I visited the bees the other day. Sitting quietly, watching all their activity, I became aware of a steady increase in their buzzing. Several bees then flew in my direction and stung me on the forearm and right between the eyes. Ironically, despite spending my life attempting to help my fellow species, animals hate me, almost without exception. Who else can say they have been attacked by both a dolphin and a dugong?
Once I had iced my face and arm and popped an antihistamine I did start thinking about the bees that laid down their lives to protect the hive they felt, for some unknown reason, was in danger, and I wondered how that sort of mind works. Orson Scott Card tried to describe it in the aliens he created for the classic “Ender’s Game”. The buggers, as they were called in the book, relied totally upon their queen. When the queen was killed the rest of the colony died as well, not too dissimilar to bees.
The more I thought about it the more I realised that we are not actually all that different to the bees. We, too, possess a hive mind. We, too, lay down our lives for what we consider the good of the colony. That is presumably why so many willing combatants march off to war on such a regular basis, to save their hive from whatever religious, ethnic or economic danger they believe is threatening it.
We call it heroism, self-sacrifice or altruism but, ironically, if fewer people were prepared to lay down their lives for causes and we all acted more selfishly perhaps there would be fewer wars too (and fewer people running into burning buildings or huge surf in order to rescue their fellow man)? It is hard to imagine an army of cats banding together to defend the common good, the way bees do. In their world it is every cat for itself. And that seems to work perfectly well for them.
The marvel of evolution and natural selection is that just because one paradigm works, does not mean there is no room for other completely different, but just as successful, lifestyles.
Dr. F. Bunny