10 07 15 Bloodsuckers JH

A favorite topic of discussion this summer is those blood-sucking mosquitoes. They are the enemy of all things civilized. They spoil summer picnics and our walks in the woods. Kill’em all, those bloodsuckers!

Not so long ago I met Mitch in a context where mosquitoes outnumbered us a thousand to one, I am sure. Most of us were swatting mosquitoes, dousing ourselves with mosquito repellent and muttering an assortment of curses, or at least condemnations, on those blasted bloodsuckers.

In an unassuming way, Mitch suggested that we would do a lot better if we weren’t so hard on mosquitoes. They suck blood from victims without apology, to be sure. But they do it out of instinct to survive as a species. And then came the punch line. We are all like mosquitoes, he said. We suck the life-blood out of the earth without apology. Really we are no better than they.

I have a hard time forgetting this little lesson given on the battlefront at Mosquitoville. Maybe Mitch has a point. The life of the mosquito is a parable about our mindless, blood-sucking, consumptive lifestyles. Even though we have been endowed with amazing powers of reason and logic, all too often we put our minds on auto-pilot and fly by instinct – just like the mosquito. At least I know I do.

My instinct simply tells me to live as comfortably as possible without asking whether such a lifestyle is sustainable. Or, indeed, what effect it has on the earth and its population in the long run.

While I can figure it out that we are depending on oil and gas reserves that are finite and increasingly difficult to extract from the earth, I assume that fossil fuel will always be cheap and abundant. Amazing power of logic! It allows me to maintain a way of life I have become comfortable with.

And while I know that living in a sea of artificial chemicals is detrimental to my health, and indeed to our environment, I tend to think that the short-term conveniences they offer make their use reasonable. On auto-pilot, I participate in creating an inhospitable planet for my grandchildren.

There are some solid arguments behind the contemporary move to limit the use of pesticides to control mosquito populations in urban areas. For one, traditional fogging practices also kill butterflies, bees and other useful insects. We may get rid of mosquitoes but in the process create an ecological imbalance. And, furthermore, there are persons whose bodies react violently when exposed to such pesticides.

The present focus on eliminating pools of water where mosquitoes hatch and killing mosquito larvae is a good one. This approach assumes we have moved beyond living by instinct. Yet it seems that as soon as mosquitoes inconvenience us for a week or two, we call for authorities to kill those bloodsuckers in mid-flight.

I propose that a better reaction would be to use this time to think about how the parable of mosquitoes reflects our own blood-sucking tendencies.

By Jack Heppner