(I write this with full gratitude to the U.S. armed forces, who make it possible for me to sit and ponder such things in peace.)
I spent hours of my childhood crouched down and hunched over the backyard bugs — so much so that the adults would joke that one day I would be an entomologist.
Eventually, I chose other professions ending in -ist, but still, the hours I’d spent in a New Jersey suburb, watching the insects, shaped me.
I would pick up an ant from the red colony and march him to another part of our yard and drop him into the black colony. And he would, inevitably, run away quickly. I’d try to stuff him down the hole — the entry to the ant hill. Usually when I did this, the alien ant would run out a few seconds later. Sometimes, he never made it out.
My aim was to see if ants from different colonies would assimilate. They would not.
Many times, I saw rival ant colonies at war. The ants would lock heads with each other and pull back and forth. Eventually, the losing colony soldiers would be outnumbered, fighting one-to-three against the victors. There were dead ants all over the place. A littering of specks amid the grass.
Death and destruction, right there in my backyard. It was ridiculous and pointless and seemed, to me, a waste of time. Those ants had no idea how small and insignificant they were.
Every time I read about the latest warring among our own species, I think of the ants and wonder, “How much wiser are we?”