Day 41: Are you a gold mine or a bee hive?

A question of scarcity versus abundance

What do you think of when you think of gold mines? The first thing that comes to mind is the California gold rush that began in the mid 1800s. Hundreds of thousands of people traversing hundreds of miles in search of this precious metal, which just might change their fortunes forever.

In reality, though, few struck it rich — especially as the easy-to-find gold was all quickly discovered and sold. Instead, more advanced techniques required more complex technologies, which concentrated profits more in the hands of industrialists, who mined the gold, and merchants, who found markets for it.

What was essentially “the commons” — land owned and shared by the entire public quickly fell into private hands. Native Americans were thrown off the land and tens of thousands died as a result. Rivers and streams were polluted and remained polluted by chemicals, like mercury, which seeped out when mountains were blasted and eroded to remove the gold.

The madness continues today, for example in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where warlords mine gold and then sell in the global market. They use the funds to purchase weapons, which are then used to intimidate, murder, and rape citizens.

Child soldiers patrolling a gold mine in the DRC. Credit: National Geographic

And for what? Gold is valuable because it’s scarce; I only gain status points from wearing gold, because it’s something that you can’t do. In order for me to feel big from wearing the gold — for it to gain any status, you must, by definition, feel small from not wearing it.

There’s another kind of gold, though — liquid gold. Also known as honey.

When bees visit flowers, they suck out the nectar with their tongues. The nectar is then stored in their “honey stomachs,” which act as a storage container for the sweet material. Once they return to the hives, the workers unload the nectar into the mouths of other bees, who are in the hive. They chew on it for a while before passing it to other bees, who further chew on the honey before finally storing it in the honey comb. This process allows the complex sugars in the nectar to break down into simpler sugars, which are easier to digest and to store within the honey comb.

Inside the honey comb. Credit: National Geographic

The initial honey in the comb is much more watery than the viscous honey that we put in our tea. To remove the water, bees fan the honey with their wings until it becomes much thicker. Once the honey is ready, they seal each individual comb with their wax. The stored honey provides nourishment during colder winter months and can be used to feed children as well.

Think about the process of production: the hive is owned, maintained, and worked on by all the bees. Each plays an integral role within this system. And each is rewarded fairly for their contributions. It’s a commons. Compare this the “every man for himself” mentality of the gold rush.

What about quantity? Unlike gold, which is a finite resource, so long as there are flowers and bees (not a given in an insecticide-filled world), honey will continue to be produced. It’s replenishable.

What about its use and consumption? Is honey something that’s exclusive? Does it make me more prestigious and powerful at the expense of others, like a dictator? NO— honey, like all foods and beverages, is best enjoyed with company. Its value is actually enhanced by the fact that it can be shared.

So which are you — a gold mine or a bee hive?

Thanks to my brother Awais Hussain for the analogy!

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