Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Killing Insects Is immoral, Activist Claims

Insects come in many shapes and sizes.

Joel Kontinen

Brian Tomasik wants to reduce suffering in humans and “other sentient beings.” Interviewed recently on Vox.com, he spoke on killing video game characters and the need to alleviate the sufferings of insects:

Even if you count just raw number of neurons, insects outweigh humans by a few orders of magnitude. While humans may matter a lot more for instrumental reasons related to the trajectory of the far future, in terms of pure morally relevant amount of sentience, insects may dominate on Earth at the moment.”

While insects are tiny, Mr. Tomasik thinks that they are by no means insignificant and have the right to be happy:

Unfortunately, this has pessimistic implications for the net balance of happiness and suffering in the wild. Many insects live just a few weeks, and they give birth to hundreds or thousands of offspring, most of which die shortly after being born. Life even for the survivors may also involve hunger, disease, and death by predation, lack of water, or something else.”

He is especially worried about the suffering that humans cause by raising insects for food:

As one example, insects are raised and cooked for food in many parts of the world, such as Mexico and Thailand. In many cases, these insects are fried or roasted alive. And entomophagy may become more popular in Western countries as well. I think raising insects is a bad idea because they have such high infant-mortality rates that their cultivation inherently leads to lots of unavoidable suffering. But if insects are raised for food, there should at least be welfare standards for their living conditions and especially for their slaughter. Some entomophagy companies in the US claim that freezing their insects to kill them is humane, but it's disputed whether freezing is actually painless for insects. More research and attention is needed here.”

He is critical of any methods that might hurt insects:

Another area where humans affect even more insects is pest control on crops. It's not clear that insecticide use per se causes net harm -- because the insects killed would have died naturally, and it may be that insecticides keep insect populations much lower than they would otherwise be. But if we do use insecticides, we should favor those that kill more quickly and less painfully. "Natural" pest-control methods like Bt sprays or introduction of predator insects may be among the most unpleasant, because evolution has presumably designed insects to find death by bacteria or predators painful. Investigating which insect-control methods are most humane, and developing new ones, could be a way to help literally trillions of insects through a person's career.”

While eliminating all kinds of suffering might be a laudable mission, we should remember that morality is an immaterial trait that cannot have come about by blind Darwinian processes. In a purely Darwinian world we would not be expected to judge a tendency like killing insects to be morally wrong.

In order to pass moral judgement on whether something is right or wrong, we would have to admit the existence of a Moral Lawgiver, who is not of this world. To do so, we have to believe that as humans we are special – immensely more valuable than insects.


Matthews, Dylan. 2014. This guy thinks killing video game characters is immoral. Vox.com (April 23).