What of The Gnat?

by Amani Hope

On a warm Thursday afternoon I walk a wooded trail – a fine escape from human society. The setting sun creeps through the trees and illuminates each wild thing, and the only disruption is the crunching needles and leaves beneath my feet. I stand amidst a crew of innocent gnats. They spiral around one another, each fly crowned with light, thoroughly enjoying themselves. I speak to them: “How lucky you are for the simplicity of your life? My life is a long and troubled story.” These gnats do not reply, they do not wish to hear of human discontent, they have no need for stories. I sit on a fallen oak tree to watch them dance and to mull over my discovery: The life of a simple gnat is more pleasurable than a human one.

If male fruit flies have orgasms, then these woodland flies could also experience life’s finest delight. An isolated study has shown that when male fruit flies ejaculate, the reward system in their brain is satiated and they feel pleasure! This study was lead by Galit Shohat-Ophir in Israel, and yes, she is still researching whether it is the same for female fruit flies, but I’m sure Mother Nature is fair and just, so for the sake of my musings I will assume female fruit flies are also getting some satisfaction. If the same is true for gnats, that would mean sex has a recreational quality–what little winged beasts!

If flies may feel pleasure from sex, why should I assume they don’t feel felicity from other things? I should not think humans are the only species who have souls. So, I remove the shroud that deems this insect so plain and robotic and I toss it on the floor. I will go forth with the idea that if a fly can orgasm, then they may also enjoy eating food…If gnats rejoice in sex and eating food, and if these two things are all that life requires of them, well then that sounds exactly like the wish I muttered into a coin and tossed in a fountain.

A gnat’s purpose in life is to be born, whereas a human’s purpose is to be burdened. These particular gnats were born only 12 days ago, on the pond at the end of the trail. The eggs sank down to the bottom of the pond, and the hatched larvae burrowed themselves in the mud where they ate for their entire adolescence. Having only one responsibility to stay alive, and a delicious one, seems like a wonderful way to experience youth. Can you imagine the sighs of relief our children would have if we told them the same? That to survive they will only need snacks, and rather than those pesky pressures to succeed in a world forecasted to end, they would grow up cheerfully eating their way through a cabbage patch. Present day when a gnat is born, God receives it much like the following–

God: Hello!”

Gnat: “Why am I here?”

God: “To be born!”

Gnat: “I’m doing a good job then.”

God: “Yes! Please enjoy the rest of your life.”

But, when a human is born–

God: “Hello there!”

Human: “Why am I here?”

God: “To save the world!”

Human: “What?”

God: “Yes.”

Human: How?”

God: “No idea.”

This newborn human is encumbered with the responsibility to fix our impending climate doom, and with the feeling that the apocalypse is nigh. As far as I can tell, a young gnat is not burdened with apprehension and the responsibility to save the planet, yet the gnat is still beneficial to the world anyhow. They keep their waters clean, sucking up all the tasty algae nearby, and in doing so aquatic life thrives. They eat and make their world a better place at the same time. Therefore in comparison to humans, I say these prancing midges have a blissful adolescence munching their way through the pond. Then they shed themselves of childhood to swim to the pond’s surface and fly off into adulthood, where they now congregate before me. I admire their drunken pirouettes backlit by dusk, after all, it is a sensual dance. 

Adulthood gifts a human with struggles but gifts a gnat with one desire: sex. The average lifespan of an adult gnat is 7 days. They spend their entire adulthood dancing and mating in the afternoon sun, and if science says they feel gratification then this must be one euphoric week. Many don’t even need to eat. Well, there is the path to peace! The quiet woods, perfect weather, and nothing but sex until death. Wouldn’t it be nice to have love as free as the gnat?

Adulthood for humans is complicated. I am a human and I can say my life only gets more complicated with each day I age. It surprised me to enter adulthood and find all the human struggles there to greet me: the most unsteady being Pride, Money, and Success. Success often looks a lot like Failure which is the most nagging of struggles and can never sit still. I looked around the room and asked where I could find Happiness. Each struggle a cynic looked back at me with reproof, and I heard a struggle or two actually laugh at me. Meanwhile, Pain and Depression were gossiping about me around the water cooler.

What is even worse, humans have been notorious for causing their own suffering: the most obvious being war, genocide, tyranny and of course the 40-hour work week. I’ve never seen such behavior from a gnat. It isn’t a battle for a gnat to reach their death day like it is for a human. We clamor our way up the crumbling pile called the “American Dream” so we can zip through life in the race to win happiness. We’re force-fed suffering into our lives as if happiness is an award we receive on the day of retirement. But all the while we are not experiencing a life at ease, certainly not a life as tranquil as a gnat. Gnats never get their jacket pockets caught on door handles.

These gnats have hosted me long enough. The sunlight is receding from off their wings and back into the sky. I must make my way back to my own society, for I am still sitting on this rotting oak and the crusty bark is attempting to give me new fingerprints. I am becoming aware of a whisper tickling my ears. This society of gnats is sharing great secrets of happiness with the woods. So softly they speak one can only hear their wisdom while standing completely still. Indeed, it is clear to me now why the life of a gnat is more pleasurable than a human one. Gnats embody the very peace we are searching for. They have joy and kindness for one another. Though still my human conditioning makes me question whether I should trust a creature so small and fragile. Without suffering their stories must be very boring, and I love a good story. 

“I think tonight I will read a thriller,” I say as I walk back to town.

Works Cited: Shohat-Ophir, Galit. “Ejaculation Induced by the Activation of Crz Neurons Is Rewarding to Drosophila Males.” Current Biology, 19 April 2018, https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(18)30368-3?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0960982218303683%3Fshowall%3Dtrue Accessed 11 November 2019.

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