Jallikattu, moral relativism and the rights of bacteria.

jallikattu

Last year I’d gone to Kullu in Himachal Pradesh to observe the Dushehra celebrations there.  I had heard that at the festival 5 animals were typically slaughtered  before being offered to the gods and then consumed.

The Raja of Kullu had made the point that “what we did is no different to what a butcher does”.  (I wrote about my experience here.)

Still, the practice was banned by the Himachal High Court in 2014, who took the position that “it is a grey area whether the animal sacrifice can be termed as religious practice or not……. The faith, rituals and its continuation must change in the modern era”.

The underlying message was: it is OK to cull animals by the hundreds of thousands and put them in your modern-era-McDonald’s- burgers, but it is archaic to do the same thing at the village level in the name of your beliefs.

Even if in both cases, the animal ends up just as dead, and just as consumed.

A similar sort of double standard underlies the faux-outrage I see in many urban sophisticates apropos the present Jallikattu-ban debate.

When in a society the slaughter of animals is considered acceptable for the purposes of consumption and commodification (leather), and where livestock is routinely used to plough fields and transport goods, often in dreadful if perilous conditions no less, as has been the case for millennia, not to mention be made to march in parades, on what basis can one argue that a festival in which a running bull is released into a crowd, with participants attempting to grab its hump (not unlike, but far less brutal than the Spanish bull run I believe– as there is no bullfight), is particularly cruel?

Why and how is it any crueler than so many other things we do all the time to animals without batting an eyelid?

I get the argument to put in place greater controls and regulations so as to minimize abuse and improve general safety, but to ban the practice altogether seems like another example of moral/cultural imperialism under the guise of egalitarianism.

Or is it that we are so rigidly convinced about the superiority of our own value system that we take it as given that our beliefs must be applied without question to all subcultures in a land as multicultural as India?

There is a time and place for taking an absolute stand on morals of course –Sati and Cannibalism shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere (for example), and everybody generally thinks so because we have arrived at a point where we as a society don’t just believe in the sanctity of human life but strictly adhere to the principle in practice too—but this selective outrage at a custom that is supposedly ‘regressive’ seems both conceited and hypocritical.

It is not as if we yet live in a culture in which everybody is overwhelmingly virtuous, vegan (seeing as the use of livestock for dairy harms animals, too, it has been argued) and totally eschews antibiotics.

Because bacteria are life too.

And by the same token shouldn’t microbes also have rights?

If the world current affairs are any indicator as to how bizarre reality can actually become, maybe it isn’t so absurd to think that our ethics will in fact evolve to such a degree. Someday.

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X-Men Apocalypse Review: Resurrected Mummy Meets X-Men

x-men-apocalypse-poster-international

“Why be different when you can look like everybody else?” Nightcrawler (the blue-hued teleporter) questions Mystique (the also naturally-blue-hued shapeshifter) in X2, to which she pointedly responds, “because we shouldn’t have to”.

In The Last Stand, Storm, at learning that non-mutants have developed a cure that permanently suppresses the Mutant X-gene, cries, “a cure for all mutants? But we don’t need a cure. Since when have we become a disease?”

And yet, yet there are others who feel quite differently. Those who will give anything to feel ‘normal’ and are only too willing to give up that which makes them special. Because as there is no doubt that innate (and often intimidating) extraordinariness renders a mutant as formidable, so too it is certain that it makes one aberrant in the eyes of others, such power-possessors only just about managing to outpace vilification, then rejection, social ostracization and even the threat of extermination.

Which path then should the gifted choose for themselves? Should one live as a proud pariah or eternally condemn oneself to a fate of inert impotence? The question itself poses a seething paradox, because even if one were to pick the former things won’t grow easy, the risks attendant with pacifism or aggression, the only two approaches available, then springing to life, accentuated further by the one immutable dimension to the mutant conundrum: the inability of humanity to rise above prejudices.

It is these emotionally resonant thematic threads that have since its inception set the X-Men series apart from other superhero productions, interwoven as they are through deftly layered and penetrating allegory: the omnipotent thesis being the trials and inner conflicts of social misfits, the discrimination and dilemmas faced by minorities, be they ethnic, sexual, religious or whatever.

Should a people assert the right to coexist under the umbrella of a proud and distinct identity or should they always aspire to blend in with the mainstream? Is society hardwired to fear those who look and behave differently? Is it really possible to convince people to think in a manner that runs counter to their primal instincts?

Apocalypse is a great spectacle, as are all the X-Men movies without exception. (OK, we can forget about X-Men Origins:Wolverine for the time-being). But let’s be honest here. Really honest. It is certainly not the best film of the series, the thus far unsurpassed one being Days of Future Past followed closely by First Class and X2.

And this loss is chiefly down to the fact that this latest instalment, save for Magneto’s backstory, which in retrospect appears tired and stale, fails to pose any searing questions or to explore the internal thought-processes and predicaments of the characters.

Instead we’re served just another superhero movie populated with a galaxy of CGI-enhanced mutants, whose motivations despite the actors’ tremendous performances (especially from the latest entrants), fall emotionally flat.

What’s more, whilst the previous two instalments in the series draw on historical events of the time-periods in which they were set (The Cuban Missile Crisis and  The Vietnam War), Apocalypse could well have occurred in any time frame. The film is none the richer for being set in the 80s.

The plot is straightforward enough. In 1983, the mutant Apocalypse, having amassed the powers of many other mutants over millennia, awakens from a slumber and vows to destroy mankind and take over the world. With the help of his Four Horsemen, Psylocke, Storm, Archangel and a broken Magneto, Apocalypse plans to create a new for mutants-only world order. As the earth convulses in doomsday throes, the X-Men, led by Professor Charles Xavier work together to prevent Apocalypse and his team from succeeding.

The performances are as usual all superb and the CGI eye-arresting. But the two performances that stand out are those of Jean Grey, whose perceptivity and latent vigour are brought alive to pitch-perfection by Sophie Turner, and of Quicksilver, played by Evan Peters, whose comic relief is so good that I will re-watch the film for just his scenes. The one disappointment however is Oscar Isaac from whom I had high expectations. It seemed like his talents have been ‘overmasked’ by CGI, so much so that he appears as generic a villain as any and his actions are the less menacing for it.

Nevertheless, the closing battle scene is as grand and edge-of-the-eat nerve-racking as one might expect of an X-Men movie despite the fact that its enjoyment, as that of the film’s as a whole, will be somewhat compromised for those not familiar with the events and characters featured in the earlier films.

I give X-Men: Apocalypse a 7/10.