Lessons From Nature On Resisting Oppression

The human is often seen as the most evolved creature on earth. We are capable not of only overcoming our primal instincts with abstract thought and executive thinking, but we also possess the intuitive capability to create technology whilst discerning the mysteries of the universe.

Despite our great intellect, humanity is plagued by innumerable problems such as wealth disparity, racism, sexism, resource wars, philosophical conflicts and a myriad of other issues. For the sake of power amassment, great atrocities have been committed many times throughout history. The recent high-profile deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis are reminders that systemic superiority is as common place today as it was 5000 years ago.

Slavery is a phenomenon that continues to plague humanity. It is an outgrowth of economic power consolidation, and this form of control has wasted the lives of the many in favor of the few. No other animal can compare to man’s “dialectical oppression” some would say, but what if I were to tell you that slavery is not unique to humans?

Ants enslave other ants . Ants, insects that were farming hundreds of millions of years before homo sapiens even came into being, are more human (or perhaps we are more ant-like) than we think. One particular species, the American slave-driving ant (polyergus breviceps ), mirrors the oppressors that Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B DuBois lamented.

The American slave-driving ant is an inquiline parasite, meaning that is has lost the ability to care for itself or its young . The slave-driving Queen, like a European colonizer or One Percenter, must therefore raid the nest of industrious wood ants and slaughter their queen, after copying her scent, which allows her to conquer the wood ant colony. At that point the wood ants serve the slave-driving Queen, raise her young, and begrudgingly care for their oppressors.

At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “that sounds eerily similar to the history of human oppression.

It would seem that these enslaved ants have a biological disposition towards slavery due to their evolution, and yet even then, there is hope. Ant slaves, despite their evolutionary disposition towards slavery, can and do rebel . If such minuscule creatures can resist their evolutionary urges to serve, then shouldn’t humans be embarrassed when we don’t do the same?

How exactly do these ant slaves resist oppression? Well, suffice to say, it is gruesome. The enslaved ants either eviscerate or cease to feed the slave master’s young, attacking slavery at its very heart:  economics. If the resource chain is broken, the elite’s way of life becomes difficult, in the case of the ants, between 42%-73% of the slave-driving ant young die due to ant slaves killing their young. This prevents the oppressive slave driving ant parasites from spreading to neighboring colonies as quickly. Those young, in a sense, embody the culture of oppression, so their deaths diminish the elite slave-drivers ability to project power. The enslaved ants literally resist feeding into the oppression.

Whereas evolutionary “oppression” is biological, systemic human oppression is sociological. Systematic oppression is an attempt to make one group of humans appear better than another, despite how dubious that may be. Racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etcetera are social constructs – they are not set in stone like the ants genetic dispositions. Jewish people, for example, were not always considered “white.”  In the U.S blacks were not always considered human , women were property and the Chinese were ,at one point, denied entry into the country. Despite these various offensives to human dignity, times have truly changed over the decades, and there are more changes to come.

Resisting the system does not mean that we should attack the elite, but instead attack the elitist culture – be it media based on legalistic- that promotes oppression. We must remember that human oppression, such as white privilege, can become so normalized that the oppressor doesn’t even know they are being oppressive. If our laws change and our culture progresses, our minds will change too, and as such oppressive transgressions will be mitigated.

In a sense, man has an advantage over the ant: he can utilize creative-destruction to not only tear down the social Darwinist oppression in which he lives, but to transcend it as well. It is said “consider the ant and be wise.” and it would seem that there is much that we can learn from these tiny creatures.

Onyx Contributor:  Jiang Jie Min
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