12 October 2010

What are ants telling us?

The anthill:  model for utopia or dystopia?

E.O. Wilson, who knows as much about ants as anybody, thinks we ought to worry, based on the way he sees ants dealing with resource shortages.
  Or maybe we ought not to worry about whether or not we act like ants and instead focus on our behavior. What do you think?
 From a recent article about Wilson:
…He has joked that Karl Marx had it right about socialism, he just got the wrong species. In his writings he is wont to emphasise the beneficence of ants, how an ant with a full stomach will regurgitate liquid food for those without, and how the old will venture into battle so that the young can survive. That may confirm some of the findings of “Mutual Aid”, the pioneering 1902 study of altruism in animals by the Russian anarchist Prince Pyotr Kropotkin. But is this really socialism? To the casual observer the ant colony looks more like a Nazi ideal, where the weak are shed and fed upon, and those who have the slightest scent of another colony are sprayed with a chemical marking them out for death. It makes one glad to be human.
When Wilson unveiled sociobiology in 1975, it met with an angry response. Feminists, Marxists and Christians were opposed; so was Stephen Jay Gould, another Harvard biologist. But Wilson’s belief in sociobiology has not wavered. He leans forward and folds his hands together. “History is almost certainly colony against individual and colony against colony. If group selection is correct, what you would expect to find is an intense human desire to form groups that attack other groups; bands of brothers, teams.” Then comes the rider. “As shortages in oil and other energy sources increase, we will see insect traits. Group conflict is so deeply endemic that we will never diminish it until we confront it.”…
…We were not driven from Eden. Instead, we destroyed most of it.

They work together, share food and send their elders into battle to protect the young. And the world authority on them thinks they have a lot to teach us. J.M. Ledgard goes to Harvard to discuss ants, and more, with E.O. Wilson ...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Autumn 2010
More Intelligent Life (http://moreintelligentlife.com)

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