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Old 03-14-2011, 11:49 AM
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Interesting idea, but I disagree in a number of points. First obviously the definition of being "advanced" is arbitrary. To see mass population, hive-structures, wars, city-building, hierarchy, specialization and agriculture as advanced is the way this civilization thinks of advancements, but other advancements would be compassion, being social and caring, being able to think and act freely and as individuals and make own decisions. Ants are in their way of life incapable of that (expect maybe when it suits the hive or hierarchy plays a role - like ants "caring" for their queen). In other aspects, primates (social cooperation but individual thinking), dolphins (same as monkeys), elephants (memory, mourning, compassion) or beavers (construction of own habitat) match parts of what humans do. In fact, some of the basic principles like building shelter or colonies are very widespread throughout the animal kingdom. Weaver birds build "cities" in trees, groundhogs and beavers also build colonies, corals are colonies of millions of individuals. Single celled foraminifera and corals do "agriculture" by letting bacteria grow in special parts of their calcareous homes.

Ants are interesting though as they show some properties that seem to correlate with each other, like sense population, agriculture, city building, hierarchy, specialization, wars, loss of individuality and most of all the absence of any intelligent and conscious action on behalf of the individuals. To me this brings up a very interesting question about how and why civilized humans do what they do. Is it really a conscious or intelligent process? I recently read a quote that described an intersting phenomenon - despite the capabilities of individuals to do conscious thinking, civilization as a whole acts more like bacteria on a petri dish. There is some dynamic in this way of life that really resembles that one of ants that seems to not depend on and is possibly even without influence from individual thought. So is this civilization really a product of conscious thinking and planning, of intelligence of individuals or is it something else? A form of organization and way of life that becomes neccesary if population increases for example?

One thing is very different in ants and humans though that actually makes ants "better" - all of their actions also benefit the world around them. They move soil, consume food and all that, but ecosystems with ants are healthy and ants contribute to that health by leaving fertilized soil behind. If that would not be so, all trees would be eaten away and the world would only be ants, so they clearly know more about sustainable city building than humans.

What is interesting though is, that much of the aspects of ant life are things, humans would not really like at heart. The strict hierarchy, class system, even sterilization of whole classes for example. Or the constant working and labouring. I think humans usually would - despite the cities and agriculture and all that - not want to be like an ant. Yet we actually are. Is this "our nature" and if so, why do we not really like many aspects of that? My take is, that humans have developed and evolved for a very different way of life, one that fosters individual thinking as well as sharing with the group, for a more egalitarian setting, for lower population densities (Dunbars number) and actually for a predominantly non-agricultural lifestyle. Aside from the point whether or not we want to become exactly like ants in our social structure or not, this kind of structure is relatively new and our minds and bodies are not well adapted to that model. This is why people become increasingly depressed, brutal and violent, this is possibly also why unlike ants, human civilization is not sustainable. I think either we strive to become like ants (giving up individual freedom and thought to collectiveness and the "hive mind", keep with hierarchy, classes, strict specialization, and all that) - that could in the future surely be done by deeper inculturation, medical advances, neurology and genetics - or we accept our humanness and what defines that and adapt the way of life we lead to what fits our psyche and bodies. This does not neccesarily mean to live like our pre-civilized ancestors, but it means to accept that we are not like ants but more like monkeys or dolphins or elephants. But in fact that we are unique. That individuals do not feel comfortable with hierarchy, warfare, groupthink, caste systems, that our bodies do not do so well with a diet of sugars & grains alone, that we simply do lack the knowledge and instinct to create a sustainable ant-hive. I think it is a very sane assumption to use the latter approach - find out WHO we as humans really are and create a way of living that suits all of these defining markers best - and I do not think that this is anything ant-like.

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