be a pest - hug a maggot
I like vermin.
come hither - back off
You name it: rats, roaches, bluebottle flies, dandelions, scorpions, pigeons, mosquitos, mould, gulls, nettles, locusts, salmonella, potato blight, the corona virus -- I like them all. I like them not in spite of being vermin; I like them because they're vermin. Vermin are the only group of living things on this planet that, no matter what kind of bombing or hunting or poisoning or large steel-toed boot gets thrown their way, they come back and keep living. Not only do they keep living, but many of them eat the boot or start basking in the poison -- they make use of human waste and pollution and turn it to their advantage. That's my kinda lifeform.
Pests are called pests for one simple reason: they are better at living than we are. That's it. That's all. The whole evolutionary advantage thing -- they've beat us hands down. A lifeform earns the distinguished title of "pest" after a human being has devoted a great deal of manpower and time to its total obliteration, with complete and total failure being the result. Pests are that which humans can't kill whenever they want to. We accommodate other lifeforms, we even take them into our home with a simple drop of an "S" and call them family. That's because we know we can kill them. Life we can kill is OK in our books. It can't surprise us; even if it does, we know we can blow its head off or, if it happens to live with us, humanely euthanise it. Then who's surprised, huh?
On the flip side of the pest coin, we call lifeforms "precious" and "in need of our help" when we've managed to kill them a little too successfully. The Anti-Pest of the world has got to be the giant panda. I mean, even if there were no human beings around, you gotta admit that an extremely large animal that eats only bamboo and is so antisocial that sex occurs maybe once a year or maybe two, who gives birth to marsupial young yet isn't a marsupial and so ends up with an incredibly high number of dead babies is not exactly in the top ten of "animals who made the most of their genetic material". It really doesn't help that it happens to live in one of the most densely human populated nations in the world. Talk about screwed royally. But that's why we love pandas. Because we kill them so very well.
You can't kill a rat. Well, you can kill a rat, but you just know there's another rat behind it, watching, learning, and outsmarting you for next time. Rats are bloody geniuses. What's more, if you look at their social structure and all -- they start to appear eerily familiar. Roaches and scorpions have got to be right up there when it comes to evolutionary prowess. These guys are like little armoured tanks with magical regenerative powers. Dandelions -- they're pretty. Really. Look at those bright butter yellow flowers. And man, are they hardy. No wintering those babies under burlap, no sirree. Flies and fungus: the trashbins of the world. Got a corpse? Give it to a fly. Then let the mushroom men move in. They'll make short work of it. Mosquitos. Blood-sucking, malarial, West Nile-ridden vermin. Ebola. AIDS. That starts getting into eggshell-crunching territory, doesn't it? It's awful that people have diseases that make them suffer -- but if we didn't have diseases that killed people, we'd still be dying -- of things like starvation and riots and war as we squish ourselves into the planet like a convention of morbidly obese delegates into a hotel elevator.
That's the kicker -- the worst type of vermin is not only that which we can't kill -- it's that which can in turn kill us. It's our only natural predator. It's what makes the pyramid of life a circle instead, for that which is at the top of the food chain is brought low by that at the bottom. That's why I like pests. They keep us humble.
And occasionally dead.
In the past century especially, human beings started getting awfully full of themselves. They got the medicine thing down, and the agricultural thing. In fact, in short order, a whole lot of human beings in the First World started walking around like they and their familes were entitled to a long and pest-free life. Long, pest-free life was no longer seen as a luxury -- it was a right.
It makes perfect sense to me that human beings would invest as much energy as possible into eradicating rats, mosquitos, the common cold, SARS, AIDS, and so on -- if we didn't want to survive, we'd be ahead of the pandas in terms of evolutionary fuck-ups. I don't begrudge human beings for wanting to obliterate pests. Not at all. But when it comes to sitting in the bleachers and picking a team to cheer for, I'm always going to root for the swarm of locusts. Somebody has to.
We need it. We need to wake up, and we need to continue being woken up by bugs flying into our open mouths and weeds choking our prized roses. Just when we start to get far too big for our britches, we need a fungal infection on our private parts to come along and itch us into submission. It reminds us that we're not alone on the planet, and that no matter how hard we try to lock ourselves in, away from the rest of all those pesky, pestilential lifeforms, in our little stucco bubbles with our bottles of antibacterial floor cleaner and Off!® Skintastic®, they will get in. It reminds us of our limitations, our mortality, and that we're not the greatest evolutionary miracle around. We've got competitors. Good.
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