I was recently in a hardware store with my boyfriend when he pointed at something with a troubled look on his face. I followed his gaze and saw some kind of substance designed to kill flies. We regarded it with heavy hearts.
It may seem silly to get upset over something so innocuous. But we’re the type of people who rescue hapless houseflies that fall into the sink, conversationally greet the woodlice that roam across the bathroom floor, and name the spiders that dwell above our bed. We admire the mottled slugs that find their way under the back door and move snails away from busy paths so they don’t get trampled. The idea of intentionally killing a fly is pretty alien to us.
To me, being vegan means respecting all life – not just the cute fuzzy kind. I’d no more deliberately squash a bug than kick a dog (though the small size of most insects does make it easy to hurt them accidentally).
Many people dismiss tiny creatures like insects as being unworthy of moral concern, claiming that they’re lacking in intelligence or even that they aren’t sentient. But an animal’s intelligence should not determine how well it’s treated. As the philosopher Jeremy Bentham wrote, “The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” Besides, it makes no sense to judge other species’ intelligence by human standards.
I also don’t buy the idea that insects aren’t sentient. They react to external stimuli much the way other animals do – by flying away or playing dead in the face of danger, for example. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that they probably feel some level of fear when someone tries to swat them; something must motivate them to flee the situation. Though some say this is just instinct, surely instinct is intertwined with emotion?
Others argue that it’s acceptable to kill or injure insects because they allegedly can’t feel pain. Again, I don’t buy this; as a friend of mine once pointed out, it’s possible to suffer without feeling pain. If you broke a leg but it didn’t hurt, you’d still suffer because you’d be unable to take part in the activities you normally enjoy. You might also become unable to take care of your own needs, and eventually die if you didn’t have anyone to take care of you and treat your injury.
Similarly, most people would object to being killed even if it was done painlessly. No sentient being wants to die, no matter how small they might be. I also think it’s important to remember that we have no idea what it’s like to be a fly or a snail. We don’t know how they experience the world and we can’t say with any certainty whether they feel pain or not.
Some people dismiss ideas like this, saying there are more important things to worry about. But I think we have room in our hearts to care about all creatures, whatever species they might be.
For example, some people think it’s preposterous that vegans won’t eat honey, but to me, it makes perfect sense. Bees work incredibly hard so that they have something to eat over the winter, and what right do we have to take that away from them?
Sadly, there are instances where we have little choice but to cause harm to some creatures; if you have head lice, for instance, it’s impossible to get rid of them without killing them. But if an animal has no real negative impact on your life, I can’t see any justification for harming that animal.
Do you think we should extend our consideration to even the smallest of species? Leave a comment below.