The Evolution of Selfishness

Against Idleness and Mischief by Isaac Watts

How doth the little busy Bee
Improve each shining Hour,
And gather Honey all the day
From every opening Flower!

How skilfully she builds her Cell!
How neat she spreads the Wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet Food she makes.

How doth the little busy Bee
Improve each shining Hour,
And gather Honey all the day
From every opening Flower!

How doth the little honey bee
In self-defense excel!
She gives her life for one small sting
Yet hath she spent it well!


Children in the 18th and 19th centuries were expected to memorize the poem Against Idleness and Mischief by Isaac Watts and to emulate the selflessness of the honey bee. The cloying sweetness of the self-sacrificing worker bee was irritating to Lewis Carroll, who wrote this parody concerning a more predatory and self-interested species:

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale.

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
and welcomes little fishies in
With gently smiling jaws.

Of course, the Lewis Caroll poem misses the point. The crocodile in his parody is exploiting other animals -- not crocodiles. It is the altruism of the honey bee in her attitude to her fellow bees that inspires humans to long for a brotherhood of man -- a spirit of all for one and one for all similar to the creed of the three musqueteers and a sharing of resources sometimes known as socialism.

Individual bee collecting pollen on behalf of the entire hive

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia

Against Idleness and Mischief -- last two stanzas

In Works of Labour or of Skill
I would be busy too:
For Satan finds some Mischief still
For idle Hands to do.

In Books, or Work, or healthful Play
Let my first Years be past,
That I may give for every Day
Some good account at last.

Throughout recorded history, rulers, theologians, philosophers and teachers have tried to instill the unselfishness of the honey bee into human populations. If we all behaved like bees, it has been argued, then we could pool our resources and no one need ever be hungry. The strong would protect the weak, and the young would shelter the aged. However, true unselfishness, as manifest in the apiary, does not actually work this way. Truly unselfish living means not overstaying your welcome:

  • each honey bee lives only so long as it is useful to the hive and is discarded as soon as it no longer serves.
  • honey bees are expected to commit suicide in the service of the hive by stinging any perceived threat and dying in the process
  • shirkers -- or anyone too sick or weak to keep working -- are promptly executed by enforcer honey bees

Queen Bee and Attendants

Image Credit: The Wikipedia
Image Credit: The Wikipedia

Why aren't honey bees more selfish? Why do individual bees not consider their own survival as more important than the survival of the hive?

The answer is simple: there is no mechanism of natural selection to favor the reproductive success of selfish bees within the hive. (There is, however, a mechanism that allows rogue bees to leave the hive and become independent -- more on that below.)

Individual honey bees within the hive do not produce and rear their own young. Reproduction is a collective undertaking. If a honey bee behaves in a more selfish way -- eating more honey than it produces when doing so jeopardizes the success of the hive, the hive may perish because of it, and the genetic traits that might have led to this behavior are not going to be replicated. If a bee behaves in a way that serves the purposes of the hive, then the hive is more likely to prosper, and more bees of this sort will be produced in the future.

Honey bees behave like collective entities, because they reproduce and rear young collectively. Nature brings selective pressure to bear on organisms based on reproductive success. That is why natural selection operates upon the hive as a whole, and not on individual bees.

This is also why honey bees are not individuals in the more colloquial sense of that word.

Honey bees have complex social organization and they are even able to share information with one another about the location of good sources of pollen. Despite this, there is no reason to believe that bees are self-aware.

One of the little understood aspects of communication is that it is not necessary to understand the difference between "self" and "other" in order to transfer information from one being to another. We do not need a theory of mind in order to decode or encode information.

While a theory of mind is useful if you are planning to deceive another individual, it is of no use whatever when all are working cooperatively at predetermined tasks and when the motivation for completing the task is completely internal.

Honey bees are motivated to work by an internal compulsion. A bee that does not have this compulsion is defective and is discarded by the hive. Sometimes the bees who are responsible for killing a defective worker are called "Enforcers", but their job is not to motivate workers by fear of punishment. Defective workers are eliminated in the same way that a defective part is replaced in a machine.

Most animals carry any surplus they have acquired on their person in the form of fat, to be consumed later during leaner times. Bees produce a tangible surplus outside their person -- honey -- and this makes them easy prey to other species who would enslave them.

When humans domesticated honey bees, they exploited the social organization of the bee to serve their own ends. If bees were not already in the habit of deferring gratification and creating a surplus, they would not be such easy targets for exploitation by humans.

However, even exploiters have got to take into consideration the basic needs of the population they are enslaving. A bee keeper who takes all the honey and leaves none for the hive to winter on will find that he has no bees come spring.

Honey bees are an example of "eusocial insects". Eusocial insects include wasps and ants. What they all have in common is the following:

  • the creation of a food surplus outside their own bodies
  • specialized roles for different members of the group
  • collective reproduction and child-rearing
  • a high degree of genetic uniformity within the group

Most insects are not eusocial, and in fact, not all bees are! An example of a non-social bee sub-species is the "cuckoo bumble bee". This particular sub-type of bumblebee has lost the ability to gather pollen. All female cuckoo bumblebees reproduce their own young, and there are no specialized roles among the cuckoo bumblebees.The alkali bee (Nomia melanderi Cockerell) is a non-social ground-nesting bee that has been extensively used to pollinate alfalfa. Large populations of such bees can exist side by side and yet not work cooperatively. Each has its own nest, gathers its own pollen, and produces its own young.

It seems that just as eusocial insects depend on a surplus, specialized roles and collective reproduction, those who give up the creation of a  large surplus also discard specialized roles and collective breeding.

Why is it that when we think of bees, we automatically tend to think of the eusocial ones? The answer is obvious: because of the surplus! We crave honey. Individualist bees are good pollinators, but they don't make much honey. Therefore, they are less likely to be exploited and enslaved.

Individualist bees are not enslaved by humans precisely because they do not allow other bees to enslave them. This is something to keep in mind when thinking about our own social organization.

So, which came first, solitary bees or eusocial ones? This is the sort of chicken and egg question that will be answered differently depending on your context.

If read in a broad context, the answer will be "solitary insects came first, so a pre-bee would have been asocial." Read in a finer context, the answer may be: "eusocial bees are the precursors of solitary bees, because the first actual bees were eusocial. Pre-bees don't count."

If we want to see the big picture, though, the answer is: it comes in cycles.

The Cyclical Social Evolution of Bees


pre-bees ==>(communal)==> eusocial bees ==> (communal) ==> solitary bees

A difference in social organization precedes genetic differentiation between groups of bees. First they behave differently and only later, with time, do genetic differences between different populations begin to appear.

Genetically identical bees have been found living side by side in the same physical environment, with one group engaged in egalitarian communal living (each female producing her own young, but sharing chores with other females) and the other living under a strict eusocial regime with a full caste system under the rule of a single fertile queen.

We see a lot of eusocial bees becoming solitary, but we seldom see this pattern of egalitarian communal living. Richards, von Wettburg and Rutgers discuss the reason for this in their article entitled A novel social polymorphism in a primitively eusocial bee: "Why then is the cooccurrence of communal and eusocial behavior in halictine bees so rare, especially given the large number of halictine reversions from eusocial to solitary behavior? A communal transition between solitary to eusocial colony cycles is likely to be unstable and should disappear rapidly. As in any type of society based on mutualism, communal societies are open to cheating by nonegalitarian members. If dominance hierarchies associated with reproductive skew are formed, the colony ceases to be communal. This means that attempts by some individuals to dominate reproduction will tend to promote either the evolution of caste-based societies (eusocial or semisocial) or the founding of solitary colonies in which females can simply avoid cheaters, so communal, casteless societies would tend to be transient."

Throughout nature the choice of social arrangement is dependent on a myriad of factors, but some rules hold firm. No animal has a society that can operate at a deficit. If the bee hive is not sufficiently productive to support the bees, then the colony collapses. Individual bees may or may not survive, but those who do survive make alternate social arrangements. Communal living pays off only so long as individual members of the commune are well served by the communal arrangement. Situations that encourage pilfering are replaced by situations where pilfering is deterred. Unstable arrangements are transient. Stable arrangements tend to last.

Some animals are social and others are solitary. Some animals care for their young until maturity, and some do not. Many insects, fish, and reptiles tend to lay eggs and then disappear, leaving their young to fend to themselves. Most birds and mammals take responsibility for young, providing them with food and shelter until they are mature. In some species, males and females form partnerships for the rearing of young. In other species, care for offspring falls primarily on one of the sexes and not the other. Many social animals live in groups and have dominance hierarchies.

Most forms of communal living found in nature revolve around reproductive and rearing strategies, and partnerships between and among members are dissolved if they do not serve this purpose well.

Some species of squirrels live communally and others do not. Factors that help to determine whether resources are pooled or kept separate may include the size of the habitat, the availability of food, and overall population density.

Chimpanzees are our closest relatives. They are self-aware and highly intelligent. They use tools to harvest ants and to break nuts open. They live in social groups, and they have dominance hierarchies that determine status within the group. However, chimpanzees maintain no food surplus, and hence they have no well-defined caste system, specialized roles or forced labor. For this reason, it is also impossible to enslave a chimpanzee. Chimpanzees can cooperate with humans, but only if they choose to, (It is impossible to force a chimpanzee to do something he does not wish to do over the long run.) The same is not true of human beings.

No matter how low the status of a chimpanzee within the group, he never gives in! He may submit to a more dominant male to avoid a physical beating, but he never agrees that this dominant individual is his true superior. His head is bloodied, but unbowed! When the Alpha is too busy to notice, lesser males mate with females they have been forbidden to touch.

Because of the resilience of each individual chimpanzee and the resistance that they offer to any long term domination, the dominance hierarchies never become a eusocial caste system. For this very same reason, no surplus can ever be accumulated by a group of chimpanzees. "Saving some for later" is not part of their psychology or their mode of life.

In the literature on chimpanzees, the word "surplus" does appear, but it's not used to mean creating food stocks now for a later use. It's more like the present disposition of "food that is too much for one person to eat". Females who break nuts will provision their children with excess nuts. Occasionally, all the males go and hunt together, and some of the meat is shared with females in return for sexual favors. But these instances of social cooperation are occasional rather than habitual. By and large, every chimpanzee picks his own fruit and eats it. Those higher in rank get to pick more and better fruit, but no adult chimpanzee picks fruit for any other adult chimpanzee. Each individual is responsible for supporting himself.

Human beings who live in hunter gatherer groups enjoy a similar freedom to that of the chimpanzee. Hunter gatherers must carry their own weight, and that of their dependent children, and hence the accumulation of a surplus, whether in the form of worldly goods or even just body fat, is highly curtailed. Each hunter-gatherer adult is responsible for himself, and women must carry their small children on their backs. While there is a spirit of benevolence, and women sometimes help to care for other women's children, this type of mutual help is occasional and not habitual,and every child has a special attachment to its own mother.

Because there is no surplus in hunter-gatherer societies, there isn't any social stratification. Yes, there are leaders, but these leaders rule by personal charisma alone, and nobody is required to follow. Each individual can make decisions about his own food gathering and live with the consequences. If he chooses to follow a leader, it is only because he believes the leader is right in that particular instance.

With the invention of agriculture, humanity underwent a very big social upheaval. Food could now be stockpiled, and this surplus led directly to extreme social stratification. A caste system arose in almost every pocket of early civilization:

  • farmers/laborers
  • merchants/scholars
  • warriors
  • kings

Social pyramids that were wide at the bottom and met at a single point at the top were the rule throughout early history in most "civilized" places across the globe.

The "middle class" that everybody is clamoring to belong to today is the second social stratum that I listed above. Clearly, not everybody can be middle class, and still have it be the "middle class"!

We can see that the socially stratified civilization that sprang up with the discovery of agriculture shares some of the features of the social organization of honey bees:

  • creation of a surplus
  • specialized roles or castes

Notably absent is the feature of collective reproduction. (Yes, there were eunuchs and harems, but that trend never really took off!)

Because the reproductive function of "civilized" humans is not all that different from the reproductive function of chimpanzees and hunter-gatherers, human beings never lost their individualist streak completely.

However, religion and philosophy attempted to make up for this by creating moralities that condemned indviduals who rebelled against the system. We were told not to be "selfish", and the hope was that we would internalize this commandment. The text of Isaac Watts' poem "Against Idleness and Mischief" is just one of many examples of indoctrination in eusocial ideals.

Just as the evolution of the social behavior of bees goes through cycles, human social organization also cycles. Free market ideals that found their way into practice in 18th century America allowed many Americans to revert to a way of life more like that of the hunter-gatherer without giving up their surplus. Small farms and shops were run by individuals and families and balanced their books separately from others. The founding fathers chose a loose confederacy of states over a centralized government, and everything was based on the idea that each individual had a choice as to how to spend his time and how to invest in the future.

(Yes, there was slavery and Native Americans were dispossessed in the process of settling the wilderness. I am not condoning these practices. However, for those people in the "in-group" -- many of whom had been peasants and serfs in Europe -- this was an opportunity to stop being a worker bee and become a solitary bee, instead.)

Social trends in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have brought everything back toward collectivization and the ideals of Isaac Watt. The cycle looks something like this:

individual effort ==> surplus/castes ==> individually held surplus ==>redistribution

No doubt the cycling isn't over, and after the current fling with collectivization, survivors will move toward more individualized social structures. In the meanwhile, many are really baffled by the connection between the conditions that bring about the rise of collectivization and the reasons people suffer when eusocial ideals are the norm.

Whenever a particular socialist regime is held up as an example of the failure of socialism, proponents of socialism will reply that their ideals were violated by the regime, so it doesn't really count. National Socialism in Germany? That was a fascist regime, and fascism isn't socialism. Soviet Russia? That was communism, and communism isn't really socialism.

If you ask what the difference is between an actual instantiation of socialist ideals and the historical examples that we have, you will be told that true socialism is egalitarian. In other words, true socialism is like a commune where everybody works, and everybody is a full partner.

Communes are inherently unstable, but some have survived and prospered despite the odds. In order to thrive, communes require strict control over membership. Various religious orders, and not a few collective farms and kibbutzim have managed to function successfully, by retaining the right to expel unproductive members and by allowing disgruntled members to leave freely, along with their share upon dissolution. These mechanisms of self-selection and forcible ejection can sometimes work in a small group to keep a commune on track.

These are not mechanisms that can easily  be put into effect when an entire country becomes socialist. When a citizen leaves, he can't take his share of the country with him. Forcible ejection of people who disagree with the current regime is not an option practiced by democratic societies. When a country goes socialist, none of the mechanisms for keeping a commune economically viable are available.

It then follows that strict central government, together with a caste system, are always put into effect. It is not the fault of the particular regime that this is done. It's the nature of reality.

Often in discussions of the most suitable social organization, arguments against socialism are made by reliance on the failings that come from our very humanity. It's human nature, we tend to think, that prevents all the communitarian utopian experiments to fail. As it turns out, the reason egalitarian communes are short-lived is not a matter of human nature, or bee nature, or the nature of any particular organism. It's just nature. Period.

It doesn't matter whether the organisms in question are self-aware mammals or the most primitive of insects. It's got nothing to do with intelligence or self-denial.

Large communes where not all members know one another intimately are unstable, because they are too susceptible to cheating. In order to enforce any rules concerning sharing of resources, or maintaining standards of productivity, it is necessary for each commune member to have a veto in the acceptance of new members as partners. It is also necessary for each partner to be able to dissolve the union and take away his own share, in the event that being in the commune no longer serves his long term goals. When a commune is small, all of this is possible, and the knowledge that it can be done keeps all partners in check. But in a commune so large that most members do not know most other members, it is not practical to give each member a veto. A hierarchical organization with strong central control is required.

For this reason, solitary bees can prosper and eusocial bees can prosper, but communal bees who pool resources but do not have a queen or a caste system, tend to be only a transient phenomenon. For the same reason, monarchies and dictatorships, and Spartan city states can prosper, and nations with citizens who each balance their own books can prosper, but communes that are a great deal larger than a family have been remarkably short-lived.

© 2009 Aya Katz

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Comments 63 comments

maven101 profile image

maven101 7 years ago from Northern Arizona

This has been an extremely interesting and well written Hub that took me to an area of study I have never considered.

The human / bee dynamic was interesting but fails to convince...humans, once prey animals, are now predators...I can think of no other creature making this transition...Predators come as groups or individuals, much like humans..

The premise that " It is the altruism of the honey bee in her attitude to her fellow bees that inspires humans to long for a brotherhood of man -- a spirit of all for one and one for all similar to the creed of the three musqueteers and a sharing of resources sometimes known as socialism."( sic ) is not necessarily true. Ayn Rand makes the case, for some of us, that altruism may not be desirable, and that selfishness is to be pursued with the long range goal of human enrichment...

Just some thoughts from a politically incorrect rugged individualist....Larry

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Maven101, thanks for your comment! Humans are both predators and prey, like most of the living world. We can still be eaten by a wolf or lion, if the occasion arises, and insects drink our blood all the time, not to speak of the damage microscopic entities can do.

I agree with Ayn Rand about selfishness. But the poem by Isaac Watt is certainly evidence that many humans would like to emulate the honey bee -- or to get others to emulate it!

maven101 profile image

maven101 7 years ago from Northern Arizona


The honey bee sings

His free serenade for all

Follow me, my friend

A special haiku for you, Aya

Samina 7 years ago

Thank you Dr Katz for a much needed info on Bees...whew!

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Maven101, for the haiku!

Samina, Good to hear from you again! Glad you found the hub informative.

livelonger profile image

livelonger 7 years ago from San Francisco

FASCINATING hub - thank you, Aya!

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Livelonger!

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

What a thoroughly engrossing hub -- from the first mention of Lewis Carroll's parody right through to the analogies depicting socialism. Indeed, I'll be coming back to read this one again, after letting it all sink in for a while, as you address the very question I've always had about why communes are so unstable when they try to exist on a larger scale. Thank you very much.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Teresa, thank you! It's especially encouraging to get a comment from someone who gets what I'm writing about!

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

Such an excellent read! I'll be bookmarking it to return to again and again. Loved some of the links too.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Jerilee! Your hubs about bees kept me thinking on this subject at a time when I was not sure if I would ever finish this hub!

loua profile image

loua 7 years ago from Elsewhere, visiting Earth ~ the segregated community planet

Great job, interesting and informational.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

loua, thanks!

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain

What a fascinating hub but then so are most of your hubs, I always go away more informed, having learned many new things and having my way of looking at things changed and challenged. I love your hubs.

Healey 7 years ago

Absolutely fascinating Hub, Aya! Bravo! I love how I learn something new every time I read one of your Hubs.

Not a Bee 7 years ago

I can say with absolute certainty I am not a bee.

Ginn Navarre profile image

Ginn Navarre 7 years ago

Thank you Aya, for an excellent read that keeps me learning fantastic facts that we humans tend to ignore.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Maggs224, thanks for the encouragement! I'm always cheered by your comments.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Healey, thanks! I'm fascinated by your hubs about sea mammals and look forward to learning more about their social lives.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Not a bee, I am sure that you are not a bee! Not too many of them are buzzing around on the internet. However, the question I think we should all ask ourselves is this: if I were a bee, which kind would I be?

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ginn Navarre, thanks for dropping by and for your positive input!

opinion duck 7 years ago

Sorry, but the import of this hub escapes me.

Man is alone and apart from the other life forms.

Man has a conscience and a morality, while the other life forms have no such counterpart. They act out of survival and not morality. While Bees are social, they still act out of survival.

Man chooses beyond their genetics and wire programming how to live and act. Morality is subjective within a culture and abnormal is just someone that acts different from the culture.

Again, your point escapes me.

just a comment.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Opinion Duck, thanks for your comment. I appreciate your honesty. To tell you the truth, I think a lot of readers don't quite get the import of this hub, so you are not alone.

I recommend the book ORIGINAL SIN AND EVIL IN THE LIGHT OF EVOLUTION as a way to break into the idea that maybe even our morality evolved because it had survival value.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

Aya - this is very well researched and interesting. (As an aside, Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear shared a distaste for moralising tales and thought it better to give children something to enjoy). Anyway, I don't think fully communal living is ever sustainable. People will always want their own space and possessions. But that doesn't rule out cooperation in community. It certainly doesn't require that every personal 'island' has to be in competition with every other. Bee communities work because, as you say, the genetic variation is minimal. Any attempt to impose complete uniformity on humans is bound to fail. But then I don't know of any serious thinker who has ever proposed that.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thank you, Paraglider. I am so glad you dropped by. The lesson to humans from the example of bees, I think, is that whether you choose a communal systerm, one that is loosely communitarian, or one that is highly individualistic, the system will collapse if it doesn't serve the participants. It is not that a commune couldn't work in theory -- it's that it can't work without ways for dissenters to opt out or be expelled. Socialism on a small scale can and does work: what is a marriage if not a communitarian living arrangement? But it can't work if forced on people. People forced to live in a nationwide commune are bound to bring about its collapse, sooner rather than later.

Vladimir Uhri profile image

Vladimir Uhri 7 years ago from HubPages, FB

Thanks for your work.

My short comment is, commune system in Israel did not work and collapsed even it was voluntarily. I am old enough to know that nothing is working without God - the Master of universe. Only people do not know Him. They have their own pictures of Him. Opinion is always trouble.

You did not give us an author of Evolution of selfishness.. I am planing to finish my book Evolution of Evil and I would be intersted to have some references. But still I would like to bring my own "view".

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Vladimir Uhri, thanks for your comment. While many Israeli communes failed, some still thrive. Those that do have modified their system to make allowances for such things as mothers who want to raise their own children and families that want to live together in separate housing. Self-selection is also an important element.

The author of this hub, "The Evolution of Selfishness", is none other than myself, Aya Katz. The ideas I express are my own. I did give some references and some links to the work of others, such as the article, "A novel social polymorphism in a primitively eusocial bee" by Richards, von Wettburg and Rutgers. The book "Original Selfishness" is listed below the comments section in an Amazon capsule. I did not rely on it to write my article, but I recommend it to those unfamiliar with the idea that morality evolved due to its survival value.

maven101 profile image

maven101 7 years ago from Northern Arizona

Aya: Would you define altruism as within the context of morality...? Larry

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Larry, I'm not sure I fully understand your question. Is altruism a category that usually comes up when people discuss morality? Yes, I think it is. Or are you asking whether I, personally, have embraced altruism as part of my own morality?

Vladimir Uhri profile image

Vladimir Uhri 7 years ago from HubPages, FB

Forgive me Aya. You look like Jew, and you cannot change it. But one can change an opinion. You do not know what I would give for to be born as a Jew. Now I can only love them. But I was adopted.

I use to work in experimental pathology for coup of years. In the research we did also proved something is not working look like negative results, but it is also valid. I know your dream. But you cannot make monkey speak. Are you mad at me? Please don't. Those species are predetermined. If they would speak then they are not monkeys any more. If evolution occurred then monkeys would vanish like caterpillars when become butterflies.

People have a speach since they have a spirit. One cannot get spirit by training animal.

Ani ohev otah.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Vladimir Uhri, I'm not angry, but I am disappointed.

First of all, I am not working with a monkey. I am working with an ape, specifically a chimpanzee. Secondly, this hub isn't about that. Thirdly, this hub is not about religion or ethnicity. It transcends all those minor issues, even biology itself.

When I started out to write this hub, I, too, thought the social organization of bees was entirely biologically determined. When I researched the facts, I found that my preconceptions about bees were entirely too narrow. I also learned that this is more of an issue determined by game theory and less by genetics.

Vladimir Uhri profile image

Vladimir Uhri 7 years ago from HubPages, FB

Sorry, I know. I am like somebody else, jumping around. Please be free to delete the comment you do not like. It is your hub. I honor you as a very intelligent and educated person.

maven101 profile image

maven101 7 years ago from Northern Arizona

Aya...I was merely referring to altruism in the context of your wonderful bee analogy, and would it be a question of morality, for humans, not bees, to be considered altruistic or selfish...

Personally, I see altruism as a devise to control, to manipulate, to instill guilt...

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Maven101, I think that our points of view about altruism are very close. The concept of "altruism" is often used to control, manipulate and instill guilt. But that's because people use it in unequal ways: "if you want something you're selfish; if I want it, I'm selfless." Everybody always want something, even if that something is for their children, their country, their community or their culture.

Misha profile image

Misha 7 years ago from DC Area

I finally came here Aya. Thank you, I am really impressed with your perspective. It definitely makes a lot of sense, and goes along well with all what I know about humanity and nature by now. So much information I really have to give it a serious long thought, and I bet I will come back here at least a few more times.

Thank you again :)

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Misha, I'm so glad you made it here. This hub would not be complete without a comment from you!

Misha profile image

Misha 7 years ago from DC Area

I am glad too. :) And thanks for the compliment :)

ledefensetech profile image

ledefensetech 7 years ago from Cape Girardeau, MO

I'm not so sure that I'd use selfishness, but self-interest. Selfishness does not take into account cooperation. It can be in my self interest to cooperate with someone in the hopes that they will reciprocate at a later time. If I think only of my immediate needs and refuse to assist others, that's selfishness. Even if they do not reciprocate, that will just leave them hurting the next time they want help. As people cooperate and trust builds, we get a society that, through pursuing their self-interest, also helps others. Most of that help is determined by the level of trust in that society and the individual value systems of people in that community. Such things become restrictive when people are forced to contribute against their will.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ledefensetech, selfishness is often used with a negative connotation, but the denotation is simply following one's self-interest, based on one's own values. I think when we agree with the majority that selfishness is bad, we lose ground. Right now many parents who try to provide well for their children are being blamed because they are not trying to provide for everyone's children equally. This behavior is considered selfish. Is it selfish? Yes. But is it wrong? No. It's perfectly natural.

ledefensetech profile image

ledefensetech 7 years ago from Cape Girardeau, MO

It's semantics anyway, I think in a fundamental sense, you and I agree fully. Sorry I didn't point it out before, but this hub was brilliant. It's just the thing I need to see from time to time when I start thinking I know it all. It's a humbling experience, but in a good way.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ledefensetech, thank you!

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

When I started reading this I thought that I was going to learn something about bees (which I did) but had no idea that this was evolving into something much more important. Your correlations between bee, ant, chimpanzee and human behavior gives one much to ponder.

Relating how we choose to live and work and how this relates to government is another entire category of thought stemming from this hub.

Thank you! I also will have to read this again and click on some of the many links you provided.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Peggy W, thank you for your thoughtful comment!

loubeeloo 7 years ago

a wonderfully illustrative & well researched hub, congratulations aya.

i especially agree with your comments about the negative connotation behind the term 'selfish' and views on altruism...

in everyday & in every way i attempt to commit selfless acts of thought & deed..... but i would not do this if having a positive impact upon others did not make me happy... therefore i am selfish in my selflessness?

best wishes & kindest regards from a Holistic Humanist

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Loubeeloo, thanks! Keep doing what makes you happy! If making others happy is what makes you happy, so much the better! Who cares whether someone calls that selfish or not?

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 7 years ago

From bees and voles to humans is quite a leap. Do you really that male political dominance is rooted in biology? As I recall Larry Summers was fired by Harvard for making a similar statement about women and science.

It's not clear to me where you are going with this Hub in terms of politics and government. You sound to me like amalgam of Ayn Rand and the social Darwinists--Herbert Spenceer, William Graham Sumner, et al, who applied Darwin's concepts to human social institutions. Their theories have been out of favor in academic circles for a long time for good reasons, namely the changes that have occurred due to scientific and technological developments that required a more centralized government.

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 7 years ago

You seem to like caste systems or believe they are inevitable and even desirable. Many came to this country for the opportunity to advance beyond the station in life to which they were ordained in their native land. The greatest American writers (Twain) and poets (e.g., Whitman, Sandburg, Frost) are egalitarians. Where I come from people don't look up to others or down on others but rather they look them straight in the eye, as equals.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ralph, I'm trying to be understanding, but it seems as if you read everything superficially, looking for tie- ins with existing groups or political affiliations, instead of trying to understand what I am saying.

The point of my article has nothing to do with male dominance, one way or the other. When I spoke of chimpanzee dominance hierarchies, I wasn't comparing the males to the females. I was talking about how despite the dominance hierarchies, less dominant individuals never completely submit, so there is never a hereditary caste system.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ralph, why do you think I like caste systems? My whole point was that to avoid being stuck in a caste system one would need to have a less centralized economy than that of the honey bees.

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 7 years ago

Well, I guess I misinterpreted you position on caste systems. And I assumed you linked the Claremont Institute article because you agreed with the theory expressed by several people discussed in the article that male dominance is biological. If you don't that's fine. We can agree on that one.

In my opinion, you are wrong to suggest that the pendulum will swing back toward a less centralized political system (in the U.S. and other industrialized countries) because the technological and other factors that led to increasing centralization are accelerating, not diminishing. I think most people resent many of the features of centralization and yearn for the days of small town, agricultural America.

But these same people also demand many things that can be provided only by a strong, centralized government. They want the services and protections but they resent paying the taxes.

The trend appears to me to be going beyond increasingly centralized governments in individual countries for some of the same reasons--issues and problems that cannot be solved by individual countries or that can be better solved by international cooperation and institutions. In Europe we now have the European Community which centralizes many issues formerly decided by each country. Many believe the World Trade Organization and the United Nations should be strengthened and their portfolios extended and their powers increased. Some examples of these issues are human rights, women's rights, disarmament, trade, tariffs, piracy at sea, terrorism, climate change, poverty, disease epidemics, coordination of international air traffic, enforcement of copyrights, international trafficking in drugs and prostitution, food safety and so forth. All of these are issues for which the solutions require international cooperation and institutions. The trend, in my opinion, is pretty clear.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ralph, I'm glad we got those misunderstandings out of the way.

I see the same trend you see toward centralization. The pendulum may not swing back until the entire planet is one giant bee colony and the colony collapses. I would prefer to avoid that result, but it's not in my hands.

This hub is less political than some of the others. It doesn't tell people what to do. It just describes the natural processes at play.

Mary Neal profile image

Mary Neal 7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia, USA

I enjoyed your post. Thanks for all the good information. One never knows when this might info might be needed for a grandboy's school project! Excellent photography.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Mary Neal, thanks! If this helps with your grandson's school project, so much the better!

ledefensetech profile image

ledefensetech 7 years ago from Cape Girardeau, MO

Aya, what Ralph fails to take into account is the Internet and the decentralized nature thereof.

One of the reasons the 20th century was known for it's centralization of power is because the new media of radio, TV and movies were soon taken over by governments. From the FCC in the US to the outright ownership of these outlets in Germany and Russia, freedom of speech was under attack like never before since the invention of the printing press.

In a way the printing press acted in the 16th century much like the Internet does today. Ideas were no longer confined to an elite group of people. It's no wonder the wars of religion broke out not too long after the birth of the printing press. Literacy and an abundance of books circulating ideas broke up privilege and started the old order on its slow decline.

Much the same thing happened to the Eastern Bloc nations under the Communists. In order to grow economically, they needed the new technology of the West because their economic philosophies had bankrupted their nations. Once people got these new ways to communicate, in many cases without being overheard by state security, they were able to compare notes and a sort of mini-Enlightenment took place behind the Iron Curtain. I believe we're seeing the same sort of pressures here in the States as the State tries to repress opinions that are at odds with their vision of the future and the people debate the merits of the government's plans anyway.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ledefensetech, I believe that Glasnost predates the internet. In the days before Glasnost, people resorted to handcopying forbidden works by samizdat.

ledefensetech profile image

ledefensetech 7 years ago from Cape Girardeau, MO

Actually Stolyarov talks about communications technology like fax machines, copiers, etc. The World Wide Web didn't really get it's start until 1993. You might want to look at his chart illustrating the difference between influence and authority in free and totalitarian regimes. It makes for interesting reading. Think Internet and China.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ledefensetech, people want to know the truth, and the truth usually spreads through a population, despite anything an oppressive government tries to do to prevent this from happening. My only point was that high tech methods are not necessarily required. People use whatever is available. Sometimes it's just word of mouth.

Tackle This profile image

Tackle This 7 years ago

Too bad those of us that have evolved from apes are not able to truly grapple with early facets 1 and 2 of your post. "each honey bee lives only so long as it is useful to the hive and is discarded as soon as it no longer serves.

honey bees are expected to commit suicide in the service of the hive by stinging any perceived threat and dying in the process."

Come on folks, we are lagging behind much of God's other creation.

There are so many fluffy folk here in the United States that we will continue to pay even become endearing to criminals.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Tackle This, thanks for your comment. I'm glad that the point about not outliving our usefulness made an impression on you. It is an important point for those who subscribe to the ethic of unselfishness. But surely you're not suggesting that we adopt socialism and then implement this particular tenet?

Saad Shaukat 6 years ago

Another often ignored aspect of our selfishness- domestic slavery. Please read more about it at,

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Saad, thanks for your comment. I will take a look.

SanXuary 5 years ago

And so entered the soul and are desire to save it allowed selfishness to be the first step of maturity. Once saved we wallowed in ourselves until we met someone and built a home and only by becoming unselfish did it last and could it be called sanctuary. Still we had not grown up or saved our souls and still there was no sanctuary safe until we built it everywhere we went by respecting the sanctuary of others. Bees and even ants draw grand parables to the success of life on this planet but when they parish they have no soul to be concerned with for they did not need one in order to have free will.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The Ozarks Author

SanXuary, what is your definition of a soul? What would a falsifiable test for having one be? Can all humans pass that test? Do all other animals invariably fail to pass it?

When people say that only man has a soul, they usually define the soul as something only man has. Can you offer a little more rigor than that?

How do you define free will? Why do you think it does not require a soul to have it?

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