Now that Bitti has a vocabulary broad enough to engage in conversation on any topic under the sun I have learned to both dread and welcome long car trips; this is usually where I get grilled like an overlooked democracy sausage. She has a lot of questions about this
fucked up interesting world, and not all of them are super fun to answer.
Me, under interrogation
A month or so ago she finally voiced her concerns about the connection between living breathing animals and their dead counterparts served on plates. We were enjoying fish and chips on a family holiday when she turned to my unsuspecting brother and asked him ‘how did the fish get out of the sea and to be dead here?’. He wasted no time in handballing that one to me with a nervous laugh.
I am a vegetarian, so I have no problem with Bitti deciding not to eat meat, so that aspect of explaining fish production did not bother me. But even inured to the facts of meat production as I am, it was a confronting thing to have to explain the peculiarities of human double standards and cognitive dissonance to a naive child. Most especially because a lot of what she has encountered in popular culture has revolved around animals dressed in human clothes, being depicted as furry or scaly versions of us, with the ability not only to speak, but to feel emotions. Peppa Pig, The Lion King, Hey Duggie, Play School, most relevant to this particular case, Finding Nemo. It does feel like a cruel joke to turn around and tell her now that in reality humans would rather eat animals than consider their feelings. Well darling, we just like to anthropomorphise them for fun, like a cat playing with a mouse before it goes down the hatch.
However, kids movies have taught me that she will be unemotional in her assessment of the whole animals = meat bombshell. Children’s film scriptwriters do not hesitate in making a joke out of the tension between the depiction of animals as lovable, feeling entities with personalities and the reality of human treatment of those very same animals. In The Little Mermaid the prince’s chef chases Sebastian the lobster around the dining room with a carving knife, and in Moana Maui refers to her chicken sidekick as a ‘boat snack’ and dedicates himself to fattening up the dull bird to this end. Kids are sociopaths, movie makers know this. Parents should cotton on.
So the confronting part of this conversation is all due to my adult perspective and disappointment in mankind. Bitti accepted the explanation about fish being one source of food for all sorts of animals, including humans, with little apparent cognitive or moral disturbance. She ate a few bites of the fish, but she’s not much into deep fried foods anyway (I know! It’s like she’s not even human).
Aside from sometimes being reminded how relentlessly illogical and self-destructive humans can be, I am really enjoying these more cerebral conversations with Bitti. I am seeing a glimpse of a light at the end of the tunnel that is mindless, repetitive songs, games and stories for kids. But, as Bitti and I discussed in the car recently, there is some time to go before she is ready to tackle the world and its moral challenges.
Bitti likes to pretend we are being chased by the police when we are driving (when we’re not being chased by a T-rex, that is). OJ Simpson lived her dream; she fully endorses a slow speed chase. Talking about police and the work they do obviously lead to a conversation about jail. Bitti said she was happy for me to go to jail, as long as I could go with her. Otherwise, you know, who would she have to demand stories from? I said that could be a problem because they don’t put kids in jail. ‘But why??’
I started explaining how at this point in time society tends to believe young kids can’t make good decisions yet because they haven’t evolved empathy and a moral framework and therefore can’t be held responsible for what they do. Well, I didn’t use those exact words, but you get the drift. She argued, ‘but I do have those things [morals]’. So as an example I asked her, ‘if you were walking along and someone in front of you dropped some money, what would you do? Would you keep it for yourself or run after them and give it back?’
‘Keep it!’ No hesitation. She answered almost before I had finished the question.
I laughed. ‘And that,’ I said, ‘is why you wouldn’t go to jail, and why you have to live under the guidance of your parents until you finish school’.
By then, with any luck, she will have developed an ethical and moral framework that will keep her out of jail, because right now she’s showing great promise as a criminal element hybrid of OJ and Alan Bond.