Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Hive Society

Life is sometimes about waiting. Usually we spend our days making something happen, working hard at our jobs, balancing family and career while keeping up with all the daily tasks. It is in these daily tasks that the nobility of life can be experienced, but it is a challenge to embrace the dirt, crying children and work stress. I’m interested in bees because of what they represent and do. They are individuals who form a collective and have subsumed their ability to reproduce for the sake of a better chance of something greater then themselves surviving…their genes. Looking at the hive is looking at ourselves. Both Homo Sapiens and Apis Mellifera are social animals unable to survive without the collective and during each part of our lives different things are expected of us. Bees build the hive, feed and protect the brood, and gather nectar. Humans basically perform the same function building a family, protecting and feeding the kids and bringing home the paycheck. Both engage in a symbolic exchange that is predicated upon finding a resource and converting it into nourishment.

Does the bee understand that it is part of a collective? At what level does it understand that it is part of a hive? How self aware is the bee? How intelligent is the hive mind? It is quite amazing to think about the complex behaviors that this collective engages in? The hive collects resources and stores for use in later. Individual bees communicate the location and quality of nectar resources and when in the form of a swarm practice a kind of collective decision making process to determine the location of a new home. The hive also redeploys workers to various jobs like repair and brood rearing when it becomes necessary. They also perform self sacrifice in order to save the collective. In many ways they are a human society in miniature, for a hive of bees is the size of a small city or large town. Some people have argued that the hive should be considered as an individual animal. If that is correct them we could look at our town, city or polis as a type of consciousness also. Both are, according to Bruno Latour and other actor/network theorists, actants…forces that interacts with the world forming strategies to survive and reproduce. When I look into a hive, I’m looking the same type of organization as the society that I live in with the same kinds of division of labor, the same issues of survival that the humanity struggles with everyday. A bee does not struggle to see the consciousness of the collective, but I struggle to see the consciousness of this thing called humanity. When I look into a hive, I can catch a glimpse of the shared consciousness of both.

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