Thursday, March 26, 2009

Enemy Mentality

Americans seem to classify insects and other arthropods in one of two categories: a pest to be annihilated with chemicals, or something to be devoured on the television show Fear Factor (or eaten by Bear Grylls on Man vs. Wild). Why does the media dwell on fear and loathing instead of fascination and appreciation? I suppose the answer should be obvious.

There is a great deal of money to be made by reinforcing the irrational fear of insects, spiders, and other arthropods. An educated consumer knows that he or she need not always reach for the can of insecticide at the mere appearance of an unidentified invertebrate. Household pesticide manufacturers and extermination services would undoubtedly lose business if the majority of their customers knew the truth about insects, and were able to identify which ones are a real source of concern and not merely a nuisance.

Further, our American society likes everything in black and white terms. Something is either “good,” or it is “bad.” We are uncomfortable with gray areas. We also seem to need motivation in the form of an adversary or foe, something to fight against. Insects and spiders are easily framed as villains. Maybe we can’t control what happens to us in the workplace, or maybe we are having a hard time controlling an unruly son or daughter, but gosh darn it we will control the cockroaches if it kills us.

I am often motivated to change public attitudes about insects because I firmly believe it will help dissolve our overall enemy mentality. Surely, if we can stop killing insects needlessly, we can stop killing each other, too.


  1. One of the things I love most about the volunteer work I do here in Missouri with our wonderful conservation department is being able to educate young children and young adults alike about insects. I helped organize an annual event we call "Insect-O-Rama" that is open to the public and offers fun activities and hands on experiences to dispel some of the fears and loathing people seem to have against insects. I am determined to conquer these misguided qualms about the bug world one child at a time..LOL

  2. Here, here! Changing public attitudes about insects? I've got your back, Eric!

  3. Hi Eric,

    I agree with your comment that people tend to view issues in black and white with little appreciation for the large swath of gray that actually exists (this is true of people around the world, not just Americans).

    I'm puzzled, however, by your suggestion of media bias to keep consumers uneducated about insecticide usage. How would they benefit from protecting profit motives of chemical/extermination businesses unless there was some sort of collusion? I suggest something more pedantic - children are taught to fear insects by their parents, who grow up to teach their own children to be afraid of insects. Ignorance = fear. It's up to you and me and all the rest of us out here to change attitudes that will not be reinforced when the child goes home that afternoon - a tough battle!



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