My Brooklyn apartment is designed for sterility. The windows have screens to keep out bugs; I chose my indoor plants specifically because they don’t attract pests. While commuting to other, similarly aseptic indoor spaces—co-working offices, movie theaters, friends’ apartments—I’ll skirt around pigeons, avert my eyes from a gnarly rat, shudder at the odd scuttling cockroach. But once I’m back inside, the only living beings present (I hope, and at least as far as I know) are the ones I’ve chosen to interact with: namely, my partner and the low-maintenance snake plant on the windowsill.
My aversion to pigeons, rats, and cockroaches is somewhat justifiable, given their cultural associations with dirtiness and disease. But such disgust is part of a larger estrangement between humanity and the natural world. As nature grows unfamiliar, separate, and strange to us, we are more easily repelled by it. These feelings can lead people to avoid nature further, in what some experts have called “
By Robert D. Putnam