What are the reasonable bounds of empathy?
Should we feel sorrow when we take apart a broken machine? What about killing a slug, or a butterfly? How do you feel about separating a mother from her children? What if it is a mother wasp instead?
We found a wasp outside our apartment just this afternoon. It had built a nest and was working hard to bring food back to its children. Minding its own business. But a wasp is a threat. And the nest was right next to a path. The path to my front door. My kids play along that path.
What do you do when there’s a conflict of empathy? How do you weigh one life against another. No, don’t tell me that all lives are equal, you can’t live that way. You think you are more important than a wasp, and you’re probably right. But the wasp is the easy case.
So Anna and I finish our lunch and go get some glass jars. Through some experimentation, we discovered that the wasp will drop straight down from the nest when it is disturbed. Anna (who is braver than I am (but also gets hurt more often than I do)) held a jar under the nest and tapped it. When the mother wasp dropped out she trapped it in the jar. The wasp struggled vainly against the glass, but she could not escape. She could not get home. She could not defend her children.
Am I crazy for feeling sorry for the wasp? I have two glass jars on my desk. One has a mother in it, slowly starving to death. The other contains a wasp nest, a home, built around her children. Children that will die without her. The jars sit next to each other, side by side.
The wasp is growing weaker.
Do you squash bugs? I do too. Sometimes I feel bad about it. What about you?
EDIT: The nest hatched the next day. So, yeah, dangerous insects contained! Not feeling bad at all right now!