Rescue Worms

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, September 18, 2015

When you see a worm wiggling in the street do you pick it up and put it back in a flowerbed? Do you save rescue worms?


I’ve done this for years and thought I was the only person who’d be silly enough to save a worm, but recently I’ve discovered that many of my friends are also heroes to earthworms. I was walking with my neighbor Ernie this year and we spotted a worm struggling out in the street and I told him I always rescue them. He said he did the same thing. Then I was walking with my friend Leigh Anne and we found a stranded worm out on the hot pavement and she picked it up and put it in the grass. She also said she routinely rescued worms. She even picked up our squirmy friend with her bare hands, which impressed me because in recent years I’ve become germophobic and won’t touch them.  I always rescue my worms with a twig or leaf. I don’t know why I’ve gotten prissy about touching worms. When I was a kid I used to go through the cow patties with my bare hands to find worms for fishing. And as a teen me and my friends used to hunt for magic mushrooms out in cow pastures and we’d just brush them off before eating them. I told my friend Annie about this, and she said she also rescues worms, and picks them up with her bare hands.

Does everyone give a dying worm a helping hand?

By the way, have you ever wondered why the worm crosses the road? It’s pretty obvious, but I didn’t know the answer until I saw why one morning. Stupid birds will drop their breakfast and won’t remember to pick it up. A car will go by, or a dog, or even another bird, and they’ll drop their meal. I’ve been paying attention to birds with worms on my morning walks, and sometimes a bird will just forget they had a nice juicy worm to eat, leaving their poor victim out to die a horrible death—wiggling until it dries up.

This morning I saw a woman rescue a worm and walk into someone’s yard to put it in a flower bed. She saw me and looked embarrassed. I just gave her a friendly wave. Usually I just put street worms back in the grass. I do wonder if I’ve ever pissed off a worm that was actually trying to cross the road.


Are Humans Superior Creatures?

I believe the people of the future will look back on these times and judge us harshly, like we judge the people of the 19th century for slavery, colonialism, genocide and other atrocities those folks committed without any apparent ethical qualms.  They will see even the most liberal of us as heartless in our neglect of poor people, animals, the Earth and the environment.  I’ve always wondered how people like the abolitionists gained their insight to see beyond the ethical status quo.  There have always been a few people that were more empathetic than the common crowd, and I think they were the bellwethers of their times.  If you you read and watch the news carefully, there are always stories that portend the future of human kindness.  To change requires going against the tide of common opinion, and that’s hard.

We like to think humans are different from animals.  That we’re the crown of creation, made in God’s image, that we’re the unique species on the planet that has a soul.  I believe different.  I think we’re ahead of all our fellow creatures in the thinking department, but we share a whole lot of behavioral experiences with them.  If you look at this seal pup in the video above, it’s obviously enjoying itself.  It hung out with these surfers for an hour.  Maybe it didn’t think, “Look Ma, I’m riding a surf board,” but it did feel a sense of fun, play and curiosity.

I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries on animals lately, and reading many books about them too, and the more I study, the more I see animal behavior in the people around me, and human behavior in animals.  Religion falsely teaches us we have dominion over the Earth and animals in a way that is harmful to both our humanity and animals.  Our sense of superiority blinds us to the evil we create.  And to maintain our illusion forces us to ignore just how close we are to animals in our behaviors.

the elephant who found a mom

For instance, we like to elevate sex to love and sanctify our mating habits with legalities and romantic notions, yet it’s still  animal courtship rites based on biological programming.  We like to think our emotional needs are vastly more complex than our four legged friends, but are they?  We like to think our self-awareness and intelligence puts us a quantum leap above all other creatures we share this Earth with, but the latest animal studies show the gap isn’t as wide as we’d like to think.

This summer PBS showed two new 4-part series that emphasizes my point:  My Wild Affair, and Sex in the Wild.  The first episode of My Wild Affair, “The Elephant Who Found a Mom”  will make you cry your eyes out and make you want to go to Africa to shoot poachers.  The other shows in the series are “The Ape Who Went to College,” “The Rhino Who Joined the Family” and tonight’s “The Seal Who Came Home.”  Each episode is a very emotional story about an individual animal bonding with humans, revealing how close we are to our evolutionary cousins.

Sex in the Wild gets down to the nitty gritty of how elephants, orangutans, kangaroos and dolphins get it on.  In fact, it’s XXX animal sex.  These shows are graphically educational, so you might not want your little ones to watch, but then again, they are very educational.  This series is less about individual animals and more about general behavior.  But the courting behavior of our wild kingdom friends often reveal insights into human courtship.  I found a lot to identify with in the love life of orangutans.  Even the strangest animals they profile have distant similarities to the two legged animals we see in episodes of Sex in the City.

Just watch and think about how women judge men, and how men compete for women.   Then the next time you watch a romantic comedy pretend you’re an animal scientist studying that weird species of two legged creatures that inhabit the urban jungles of the world.

Sadly, these eight documentaries are through showing on PBS, but you can still catch them at streaming sites like PBS Roku,  Amazon streaming, or on DVD.  But even if you don’t catch these particular shows, just keep an eye out for nature shows in general.  Nature on PBS’ regular season is tremendous.  Or just watch funny videos on YouTube about dogs and cats.  Sooner or later it will come to you what they do is not that different from what we do.  That the tricks Caesar uses in The Dog Whisperer can be applied to human children and adults, or even to your mother-in-law.  If you’re really savvy in your observations you’ll begin to see your own behavior and how it formed.  If you’re a guy who can’t get lucky with the girls, or a girl that can’t land a Mr. Right, you might study animal behavior.

But beyond learning more about who we are by how we evolved to get here, the real issue is animal rights.  We haven’t worked out human rights yet, but animal rights are just as important, for them and for us.  If we are the crown of creation on this planet then it’s our ethical job to manage the Earth.  I can’t help but think that’s to preserve biological diversity and not destroy it.  I worry that a hundred years from now, those who look back will see us as the worse mass murderers of history.  They will ask themselves over and over, “How could they have been so cruel?  Could they not see what they were doing?  Could they not feel the suffering they were causing.  Did they not foresee what they were doing to all the future generations to come?”  They may see us being more evil than Hitler, Stalin and slavers because we made species after species extinct, unbalanced the environment, extracted the wealth of the many for the pleasure of the few, poisoned the oceans and air, and killed everything that ran, swam, flew, crawled, slithered, or hopped for food and sport.

Future generations will despise us for our hubris in believing we’re the crown of creation when they think we’re the cancer that killed the Earth.

Billions believe they will find heaven when they die, not knowing this world is the heaven of the universe, and we destroyed it.

JWH – 8/8/14

A Copernican Revolution in Animal Rights

Just over four hundred years ago, humans confronted the idea that the Earth orbited the Sun.  Many didn’t like the idea.  Both the church and classical knowledge taught the Sun orbited the Earth.  It was a shock to our egos to think our home planet was not the spiritual center of everything.  Were we not the crown of creation, the apple of God’s eye?  That stung.  Some crazy folks back then, not many, but some, even suggested that there were planets around every star, with intelligent beings on each.  Ouch, now that really hurt, to think God might not be monogamous, going around having children everywhere.


But at least humans were special, different from all other life on Earth.  The conceit that we had souls and animals didn’t gave us justification to enslave, torture and eat animals without guilt.  The concept of animal rights has been around for a very long time too, but in recent decades those pesky scientists have started proving animals had complex minds, at least some of them, and maybe, not that different from ours.  Damn, there goes our sense of special again.

Now, this is not new, except that more people than ever are becoming empathetic with the plight of animals.  The Copernican Revolution didn’t happen overnight either.  I became a vegetarian in 1969, and over the decades I watched the movement grow.  Just because I chose not to eat animals didn’t mean I understood their suffering.  I’m still constantly being educated to how I am insensitive I am to their point of view.  Two recent documentaries reminded me that just not eating the animals is being good enough.

I’ve been to SeaWorld and loved the orca and dolphin shows.  I knew scientists used chimpanzee for all kinds of experiments, including those with sign language, which I thought was a wonderful idea.  Even when we appear to love and cherish animals we often fail to see what we’re really doing to them.  I highly recommend watching these two movies.  Blackfish and Project NIM are available through a variety of sources.  And please don’t avoid them because you don’t like seeing animal suffering.  The more we avoid recognizing their suffering, the longer animals will suffer.

There is a number of issues we need to solve as a species before we can assume everything is hunky-dory and we can all go back to our selfish individual pursuits.  Should there be some kind of cognitive bar that if an animal can chin itself, free them from our cruelty?   

For some animals it’s important that we decide soon before we completely wipe them out.


Where Is the Dividing Line Between Compassion and Evil?

It wasn’t long ago, and in fact, for many people it’s still true, that the dividing line between compassion and evil was set at anything not human.  Some people extended the line to include their pet pug or kitty cat because they live closely with their pets and see their personalities first hand.  But they’d eat pigs and cows, assuming those creatures are just mindless biological machines.  Did you know, that some studies consider pigs smarter than dogs?

What traits must an animal possess before we feel compassion for them?  Creating a dividing line that defines what we can ethically kill and what we can’t, will be very difficult.  Most people will kill a cockroach or mosquito and think nothing of it, but there are some religions that find all life sacred and thus worthy of protection.  Animal rights are a very complex ethical issue.

Right now the public attention seems to be focusing on large animals that show some self-awareness, tool use, or language ability.  These include the great apes, whales, dolphins, elephants and a few others.  But what if farm animals like pigs and cows prove their ability to do a few cognitive chin-ups?  What about deer?  Or turkeys?  Most people think birds have bird brains, but if you’ve seen “My Life As A Turkey”  you might think different.

I believe science is showing that some large animals like the great apes, whales, dolphins and elephants have a whole lot more cognitive awareness than we thought, and that even zoos, circuses and water worlds are concentration camps to them.

Like I said, this issue has been around a very long time, but some social transformations take a long time to complete.  Pay attention to the newspaper and you’ll see signs of it everywhere.   Yesterday the New York Times ran “They’re Going to Wish They All Could Be California Hens” about how hens in California are getting bigger pens.  Or Nicholas Kristof’s “Is That Sausage Worth This?” about how pigs are fed pureed dead piglet intestines or pig diarrhea to build up their immunity to pig diseases.  Yummy, huh?  But diabolically evil if we practiced such procedures on a human.

Even Christians are exploring animal rights as a spiritual issue, see “Animal Rights and Christian Responsibility” from Wheaton College.  If you search Google or YouTube you’ll find almost endless approaches by religious people becoming aware of animal rights.  They’ve come a long way since the Old Testament and sacrificing tens of thousands of animals at one time.

What Are Animals Fair Share of the Earth?

If we plotted human’s consumption of the Earth’s landmass it will be easy to see that someday we will use it all.  If you plot the number of species made extinct by our development, the graph will show at some point there will be no more animals.  If we don’t want to be alone on this planet with nothing larger than a bacteria for our buddies, then we need to change our ways.

How Smart Do Animals Have To Be To Deserve Respect?

Scientific American recently published  “The Science is In:  Elephants Are Even Smarter Than We Realized.”  If you read this article and watch the videos, will you still feel we should imprison elephants in zoos, or enslave them for work?  And should not a massive international effort be made to stop all poaching and trafficking in ivory?  At what point is shooting poachers more ethical than letting elephants die?

But don’t even small dumb animals deserve rights too?  The other day I watched an episode of PBS Nature “The Animal House” that went around the world showing how animals built their houses.  In one segment it showed cave swiftlets building nests in underground caves, and then showed humans collecting the nests for bird’s nest soup.  Do we have no shame?  Must we eat everything?

Learning to Empathize

To change, every person must reach a state in their personal development where they empathize with animals and nature.  I think one of the best ways to do that is by watching Nature on PBS every week.  The show is not an animal right’s show, but a show about all the varied aspects of nature.  I find the show infinitely inspirational.

Animals don’t believe in animal rights – they practice red tooth and claw, so they are cruel to each other.  A case could be made that we’re no crueler to them, than they are to each other.  But here’s the thing.  God might not exist, but we do, and in his place, we are becoming beings that do know about every sparrow that falls from the tree.  This awareness doesn’t mean we need to convert all animals to vegetarians, but it does mean we can choose between being like the animals or becoming something new.

JWH – 3/4/14

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