As is habit, I was going to take my evening ‘sabbatical’ last night when events took a surreal turn. I turned on the light and saw a small beetle on the floor. Without thinking, I tore off a piece of tissue paper and scooped the little guy up and threw him into the toilet. However, I did take the time to think that I’d throw the toilet paper so that the bug could not swim out from underneath it when it hit the water. Basically, between the time I scooped the beetle up and the time I was sending him into the toilet, I had consciously set out to drown him. I didn’t even bother to immediately flush the toilet and put the bug out of his misery much less out of my mind so that I didn’t have time to reconsider what I’d just done. Surely, most people don’t second guess themselves on such things.
But I’m not most people. As the beetle struggled mightily, I thought to myself Why am I watching him drown? Why am I killing him when I could have easily taken him outside? After all, the bug had done nothing to harm me; I just didn’t want it in the house. And so I took extreme measures against a life. I thought about this for a moment. It was certainly within my power not to kill the beetle. I could take it outside and it could go on doing whatever it does, no harm no foul. I reconsidered my actions, got a glass and scooped the bug out of the water and set him on the front porch. Too late; he was dead. This made me feel terrible.
I usually take bugs out of the house with the exceptions being roaches and ants, which I kill for (presumably) very good reasons. (Actually, I don’t always kill roaches, but I probably should.) But in almost all other cases, I relocate insect outside of the house. Why? For one thing, it is awfully arrogant for me to assume some kind of special status based upon my particular form of life. What makes a human being any more special than a beetle? Because we can think and have emotions and reflect upon these mental events? Because we are not bugs or some other species of animal we have run roughshod over, humans automatically ascend to arrogance in thinking that another form of life doesn’t have an inner world, much less an inner world worthy of respect. (Note that this kind of thinking has long been the excuse for genocide or otherwise treating differing ethnicities poorly.) We don’t know what it is like to be any other life form, so I do not ascend to the arrogance the rest of my brood display. Unfortunately, I happen to be of a species that needs to kill and eat other living things to survive. (Yes, Virginia, even plants are living things.) That makes me sad when I think about it.
Another reason I take bugs back outside the house is because it is so much easier to kill something we tower over than it is to respect its life. But consider the hypothetical situation in which giant hostile aliens with advanced technology descend upon the Earth and begin to lay waste to humanity. Why wouldn’t any such aliens laugh at us while we scurry for cover or plead for mercy? I am not trying to say it would be some kind of cosmic retribution, rather I am saying that’s just how the animal kingdom works, based on how we humans react to it. If we have no mercy for bugs or other life forms, we cannot plead for mercy (at least not without being pitiful) when the Hangman comes for us. That is, unless we really are the special animals we keep telling ourselves we are.
So I try to respect life, not because it will allow me to reason with or plead for mercy with the hostile aliens, but because it is the road less travelled and because I have the power to refrain from killing. Isn’t that supposed to be one of humanity’s nobler traits? I’m not going to say I am the most noble human being ever to live, but surely any bug would rather deal with me late in the evening than deal with most of the rest of you lot.