Monday, 29 September 2014

Too Busy Thinking ʔbout My Camels...

I am no longer as obsessive as I used to be.  When I was, one thing I learnt in the end was that rather than trying to resist obsessive thoughts, it was sometimes better to give into them.  Therefore, whereas it may seem like an odd choice of subject, I'm probably just going to have to give into it and talk about these:

This is of course a dromedary.  I don't in fact find camels very interesting although I notice that I find South American ones slightly more appealing than Old World camels.  Even among South American camels I find that llamas are less interesting than guanacos and vicunhas (don't know how to type a tilde on here).  On the other hand, the fact that a llama is called that is quite interesting.  The mere interest in the name of an animal, however, is not so much about the animal as our relationship to it, so when you talk about the name "llama", you aren't really talking about the animal in its own right.

In fact, this is something which seems to plague camels incessantly.  They seem to suffer from being treated as property and useful by humans to a greater extent than, for instance, stag beetles are.  For instance, grooms sometimes give the bride's family camels.  They are very useful to humans, so it's easily explained that camels could be used as chattels in this way, just as cattle might once have been here.  It's even possible that a camel would be lovingly cared for after such an exchange.  I now hesitate to go here because it's disturbing to me, but anyway.

We are of course currently suffering from a very slow-onset empty nest syndrome.  Our daughter has recently left home and it's hard to get used to, although easier than the days when I stood in a freezing phonebox once a week feeding it with tuppences in order to maintain contact with my own parents.  Being the sanity anchor for our family, it's quite a loss to us for various reasons - maybe her absence is indirectly responsible for the fact that I'm now blogging about camels.  Of course, and this is the point, our daughter is primarily valuable to us in herself and as a spectacular and unique individual who is in the very top league of our emotional attachments along with other family members.  Nonetheless she had practical worth to us in that she kept us in contact with reality.

Suppose, therefore, that instead of going to university, she had been married off and swapped for a camel.  In a way, a camel is not a particularly realistic possession for someone living in a suburb in the East Midlands and maybe a car or a bike would be closer to the value of a camel to me, or perhaps a pair of boots.  However, unlike a vehicle or footwear, a camel is a living thing.  If I had a camel, I would feel an onerous responsibility to look after it, to the extent that I would probably get in touch with something like a camel repatriation charity to ensure it returned to its natural habitat and once it was there, was able to thrive rather than being treated as property.  Suppose I couldn't though.  I would then have a camel, graciously given to me in exchange for a human being, which smacks to me of treating people as property and is quite disturbing in itself, and I have to admit my speciesism leads me to regard the idea of exchanging my daughter for a camel more in terms of the disrespect that seems to show her than it.  I would struggle to look after a camel for various reasons.  I think they probably need to walk a lot, they probably need to eat things which don't grow here, they'd probably get bronchitis or something in this relatively cool, damp climate and I would also be surprised if they didn't get foot problems and arthritis from walking on pavements and tarmac, or maybe even just grass.  So I'd probably have to get it special shoes or something.  I can also imagine overhydrating them and killing them that way.  I would feel that the camel was a helpless victim of the custom as an individual animal, and it would be quite stressful and difficult.  I certainly wouldn't want to exploit the camel in any way, but I have no idea how I'd keep it - on Aylestone Meadows maybe?  The world is a different place for me than it is for the camel and consequently it would be harder for me to anticipate its needs than it has been for me to anticipate my daughter's.

It would also represent my daughter to me.  A failure in caring for the camel would seem like a failure to care for her.  However, what would worry me a lot more than how the camel was doing, I think, would be how my daughter was doing.  I have to admit that if it wasn't of her own free will (and what is that?), I would basically see this situation as the same as her being kidnapped.  That shows various assumptions about how I view people who exchange camels for daughters.  I also find it very distasteful that this exchange is being considered for a daughter rather than a son.  This is of course a bride price.  I'm getting a camel in payment for the loss of the economic value of my daughter to the family, which in this case could be real.  Our daughter has kept us in somewhat better mental health than we would otherwise have been.  This seems to have value, as for example it enables me to go to see patients and get paid for helping them with their health issues.  So my mental health deteriorates but at least I get a camel.

Additionally, however, a camel represents economic value because the daughter is an economic loss, and this reflects the former nature of families and marriage as economic units rather than units bound together by love, or at least that seems initially to be the dichotomy.  In this scenario, my daughter might be making blankets and selling them, then along comes some guy with a camel and she makes blankets for him instead.  In some ways this seems mercenary to us but for some reason we are expected to be happy to go out to a workplace and earn money for strangers or people with no emotional connection to us, whom in fact, although we should, we don't love.  In a way, the economic unit of the family is healthier than the economic unit of a large corporation or public body.  Nevertheless, we see that as inappropriate.  However, what if providing in one way or another for a family is considered an act of love?  You love someone, so you give them the gift of your labour.  They then feel moved to return that love in an appropriate way.  Moreover, what if we turn that round and say it's OK for a committed romantic relationship to be also an economic relationship in that sense - the "gift economy" maybe?  I don't know.  Then you go out and you work, and that work is on the same basis - motivated by love for your work and for the people for whom you work, who are then moved to express their love and appreciation for you, in an authentic emotional sense, for instance by paying you, but in any case by having a full relationship with you which is not on a hierarchical basis.

Maybe our whole society should be determined by the pace of a camel.