Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Why do we hate insects ?

I hate insects. I kill them by the dozens. I kill them with no remorse or second thought. I just do it whenever I see one. Okay I have said it out loud now. However, I have no clue what the reason is why I hate them. I feel that it’s hard coded (i.e., genetic) though “awakened” by my parents.

“Bugs thrive on carnage. They consume, infest, destroy, live off the death and destruction of other species.” Men in Black Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) describing Bugs to Agent J (Will Smith). A “Bug” is a member of a giant cockroach-like species that are at war with several other alien races.

The human reaction to insects is neither purely biological nor simply cultural. And no one reacts to insects with indifference. Insects frighten, disgust and fascinate us. Our emotional response to insects on our bodies and in our homes is not merely a modern, socially constructed phenomenon. Rather, it is a vital part of being human. Our perception of insects is deeply rooted in our species’ evolutionary past. Source: Jeffrey Lockwood, The Infested Mind: Why Humans Fear, Loathe, and Love Insects.

My feeling of hatred towards insects is a response to another feeling, being fear. As William Shakespeare once said: In time we hate that which we often fear. Or Gandhi: “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.” Or this Yoda quote from Star Wars: Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

People of all cultures, races, genders, and ages experience a set of six emotions: happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust and anger (some psychologists also include trust and anticipation). From these building blocks, we construct more elaborate emotions such as disappointment (sadness plus surprise) and contempt (disgust plus anger). Of particular interest for those who recoil from insects is the feeling of horror, which has been characterised as disgust-imbued fear. Source: Jeffrey Lockwood

Some scientists argue that people are disgusted by bugs as that this behaviour evolved to help us stay away from toxic, poisonous substances. However, people might have never been exposed to harmful bugs and yet are still afraid or dislike them. This reaction seems already part of collective unconsciousness, even though kids are not naturally afraid and even act curious towards bugs. Different cultures even view different bugs differently, such as delicacies or even pets.

Our fear for insects may be explained rationally as we know that they transfer diseases or poison through their invading, biting or stinging. However, fear often has an irrational nature. For most humans, insects are largely mysterious and alien. Thus fear for the Unknown. Insectopedia by Hugh Raffles states: “We simply cannot find ourselves in these creatures. The more we look, the less we know. They are not like us. They do not respond to acts of love, mercy or remorse. It is worse than indifference. It is a deep, dead space without reciprocity, recognition or redemption.”

The evolutionary psychology answer is, to use Lockwood’s phrase, “survival of the scaredest”. In our history, those who quickly learned to be cautious about insects had greater evolutionary fitness and this, iterated over millennia, has got us to where we are now. This is why we are also predisposed to be afraid of snakes. But none of these fears is very useful in our modern world.

Weirdly, I couldn’t find any reference of animals that fear insects. Only humans seem to fear insects. Insects are mainly food to animals (e.g., birds). Allegedly, insects were once common food to the earliest of humans. 

Perhaps the body invasion part is our deepest and darkest fear (e.g., Alien, District 9).


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