Note: This began life as one of Ian B’s many attacks on Kevin Carson, but is surely good enough to be made a posting in its own right SIG
On the Crapness of Ants
An ant colony isn’t a very good model. This might be an admission that I’ll regret, revealing as it does that I’m a bit of a sad act, but back in the early 90s I was unemployed and living back at my mum’s and, rather than get a job, I developed a selection of strange hobbies. One of which was studying the ants in the back garden. I watched them a lot, and read lots of books and, my mum was like, “get a job you lazy bastard” and I was like, “but then who will care for the ants?”
Ants are crap. They muddle through. They aren’t self organising as such. They are very simple robots, with very simple rules programmed in, and they are inflexible. They wage “wars” on other colonies, and some of them are building a wall to keep the enemy out, and others are busy tearing it down again, because they have no group coordination. The left hand of the group has no idea of what the right hand is doing. They only survive because the enemy colony are equally crap. They make World War I look like a masterpiece of organisational cunning.
You can see this with small numbers of ants. One finds some food and starts dragging it vaguely back towards the colony. Then another latches onto it, and chances are it’ll pull in the opposite direction. Neither is aware of the other ant. If they’re lucky, 5 ants will pull one way and the 3 pulling the other way will get dragged along with the wasp thorax or whatever it is.
There’s one species, there were several colonies of it in the garden, that builds little chimneys around their ant holes whenever it rains. Nobody knows why. It’s too late to stop rain pouring down the holes, and the chimneys just dry out and blow away. It’s probably a remnant behaviour from some previous evolutionary state.
Ants are often described by romantics as a group intelligence, all magically coordinated like a well oiled machine. They’re more of a group unintelligence, coordinated like a well oiled Scotsman.
Really, once you really know ants, in a way that only a dole scrounger who is bored out of his mind can know ants, you realise they’re a load of rubbish.