Ah, there is herring
within me, as I write these words. There is herring within me. I did not particularly enjoy it, but I am glad that I can put a taste to the name. The herring's last swim took it down my throat
, into my stomach
, where it is melting into whatever I ate for tea last night. Soon it will swim from my anus
into the toilet, and thence to the sewerage
and, finally, to the ocean
again, where it will return to its home as a diluted component of treated effluent, mixed with all kinds of human waste, bleach, anti-bacterial chemicals and, most probably, blue dye. Insofar as white is a tone, rather than a colour, blue is the colour of purity and goodness.
Of course, the herring is unaware of its final voyage, because I did not eat its head. Somewhere there is a mountain of resected herring heads, perhaps frozen in a giant vault, for the day when we can recreate a body on which to place the head. The herring will rise again, for in the mass of time to come there are almost limitless possibilities. A future global government of environmentalists and animal rights activists may choose to revive the animals we have eaten, to bring the herring back to life, and for this end I envisage Greenpeace funding the construction of giant warehouses, in which are preserved the pieces of animals which we do not eat - the skin, the heads, the oinks.
We have our own vaults, vaults in which the remains of gassed and beaten and burned people lie, awaiting identification and burial. There are similar vaults all across the world, where mankind has seen fit to exterminate his opponents - but has failed, so that his opponents remain to mourn and preserve their dead. Sometimes we put the survivors of slaughter onto a pedestal, so that they are no longer human beings, but instead symbols; and sometimes we implore them to shut up, to stop harping on and on about their grievance, which took place decades ago in a far-away place and is all over now. If I were so inclined I could draw a table, a graph, with 'Degree of suffering' on one axis, 'Degree to which other people sympathise' on another axis, and 'Degree to which this issue remains a burning weeping sore' on the third axis. There are oppressed minorities who do not elicit sympathy; in fact, they attract hate and derision. The only way for a minority to win, is to be strong, and to never waver. The point of a blade is a minority of the blade, the majority of which is the shaft or the handle; the point drives home and scores the killing blow.
The sun does not pulse or pause when one group of people murder another group of people; it is of no consequence to the animal kingdom. The only living creatures who care are ourselves, and we create our own hell, sometimes whilst under the illusion of acting for a higher power, whether God or the State. These people are weak, for they wish to kill without having responsibility for their actions. I cannot respect these people, these people who kill for a thing. No, I respect the man who kills for his own ends and those of no-one else, in the knowledge that he kills for himself, and that no-one else has put him up to it. I respect the man who kills without reason. I can respect that. If there is to be killing, and there is, better that the killers do not cloak themselves in righteousness.
And you agree with me. Whatever your opinion on the merits of whichever religious or social system drives the killing, the individual religious or state murderer is a ridiculous figure; praising his god or head of state whilst passing the ammunition, no longer an individual, acting as a tool for a higher power. The killers we respect - the heroes and anti-heroes of the silver screen and of real life - they act for themselves. Perhaps for evil reasons, but they are their own person. No-one tells Charles Manson or Chow Yun Fat what to do; no-one tells Samuel Jackson what to do, or James Cagney, Suge Knight, Hannibal Lector, Vanilla Ice. Even when they are villains, we respect them, because they kill for themselves. Perhaps they kill for money, which is in itself a higher power, but they wish the money for themselves. You respect murderers, you want to be them, you are awed by their power, because you respect that kind of power. Not the kind of power wielded by Esso or your government or by government ministers or Shell, you do not respect that power. You respect physically powerful individuals, because you are yourself weak.
It is so easy to mock soldiers, to laugh when they die. It is because they are not fighting for themselves, they are not even fighting for an idea; they are fighting for an authority, for The Man, although they might not see things like that. They are throwing their lives away for a favourable pension, or for their 'brothers'. The western world is increasingly a world of only children. Alone of screen heroes we respect, only James Bond fights for The Man, and then we only respect him for his personal style, his coolness under pressure, his ability to smash and destroy. The Bond films play well in regions where the majority of the audience do not realise that MI6 or Britain are real; it is the spectacle of Bond, of the Bond films and of Bond himself, that is what we respect.
Just as the herring I ate was beheaded, so beheading has been in the news over the past few years. Who in 1966, ten years before I was born, who would have predicated that, in the twenty-first century, beheading would be back in fashion? And that it would be greeted with a mixture of boredom and fascination in the western world? That a global electronic communications network would shimmer with the simultaneous downloading of seven megabytes of "nick berg al-qaeda execution iraq hostage beheading (long)" and so forth? I remember a time, in the early 1990s, when people thought that the internet would free us from war; that a world in touch with itself would never fight. A time when the Jargon File's entry on 'Kremvax' did not seem so naive as it does today.
"In an even more ironic historical footnote, kremvax became an electronic centre of the anti-Communist resistance during the bungled hard-line coup of August 1991. During those three days the Soviet UUCP network centred on kremvax became the only trustworthy news source for many places within the USSR. Though the sysops were concentrating on internal communications, cross-border postings included immediate transliterations of Boris Yeltsin's decrees condemning the coup and eyewitness reports of the demonstrations in Moscow's streets. In those hours, years of speculation that totalitarianism would prove unable to maintain its grip on politically-loaded information in the age of computer networking were proved devastatingly accurate — and the original kremvax joke became a reality as Yeltsin and the new Russian revolutionaries of glasnost and perestroika made kremvax one of the timeliest means of their outreach to the West."
Well, we're freed from totalitarianism all right. A cynic might argue that the internet is "the only trustworthy news source" when it is restricted to a few hundred computing students. The kind of techno-totalitarianism so relevant in the previous century is just as healthy, but it is joined with other totalitarianisms; religious, moral and social, systems of total belief, unifications of religion, law, personal morality and state. The people who wrote the above would never dare to speak ill of a religion other than Christianity. They are middle-aged, now, the people who wrote the Jargon file, the people who read it, they are growing old. Betrayal and disillusionment. I hope I am around to see them buried.
For the record, I did not enjoy the herring at all. I used to think that I liked seafood, but I do not; I enjoyed the fish in fish and chips, but that was because the fish was fried, battered and tasteless. I do not enjoy the reality of actual fish, not at all. Tomorrow I will try herring, I probably won't like it. I have already crossed mackerel off my list. I can tolerate tuna, because it tastes of iron. Greenpeace originally had a different name, a complex name along the lines of 'The Rainbow Anti-Animal-Eating Foundation' or something similar, I know this because the company's press officer died a while back, and his obituary was in the newspaper. He came up with the name 'Greenpeace', and it is a good name; it also acknowledges that there is a war. A war between you and me, and the animal kingdom. We could win this war. I believe that Scarlett Johansson should be the Queen of England.
http://www.clupea.net/ - The Herring Network
http://www.marine.gov.uk/clupea.htm - the FRV Clupea, a research vessel for the Scottish Executive for Rural Affairs Department (SERAD)
http://www.arkive.org/species/ARK/fish/Clupea_harengus/ - Photographs of herrings in their natural environment
http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/historic/nmfs/images/big/figb0471.jpg - "Plate 204 - The Herring" by H L Todd, bought from a market in Washington, in 1875, immortalised.