Law in Contemporary Society

Worker Bees

-- By KippMueller - 12 May 2012

The "Life" of the Worker Bee

The worker bee spends her life collecting nectar for the queen. When she is not collecting nectar, the worker bee is in charge of keeping the queen bee's eggs alive by sustaining a proper temperature in the hive.

The most "successful" worker is the best collector. She is hailed by her peers and celebrated for her ambitions and resulting success. She takes care of the eggs closest to the queen. Other bees recognize her success and attempt to replicate it, hoping to be the next to carry her title.

Of course, with a little perspective, one can see that the prestige granted to her is simply a power mechanism for the queen. Each of the worker bees reinforce that mechanism by participating in it and agreeing to its terms. Each worker bee buys into the narrative. And when she does, she is reduced to nothing.

Her life is stolen, whittled down to a vapid, futile existence. She seeks to get ahead in a game in which the winner loses.

"To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all."

Oscar Wilde

Why Doesn't the Worker Bee Revolt?

The worker bee's entire existence revolves around serving the queen bee. So why doesn't the worker bee ever revolt?

Because she does not possess the capacity to see how else it could be. She can't see life in perspective.

She doesn't have the ability to contextualize her life. To the worker bee, her life is simple: collect nectar until her death. She only knows how to make her life as worth while as she can within a closed system in which the rules were already written: To make a life is to collect nectar for the queen.

She can't see her own oppression. She lives a life of servitude, a slave to nectar. She is given enough to remain tranquil and willfully sell her life to a system that calls a select few queens and the rest servants.

She accepts goals indoctrinated as noble and true. But those mean nothing outside of her system. We as humans see no reason to celebrate a worker bee who gathered lots of nectar. Likewise, what creature outside of our socialized system and its seemingly irrefutable assumptions would celebrate the person with lots of money? There is nothing inherently praiseworthy about seeking money. In fact, the goal on its face is exceptionally laden with greed and shallowness.

And yet it is what we constantly strive for throughout our lives. Ambitions change, but the pursuit of money never wavers.

"Money often costs too much."

Ralph Waldo Emerson


What can the most devout worker bee say of her life when all is said and done?

How can an enslaved investment banker who does not believe in the moral praiseworthiness of her job look back on her life and feel satisfaction? What has she truly accomplished besides a life of servitude to materials? When she resides on her death bed, what can she recognize as achieved?

If she's honest with herself, she will likely conclude that regardless of how rich she became, she was stripped of her life by a prescribed, fabricated narrative.

Ironically, she may realized she died worth absolutely nothing.

I struggle with escaping the mentality of the worker bee and contextualizing life. I, like all of us, am a slave to money. I am well aware that no matter how much money I make, I will want more. The desire to make money will not dictate every decision I make, but it also will never be vanquished. That is how the system works: there is no satisfaction. If I were ever to become satisfied, I would be dispensable in a capitalist society like ours. It is my perverted sense of fulfillment via wealth accumulation that makes me useful to the system.

I'm not justifying a life focused on making money by framing the issue as some sort of inevitability that I need to come to terms with. For me, I will always be fighting this urge, particularly when it stands in the way of my ethical beliefs and my public policy ambitions.

I'm only recognizing that despite my conscious perspectivism, I will continue to seek nectar. Money will always be on my mind in some unjustifiably substantial capacity.

I often wonder what our lives look like juxtaposed with people living in impoverished conditions. I believe that some of the more desperate and poor people in the world may say their lives are better than ours.

But it's hard for us to think otherwise. The hive walls are opaque. The flight for nectar requires myopic vision.

The impoverished may point to the fact that unlike us, they are not enslaved by a system with preconditions; one in which they are constantly pushed to pursue a life of shallow and fruitless purpose. They may mention that truly enriching one's life isn't a matter of numbers. They may say that despite their hunger, they are much fuller than us. Despite their parched throats, their thirst is satiable. Despite their disease, they are less afflicted.

They can certainly look at their lives as a product of what they accomplished and what they wanted for themselves, free from the threat of a life wasted on the trivial pursuit of luxury.

Will we say the same about our lives? Can we?

"Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one."

Benjamin Franklin

Professor Moglen,

I would like to continue working on this piece as long as it needs. Thank you!

The extended metaphor seems to me in the end to do more harm than good for you. The reader doesn't know for more than 400 words which part of your discussion is figurative and which literal. By the time you are attributing insect social behavior to "how the worker bee sees it," one assumes that this is all metaphor and it doesn't matter whether it is accurate biology. But the further you go the more it becomes apparent that if the description isn't factually valuable it isn't really valuable at all. It's moralizing from bee behavior, but having less to do with bees than, say, Mandeville.

In fact, bee behavior, based on genetic haploidy, has nothing remotely like primate sociality, let alone human sociality, about it. The beehive, when human social reformers get around to practicing pop political economy on it, is a symbol of communism. That's how Fourier used it, which is where the Mormons picked it up from, using it everywhere, including the Utah state regalia, to denote Association, which is the primitive communism Mormonism believes is divinely commanded, but is in temporary abeyance due to the need to get along with the gentiles. Like Mr Romney, you seem to imagine that capitalism is really what communism stands for. Or something.

So I think we could put that all aside, and ask what you're really writing about. Is it money, or desire? If it is desire, then maybe we could understand the confusion. People are confused about desire. Money is one of the things they desire, and because desire is confusing it is often not clear why the object desired is important, if indeed it really is. Perhaps by considering money a little less, the bees not at all, and desire a little more, you could take the next draft somewhere quite important to you.


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r13 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:10:02 - IanSullivan
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