Random Thoughts

Stinging Bees, Suicide Bombers and Epidemiological Solutions

A generally lesser known fact is that every time a bee stings us, it dies in the act. This suicidal behavior and its altruistic care of its siblings had been a puzzle for evolutionists until the brilliant work of the British scientist Hamilton. We humans get one set of chromosomes from our father's sperm and another set from our mother's ovum. We are thus all diploid meaning having two sets of chromosomes. In the social insects Hymenoptera to which bees belong, the females who are predominantly sterile have two sets and are diploid. The male drones are haploid and have only one set of chromosomes. The only reproductive female is the queen bee, who on her nuptial flight mates with one or more males and stores the sperm in her body separately, deciding for each individual egg whether it should be fertilized and grow up as a female worker or unfertilized and grow up as a fertile male drone.

For the queen, every egg male or female shares half her chromosomes and thus her genetic strategy is non-preferential for egg sex ratios, even though the male drone share genes 100 % with his mother, because he arises from a non-fertilized egg with only a maternal chromosome complement. The female workers are diploid and if they have the same father, will share all the haploid single set of genes from him as his sperms with only one set of chromosomes are unaltered by crossover during meiosis. The queen's ova are different due to crossover during meiosis and thus two sister workers will share only a quarter of maternal genes amongst them but half with their mother. Thus two sisters will often share three quarters of genes with each other. They are sterile, but even if they could reproduce they would only share half their genes with their own daughters and sons, just as they currently share with their mother. Thus they are more closely related to their sisters than to their mother, brothers or potential progeny.

This, more than anything else and since they are sterile, makes them devoted and partial to their potential sisters by rearing female fertilized eggs preferentially to alter the natural male female hive ratio from one to one to one to three. This is also why they commit kamikaze to defend the hive of their sisters, mother and brothers who are their passports to immortality. Finally their barren status and potentiality to become fertile queens is modulated by chemical suppression by the queen. They thus become devout nursemaids willing to die for their genes. Similarly verbal provocation of the manipulative queen like radical Imams and the passive approval of the Ummah co- workers make suicide bombers willing to die for their Ummah and ideals.

Human beings with their more evolved cortex are susceptible to ideas and their willingness to indulge in self-sacrificing behaviors to promote a particular ideology irrespective of annihilation of their genes, as long as their ideology survives. Soldiers and Kamikaze pilots in war and religious zealots in crusades and jihad are examples of this. In its most benign and nonviolent to innocents, this philosophy explains the messianic zeal of Christ. It is only a few steps from there to the indiscriminately violent behavior of suicide bombers. They are motivated by an extreme brew of this ideology turned virulent by humiliation, frustration and impotence due to the military and economic strength of manipulating exploiter persons or nations. Once the Darwinian philosophy is twisted into a tirade from personal survival of an individual's genes to a "zimbesh" of survival of ideology, the Pandora's box is open and every philosophical fanatic can justify any atrocity for a desire for proselytization and redressing a genuine or perceived wrong. Seemingly rational justifications abound. The problem while affecting Islamic radicals is not unique to them. The whole premise of the Hindu Bhagwad Gita and the dilemma of Arjuna whether to persecute the just war at the cost of demise of the clan for reasons of pecuniary benefit and power, is a beautiful example of the same. The solution of Krishna is widely accepted but has weak underpinnings like Marbury vs. Madison in American legal parlance.

The evolution of the cortex and its obsession with classification, justification and rational explanation of chance events led to the invention of god, culture and ideology. Thus the cultural conundrum has changed the evolution of the human mind from genes to ideas or memes. Unlike bees willing to commit kamikaze for the good of the hive, we have indoctrinated Islamic radicals with justifiable grievances willing to challenge the status quo. In any fight the short term benefit is to those with better firepower and technology, but the long-term advantage both historically and analytically has always been to those willing to die for their cause. The economical success of western nations, historically and philosophically precludes this self-sacrifice for genetic and cultural reasons in affluent and evolved societies. The less self-centered and less literate societies are drugged by the hormones of fanaticism, but as America proves such influences are equally present in affluent literate societies. The deprived, oppressed and under-developed nations and their peoples bereft of hope with nothing to live for and smarting under humiliation, are easily intoxicated by the nostalgia of past glory. This is also seen in advanced nations that have lost their empires like Britain and Russia. The ignorant fanatics are easy prey to the vile instigation of manipulating demagogues.

The behavior of the reed warbler in raising the cuckoo's eggs and feeding the baby bigger than itself may sem idiotic and the antithesis of selfish gene behavior, but the host is programmed to assume that a nestling is its own. The cuckoo lays its egg in the reed warbler's nest. Its egg is the same color and hatches first. The baby cuckoo is genetically programmed to throw the warbler's eggs out of the nest or kill its nest-mates if they hatch. This is how terrorists infiltrate our societies and form sleeper cells that we nourish. They are memetically programmed to kill their fellow citizens with whom they do not identify as happened in Bombay, Madrid and London. The foolish behavior of the booby bird in ignoring its own egg progeny that transgresses beyond its own nest gives it its name. Its limited repertoire does not allow it such subtle distinctions. There is an arrogant hubris in us human beings, that makes us superciliously contemptuous of such lesser creatures. We are not immune from such irrational self-destructive behavior, as the works of Kahnemann, Cosmides, Tooby and other evolutionary psychologists prove. Our enchantment with free will blinds us to the determinism of Bell's theorem and writings, just as our being enamored with the golden rule based Rawl's theory of justice, blinds us to the perverse desperation to seek revenge by those denied it. Despite our highly evolved cortex, it is to our peril that we ignore its evolutionary constraints and indulge in foolish propaganda by seeking solutions in public relations campaigns by inane strategies of the unthinking Karen Hughes clones.

As Richard Dawkins, the Oxford professor has proposed, memes (ideas) often propagate through a cultural species like humans and establish themselves in equally great frequencies as genes. There is a basic desire in all human beings to be famous and go out in a blaze of glory. Its benign form is a Messiah complex and borderline manifestation are wars of patriotic or religious fervor, while terrorism is its perverse form. Many of us feel entranced reading about self-sacrifice and Tennyson's words from The Charge of The Light Brigade'

Their's not to make reply
Their's not to reason why
Their's but to do and die.

Japanese Kamikaze pilots were honored and glorified for their suicide missions in defense of country and emperor and the old English adage makes a lot of hoopla for king and country. The Sanskrit adages promote "Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam" meaning the whole world is my fanmily and "Janani janmabhoomischa swargad api gariasti" or the mother and motherland are superior to heaven. Then can one blame the Palestinians or Iraqis for their terror tactics. From the Indian standpoint, the Pakistani jihadis do not have the same justification. I don't condone any of these behaviors, but it is only a small leap from patriotic fervor to fanatic terrorism, once you concede justification to dying for a cause, while inflicting violence on the innocents. The dilemma then becomes how one defines innocents.

Unlike many other religions that eschew violence, Islam has a tradition of resorting to it, especially when it comes to infidels and apostates. It also has a history of a unified Ummah and Caliphate. Thus memes or ideology sharing is supposed to be one hundred percent between Muslims to convert them into a monoclonal homogeneous unquestioning society of Islam, meaning submission and to place higher loyalty to this ideology than nation states, family or even one's self. If one takes this combustive thought and adds to it the inflammatory mixture of personal alienation and discrimination in western societies with a long history of humiliation and subjugation in their ancestral or prior homelands, one obtains a phalanx of angry, violent and dangerous suicide bombers without a sense of fairness, gratitude, obligation or belonging.

The behavior is reminiscent of the genie released from the bottle by the fisherman in the Arabian Nights. The genie threatens to kill his savior and explains that his benevolence has melted to ubiquitous malice towards all, like a good wine in a bottle turning to acid vinegar over time with repeated reminiscences of his humiliation and defeat by Solomon. It is this identification with the community's tribulations, a potentially benign compassion that leads to the malign consequence of terrorism. Fisher and Haldane's genetic statistics for sacrificing one's life for the good of an equal or greater quantity of one's genes like those in three sibs, becomes applicable to memes. It turns into a desire to punish and hurt the perpetrators of the oppression and their supporters, electors and those who connive, not sparing even opponents. Better if they are ethnically and religiously different but as Iraq shows us, none are to be spared this malice, violence and terror as long as they resist the goals of the fanatics.

It is imperative to combat this epidemic before it threatens to become a pandemic. The means available are to redress, reprogram, contain and eliminate the virus. The first requires genuinely and sincerely addressing its root causes and not monotonously mouthing false mantras like they hate our freedoms and lifestyles. The corrupt kleptocracies and the oppression of Palestinians need genuine redress. In the short run anti-western theocracies like Iran may come into being temporarily, but their inevitable failings will disillusion the Islamic masses and make them immune to the extremist scourge. The attenuation can be done just as Jenner's cowpox did with smallpox. Inclusion of the European Muslim populations with hopes of economic success, will deprive the virus of the critical mass of a susceptible population and prevent its spread. Another lesson of evolution is that the cholera and diphtheria bacilli do not make their lethal toxins till the respective genes are turned on by another viral bacteriophage and such inciting Imams and mosques need to be denied the advantage of inducing the toxin making genes. Thus Britain's banning the return of a radical Imam is a step in the right direction, while the American gulags in Guantanamo, Iraq and Bagram will only feed the flaming fire of the insurgency. The mixing of potable water and sewage must be studiously avoided by cavalier and foolhardy cowboy tinkering in pipeline-lands.

As the British police have successfully shown barring their singular dastardly mistake in the case of the Brazilian victim, the best response is good intelligence work. Searches at subways like the American way are a definite deterrent, but typically blunderbuss or shotgun approaches with poor returns for time and effort expended and inconvenience imposed on the police and the public. Equally detrimental is the indiscriminate and overwhelming counter-violence used by America, as in Fallujah, Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib. But as Churchill (no friend of mine) said, America will do the right thing only after it has exhausted all other alternatives. Its current policies are like the Anteus problem for Hercules. Every fall to his mother earth made Anteus ten times stronger. Every drop of innocent blood spilt, only makes new demons spring up from the Muslim earth. A targeted strike against terrorists and their havens is needed and not winking at the despots of Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, Azerbaijan, Pakistan etc. America needs to be lauded for its inclusiveness towards Muslims and its prevention of their ethnic ghettoes. It knows that if you avoid a critical mass of uranium from coming together, there will be no nuclear chain reaction. Britain and the Europeans need to learn that lesson. Lastly, a sensible energy policy, not a Christmas tree one, and curbing profligate waste of natural resources should be a top priority for the whole world, but particularly for wasteful America. India's policies have been more inclusive of minorities but both major parties have been appeasing minorities to capture vote banks and have refused to combat alien infiltration for political purposes. Appeasement is India's national motto and alienation is America's natural inclination. Both need to learn that virtue lies in the middle as expounded by Buddha and Socrates. 


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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