Oct 23, 2007

The Wall, a case of the blahs, and a mouse

I had a very blah moment this afternoon. Desi (the cat) caught a baby mouse - it wasn't even an inch long, but its eyes were open, and it was absolutely gorgeous - and broke its neck. When I saw the mouse, its neck was already broken, but it was still alive. I picked it up and held it in my hand. It took about 30 seconds to die - making these tiny little gasps, little mouth open wide. It was so incredibly sad. I put the baby mouse outside in a sunspot, and later I wished I had done something more ceremonial, and even later than that I realized that no ceremony would have been quite right, and that a sunspot was a good resting place.

The baby mouse made The Wall - this part of the semester where there's no break in sight, tests around every bend, and homework up to your eyeballs - look pretty bad. What a bleak day when adorable baby mice die in the palm of my hand for no good reason, not to mention the piles of work.

A little bit later I realized that actually, I'm fine. The baby mouse was sad, and yes, I do cry about such little things, but that little sadness didn't have to ruin the day. I'm busy and tired, and sometimes I just want to go to sleep, but does that necessarily mean that I'm doing badly? I don't think so. I think I'm ok. Sometimes I get stuck in this strange frame of mind, where "good" is this unattainable state of rest and contentment, with no outstanding responsibilities to speak of. That doesn't happen here at MIT. But that's all right - there are other ways to define "good". Like, this morning I made eggs on toast. And an old friend visited me. And I sat on the roofdeck in the windstorm and watched the sunset.


Anonymous said...

I know this doesn't really pertain to the spirit of this post, but I thought I'd post this anyways.

This is what I usually am thinking when someone tells me we should let Desi (pika's cat) play with mice until they die, but rarely say - sorry if it's a bit of a rant.

"Why shouldn't we let Desi torture mice to death?"

"Because it's cruel to the mice."

"But it's the natural thing for Desi!"

Nothing we could possibly do for Desi would make her life "natural":
1. She lives in a large heated wooden box, her movement around, in, and out of which is controlled by humans.
2. She socializes with human beings (in a "natural" context, we are her prey)
3. Early in her life we surgically removed her genitals
4. Her primary food source is dried processed pellets in a dish.
5. Her primary method of procuring food is mewing at a human being

Desi and her kind left the "natural state" a long time ago. Desi's only "natural state" now is the artificial one we provide her with, so any argument based on what is "natural" for her is hopelessly delusional. We have arranged Desi's existence so she is utterly at our mercy, so we must take responsibility for her actions. Therefore we must not allow her to interact with other beings in ways that we find morally repugnant. If you find the terrorization and torture of small furry mice unconscionable, then you can't let Desi engage in it. The fact that Desi commits the torture doesn't absolve us of the responsibility for allowing it to happen; even though Desi doesn't have a sense of morality about torture, we do, and we must exercise it since Desi is under our control.

PS: If we are really aspiring to the "natural" state of things, all the men in our society would spend their days fighting with others for dominance, eating, and raping as many women as possible. So if you want to invoke the law of the jungle for Desi in pika, you'll have to first explain to me why it shouldn't apply to the other aspects of pikan life - otherwise you're just picking and choosing based on what is most convenient for you, not based on what is morally right.

Cygnet said...

Thanks for commenting m'dear!

I agree with much of what you have to say. Desi *is* totally removed from any sort of natural environment, and since we don't go around bemoaning the fact and making attempts to return her to the jungle, we ought not to say that "natural" behaviors are best.

I get a bit confused when it comes to whether we are REQUIRED to prevent Desi from torturing mice, or if we merely have an excuse to.

If we're required to prevent her from torturing mice, shouldn't we be trying much harder? Why is it OK for her to kill mice when we aren't looking? It's not OK for people to commit moral atrocities while we aren't looking.

If we're merely *allowed* to stop her from hurting mice, life is simpler. (I guess things are always simpler without a sense of moral obligation.) But is that just a cop out?