By Rabbi Yeshaia Charles Familant
You know I’ve been thinking during this past year – since we’re approaching the New Year, it’s traditional for us humans to reassess our ways – to objectively view how it’s been to live in a Trump-like world.
Then I recalled a thought from the book of Proverbs of the Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament):
“Take a lesson from the ants, those of you who are apathetic in the face of tyranny. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter. But you, who are indifferent, how long will you remain in your dogmatic slumber? When will you wake up?”
A bit judgmental, you say? Well, yes, but look to the ways of these animals with much smaller brains, or what serves as one through their built-in instincts, to see how they – some species, at least – live without killing one another.
They’ve Mastered Cooperation
One of the more humbling things about ants is their ability to get along and form global mega-colonies instead of killing off one another. Most ants join forces; but even those that don’t, have figured out how to settle arguments without bloodshed.
When there’s a dispute over food or territory, there is an alternative to fighting in the ant world. Certain species will hold ritualized tournaments with “highly stereotyped display fights” that show off, without killing, which side is stronger or more proficient athletically, much as is done in our Olympic sports games. They don’t attack each other. They just jerk around and throw their mandibles up and act real tough. The motions and posturing can go on for days, like our gymnastics, with the whole colony showing up to participate – a bit more ambitious than our own spectators.
When a clear winner emerges, the loser will voluntarily leave without being harmed (though sometimes the losers become enslaved, if their moves were particularly weak!); in that case, they should have conceded earlier and emigrated to a different territory. Well, I didn’t say they were perfect, but it’s better than the conflagrations caused by our kind.
The “dance-off” enables both tribes to judge each other’s strengths and numbers to determine who WOULD win – notice the use of the subjunctive here – in a fight, and therefore render fighting unnecessary (it’s sort of like the plot of “The Step Up Revolution” if your remember that flick, the denouement of which is a dance competition ending up becoming a form of protest).
If ant-dance-fighting isn’t impressive enough for you, what about the greatest building team in history? Weaver ants dwell in trees and make little ant burrito homes out of the leaves, which they accomplish by bending the leaves and gluing them together. The leaves are gigantic compared to them, so no one ant can do this; they all have to work together.
Sometimes they have to pile on top of each other and form pyramids so they can reach the leaves. Or sometimes they have to link together as a chain and pull the leaf closer. When the leaf is in place, it’s time for the gluing, which means that the chain of ants has to hold the leaf in place and wait, like living staples, until a baby ant is ready to spin its cocoon.
Oh, that’s right, even the babies are involved in the construction (we did say “all” of the ants). Instead of covering itself in silk for its cocoon, the larva will donate its wispy strands to be used as building material. Weaver ants cart the babies out and use them like living glue guns to stitch the edges of the leaf homes together.
And the most amazing thing about all of this is that no one ant is in charge of this – a democracy in the extreme. They just get up and unanimously decide to get it done, and even the babies are like, “Yeah, for the good of the colony, I’m in.”
(I’m indebted to Cracked for much of the detail; there’s much more about ants there.)