Ants are a commonly related to when we talk about teeming humanity and the parallels are interesting. They occupy about the same terrestrial biomass on earth as humans, have been here for more than 100 million years evolving at the same time as flowering plants (we’ve only been around in our present form for about 200,000 years) and they are found on practically every landmass on earth.
Unlike our singular species, the recognizable construction of head, thorax, body and six legs is replicated across something like 22 000 species but they all are connected by their remarkable division of labour, communication, and ability to tackle complex problems – things like working with other species for mutual benefit, surviving floods or subduing animals far bigger than they are, for food or defence.
Unlike humans, these highly successful creatures don’t do politics or religion. They are not governed by anger, greed, ignorance or fear, have no compulsion to build empires (although they do have queens, or at least the term given by humans to that stratum of ant hierarchy) or build nation states. They make no claims to being above nature and while certain species are avowedly destructive, it’s no doubt closer to the fact that they hitched a ride to a place on earth where they would never otherwise have been without the help of another destructive species, us.
At this moment in history, large numbers of our own species are on the move. Despite our apparent complexity over ants, we too are governed by atavistic instincts – things like flight or fight for basic survival and indeed, disgust – a hard wired response to disease and things we find offensive. These instincts are difficult to override but fear and disgust must not get in the way of a common sense of humanity and its highest expression, compassion.
Unlike ants we are one species. Viewed from a great height, crowds of people act and behave like swarms but a view from the ground shows that we are one and the same, individual and human. For some reason, humans like to elect leaders who take the view from 30 000 feet but unlike ants, our compassion en masse will be a strong deciding factor in our future survival on the ground. Ants will be just fine, us humans? I’m not so sure.