Why we shouldn’t hurt a fly
By Natalie Serafini, Opinions Editor
Do you remember in Charlotte’s Web, at the beginning, when Fern’s father is about to kill Wilbur the pig? Fern’s sitting at breakfast, and when she hears that her father is going to kill a runt pig, she runs out shrieking, yelling, and crying at him to leave the pig alone. I must confess to being a bit of a Fern sometimes. Not that I shriek and yell and cry all over the place for people to drop their bacon, but I do feel bad at the thought of creatures being hurt.
Which brings me to my latest cause: leaving bugs alone.
Trust me, I’m not a fan of insects. I don’t like mosquitos, creepy crawly spiders give me the heeby-jeebies, and I’m terrified of bugs crawling into my ears. Still, why should my contentment (and temporary contentment, at that—I’ll find something else to complain about soon enough) outweigh a bug’s life?
I know we generally don’t value insect, or indeed animal, life as much as we do human life. In the case of insects, this may be because people believe bugs don’t feel pain. This is a fine enough argument, but even if scientists were 99.9 per cent certain that insects don’t feel pain, and their hypotheses were proven, I would still consider that 0.1 per cent of uncertainty enough for me to not want to inflict unnecessary pain on a creature.
But let’s say there’s scientific evidence that insects don’t feel pain; that’s still a theory. Although I’m not a science major, from what I understand nothing in science is considered “fact.” If a hypothesis has been proven consistently, it’s considered a theory. That’s why it’s titled “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution,” and not “Darwin’s Fact of Evolution.” So let’s say the concept that insects don’t feel pain is at best a theory; then it’s still uncertain. Let’s say insects, who shy away from being swatted and killed, are simply reacting through instinct and not because they are trying to avoid pain and death. That still leaves doubt in my mind.
Besides which, there’s been evidence that insects do feel pain. I won’t throw a bunch of statistics and science-y words like “enkephalins” your way, but Jeffrey A. Lockwood, an entomologist, stated that “Existing evidence indicates that insects qualify as sentient and their lives ought to be included in moral deliberations.” Michael L. Draney argued that “our ethical obligations to insect pests lie in acknowledging the right of these species to continued, if controlled, existence. At this level, they must receive moral consideration in any actions taken.” And R.L. Rabb stated that “We must learn to live with our insect competitors rather than eliminate them.”
Insects don’t live for a very long time, so I’m more inclined to let them fly, crawl, and creep around to their cold-blooded heart’s content until they drop dead. If a fruit fly lives for a month, why not just leave it alone? It has a niche to fill and it’ll be dead soon enough anyways without your stomping, swatting, and slapping it like a maniac.
I know insects can be pests, and annoying as hell pests at that. Even worse, they can carry disease or completely devastate farms, animals, wildlife, and human populations. Defending ourselves against insects in those cases might be perfectly acceptable, but there are plenty of insects that don’t pose a threat. Whip out a cup and a piece of paper, and practice some catch-and-release techniques.