Dec 02, 2023
Dec 02, 2023
Tennyson's words, 'Nature, red in tooth and claw' is the best poetic description and Spencer's 'Survival of the fittest' is the best prosaic summary of Darwin's concept of evolution derived from a Malthusian quandary, based on living things insatiable desire to survive and propagate and the constraints of resources and the unpredictable vagaries of nature.
There is wanton waste and cruelty in nature and countless progeny perish due to these selfish traits. Various animals and plants make millions of eggs and seeds, most of which serve as food for predators and create new niches for survival for carnivorous species. It was the unemotional cruelty based not on malice, but on nonchalant indifference exhibited by the Ichneumonid wasps that lay an egg in the tail end of a live caterpillar left alive but paralyzed by the venom of the wasp, which led many including Darwin to reject the idea of a merciful and just god. The wasp larva eats its way to the brain and head of the caterpillar oblivious to the pain and suffering of the alive, feeling, but helpless caterpillar and matures just as the head end is consumed by it.
This morning as I stepped out on my deck, I noticed that a spider web was attached to the doorframe on the outside and festooned on it were hundred tiny insects, probably gnats. A solitary spider with at the most a few thousand neurons has been using my deck doorframe as its hunting ground and this morning hit the jackpot. This creature has realized by sheer trial and error without premeditation that the clear glass behind the frame transmits light from my kitchen at night and the tiny insects lured by their lethally misguided navigational instinct are attracted to the source and thus are entrapped in the web. Sorry Urdu poetry lovers, it is not passion but errant instinct that leads the moth to the candle. Those dead insects could have fed the spider for months. It only sucked the liquefied insides of two or three, leaving the rest of the untouched tiny carcasses fluttering in the wind on the frame like a pennant of 'Imperial Hubris'. Of course the spider doesn't think like that, but human tyrants from the Assyrian monarchs like Naram Sin and Sennacherib, to modern day European monarchs and American presidents rule is replete with unconscionable violence.
If a single few thousand-neuron creature carelessly and wastefully kills so many for a single meal and survival, imagine what the combined power of banded together social creatures can do. In the family Formicidae (ants) and in other social insects like bees and termites, a cohesive army of literally brainwashed creatures programmed by the hormones and chemicals fed by their nurses and the queen, the workers and soldiers mindlessly proceed to sustain their colony with total disregard for their individual lives and the might of larger enemies.
Terrorists and Imperialists do that in human societies as well.
A short story titled 'Leininger and the ants' and its movie version of Brazilian marabuntas has appealed to lot of youngsters and become the gospel of Neo-cons, as justification of aggression to preserve profligate lifestyles. It is interesting to note that ants and humans are the two species that indulge in the despicable practice of slavery. Humans do one worse by honing their violent instincts to go further to genocide, under the banner of racism and religion.
A creature that has a million times more neurons than these puny conquistadors and bands together under the banner of patriotism, race or religion with the capability of inventing new weapons of mass destruction and infinitely greater greed for power, wealth and empire is sure to wreak havoc, as the history of humanity proves. Once again misguided zealot leaders narcotize the masses with false slogans and exploit their economic helplessness to make men and women mere Myrmidons, marching over other lands to conquer, exploit and enslave others. These power-addicted instigators often shirk the same duties that they praise, in their own formative years and make cannon-fodder of the desperate and foolish to achieve their unmentioned goals of serving their wealthy and powerful donors, whose puppets they are.
The supreme irony is that the very means used to build these perverse dreams of mentally challenged Megalomaniacs or their latter day copycats with no compassion and lack of conservation, sow the insidious plague of termites that rot the foundation of their own societies by bankrupting them and perverting the psyches of their populations. Thus does history repeat itself and we never learn from past follies of Egypt, Assyria, Greece, Rome, Arabia, Mongolia, Turkey, Britain, Russia or America.
Hobbes states that it is better that the whole world be destroyed rather than I lose my little finger and this instinct of self-preservation can destroy our world and we need a Leviathan to control us, but Plato stated even before, 'Who shall guard the guardians'? The problem is like a series of Russian dolls, one within the other and this is what creationists forget in their 'Intelligent Design' and other such myths and lies. For who created the creator? We are back playing the game of infinite regress. It is better to put 'Chance' as the beginner and his consort 'Necessity' as the mother of all species, some fertilized by 'Chance', others of parthenogenetic origin from 'Necessity'. The contributions of 'Chance' are small, but often seminal. Pun intended for those knowing etymology!
More by : Gaurang Bhatt, MD