Archive for the ‘Ant Quote’ Category

I’ve already mentioned two brilliant men this week who have considered ants in some way. I will now add Abraham Lincoln to this list. In a fragment of a speech given somewhere around 1854, Mr. Honest Abe looked to the ant as a poignant metaphor:

… Made so plain by our good Father in Heaven, that all feel and understand it, even down to brutes and creeping insects. The ant, who has toiled and dragged a crumb to his nest, will furiously defend the fruit of his labor, against whatever robber assails him. So plain, that the most dumb and stupid slave that ever toiled for a master, does constantly know that he is wronged. So plain that no one, high or low, ever does mistake it, except in a plainly selfish way; for although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself.

I’m not sure what it is about ants that inspires people. Oh wait, yeah I do. It’s because they’re ants. From writers (herehere, and here) to civil rights activists (here and here) to the founder of Sikhism to saints to Laozi to journalists to philosophers to veterinarians to countless others, ants seem to carry a universal appeal for anyone who stops to consider the human condition. So, have you thought about ants recently? If not, I guess you don’t care about mankind.


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We are closer to the ants than to the butterflies. Very few people can endure much leisure.

Gerald Brenan

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Today, I found an article from 2010 that discusses this artwork:

Man kills 200,000 ants for artwork

What’s so special about it, you ask? Well, as reported by The Telegraph, this piece was made by artist Chris Trueman by killing 200,000 ants. I’ve discussed the ethics of killing ants before (see here and here), but regardless of one’ answer to the general question of the morality of killing insects, one of Trueman’s comments borders on depraved:

Mr. Trueman, from Claremont, California, admitted that putting the piece together had been a challenge.

He even stopped half way through the process because he had an attack of conscience after killing the ants.

He said: “It took several years, not because of the actual labour, but because at one point I started to feel bad about killing all of the ants and I stopped the project for over a year.

“Then I decided that the first ants would have died in vain if I didn’t finish the work so I decided to continue.”

So in other words, he felt bad for killing ants, but then decided to kill more ants to finish the thing he didn’t feel was worth killing ants for so that the ants he initially killed would still be used for that thing that he stopped killing ants for because he felt it wasn’t worth killing the ants for it.

However, although I find Trueman’s reasoning for his change of heart convoluted and kind of creepy, I personally think the picture is awesome. But this is coming from the guy that’s already killed tens of thousands of ants on a Kansas prairie to answer some questions for a small research project and who will likely generate a life-time anticide total in the millions. In any case, I think we can all agree on one conclusion of Trueman’s:

“Ants ride the line of what we consider intelligent life, if we see them in the kitchen, many of us think little of killing them all.

“If we take the time to look at them they are remarkable creatures.”

Whether in art or nature, ants are remarkable indeed.

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Arab proverb:

God can see a black ant walk on a black stone in a black night.

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Even kings and emperors with heaps of wealth and vast dominion cannot compare with an ant filled with the love of God.

— Guru Nanak

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The greatest enemies of ants are other ants, just as the greatest enemies of men are other men.

— Noted myrmecologist Auguste Forel [source]

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Saint Basil, in his letter “against Eunomius the heretic”, used mankind’s insufficient knowledge of the ant to make his argument. It’s rather interesting, even if relatively straightforward, so I think it best to quote his Letter XVI in full:

He who maintains that it is possible to arrive at the discovery of things actually existing, has no doubt by some orderly method advanced his intelligence by means of the knowledge of actually existing things. It is after first training himself by the apprehension of small and easily comprehensible objects, that he brings his apprehensive faculty to bear on what is beyond all intelligence. He makes his boast that he has really arrived at the comprehension of actual existences; let him then explain to us the nature of the least of visible beings; let him tell us all about the ant. Does its life depend on breath and breathing? Has it a skeleton? Is its body connected by sinews and ligaments? Are its sinews surrounded with muscles and glands? Does its marrow go with dorsal vertebrae; from brow to tail? Does it give impulse to its moving members by the enveloping nervous membrane? Has it a liver, with a gall bladder near the liver? Has it kidneys, heart, arteries, veins, membranes, cartilages? Is it hairy or hairless? Has it an uncloven hoof, or are its feet divided? How long does it live? What is its mode of reproduction? What is its period of gestation? How is it that ants neither all walk nor all fly, but some belong to creeping things, and some travel through the air? The man who glories in his knowledge of the really-existing ought to tell us in the meanwhile about the nature of the ant. Next let him give us a similar physiological account of the power that transcends all human intelligence. But if your knowledge has not yet been able to apprehend the nature of the insignificant ant, how can you boast yourself able to form a conception of the power of the incomprehensible God?

It is rather humbling to consider how little we know about the vast majority of over 10,000 species of ants, even 1,600 years after Saint Basil laid bare the extent of man’s myrmecological ignorance. While we do know much more about ants than we did back in the 4th century, things like the average age of individuals or the average period of gestation are still unknown for most species. We really aren’t sure how eusociality evolves. Whole new subfamilies are still being discovered. Maybe it is in fact pure hubris for anyone to pontificate on the exact nature of things like God. Alternatively, perhaps the ant is as complex as any spiritual being? We may never know!

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