News - June 17, 2014

Blog: The Invisible Enemy

Last week, a friend’s house underwent a flea invasion. The Wageningen students who live there—all convicted nature lovers and animal lovers—all braced themselves for war when nature came too close and too many animals took up their Lebensraum.

Nature is a pretty thing. Who doesn’t love a meadow with singing crickets or a garden with buzzing bumblebees? Who does not like fondling a domestic animal or watching a wild one? However, humans also like to have nature under some form of control.

It was not the flea themselves that turned a civilized dwelling into a 1967 Saigon or in a 2004 Fallujah. In fact, not a single flea was seen, niether before nor after the invasion began. It was their ubiquitous, uncontrolled, undetectable presence, manifested through itchy bites when it was already too late, that brought everyone in this house on the brink of obsession. One of the inhabitants, a nature conservation student, was seen spraying flea poison in every corner. Another, a convicted vegetarian, almost set her room on fire and slammed their culprit cat out of the house.

Their dignified house pet, whose ancestor probably cuddled with Cleopatra and was worshipped as a God, is now prevented from entering the house and only served food from a distance. She wanders around, infested with fleas, meowing and scratching herself at every step, probably wondering why humans are so tremendously arbitrary in what they love and under which circumstances.

Observing the domestic trouble of this well-intentioned group of students made me reflect. One day before, they would all swear against Monsanto herbicides, and the next day they were ready to use napalm, if this means would have served their end. More generally, the destructive nature of people easily emerges when an Invisible Enemy threatens their integrity and unleashes fear of an escalation.

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PS: Peace returned in the house on Sunday and ceasefire was declared. The cat was allowed to step in again. Yet there are rumours that a few fleas have survived the attack. If the enemy does not capitulate, the use of white phosphorus might be considered.