“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.”
—Book of Proverbs 6:6
Photo Credit: Roy Toft
In an article (“Ants are Cool, but Teach Us Nothing”) in BloombergView, E.O. Wilson says that although ants are cool, we can learn nothing from them, at least in terms of informing human morality and finding meaning
Wilson, an American biologist, is a world-leading authority on ants; he writes:
For nearly seven decades, starting in boyhood, I've studied hundreds of kinds of ants around the world, and this qualifies me, I believe, to offer some advice on ways their lives can be applied to ours. I’ll start with the question I’m most often asked: “What can I do about the ants in my kitchen?" My response comes from the heart: Watch your step, be careful of little lives. Ants especially like honey, tuna and cookie crumbs. So put down bits of those on the floor, and watch as the first scout finds the bait and reports back to her colony by laying an odor trail. Then, as a little column follows her out to the food, you will see social behavior so strange it might be on another planet. Think of kitchen ants not as pests or bugs, but as your personal guest superorganism.No doubt, almost everyone at one time or another—including my six-year-old son and the writers of the Book of Proverbs—has marveled at the hard work that ants continually undertake and endure. But dig a little deeper, Wilson says. Mindless hard work and determination toward a collectivist goal, which is what essentially an ant colony is, is anti-human. Individuality and moral responsibility is what is missing in ants, but what is necessary for human civilization. Humans are meant to rebel against such collectivist thinking, no matter how beautiful it might appear from a distance. If anything, ants can show us humans how not to live (and die). Such might be the only morality tale here.
Another question I hear a lot is, "What can we learn of moral value from the ants?” Here again I will answer definitively: nothing. Nothing at all can be learned from ants that our species should even consider imitating. For one thing, all working ants are female. Males are bred and appear in the nest only once a year, and then only briefly. They are pitiful creatures with wings, huge eyes, small brains and genitalia that make up a large portion of their rear body segment. They have only one function in life: to inseminate the virgin queens during the nuptial season. They are built to be robot flying sexual missiles. Upon mating or doing their best to mate, they are programmed to die within hours, usually as victims of predators.
Many kinds of ants eat their dead -- and their injured, too. You may have seen ant workers retrieve nestmates that you have mangled or killed underfoot (accidentally, I hope), thinking it battlefield heroism. The purpose, alas, is more sinister.
For more, go to [Bloomberg]