The Day's Consecration: A painting by Richard Moult

The Ethics Of Killing Vermin
A Personal Opinion From Experience

The definitive record of the English language – the 20 volume Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, 1989 – defines vermin as (i) “animals of a noxious or objectionable kind [and which are] almost entirely restricted to those animals or birds which prey upon preserved game, crops, etcetera” and also as (ii) referring to “creeping or wingless insects (and other minute animals) of a loathsome or offensive appearance or character, especially those which infest or are parasitic on living beings and plants.”

Although the killing of vermin – especially those that prey upon preserved game and crops and those which infest or are parasitic on living beings and plants – is common practice in the majority of modern societies especially among farmers, gardeners, and horticulturalists, what aroused my curiosity about the ethics involved was a problem a long-standing friend of mine, who with his family were ethical vegans and trying to live in a self-sufficient way, was having with rats devouring their crops.

Before my retirement – as an old man – from manual work I had spent many, many, years working on farms, working as a gardener, and working in commercial horticulture. On the last farm on which I lived I had no problem hunting down and shooting the fox that had decimated the chickens we kept; had no problem in having Jack Russell’s hunt down and kill rats infesting the barns; had no ethical problem in previous employments in using pesticides and herbicides via knapsacks and tractor driven boom-sprayers. For the health of the livestock, and the health and yield of crops and plants, were part of my responsibility, a responsibility I willingly accepted.

Yet what was a self-sufficient ethical vegan and his self-sufficient ethical vegan family to do in respect of vermin control when suggested non-harmful methods – such as using raised crop beds and humanely trapping and releasing pests elsewhere – had failed? In addition, in the case of rats, would the released pests go on to prey on the crops of someone else and therefore would the vegans be somehow morally responsible for the damage so caused?

My initial suggestion, based both on my practical experience and my interest in Ancient Greek and Latin literature, was for him to use Jack Russell’s to hunt down and kill the rats. For would he – as Creon hoped by his walling-in of Antigone alive in a rock-hewn tomb {1} and as Fabius Maximus, Pontifex of Rome, hoped when he had a Vestal Virgin buried alive {2} – escape retribution by Μοῖραι τρίμορφοι μνήμονές τ᾽ Ἐρινύες {3} because he and they had not personally undertaken the deed of killing?

Such pest control certainly seems to be a moral dilemma for an ethical vegan, committed as such a person is to not harming or causing suffering to living beings, human and otherwise. Would, for instance, it be necessary for he and his family to suffer, to go hungry, because of a refusal to kill – directly or otherwise – such vermin as were devouring their crops?

              My fallible conclusion in respect of his dilemma was that it is for my friend, for each ethical vegan, for each ethical vegan family, to resolve such a moral dilemma in their own way and in their own time; for such individual, such familial, resolution seems to me – according to my admittedly fallible understanding of ethical veganism – to be a necessary part of the vegan weltanschauung where there is not and should not be any reliance on ideations, on dogma, on ideology, on the opinions of others, or on any causal – human-invented – abstractions.

For myself and in respect of vermin I would probably do again what I did when working on farms, when working as a gardener, and when working in commercial horticulture. The raison d’être being that to survive, to prosper, as human beings on this planet it seems to me (based on my experience) that we sometimes of necessity must make difficult decisions in regard to other life while respecting – as I personally always tried to do and as so many others before me had ancestrally done – the being, the soul, the presencing of the Cosmos, that was temporarily manifest in the life that we ended, be such life a fox or even a tree we felled. For there was no joy in such an ending, only – again in my experience – a balancing mingled with a wordless respect for all emanations of life. For ultimately we are they – that life – as they, that life, are us, with such an ancient and natural paganus wisdom almost forgotten in this modern majority city-dwelling age. And yet this wisdom survives – if only just – in some of those who for decades have manually toiled in the countryside.

              To end on a personal note, and in regard to abstractions, I have to admit that my long-standing – and now vegan – friend was the one who was responsible, years ago, for drawing my attention to the fact that the “folk” and “the tribe”, which I had eulogized in my pre-2011 ‘numinous way’, were causal – human-invented – abstractions and thus seemed to be contrary to the individual empathic-derived ethics of that numinous way. Which revelation forced me to reconsider that ‘numinous way’ and formed an important part of the process that eventually led me to evolve that ‘numinous way’ into my individualistic philosophy of pathei-mathos.

David Myatt
August 2018

{1} ἄγων ἔρημος ἔνθ᾽ ἂν ᾖ βροτῶν στίβος
κρύψω πετρώδει ζῶσαν ἐν κατώρυχι,
φορβῆς τοσοῦτον ὡς ἄγος μόνον προθείς,
ὅπως μίασμα πᾶσ᾽ ὑπεκφύγῃ πόλις.
κἀκεῖ τὸν Ἅιδην, ὃν μόνον σέβει θεῶν,
αἰτουμένη που τεύξεται τὸ μὴ θανεῖν,
ἢ γνώσεται γοῦν ἀλλὰ τηνικαῦθ᾽ ὅτι
πόνος περισσός ἐστι τἀν Ἅιδου σέβειν.

She will be led to where the paths are desolate of mortals
And be concealed alive in a rock-hewn tomb
With as much food before her as is required for expiation
So that the whole clan escapes pollution.
There she may if she asks have success from dying
By giving reverence to Hades, the only god she reveres –
Or she will learn at last though late by this
That it is useless toil to so revere Hades.

Sophocles, Antigone, vv. 773-780

{2} Stupri compertae et altera sub terra, uti mos est, ad portam Collinam necata fuerat. (Livy, Book XXII, 57)

{3} “Trimorphed Moirai with their ever-heedful Furies.” Aeschylus (attributed), Prometheus Bound, 516

Translations by DWM

Image credit:
The Day’s Consecration – from a painting by Richard Moult