As I reached out to squash a tiny-teeny ant that had clung and stung my foot on a rainy day, thoughts ranging from the right-to-life to the right-over-life created a watershed and left me high and dry. What right do I have over an ant, to decide when it has lived its full life and is now mandated to die? How big a threat it poses to me? What harm did a needle-sting cause me that I took the path of retributive justice? Who am I to deliver the justice?
Resigning loads of farm insects and crop pests to pre-mature death, sometimes at the larval stage itself, is considered necessary for ensuring food production and security. Is there anything wrong in this practice? It seems there is, and that is why natural farming talks about introducing natural predators, like ducks in waterlogged paddy fields. The idea is to let Nature (not the fickle-human nature) intervene. Our dear old Fukuoka resorts to clover planting to fight weeds and adopts ingenious ways like not planting in a straight line to hoodwink insects which walk in-a-line.
Coming back to squishing ants and swatting at mosquitoes, I wonder why we get enraged at elephants being run-over by trains and not the multitude of visible and invisible fauna we trample under our feet as we go about our daily lives. Does size matter? Or the head-count of a species? Or is it about the perceived ‘utility’ of beings?
My thought-stream gravitates towards the China-rose (the National flower of Malaysia and not China) bush in my neighbour’s plot of land; it is in bloom as I write and never have I seen anyone pluck a flower from it. The flowers flower and perish, on the stalk. Is plucking these flowers equivalent to crushing an ant? What about my daily offering of flowers to the deities resident in the idols in my house? Now I think that just because a friendly neighbour drops a handful of flowers in the postbox for me to pick up every morning, is why I am continuing with the practice. Left to myself, I will never do this ‘crime’ which I have unknowingly ‘sub-contracted’.
There seem to be quite a few parallels between the way we treat beings and how we handle emotions (of self and others). Do we not value the emotions of different people differently? Same questions – Does the magnitude of emotions on display matter? Or the frequency with which they (re)appear? Or is it about the perceived ‘utility’ of the source of those emotions?
The resolution that brings me solace goes like this:
- All creatures / emotions have intrinsic value. What matters is how deep, caring and loving the beholder’s senses are.
- Learning to appreciate, to empathize and co-exist with, and sometimes to engage, divert, channelize or manage all sorts of creatures / emotions makes us human.
- Only when a creature / emotion threatens to jeopardize your life or sanity may we act decisively, and out of self-protection. Consuming particular foods to live without disease, will also fall in this category, a friend helpfully points out. These are instances when survival trumps free choice.
Let us live and let live.