I Heart Indies

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Consider the Rat

Being compared to a rat has always been an insult.  "You dirty rats!" James Cagney screams before spraying the street with machine-gun fire.  "Rats" is a mild oath, or at least it used to be before the coarsening of our culture.  When a person was moderately outraged by the latest arrow Fortune had slung at him, he would mutter "rats" under his breath.  That seemed to sum it up.  Odd, though, that it was rats.  Nobody ever said "pigs" or "snails" or "marmosets" when disappointed, just "rats."

Rats, however, may not deserve the rap they get.  For example, rats are highly intelligent.  This has been proven by scientific studies in which rats were shocked when they touched a certain color bar.  The rats learned pretty quickly not to trust the bar, I can tell you.  Compare this to humans.  Put a sign that says "wet paint" on something and see how many people will come by and touch it.

Moreover, rats respond favorably to maternal attention.  Researchers took baby rats from their mothers to see what would happen.  When some mothers got their babies back, the mothers began licking them like crazy.  Other mothers were just like, "Oh, you're back are you?"  It turns out that the rats who were licked by their mothers were more intelligent, healthier, and better adjusted than rats who weren't.  You might not think the experience of being licked by a rat, even a mother rat, was all that soothing, but evidently it is for baby rats.  Think about all those times your mother spit on a tissue and wiped something off your face.  Same thing.

Like humans, rats are omnivorous, meaning some of them will even eat pickled beets.  They are are used for lab experiments precisely because their systems are so similar to humans.  If we wish to see if, say, a new medicine is safe to use on humans, we feed 200 times the recommended dosage to a rat and watch what happens.  If the rat lives, good.  If it dies, we do more tests.  If it gets an erection lasting more than four hours, we put that on the label.

The main reason, I believe, we have such negative feelings about rats is we associate them with garbage.  Find a big, stinking, fetid pile of garbage and there's sure to be rats around.  Of course, we might ask ourselves, who created the big, stinking, fetid pile in the first place, but we never do.
Now we come to the inevitable irony at the end of this blog, which you could probably foresee like a freight train barreling down the tracks with its steam whistle blowing and sparks and soot flying from its smokestack.  It has always been considered an insult comparing rats to humans, humans who shoot people with machine guns, feed rats massive doses of laxatives and sleeping aids, subject them to electric shocks, take babies from their mothers to see what happens, and pile up stinking heaps of fetid garbage.  And it is an insult, too.  To the rat.

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