January 29, 2010
I am in hot, humid, sweaty-in-all-the-wrong-places Central America, and I am invited to a Christmas party.
Eager to experience the holiday through a shiny new cultural lens, my mistletoe and I happily accept. In the name of cross-cultural exchange, I carry an innocent little twig of mistletoe, in hopes it will aid my mission to gather a more intimate knowledge of the culture, if you know what I mean. Wink-wink-elbow jab.
The taxi drops me off at the address. It's dark. It's muddy. I'm wearing red heels. I can envision it now:
Perfect little tan bodied, long-haired, hoop earring donning Latina female number one: Who brought the idiot who can't even walk like a proper woman in tacones?
Perfect little tan bodied, long-haired, hoop earring donning Latina female number two: Pshhh, who cares. She's a gringa–what do you expect?
As I not-so-gracefully tip-toe my way around the emerging pieces of rock that play a cruel game of peek-a-boo with me and the dry, hard earth, threatening to make a fool out of me with just one wrong step, I reprimand myself for not just surrendering to flats and settling for stumpy. But what latin lover is going to want to whisk the stumpy, sweaty girl off her feet? None. Especially a stumpy, sweaty girl that, for reasons unknown, is dangling a strange, berry-laden plant above her head.
My schizophrenic thought-process is immediately put on hold in response to a disturbingly sudden, high-pitched shrill that echoes throughout the air.
As I approach the house, I hear it again, but this time much louder. And again. And once again.
As I make my grand entrance into the door of the tin-roofed home–a bit nervous, knowing I will be a stranger in the room–I am greeted not with the warm welcome I was optimistically envisioning, but rather, by an unexpected, alarming scene of sorts that instantaneously sends a wave of nausea rushing through me.
The image is just as horrifying as the sound: A massive pig, larger than most of the humans that surround it, is being violently chased in circles around the backyard. There are five males, each armed with what appears to be an oversized mallet, scrambling around the yard, determined to deliver a mighty blow to the panic-stricken pig atop its head to render it unconscious, at which point its throat will be pierced with the large machete that dutifully hangs from the wall.
I quickly ascertain that heels were most definitely an inappropriate selection of footwear for this party.
Well, That's Awkward
I am horrified. I have no idea what to say, do or even feel, and can't bear to watch as they silence the pig's last desperate squeal, and collectively heave it onto a large wooden chopping block to saw off its head.
As the rest of the attendees take delight in gathering around the cauldron-like wok they have suspended over a fire with the help of three heavy-duty chains, patiently awaiting sliced pieces of pig fat to be fried and served, I, on the other hand, sit on an opposite side of the yard, quietly sipping my lager and contemplating, philosophizing, mourning.
Witnessing this event was a great mental exercise for me, and one that boldly challenged my perception of reality, ostentatiously mocking it with its unabashed display of complete and utter opposition to my ingrained cultural norms, which was, by extension, opposition to everything I had previously known to be true.
I fling the mistletoe to the ground. There will be no stolen kisses tonight.
Words such as PETA, animal cruelty, and inhumane come to mind, as I question the ethics–or, perhaps, lack of ethics–of the human race. But then, I'm suddenly also forced to question myself. My automatic reaction is to be appalled, and to proclaim such an act as loathsome, detestable and just plain cold-blooded.
But then, I think, is it actually?
I remind myself that we, too, kill thousands and thousands of pigs each year for consumption, and, according to some recent documentaries, we aren't as “humane” in our practices as we might like to think.
That said, I question why it doesn't bother me if I don't have to witness it with my own eyes.
Worth Contemplating, But Not My Point
I don't intend for this to be a statement of my position on the integrity of eating meat, because, frankly, I don't have one. I am from Scranton, Pennsylvania. There's no question that I like meat. Right now, it's not about that; it's about the far broader message that can be extrapolated here.
No matter how you dice it, the simple fact is that it's unfair for me to judge, because I'm judging based on a different set of rules. A set of rules that we've internalized and perpetuated among ourselves as truth, when, in reality, it's not truth–it's purely our perception of truth. Relative to this example, it's our perception of how we view right and wrong. And this, to me, was wrong. But I'll tell you what–to the people at the party, there was nothing wrong about it. Their truth is that the merits of to-kill-a-pig-or-not-to-kill-a-pig just isn't a debate that exists. On the other hand, what does exist is the need to eat, and, frankly, it's a luxury to have meat at all. No one is disturbed. No one is shuddering. Instead, they are rejoicing. They are grateful to be fortunate enough to even have the opportunity to kill a pig.
There are some obvious implications that should come as no surprise, namely that, as I've stated before, reality is subjective. But it goes beyond that, and makes another, perhaps less salient point:
Subjectivity implies choice.
You have two choices: Allow society at large to define your perspectives on your behalf, or define your perspectives for yourself.
What do you really think? What do you really believe? … Do you even know?
There is no inherent benefit in accepting the perspectives that society arbitrarily determines for us–whether it's right versus wrong or any other myriad of possibilities. There is a perceived benefit, though, and it goes by the name of fitting in. But, in my view, that's far from beneficial; quite the opposite, actually. On the other hand, when you're capable enough to cut through the noise and learn how to think independently of the group, that's where the real benefits lie.
Am I saying that I've shed my deeply ingrained culturally-based thought patterns overnight, and am a newly converted, red heel wearing pig butcher, in the name of independent thought? No, certainly not.
But am I open to the possibility that this isn't as loathsome, detestable and cold-blooded as I was originally inclined to think?
If there are currently 7 billion people (that's 7,000,000,000, in case you need all of those fancy zeros to conceptualize just how many people that truly is) on this planet, and all of us have different perceptions of what's right or what's wrong, or whether or not red heels do anything at all to detract from stumpy sweatiness, then it would be preposterously arrogant of me to assert my own perception of right or wrong as truth. Extended beyond pig killings, if we can learn to apply a similar thought process to other traditionally rigid ideas, such as religion, marriage or even what constitutes success, who knows? We might just do alright for ourselves, after all. Not to mention a possible diminishing of supremacism, americentrism, racism, and a host of other ugly -isms and the unflattering baggage that comes with it.
It all starts with the pig, I say.
And with that, I take all of my assumptions, and throw them haphazardly to the wind.
I am left with only two questions:
1) Where can I find some more mistletoe?
2) Who's your daddy now, life?