Ethics, Nightmares, and Killing a Fly

FlyI had a nightmare last week — perhaps the worst that I have ever had. Like all my dreams, exactly why things were happening was muddled. But I was doing target shooting — at live human beings. There were others there watching me. They might have been coercing me, but regardless, they were fine with what I was doing. I shot a man in the right thigh and a woman in the abdomen. It was not the shooting that made the dream so horrible. It was watching the pain the two people suffered.

Everyone around me was completely disconnected from the outcome of what I had just done. Finally, I said, “Are you going to help these people?!” And they all acted as though they had been woken from a dream and started seeing to my victims. I then woke, glad to know that this bit of human cruelty was just in my mind. It was only a couple of days later that the genesis of the dream became clear to me. It all had to do with a moth that I had killed.

Killing a Fly

Usually, it isn’t moths. The truth is that I commonly kill flies. I don’t go after them, but if they get caught in my room, they drive me a little crazy. I find it almost impossible to work when a fly is buzzing around me. So I kill the fly. I’m not proud of this. I’m placing my very temporary productivity above the life of another creature. And it’s a creature that I find fascinating. In my hunting of them, I marvel at the beauty of their flight paths.

But here’s the thing: the majority of the time, I cannot kill the fly on a first blow. I have blinds, and it is generally the case that the fly will only land on the window and I will have to swat through the blind. I will then, as quickly as possible, find the fly and finish the job. As anyone who has read me for any length of time knows: I do not find death so horrible. But pain is. So I move furniture or anything else to limit the fly’s pain. (And yes: it’s life.)

Wounding a Moth

But when I was down at my sister’s a few weeks ago, I badly wounded a moth. But it crawled away below a heavy piece of furniture. I couldn’t finish the job. Had it been my house, things would have been different. But my sister dragged me away. She was, I suppose like normal people, indifferent to the plight of this poor moth. But it has haunted me.

I’ll admit: I likely empathize too much with these creatures. But I know that my life really is no more important than theirs. My concern about pain may be laudable (or laughable). But I wish I were better. I wish I were a Jain monk, not willing to knowingly hurt a fly. But I’m too selfish. And moths and flies are hardly the limit to my selfishness. I love chickens but have no problem eating them.

It’s hard to live an ethical life. I deserved that nightmare.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

6 thoughts on “Ethics, Nightmares, and Killing a Fly

  1. It’s sort of an evolutionary moral pickle. As humans are skilled at inventing things, like light bulbs, we draw in creatures, like moths, attracted to light. We can justify swatting them by saying, “‘tough shit, moths, we evolved to invent light bulbs faster than you evolved to figure out, “light bulb bad, human squash you.'”

    OTOH. The Earth can say the same thing. “Tough shit, humans, my biosphere reacted faster to all your carbon emissions faster than you could stop being dumb.” If you feel sorry for dumb humanity in this equation, you should feel sorry for dumb moths.

    BTW, the Jains are most amazing when you consider mosquitoes. I do try to usher most bugs outside and let each of us take our own chances with predators, but you slap a mosquito when it lands on you. This is almost reflex.

    Although if I had my choice, I’d build a bat belfry. Bats are great at eating mosquitoes, and there are ways to encourage them to live in your yard. But the SO is terrified of bats, so that’s a no-go.

    • That’s too bad because bats was so cool. One got trapped in a computer lab with me so I got to watch it for about 15 minutes as it found its way out. Truly amazing! They don’t fly so much as swim. I was fascinated the whole time.

      My entomologist cousin told me today that flies might be attracted to my breath. So next time I’m going to brush my teeth and see if that work. If it doesn’t, I will kill them. But I am willing to go that far.

  2. So, is there not a likewise plight when it comes to your founding of SSP in roughly 1978?
    I used to have bug funerals when I was little. I couldn’t stand the idea that something, anything, had died needlessly. Mom would have to lie to me and tell me, “no, i think he’s just sleeping…i probably just knocked him out” so i would construct a temporary bug hospital room out of bricks, in the back yard.
    I have one of those kids now. Our youngest of three, who is also an 11year old vegetarian (has been for many years) cannot tolerate spiders indoors, but will go to great efforts to avoid their harm.
    I think his sensitivity is really endearing.

    • Let’s say I’ve evolved on the issue.

      For the record, the SSP was the “Super Spider Patrol.” It was based on the FFV: the First Family of Virginia, discussed in “The Lees of Old Virginia” sung by Richard Henry Lee in 1776. I was an odd child.

  3. …..The Moth
    On a eastward drive, in the 90’s, through Pocket Canyon…the winding road that connects the southwestern area of downtown Forestville to Guerneville….I came upon a furry something which had been hit and run over. I drove past and avoided it.. The creature, a racoon I think, had looked far beyond rescue but was suffering as it lay pasted to the road. I stopped at the next bend and went back to finish the job. I felt bad about it but not as bad as I otherwise would have, I think.

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