Instincts Towards Insects – Field Journal, 9/21/10

I came out into the Crum in search of inspiration for my digital story. I know I want it to be about photosynthesis, and how photosynthesis is beautiful. But I don’t know how to convince other people that it’s as beautiful as I think it is. So I figured that surrounding myself with it might help. It did, but that’s another story. Anyway, my initial plan was to go sit in a tree. Then I realized that none of the trees here are really suited to climbing. So I contented myself with lying on a log by Crum Creek. I laid back and tried to truly appreciate all of the natural processes unfolding around me. But then I heard a buzzing in my ear. A bee! I twitched uncontrollably away from it, nearly rolling off the log. I grabbed my bag and ran. Next I found a gently curved tree to lean against. I had been sitting there a minute when three of the largest ants I’d ever seen came out of the bark. I was about to run again, but I realized that they’d stopped coming towards me – distracted by devouring a maggot. Although subtlety repulsed by this, once it was clear that the ants had stopped coming towards me, I was able to relax. For a few minutes at least. Then more ants trickled out of the tree veering towards the small of my back. Pretending not to have seen them (what you don’t know can’t hurt you…sometimes…), I continued writing. Then I saw some reddish ants. I’d never seen red ants before, but I’d heard lots of horror stories. I figured I was probably better off moving on. And so I did.
What is my problem with insects? Intellectually, I appreciate them as really important and really amazing. They pollinate flowers, form symbiotic relationships with plants, help matter decompose, have fascinating community structures, and are in general pretty darn awesome. So why do I run away from them? I suppose, to be fair, I only run away from the ones that will could potentially hurt me. As a general rule, I like to think I’m more insect-tolerant than average. In evolution lab, I’m the one who is entirely unphased by picking up the cowpea weevils. Actually, I think they’re kind of cute. But if there’s something that could bite or sting me, even if, as in the case of the bee, I know it won’t if I don’t provoke it, it just freaks me out. And honestly, I’ve been known to kill mosquitos and spiders too, when it’s convenient, and that really bothers me. If I value all life as intrinsically important (even if I just value ecosystems in general as intrinsically important) which I do, it’s a complete violation of my principles to kill insects just because they’re in my space. There is a disconnect between my intellectual values and my base instinctual fear of things that are different from me.

This whole issue really reminds me of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, in which, essentially, humans’ intrinsic fear of a bug-like alien species leads them to wipe out an entire sentient race. Only in retrospect is this decision recognized as horrific, and only because people are given an opportunity to see the world from the perspective of this species. But later, it is pointed out that this new found understanding was probably only possible because the species had been wiped out. Once the immediate visceral fear of bodily harm was removed, people could step back and think about things in terms of ethics. It would have been a very different story, but this same scenario could play itself out on earth, with actual insects. Except there would be no time for reflection on our mistakes because, without insects, we’d be dead. So as hard as it is, we need to get to work on understanding things from an insect’s perspective.

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