Along Came a Spider

I just don’t understand vegetarians who kill spiders.

I guess I should be more specific than that, lest I have to field cries of creating a strawman vegetarian. The specific case I have difficulty with is the specific subset of vegetarians (which to my knowledge is the majority of them) who are vegetarian on moral grounds, those grounds being that it is immoral to kill animals for sustenance. I understand there are also vegetarians (and vegans) who choose that lifestyle for health and economic reasons, and I hereby exclude and absolve them from the above statement and any further discussion herein; but getting back to my original point.

I just don’t understand vegetarians (exceptions above notwithstanding) who kill spiders. Or any other bugs for that matter. Ants, mosquitos, roaches, you name it. Is there some line that one can draw that changes the morality of the equation? Is there some size limit on the morality of life? I won’t delve into the morality of taking the life of a plant, as I don’t know if it is necessary to kill plants in order to eat them, but this is one I feel on pretty solid ground with. So what’s the difference?

I’ll offer another illustration. So long as humans are part of a wider natural world, we will have to interact with it. Our choices will be to either let it happen to us or take an active hand in shaping it. Due to the choices made by those who preceded us, our options are to a certain extent constrained in that regard. For example, the deer population in the U.S. used to be controlled by predators such as wolves. Well, not so much anymore, since we pretty much got rid of the wolves. We can either let the deer population grow until they starve to death (and jump in front of cars), or we can let hunters thin the population out. If we let people hunt, what do we do with the meat? Do we eat it or let it rot?

I freely acknowledge that by eating meat I am on the same moral level as the butcher. I do not take some perverse joy in knowing that my food comes from dead animals, and if the day should come that I am provided with an alternative that is just as nutritious, tastes the same or better, and that I cannot tell a difference in texture, I’ll gladly make the switch. But until then, so long as there is a utilitarian purpose to the animal’s death, how is that materially different than killing insects invading my home?

Roaches and ants devour my food. Fleas and mosquitos spread disease. Termites weaken the very walls that make up my house. I have no problem killing any of these insects. Spiders I put outside because they do no harm to me or mine, and are in fact helpful little creatures. There is no utilitarian purpose in their death.

But morality vegetarians (for lack of a better phrasing) do not allow for a utilitarian approach to the killing of animals. So on what basis do they allow for the killing of insects of any kind? I’m not being deliberately obstreperous; I just really don’t see the difference. If you believe taking the life of an animal is wrong that’s fine, I’m not here to question your beliefs. I’m just questioning the consistency of those beliefs.

Does this mean I want everyone who believes that “meat is murder” to suddenly grab a hamburger and dig in? Or at least feel ashamed for not pouring A-1 on the first steak they see and eating it with ravenous fury? No, because that’s my steak and you can’t have it. All I’m asking is for one of two things: either a little clarity on were the line is drawn, what makes the animals I eat a special class that should be protected as opposed to the ones they step on, or else that they live a consistently principled lifestyle. For those who already do, you have my respect; it’s no easy thing to put the spiders outside.