Like Ants: Civilization and Eusocial Development

Like Ants: Civilization and Eusocial Development

Like Ants: Civilization and Eusocial Development

Like Ants: Civilization and Eusocial Development


Turnbull challenges conventional wisdom about how human civilization developed. Most species survive for half a million years, while humanity is already about one million years old. We survive because we cooperate, he says. However, ants have been around for at least 100 times as long. Should we act more like them, or have we gone too far already?Citing recognized scientists and modern evidence, he argues that early humans evolved on coasts and rivers -- where most people live today -- rather than on the savanna that conventional wisdom sees as our first home. From this premise about humanity's origins right up to our convictions about the progress brought by the Industrial Revolution and the women's movement, his analysis turns some of our firm beliefs on their heads.Tantalizing and at times shocking, the evidence he presents suggests that the agricultural revolution that is often presented as the beginning of civilization was actually the invention of life-long slavery, and that civilization is a system in which a small group of the elite parasites he describes as takers is supported by a population of prodhows how the development of armies, religion, propaganda, industry, liberal social attitudes and the attributes of civilization as we think of it seem to be moving us closer to the social structure of ant and termite colonies.Is that the way of humanity's future?


Most people think humans are the dominant species on Earth, but that’s a conceit. We are the most destructive species but we are not the oldest, the largest or the one most likely to survive after we have destroyed most of nature.

There are about seven and a half billion of us, and we have been around, as humans, for perhaps a million years. Biologists tell us there are about ten thousand trillion ants in the world — so many that their total weight is about the same as all of humanity — and they have been around for more than 100 million years.

Among the 9,500 species of ants that have been identified, some hunt other insects, some scavenge, some enslave other varieties of ants, some tend herds of aphids and some grow fungus in underground farms. Most live in carefully engineered nests, many with their own water supply and engineered ventilation. Some nests are underground, some are tunneled into living or dead trees, some are made of leaves sewn together to form an enclosed hammock in living trees and some are made of forest litter. Some ants never come up to the Earth’s surface and some never come down to the ground. Most have a permanent home nest but some are nomadic — spending most of their time on the move and stopping only to bivouac for a few weeks while their queen lays eggs.

Ants watched the rise of the dinosaurs and saw them die out. They saw the rise of humanity and they will probably be here to wave goodbye when we die out.

Biologist E. O. Wilson says the leaf cutter ants of Central America have perhaps the most complex insect society on Earth, often with millions of insects living in an underground nest that may be as big as a school bus. We see them as lines of workers, each carrying a section

Hölldobler, Bert and Edward O Wilson, Journey to the Ants, the Belknap Press of hup, Cambridge, Mass, 1994, pg. 1.

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