Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Ratus

I may have mentioned here before my Bahamian neighbor who told me once, "I don't like any creature that has more or less legs than me." She was talking about a boa we saw slithering through the brush.

Yesterday, she had a visitor with too many legs. Her voice on the phone was urgent: "Chet, come!"

And there in a corner of her living room was a rat. Just sitting there. I would swear it was smiling.

I managed to get it into a kitchen trash bin, covered with a framed picture of Jesus. But now what to do?

Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson talks about something he calls biophilia, "love of life" -- an innate emotional entanglement of human beings with other living organisms. Our brains evolved during the 99 percent of human history during which our ancestors lived as hunter/gatherers in a biologically diverse environment, says Wilson, and a memory of that long experience is hardwired into our emotions. Which is why we like to visit zoos and live in parklike environments similar to the African savannas where our species had its infancy.

A love of life, uh? What about rats? Grinning brown rats?

I knew I had to kill the rat; my neighbor would never forgive me if I let it go, no matter how far from the house. My other neighbors wouldn't be too happy either. I here confess to murder, of a violent, gruesome sort.

Other species are our kin, both biologically and -- in the biophilia sense -- psychologically, says Wilson, and therefore worthy of our affection, respect and conservation. Allowing our violent tendencies to destroy a world in which the brain was assembled over millions of years is a risky step, he says.

Sorry, Ed. Sorry, rat.