Photo Found at http://www.freshvista.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Invasive-illo.jpg
This weekend I had the chance to meet two of my friends pet rats for the first time. It was only my second time meeting a pet rat and a nice reward at the end of my project, after the Festival of Scholars ended. The hung out on my hand, crawled around in my shirt and even licked my a bunch like a dog. I’m not sure what a rat licking you means. Do they like the taste of skin? Do they want to clean you? Their hair was not soft, they had weirdly shaped heads, and naked tails, but something about them was very cut to me. I think this might just be a general affection I have for all animals, but I also think I sympathize with them much more after all the work I’ve done surrounding them this semester. I immediately felt instant love and compassion for them, and even kissed them. Once they were back in their cage, I stayed by and simply watched with admiration as they scurried around for a while.
My thoughts quickly went to all the perceptions of them brought up with my group and in my workshops, especially pop culture references. These creatures did not seem evil or gross or malicious. They seemed almost timid, like they were just trying to live their life. However, I realize my interpretations of them are just as much a projection of my own assumptions as the portrayals of rats in movies and TV shows, such as in Harry Potter and The Tales of Despereaux.
One thing which clearly appears as fact, not perception to me however, is their innocence in the damage they cause. I should clarify that damage is a relative term, and am aware I am using the word broadly, and from an anthropocentric perspective. These animals are just trying to get by and survive, unaware of their consequences. It just so happens that factors such as their highly adaptive abilities have made them more destructive than some other species. They have no intention of carrying diseases, or hurting our infrastructure, or causing extinctions. They have just figured out clever ways to survive, that incidentally affect us and other species. We are the only animals capable of being cognizant of the harm we cause other animals. Humans know when we are responsible for extinctions, disease spreading, damage to our cities pipes and buildings, waste. And considering how much damage we have caused, why do many of us hate other animals who are just trying to live, and are unaware of the consequences to other species of their behavior? This is a complicated philosophical question, that has a lot of similarities to debates around certain human actions. Similar questions are asked about the responsibility of, for instance, a Schizophrenic, or someone else who commits a crime during a psychotic break. The question of responsibility of those unable to take responsibility for their actions is a complicated one to answer.
Humans have taken this outlook so far as to even despise plants, organisms who even lack brains. People talk about hating weeds and hating invasive plants as if they are evil and maniacal. Plants do not know what they are doing. People talk about hating certain weather. The weather is not aware of its actions. When I think about this concept, it seems increasingly absurd, almost humorous, laughing at the parallels between hating a plant or animal with hating an inanimate object such as a table. I hate this chair! It’s so evil and gross! It seems like such a ridiculous statement, but many of the aspects of our ecosystems people despise are not that far off from this. I feel bad for the different biogeochemical elements and species people hate on. I feel bad that they have the misfortune of being destructive to survive. It affects them to. It can cause them to be exterminated and to wipe clean the resources they need. And on top of all that, they don’t even know they are disliked.