Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Do bugs mourn the death of one of their own?

For a few months now I have been bugged.
No, not by the NSA--at least, I hope.  I am far too insignificant to even blip in the NSA's radar.
This is a living bug. No, not the much joked about mother-in-law either ;)

A real bug.
Every day I see one or two and I kill them.

When I was gone to India for three weeks, there was a little bit of a worry in me that when I return I might find a party going on at home with the bugs and the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.  But, nope.  I guess they, too, took a vacation from the daily grind and then decided to show up to work when I returned.

Every single time I wipe one off the face of the earth, I feel sorry for those critters.  I kill them when I see them inside my home.  I don't care what they do outside, or if they raid my neighbor's awesome cobblers.  Not in my home.

Of course, I am not the only one who worries himself to death, metaphorically speaking, about the killing of bugs that occasionally stray into my home.  I worry because there are larger issues at stake:
it seems to me quite reasonable to think that the death of the fly is entirely insignificant and that it is at the same time a kind of catastrophe. To entertain such contradictions is always uncomfortable, but in this case the dissonance echoes far and wide, bouncing off countless other decisions about what to buy, what to eat – what to kill; highlighting the inconsistencies in our philosophies, our attempts to make sense of our place in the world and our relations to our co‑inhabitants on Earth. The reality is that we do not know what to think about death: not that of a fly, or of a dog or a pig, or of ourselves.
We do not know what to make of death.  Death, which we know happens all the time all around us.  If we paused to think about death, then we see it everywhere. We see ourselves in the deaths that happen.
As the poet William Blake realised when he, too, carelessly squashed an insect:
Am not I
A fly like thee?

Or art not thou

A man like me?
So, ok, what do we do?  How do we figure this out?  What to make of killing a fly or a roach?  Why is it ok to swat a fly but not kosher, ahem, to kill a pig?  Or, why do we feel squeamish when we read about an execution gone wrong?

There are no answers.  Well, there are plenty of answers and, for all I know, most of them are correct answers too, even if the answers contradict each other.  To use a line from an old IBM advertisement series, "you make the call."  Because:
Philosophers academic and amateur – which is to say, pretty much all of us – prefer to think that paradoxes must have solutions, that they are somehow just the wrong way of looking at things, or a muddle of grammar and syntax. But not this one. It is, as far as I can see, part of the nature of things. To take both sides seriously and to seek some way to live with them is part of what it is to be human; part of what it means to be a guest at the party of life and death.
Struggling to answer such questions is very much a part of being human.

Being human is not meant to be easy.  Certainly nowhere as easy as squashing a bug.

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