Monday, November 15, 2010

Crumbs to Build A Fortress

Imagine an ant is walking on the wing of a space shuttle.

Consider the complexity of the machine below him. It contains technologies that neither I nor (I'm guessing) any of my readers understand. In fact, it contains technologies that no one person is capable of explaining in full. Someone understands the guidance system. Someone understands the life support. Someone else gets, say, communications. But the thing is so complex that the grasp of it as a whole is beyond any single human, let alone an ant.

So this ant -- this Columbus of the ant world -- walks the wing of a space machine. Let's give him superfluous credit and award him the ability to think in the way we do, even though that is not so. He says to himself: "I am on to it now. I sense that there is food around here and I am going to find it. I have followed my senses onto this vast, white field of cold smoothness and I am going to conquer it. Ah! There it is!" He picks up a crumb that fell from the cuff of a workman's sleeve onto the shuttle's wing. He hoists it up, using his incalculable strength. "I am mighty," he thinks. "I have discovered the purpose of this vast, cold, white field. It is a place for finding food. I shall tell my hill-mates and we shall come in battalions and reap the harvest and I will be a hero to all antdom."

It strikes me again and again that we humans are very much like this ant. It occurs to me when I work at raising my kids. It occurs to me when I am trying to teach a difficult student. It occurs to me when I sit to write an article or a blog post or when I craft a new composition at the piano. It occurs to me when I eat cereal in the morning or lie on the ground at night and look at the stars as innumerable other humans have done since the first second of existence up to now in order to place themselves in the scheme of what is.

The bottom line is, for all we have accomplished, we are really no better than that ant. We boil everything down into terms we can understand and those terms are simplistic in comparison to the complexity of the world that surrounds us or even of the single issue we may be trying to understand. That would be cute if the results of our thought processes did not cause us to pursue simplistic solutions and ones that damage those around us: the medicating of children who are wonderfully different but are not convenient in their behavior*; the killing of others for religious beliefs; the judgement of those around us based on superficials; the placing of irrational limitations on the tremendous experiences that life can offer us; commitment to a life we don't want for the sake of fitting a type or a projection others have made for us . . . I could go on, but you get the point.

Maybe the ant is mighty. Maybe I don't even understand him. But I could wipe out his life with one pinch of my big, stupid, meaty fingers. And I will because I am sure his presence in my house is a problem.

*There are, of course, situations where behavior-altering medication for kids might be necessary, but I think it is over-used in modern society.


  1. A reminder to theologians (and would-be theologians): God is so vast that anything we say about him is more unlike him than like him. We are the ant --- He is the wing.

  2. Agreed, Anonymous. And I suppose we ants deserve credit for trying to find the crumbs left out for us, as long as our effort is in earnest, no matter how difficult such an effort may seem, at times.