Monday, February 6, 2012

You'll Catch More Flies With Honey Than With Vinegar

     It was bound to happen sometime. Last Friday evening, I was rudely awakened to my first "you're-a-despicable-human-being" blog critic. Earlier that morning, inspired by an impending visit from the exterminator, I'd posted what I considered a humorous piece, concerning two vermin-related misadventures I experienced almost twenty years ago. While waiting for him to arrive, I sat at the kitchen table with my laptop, sipping coffee and hanging out with Simon and Lilly, my German short-haired pointers. As I wrote, I was transported to the early '90s, when I was a newly-divorced, working mom with young twins, dealing single-handedly with frightening things like rats in the kitchen and the man-in-the-pink-T-shirt who tried to break in on me when I was home alone. On top of everything else I had to worry about back then, the rat problem nearly pushed me to the brink of insanity. Desperate to get rid of the intruder that wasn't just ruining my food, but destroying my cabinetry and defiling my kitchen with urine and feces, I bought some traps. Based on previous experience using a spring-loaded trap, which not only caused a bloody mess, but from which the injured rat escaped, I took my sister's advice and purchased glue traps, assuming they'd somehow be more effective. As it turned out, the glue trap didn't work, either, and the rat got away, save for a few of its ass hairs.
     GavenMingle*, the author of the aforementioned critique, actually doesn't give a rat's ass about the quality of my writing. Instead, he zeroed in on one aspect of my story's content. He specifically took issue with the fact that I'd used a glue trap to try and catch the rat, the working plan being to dispose of him in the trash. He wrote, "So you planned to throw a still-living mammal into the garbage bin still attached on super glue so it slowly and painfully starves to death? What a fantastic human being you are." Honestly, had I been successful in trapping the rat at the time, I had no earthly idea how I'd get him anywhere near the trash, dead or alive. Everything about that dreadful scenario terrified me. Regardless of how irrational my fear of this tiny creature may seem, I'd been violated and terrorized long enough, and something had to be done to remedy the situation quickly. In retrospect, the thought of being "fantastic" was the furthest thing from my mind. There was absolutely nothing fantastic about the sleepless nights I'd endured, hearing the rat(s) scratching within the walls, waking up to trails of excrement, and food that was rendered inedible. Fantastic doesn't even begin to describe how I felt about having the sanctity of my home invaded by this opportunistic creature.
     After arriving home from dinner with Brad, I discovered GavenMingle's first message when I checked my e-mail. It was clear that his ominous, disturbing tone was intended to provoke. When I clicked on the link attached to his comment, which directed me back to my blog's website, I noticed it had automatically been kicked over to my comments' spam folder, bypassing the option of being displayed publicly. Hmmm. What exactly did that mean? Why would his message have been filtered as spam? Was it his e-mail address or internet identity that aroused suspicion with the administrator? Had his previous posts been reported as inappropriate or abusive? Within a couple of hours, I received a second message from him: "Decided to censor my comment, eh? I hope that rats haunts you." With this, I went to bed, relegating GavenMingle to "extreme nutcase-with-too-much-time-on-his-hands" status. What bothered me about these two interactions wasn't the fact that he's opposed to the use of glue traps or even that he'd attempted to exploit my blog to promote his personal agenda, it was the peculiar way in which he seemed fixated on criticizing me. Instead of seizing what could have been a teachable moment, he chose to attack me as a person, condemning me as abhorrent and immoral because I unknowingly deviated from his prescribed code of ethics. How utterly grandiose!
     Here is my reply to his comments: "@GavenMingle, the Google Administrator automatically kicked your two comments to "SPAM"; no censorship on my part. Perhaps if you expanded the compassion you claim you have for all mammals to include your fellow man as well, other people wouldn't have reported your comments as abusive or inappropriate." I followed this with a general statement, "Indeed, there are much more humane ways to deal with rodent infestations than glue traps, and in writing this story, I am by no means promoting or condoning their use; I am simply recounting events which took place almost 20 years ago. The best way to deal with rodents is to keep them out of your house by sealing off all possible points of entry; once I learned this trick (through the help of the internet, which wasn't available 20 years ago), I haven't had any more rodent problems. I find the hypocrisy of many of the PETA people/animal rights activists absolutely appalling, equally as despicable and inhumane as any other type of zealot. People, by and large, need to take themselves a little less seriously. Opinions are like assholes...everybody has one!" The final comment I received from GavenMingle again went to the spam folder: "Compassion to include my fellow man?? I make no apologies calling out an unnecessary act of cruelty. If you do really think that someone being less-than-polite on your blog is worse than dragging out the misery of another living creature than that's pretty screwed up. But... good to see you're not condoning them. I agree with you on PETA." I guess you could say we agreed to disagree.
     Curious about how my blog caught his attention in the first place, I conducted a bit of research on GavenMingle. He's a young Catholic man in his mid 20s, who appears to be either Australian or Canadian. A Google search of his user name readily reveals hundreds of posts, all related to rats and the use of glue traps, on various news sites and other people's blogs, as well as some odd places, like a dating site and a Catholic chat forum. He apparently has a search engine which filters the terms, "rats" and "glue traps", and devotes an inordinate amount of his free time, responding to people who trap rats with these devices. He's sort of an internet stalker. I discovered another blogger, who's also been the recipient of his harsh criticism; it is her feeling that GavenMingle utilizes several different identities to propagate his rat-related rants.
     In reading through his numerous posts, I found him both persistent and inconsistent. It is evident he's someone who likes having the last word, and is relentless about pursuing anyone who disputes his point of view. At times, he is able to appropriately communicate his passion for animal welfare. In several of his posts, he calmly conveys his opinion that glue traps are inhumane because they impose suffering on the trapped animal, after which he appropriately provides alternative solutions for dealing with vermin. He is not opposed to what he considers humane methods of killing of pests or livestock. He is not a vegetarian, nor is he a member of PETA. In these tamer posts, GavenMingle comes across as an articulate and educated person whose compassion for mammals extends to the suffering he supposes rats endure, whether being fed live to ferrets or trapped in glue, motivating him to dispense sound advice on better ways of handling such issues. These are his better moments. 
     GavenMingle's main problem with credibility lies in the fact that, in most of his cyber-interactions, he chooses to cajole and berate the targets of his criticism, using frequent expletives and a caustic, abrasive, "in your face" means of promoting his agenda, effectively discouraging any real chance for meaningful dialogue or opportunities for the exchange of useful feedback. In order for GavenMingle to be taken seriously and get his message across, he needs to quit being such a rat. While I agree with him that there are more humane ways to rid oneself of vermin than using glue traps, I take issue with his assertion than anyone who uses them is a cruel, heartless, sorry excuse for a human being. People who use glue traps aren't rushing to the store, calculating how much pain and suffering they're about to inflict on a rat. Their primary motive isn't to torture or maim an "innocent" creature. Indeed, they are more than likely puked out, worried, inconvenienced, intensely frustrated, sleep-deprived, and are simply trying to deal with what they consider a serious health and sanitation problem--period, end of story. Whatever method they choose to employ, people with rodent infestations are generally living "in the moment", with little forethought given to advanced planning for what they'll do, once they've actually trapped the rat. They may be desperate, impulsive, or poorly educated, but that doesn't mean they're evil, bad people. The vast majority of our population views rats as loathsome and disgusting, a societal concept which has remained stable for centuries, and it's only been recently that people have taken an interest in kinder, gentler ways of disposing of vermin. Those of us who have studied Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies are well aware that karma extends to all living creatures, but not all of us embrace these ideals.
     In essence, society-at-large is ignorant to the theory that rats suffer at all, let alone while they're stuck on glue traps. It is naive and incorrect to extrapolate that this ignorance necessarily translates to a willful lack of caring or compassion; there exists a fine line between individual perceptions regarding what constitutes suffering, and the projection of human emotional attributes onto "lesser" animals. It's not straightforward, it's complicated! Nowadays, perhaps, there is less of an excuse for using glue traps than there was twenty years ago, given the access we have to information on other methods of extermination, readily available on the internet. The downside of the internet is that it also empowers people to be critics without consequences. Bullies and haters aren't interested in teaching by example; they are angry, misguided people who perceive the world as a hostile place, populated with nothing but bad intentions. One of the basic tenets of human nature is that we tend to emulate the actions of people we respect, not those we fear. Although there are always exceptions, we humans do seem interested in bettering ourselves. For example, if the general public is presented with facts about the use of glue traps and educated about other, more humane approaches to dealing with pests, instead of being subjected to a rage-filled character assassination, they'll probably be more inclined to listen and learn. Plainly put, there are plenty of positive, refined ways of stimulating individuals to consider alternative opinions and viewpoints, making GavenMingle's internet witchhunt seem rather juvenile and amateur. Instead of enlightening us, his vitriol is irritating; it rubs us the wrong way. His accusatory tone and dismissive attitude convey the sense that he views himself as more important and evolved than the rest of us, that somehow he's both judge and jury, a position which is relatively easy to take when you're dealing with people in cyber-space, instead of en face. It's all at once impersonal, yet deeply personal. Furthermore, those who are the most judgmental of others tend to have the least insight into themselves. Because GavenMingle comes across as just another radical, disingenuous, narrow-minded zealot, any inherent value in his message is lost. This is unfortunate, because his heart seems to be in the right place. He has many valid points. Hopefully, one day he'll learn that he can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

*name changed


  1. You are omitting the possibility that this guy is just an internet troll who doesn't really give a damn about the welfare of animals, he's just doing it to wind people up.

    1. this is a valid point...i hadn't thought about it, but i guess there are people who get their kicks by annoying other "cyber people."