Friday, August 5, 2011

The Defiling Touch of a Samosa

The U.S. has a history of truly bizarre laws and incredible examples of frivolous lawsuits.  This is a country where laws exist to prohibit raping a dog underwater...  or firing a shotgun from a moving vehicle when hunting whales.  Wonder how it works when we're on dry land or when we're hunting baby seals instead of whales.  I'm sure there are a few people out there who remember the tale of the couple who sued a manufacturer of ceiling fans for failing to provide a warning label which said "Caution : Do not toss your child up and down beneath a ceiling fan while it is operating."  Apparently, we have a court system which says that people are not at fault for being incomprehensibly stupid.  We also have a weird legal system that tries to weigh feelings and emotions in terms of dollars and cents by having things like "pain and suffering" as factors in lawsuits.

An Indian restaurant in New Jersey named Mughal Express committed what I would honestly consider a rather egregious criminal act.  That crime was to charge $35.00 for a plate of vegetable samosas.  Seriously??!??  $35 is the price for a platter of veggie samosas?!  What are you putting in there that is worth $35?  I'm aware that it's for a large tray suitable for a large party, but still, I can't comprehend it being worth more than $10.  Do they deep-fry in truffle oil or something?

Oh wait...  that's not what they were charged with.  They were charged with the crime of making a mistake and sending the wrong type of samosas to the customer.   The group of 16 that placed the order specifically ordered veggie samosas (they were vegetarians) and got a plate of meat-filled samosas (most likely lamb-filled, but I don't have a source which clarifies this) instead.  This sort of thing happens all the time all over the place.  I, being a vegetarian as well, have frequently ordered something to find that -- oh, wait, this has chicken, or it has bacon, or it has ham, or whatever...  The restaurants always take it back and replaces it without incident, and once in a while, they also tell me my meal is gratis, or at the very least offer some other addition like a dessert or drink for free.  I'm perfectly fine with that.

But then, I'm a filthy unbeliever, so what do I know?

The actual incident I speak of originally occurred in 2009, but when the customers tried to raise a suit about it, the superior court threw it out.  Now the suit has since been appealed, re-opened, and the plaintiffs won.

The grounds of this lawsuit?  Well, that was the claim that the customers, who because they could only recognize the presence of meat after having taken a bite, ended up having eaten at least some of that meat.  And now, being devout to the rigors of their caste, they have committed a violation of their religious principles and are now "spiritually tainted."  So as compensation for their spiritual tainting, the restaurant was demanded to pay all 16 of these people the full cost of a trip to India to undertake an elaborate purification ritual to cleanse their souls at the source of Ganga.

Well, the standard issue that most people are raising is that it's absurd to make a demand which is quite that extreme.  For an order of magnitude less money, the same people could easily have gone to a local priest and done the ritual in town without having to go to such lengths.  But hell, you could also have gotten more than enough samosas to feed 16 people on a lot less than $35 as well.  In any case, the types of objections of the nature of not going to a local priest within town are made by the Hindu community who largely empathizes with the need for "spiritual cleansing," but also abide by the classical model of Desi pragmatism.

I have additional objections, of course.  The first thing is this matter of the karmic impact of eating meat.  Basically, people with this sort of worry believe that their karma has received a negative influence because the consumption of said meat has made them complicit in the killing of the animals.  Now the first thing I have to point out here is that the animal is already dead and butchered and processed into meat for service well before the mistake that the restaurant made.  There is no sense in which a mistaken order is in any way causally connected to the killing of the animal.  Rather, the animal is killed, butchered, processed and sold because the restaurant had the expectation that there would be a certain number of people who would willfully order meat samosas or some other dish involving the same meat.  The possibility of mistakes may be accounted for, but they are not part of the aim or reason for ordering meat.  Retroactive causality on the basis of an erroneous outcome is a ridiculous concept to put it mildly, and I can't imagine someone thinking this way if they didn't have the absurd idea of a cosmic sense of justice.

It's funny how criminal cases involve a certain degree of evidence to support the claims of a plaintiff and the case can fail if the degree of evidence is deemed insufficient.  Can any person, in any sense, provide any sort of evidence for the impact on someone's karma?  Yeah, it's their belief, but that alone means nothing.  Belief and fact are not the same thing.  The monetary cost of this is real and substantial, so shouldn't the grounds for demanding it be substantial as well?  Show me, at some level, that there is a karmic impact to the consumption of meat and it's demonstrable to the effect that it is beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, and you've got something.

This is also why the idea that the plaintiffs felt as if they've been "spiritually tainted" is nonsensical as well.  What does that even mean?  What is the nature of the tainting and what exactly is being tainted, and how do these people even know?  By what mechanism does this defiling occur in the first place?  In practice, for any "spiritual" matter, there is not a single person on this Earth who can offer a solid answer for any simple question.  There's just more rewording and repetition of the exact same claim.  "Spiritual" is basically a ham-handed way of allowing basically any old assertion to fly because you can just say that it's true on some level which can't even be validated by any means.  You're effectively saying that something is true because it "kinda feels like it ought to be."  And saying that your soul has been defiled is nothing more than saying "I'm not happy" and making it out to be to something bigger than it is...  all the while never being under any requirement to ever have to explain yourself.  What luxuries the soul affords!  The sad thing is that there are people who swallow this crap in a court of law.  The very idea that people can win a lawsuit on nothing more than a delusional fantasy of some mystical affectation on an imagined intangible other-worldly projection of the self that can never possibly be shown to be true is tragic to say the least.

Okay, so you say you feel like crap because you put a bite of meat in your mouth and now you want to feel better...  well, the law does not exist for that sort of purpose!  Suck it up and just keep your damn beliefs out of the picture.

If the law really worked that way, then I'm going to go sue Pat Robertson for all the pain and suffering he's caused by still being alive and the filth he's smeared on the very fiber of my soul by way of his unbearable stupidity.  Yeah, nobody can prove any part of it, but what the hell?  I mean, if this samosa trial is any indication, it's not as if a fair trial actually requires evidence to support the position of the prosecution.