Nonviolence? C’mon…get real!

I was swimming in a lake in the Philadelphia suburbs, as is my wont on a summer afternoon. Out in the middle, I saw an insect floating, and I identified with his struggle. I lifted him out of the water and he tried to fly, but his wings were too waterlogged, and he fell right down. So I lifted him onto my finger and held that hand out of the water while I swam sidestroke for awhile. He dried in the sun for about a minute, then picked himself up and flew somewhat further before falling back down in the water. I thought he really needed to dry out for longer, so I swam breast stroke, pushing him on a water wave ahead of me until we got close to the shore, where there was a fallen tree in the water, and I lifted him onto a branch. There I said good-bye, and swam off, hoping he might dry off thoroughly enough that he could fly to the shore and safety.

All the while, I was thinking what a Buddhist thing I was doing. Or maybe Jainist. Or maybe I am just taking the idea to extremes, that all life is worthy of our reverence. It was only after I swam off that I became curious about the taxonomy of the creature whom I had helped.

Delta wings with an orange underbelly…

As I realized that I had rescued a lantern fly, I was flooded with a whole different set of feelings. Here I thought I was experiencing a tiny connection across a wide genetic gulf. But at the same time, I was putting myself at odds with my neighbors, who are on a campaign to exterminate lantern flies. I thought about C.S. Lewis in the Screwtape Letters, in which Satan’s advice on how to capture souls was to: “Make sure he loves mankind but can’t stand his mother in law.”

Am I a deeply empathetic person who carries non-violence to the point of catching mice in have-a-heart traps and carefully shephering wasps out the window? Or am I so accustomed to virtue-signaling that I do it even when there’s no one around to signal? Maybe both?

And what about lantern flies? I truly think that the campaign to kill every last lantern fly in Pennsylvania is doomed to failure. They are a new reality that the ecology is just going to have to adjust to, as they fill their niche and attract predators that will keep their numbers in check. But I also realize that this belief separates me from my neighbors who are doing their part with backyard lantern fly traps. It’s making me lonely.

Why have I spent so much of my life being morally superior and lonely?

2 thoughts on “Nonviolence? C’mon…get real!

  1. Good one, Josh! I know the mixed feelings of doing dubious good deeds, like saving a invasive beetle, even as I head off in the car to drive to a store that I could bike to, to buy new shoes I don’t need, when the dishes are piled up in the sink. Maybe that lonely feeling is the cause, not the effect. Doing dishes is fun, when shared with a good friend.

  2. I could venture into more controversial territory. I suggest that the reason for the campaign against the lantern fly is primarily that it is a threat to agriculture, rather than to our fields and forests.

    Maybe the reason we are so vulnerable to invasive pests is that the food supply for the Western world derives from monoculture, and monoculture is inherently unsustainable, requiring more and more fertilizers, more and more pesticides as time goes on. Maybe there is an ancient tradition of permaculture that we need to relearn.

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