Honing the art of survival!


Khalid Saleem

The world is full of mugs of all shapes, sizes and denominations. Given the sorry state of the world today, the gentle reader might well be justifies in asking how relevant is it to be talking of mugs! The name of the game in today’s crazy world is survival. As things stand, Mankind has hardly distinguished itself in this game. It may perhaps be of interest to categorize other species from this point of view. Let us take a few stray examples.
Rats of all genres, to take one instance, were always ahead of the pack. The strength of the rats lies in the fact that there are so many of them around today; they have always been plenty so far as history can record. If the name of the game is survival, the rats have the survival instinct in their genes. The more get eliminated; the more they procreate. At the end of it all, there are invariably more rats than one started with. Goodness knows how long the rat race (no pun intended) has survived all the heavy odds stacked against it. The fact remains that rats of all genres have emerged as survivors. And they will continue to survive – and prosper – so long as they retain their savvy.
Then, there exists another species that undoubtedly will continue to beat even the rats at their own game. On refers to the world of insects that is all pervasive and ever present. If one goes by numbers alone, insects will outnumber any or, in deed, all other species put together by a fair margin. It is not only in the numbers game that insects excel. They exhibit a remarkable capacity to overcome adversity. Take the example of the lowly cockroach. It is reputed to have survived a good three hundred million years; quite a long innings even in geological terms. When the dinosaurs appeared on the face of the earth, the cockroach was there to welcome them. Subsequently, when the time came for the big meteorite (or whatever) to strike the earth to signal the dinosaurs’ extinction, the cockroach was around to wave them good-bye. Now, that is survival!
Mankind, of course, hardly figures on the survival ladder. Given the course the world’s powerful leaders are adopting, it is a moot point whether this blessed Planet, as we know it, will survive for any extended period of time. Man appears bent upon destroying himself and his own. Rather than learn from past mistakes, mankind appears to be bent upon repeating them. Man’s inhumanity to man is the stuff of legends. Scientific knowledge that is touted to be the bedrock of human civilization is utilized more in devising newer and deadlier engines of destruction rather than ameliorating the lot of mankind. The matter of survival appears to be the last thing on Man’s mind.
Ants appear to be in the optimum position to outdo – and outlive – all other species in numbers as well as diversification. Several years ago, Reuters had disseminated a most interesting report on the subject. It was quite a revelation. The report, related to what was termed as ‘ant-thology’, constituted the first complete database of the world’s eleven thousand known ‘ant sub-species’. The study in question brought to light additional facts of special interest. Among them: a) Ants are the most common life form on earth; b) Though tiny, their combined weight is greater than that of the combined weight of all humans on the planet.
The aforementioned apart, ants as a species exhibit several characteristics that set them apart and way ahead of most other species. Among these characteristics is the extraordinary division of responsibility, a seriousness of purpose and a strict disciplinary order of the highest order. What is more, the ants have a much more developed sense of tactics and strategy in their dealings amongst themselves and with other species than humankind ever did. It is these and allied qualities that set them apart and have enabled them to survive so long against fearful odds. Human beings have been waging a losing war against the ants for as long as one can remember. It requires no great intelligence to surmise as to which species is destined to outlive the other.
The aforementioned notwithstanding, one can hardly help noticing with regret that studies of species such as ants are not leading to the desired conclusions. Are there any lessons that humankind is drawing from such insect behavior, for instance? Are we assimilating some of their good qualities particularly those that have ensured their survival over the centuries; their tendency to form cohesive, self-generating colonies, for one? Or, for that matter, their lovable habit of minding their own business, without treading on each-others’ toes, for another.
What one can conclude from observing the lowly ant is that it hardly pays to throw one’s weight around. If anything, one should learn humility, tolerance and tenacity from this remarkable species of insects. But then, as mankind’s history is witness, it is futile to expect humans to be so humble as to stoop down to the level of lowly insects even if it was for their own good.
The moral – if one were inclined to draw one – is that it would be in the interest of humankind to learn from such species as have not only mastered the art of survival but have actually prospered, at a time when others –ostensibly bigger and more powerful – have fallen by the wayside, unheralded and unsung. Survival – as a deep study of the experience of ants would make clear – depends less on strength and subterfuge and more on self-help and mutual tolerance. Should we not, then, learn from the lowly ant before it is too late? Some hope!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.