A Call for Common Decency

By on September 4, 2019 in Columns

I remember last August vividly. I was new to the school, and just like all First-Year students, I was nervous and jittery, but also very excited to take on a tantalizing, three-year-long challenge at KG. This year, we have a new batch of young adults enrolling in our school. I.e., individuals whose morals will be shaped by the way the rest of us students treat ourselves, each other and the world around us. In an otherwise excellent high school, it is therefore shameful that the so-called “tradition” of “Smiska Fisk” (“Fish-Slapping”) has endured to this day. 

Before I proceed, I must underline that the following is not written with the intent of shaming any past participants of the event. Instead, my only goal is to provide a new perspective – one of active, ethically defensible decision-making, rather than that of passively accepting what is wrong merely because the wrongfulness is hiding behind the epithet “tradition.”

It might be argued that the name of the event should suffice to describe it. For those unfamiliar with the concept, though, I will let the Student Union’s Facebook group speak for itself:

“The ofFISHal initiation ceremony, one of KG’s favourite traditions is just around the corner, so are you ready to get slapped with a fish?”

In essence, students are handed raw fish by the Student Union with which to beat one another. Naturally, participants are covered in heavy-duty garbage bags as to avoid being splattered with the fish’s scales, flesh, and blood during the battle. Pictures show participants’ pretending to kiss the raw fish, in addition to biting off chunks of these animals as a manifestation of their courage. A frolicsome blog post even states that students “throw frisbee with the fish.” Effectively, these animals are defiled in any which way. 

“Smiska Fisk” is wrong on many levels. Firstly, in a society in which reducing food waste is becoming ever-more important, it is paradoxical to hear about an event in which food is literally wasted en masse. A friend of mine once told me that the fish in question had expired and that it, therefore, would be disposed of anyway: which was his justification. The argument – which is true, by the way – does not make a difference; If the store from which the fish is acquired would choose to waste it, the wrongfulness of doing so would be on their hands. They should have imported less, lowered the prices, donated leftovers, or in any other way ensured that these animals were not simply discarded. The responsibility would have been theirs. When the fish is handed over to the students of this school, however, so is the responsibility to put the food to good use. The responsibility is then ours. The difference is enormous.

As a volunteer, I know that the demand for food – including that which has passed its expiration date – is sky-high. The prospect of young, talented students engaging in a collective cry of not caring a whit (not to use stronger terms) about eating produce, but to instead bang it into the heads of their classmates, is unacceptable. The planet and the atmosphere can hardly sustain adequate production of food for eating. It would, therefore, be quite ignorant to contend that there is enough food for using dead animals as entertainment. There is not, and the event is therefore scornful to the one-in-ten people that still struggle to feed themselves and their children, as well as to the planet itself. The students of our school are bright, and they do care about many important issues. Many cared enough to get passionate about reducing the usage of paper plates last year, for crying out loud! Surely, putting a halt to the continuation of the year-after-year waste of flesh foods should spark even more acute sentiments. It does not, though, and that might very well be because “Smiska Fisk” is given the title “tradition.” It appears that many believe that what we all know to be wrong may be excused if the wrongfulness has been shared by hundreds, if not thousands of students throughout the years. This is simply not the case. A “wrong” shared by the many is still no more of a “right.” The groupthink idea that something is justifiable because it has persisted for many years would make for a textbook definition of moral blindness, in fact.

Furthermore, we must realize that what is used for the “fish-slapping” is not carrots or leek. These are fish! While they are evidently not humans or even mammals, they are made of flesh and bones. They are animals endowed with eyes and brains; they are things that possessed consciousness. We should, therefore, treat their dead bodies with respect. If the reader is a creationist, she should know to respect God’s creation more than what is done when using it as bludgeons with which to strike her friends. If the reader is instead a Darwinist, she will likely argue that there is no rigid evolutionary boundary between different animal species. Consequently, she must know that a certain level of respect for all sentient beings is a more defensible position than maintaining that members of animal species other than our own are so inferior to us that we can allow even the pointless and barbaric begriming of their dead bodies. I am sure that this point would manifest itself better if the animals used were not fish, but cuter species such as hamsters or beautiful birds. There would be public outrage! Because fish admittedly look less adorable, however, many of us see no error in playing with their bodies however brutally and disrespectfully as we please. Although, the notion that animals should not be put to waste should be common sense. Even young children eventually realize that it is wrong to step on bugs for fun, for example, as doing so would be a pointless waste of life. It is not acceptable for students of a high-ranking institution such as ours to behave worse than children.

Perhaps the reader will disagree with my reasoning, in which case I encourage her to stand up straight and argue for her cause, instead of handing herself over to passivity. Dante Alighieri, one of history’s most influential writers, once wrote that “the darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” I could not agree more. I believe that deep down, most of us have always known that “Smiska Fisk” is deeply immoral. It is childishly ignorant not only of the imminent need to cut down on food waste, but of the fundamental decency with which an ethical person must view other life forms. An intelligent friend of mine quite eloquently summarized “Smiska Fisk” in a single text message: “The perpetuation of a violent ‘tradition’ whose sole purpose is to numb the reality of food waste is appalling… all the more so when the food happens to be animal bodies. Everybody should abjure and abrogate this stupid thing.” He is right, of course. All the garbage bags in the world could not protect a person from dirtying herself and her classmates when wasting animals by destroying and mutilating their dead bodies. It is not only our duty, but our privilege not to continue letting the brutality and ignorance of “Smiska Fisk” define our school. Its continuation is an embarrassment to us all.

The fish prior to the battle. Many more pictures are available, but this is the only one not showing any faces. Photo taken from the Student Union’s Facebook page.