Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Cockroach: Victim of Our Perception

I sat on my deck yesterday and watched a cockroach climbing on a tree. It was one of the big European cockroaches people hate so much, and it made me think about how limited and how selfish our perspective really is.

The first thing you have to understand is cockroaches are remarkable and beautiful animals. Clean and efficient, they are perfectly suited for their environment. Their bodies have evolved to the size and shape and color of a pine bark nugget, which is good because their preferred environment is pine forests, which is why they're so common in the South.

We hate them, not because of they're ugly or dirty or carry disease or are dangerous in any way. None of that is true. We hate them because they inadvertently enter our homes. We'd hate bluebirds and unicorns if they occasionally showed up in our kitchens.

The reason we don't find bluebirds and unicorns in our kitchens is because they're not able to get into the house because of the doors and windows. Cockroaches, on the other hand, evolved to navigate small spaces and crevices so windows and doors are no obstacle for them. I doubt they even know they've gone from "outside" to "inside" out homes, since the concept of "house" probably doesn't mean anything to them. To them, it's just another pile of dead wood, and for them piles of dead wood is where they find food.

Because cockroaches are food for other creatures in the forest, they evolved to hide in the shadows and either run or freeze when they detect large movements. That makes them extra creepy to us because they remain hidden when we're moving, cooking or cleaning or doing things around the house, but they come out when we settle down to eat or watch television. We see it as an invasion, but they see it as simply a sign of "all's clear".

It's doubtful cockroaches even have a very good sense of who or what we are. Their eyes can't focus so they probably don't have any idea at all about our shape or form. Their minds can't comprehend the idea that we built the structure they're in. As far as they know, our homes are just another part of the forest and we're just another large animal moving about the forest, like a cow or a triceratops. (Yes, they are old enough to have experienced the triceratops.)

Most people probably won't read this article because of the title. If they did read it, there were probably moments when they experienced completely unnecessary senses of revulsion. That's how much a slave to our own perceptions we really are, even though we have the mental capacity to see beyond them. Our crazy perceptions make us believe these completely innocent and beautiful creatures are disgusting and close to evil simply because they are inconvenient to us.

Consider this: Raccoons eat cockroaches. If raccoons lived in houses, they might see the occasional entry of cockroaches as a surprise gift. To them, cockroaches would be beautiful and delightful, not repulsive and ugly. For us, it'd be like coming home and finding a ripe, red apple sitting on the counter.


Sandi said...

Sorry, not convinced.

"If they did read it, there were probably moments when they experienced completely unnecessary senses of revulsion."

Not completely unnecessary. Tell me you wouldn't shiver if a cockroach crawled over your bare arm.


A. Boyd C. said...

I would, but then I'm a victim of my own perceptions too.

I've really tried to escape the limits of these perceptions, but so far only a little luck.