What The Temperature of Bee Hives Can Tell Us About Political Correctness
Bees are a wondrous creature, individually these flying balls of fuzz are the striped Swiss army knives of the animal kingdom; armed with a stinger and a scooping tongue, they build, maintain, feed and defend their hives. Collectively, they orchestrate one of natures most profound displays of self-organization and complexity.
Beehives are well-oiled machines, through rigorous order and a specified set of genetic rules and behaviors their hive is maintained and functions in outstanding efficiency. The term “Runs like clockwork” might seem appropriately analogous to the beehive, but contrary to a clock, the beehive is highly unpredictable.
A clock works in a predictable fashion. If it’s separate parts are assembled correctly, given that they are all in good shape , they produce a clock that tells the time regardless of external events. A Beehive is a living system, meaning that what happens in the next 30 seconds can be fairly predictable, but what happens the next day or week is significantly more difficult to predict. The bees and the hive at large are constantly bombarded by unpredictable events and must therefore dynamically adapt to each one; DNA encoded instructions unites the bees towards a common goal, but it is their versatile response to external stimulus that allows them to adapt to changing circumstances. The beehive is much more than a ‘well-oiled machine’ ; It’s a living organism.
One of the crucial aspects of maintaining a healthy hive is the regulation of a constant temperature as the health of their young, the queen bee’s reproductive capabilities and even the very structure of the hive are affected.
But inside a multi complex like the beehive how can a mere insect regulate the temperature of an entire hive?
When temperatures in the bee hive exceed their desired state (usually 32- 35 Celsius), the bees collectively flap their wings and fan out the hot air until temperatures cool down and reach their desired state. Likewise when temperatures get too cold they cyclically flex and relax their flight muscles , generating heat through their vibrations. Done collectively among the bees in the hive, this is the method by which they regulate the temperature.
What on earth does this have to do with political correctness?!
Bees have an internal range of sensitivity to various fluctuations in temperature, meaning that they can tolerate a change in temperature up until a certain threshold. Once temperatures surpasses that threshold, only then will they react to bring the temperature down or back up to equilibrium. The hive is made up of thousands of these bees, of which every bee personally can tolerate a certain level of temperature change.
The hive’s temperature will remain relatively steady if the range of the individual bees’ tolerance for difference is low enough so they are still proactive, but high enough so that every slight change in temperature doesn’t send every bee into panic mode. Put simply;
Bees have to tolerate discrepancies in order for the beehive to survive.
If the bees were to be so intolerant to the slightest divergence from their desired temperature (equilibrium) that every slight digression would result in a swarm of flailing wings fanning out and vibrating heat , then the hive would see drastic and chaotic pendulum-swings from hot to cold to hot to cold, putting the well-being of the hive and their young at stake.
Observing this, scientists applied this same insight to human society and its tolerance of opposing opinions;
Modern societies, especially in western , industrialized nations, are composed of people from all walks of life — different ethnicities , races, life experiences, sexual,religious and political orientations.
Societies today are extremely diverse.
If the society is composed of highly sensitive agents then any opinion that slightly diverges from the groupthink will result in aggressive reactions by the individuals making up the group , straying further away from equilibrium then it would have had the agents remained tolerant and level-headed. If the maintenance of the status quo trumps the health of the individual units who comprise the larger group, the group at large will collapse.
The braving Heliocentric observations of Galileo’s and his consequential inquisition , the charismatic speeches of MLK or the crucifying consequences of Jesus’ gospels might come to mind, but as I am sure we are all aware, you don’t have to look any further than your local university campus or town square to realize what happens when one speaks ‘out of equilibrium’. Outlying opinions garner a vehement reaction , as a Leviathan of guardians of the status quo swarm to maintain their beliefs at any cost.
Within this hodgepodge conflicting views are bound to cross paths, as they do, but if the slightest stir boils the pot then the pot will do continuously boil over, until something settles it down.
On the other hand, if a society is composed of robust, tolerant individuals capable of withstanding diverging opinions while remaining cool-headed , not every diverging opinion will garner a reaction out of them and only the worthy few will, only then it will remain a steady, ‘sustainable’ pot.
To make matters worse, we run into significant obstacles when a powerful medium is introduced, where it is the sexy, loud content rather than the deep, rich and useful content that shapes the ‘reality’ of the outside world conveyed by the medium.
A society with a powerful enough medium is highly volatile because content can alter beliefs and beliefs can shape behaviors. If the medium can carry content far enough across the population, it can alter the beliefs and behavior of the majority of ‘sensitive’ agents. What had previously been a trivial , meaningless occurrence can now get amplified across the entire population, convincing the tenants of that medium that their world is accurately conveyed by the events portrayed on their medium. For instance, a quote by a celebrity taken out of context can convince a large group of people that their world is far from ‘what it should be’ and this must be a call to action. Regardless if the majority may be indifferent to such things, but the minority is armed with enough zeal and angst, it can turn what was once a relatively tranquil place into chaos.
The untrained mind is gullible and highly reactive, a population dominated by the former is bound to be exploited by benefiting agents and institutions . Coupled with a medium designed to carry quick, shallow and ‘reaction-inducing’ content the two together will reinforce beliefs and behaviors that only lead to more chaos, straying further from ‘equilibrium’.
Society is an organism composed of many different ‘agents’ and through the interactions of our individual ideas and behaviors we collectively create cultures, trends , movements and poltergeists. Equipped with a medium as powerful as social media, our primal desire for connection and reptilian penchant to fear those different from us, we can become nasty , merciless , and vindictive animals if the ‘wrong’ memes spread and stick to a large enough population.
This exact phenomenon is seen in the stock market with herd mentality , in the digital realm with viral trends, and in the political sphere with highly polarized political orientations.
We can learn many things from nature, there is a lot of noise in our world but some things remain true across the human, biological, chemical and physical world ;
Little things can have monumental effects.
It is up to us to choose what sets us off, as Marcus Aurelius once wrote “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
We can turn off the noise; less is more in this noisy world of ours, let the important things move you, and the rest blow in the wind.
The insight for this article was discovered while reading
A Crude Look at the Whole: The Science of Complex Systems in Business, Life, and Society, By John H.Miller