A slide from my lecture tomorrow morning on social insects:

Years ago I held the opinion that social insects were too alien, their concerns too remote from our own, to enlighten us about the nature of our human societies. I’ve since come around to a more nuanced perspective.

It is certainly still true that ants’ optimal solutions to their various social conflicts differ from our optimal solutions. Just because ants kill the offspring of cheating workers does not mean we ought practice infanticide, for example.

Yet our society expresses common underlying dynamics to those of insects. We face the same questions of how to balance individual autonomy with sacrifice for the advancement of the group. Our answers cannot be similar to those of the ants, but by studying how ants work through their conflicts we may at least learn something of the topology of the problem.