Response to Mary

Mark Walker MWalker at
Wed Jun 30 21:13:08 EDT 1999

> Mary Prismon wrote:
> As far as collecting is concerned, perhaps I have mixed feelings
> regarding Mark's suggestion of "hypocrisy". Sure, as a non-collector,
> I'd object to wanton smashing of butterflies as compared with wanton
> smashing of cockroaches,  but be real!  Are the butterflies trying to
> take over my house, contaminating my food with microbes, or just going
> about the business of living?
> Personally, I escort most creepy-crawlies out the door, unharmed, but
> would likely take a swat at a roach, if it were the common 
> variety - no
> fear of their imminent extinction !
> And I am not greatly put off by collectors, who limit themselves to
> taking  a sample of each species for their own personal satisfaction. 
> But, hey, lets admit what's going on here,  an
> indulgence of the human hunting instinct, right?, sometimes completely
> out of hand!  When one is snatching as many as possible of a rarity,
> often for sale, that is objectionable to me. The concept that, as
> insects, butterflies can lay thousands of eggs and are in no danger of
> extinction doesn't mean much if most of the available the egg 
> layers are
> posted on pins in a box. No need to site horrible examples like the
> uncountable numbers of bison, Passenger Pigeons, plumed birds 
> gone from
> the hunting scene.  Avarice gets into the equation very 
> easily. I don't
> think those of us who are happy to satisfy our hunting 
> instinct with our
> binoculars are being too hypocritical. Yes,  the bugs may 
> well claim the
> world for their very own, in the long run; but I find them most
> interesting to observe, flashing their wings in mating dances and
> playing out their life cycles by the Darwinian rules, alive 
> not dead by
> human hands. Is this hypocrisy , Mark?.

I think this is an excellent post, by the way, because these are honest and
valid questions.  But Mary's questions reveal some of the misconceptions
that I often allude to (and have been repeated by others many times on this

1.  That the "human hunting instinct" is necessarily a barbaric behavior,
and not the result of a deep desire to understand and become more involved
with nature.

I've never been inclined to hunt other fauna, but I know (based on my years
in Vermont) that the average hunter is not into it for the kill.  Most are
simply outdoors people, who respect and better understand the outdoors
because of the many intimate hours they spend in it.  They are the last
people who want to see habitat destroyed.

2.  That collecting butterflies presents any significant threat to the
butterfly populations of the world.

It is true that there are some people who attempt to exploit the demand for
rare species by illegally capturing them.  It is also true that some
collectors tend to overcollect for trading or selling purposes.  It is
inappropriate for people to associate this behavior with everyone who likes
to collect insects, however.  It is an unfair bias to suggest that the
"hunting instinct" is grounds enough to assume inappropriate behavior.
Furthermore, the assumption that an amateur collector might unknowingly kill
endangered species is also ridiculous when you consider the reason that they
are endangered to begin with - there's no habitat left.

The species which are being collected by the average collector are in fact
in no danger of extinction - and so the cockroach example suffices.  It is
true that there are many butterflies which are currently threatened -
because of habitat loss - but these are also not likely to be encountered by
the average collector.  In the event that they are encountered, it is likely
because the collector knows the population well, and is in fact acting to
monitor it.  In the cases where threatened species are encountered in
unlikely or unrecorded locations - then the collector is in a position to
provide critical information, and should be encouraged to do so (not

3.  That the tendency to take exception to others who choose to collect
while continuing to guiltlessly go about our daily lives is anything but

There are really only two arguments against collecting:  1) It is unethical
to kill any living creature, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant,
and  2) It is wrong to encourage collecting anything, because if everyone
did it then there would be nothing left for others to enjoy.

I find both arguments flawed and tainted by hypocrisy.  I don't mean to
offend anyone by this - I'm just as much a hypocrite as the next person
(although, like most, I do try not to be).  But when discussing this issue,
we must first remove all misconceptions and biases, and then we must
recognize that we don't really have the right to point fingers.  

The hypocrisy of the first argument is obvious.  Criticizing on ethical
grounds those who occasionally and discriminatingly kill butterflies while
justifying (based on convenience) the killing of cockroaches or fire ants or
spiders or mosquitoes or anything else is hypocritical.  

The second argument is tougher, I admit.  And I'm going to go out on a limb
here, and suggest that if everyone were into this, I would probably quit (I
say probably only because I'm really into it).  I've always been one to stay
away from band wagons anyway, but I truly believe that I love these insects
so much that I wouldn't choose to do anything that would ultimately be
detrimental to them.

The truth is, however, that almost no one swings a net.  I've already made
the case, but there is plenty of legitimate data to support the idea that
the butterflies are plentiful enough to sustain the negative pressure
associated with collecting.  That's not the hypocrisy, though.  Here's my
problem with those who take this argument:  The real detriment to the
butterfly populations is habitat destruction.  All sorts of human behavior
supports the ongoing raping of habitat (and collecting is at the bottom of
the list).  Pursuing a career, participating in the stock market, investing
in real estate, shopping for just about anything, driving to National Parks
for vacation, eating fast food, keeping our houses and our bodies clean -
they're all behaviors which encourage further habitat destruction.  Before
anyone should ask me to put down my net, they should first have a careful
look at their own behavior.


As far as the value in observation, here we are in total agreement, Mary.
I, too, enjoy their flashing and dancing, and have been known to sit and
watch it for hours at a time.  When a particularly interesting specimen
comes along, I take the liberty to sample it for further study and
observation.  We all do this, too, through the buying of nice cars,
attractive clothing, pretty furniture, and impressive dwellings.  It's
called consumption.  


Although I do agree that human behavior is often in violation of the rules
of the universe, I don't personally agree that Darwin wrote these rules (I
do agree that they were written, however, and that we'll be held accountable
to them).  There are many things that we need to learn and many things that
we need to change in order for us to live in better harmony with our
universe.  To suggest, however, that humans must not in any way impact the
life cycles of the organisms around them is either illogical or hypocritical
- depending on whether the person suggesting it is in favor of human
annihilation.  We are linked to our universe - often in intrusive ways.  We
consume, we excavate, we trample.  Even the beloved indigenous peoples of
the Americas were guilty of these "sins".

My trampling is soft and considerate.  My consumption is informed and
responsible.  My excavation is typical, if not minimal.  I consider myself
part of the solution, not the problem.  And I carry a net.

Mark Walker.
Mission Viejo, CA  

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