Have you ever taken an idle moment in a leafy glade to watch an ant hill in action? Colonies vary from a very few ants on a twig through to ‘super colonies’ reportedly as large as 300 million ants in an area of several square miles. The Queen ant, who lives for up to 40 years, is buried many feet below ground, surrounded by 2000 or so sterile females. Tens of thousands of workers scurry around the forest floor foraging and passing secret hormonal messages on to one another to make their journeys easier. Have you ever been amazed by the heights they can climb, and the crumbs of food many times their own size and weight they can carry effortlessly? What a wonderful work of nature. And what a great exemplar for we puny human beings.
We all welcome the further moves towards the easing of Lockdown. We long for the pubs and restaurants to reopen; some of us need a haircut rather badly; reunions with physically distant friends and members of the family are long overdue, and modest social events will all be very welcome, especially with the reappearance of the decent weather.
Yet a glance at Germany, South Korea, and even the meat factories in North Wales must make us all stop to think about the consequences of a second spike, or even a localised lockdown, which is perfectly possible. I too am disappointed by some of the things we have NOT yet done - opening of gyms and swimming pools, for example. But the collective good of the whole ant hill; the continued longevity of the Queen, trumps our own little local concerns.
Track and Trace, for example, will only operate if we agree to it. When you get a text telling you that some acquaintance has gone down with Covid, will you voluntarily self-isolate? Or will you hope it hasn’t happened to you? It all depends on us collectively understanding, accepting, and obeying the rules which are laid down for our own benefit. The age-old question underlying the Social Contract must be: what would happen if everyone acted as I am proposing to do?
We are all little ants scurrying around the forest floor. Each ant is insignificant and can be crushed in a moment. Yet collectively, and with joint endeavour, ants are the most sophisticated social organism after humans; they account for over half of all the insects in the world; and they have become super survivors over millennia of evolution. There is a phenomenon in Africa called ‘white anting”. All of a sudden, a house disappears into a huge hole created under it by the efforts of colonies of white ants nest building over years and years.
We too are well capable of doing a bit of ‘white anting’ under Covid. Of course we would like to see some things done differently. Of course we would like some aspect of our current lives to be different; of course we have our little niggles with personalities or policies. Those things are inevitable. We want the schools open sooner/not opened at all; we want the entertainment and hospitality world back to how it used to be; we hanker after so much that we treated as routine before March. Yet the individual ant is ready to sacrifice itself, to subjugate its interests under the interests of the Colony as a whole.
So let us try to put to one side the belly-aching which is becoming the norm. We have to be ready to accept that those in authority - Government, NHS and others - are doing their best. They are taking the decisions which they believe are best for all the ants. Only if all the ants have confidence in those decisions; only if they are truly dedicated to preserving the long life of their queen will the Colony survive and prosper.