Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why adulterers should be eaten by ants...

We seem to live in a society that is rapidly progressing to an almost Caligulan free-for-all; we can do whatever we want to get what we want as long as we don't get caught. Even if we do get caught, we seem to think some fast talking will make consequences go away. The governor of Illinois thought he could sell a vacant senate seat-he got caught and now he's trying to spin the consequences of his actions into a civil rights struggle for the common man. At least once a year for the past 10 we've heard of a powerful man-a politition, a minister, a business tycoon-who gets caught having sex with the wrong people, people who are not only NOT his wife, but also NOT women. The only thing that helps the irritation of being presumed so stupid we would all buy the incredibly lame excuses they throw at us, is the comedic pathos of a moron talking too much, way too late. Society needs rules to have order. People disregard the rules, you get all kinds of messy consequences: we don't trust politicians, evangelists are more than a little suspect, and we are less surprised than we ought to be when we hear that so-and-so are getting a divorce because one of them cheated. That's why I was so interested to learn about ants.

Ants have a rigid social structure and heirarchy. You can imagine how complicated it could get if a poplation that big was constantly competing against each other to mate, to protect their young, to get the resources needed to feed their young...its actually a little too easy to imagine. In ant colonies, there is only one female, the queen, who has the genetic mettle to produce strong and productive offspring that will benefit the entire colony. She only mates for one brief period in her life, storing all the sperm she could ever need during those, um, "encounters." Once she's mated, she doesn't get to mate anymore. Of course, the other ants sometimes get a little more excited than is strictly necessary when your whole life is devoted to moving crumbs. The other ants can sense both a male's arousal, and a female's fecundity. Not only do the other members of the colony attack if they catch rank and file ants mating, they attack if they're even thinking about it! Now that is some justice system!

The scientist who ran the study had this to say: "The idea that social harmony is dependent on strict systems to prevent and punish cheating seems to apply to most successful societies."

I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that we ought to emulate ants in all the ways they control the chaos-I don't love communism or socialism, I think the idea of objectively picking the fittest female to carry one the species is more than a little creepy, and execution for fornicators is probably a little much. However, I do think its time to consider the reason everything from our economy to our government to our own families are in chaos for a very simple reason: too many of us believe we are above the rules, or the rules are obsolete. We don't believe our choices have far-reaching consequences. Now our economy is wrecked by selfish, hedonistic jerks and an attitude that can't wait for luxuries we can't afford. Our government is run by a bunch of great thinkers who believe we can throw money on a fire to put it out. Our homes, our families, our communities are a mess, because we only want what WE want, and all others be damned.

Ants aren't the smartest creatures. They have 250,000 nuerons in their tiny ant brains. An adult human brain has more than 100 billion. Ants get it. What's our problem?