What do you see in this picture? Is your reaction immediately positive, negative or neither? Do you see a bunch of cute little furry animals, or a bunch of born killers? Do you see something different if you think versus if you just react?
Ferrets are bad, right? We don’t like ferrets because they wilfully kill bird species indigenous to New Zealand and they were introduced – introduced is bad and indigenous is good. I don’t like ferrets because ferrets killed all eight of the first chickens I got within eight hours of the chickens arriving at our house. But the ferrets were just like kittens when I held them and scratched their tummies. When they are bathed they roll on the their backs and wiggle their feet in the air with delight, just like the otters to which they are related.
What do you see in this picture? A bunch of cute little (dead) furry animals or a bunch of born eaters. Rabbits are bad, right? We don’t like rabbits because they wilfully eat every plant in sight, decimating primary production, starving livestock and eradicating the plants that we have so carefully tended at pa harakeke.
Now what do you see in this picture? A bad ferret eating a bad rabbit. Or a good ferret eating a bad rabbit? A cute ferret eating a cute (dead) rabbit? OK, I’ll admit there is little cute about eating of raw meat.
In April 2020 I wrote about our rabbit problems and pointed out how rabbits and COVID-19 have exponential replication in common. Since then both rabbits and COVID-19 have practised their exponential curves. COVID-19 has managed to develop new variants that are even better at spreading than the original.
The rabbits at pa harakeke have managed to breed despite our poisoning attempts (that was a failed experiment) and we have become even more desperate, paralleling pandemic sentiments in the world. The answer to our prayers arrived in the form of Charlie Lamb with her team of 6 dogs and 6 ferrets.
In a morning there were 33 rabbits killed and one mouse. The mouse was the property of Brian the ferret, or at least that is the way that Brian felt about the matter. Brian found the mouse all by himself, in the compost bins. He killed it and then carried it around proudly, quite like a cat. Ferrets and cats are both domestic animals (you realise that English ferrets are domesticated European polecats, right?); they have been tailored to highly anthropocentric environments that humans have developed. In fact, we have domesticated animals to what we desire and now we are turning on them because we have changed our minds about what is good and bad.
Talking of cats, what do you see in this picture? A madman? A cute and furry animal? A lethal killer of skinks and birds (and rabbits). I know what Gareth Morgan would think, he tends to be polarising on the matter. If this is your cat you can’t think he is bad, or can you think that he is both bad and good?
Humans have a tendency towards dichotomies; dichotomies are an easy heuristic that tells us how we should react, without thinking. Plants and animals introduced post the arrival of pakeha in New Zealand are bad, ones present prior to the pakeha are good. Donald Trump is bad and Jacinda Ardern is good (I realise a few of my friends will vehemently disagree on this one). Your political leaning is right wing or left wing. The very process of identifying a dichotomy – two mutually exclusive groups, shuts our minds down to the possibilities of all the greys between the black and the white.
Talking with my friend Diana recently, she recounted how her teenage daughter sees the world in a very dichotomous fashion, and how she feels the older one gets, the greyer everything becomes. That’s how it seems to me too, the rightness or wrongness of things was so very clear when one was fourteen and now becomes less clear every day. Perhaps that is a fundament of ageing for humans, we start with surety, and become less sure. When we reach the point where we are no longer sure about anything, our brains decline such that we no longer even notice our lack of surety and that lack is no longer disturbing.
And, as a final question, what do you see in this picture? A happy crowd? A bunch of organisms just like you? Or a species that haphazardly kills truly vast numbers of other organisms in the pursuit of its goals?