Spike Me? Spike You!

Posted: June 23, 2014 in Culture, Politics, Tacky
Tags: , , ,

Any given species has its unique behaviors and preferred habitat, inevitably overlapping with others that are predator or prey. The human species has spread geographically to make nearly the entire world its habitat and every species its prey (sometimes unintentionally). But it’s a Pyrrhic success, because for the ecosystem to work as our habitat as well as theirs, diversity and abundance is needed. As our numbers have expanded to over 7 billion, nonhuman populations have often declined precipitously (when we don’t farm them for food). When we humans are not otherwise busy hunting, harvesting, and exterminating, we harass them and claim their habitats as uniquely our own. Our unwillingness to share space and/or tolerate their presence except on our own terms is audacious, to say the least.

To take just one example, we have developed many devices to discourage birds from roosting and nesting where we don’t want them. A list of top ten ways to deter “pest” birds is found here:

  1. Reflective Foil/Flash Tape and Balloons.
  2. Bird Spiders.
  3. Bird Spikes.
  4. Bird Slopes.
  5. Bird Netting.
  6. Bird Gel.
  7. Electric-Tracks.
  8. Misters.
  9. Sonic Repellers.
  10. Solar Powered Bird Repellers.

The devices are billed as humane, and perhaps they are. A somewhat nastier list is found here, though the remarks about “none listed” under Repellants, and Toxicants and “not allowed” under Trapping ring false. (How is Trapping so different from Live Capture? Does one specifically avoid injury?) Yet another list is found here. I will admit that in some instances, such as proximity to airports, windmill farms, or toxic waste dumps (of human origin), keeping birds from harm makes sense, except that they are still displaced from their habitats, which we have claimed and ruined for them.

Our overreach is now so great, however, that we have turned on ourselves. Undesired, unsavory, and untouchable populations are harassed like animals and told, essentially, go be undesirable somewhere else. Apparently, the homeless can’t even go live under a bridge anymore.


This is happening in my neighborhood, too. Public outcry against such measures appears to be vehement in some instances. Harassment of notorious park bench sleepers started out less egregious, perhaps, with slanted benches, leaning benches, and divided benches. But wait, it got worse. Now we have spikes built into park benches that are (get this!) coin-operated and rigged to deploy when one’s paid-for interval runs out:

Outcry over such innovations appears to be nearly universal, but frankly, I expect to see these and other NIMBY devices with greater frequency. They clearly don’t aim to address homelessness or minister to the homeless. Instead, they harass and displace. This website, despite a few preliminary flourishes, appears to approach homelessness in much the same way, namely, as a pest infestation to be eradicated.

It would be a legitimate function of government to provide a safety net troubled populations could not fall through, but alas, our government functions instead to reward the wealthy and powerful with more wealth and power rather than serve the health and wellbeing of society as a whole, including the problems of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised among us. That’s hardly a lobby that will get anyone elected.

  1. Clem says:

    Nicely researched. But I’m not persuaded we are the only critters on the pitch unwilling to share space or tolerate ALL others. I will agree we could be more magnanimous. And there are plenty of places where it will actually suit us well to be more tolerant and hospitable to our fellow travelers.

    And on the issue of trapping vs live capture – these can be ostensibly different. For example, if you have raccoons, possums, or ground hogs in the neighborhood and wish to displace them (an arguable activity, but lets stick to comparing methods) you have a handful of choices: outright killing or poisoning; trapping with leg traps that will maim or kill; and live traps that often leave the critter live and mostly unharmed (though usually quite pissed off). Relocating live trapped animals is not without concern, but does seem most humane. [interesting how you can go from human to humane by merely adding an ‘e’]… Around pets and small children the poisoning and shooting is usually not sanctioned, so traps, leg vs live are the typical avenue. And as traps will not discriminate, leg traps can cripple pets – so live traps usually fall to first place.

    While reading your piece I was thinking of the Canada goose. Here is – at least on the surface – a glorious creation. That something so fat can fly, and fly so gracefully for such long distance seems a marvel to me. But these poop factories can really get on one’s nerves. As a youngster I can recall seeing these geese only occasionally. They were wonderful to see. Now it seems they’re everywhere. Too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing? Anyway, I’m now sympathetic to ideas of hassling the geese to move them to habitat where they’re less intrusive. And hunting them as game animals also makes sense to me. True, it may be interpreted as just another macho human ‘dominate the planet’ activity – but it might also be interpreted as a cull the flock activity which is no different than the responsibility doled out to all the other top-of-food-chain predators. I tend to see it as the latter.

    As for humane treatment of our fellow Homo sapiens… I have to agree with you. Spiked benches seem beyond the pale.

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment. Naturally, there is no simple response to the hostility I raised, but it seemed to me worthwhile to contextualize a bit. The distinction between trapping and capture is rather arbitrary to me, but I appreciate the sensitivity to not harming animals unnecessarily. (The real motivation could be avoiding the collateral effect on house pets.)

      Your point about geese and goose poop is germane. My issue is that we can’t handle even this intrusion into our zone of most perfect comfort and contentment. No doubt we are a top predator, but I wouldn’t say it’s our responsibility to cull or manage populations. Very anthropocentric. Obviously, we’ve nonetheless taken shepherding Nature as our prerogative and, I might add, failed miserably at it. Had our values been different — had we been more content to coexist (commune?) with some discomfort and perhaps even sacrifice rather than greedily dominate and direct — we wouldn’t now be so hostile to everything not human. That hostility is now directed inwardly to humans, too, as the appearance of spikes demonstrate. Just another animal population to herd and manage.

  2. Brian says:

    Nice post.

    There is a scene in the movie Gladiator. Joaquim Phoenix, as Emperor Commodus, has nastily tried to bait the gladiator Maximus, played by Russell Crowe. Maximus replies, “the time for honoring yourself will soon be at an end, Emperor.”

    That is pretty much how I see the human condition today. We are a species that has been too successful at the expense of its own ecosystem. Spikes on park benches is just “bycatch” as our species trawl the life out of this planet. But our time for honoring our achievements may soon come to an end.

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