Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Enlightened Drone

Scott Bradley

There is a TEDTalk about bees in which tiny cameras are mounted on the backs of various members of a hive (and their natural predators). Once again we see how amazing bee society is. Still, there is something disturbing about the absolutely deterministic nature of every role each member of the hive must play.

Typical of my own mental processes, I asked myself which role, were I a bee, I would prefer to play. The Queen would seem to be the obvious first choice. But, once she has managed to kill off her competition (for several queens-to-be have been nurtured) and get laid, she becomes nothing more than an egg-laying machine. The worker bees, who work until they drop, are not even worth consideration. The guard bees, who just hangout all day until they need to confront an intruder, seem to have the cushiest job. But they are eventually called to duty and are obliged to sting and, therefore, die an early death.

Then there are the drones. Here is a role to which I can relate. These guys live pampered lives, doing absolutely nothing until called upon to service the Queen. This is accomplished when the Queen takes to the air followed by a bunch of competing drones. The lucky guy finds her and mates. But alas, he is required to leave his essential member behind (like a stinger) and ends up spinning downward in death.

This is not the happy ending I had imagined, but being human, I thought of a way around the problem. Despite the appeal of that ecstatic moment, it had to be foregone; instead, my drone would purposely fail to find the Queen and return to the hive like the rest of the unsuccessful competitors, to live out his days kept and pampered. But alas (again), the hive does not suffer the useless to live, and soon all the drones are stung to death.

If you are a bee, you have but one 'purpose', the perpetuation of the hive and, more generally, the species. But hives and species are lost and that, cosmically speaking, is of no consequence at all. For how could anything be lost to everything? Is humanity really any different? Whatever freedom we may believe ourselves to have, are we not both individually and collectively members of a hive, the ‘purpose’ of which does not transcend its own sense of subjective meaning? I don’t know; but in the absence of religious belief, it would seem to be the case.

Were a drone to somehow become ‘enlightened’, how would it behave differently than all the rest of the members of the hive collective? Would it not, of necessity, simply fulfill its role in the hive? Any difference between it and the others would be simply a matter of its enjoying that reality as it is. Spinning downward, member-less and soon to die, it would embrace its death, not for having fulfilled its ‘purpose’, but because it had already released itself into the Unknown.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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