Aviation Fatality: One Hamster's Story

By Charles Norwood

According to the news, a 21-year-old student flushed her pet hamster down an airport toilet after being told that she was not allowed to bring the animal on her flight. Apparently the airline had previously told her that she could bring the hamster along for “emotional support,” but then they changed their tune at the last minute.

The fate of “Pebbles” was thus sealed and the student, after having done the deed, was left sobbing hysterically in a bathroom stall. She claims that one of the airline’s workers had suggested flushing the hammy, but the airline denies this. Lawyers have subsequently become involved.

Parisian street art in
memory of the deceased
Now this is obviously a disturbing story. An innocent hamster lost its life, after all, and a young woman’s mind may be permanently destroyed. However, there might still be a silver lining to all this carnage. Even the most disheartening events often provide an opportunity for learning, and this shitshow is no exception.

So let’s see if we can squeeze some moral instruction out of this incident. Who is the guilty party here? Is it the airline? Or is it the student herself? And what is the best course of action for the next person who finds herself in this type of situation?

For some people, it probably seems indisputable that the airline is at fault. The student herself clearly cared about her pet (she was devastated after she murdered it), and, arguably, she was psychologically infirm from the outset (she was relying on a rodent for emotional support).

Moreover, the airline initially told her she could bring the hamster on the plane. Then they reneged at the last second, forcing this vulnerable young woman to make the impossible choice between the life of her beloved pet and her travel plans. Pebbles’ blood (and the student’s PTSD) is thus obviously on their hands. Right?

Well, maybe not.

Sure, the airline made a mistake when they told her she could bring her hamster-therapist along on her flight. And yes, they subsequently pulled out and forced the student into a nasty, almost Biblical conundrum. But what they didn’t pull out was a gun. At no point did an employee of the airline put a gun to the student’s head and actually coerce her to dispatch of Pebs by flushing him down the toilet.

In other words, she had options. She could have, for example, taken Pebby home and then caught a later flight. She’s an adult, and she made the active choice to flush him. According to this line of thinking, our student has nobody to blame for her hammy’s death but herself.

Fascinating. But where do I stand on this issue?

Personally, I prefer to focus on the future rather than the past. Li'l Pebs is dead. He’s ancient history. Food for sewer rats. And blaming people isn’t going to bring him back. But maybe there’s a teachable moment somewhere in this tragedy. Maybe there’s hope for the next traveler whose “emotional support” animal gets turned away by airline staff. So let’s take a look at what the student could have done differently.

Her instinct to kill the hamster, I think, was correct. But instead of actually doing it, she maybe could have just threatened to do it. She could have made a dramatic face and said, “If you don’t let me on this plane I’m going to kill this hamster.” And she could have kept repeating that sentence, possibly while filming the whole thing, until a manager and/or security guards showed up. An outburst like this would have accomplished one of two things:

1) Not wanting to be seen as publicly responsible for the death of a hamster, the airline would have honoured their initial offer and let her onto the plane.

2) They would have “taken her down” and forbidden this young woman from going anywhere near a plane, in which case the difficult moral quandary would have been painlessly solved for her and dear Pebbles would have survived intact.


Charles Norwood is the author of Epistemology Bloody Epistemology: An Academic Satire and co-founder of the literary collective Goathanger.com. He lives in Toronto, where he is involved in a variety of criminal activities; writing, after all, does not pay.

Image attribution: By Môsieur J. [version 5.1.1] (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jblndl/5539644998/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Alterations were made by Ewedrooper.

Existentialism and the Tide Pod Challenge

By Charles Norwood

Kids have been eating soap a lot these days. They bite down on detergent pods and post videos of themselves doing so online. And obviously detergent isn't good for you.

A lot of the kids (and adults) who are doing this are being called "stupid" (along with their parents, who presumably did a shit job raising them). But are they really stupid? What if there's more to this ostensibly cretinous internet trend?

I conducted a little experiment to try to find out:

Basically, I tried to feed a detergent pod to my neighbor’s dog. The dog was tied up outside and when my neighbor went into his house I put a fresh pod in its dish. I wanted to see if the dog would eat it.

It wouldn't. It just sniffed it and turned around.

Cat contemplates generic detergent pod
Naturally, I tried a neighborhood cat next. The cat, which is plainly stupider than the dog because it's smaller, wouldn't eat the detergent either. I had similarly disappointing results with a squirrel and even the mouse I bought for $2 at the pet store (although the neighborhood cat didn't mine eating the mouse, ultimately).

My conclusion after trying to get all these animals to eat soap was that most mammals probably have a biological mechanism that tells them that detergent isn't good for you. And that surely applies to humans too. So what gives?

What separates humanity from the "lower" beasts is the ability to override what our brains are telling us to do. Whereas most animals are entirely bound by instinct, impulse, and conditioning, people have the ability consciously choose any behavior we want. We have the power to transcend our biology.

In other words, we have the power to eat soap even when our instinct, impulses, and conditioning tell us we shouldn't.

So really these kids aren't just eating soap. They are symbolically affirming precisely that which makes them human: the ability to choose to eat soap. They are existential agents mindfully exercising the very intentionality that makes them agents. And there's something inherently self-transcendent and therefore spiritual in that.

It's easy to let your life be run by the same mundane and unconscious and repetitious routines day in and day out. There's nothing courageous in that.

What does take courage is existential resistance. It takes courage to throw off the shackles of nature and nurture and to carve a new path through the world using your willpower alone. And eating detergent, it seems, is the optimal way to assert that courage.


Charles Norwood is the author of Epistemology Bloody Epistemology: An Academic Satire and co-founder of the literary collective Goathanger.com. He lives in Toronto, where he is involved in a variety of criminal activities; writing, after all, does not pay.