To Kill or to Shoo Along

A bird and a spider

I’m interested in the thought process through which we decide which species of life is acceptable to kill and which we should treat with more respect.

When I noticed a few fruit flies in the kitchen last week, I set up a liquid trap to catch and kill them.

But that got me thinking.

If a spider or some other bug or insect gets into my home, I feel perfectly justified in killing it. However, if I am outside and get surprised or scared by an unexpected spider, I make a point of not killing or pestering it. I feel like outside is the spider’s home.

But how do we make decisions about which pests (bugs, spiders, squirrels, birds, etc.) we should kill if they become a problem? If a dog or cat got into our house, our first approach would be to shoo them out — not try to swat or squish them to death. Clearly, that choice is based on more than just that squishing a cat would be a much bigger mess than a squished spider. In my mind, there is a higher level of moral anxiety against killing a cat than against killing a spider.

I appreciate some of our practices might be cultural. When I moved to the UK, I recall being gobsmacked that many people were inclined to catch spiders to carry them outside (rather than squishing them.) Such a practice was not extended to flies or mosquitos.

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