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Insects and political science

January 21, 2022

If five years of political turmoil in the United States teach us anything, it’s that insects govern themselves better than we do.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

Once upon a time two rats made friends with a cat. They realized they could go into business together, and they did. And that’s how it happened, children, that Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping ate Donald Trump’s lunch, and ours.

You see, children, Donald Trump spent his whole life stroking himself in public while juggling the books, stiffing his “partners," losing his dad’s money. So Russia figured, and China figured: How hard would it be to toss a few bells around this moron and watch the ring-a-ding float downstream while we sharpen our claws?

Easy. It’d be easy.

Putin and Xi Jinping, on the other hand, worked their way upstream, doing whatever was necessary, in their immense, bizarre societies, to arrive … where? As equals to a grifter?

Ladies and gentlemen of the 21st century: Is this really the best we human beings can do? Trump? Vladimir Putin? Viktor Orbán? Jairo Bolsonaro? Narendra Modi? Recep Tayyip Erdogan? Andrzej Duda? Rodrigo Duterte? Xi Jinping? Kevin McCarthy? Mitch McConnell? Those idiot congresswomen from Georgia and Colorado?

Now, I’m no friend of dictatorial governments, but at least they can get things done. But the goal of the Republican Party today is to prevent our elected government from doing anything at all.

So which is worse: Virtual dictatorship or corrupted democracy?

Actually, they’re both worse, in different ways.

Consider the lilies of the field, or better yet, the honeybees. Were their honeycombs full of humans, I suppose political scientists would call the bees’ social system authoritarian: tens of thousands of female workers and a few (snicker) male drones, all in service of the queen, who lies around getting fed and fat and pumping out babies.

Bees and Political Science

The queen bee (marked in green) and worker bees move around a hive at the Veterans Affairs in Manchester, N.H., on Aug. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

Honeybees have a simple social system.

The female workers perform these essential tasks:

They gather pollen

They care for the eggs and larvae produced by the queen

They make wax for the hive and build the honeycombs

They clean the hive

They feed the queen

They defend the hive when it’s threatened.

The male drones perform one task:

They fertilize the queen — one time, when it’s necessary.

The rest of the time, the drones do … umm … squat.

Despite this inequitable system of tasks and rewards, drones are bigger than workers — though not so big as the queen.

Is the bees’ social system fair? I don’t know. You’d have to ask a bee. But between you and me, I’ve never seen an unhappy bee. After all, the one who stung me inside my mouth as I bicycled past her colony died protecting her hive: just doing her job. I bet it hurt me more than it did her when I pinched my lower lip and squeezed her stinger out.

But does the bee system work? Is it efficient? Does it get the job done?

Go to your supermarket and check the aisles for honey. See how many people are trying to sell it to you? Now multiply that by millions of bees. I rest my case.

As for the queen bee: I haven’t heard a squawk from any a one of them yet. The queens have sex one time, then lie around and lick royal jelly off glands on the heads of their young workers. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. I’d volunteer for the gig myself, even if I had to have a sex change, so long as the hive had decent wi-fi, so I could watch the playoffs and listen to Charlie Parker.

And as for the sex part of being a queen bee? Well, hell, it would only be the one time.

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