Cultural Caviar

Worms Have Rights Too

March 25, 2017

Multiple Pages
Worms Have Rights Too

The real winners of the recent Dutch elections were the animals—or at least the Party for the Animals, which might not benefit animals any more than workers’ parties benefit workers. We shall have to see.

The animals, or their representatives, won five seats in the Dutch parliament. But what I want to know is, will the Party for the Animals speak up for the worms and the flies as well as for nice fluffy mammals such as skunks, jackals, and hyenas? And what of the rats? Perhaps you may think they already have enough representation in parliament.

And what of Ascaris lumbricoides, the large white roundworm that lives in the intestines of children especially and fills their bellies? Who will speak up for it? It is true that this large worm sometimes causes medical problems, adding to malnutrition and causing intestinal obstruction when it is present in too-large numbers. But surely the answer to malnutrition is more food, not fewer worms? To suppose that the child’s life is more important than the worm’s is pure, undiluted speciesism.

“To suppose that the child’s life is more important than the worm’s is pure, undiluted speciesism.”

Of course, most people are aesthetically revolted by these worms, but what has that to do with their right to existence? There are very ugly people, after all, and we do not demand their elimination, as we do of the worms. Besides, everyone knows that ideals of beauty are socially constructed, and that what is deemed beautiful in one society is deemed ugly in another, and vice versa. I learned that lesson in South Africa, where Westernized African girls who were already slim asked for medication to make them slimmer, and fat traditional African women who wanted to please Zulu chiefs asked for medication to make them fatter. There is no universal concept, then, of beauty. We can be taught, and learn, to appreciate anything.

The problem with Ascaris, then, is not the creature in itself but our attitude to it. If we could only change our attitude, Ascaris would not bother us, except perhaps on those relatively rare occasions when it causes medical problems (and which creature does not?). What is needed is a campaign of reeducation of the public, so that instead of being disgusted by Ascaris, we come to see it as part of nature, with just as much right to exist as we. Dreams of its elimination are similar to those of all totalitarian utopias in which enemies are simply erased from the face of the earth. We must learn tolerance, to appreciate all that the variety of species, and every species individually, brings to the biosphere as a whole. The preservation of diversity, including of parasitic nematode worms (of which there are a large number), should be our aim, not merely human hegemony—which is nothing but biological fascism.

I was shocked and appalled when the sheep farmers of my region in France painted the words Mort au loups—“Death to wolves”—across the road not five kilometers from my house. It is true that the wolves sometimes kill sheep (they are not called wolves for nothing, after all), but very few in comparison with the number of sheep in the whole country.

Besides, who are the sheep farmers to talk? Anyone would think that they are working for the good of the sheep, not of themselves. What hypocrisy! When the time comes, they take the sheep off to be killed, or even kill them themselves, without a moment’s hesitation. They steal their milk, they take their wool: They are nothing but wolves in man’s clothing.

Again, it is true that sheep tend to produce less milk when there are wolves around, but what good is the milk to the sheep when it is stolen from them to produce cheese? It is also true that sheep tend to have fewer lambs when there are wolves around because of fear; but this helps to control the overpopulation of sheep, which produce so much greenhouse gas. Everyone knows that there are far more ecologically efficient ways of producing protein than raising meat, for example by growing lentils; it is surely high time we turned our lamb into lentils, therefore. Moreover, I suspect that even wolves could be persuaded to eat suitably prepared lentils if there were no sheep about. Dogs, after all, can live on a vegetarian diet, and dogs interbreed with wolves.

Anyway, why are the sheep farmers so worried about abortions in sheep brought about by the presence of wolves? Have they ever complained about abortions in humans brought about by the presence of gynecologists? The hypocrisy of it! What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gynecologist, so to speak. We must stop this discrimination between and against species according to merely anthropocentric criteria. We are all—fish, seagulls, porcupines—in it together (by it, I mean life); we have to make the biosphere work, and we shall never do it so long as we believe that some species are more valuable than others. Save the cholera germ, I say! (Plants, by the way, are the next moral frontier. There are local councils in England that demand that landowners report the presence of giant hogweed or Japanese knotweed on their land under threat of prosecution if they don’t, so that these peaceable plants may be eradicated. Is there no end to man’s thirst for destruction?)

“A robin redbreast in a cage,” wrote William Blake, “puts all heaven in a rage”; but what about the goldfish? Are not bowls their cages? Why should it be wrong to keep robins captive, but right to enslave goldfish? Their color? What has that to do with it? As Nietzsche would have said (had he been a goldfish), better a day as a Superfish than a lifetime of safety, subsisting merely on the infantilizing pity of an owner and a daily pinch of fish food.

With all the many problems facing the biosphere (man being its parasite in chief), the arrival in the Dutch parliament of the Party for the Animals is a small step forward—but it is not enough. Everyone knows (or ought to know) that man could not live for a day, for a second, without bacteria. I therefore hope and expect before the end of my life to see the emergence of a Bacterial Liberation Front, to save bacteria from the ravages of antibiotics.

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