they do weigh the consequences of an unwanted child as being worse than the simple act of an abortion. A quarter of all pregnancies end in misscariage. It is not that the natural system of having babies is some kind of magic where every child is sacred, but in the natural process a baby that isn’t viable goes back into the cycle of blood. It becomes a rigid position in our binary political culture and it becomes ultimately a question of law. John has seen people who had children they didn’t want and people who had abortions and in neither case was it simple. There is a tremendous emotional conflict about every abortion, but having a child that is not only interrupting the mother’s youth, but is going to be raised in an environment where it isn’t appreciated is like a bomb going off in a family.

The law presumes that the government has a responsibility to protect their citicens and their ownership of themselves. From a humanist standpoint, the question of where to draw that line, how to value an individual human life and how to value the collective of humanity is very tricky. John wrestles with it all the time, but he doesn’t think that a fetus is sacred. He does think it should be illegal to kill people in concentration camps and he does not think that the two are analogous. John also doesn’t subscribe to the notion that there are questions that one gender or one race can’t answer. He is not trying to answer it on behalf of women and there is no analog for men to carrying a baby and so there is no way to frame it that a man can possibly understand. Imagine a situation where the law mandated the man who is responsible for a woman’s pregnancy to marry her without the possibility to divorce her for the rest of his life, which is effectively the result when a woman has a baby. If that were the law for men and the penalty was being accused of a crime equal to murder, there would be no debate. Men would have all kinds of rationalizations why that wasn’t equivalent or why that wasn’t possible.

Is it a question of religion?

John doesn’t want to direct his criticism specifically at Catholics. Evangelicals have seized on abortion as their cause celebre, but it were the Catholics who started it. It wasn’t even on the radar of Evangelicals back in the 1950:s, but they seized upon it to as a way to assert themselves. Religious people are used to religion mandating things to them, both proscribing behavior and prescribing behavior. They are used to this heavenly authority, no matter to what degree they resist or allow for it to acrue to the government. A secular person has a much more independent relationship with the state. For a woman who has grown up without religion and who has also effectively thrown off the yoke of her father or her brothers deciding what she is going to do with her life would obviously rebell against the notion of being compelled by the government into having the conditions of her life utterly changed without any commessurate responsibility placed on the father.

Is there evidence that abortion is equivalent to murder?

Abortion culture originally started as a defensive culture against a very agressive, militant and violent anti-abortion culture. Women circled the wagons and were holding their ground: ”You can’t tell me what to do with my body!”John always encourages people to consider what it really means when the government is acting as a moral agent by making a determination with life-long consequences on behalv of an individual person. The evidence of murder is pretty conclusive, but the evidence of terminating a pregnancy in the first two months? Is there a single scientist who will say anything about it, really? Dan counters that the closest thing that can be scientifically shown is that fetuses develop nerves and can therefore react to certain stimuli or feel pain. It already looks like a person and it reacts like it is afraid. John finds this ridiculous. A sunflower turns to the sun, but that doesn’t mean that the sunflower loves the sun. Can an insect feel fear? John doesn’t think so, but he thinks that a cow feels fear. Can a fish feel lonely? John doesn’t think so, because the concept of lonelyness is abstract enough. A fish can probably acknowledge that it is alone, but only in a sense that it is now vulnerable to predators. John doesn’t think that a fish can feel fear either. On the grand spectrum of things, John doesn’t feel like a cluster of cells replying to a poke on an instrument, recoiling the same way a clam would, is evidence that the child is already a little angel that has been delivered into this little cluster of nerves and that it is crying out in pain.

Then there is all this emotional appeal. So much of the arguments that anti-abortionists use to make their case to the wider public are made in a very emotional language. Not just that life begins at conception, but also that abortion is equal to murdering babies. Just the name Pro-Life suggests that the other side is anti life. Who isn’t pro life? It is not a question of pro versus anti life, it is a question if we should guarantee safe and legal abortions or if we should make abortions illegal, because we are not ever going to do away with them. John has heard terrible stories from his mother about the era before abortion was legal. Girls were going into these back-room medical facilities and were bleeding to death because the job was done by a tradesperson in an unclean environment. There will always be women who do not want to carry their baby to term and the question is if we make that procedure safe while also trying to take away part of that incredible stigma in addition to all the emotional pain of having an abortion, or if we turn the white hot lens of Christian shame on those people to no good end. It ends up being very complicated and it is a question of pursuing the course that has the broadest social good in terms of the individual freedom of the women and also: What benefit does the government acrue by compelling these births?

Comparing modern day abortion culture to genocide

Dan doesn’t think that comparing modern day abortion culture with the holocaust is a fair comparison at all. According to John, there isn’t any abortion culture, but it is just a pejorative argument baiter. Making a comparison to Hitler’s genocide is a dog whistle and rhetorical device, just like Tony Fink had backed John into a corner back in college. There are plenty of people who’s arguments assume presumptions like that and they are very comfortable using words like genocide. It is very difficult to dislodge them from that position because their belief is steadfast. Dan knows about the Third Reich as much as he can stand to know and the listener was maybe focusing more on the fact that John had said he doesn’t find individual life to be sacred. What does sacred even mean? When did John even say that? Dan has never been in the situation where an abortion has even been an issue, but comparing it to what an insane person did in WWII does not even connect. At least it got them talking, right?

The concept of ”sacred”

Sacred is not as much a part of Jewish religion than it is of Christian religion. The Jews see the Torah and the temple as a sacred thing. They don’t want you to touch the Torah when you are reading from it, so they give you this little thing that is called the Yad. It is usually made of silver or gold and looks like a magic wand with a little hand and a pointing finger at the end, which is the coolest thing ever! When Dan was having his Bar Mizvah and they were putting the Torah up on the stand, they were telling him that he can’t touch the Torah, but he coutered ”But you are touching it!” and their only reply was ”Yes, but you are not supposed to touch it!” You hold the Yad like a wizard and use it to point so you don’t lose your place while you read. It was the highlight of Dan’s Bar Mizwah besides the money.

On a personal level, Dan doesn’t connect with the dedication, the religious purpose, the veneration or anything else related to the concept of divinity. It was not something he had learned. If it even makes sense to take the religious context out of the term sacred, then Dan would interpret it the way we often use sacred in daily conversation: More in the term of ”sacrosanct” or ”hugely important”. Dan knows women who had abortions and it is not an easy decision by any means. It is probably one of the toughest decisions ever and there is this question in everyones mind that perhaps might never be answered: Is it a human from the moment of conception? If not, at what point did that change happen? Between Wednesday and Thursday? Is it that easy to define or do you just say that it always has been alive?

Having to kill a fish in your tank vs eating fish

This morning, one of Dan’s little Lemon Tetras was attacked by one of his Anglefish and had a gash in its side. It wasn’t doing very well, so Dan had to euthanize the fish. You don’t want to pull it out of the water and let it suffocate, but you put it into a bag of water into the freezer and it will just go to sleep and die in a block of ice, just like an older Eskimo who realizes that they can no longer be of service to the village and they walk out into the snow and sit down and sleep forever. Dan felt very bad about doing that to the fish, but he knew it was not going to make it and so he helped it into the next world. Although he felt bad about it, maybe he was at the same time having a piece of Salmon for dinner. It’s still a fish, same thing! We have a different framing on the fish that we fed in our tank and a different framing on the piece of salmon that appeared on our plate in the restaurant. At the time when Dan was really into his Buddhist practice, he was vegetarian and couldn’t even imagine the idea of consuming an animal. All of the concept of the precepts of not causing harm were really on the forefront of Dan’s mind.

Extending the notion of sacred to more than just humans

The word "sacred” is totally connected to God and there isn’t any use of it that does not only imply God, but directly reference God. There are people who believe that all life is sacred and don’t want to harm a tree or a cow or a bee. John does not find vegans to be generally espousing a theory of life connected to God and sacredness, whereas Buddhist do. John does understand it as a philosophy to say that all life is sacred, but he doesn’t share it. It is a belief of life being this phenomenological thing that isn’t duplicated in other places and that makes the earth a single organism. Doing damage to it is unholy. John can get with that, but if your philosophy is that cows are dumb animals to be ground up and eaten, that our enemies are a threat to our borders and so we can machine-gun them to death at our pleasure and that apes can be used in laboratories to put lipstick on their eyeballs, but a 40-cell human embryo is a sacred gift from God, then the presumption is that A) there is a God and that B) human souls are waiting in God’s arms and will return to God’s arms. It is just as insane a progression of presumptions as any.

John wants to go at the the argument that every leaf on every tree is a thing of surpassing beauty and every human should live in total concert with the earth and we should each thank each leaf of lettuce for its service before we eat it. It puts just as arbitrary a dividing line between a dolphin and a human and we see one thing as sacred while the other thing is disposable. People who have that philosophy should examine their own presumptions on when life begins and what it is worth. They are just as arbitrary. The challenge for John as a humanist is to examinine every one of these situations every single day, while the benefit of religion or political ideology is that you don’t have to examine it, but you accept that large tracks of knowledge are handed down to you by the ancient sages. You can go out and manage your day without having to wrestle with these questions every day and you don’t have to handle the instability of changing your mind repeatedly over time. John has never had an uncomplicated feeling about any of these questions.

Being inconsistent in what is sacred

A woman’s right to chose has become a defensive bollwork that has taken on a form of sacredness. God is different, but in order to combat this sometimes violent assault from people using the word sacred, people on the other side have developed phrases like ”The woman’s right to chose is also sacred”. Each person’s individual right to chose for themselves what happens to their body is now an article of faith, both from the humanist side or from the left. That is another thing that is difficult to examine. John doesn’t disagree with it, but in order to truly live a life of the mind, you have to consider it anew for each question. If a person commited 80 murders and ate his victims, does he have the same rights as we have? What do we do with the extremes of humanities? Catholics would not execute the murderer, because it is not our place to kill him. Human life is sacred up to and including the person who has committed hainous crimes. Not all Catholics who subscribe to that believe are also vocal pacifists. Some are, like the great priests who fight all war and all violence, but there are an awful lot of Catholics who expend a lot of energy preserving the sacredness of human life in one direction, while not having a ton of objection to drone-carpet-bombing people in the mountains of Pakistan. This is the sort of inconsistency that is not John’s place to examine, but he highly recommends this kind of self-examination.

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