The Mosquito Dilemma


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Today I swatted a mosquito. Reflecting over its dead little body, I began to question the application of valuing life and consciousness.

On the one hand, maximizing the value of life leads to compassion for all living creatures. Therefore, I should have let the mosquito live even if it would bite me. On the other hand, the bite from the mosquito would cause short-term pain to my consciousness. Considering that my consciousness is uncounted magnitudes greater than that of the mosquito, it is quite possible the bite to me would inflict more harm to consciousness "universally" than the vanquishing of the little mosquito.

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Today I swatted a mosquito. Reflecting over its dead little body, I began to question the application of valuing life and consciousness.

On the one hand, maximizing the value of life leads to compassion for all living creatures. Therefore, I should have let the mosquito live even if it would bite me. On the other hand, the bite from the mosquito would cause short-term pain to my consciousness. Considering that my consciousness is uncounted magnitudes greater than that of the mosquito, it is quite possible the bite to me would inflict more harm to consciousness "universally" than the vanquishing of the little mosquito.

Whose consciousness?

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Today I swatted a mosquito. Reflecting over its dead little body, I began to question the application of valuing life and consciousness.

On the one hand, maximizing the value of life leads to compassion for all living creatures. Therefore, I should have let the mosquito live even if it would bite me. On the other hand, the bite from the mosquito would cause short-term pain to my consciousness. Considering that my consciousness is uncounted magnitudes greater than that of the mosquito, it is quite possible the bite to me would inflict more harm to consciousness "universally" than the vanquishing of the little mosquito.

Oh, for Heaven's sake. Instead of writing this you could have swatted 11 more.

--Brant

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Today I swatted a mosquito. Reflecting over its dead little body, I began to question the application of valuing life and consciousness.

On the one hand, maximizing the value of life leads to compassion for all living creatures. Therefore, I should have let the mosquito live even if it would bite me. On the other hand, the bite from the mosquito would cause short-term pain to my consciousness. Considering that my consciousness is uncounted magnitudes greater than that of the mosquito, it is quite possible the bite to me would inflict more harm to consciousness "universally" than the vanquishing of the little mosquito.

Christopher,

Nice articulation of your thoughts and emotions on this issue. I really enjoyed it. Your point on compassion for all sentient creatures is well taken here by me. I agree with you that it is a complex issue. And it has a complex history.

As for this first point of yours about the value of life and compassion for all living creatures, here in Asia you would find centuries of thinkers agreeing with that perspective to one degree or another.

In the most wildly far-out extreme, the few followers of Jainism -- the Jain was maybe an older contemporary of the Buddha in India, 5th cen. BCE – believe that they should walk barefoot so as not to step on creatures such as ants, they are vegetarians and they work in city trades rather than as farmers, because farmers routinely kill sentient beings while plowing, etc. The Jain ideal was to starve oneself to death rather than contribute to the killing of other animals/sentient beings. And legend tells that the great Jain himself did this. Certainly, this is too weird for most of us today, and Jainism is not a flourishing religion.

Of course, agreeing with Baal on this, I ask, “Which creatures can truly be defined as ‘sentient’?”

Buddhists in the most original line traced from the Buddha himself, the Theravada or “Hinayana” schools, fully accept both Buddhist monks and laypeople eating meat. The Buddha certainly ate meat through to the end of his life. The stipulation is that monks do not want you to kill an animal primarily for the monks’ meal, but if you kill or cook an animal for you and your family, a monk can accept leftovers of meat and eat them. But I am not sure how Theravadin monks here in Thailand deal with mosquitoes.

There are other later schools of Buddhism, such as the Mahayana and Vajrayana which are more popular in East Asia and Tibet, that emphasis “compassion” more than what they scoff at as the “selfish” Theravadin schools that only strive for individual efforts toward an independent salvation/awakening.

As an example of this, there is the residual traditional ideas of karma and rebirth from ancient India. In these later Buddhist schools that I mention, the ideal of the Bodhisattva is emphasized. He/she is one who has strived over countless rebirths and has earned the chance to enter the great final bliss of Nirvana/awakening, where all troubles are over and no more rebirths into a suffering world are to be.

But on the brink of entering Nirvana, the Bodhisattva decides, “No, I will not free myself from this continual round of hellish suffering until I have gone back to help ALL sentient beings to achieve the pathway of true Buddhahood, Nirvana, Awakening, end-of-suffering. I will not pause until every living sentient being is on the human level of awakening.”

As an interesting aside, in the adapted ancient Indian Brahmanistic scheme of 33 or so planes of existence into which one can be reborn – which I seriously doubt that the Buddha actually believed in and that I think he may have used as mere metaphor – there are 3 realms below the human level (hell realm, hungry ghost realm, and animals) and the rest are “above” the human level. Above the human realm would be various types of diva and gods who enjoy eons of bliss of various sorts. Yet – and this is my point – one must be a human in order to understand true knowledge and virtue and to achieve the highest of all achievements, awakening/enlightenment. Even the gods must learn from humans, and much of early Buddhist literature portrays the gods as clownish ignoramuses who strive to learn at the Buddha’s feet.

Considering that the traditional Indian idea of continual rebirths over and over, throughout the long eons of time, into this suffering world, this “vale of tears,” is considered to be the worst of hells, this mythic compassionate vow of the Bodhisattva to postpone salvation until he/she has made sure that all creatures are prepared to come with him/her into Nirvana is the height of true compassion. It makes Jesus Christ’s crucifixion plus one day and two nights of death in a tomb look pathetic by comparison to such vastly huge time spans of misery. In comparative religious history, Christianity’s ideal of compassion is weak.

The later Buddhist schools of the Mahayana and Vajrayana also emphasize the bodhisattva character Avalokitesvara, “the one who listens from above and hears the cries of all suffering creatures below.” In East Asia this bodhisattva has often taken on the role of a female bodhisattva and is venerated in various more recent ways. Again, Christ falls short in comparison.

On the other hand, Christopher, your thoughts about the damage a mosquito can do to you are valid. A biting mosquito can not only cause pain to your consciousness, it can pass on diseases such as malaria in many parts of the world, dengue fever here in Thailand and in other hot climates, West Nile virus in the USA and other places. These parasitic bloodsuckers are dangerous predators. “Kill ‘em all, I say!” Here, all year, we burn repellent coils by our doors at dusk and dawn, and we liberally use DEET, which I put on my ankles where the bloodsuckers love to bite me.

I think that by killing and protecting yourself from that bloodsucker you served the higher and more "universal" kind of consciousness.

Even my devout and enormously compassionate Theravadin Buddhist wife can be heard smacking a mosquito to its death during the night.

This living earth is a wild place.

.

-Ross Barlow.

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Taken to the extreme you can even say the food you eat is alive so you are killing things every time you eat but I suppose a vegetable is less conscious than chicken :D

Plants that convert non-living matter into protein are the only non-parasitic living things on this planet. All animals are parasites. Since we animals cannot do photosynthesis, we are bound to consume those living things that can or other animals that eventually derive their nourishment from plants. We animal folk exist and live according to our nature. There is no moral onus in that.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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I generally hate to harm any living thing. When ladybugs come into the house during the winter, I consider them welcome winter guests. I do, however, draw the line at self-defense. Mosquitoes, invading rodents, whatever carries disease and/or attacks me is fair game and brings out all the primitive hunting instincts I have.

I remember being in a Florida hotel a few years ago. I generally hate Florida: humid, hot, insect-ridden, and overall unpleasant. I was there for a seminar and had checked in late, so the only rooms left in my reserved block were the fancy corner suites on the upper floors. I had actually left the patio doors and windows open one night in my eleventh floor room around sunset, not thinking that bugs would fly that high, but after dark I noticed that the room was suddenly filled with -- you guessed it: mosquitoes. Horrors. I called the maintenance guy. He and I hunted down every single one of the suckers. I think he gave more than a few wary looks as I leapt from chairs, swatting the ones on the ceiling with a towel and letting out mad victory cries, but with his help every one of them died, and I didn't get a single bite that night. :-) One of my fonder hunting memories.

Judith

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Next time Judith - call the S.W.A.T. team.

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The following throws tangents into this discussion of why life eats life and how and when to kill, but I think it's cool mental fertilizer for creative thinking. I once posted a thread all by myself in one of my quirky moods. Since it was short, I will give the three posts (as of the present post) in it here. The thread is titled:

Cool inspiration - mosquito

Cool inspiration - mosquito

I have been doing due diligence on web hosts for a project I am developing and I stumbled across the following blog post by the CEO of Blue Host, Matt Heaton. I am almost inclined to go with them on the basis of this post alone. I certainly did not expect this level of wisdom in a commercial environment.

The most dangerous creature in the world…

What's the most dangerous creature in the world? A lion, a tiger, a grizzly bear? Hardly… Far and away the most dangerous creature in the history of the world has been the mosquito. The mosquito is responsible for more deaths worldwide than any other creature. This tiny bug can and does cause massive damage.

What's a mosquito got to do with web hosting or the IT industry in general? A lot! Somewhere out there is a teenage kid sitting in his/her basement reading this blog saying to themselves, “I can do a lot better than Bluehost!”. And you know what? They are probably right. That's exactly how I was when I was a teenager. I KNEW I was going to start companies that were better than what was available at the time. These companies didn’t care a bit about me… I was just an annoying mosquito.

The time will come when we lose our edge, get complacent, or simply don’t watch out for those coming up fast behind us. We will get bit by the mosquito, and when we do it will be time to pass the torch on to the next great company with the vision to satisfy what consumers are demanding.

Hopefully that won’t happen for a long time! I still have some fight left in me and the torch is still firmly in my grasp - for now icon_smile.gif

I can't help but think about the Objectivist world. Where are the wise ones in the Objectivist world? I don't see anyone who gives two hoots about his public. All I see is The Virtue of Pettiness running rampant.

(bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...)

:)

Michael

btw - Ayn Rand was once a mosquito...

Michael

In one of those strange coincidences that happen in life, I just came across this:

Did mozzies, not a meteor, do for the dinosaurs?

Daily Mail

Science & technology

6th January 2008

From the article:

mosquitoDM_228x363.jpg

Disease-carrying mosquitoes

could have killed off dinosaurs

instead of a cataclysmic comet

Heh.

(bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...)

:)

Michael

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Taken to the extreme you can even say the food you eat is alive so you are killing things every time you eat but I suppose a vegetable is less conscious than chicken :D

Plants that convert non-living matter into protein are the only non-parasitic living things on this planet. All animals are parasites. Since we animals cannot do photosynthesis, we are bound to consume those living things that can or other animals that eventually derive their nourishment from plants. We animal folk exist and live according to our nature. There is no moral onus in that.

A parasite requires a host. For humans it's generally the government which is also a parasite, on humans. Beautiful circularity. Uh, I mean ugly.

--Brant

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Of course, agreeing with Baal on this, I ask, “Which creatures can truly be defined as ‘sentient’?”

...

There are other later schools of Buddhism, such as the Mahayana and Vajrayana which are more popular in East Asia and Tibet, that emphasis “compassion” more than what they scoff at as the “selfish” Theravadin schools that only strive for individual efforts toward an independent salvation/awakening.

...

On the other hand, Christopher, your thoughts about the damage a mosquito can do to you are valid. A biting mosquito can not only cause pain to your consciousness, it can pass on diseases such as malaria in many parts of the world, dengue fever here in Thailand and in other hot climates, West Nile virus in the USA and other places. These parasitic bloodsuckers are dangerous predators. “Kill ‘em all, I say!” Here, all year, we burn repellent coils by our doors at dusk and dawn, and we liberally use DEET, which I put on my ankles where the bloodsuckers love to bite me.

Gandhi was once asked: if you encounter a venemous snake near a child, wouldn't you kill the snake to save a child? .... to which he replied: I would not hurt the snake, I would send it waves of love. ... Either we're not on the same plane as Gandhi's perception of what actually works, or we're balanced between thoughts of compassion and thoughts of survival.

Very nice articulation of Buddhist approaches to the problem of the mosquito. Answering along a similar vein, I know through experience that as one adheres to conscious values with greater and greater strength, those values become self-empowering - eventually take on an almost spiritual experience when followed. It is more difficult for me to accept the awakening aspects of Buddhism, but I would assert that as a human being practices valuing life and connecting with life through compassion, the "compassion mechanisms" (if there are such a thing) become so sensitive as to project onto any living being. However, I'm not sure sentience as we understand it is a prerequisite for compassion (I don't believe Rand's definition of life includes sentience as a requisite, and life is the premise).

All that aside and bringing up the very relevant disease-aspects (they killed the dinosaurs!?), we as humans owe it to ourselves to both allow for compassion in our daily experience (a wonderful part of living a fulfilling life) and we owe it to ourselves to survive! The balance is probably killing (or at least avoiding) mosquitoes and snakes.

Christopher

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Judith, I'm with you on Florida. I lived there for almost 10 years as a kid, and still have relatives back there.

However, the last time I visited in the summer, although my uncle's house and car have air conditioning, I never felt like I got completely dry until I was half-way back to California on the plane.

I remember being in a Florida hotel a few years ago. I generally hate Florida: humid, hot, insect-ridden, and overall unpleasant.
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Judith, I'm with you on Florida. I lived there for almost 10 years as a kid, and still have relatives back there.

However, the last time I visited in the summer, although my uncle's house and car have air conditioning, I never felt like I got completely dry until I was half-way back to California on the plane.

I remember being in a Florida hotel a few years ago. I generally hate Florida: humid, hot, insect-ridden, and overall unpleasant.

Idiots! Come live in Arizona--Tucson--and drive up our property values! Want some ocean? Rocky Point, Mexico or San Diego without the cost of living in CA. Humidity? what in the hell is humidity?

--Brant

PS: If you don't live in Tucson you're an idiot. When I move out you won't necessarily be, unless you're living in Tucson when I do. Depends if I move into your town/city/ghetto/cesspool. But regardless, you're all idiotic idiots--except me. Natch.

PPS: Having an affinity for Jesus, I'm willing to die for your idiocy in 40 or so years. In the meantime, confirm that you are idiots by sending me some money. Paypal accepted--gold and silver too. Throw in a daughter or so. The more the more I'll like it and the less likely I'll bring upon you dissolution and violence--just don't look back.

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Christopher: "Gandhi was once asked: if you encounter a venemous snake near a child, wouldn't you kill the snake to save a child? .... to which he replied: I would not hurt the snake, I would send it waves of love."

If he would not hurt the snake, and if the snake did not respond to his "waves of love" -- doesn't that mean Gandhi would allow the snake to kill the child?

Barbara

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Or, potentially risk himself by interposing himself between the snake and the child.

I had a long discussion of this in a beautiful Quaker Church we were attending on Sundays in Mathew Virginia.

This non-force carried out with great courage.

Quakers during the Civil War were horribly tortured by the Union for refusing to bear arms against their brothers.

Adam

Edited by Selene
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Christopher: "Gandhi was once asked: if you encounter a venemous snake near a child, wouldn't you kill the snake to save a child? .... to which he replied: I would not hurt the snake, I would send it waves of love."

If he would not hurt the snake, and if the snake did not respond to his "waves of love" -- doesn't that mean Gandhi would allow the snake to kill the child?

Barbara

Oh my gracious goodness golly gosh! Yes. Ganhdi once suggested that Jews bare their throats to the Nazis. The bullet that took him in 1948 was well placed.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Baal; Gandhi was shot with several bullets.

I must add that Gandhi's suggestion to the Jews is one the most obscence things I have ever read. Some have wondered if Gandhi's made the British stay in India longer. Also the British played by rules and didn't just take him out and shot him like the Red Chinese and the Soviets would have.

Edited by Chris Grieb
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Idiots! Come live in Arizona--Tucson--and drive up our property values! Want some ocean? Rocky Point, Mexico or San Diego without the cost of living in CA. Humidity? what in the hell is humidity?

I love Arizona. Tucson is wonderful in the winter, and Flagstaff is wonderful in the summer. Just need the private plane to get me to a decent symphony once every two weeks or so....

Judith

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If he would not hurt the snake, and if the snake did not respond to his "waves of love" -- doesn't that mean Gandhi would allow the snake to kill the child?

As Christopher phrased the question, the venomous snake was just "near" the child, not actually threatening it. Snakes differ. We in North America are fortunate to live among the shyest venomous snakes in the world; the snakes generally mind their own business and leave if they perceive humans in their vicinity, unless of course they are cold on a cool night and want to curl up next to you in your sleeping bag. In places like Australia, on the other hand, venomous snakes are actually aggressive, and upon perceiving a human will chase the human and attack. I have no idea how aggressive the snake was that the questioner had in mind when putting the problem to Gandhi; it's quite possible that the snake wouldn't have harmed the child at all, and on the other hand, it's possible that the snake would have attacked. Few snakes attack without provocation, but there are those that do. Perhaps that's what Gandhi had in mind about sending "waves of love"; behaving in such a way as to set up an atmosphere of peace in which the child, the snake, and Gandhi were all relaxed and non-provocative.

Judith

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Judith:

Quite correct. I was fortunate enough to be coached/trained from probably birth by Pennsylvania farmers, hunters and fisherman which for a NY City boy gave me the best of both worlds.

The principle of non confrontation will work, but it is like a weapon, only when properly trained.

I am close folks who will avoid violence - like Quaker's and some born again off the grid fundamentalist anti-government/state folks also.

It is valuable and effective in many situations.

Adam

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Door number two -- oh oh please Monty -- door number two :w00t: :yes:

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