THE FOREIGN POLICY OF ANTS (2006)

It’s a hot mid-summer afternoon, and the insects are on the march in my back yard. Small red ants are all over my newspaper and me.

Human beings may have more in common with the six-legged freaks than we think, according to Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson. "The foreign policy of ants can be summed up as follows: restless aggression, territorial conquest, and genocidal annihilation of neighbouring colonies, wherever possible. If ants had nuclear weapons, they would probably end the world in a week."

Who knows, ants may even have their very own Axis of Weevils.

The red ants are crawling all over my paper, and I flick them off. A photograph on the front page shows the smoking ruins of a Beirut suburb. I read that the US is committed to defend Israel, and Bush is making noises about Syria, Iran’s ally. The rockets striking Israeli towns are said to have been made by the latter. US neocons have been itching for a confrontation with the new Saddam,
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and may soon get to scratch. With the US and Canada in geopolitical lockstep, there is little doubt that any expansion of the US war in the Mideast will involve Canadian troops.

We hardly need to connect the dots. The picture is starting looking like an adolescent’s stipple drawing of the planet blowing up.

In the latest geopolitical flareup, the mainstream media has made much of the two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah, but paid relatively less attention to the real flashpoint in this conflict: the shelling of a beach in northern Gaza, resulting in the deaths of seven Palestinians. (On June 29, the liberal Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported “the
detention of Hamas parliamentarians in the early hours of Thursday morning had been planned several weeks ago,” well preceding the Hezbollah kidnapping of two Israeli troops.)

It sometimes seems that nature’s grandest experiment, the monkey with the big brain, has gone terribly wrong. Homo sap appears to be stumbling towards World War 3, with all instinctual stupidity of a conga line of carpenter ants heading for a CIL trap.

Ants are obsessed with the three r’s: resources, real estate, and reproduction. We’re not so different from the family Formicidae. For all the official cant about liberation and democracy, it’s now obvious to anyone with the brain God gave geese that the invasion in Iraq was all about oil — perhaps not as commody per se, but as the lifeblood of the US petrodollar, without which the American economy would collapse. In November of 2000, Saddam Hussein stopped accepting US dollars for Iraqi oil. In 2004, Iran has announced plans for an oil bourse of their own. In both cases, boilerplate from US Conservative foundations and media outlets promptly followed — talk of dire threats from WMDs, the need for regime change, and the military option.

Throughout history, the cannon fodder on opposing sides are usually no more aware of the big picture than the red ants I watch crawling across the front page. Time after time, the expendable drones march off under the sway of those age-old pheromones; national pride, religious fervour, and jingoistic fear.

The big difference between human beings and ants is that we wage war on the environment for the same reasons we wage war on our own kind. Even the wildest, most inaccessible places on Earth, such as the Amazon basin, continue to shrink under the assault of global mining, oil and agribiz industries. The national security mindset ultimately rests on the resource interests it defends around the globe.

In his book on ants,
The Earth Dwellers, Erich Hoyt paints an affectionate portrait of the gentle entomologist Edward O. Wilson, a scholar who seems more at home with insects than people. Wilson found his love for living things in ”the gospel according to Charles Darwin,” and refers to the tropical rainforest “as a cathedral, a place where the biologist makes pilgrimages, goes to worship and gape in wonder at the full flowering of evolution, the place where life is more diverse than anywhere else on Earth.”

A world expert on biodiversity, Wilson made headlines in the nineties with his controversial contention that we are killing off up to 25,000 species a year through our destruction of habitats.

Whatever the actual numbers for species decline, if we cannot reverse our murderous mania for resources and real estate, we’ll have only one small piece of knowledge for comfort: after we’re gone, the planet’s other inhabitants will have the place to themselves.

Hummers and hybrids will crumble into rust, as weeds, flowers and vines consume the streets of our once-great cities. For the remaining resource-raiders, it will be a field day. We may be history, but ants will get to experience the ultimate picnic.