A recent Science News article, Swarm Savvy: How bees, ants and other animals avoid dumb collective decisions, offers insight into the mysterious dynamics all social animals share… including humans.
I’ve always been dumbfounded by how well people are able to manage the logistics of living in a civilization composed of millions of individuals. I realize how supply and demand plays a role in this. Still, it mystifies me. Inheriting less of ‘the social gene’ probably deepens this bewilderment.
Being a social outlier brings me to wonder about chapter 17’s, The best of all rulers is but a shadowy presence to his subjects. Can such shadowy detachment coexist with being a key member of the group? If not, how could being a ruler be possible in the first place? What does a shadowy presence really mean?
It helps to think of each of us as the ostensible ruler with regard to our small-scale individual circumstances. I am the ostensible ruler over myself, my life. From a ‘free will is true’ point of view, that means I can decide how my life plays out. We all experience that, if not explicitly then implicitly. From this point of view, shadowy presence doesn’t mean much. How can you be a shadowy presence to yourself? If you consider this from a ‘swarm savvy’ point of view, then shadowy presence makes more sense. Which viewpoint appeals to you? To paraphrase Shakespeare, “To be a free willed individual or a nameless member of the swarm, that is the question”.
Recognizing and accepting the close parallel between human decision-making and the swarm savvy of bees, ants and other animals is extremely calming. The reason this is not easily noticeable is that we need to be, to think we know and to think we are in charge of our lives, unlike instinct driven animals. The illusion of self and its free will is profoundly blinding. This illusion can also be stressful in that your isolated “I” is up against the universe. For me, the answer is not to be through embracing chapter 56’s mysterious sameness and the calming ‘swarm savvy’ of the universe that goes along with that.