The loathsome tourist

Having just traveled to Maine, I thought it would be a good time to review David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster”. There is an excellent discussion of pain in animals that I’ll put in the science section, but there is also this somewhat humorous section

I confess that I have never understood why so many people’s idea of a fun vacation is to don flip-flops and sunglasses and crawl through maddening traffic to loud hot crowded tourist venues in order to sample a “local flavor” that is by definition ruined by the presence of tourists … watching people slap canal-zone mosquitoes as they eat deep-fried Twinkies and watch Professor Paddywhack, on six-foot stilts in a raincoat with plastic lobsters protruding from all directions on springs, terrify their children.

Along the same lines, this title caught my eye.

Yes, he’s a pastor, but pretty much “former”. They talk about some of his history, like when he was younger and his youth pastor told him he had an “unteachable spirit”. You could skip the first half, before they get talking about hunting and the ethics of killing animals. Descartes gets a mention, but they quickly move on to the evolutionary questions that were left unanswered.

They try to draw the lines, to explain why they feel differently about a deer than a fish. One of those lines is how much pain they think the animal experiences. Wallace covers pain in his essay too (above), but he goes in to how we can’t know what other creatures experience of pain is. Even other humans, we know a small child cries like mad when they get a shot. We hope it doesn’t them more, but we don’t know, and we include the mental anguish of the pain as part of our understanding of what pain is.

Another interesting thing they agree on, is that being in the wild, you see dead things. This would have been the normal experience for humans up until very recently. Farmers, hunters, or just living in a town before all the modern ways we have to keep death away from normal sight, they would have had a different relationship with death, and likewise life, than we do.