Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I've just risked my life to save a mole.

I was walking along a country road, when I saw a baby mole, black with its little pink snout, crawling blindly in the middle of the carriageway.

I stepped into the road to pick it up and put it somewhere safer.

Moles are vermin round here. I can understand why. If you have a nice lawn, coming down to find three or four molehills in it can't be a pleasing experience.

They're tolerated in the fields, as far as I know, but nobody stops the plough to spare their homes. They are, as the saying goes, neither loved nor hated, but made of atoms that a superior intelligence can use for other purposes.

And this one was a baby. A tiny mammal unprotected in Winter. A doomed thing.

As I stepped into the road, a car appeared, coming fast down the other side.

And as my shadow fell on the mole, it tried to run, scrabbling desperately with pathetic little flippers that weren't good enough even to lift its body off the ground.

But it reached the white line, and crossed, and crawled into the path of the car.

So I stepped out in front of it and held my hand out like a storm trooper with the palm flat for STOP.

And the car braked. Hard. On the icy road. And stopped in time.

And the old couple wound down their window, and I explained. And as I did, I started to feel sentimental and foolish. And the lady of the couple said thank you, because she hated to kill things when they drove, and she said that if I hadn't I would have ruined Christmas, because the death would have been my fault, and I'd have been thinking about it all day.

And while we talked the mole scurried off into the icy brambles at the side of the road. Where, without its mother, it will die, sooner rather than later, in one of the many ways baby animals die in Winter.

We are not rational beings. I knew that. It is always nice to have one's beliefs confirmed. But what the hell heuristic was I using, and what strange utility function did it think it was serving?

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