I started reading this book today, "Inside of a Dog" by Alexandra Horowitz. Only a few pages into the book, there's already a lot of insight to be gained. What struck me especially were the ideas of what it's like to live the life of a different animal.
The book uses the example of a tick, whose life cycle is strictly pared down to hatching, maturing, mating, feeding, laying eggs, and dying. Nothing else that occurs in its surroundings is relevant, other than what is needed to carry out its life cycle. Once it is mature, the one goal is to find a mate. Once it has mated, the immediately following task is to find a place to perch (a blade of grass, perhaps) and wait for its meal. While waiting, there are only two forms of stimuli that will cause it to take action: warmth, and the smell of butyric acid (a chemical emitted by warm-blooded animals, sometimes smelled in sweat). Any other occurrence is completely irrelevant to the tick and ignored.
There's nothing for it to see, ticks are blind. It remains indifferent to any sound. It completely ignores and may not even consciously sense the feeling of wind or its perch. Food crumbs go unnoticed. It only pays attention to those two things I mentioned before - and it remains VERY intent on those stimuli until it detects either one. At that point, it only responds to those two things that are relevant in its little self-world.
And this got me thinking about the effects of its actions - the open bloody sore on the host, left after it feeds: this must also be irrelevant to the tick. Is it even aware of its impact? Maybe. But it is certainly unaware of its lasting effect on its host - pain, possibly an infection, an infestation in a household. It knows only what it is there to do, and that it must do that and only that. This is its role in the world, and the only thing it knows.
So I started thinking about other bugs. They obviously don't know or don't care about the consequences of their actions. The giant welt on your arm means nothing to the mosquito; an ant really doesn't give a crap about your picnic getting ruined, or your son getting bitten. But they both cause harm to us. And that's just how it goes with them, they do what they have to do.
Then there's us, who definitely inflict harm upon them. We swat, kill, poison them, etc. But it's out of self defense in a way. We squash that mosquito as soon as we can, because no one wants an itchy red lump - its a form of harm. We spray Amdro on the anthills in the backyard to protect us from getting bitten (that would be harm, obviously) by accidentally stepping in them. Like I said, we're pretty much acting in self-defense there. Just like the bugs, we're doing what we gotta do. And that makes me feel like its perfectly ok to kill bugs - because their lives aren't relevant in our self-worlds as humans, we can inflict bad upon them because we're protecting ourselves.
But then there's something else to consider. Unlike the tick, mosquito, ant, etc., we as humans have more to life than merely eating and breeding. We have morals. We grieve over occurrences, even when they don't directly affect us. We can find a passion in something or someone. We react in millions of different ways to millions of different stimuli. We all have countless options and different possible paths we can take in life. All of those bugs are restricted to one basic life cycle. If there are any gaps between the stages, they do not fill that chunk of time with any other activities. That tick will remain right there on its perch until it finds it's meal; until then, it will wait. They must eat and cause harm to another animal in order to reproduce and carry out its life cycle. It knows no other way.
On the other hand, humans have infinitely various ways of handling challenges. We don't have to poison that anthill if we want to stay safe from bites. We could simply avoid it. Although this is the instinctive thing to do, it's not necessary that we squash a fly. We can shoo it away, or wear big spray, or light an anti-bug candle, or whatever.
We have those options. So, does it put us in the wrong to kill them when we have other ways to deal with them? Does it make it wrong of us to kill anything intentionally because we know morals, and we have the capacity to consider the consequences of our actions, and how it may affect our environment and the creatures living in it?
I would hope not, because I really, really hate bugs. Everything about them creeps me out - their legs, their buzzing, their wings, the diseases they carry, how they could possibly hurt me, where they go when I can't find them, and worst of all: the thought of then breeding anywhere in my house or yard, and multiplying by 3 million the chances of them doing any one of those things that give me nightmares. In other words, I hope I'm not sinning by killing bugs anywhere within a 100-ft radius of me, because then I would be a relentless assassin.