Posted by: peterhact | March 21, 2010

What defines us as a species? Are we no better than a colony of Ants?

There are some similarities between us and ants.

We both have colonies, we call them cities, and outposts, we call them towns, an intricate network of communication, with humanity, the internet covers that off, with ants, the scents that each species generates ensures that they can communicate the sites of food, enemies and the onset of rain.

We both extend our presence on this planet, conquering new places, learning to adapt to new climates, new environments, and at the core of society, each group has a leader. Humans elect their leaders, Queens give birth to the new queen, when they feel it is time for the colony to split and grow further out. There is a monarchy of centuries for ants, they are all bound to defend their queen, and if one ant woke up tomorrow (if ants actually sleep) and formed a republic, that would be really, really short lived. No queen equals no colony. They don’t write poetry, they don’t have great works of literature, and they don’t go to the movies. Or do they? how far does the scents that they detect and interpret actually go? does the ant equivalent of Shakespeare smell like summer rain, daffodils and swiss cheese? maybe they are intelligent. Maybe we aren’t the dominant race, they just don’t see the point in computers, the telephone, internet or the myriad of products that humanity entraps itself with and makes us slaves to technology.

Maybe the creation of fire was man’s biggest mistake. From then on, we created all sorts of things to “help” us. and as we did, the complexities of these things overwhelmed our senses, and we stopped listening to what they were telling us.

How many times have you heard someone say that it smells like rain? How many times have you been able to smell dust in the air, smoke in the air from a bushfire, or the torrential downpour that is going to catch you out in the middle of an oval, too far to run? (the theory is that these are called “sucker holes” – they open up in the clouds, you look up and see blue sky, they wait until you are to far to run from cover, and the damn things close. God’s little joke)

We put too much emphasis on “stuff”. We seem to think that you haven’t had a good life if you haven’t bought a big house and filled it with crap that you never ever look at, bowls, plates, platters that were purchased as gifts that fill cupboards, pantries and boxes, vases for flowers that you dare not use for fear of breaking them, and when you die, your family fights over these possessions. To own them is to be successful in our eyes. Why?

What if the things that you accumulated in a lifetime would keep your family fed into the distant future? would that be a better use of your time? Ants apparently think so. they don’t collect gold, they collect grains, they collect food that will keep, and they use it to survive in the lean times.

The problem is that if you stop working, and opt out of the norms of society, they think you are a lunatic, and “treat” you. There is no escape. there isn’t anything that you can do, you are born into society’s norms, and you die entangled in its behaviors.

Personally, I think we have got it wrong. Ants have the idyllic life, we are the drones, the drudges and we are never, ever free…



  1. Fire wasn’t ‘created’–it’s a part of nature. The nature phenomenon of lighting striking trees? It’s called a forest fire and the Dinosaurs were aware of those things, not to mention cockroaches like a billion years ago.
    What we did was ‘tame’ or ‘harness’ fire, to our ends [camp fires, internal combustion engines, power plant…]

    The reason the possession and ownership of property is deemed worthy and valuable in many human societies (not all), is due to our desire to impress upon potential mates, and thus general society , that we are capable of accumulating extra resources.

    This is an important signifier–much as a peacock’s tail is–in indicating to potential mates, that we can provide “extra” both for them, for offspring, and again, our general society.
    A peacock’s tail signifies the ability of a specific peacock gene configuration to produce so much extra energy, as to be able to contruct this ludicrous calorically expensive display of beauty, by which the peahen can measure genetic health thru phenotype alone.

    We have evolved to appreciate and display this, as those in the past who were net consumers and not net givers, did not survive in times of hardship–like famine, droughts, etc.
    Humans display their SANITY to others–some of whom are potential mates–though endeavours such as wealth creation, artistic creativity, activities which require willpower, discipline and the denial/delay of self-gratification.

    We are much like ants, I agree, but we have become so sophisticated that we sometimes forget what’s really going on–for this reason it is good to study ants, and dogs, and buffalo…and amoebae.

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