Saturday, May 14, 2005

Rattus serendipitus

Rats are like us. They are unsinkable, nearly. They are opportunistic and tough; they are survivors. I can relate. Rats are scavengers. They can live off leavings---they do. We leave them plenty, which is why they are plenty. Rats are smart. They watch and learn.

Rats live where we live. Wherever Here is, if rats are Here, it is because we brought them with us.

Rats move into an area and oust its indigenous occupants. Like us. They reproduce until they strain every available resource to breaking. Like us. When resources run low, they fight and die. Like us. They soil and sully every environment they infest. Like us. Bill Hicks called human beings "a virus with shoes."(We, and rats, could stand to change our habits.)

We have a love/hate relationship with rodents. We invite them into our literature, into our homes as pets, into our deepest nightmares. They are objects of hate and revulsion. They are so like us that they stand in for us in the scientific research that benefits us.
I was there for some of that.

And, here’s another nasty little experiment:
A nasty rat experiment
Rats, like people, can be 'trained' to feel and behave helplessly.
In one famous experiment, rats were held down in ice-cold water until they stopped struggling. This taught them, through experience, that effort was futile and that nothing they did made any difference.
Then, 2 groups of rats, the second being a group which had not undergone this experience, were left in cold water without being held.
The group which had previously been held began to drown, on average, much, much sooner than the 2nd group of rats.
Some of the 2nd group, which had not been held immobile, actually managed to escape!
Our depressive rats were behaving as if they were still helpless even when they were not.
This experiment has been repeated in many ways, some on humans. Depression and Your Sense of Control

Rats are so like us that it’s easy to anthropomorphize them. We can imbue them with personalities that don’t exist, that allow us to look at ourselves through them, as through our fingers, fuzzy and funny, the edges softened. They are stand-ins, so like us.

We treat rats horrifically. We kill them inhumanely. We hate them, and pretend that they hate us.
They don’t. They are rats.

The core of the rat matter for me, not being a New Yorker (though often I wish I were) and not being a Londoner (though I’d, er, like to visit) is that they remind me of how it is so very easy to hate rats, but so difficult to hate a rat, if I take the time to consider it.
It’s so very easy to hate people, but difficult to hate persons, if we take the time to consider them.

Yeah, yeah, I know, the Plague. But, really, fleas carried the Plague.


Derek Ash said...

This reminds me endlessly of both the Pearl Jam song "Rats" which deals with so man of these same human/rodent equalities, and the book "The Coachman Rat" by David Henry Wilson, which dealt with the rats in Cinderella, the rats from the Pied Piper, and the rats associated with the plague all in the course of one tale. Plus, almost everyone in the story meets a grisly, grisly end. Which is always nice.

Carl V. Anderson said...

I sometimes wonder if its the size of rats that bother people. Mice don't seem to be as universally reviled as rats. While both are animals that people keep as pets, mice seem to be more "cute" than rats.

I also wonder about the color issue. White rats seem to be less "dirty" than your regular brown (gray?) rat and the rat pets that I've seen have always been white...wonder why that is?

I do think their size makes them wonderful characters for stories, in both good and evil incarnations. They are very interesting creatures.

lisa said...

To really_rather_not_nice: Wow, I hadn't thought of that song for ages. You're right. I think though as persons we may be more closely related to apes, as a whole, we are definetly most like our ratty brothers.
To spacytracee: My pleasure! I like Templeton too.
To Carl V: Well Carl, I can't say more right now, but you'll be happy to know that I have a book about a particularly large rat in the works. As soon as things are finalized, I'll post a sneak preview here on the journal. Thanks.

Carl V. Anderson said...

As Napoleon Dynamite would say, "Sweet!"

ravyn said...

hey boss, that song is on the CD i made for you, go listen!!! hehe

Anonymous said...


(I'm one of those anonymous readers first lead here by You-Know-Who, I sincerely hope you don't mind some of us staying, and)

I also wanted to thank you for sharing that unique view on the rats with us.

I hope you'll enjoy keeping this blog for a long time.

ravyn said...

Not only do we like you anonymous readers sent by you-know-who, we encourage you to share your thoughts as well! Stick around, we're still just getting started around here...