Inside looking out: Who’s shaking the jar?
Recently I reposted a photograph and a message on Facebook about what happens if you put a black ant in a jar with a red ant.
As I had mentioned in a previous column, when we were kids, my friend Eddie and I did this experiment and found that nothing happened unless Eddie shook the jar and then the ants would fight to the death.
Well, Facebook fact-checkers were all over this post saying that shaking a jar of different species of ants was misleading. Fact checker Marlo Lee who holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Howard University wrote, “If the author of the post was trying to make a metaphorical statement about human behavior by relating it to that of ants, they might have been better to choose a different animal for the illustration.”
Walter Tschinkel, an ecology and evolution professor at Florida State University, wrote that ants don’t necessarily need an outside force like a shaking to go at each other.
“Whoever posted this knows absolutely nothing about ants,” he said. “Red ants and black ants? Really? There are 14,000 species of ants in the world, not just red and black. The ants depicted here are two different species of Camponotus or similar. Attack across species lines is common among ants. No shaking is necessary. Weaver ants are found in Asia, Africa and Australia. They make nests in trees and are very aggressive to a range of interlopers, including other ants, as well as weaver ants from other colonies.”
If I may interject here, Mr. Tschinkel, the picture was not meant to be specific to any particular species of ants, but just ants in general to make a point of comparison. By the way, Eddie and I found our red and black ants in my backyard in New Jersey and not in Asia, Africa or Australia.
John Longino, a myrmecologist from the University of Utah, had this to say, “… There are thousands of species of red ants and thousands of species of black ants. Some ants don’t fight no matter what. Some ants will hang out in a jar for a while, but if you shake them, they release formic acid, which makes them all go crazy, attacking anything, including nest mates.”
Well, how about that. My post was called a “Metaphor Miss” by the fact checkers because some experts of antology, my nonscience slang word for myrmecology, agree and disagree with what Eddie and I had proven to ourselves on those summer afternoons when he shook the jar of ants.
Upon further contemplation of this issue, I’ve come to the conclusion that the comparison of ants to people still makes sense to me. I have always believed that we, as human beings, endeavor to live in this world by coexisting with each other peacefully until someone “shakes our jar.” For example, perhaps we really don’t feel culturally or racially offended until somebody tells us we should be. Furthermore, I’ve had young adult African-Americans tell me racial prejudice would go away on its own if it wasn’t thrown into our faces every night by the TV news.
From the moment we are old enough to think for ourselves, somebody shakes the jar and we no longer can think for ourselves. The human race is bombarded with political, religious and social opinion. We will look for the public opinion that suits our needs and then lock ourselves into an iron vault of narrow-mindedness.
The joy of passing along the idea that, “I’m right and you’re wrong” gives us a false sense of superiority and when something happens to support our tunnel visioned opinion, we can’t wait to shout, “I told you so!” to our adversaries.
What if the TV news was unbiased and objective? What if our government officials’ lives were private, and we didn’t know their personal flaws, and for that matter, what if everyone was required to post their misdoings about their own private lives on Facebook or Twitter?
To paraphrase a biblical statement, those who have never done anything immoral or wrong, let them be the only ones to throw stones at the flawed.
We live in a stressful country. We’re in a hurry to go nowhere. We’re searching everywhere for peace of mind and most of us would be happy to live and let live, but then somebody or something comes along and shakes our jar.
Perhaps, as Marlo Lee suggests, I should use a different animal for illustration of human behavior. Let’s take a close look at the black bear that has been spotted in several Pocono communities. You fear one of the 20,000 bears in Pennsylvania will attack and kill you. The fact is that environmental records prove that there’s less than one black bear attack a year upon a human in the entire United States. Ironically, most outdoor deaths in our state come from allergic reactions to bee, wasp and hornet stings.
Now if you provoke a black bear in some manner or threaten to come close to a mama bear’s cubs, all bets are off. You’re shaking their jar.
I’m not pointing fingers at the jar shakers, except at my friend Eddie when we were 11 years old, but I can tell you I remember this. When we put a black ant and a red ant together and just let them be, all they did was search for a way out of the jar.
Well then, aren’t we all?
Tell that to the fact checkers.
Rich Strack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.