Salmon Sentience, the Bert Test, Deep Ecology
Yesterday’s post explored the conundrum posed by the wild/farmed salmon distinction, essentially dismissing it for the rarely mentioned third option of not eating salmon at all and getting your precious omega 6/3 ratio sorted out by eating flaxseed. While making a reference to the question of salmon sentience, the post generally argued its case from a conventional environmental perspective. Today’s post is a follow up to yesterday’s. It’s intended to flesh out, as it were, the logic manifested in my analysis. Consider it my mental outtakes. Like most outtakes, they’re a bit rough. But, I hope, revealing nonetheless.
My decision to put the salmon sentience question on the back burner, while foregrounding the conventional environmental question, reflected my hunch that actively attributing sentience to fish—that is, presenting them as individuals with a sense of self capable of making basic choices—could fail the Bert test. The Bert test?
Bert is person I know who who grew up on a ranch, is open-minded but not whimsical, highly intelligent, and, with proper tact and factual support, could be swayed to agree that cows, pigs, and even chickens have moral relevance. But fish? That’d be a tough sell for Bert. That would cross a line of plausibility in the Bert universe (which, by the way, is a common universe). That’s the Bert test. Hardly scientistic, I admit, but it’s a litmus test of how far I might go in a carnistic culture before my activist cant backfires, as I’ve seen it do, into claims that I’m something of an eccentric, if not an outright lunatic. The Bert test is me engaging as an activist in the world as it is, not as I want it to be.
My other decision to promote (and thus tactically accept) a conventional environmental perspective also bears scrutiny. Although not always the case, a conventional environmental perspective generally focuses on how human consumption negatively effects the natural world. It’s an entirely artificial and superficial way to think about the environment. It’s sort of bean-counting approach manifested in our obsession with measuring carbon footprint, species decline, nitrogen runoff, and fracking wells. The lower the numbers, the better environmentalist we are. It’s a polar vision in which humans do stuff to the environment, measure the impact, have fights about it, and make (mostly rhetorical) adjustments.
A more authentic view of the environment is one, of course, in which all species are included. This understanding demands that we think more holistically about the integration of human species into the entity of the earth’s flora and fauna, and our role therein as humans and individuals. Put differently, it demands that we understand the world within us as equally critical to “the environment” as the world we see out the car window. Or, even better, that we erase that boundary altogether. In this more expansive and authentic vision, we cannot talk about salmon without talking about the entire global ecosystem, much less the teetering architecture of values within us that condones the atomistic fragmentation of life while dismissing its essential interdependence.
Perhaps the greatest reason for including these previously omitted perspectives is that they seamlessly complement each other. A deep ecology vision has no need for the farmed/wild debate. In acknowledging the functional and even spiritual interdependence of all species, as well as the behavior of all species, not to mention an environmentalism of the mind, it simply assumes that salmon makes choices, have sentience, and swim upstream for (mystical) reasons that are ultimately both beyond our comprehension and entirely familiar. In that assumption there is liberation.
Whether or not it would pass the Bert test is another question.
tomorrow: a brief report on the experiential velocity of a human being propelling himself through 26.2 miles of space