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The bees vs. the butterflies = the ecology of politics: a fable

By Ralph Benko. Reprinted from Huffington Post.58e50ea516000027004d8e68.png

April 2 was the 100th anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson’s address to Congress asking for a Declaration of War. We promptly thereafter entered World War I. This centenary provides an opportunity to reflect on the ongoing war between the Democrats and Republicans.

Thus, a Fable of the Bees and the Butterflies.

In a recent Forbes.com column I explored the question of whether the struggle in Washington is one of, as Time Magazine framed it, Trump’s War on Washington or, rather, Washington’s War on Trump. This column ended up posted both to Facebook’s 100,000+ Liked UltraTrumpian Trump Revolution and the AntiTrumpian Coffee Party USA.

On my own Facebook page a merry discourse transpired between my friend Paul Gordon, a libertarian populist, and my First Cousin Jeff Landaw, a principled progressive. In response to Jeff, Paul invoked the concept of Hive, saying that “the D’s and Rs all operate on the left and right INSIDE that hive.”

Which raised an interesting point. Pretty much everyone has heard Aesop’s fable of the Grasshoppers and the Ants. On this centenary occasion, consider if you will Ralph’s fable of the Bees and the Butterflies….

Bees (like ants) live in a centralized hierarchical culture. (The use of “culture” here is not a use of pathetic fallacy. It’s a Thing. Study of such cultures in the animal kingdom is called ethology.) Bees have a Queen, fertilized by drones, who lays all the eggs from which more bees are hatched. The worker bees, all female, do the work of building the hive and foraging for nectar among the flowers, bringing it home to be refined into honey. Armed with stingers, consider them a militant species and, indeed, the hierarchical structure of the human military has many similarities with that of bees.

Butterflies live in a decentralized, non-hierarchical, culture. They engage in courtship, mate, the female laying eggs which turn into larva and then caterpillars, which, in time, turn into pupa and emerge as butterflies. Butterflies, too, feed on nectar. But they don’t bring it to a central location, nor are they regimented. Consider the butterflies as somewhat akin to Hippies (of which I, although a credentialed right winger, am an aging specimen) of human society.

America’s political structure originally was, and was designed to be, structured much like that of the butterflies. This was called a “republican form of government.” Enter democracy! It took a long time — the inflection point arguably occurred under President Woodrow Wilson, a progressive champion, with his enactment of the federal income tax, the Federal Reserve System, and, of course, his sending America into World War I, 100 years ago on April 2, 1917, that the world “be made safe for democracy.”

The American political system has been deeply restructured, over time, along bee hive lines. Advantage: Bees! If the Trump administration succeeds — not foreordained — in capably restoring it to butterfly cultural lines: Advantage Butterflies!

There is nothing inherently “wrong” with either the culture of the bees or the culture of the butterflies. Both provide sustenance for their respective species. The question is: which is better adapted, right now, to the purposes for which the American government was constituted: to secure “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I myself, a conservative Republican, lean “butterfly.” America, which originally was structured as a butterfly culture, might lean that way too. Many of my very dearest friends, progressive Democrats, lean “bee.”

I do understand why the Hive is alarmed. Its hegemony is being threatened! This really is a consequential, even an existential, struggle between us.

That said, there are only three species known which go to war with other members of their same species: bees, ants, and humans. And it seems to me, just to me, that the militancy, even all-out-warfare, which now besets our politics is misplaced.

There is ample room in the meadow both for bees and butterflies. The Donald Trump administration, in its purpose of “deconstruction of the administrative state,” is about making a safe space for us butterflies to go about our quirky lives without being subject to, or perceived as a threat by, the hive.

Dear Democratic Bees! To paraphrase President Obama, “If you like the hive you have, you can keep your hive.” We Republican Butterflies are not trying to eliminate you. We’re merely attempting to create enough space in the meadow so we can go about our merry ways. Your terror and fury at us really is overdone. You’ve mistaken us for a rival hive invading your territory that needs to be eradicated by force. Not so!

Dear fellow Republican Butterflies! As it happens, we butterflies are territorial too and have mistaken the Democrats for oddly-shaped interloper butterflies who need to be chased out. Not so! They are merely collecting nectar to bring back to their hive.

Butterflies sure seem like an alien, and bewildering, sort of Bee to you Bees. (Such big wings. Where are their stingers?) And we Butterflies mistake you Bees for truly weird-shaped butterflies. (Such short wings! What’s up with those stingers?) There is no need for us to declare war on one another. There are ample flowers to support both of us.

There really is room in the ecology for us both. So, my dear Democrats, next time you encounter a Republican know that you encounter a Butterfly, not an Enemy Bee. My fellow Republicans? Upon encountering a Democrat compose your souls in serenity. You encounter a Bee, not a Rival Butterfly.