Bees have been in the news a lot. There is widespread panic that they are all going to be wiped out and that we will all die of starvation. It could be a virus or the effect of insecticides that is causing the devastating reduction in numbers of what the BBC euphemistically call pollinating insects.
But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. Bees, along with many of the social insects are not on the face of it like human society or herds of animals. The vast majority of the bees in a hive are all clones of each other and I wonder whether we should really consider a hive as a single animal rather than a collection of individuals. Is each worker-bee more like the equivalent of a cell within our own bodies than a separate creature?
If this is true of bees then could it also be true of humans? Even though each of us is different in so many ways we have so much more in common. Most of us live in coordinated societies with rules and regulations or at least a common understanding of right, wrong and social norms. Even our differences in customs and beliefs are minor and can be recognised as human.
Were we to be visited from outer space would the world be considered as a rock occupied by billions of humans or, in the grand scheme of things a single human entity? Would we be viewed as individuals, a hive or one creature?
Ubuntu is a word from South Africa which gives the sense that people gain their humanity from society rather than from themselves as an individual. People are transcendent yet society lives on. Individuals can only be unique in context of the society in which they live. Man, it is believed is born without form and it is society that transforms them, like a pot from clay into what they become. The individual is formed of the community and it is the community that bears the responsibility for how they turn out.
Margaret Thatcher put forward a different view when she claimed there is no such thing as society but she then went on to describe a very ‘Ubuntu’ view by saying ‘There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.’ Far be it for me to disagree with her but her tapestry describes how we are all interlinked and our value can only be measured in the context of our contribution to human kind – or society.
When I consider myself, I could not live without the support of my fellow humans. I rely on them for food, heat and shelter. Through my work I contribute to society but when I die I will be replaced just as if I was a cell that had reached the end of its use. One day my pot will be broken and a new one be brought in to replace me.
Rene Descartes believed that it is our ability to think that proves our existence yet in my view it is our ability to contribute that makes us exist. I am part of human society and without me that society would be different, better, worse, who knows?
I contribute therefore I am.