Monday, 2 November 2015

Spiders!

       I like spiders a lot. I think they're brilliant: not only do they look gorgeously primeval, they help to keep the house free from flies and mosquitoes, and if the spider population gets too large they tend to get in fights and eat one another, and it seems like a sensible group of creatures that can perform such population-reducing strategies without excessive emotion. Spiders don't tend to spread diseases and they're relatively clean creatures.

     And the vast majority of spiders are literally harmless to humans. They're a net benefit, and that's because there aren't really any downsides to them. Some house spiders can bite, but almost no spider bites are actually fatal; even the most venomous recluse and widow spiders will fail to kill an average human, although they can potentially kill very small children if they receive a sufficient dose of the venom. Most bites by even these venomous species are shrugged off by ordinary adults. Spiders overall are astonishingly safe creatures to handle and live with.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d2/Golden_silk_spider_-_Nephila_clavipes.jpg
Nephila clavipes, a golden silk orb-weaver. Nephila - probably my favourite spider genus, after seeing a Nephila spider in Taiwan a few years ago. h/t Stephen Friedt, Wiki.

      Compare that to the cat family, the internet's favourite animals. There are cat species in the world with massive claws and teeth that can dismantle human bodies with ease and they do so on a frighteningly regular basis. Tigers, lions, mountain lions, ocelots, jaguars, leopards: all capable of killing people. Cats shit and piss, sometimes on the floor; cats bring in dead birds and rodents; cats are rude and impersonal despite receiving love and care; cats can scratch a person's face up. If we applied the same standards to cats as we do to spiders, we'd have to conclude that spiders are the superior beings and that cats are barbaric monsters fit only for wild woods.

      And if you think a comparison with leopards and tigers is perverse, consider the fact that the spider in your house probably isn't even in the same family, let alone genus, as recluse spiders. All cats are in the same family, and some of the killer cats, including cougars and cheetahs, are in the same sub-family as domestic cats. Lions are more closely related to your moggy than recluse spiders are to the beautiful web-weavers in your kitchen. And recluse spiders aren't even that dangerous.

       People will instinctively kill spiders - totally harmless ones - even when they know that spiders can't kill them. Humans are much bigger than spiders and can kill any spiders in an instant with their feet, so spiders in general simply aren't threats. Some people have managed to overcome the murderous instinct, however, and become familiar with or even fascinated by spiders. This tells me three things:
  • There's a lot of instinctive stuff in people's heads that forces them to do things that don't really make sense
  • Instincts can be defeated
  • We probably won't have a good world or a nice society long-term unless we can overcome a lot of innate human instincts
        I see the inability - or perhaps unwillingness - to overcome these instincts as a serious moral defect. If you're willing to brag about your unease with harmless creatures who merely want to co-exist with you and keep your house clean, and you're willing to kill or maim them in an effort to rid yourself of your unease, then you've reduced yourself to the basest and silliest state of humankind. Would you agree with people who say that we should stamp on transgender individuals with our massive feet because it's instinctively weird for some people for them to be around? I hope you would not.

        I've actually developed a new instinct, but I'm doing my best to suppress it. It comes out whenever someone posts a picture of a 'cute' mammal on a social network and I go on Wiki to look for kick-ass pictures of spiders to post in response. 


Hey, I'm going to lurk around your bed tonight Because I've noticed a mosquito is buzzing around your ear when you sleep. - Hey, I'm going to lurk around your bed tonight Because I've noticed a mosquito is buzzing around your ear when you sleep.  Misunderstood Spider
What spiders actually think.

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