The Human and the Ant — What is inspiring in us and them? [continuation of series]
A friend had a vivid dream recently that unpacked the concept of the future for him (his eschatology). He saw a massive number of ants walking throughout the ages in lines extending seemingly forever and coming from places unknown. In his dream, he was one of those ants, and he was in the midst of other ants gouging and beating each other and trying to control their ‘world’ oblivious of their smallness in the grand scheme of things. In seeming support, ScientificAmerican.com reports the real problem of ant wars as a threat to human existence.
The trouble in the ant world comes through a small handful of invasive ant species whereas the majority of the more than 12,000 ant species are native. Native ants, in contrast to invasive ants, are beneficial to the environment. They till their soil and sow their seeds. My aim here is not to go into the social economy of ants and potential consequences for the world but to take up a discussion that identifies vital differentiating aspects of natural and spiritual actions. I use the ants here to help my argument for a deeper understanding of the relationship between the natural and the spiritual in humanity. I draw on the ant’s efficient natural functionality, to examine what best reflects human functionality.
Native Ants, we know, are the opposite of dysfunctional – they spend their entire lives busy with some task serving their natural goals. That said, the reasons for the imbalances in the ant world are not yet clear and form part of some research in the science of myrmecology.
As a forethought to what follows, picture if you will, the character of a being who creates a world of such beauty as ours. Consider then, the anticipated hope enough of such a being for a hope-filled future for this beautifully diverse creation—here, as humans, animals, and the creation? In the interest of fair disclosure, my doctoral research has led me so far to take up the idea or belief that such beauty has a reconciliative (and not annihilative) ultimate purpose—an eternal future that I see as a unity-across-diversity for the sake of joy, happiness, and abounding blessings.
The ant, in its single-minded functionality, offers in this sense, a question to us: What can we learn from it for our purpose on earth? Although ants are almost physically blind (they communicate through chemical smell and stridulation), they teach us about consistency—they do not deviate from the paths set out by their scouts. Rightly, Solomon encourages us to take a lesson from them (I imagine here, Solomon considers their singlemindedness)
“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest” Proverbs 6:6-8
The scientific records abundantly document ant behavior. Ants use their differing skills, communication, and intelligence to build and protect their colonies or to acquire that of others. The estimate is they comprise 15-25% of the biomass of earth’s terrestrial animals (i.e., the ants make up to 25% of the total weight of all animal and insect life). They occupy every landmass on earth except Antarctica; Greenland; Iceland, and a few deserted islands. This ‘occupation’ is an outstanding feat of community building, largely the result of operating as associated entities.
La Fontaine’s fable, The Ant and the Grasshopper [La Cigale et la Fourmi], may be less about a discouraged grasshopper standing before a self-righteousness ant that sits cross-armed in front of its locked and loaded storeroom door, than about a fantastic ‘ant’ strategy, that of staying focused on its community’s building purposes. “Que faisiez-vous au temps chaud?” the ant asks [What were you doing when the weather was warm?]. To which the grasshopper replies, “Nuit et jour à tout venant je chantais, ne vous déplaise” [Night and day to all comers I sang, do not displease yourself] (Fables de la Fontaine, 2011, 4). The fable ends with the ant’s sarcastic remark to the grasshopper that its life had better be more than its singing.
However, the human species has a crucial advantage over the ants – a deeper understanding of spiritual things. Humans can imagine what they have never experienced. They can creatively implement resultant research into their present or future action. The ant has intelligence; social order, and even astounding physical abilities, but cannot rise cognitively and creatively to alter his natural drive. However, also, though this differentiated spiritual-creativity seemingly separates humans and animals, a similarity remains. Both respond spiritually as in the desire to act to extend life that is “like it.”
So, we might then ask: what is the human’s further purpose? If I were to take up the idea of a spiritual-imaginative relational possibility— an analogia relationis as it were, a transcendent attribute emerges. To think on a spiritual-creative plane opens to the human the idea that life’s drive to unity-in-community. Here, humans, do not differentiate from the ants. Said philosophically in an Aristotelian sense, a unity-in-community is a life of “like” drawn to what is “like’ it”. However, living for “likeness” is only one half of a whole. I am proposing here that it takes the altitude of a deeper spiritual-creative view to show that the human must imagine life beyond what is “like it.” In the ant world, the “likeness” view results in turf wars which scientists tell us may in time threaten the globe. In contrast, a deeper spiritual-creative view invites a different view of what can sustain future peace—one of unity-across-diversity. I am taking up the charge here for a “tensioned” relationship between “unity” and “difference” that breaks the idea of a one-sided need for unity to replace it with a unity-across-difference. I am speaking here of a charge and purpose for the human that is a latent possibility. This potential co-inheres without coalescence. Here, all created life carries this potential for hope, for the future, for quest, for meaning, etc., without subsuming the other/s. The genetive sacred text describes this sui generis potential as an “image in the likeness of God.” It is this “image” that guides the cycles of collaborations in humanity and all creation. No doubt, intelligence shapes aspects of these relationships. The “image” pattern set out in the inceptive sacred texts is set in the backdrop of “binding” and “separating” of earth from firmaments, sky from earth, water from land, plants from animals, humans from dust, etc. This process of “binding” and “separating” suggests to us life lived in a tensional relationship of unity-across-diversity rather than in an Aristotelian sense, as in a drive for “likeness.” Slater’s logic of scarcity contemplates the annihilative possibility in the ants’ capacity to destroy one another in their drive for survival. I go beyond here in a negation of negation to a logic of affirmation. I see the pattern in the ants who build in interactive mutualisms, as an encouragement to build tensional relationships of unity-across-diversity.
Humans even have, to a greater degree than the ants, the ability to see and know and hope and understand the purpose of being meaningful and responsible. This greater spiritual ability also open the humans to the misuse of their talents.
The thin line of “greater knowledge” that seemingly separates humans from the ants is also the line that joins them. Here too the “separating” and the “binding” carry a mutual responsibility, since we all participate in the history of creation. This line is not a preferred position. This line is not an advantage that can sustain disadvantaging the others in humanity and creation. This line, if viewed with the wisdom of a tensional unity-across-diversity takes up the use of our creative energies for the benefit of other created beings whose returned favor we may not understand until all things are made clear.
In the meantime, this line is a remind of our daily responsibilities to live with the wisdom we have for the sake of the other/s—as a turn to the other/s that benefits all, including us. This line is not a new Totalitarian or Unified solution, but an opening through the idea of our collaborative mutualness to be willing to serve for the sake of a love for the other/s—for the different, for the multi-diverse world.
I see such a love in the example of the One who was willing to respond to human cruelty with a transcendent love at the cross. This One shows that a love for other/s exists that cannot be extinguished, but continues today to nurture humanity and creation toward the Final Reconciliation of all life—human and creational.
2011 © Victory Fields
(The beliefs, conclusions, or opinions expressed within this article are entirely those of the author of this article. It is not our intention to suggest either that the authors/writers quoted, in any way agree with what we have written, or that we are expressing their full view on any of the subjects covered)