Consider the Octopus: A Little Boy’s Moving Case Against Eating Animals
Disarming wisdom from a tiny-bodied, huge-hearted human animal.
By Maria Popova
Several months ago, a stirring New Yorker article by Sylvia Killingsworth stopped me dead in my biped tracks and made me — a longtime pescatarian aglow with the self-satisfied illusion of siding with “sustainable” seafood — suddenly consider the octopus. What does it really means to sustain creaturely empathy for a being so different from us? More than one of our planet’s most breathtaking creatures, it is a life form a biologist quoted in Killingsworth’s piece believes is “probably the closest we’ll get to meeting an intelligent alien” — and yet, as Killingsworth makes clear, one we murder with such devastating inhumanity that I couldn’t help but cringe at the very thought of having once considered it a favorite food. A food — this exquisite masterwork of evolution, this intelligent alien with an order of consciousness so beyond ours that we can barely begin to grasp its extent with the clumsy and insensitive tentacles of our moral imagination.
But no journalist or biologist or ethicist can hold a candle to a little boy named Luiz and his earnest consideration of the octopus. With incredible clarity and simplicity, this tiny-bodied, huge-hearted human animal makes his case — the very best case there is — against eating other animals:
For a grownup take on expanding our circle of empathy, see Laurel Braitman’s excellent Animal Madness and Jon Mooallem’s Wild Ones, a very different kind of masterwork at the intersection of parenting and interspecies empathy.
UPDATE: Offered with the utmost endorsement as a masterpiece of science and humanity, Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus.
Published May 29, 2015