In my various internet wanderings, in search of information on bettas, I've stumbled on some sites devoted to fish fighting, as well as its history and significance.
Before I start rambling on about that, I'd just like to make clear that I do not personally support the practice of fish fighting. I guess this rant is more about hypocrisy and taking a step back to consider context.
Of course, my kneejerk reaction is - "fish fighting?! how cruel and barbaric!" But standing back a bit from it, I could equally say that the poor pig I partially ate with apple sauce last week probably did not enjoy being raised in a pen hardly bigger than its own body. And the chickens who provide me with my yummy breaded nuggets really are not meant to live in massive sheds with no natural light, debeaked and stuffed with growth hormones. The bed I bought a couple of years ago, made from Malaysian timber, probably cost the lives of more than a few native animals in its growth and harvesting.,
I can't be such a freakin' hypocrite as to not consider that the evils of the culture that I live in just MIGHT be as bad - if not vastly worse - than the practises of the 'players' and breeders of the betta fighting rings. I can moan on about the terrible nasty gamblers and their poor mauled fish. But is that a blood diamond on my finger? How can I be sure? Is that plantation pine holding up my fish tank? Are those sweat-shop manufactured shoes I'm wearing - do I even bother to ask whether any imported product I buy involved child exploitation? Motes and beams, et cetera.
I also think there is a vast difference between the traditional betta fighters and the sheer neglect and cruelty exhibited by western retail outlets.
The betta breeder's entire reputation and that of his family name (and even his province) comes from providing the betting ring's 'players' with strong, healthy, aggressive fish carefully bred from bloodlines built up over years, even generations. He might also make a nice profit selling his many culls and 'fancy fish' to the affluent western pet market. This is where the money comes from to feed, clothe and educate his kids. This is how his family survives in a country with many fewer opportunities for earning than my own.
His business is also a tradition, a part of the Thai culture going back at least several hundreds of years, an intrinsic part of his nation's identity. Again, I'm not saying I approve or advocate the fighting of fish. But I'm less inclined, after doing this research, to be hating on the Thai fish farmer and his kids, or the gamblers who keep him in business.
We in the west do not hold these traditions. The keeping of bettas is not a part of our cultural history and holds no historical significance for us at all. The deaths of thousands of fish in Western homes and pet stores due to neglect bred by sheer and pervasive ignorance of the species' basic needs is not the same thing as the tradition of fighting bettas in Thailand.
Just like an animal hoarder and his filthy, cruel backyard puppy mill is not the same as the third generation breeder of champion poodles. Never mind the fate of the poodle culls, right? The odd pup with seven toes? It's not the same.
Or is it?
And here's today's fish-related poem:
by D. H. Lawrence
Fish, oh Fish,
So little matters!
Whether the waters rise and cover the earth
Or whether the waters wilt in the hollow places,
All one to you.
As the waters roll
The waters wash,
You wash in oneness
And never emerge.
Your life a sluice of sensation along your sides,
A flush at the flails of your fins, down the whorl of your
And water wetly on fire in the grates of your gills;
Even snakes lie together.
But oh, fish, that rock in water.
You lie only with the waters;
No fingers, no hands and feet, no lips;
No tender muzzles,
No wistful bellies,
No loins of desire,
You and the naked element.
Curvetting bits of tin in the evening light.
Who is it ejects his sperm to the naked flood?
In the wave-mother?
Who swims enwombed ?
Who lies with the waters of his silent passion, womb-
—Fish in the waters under the earth.
What price his bread upon the waters?
Himself all silvery himself
In the element
And the element.
Food, of course!
And strong spine urging, driving;
And desirous belly gulping.
He knows fear!
A rush that almost screams,
As the pike comes…
Then gay fear, that turns the tail sprightly, from a shadow.
Food, and fear, and joie de vivre.
The other way about:
Joie de vivre, and fear, and food,
All without love.
Quelle joie de vivre
Slowly to gape through the waters,
Alone with the element;
To sink, and rise, and go to sleep with the waters;
To speak endless inaudible wavelets into the wave;
To breathe from the flood at the gills,
Fish-blood slowly running next to the flood, extracting fish-
To have the element under one, like a lover;
And to spring away with a curvetting click in the air,
Dropping back with a slap on the face of the flood.
And merging oneself!
To be a fish !
So utterly without misgiving
To be a fish
In the waters.
Loveless, and so lively!
Born before God was love,
Or life knew loving.
Beautifully beforehand with it all.
Admitted, they swarm in companies,
They drive in shoals.
But soundless, and out of contact.
They exchange no word, no spasm, not even anger.
Not one touch.
Many suspended together, forever apart.
Each one alone with the waters, upon one wave with the rest.
A magnetism in the water between them only.
I saw a water-serpent swim across the Anapo,
And I said to my heart, look, look at him!
With his head up, steering like a bird!
He’s a rare one, but he belongs…
But sitting in a boat on the Zeller lake
And watching the fishes in the breathing waters
Lift and swim and go their way— I said to my heart, who are these?
And my heart couldn’t own them…
A slim young pike, with smart fins
And grey-striped suit, a young cub of a pike
Slouching along away below, half out of sight,
Like a lout on an obscure pavement…
Aha, there’s somebody in the know!
But watching closer
That motionless deadly motion,
That unnatural barrel body, that long ghoul nose,…
I left off hailing him.
I had made a mistake, I didn’t know him,
This grey, monotonous soul in the water,
This intense individual in shadow,
I didn’t know his God,
I didn’t know his God.
Which is perhaps the last admission that life has to wring
out of us.
I saw, dimly,
Once a big pike rush.
And small fish fly like splinters.
And I said to my heart, there are limits
To you, my heart;
And to the one God.
Fish are beyond me.
Beyond my range… gods beyond my God. .
They are beyond me, are fishes.
I stand at the pale of my being
And look beyond, and see
Fish, in the outerwards,
As one stands on a bank and looks in.
I have waited with a long rod
And suddenly pulled a gold-and-greenish, lucent fish from
And had him fly like a halo round my head,
Lunging in the air on the line.
Unhooked his gorping, water-horny mouth.
And seen his horror-tilted eye,
His red-gold, water-precious, mirror-flat bright eye;
And felt him beat in my hand, with his mucous, leaping
And my heart accused itself
Thinking: I am not the measure of creation.
This is beyond me, this fish.
His God stands outside my God.
And the goId-and-green pure lacquer-mucus comes off in my
And the red-gold mirror-eye stares and dies,
And the water-suave contour dims.
But not before I have had to know
He was born in front of my sunrise.
Before my day.
He outstarts me.
And I, a many-fingered horror of daylight to him,
Have made him die.
With their gold, red eyes, and green-pure gleam, and
And their pre-world loneliness,
And white meat;
They move in other circles.
Things of one element.
Each by itself.
Cats, and the Neapolitans,
Thirst for fish as for more-than-water;
To quench their over-sulphureous lusts.
But I, I only wonder
And don’t know.
I don’t know fishes.
In the beginning
Jesus was called The Fish.
And in the end.