Have you ever seen a swarm?
It’s a simple question and I ask it because some people have never seen one. If you have lived your entire life in the city, it is unlikely that you have witnessed this amazing spring phenomenon.
When I was a teenager I lived on the North Downs in England and so I have seen quite a few swarms for myself. And they can be very frightening.
If you didn’t know, honeybee hives tend to divide from time to time. A new queen is raised, and soon a new swarm of bees will emerge from the hive to seek a new home. This swarm tends to cluster into a large, vibrant mass, often seen hanging from a tree branch like a brown and bubbling boiling-pot of anger. As a group, they will move off in a day or two to find a suitable nesting site. Encountering a swarm of bees can be very alarming. They are very boisterous and seem filled with aggression & hostility.
Near us lived a beekeeper. And the beekeeper would attend reports of a swarm, with his sack (and a stick). He would pick up the bees with the stick (a bit like collecting cotton candy) encouraging the entire whirring and angered blob to crawl the length of his stick and into the dark safety of his sack. And that was that. He would relocate them.
American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, in his 2012 book “The Righteous Mind” outlined a theory that we are apes in our expectations and views: always seeking to take advantage of competition and always seeking to improve our luck (perhaps at the expense of our closest neighbors) but we are also like bees in the sense that, as highly social creatures, we have hive-minds that have been formed over countless generations to incessantly compete with other groups, communities, and societies.
This bee-like behavior and our “groupish” swarm mentality helps us unite and collaborate with each other to outperform all other cultures and (even) all other ecosystems. That is why we are the paramount life-form on planet earth. It’s because, as Haidt describes it, we are “conditional hive creatures…” in the sense that we have the ability to transcend self-interest (at certain times) and to lose ourselves in something that is “larger than ourselves.” In other words, at times of stress, we tend to swarm!
I guess it’s when we feel disconnected or dissociated from living a meaningful and purposeful existence, or perhaps when we feel disengaged from politics, or alienated from society at large, or unanswered by traditional religions, or neglected by established media — it’s at these times that we are likely to seek answers or look for peace & knowledge in new and unexpected places. We might even seek to do this in quite alarming ways. At times of increased stress we might feel the need to “fly away” from the obvious safety of our previous existence and experiment with new (perhaps outrageous) scenarios. It is times like now that we’re likely to swarm!
Why do we swarm? Maybe it’s because we want to control our own prospects. Or it’s because we don’t trust what has happened before or those that are supposed to “lead” us. So some (not all) are prepared to take a risk, perhaps a greater risk, when new opportunities present themselves or things outside seem more promising. If the alternative seems better (even if it’s more dangerous) we’ll sense the urge to “break away” from the main group and strike-out in a smaller group.
So, if you have the baffling urge to escape safety and join the swarm, it is quite understandable and perhaps even unsurprising (though of course, it’s irrational). But it’s natural. It’s because you’re an anthropoidal honeybee!
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Words: @neilmach 2021 ©